Welsh Assembly (Cost)

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 1:47 pm on 21st January 1998.

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Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset 1:47 pm, 21st January 1998

If he will make a statement on his latest estimate of the cost to public funds of the Welsh assembly. [21963]

Photo of Mr Ron Davies Mr Ron Davies Secretary of State, Welsh Office

The financial memorandum to the Government of Wales Bill contains the latest estimates of the cost of the National Assembly for Wales. I estimate that the capital cost of establishing the assembly will not exceed £17 million, and that the annual running costs will be between £15 million and £20 million. I do not expect the assembly to yield any overall increase in public expenditure.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

As we are still scurrying around trying to find out where the assembly is to be set up, how can the Minister be sure that what he promised in his White Paper in July will be delivered? That was the basis on which people narrowly voted for the assembly.

Photo of Mr Ron Davies Mr Ron Davies Secretary of State, Welsh Office

The hon. Gentleman may be scurrying around, but I assure him that the Government are not. We have a well-prepared consultation exercise, which will ultimately deliver an appropriate home for the assembly. That was not the most imaginative question that the hon. Gentleman has asked in the House. We first produced the figures in July in the White Paper; we fought a referendum in September on the basis of those figures; we had a Second Reading debate in December on the basis of those figures; and the Government of Wales Bill is now in Committee, and the figures are the same. The hon. Gentleman, like his colleagues in the Conservative party, always wants to look backwards. I urge him and his colleagues to concentrate on the task ahead—building an assembly that is truly representative, efficient and effective, and that brings new democracy to Wales.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the cost of running the unelected quangos in Wales under the previous Administration was far higher than the cost of running the assembly will be under the new Administration? Will he also make it clear to the House that many former Tory Members of Parliament, such as the Conservative whom I replaced in 1992, and the Conservative whom my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) replaced at the last election, are now willing to stand for a devolved Parliament? Should not the Conservative party accept the result of the referendum?

Photo of Mr Ron Davies Mr Ron Davies Secretary of State, Welsh Office

My hon. Friend is correct. About one third of Welsh Office public expenditure is now accounted for by the quango state. The abuse of patronage associated with that did much to ensure that Wales was made Tory free at the last general election. I confirm that it is also my understanding that two former Ministers in the Welsh Office, Mr. Rod Richards and Mr. Gwilym Jones, both of whom lost their seats in the general election, are now seeking election to the assembly. They at least understand that the world has moved on. It is a pity that the remnant of the Conservative party in the House of Commons has not come up to date, as they have.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I speak as the remnant of the Conservative party—I assume that the Secretary of State was referring to me. He will be delighted that we in the Conservative party are looking forward. However, as we look forward, it seems as though the whole assembly machine is rolling backwards. Three months ago, we knew where the assembly was going—now we do not. Three months ago, we knew the majority who were in favour of the referendum. Now there are massive question marks as to what the majority is. Will the next fudge and fumble be over the budget contained in the White Paper? Page 30 of the White Paper clearly states that the set-up costs are between £12 million and £17 million, and that the running costs are between £15 million and £20 million, but pages one and 30 clearly state that the assembly headquarters will be set up in Cardiff.

The Secretary of State has reversed, possibly, one of his decisions. What guarantees do the people of Wales have that he will not reverse his decision on the assembly's budget?

Photo of Mr Ron Davies Mr Ron Davies Secretary of State, Welsh Office

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman really does not understand the developments that have taken place over the past couple of months. The figures were made quite clear in the White Paper—I am glad to see that he is studying them. Those figures were endorsed in the referendum. I made it quite clear during the referendum that the figures contained in the White Paper were the basis on which the assembly will be established. We produced a financial memorandum, which was debated at great length in the House in December. There is no reason to believe now, or at any time in the future, that we have any intention whatever of moving from those figures.