Welsh Assembly

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 1:39 pm on 18 February 1998.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Conservative, South Cambridgeshire 1:39, 18 February 1998

What representations he has received from UK national organisations regarding the siting of the Welsh assembly. [28399]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ron Da vies):

On 3 February, in response to a question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), I placed in the Library of the House a list of all those who responded during the public consultation exercise.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply, but I fear that it will not assuage the sense that finding a home for the assembly is descending into, at best, farce. Will he explain why he has narrowed the options for a site for the assembly down to south Wales?

Mr. Davies:

The hon. Gentleman will know that we had many submissions from all over Wales. I am delighted to take this opportunity to place on record my personal thanks to the authorities, from Swansea and Cardiff in the south through to Wrexham and Flint in north Wales, that showed their interest in and commitment to the assembly.

It is true, however, that the overwhelming majority of submissions favoured either Cardiff or Swansea. Officials in the Welsh Office are examining several alternatives in Cardiff, and we have a good bid from Swansea in the form of the Swansea guild hall site. Those are the sites that commanded widespread public support. It seems right and proper that we should discuss more details with the promoters of those options so that, eventually, within about a month, I shall be able to announce the final site. I have no doubt that that will command widespread support throughout Wales.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, during the Conservative years, for every £1 that the Welsh Office spent in Swansea, it spent £5 in Cardiff. Will he reflect on the fact that the choice of site is one of the few decisions that is entirely under his control, and that he can help to decide whether the new Wales is over-centralised or diffused through what we hope will be the all-Wales, Swansea solution?

Mr. Davies:

I am conscious of the submission by my hon. Friend's local authority, and of the arguments that he, my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) have advanced in support of the Swansea bid. However, it is not a simple matter. I have to weigh in the balance the Swansea submission, offering, as it does, what we have described as the all-Wales option, and the Cardiff option, which will be based on an institution. I have to take full account of both the cost-effectiveness of each scheme and the broader political considerations. It will be a difficult choice, but I will take into account the matters that my hon. Friend has raised.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State

With the benefit of hindsight, does the right hon. Gentleman now regret ever launching this beauty contest for the assembly site, particularly as it was done only to save his face after the mess that he made in his negotiations on Cardiff city hall? How much has that cynical, face-saving exercise—in which he has merely arrived back where he started—cost the council tax payers of Swansea, Cardiff, Wrexham and other councils? Does not his peremptory decision to exclude Wrexham and Flintshire from Monday's shortlist send a chilling message to north Wales that his pious assurances of even-handedness in the whole of Wales are no less empty and cosmetic than this whole sad and expensive exercise has turned out to be?

Mr. Davies:

The right hon. Gentleman has only a passing knowledge of the matters that have taken place in Wales over the past couple of months. I shall deal with two of the points that he has raised. The question of submissions has been one for local authorities. The enthusiasm that they have shown to house the assembly clearly shows that local authorities—be they Wrexham, Cardiff, Swansea or any other of the many that have made submissions—think that the assembly will be good for Wales and for democracy, and will bring increased employment opportunities to whichever location eventually houses it.

The reason why the submissions for Cardiff and Swansea have been selected is that they are the ones that have commanded broad support. The decision to exclude submissions outside Cardiff and Swansea was taken not lightly, but on the basis of careful costing of the submissions and careful analysis of the support that those submissions attracted. If the right hon. Gentleman favoured a submission from Wrexham, Flintshire, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Merthyr or Bridgend, why on earth did he not say so? Why did he not write to tell me what his preference was?