National Assembly

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 1:43 pm on 9th December 1998.

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Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 1:43 pm, 9th December 1998

If he will make a statement on the (a) construction and (b) cost of the National Assembly. [61559]

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Secretary of State, Welsh Office

Anyone who has experience of a major public building project will know that we are at an early stage in the design process. I want to involve a wide range of interested groups in the process, including political party leaders in Wales, disabled people, young people and, as matters progress, Assembly Members. The capital cost was identified, during the legislative process, as £17 million, and that figure is not expected to increase. Running costs were identified as between £15 million and £20 million, and I have no reason to differ with those figures.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his answer, and I am glad that he has taken such care in making detailed plans for the location and cost of the Assembly. However, would it not have been better for a party that is overwhelmingly committed to devolution of decisions to wait until the Assembly was up and running—only months from now—and allow Assembly Members to take their own decisions about the Assembly's location, cost and design?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Secretary of State, Welsh Office

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman knows as much about major building projects as he does about devolution. The planning and the building—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman were listening to the answer to his question, I might think that he had come into the Chamber with a real question, not simply to try to score points. Any major building project takes time to develop, and people need to be involved in that process in order to ensure that we have a building for the Assembly of which Wales will be proud, and which will demonstrate to the world outside the confidence with which the Assembly is being established. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look on with interest as that happens.

Photo of Mr Ron Davies Mr Ron Davies Labour, Caerphilly

This is my first opportunity in the House to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment as Secretary of State. May I therefore take the opportunity to convey to him my good wishes and support over the coming months? They will be very exciting for Wales, and they will be very challenging and demanding for everyone at the Welsh Office. I send my best wishes to all who will be involved in the coming period.

On the subject of the Assembly, my right hon. Friend will know of my gratitude to his constituency predecessor, now Lord Callaghan, and a very distinguished panel of judges who have brought forward the Richard Rogers design concept. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that that is the concept that he is now developing for the Assembly building, and will he tell the House whether he has any proposals for developing that design in a way that embraces the express wishes of the people of Wales?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Secretary of State, Welsh Office

I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks. May I return the compliment by congratulating him on his bearing throughout what has been an extremely difficult time for him personally? I am also grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to join him in thanking my predecessor, Lord Callaghan, who has brought enormous experience and wisdom to bear on the project of considering the potential designs.

I am happy to confirm that I feel that the process is moving forward very well indeed; it is on a sound basis. One or two people seem to have thought that there might be some doubt about the process going forward. I have never said anything that was intended to encourage that idea. The one thing that I did say initially was that I would look to be fully briefed before making any comment. Having been briefed, and having looked with the architects at the design concept, I believe that it is very exciting, but it is only a concept at this stage, and it needs to develop in a way that respects the nature of the Assembly that we are trying to create, and that is as inclusive as possible. I believe that it has the potential to be developed in that way.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

Can the Secretary of State for Wales confirm that the budget for advertising the elections to the Welsh Assembly is in the region of £2 million? If that is the case, can he confirm that the people of Wales will be astonished to learn that that is the figure, and that they will believe that the money could be far better spent on hospitals in Wales, on schools in Wales or on law and order in Wales?

Will the Secretary of State also take on board the fact that the advertising campaign should be conducted on an all-party basis? Will he be inviting representatives of the political parties in Wales to discuss the campaign for the elections to the Welsh Assembly?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Secretary of State, Welsh Office

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's choice of words is accurate. We are talking about information being available so that people understand the elections in which they have an opportunity to take part as distinct from campaigns, which are for the individual political parties to run. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that I wish to be inclusive in the way in which we debate these matters, which is why I have met the leaders of the political parties in Wales to discuss their concerns. Opposition parties have a place in the political process, as does the majority party, which Labour intends to continue to be.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest in education, schools and law and order in Wales. It will be something of a surprise to the people of Wales. A specific budget has not been set aside at this stage. We shall enter into those matters in due course.