Devolved Powers

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 30th October 2002.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 2:30 pm, 30th October 2002

What assessment he has made of public perception of the operation of devolved powers in Wales.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales

After three years, the devolution settlement for Wales is working well, with the Government and the National Assembly acting in close partnership for the benefit of Wales. Against that background, it is tremendous news that Cardiff is on the short list for the European capital of culture in 2008. Cardiff is Europe's youngest capital, and it is on the move towards becoming a world-class British city.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I warmly welcome and encourage the diversity of culture, language and meaningful local government throughout the United Kingdom, but has the newly appointed Secretary of State for Wales studied the findings of a recent study by the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which states that the overwhelming majority of Welsh voters think that the Assembly has made no difference—or, at best, little difference—to public services in the Principality?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is making new Tory policy on behalf of his Front Bench. Is he proposing to abolish the National Assembly for Wales? The fact is that the Assembly has been making a real difference, as we, the architects of devolution, always knew that it would. It has introduced free prescriptions for two successive years, and prescription charges in Wales are now lower than those in England. It has also provided free local bus travel for pensioners and disabled people throughout Wales, which is not provided elsewhere. It has introduced Assembly learning grants for people of limited means, funded six weeks' free home care, and seen record spending on health and education and a cut in unemployment as a result of the policies that Labour is pursuing in Wales. It is a Labour Assembly working together with a Labour Government.

Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies Labour, Llanelli

When my right hon. Friend next goes to Brussels to attend the European convention, will he explain to Mr. Giscard d'Estaing what the principles of devolution are—bearing in mind, of course, that he should do so without being very rude? When he does so, will he point out that the draft European constitution shows that Giscard clearly has no idea about those principles?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. In fact, Britain's agenda in the convention on the future of Europe is to ensure that regions of nation states—such as Wales—get their voice heard right at the centre of decision making in Brussels, and that nation states form the bedrock of a union that is a partnership of nation states, not a Brussels superstate.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

At the risk of damaging the right hon. Gentleman's political career, I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him well in post—although not too well, of course.

I have recently received the leaked Government response to the report on the foot and mouth outbreak. Paragraph 1.29 states:

XThe terms of the Welsh devolution settlement did not fully devolve animal health powers to the Assembly . . . The Government is in discussion with the Welsh Assembly Government on the case for devolving further powers to it to deal with outbreaks of animal disease in Wales."

Why, then, did the Government reject our amendments to the Animal Health Bill that were designed to do exactly that?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales

It was because Plaid Cymru's amendments usually have to be rejected as they do not achieve the objectives that the Government are trying to achieve for Wales. We are working closely with the National Assembly to benefit farmers and everyone in Wales. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, Plaid Cymru has never created any jobs in Wales, and has never done anything to generate better health services, better schools and a stronger economy in Wales.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham

Although working relations between Front-Bench Members in Cardiff and in Westminster were excellent throughout the occupation of the post of Secretary of State for Wales by my right hon. Friend Mr. Murphy, could not Back Bench relations between Cardiff and Westminster be greatly improved? Following the vote last night, there will be more consideration of draft legislation. Would it not be a useful innovation to have Joint Committees of Back-Bench Assembly Members and Back-Bench Members of Parliament to discuss legislation for Wales?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's question. Obviously, we want to promote an increasing partnership between Members of Parliament and Assembly Members in Wales, and we shall continue to work on that. I shall consider my hon. Friend's ideas, but as he knows, pre-legislation scrutiny has been developing. We are working on that, and I would welcome ideas from him or any of my right hon. and hon. Friends.