Welsh Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:55 pm on 26th February 2009.

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Photo of Hywel Francis Hywel Francis Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 2:55 pm, 26th February 2009

We have made some observations on that matter. We have not done anything about roundabouts in Shrewsbury, but I am sure that we will come to that issue as well.

The message of the two reports was very clear. With all due respect to the importance of widening access—I spent a quarter of a century in universities trying to achieve that—the whole question of student finance pales into insignificance when we are dealing with the core question of the funding of universities for proper teaching and research. Unless that question is addressed, we will not be able to build the knowledge economy of the future and thus safeguard quality jobs for all our communities.

We made several key recommendations, especially on science policy and research, which can be influenced by the Welsh-UK Government partnership. I hope that we will be able to emphasise that in the future. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills has recently visited Cardiff university, and he has agreed to come to my constituency in the autumn to visit Glamorgan university's hydrogen centre and Swansea university's Technium centre and the new science campus, which will be based largely in my constituency.

On the theme of the knowledge economy and creating new, sustainable jobs for the future, my Committee has begun its inquiry on digital inclusion, and we will visit Bangor university to see how higher education is addressing the social and economic challenges facing us. We may also need to consider seriously the role of broadcasting within that inquiry, given the impact of digitisation on the Welsh economy and the democratic deficit. Lord Carter's interim report, "Digital Britain", which was published in January, is a matter of concern for us all, not least because as a reserved matter broadcasting is a concern for my Committee.

Finally, I shall turn to my Committee's new responsibility to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of LCOs emanating from the Welsh Assembly Government. After 18 months of hard work and much learning by everyone, we have established a pattern of work that is now functioning reasonably well. We have excellent working relationships with Welsh Assembly Government Ministers, Assembly Committees and the Wales Office—I see a wry smile on the faces of the two Ministers on the Front Bench.

We are about to undertake work on two important LCOs, and I am somewhat dismayed that so far no mention has been made of an important LCO on carers. It is to the credit of the Welsh Assembly Government and the Assembly Member for Llanelli, Helen Mary Jones, who initiated this particular LCO, that this is coming before us. We should recognise and respect the right of the Welsh Assembly Government to prioritise its policies and propose legislation. This particular LCO—I declare an interest as a vice-president of Carers UK and the sponsor of the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004—will affect nearly 1 million people in Wales, so it is a matter of some consequence.

I have said publicly, and will repeat, that we will undertake our work thoroughly and, in the words of Erskine May, "in an expeditious manner" and in partnership with our colleagues in the Assembly. I have already had meetings with Dr. Dai Lloyd, the Assembly Member whose committee deals with the carers' LCO, and with Mr. Mark Isherwood, the Assembly Member whose committee deals with the Welsh language LCO. At 5 o'clock this afternoon, I will have a meeting with the Culture Minister, Mr. Alun Ffred Jones, and in a few weeks I shall meet Meri Hughes, the chair of the Welsh Language Board. I am delighted to announce that, on the same day, she will also be prepared to meet all Welsh MPs here in the House.

As an indication—

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