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Mr. Flynn: What were the Government doing during the long series of calamities involving the South and East Wales Ambulance NHS trust--calamities of waste, mismanagement and financial chaos? The term "Dunkirk spirit" was given a new meaning by the organisation of a trip to Dunkirk to buy cheap alcohol on a day when all the shops were shut in France. Why have the culprits who have been sacked--including some indians, and some chiefs in the shape of executive directors--not included
2 Dec 1996 : Column 657the non-executive directors, who were appointed for their financial genius and business acumen and who are still in place? Are not they the people who should be blamed?
Mr. Jones: I know that the hon. Gentleman likes to display his green credentials by recycling old news, but he is fearfully out of date. We acted a year ago; we required changes to be made. The chairman and chief executive have gone, the trust has been turned around, and I understand that it is now performing better than expected in its recovery plan.
Mr. Dykes: While I fully respect Welsh public opinion because I believe that there is a slight edge in the opinion polls for this proposal, it was rejected by 4:1 originally. In view of the muddle, will my right hon. Friend explain to my untutored mind the policies of the various parties? Is not there every indication that both a referendum and an assembly would be a colossal waste of money?
Mr. Hague: My hon. Friend does not need much tutoring if he has worked that out already. An assembly would be a ridiculous and time-wasting distraction from the real job of continuing to attract new investment and more prosperity into Wales. It must be said that Opposition Members have been confused about this question: they were against such a referendum a few months ago and are now in favour of one. Their colleagues in Scotland were originally against one and were then in favour of one with two questions; they were then in favour of two referendums with one question and have now gone back to the policy before that.
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones: Has the Secretary of State noticed the proportion of Conservative Members who do not represent Welsh constituencies who are asking questions this afternoon about constitutional change in Wales? Is it not the height of arrogance for the Secretary of State and the amen chorus behind him to tell us in Wales how we should govern our own country? Is that not a matter for the people of Wales to decide? If he and his colleagues behind him are so confident about their position, he should put it to the test and call a referendum now.
Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman should understand that this is a United Kingdom Parliament and my hon. Friends take part in the activities of the United Kingdom Parliament. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends often take advantage of their membership of a United Kingdom Parliament. It is hugely in the interests of Wales to be fully part of the United Kingdom. The last time the people of Wales were consulted about that matter in a referendum, they told the hon. Gentleman in no uncertain terms that they wanted to continue to be part of the United Kingdom and not to have a Welsh Assembly. After all,
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Mr. Sweeney: Will my right hon. Friend give his latest estimate of how much a Welsh Assembly would cost the people of Wales? Will he comment on the effect on representation at Westminster if such an assembly were set up?
Mr. Hague: In its report earlier this year, the constitution unit pointed out the possible implications for Wales of setting up an assembly in terms of the loss of extra representation in this House, the possible loss of a seat in the Cabinet, and a possible change to the formula that brings higher public spending per head than in England. All those factors have brought tremendous benefits to Wales in recent decades and they should not be given up for the sake of a roomful of hot air.
Mr. Ron Davies: I noticed with interest that the Secretary of State did not reply to the question about the cost of an assembly. Perhaps he is embarrassed by the figures and the fact that we now know that the top 10 quangos in Wales account for some £54 million a year in unnecessary and bureaucratic administrative costs.
The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) asked a pretty silly question. Why should anybody make representations on a referendum to a Government who we already know have set their face clearly against democracy in Wales and who, in any event, have only a few months left in office? Let me make it clear that the next Government will take the earliest opportunity to legislate for a referendum. The real question now is for the present Secretary of State: will he oppose giving that choice of a referendum to the people of Wales? If he is determined to oppose it, is he seriously saying that, as the Member of Parliament representing Richmond in Yorkshire, he will ally himself with the unelected and hereditary peers in the House of Lords to oppose giving the people of Wales a vote on their democratic future?
The hon. Gentleman should not presume on the outcome of the next election. The last senior Welsh Labour Member of Parliament to do that in the previous Parliament is now living in Brussels. Any Government who propose to set up a Welsh Assembly should put it to a referendum, but they should do so after legislation has been passed, as was done in 1979, so that people can see the proposals that are being put before them. The hon. Gentleman himself has pointed out the trouble with a pre-legislative referendum. It is a pity that he has not stuck to his guns over that, rather than take orders from the Leader of the Opposition or the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). On the last part of the hon. Gentleman's comments, I am allying myself with the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith)--I am sorry to pick him out for special attention again this afternoon--because he said that, in a referendum, he would campaign for a No vote; I would be right there alongside him.
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Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman should not presume on the outcome of the next election. The last senior Welsh Labour Member of Parliament to do that in the previous Parliament is now living in Brussels. Any Government who propose to set up a Welsh Assembly should put it to a referendum, but they should do so after legislation has been passed, as was done in 1979, so that people can see the proposals that are being put before them. The hon. Gentleman himself has pointed out the trouble with a pre-legislative referendum. It is a pity that he has not stuck to his guns over that, rather than take orders from the Leader of the Opposition or the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). On the last part of the hon. Gentleman's comments, I am allying myself with the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith)--I am sorry to pick him out for special attention again this afternoon--because he said that, in a referendum, he would campaign for a No vote; I would be right there alongside him.
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Mr. Hague: We believe that the interests of Wales are best served by the direct representation provided in Westminster by hon. Members in this House and a Secretary of State in the United Kingdom Cabinet.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my right hon. Friend agree that by taking the Welsh Grand Committee round Wales, he is bringing the government of Wales closer to the people, whereas the Opposition's proposals for a devolved Welsh Parliament in Cardiff would lead to calls for a reduction in the number of Welsh Members of Parliament in this House, for the abolition of the post of Secretary of State for Wales, and for the differential in expenditure on the English and the Welsh people to be reduced?
Mr. Hague: My hon. Friend is right, especially when he points out the difficulties that may arise for expenditure if an assembly were established. That may be one of the reasons why the Opposition cannot match my commitment to increase health service spending in Wales over and above the rate of inflation each year of the next Parliament. Perhaps they have so many other spending plans that they cannot meet that promise, or perhaps they fear that an assembly would not be able to deliver on that promise. It is time that they told us which of those explanations is correct.
Mr. Roy Hughes: Does the Secretary of State understand that the Opposition are no longer prepared to allow Wales to continue to be governed by quangos--those entirely unrepresentative bodies largely filled by Tory placemen? The sooner most of them are swept away, the better. Those that are left should be directly accountable to a Welsh Assembly.
Mr. Hague: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are clear procedures for appointing people to such bodies. I have recently announced our proposals in line with the Nolan recommendations, so that an independent element is included in the appointment of senior figures. As he also knows, all those bodies are accountable to this House, through me and my fellow Ministers. That is the way in which they should be held accountable. The hon. Gentleman's constituency is one of those that benefit most from all that has been achieved in Wales in the past few years, which I hope he will bear in mind.
Mr. Llwyd: Will the Secretary of State be prepared to meet representatives of local government soon, after he makes his Budget announcement? The 2.6 per cent. increase that has been broached is nothing like enough for local government in view of the statutory duties imposed on it, such as community care. The figure is really slightly more than 1 per cent. more, and will never provide the finance needed to run local government in Wales. Will the Secretary of State please keep an open mind when he examines the subject and meets people to discuss it?
2 Dec 1996 : Column 660block will finance in local government in the coming year. I will certainly meet representatives of local government, and I am due to meet the Welsh consultative council on local government finance two weeks today, and will be able to hear its views.