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Mr. Evans: No. There is no expectation that the Welsh Assembly will fail because we will work to ensure that it is a success, but the jury is still out. The hearts and minds of the three out of four people in Wales who did not vote for the Welsh Assembly need to be won over. Had the hon. Gentleman been here for the four hours of the debate. he would have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring say that we would work to ensure that the Welsh Assembly, now that it is established, would be a success.

The problem is that we are not allowed to question devolution as a principle because that would be a great heresy. We hear the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan say that we are talking Wales, devolution and the Assembly down, but if, in the Chamber of the House of Commons at Westminster, we cannot talk about the problems that the Assembly might face where can we discuss them?

The hon. Member for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell) spoke about the one and a half hour debates we had yesterday and the day before in Committee, in which we debated very complex issues. It is a great shame that those debates, on essential issues, could not have been held on the Floor of the House. Indeed, it is a great shame that the St. David's day debate is being held--I cannot understand why--on 25 February, not on 1 March. The debate is being held not

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on a Monday, when all hon. Members would be at Westminster, but on a Thursday, at the tail end of what has become, these days, our part-time week.

Mr. Alan W. Williams: Speak for yourself.

Mr. Evans: Let us not go into that.

Democracy is denied when statutory instruments are scrutinised only in Committee, and only for an hour and a half.

In the past two days in Committee, we dealt with a number of anomalies. I asked the Secretary of State whether it was possible, for example, to lift the ban on beef on the bone in Wales, but not in England. The Secretary of State told me that, yes, that could happen. It is amazingly anomalous when people can cross the border--

Mr. Nick Ainger (West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire): This is the same speech.

Mr. Evans: It is the same speech, but the important fact is that an anomaly is not being dealt with. It is amazing that people could buy beef on the bone in Wales and ship it back to England. That anomaly has to be dealt with, as the same one could arise in relation to genetically modified foods or prescription charges.

Yesterday, we were told that prescription charges could be lower on one side of the Severn bridge than the other. Differentials in taxation are important. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) spoke about the lobby at Westminster, only yesterday, by hauliers from Pembrokeshire and other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Ainger: They were from Pontypridd.

Mr. Evans: Yes, they were from Pontypridd. However, the more important point is that, because of taxation differentials, hauliers are filling up with cheaper fuel in Calais or in Belgium and coming to England for a couple of days. We will have to sort out any anomalies that could be caused by the establishment of the Welsh Assembly, but there is currently no structure in the Assembly for doing so.

Sir Raymond Powell: The hon. Gentleman mentioned my speech and statutory instruments. We should make it clear that any hon. Member serving on a Committee considering a statutory instrument who feels that, after an hour and a half, that scrutiny should continue, should ask for the sitting to be adjourned. We should have done that on Tuesday, after a full debate. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments--we should have had a fuller debate. However, hon. Members themselves should have asked for an adjournment. Perhaps it would have been wise also for the Chairman to advise hon. Members that they could do so.

Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman has been an hon. Member long enough to know exactly what would have happened. It is pointless trying now to address that specific issue. The point is that an hour and a half was allotted, and that is all that we would have got. It is a denial of democracy for there not to be proper scrutiny of

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statutory instruments--ever more of which are being passed by the House, and ever fewer of which are being debated on the Floor of the House. Nevertheless, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman accepts the principle of the matter. Perhaps it is a matter on which we can make progress, on a cross-party basis, so that we might make Parliament more effective.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring dealt in his speech also with concordats and judicial review. Today, it was enlightening--perhaps the first chink in the blind--to learn that there might be judicial reviews of concordats. Yesterday, the Secretary of State told me--as the Secretary of State for Scotland told my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin)--that there would not be judicial reviews. Today, we heard that such a judicial inquiry might be successful. The problem is that the matter generally has not been properly thought through or tested.

During the passage of the Government of Wales Act 1998, the Opposition raised the issue of concordats. Time after time, the issue was dismissed or brushed aside. Ministers said, "Don't worry; things will be all right." Every aspect of the Government of Wales Bill was considered under the best case scenario. The worst case scenario was never taken up. When the Assembly becomes a reality later this year, there may be many worst case scenarios that we have not allowed for.

Mr. Win Griffiths: Maybe, maybe not.

Mr. Evans: The former Minister says, "Maybe not." Why were no precautions put into the legislation from the start to ensure that the system would be able to cope in the event of the worst case scenario coming about? Part of the problem is that everything was viewed through rose-tinted spectacles.

Reference has also been made to the fate of the Members of Parliament at Westminster after devolution becomes a reality. They cannot all sit on the Greater London Authority Bill Standing Committee. They will have to look for other things to do around the House. There has been much speculation about whether the St. David's day debate will continue and whether the Welsh Grand Committee or the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs will be wound up. I hope that they all continue. This is a United Kingdom Parliament. We must have the opportunity to discuss Welsh affairs as often as possible. I hope that there will be a consensus throughout the House on ensuring the continuance of those functions and on trying to make them more effective. The Assembly will look for advice, guidance and support from the Westminster Parliament from time to time. We should be able and available to give such advice.

Dr. Julian Lewis: In the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, I asked the outgoing permanent secretary of the Welsh Office whether she believed that there would be a Secretary of State for Wales in the Cabinet in 10 years' time. She refused to answer in the affirmative.

Mr. Evans: That is one of the great unknowns. If the permanent secretary was not able to give such a guarantee, perhaps there is a secret agenda that goes beyond the Secretary of State's hope of becoming the First Secretary, to the winding up of the role of Secretary of State

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for Wales. I suspect that that would mean that there was no Welsh Office Question Time, no Welsh Grand Committee and no Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. I wonder what would happen to all the Welsh Members of Parliament here at Westminster. We have to address that.

Several hon. Members have mentioned rural affairs, which is a vital subject for Wales. Farming is one of the most important industries in Wales. The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Mr. Williams) said that the incomes of farmers had declined 40 per cent. this year, on top of a 40 per cent. decline last year. I was with him in Carmarthen when the farmers turned up for their rally. I remember the hot reception that he got. After another 40 per cent. decrease in their incomes this year, they have every right to shout. The Farmers Union of Wales is talking about the dire consequences of the current perilous state of farming and of some of the proposed changes to the common agricultural policy. If those changes hit farming in Wales yet again, the situation will be even worse than it already is, if that is possible.

I have had several representations since this debate was announced. One was from David Jones, the prospective candidate for Conwy, who asked for the decision to give the administration of Llandudno hospital to Gwynedd health trust to be reversed, leaving it instead under Conwy and Denbighshire trust. He has already handed in a petition with more than 300 signatures. Is the Minister prepared to make an announcement on that? Will he take heed of the 300 people who signed the petition?

The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr also spoke about local government capping. I found his remarks incredible. He said that the people of Wales were prepared to pay extra council tax. Of course, we are talking about a stealth tax. We have heard much about the fact that the Government have not increased direct taxes but, goodness me, they have certainly increased every other tax.

Council tax has suffered severe increases in the past two years. Last year's increases varied between 9.5 per cent. and 14 per cent. when inflation was running at between 2.5 per cent. and 3 per cent. People's wages were not increasing at the same rate, so where were they supposed to find the extra money? We have already heard that this year's increases will be between 8 per cent. and 12 per cent. It is an enormous hit--a stealth tax on people who were told that there would be no tax increases.

In addition, there is a problem with council fraud throughout Wales. In one Labour-controlled local council, more than half the local councillors are currently under investigation. What does the Minister propose to do to clean up local government in Wales?

The Government talk about education, education, education, but they introduced tuition fees of £1,000 and abolished student grants. I do not see how that will advance education. The director of the education department in Powys wrote to chairs of governors and head teachers in Powys. He said that the settlement appeared generous, but continued:

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    I would much welcome the Minister's response to that statement as it was made not by a politician, but by the director of the education department at Powys.

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