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Albert Owen: On empowerment, another of the Committee's important conclusions was that 16-year-olds should be given the vote. Does my hon. Friend think that an important issue, and will he encourage the Department for Constitutional Affairs to take it on board during its inquiry?

Mr. Jones: Absolutely, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. That was one of our report's main conclusions, and although we heard evidence from both sides of the argument—including from young people who thought that the voting age should not be lowered—on balance, we recommended that the voting age be lowered to 16. I apologise for omitting that point, but it is difficult to include everything in my speech.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why we were convinced that the voting age should be lowered to 16 was that the young people who put the case for lowering it tended to be those who had experienced some form of struggle in their lives, and who had taken part in different campaigning groups to improve the condition of their environment, or of a particular group of people? It was their enthusiasm and the way in which they expressed their views that strongly influenced us.

Mr. Jones: My hon. Friend is indeed right, and one reason why I was convinced by that argument is that, generally speaking, young people aged 16 are still in education, so their involvement and interest in the voting process can be maintained by having mock elections in schools, whereas a couple of years after leaving school they might well lose that interest. I hope that that change will serve to increase participation, which is the purpose of our report, as she will remember.

On the manufacturing and trade inquiry, last October the Committee paid a successful visit to Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York, where we met many prominent US companies that are significant investors in Wales. It was useful to learn exactly why foreign investors are prepared to come to Wales. Once published, the report will be a useful tool in ascertaining what attracts inward investment to Wales, and what must be done to secure jobs and continuing prosperity for the Welsh people.

On wider issues relating to the role of the Welsh Affairs Committee, we were particularly interested to note the Liaison Committee's recommendation that Select Committees should play a much more prominent role in pre-legislative scrutiny in this House. That is a task that the Welsh Affairs Committee takes seriously. It scrutinised the draft National Health Service (Wales) Bill in 2002, and the draft Public Audit (Wales) Bill in 2003. The draft legislation set out the Government's proposal to create a more unified public accountability framework for Wales. Our report was published last July, in time for the debate on the draft Bill in the Welsh Grand Committee, and the Government's response to it welcomed a number of our recommendations.

Six of our 34 formal meetings were held in Wales, and we also held many informal meetings with individuals and organisations in Wales. During the past year, we met nearly 300 representatives from throughout Wales—from Llandudno, Bangor, Rhyl, Llandovery, Ammanford, Llanelli, Swansea, Cardiff and Newport.

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The Welsh Affairs Committee plays an important role in developing relations with the National Assembly for Wales, and it consults the Assembly wherever possible. During 2003, the Committee took evidence from the Assembly Ministers for Finance, for Local Government and Public Services, and for Health and Social Services. In addition to those formal meetings, the Committee held informal meetings with National Assembly committees and Ministers during our inquiries into railways in Wales, manufacturing and trade in Wales, and—more recently—Customs and Excise in Wales. The Committee also meets the National Assembly's Panel of Chairs twice a year to develop closer working relations and links. I am delighted to report that progress is being made in a range of areas.

I turn to an issue that is going to dominate Welsh politics during the next few months: the publication of Lord Richard's report on devolution in Wales. I wish to make it clear that, on this issue, I speak in a purely personal capacity and not as chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee.

None of what I have to say should be seen as a criticism of the Assembly; quite the contrary. It is, in my experience, a fair and accurate description of the sentiments of the people of my constituency and north-east Wales about further devolution that they need to be convinced of the very real benefits that devolution is bringing. I made this point to the Richard commission when members of the Select Committee gave evidence, and added that the onus remained with those who advocated major changes to the devolution settlement to demonstrate that the current arrangements were not working for the Welsh people.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): The hon. Gentleman's earlier remark—that his constituents were not satisfied with the way in which the National Assembly is working—is surely evidence that it is not working very well. Would he expect a three-legged racehorse to win the Derby? Clearly it would need four legs to win the race. The National Assembly needs greater powers to succeed and to convince his constituents.

Mr. Jones: I could not hear half of what the hon. Gentleman said. Would he like to intervene again?

Hywel Williams: The hon. Gentleman's point—that there was dissatisfaction in his constituency with the way in which the Assembly works—could be evidence that the Assembly needs more powers, rather than, as it is sometimes termed, "time to bed in" or whatever.

Mr. Jones: That is a position that one could take but, frankly, that was not the point I made. The Assembly is doing a lot of good, but my constituents do not know about it. That could be the fault of the Assembly, which may not be selling itself to my constituents, but it is a great danger, as I shall go on to explain.

The Welsh Affairs Committee has already recommended areas where there should be further devolution to make the Assembly work better. However, I do not think that any major change would receive widespread support. The current arrangements are working and developing in imaginative and novel

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ways, but if the Richard commission advocates major change, the arguments should be tested in a referendum of the Welsh people, particularly if those changes involve primary legislative or tax-raising powers. Any demands that the commission makes would not only be overwhelmingly defeated in a referendum, but sadly could put back further devolution for Wales for a generation or more. That would be a tragedy for Wales and would have serious implications for the development of the government of Wales in the future.

In recent weeks, some have attempted to draw a comparison between the likely outcome for the future governance of Wales and the situation that existed in Northern Ireland following the Good Friday agreement. This comparison is not correct, either in substance or from an historical perspective. Wales and Northern Ireland are completely different entities in terms of governance, both in the past and now. The Good Friday agreement, which, we must not forget, was an international peace accord, was the basis for ending conflict in Northern Ireland. The referendum that ensued was on an all-Ireland basis, north and south.

Without wishing to give the House a history lesson, from the foundation of the Northern Ireland state in 1921 until 1972, Northern Ireland had its own Parliament at Stormont, with its own Prime Minister and Cabinet. Due to the worsening security situation that existed in the early 1970s, our then Prime Minister, Edward Heath, imposed direct rule from London. Even though direct rule was opposed, Government Departments dealing with the judiciary, health, policing, the prison service, education and other matters remained in place but under the aegis of successive Secretaries of State. That is not the case in Wales. There is no comparison to be made, and I urge right hon. and hon. Members not to make such a mistake.

Finally, all of us must not forget that there are people in Wales who are anti-devolution and who, if a referendum were held, would demand an additional question to be put on the referendum paper: whether the Assembly should be scrapped. I do not want that under any circumstances and I do not believe that any hon. Member in this House would want that.

4.18 pm

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): May I first associate myself with the comments made about John Charles, who made a great contribution and was a credit to Welsh football, which is experiencing something of a renaissance?

Secondly, I apologise for the condition of my daffodil. I was impressed by the adhesive qualities of the Secretary of State's daffodil but I cannot wear mine due to what might be called a wardrobe malfunction. I shall donate it to charity after the debate.

Thirdly, I wish to point out the relative dedication of the political parties to Wales. Obviously, zero per cent. of the MPs here are Welsh MPs from the Conservative party, which has no Welsh MPs—

Mr. Evans: I am Welsh.

Lembit Öpik: That is despite the protestations of the sorely missed hon. Gentleman. As I look across to the Government side, I see that only about a third of

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Labour Members with Welsh constituencies are in their places. By comparison, 50 per cent. of Plaid Cymru Members are present, but, in stark contrast, 100 per cent. of Liberal Democrat Members with Welsh constituencies have turned up today. I may once have said, "Never mind the quantity, feel the quality", but today the Welsh Liberal Democrats have quantity and quality.

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