House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2004 - 05
Publications on the internet
Standing Committee Debates
Welsh Grand Committee Debates

Government's Legislative Programme

Welsh Grand Committee

Tuesday 7 December 2004


[Mr. Win Griffiths in the Chair]

Government's Legislative Programme

9.25 am

The Chairman: May I remind hon. Members of our sitting hours today. We are sitting from 9.25 to 11.25 this morning, and from 2 to 4.30 this afternoon. It is always difficult to accommodate all Members who wish to speak, so the briefer Members who are called early can be, the more people I can call later.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the Government's legislative programme as outlined in the Queen's Speech as it relates to Wales and public expenditure in Wales.

The Queens' Speech and the pre-Budget report show that the Government are working for a better Wales and are building on Wales' success in recent years. The measures that we have announced in the past few weeks are based firmly on a platform of economic stability, the like of which Wales has not seen in living memory.

Employment is at record levels. More than 100,000 more people are in work than in 1997, and unemployment has fallen by half since then. Last year, there were no fewer than 7,000 new business start-ups in Wales. In October, Welsh business activity rose for the nineteenth successive month, and average earnings increased by 5.4 per cent. between 2003 and 2004—a bigger increase than in the United Kingdom as a whole.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way so early in his speech, but while he discusses Wales's undoubted economic success, will he comment on speculation about an M4 relief road? For many years, my right hon. Friend and I have discussed how important that road would be not only to south-east Wales but to every part of south Wales. The further west one travels along the M4, the more important it is to reduce delays.

Mr. Hain: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because it allows me to confirm that Andrew Davies, the Welsh Assembly Minister for Economic Development and Transport, is announcing plans to proceed with the M4 relief road scheme on a toll basis. That will give motorists the choice of travelling through the Brynglas tunnel on the existing M4 for free, but at a slower speed because it may be gridlocked, or of paying a toll and zooming round to beat that gridlock, as motorists do north of Birmingham. I applaud the Welsh Assembly for making that announcement. My hon. Friend and I have pursued this matter for many years in and out of the old Wales Office.

Wales has seen one of the greatest falls in the rate of economic inactivity of any UK economic region. It has
Column Number: 4
fallen by 2 per cent. since 1997, which is especially important for us, given our historically high levels of economic inactivity. The employment rate in Wales has increased faster than the national average, and is up 3 per cent. since 1997. It is now at a higher level than in most European Union countries, including France and Germany, and is better than in Canada, Japan and the United States.

Welsh exports are up by 5 per cent. on last year, and Wales is the top UK region for creating jobs through inward investment. After seven years of Labour government, the UK has the lowest public debt of almost anywhere in the world, the lowest interest rates since 1955 and the lowest inflation since the 1960s. Unemployment is at record lows, and the UK has had the longest period of sustained year-on-year growth since the industrial revolution 200 years ago.

Two weeks ago, the Queen's Speech set out legislation to promote security and opportunity for all. I am pleased that Wales will benefit from a best-ever two Welsh Bills in the next Session. That is an historic result for Wales, which shows the Government's determination to give the Welsh Assembly Government the tools to deliver policies tailored to the needs of people in Wales. The Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill and the Transport (Wales) Bill follow the three Wales-only Bills since devolution.

The Transport (Wales) Bill will give the Assembly the powers that it needs to take forward an integrated transport policy. It is joined by the Railways Bill to ensure that the Welsh Assembly is a co-signatory to the Wales and borders franchise and is able to specify and fund services and set fares and to make improvements to the rail system in Wales.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): My right hon. Friend spoke about the historic two Bills in the Queen's Speech. Does he agree with me that one of the reasons for that is the fast-tracking of the draft legislation that was worked on in partnership with the Welsh Affairs Committee? If we continue that partnership, we can increase the amount of Wales-only Bills that appear in Queen's Speeches in the future.

Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot give any promises about Queen's Speeches in the future, although it helps to have two jobs in which there is a good synergy in these choices. He is absolutely right that the pre-legislative scrutiny carried out by the Welsh Affairs Committee in partnership—his term is spot on—with the appropriate Committee in the Assembly is the way forward for a Bill that can be fast-tracked through the whole parliamentary process.

The Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill will bring together three existing offices and establish a modern, flexible and accessible arrangement, providing the people of Wales with a first-class ombudsman service fit for the 21st century. On top of that, no fewer than 11 Bills contain Welsh clauses or provisions.

I am also delighted to announce that we have even more space in the legislative programme this year to bring forward a draft Wales-only Bill for an older
Column Number: 5
persons' champion in Wales. That will establish an independent commissioner for older people in Wales who will champion the rights and dignity of our senior citizens, providing protection from discrimination and prejudice.

Proportionately, Wales has more older people than the rest of the United Kingdom and over the next 20 years the number of people over 60 is expected to rise by 11 per cent. and the number of people over 85 is expected to rise by a third. Research shows that for some people aged 50 and over in Wales, poor housing, poor nutrition, lack of opportunity for employment and inadequate transport services remain real concerns.

The older persons' commissioner will also act as a watchdog to help to ensure that older people can contribute to society as equal partners, so that we really value our older citizens. This will be the first such commissioner for older people in Britain and we have not so far identified a comparable independent office relating to older people anywhere else in the world.

However, opportunity and progress can be built only in safe and secure conditions, with Government and the criminal justice system on the side of the law-abiding citizen. That is why we have been combating crime with 800 extra Welsh police officers and nearly 300 community support officers, with more to come. Yes—Wales is being made safer and more secure under Labour.

We know that the fight against crime and terrorism requires constant vigilance and continuing effort. At the heart of the Queen's Speech are new Bills to make Britain more secure within our national borders, our local neighbourhoods and our own homes. The Identity Cards Bill will set up a compulsory secure national identity card scheme to disrupt the use of false and multiple identities by terrorists and drug runners and make Britain's national borders more secure by tackling illegal immigration. It will be a matter for the Assembly to decide whether possession of the ID card will be necessary to access public services in Wales.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): The question that I have for the Secretary of State is one that no member of the Government has yet been able to answer. Will he explain the mechanism by which he believes that terrorism and the risk of terrorism will be significantly reduced as a result of the introduction of ID cards? He knows very well the precedent set in Spain and the United States of America, where terrible acts of terrorism were committed and the question of identity theft evidently had nothing to do with that.

Mr. Hain: As he will also be aware, the Spanish Government have made it clear that identity cards are an important part of their successful operation to target ETA terrorists over the past few years. He also knows that identity theft is a major international crime and that terrorists have stolen people's identities. It is self-evident that possessing an ID card will make that more difficult. The truth is that, even now, we have to carry ID pretty well wherever we go. If we want to take an internal flight in Britain—even on a plane piloted
Column Number: 6
by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), although that would be very risky—we have to carry photographic ID. ID cards are a common-sense provision, and I predict that the Liberal Democrats will do a flip-flop on them, just as they have on antisocial behaviour, as popular opinion demands that they overturn their policy of opposition.

Lembit Öpik: I do not want to generate a dialogue, and this is my last question on the issue for now. Do the Government intend to demand that people on temporary visits to our country carry ID cards?

Mr. Hain: As he knows, ID cards will be for British citizens—that is the important point. Possession of an ID card will enable us to determine whether those claiming to be British citizens and to be here legally are in fact British citizens.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): I apologise for arriving late, Mr. Griffiths. Does my right hon. Friend know whether identity cards in Wales will be bilingual, when and if they are introduced? If no one has mentioned the issue so far, will he please discuss it with the Home Secretary?

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 7 December 2004