House of Commons
|Session 2007 - 08|
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General Committee Debates
Welsh Grand Committee Debates
Government's Legislative Programme
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
John Benger, Committee Clerk
attended the Committee
Welsh Grand Committee
Wednesday 12 December 2007
[Mr. Martin Caton in the Chair]
Government's Legislative Programme
Motion made, and Question proposed [this day],
That the Committee has considered the matter of the Governments legislative programme as outlined in the Queens Speech as it relates to Wales and Public Expenditure in Wales.[Mr. Hain.]
Question again proposed.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): We are now back in Committee after the commercial break, as Prime Ministers questions is sometimes known. I had got as far as the thorny problem of how amendments could be made to framework powers in Public Bill Committees. I think that the Minister understood the point that I was making.
That problem aside, debating Bills on Second Reading, Report and Third Reading gives opportunities for Welsh Members of Parliament to contribute to the debate. It remains for the Wales Office to make sure that MPs are briefed fully on the extent of the powers. If anyone did well out of the comprehensive spending review, it was the Wales Office. Its budget has almost doubled and it has received an increase of £4 billion. I am sure that that sum will give it a reasonable amount of capacity to respond to the questions and queries of hon. Members. Perhaps the Minister could tell us at the reception tonight how much each LCOor alcopopwill cost.
Any measure that promotes devolution will have the support of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. However, it is fair to say that the process of scrutinising LCOs has not been as smooth and nowhere near as straightforward as we would have hoped. I remind the Minister that the primary role of the Welsh Affairs Committee is that of a Select Committee. It is not a Public Bill Committee, which is designed to scrutinise legislation. Its central aim is to scrutinise the work of the Government as it applies to Wales and, in particular, the Wales Office. That is particularly important given that Welsh questions now take place less frequentlyonce every five weeks, instead of once a monthand that the Wales Office has a budget of more than £8 billion for the next year.
On top of its usual Committee work, the Welsh Affairs Committee will have to scrutinise an unknown number of LCOs. We could have as many as 12 this year. I know that the Committees report on Orders in Council voiced the fear that the work on LCOs could risk sidelining its important work on its own inquiries. It has become increasingly clear that, following the Government of Wales Act 2006, we have a lot more bureaucracy and an obtuse process that does nothing to aid public understanding. Moreover, LCOs could take up to two years before the Assembly can legislate. Surely that is too long.
Hon. Members might have picked up from the website the map that sets out the route that LCOs must take. Perhaps we should have a competition to identify exactly where in the process a particular LCO is or where it is stuck. If we want people to have confidence in the Assembly and in what it does, policy making needs to be as straightforward as possible. However, I do not think that LCOs will win a crystal mark award for clarity. That goes back to the passage of the Government of Wales Act 2006 when the Liberal Democrats were arguing for full legislative powers for the Assembly.
The exact method of transferring powers to the Assembly is confusing for the people of Wales. There is some timidity on the part of the Government in Westminster and the One Wales Government in the Assembly about actually asking the people of Wales what they want. The Assembly is often criticised because it does not have the powers that it should. When I ask people whether it should have the same powers as the Scottish Parliament, the answer is yes.
The Secretary of State and the Government should have the courage to follow Lord Richards recommendations and establish a Scottish-style Parliament in Wales, instead of creating such a circuitous route to extra powers. Has the Secretary of State read the report of the House of Lords Constitution Committee on the scrutiny of LCOs? Has he seen its flow chart? I know that Hansard is not keen on visual aids, but I hold it up for the education of hon. Members. In the context of a tight legislative framework, we need to make the most of every opportunity to devolve power through framework powers, yet the Queens Speech is instead littered with missed opportunities.
The Government have introduced four Bills with framework powers, which have been given to the Assembly to alter building regulations, a power that the Assembly vitally needs to make its mark in tackling climate change. However, apparently the Assembly Government and the Secretary of State are to use yet another way of transferring powersthe Transfer of Functions Order. The Secretary of State told the Assembly that that would be quicker than other routes. Will the Minister give us an idea of the timetable? Would not it have been more straightforward to add to the Planning Bill, the energy Bill, or even the Climate Change Bill or the Housing and Regeneration Bill?
The Planning Bill was a major missed opportunity to devolve energy consents for large power stations and other energy developments to the National Assembly. The Assembly has been seeking that power for years, but instead of giving it to Wales, the Bill gives it to an independent planning commission, with only two or three Welsh representatives on the commission, which could be made up of 30 commissionersin fact, an English quango. As I understand it, not all commissioners will consider all applications, and there could be applications for Wales with no representatives from Wales determining them. As my colleague Mick Bates asked in the Assembly, how would the infrastructure planning commission deal with the Severn barrage and ensure that Wales had full and proper representation?
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point about the commission and its make-up, but the current system is not fair either because a statutory body in England can
Mr. Williams: I understand the hon. Gentlemans point, but in some ways it would be better if we had mirror powers in the Planning Bill, so that Wales could set up its own commission to deal with its own applications. When the Cefn Croes application was made for a wind farm in the Ceredigion constituency, a number of organisations would have liked to trigger an independent inquiry into that, but, because of the complex nature of the legislation, that was not done and the decision was made by a Minister in this place, without any involvement in or representations being made to an inquiry.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman is opposed to the concept of an independent panel commission, but not in a Welsh context. How would it increase democratic accountability if there were a Welsh infrastructure planning commission?
Mr. Williams: The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood. If the Bill goes through and becomes an Act, it would be better if there were a Welsh commission rather than an England-Wales commission, with no certainty about its composition and expertise in relation to Wales. We are against the Planning Bill and setting up the commission; my point is that if the measure were passed, it would be better if Wales were dealt with differently.
On Monday night, on Second Reading of the Planning Bill, I asked the Minister for Local Government about the work of the tripartite groupthe discussions that were taking place on the transfer of powers for the larger power stations. In my constituency, we have several applications for wind farms, and a number of those are so engineered to amount to 51 MW, which takes them out of the hands of the local authority and into those of the Minister in Westminster. That is done specifically to take advantage of what is thought by developers to be a system whereby they are more likely to get planning permission.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman explain to us exactly what the Liberal Democrat policy is on wind power?
Mr. Williams: The Liberal Democrat policy on wind power is that we are in favour of renewables, and where it is shown that renewable applications play a role in reducing carbon emissions, we will support them. However, like all applications, they are site specific, and an application for a development might be acceptable on one site but not on another. Travelling through France the other day, it was interesting to notice how many wind farms are situated on flat landscapes that could not be described as precious or high quality. I am sure that there are areas in the UK where wind farms can be supported. I supported wind farms in the Swansea valley, where the community was clearly in
Yet again there was no marine Bill in the Queens Speech. The Government have been promising one since 2002. It was a manifesto commitment in 2005 and Ministers finally published a White Paper in March. Labour had plenty of time to get the Bill ready for the Queens Speech, but yet again we saw nothing.
Yesterday, the Assembly discussed its draft budget, and I gather that feelings in the Senedd were running high, with good reason. As we now know, the National Assemblys block grant will rise by an average of 2.4 per cent.I take on board the point that was made by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy about whether the base was altered or artificially changed. Undoubtedly the Assembly has been left with some difficult decisionschoices that have already seen some of the One Wales pledges scaled down dramatically, such as those on affordable housing and free laptops for schoolchildren. It has also seen Assembly Ministers take an easy route, and pass on that tighter budget disproportionately to local authorities. Even Labour council leaders have described the settlement as deliberately punitive to local authorities. Has the Secretary of State discussed with Assembly Members the likely impact of the draft budget on council tax? It is inevitable that council tax will rise as a result of the settlement. Three local authorities have had very poor settlements: Ynys Môn, Conwy and Powys, where my constituency is.
Mr. Williams: And Gwyneddthe increase is about 1 per cent. I see a lot of merit in putting in a floor to effect a minimum increase in local authority allowances. The outcomes of these complicated formulae can never be predicted when different bid inputs are used. However, my experience in local government was that a floor or safety net was put in when the outcomes were disproportionately poor for certain authorities.
We all know about the overspending on social and domiciliary care in Welsh local authorities. The total overspend for Wales is around £50 million, and that is borne by almost all 22 local authorities. If we are serious about looking after our vulnerable people and the elderly, and keeping them in their homes, local authorities must be able to undertake that work so that our older people can have a better life during their retirement.
We are also concerned about the police settlement. I think that it has been a little better than first anticipated.
Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): My hon. Friend alludes to the fact that matters are not as bleak as they might have been, particularly for Dyfed-Powys police. None the less, they are facing a £2.1 million shortfall. They have to make £2.1 million of cashable efficiency targets, of which £1 million has been identified. Does my hon. Friend agree that that presents serious difficulties in delivering neighbourhood policing, not least in the large rural areas that many of us represent?
Mr. Williams: My hon. Friend has made a valuable point, and I pay tribute to his work in negotiating with the Dyfed-Powys police authority and the Home Office. I know that Dyfed-Powys has been at the forefront of making cost savings by using civilian staff in custody suites. As a result, it has already achieved some of the savings that it is now being required to make again. It cannot make them twice, and that is the point that we are making to the Home Office. We value the work of our police forces, especially their community activities. They need the resources to do that work, because our police forces in Wales have achieved good outcomes in reducing crime and making our communities safer.
According to the House of Commons Library, gross value added in Wales on the Office for National Statistics key economic indicator is the lowest of the four countries in the UK and 22 per cent. lower than the UK average. Household income in Wales is 11 per cent. below the UK average and lower than that in both England and Scotland. Twenty-two per cent. of England and Waless coastline is protected by the Assembly, yet, under the Barnett formula, Wales gets just 5.84 per cent. of the funding that England gets to tackle problems. The risk of being in a low-income group is greater in Wales than in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. It is clear that the Barnett formula does not address the needs of the Welsh people. Some of the problems that we have discussed today, such as those of local government and police expenditure, derive from an inadequate Barnett formula distribution of funds.
Wales deserves more than it is getting at the moment, and no formal needs-based assessment has been carried out since the 1970s. We have a system in Wales, where there are greater needs because of the legacy of ill health and unemployment problems resulting from the old industries upon which we used to depend, that takes no account of that continuing legacy of need. It will eventually bring us to the same level of expenditure as much richer areas in England.
The Assembly is setting up the all-Wales convention, and a steering group made up entirely of nominees from Labour and Plaid will set its terms of reference. Hopefully members of all parties will serve on the convention. The terms of reference are not likely to be published until March, and the review could take years to complete. Review of the Barnett formula must not be kicked into the long grass, and we would value the intervention of the Wales Office to ensure that it is given a high priority.
Can the Minister confirm that, when the convention reports, the Government will take its recommendations seriously? The Prime Minister pledges to believe in social justice, yet he continues to short-change Wales in a major way. The Queens Speech would have been the perfect opportunity to start the ball rolling on reforming Barnett. Instead, it is another missed opportunity.
Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): It is always a delight to follow the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, who represents my spiritual home of Ystradgynlais, the cultural capital of Wales, although I may not agree with any of the points that he made.
I am pleased to speak in this debate on the Queens Speech and its impact on Wales from the perspective of chairing the Welsh Affairs Committee. The three policy areas in the Queens Speech of providing security and stability, responding to the rising aspirations of the Welsh and British people and achieving democratic and constitutional renewal are broadly in line with the aspirations and interests of my Select Committee, and in many ways we have anticipated the Queens Speech in the inquiries that we have been pursuing in the past year. A year ago, for example, I spoke in the Welsh Grand Committee on the interests and concerns of the Welsh Affairs Committee on the skills deficit. The Government and the Queens Speech address the matter, and I was delighted that yesterday the Webb review on further education in Wales was published.
As a former, valued member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Mr. Caton, you will know that the principal role of my Committee is, through various appropriate inquiries, to scrutinise UK Government Departments on matters relating specifically to Wales. We have already heard about it several times today, and I do not need reminding of it. Security and stability were our uppermost priorities when we undertook our inquiry into Welsh prisoners in the prison estate, our follow-up inquiry into energy in Wales, and our ongoing inquiry into globalisations impact on Wales. The Committee also announced recently that, in the new year, it will begin an inquiry into cross-border issues, which, again, will address the quality-of-life question through the public services that Welsh people receive.
My main purpose today is to explain how the Welsh Affairs Committee is rising to the challenge of democratic and constitutional renewal in the context of the Government of Wales Act 1998. Although the Committees main purpose remains holding UK Government Departments to account, which is a laudable, democratic and constitutional objective, we have a new role: pre-legislative scrutiny. To that end, my Committee produced a report earlier this year on the new legislative competence orders under the Order-in-Council procedure. In that report, the Committee noted the need to strike a balance between pre-legislative scrutiny work and our timetable of inquiries into Government policy as it affects Wales.
The report welcomed the opportunity to work jointly with Assembly Committees, subject to the number and timing of the legislative competence orders. We are at an early stage in our work. I see the situation as not only a democratic challenge but a partnership, or as I would describe it today, as a co-operative challenge for Westminster and Cardiff bay.
Next year is the 150th anniversary of the death of Waless greatest son of the 19th century, Robert Owen, who is widely acknowledged as the founder of the co-operative movement worldwide. It is his vision of co-operation and mutual respect and support which I wish to capture in the anniversary year of 2008 through the work of the Welsh Affairs Committee between our two democratic institutions, Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales.
If you will allow me this historical digression, Mr. Caton, in presenting a bust of Robert Owen to the International Labour Office in Geneva in 1929, the then Liberal Member of Parliament and great peace
As the Welsh Grand Committee knows, the Act introduced a new procedure whereby the National Assembly for Wales can bring forward proposals which would extend the Assemblys law-making powers by way of legislative competence orders. Proposed orders can be introduced by the Welsh Assembly Government, by Committees of the National Assembly and interestingly, as here in Westminster, by individual Assembly Memberssimilar to private Members Bills and subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. Such scrutiny is conducted by ad hoc Assembly Committees, appointed for that purpose, and by Committees of the House of Commons and House of Lords. As has already been stated, my Committee will work from time to time with those Assembly Committees. It is well understood that Whitehall agreement is a necessary prerequisite before a proposed order is referred by the Secretary of State to each House.
To date, two proposed LCOs have been referred by the Secretary of State to the Welsh Affairs Committee for pre-legislative scrutinyone in the area of additional learning needs, the other relating to domiciliary care. The Committee has completed its pre-legislative scrutiny of the first proposed LCO and will publish its conclusions soon. In doing its work we were pleased to take evidence from the Under-Secretary of State for Wales and the Education Minister for the Assembly, Jane Hutt.
The second proposed LCO to be referred to the Committee is in the area of domiciliary care. Detailed pre-legislative work on that proposal will begin in the new year and I am delighted to announce that we will be doing that work jointly with the National Assembly Committee where and when possible.
Proposed LCOs in the areas of environmental protection, vulnerable children and affordable housing have been published by the Welsh Assembly Government. National Assembly Committees have been established to consider each of those proposed orders. The Welsh Affairs Committee, along with the House of Lords Constitution Committee, await the referral of those LCOs for pre-legislative scrutiny by the Secretary of State.
Although it is unfortunate that the publication and examination of those proposed LCOs has been undertaken by Assembly Committees prior to completion of the process of engagement with Whitehall Departments, I do not blame anyone for that. I think it is down to the understandable and welcome enthusiasm of the Assembly Committees wanting to progress these matters. It is nevertheless hoped that future timetabling arrangements will allow greater opportunities for the Welsh Affairs Committee to work more closely with Assembly Committees.
In the meantime, individual Committee members and Committee staff have visited the Assembly over the last few months to attend the work of Assembly Committees. I should pay tribute here to the work of
I would like to end by paying tribute to two individual Assembly Members. The best example of what I call Owenite co-operation on new harmony has come from the Conservative Assembly Member for Cardiff North, Jonathan Morgan. In bringing forward his proposed order on mental health in Wales as a Back Bencher, he has built strong cross-party support in the Assembly, gained Welsh Assembly Government support, held productive informal meetings with me, as Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, and with my Committee staff, and built new political and governmental links in Westminster. I think that it is a model to be followed.
Similar positive links have been fostered by the Labour AM for Vale of Clwyd, Ann Jones, on her proposed order relating to fire sprinklers in Wales. I congratulate her on echoing the constructive approach of members of the Welsh Affairs Committee.
The good news is that new harmony is breaking out all over the Welsh Affairs Committee and between our two democratic institutions. Despite a daunting work load in 2008, the Welsh Affairs Committee is pleased to be vigorously addressing the three key themes of the Queens Speechsecurity and stability, responding to rising aspirations and achieving democratic and constitutional renewal. I suspect that Robert Owen of Newtown and New Harmony would be very pleased with our progress.
Mr. Jones: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Torfaen, who is, of course, the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee. [Hon. Members: Aberavon.] I am sorry, the hon. Member for Aberavonsouth Wales is all the same to people from the north. [Interruption.] Having said that, may I say what an excellent Chairman the hon. Gentleman is and what wise guidance he has given to the Select Committee at a particularly difficult time when it is forging new procedures to deal with the legislative competence orders.
The Secretary of State and most hon. Members who have spoken today have concentrated on devolution. That is hardly surprising given that three of the Bills announced in the Queens Speech contain framework paths for the Welsh Assembly, and more contain Executive powers for Welsh Ministers. There are also many legislative competence orders coming through, as we have heard.
I should like to deal with an issue that was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham: clauses 109 and 110 of the Local Transport Bill, which seek to confer powers on the Assembly to impose trunk road charges in Wales. That issue causes me considerable concern, and I hope that the Minister will comment specifically on it in his winding-up speech. The measures seek to confer powers on the Assembly to impose trunk road charges in Wales, which it is not proposed should arise in England, and which were condemned by a petition of almost 2 million people on the Downing street website.
The Secretary of State sought to present the measure as one that was highly specific, to use his words. In
provide very limited powers over trunk roads, and not all roads in Wales, so that the Assembly Government can bring in congestion charges or provide for road tolling, which might be the only way of financing the M4 relief road.
Of course, the powers are not so specific. If the Government wished to finance the M4 relief road, that could be done using a specific measure in the Bill giving a power simply to provide a new toll road for the M4, but that is not happening. The clause clearly seeks to give the Welsh Assembly powers to charge for the use of trunk roads in Walesnot simply the M4, but any trunk road, such as the A55.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that this matter comes to the very crux of the argument and discussions that we had in briefing sessions? The question is whether the Conservative party in Westminster trusts the National Assembly for Wales, including its Conservative Members, to deliver transport solutions for Wales within Wales.
Mr. Jones: With great respect to the Minister, if that were the question, I would be able to give him an answer, but the question is: why is the Secretary of State purporting to present that measure as a highly specific measure to provide for an M4 relief road when it is nothing of the sort? In fact, it is a trunk road charge for the whole of Wales.
Mr. Jones: The Minister shakes his head, but that is the way that clause 109 is framed. The proceeds of such charging are to be applied, we are told, for the purposes of transportnot for purposes of transport hypothecated to the project in question, such as the case of the proposed M4 relief road, but for transport in general. In other words, the proceeds of the charges would come into the transport budget line and an equivalent sum could quite properly be taken out of that line and applied for some other purpose. That is taxation by the back door. In neither the Government of Wales Act 1998, nor the Government of Wales Act 2006 was a tax-raising power proposed. The Welsh people have never been asked whether they want tax-raising powers for the Welsh Assembly and this, I suggest, is a means of circumventing the restrictions that would otherwise arise.
Mr. Roger Williams: I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Would he like to consider what the Barnett consequences of a trunk road charging scheme are? Would it increase or decrease the block grant, because if it reduced it, we would be no better off?
Mr. Jones: With great respect, that is a matter for the Minister to answer, not me. It is clear that such a measure would cause huge financial disadvantage to Wales. I come from an area of Wales that relies on
Most of the visitors to the part of the world that I represent come from the north-west of England, which is probably equidistant between north Wales and the Lake district with regard to travelling time and I dare say that if a weekender from the north-west of England had a choice of travelling to the Lake district without a road charge or to north Wales, despite its manifold attractions, with a road charge, the temptation would certainly be to go to the Lake district. I can tell the Minister that the tourist industry in Wales will regard that as a worrying and detrimental measure, as will the agriculture and haulage industries. Indeed, that will disadvantage Wales and I ask him to reconsider.
I also ask the Minister to respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham in relation to consideration in Public Bill Committee. Those two clauses are provisions with enormous impact on Wales and I suggest that it is absolutely essential that protected time be allowed in debate to consider those measures and their impact on Wales, because it is clear that the Government are refusing to take on board the arguments that my hon. Friend and I have advanced. Perhaps we should explore them further in the Public Bill Committee.
With regard to the proposed legislation and the proposed legislative competence orders in general, the thrust of most of those will be to centralise power in the hands of the Executive in Cardiff and increasingly to suck up powers from local authorities. The Planning Bill, we are told, would give the Assembly increased control over local development plans. I belief that local authorities should have as much control as possible over local development plans. That is real devolution: concentrating power at the lowest possible level of government. We now see the antithesis of devolution, with powers increasingly being centralised in Cardiff bay.
The measures in the Planning Bill have already been subject to some criticism today, and I endorse that. I believe that the proposed infrastructure planning commission will remove the publics democratic right to challenge projects at public inquiries. An unelected quango will be judge and jury over projects that will have a fundamental effect over the lives of local people and, as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire pointed out, there is no appeal against that unelected quango unless it is on a point of law by way of judicial review. To a large extent local people will therefore be disfranchised in respect of very important infrastructure projects that affect their daily lives.
I turn to the issue of the proposed legislative competence orders. I detected today that the Secretary of State was adopting a slightly more conciliatory tone than he has previously. Right hon. and hon. Membersmost notably the right hon. Members for Torfaen and for Islwynhave criticised the extent to which it appears that the Assembly considers that Parliament should act as simply a rubber stamp. The Minister shakes his head, but I well recall that when he appeared before the Select Committee, I asked him why these powers were needed and what they would be used
Huw Irranca-Davies: Knowing that many hon. Members wish to speak, I hesitate to intervene but our point of divergence on this is quite clearly that we will not second-guess measures that the Assembly will bring forward. If the hon. Gentleman and his party are asking us continually to suggest laws made in Wales by the Welsh Assembly Government, we will not go in that direction.
Mr. Jones: That is not what I was suggesting and that was not my understanding of what the hon. Gentleman said to the Select Committee. It seems to me and also seems now to be accepted by the Secretary of State that Parliament has a right to know why there is a need for the powers to be devolved to the Assembly. That is divergent from what the Assembly itself has been saying to date. To that extent at least, we have the Secretary of State on our side. It would also be interesting to know for what purpose they were to be used. When the Welsh Minister Jane Hutt appeared before the Select Committee, she spoke very courteously and at some length, but I was totally at a loss to understand what the Assembly would be doing with the powers that it was proposed should be conferred under the additional learning needs LCO.
I remind the Minister that the White Paper indicated that the procedure would work on the basis that at least, maybe on occasions, an example would be given of the proposed measure that would be introduced. I have yet to see that. I hope that that procedure will be introduced, so that members of the Select Committee can at least get some sort of inkling of what early measures are going to be introduced. The Secretary of State also referred to broadness. I am glad to say that he has criticised the drafting of the proposed LCOs for that broadness. That was a matter that I criticised witnesses for in the Select Committee. If Parliament is to be conferring powers, they should be limited powers. In some respects, they may be broadly limited, but not so broad as those that are proposed by the Assembly.
I was very concerned, for example, that when the draft additional learning needs LCO came before the Committee the expression disability was not defined. It is extraordinary that, when it was put to the witnesses that some definition was desirable so that perhaps at some later date a court could decide the extent of the powers, they rejected it. It was rejected not by the Minister but by the legal counsel for the Assembly. There is a certain amount of tension arising.
I am glad to see that the thrust of the Government here at Westminster now appears to be to seek to introduce a certain amount of sanity and discretion into those LCOs so that they will be limited and more defined. Perhaps we are now moving towards some form of consensus.
In all these contexts, it worries me that the transfer of functions and of competences to the Assembly is increasingly having the effect of depriving local authorities of powers. I do not believe that is right. I am concerned, for example, about the proposed domiciliary care LCO. That certainly hoovers up
Similarly, I share the concerns expressed by the right hon. Members for Torfaen and for Islwyn about the extent to which the Assembly is seeking to remove the right of people to purchase their council houses. That right has done more than anything, certainly that I can remember, to improve aspiration among the working classes, which I would have thought the Government would seek to encourage, not restrict.
I have already canvassed these matters with the hon. Member for Aberavon. I do not think that the Welsh Affairs Committee will be able to cope with the volume of legislative competence orders that will be coming up for consideration. The Select Committee has a primary function of scrutinising Departments from a Welsh perspective. I believe that the extent to which it will be able to carry out that important function will be reduced by the amount of work that it is being called on to undertake. I am referring to scrutiny of the draft LCOs.
I am reserving judgment, but I am moving closer to the view that perhaps the procedure is the wrong procedure and that perhaps ad hoc Committees should be formed specifically for the purpose of conducting pre-legislative scrutiny of LCOs, not only on the basis of the large volume of work involved, but on the basis that it is important that other Welsh Members of Parliament should have the opportunity to participate in that pre-legislative scrutiny, which now, by definition, is restricted to the members of the Welsh Affairs Committee.
I am aware that other hon. Members wish to contribute to this debate. I hope that the concerns that I have voiced, relating particularly to the Local Transport Bill but also to the LCOs and the methods of scrutiny, will be considered by the Minister and commented on in his winding-up speech.
Albert Owen: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Clwyd, West, who works with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon on the Welsh Affairs Committee. I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to scrutinise legislation effectively and to allocate an appropriate amount of time to the LCOs.
I shall try to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon in his theme of new harmony. I may stray slightly from that, but I intend to be an Owenite all the way through my contribution, because he not only was a great co-operative but had a great surname.
The majority of members of the Committee concentrated their efforts this morning on LCOs and devolution. I am, by instinct, a devolutionist. I believe in decentralising power wherever possible, not simply from one institution to another but, as the hon. Member for Clwyd, West has said, as close to the people as possible. One concern that people in north Wales have about the current settlement and the way in which it is moving is that much of the decision making has just moved from London to Cardiff bay. For the devolution settlement to be more popular in the future and for any chance of a referendum victorya yes for more powersit has to be seen to be serving the people of north Wales more directly than it is at the moment.
I shall concentrate my efforts on two big issues, not LCOs but measures in the Queens Speech. I shall talk about the global implications of the Climate Change Bill and the energy Bill, because I feel that if we do not deal with those issuesI am saying this tongue in cheekperhaps the tide will rise on the Thames and we will not be able to have LCO discussions in the future. Indeed, if we do not get our energy requirements right, we will be dealing with LCOs by candlelight. Such is the magnitude of the need to deal with climate change, get CO2 emissions down, get the correct balance and ensure a secure energy supply for Wales.
The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, who is now back in her seat, touched on party finance and expenditure. I want to touch on that issue, because although there has been a lot of froth in the past few weeks, it is in the Queens Speech and not many hon. Members have referred to it. It is important that we settle the issue of party finances and expenditure.
I am rather disappointed that the party of which the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham is a member has pulled away from and suspended the review by Sir Hayden Phillips, who could have dealt with this matter in a proper forum. Last week, during the Opposition day debate, all the Opposition parties put the boot into the Labour party, but no political party in the House is whiter than white. We have all seen the misdemeanours with regard to making errors, and the hon. Lady herself said that those were mostly administrative errors by the Labour party.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The administrative errors that I was referring to were the ones admitted by the Secretary of State, who is no longer sitting in his place, sadly. However, it is a matter for the recordI think that the hon. Gentleman will agreethat we did not suspend the talks. In fact, the Labour party was not prepared to discuss its union funding. We have asked for that issue to be put on the table for the reasons that I discussed in the morning sitting. The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong to suggest that we are not willing to talk; Labour is unwilling to discuss the donations that come from the unions into the Labour party.
Albert Owen: Well, it has not been denied by the leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), but I am pleased that the hon. Lady has done so. She is right to say that the Conservatives want to concentrate on trade unions and breaking historical links, but I repeat what I said in an earlier intervention: donations from trade unionists to the Labour party are the cleanest and most transparent of all the donations.
Hon. Members can talk about making mistakes
Albert Owen: No, because I want to move on to more important things, and if I give way I will not have the opportunity to do so. However, I want to deal with this matter. The leader of the Opposition actually admitted in a news conference that he has made mistakes with funding and that he and other hon. Members have been brought to book in the House of Commons for using facilities for party reasons, so it is possible to trip up. Those dodgy dinners that the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members had can be regarded in the same way as the dodgy donations that we have discussed. We have to be very careful.
Mrs. Gillan: On dodgy dinners, two members of the hon. Gentlemans party wrote to me in time for the local election campaign to query a dinner that I held through the Westminster dining club. They did not follow that up, and I presume that the bullying e-mail that they sent me suddenly disappeared, because they discovered that that was not a political dining club. However, those actions, taken by Labour party members, were quite unacceptable, and I am sad that they did not pursue the matter.
Albert Owen: I will return to the Queens Speech, which includes a measure on finance and party expenditure. The point that I am making clearly is that this area needs to be sorted out once and for all, because all political parties in the House have strayed.
Plaid Cymru members involved in the Assembly elections have now been asked to resubmit their returns because of adverts, and the House of Commons Committee responsible for those matters brought them to book over it. The Liberal Democrats are holding money from a convicted fraudster, and they have not returned it. That is my point. [ Interruption. ] I do not think that the hon. Lady is doing herself or her party justice by barracking from a sedentary position. I am making the same point as the leader of the Opposition, which is that the rules need tightening up otherwise all parties will fall foul of them. That is in the Queens Speech. However, I should like to move on, rather than respond to the hon. Lady, who is speaking from a sedentary position.
The Climate Change Bill is the most important measure that has been introduced by any Government in decades. That Bill makes the UK Government the first Government to bring forward legislation for long-term targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That shows international leadership, and we should all get behind the Bill, because, as the Stern review showed, the cost of dealing with climate change is less than the cost of not dealing with it. We all agree that we need to move forward, and the legal framework to cut CO2 emissions is a good way forward. I do not think that that approach is strong enough, but the measures will allow us to work from the 2050 goal of a 60 per cent. reduction.
This is an important first step, and all parties should work together to improve the Bill, so that we can work towards cutting CO2 emissions. That should include aviation and shipping, although I do not agree with 2 emissions from aircraft in the same way as car manufacturers have used lead in petrol. Hon. Members will recall that when we discussed reducing lead in petrol, car manufacturers said that doing so was impossible, that cars would not perform in the future and that we would all be travelling at 30 mphin north Wales, perhaps that would be a good thing. The aviation industry should consider how to reduce its emissions, rather than individual people being taxed, which is often proposed.
The second important Bill is the energy Bill, which will ensure the security of our energy supply in what is undoubtedly an insecure world. I support a rich energy mix and greater use of renewable energies. I note the comments of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, not only because there is a meeting before Christmas, but because his response to the renewable issue and wind was woolly to say the least. Someone is either in favour of something in principle or against it. I understand that sites are a big issue, and in my constituency we have onshore wind turbines. Many people who were against them are now in favour because the turbines are now part of the scenery. People accept that clean energy has to come from somewhere, and windmills must be situated where the wind is flowing. Wind turbines cannot be put out of sight where the wind does not flow; they have to be in dominant areas.
The situation is the same with offshore turbines. In order to get cheap electricity to the grid, it is no use putting turbines 30, 40, or 50 miles offshore. We need a base load in Wales and the United Kingdom for electricity supply. If the electricity is not flowing and the base load goes down, we have power cuts. It is as simple as that.
Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the existing policy in technical advice note 8, which concentrates on wind turbine developments in a relatively limited area of Wales, is problematic and could lead to local opposition? Would it not be better to spread the development out more evenly so that the burden is shared?
Albert Owen: That is a sensible suggestion. They should be concentrated in more than one area. I make this point again: if we want clean energy from renewablesand wind is part of thatwe must put turbines somewhere. It is no use just having opposition for the sake of opposition and politicians saying, We want them everywhere but our area. I know the hon. Member for Clwyd, West is opposed to the development off the shore of north Wales, but I am actually in favour of it for two reasons. One reason is that it will help the economy of north Wales, because we could build, ship and use the maintenance in north Wales. Another reason is that we must contribute to the UKs lot by having large-scale wind farms offshore. I think that we must take that direction.
I am not just in favour of wind, because I believe in a rich mix. As I have said, we should use the cutting edge of low-carbon technology, such as carbon capture and storage. Again, that is underdeveloped, but it is a way forward. When we considered energy in Wales, I know
I am also in favour of the Severn barrage study, because it is important to consider tidal energy. There will some disturbance in relation to that, and some issues will be raised, but it is no use hon. Members saying that they are in favour of tidal energy in principle and then abandoning it because they have been lobbied hard by some environmentalist. We must work together on this issue. We must also consider clean coal and the importation and storage of liquefied natural gas in the future. I support the Pembrokeshire development, and there are plans in Anglesey in relation to that. I am not 100 per cent. sure about where the gas will be stored and pumped to, but we must as a nation accept responsibility for importing LNG to meet demands in the short term.
I do not believe that the ambitious targets in the Climate Change Bill can be met without new nuclear build. It is important to pursue renewables to meet the target, but there will still be an energy gap. The only provenI would say safemeans of generation to fill that gap is nuclear power, and Wales should not be left out of that process. We have a skills base in my constituency that has allowed the safe generation of nuclear energy over 30 years, and it would allow safe new generation.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy is not in his place but I am concerned about Plaid Cymrus policy on this. Its draft manifesto for the Assembly elections said that it opposed nuclear power. Following some local politics in Anglesey, where its leader was standing, that policy was suddenly dropped from the manifesto, and the leader came out and said that he was in favour of new build in Wales. The party is hostile to any new build, but its leader is in favour. If we are being honest, that circle cannot be squared. I have consistently been in favour of nuclear power for Wales and for my constituency of Anglesey, because I believe that there is a local and a national interest in providing safe, secure supplies of electricity. One cannot be inconsistent on this matter because one is a local Member. We have to say before, during and after elections that we have a strong opinion.
Adam Price: I accept the sincerity of the hon. Gentlemans position, but if that is his goal, should he not work with the Assembly Member for Ynys Môn on a cross-party basis, rather than attacking him for agreeing with his own view?
Albert Owen: I am certainly not attacking the Assembly Member for Ynys Môn for saying that he is in favour of nuclear. I want to work with himI have formed a local group but he does not turn up. He sends different messages to different people at different times. This is why I am making this personal attack: he is the leader of a party that is in the governing coalition in Wales, yet his position is to say one thing at one time and another at another. If he is in favour, I want him to stand up in the National Assembly for Wales and fight for his constituents by stating his position clearly, which is all I ask. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point.
I am working with all parties. The local authority has now come out in favour, because I led the campaign on the island, and many other groups have also come out in favour. The Plaid Cymru group on the council has not done so, and the local Assembly Member did so only because of the election. I do not want to get bogged down on the point, but I want to make the position clear because jobs will be lost and environmental targets missed if Wales does not go down the nuclear road. The irony is that if the consultation favours new nuclear build, the likely sites are across the River Severn in the Bristol area, so skills will be lost from north-west Wales to that area. That will not help the Welsh economy or that of north-west Wales.
Nuclear power will help to achieve low-carbon targets and will be part of a safe and secure mix for the future. It is important that the developers of new nuclear power stations pay their full share of waste and decommissioning costs. I respect those who have issues with regard to waste, because the matter has not been properly dealt with by Governments of any colour, whether Conservative or Labour, over the past 50 years. We must ensure that the decommissioning of waste from new build is dealt with properly.
Nuclear energy is as safe a source as any other. Studies in Switzerland follow the equation from the mining of uranium all the way through to safe generation and even to the fallouts and leaks. The results show that nuclear compares with, or favourably to, other forms of generation, including hydro and coal, when the whole industry is considered. The threat of global warming is real and new nuclear is safe, so we should proceed with it. Given the stance taken by all parties in the Welsh Affairs Committee in supporting new nuclear build on certain sites such as Wylfa, I am not out on a limb here. There is cross-party support, but some are meek in making the case all the way through the equation to get the new nuclear build.
I see no contradiction in being pro-nuclear, pro-renewable and pro-energy efficient. I think we have to follow all those routes, if we are to meet our target of reducing CO2 emissions and providing the safe and secure generation of electricity. Commerce requires it, our environment needs it, and those two major Bills in the Queens Speech affect not only Wales and the United Kingdom, but right across the globeand Wales will benefit from moving forward with them.
I support the settlement of the comprehensive spending review, because it is a real-terms increase. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaenwho is not in his seat at the momentthat the increase should be passed on to local councils in the settlement. I am going to tap the leader of Plaid Cymru in the Assembly on this one, too, as last year he jumped up and down in opposition and said that he felt it was terrible that we had only a 3.5 per cent. rise in the local government settlement. This year, he is defending a 1.1 per cent. rise, so there is inconsistency there, too.
I am in favour of having tight settlements, but I believe they should be across the board in Wales. We should be fighting for an equal rise, and not giving
Adam Price: I suspect that, if Plaid Cymru were not in coalition with Labour, the settlement for local government in this coming financial year would be even worse than the current challenging settlement. That is a fact.
Albert Owen: It is a fact or second-guessingI do not know which one. The fact is that we have the worst settlement ever. One of the reasonsI am glad the hon. Gentleman intervenedthat we got less in this settlement is because another Plaid Cymru Minister in the coalition Government is actually bailing out the Millennium centre, so it appears that the priority for Plaid Cymru this year is to support the Millennium centre rather than supporting the local government settlement. I understand that there are difficult decisions to make in government, but Plaid Cymru has changed its tune,
We have seen the worst settlement for local government in Wales and a good comprehensive spending review. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr says that it would have been even worse, but I do not know how spending millions on the Wales Millennium centre in Cardiff bay will help the people of north-west Wales, who will probably have their council tax put up. If he can answer that, I will be willing to listen.
This Parliament needs to work with the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure that our settlements go right the way through to local level and that we do better in future. We have had a decent settlement for the next three years, andthe hon. Gentleman and I are in agreement on thisit might be the tightest settlement we have had, but it was better than we had before the Labour Government in 1997. It is tight, but it is achievable. I think we should have the floor in the mechanism that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire has suggested and change the formula so that we have that safety net for the future, because I do not want to see big expenditure on national icons instead of local authorities. I believe that this Queens Speech really is radical in that it deals with the big issues of energy and climate change, and I welcome and support it.
Nia Griffith: I welcome the Queens Speech, the first since the passing of the Government of Wales Act 2006, which provides new opportunities for the Assembly to pass measures specific to Wales, go through the framework powers and the Orders in Council. Inevitably, any new procedure will be difficult when first introduced, but I am sure that we can work together to get the very best for the people of Wales.
Like the my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn, I particularly welcome the inclusion of the Climate Change Bill in the Queens Speech. Climate change, as we all know, is an issue that supersedes borders and affects every single one of us. Indeed, this week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Minister
To my mind, when securing international agreements, it is essential to show what is being done back home. It has been very heartening to hear that we are now getting a lot of support from the rest of the world. One of the first announcements by the new Labour Prime Minister in Australia was that Australia would come on board with the Kyoto protocol. A fair number of states in the United States of America are already joining in with action on climate change, and there is already a mood of change among many federal politicians. There is no doubt that our hand is strengthened in international negotiations by the fact that we are the first country in the world to bring forward a legal framework in the Climate Change Bill, which will introduce legally binding targets for cutting emissions.
Two years ago, when I was elected, I had the opportunity to support my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), who introduced a private Members Bill on climate change. Many people thought that we had gone out on a limb, that we were a bit strange and that it was odd that climate change was our priority, because it was not a mainstream political one at the time. I give due credit to the Ministers involvedin particular, the then Minister for Energy, who supported the Bill and helped us with it. Words such as microgeneration are now becoming household terms. The Bill set out a framework for targets and was a forerunner of the measures in the Climate Change Bill.
It should also be remembered that the Prime Minister, who was then the Chancellor, had the foresight to commission the Stern report way back at a time before many people had even thought about climate change. It has taken a while to introduce the Climate Change Bill, but when we look at the work involved and at its innovative nature, we will realise that it has been introduced in record time.
The draft Bill was published in 2006. That was an important stage, because it enabled several Committees to take evidence, as well as non-governmental organisations and members of the public to contribute, through which we have been able to improve the Bill. However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: this is only the beginning, and all of us and every level of Government face huge challenges. We need to find out how on earth to make carbon emissions reduction a reality. We will need every single innovative idea that we can get, and we need to share and share alike with all levels of Government to make progress on reducing carbon emissions.
The marine Bill was mentioned by a number of hon. Members. I can assure them that a tremendous amount of work is being done on the Bill behind the scenes. It is a complex Bill, and it involves talks with the devolved Administrations. There is every intention to introduce a draft marine Bill in the near future.
Mr. Roger Williams: It is sometimes said that the impediment to the marine Bill is the approach of the devolved Governments. With her specialist knowledge and insight, will the hon. Lady say whether there is any truth to that?
Nia Griffith: The real difficulty is that a number of different vested interests in the marine Bill overlap with the individual agendas of the devolved Administrations. A number of interest groups are, in some ways, not holding out, but making it more complicated to produce a clear, workable marine Bill. Such a Bill can be made workable only with the consent of the interested parties; otherwise, we would be on a hiding to nothing on enforcement.
I was pleased to have the opportunity on Monday to speak in the debate on the Planning Bill and to raise the issue of water companies becoming statutory consultees. I was pleased that the Minister for Local Government was able reassure me about that in his summing up. As you know, Mr. Caton, we have a precious waterway between our constituenciesthe Burry inletand if we can get water companies to speak up and say what is happening when new developments put excessive pressure on existing pipes, we might have some hope of clearing up problems, such as spills and excessive sewage pouring out into that precious area, where we have a precious shellfish industry. It is important that planners make statements to say that they are fully aware of the impact of new developments on infrastructure and, in particular, on waste water systems. That is also important because of the possibility of sewage coming back up the system and flooding peoples houseswe have seen too much of that around the country this year. That is an important reason why water companies must be involved in planning, so that we get things right.
The title of the Education and Skills Bill is important, because we want to emphasis the skills part as much as anything. The Bill is exciting, and it is significant that we are moving forward in such a way. As I understand it, the framework powers in the Bill will open an opportunity for the Assembly to take up the powers to extend the legal entitlement to education up to the age of 18. This in an exciting opportunity, and one that I very much hope that Assembly colleagues will welcome and use.
Unfortunately, the Bill has been referred to loosely as the raising of the school leaving age Bill, and that conjures up in peoples minds the image of rather gangly, reluctant 17-years-olds coming into the classroom to do anything but listen and resisting any attempt by any teacher or lecturer to influence them. That is very far from the Bills intention, which is to give an entitlement to a range of different ways of accessing education, whether through apprenticeships, training days or specific vocational courses.
What is important is that the entitlement is statutory. If it is purely voluntary and assumed that such opportunities are available for those who want them, that is fine for the 90-plus per cent. of young people who do get involved and are already taking up opportunities. But we need the statutory entitlement specifically for the 3 or 4 per cent. who drop out at 16 or even earlier, to ensure that they get chased up, encouraged and moved forward. We all know that, if something is not statutory and a funding crisis arises, it is the first thing to go, because statutory services must be protected.
I should like to stress the opportunity that we have to look again at what we are doing to encourage young women of that age group to think about atypical career
I hope that, as we move forward with our exciting 14-to-19 agenda, which colleagues in Wales have been working hard on for the past few years, we will also look at how we can encourage young women to think outside the box and take up opportunities that, perhaps in the past, they considered were not right for them. That is important not only for their own well-being, but to enable us to close the skills gap that is becoming an issue in Wales.
With those measures in mind, I particularly recommend the Queens Speech. I think we have some exciting opportunities that we can go forward with, and I certainly disagree with the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, who does not see the excitement of this terrific Queens Speech, which provides many exciting opportunities.
Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): The problem with this sort of debate is that it skews itself to the obvious, and that has happened today: a sort of constitutional fetishism goes on when we have a Welsh Grand Committee. That is not something I wish to indulge in. However, if Nye Bevan was right and the language of socialism is about priorities, that is what I want to concentrate on, and I should like to focus now on the comprehensive spending review. A potential architecture comes from all these different bits of legislation that could be put together to spend that money efficiently. That is what I am really interested in.
A lot of people talk to me about the problems that they face in my local community. They describe problems of economic inactivity, incapacity and all the rest of it. One of the things that is possibly available is a strategic view to deal with those questions that comes out of all these pieces of legislation when knitted together. When I was first elected, along with some of my colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon, we produced a thought piece about having a strategic view of the heads of the valleys to deal with such things.
I shall share something with my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn. All of a sudden, his Assembly Member, who is now the deputy leader of the chimera coalition in Cardiff, is on my hit list as well. We are apparently facing the abandonment of the dualling of the heads of the valleys road. That is not the priority that I want, but it is a consequence of the rearrangement of priorities as seen by someone who comes from somewhere else and has a different viewnew Minister, new policy, new blunder.
I will concentrate on how we deal with organisations such as the Merthyr Tydfil Institute for the Blind and the providers of skills training. I have not had a chance
That brings me to the relationship between the good things in the DWPs work and the money for the CSRs activity, knitted together with the convergence money potentially held by the Assembly and elsewhere, to make something happen for a step change. That is what I require, and other organisations are helping to achieve it. A project has been taking place with the local university in Merthyr for the past three or four years. It is an action research programme, which produced a report a few weeks ago that stated how to help people to move from being socially isolated without work to become one of the working classes, with a job. Was much notice taken of it? No, because people talk about us rather than to us. But tools are being developed in those communities that need to be supported. We can do some things for communities, but we need to do a lot of things with communities.
My concern is that, unless there is a consistent architecture for the provision of skills and education and unless the Assembly works in direct strategic relationship with the DWP, we will not achieve the objectives that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath wishes to see. The lesson that I learn from that is simple: we cannot do it in Wales and we cannot do it from outside Wales; we must do it together.
The priority must not be a convention on more powers or some commission about the Barnett formula or the Welsh language again. They are not my priorities; they are nonsense, frankly, in terms of what is immediately necessary, but they may be desirable at a later date. That is the sort of debate that we can continue to have. Have it at the Oxford UnionI do not care where it takes place. What I require is immediate action to deal with the problem. There is money in the Assembly from the settlement; there is money in the Departments. There could be legislation to put them together, and we need to make that happen, because to say that it is not possible is a denial of the people whom we represent.
Interestingly enough, in terms of talking to people and trying to organise them on to the journey from being out of work and socially excluded back into work, I have seen the DWP come alongwe have got city strategy money for the heads of the valleys and deprivation funding, knitted together with convergence money from the Assembly, and we would start to do thingsbut I thought that the problem would be the health service.
The problem is that it is no good talking in isolation up here, because the decisions about the practical application of the health service take place in Cardiff. That is not my problem; it is not that there are musculoskeletal problems. The health service is responding. The problem is actually in training and skills, which is where the deficiency lies, so that is a tension. I note that the hon. Member for Clwyd, West talks of localism and some of the orders hoovering up power to the Assembly, away from local authorities.
I shall deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire about wind farms. A wind farm is currently planned right on the border of a local authority, where it will affect another one. That local authority can only make a decision on what happens within its borders, and the consequences on another authority can only be dealt with in the Assembly. So we need to debate the issues that emerge from the new planning legislation, to provide the tools and the enablers for the job that we need to do.
Want 2 Work is a great example of the DWP working with an initiative from the Assembly. Those are the priorities, not the constitutional fetishism that I hear every time that I come to one of these debates. I simply make the point that we need to have those discussions, but please let us not make them the whole of the discussion, because the real debate is elsewhere.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): We have had a varied and interesting debate, with 11 speakers, at my count.
The Secretary of State began by talking of confidence in a flourishing economy of legislative powers and legislative competence orders; perhaps that is the constitutional fetishism about which the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney was so deprecating. He gave a guarantee that at least one Welsh MP would be present in any Committee on Bills containing framework powers, which was generally welcome. However, it turned out that that was a guarantee of one Labour MP, which caused the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire to remark later that the smaller parties might find that rather difficult. We will run even harder than we do at the moment to fill that deficiency.
I found the Planning Bill on Monday very interesting indeed, as it contains measures of extreme significance for Wales. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy expressed an interest in being on the Committee.
The Secretary of State said that deliberate blocking of legislative competence orders would not be acceptable to him and I was glad to hear him say it so clearly to the Committee. He said, too, that we are on a learning curve and that there would be no rubber stamp for LCOs. It is a difficult path to tread between not giving sufficient scrutiny and giving too much. I venture to say that the fullest consideration of LCOs by this place and Whitehall is very much to be welcomed, which is counter-intuitive to what some hon. Members would expect. In the current circumstances, LCOs need as much scrutiny as possible, because we have to get them right.
Even with the best will and endeavours of hon. Members and the civil service, I suspect that the process will serve only to prove to the people of Wales how unwieldy and unworkable the procedure is and that it will move public opinion in good order towards proper law-making powers for the Assembly. That is what I suppose, but perhaps I will be proved wrong. I
I was pleased when the Secretary of State responded to an intervention by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North, who is not in her place at present. He confirmed that he is still in conversation with the Chancellor on the ASW pensions issue, which concerns hon. Members from all parties, and it needs to be cleared up as soon as possible for the sake of those who have been left in such dire straits by the collapse of ASW and the disgraceful events affecting their pensions. I think that I speak for the Committee in wishing the Secretary of State success with his efforts on the matter and in hoping that success will come as soon as possible.
The Secretary of State then ventured on to slightly choppier seas, given the number of Welsh MPs present, of discussing the possibility or otherwise of setting up an English Grand Committeethe Balkanisation of politicsand of cross-border medical services. There is a measure of agreement between north Wales MPs of all parties. I took part in a meeting with the hon. Member for Clwyd, West some time ago on the issue of the provision of neurosurgery in Walton and/or Swansea. There is a great measure of agreement between me, the hon. Gentleman and other north Wales Members. I am encouraged by the attitude of the Minister in Cardiff, who has given reassurances, some of which have not been accepted by north Wales people. Understandably people are worried, but I am encouraged by the Assembly Ministers response so far. The matter has some way to travel, and I am sure that Members from north Wales will play a full and proper role in discussions.
Albert Owen: The hon. Gentleman is right that there is cross-party support for the Walton unit. However, the Secretary of State pointed out that if the Conservative proposals on cross-border issues were adopted, which would mean only English votes for English issues, hon. Members from Wales would be excluded from debating issues across the border that affect our constituents?
Hywel Williams: The hon. Gentleman has made a good point, which has also been made by the hon. Member for Wrexham, who is unfortunately not here today. Some voices from over the border have pointed out the costs of services to people from Wales. Fortunately, the Welsh Affairs Committee will investigate the matter next year. I think that that investigation will reveal some interesting facts not only about the extent of service across the border, but about the quality of that service. We must look at quality issues and the real cost, if it is possible to discern the cost. This sort of exercise must, perforce, be very complicated, but I look forward to that inquiry.
Mr. Jones: Just so that it can be put on the record, will the hon. Gentleman please take it from me that the Conservative policy on this issue is that there should be English and Welsh votes for English and Welsh laws?
When the Secretary of State talked about an English Grand Committee and potential Balkanisation, it was interesting that the loudest protest in this Committee came from Tory Members. We then went on to the Secretary of States peroration, when he told us about the doubling of spending, more teachers, the best UK settlement for Wales at 2.4 per cent. and the £16 billion that will be spent by the Welsh Assembly Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, as ever, was ready with some contrary figures, unsurprisingly pointing out that the real settlement was 1.8 per cent. and that there would be a consequential loss of £2 million and a cumulative loss of £7 million.
My hon. Friend went on to talk about police pay, pointing out that the Scottish Government somehow, miraculously, within a tight settlement have been able to pay the award in full. I am sure that members of the police force and their families in Wales will take full notice of that difference between Scotland and Wales.
Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber today when it was made clear during Prime Ministers Question Time that the Scottish Executive have now reneged on their promise to recruit 1,000 extra policemen. That is perhaps how they found the money to pay the policemen in Scotland.
Hywel Williams: I have to confess that I was not in the Chamber to hear that. I understand that the Scottish Government have taken some steps towards fulfilling their promise of 1,000 extra policemen.
Mr. Llwyd: As a matter of correction, I was in the Chamber of the Scottish Parliament a fortnight ago when the matter was discussed. No one has reneged, because the Government have only been in power for six months. If everything demanded of Labour were delivered in the next six months, I am sure that Labour Members would feel rather uncomfortable.
Hywel Williams: Perhaps I should return to Welsh politics, Mr. Caton, before you pull me up for wandering over at least two borders into Scottish matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy went on to talk about the job cuts at the DWP and Her Majestys Revenue and Customs and the serious effect on constituencies throughout west Wales and the valleys. In Porthmadog in my constituency, that issue is still hot. If my tongue were in my cheek, I would even say that he pointed out the Governments novel approach to poverty reduction of transferring good, well-paid jobs from objective 1 areas such as Porthmadog or Merthyr, to the more prosperous eastern areas.
As the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney rightly pointed out, there needs to be a better strategic look at how the economy is developing in objective 1 areas. The contribution that central Government in London can make to the prosperity of those areas is crucial. That is one of the functions that hon. Members in this place can fulfil very effectively.
My hon. Friend also quoted extensively from a letter from a senior worker at HMRC, detailing the problems that the Governments approach was causing. It was heard by the Committee with the respect that sincere first-hand testimony deserves, and I thought that it was very illuminating. The Secretary of State responded with the offer of a meeting in January, which is welcome. My hon. Friend then talked about the Planning Bill.
Albert Owen: The hon. Gentleman and I have been working together with other hon. Members from north-east Wales to try to stop jobs being transferred from there in the DWP, HMRC and other areas. Will he not acknowledge, for balance, that the contact centre in Bangorsomething that I and others have fought and campaigned foris welcome? The reason for that decision was the heavy use of the Welsh language by the DWP. The centre was earmarked first for Bridgend, but because of campaigning in north-west Wales, it is now in Bangor.
Hywel Williams: This is a winding-up speech, so I will not get into a debate, but I, too, welcome the jobs in Bangor. Unfortunately, they are not really within travelling distance for people living in Porthmadog or Dolgellau.
To press on, my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy referred to the Housing and Regeneration Bill. When talking about developments in his constituency at the end of his speech at 10.25 am, there was an intervention from the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, who is sadly not currently present, on what is a devolved matter. That prompted a sharp response from my hon. Friend that the hon. Gentleman should come here more often. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire exited the Room some three minutes later.
The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham pointed to the lack of opportunities for questions at this sitting and the lateness of the debate, which is a matter that should be addressed through the usual channels. She then listed statistics on hospital lists, violent crime, the economy, inactivity and youth employment. I do not know how those things are connected, but she also complained of the moves to register independent schools. She also complained about LCOs, referring to them as a dogs breakfast. Positively, she said that the Tories would not oppose gratuitously. She then referred variously to the Climate Change Bill, party funding, non-visits to Wales by the Prime Minister and finished up with her statement that the Queens Speech failed to inspire and the Government are more concerned with their own problems.
The right hon. Member for Torfaen assured the Committee that he is not a devo-scepticwe are very glad to hear thatbut that he believes in devolution, not divorce. I have never thought that he believed in divorce, and he is consistent in that position. He voiced his concerns about the sale of council houses and about the Welsh language. I was sad to hear him retell
The right hon. Gentleman also talked about the need for proper scrutiny of LCOs and local authority settlements. In fact, LCOs have been a central feature of this debate, although whether that is constitutional fetishism is another matter. The right hon. Member for Islwyn also raised that matter and warned of the dangers of independence brought in at the behest of the chattering classes. I know it is the pantomime season, but I was taken aback by his reference to the villains of the piece, who are of course the maligned nationalist Ministers. I am disappointed that I do not have a moustache to twirl at this point in my demise.
Hywel Williams: Reference was made to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy in the Glasgow Sunday Mail as the wily, moustachioed leader of the Welsh socialists.
More positively, the right hon. Member for Islwyn also talked about the need to up-skill the work force, which is certainly one thing on which we can all agree.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire bemoaned the closure of Government offices and asked for more framework powers for the Assembly. He welcomed the briefing sessions on Bills that have framework powers, particularly the Planning Bill, which is itself a welcome development. He talked about LCOs and showed us the route map helpfully provided by Members in another place. I am sure that that will entertain children throughout Wales over Christmas, and it might even guide our deliberations into the futureit is a great help. The hon. Gentleman finished by throwing attention yet again on the potential split between local authorities and the Welsh Assembly Government, particularly over the settlement, and that is another theme that was in the background throughout todays contributions.
The hon. Member for Aberavon talked about the work of the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Affairs Committee, and about Robert Owen, with whom I share a birthday.
Hywel Williams: I assure hon. Members that that involves the day and the month rather than the year. The hon. Gentleman talked very positively, and perhaps optimistically, about a new harmony between the democratic institutions.
The hon. Member for Clwyd West talked about charges for trunk roads and referred to them as a tax. I do not know whether they are a tax source, but they are certainly charges. He also talked about his concern that
We now turn to the hon. Member for Ynys Môn, perhaps an ex-member of one of those classes, who took a very sturdy view of his subject. He ventured rather bravely into the question of dinners and donations, dodgy or otherwise, but then talked about the Climate Change Bill and the CSR. He unfortunately also talked about the dreaded work of dastardly Plaid Cymru Ministers. There are several sorts of Ministers, both good and bad, as rhodd mam used to say in the old days.
The hon. Member for Llanelli talked about the Climate Change Bill, and I enjoyed her contribution to the Planning Bill discussion on Monday. She clearly has an interest and expertise in these matters.
Lastly, the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, after talking about constitutional fetishism, talked about the value of a strategic approach and working with communities.
Adam Price: The hon. Member raised the issue of the dualling of the A465. As far as I am aware, the Assembly Government have confirmed that there has been no change in the planned improvements and that the timetable is exactly as it was under the previous Labour-led Administration.
Hywel Williams: I thank my hon. Friend for that explanation. I was not aware if it. I hope that reassures the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.
Hywel Williams: The hon. Gentleman did talk about the value of a strategic approach and working with communities, and despite his reservations about constitutional fetishism, he also talked about the convention, Barnett, the Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Assembly, interspersed with positive remarks about training and skills. He talked about wind farms. He also said that the Welsh Language Act was not his priority so it was nonsense. That does not follow: it might not be his priority, but that does not necessarily mean that it is nonsense.
During our generally well-tempered debate, the hon. Member for Aberavon talked about new harmony. Perhaps that is a bit optimistic, but I think that we are in a new period of politics. In 2007, there have been tumultuous changes in Wales and, of course, in this place, toothe effects of which will be with us for many years. Even if we do not see the full impact of the changes at the moment, we shall look back and regard now as being a time of substantial change for our countries, with new alliances and creaks and cracks in the old order.
Huw Irranca-Davies: It is genuinely a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Caton, not only on my first foray on the Front Bench in the Welsh
We have had a wide-ranging debate on the Queens Speech and the pre-Budget report. It has been passionate. It has been provocative, as befits a Welsh Grand Committee, with many excellent contributionsprobing and testing the financial and legislative programmes for Wales.
Mr. Roger Williams: The whole of the Welsh Grand Committee might want to get behind what could be a tremendous Welsh victory on Saturday when Rhydian from my constituency looks likely to win The X Factor. I am sure that we all wish him well, as all the residents of Sennybridge have already done.
Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Gentleman has put his point well. I am sure that we will all be pushing the red buttons on our TVs to make sure that Rhydian wins.
I will try to do justice to the many contributions that have been made in the debate, but I am sure that hon. Members will understand if I miss any individual points in the time remaining. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire is not in his place at the moment, but I must say that he gets the prize for the most memorable phrasea semi-dual carriageway, whatever that is. In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham made a telling point about English votes for English laws, something that has come back time and again. He referred to the way in which such a practice could castrate Welsh Members of Parliament. I am not opposed to the idea of Conservative castratos. Castratos had very high, sweet voices, but they were not powerful voices, so to have powerful voices for Wales we shall not go down the line of English votes for English laws.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy made a wide-ranging speech in which he talked about policing. One of the matters that has not been featured in the debate today is the fact that there are now 7,500 police officers in Wales, more than 1,000 more than there were in 1997, and that number does not even include the 641 community support officers. He made some telling points about HMRC, as have other members of the Committee. MPs have played a positive role in such matters. It is a good case for those at Westminster who have lobbied extensively in that respect. The Wales Office itself has been playing a role in advancing the case for co-location and for joining up the various services with HMRC. We shall continue that role. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take up the offer made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I cannot top an offer of meeting him to discuss the matter further.
As for the Planning Bill, the hon. Gentleman talked about reaching a balance between devolved powers and retained powers. I guarantee that there will be no rolling back of devolution powers. Discussions within Whitehall and WAG have been progressing well, but they are complex. The Bill goes to the heart of where
Mr. Jones: Perhaps the Minister can clarify whether the UK Government intend to devolve competence for power stations above 15 MW to the Welsh Assembly.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank the hon. Gentleman for a direct question. My direct answer is no. Discussions have gone on about that for a long time. May I talk about the settlement briefly? Many Members have made the point about whether the increase is 2.4 per cent or 1.8 per cent. I am reminded of the Gershwin line You say tomato and I say tomahto. The truth of the matter is that at the end of the three years it will be nearly £16 billion. The doubling of the Welsh settlement since 1997 under this Labour Government is testament to the work of MPs here.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen spoke tellingly about the issue of being a devorealist. I think that we should all be devorealists. The partnership involves councils, the Assembly and, may I add, Parliament and the European Parliament, as he said. It is genuinely that sort of partnership. He focused on the bread-and-butter issues, which were also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.
My right hon. Friend touched on the Am I Welsh? issue. Let me remind him of a quote from Alun Richards in a book about artists in Wales that I was reading at the weekend:
As to whether I am Welsh or not, it is a highly self-conscious question which I have never felt the need to ask myself. I am. It is enough. and the rest is propaganda.
On the role of scrutiny, it is absolutely right to say that it should not be a rubber-stamping exercise. It is not. This place has a proper role in scrutiny, particularly of LCOs, as does the National Assembly for Wales. Whether it is the affordable housing, Welsh language or domiciliary care LCO, we have a proper role of scrutiny to perform here.
I turn to the comments by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham who has left her place but had the courtesy to explain why she needed to get away. She raised the issue that we are now on a five-week cycle of questions. We are, because there are now other Departments answering questions on the Floor of the House. However, there will be more opportunity than ever for Welsh Members here to have an input, whether it is on the framework Bills with the briefings and extensive consultation, Orders in Council, other England and Wales Bills, or the new briefing sessions that we have brought forward. The 30 minutes will still remain, albeit on a five-week, not a four-week, cycle.
It seems to me quite challenging as a Labour Member to have points raised on economic inactivity, bearing in mind the progress we have made and bearing in mind that under the 18 years of Tory Administration economic inactivity levels tripled in Wales. But there we are. I am being lectured by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham on that issue.
On the Local Transport Bill, may I urge the hon. Members in the loyal Opposition to get away from the scare stories? If they are unwilling to acknowledge the transport challenges that face England and Wales, to recognise the capacity of the Welsh Assembly Government, this place and their own Members in the National Assembly for Wales adequately to bring forward measures, that is where our worry lies as regards the discussion about scrutiny. That is where our worry lies as regards their attitude to where we are in devolution.
On the Planning Bill, I reiterate that the public will have a voice; it will be built in. People in the CBI and elsewhere want certainty that we can not only give a democratic voice to people, but bring forward planning decisions of UK national interest in a timely fashion. All those issuesLCOs, the framework Billswe will explore as time goes by.
On the progress on LCOs, I take the opportunity, within the limited amount of time that is available, to report on some of the issues. On the additional learning needs order, there is excellent progress. The Lords Constitution Committee has reported, and the Welsh Affairs Committee is due to report soon. Environmental waste and protection is one of the more complex areas and there are constructive discussions taking place accurately to define the scope of the order. Whitehall and WAG continue to work together to make progress.
As for vulnerable children, constructive discussions are ongoing about various issues related to the content of the order, but we are working through them. The affordable housing order has been published in draft without official UK Government clearance. That is a departure from the procedure jointly agreed by the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, which is not helpful, but we will work through it.
The order on domiciliary care was presented to Parliament for pre-legislative scrutiny on 26 November. Good progress is being made on Orders in Council. It is a learning process both ways. It is a fast learning curve, but we are up to the challenge of learning fast. We are very experienced legislators.
I turn to the comments from my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn. He mentioned, rightly, the size of the electoral vote for MPs in this place. Size is not everything, but the size of the votes marks out the importance of the MPs here in a particular way. Proper scrutiny has been a theme of the debate today and we want to ensure that there is proper scrutiny. He mentioned various measures that are coming through and I am sure that we will return to those.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshiremy adversary at one time, in the 2001 electionmentioned HMRC, which I have dealt with. The one matter that I would take issue with him on is that of stockpiling power. He asked why the Welsh Assembly Government should not be allowed to stockpile power. The issue of simply stockpiling powers for the sake of it is where we depart. It needs to be powers with a purposejustified, based on an identified need, and then we scrutinise them and down they go, but not simply hitching the skirts to any convenient wagon that comes along and saying Well have it. To be fair, the Welsh Assembly Government have not taken that approach either; they are looking for the appropriate vehicles.
Within the limited time, I turn to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon. I pay tribute to the work of the Welsh Affairs Committee, under his stewardship. He rightly said that we are rising to the challenge of democratic renewal and all hon. Members should do so at this time. The Committees report on Orders in Council procedures was timely and instructive. He referred to Robert Owens New Harmonythat is exactly what we should be aiming towards. I welcome the move towards joint scrutiny that will come.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, West talked about good scrutiny once again, which has been a continuous theme, and the capacity of the Welsh Assembly Committee. That is an issue for the Committee, but it is early days yet. Let us not throw the baby out with the bath water. We are working through this, and there is great expertise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn talked about the need for the Welsh Assembly Government to serve north Wales. That is absolutely right. On the idea of doing LCOs by candlelight, the Government will be taking major decisions on big issues such as energy and climate change. While he said that tongue-in-cheek, it is the reality: we have to make big, tough decisions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli welcomed the Orders in Council process and talked about the international leadership given in fields such as climate change. May I pay tribute to her for her parliamentary leadership on that issue? She has been consistent in driving forward that agenda. She also welcomed the entitlement to skills and training in the Education and Skills Bill.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon, in his summing up, spoke about getting scrutiny right. I agree with his comments. He might say that the process is unwieldy, but we can make it work, and we will strive to make it work. To be fair to him, he said that his party is also committed to making that work. If we can keep focused on that, we will make it work; we are fast learners.
I turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, who talked about constitutional fetishism and the need to concentrate on bread-and-butter issuesabsolutely right. Whether it is in Merthyr, Blaenavon, Maesteg or Caenarfon, it is bread-and-butter issues that really matter. He referred to the Webb review on skills. That is absolutely fundamental to the way in which we go forward in Wales. He said that it cannot be done either in Wales or out of Wales; we must do it together.
The Government have headed out their programme for reform in the first Queens Speech of the premiership: taking forward policies, responding to the rise in aspirations of the people of all parts of the United Kingdom, ensuring security for all, better education, housing, health care and a cleaner, greener environment. For Wales, the legislative powers delivered by Labour in the Government of Wales Act are being put into action: three Bills containing framework powers and a new Orders in Council process, highlighting the Welsh and the UK Governments huge potential for increasing the Assemblys legislative capacity.
The debate today proves that the Labour Government remain determined to provide opportunity for all of the people of Wales, not just the few, and to build a fairer society. It also reaffirms that the Government promised devolution and delivered it and that devolution in turn is delivering for the people of Wales. Record investment in public services in Wales could not have happened without the record increases since 1997 in the settlement from the Treasury. It is this Labour Government who have increased funding for the police by over 70 per cent. in real terms, and who have tackled employment in Wales: there are 124,000 more people now in work, every one of them a singular human success story.
Gwyn Williams, in The Welsh in their History impressively remarked that
the Welsh make and remake Wales day by day and year after year.
If we want Wales, we will have to make Wales.
We are making and remaking Wales here today, every day, by the dynamism, determination and vision of the people of Wales and the politicians of Wales.
It being Four oclock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 108 and 88 and the Order of the House [10 December].
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