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Mr. Murphy: Yes, of course. I hope that in three or four weeks, when we win the final match against France, that will be an opportunity to deal with those matters. I know that the Assembly is doing a great deal of work in marketing Wales as a place where sport is so significant. That needs to be done in conjunction with the United Kingdom Government as well.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Before we go off the subject of the Olympics, nobody doubts that community sport and community arts activity in Wales have suffered because money has been allocated from Wales to the Olympics. It is important that after the Olympics, when the Olympic estate is sold off, moneys raised in that way come back to Wales disproportionately, because of the losses that Wales has suffered.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is being extremely generous. On the lottery point, it is fair to point out that in a recent case in Wales concerning the Big Lottery Fund, out of an allocation of £15 million for the stepping stone project, only £8 million was spent, and no organisations in north Wales benefited from that fund. We should remember that a great deal of money is still available and not all of it is being deployed.
Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of the Olympics, does he agree that we should direct our attention not only at the competitive side, but at the bidding process for the building of the Olympic sites? All Members received a letter a few weeks ago about encouraging contractors in our constituencies to bid for that work. If we, as Members of Parliament in all parts of the House, have not done that, we have not been doing our work properly.
I come now to the changes in our economy in rural and urban areas. I recall that when I was a boy, 250,000 Welsh men worked in the coal industrythat was not confined to south Wales; there was also the great north Wales coalfieldbut very few people now work in coal. Thousands, too, worked in the steel industry. The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies) will know how his constituency was dominated by steel. When I worked in Ebbw Vale for 17 years, virtually everybody, one way or another, was connected with the steel industry. But how that has changed. First, it changed to heavy engineering, a lot of which has gone too. In its place we now have lighter, more skilled jobs, and in our rural areas, very often tourism has replaced agriculture as the main employer. There have been enormous changes in the way in which people earn their living in Wales.
Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), at a rather, shall we say, excited part of the parliamentary day, rightly raised the issue of the creative industries in Wales. When I came back into this job, I was struck by the number of people who are now employed in those industries throughout Wales. I was also impressed by the fact that the knowledge economy now dominates many parts of Wales, with the techniums that have been set up, and the fact that so many of our Welsh graduates now stay in Wales or come back to Wales to work in the new industries.
Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): In the spirit of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, does he agree that there is a particular role for our higher education institutions, and will he welcome the collaboration between the universities of Bangor and Aberystwyth and the merger of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research with the university of Aberystwyth to facilitate economic regeneration in our rural areas as well as our urban ones?
Mr. Murphy: That is hugely important, and I could not agree more. It is also important that we all look forward to the North East Wales Institute becoming a university as soon as possible, because the north-east is the only major region of Wales that is still without a university.
It is interesting, and perhaps startling but a great tribute to us, that the university of Cardiff has produced two Nobel prize winners. These are hugely important developments for Wales. We now have to concentrate on skills, innovation and enterprise and unlocking the talents of our young people to work in the aerospace and automotive industries, financial services and so on.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Did my right hon. Friend see the results of the survey announced by the Minister for Education, Culture and Young People yesterday and reported in the press this morning showing that university students in Wales were the happiest and most fulfilled in the UK, and that universities in Wales scored highly in comparison with other universities throughout the UK and internationally?
Mr. Murphy: That is a great development, which has occurred alongside a growing self-confidence among Welsh people that we have a great deal to offer to people outside Wales. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter.
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab): Before my right hon. Friend leaves the economy, particularly that of north-east Wales, which is doing well, he will know that in my constituency, Dennis Ruabon, the only quarry tile manufacturer in the UK, has closed down and is in receivership. Will he do what he can to find out precisely what is happening with that plant and whether he can help the plant and Wrexham council to make sure that that employment is returned to that site?
It is also important that our economy has benefited and our peoples lives are improved because we are part of the UK. The benefits of the devolved Assembly in Wales, including making Ministers more accessible to the people and providing greater accountability, must be set alongside the benefits that we receive from membership of the UK, such as the fact that 46,000 people have benefited from the new deal in Wales. We can learn from each other.
For example, the UK Government, and England in particular, benefit from what we do in Wales, including the establishment of the first childrens commissioner, the legislation for which I remember putting through the House some years ago, and probably the best and most sophisticated free bus travel for the over-60s in the UK, which has now been adopted in other parts of our country. We, too, benefit, from the work on hospital waiting lists, for example which we discussed yesterday in Welsh questionsideas that flow from initiatives in England. In addition, we play our part in the British-Irish Council and can learn from Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
That brings me to devolution itself and the role of Members of Parliament in terms of a post-devolution Wales that is nevertheless still very much part of the UK. I do not believe for one second that we should reduce the number of Welsh Members of Parliament. It is crazy to suggest that we should have fewer MPs and therefore less influence in this place. Until there are considerable changes in the constitutional set-up in the UK, the number of MPs should remain the same. Nor do I believe for one second that we should be inferior Members of Parliament to anybody else. We should play our part in the deliberations of this House, of which we should be fully paid-up Members. We should represent all our constituencies and constituents in this place and in every aspect of the work of the House of Commons.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I suspect that some of the right hon. Gentlemans views on these matters are closer to mine than it is wise for either of us to let on at times, but surely a man of his considerable experience can see that the current arrangements are impossible and cannot continue, with Welsh Members of Parliament voting on the health service or education system in England but not being able to do the same thing in Wales. Surely a man of his experience can see that that is a ridiculous constitutional arrangement.
No, I do not think that it is. So many Bills pass through this House that affect England and Wales that it would be difficult to start disentangling them, with Members being able to vote on one amendment but not on another. When a Member is elected to the United Kingdom Parliament, they are elected as a proper Member. The House of Commons decides on the financing of the health service in Wales through the block grant. I do not want to stimulate too much debate
on the issue, but in the past months it has often been said that Welsh Members of Parliament have a different role to play from that in the past, and that is a view that I reject. Welsh Members of Parliament have the same rights, duties, responsibilities and opportunities as every other Member of the House of Commons.
David T.C. Davies: In that case, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Welsh Members of Parliament should be able to ask questions about how the health service, the education system and the local government funding formula in Wales operate? Does he further agree that it is unfair that we cannot do that at the moment?
Mr. Murphy: I did not notice any lack of questions on those issues yesterday. There are plenty of ways for such questioning to happen. In the past few years, with the co-operation of the usual channels and the Chair, a convention has developed through which we can talk about those issues in certain circumstances. Members questioned me vigorously yesterday about health services, schools and other issues that, although devolved, are shared with us in this United Kingdom Parliament.
Simon Hughes: The right hon. Gentleman will know that I am as passionate a devotee of devolution as he; indeed, I hope that there is further devolution to Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom. However, does he accept that whatever the eventual constitutional settlement here for England-only businessand I believe that change is neededthe principle of UK representation should be that Members of Parliament should all represent constituencies of the same number, or that there should be one boundary commission and that the same rules should apply across the four countries of the United Kingdom? In respect of smaller populations in rural areas, that should be applied generally across the UK and not differentially in any one of its countries.
Mr. Murphy: Leaving aside the point about rural constituencies, there are not huge discrepancies between England and Walesthere were, of course, in Scotland and that has now been remedied the other way because of what has happened there.
The other big change that I have seen since returning to this job is how different it is six years on, given the legislative work that the House has to undertake to deal with the Government of Wales Act 2006. That has given greater opportunity for Members of this House to talk about issues that are, strictly, devolved, but nevertheless, in the context of a transfer of functional power, can now be a matter of debate in this House.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Neath did extremely well in ensuring that there is proper scrutiny of framework powers legislation and legislative competence orders. That is a big development, which all Members appreciate.
The Secretary of State would want to be accurate. The fact remains that if I go to the Table Office today and try to table a question on health or education in
Walesor any other devolved matterI will be told that I cannot. Given that this Parliament agrees the financing of those devolved matters, it is only right that Members on both sides of the House should be able to table such questions.
Mr. Murphy: We have developed a pretty good compromise on how we deal with such issues in the House; it is certainly not for me to change those rules at the drop of a hat during a Welsh affairs debate on a Thursday afternoon. What is important is that the opportunities are here for Members of this House. I explained one new opportunitywhen we debate the LCOs and framework powers, we have a chance to consider the issues in which we are interested that are nevertheless devolved.
Ian Lucas: I always like to assist the Conservative party whenever I can. I am aware of the close relationship between Conservative Members of Parliament and Conservative Assembly Members in Cardiff Bay. Could they not talk to each other? Conservative Members here could ask their Assembly counterparts to put down questions in Cardiff Bay; they could resolve difficulties in that way.
People say that the system is complicated, and it is different and a little complicated. However, how we have passed laws here over the centuriesFirst Reading, Second Reading, Committee, Report and so on, and the other placeis not easy either, if we think about it. It is the outcome that matters. At the end of the day, it is not the process that is important, but the service that it delivers.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that, regardless of the constitutional arrangements, some things will always have to be discussed in Cardiff and Westminster. For example, various problems with waiting lists vex my constituents in respect of going across to Royal Shrewsbury and Gobowen hospitals; those will not be resolved simply by changes in the constitutional settlement. Does he agree that that is one issue on which we have to work in partnership with the Assembly to ensure that Welsh patients are not disadvantaged?
Mr. Murphy: Yes, that issue has exercised me in the past few weeks. Proper cross-border arrangements are important. At the moment we are looking at the development of a cross-border protocol to ensure that such matters are dealt with properly. The hon. Gentlemans point is important.
I touched briefly on the issue of scrutiny, because my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) is here. The Welsh Affairs Committee, which he chairs, does important work in overseeing the new process. I hope that the Committee is not overburdened by what has happened. He might catch your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker, and comment on such things. In the
next few months, there will come a time when he has to look back at and monitor how the process has developed and consider any possible improvements or necessary changes.
I turn to the future of the arrangements. The Assembly will have a convention to ascertain whether there is any appetite for a referendum on more powers; we shall wait and see what happens. However, at the same time it is so important to the people whom we represent that we do not lose sight of the issues that matter to them. However important constitutional matters areand they are importantat the end of the day, the issues for Welsh people are about schools, hospitals, transport and jobs.
We should not forget the issue of local government, which delivers services at the front line. It includes the organisations and elected bodies closest to the people of Wales. We should remember that the governance of Wales involves not only us in this place and the Assembly, but our local council chambers. I hope that it will be recognised that Labour local authorities deliver for the Welsh people, who will get the chance to exercise their franchise in a few months.
There is nothing wrong in feeling comfortable with the current arrangementscomfortable with the fact that we can be British and Welsh. We can rejoice in the fact that we win our rugby games, that our nation of Wales prospers and develops and that the Assembly does a good job in delivering our services. However, we can also be proud to be part of the United Kingdom, which produced the national health service that is the envy of the world and which produced the welfare state, which protects the most vulnerable in our community. There is nothing wrong in rejoicing in both those aspects of government. Above all, Welsh Members of Parliament are privileged to represent Welsh people here, and to play our part in shaping the course of the United Kingdom and our own country of Wales.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I join the Secretary of State in saying how moving the service in the Crypt was. It was truly inclusive, and it was good that it was held in both Welsh and English. I was particularly moved by the reading from Under Milk Wood; it took me back to my childhood.
I pay tribute to Lord Thomas of Gwydir, who, sadly, passed away last month. Everybody in the House would agree that he was a great Conservative Welsh politician who spent a lifetime serving the public. He will be greatly missed, and on St. Davids day it is appropriate to remember him.
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