Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 93)



Albert Owen

  80. I know my colleague has done her homework, but she forgot to say that Coleg Menai is also in my constituency.
  (Mr Murphy) Yes. I have to tell the Committee that my age is wrong in the website as well, so I am going to make sure that is altered. It will be at the same level for the next three years.

Mrs Williams

  81. Would you welcome comments from members of this Committee as to how you can improve your website?
  (Mr Murphy) Of course I would; I always welcome comments from this Committee.

  Mrs Williams: I shall make sure that is done.


  82. I should like to wind up now. You are probably aware that we have three inquiries planned at the moment: broadband cabling, Objective 1 and transport in Wales. May we take them individually? On broadband cabling, what discussions have you been involved in with the Assembly and with other UK departments about the provision of such high-speed internet and telephone services in rural Wales?
  (Mr Murphy) I am conscious of it because when I visited the different economic fora up and down Wales, particularly in Mid and North Wales, I have been made absolutely aware of the need for improvements in this direction. I am very conscious of that, but of course it is not a function of the Wales Office, it is a function of the DTI. I would not have any direct say in that. What I would say to the Committee is that I think it is important from a Welsh point of view for the Committee to have a look at that particular area, because it is so important. It is one where we work in partnership with the National Assembly and if there is anything I can do to facilitate the Committee's inquiries in terms of what the DTI and the Assembly are both going to do, then I am more than happy to do that. I have no direct responsibility for it.

  83. It is becoming obvious, though we have not taken much evidence we did have a seminar on the issue, that it is a very, very important thing for our future development in rural Wales. On Objective 1, this is again probably something you do not have direct influence on, but you do have a role in securing the necessary UK Government matched funding for Objective 1 money. What is your ongoing involvement, if any, with the use of Objective 1 money in Wales?
  (Mr Murphy) I have no executive role in that because my role was in obtaining the money in the first place—or rather in the second place because the money was originally obtained by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister in Berlin. When it came to Wales, my job was to negotiate that block grant in the spending review. I think we got a good deal on that. From then on it was a question of my having meetings on a regular basis with the First Minister and other relevant Ministers, as I do, and to talk generally about matters which affect our constituents collectively. You will know as Members of Parliament that very often there are areas which people approach you on which are strictly speaking matters for the Assembly, but you have an interest in them because clearly you represent the same people. To that extent I am very interested in the progress of the Objective 1 programme in Wales. I have just outlined to you how I think it is going very well. It is not for me to comment to the Committee upon the progress of Objective 1 structural funding in Wales. Having been devolved to the Assembly it is for the National Assembly to do that and its Ministers. It is very important to see that distinction.

Adam Price

  84. On the issue of Objective 1 funding status, there are two advantages which spring from Objective 1 status: one is the structural funds, the pot of money; the other one, used very, very extensively by the Republic of Ireland, is the derogations which allow governments to introduce so-called operating aids, fiscal variations, tax advantages, to businesses. The National Assembly administration has been asking quite vociferously for the granting of powers under that derogation for quite some considerable time. I understand that the report has been submitted to the Treasury, though I do not think it has been published. Could you say a little bit about progress on that and when you realistically could expect an answer from the Treasury on the issue of operating aids for Welsh businesses and whether you think that answer will be a flat no.
  (Mr Murphy) I cannot comment on what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has in mind in terms of his pre-budget review and his budget, that is a matter for him. What I can say is that during the course of the last year several changes were made which were very useful in terms of the Welsh economy. I shall write to the Committee on some of those details; there was a number of them. In terms of the present situation, you are quite right to say that the National Assembly is considering various options which they might think would be beneficial for Wales and that will then be sent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his consideration. I shall be copied into that correspondence and shall be able to discuss these matters when the time arises. I cannot go into details with the Committee on something I do not have responsibility for.[5]

  85. May I be clear? A report outlining the National Assembly's preferred options has already been submitted to the Treasury has it not?
  (Mr Murphy) Yes, there has been correspondence between the National Assembly and the Government regarding what they would consider to be important operating aids.

  86. Has the Treasury already provided a response?
  (Mr Murphy) This happens every year. It is normal practice for Government departments and administrations in the devolved administrations, if they have any suggestions, to forward them to the Treasury and when the Chancellor makes his decisions on these matters he makes them at the appropriate time. There is an ongoing process on that. So far as the Assembly is concerned it is through the committee system as much as it is through the members of the Cabinet.

  87. If that continues to be an ongoing process, we might actually reach the end of the Objective 1 period before we have a decision from the Treasury.
  (Mr Murphy) It is not just about Objective 1. The arguments behind operating aids were not exclusively linked to Objective 2, although it was a point. The arguments which were used in the Assembly itself would have gone wider than that, but obviously since two thirds of Wales is Objective 1 structurally funded, it will be of particular significance to Wales.

  88. May there be a response during this year?
  (Mr Murphy) If the Assembly writes to the Treasury, to the Government, then we have to respond to that.

Mr Williams

  89. It will never be able to be explained to me satisfactorily why certain parts of rural Mid Wales were left out of the Objective 1 area. Given the fact that those areas have now been very badly hit by foot and mouth and it has had a huge effect on the local economy through agriculture and tourism and every other strand of local economy, I hope the Secretary of State will use his best endeavours to ensure that those areas as well get the necessary resources so that they can have a recovery. At the moment they are suffering a double whammy in not being in an Objective 1 area and having had the full effects of foot and mouth.
  (Mr Murphy) Everybody is very conscious of the problems people are facing in Mid Wales at the moment. You and I were together not so very long ago in Brecon to discuss these matters and I fully appreciate the points you make.


  90. Transport in Wales. The overlapping responsibilities of the Government and the National Assembly for transport in Wales make it a very complicated area. We have already found that out with our preliminary inquiries. Are there any transport issues you have taken a particularly close interest in over the past few months?
  (Mr Murphy) All of us have been conscious of the difficulties we face, for example on our railways, in Wales. Every Member of Parliament representing a Welsh constituency travels by train and each has his own story to tell. We all have our personal recollections. On a more general and governmental level, it is a shared responsibility in terms of air transport, railways and what the Assembly have responsibility for. It will be a rather complicated inquiry, I suspect, because it is one of these areas where ownership of these matters is shared between Westminster and Cardiff. To come to the point you were making earlier, when it comes to Mr and Mrs Jones from our constituencies, they do not make those subtle distinctions. All they want is a better transport system. I wish the Committee well in its deliberations in trying to ensure that there is good co-operation, as I am sure there is, between the Assembly and the Government on trying to improve transport for the people of Wales.

  Chairman: We are hoping to fill in the gaps between the report the Assembly have already produced in draft form and our own responsibilities.

Mrs Williams

  91. We discussed staffing levels earlier. I am just wondering whether in your investigation into how you want to develop your staffing levels you could consider that there is a case and some merit in the Wales Office having its own in-house translation team? Do you still rely on the Assembly for translation services? Are you now happy with the level of that translation service which you are getting from the Assembly? We visited this the last time we met and I should like you to comment on those three questions.
  (Mr Murphy) I shall ask Alison to give you a read-out about the actual use of translators in the Assembly and how we get material translated from there. If we had to have our own in-house translation facility, that would be very expensive and we would have to consider the pros and cons of that when the situation arose. At the moment we rely upon the Assembly for our translation services.
  (Mrs Jackson) We rely on the Assembly for the normal day-to-day translations. For example, our commitment is that when we receive a letter in Welsh we reply to it in Welsh and for that element of translation we have absolutely no difficulty with the service we get from the Assembly. They are very pressed with the work they do for the Assembly, which has to be their first priority. For example, for our website, we did have to go to external translators. For big one-off things like that we have started to use external translators on a contract basis, but for the urgent stuff we are still relying on the Assembly. We do not have enough work to occupy a single translator full time and this work tends to come in bursts; suddenly there will be a lot and then there will be nothing for a considerable time. Our access to the Assembly for the urgent day-to-day stuff is very adequate; big things can be predicted and therefore it is easier to get them out to a translation firm and to let the contract externally.

  92. You are saying you are happy with the level of service now provided by the Assembly to yourselves?
  (Mrs Jackson) We are very happy with the level of service which the Assembly provide on day-to-day issues under the service level agreement. We have discussed with them our need for such things as the translation of the website. It was the Assembly who translated the Departmental Report for example. When we are asking for something additional, an additional project, we are happy to go to external translators when the Assembly tell us that they cannot provide the service. What we have never found is that we have never been able to blame the Assembly translators for late correspondence. They are always extremely good about that kind of thing.

  93. We discussed earlier late responses and your record in the Wales Office on that topic. Could you tell us whether perhaps the reason, if you received Welsh letters from constituents, for the lateness of your answer to some of this correspondence, is because you have to pass it on to the National Assembly, they translate it and perhaps translate your responses? That could perhaps be a reason for some of these delays.
  (Mrs Jackson) No, that is not a reason for the delays. There is absolutely no way that we would blame the Assembly translation service on that kind of thing. They give us an excellent service. As it happens, at the moment we have several fluent Welsh speakers working in Gwydyr House, so although letters have to be translated formally, we know what a letter is about as soon as it arrives and can already start the research.

  Chairman: Thank you, Secretary of State, Mrs Jackson and Mr Kilner, for a very useful session. Order, order.

5   See Annex page 16. Back

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