Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001
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
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 placeor
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.
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
(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.
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.
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
(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
(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
Chairman: We are hoping to fill in the gaps
between the report the Assembly have already produced in draft
form and our own responsibilities.
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
(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
(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