Legislative Programme

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Ian Lucas (Wrexham): I wonder whether I can assist the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. I regret that I have the misfortune to live in England—although only by about five miles, and I look forward to remedying that defect shortly. In the constituency of the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson)—perhaps living there counts as an even greater defect than merely living in England—there is an education action zone, which was introduced shortly after the 1997 election. I believe that it attracted sponsorship from British Telecom among others. It was very much the brainchild of local head teachers, who did a lot of work to bring the benefits of private investment to local schools. It has been extremely successful. My own children have benefited, and the zone has recently been extended. That is an example of positive private investment. Nothing adverse has arisen from it, and it has linked industry and local schools in a positive way.

Mr. Murphy: I thank my hon. Friend for that useful intervention, which shows how we can work in partnership with the private sector in education where it is sensible to do so. There is a good example of a PFI scheme sponsored by the Assembly at Ysgol Gyfun Penweddig in Aberystwyth, and another successful one in Pembrokeshire was mentioned the other day.

The local authority in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) is run not by Labour, but by Plaid Cymru. There are two school projects there, and Councillor Whittle, the leader of the council, said in a press release that he was delighted to see the schemes get off the ground. He went on:

    ``The authority was impressed with the exciting plans drawn up by the Machrie Consortium and we are confident the scheme will be a shining example of a successful working partnership between the public and private sectors.''

I understand the points that have been made. One is about construction and the other is about revenue and the way in which schools are run. I merely point out that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with a partnership between the public and private sectors to improve public services in Wales, so long as the people concerned understand what is happening and it is used sensibly. I have given examples of schools that have been built in Wales because of such a partnership, and hospitals have also been built. I repeat that how to go down that path is entirely a matter for the Assembly.

The NHS reform and decentralisation Bill will particularly affect public services in England, but also has some significance for Wales. It will enable us to place 75 per cent. of national health service spending power directly in the hands of front-line professionals. Professional self-regulation will be a matter both for England and for Wales.

There will also be the national health service Bill for Wales, which is to be published in draft and which, as most hon. Members know, will provide a legislative framework for the development of health policy in Wales. It will put into operation the NHS Wales plan, and ensure that nursing, midwifery, health visiting, the setting up of local health groups and so on, are carefully considered. It will put into practice the NHS plan to which the Assembly has agreed. As the Queen said in the Gracious Speech, the Bill is in draft form because that will enable the Committee of the National Assembly that deals with health, and the Welsh Grand Committee, to look at it in detail. Parts of the plan may need to be brought forward earlier rather than later; that possibility is being discussed with Jane Hutt. If it is, we will try to ensure that the Bill relating to the NHS in England is used as a vehicle to put through time-sensitive measures. The precedent by which the draft Bill will go before both the Assembly and the House is a good one.

Mr. Simon Thomas: I thank the Secretary of State for the last 10 minutes of his speech, which is the most serious analysis that we have ever heard, in this Committee or in the House, of the way in which devolution has worked in the Wales Office and the National Assembly. I particularly welcome what he said about permissive legislation, and his announcement to the Assembly that he wanted more permissive legislation in the House. He may have learned lessons from the past—the Local Government Act 2000, for example, imposed policies on local government in Wales that neither the Assembly nor councillors in Wales wanted. It would have been far better to give the National Assembly an enabling permissive clause. Now the Secretary of State has altered his position—the sinner has repented—and this morning he has given us a very different view of the relationship between his Office and the National Assembly. I welcome that.

The Secretary of State has made some significant comments this morning. I hope that he will continue in the vein that he has outlined, and that we will all have an opportunity to consider where in primary legislation we can give the Assembly enabling powers to enact matters that are already devolved to it; it is crazy for the Assembly to come running back to the House every year to enact such matters. We should look ahead as much as possible.

Mr. Murphy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. It is easier when there is a Labour Government and a Labour-led Assembly, because we agree on things. The real test would come if there were different parties in power—but I hope and assume that that will not be the case for a long time. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about permissive regulation. The Local Government Act 2000 contained much permissive legislation and made a difference—for example, in terms of the way in which local authorities govern themselves politically.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): The Secretary of State referred to the consideration of the NHS Bill for Wales by the National Assembly and by, as he put it, ``us''. Did he mean by that the House of Commons or the Welsh Grand Committee?

Mr. Murphy: Well, I meant the hon. Gentleman, me and everyone else here. The process by which that consideration happens is a matter for the business managers. It would not be for me to interfere in that rather Byzantine method of dealing with our business. It is important to give the Welsh Grand Committee the opportunity to look specifically at the clauses of a Bill—but we must not undermine the Standing Committee system. As the hon. Gentleman said, the rules of the House allow our Committee to become a Standing Committee if we so wish, but he must bear in mind the fact that in that case there would have to be a balance in the party representation. As he can see, the Committee is slightly unbalanced at present—I am delighted to say—as a consequence of the 7 June election. Whatever mechanism we use, we should be able to examine the Bill in detail before it enters the formal legislative process.

Finally, the Gracious Speech included the following sentence:

    ``My Government maintain their commitment to devolution in Scotland and Wales.''

Sometimes we forget how quickly changes have come about in four years. One hundred years had passed since Keir Hardie sponsored the idea of devolution, but the Labour Government implemented it in four years. That is significant.

Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): The Committee may think that I was woken up by the reference to Keir Hardie, but in fact I wanted to say something earlier about the role of the various institutions of Government, which we have been discussing this morning.

The general election was very interesting. It was the first post-devolution general election and, as my right hon. Friend said, people were discussing the delivery of services, including the health service, and how those things that in detail might be seen to be devolved to the Assembly are inextricably linked with standards that are set, and money that is provided, elsewhere. That was seminal; people began to understand that as much investment and money comes into Wales from other government institutions of the UK as is controlled by and through the National Assembly. Therefore, the interrelationship between what the Assembly does and what Government do is crucial to their lives, and they know that the two must be joined up. How the institutions make that work is crucial.

Considering what has been said about devolution, perhaps the Welsh Grand Committee would like to meet in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney again. Even the Tories would be welcome—although the last Tory of any note who came to Merthyr was the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), and she said that she did not understand why she was there in the rain, or what she had done to William to make him send her there. If anyone is going to fall off a donkey and have a conversion, perhaps it will be the Tories in Merthyr.

Mr. Murphy: I hope that the right hon. Lady did not change her mind because of a visit to Merthyr Tydfil.

As members of the Welsh Grand Committee and as Members of the House of Commons, we are as much a part of the devolution settlement as our colleagues in Cardiff are. We work together, represent the same people and, in partnership, can take forward the reforms and improvements in service delivery that will be the theme of the forthcoming debate. When people voted for us again, as they did in very large numbers on 7 June, they told us in no uncertain terms what their priorities were. They expect us to deliver resources to Wales for education and health and to pass laws to enable the Assembly to deliver those services, to reduce crime, tackle poverty, help our pensioners, and run a strong, stable and successful economy. This Government will not let the people of Wales down.

The Chairman: Before I call the next speaker, could I ask hon. Members to ensure that interventions are directly related to the point at issue and are not mini-speeches? That would help to keep the debate going.

11.38 am

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