Pre-Budget Statement (Implications for Wales)

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Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Small post offices and other businesses are an equally vital part of communities in urban council estates and in the valley areas. Many of these have been severely hit by the recent problems in the steel and other manufacturing industries. Is it not time to give the first consideration to the businesses in these areas?

Mr. Murphy: I agree with my hon. Friend in the sense that it is equally important for post offices to go to our valley communities. Sometimes our cities are as deprived as the parts of rural Wales that we have mentioned. We cannot differentiate in terms of the need as all parts of Wales, particularly those that are geographically remote—they can be in the valleys as well as in rural areas—need such attention.

The Pre-Budget Statement

(Implications for Wales)

11 am

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): On a point of order, Mr. Griffiths. May I urge you to reiterate your strictures to the Committee to keep questions and answers short next time, as it has had a magical effect on this Committee?

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Further to that point of order, Mr. Griffiths. As there will be a considerable amount of hot air in this room later today and it is already warming up, would it be in order for those hon. Members who wish to do so to remove their jackets?

The Chairman: Hon. Members may certainly remove their jackets.

It might be helpful if I remind Members of the timing of the debate. We have from now until 1 o'clock and then we meet again at 4 o'clock in room 10 but at 4 o'clock we will have a statement from the Secretary of State and there will then be some questions, if Members wish. The debate will resume after those questions until 6 o'clock.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the matter of the Pre-Budget Statement and its implications for Wales.

I shall be as brief as I can because I take your point, Mr. Griffiths, that we want as many hon. Members as possible to contribute to what the debate on what is an extremely important issue for the people of Wales.

The Committee last addressed Budget issues on 12 March in county hall in Cwmbran and much has happened since then. We have had a general election and the Labour party has returned a substantial majority. We have had the terrible events of 11 September in the United States.

However, none of that has prevented us pursuing our objective of long-term prosperity for all citizens in Wales and the United Kingdom. We intend to achieve that in the next decade. Our aims are full employment, higher education for the majority of our young people, sustained improvements in our public services, a halving of child poverty with the intention of ending it altogether within a generation and an end to pensioner poverty.

The Government have made good and steady progress over the last four or more years in this matter. We have not returned to those damaging cycles of boom and bust which we had for all those years under the Conservatives and because of the tough and difficult decisions that we have had to take we now have the lowest inflation for 30 years, the lowest long-term interest rates for 35 years and the lowest unemployment since 1975.

That work is continued in the measures announced in the statement made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. For us in Wales it will have its impact upon the Welsh people through the new constitutional arrangements upon which we voted in 1997.

All those aims will be achieved through a partnership between the United Kingdom Government and the National Assembly for Wales. The pre-Budget report illustrates how, together, the Government, the Assembly and local government in Wales can transform the lives of Welsh women, men and children for the better.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): On partnership, does the Secretary of State share my concern about the distribution of money in Wales? Would he care to comment on some examples of the problem? We are spending approximately £92 million of public money on the Millennium arts centre—a glorified opera house—in Cardiff bay, and we will provide another £2 million a year in subsidies for it. However, we have a Victorian theatre in Blaenau Gwent—you will know it well—that we are trying to convert into a high technology training centre for theatre skills. It will include workshops, a digital training centre, conference space, a recording studio and much more. However, we have not received the £1 million that is required to get the project off the ground. I remind you that £1 million is half the amount of the subsidy that will go to the glorified opera house in Cardiff bay.

The Chairman: Order. I have stretched my tolerance a long way. I remind hon. Members to make brief interventions and not long speeches. I also remind hon. Members that use of the word ``you'' in this case is an attack on me, not the Secretary of State.

Mr. Murphy: I prefer it that way round, Mr. Griffiths.

I cannot agree with my hon. Friend about the Millennium centre. It will be an enormous asset to our capital city and will improve its bid to become the European capital city of culture. However, I agree with his point about the theatre in Abertillery. I am aware of the situation—he and I met with the local authority—and he may rest assured that I will take it up with the relevant Minister.

The devolution settlement was always about sharing responsibility, government and a vision for a better Wales. The White Paper that set up devolution discussed a new partnership between Parliament and the Assembly, the Assembly and Whitehall Departments, and Members of Parliament and Assembly Members. During the passage of the Government of Wales Bill, Member after Member who spoke in the debate on the Floor of the House referred to those partnerships. My predecessor, the then Secretary of State, Ron Davies said:

    ``The assembly's success will be judged, by and large, by whether it develops a good working relationship with the Westminster Parliament''.—[Official Report, 20 January 1998; Vol. 304, c. 826.]

He was right. Incidentally, everyone realised and accepted that we could change lives in Wales through primary legislation made in this place; the 40 Welsh MPs play a vital role.

Much of the pre-Budget report is about the improvement of our public services.

Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): I am concerned that connections between levels of government should be as good as possible. My right hon. Friend is aware that tomorrow a group of us are launching the valleys first initiative, which will bring Members of both Houses of the Westminster Parliament, the European Parliament and the Assembly together to talk about how we can best make connections with one another and co-ordinate our work. The aim is to deal with divisions and champion those who have the greatest needs: the people of our valleys. Does the Secretary of State think that that is a positive initiative, which will make the connections better?

Mr. Murphy: I welcome the initiative, which is extremely positive. It is important that the Assembly, the House of Commons, local government and the European Parliament work together with the aim of ensuring that the problems that affect our people are dealt with. After all, there are only 3 million people in Wales, and they are represented at different levels of government. The 40 Welsh Members of the House of Commons represent them and have duties in this place, in the same way that Assembly Members have their duties. Of course, we all represent the same people, and the public are often confused by who does precisely what. If we work to achieve the aims of eliminating deprivation and unemployment, in the valleys and elsewhere, nothing but good will result. I congratulate my hon. Friend on that point.

The latest spending review granted the Welsh Assembly unprecedented resources to spend on health, education and other services. However, that is insufficient to bring about reform, which is why the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill and the Education Bill have specific clauses for Wales. Those clauses were negotiated with the Assembly before they were added to the Bill, but are still subject to scrutiny in the House and the other place.

Mr. Simon Thomas: The right hon. Gentleman talks about partnership. Will he explain why the Animal Health Bill was not discussed with the Welsh Assembly?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is aware that the drafting of Welsh clauses is evolving. Last year, we dealt with Bills differently. We learn as we go, and the relationship matures. Daft Bills in the House mean that we have more tunity to scrutinise them before they go through the normal legislative process. Only good can come of that.

On Second Reading of the current health Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) wondered whether Members of Parliament have a meaningful role in legislating for Wales. Our reply must be a resounding yes. The Welsh people want MPs in the House and representatives in the National Assembly to work as one in improving their quality of life. We can go down different roads and work on different issues to achieve the same goal.

Mr. Llwyd: On the spirit of co-operation, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is concerned that in the last year, behind the backs of Assembly Members, 50 Welsh statutory instruments were dealt with in the House? Is that partnership? [Interruption.] Yes, that is what happened.

Mr. Murphy: The way in which the House and the Welsh Assembly deal with legislation is always evolving, but we must clear the backlog of statutory instruments.

I am delighted that the draft Welsh NHS Bill will be scrutinised by the Assembly, and I hope, by some agreed method in the House, before it goes through the legislative process. That is the way forward.

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