HC Deb 19 October 1993 vol 230 cc147-58 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I will make a statement on the Welsh Development Agency.

In July this year, the Public Accounts Committee published its report on the 1991–92 accounts of the Welsh Development Agency. It was critical of the agency, finding a number of irregularities. The Committee concluded that the standards of the agency were well below what the Committee and the House had a right to expect. A number of recommendations were made to put matters right.

There were irregularities in the behaviour and conduct of the agency in its internal affairs. I believe that, when things have gone wrong, the important thing is to find out why, to identify the problems, and to put them right as quickly as possible.

The new chairman of the Welsh Development Agency, Mr. David Rowe-Beddoe, decided to set up an inquiry into the findings of the PAC to see what action should be taken. The inquiry was headed by Sir John Caines, recently retired permanent secretary for the Department for Education. The other two members were Mr. Clive Beck, who was until recently deputy chairman and joint managing director of John Mowlem and Company, and Mr. Geraint Davies, partner at Grant Thornton, chartered accountants.

They were chosen for their independence and their understanding of public and private sector standards and practices. Their report, together with a report on the action that the agency proposes to take in response, has been sent to the Public Accounts Committee today, and copies are available in the Library. The report makes 43 recommendations.

The board of the Welsh Development Agency has agreed to accept all the recommendations which apply to the agency. Many of them have already been implemented, and action is under way on the others. Procedures and practices have been tightened up and revised. There is now greater emphasis on audit and on ensuring that proper procedures are followed. Welsh Office approval will be sought and obtained for activities when necessary. A committee of the board has been set up to deal with audit matters.

The board has also decided to make a number of changes in the composition of the senior management of the agency, of which the chairman gave details this morning. I believe that the chairman and the board of the Welsh Development Agency have taken tough action to deal with the criticisms in the PAC report and to ensure that in future the importance of compliance is understood. It is clear from the report that my predecessors were not to blame, and that the primary responsibility lay at executive level in the WDA. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I suggest that Opposition Members read the report, so that they see for themselves what is clearly stated therein.

The inquiry also made several recommendations to the Welsh Office in relation to administration and appointments. I am happy to adopt the administrative ones and, in making future appointments, I will take full account of the other recommendations. The Government are publishing this afternoon their response to the PAC report in the form of a Treasury Minute. Responsibility for the internal affairs and activities of non-departmental public bodies rests with their boards and with the accounting officers, but ultimate responsibility is with the Secretary of State, which is why I am here to make a statement to the House.

I have reminded all Welsh public bodies of the need for the highest standards of probity and fairness in the conduct of public business and of the requirement to comply with rules and guidance. My Department is reviewing the authorities and approvals given to each of its public bodies and their compliance with them. An efficiency scrutiny to assess the effectiveness and efficiency with which the Department exercises its sponsorship function is also under way.

The Treasury has issued guidance to all Departments covering expenditure on staff benefits in non-departmental public bodies, severance terms for their staff, and the need to have in place arrangements designed to ensure that they do not act beyond their delegated authorities. The Treasury is also producing a memorandum setting out the duties of an NDPB accounting officer, is consulting Departments on whether the approach recommended in the Cadbury committee's report could be adapted to meet the needs of those bodies, and is considering whether further measures are required to strengthen the financial framework within which they operate.

The present system can combine great detail with unsatisfactory standards of compliance. My intention is to achieve a more strategic and effective style of monitoring. I want to strengthen the audit of compliance, set targets and review progress annually, with more frequent meetings only if there are problems. If that framework is right, then I should like to increase the delegated limits for expenditure by most Welsh NDPBs. I wish to approve only the larger capital projects, leaving more decisions to the board, subject to the rules about conduct and the strategic guidance given at the time of the review of the annual corporate plan review.

Everyone who operates in the public sector has a clear responsibility to be scrupulously correct in all his or her dealings and to be seen to be above reproach. It is easy to become so obsessed with rules and procedures that a body forgets why it is there in the first place, or a body can become so preoccupied with achievements that it overlooks some of the fundamental principles that must govern its behaviour. I do not wish to see Welsh public bodies making either of those mistakes.

It is easy to look only at the criticisms that have been levelled against the Welsh Development Agency and to neglect its very real achievements in recent years. I am sure that Opposition Members will agree with me that the Welsh Development Agency has made a significant contribution to economic development in Wales. Through its activities, the dereliction of decades of industrial use has been swept away as landscapes have been transformed. The property building programme of the agency has resulted in affordable modern factories, which have brought employment to many areas. The urban regeneration programme is making its mark on towns all over Wales, and the agency has played a central role in attracting inward investment. I wish to reinforce all that work on a firm foundation of good management.

If the Opposition wish to help Wales, after this examination of the WDA's affairs, they will give the new team at the agency a chance to show its worth and show that, like its predecessor, it is winning for Wales.

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement, and for the constructive and, for this Government, almost contrite response to most of the PAC's findings. The new chairman and staff of the WDA have our support and good wishes. However, the events of the past couple of years have cast a shadow over the work of the agency. That is a cause for regret, and an unfortunate distraction from the job of economic regeneration in Wales with which the agency is charged.

The Secretary of State today has clearly acknowledged the extent to which the agency ran out of control, and I hope that it will be possible for it now to redirect its energies to its proper functions.

Does the Secretary of State accept, however, that the current shadow has been cast by his predecessors as Secretary of State—Peter Walker and the present Secretary of State for Employment? They were responsible for the now notorious party political appointments to the board, and it was they who forced the agency to serve their own publicity-seeking antics.

Nothing more clearly shows that preoccupation with party propaganda and self-promotion than the demands made in the run-up to the monthly ritual of Welsh Questions for news of jobs or investments. Maximum publicity, not accuracy or regard for the truth, was always the object of that exercise. If the Welsh economy had been as prolific in its production as the Welsh Office was in its production of photo opportunities and press releases, we would not now have 130,000 unemployed in Wales.

Is it any wonder, given such casual leadership from the Welsh Office, that standards in the agency itself fell to such unacceptable levels? If the present Secretary of State really wants to put the matter to rest, why has he failed to grasp the nettle of Operation Wizard—a botched attempt at privatisation by the agency's top management? It was a one-way bet. Had it been successful, those public employees would have collected millions of pounds in profit; but it was not, and the stake of hundreds of thousands of pounds was taken straight from public funds.

How on earth, given the PAC findings of deliberate deception and incompatability with parliamentary accountability, can the Secretary of State gloss over the matter? If he does not reconsider his decision to do nothing, does he not realise that he will be tainting himself in an unacceptable cover-up?

Both the chairman, Gwyn Jones, and the chief executive, Philip Head, have now resigned. Will the Secretary of State now assure us that the WDA's own internal inquiry will be thorough in its review of all those involved in malpractice, and will he be resolute in implementing his findings?

In addition, is it not inappropriate for Dr. Jones to continue to hold public office? Should he not be dismissed forthwith as a governor of the BBC and removed from the board of S4C? Is it not clear, however, from the whole sorry affair that government in Wales is dependent on patronage and devoid of public scrutiny, and that parliamentary accountability is in need of radical overhaul? What is true of the WDA is true of the 80 other quangos in Wales and the billions of pounds they spend each year.

Open government and public scrutiny are the best defences against corruption and the abuse of power, but clearly the Government will not concede to the people of Wales control of our own affairs. Will the Secretary of State therefore consider amending our existing parliamentary procedures to provide more penetrating scrutiny?

I believe that there is now an overwhelming case for an additional Select Committee with oversight of Welsh quangos, charged with reporting regularly to special sittings of the Welsh Grand Committee.

The present Secretary of State is still relatively new to his job and he has the reputation of being a radical.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

A bastard.

Mr. Davies

That too, perhaps.

Let us hope that he realises what his predecessors did not, The WDA and all the other quangos exist to serve the interests of the people of Wales, not the vested interests of his or any other political party.

Mr. Redwood

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks and I am glad that he and his colleagues wish the new chairman every success for Wales. They will need the support of all people in Wales and I am sure they will do an excellent job.

I cannot agree that we are looking at a shadow cast by my predecessors. They were the people responsible for the successes during the period under review—£4,000 million of investment was won for Wales. Let us not lose sight of that. They were the ones who had the vision and strategic direction. I have made clear in my statement what did arise and where the fault lay, and that is the result of an independent inquiry by men of stature.

Nor is it true to say that the former chairman of the agency was appointed for his politics. Lord Walker chose him for his business skills and his enthusiasm for Wales —something that he showed throughout his energetic term of office. It is interesting to look back at the record of the time when Dr. Jones was appointed. Nothing was heard from the Opposition then about how that man was unsuited to such an important post. They, too, thought that he was a great catch and were pleased that someone was prepared to take a cut in salary to run the WDA and to bring with him the benefit of his business skills. I would take the Opposition's criticism more seriously had they said then they thought there was something wrong with the appointment.

Of course I want to put the matter to rest, and anyone who wishes Wales well will also want to put it to rest. It has been cleaned up, and we now want to go forward on a firm basis.

On Operation Wizard, the report shows clear understanding of why the matter was treated with confidentiality. If the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) knew more about the conduct of Government, he would be aware that there are often reviews of the status and the future of such bodies as the WDA. It is the perfectly normal business of Government—although, if the hon. Gentleman is framing a supplementary question, I assure him that I am not currently planning the privatisation of the WDA. No doubt he will be pleased to know that.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the chairman and chief executive are no longer with the agency. There has been an extensive inquiry, which has shown that there has been no malpractice at the Welsh Office, so the point of the hon. Gentleman's question is not immediately apparent.

Dr. Jones tenure at the BBC is properly a matter for the Secretary of State for National Heritage, who sees no reason why the problems encountered by the WDA should affect Dr. Jones's ability to discharge his responsibilities as a governor of the BBC.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly will find me only too willing to allow scrutiny of public bodies. There is already good public scrutiny through the PAC, through the parliamentary process, through debates and through sessions such as this. I chose to make this statement because I thought that it was a matter of public interest. I intend to continue to make statements or to make opportunities available to the Opposition so that Wales can see what its public bodies are doing and debate that fully.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. After those initial exchanges, I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that this is a question period, during which questions must be asked of the Secretary of State. I ask for brief questions and brief answers, because many hon. Members wish to ask questions.

Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that people in Wales, especially the many thousands who work in businesses that have been supported by the excellent work of the WDA, will be appalled by the laughter this afternoon at the work undertaken by that agency? Whatever the position on the internal affairs of the agency—matters that have been exposed and are properly the subject of serious criticism —it is important that the work of the WDA is recognised. I urge my right hon. Friend to reassure the House—

Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I must give hon. Members a little instruction. This is not a time for statements—they can be made outside the House, on television and in the press. This is a time to elicit information from the Secretary of State. It is a time to ask him questions.

Mr. Evans

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the WDA's budget will not be reduced as a result of the events that have been discussed in the House today? Will he further confirm that he will recognise the WDA's important role, notwithstanding the exposure of some difficulties in its internal affairs?

Mr. Redwood

My hon. Friend is right to say that the WDA's work has been most valuable. He is also right to think that I will not reduce its budget because of the events that we have discussed today.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that the search for a new chief executive will be widely advertised and canvassed? Will he give a further assurance that a prerequisite for holding that post will be a track record in manufacturing, engineering and industry? Without a concentration on manufacturing and engineering, by both the WDA and the Government, there will be little chance of lifting the economy of Wales from being the poorest region in Britain, as it is at present.

Mr. Redwood

I can certainly reassure the right hon. Gentleman that the post will be widely advertised—this debate will help in that task. We will of course be looking for a person of stature with a great deal of relevant experience. However, I do not want to limit applications in quite the way that the right hon. Gentleman suggested. Much will depend on who is forthcoming in response to the advertisement.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that strong action was initiated immediately the Public Accounts Committee reported?

Mr. Redwood

My hon. Friend is quite right. We took action as soon as we could in the light of the report.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)

Does not the experience with the Welsh Development Agency show the awful shortcomings of the quango aspect of government in Wales? Such quangos, with their Tory placemen, lack accountability to Welsh people.

Mr. Redwood

That deduction cannot be made. On occasions, there are irregularities in local government—as there are, regrettably, in central Government and in bodies such as the agency. It is quality of leadership and attention to the detail of the rules that matter.

Mr. Mark Robinson (Somerton and Frome)

As a former Welsh Office Minister, I can inform my right hon. Friend that the Welsh Development Agency's contribution to attracting inward investment is widely recognised, not just in Wales but even in the west country region that I now represent. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his response to the inquiry. I seek his assurance that he will give every encouragement to the WDA's new leadership to continue on its proven track record of success.

Mr. Redwood

I happily give that reassurance.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Is not this sorry, sad saga a clear warning to the Government of the dangers of removing whole tracts of public policy and expenditure from local government in Wales and from Parliament? Is not the almost inevitable result of political patronage a danger of corruption and lack of accountability? Will not the Secretary of State at least try to examine objectively the dangers that arise from the Government's increasing tendency to create quangos?

Mr. Redwood

That is rather rich, given that the Labour party set up the WDA. The hon. Gentleman should have directed his question at some of his Labour party colleagues. He can rest assured that I am not shy of public debate on such matters. It is legitimate that there should be proper public debate of the actions of such important bodies.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the serious commercial damage done to bona fide businesses in my constituency, which are not eligible for any Government grants, by grants made by organisations such as the Welsh Development Agency to feckless people running non-viable businesses in industries that have over capacity? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be much closer scrutiny of the way that such money is made available to commercial enterprises in future?

Mr. Redwood

It is always useful to have helpful questions, is it not? I reassure my hon. Friend that, if he has a specific complaint about a particular investment that he considers is anti-competitive and ill-judged, I will of course investigate it. I believe, however, that the WDA's overall performance has been extremely beneficial to Wales.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Does the Secretary of State accept that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House hope that the WDA is opening a new chapter, because of the vital role that it plays in Wales? It is ironic that the right hon. Gentleman's friends voted against the agency's establishment when it came into existence in 1975.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the overwhelming majority of the people of Wales find it difficult to believe that there was not a nod and a wink in the direction of the WDA from the political chiefs when there was a question of possible privatisation? If there had been scrutiny on a month-by-month and quarterly basis by an elected, all-Wales body, we would not have waited as long as we have to get to the bottom of the issue.

Mr. Redwood

There will always be some things which are commercial-in-confidence and which have to be treated in that way. There are occasions when investigations or studies have to be made of the future of bodies when it would not be wise at an early stage to share information with all the staff and the public because it could damage morale and yet might not lead anywhere. That was the case in this example.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Would my right hon. Friend care to confirm that the regeneration of industry in Wales has been one of the great success stories, much to the envy of the rest of the United Kingdom? May we rest assured that the chairman of the WDA will take disciplinary action against those who have made glaring mistakes?

Mr. Redwood

Yes, I can reassure my hon. Friend and agree with his first point. The chairman has today announced disciplinary action against those who are still at the agency and who are held culpable for what has taken place.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Can the Secretary of State explain how years of unprecedented incompetence, impropriety and deception went undetected by his Department and by his predecessors? Can he explain why, when the National Audit Office report revealed that deception and impropriety, and when the Public Accounts Committee hearing proved all the allegations, his predecessor reappointed the chairman, who should have been sacked, and made him a governor of the BBC.

Mr. Redwood

I have already covered that point. As the report makes clear, the former chairman is not held primarily to blame for those events. Blame is attributed first of all to the executive and the named members of it —some of them are no longer in post, and one has been removed from post—the remuneration committee and the internal audit service. Of course it is a pity that the matter did not come to light earlier through the audit process, but it is good news that it did come to light and that it has been handled in that way.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

Is it not vital that we refocus the agency on the continued industrial and manufacturing regeneration of our communities? Would not the best signal of that be the appointment of a chief executive with the relevant experience that my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) has suggested?

Mr. Redwood

It is quite possible that such a candidate will come forward, and I would be delighted if a good candidate with that background were to emerge. But we cannot rule out, in a fair and free competition following public advertisement, people with slightly different skills, who would also be able to offer a great deal for Wales. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) should remember that an important part of the task is clearing the ground, making property available and developing property transactions that can lead to industrial rejuvenation. Those are also skills that we need to take into account in the executive management of me agency.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that all Opposition Members recognise that that body was intended to be the engine room for the regeneration of the Welsh economy? Instead of that, we find that it is riddled with fiddles. When will the Government accept responsibility for that state of affairs, and when will successive Secretaries of State recognise their responsibilities in these matters? Does the Secretary of State appreciate also that, if Wales had had an elected Assembly, the agency would have been much more rigorously scrutinised?

Mr. Redwood

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's latter point. Parliament is quite capable of scrutinising that body, as these questions and the papers before us demonstrate only too well. I have described where independent experts thought that the responsibility lay, and the chairman has set out what the board proposes to do about it. He has taken tough action with his board, and I should have thought that the House would respond favourably to that.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

The Secretary of State makes a most unconvincing Pontius Pilate. Instead of continually washing his hands of responsibility in the matter, he should read a little history. This is not the first time that the Public Accounts Committee has drawn the Secretary of State's attention to problems within the WDA.

In 1985, when I was on the Public Accounts Committee, we investigated the Parrott Corporation. It had received millions of pounds from the WDA, but no one was censured and no one was brought to book. Instead of the Secretary of State and his predecessors washing their hands, why does he not have the guts to resign and accept responsibility?

Mr. Redwood

I have already answered that point. The responsibility has been clearly attributed to layers of management within the WDA, and tough action has been taken as a result. I am not trying to be Pontius Pilate: I am trying to be the Secretary of State, telling the House what firm action has been taken, and building a good base for the future.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the agency has become a world-class agency that is much admired throughout the western world? Does he remember that many of his hon. and right hon. Friends tried to prevent the agency from coming into existence? Does he accept that Lord Peter Walker's arrogant and cavalier use of his massive powers of patronage have led to this sorry state of affairs? Why did not he come to the House today with measures to democratise appointments to public bodies in Wales? That is what is required. The Secretary of State, as the right hon. Member for Wokingham, has too much power in terms of appointments in Wales.

Mr. Redwood

I do not agree that it was Lord Walker's fault in the way in which the hon. Gentleman describes. I have taken action to democratise appointments in Wales. I have placed public advertisements asking for more good people to come forward on to lists. I have reassured the House that I will look carefully at the merits and talents of such people, and I will take up references. I will ensure that the best people in Wales are appointed to the jobs available. That is, of course, open to scrutiny by the House, and I am sure that Labour Members will not be shy about exercising that scrutiny.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

Given that the Welsh Development Agency is only one of several Welsh bodies to be criticised by the Public Accounts Committee in the past few years, can the Secretary of State give an assurance that we have seen the last of these scandals?

Mr. Redwood

I can give no 100 per cent. assurance along those lines. I have set out how I intend to proceed. I have told the House how I wish to monitor these bodies, how I wish to agree their strategy with them, what delegated powers I wish them to have and how I intend to audit their practices carefully. Therefore, I reassure the House that I will do all in my power to prevent a recurrence. One can never give a 100 per cent. guarantee that there will be no recurrence, any more than Labour Members can guarantee that there will never be a scandal in a Labour local authority.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

Does the Secretary of State agree that this sorry state of affairs came about directly as a result of the Government's 14 years' stewardship of government in Wales, corrupting it by introducing quangos in every walk of life and filling them with toadies, acolytes and placemen of the Conservative party almost exclusively? Does he agree that nothing will change until those quangos become democratic, accountable and representative?

Mr. Redwood

The quangos must be very accountable, which is what this debate is about. I resent the implication that the talented people on many of these boards are toadies or Conservative lackeys—it simply is not true. They represent the best of Welsh experience, business and commercial and public life. I am open to suggestions from Labour Members for other people who can take on some of the jobs and who will further strengthen those skills.

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

Will the Secretary of State accept from a member of the Public Accounts Committee that, like me, many other members of the Committee were appalled by the evidence that came out during the investigation? Welsh Office officials, up to the permanent secretary, appeared to know nothing about the hundreds of thousands of pounds that disappeared from public funds into the pockets of consultants and merchant bankers during the whole sordid Operation Wizard business. If the officials did not know about it, what has the Secretary of State done in the Welsh Office to ensure that such lapses of responsibility do not recur?

Mr. Redwood

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that, under my stewardship, senior officials will know about my dealings with the agency in considerable detail, and we will observe all of the due procedures. I repeat what the report said about Operation Wizard. There was a case for keeping something confidential, or keeping it tightly between a few people, because it might not lead anywhere. If the matter was leaked, it could have been damaging to morale. As it turned out, it did not lead anywhere, so it was better that morale was not undermined at the time by a public statement.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Why are all the failures of the WDA the result of the activities of the staff and all its successes the result of the activities of the politicians?

Mr. Redwood

I did not say that—I said that the leadership and vision of the politicians are most important in developing the energy in attracting inward investment to Wales. However, I also gave due credit to the staff and the chairman of the WDA. They did all the hard work to deliver the vision. My predecessors set out what the staff should do. The staff followed up the leads and negotiated the transactions. I pay full tribute to them, and I trust that Labour Members will do the same.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

Will the Secretary of State resist the temptation to downgrade the WDA function in favour of a Thatcherite, hands-off approach to economic policy, because the relative success of the WDA has been achieved despite Thatcherism in England? Will he instead take this opportunity to refocus the thrust of WDA activity away from environmental upgrading and property development, necessary though that is, in favour of a serious strategy for rebuilding Wales's industrial and manufacturing base, providing long-term, low-cost finance for business and regenerating the much neglected Welsh valleys?

Mr. Redwood

I have announced today the next five-year programme for the Welsh valleys initiative. I am an admirer of what has been achieved in the past five years, and intend to build on it. Of course we have a vision of how we wish to see development unfold. We wish to see many more jobs and businesses come to south Wales and other parts of Wales. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman accepts that there have been successes at the WDA. He can rest assured that I think that there is an important role for the WDA in encouraging the clearance of dereliction, in urban renewal and in winning new investment for Wales.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Will the Secretary of State assure me that there will be the same intense investigation where evidence is presented to him of a scandal in the private sector affecting the collapse of companies in Wales?

Mr. Redwood

There are a number of ways in which that is undertaken by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, under the companies legislation, there are substantial powers for investigation and, where necessary, for public investigation and public report. Often, these also become matters for the law courts, which is another way in which they get extensive media coverage and public probing. I have also noticed that Opposition Members are not shy about raising these matters across the Floor of the House.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

The Secretary of State referred in his statement to the poor standards of professionalism and integrity of a number of WDA officers. Does he realise that, because of that lack of professionalism and integrity, several former WDA employees at lower levels find themselves severely financially disadvantaged, as the redundancy terms that they were offered have turned out to be possibly illegal? Will the Secretary of State guarantee that those people will be properly compensated for the failures of more senior officers?

Mr. Redwood

I cannot give that guarantee, because we are talking about payments that were improper or perhaps illegal. The agency has clear guidance as of now that any redundancies must be agreed under the terms of the local government scheme, which is what should have happened in the past.

Mr. Rogers

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In an answer, the Secretary of State said that he had announced today a five-year programme for the valleys of south Wales, which has caused us great concern. I am a representative of one of those valleys, and I have not heard of this.

Successive Speakers have asked that Ministers should give their news or announce progress or policies to this House rather than to the press outside. May I ask you, Madam Speaker, to put pressure on the Secretary of State to come to the House immediately with a statement so that we know what is to happen in our constituencies over the next five years?

Madam Speaker

I am in equal ignorance. I do not know whether the Secretary of State has made a statement in a written answer or whether he has made a press statement about this matter. Perhaps he would like to add to the point of order.

Mr. Redwood

I am grateful for the opportunity. I meant to say that I would make a statement tomorrow. I shall ensure that hon. Members are properly informed.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

Does the Secretary of State accept that things have come to a pretty pass when, from the most powerful, high-profile quango in Wales under his control, the chairman, chosen at a Tory party fund-raising lunch, resigned last July, the chief executive resigned yesterday, the finance director went today, the marketing director was demoted today, the rural affairs director was reprimanded publicly today, the international marketing manager and the north Wales area manager were dismissed last week, and the north America marketing manager is in jail for fraud?

I am sure that the Secretary of State accepts that it is fair to say that this is a sorry tale about an agency that is off the rails, although it has pulled in some big names in world industry terms into Wales, including Bosch, Toyota, British Airways, Trico and Sony. Will the Secretary of State therefore accept that today is perhaps the day for saying "Le WDA est mort; vive le WDA"? We need the agency. Does the Secretary of State accept that all Opposition Members wish to help the chairman to put it back on the rails?

At the Conservative party conference, we heard a cry of "Let's get back to basics"—a principle that may be susceptible of wide and flexible interpretation, but one that, undoubtedly, can mean only one thing in connection with the WDA and the Secretary of State: restoring the agency to its rightful position as the powerhouse of industrial development and job creation in Wales.

Mr. Redwood

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support for the new team. I look forward to observing more tangible support from the Opposition as its members go about their successful task of winning for Wales.

Forward to