HC Deb 03 December 1997 vol 302 cc337-40
1. Mr. Forth

What representations he has received regarding the establishment of a Welsh Assembly. [17470]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ron Davies)

I have received numerous representations in the form of letters both to myself personally and to the Welsh Office, many telephone calls to the Assembly information line and e-mails to the Assembly website. We did of course have a referendum on 18 September, and I am pleased to remind the right hon. Gentleman that the people spoke for themselves when they voted for the creation of a Welsh Assembly.

Mr. Forth

Now that the city fathers of Cardiff seem to have lost interest in having the Assembly in their city, what reassurances can the Secretary of State give to the nervous taxpayers of Wales that, in his increasingly anxious search for a location for the Assembly elsewhere in Wales, they will not be expected to pay ever-increasing amounts to prop up his incompetence?

Mr. Davies

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is no question of such a thing happening. The financial memorandum attached to the Bill that was published last week made it absolutely clear that the Government intend to stick to the pledges given in the White Paper. There is no anxious search for an alternative location. The right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to receive tomorrow a copy of the consultation document that I intend to produce to make clear the Government's options.

Mr. Alan Williams

Will the Secretary of State give full weight in his considerations to the fact that he could come to Swansea at a fraction of the cost of staying in Cardiff? Will he bear in mind the fact that it is a matter not only of property values but of the fact that the guildhall in Swansea needs absolutely no refurbishment and could literally be moved into at a week's notice? Will he further bear it in mind that we in south-west Wales welcome the chance to benefit from the one piece of inward investment that is completely within his personal control?

Mr. Davies

I am sure that my right hon. Friend and I both appreciate the delicious irony in his arguing the case for the Assembly to be located in Swansea. I was pleased to receive a letter from him in which he said that the people of Swansea wanted an Assembly—to be located in Swansea.

Swansea has made a powerful case. As I said a moment ago, I am about to issue a consultation document; Swansea features prominently in it and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend, his colleagues, the people of Swansea and the local authority will continue to make their own powerful case.


How many representations has the Secretary of State received from the farming communities—I am sure that he has received some—in favour of a Welsh Assembly, and what does he intend to do about the current crisis in agriculture, which I am certain—

Madam Speaker

Order. We are dealing with the Welsh Assembly. The hon. Gentleman is bringing up a totally different matter.

Mr. Davies

I have received many representations from the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales in favour of a Welsh Assembly. I believe that they understand that, when we have our own democratic form of government in Wales, we will be able to address the problems that beset all those who live and work in the countryside. It might be of interest to the hon. Gentleman to know that I will meet representatives of both the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales later this afternoon; I am sure that we will discuss the impact of the Assembly, among other matters.

Mr. Barry Jones

My right hon. Friend has let the names Cardiff and Swansea cross his lips this afternoon. May I mention Alyn and Deeside and invite him to consider seriously locating the Assembly in my constituency at the new, large modern offices at Ewloe, owned by Flintshire county council? Such consideration would be most gratefully received.

Mr. Davies

It is certainly the case that Ewloe was one of the locations which we considered in the initial search for a suitable location for the Welsh Assembly. I must disappoint my hon. Friend because it is not the firmest of favourites in the consultation document. I understand the concern that the people from the north of Wales have expressed, and it is my intention to make it clear in the consultation document that there will be an opportunity for the people of north Wales, in common with people throughout Wales, to have access to the Assembly.

Mr. Shepherd

Surely the greatest representation that the right hon. Gentleman has received in respect of such matters is the decision of 75 per cent. of the Welsh electorate who did not support the Welsh Office proposals. Would not the best solution be to consign the powers that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to use to Welsh elected Members of Parliament, who could discharge those responsibilities without any further burden being placed on the taxpayer of Wales?

Mr. Davies

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has got it wrong—75 per cent. of the people of Wales did not oppose the creation of the Assembly. If we were now to set aside those proposals, the Labour party and the Government would be breaching their election manifesto and we would be breaching the commitment given by the House when we passed the referendum Bill to introduce a Bill to provide for the democratic settlement of government in Wales. We would thus betray the people of Wales who fought and voted for a referendum on the basis of the regulations laid down by the House.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan

Can the Secretary of State confirm that the essential nature of the choice before him and his opposite number, the Secretary of State for Scotland, is between a high-tech, palace of technology Parliament in a brand-new building—free of VAT, of course—or a Parliament converted from an historic traditional building, such as Cardiff city hall? Perhaps in the hearts and minds of the Welsh people, and even perhaps in the heart and mind of my right hon. Friend, that building is the nearest thing that we have in Wales to Big Ben and this Palace.

Mr. Davies

As I have said publicly before, and I repeat to my hon. Friend that Cardiff has always been the obvious choice for the location of the Assembly, and city hall has always been my preferred location for it. I am determined that if we acquire city hall, it must be at the right price and not at any price. I can assure my hon. Friend that the case that he has put has been considered. Indeed, I will answer his question tomorrow when I produce the consultative document to which I have already referred.

Mr. Ancram

Will the Secretary of State confirm that any additional cost of establishing the Assembly arising from the incompetent way in which he and his colleagues have handled the project, not least by failing after 18 years to find a home for the Assembly, will come out of the Welsh mainstream budget, which would otherwise be spent on important sectors such as housing and education? Indeed, the Welsh section of the Confederation of British Industry fears that the cost will be met out of money that might otherwise go towards economic development. Should not the right hon. Gentleman apologise to the people of Wales for not having resolved such problems before the referendum, and thus for having sold the referendum to them on a false prospectus?

Mr. Davies

I really do not understand the case that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to put. I fail to see how the present Government are responsible for the sins that his Government and his party visited on Wales in the past 18 years. It is a travesty for him to talk about the time scale when he had the opportunity to preside over a change in democratic relationships not only in Wales but throughout the United Kingdom when his party enjoyed power in the House of Commons.

I have already made it absolutely clear that the financial memorandum attached to the Government of Wales Bill spells out the cost of providing a home for the Assembly. It is my determination to keep within that financial limit, which subsequently led to Cardiff city council rejecting my offer to acquire city hall. Is the right hon. Gentleman now suggesting that I should acquire that building at a price greater than the independently assessed market value reached by the district valuer? Is that what he is suggesting? Would that be equivalent to safeguarding public finances?

Mr. Ancram

Does not this indicate that it would be a far better use of the Secretary of State's time if, instead of dogfighting with his socialist colleagues on Cardiff county council about Cardiff city hall, he explained to the people of Wales how an Assembly might in future be able to help the hard-pressed farmers of Wales, who are suffering grave dangers to their livelihood and who need more than the patronising arrogance that they have had from him over the past three days?

Mr. Davies

I fail to see how my statement condemning the illegal actions of farmers from Wales and anywhere else in this country in seizing and dumping legally transported goods is patronising arrogance. Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that the illegal action taken by people in Holyhead and elsewhere in Wales over the past two or three years is action that he defends? The fact of the matter is that the Government are prepared to sit down and listen to the farmers of Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and that is precisely what I shall be doing at 3.30 pm today. The right hon. Gentleman is betraying the interests of this country by stirring up the sort of illegal action that he is now suggesting he supports.

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