HC Deb 18 June 1997 vol 296 cc296-8
5. Mr. Jack

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on his Department's current budget for the level of public spending for the present and next financial year. [2598]

Mr. Ron Davies

My Department's budget for the current financial year is £6,894 million and, for 1998–99, £6,877 million.

Mr. Jack

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Can he give me an assurance that those spending ceilings will be adhered to for the next two financial years? Can he also give me an assurance that the ceilings for the departments within that expenditure total will remain unaltered for the next two years? If the Secretary of State is unable to give me satisfaction on those two points, will he undertake to publish details of any changes that he may wish to make over those two financial years?

Mr. Ron Davies

On the first question, I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. He was a Treasury Minister in the previous Government and followed the matters very closely, so I know that he will be pleased with that answer.

On the second question, the right hon. Gentleman would expect the Government to review all their spending plans, and we are doing that. My objective in the Welsh Office is to ensure that the expenditure that we will incur in the current year and in the next year better reflects our priorities. It follows from that that any changes we make to departmental expenditure will be published and we will allow hon. Members the opportunity to question the revised figures.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Will my right hon. Friend not listen to the former Financial Secretary or the siren voices from the Treasury? There is plenty of money around. The dreaded public sector borrowing requirement is falling even faster than anticipated, the contingency reserve has not been touched and, no doubt, the Treasury mandarins will come up with a few tax wheezes in the Budget. Will my right hon. Friend therefore press for more money for public services in Wales, because the health service, in particular, cannot take any more cuts?

Mr. Ron Davies

The message from the Treasury is not exactly that the country is awash with money. Details of the Budget are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Any representations made will be from within the ranks of Government and we will all have to wait until Budget day to find out their success or otherwise.

Mr. Livsey

Will the Secretary of State please assure the House that he will continue with the Barnett formula for funding public expenditure in Wales? In the advent of a Welsh Assembly, will he put the formula into a statutory framework?

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Barnett formula deals with the increases in the level of Welsh public expenditure, not with the block grant per se. The matters to which he refers are under discussion and we will make the full details available in the White Paper when we publish it next month.

Mr. Barry Jones

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and wish him well in the important work that he has to do for the people of Wales. Will he bear in mind the difficulties in primary schools in my constituency, for example, which need more teachers? Will his spending plans for the next year enable such help to be given?

Mr. Davies

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's good wishes and I know that he will continue to give whatever service he can, both to his constituents and in sustaining the Government. He will know that one of the Government's established priorities is to reduce class sizes in primary schools. The Under-Secretary with responsibility for those matters, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), has already taken early action in Wales to abolish the wasteful, bureaucratic and divisive nursery voucher system. We will move as quickly as we can to put resources into the primary sector, to fulfil our principal objective of reducing class sizes.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

I welcome the Secretary of State to his appointment and wish him well in his duties. He will recall that the previous Administration, in their spending plans for Wales, originally made a commitment to spend public money to dual the A55 across the island of Anglesey. He will also know that the previous Secretary of State whipped away that money without telling anyone why he was doing so. Will the current Secretary of State assure me that the Government are committed to completing the programme and tell me how Ministers propose to finance it?

Mr. Davies

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, during the general election, I took a close interest in progress on the A55, and it is a matter of some regret that I was not successful in unseating him in that election. I should say that I make those remarks in a spirit of good humour, and I thank him for his good wishes.

The Government are committed to completing the A55, and the Under-Secretary with responsibility for those matters, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath, is examining ways in which we can proceed. As I said, we are committed to the project, and I should like it to be completed as quickly as possible.

Mr. Hague

Can the Secretary of State clarify for the House whether, in future Budgets, the running costs of the proposed Welsh Assembly will be drawn from the Welsh block grant or supplied by all United Kingdom taxpayers?

Mr. Davies

We have already made those points abundantly clear. In debate on the referendum proposals, the shadow Secretary of State asked several times about meeting the costs of the referendum. We made it—

Mr. Ian Bruce

Answer the question.

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman must contain himself, because I will answer the question. I know that he is an excitable fellow and that, today, there is a particularly febrile mood among Conservative Members. Nevertheless, a question has been asked and I will answer it.

The shadow Secretary of State will know that, during debate on referendum legislation and funding, we provided detailed answers to his question. He will also know that we have promised a White Paper, which will be available in July and contain full details of the cost and funding of the Assembly. He will undoubtedly still be shadow Secretary of State in July, and we can return to the matter then.