HC Deb 04 November 1998 vol 318 cc860-1
5. Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

What estimate he has made of the costs of establishing the Assembly for Wales. [56580]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Alun Michael)

The financial memorandum to the Government of Wales Bill stated that the capital cost of establishing the Assembly was not expected to exceed £17 million and estimated the annual running costs of the Assembly at between £15 million and £20 million in addition to current Welsh Office running costs.

Mrs. Gorman

May I, too, say how nice it is to see a new face in the Cabinet? I hope that the Secretary of State's new appointment does not end up costing him his career in the House. Perhaps, in the budget, he might find some way of commemorating the person who was the driving force behind the concept of an Assembly. However, as only a quarter of the Welsh people supported the idea of an Assembly, and as the Government seem to be having difficulty in selecting a suitable person as their candidate for First Secretary—notwithstanding the qualities of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan)—does the Secretary of State think that there is an opportunity to think again about spending all that money on an Assembly that, in dealing with the affairs of Wales, will have less power than a Bantustan?

Mr. Michael

It is very nice that Conservative Members are showing some interest in the Welsh Assembly. However, it is hardly appropriate for Conservative Members to be giving us advice on how to deal with matters in Wales when two of their number are fighting like cats in a sack for leadership of what will be an insignificant Conservative group in the Assembly. We intend to ensure that the Assembly works well for the people of Wales in delivering our promises to them—which have, over the years, led them to give us such massive support. Leadership of the Assembly will be a matter for the party with the greatest representation in Wales, not for the party that has no representation in Wales.

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is now a general expectation in Wales that the National Assembly for Wales will improve democratic accountability, ensure better value for public money and help deliver a proper and effective regional economic policy? Does he agree that, if the Assembly fulfils those expectations, it will pay for itself several times over? Does he agree also that, if the National Assembly for Wales is successful in achieving those objectives, the people of Wales will owe a debt of gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), the former Secretary of State for Wales, for his vision and determination in ensuring that the National Assembly becomes a reality?

Mr. Michael

Yes, indeed—my hon. Friend makes a very powerful point. I paid tribute to that work at the beginning of today's Question Time, and on a number of occasions in the past week. There has certainly been a gap in democratic accountability in Wales, which, over many years, many of us have fought to put right. I look forward to the Assembly being very effective in delivering better standards in public service, health, education and job creation for the people of Wales.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

May I be the last, but not the least sincere, to welcome the Secretary of State to his post? On the wider question of costs, what does he believe would be the cost to the standing of the First Secretary in the Welsh Assembly if he were thought to be a conscript and not a volunteer?

Mr. Michael

It is extremely important that the First Secretary should lead the Welsh Assembly with distinction and vigour. I promise the hon. Gentleman that the Labour party will provide that.

Dr. Fox

We might get an answer from the new Secretary of State if I put the question in a different way. Does the Secretary of State believe that there would be a conflict of interest for an individual serving both as Secretary of State for Wales responsible to the Cabinet and as First Secretary responsible to the Welsh Assembly? Is it possible to serve two masters?

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman obviously did not look carefully at the answers given when those issues were debated in the House before.