HC Deb 27 January 1999 vol 324 cc329-30
5. Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

What response he has made to the recommendations of the working party, set up by his Department, on improving links between Wales and the EU; and if he will make a statement. [66273]

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

In December, I published the report of the informal working party. I warmly welcomed it as contributing to the on-going debate on improving links with Europe and sent a copy to each Welsh Member of Parliament. I have taken a number of initiatives to promote Wales in Europe since I became Secretary of State and I shall continue to do so. I have made it clear in everything that I have said that our relations with Europe and Wales's profile in Europe are central to everything that the Welsh Office does before the Assembly comes into being and will be central to the work of the Assembly.

Mr. Wigley

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will accept and implement the almost 50 recommendations in the report? Will he address in particular the suggestion in paragraph 8.5, which says that Welsh Office officials have not been adequately involved in committees and meetings in Europe and asks for greater emphasis to be put on that? What proposals does he have to strengthen the Welsh Office presence in the United Kingdom permanent representation office in Brussels—UKREP—which was also recommended in the report?

Mr. Michael

I have already taken steps along those lines. I was in Brussels 10 days ago when I discussed with UKREP and with commissioners how to improve Wales's profile in Europe. UKREP is positive about the points that we discussed and we shall be co-operating with our permanent representatives. The report has already been before several bodies. The task force on Europe had a two-day session at the beginning of last week to look again at the onset of objective 1 and other issues concerning our relationship with Europe. I intend to take those points forward during the next month.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the functions that the Secretary of State currently exercises in Whitehall and in Europe will be transferred to the Assembly once it is established and will be exercised by the First Secretary of the Assembly, not by the Secretary of State for Wales?

Mr. Michael

The vast majority of the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Wales will transfer to the Assembly. Some functions will remain with the Secretary of State for Wales. All those issues will be dealt with in the transfer of powers Order that I shall bring forward shortly. That will make clear the details. I understand the point that my right hon. Friend is making.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Why did the Government refuse to give the Welsh Assembly the right to question the Secretary of State for Wales after a meeting of the Council of Ministers?

Mr. Michael

I am not sure what sort of abstruse point the hon. Gentleman is trying to make. The vast majority of the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Wales transfer to the Assembly, to which the First Secretary and the Assembly Secretaries will be fully accountable. They will answer questions and will deal with the issues in much more detail than I and my two ministerial colleagues can.