HC Deb 31 March 1999 vol 328 cc1071-3
1. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

If he will make a statement on the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Wales after devolution. [78059]

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

After devolution the Secretary of State for Wales will be a member of the United Kingdom Cabinet, with responsibilities for ensuring that the needs and interests of Wales are taken into account in its decisions.

Mr. Winterton

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his brief reply. I assume it means that he will become a very junior member of a future Labour Cabinet. But will not devolution bring about a massive and unprecedented transfer of power from his office, and will not his accountability to the House, which he stressed in his reply—accountability in regard to agriculture, health, education and other matters—be minimal? How does the right hon. Gentleman feel that he will best be able to represent the interests of the people of Wales in this House, bearing in mind the limited powers that he will have?

Mr. Michael

I do not see how a representative of a party that has no Welsh representatives in the House can have the cheek to talk about power or representation.

As usual, the hon. Gentleman has made the wrong assumptions. The Secretary of State will be an important member of the Government, because the United Kingdom Cabinet will retain responsibility for all sorts of legislation affecting the people of Wales, not only in terms of England and Wales but in terms of the United Kingdom as a whole, and in wider terms. The voice of Wales will continue to be heard. What devolution will do is this: it will put decision making for people in Wales into the hands of representatives elected by the people of Wales to sit in the Assembly. I think that that will prove a very effective way of ensuring that the people of Wales are given the best possible public service, and the best possible representation from those whom they elect.

Sir Raymond Powell (Ogmore)

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the partial responsibility of MPs, particularly Welsh MPs, for Welsh devolution and the setting up of the Welsh Assembly? I accept that my right hon. Friend's continuing membership of the Cabinet will be very valuable to the Welsh nation, but now that he has announced the date of the Assembly's first sitting, will he be kind enough to invite Welsh MPs who have not been elected to the Assembly to attend that function?

Mr. Michael

I agree that Welsh MPs, especially members of the Labour Government, have delivered to Wales an Assembly and an opportunity to be properly represented in the future. [Interruption.] I hear grumbles from those sitting on one of the Opposition Benches. I remind them that the Labour party is the real party of Wales.

I certainly accept that the relationship that develops between the Assembly and Welsh MPs will be extremely important, and that there will need to be appropriate opportunities for members of the two bodies to meet.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

In his answer to the main question, the Secretary of State correctly said that he would be Secretary of State in a Union Cabinet and a Union Parliament. Does he agree that, according to that logic, Members of this Parliament should be able to question the Secretary of State on all aspects of policy, not simply reserved matters?

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman should surely accept that devolution and the establishment of a Welsh Assembly will strengthen the United Kingdom and the Union, in that appropriate decisions will be made at a Welsh level, and there will be accountability on the part of those elected by the people of Wales. As for what questions are appropriate for the Secretary of State for Wales, I think that legislation and the rules of the House of Commons will determine that.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

What is the answer?

Mr. Michael

It is absolutely clear in the legislation. The hon. Gentleman obviously has not been following events in the House, let alone outside it.

Dr. Fox

There can be little clarity when the Secretary of State does not know what subjects the Secretary of State should answer questions on; but on a broader matter, does not the fact that hon. Members from all parts of the UK will be required to raise the taxes that the Welsh Assembly will be responsible for administering leave something of a deficit of scrutiny? How does the right hon. Gentleman intend to rectify that and to give Members of the House, who are responsible to all electors for raising taxes, a say in how that money is spent?

Mr. Michael

Yet again, the hon. Gentleman is fighting old battles. It is typical of the Conservative party's attitude to the election. Its leader in Wales, a former hon. Member, seems to be entering that campaign to try to pull the Assembly down, rather than to make it work for the people of Wales, which should be everyone's responsibility.

The hon. Gentleman should know that many issues, including much legislation and the Welsh budget, which will be voted on by Parliament are matters for the Secretary of State, on which he will answer to the House.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

On that very point, will the Secretary of State confirm that one of his main responsibilities will be to secure adequate resources for the needs of the National Assembly for Wales, not least to deliver on items such as the pledge card promises that were produced in Llandudno on health and education? Will he confirm that those pledge card promises are old promises that have already been made in London?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, whoever is governing in the National Assembly in Cardiff, that money will be available—that it will be available not just to the Labour party, but for all the people of Wales, to be administered by the Assembly?

Mr. Michael

The pledges that have been made by the Labour party show what will be delivered by the Labour party. It is interesting to note what the right hon. Gentleman and his party stand for: separatism and dividing the United Kingdom, rather than strengthening the Union as well as the voice of the people of Wales. In terms of achieving the finances that are necessary for the Assembly and for Wales, I have full confidence in the present Secretary of State for Wales and in any future Labour Secretary of State for Wales.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

I do not want to be mischievous, but I wonder whether, when he looks at his responsibilities, the Secretary of State will also look at the responsibilities of Members of Parliament? In view of what will be a big job-sharing exercise and an obvious diminution in our responsibilities, will he consider whether our salaries should be lowered?

Mr. Michael

I note that my hon. Friend may need to declare a lack of personal interest in the subject. I am sure that he does not intend to be mischievous, but I can assure him that the partnership between Members of Parliament and Members of the Assembly will be important. It is important that both Members of the Assembly and Members of Parliament work very hard to ensure that it is a positive and creative relationship. I know that many Members of Parliament, including some who were not necessarily enthusiasts for an Assembly, have already started to build such a relationship with those in their constituencies who hope to represent the same party in the Assembly.

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