HC Deb 27 October 1999 vol 336 cc999-1002
1. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

If he will make a statement on the arrangements for liaison and co-ordination between the First Secretary and himself. [94073]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy)

I have a formal meeting with the First Secretary every week and we often speak informally.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his promotion and wish him well. As this is his first question, I shall lob him a full toss. Can he confirm to the House what will happen when the Assembly takes a decision that will involve additional public expenditure? Will it be met by the Treasury, will it come out of the Welsh Office budget—in which case, there would obviously have to be adjustments with a cut made elsewhere—or does the Assembly have no power, being only a talking shop?

Mr. Murphy

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's remarks on my promotion, but less grateful for his other comments. Of course the Assembly is not a talking shop: it deals with £7.5 billion of expenditure. That has to be contained within the block that comes from this House.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

On co-ordination between this House and the Assembly, does my right hon. Friend agree that there could be confusion on health matters? We have a national health service, but we have devolved power to the Assembly. A few weeks ago, the Secretary of State for Health announced that the new flu vaccine would not be available on the health service. A few days ago, there was an announcement appointing a national cancer director. There was some confusion about whether those initiatives apply to Wales; in the latter case, it is still not clear. Will my right hon. Friend consider the overlap between the two jurisdictions?

Mr. Murphy

I shall be delighted to respond to my right hon. Friend's request. When I meet the First Secretary tomorrow, I shall put that point to him. On my hon. Friend's general point about announcements made by the United Kingdom Government, if additional expenditure is involved, consequential additional block grant is given to Wales. I take his general point and will be back in touch with him.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

May I be the first from the Plaid Cymru party officially to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment? What assurances can he, as the person responsible in the Cabinet for arguing the case for Wales, give the First Secretary that European funding for Wales will be additional to the block grant and will not be distributed to us under the Barnett formula?

Mr. Murphy

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's remarks and thank him and his colleagues. He was obviously referring to objective 1 funding. He knows that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in very strong terms in this Chamber a week ago that he would not let Wales down. That is the general situation as regards the Government's view. The hon. Gentleman also knows that, in the first year of the scheme, it is for the Assembly itself to decide how to deal with any match funding. The Assembly has addressed that, and I am assured that it can cope. The three years following are for the comprehensive spending review, and I shall play my part in ensuring that the case for Wales is made in the negotiations.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Should there not be a little humility among the nationalists about objective 1 status? They said that we could not change the map or alter the statistics for the valleys and west Wales, but we have done so. There should be no triumphalism about that, because objective 1 status merely reflects the comparative poverty of the valleys and west Wales. That is in part due to the pouring of funds by the Conservative Welsh Office into Cardiff bay at the expense of the rest of Wales.

Mr. Murphy

I agree with my hon. Friend about the need for objective 1 status, which we would not have achieved in Wales if there had not been a need for it. That did not come from the moon; it resulted from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer negotiating through the night in Berlin to get those funds. No one should suggest that, having successfully negotiated an objective 1 deal, they will let Wales down—they will not.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

In the Welsh Affairs Committee yesterday, the Secretary of State said that the primary role for himself, the 32 people in his office and the £1 million that they cost each year is to ensure that the devolution process beds down and to liaise with the First Secretary. Would it be appropriate for that to be reviewed in two years, and who should carry out that review?

Mr. Murphy

The most important review stems from the mandate that the people give us. In 1997, the people of Wales gave the House a mandate and a majority voted in the referendum for an Assembly in Cardiff that fitted in with the rest of the United Kingdom. That is the devolution settlement; that is what I have to protect and that is what will be done. It is vital that hon. Members understand that Assembly Members are charged with the great responsibility of seeking jobs for the people of Wales and looking after their health and education. It is important also to understand that the mandate came from the people, and decisions must be made with the people.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the difficult job that he is undertaking in providing an interface between the Assembly and the Cabinet of which he is a member. However, he will have to be able to speak to Westminster Departments on equal terms. Is he satisfied that he has been given enough policy-level, analytical officials in his Department to enable him to carry out that responsibility?

Mr. Murphy

Yes, I am. I have extremely assiduous, hard-working and eager people in my office who deal with the advice for which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I are responsible. Between us, we sit on 21 Cabinet Committees, in which it is of course important that we have sound advice. Obviously, I shall keep the situation under review, but I have no immediate plans to change the number of people who work in the Department. We shall have to wait and see.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

May I be the third person on this side of the House to congratulate the Secretary of State for Wales on his new role? The saying "three times for a Welshman" is true in this case. We shall certainly monitor the Secretary of State to ensure that he has a role. One of his responsibilities is to liaise with the First Secretary. What discussions will he have with the First Secretary about the dreadful plight of farming in Wales? Will not extra resources be necessary to assist Welsh farmers at this difficult time?

Mr. Murphy

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. Over the past few weeks and months, I have of course been discussing the plight of Welsh farming with the First Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The hon. Gentleman will understand that it was only at the end of September that the Minister of Agriculture said that there would be a substantial increase in the funds to help hill farmers in Wales, which amounted to between £15 million and £16 million for Welsh farming. In addition, during the past few weeks, I have met the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales, and I shall continue to do so.

Mr. Evans

I am grateful for that answer. Does the Secretary of State feel at all hampered in his discussions about extra funding for agriculture in Wales by the fact that the Agriculture and Rural Development Secretary, Christine Gwyther, lost a vote of confidence in the Assembly but refuses to resign? Will the Secretary of State use his influence with the First Secretary to ensure that, if she will not resign, she will be sacked? It is either her job or those of farmers in Wales. Whose job is more important to the Secretary of State?

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Answer that one.

Mr. Murphy

I have not started yet. The Agriculture Secretary in Cardiff did exactly what anyone else would have done: she explored every possible avenue by which funds could be obtained to help Welsh farmers. The vote of confidence is not a matter for me; it is a matter for the Assembly and the First Secretary. The hon. Gentleman will understand that obviously I have discussed those issues, but I think that the Agriculture Secretary did her best.

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

I declare a non-financial interest in this question. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State next meets the First Secretary, will he share with him the disgust felt by the people of Gwent—and, I assume, by him—at the decision of the Welsh Arts Council to treat the opinions and support of the people of Gwent with disdain in refusing to allow Gwent theatre in education the resources to carry on the work that it has done for 23 years and instead to give it to a company in Cardiff that has no experience, no support and no excellence in the field? Will my right hon. Friend inform the First Secretary that, if the Welsh Arts Council refuses to reverse that decision, the people involved must resign?

Mr. Murphy

I completely understand my hon. Friend's point. I have had representations from other Members who represent Gwent, and I am a Gwent Member of Parliament. I understand the good work that has been done by the group and I will certainly inform the First Secretary when I meet him tomorrow about the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend and others.

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