HC Deb 04 December 2002 vol 395 cc893-5
5. David Burnside (South Antrim)

What assessment he has made of the democratic accountability of governmental institutions in Wales since the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales. [83071]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Peter Hain)

The National Assembly for Wales has helped to make the Government of Wales more accountable to the people of Wales.

David Burnside

I am interested in the Secretary of State's comment that the Assembly has improved democratic accountability. Under this Government, the nation has gone through major constitutional change in three parts of the kingdom—Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—with three different kinds of institution devolved to those three parts. Will the right hon. Gentleman enter into talks with his predecessor, now in the Northern Ireland Office, and pass on to him the benefits of the form of devolution in Wales—administrative devolution—which might be more appropriate for Northern Ireland than the present system, which has no collective Cabinet responsibility and a weak Committee system?

Peter Hain

No, I will not do that, because the different forms of devolution are tailored to the different needs of the different nations involved. The particular pattern of devolution that we have in Wales is Executive devolution, not legislative devolution. It has been working very well, and we are looking at ways of improving it all the time.

Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, because Wales is the land of quangos, we have a particular problem with the lack of accountability of government institutions? Would he also agree that those who falsely promised, before the referendum, that there would be a bonfire of quangos, had no intention of honouring that promise once the referendum was won?

Peter Hain

I do not agree with my right hon. Friend. One advantage of the National Assembly, which I am sure he accepts, is that it can hold accountable all the different agencies that are answerable to it much more directly. Therefore, they can work more effectively for the people of Wales.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

To what extent does that democratic accountability extend to involving leading Welsh language institutions such as the Nant Gwrtheyrn National Centre for Language and Culture in north Wales, which not only offers exceptional training in the language, but whose tutors and staff are well placed to provide guidance to Cardiff and Westminster Departments on Welsh-related matters?

Peter Hain

I take the hon. Gentleman's contribution with great interest, as I understand that he is a Welsh learner. I congratulate him on that—llongyfarchiadau. I very much support the Assembly's programme to extend support for the Welsh language, including an action plan announced only a week ago. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House is far too noisy.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

The Secretary of State was one of the leading figures in the campaign for a "Yes" vote in the referendum, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) said, the commitment was not just to change the political complexion of the quangos, but to make a bonfire of them. If that was not a publicity stunt, will the Secretary of State explain why there are as many quangos as when the Welsh Assembly was set up? What discussions is he having with the First Minister, who seems equally at ease with a quango state as does the Secretary of State?

Peter Hain

First, although I shall not go into detail, I repeat the point that I made to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli: the Assembly provides for all its agencies to be much more accountable to government in Wales than was possible when government was administered from here. The truth is that we have much more responsive and accountable government in Wales, which was not the case under the previous Conservative Government when quangos, whose membership was usually rigged, flourished.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

I see that the Secretary of State is a Welsh learner and I wish him well in that. The fact is that the devolved system of government was voted for by a thin margin by the people of Wales, but if the Ivor Richard commission recommends further powers being transferred from Westminster to the Welsh Assembly, will the Secretary of State give the people another voice in another referendum?

Peter Hain

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments on my Welsh learning ability—diolch yn fawr i chi. On the general question of increased powers, the Welsh Assembly is getting increased influence and powers as matters are devolved from here and fresh primary legislation is passed, such as that on the children's commissioner and the Health (Wales) Bill, which is going through the House. We shall await the outcome of the Richard commission and any debate on that before taking any decisions.