HC Deb 30 October 2002 vol 391 cc855-7
3. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

What assessment he has made of public perception of the operation of devolved powers in Wales. [76059]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Peter Hain)

After three years, the devolution settlement for Wales is working well, with the Government and the National Assembly acting in close partnership for the benefit of Wales. Against that background, it is tremendous news that Cardiff is on the short list for the European capital of culture in 2008. Cardiff is Europe's youngest capital, and it is on the move towards becoming a world-class British city

Sir Nicholas Winterton

I warmly welcome and encourage the diversity of culture, language and meaningful local government throughout the United Kingdom, but has the newly appointed Secretary of State for Wales studied the findings of a recent study by the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which states that the overwhelming majority of Welsh voters think that the Assembly has made no difference—or, at best, little difference—to public services in the Principality?

Peter Hain

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is making new Tory policy on behalf of his Front Bench. Is he proposing to abolish the National Assembly for Wales? The fact is that the Assembly has been making a real difference, as we. the architects of devolution, always knew that it would. It has introduced free prescriptions for two successive years, and prescription charges in Wales are now lower than those in England. It has also provided free local bus travel for pensioners and disabled people throughout Wales, which is not provided elsewhere. It has introduced Assembly learning grants for people of limited means, funded six weeks' free home care, and seen record spending on health and education and a cut in unemployment as a result of the policies that Labour is pursuing in Wales. It is a Labour Assembly working together with a Labour Government.

Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

When my right hon. Friend next goes to Brussels to attend the European convention, will he explain to Mr. Giscard d'Estaing what the principles of devolution are—bearing in mind, of course, that he should do so without being very rude? When he does so, will he point out that the draft European constitution shows that Giscard clearly has no idea about those principles?

Peter Hain

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. In fact, Britain's agenda in the convention on the future of Europe is to ensure that regions of nation states—such as Wales—get their voice heard right at the centre of decision making in Brussels, and that nation states form the bedrock of a union that is a partnership of nation states, not a Brussels superstate.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

At the risk of damaging the right hon. Gentleman's political career, I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him well in post—although not too well, of course.

I have recently received the leaked Government response to the report on the foot and mouth outbreak. Paragraph 1.29 states: The terms of the Welsh devolution settlement did not fully devolve animal health powers to the Assembly … The Government is in discussion with the Welsh Assembly Government on the case for devolving further powers to it to deal with outbreaks of animal disease in Wales. Why, then, did the Government reject our amendments to the Animal Health Bill that were designed to do exactly that?

Peter Hain

It was because Plaid Cymru's amendments usually have to be rejected as they do not achieve the objectives that the Government are trying to achieve for Wales. We are working closely with the National Assembly to benefit farmers and everyone in Wales. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, Plaid Cymru has never created any jobs in Wales, and has never done anything to generate better health services, better schools and a stronger economy in Wales.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham)

Although working relations between Front-Bench Members in Cardiff and in Westminster were excellent throughout the occupation of the post of Secretary of State for Wales by my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), could not Back Bench relations between Cardiff and Westminster be greatly improved? Following the vote last night, there will be more consideration of draft legislation. Would it not be a useful innovation to have Joint Committees of Back-Bench Assembly Members and Back-Bench Members of Parliament to discuss legislation for Wales?

Peter Hain

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's question. Obviously, we want to promote an increasing partnership between Members of Parliament and Assembly Members in Wales, and we shall continue to work on that. I shall consider my hon. Friend's ideas, but as he knows, pre-legislation scrutiny has been developing. We are working on that, and I would welcome ideas from him or any of my right hon. and hon. Friends.