HC Deb 25 February 2004 vol 418 cc268-70
2. David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP)

If he will make a statement on the Richard commission on devolution in Wales. [155769]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain)

The Richard commission was established by the Welsh Assembly Government and I understand that it is expected to report to them at the end of March.

David Burnside

I know that the Secretary of State agrees with me that lessons learned from devolution should apply to the whole of the United Kingdom and that the lessons learned in Wales are particularly important. Does he agree that administrative devolution based or the Government of Wales Act 1998 has moved from the corporate local government model to an accountable Committee system combined with a voluntary coalition with collective responsibility? Does he expect the Richard commission to recommend that approach as an improvement to the operation of the Welsh Assembly? C in my part of the United Kingdom and, indeed, any o her part of the United Kingdom learn lessons from that? If the approach works and is accountable, it should be applied to all parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hain

If there is a lesson for his part of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland—it is that people should work together to make devolution and the Northern Ireland Executive work, and the hon. Gentleman's party should encourage that process. Developments in Wales are interesting and worth studying. The settlement has evolved under Rhodri Morgan's Government, who have established Cabinet government that differs from the original corporate design, but it would take constitutional change: to complete that process.

Mr. Martin Caton (Gower) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm his previously stated position that the recommendations of the Richard commission should be judged by their impact on the governance of Wales and on service delivery in Wales, and not by other factors?

Mr. Hain

I will favour change if a persuasive case is made for it. In particular, changing the arrangements governing the Assembly must produce a better quality of life for people in Wales. I am not in favour of constitutional "anoraking" and the chattering classes in Wales pushing forward constitutional change for its own sake. if there are flanges that offer a better deal, we should adopt them.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con)

I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to John Charles, who led Wales to its only appearance in the World cup finals.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC)

So far.

Mr. Wiggin

Indeed Among his many achievements, John Charles played for Hereford United, where he scored more than 100 goals. His widow, Glenda, survives him, and our thoughts are with his family.

Did the Secretary of State agree with the First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, when he said that further powers for the Welsh Assembly net d not necessarily be approved in a referendum, because that does not tally with the Secretary of State's words on 5 November, when he said: If we had an entirely different settlement proposed, say on the lines of the Scottish model with its own separate legal system and virtually everything except reserve matters devolved, I cannot see how that can be introduced by anything other than a referendum."?

Mr. Hain

It is clear to me that if t full-blown Scottish solution—with a separate legal system, tax-varying powers and all the other accompanying powers—is proposed for Wales. it would require a referendum. However, there is much difference between that situation and the existing one, which would allow change to be introduced without necessarily requiring a referendum. That is the point and that is the position that Rhodri Morgan has endorsed

Mr. Wiggin

I am grateful to the secretary of State for that reply, because his remarks on scotland have been a little confusing. On 13 January, he said: I do not favour a Scottish solution. I will be absolutely frank about that. So in my mind that is ruled out. But on 27 January he said: What about the Scots devolution settlement? It is not necessarily the right one for Wales which, unlike Scotland, has no separate legal system. On the other hand that is not to rule out a Scots option. We are speculating—nothing should be ruled out and, of course, nothing ruled in. Does the Secretary of States stand by that last remark?

Mr. Hain

The only person who appears to be confused by those two statements is the hon. Gentleman. I have been clear that if we have a full-blown Scottish solution, including tax-raising powers and all, a referendum will be required. I said that that was in the realms of speculation because I have no idea what will be in the Richard commission's report. I do not know whether it will recommend that solution or another one. When the report is published, we will consider it. In the meantime, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman, as shadow Secretary of State for Wales, was consulted by the shadow Chancellor about the cuts of £1 billion that are planned for the Welsh budget.

Mr. Wiggin

I think that the Secretary of State ruled out many things in that answer Has he ruled out a reduction in the number of MPs? on 13 January he said: My bottom line for any change is I am not willing to countenance anything that alters the number of MPs. It has to remain at 40 and I am not touching with a barge pole the Scottish nightmare of reductions in numbers of MPs. It seems that he will not wait for Lord Richard to report: he has already made up his mind on that subject.

Mr. Hain

I am entitled to express a point of view as Secretary of State for Wales and to defend the position of the 40 excellent MPs, including the Plaid Cymru Members, who are entitled to represent their constituents here, if they are lucky enough to win. I am puzzled by the question. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that under a Conservative Government he would welcome a reduction in the number of MPs in Wales?

Mr. Wiggin

indicated assent

Mr. Hain

He nods. We should certainly wait for the Richard commission's report, but a number of key principles are involved, one of which is a referendum on a full-blown Scottish solution, and that is irrefutable. Another is that I do not believe that a persuasive case can be made for a reduction in the number of Welsh MPs, and I will continue to argue that case, even if he does not support it.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that when the Labour Administration in the Assembly set up the Richard commission, they were in reality contracting out policy making to other political parties? Have the other political parties been equally generous and allowed us to make policies on their behalf? Will he be very surprised if the conclusions of the Richard commission reflect the views of Rhodri Morgan, the person who set it up?

Mr. Hain

I have talked to Rhodri Morgan about that and I can assure my hon. Friend that he has no more idea of what will be in the Richard commission's report than I do. I also assure him that there will be no contracting out of the final decision on any changes recommended by the Welsh Assembly Government to Westminster. The decision will be taken in the first instance by our Labour Governments and, in the second, by this Parliament. We will retain the ultimate say on whatever changes need to be made as a result of the report's recommendations—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. It is very unfair on Members.

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