§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach rose to call attention to the impact of devolution on the economic and social conditions in Wales; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is nearly two years since we had a debate in your Lordships' House devoted exclusively to Wales. Today was also the nearest date to St David's Day that I could obtain for this debate. From the number of noble Lords who have agreed to take part, I believe that there would be real value in having an annual debate on Wales, preferably as close as possible to 1st March, as happens in the other place.
§ This year marks the third anniversary of the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales. As we look back, it is remarkable how smoothly the process of devolution in Wales has gone. It is also 1139 remarkable how contrary that history is to the warnings of those who opposed devolution. Devolution has not led to the break-up of the UK; indeed, the demand for independence has waned. An extra tier of government has not meant greater uncertainty and delays for business: rather, the Assembly has provided a platform from which all sizes of business have been able to voice their concerns. The devolution process has also not resulted in power being taken away from individuals. The Government and supporters of devolution can look back with some pride at how much has been achieved.
§ Opinion polls on the issue of devolution have been taken regularly since 1997, and a number of clear trends have emerged. There is less demand for an independent Wales; the number of those opposed to the establishment of any type of assembly has decreased dramatically; and a majority now favour significant devolution.
§ I believe that it is helpful to distinguish the concept of devolution from the current working of the Assembly and its elected Members and civil servants. I also believe that the devolved government of Wales has grown in popularity because it is a symbol of an increasing national identity for Wales, reflecting growing self-confidence and self-belief, and because it is perceived as a way of giving Wales greater power within the United Kingdom. The same sentiment, alas, does not extend to the Assembly's effectiveness. The perceived haranguing over its name, its procedures and its building, the demand for more resources at a time when its budget is under-spent, and the turmoil that has afflicted each of the parties were all reflected in the poor turnout for last autumn's Swansea East by-election.
§ We should, however, also remember that the Assembly has faced enormous problems. Initially, there was a minority government; then came the electronics crisis, the fuel crisis, the flooding crisis, the Objective I problems, foot and mouth disease and the loss of jobs at Corus. I believe that the Assembly deserves credit for handling those problems. To begin with, the transition from minority government to an effective coalition was made smoothly. Moreover, the Assembly's management of the foot and mouth crisis—in which the Assembly's regional offices played a critical role, and which involved the Minister for Rural Affairs co-ordinating local government, the Army, the police, the Environment Agency, the vets and MAFF—showed the people of Wales that the Assembly was more than just a talking shop.
§ The new formula which has been developed to allocate the £3 billion grant to local authorities is a significant improvement on the old formula used by the old Welsh Office, largely because it recognises the extra cost of services in deprived areas and sparsely populated rural areas. Even if one disagrees with them, the Assembly's plans in spheres such as the economy, health and education are professional pieces of work and a basis for serious debate.1140
§ The Assembly is open and transparent in its deliberations. It is also an improvement on the Welsh Office in that it allows more effective debate in Wales by those who are closer to the subjects under discussion. Such debate has also proved to be a source of new ideas, such as proposals for the Children's Commissioner and NHS reform that places carers on local health bodies. In all of that, I believe that we should pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, the Assembly Presiding Officer who has shown tremendous commitment and fair-mindedness in wanting to make the Assembly work as a body.
§ One issue that must be considered is the Assembly's current powers and the way in which it works. A number of problems have emerged. First, in the current Session of the Assembly, the Administration asked that four Welsh Bills be included in the Queen's Speech. None of them was successful. As if to add insult to injury, the debate on the Health Bill, which had sections relating to Wales, took place in Westminster before it had even been considered by the Assembly.
§ Secondly, although the subject committees of the Assembly have an explicit policy development role, they have no real way of ensuring that the results of that role are fed into Westminster policy. Having been involved in policy development for some time myself, I find it difficult to imagine the committees being truly effective in that role when the distinction between the executive and the legislature in the body corporate is far from clear.
§ Thirdly, new primary legislation passed at Westminster can reduce as well as increase the Assembly's powers. The extent of secondary legislation varies from Bill to Bill and is at the discretion of the department in London that sponsors the Bill. I could give other examples.
§ Of course I recognise that some will argue that the Government of Wales Act 1998 could be implemented more effectively if draft Bills were published, if there were improved procedures for influencing primary legislation and if Ministers gave more notice so that committees could scrutinise legislation more effectively. I have no doubt that all those steps would be helpful. In my experience, however, the sheer pressure of deadlines makes it practically difficult to implement such proposals. I have therefore reached the conclusion that—even if the proposals were partly implemented; I cannot see how they could ever effectively be fully implemented—there will remain a strong prima facie case for us at Westminster to revisit the issue and to amend the Act to give primary legislative powers to the Assembly in spheres that are currently devolved.
§ Devolution is here to stay. The referendum, however narrow the result, is irreversible. By granting the Assembly the powers of primary legislation, we could strengthen the process of devolution and allow the people of Wales greater input into their legislation. Timing also is important. It is far better that the change is made when the political colour of the governments in Cardiff and Westminster are the same. 1141 Most important of all, I believe that strengthening devolution is the best way of strengthening the ties that bind the United Kingdom together.
§ I shall now leave devolution and turn to economic and social conditions in Wales. Devolution is not an end in itself. Although the Assembly will be judged ultimately by its effectiveness in delivering public services—better schools and better hospitals—it will be judged also by the prosperity of the economy and job creation. It is far too early to judge the effect of devolution on economic and social conditions, as it is only now that policies are being drawn up for Wales that are distinct from those for England. However, let us not underestimate the challenge faced in increasing prosperity.
§ Wales is currently languishing relative to the rest of the mainland UK. It did well in adjusting to the momentous changes of the early 1980s, but it has not succeeded in solving its serious long-term problems. I shall give a few facts. Prosperity in Wales, measured by GDP per capita, is nearly 20 per cent below the UK average and has been in decline for the past 25 years. If the status quo continues, this situation can only get worse.
§ In the first half of the last decade, spending on research and development per head, as a proportion of output in Wales, averaged one third of the UK ratio. Employment in the public sector in Wales accounts for a higher proportion of GDP and jobs than in any other mainland UK region; and since 1984 the public sector created 22 times as many jobs as the manufacturing sector. Moreover, activity rates are as low in Wales as in the most depressed parts of the big cities of England and Scotland. By any standards, and party politics apart, this is a grim picture.
§ A great deal of debate on how to redress the situation has focused on help from outside Wales: reviewing the Barnett formula, securing Objective I funding and increasing foreign investment, all of which are important. But their significance should not disguise the fact that the first of those is a grant and the second a subsidy, both of which will decline as prosperity increases relative to the rest of the UK. Most inward investment has also involved government subsidies, a great deal, regrettably, being in routine low value-added manufacturing and now in call centres in the service sector, paying as a result relatively low wages.
§ I do not wish to denigrate the efforts of this or previous governments or the tireless work of the WDA in attracting foreign investment to Wales. Without it, we would be facing a catastrophe. Yet the clear picture which emerges is that for over 25 years the Welsh economy has languished. Against that background business as usual is not an option for Wales—I believe that it is a recipe for continued decline. The rest of the world is changing at such an extraordinary pace that simply to keep up it is necessary that much more is done than in the past. Wales cannot cut taxes or change interest rates, so its room for manoeuvre is limited. Therefore, there has to be a seismic shift in thinking and practice.1142
§ The WDA made a salutary point in its most recent corporate plan which states:
"Neither governments nor development agencies generate economic prosperity—only business can do that".
§ It is right. High value-added jobs paying attractive wages are created by private companies. If Wales is to become a knowledge driven economy with a thriving private sector, investing in innovation and R&D, the one area which is critical to its success is education. However, the challenge is again enormous. Professor Kevin Morgan of Cardiff University spelt it out with brutal clarity:
"One wonders if we have the skills to enter the knowledge economy, when one in four of the population is functionally illiterate and two in five functionally innumerate".
§ While I strongly support devolution I must confess that I have reservations about certain current policies. Education is critical to economic success. Yet the present ministerial proposals to scrap school league tables, abolish tests for seven year-olds, have more learning through play and fewer formal lessons in the early years, ruling out any reliance on the private sector and rejecting specialist schools place in jeopardy the chances of Wales making education the key to future prosperity.
§ The rejection of specialist schools is extraordinary as the one kind of specialist school which Wales does have—namely, Welsh language schools—have been a huge success. It seems odd therefore that in view of the overwhelming success of specialist schools in England they should be rejected in Wales. Only this morning I received a newsletter from one of the first city technology colleges which had hosted a visit from those developing the Welsh baccalaureate qualification. Meinir Richards stated after visiting the college in Birmingham:
"The standards of achievements, the superb facilities, the wealth of experiences offered, together with staff and student enthusiasm and commitment were all topics of conversation on our return journey. The general concluding theme was that we had a great deal to learn from the Kingshurst experience".
§ The Assembly and the Cabinet have a crucial role to play in the future of Wales. However, the danger is that they embrace so overwhelmingly the views of trade unions and local authorities that they fail to take those radical steps which are necessary to Wales becoming a world-class economy.
§ I wish to say something about the language. We on this side of the House have a proud record of supporting the Welsh language and Welsh culture, setting up S4C, S Pedwar Ec, passing the Welsh Language Act and extending the teaching of Welsh in schools. I have always felt that devolution was in the first place more about the preservation of language and culture and not economics. The Assembly more than any other body is responsible for creating a bilingual nation. We must be supportive of its efforts. The language must survive in an age of globalisation. The challenge it faces is to develop programmes and policies which will support and strengthen the growth of the language while at the same time being inclusive of those who do not speak it. I firmly believe it can be done. I beg to move for Papers.1143
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Lord Morgan
My Lords, it is fitting that this Motion was introduced by my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach. He is, as it were, a good deed in a naughty world. He is that rarer axis, a Conservative who I believe spoke and voted in this House for Welsh devolution. He again spoke with enormous effect in supporting his view. It seems to me that his party has now, as it were, caught up with him and has recognised the value of devolution for Wales and, indeed, for the Conservative Party which has a constructive role in Welsh affairs in a way that perhaps it has not had since its heavy election defeat. I refer to that of 1868!
Devolution is a massive achievement for this Government. The Labour Government can take enormous pride in that. I refer in particular to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor who evidently forced it through. The distinguished array of speakers in the debate—I believe that there are three former Secretaries of State, the presiding officer of the Assembly and other distinguished political figures—is testimony to the importance and, I believe, the success of devolution.
I agree very much with what the noble Lord said about the positive aspects of devolution as it seems to me that it has often had an unfair press. It has been unfairly criticised partly because of a kind of ignorant disrespect with which Wales is commonly treated—a kind of Anne Robinson syndrome that seems to have spread throughout the commentary on Wales—and partly because many commentators have unreal expectations. Devolution was bound to be asymmetrical. Wales is simply different from Scotland. Its history is different. It will take time for devolution to have an impact. It takes a long time to shift the effect of 1,000 years of centralised rule. Wales does not have the civic tradition of Scotland. It did not have a constitutional convention and so devolution is a learning process. However, as the noble Lord indicated, it is a learning process that is going well in many ways.
It will be generally agreed that the inheritance of the Welsh Assembly has been difficult, particularly in the economic sphere. The noble Lord indicated more clearly than I could how the indices of well-being and economic prosperity are disappointing in Wales and have been for a considerable time. But in a way that almost confirms the point about devolution; namely, that previous methods of decision-making, however distinguished the holders of the positions involved, have not been effective. Wales has lagged behind. Its indices of growth and its indices in terms of health and housing are inferior to those of the rest of the United Kingdom. We have heard that GDP in Wales still lags behind by up to 20 per cent and is not improving. There is a lesson, as it were, here for this side of the House. It was commonly believed that nationwide, centralised planning would produce equality. It has not. Wales is not equal. The regions of the north of England are not equal. The effect of such planning over recent decades has been to enhance disparities rather than to diminish them.
1144 As we have heard, the economic background to the National Assembly taking power in Wales in 1999 was difficult. Since then Wales has had the various economic features that the noble Lord mentioned such as foot and mouth disease and the problems with the Corus steelworks. Wales has its own social needs. Not long ago we discussed the Barnett formula. I believe that many of us feel that the particular needs of Wales are not now being met under the needs assessment within that formula. Nevertheless it seems to me that the noble Lord is absolutely right in taking the positive and relatively buoyant view that he did.
There are signs, particularly since the coalition took office under Rhodri Morgan, of a clear agenda emerging, particularly in the social area. There are many inadequacies—in no way do I dissent from the noble Lord's comments in that regard—but the Assembly is beginning to formulate a distinctive social agenda.
On health, we have a distinctive Welsh perspective that seeks to preserve the essence of the health service and to build a particular Welsh commitment to local healthcare, to community provision and to doing things differently from England. There are also specific benefits such as the freezing of prescription charges, which is highly beneficial.
On education, the record is mixed; I do not dissent from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, in that regard. There has been a strong commitment to cut class sizes and to increase the range of technical provision for secondary schools. We heard only a day or two ago the very welcome news that student maintenance grants will be restored to some degree in higher education in Wales. In that regard, we hope. as it were, that they bite some of our other generals in England.
In social terms, devolution has meant that a distinctive agenda is beginning to emerge, but not as strongly as in Scotland. In the economic sphere, that is less clearly the case. The Welsh Assembly has weaker powers than the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh economy is more vulnerable than that of Scotland. There are signs of a proactive policy. I mention one in particular—there are signs that the Assembly, through developing IT and skills, is trying to create the new phenomenon of an entrepreneurial Wales. Wales has been rather good at producing university teachers and unproductive people of that kind, but it has not been very good at promoting business or the entrepreneurial concept. There are still a very small number of Welsh businesses on the London Stock Exchange—I believe that there are just over 20. That has been a very weak feature of Welsh life.
In connection with the loss of jobs at the Corus steelworks, there have been attempts to at least repair the damage. The rural recovery plan and the way in which Wales handled foot and mouth disease are signs of the virtue in devolution—they are signs of local decision-making being surprisingly effective. Out of the carnage and mayhem Wales has shown distinct signs of recovery.
1145 I take great pleasure in the fact that the Welsh economy is now viewed from an all-Wales perspective. That is a novelty in history. It is something that we have long needed and it is appropriate not merely for Wales but also for the era of globalisation, which the nation state has eroded—localised centres of decision-making are now appropriate. Wales is forming its own priorities and will, I hope, continue to do so. There is a Welsh perspective on the euro, the rate of sterling, Europe, enlargement, regional government in Europe and even on aspects of foreign policy—for example, on relations with the Republic of Ireland.
My conclusion is very much that which the noble Lord expressed so well; namely, that devolution should go much further. We cannot stay as we are; primary legislation must certainly be extended, along with powers of indicative economic planning. We have had only one measure of Welsh primary legislation, which I believe was improved in this House. I hope that that will be the precursor of other such legislation.
My final point is rather more critical and involves a point of detail. Wales has increasingly established its identity under devolution. It has not merely a cultural identity—in particular, those of us who are Welsh speakers are very strongly aware of that—spanning many decades but also a civic identity of a kind that it has not really previously had in its entire history. It is very important to preserve that by preserving institutions. My time is up. I add that I deeply regret the suggestion that the University of Wales should be undermined. I very much hope that what is otherwise a success story will not be marred by that proposal.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, for initiating this debate. His was by far the most constructive and sympathetic voice on the Conservative Benches during the whole of the devolution debate. His standing in the academic world and as head of the Prime Minister's Policy Unit during the Thatcher era and his known concern for public morality lent great weight to his approach to the well being of this important experiment in devolution.
I am a lifetime supporter of the movement for a domestic Parliament for Wales. I introduced a 10-minute rule Bill in, I believe, 1966 that was drafted by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford and which would have established a domestic Parliament for Wales with much wider powers than the Assembly has. I agree that it is a shame that the Welsh Assembly did not have greater powers.
We must face the fact that the Assembly, which is the first legitimate, democratically elected body to represent the whole of Wales, must be judged in the first instance by how well and how efficiently and sensitively its elected Members are discharging the duties that have been devolved to them. After all, before devolution, those duties were largely discharged by a Secretary of State and the staff at the Welsh Office.
1146 The first impact of devolution in Wales is that it has illustrated to many more people the geographical problems of Wales. I have always believed that one of Wales' problems is that, because of communications, the east-west division is almost more important than the north-south division. In our area, in east Wales—I refer to east mid-Wales, but I know that the same point is true of east north Wales and east south Wales—we hear far less about the Assembly's goings on because of the way in which television aerials are arranged, the role of the press and so on. Many of those people do not know what is going on. That great problem needs to be addressed. I am very sorry that the Welsh Assembly was not given some control over the media, particularly over television.
The greatest impact of devolution is that the people of Wales now appreciate more the economic, social and educational problems that beset them. That led in a relatively short time to the emergence of' an attitude that differs from that of the Assembly. We need an approach to Welsh problems that is more holistic than we have previously experienced. The guiding principles of the plan for Wales, which was set out by the Assembly in October 2001, were a clear indication of that holistic approach. The plan followed the report by the First Minister on Assembly approaches and achievements by the governing coalition.
On health, we should bear in mind the enormous problems revealed by Dr Ruth Hall, the chief medical officer in Wales, in her first report to the Assembly. Those problems include smoking levels in Wales, the high alcohol consumption rate, the considerable increase in drug abuse—especially of hard drugs—in Wales and soaring mental health problems, especially among young people in Wales.
Much of the Principality's population were found to be obese and overweight. In the light of those findings, I was particularly impressed by the health promotion action plan, which was evolved by the Assembly to deal with that enormous problem. That should involve the whole community, local health alliances, schools, universities, workplaces and, I hope, responsible help from the media. I live in a well integrated town in a rural area and in a very settled community. In a strange way, such involvement takes place naturally there. I believe that that type of approach is necessary. There is a sign of a different kind of approach to politics in the Assembly. Its Members are no longer fighting the battles of Westminster in a small way in Cardiff; they are evolving their own approach.
Perhaps I may mention one or two problems that worry me. The first is the failure of the Assembly to tackle in any way the problems of quangos. One of the main arguments in favour of devolution was that nominated bodies of favoured Conservative and Labour government nominees would be replaced by an elected body. We did not have an Assembly in order to perpetuate quangos, and I do not believe that the Assembly is by any means an over-worked body. I do not consider its hours of work and application to be as great as, for example, those of the House of Commons or this place. It is very easy for the Assembly's Members to fail to attack some of the problems of 1147 quangos. They might be too easily influenced by their officials and the approach of, "Let the status quo remain". I ask: where in the range of priorities of the Welsh Assembly does the replacement of quangos lie?
The success of the Assembly depends upon the ability, knowledge, dedication and application of its Members. It is up to each political party to ensure that its candidates for the Assembly want to make it work and that they are people who have a good deal to contribute to its success. It is not a training ground for Westminster. It would be a poor one in which to train for Westminster and it would not be good for the Assembly if it attracted that kind of person.
The Assembly should not try to mirror the party battles of Westminster. I believe that it should form its own agenda for Wales. So far as concerns the Cabinet in Wales, it would not worry me if it were formed of a coalition of Members of all parties. The Members could evolve the idea of filling the post of Minister with the best person for the job. After all, they are discharging administrative functions. Their other powers are very limited.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, that the Assembly has made a good start. I believe that its Members are evolving a greater sense of confidence and I hope that they will not settle for the second best in anything. They can have their own—that is, a different—approach. I was brought up with the old idea of party politics in which everyone attacked everyone else. I was in a profession which had an adversarial system, which I enjoyed enormously, as I do in politics. But I am not at all sure that the adversarial system taken to the extremes to which it has been taken in this country is the right approach for a Welsh Assembly. I want to say only that it has started well. Every year we should have at least one debate in this House in order to consider the evolving problems and evolving solutions of the Welsh Assembly.
§ 6.14 p.m.
Lord Morris of Aberavon
My Lords, I, too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, for initiating this debate. Devolution is a field in which I have participated and is something which I have tried to achieve for nearly 50 years. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, has been a consistent supporter. He once confessed to me that when he was a boy at school he came to a Labour Party meeting in Swansea where I was the principal speaker. Such was my influence on him that he promptly went off and joined the Conservative Party. Had I known that at the time, I might well have curtailed my speaking engagements.
The National Assembly for Wales owes its powers to statute. I am pleased to report that in the exercise of its functions I believe it is making good progress. There should be a recognition of that. The Assembly had a very steep learning curve. There are not many bodies where the members are thrown in at the deep end and are expected to swim. For new bodies with wide powers. there is frequently a running-in period.
1148 I recently commented on the Assembly's disappointing record of law-making in the form of subordinate legislation in its first year. Long before I became Secretary of State, I was the first Welsh politician to embrace the concept of giving such lawmaking powers to a Welsh assembly. How were those powers being used? In the first year, of about 200 statutory instruments passed, only a handful differed from those of Westminster. Recently a robust defence has been made on behalf of the Assembly's performance in the following years. In 2001 the Assembly passed 230 pieces of subordinate legislation of which 81 orders, representing 35 per cent of the total, were unique to Wales or had significant differences in drafting. Others may want to analyse the differences. That is, indeed, a matter for congratulation.
I constantly hear plaintive cries that the Assembly is not able to fulfil the needs of Wales because it lacks the power to pass primary legislation. I should say two things. The dramatic increase in secondary legislation is indicative of the areas and extent to which the Assembly is able to act with effect. Against that background, it is incumbent on those who complain of the lack of powers to spell out precisely where the existing powers of the Assembly have proved to be significantly inadequate. What would they have done more, and substantially more? My attitude is sympathetic, even though I adopted and proposed the present system in the first devolution Bills.
The time will surely come when another look will have to be taken at the difference in the powers of each of our devolved legislatures. The machinery of government should be based on the needs of the present and the future and should not rely on the differing historical reasons for its particular form of creation.
The robust defence which has been made makes no response to my plea for wider powers in Westminster legislation to allow the Assembly to achieve even greater diversity and flexibility. I trust that the Assembly is seeking to persuade Westminster on that point.
Legislation is only a part of executive governing. Much, if not most, of my work for over 13 years as a Minister was in implementing policy and effecting non-statutory policy. That is where the Assembly is really coming into its own. Just published is a scholarly report on education and life learning by the Assembly's committee. There is not time to go into the details tonight—my noble friend Lord Morgan touched on one aspect—but I venture to say that only through the setting up of the Assembly could work of that kind be given a priority by parliamentarians,
Lastly, I turn to the problem of the Welsh language in its heartland, the very existence of which is denied by some. I endorsed the suggestion made by others for an independent inquiry. In its wisdom, the Assembly has decided to go down a different road and has entrusted the work to its culture committee. The problem remains the same. Welsh speaking in the Welsh heartlands is under great pressure. On the 1149 other hand, Welsh speaking, following enlightened education policies, is increasing in the urban areas. Is that enough or will we never be forgiven in Wales if we allow the traditional Welsh-speaking areas to decline any further?
There is a problem of inward migration from England, which is shared by attractive parts of England, too, such as the Lake District and Cornwall. Low-income families have problems in buying affordable homes and, indeed, in finding any employment. Perhaps I may contrast the place of birth of residents in our industrial communities.
In Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr, Rhondda Cynon Taff, and Neath Port Talbot, over 90 per cent were born in Wales. The proportion falls significantly in North and West Wales. In Conway it is only 53.5 per cent; Denbighshire, 57 per cent; Ceredigion, 64 per cent; Anglesey, 67.7 per cent; Pembrokeshire, nearly 70 per cent and Gwynedd nearly 72 per cent. Those are the figures from the Wales Year Book 2001. I have no reason to believe that they are inaccurate. They speak for themselves.
I believe that an authoritative view is needed. First, what kind of balanced communities, realising the present and inclusive make-up of those communities, should we aim for in the traditional areas? Secondly, are there human rights and European Union limitations on new policies? Thirdly, what should be done positively to encourage employment? Fourthly, what has been and will be the effect of current and proposed planning powers, in particular as regards house building? Fifthly, are our educational policies working in those areas to ensure the continuance of the Welsh language and to give significant help to encourage learners? Those are some of the problems and they bristle with difficulties.
I remember a Secretary of State, the leader of the then GLC, coming to me with a plan to export huge numbers of pensioners from London. I told him rather sharply that we had enough problems. I asked him who would provide the housing and the health services. Those are the problems which face what I believe to be the Welsh heartlands. I hope that whatever machinery is adopted, it will fulfil the tasks expected of it.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Lord Walker of Worcester
My Lords, as a humble Englishman, I am honoured to take part in the debate. When I was appointed as an English Secretary of State for Wales, the only people who rejoiced were some in Glamorgan who thought that I used to play cricket for them. Alas, it was a different person.
As this is the first Welsh debate for some time, perhaps I may be forgiven for paying tribute to my former colleague at the Welsh Office, the Minister, Ian Grist, who, sadly, died a few weeks ago. I believe that Ian was liked by all parties. He was devoted to his constituents and to Wales and put in an enormous effort for them. It is a tragedy that at such a young age he was taken by a nasty illness and recently died. I pay tribute to him.
1150 I thought that 2001 was a sad and bad year for Wales to start this century. Matters such as the steel works, foot and mouth, which has been mentioned, and decreases in inward investment combined to make it a difficult year. It would be easy for Wales to go into depression. I believe that there are still enormous opportunities for Wales, which could enjoy a great expansion in the coming years. My noble friend Lord Griffiths said how supportive he was of devolution. Had I been a Welsh elector I would have joined the 49 per cent voting against it. However, once passed, it is the duty of all people in Wales to support it and hope that it succeeds. Once it is in place, I believe all of us hope that the Assembly has many successes.
The great advantage for Wales is what it can offer in terms of inward investment and other factors contributing to quality of life. The quality of life has improved enormously. Wales now has a fabulous capital city in Cardiff. The improvement in that city—always elegant and possessing much quality—is remarkable. A great deal is due to the actions of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell as Secretary of State. At a time of economic depression and great difficulty he had the vision to see the opportunities for developing right the way through to the sea. His decision to set up the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation and to go ahead with the barrage proved enormously successful. I tried to continue with that activity. My one opponent was the First Minister in Wales. I hope that if ever the Assembly buildings are completed, they will have outside them a large mud flat to remind him of what he wished to retain.
Cardiff is now one of the best cities in Europe. It has a fabulous stadium. In the future, I hope there will be a great arts centre. To have a capital city with all the facilities and quality of buildings that Cardiff enjoys is an enormous advantage to any country. There are also surrounding areas of great beauty. I believe that a combination of all that means that Wales can say to the world's business and commerce, "This is a remarkable place to come to". I hope they do.
The inward investment position is still serious. As someone who still reads the Welsh press and the press handouts of the Wales Office and the Assembly, I believe there is a slight complacency. One gets the impression that it is all going exceedingly well. However, I obtained from the Wales Office the current figures. For the year 2000–01, there were 75 new projects at a total capital investment of £491 million. Ten years previously there were 208 new projects and a capital investment of £1,115 million. That is a drop in both projects and capital investment of about 60 per cent, and a fairly steady drop.
The Welsh economy needs inward investment. It is easy for some people to say, as they did when I was there, that they are not high-quality jobs. However, they are much better than no jobs, and bring with them all the needs for servicing and other activities in the Welsh economy. That is an important theme. I hope that the Welsh Assembly will give great attention to what needs to be done to boost the figures of inward investment during this current period. People say that when there is a recession, that is much more difficult. 1151 Funnily enough, during periods of recession, many firms throughout the world look for a better place to produce their goods at lower cost and more effectively. Wales can offer that; not by paying low wages but through the availability of low-cost premises and a university system which is willing to collaborate.
I express my hope, too, that the Welsh universities will be carefully protected during this period. I hear suggestions, including from within the Assembly, for changes in Welsh universities. I believe that the Welsh university system has enormous quality and potential. In my lifetime, Cardiff University has enhanced its reputation nation-wide and worldwide. I believe that the other parts of the federal University of Wales also have enormous potential of great importance to the economic development of Wales. I hope that great care will be taken.
The other area of great depression, about which I disagree with my noble friend Lord Griffiths, is in the handling of foot and mouth. I do not believe that: that was handled well. I do not make this as a party political point. I believe that it was handled badly both in England and Wales. Speaking to leaders of the farming unions in Wales and elsewhere, there is general agreement on that. I am sorry that there is no agreement on an independent inquiry as to what happened. I believe there should be. As a former Minister of Agriculture, I obtained great benefit from the inquiry and report of 1967 when, after a very bad foot and mouth outbreak, a Labour government investigated in great depth what had happened and what should happen in the future. The one sadness of the recent foot and mouth outbreak is that that report, both in Wales and in England, was totally ignored. Measures were not taken that could have dramatically reduced the effect.
The effect on agriculture and tourism in Wales has been massive. It is very difficult to see how those sectors will revive. Confidence has been lost. The hill farmers of Wales have always had a lean time. I has never been—nor will be —-a prosperous industry. Producing sheep on the hills is a tough task which is not very remunerative. Many of those farmers are now bankrupt. They are deeply in debt and do not know how to start again.
There should be a clear plan for Welsh agriculture over the coming period. One rather wild suggestion could be examined. The Prime Minister, on his tour in Africa, made speeches about the importance of more aid and more food aid specifically. He said that the trouble was that when one gives food aid it reaches the wrong hands and is used by corrupt dealers and does not reach the people who are starving.
There is a great opportunity here for Wales. Irrespective of one's religion, the form of meat that all the world eats is sheepmeat. Wales could easily organise a programme of food aid world-wide using its sheep production resources. A five-year contract could be placed to do that. Of course, Europe would object. But when Europe objected, one could say, "You can join in the scheme", and, "Why don't you?" Europe 1152 has never organised aid programmes well. Here is a specific area for a food aid programme which could provide a firm contract.
There is a great deal of talk about "other alternatives". I read with great interest the report on agriculture produced by the Government last week. I thought that it was the most devastatingly bad report. The main enthusiastic argument was, "Let's get rid of the CAP subsidies so that farmers face reality". That is absurd. The hill farmers of Wales have faced reality in a very big way over this last period. They need to be able to sell their production and sell it well. Of course we can encourage organic farming and areas such as that. But so far as concerns the hills of Wales, sheep will remain a necessity. Programmes should be discovered to make sure that sheep farming is revived and has a tolerable time in the future. It is vital for the Welsh countryside that that takes place.
Several noble Lords have spoken about the importance of education. I very much agree with that. We must see that educational services are allied closely to businesses in Wales. Business needs a better educated and skilled force. The Welsh educational service can provide that. I wish it every success in doing so.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Walker. In the relatively carefree days—from my point of view—when I was merely a party leader in the Commons, he was a Secretary of State. We were paired. That did not do either of our careers any harm and we were able to spend more time in Wales than otherwise we would have.
I thank the noble Lord for commemorating the late Ian Grist. He was a Minister who devoted much of his time to developing the health service in Wales. It is appropriate that we should commemorate him in this House.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, for introducing the debate. In order to maintain the reputation of fair-mindedness which he kindly endowed upon me, I shall not get involved in the University of Wales, the Welsh language or the economy. I shall confine myself to the constitutional issues. I declare an interest as both presiding officer of the National Assembly and as the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy who is about to face reselection.
Given the views of some people in my party about this House, this might not be the most appropriate platform from which to launch my reselection, but I shall do so none the less. Tonight I should have been in the Millennium Stadium supporting the Welsh football team against Argentina. I wish them well But my devotion to the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, arid to this House is such that I felt that it was more important to be here.
Tomorrow in the National Assembly we shall be debating the report of the Assembly's review of procedures. It is the first opportunity that we have had 1153 to look at the way that we function. I should like to highlight some of the points that hopefully we shall be debating tomorrow.
The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, has already made the point about the complex geometry of devolution: the relationship between the powers that are devolved to Cardiff and the powers that are with Parliament at Westminster. A point that has not been sufficiently understood is that Parliament is still defining devolution as it moves. In other words, by repealing legislation at Westminster under which executive functions have been conferred on the Assembly by previous legislation and by passing new primary legislation which gives functions to Whitehall Ministers, Parliament is reducing as well as increasing the Assembly's powers. Therefore, we need to look again at that relationship.
We were presented in our report on the review of procedures with a series of principles by Professor Richard Rawlings of the LSE. It is appropriate that I should highlight some of those principles. They are principles that apply to how government at Westminster can assist the process of devolution without in any sense establishing primary powers by default, about which some people have argued.
It is important, first of all, that the Assembly should acquire new powers in Bills which come from Westminster which relate to its existing responsibilities. That is a basic devolutionary principle. In other words, there should not be a retreat from the existing areas of responsibility.
Similarly, the tendency to give powers to a UK Minister covering Wales should be pursued only if there is a case for a single England and Wales or GB or UK basis of policy making. In other words, it should not be up to the parliamentary draftsmen who work for different departments to decide on the geometry of devolution.
We have four previous Secretaries of State, a previous Minister of State and a previous Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Chamber. That is a good contingent from the "colonial" days, if I may put it that way. As much as I affectionately remember the Office of the Secretary of State when it was the main executive arm of government in Wales, it is not now appropriate in the post-devolutionary context to exercise functions through the Secretary of State and the Wales Office, as it is now called. Those functions are more appropriately conferred on the Assembly.
Likewise, where there are concurrent functions—such as those in the existing settlement—new parliamentary Bills should not reduce the Assembly's functions by giving functions to a UK Minister. Nor should there be a requirement to act jointly with the UK Government in dealing with matters which were previously the subject of subordinate legislation within the Assembly. That has happened in a number of policy fields recently.
1154 It is more controversial to argue for a broadening of the drafting of clauses at Westminster to provide for enabling subordinate legislation or for so-called Henry VIII powers. But I hope that when the Constitution Committee of this House under the noble Lord, Lord Norton, comes to deliberate on this matter—and certainly in the Assembly we warmly welcome the fact that a committee of this House is to look at the process of devolution—it will look again at a form of frame of legislation that enables the Assembly to exercise its powers of subordinate legislation more effectively.
Those are some of the issues which I believe need to be addressed by the UK Government. There are other issues which the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, has kindly referred to which relate to the development of the Assembly as a constitutional body. I am anticipating what the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, may say. The noble Lord shakes his head. He is not going to say it tonight. I am grateful to him. In the previous debate on this subject he took a bit of a swipe at me—but that is par for the course, as it appears to me that speakers these days are not getting a very good press—in relation to the development of the constitutional structure of the Assembly. That has moved on. We now have a parliamentary body. We have—and I pay tribute to him—a Parliamentary Clerk in Mr Paul Silk. He was well trained in the Palace of Westminster, particularly in the Foreign Affairs Committee, before he joined us in the National Assembly.
The establishment of a government system—although I may not entirely approve of the name that it gives itself—and a parliamentary structure within the National Assembly is clear progress. The prospect of 2003, when there will be fixed-term assembly elections, is fascinating. As your Lordships well remember from the great days of the passage of the Government of Wales Act 1998, the National Assembly for Wales cannot dissolve itself. Whatever the political structure of the National Assembly in 2003, a government must be formed. I was intrigued by the suggestion that there should be a ministry of all the talents—I think that that was the extended proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, for the Assembly's future.
Finally, we have moved a long way from a certain divisive politics in Wales—this debate has been a sign of this—in which one or other party claimed a kind of monopoly on the Welsh political culture. The growth of the Welsh Conservative Party, the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Welsh Labour and of the Party of Wales, Plaid Cymru, indicates in each of their ways a greater maturity in Welsh politics. It is in that spirit that I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, and look forward to his further contribution to the growth of an even more autonomous Welsh Conservative Party.
§ 6.41 p.m.
Lord Carlile of Berriew
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, on securing this debate and introducing it so well. May I join the tributes to Ian Grist? When we 1155 were colleagues in the House of Commons, I always regarded him as the epitome of the meaning of the term "an honourable friend".
The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has this evening been uncharacteristically over-sensitive. I criticised him on a previous occasion, but I do not intend to do so tonight. I entertained serious doubts about the functionality of the devolution settlement and institutions. but, apart from the natural maturing of the institutions, there has been one significant development: the formation of a government. Without seeking in any way to make a party-political point, the formation of the coalition government has demonstrated that Wales, like any other country, needed a government and that the political process works much better if a majority government is in being with a clear political programme—whether or not one agrees with the whole of that programme.
What pains me about devolution and the position of the Assembly is that while the process has matured so well—especially during the past year—the consciousness of that maturity is still weak among many members of the population. The Assembly itself must tackle that problem between now and the second Assembly election.
What also worries me is the asymmetrical nature of devolution. By that, I mean that the Assembly clearly has ownership of some issues for Wales. Yesterday, one came to the fore with the decision to introduce a measure of student grants for students from Wales—as I understand it, those studying both in and out of Wales. That is a welcome development and the signs today are that the Government have shown a real interest in developing what has happened in Wales to cover the whole country.
On the other hand, ownership of Welsh issues has not been shown in the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry approving the development of a massive wind farm power station in Cardiganshire. That power station—upon which, I understand, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, has secured a debate during the next two weeks—involves placing 300 foot high wind turbine masts on an attractive and extremely prominent Welsh hill. The proposal was approved by the local council on a split vote. The Assembly was asked to give its views, and gave them in a clear and objective manner on a number of issues. Those views can now be read in the Library, as the result of a helpful Answer to a Question that I tabled.
That decision was not made at a public inquiry in Wales; there was none. It was made not by a Minister in the Assembly; nor by the Secretary of State for Wales. It was not even made by a Minister with responsibility for the environment. The decision was made by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
I confess to being one of those who opposed the proposed power station. It will be a terrible scar on the landscape of Wales and a wholly unacceptable precedent for Wales to be used as the dumping ground for supposedly environmentally friendly power schemes—about which I have some doubts that were 1156 clearly expressed during a previous inquiry of the Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place, of which I was a member.
As a matter of principle, if we are to have a government, for Wales and in Wales, with ownership of issues relating to Wales, such a crucial environmental issue should be decided by the Assembly. I regret that the Government have not even allowed a public inquiry in Wales at which we could all have made our views known.
I should also like to address another extremely important matter: child and adolescent mental health services. I declare an interest as the founder and trustee of a new charity in mid-Wales called Rekindle, which is dedicated to helping young people who are recovering from mental illness. In passing, I also declare an interest as the parent of a child who has recovered from extremely serious mental illness. No affliction affects any family—and I mean the whole family—more than the mental illness of a teenage boy or girl.
A committee was set up to review child and adolescent mental health strategy in Wales. It was chaired by a skilled psychiatrist, Dr Jennifer Lloyd, who has experience in clinical practice and in the public health sector. The advisory group on child and adolescent mental health services produced its report more than a year ago. It is entitled, Everybody's Business, and has the virtue of being short and clear and of setting out a strategy.
I realise—and I expect to be told by the Minister when she winds up the debate—that matters of priority in health spending are for the government in Cardiff and the Assembly. However, this is still the superior Parliament—in constitutional terms—and if the Assembly or government in Cardiff seem not to be giving resources to a crucial national interest, we have every right to raise the matter in this Parliament.
The report to which I referred found, for example, a lack of co-operation between those responsible for child mental health that leads to children being passed from pillar to post between agencies or neglected. Yesterday, I was told by the chief executive of an NHS trust of a case with which he recently had to deal. A 10 year-old boy was admitted who was extremely disturbed, quite violent and desperately needed serious psychiatric help. There was nowhere to send him. He ended up spending 17 days in an entirely inappropriate paediatric ward where staff did what they could for him. Eventually, after 17 days, a place was found for him in an appropriate hospital—in England, I believe.
It is extremely important when families and children are afflicted in that way that we should have proper mental health services in and for Wales. Of course, it is of great value to have people such as Dr Jennifer Lloyd producing a recipe to solve such problems. That has been done and accepted in principle. But it is absolutely unacceptable for the money not to be provided to put those solutions into practice.
I therefore hope that the Government, as part of their overall health strategy, will take the initiative to try to ensure that the social conditions of people in 1157 Wales include providing proper facilities for the treatment of mental illness among children and adolescents. They are so easy to forget and regard as a problem that does not really exist or may go away. To anyone who feels that way, I say, "Just wait until it happens to you, and you will begin to appreciate the reality and urgency of the problem".
The coalition government in Cardiff are now doing a very good job. They face all the usual brickbats of politics. Wales has always been very good at adversarial politics and I do not believe that the adversarial principle will ever leave politics in Wales. It is in the blood and it is on the tip of the tongue. However, bearing those factors in mind, the Assembly is doing well. I just hope that when it comes to the next Assembly election, the public in Wales will realise that they are now governed from Cardiff and will decide to participate in the political process that selects the form and nature of their government.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, for his thoughtful and important opening address. Noble Lords have spoken eloquently and properly about some of the pressing social, economic and health problems of Wales; about regional divisions; about employment, unemployment and the creation of new wealth; and about the possible need to amend the Government of Wales Act 1998.
But the Assembly is still in its infancy. Of course it is not without its weaknesses, nor is the Government of Wales Act 1998, which brought the Assembly into being, without its flaws as well. Some of those flaws, or deficiencies, are discussed by David Lambert, the legal adviser to the presiding officer, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, in his chapter, "A voice for Wales", published in the volume, Legal Wales: Its past, Its future. I believe that some of Lambert's thoughts have been rehearsed this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. He, too, delivered an important speech. I have little doubt that this issue ought to be examined by the constitution committee.
However, as of now, the Government of Wales Act 1998 is the only foundation upon which the National Assembly has to build. I believe, with other noble Lords, that we can now say with considerable confidence that progress is being made. I, too, have read the address of 24th January by Winston Roddick, a Counsel General of the Assembly. He drew attention to the much-increased legislative activity of the National Assembly during the second year of its existence. My noble and learned friend Lord Morris referred to the fact that during its second year the Assembly passed 81 orders with a distinctly Welsh context in addition to the 149 orders mirroring those made by Westminster departments.
If we look in detail at those 81 orders passed by the Assembly with a distinctive Welsh context, we find that they affect a whole range of devolved subjects. Within the 81 orders there are nine for transport, 1158 planning and environment, 15 for education, six for health and food safety, 14 for social care, 10 for agriculture, fisheries and forestry, 26 for economic development, industry, local government and housing, and one for the Welsh language. I greatly welcome that increase in subordinate legislation with a Welsh context, because it signals that the National Assembly is settling down and designing subordinate legislation within the framework of England and Wales primary legislation to meet Welsh circumstances and, in time, to improve the living standards of the people of Wales. The legislation and the significant decisions of the Welsh Assembly are all subject to judicial review. But to the best of my knowledge there has been no great increase in judicial review proceedings in Wales.
After the contribution of so many speakers with their wide experience of Welsh affairs, I come to the only specific issue which I want to mention; that is, the deep anxieties of many Welsh people in relation to the future of the Welsh-speaking communities. I should like to reinforce—if that is the right word—what was said on this issue by my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon. The Welsh-speaking rural communities are now facing a crisis which threatens the existence of the Welsh language as a community language and ultimately, I believe, as a living language.
The crisis is tied up with a number of complex problems and four in particular: the visible and depressing state of agriculture; lack of employment; outward migration of young Welsh speakers and the inward migration of non-Welsh speakers on a scale which threatens to change the whole character of communities in a quickening process.
Moreover, I feel that there may also be a further factor at work. Perhaps there is by now a festering resentment at the failure of successive governments to tackle the crisis. I accept, as I am bound to do, that on the world stage many languages are today facing a crisis of existence. And we may be able to draw on the experience of some other bi-lingual countries.
But in Wales this crisis has not come upon us with dramatic suddenness. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say that 12 years ago the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gwydir and Lord Trefgarne, will recall that we debated this very issue in your Lordships' House. I have no evidence that that debate had any effect at all. But I persevere.
I could almost make the same speech tonight as I made then, except that there are two significant differences. First, the crisis has deteriorated over the past 12 years. Secondly, I am addressing my remarks tonight primarily to the National Assembly for Wales, which is the custodian of our linguistic heritage. Of course there is clearly an urgent need for jobs and homes in the townships in north, west and mid-Wales, townships such as Caernarvon, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Machynlleth and Tregaron, so that they can once again see and believe that they have a future and can sustain their communities. No doubt we will be told that all that will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to achieve because of this or that factor 1159 which cannot be altered. Others may even claim that the processes at work in the Welsh-speaking rural communities are irreversible. But in my view doing nothing is riot an option. If there is a determination and a will to succeed I believe that a great deal can yet be achieved. Perhaps I may quote the words of the Counsel General,The Assembly is in being to bring about change and it can do so in a number of ways".I very much hope that the Welsh Assembly will think again about the crisis in the Welsh-speaking areas and think again about the future of higher education in Wales.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I join those who have paid tribute to my former Parliamentary Private Secretary, Ian Grist. Perhaps I may take the opportunity of also paying tribute to an old friend, a great and very brave Welshman, Lord Gibson-Watt, whose death has just been announced. He will be greatly missed. I also thank my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach for introducing this debate.
I begin my remarks by expressing my concern about one particular feature of the present state of devolved government in Wales. Apathy among the electorate there is even greater than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The work of the Assembly has created little interest except among the politically active minority. Media coverage is limited in its impact.
As the just-retired chairman of HTV, I want to draw the attention of noble Lords to the importance of, and my concerns about, the coming communications Bill. If regional broadcasting, so important for devolved democracy, is to survive, it is vital that the Government get right the legislation that affects it and that crucial decisions about such matters as media ownership, the switch over to digital and the introduction of broadband are not too long delayed.
I, and others involved, are very uneasy about the process being followed by the Government. There are worrying indications that Ministers cannot make up their minds about ownership issues on which the survival of effective regional broadcasting may depend. Those who believe that democracy and devolution depend on effective communication should not relax their efforts to see that the Government get it right, and speedily.
What has emerged from the Assembly, perhaps not surprisingly, has been pretty dull stuff so far involving a great deal of talking, but not much doing. Participation and consultation are important, but without follow-up action it becomes an expensive luxury. It is true that there are some good stories to tell which promise well for the future. Despite some of the failures which my noble friend Lord Walker has addressed about the management of foot-and-mouth, there was a good and positive reaction, more generous than in England, in the provision of help to rural communities. The 11 per cent increase in arts funding is welcome and there have been some positive messages in the 10-year plan for culture.
1160 I believe that Jane Hutt, the Minister for Health. has all the right intentions, but the record on health has been less successful. There have been rising waiting lists and there is a shortage of consultants. I am not entirely sure that the proposals for reform are heading in exactly the right direction.
But to return to my theme about making an impact, it is not always easy to discover exactly what the Assembly is doing. I sought information from the Assembly website. It was rather like drawing blood out of a stone. The January media briefing did lead me to two significant debates held on 22nd January. I shall take education first.
The first item that attracted my attention was headed "Creating a World Class Education Centre in Wales". That sounded promising. It turned out to be about a speech made by Jane Davidson, the Minister, in Cuba where she had signed what was described as high level Memorandum of Understanding with the Cuban Minister for Education. In the course of her speech, while she was signing it, she delivered what I can only describe as a eulogy about the Cuban education system.
It appears that some alarmingly centralist Cuban tendencies have already begun to take hold among Assembly Members, or so it appeared from remarks made in the debate on 22nd January about the review of higher education in Wales carried out by the Assembly Committee on Lifelong Learning. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, wished that he had opportunities to say a little more about the subject.
I of course welcome the good news that was announced of an extra £6 million for the higher education sector to build on the successes achieved in the 2001 research assessment exercise. But although the Minister acknowledged that those successes owed nothing to the Assembly, both she and other Members seemed to indicate an intent to take a very high level of direct control over the university sector in Wales in a manner which I find alarming.
The committee wants to generate collaboration and networking between institutions and to create regional clusters both for research and teaching. It believes that the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales should promote and lead the way and that the Minister and the funding bodies should enter into a dialogue with the University of Wales,to review the appropriateness of the present University of Wales structure".There were suggestions in the debate that the Minister should require every higher education institution in Wales fully to reflect the Assembly's vision and principles. Others made it clear that they saw it as an appropriate role for the Assembly not just to review, but actually to decide, the structure of the University of Wales. I cannot object to dialogues, but I would be concerned if the Assembly were to seek to dictate the structure of the University of Wales and the relationships between the component parts of the university and the other Welsh higher education institutions. Some Members seem to believe that the quality of research in particular places can be achieved by the imposition of political authority.
1161 Of course the funding council, with its control of the purse strings, can influence events. Of course, political leaders can encourage co-operation. But to believe that a Minister should dictate the policies of the university, let alone usefully influence research standards, is surely to misunderstand the nature of great and successful universities. Does the Assembly have the powers to do what it apparently wants to do? The universities and their colleges have charters: the Privy Council has an important role. But more important than the powers are the principles involved such as academic freedom and academic choice. Academic talent and academic achievement are not the plaything of politicians: they need to be defended and nurtured. I hope that the Assembly will he wise enough to encourage, but will draw back from following too closely the Cuban example.
Also on 22nd January there was a debate on the Wales Millennium Centre. I am delighted that the Assembly voted up to £37 million towards the total cost of the project of £104 million. I am delighted that contracts are expected to be signed within days. I am delighted that so many Assembly Members spoke with enthusiasm for the project. I only wish that they had spoken with equal enthusiasm in 1995 for the opera house project that would have provided almost identical facilities. I also cannot resist reminding the House that we now have a project that is more expensive than the one that was rejected, even taking account of inflation. We have had a hole in the ground for seven years.
Finally, I shall say a word about another strategy document A Winning Wales—the National Assembly's Economic Development Strategy. There is much that is good in it, but as the First Minister observes in the Preface:The test will be how well it is implemented".It is not true, as the document suggests, that Wales needs to start the task of economic transformation. That ignores the huge steps taken over the past 30 years under the leadership of several noble Lords in this House today on both sides of the Chamber. However, there are some welcome statements about the crucial role of the private sector, about new technologies and about promoting innovation. The trouble is that, once again, it is just another plan, and a 10-year plan at that.
I finish as I began, by acknowledging that the Assembly has done some useful things and, to its credit, has not made any disastrous mistakes. However, if it is to fulfil its own high hopes—or even the much more modest hopes of the people of Wales—discussion and consultation must be turned into effective action and communication with the electorate much improved, or everything that the Assembly does will be lost, either in a mire of voter apathy or in a rising and dangerous tide of discontent.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Lord Brookman
My Lords, as we move towards the end of the debate, I take great pleasure in following the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, who gives the Assembly in Wales such wonderful support. I share the general view of noble Lords and welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, in introducing the debate.
As someone who left south Wales 17 years ago, I thought for a while about participating. However, absence makes the heart grow fonder, as the saying goes. As someone who supported devolution as leader of the community union, the 1STC, the major union in the steel industry, I thought that I should join noble Lords in this important debate. I can assure noble Lords that I took no notice of a colleague of mine—another noble Lord—who said that I should speak because I would probably be the only one debating who had had a real job. Of course, I visit Wales often. As a keen supporter of Welsh rugby, I, like other noble Lords, feel the pain when our national team goes wrong.
From my perspective, as former leader of a trade union, devolution, following a somewhat shaky start. has brought benefits to people in Wales. It is not—nor was it meant to be—a path to independence, but one that gives a voice to previously silent communities. The opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, were music to my ears. In giving effective voice to a more participative form of democracy, the National Assembly is already providing improvements.
Noble Lords will be aware that the steel industry in Wales, which has been mentioned several times, has once again suffered horrendously over the past 12 months. More than half of the 6,000 job losses announced by Corus are in Wales. There are also many hundreds of redundancies among sub-contractors whose services will no longer be required. In that terrible situation, the Welsh Assembly and, in particular, Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister, strongly supported by the Secretary of State for Wales, put together an aid package of £66 million—£50 million from the Assembly and £16 million from the Government—to support those facing redundancy and the communities hit by the closures. That has been increased by a further £26 million from the Assembly Government. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that that should be applauded.
All that, together with a raft of wonderful announcements made by the First Minister on 31st January, will go some way to assist in the regeneration of the communities affected. As Rhodri Morgan said in his Cabinet statement of 31st January,There are no quick fixes to problems as entrenched as those of our long-neglected industrial communities, but I believe that this programme represents a new start and the strongest possible faith in the future of these communities".Tribute should be paid to the Assembly and to the Wales TUC, the WDA and my union. They all came together to meet the Assembly Ministers and secured 1163 extremely large amounts of money for re-skilling redundant steelworkers, through the Wales union learning fund.
Solutions have emerged from the communities themselves, rather than being a one-size-fits-all Westminster policy. That is important, not in a parochial sense, but in the sense that empowering communities will mean that opportunities will be taken with a greater sense of ownership. In my home town, Ebbw Vale, the community has been calling for the re-opening of passenger rail transport. That has been agreed, with Assembly funding. It is good news for the people of Ebbw Vale.
The Assembly, being so relatively young, has much going for it. Being participative, transparent and accessible in the way in which it operates will bring it success and further endorsement from the people of Wales.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I am delighted to take part in the debate and add my thanks to my noble friend Lord. Griffiths of Fforestfach for making it possible. I hope that your Lordships will allow me to direct my remarks to the engineering industry in Wales and its role in the Welsh economy. However, I must begin by declaring my interest as chairman of the Engineering and Marine Training Authority, the national training organisation for engineering manufacture. I shall make another declaration: I was born in the Principality. It is for your Lordships to judge whether that fact adds any credibility to what I have to say.
I am proud of the fact that, although EMTA is a national organisation in a UK sense, we have employed a dedicated team in Wales for several years. We recognise that there are occasions when a different approach is necessary to suit the economy in a particular area. However, in the wider UK economy it is crucial for there to be an element of cohesion, particularly in training and skills. In many respects, devolution has created a more complex situation. Wales has pioneered training policy for the rest of the United Kingdom, under both Conservative and Labour administrations. Now, through the National Assembly, Wales has been leading the way in training, especially in engineering.
I shall give just two examples. The introduction of the modern apprenticeships enjoyed more prominence in Wales than in the rest of the United Kingdom and has proved. so far, to be at least as successful in the Principality. More recently, it was the approach taken in Wales towards equitable funding for training, across all sectors, that many, including EMTA, argued should be adopted in the rest of the United Kingdom. The abolition of training and enterprise councils and their replacement by learning and skills councils, which has brought a more equitable funding regime, is the result.
I am pleased that the vocational GCSE in engineering, about which your Lordships may have heard recently, will be introduced in Wales, as in 1164 England, in September this year. However, I have some concerns about the mixed messages that seem to come from the Secretary of State for Education and Skills about the value of vocational qualifications. On the one hand, she has said that the qualifications should be aimed at all young people, but then we had the headlines suggesting that bright pupils would be allowed to skip some part of the examination.
The position of the engineering industry on the matter is clear. We are keen to see the introduction of vocational GCSEs as another opportunity for young people to have hands-on experience of the industry. However, we must also be sure that all young people are offered the opportunity to take such qualifications and that they should not be seen as a second-class option for non-academic pupils. Recent experience with the part one GNVQ in engineering has shown that 14 to 19 year-olds from across the ability range can be attracted to the subject and, on completion of the course, may wish to continue working towards an engineering career via a work-based route. We hope that the new qualification will not only increase the flow of young people into engineering but will help to raise the profile of the modern apprenticeships to which I referred.
Of course, the engineering industry makes a significant contribution to the Welsh economy and will continue to do so. At 28 per cent of GDP, its contribution is already significantly higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom. Manufacturing employs about 198,000 people in Wales—about 23 per cent of the workforce, which compares with only 19 per cent in England and 18 per cent in Scotland.
An interesting fact that I recently came across is that over 500,000 kilometres of optic fibre is installed in Wales and Cardiff Bay has more fibre optic cable than San Francisco Bay. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell can take due credit for that.
The fundamental issue facing Wales is the prosperity gap. The target for increasing GDP, set out recently in a strategic document, is to reach 90 per cent of the UK average by 2010. To achieve that, a growth rate of 4 per cent would be required, compared with the forecast 2.7 per cent for the United Kingdom over the same period and against growth in Wales of under 1 per cent per annum over the last decade. The challenge is significant and it is not enough simply to choose policies and strategies that only establish an environment that will encourage growth. It will also be important to make some difficult choices and focus on selected wealth-creating sectors—sectors that surely would include engineering and manufacture.
It is therefore crucial that both the education and training policies of the National Assembly are aimed at supporting manufacturing. From research that my organisation has gathered, we are able to establish that strong links exist between investment in training and development with higher added value per employee.
In an earlier remark I made reference to the complex position that devolution sometimes creates in policy development. While the Government's plans for the establishment of sector skills councils are to be 1165 welcomed, various delays are causing funding to be withheld and this in turn is causing some important problems for training within the engineering sector. I hope that these changes can now be swiftly finalised.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
My Lords, Wales has not always been the weakest link in the United Kingdom. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, parts of Wales were boom areas which lived on coal in the same way as we have seen, in more recent decades, that Aberdeen has lived on oil. Certain areas in Wales attracted inward investment in coal, steel and heavy engineering.
When I first became involved in Welsh politics in the 1960s, in my area we still had collieries, steelworks, breweries and leatherworks. It was a reasonably thriving economy. Yet, in 1964 when I stood in my first election in Rhyl, I was calling for a Welsh parliament, for proportional representation and for the abolition of the House of Lords. We have made substantial strides in those directions. As my noble friend Lord Hooson remarked in the course of his speech, in 1967 I drafted a Parliament of Wales Bill, the main feature of which I can now recall was the resurrection of the grand court of Wales with a separate judicial system. In such a system, were it to be adopted, there seemed to be room for both my noble friend Lord Carlile and myself.
In the 1970s, I recall the late Professor Edward Nevin setting out his thesis that, in a period of transition, it would be quite wrong simply to pay compensation to overseas firms to come to Wales. It would not be right simply to pay them money. His thesis posited that the best way of spending public money was to invest in education, a point emphasised in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne; to pioneer new ways of bringing skills to Wales; and to invest in communications through creating road and rail links—we used to discuss north-south rail links in Wales, but perhaps these days it is more crucial to establish ready movement towards markets in the European Union. He discussed the development of information technology. Professor Nevin also spoke of investing in the quality of life and, indeed, certain strides have been made in that direction.
There has been a severe transition in the economy of Wales over the period that I have been involved in Welsh affairs, ameliorated by the work of the Welsh Development Agency and by the work of successive Secretaries of State, whose contribution has been enormous and is very much recognised. As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said, the work involved in getting over the transition has not just started now that we have a Welsh Assembly; it is a continuation of what has taken place in the past.
What that means is that we must not underestimate the inheritance of the Welsh Assembly and the problems that the assembly has had to face. As has already been pointed out, prosperity is some 20 per cent below that of the United Kingdom average. That 1166 is not the case in Scotland, which has pulled itself up to reach United Kingdom averages. Inward investment, on which we have depended so heavily during the latter part of the 20th century, has weakened, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, himself. It is likely to continue to weaken, in particular if eastern European countries attach themselves to the European Union. Other areas of the European market will then become available offering even cheaper labour than has been the case in Wales.
Thus there are great problems which the assembly has inherited, as well as great problems for the future which it has to face. I believe that if we did not have the Welsh Assembly to face those problems, then the task of the future for Wales would be very bleak indeed. We now have people with hands-on experience of the day-to-day challenges and economic problems and I trust them to carry out their responsibilities.
As was said, in my view in the social field the assembly has tackled the task extremely well. The public perception is, unhappily, that the Welsh Assembly has not been a great success during its first stuttering years, but the media have reported the assembly in terms of personalities. That is not surprising because the personalities have certainly been vivid during the early years of the assembly. There have been problems. However, what the media and, as a consequence, the people of Wales have failed to realise is that in the field of policy formation, Wales really does lead the way. Those of us who are concerned with Welsh affairs in this House know that when a Bill is produced here, or when provisions relating to Wales come up in a United Kingdom Bill arriving with the blessing of the Welsh Assembly, then those provisions have been well thought out. There will have been full consultation.
In that regard I refer in particular to the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill which we debated last year, where wide consultation had taken place and where debates had been held both in committee and on the Floor of the assembly. What then came to this House was the consensus view of all parties. Of course when it was put into the hands of the Westminster Parliament and the Westminster Government, noble Lords will recall that attempts were made immediately to weaken the agreed position, in particular in relation to Home Office affairs. Those were to be excluded. Were it not for the pressures applied in this House, then the agreed solution of the Welsh Assembly would not have been carried out.
Similarly, none of us who attended the meeting held last week with Jane Hutt could have failed to be impressed with the degree of effort that has gone into forming the provisions for the health Bill which is shortly to be debated before noble Lords. Again, widespread consultation has taken place on the structure of the provision of the National Health Service in Wales and an agreed solution has been brought forward.
Agreeing on policy is one thing, but translating it through legislation is another. I was pleased to note, when I visited the Library of Congress in Washington 1167 three weeks ago, to challenge the law librarian to produce a copy of the laws of Hywel Dda. He produced three copies and a portrait of the gentleman in question, which I found extremely impressive.
However. that is primary legislation. What the legislators in the Welsh Assembly have to do is to translate policy through half of the instruments that are available in Westminster. They can deal only with secondary legislation. They are now learning the skills, but no one, not even the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, would suggest that, as yet, there is a complete mastery of the way in which policy, through secondary legislation, can be turned to good effect.
I have always supported those who have called for an extension of powers for the Welsh Assembly to include the creation of primary legislation in certain fields. It is a learning process. Once the secondary legislation skills and techniques have been mastered—subject by subject and item by item—so primary legislative powers can be given to the Welsh Assembly.
It was drawn to my attention at the weekend, for example, that animal health is an area which ought to be devolved in its entirety. A lot of the problems caused by foot and mouth were notably absent in Scotland because there was not a long chain of command. They had full control over foot and mouth in Scotland and it was stamped on with efficiency and very quickly. In Wales we were not so successful because different departments were involved.
As the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths—to whom we are all grateful for raising the topic of devolution at this time—said, it is not acceptable that the Assembly should put forward four Bills for the Queen's Speech and every one of them rejected. It is not acceptable that there should be attempts in Westminster to alter the consensus view of the Welsh Assembly on primary legislation. We should at least have a constitutional convention that if the Welsh Assembly is agreed upon a solution and needs primary legislation, then, until it gets the powers to do so for itself, Westminster should put it into effect unless there is a very good and express reason for doing something else.
We are at the beginning of the process of devolution. I have been talking about it for getting on for 40 years; I hope that in the next 40 years we shall see it come to its full fruition.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
My Lords, I, too, deeply regret the passing of Lord Gibson-Watt and the comparatively early death of Ian Grist. Each was a close friend and colleague and both were very capable Ministers at the Welsh Office at different times. Lord Gibson-Watt was, of course, an exceptionally brave soldier who won the MC and two Bars.
I compliment my noble friend on securing this timely and valuable debate. I hope that every Member of the National Assembly will read it. The approach of our saint's clay and the third anniversary of the National Assembly is an appropriate moment to inquire into the state of our nation. The speeches we 1168 have heard today present a unique picture gallery of Wales at this time. There have also been a number of inspiring new ideas.
Devolution has certainly had its impact on the economic and social life of the Principality, but so, too, have developments in the world outside—in the rest of Britain, Europe and elsewhere. It is not easy to separate the effects of external pressures and influences from those of indigenous initiatives. Wales is no island in the current dot.com doldrums.
I begin by commending the considerable work which has clearly gone on in the Assembly in preparing a variety of strategy documents for the devolved areas within its sphere of responsibility. Their titles—A Winning Wales for the economic: strategy, The Learning Country for educational aspirations, and Putting Patients First for future health plans—give a flavour of the high hopes, idealism and ambitions within those documents and others which flowed from them.
Some of these documents have been heavily criticised within the Assembly itself—and rightly so—but there is no doubt that a great deal of thinking and serious discussion have gone on, and I commend the Assembly on its efforts. But, of course, I bear in mind what my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, that actions speak louder than words.
Some of the Assembly government's targets are widely optimistic and perhaps they should he reminded that targets are normally set up to be hit rather than missed. Setting targets impossibly high is to court disappointment in future. For example, the ambition to raise Welsh GDP per person from 80 per cent of the UK average to 90 per cent over 10 years falls into that category. As my noble friend Lord Trefgarne said, it would mean that economic growth in Wales must rise faster than in the rest of the United Kingdom by at least one percentage point a year. That is a very tall order and it is far from clear how it is to be achieved from the current economic base, which has been seriously weakened by the loss of valuable jobs in the steel industry and manufacturing, with possibly even more losses to come.
My noble friend Lord Walker referred to the poverty of farmers, especially in the hills. and the further threat to them posed by change in the system of financial support is well known. So is its impact on rural towns and communities, especially in the Welsh-speaking community. Tourism, too, is suffering from the foot-and-mouth outbreak and the threat of recession last year, capped by the events of 11th September.
The buffers of reality in Wales are often grim. In health, the numbers of people on waiting lists have more than doubled to 280,000 since 1997, in spite of increased spending and staffing. Postcode prescribing is rife, and that of course robs the NHS of its claim to be a national service.
It all prompts the question: are the additional resources being properly applied? Will restructuring make things better or worse, as many of us fear?
1169 Educational standards are improving but there are still too many youngsters leaving school with few or no qualifications. Again one wonders whether the proposed changes in the education system—especially the changes in higher education—will make a difference. I hope that Members of the Assembly will heed what I can only describe as the warning that has come from this debate.
The Assembly still has not debated and approved the Welsh provisions of the Education Bill, which has been through all its stages in another place and has had its First Reading in your Lordships' House. That cannot be right and is, in this case, deliberately wrong. The Assembly is being wilfully deprived of its right to discuss the substantial Welsh contents of the Bill by its Labour/Liberal government and I cannot understand what on earth they are afraid of.
I have raised a similar issue before in the context of the Health Bill and I make no apology for raising it again. It is as clear as daylight that the current method of handling primary legislation relating to Wales is very unsatisfactory from all points of view and should be corrected as soon as possible.
That brings me to the question of further powers for the Assembly. It is reported that the Welsh Minister for Agriculture has made a good case for the transfer of additional functions relating to animal welfare from DEFRA to his office. He is supported, I am told, by the farming unions. If so, we should see this proposal. Although such a transfer may not require primary legislation, it should surely be considered in this Parliament.
With due respect to my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, the case for a general transfer of primary legislative powers to the Assembly has not been made out—except in the letter columns of the Western Mail by writers who do not have experience of what is really involved. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, generally agreed with that basic point. Neither is the Scottish experience particularly helpful. The Scottish Parliament has not made great use, I am told, of its legislative powers or of its limited taxation powers.
We on the Conservative Benches are pledged to assist the National Assembly to work properly and effectively in the governance of Wales. I believe that the relationship between Parliament and the Assembly is improving, but we need to know more about the Assembly's views and proceedings. We should not have to rely on spasmodic coverage in the media to know what is going on. It is in the interests of the Assembly as well as in our own interest that its proceedings and consultative documents should be readily available in the Printed Paper Office and in the Library. Ignorance and isolation are in no one's interest.
I hope to end by raising the hopes of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. The ability of the Welsh language to revitalise itself never ceases to amaze me. It has lost one nurturing ground after another—church, chapel, farm—but it keeps on finding new ways to flourish. It 1170 has the versatility of a stern cell and it is indeed a stem cell of Welsh culture and nationhood—as the Old Man of Pencader pointed out to King Henry 1, although not in these precise terms.
It was in your Lordships' House that the Welsh Language Act was introduced nearly 10 years ago. I am proud of the fact that my name is on it. I am sure that your Lordships will echo the words of the Welsh National Anthem:0 bydded i'r hen iaith barhau"—Let the old language endure".
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, I have listened with great care and interest to all the contributions to the debate. It is heartening for all of us to know that, whatever the differences between us, Wales still has eloquent spokespeople to argue her case with knowledge and humour.
Perhaps I may begin by endorsing the tribute of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, to Mr Ian Grist and also the tribute by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, among others to Lord Gibson-Watt. It is sad news that we have received today, and I pay tribute to the work that they did on behalf of the people of the Principality.
On a happier note, I know that noble Lords will be pleased to share with me the superb reason why the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, withdrew his name from the list of speakers. He has become a grandfather again; his grandson was born early today. I am sure that we all accept his judgment and sense of priority in going to visit his new grandchild.
I shall pick up a number of particular points that have been made, but perhaps I may begin by summarising some of the real benefits which I believe have come to Wales with devolution. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Worcester. said, we must each work to make sure that devolution works—coming though they may have done from slightly different starting positions.
First and foremost, there is the self-confidence of a nation that now takes its proper place within the UK and the EU, proud of its past achievements, confident in its own strength and ready to play its full part. This, as so many speakers have recognised, is evident in the cultural richness and diversity of Wales and the continuing development of the arts.
The history which led to the development of devolution was nowhere more finely displayed than on the occasion of the Merlyn-Rees Lecture, given by my noble friend Lord Morris. I am grateful to him for the context in which he set the background to this debate.
The renaissance in Wales is founded on partnership between the Assembly and the Government on the one hand and the Assembly and the people of Wales on the other. For a country of the size of Wales to succeed and realise its full potential, it is vital that the energies and abilities of all its people are deployed to the full. I pay tribute in this respect to the ministerial team at the Wales Office and to their counterparts in the 1171 Assembly. I join among others the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in paying tribute to those who have managed to create such a fruitful partnership.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, sought to draw me onto the rocks of commenting on the internal procedures adopted by the Assembly. I can see from the noble Lord's smile that he does not expect me to be drawn onto those rocks. It is, as my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon said, extremely important to remember that the Assembly is an entirely new body and for the UK an entirely new type of body. As noble Lords have recognised, it is three years old and is yet to hold its first regular elections. Yet it has been recognised by speaker after speaker that it is now unimaginable to think of Wales without an Assembly.
Careful work has been done to establish proper working relationships with the UK Government. Starting with the Joint Ministerial Committee and the Memorandum of Understanding which underpins it, there has been from the outset a very clear framework for relations between central government and the devolved administrations. That extends through the four overarching concordats and into the various bilateral concordats between the Assembly and individual departments.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is a doughty representative who can argue the case for Wales in Whitehall and Westminster. He works hard to provide Wales with its own voice around the Cabinet Table and, with his ministerial colleague, with a voice in over 20 of the Cabinet Committees. He ensures that Welsh interests are fully reflected in UK policy-making and that Westminster continues to be presented with the primary legislation that Wales needs.
My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, among others, raised the issue of the ability of Wales to take primary legislative responsibility. I agree that there is the important process of the Assembly developing its own abilities during this formative period. At the moment, the Government have no plans to give the Assembly the power to make its own primary legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said, judgment on how well the Assembly is doing with its current powers may be the part of the process that will have to come first. We work together to ensure that Bills contain appropriate provision for Wales. For example, Jane Davidson said that the National Assembly can take great satisfaction in what appears on the face of the Education Bill.
The noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Griffiths, expressed concern that primary legislation passed at Westminster can reduce Assembly powers. I stress that the Government always consult the Assembly on proposals affecting Assembly powers and the Secretary of State takes its views extremely seriously.
As my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon said in relation to primary legislation powers, there are permissive powers in the Education 1172 Bill, for example, which will allow the Assembly considerable flexibility in designing Welsh policy. It is important to see how that is put into practice.
I welcome the observation from the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that the Assembly will review its procedures. We shall look with interest at its conclusions tomorrow.
The current devolution settlement is working well to provide the statutory framework for the Assembly to take forward its policies. There has been a large amount of legislation covering specifically Welsh needs, sometimes in Wales-only Bills but often incorporated into England and Wales Bills. For example, it is often possible to incorporate specific Welsh provision in the legislative programme more rapidly than would otherwise have been the case. I know that my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, among others, fully appreciated the speed with which we responded to the request for a children's commissioner for Wales by adapting legislation in order to deal with the matter as quickly and effectively as possible.
Wales continues to benefit from significant growth in public expenditure, as does the rest of the UK. In the 2000 spending review alone it gained by almost £2 billion. The subsequent Budget and Pre-Budget Reports have brought further increases. The expertise and local knowledge of Assembly Members will be available to ensure that the deployment of those funds precisely matches Welsh needs. The Objective 1 programme is a significant success story here. I remember having to answer some critical questions in your Lordships' House, when some noble Lords were doubting Thomases and feared that the Government would never match the funding and secure the Objective 1 money for the people of the Principality. They were wrong. We did not let Wales down. The programme is progressing well and I look forward to seeing the recommendations that the Commons Select Committee on Welsh Affairs will make shortly.
Passing reference has been made to the Barnett formula. I remind the House that since its introduction it has been a good friend to Wales. Over the 20 years of its operation, the Principality has benefited from significantly more spending per capita on the Welsh block than for comparable services in England.
My noble friend Lord Morgan referred to the economy in Wales. The Government and the Assembly recognise the value of fostering entrepreneurship. In addition to the fiscal policy that the Government have put in place to help SM Es, the Assembly has developed its entrepreneurship action plan which will play its part in engendering an entrepreneurial culture in Wales. The Government and the Assembly recognise the situation of the people of Wales with regard to prosperity. That is why Wales achieved its Objective 1 programme. The Assembly has published its national economic development strategy, A Winning Wales, which acknowledges problems and proposes a strategic approach to tackle them.
1173 The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, complimented the high-tech development that has taken place in Cardiff. We all want the Government and the Assembly to work together to make work pay and attract higher quality jobs. That extremely important point was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach and Lord Roberts of Conwy. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said, it is extremely important that we work together. One good example of that is the Wales New Deal taskforce, which has played a key role in ensuring the success of programmes in Wales. The Employment Service and the Assembly have provided a joint secretariat to the taskforce. It has helped to streamline Assembly jobs for learning and skills with whole-country targets for getting people into jobs. Some 23,200 young Welsh people have secured jobs through the New Deal, 80 per cent of whom were still in work after 13 weeks. That is a good example of working together.
My noble friend Lord Brookman drew attention to the important work that the Assembly and the Government did together to assist and mitigate against the tragedy of the job losses at Corus. I am sure that, like me, he very much welcomes Corus' plan to spend £75 million rebuilding the No. 5 blast furnace at Port Talbot and recognises that that comes as a result of the tragedy there. In the package that was put together we have been able to demonstrate that economic regeneration in the interests of the people of Wales can come only when all parties work together. I recognise the importance of training and education in that context and the framework for setting up Education and Learning Wales, which the Assembly is using to transform post-16 education and lifelong learning in Wales. I am sure that everyone agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, about the importance of not downplaying areas such as engineering in the development of education.
My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies made some serious points and detailed observations about the threat to Welsh as a community language. As he said, this is primarily a matter for the Assembly to tackle, but we take a great interest in it. I hope that the optimism of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, is well founded in this case.
My noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon and my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies referred to the review of the problem with regard to the Welsh language. The Assembly has a special role in promoting the Welsh language generally. I understand that its culture committee has decided on a review. My noble and learned friend Lord Morris made some pertinent points. He may wish to draw his views to the attention of those conducting the review.
My noble and learned friend also raised the question of town and country planning in Wales. That responsibility has been devolved to the Assembly, which is using its sustainable development scheme to guide planning policy and has established a planning forum, which has produced a comprehensive policy, 1174 delivering a presumption against out-of-town shopping centres, for example. However, that is a matter for the Assembly.
I note the views of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, on the policy of the Assembly on education in specialist schools. As he knows only too well, that is a devolved matter for the Assembly.
My noble friend Lord Morgan and the noble Lords, Lord Walker of Worcester and Lord Crickhowell, among others, asked about the Assembly committee's review of higher education. The committee has made various proposals, including, as noble Lords have said, proposals on the future of the University of Wales. Factually, the review does not represent the Assembly's final view, and there will be a consultation period. Some of the review's findings, for example on the future role of the University of Wales, have attracted wide interest. Achieving most of the proposals would be within the Assembly's powers.
I welcome the support of the noble Lords, Lord Morgan and Lord Carlile of Berriew, for the Assembly's initiatives on encouraging young people to stay on in school. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, would not want me to be drawn any further into that matter.
In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Worcester, I should say that the major Welsh farming unions were represented on the Assembly's Farming Futures strategy group and fully endorsed the resulting document.
In reply to all noble Lords who raised the issue of the powers of the National Assembly for Wales, I should say that, following the foot and mouth outbreak, the Assembly has requested that further functions of animal health in Wales be transferred to it. The Government are considering the merits of the Assembly's request alongside other proposals emerging from foot and mouth inquiries. A decision will be made in due course. However, Farming Futures sets out the direction for agriculture in Wales. I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Worcester, with details of the financial assistance being given to the rural community.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, raised the issue of energy policy. That is a reserved matter, although there is a national system of electricity generation. As he recognised, however, my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel is having a debate in which it will be possible to answer his questions in greater detail.
I have the greatest sympathy for the points made by the noble Lord. Lord Carlile, on adolescent mental health problems. As he said, it is a matter devolved to the Assembly. I hope that the review will bear fruit for children in Wales who are in that most vulnerable position.
I must conclude because of time constraints. However, the Government's approach to the communications Bill will provide an opportunity for consultation with all interested parties. I am quite sure from his contribution, which was so knowledgeable, that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, will wish to take part in that.
1175 I thank the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, for selecting this topic for debate. With one exception, I have not been able to do full justice to the range, scope and depth of the debate, but I hope that your Lordships will accept that that is a matter for the usual channels. Nevertheless, this debate has been a pleasure which I hope will be repeated. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that the people of Wales should never settle for second best. I believe that the foundation on which they are now building is capable of giving them the best, which is what they deserve.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach
My Lords, it is my very great pleasure to thank everyone who has taken part in the debate, which I believe has been very good-humoured. I also think, without prejudice, that it has been an affirmation of devolution. The contributions 1176 have shown a wealth of experience. We have heard from three former Secretaries of State, a Minister of State, a Presiding Officer of the National Assembly, a distinguished academic and vice-chancellor of the University of Wales and the general-secretary of an important trade union, as well as from many distinguished lawyers.
I particularly liked the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Worcester. Despite the challenges, he struck a note of optimism that is based not on sentiment but on current events in Cardiff, which gives us great hope for the future.
It only remains for me to wish each of you a very happy St David's Day and to beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at five minutes past eight o'clock.