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Commons Chamber
09 December 1997
Volume 302

House Of Commons

Tuesday 9 December 1997

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Scottish Agricultural College Order Confirmationbill

Considered; to be read the Third time.

Oral Answers To Questions

Health

The Secretary of State was asked—

Primary Care

1.

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What proposals he has for increasing the role of primary care within the NHS. [18227]

12.

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What proposals he has for promoting the role of primary care. [18240]

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The development of primary care is one of the Government's medium-term priorities for the NHS. We recently launched a salaried doctor's scheme which will improve the quality of services and help tackle health inequalities. From 1 April next year, health authorities will be able to fund local development schemes to improve general medical services. We also intend to proceed with pilots under the National Health Service (Primary Care) Act 1997 to explore more flexible ways of delivering primary care. Our further proposals will be set out in the White Paper to be published at 3.30 pm today.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware that general practitioners in my constituency of Gravesham and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) have recently developed a highly successful scheme of co-operation? Is he further aware that we have recently opened a minor injuries unit in Gravesend and North Kent hospital, again managed by nurses and GPs, as the first stage to establishing a proper community hospital in the borough? Is not the way forward for the health service putting GPs and nurses in the driving seat and ensuring that they can match local decisions to local needs?

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What my hon. Friend says is true and very welcome. Such developments, which we have been looking at and studying, make us confident that the proposals that we shall be introducing this afternoon are going with the grain of the people within the NHS, who are trying to develop better and better services for local people.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that most patients look upon their local nurses and health care professionals as the linchpin of the NHS? Can he assure me that he wants to see places such as Aylesham health centre, Deal hospital and Buckland hospital in my constituency flourish and expand?

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What is wanted is a first-class health service, close to home so that people do not have to travel long distances to find primary care, community care and community hospitals. That is what is wanted increasingly by local people and the profession, and we want to help them bring it about.

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Is the Secretary of State aware that his emphasis on primary care will be widely welcomed? At a time when the responsibility for developing the health service is shifting increasingly to primary care, is there not something absurd about carrying on the kind of rationalisation of hospitals that is going on now, without any reference to GP preferences? For example, in Kent, the Kent and Canterbury hospital and others are under threat.

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As everyone knows, the number and nature of hospitals in the NHS has been changing since the NHS came into being. We are determined to ensure that any changes reflect the needs of people living in a particular area. As I understand it, in the area represented by the hon. Gentleman, the proposals are out for consultation. The new Government want to move to a situation where consultation is genuine and not just a period of time.

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Is the Secretary of State aware that Professor Howard Glenerster has suggested that GP fundholding has caused a shift in the balance of power back to GPs for the first time this century? Is the right hon. Gentleman committed to doing everything that he can to build on the success of GP fundholding and extend those opportunities to others?

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When our White Paper is published this afternoon, the right hon. Lady will see that we are trying to build on the parts that have worked and dispense with the parts that have not worked.

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My right hon. Friend will be aware that Salford has one of the new GP commissioning pilot projects. Despite its unfortunate acronym, the Salford health action group is working tremendously hard to improve the health of the people. Will my right hon. Friend tell us how important he thinks is the voice of patients and users in such projects?

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There are some who suggest that I am noted for my vulgarity, but never in the Chamber—or at least, not this Chamber.

My hon. Friend has made a crucial point. We need a national health service that is moulded to the needs of the patients, and the medical and nursing professions are as wedded as anyone to that concept. They are trying to liaise with local people to ensure that the services that they provide meet the needs of local people. We are determined that our changes to the national health service will help to achieve that. I am sure that everyone will be better off as a result.

Herefordshire Health Authority

2.

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What plans he has to reduce bureaucracy in the Herefordshire health authority. [18228]

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Herefordshire health authority has recently announced that it will be implementing a new management structure which will save at least £100,000 per year. That sum will be available for investment in direct patient care to improve the health of the local population.

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I thank the Minister for his answer. Does he agree that the Herefordshire health authority has the widespread support of the people of Herefordshire? Does he further agree that the implementation next April of the Herefordshire unitary authority, with boundaries coterminous with the health authority, will provide an opportunity for excellent co-operation between the local authority and the health authority? Will he give a commitment that his Department will do everything it can to support such co-operation?

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We certainly shall—co-operation is in; competition is out. Co-operation is in especially at the boundaries between health and social care. We want there to be much more closely integrated care between health and social services to ensure that people on the boundary of the interface, who are the most vulnerable members of our community—the mentally ill, the disabled and the elderly—get the care and attention that they deserve.

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Is my hon. Friend aware of the warm and widespread support for the Government's proposals to reduce bureaucracy and administrative costs in the national health service, which has already contributed to additional money being made available for the treatment of breast cancer? That is very warmly welcomed in my Cambridge constituency.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Simply by cancelling the eighth wave of fundholding, we were able to free up £20 million for investment in front-line patient services, £10 million to improve breast cancer services and £5 million to improve children's intensive care services. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members agree that those are the right priorities for a national health service.

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We share the hon. Gentleman's objective of channelling any savings on bureaucracy that he can achieve in the Herefordshire health authority into improving care for people in Herefordshire. By what criteria would he want people in Herefordshire to judge and evaluate his party's stewardship of the national health service?

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The people of Herefordshire will be able to judge our stewardship of the national health service very simply—on the proportion of investment that goes into front-line patient services rather than into bureaucracy; on the basis of whether there is an improvement in patient services in Herefordshire and elsewhere year on year; and by whether waiting lists are shorter, as they will be, by the end of this Parliament.

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I was interested to hear the Minister talk about funding. Will he promise the people of Herefordshire that the Government will beat the previous Government's record of increasing funding annually on average in real terms by 3.1 per cent?

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If the hon. Gentleman had bothered to look at the figures for Herefordshire health authority, he would have noticed that, for the next financial year, the allocations made by this Government will mean an increase in cash terms of 4.69 per cent., compared to 3.38 per cent. for this year under the previous Government.

Distribution Formula

3.

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What representations he has received on changes to the distribution formula for allocating resources to local health authorities. [18229]

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The allocation formula for 1998–99 was changed better to reflect the health needs of local populations in every part of the country. That was announced on 29 October 1997, Official Report, columns 828–29. I have received no representations on that matter since that date.

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I am about to make a representation. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the formula was altered according to deprivation, the effect of which is to channel resources away from rural areas towards urban areas, with the result that the increase for next year will be only 1.35 per cent. in my constituency, as opposed to 2 per cent. nationally? That led to a public meeting in Cirencester, which was attended by 500 people, to protest about cuts in the accident and emergency department. Is it not wholly unfair that resources are being channelled from rural areas towards urban areas? My constituents should have a fair share of the national cake.

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As the elected Member for Holborn and St. Pancras—there are few more urban constituencies in the world—I can tell the hon. Gentleman that my health authority received exactly the same percentage increase as his. The changes were made in an effort to introduce more fairness into the allocation. The hon. Gentleman apparently does not know that, for the first time in the history of the national health service, an element of rurality was added to the formula to benefit rural areas. No Conservative Government ever did that, so the hon. Gentleman should be grateful.

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I welcome the changes that the Secretary of State has announced. Will they work their way through to Warwickshire health authority where for many years the south of the county, where morbidity figures are low, has received more funding than my constituency of Nuneaton in the north, where morbidity figures are high? Are morbidity figures being taken into account in the new review and the reallocation of resources?

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Mortality and morbidity statistics obviously formed a major part of the formula. However, we are not satisfied with the present formula and have set up a group to study it in time for further changes. The aim must be to allocate funds to those areas most in need, and the areas with high levels of mortality and of morbidity—in other words, sickness—must take priority.

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I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that the national health service has been a leader in information technology and getting information to Ministers so that they can deal with problems. Has he read the Financial Times this morning in which professors suggest that the year 2000 problem will affect the NHS badly, and could cause deaths? Is he aware that the IT systems are already overloaded by the work being done on that problem, and that the announcement that he is to make at 3.30 pm in relation to more changes to the IT systems will cause a crisis in IT departments in the NHS?

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For a start, only a fool would regard the information technology systems in the NHS as satisfactory. I should certainly not address any laudatory remarks to them. They are incapable of supplying some of the most basic information that people might require. We want the health service to have information systems that help patients and help clinicians to provide better, quicker and more effective treatment. We shall get on with that. Since coming to power, we have taken action to deal with the 2000 problem. The main problem is not in the information technology systems, but in the embedded chips in all sorts of health service machinery, including scanners and other vital equipment in operating theatres. That is being addressed. It will be dealt with, but it will cost money.

Long-Term Care

4.

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What action he intends to take to improve the quality of long-term care. [18230]

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We are introducing a range of measures to improve the quality of long-term care, including a royal commission on long-term care for the elderly, a long-term care charter, priorities and planning guidance on continuing health care needs for the NHS and proposals for independent regulatory arrangements for care homes and domiciliary care.

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My hon. Friend is obviously aware of the warm welcome for the royal commission. Will he assure the House that, when it is set up, he will hurry it up and urge it to reach its conclusions speedily so that care for the elderly can be dealt with as soon as possible?

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We share my hon. Friend's concern that the matter should be brought to a speedy resolution. Long-term care for the elderly is a matter of the utmost importance. We have asked the royal commission to report within 12 months. We are determined to replace the delay and prevarication that characterised the performance of the Conservative Government with speed and expedition.

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The hon. Gentleman surely cannot deny that, with an aging population and a declining work force, the quality of long-term care will depend increasingly on the ability of people to make some provision for their own health care. Does he not realise that the Chancellor's savage attack on pensions and savings will make that harder—or do Ministers believe that, for the wealthy at least, quality long-term care is best provided by quality, tax-free offshore dosh in the style of the Paymaster General?

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Only a discredited relic of the previous Tory Administration could come forward with such a comment. This Government are giving new hope to the elderly. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor is helping the elderly with their fuel bills. We are ensuring that the welfare of elderly people rises to the top of the nation's priorities, rather than remaining at the bottom.

Road Traffic Accidents (Payment Of Care Costs)

5.

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If he will take action to ensure that insurance companies pay the full cost of road traffic accident care to NHS trusts. [18231]

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Following the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 2 July 1997, Official Report, column 315, we are taking action to recoup in full the costs that we are entitled to recover from insurance companies for the treatment of road traffic accident victims.

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I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, which will please the members of the Norwich community health council who raised the issue with me. Will she consider extending that policy to the treatment of other patients, such as the victims of workplace accidents, many of whom are children?

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I thank my hon. Friend for that question. We shall update legislation to make the scheme more effective on road traffic accidents. On other matters, we shall ensure that the principles of a national health service funded from taxation and free at the point of use prevail.

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Will the Minister confirm that this is the only occasion on which the Government will ask outside groups to fund a core health service activity?

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There is absolutely nothing new about the provision, which has been available since the 1930s. The Government are seeking to update it to make it work and to raise income that can be spent on front-line patient care.

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The Minister appeared to agree with the question. May I check her phrasing? Did she agree that the NHS should charge the full cost of the consequences of road traffic accidents or the full entitlement? Are there any plans to alter the entitlement that the NHS can claw back from insurance companies?

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As I said in my reply, in redrafting the legislation, we are looking at ways of making the provision work in practice. At this stage, we are considering moving to a tariff system to replace the capped expenditure system that currently applies.

Nhs Trusts

6.

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What changes he intends to make to the current role of NHS trusts in shaping local health care. [18232]

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The White Paper which will be issued shortly will set out how we shall fulfil our pledge to remove the wasteful competition of the NHS internal market. We shall show how all NHS bodies, including trusts, will play their full part in improving health care.

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I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. In examining the role of NHS trusts, will he look especially at major tourist destinations such as Blackpool, which provide for the health care of large numbers of visitors as well as the resident population?

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I am aware of the problems faced by local health services in that respect. The thousands of visitors to Blackpool every year usually have a great time—including at the party conferences, when they manage to get there—but occasionally one or two fall ill. The current arrangements do not budget for that and, worse, the health authority has to issue an invoice every single time a patient falls ill on holiday. That is costly and expensive and it is regarded as an anathema by hospital clinicians. If my hon. Friend waits approximately 34 minutes, she may hear some good news.

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Is not one advantage of the trust system that it has allowed direct comparisons between hospitals? When a decision comes to be made on the future of the Kent and Canterbury hospital, should not the Secretary of State consider which is the most cost-efficient hospital in Kent, which hospital in Kent is able to recruit and retain the best staff and, above all, which hospital in east Kent has the support of the most general practitioners, who, after all, are the representatives of the patients?

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As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the matter is the subject of consultation. If it is contested by one of the local community health councils, it will end up on Ministers' desks, so it is inappropriate for me to discuss the specific issues. Of course the Government recognise the important role of NHS trusts in providing health care for millions of people. We want to build on the success of some NHS trusts, but we want that success to be achieved across the country and to ensure that the shortcomings in some trusts are nipped in the bud rather than allowed to escalate.

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Has not one of the worst aspects of the internal market been the way in which it has set GP against GP and hospital against hospital? In overcoming that internal market, is there not an important strategic role for local commissioning groups and health authorities in fostering co-operation? Does my hon. Friend the Minister welcome the review being undertaken by Birmingham health authority, and will he join me in encouraging the fullest public consultation on the proposals in the hope that it will bring Birmingham the capital investment that it has needed for too long?

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As my hon. Friend knows, I am aware of the consultation being undertaken by Birmingham health authority. I very much agree that there should be proper public consultation. The review covers public services and the public have a right to expect their voice to be heard. Those charged with the responsibility of shaping and delivering health services in future should operate to a simple maxim: the national health service is a public service—it belongs to the public and should listen to what the public have to say.

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I am sure that the Minister will agree that one of the most common pressures on NHS trusts is that of shortage of staff. Given that his answers and official figures show that, at the moment, in England alone, we are short of about 1,000 GPs and there are about 1,500 hospital doctor and more than 8,000 nurse and midwife vacancies, will the Minister assure the House that the health service will be given the money to recruit and fill all those thousands of vacant posts?

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The health service is being given the money to deal with such problems. I remind the hon. Gentleman, in case he has forgotten, that, during this year and next year, an extra £1.5 billion will be invested in the NHS in such areas as his. I hope that he will welcome that.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that we must consider not only what is happening now but the legacy left by the previous Government, especially relating to debt in trusts? Many trusts, especially those in Northampton in my constituency, are unable to take advantage of our new plans due to the legacy of debt. Will he comment on the desirability of allowing, in special circumstances, extensions to the time taken to pay off debt, which will allow trusts to plan health care more effectively and thus reduce waiting lists?

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My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The legacy left to this Government by the previous Government is one of record waiting lists and record debt. That is what we are having to tackle; and we shall tackle it. The Government do not want the NHS to enter the next financial year as it entered this financial year—up to its eyes in debt. That means that difficult and robust decisions will have to be taken. Of course we expect those decisions to be undertaken sensitively. Where it is warranted, I know that the NHS executive will be prepared to discuss with individual health authorities an extension to ensure that debts are paid off over time.

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Does the Minister accept that, under the trusts, we were able better to evaluate costs of procedures, and some trusts were doing better than others? Will he acknowledge that the number of procedures has increased the cost to the NHS? The previous Administration forgot that when they were praising the number of procedures undertaken but not funding them. Will the Minister assure the House that, when considering local health care, there will be proper evaluation of pilot schemes, meshed in with trust provisions?

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The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. All incentives under the market system were for NHS trusts to expand their business, regardless of whether that was in the interests of the wider health community—or, i6ndeed, the community in general. In future, we shall be expecting NHS trusts to co-operate and work with one another so that there is maximum gain for patients. Not only doctors and nurses but managers in NHS trusts want that. They want to work together rather than being forced to compete against one another.

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In the past, has not federation between NHS trusts on fairly routine services totally ignored the views of the public in consultation exercises? Do not most people want such services to be provided locally and not far from where they live?

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My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, just last week, in Committee, we approved an order opening trust board meetings to the public. That is important because trusts are public organisations and the decisions that they take have a real impact on the local community. In future, there will be no more secrecy concerning NHS trust board meetings and no more commercial, in-confidence information held concerning trust boards. Trust boards and NHS trusts are part of the wider NHS family and they must start acting as such.

Health Authorities And Trusts (Amalgamation)

7.

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If he has reached conclusions on the amalgamation of (a) health authorities and (b) trusts; and if he will make a statement. [18233]

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The Government have no national blueprint for mergers between health authorities or between NHS trusts. We would seek to encourage mergers of both where that is in the interests of health care in the localities concerned.

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I accept that the Secretary of State would not wish to impose amalgamations, but will he encourage amalgamations where small trusts are presently duplicating their administrative costs? If so, will he give some indication of how quickly he would expect savings to take place, especially bearing in mind his comments earlier when he referred to the need to expand front-line services and to encourage the creation and maintenance of local community hospitals? In Cornwall, as the Secretary of State knows, we are currently addressing that problem.

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I am a great believer in horses for courses. In many parts of the country, it is right to amalgamate smaller trusts—perhaps two or three smaller trusts or a couple of small trusts with a bigger trust—but in other parts of the country local people and clinicians and, for that matter the NHS regional management, are convinced that keeping some of the smaller trusts in existence may protect services that would otherwise not get the attention they deserve. When proposals come to me, I will assess them against the needs of the people in the area.

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Does the Secretary of State accept that the East Cheshire NHS trust has been an outstanding success, not only because of its leadership and the superb support of the executive staff but because it is a united trust that deals with the range of NHS services, including acute services, community services and mental health services. That has been to the advantage of people in Macclesfield. I had a tremendous battle a few years ago to maintain a united trust against what was then the wisdom of separate trusts for virtually every arm of the health service.

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The hon. Gentleman reinforces the point that I wish to make. People in east Cheshire are obviously well suited by the present arrangements, but people in other parts of the country do not fancy that arrangement and I do not wish to force it down their throats. As for conventional wisdom, over the years I have observed that it may be conventional but it is seldom wisdom.

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Is it not a bit much for the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) to whinge about the NHS when my right hon. Friend has provided £10 million extra for health services in Cornwall this year and next? My right hon. Friend knows of the excellent proposal for the merger of two trusts in Leeds, on which all the Members of Parliament for Leeds have been consulted. What criteria will he use to judge whether the merger should go ahead? I hope, however, that he will comment first on the whingeing by the hon. Member for North Cornwall.

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My hon. Friend has been in politics as long as I have and he knows that gratitude is the last thing to expect. Every time I come into the Chamber I expect Opposition Members to rise in grateful thanks for the extra funds that we have provided, but I am disappointed.

As a distant observer, I always thought that the merger of the two acute trusts in Leeds was a good idea and I was surprised that, when everyone in Leeds had agreed to it, my Conservative predecessor turned it down. I shall be not unfavourably disposed to the proposition when it comes forward again from the people of Leeds.

Influenza Inoculations

8.

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What restrictions are currently imposed on the availability of free influenza inoculations for the public. [18234]

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Free influenza immunisation is recommended for people with underlying conditions that put them at most risk of serious illness or death should they develop flu and for people who live in nursing homes, residential homes and other long-stay facilities. Influenza immunisation is not routinely recommended for fit and healthy adults and children.

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My hon. Friend will know that, in an average year, 4,000 people die of flu and that in an epidemic year—such as 1989—up to 30,000 die. We have heard suggestions that a particularly nasty epidemic is on its way from Hong Kong. Is she aware that only 3 million—half of the 6 million vulnerable people in this country—have taken their flu jabs? Would it not be a good idea to promote immunisation, because we can prevent many deaths this winter and stop a great cost to the NHS?

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I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who will be glad to hear that, so far, a record 7.1 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed. Efforts have been made by the chief medical officer to ensure that all GPs and practice nurses are aware of the importance of making flu vaccine available to people who are vulnerable and at risk of suffering serious illness if they contract flu. The drive to maximise the number of people vaccinated this winter against flu is further evidence of the Government's determination to do what works for patient care, based on the evidence of what works as part of delivering a modern and dependable national health service.

Kidderminster District General Hospital

9.

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What representations he has received regarding the future of Kidderminster district general hospital. [18235]

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The Department has received a number of letters from members of the public, councillors and local Members of Parliament on the future of Kidderminster hospital and health services in Worcestershire generally. As part of its strategic review of services across the whole county, Worcestershire health authority will conduct a formal public consultation during which all of these representations will be taken into account.

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The Minister will recognise that any proposal to close accident and emergency services at Kidderminster hospital would be a devastating blow to all those people in north Worcestershire and in my constituency in south Shropshire who are served by the 1,230 members of staff at that excellent hospital, which provides 27 medical services. Does he agree with the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Lock), who said in a press release 12 months ago:

"It is a simple matter of funding. We will only prevent further cuts at Kidderminster if the Government provides enough money to the Health Authority to fund the hospital"?

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The hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend make a forceful point which will be taken into account in due course, along with all the other representations made during the formal consultation. Should the matter come to Ministers, we look forward to giving those representations the weight that is their due.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that there is considerable anger among the people of Worcestershire who have learnt that the Tory-appointed former health authority was overspending by £8 million to £9 million a year and has run up debts of between £18 million and £23 million—debts that this Government and the new health authority must sort out? That is another example of our having to sort out somebody else's mess. Does he accept that there is concern in Wyre Forest that GPs—who are part of a commissioning group whose proposals include the retention of the accident and emergency centre—have not even had their proposal put on the drawing board for the proposed consultation? Will he see whether that proposal can be included in the forthcoming consultation on the reconfiguration of services?

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My hon. Friend makes his point well. It is important that the consultation is wide ranging and takes into account all representations. GPs have an important contribution to make and I look forward enormously to considering their representations on this important issue. Bearing in mind the state of the finances of Worcestershire health authority, I hope that he welcomes the additional £1.5 million that the new Labour Government have made available to the authority to cope with winter pressures. That is the difference between the Labour Government and the Conservatives; they mismanage, but we manage more effectively.

Nhs Building Projects

10.

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How many NHS building projects costing over £1 million have been completed since 1979. [18236]

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The national health service reported the completion of capital schemes costing more than £1 million only between 1980 and 1985.

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Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that £25 million of the money spent during that period was spent creating a full district hospital and 24-hour accident and emergency service at the hospital in Margate that proudly bears the name of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother? Will he join me in congratulating the medical staff, nurses and administration team who have achieved a state-of-the-art hospital that serves the people of Dover, Deal, South Thanet, North Thanet, Herne Bay and other areas of south Kent? Will he take the earliest opportunity to ensure that the work of that hospital is not only continued but enhanced?

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Given the state of my voice, I will not risk repeating a Cook's tour of Kent. I would like to congratulate the staff of the national health service in every part of the country who have kept the faith and kept us reasonably well and healthy for all these years. I hope that they will be able to continue to do so.

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Going back to the original question, is the Secretary of State aware that since 1979 the people of Carlisle have been waiting for a new district general hospital, which was cancelled four times under the previous Government? The go-ahead was given only when we got this new Labour Government. We have started work on the site and the people of Carlisle will have a brand new hospital for the millennium.

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I agree entirely with my hon. Friend and I am only sorry that I was unable to attend and, so to speak, cut the first sod.

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Given that the level of capital investment in the national health service is important—I am sure the Secretary of State agrees—will he explain why his Department issued a press release on 29 October stating that the level of capital investment in the NHS next year would rise by 2.3 per cent. in real terms, when, as the Department now admits, that was incorrect and the level of investment will rise by only 2.3 per cent. in cash terms?

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It is certainly the case, on the basis of the figures in that press release, that the increase is in cash terms, and I apologise for that. In all the years that I was in opposition, I issued thousands of figures and only once got one wrong. In government, I do not intend to issue information that is wrong. We are taking steps to ensure that it does not happen again.

Nhs (Non-Executive Posts)

11.

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If he will make a statement on the qualifications required of appointees to non-executive posts on health trusts and similar organisations within the NHS. [18238]

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The Government's new criteria for choosing who should serve as chairs or non-executive directors of health boards are designed to make the boards more representative of the communities they serve and to encourage more NHS users and carers to become board members. Candidates should normally live in the area served by the trust or health authority and be able to demonstrate a strong commitment to the national health service and the local community.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for that helpful reply. Can he assure us that at least some of the new members will be sympathetic to the aims of a Labour Government? Will he also assure us that the trusts will not remain stuffed full of Conservatives?

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I think that I can safely assure my hon. Friend that the odd person sympathetic to the objectives of the NHS has certainly crept on to some boards since we have been making the appointments. In all seriousness, there are Conservatives chairing and acting as non-executive directors of health trusts and authorities who many of my colleagues have said have done a good job, and a substantial number of them have been appointed. Also, a member of the former Conservative Cabinet has been appointed. As far as I know, no one has accused me of political fiddling in appointing Mr. Tony Newton as the chair of one of those boards.

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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his pragmatic approach. Does he agree that what matters is not people's political persuasion but whether they can do the job well, because it is an extremely important job? Does he accept that I fought tooth and claw to have a strong Labour supporter appointed to the board of Crawley hospital because he was an excellent man for the job and did it extremely well? Will he examine all the cases personally to ensure that the process does not become a political charade and that those who are absolutely qualified to do the job are appointed?

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I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, as it is indeed the case that he moved heaven and earth to get a Labour supporter appointed to one of his local boards because he thought that he would do a good job. That is what I want to do. I emphasise the fact that no nominee has come to my ministerial colleagues or me who has not been subject to the full Nolan procedure and a process involving independent members and the regional chairs of health authorities, at least half—indeed, seven out of eight—of whom were appointed by the previous Government. If Conservative Members do not like the nominations that are being made, perhaps they could speak to the people they appointed.

Professional Training

14.

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What extra financial support he has made available for professional training in the NHS. [18243]

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The NHS will spend around £1.8 billion on health professional education and training this year. On 30 September, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that these budgets would be increased by a further £50 million next year.

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What professional training would my hon. Friend expect the NHS to provide to enable people who are currently in administrative work—especially work connected with the internal market—to move into patient care: people such as my constituent Christine Dowsett, who moved from secretarial work to patient care and is building a satisfying new career?

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My hon. Friend's constituent is but one example of the way in which the Government are discharging their promise to move money and, therefore, in many cases people from jobs that involved red tape, bureaucracy and paper chasing in connection with the internal market, to front-line patient care. Our provisions for training in the national health service recognise the diversity of skills with which staff need to be equipped in order to deliver the modern and dependable care that people have a right to expect.

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Does the Minister realise that all the GP fundholders in Lichfield do not want to be retrained in new systems? They think that the internal market, as she and the spin doctors call it, is a mechanism for providing the best care for their patients. They do not want more training: they want the status quo. What does the Minister say to them?

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I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be here in eight minutes' time to hear my right hon. Friend set out the Government's proposals for rebuilding the national health service and ensuring that his constituents have access to the quality of primary and hospital care that they have a right to expect.

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Can my hon. Friend assure me that, in the light of the small trusts that collapsed and were clearly a disaster under the Conservatives, such as Rugby national health service trust, which left us with rubble in place of a robust local health service, there will be clear criteria and guidance to protect local services that should be delivered locally and should not be taken away by predatory, larger, neighbouring trusts?

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My hon. Friend knows that mergers involve ensuring that any staff who are affected receive the training that they need to adapt to new circumstances, and that the situation that he described is currently subject to consultation.

Health Authority Funding

15.

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What progress he is making towards aligning health authority funding with proposed targets under weighted capitation. [18244]

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For 1998–99, under their capitation targets, health authorities received real terms increases in their allocations above the average of 1.9 per cent. and up to 2.65 per cent. As a consequence, more than 90 per cent. of health authorities will be within plus or minus 5 per cent. of their target as set by the national weighted capitation formula.

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Is the Minister aware that Berkshire health authority was £19 million under capitation this year and is due to be another £13 million under capitation next year? That is having a cumulative effect and, as a result, health services in Berkshire are nothing like what they should be. That is unfair to the people of Berkshire. Will he make progress towards targets more quickly in future?

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If the hon. Gentleman had bothered to examine the figures he would realise that, as a consequence of our changes to the funding formula, Berkshire health authority is closer to its weighted capitation target than it was under the previous Government. It might be worth reminding Liberal Democrat Members of the general largesse that this Government have spread around the NHS and particularly of the figures for health authorities covering Liberal Democrat-held seats: an extra £42.5 million this winter; an extra £257 million for next year; an extra £2.2 million for breast cancer funding; and an extra £1.6 million this year for children's intensive care. A bit of gratitude would not come amiss.

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Is not the real unfairness of weighted capitation that which exists between expenditure on health in England and in Scotland? Is it not wrong that 25 per cent. more per capita is spent on health in Scotland than in England? Is that what the Deputy Prime Minister had in mind when he said that we were going to have a fundamental review of regional distribution of moneys?

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I remind the hon. Gentleman that the formula has been in operation for the past 18 years; I did not hear him complain before.

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Will my hon. Friend confirm that Berkshire health authority will receive £15.5 million extra next year? Does he agree that the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) should be glad that there is a Labour Government because we have already pledged twice as much money as the Liberals promised at the general election?

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My hon. Friend is right. The cash increase for Berkshire health authority will be an extra 5.25 per cent. I hope that all hon. Members welcome that and, most important, that it will be welcome in respect of patient care.

Bureaucracy

16.

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What action he is taking to reduce bureaucracy in the national health service. [18245]

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The Government are committed to maximising the proportion of health service resources devoted to patient care. We are doing that by removing the bureaucracy of the internal market and reducing management costs. On 22 May, we announced a programme of measures to start reducing bureaucracy by £100 million this year. By deciding not to proceed with the eighth wave of GP fundholding, we saved £20 million that had been earmarked for bureaucracy and nothing more; £10 million of that has already been invested instead in better breast cancer treatment for women in every part of the country and £5 million has been invested in improved children's intensive care. I cannot believe that anyone other than a shareholder in a paper company would not think that that money is being better spent.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for that excellent reply. Will he join me in welcoming the news in this morning's press that he intends to save an extra £1 billion in the next few years from red tape and to put it directly into patient care? Labour Members believe that every pound that he puts into patient care at the expense of bureaucracy is welcome.

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I accept everything that my hon. Friend said.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that the key to reducing NHS bureaucracy lies in the decentralisation of service, budgeting and management?

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Well, we had—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I shall answer. Those who have been following what has been happening with cancer screening might have noticed that the cervical and breast cancer screening schemes have both been failing because they are too decentralised. We cannot assume that everything should be decentralised, whatever the circumstances. However, we want to devolve as much power, authority and influence as possible to the doctors, nurses and other professionals who do the work in the health service.

Patient Care

17.

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What steps he is taking to improve the monitoring, analysis and reporting of (a) the outcomes and (b) the quality of patient care. [18246]

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The national health service White Paper, on which my right hon. Friend will make a statement to the House in three minutes' time, will set out a range of means by which the Government will seek to improve quality and outcomes for patients, which are at the heart of our determination to rebuild the NHS.

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It is obvious that patients care most about successful outcomes. What steps are being taken to share the evidence of successful treatment and to compare the performance of different areas of the health service to ensure that we achieve the best possible value and the greatest number of successes in treating patients who seek help from our NHS?

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My hon. Friend is right: nothing matters more to patients than knowing that the treatment that they receive will work and that effective treatment is available to them regardless of where they live.

Clerk Of The House (Retirement)

3.30 pm

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I have a brief statement to make to the House. I have to inform Members that I have received the following letter from the Clerk of the House:

"I am writing to confirm to you my decision to retire as Clerk of the House on 31st December of this year.
I have greatly enjoyed my years in the service of the House, which began in October 1956, and I have felt it to be a signal honour in the last three years to hold the office of Clerk.
During my time there have been many changes in the House's processes and a great acceleration in the activities of committees. The House has taken control of its own finances, administration and works, and more recently has implemented the Jopling Report and dealt with the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. No doubt other reforms will be implemented during the lifetime of this Parliament—proof, if any were needed, of the resilience of the institution and of its deserved place in the esteem of the legislatures of many countries in the Commonwealth and beyond.
The six House Departments and other support staff such as the police, as well as the staff employed by Members, all have important roles to play in securing the effectiveness of our parliamentary system. I believe they have responded constructively to the need for change and I am grateful to them for their support whilst I have been Clerk. Finally, I pay tribute to the understanding and friendship of successive Speakers, especially yourself, and of Members on all sides. It has been a great honour for me to have served in this place. Yours sincerely, Donald Limon."

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Madam Speaker, your announcement signals the end of the distinguished period of service to the House of Sir Donald Limon, and will be heard with regret by all. I look forward to expressing my appreciation of Sir Donald's work when we debate a motion on his retirement. Our normal practice is to postpone until then the tributes that we would like to pay to him.

National Health Service

3.33 pm

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In good times and in bad, I have always been proud to be a member of the Labour party and I have never been as proud as I am today, as a Labour Secretary of State for Health to announce the publication of our proposals to renew and modernise the national health service, which our party founded. These are set out in our White Paper "The New NHS".

This White Paper is a turning point for the health service, the 1 million staff who work in it and all of us who use it. This Government were elected to save the heath service. We were also elected to change it for the better. We want to give it a new lease of life. Today we outline a 10-year programme of modernisation which guarantees that the NHS will get better each year—delivering quicker, higher-quality services for patients. The pace of change will be measured, but each year will bring new and visible improvements. Our plan is to give our country a modern and dependable health service that is once again the envy of the world.

We will make a start straight away. The White Paper abolishes the wasteful and bureaucratic competitive internal market introduced by the Tories. It sets out how services will respond more readily to patient needs, and describes new targets against which performance will be judged. Doctors and nurses will be in the driving seat. It spells out a whole new approach that we have called integrated care. It will break down the Berlin wall between health and social care, so that patients get swift access to care and treatment rather than being passed from pillar to post.

The changes we are outlining today will put quality, fairness and efficiency at the heart of the national health service. Quality will give patients a guarantee of excellence wherever they live. Standards will be raised right across the country. Fairness will give patients an NHS that is there for them when they need it, where they need it, regardless of their ability to pay—a one-nation NHS. Efficiency will deliver more money for patient care. There will be a relentless drive to cut out waste and unnecessary bureaucracy.

We will abolish the internal market, because it has failed. It has failed to deliver quality of care, fairness for patients or efficient services. It has set doctor against doctor, and hospital against hospital. Its business culture has been at odds with the ethos of the NHS and those who work within it. Patients want an NHS where staff can work together to provide better services, rather than having to compete against each other.

When I became Secretary of State, I promised that we would listen to the people on the front line—the nurses and doctors, midwives and other professionals and staff in the NHS. We have kept that promise. We have listened. That is why our proposals go with the grain. We are building on what has worked; we are discarding what has failed. For us what counts is what works. There will be no return to the command and control structures of the 1970s. Nor will there be a continuation of the divisive fragmentation of the 1990s. Instead there will be a third way—a new model for a new century.

We will keep the separation between planning and providing services, but we will end competition and replace it with a new statutory duty of partnership so that local health services pull together rather than pull apart. We will end fundholding and replace it with primary care groups in each area, putting doctors and nurses in charge of shaping services for all patients. We will end the culture of secrecy and commercialisation, and replace it with a new duty of openness that will share best practice for the benefit of all patients. We will end short-term contacts, cost per case contracts and extra contractual referrals, and replace them with long-term agreements that offer stability and focus on quality.

Our detailed proposals for doing all that are set out in the 81 pages of the White Paper. The proposals will cut the number of commissioning bodies from around 4,000 to about 500.

We will set up primary care groups involving family doctors and community nurses in every area. They will be responsible for commissioning services for their local communities, and will account to health authorities for their activities.

General practitioners and community nurses will have a choice about the form their primary care group takes. For example, they will have the power to become free-standing primary care trusts, able to run community health services, including community hospitals. They will have a single unified budget, no part of which will be capped; so money will always be there to guarantee that patients get the medicine they need, when they need it.

The new unified budget will give GPs maximum choice in how patients' needs are met. All primary care groups will work closely with social services to provide properly integrated care.

For the first time, NHS trusts will have a statutory duty to co-operate with other parts of the NHS and to meet quality standards. They will remain responsible for treatment and care, and hospital doctors and nurses will have a greater say in shaping local services for patients.

Over time, health authorities will relinquish most of their commissioning responsibilities. They will be leaner organisations with stronger powers. They will draw up long-term programmes for improving the health of their area—in consultation with local NHS trusts and primary care groups, but also with local authorities, voluntary bodies and education and research institutions. The health improvement programmes will provide the broad framework for local action to improve general health and health services.

All of us who use the NHS deserve a guarantee of excellence. There will be new national action to extend quality and efficiency into every part of the NHS, backed by a new performance framework that will measure what counts for patients.

There will be a new National Institute for Clinical Excellence to give a strong lead on clinical and cost effectiveness, drawing up new guidelines from the latest scientific evidence.

There will be new national service frameworks—on the lines of the Calman-Hine frameworks, which have worked so well in cancer treatment—that will guarantee consistent access to services and quality of care for all patients. The frameworks will draw on the best evidence available to establish the best ways of providing particular services.

To underpin the drive for quality, there will be a new commission for health improvement, to spread best practice and tackle shortcomings.

Patients will also have a guarantee that public money is being used to best effect. NHS trusts will no longer be competing, but they will be comparing: comparison, not competition, will drive efficiency. A national schedule of comparative costs of treating different conditions will be drawn up, and each NHS trust will be judged against it.

Management costs will be capped. There will be clear incentives and sanctions to drive performance improvements at every level. Trust performance will be benchmarked for both quality and efficiency, and the results will be made available to the public.

Over the lifetime of this Parliament, we estimate that the changes will shift an extra £1 billion from bureaucracy into front-line patient services. That will be on top of the extra £1.5 billion that the Chancellor has made available this year and next year for the NHS. We will continue to raise spending in real terms every year on the health service.

The changes will give patients a modern and dependable health service that makes best use of developments in modern medicine and information technology, to offer readily available high-quality services.

We have already promised to cut waiting lists. We will have done so by the end of this Parliament. I announce today three new milestones by which people will be able to chart our progress towards the new NHS.

First—at home—everyone will be able to contact NHS Direct, which is a new 24-hour telephone advice line staffed by nurses. Three pilot care and advice helplines will begin in March 1998. By 2000, it will cover the entire country.

Secondly—at a community level—patients will benefit from quicker test results, up-to-date specialist advice in their own doctor's surgery and on-line booking of out-patient appointments by connecting every family doctor to NHSnet, which is the NHS's own information super-highway. Demonstration sites will be in operation in 1998, and the services will be available to general practitioners across the country by 2002.

Thirdly—in hospitals—everyone with suspected cancer will be guaranteed a specialist appointment within two weeks of their GP deciding that they need to be seen. That will start in 1999 for every woman with suspected breast cancer, and be extended to all other cases of suspected cancer by 2000.

We have great ambitions for the national health service. We will take on those who say that the NHS has had its day, and all we can do is preside over its decline. We will work with the 1 million people who make the NHS so special, even now, to turn it into a modern and dependable service for the coming century.

We know that doctors and nurses and all the staff of the national health service wish to rid themselves of the unfairness and inefficiency of the current system. That is our ambition, too. It is what they want, and it is what the people of this country want.

Next year, the national health service celebrates its 50th birthday. The Labour party that founded the national health service is now setting about modernising it to prepare it for the challenges of the next 50 years: a new national health service, drawing on new technology, new drugs, new quality standards and new ways of working; a new national health service, based on its timeless principle that the best health services should be available to all—the best for all, quality and equality for the new century.

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The dilemma facing the Secretary of State in formulating policy is the same one that faced us. His policy objective is one that we share—to improve the quantity and quality of patient care—but that is difficult to achieve in the context of an aging population, medical advances, rising expectations and limited money.

What all that calls for is maximum financial efficiency and maximum clinical effectiveness, and the structure of the national health service needs mechanisms to drive that. We did that when we were in office. We introduced general management and we introduced the purchaser-provider split to separate commissioning from delivery of service, which allowed trusts to get on with providing services.

We gave contestability of contracts to provide some choice between providers. We instituted fundholding, which put money and decisions as near to patients as possible. I remind the House that, although the Labour Government are adopting many of those principles today, they opposed them all when they were suggested.

Those mechanisms drove change. When the Secretary of State and I talk to trusts—although I doubt the Secretary of State asks this question, because he will not want to hear the answer—they say that most of the change achieved in the past five years has been driven by GP fundholders, not by health authorities. In a recent survey, 85 per cent. of the trusts surveyed said exactly that, and 70 per cent. of those said that the changes that had been driven had benefited all patients, not just those of GP fundholders.

Of this country's GPs, 58 per cent. have chosen to become fundholders, and more than 60 per cent. of this country's patients are patients of fundholders—they, too, believe that the change has been effective, and 93 per cent. of them wish to retain their practice-based budget. Almost all academics and health economists agree with that, and their criticism of us is not that we instituted an internal market, but that we never really let it work.

What is crucial is who holds the budget. Fundholders were happy to take that on, balancing their clinical freedom with financial responsibility. If the Secretary of State's commissioning groups do not have that same power, they will not achieve the same results or, indeed, the better results to which he aspires.

I welcome the Government's acceptance of many of the principles of the internal market. I welcome the retention of the purchaser-provider split, with the choices that that allows. I welcome the retention of the principle of a primary-care-led NHS. I welcome GPs remaining in the driving seat in developing primary care and commissioning secondary care. All that builds on principles that were established by our reforms. I congratulate the Secretary of State on accepting and building on those reforms, as his colleagues will find he has done when they take the time to read the White Paper.

However, I am concerned that the new group commissioning model is being imposed on all GPs, and that it may prove too prescriptive. There has been enormous value in the variety of commissioning models that have developed in the past five years, including fundholding and multifunds on one side, and commissioning groups of non-fundholders on the other. We cannot support the total abolition of fundholding, and we shall work over the coming weeks to persuade him that, within his group commissioning model, practice-level budgets should continue for those GPs who want them.

There is a danger that the loss of independence of fundholders will lead to a loss of the initiatives that they have developed for their patients—for example, more patient services available within practices, not in hospitals—and of improvements in hospital services that have been driven by fundholders.

We shall press the right hon. Gentleman to allow maximum flexibility in his new commissioning group structure, and let GPs choose control over practice-based budgets where that is what they want. I am not sure how groups of 50 to 60 GPs will manage to agree anything. If they cannot agree and if they cannot devolve budgets, there is a danger that they will become mini-health authorities.

Flowing through the White Paper—notwithstanding what I have welcomed about it—there is a touching old Labour faith in co-operation and good will; but these new commissioning groups will succeed only if they have the power to make real choices. If the new commissioning groups are not flexible and cannot make real choices to influence providers, they will not achieve the objectives that the Secretary of State has set for them.

The White Paper is unclear on a couple of points. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I have not had a chance to study it in detail, but I should be grateful for some clarification. Will the commissioning groups be able to make choices among secondary care providers? Will they be able to devolve part of their budgets internally within the groups? Will the Secretary of State try to ensure a full day's debate on the White Paper in the new year, once we have all had a chance to study it?

Is the Secretary of State's model for GP commissioning open to further suggestions? Will it give GPs the flexibility to develop commissioning in ways that they may choose—perhaps different ways in different places? Will GPs be compelled to use a particular hospital, or will they be able to choose which hospital to send patients to?

What does the right hon. Gentleman have to say to the 58 per cent. of GPs who have chosen fundholding, or to the 93 per cent. of this group who say that they want to keep practice-based budgeting? After all, they number more than half the country's GPs. Why should they be prevented from improving patient care as they wish?

Will the Secretary of State in due course—perhaps not today—detail how the £1 billion that he says will be saved from reduced red tape will be achieved? Can he promise us today that, under Labour, the number of qualified nurses will increase by at least 3,000 a year on average, as it did under the former Government? Can he promise to beat our record of increasing the number of in-patient and day cases treated by an average of more than 4 per cent. a year? Above all, can he promise to beat the previous Government's record of increasing national health service funding by more than 3 per cent. a year in real terms?

We and the British people will judge the right hon. Gentleman's stewardship of the Department, and these reforms, by those exacting standards.

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The response of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) suggests that the country believed that we had a sort of NHS nirvana until the end of April 1997. Most people do not like what has happened to the health service; most people working in it do not like it, either. They find it wasteful and unfair to patients. They do not like the fact that those working in the NHS have been forced to participate in activities that they find unfair and unpleasant.

It was not I who described the effects of the internal market on doctors as repugnant: it was Sandy Macara, the chairman of the British Medical Association, who said that the present system is repugnant to doctors. What is more, he did not try to single out doctors in the way the previous Government tried to.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. King) spoke earlier of a problem that had arisen in Rugby because of the internal market: nothing was done, nothing could be done. GPs, whether fundholders or non-fundholders, could not bring about any improvements in the hospital in question. As a result, the people of Rugby have been punished, in effect, by having their hospital taken away from them. Our proposals to establish quality standards and ensure that they are met, and to give more power to GPs and community nurses, will prevent just that sort of episode.

The hon. Gentleman asked me whether GPs will be allowed to send patients to the hospital of their choice. He actually used more obscure language, but I think that that is what he meant. Before the previous Government's changes, a GP could send patients to any hospital in the land. It was that Government who introduced restrictions; we, of course, will allow GPs to do so again. But we must not put GPs in the position of not wanting to send people living in Rugby to Rugby hospital because it is not good enough. They should not be forced to send people to Coventry for a decent level of care. We need to ensure decent care in every hospital in the country. The Tory system has failed to deliver that.

The hon. Gentleman spoke mockingly of a
"touching old Labour faith in co-operation and good will"
I plead guilty to that any day; most doctors and nurses would plead guilty to it as well. They were horrified that their management sometimes told them that they were not allowed to co-operate with the hospital down the road because it might undermine their commercial position.

I have talked to nurses and to cardiac surgeons who tell me that, for commercial reasons, their management prevented them from disclosing to others and publishing scientific papers about improvements in treatment because that local management thought that it would undermine the competitive position of the hospital for which they were working. We will be getting rid of all those absurdities.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon talked as if everything had worked well. We have to get down to the solid examples of what was going on. Under the present arrangements, we have, in theory, national standards for cervical cancer and breast cancer screening. There is no statutory obligation on the trusts carrying out the screening to meet any of the quality levels that have been established. Virtually their only obligation is to break even, and, under the previous Government, an increasing number could not even do that.

We are putting in place a system that will set standards and place obligations on those who are responsible for meeting those standards. They will be obliged to meet them, and we will put in place quality assurance arrangements which will ensure that they do meet them. Doctors, nurses, midwives, other professionals, non-professionals and managers in the health service have told me that they want the sort of things that we are proposing. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that what we are proposing today will be unpopular with the professions concerned, he should wait for a day or two and see what their response is.

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I offer a warm welcome to my right hon. Friend's statement, which will be widely welcomed throughout the country. One of the consequences of the previous Government's record on the NHS is that I regularly find myself writing five, six, seven or more separate letters about one constituent's problems because of all the various agencies which were brought about through the previous Government's fragmentation of the NHS. That occurs particularly where we have an overlap between health and social care.

Can my right hon. Friend say a little more about his proposals to break down what he rightly describes as the Berlin wall between health and social care? If my right hon. Friend goes back to 1974, he will see that, historically, one of the most damaging decisions for health care in this country was that of Sir Keith Joseph, when he removed from local authorities the public health function and started to create the confusion that has reigned ever since on the issue of social care and health care.

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I thank my honourable and good Friend for his welcome for what we have announced today. We are trying to address exactly the point he made about patients and the people representing them being badgered and passed from pillar to post because of the need to approach half a dozen agencies within the national health service and the local authority in order to get proper care for somebody.

It is difficult enough for a Member of Parliament, and it must be almost impossible for some poor old lady who probably cannot see very well or has other problems. My hon. Friend obviously shares my view that the touching faith in co-operation and good will might apply there as well as in the arrangements we are making. We will be producing a further White Paper on social care at the beginning of the new year.

On public health, the chief medical officer, Sir Kenneth Calman, is presently looking at how best to deliver the public health function at national and local level. I have not yet seen his report, but I would expect that he might see a greater role for local authorities, which used to play a bigger part than they do now.

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A serious White Paper on the future of the NHS is very welcome. As today's successor to the party which was the other parent of the NHS, we will always be constructive in battling for the best publicly funded national health service. We will support the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in everything they do to achieve that.

Where we differ, it will not be personal antagonism; it will be because we have a different view of how to get there. That will always be the basis of our criticism. Like other hon. Members, I hope that we have an opportunity for a full debate early in the new year when we have all had the chance to consider the White Paper—as we will carefully—and give a response in due course.

The big questions for the Secretary of State are those asked outside this House: what will the health service do, and will there be the resources to pay for it? However welcome a National Institute for Clinical Excellence may be, there will still be two sorts of rationing for health service patients. First, for this Parliament at least, some 1 million people at a time are likely to be rationed by waiting lists. Secondly, there will still be rationing by post code—or will it be the case that, no matter where people live, they will always have access to exactly the same services as everybody else? That is a main cause of complaint now.

Is there really proof that the proposed system for commissioning will be much more cost-efficient than the present one? There is some evidence to the contrary. Where is the evidence that it will be more accountable? Many of us believe that representatives of the public, democratically elected—not professionals—should choose the priorities in health and social care. The White Paper appears to place more power in the hands of professionals.

Of course we welcome saving money from thousands of unnecessary contracts, if that is the case. However, will the right hon. Gentleman assure me that claims that, for example, £1 billion will be saved in bureaucracy—that is the figure in the White Paper—will be independently verified, as opposed to just being the subject of Government pronouncement and spin doctor repetition? It is a high figure: 10 per cent. of the management costs of the health service. I want the right hon. Gentleman to confirm that he really does believe that 10 per cent. of management costs can be saved during this Parliament.

I have two final points. First, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the internal market is not being abolished? The Tory internal market is being abolished, and we welcome that, but, if there are purchasers and providers, and if there are contracts—even if they are called service agreements—the reality is that there is a market. Or is the right hon. Gentleman saying, as he did in the Rugby example, that there will be no opportunity for a purchasing doctor to choose to go outside his area if he so wished? [Interruption.] If there is to be choice, there is a market, and if there is a market, it is continuing—

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Order. The hon. Gentleman made the point that we will debate these matters in full in a few months' time. I appreciate that he is the Liberal Democrat spokesman, but even so he is taking an inordinate length of time. There must be 50 or 60 Members trying to catch my eye, and there is no way in which even half of them can be called if this continues. I want just one question from each Member called, and then I shall wind up questions on the statement.

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Will the Secretary of State say whether, as well as his good aspirations, the Government intend to increase, in real terms, the amount of public wealth spent on national health? We get it on the cheap. Will there be not just the plans, but the resources that the NHS needs?

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I do not know whether I dare welcome the hon. Gentleman's welcome for the White Paper. It is a serious and solid document, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) for the enormous amount of hard work that he put into its preparation.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) raised a huge number of topics. I shall try to reduce that to a few points. First, there will be massive reductions in the number of transactions within the NHS and the number of people carrying out those transactions. The commissioning will come down from between around 4,000 bodies of one sort or another to about 500. That will have parallel beneficial effects on those dealing with them.

There is no internal market. There cannot be a market unless there is competition, and there is not going to be competition. Generally speaking, most GPs in York, for example, where I came from originally, want to be able to send their patients to York district general hospital, because it is the local hospital and because it is convenient for patients and their relatives.

GPs want the hospital to be absolutely top-notch, but, unlike under the present system, they will be able to send their patients to Leeds, Sheffield or wherever for specialist treatment if they so choose. We cannot have the situation that arose in Rugby, when nothing happened, the hospital went down the drain, and the population of the area were punished for the failures of management within the NHS. That is what we are going to avoid. There will be massive reductions in costs.

Yes, we want to apply national standards. Our arrangements are intended to tackle and eliminate the gross variations in treatment and quality, but I come back to one point: despite everything that has happened, for most people in most parts of the country and for most of the time, the NHS does a damned good job, and they are grateful.

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What is to be the form and function of the proposed National Institute for Clinical Excellence?

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Well done.

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It is intended to bring together the various professionals to consider the latest evidence on new technology and new drugs, to assess their value and decide which ones are worth pushing, and in effect brand some things as good for the NHS. It will then be up to the rest of the machinery to get on with it, but the process will be led by the professionals. The standards applied will have to be acceptable to the professions. I hope that the institute will be successful.

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The proposals represent more evolution and modification than some of the destructive and extremely negative comments that the Labour party made in opposition, but what specific targets is the Secretary of State planning to set?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) said, over the past 18 years, the average increase in spending has run at 3 per cent. in real terms, whereas the right hon. Gentleman is looking at 1.7 per cent. in real terms. He has to do more with less. The only specific target announced so far was to take 100,000 people off the waiting lists, but that was followed by the biggest increase in the number of people on waiting lists that the NHS has ever known. What are the targets, and what redress will there be if the Secretary of State fails to meet them?

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I should have thought that the right hon. Lady knew from her experience as Secretary of State that, when anyone starts reciting figures about the money that has been spent on the health service, the public switch off. They switch off if I do it, and they certainly used to switch off when she did it. After all, she was found in several opinion polls to be the least sincere politician in Britain, and God knows there is a lot of competition.

People will see change and improvement in the national health service year in, year out, because we will bring together the people working in the service—doctors, nurses and others—rather than have them working against one another. They will be improving standards, we will be putting in place the appropriate machinery, and we will be increasing the money available to the NHS in real terms year on year.

The right hon. Lady was a member of the Government who set the last budget. This year and next year, we are finding £1.5 billion on top of what her Government intended to find, so a period of quiet from her might not be a bad idea.

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On behalf of community nurses and other health professionals, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He is proud, we are proud, and I know that Aneurin Bevan would be particularly proud. I welcome the shared role of community nurses and general practitioners. Will my right hon. Friend enlarge on how he envisages the development of the role of community nurses?

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There will be a greater role for all nurses who want to increase their contribution, and who have the necessary and skills and training. Community nurses will play an important and influential role, along with general practitioners, in the commissioning process.

Commissioning is not the only issue. One of the problems of the previous system was that the organisation of general practitioners centred on purchasing hospital care. More joint effort and thought should be put into improving primary and community services.

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As an honorary vice-president of the Royal College of Midwives, I congratulate the Secretary of State on reversing the fragmentation that was occurring in the national health service, and ensuring that it is an integrated, seamless service. Does he accept that there is some concern about the abolition of fundholding, because fundholding practices provide the widest range of medical services at a doctor's surgery or medical centre rather than a hospital, saving the health service money? Will he give an assurance that his reforms will not bring that to an end?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. I have said this before and I shall say it again: he has made a singular contribution—an honest, decent contribution—to health debates. He has always stuck to his guns, and I respect him for that.

We are trying to ensure that the best manifestations of fundholding, together with the big improvements that non-fundholders have made in recent years, remain and strengthen the system. We want to eliminate the disadvantages. We may even manage to convince a substantial number of fundholders. Indeed, I think that we may have convinced them already.

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Does my right hon. Friend accept that the White Paper will be warmly welcomed by those doctors and health care workers who have pioneered locality commissioning schemes, such as that in south-east London, on the basis of co-operation and good will in the face of Tory market dogma? The range of services they provide is the envy of many fundholders. Will he confirm that, at long last, doctors and nurses will be put in the driving seat for decisions about the treatment that patients should get?

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I can certainly confirm that we intend that doctors, nurses and other health care professionals should be in the driving seat. As for fundholders, as those hon. Members who were at Health questions know, we have established 42 pilot commissioning schemes, most of which involve fundholders from those areas who volunteered to take part.

Multifunds and similar ideas are steps away from the individualistic aspects of fundholding—a recognition that, when all the doctors, community nurses and other primary care professionals in one area get together, they can be more influential and have more scope and choice than when they act as individuals. I know that that may sound a trifle socialistic; but it is true.

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Will the right hon. Gentleman assure me that the reforms to the functions of health authorities will ensure the future of joint hospitals trusts, such as the Mount Vernon and Watford Hospitals NHS trust in my constituency? There must co-operation between the commissioning health authorities in a locality rather than competition. The York model, together with the limitless funds supposedly available for general practitioners in the future, should ensure that they will be able to commission services in the local hospital, which my constituents and those in Watford greatly appreciate.

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I do not like making promises that I cannot guarantee to deliver, and I certainly cannot guarantee the future of any particular hospital when it is raised in the Chamber as it has just been. I would expect GPs in the hon. Gentleman's constituency to try to make sure that the best secondary hospital services were available to their patients as near to their patients' homes as is sensibly convenient, and reasonably cost-effective. I hope that everyone involved in the health service in the area will co-operate to that end. I welcome the hon. Gentleman as an obvious co-operator among the wild competitors opposite.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that the abolition of the Tory internal market will result in the abolition of the senseless competition between NHS organisations such as hospital trusts? Instead of sharing expertise and information and co-operating with each other, they have been tempted to compete against one another, to the detriment of us all.

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I can certainly confirm that, in future, trusts will have a statutory obligation to deliver services to the quality standards that have been laid down. They will also be under a statutory obligation to co-operate with other parts of the national health service. It is a pretty extraordinary thought that, until we change the law, my hon. Friend's local hospital is under no obligation to co-operate with the hospital in Slough, which is not far down the road. It seems crazy, but that is the system we have inherited.

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If the Government intend to have no more than about 500 commissioning units, that implies that each will cover a very large area—particularly in rural areas—including some minuscule practices serving no more than 2,000 patients? If a rural area has a natural coherence and identity, will the Secretary of State ensure that there is sufficient flexibility to recognise that and that no artificial limit will be placed on the number of people that can constitute one of the commissioning groups?

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As the right hon. Gentleman may recollect from when he was an Environment Minister, I am a great believer in horses for courses. We do not seek to enforce one model in every city, suburb and rural area. We want a system that meets the needs of the patients. We are determined to provide a national health service that is moulded to the needs of the patient, rather than the patient having to be moulded to the institutions.

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I warmly welcome the White Paper. Will my right hon. Friend explain its impact on maternity services? In the next 12 months, 750,000 women will give birth, and virtually all of them will be attended by midwives. Will he give an assurance that the budget for maternity services will not rest solely with GPs, but that other professionals such as midwives will have a say?

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That is certainly the case. There will be an increased role for everyone involved in primary care, including midwives, who also have a significant role in hospitals. That may be one sector where massive savings can be achieved—in any particular town or city, it is possible to predict how many women will become pregnant in any given year.

However, in many areas, contracts are issued case by case, and the paperwork costs a fortune. Longer-term contracts that are not issued case by case, would produce savings, particularly in maternity services, as it is possible to predict how many people need treatment and run a financial system that suits those circumstances, instead of the ridiculous system now in place.

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From reading the White Paper, it would appear that the Secretary of State is not proposing any substantial reduction in the number of NHS trusts, but rather that trusts co-operate in primary care plans and various other things through health authorities. Will he give thought to ensuring that proposals to reorganise NHS trusts are put on hold while implications are considered?

One of the difficulties with the example of the Rugby NHS trust, which the right hon. Gentleman cited, is that it is a small NHS general hospital trust. There must be provision in NHS services for small hospitals, such as the Rugbys of this world or Horton general hospital in Banbury. If he is not proposing substantially to reduce the number of NHS trusts, will he consider putting such proposals on hold until we have all had a chance to consider the implications of today's White Paper, especially for smaller hospitals?

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That would not be a sensible way of approaching matters. The point that I made at Question Time was that we want to encourage mergers between trust and trust and health authority and health authority which appear to make sense to people in the locality. We do not want to lay down the law; we want to encourage them.

More than 50-odd trusts are involved in merger talks about which the public know. I do not think that any virtue would be served in going back on our recent decision to agree to the merger in Derby, or holding back our examination of the proposal which I understand will be coming from Leeds to merge the two acute trusts there.

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point. In certain particular circumstances, it might be wise to hold off certain mergers, but that should, generally speaking, be a matter for those in the locality concerned.

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Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the only basis for the competition in the health service under the previous Government was that they were preparing it for privatisation? Does he acknowledge that people will welcome the White Paper because it proves that, without privatising the NHS or encouraging competition, it can be modernised by encouraging collaboration and all the values which were the basis of the health service when it was created?

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I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.

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The right hon. Gentleman has stressed the need for the health service to reflect patients' needs. That is a view which I share entirely. What safeguards does he intend to build into his system to ensure that medical freemasonry and cosy relationships between some GPs and some consultants do not militate against patients' interests and choice?

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That is a googly.

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No, it is not a googly. We have to work on the assumption that the bulk of the medical profession does a good job, wants to do a good job, does not want a cushy number and wants to look after patients—although there will be a limited number of people who will not fall into those categories. We need in place a system that ensures that they do their job properly to the professional standards that their professional colleagues have laid down. That will certainly come about as a result of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence.

I very much welcome the fairly recent decision of the General Medical Council to address the question of doctor performance and people who are not living up to professional standards of patient treatment. Although self-regulation is not right in other areas, I strongly believe that it is appropriate for the medical and nursing professions. However, it is up to them to demonstrate to their colleagues and the public that self-regulation works. We want to encourage them to do so.

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Is my right hon. Friend aware that the reason why he is able to make today's statement is that the British people woke up in time? They realised earlier this year—and perhaps a bit before—that the national health service was on its way to the hands of insurance companies and other speculators, which would probably create a service costing twice as much and similar to that in America?

Blessed with this good fortune, I hope that my right hon. Friend will realise that he will have to fight for every penny with the Chancellor of the Exchequer—£10 billion extra already collected in taxes—due to the advance of medical science. He will always have to remember this: the NHS is not just a service; it is a cause worth fighting for.

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I certainly agree with the last point that my hon. Friend makes. The national health service is popular with people in this country, partly because it provides them with such a good service when they and their families are in need, and partly because of the principles on which it is based. When I am doing okay, I pay in to look after people who are in trouble: in turn, if I fall ill or have an accident, other people pay in to look after me.

People believe, because of that principle, that the national health service does not just bind the nation's wounds: it helps to bind the nation together. That is why the people treasure it.

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The Secretary of State referred to quality standards and targets. Is there any contradiction between those and the reference he also made to long-term agreements? If too many institutions are committed to long-term agreements and fail to meet the quality standards or targets, insufficient flexibility may exist to enable the institutions to improve to meet the targets.

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We live in a world of dilemmas, and the right hon. Gentleman's point contains some truth. Therefore, we will have to try to ensure that the problem does not arise.

It is not a question of the local primary care group making an agreement with its local hospital on how many services will be provided and to what standard and price they will be delivered. I expect that arrangements will be made so that, if standards are not met, either improvements can be enforced or the institutions can break out of the contract.

We do not want the ultimate weapon to be used, but it may need to be available in the negotiations to give weight to the demands of the primary care group. Primary care groups and their patients do not wish to be forced to transfer their trade to another hospital 20 miles away. That is why, in parallel with the pressures that the primary care group will be able to apply locally, we will introduce national measures to drive up standards and to ensure that they are maintained.

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Thank you, Mr. Dobson. Go and rest your voice.

Points Of Order

4.27 pm

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On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sorry to have to ask you for a ruling, but this morning, from the news bulletins, and especially from the "Today" programme, one would have gathered that we would have two statements in the House this afternoon, not one. We were told in some detail what the Government will propose in a White Paper on freedom of information.

As soon as I got to my office, I rang the Chancellor of the Duchy's office; asked whether there would be a statement, and was told that there would not; and asked whether a White Paper would be published today, and was told that it would not be published. Again, we have government by leak and innuendo. I put it to you that it is intolerable that we should hear on the radio what purports to be an accurate account of an important item of Government policy, instead of hearing it in the House. I should be grateful for your guidance.

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On a point of order.

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Order. Hon. Members must wait for my answer, and not be so impatient.

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Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I should like to apologise most sincerely to you and to the whole House for what appears to have been a premature disclosure of some features of the freedom of information White Paper which I hoped to present to the House this Thursday. I should like to assure you that I myself had no part in this, and no knowledge of it. No one is more annoyed than I that these details should have emerged, and I believe that it is a disservice to the House.

Although it could be informed speculation, we cannot discount the possibility that it may have been premature disclosure from within Government. Therefore, I am taking this matter very seriously, and I have set in train the task of looking further into the circumstances surrounding the reports.

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I am grateful to the Minister.

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rose—

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Could we have sensible points of order, please?

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This is a genuine point of order, Madam Speaker. We have listened to exchanges for approximately an hour on the NHS White Paper. At the same time, a booklet relating to the health service in Scotland, "Designed to Care", has been published. However, we have not had a statement from the Scottish Office on the document, although hon. Members appreciate that there are different aspects of the health service in Scotland.

The Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister responsible for health in Scotland have been briefing the press all day, yet Scottish Members have not had an opportunity to question the issues contained in the document. It almost seems as if the Scottish Office has published a document which should be called "Designed to Ignore Scottish Members of Parliament".

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The hon. Lady appears to be asking me whether I have heard from the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is seeking to make a statement on the document to which she has referred. I have not heard that a statement is to be made, but I am sure that those on the Front Bench will have noticed what she has said.

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Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. You did not ignore Scottish Members of Parliament.

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We are the only two Scottish Members here, Tam.

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Of course I do not ignore Scottish Members—they are part of the whole in this House, as far as I am concerned. I call them whatever the statement may be, and whatever Question Time it may be.

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On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you heard from the solicitors acting for the late Robert Maxwell and currently acting for the Paymaster General about whether there is any legal impediment preventing the Paymaster General from coming to this House to make a personal statement about his financial affairs? In particular, we should like to know whether there was any impropriety in his dealings with the late Robert Maxwell's companies.

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I have had no communication from solicitors. I am rather delighted that I have not.

Press Complaints Commission

4.32 pm

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the establishment of a statutory Press Complaints Commission; to make further provisions in respect of libel actions brought against newspapers; and for connected purposes.

I am seeking leave to bring in a Bill to change the status of the Press Complaints Commission from a self-regulatory, voluntary body to a statutory body with legal authority. I pay tribute to the present chairman, Lord Wakeham, for his tireless work in trying to make the press barons more accountable to the code of practice.

None the less, about 200 people every week feel that they have been wronged by inaccurate press reporting. The majority are forced to settle for less than they should, simply because of the imbalance between the powers and financial clout of the press barons and the powerlessness of the individual. If a newspaper refuses to correct an inaccurate, irresponsible or malicious story, there is very little an aggrieved party can do.

Currently there are two forms of redress; neither is entirely satisfactory. The individual can pursue a libel case in the courts, but the costs are prohibitive. Understandably, there is no legal aid for libel, and facing the financial might of the press barons is quite daunting. Alternatively, the matter can be referred to the Press Complaints Commission. If the Press Complaints Commission upholds the complaint, the newspaper must publish the verdict by way of a correction.

However, the size, position, timing and content of that correction is not a matter for the wronged person, who has absolutely no influence as to what is printed. Inevitably, therefore, the correction fails to rectify the damage done by the original article. So the dice are loaded against the public and there is a clear need for a new body to balance better the power of the press moguls and those who have been wronged. Let me make it clear that I am not proposing a privacy Bill, although the new Press Complaints Commission would certainly be involved in implementing any changes made to privacy law.

I seek the leave of the House to concentrate on another issue, which is not privacy but to redress the damage done by inaccurate, irresponsible or malicious reporting by increasing the remedies available to the individuals. Most people who are wronged by the press want nothing more than for the record to be put straight by way of a correction and an apology, and they deserve nothing less. However, at the moment an apology can mean virtually anything. Editors may offer to write another article, which is favourable to the person wronged, to publish a letter from the aggrieved individual or to publish a correction—never an apology.

Inevitably, such pieces are not accorded the prominence that they deserve and are designed to attract as few readers as possible. Understandably, newspapers do not like to admit when they are wrong and are reluctant to publish anything that suggests that they have made a mistake. They shy away from admitting any blame. People who run newspapers have a public responsibility to get things right. When mistakes occur, they have a duty to put them right quickly and frankly.

Under my Bill, corrections and apologies will have to be of a minimum size. Never smaller than the offending article, they will appear on the same page as the original article, with the same headline size and a wording agreed by the person who has been wronged. It is important that the impact of the apology matches that of the offending article. That is not impractical, as newspaper editors already argue, although it may be unpalatable for some.

If editors refuse to publish a correction and an apology, which they are fully entitled to do if they believe that there is no cause, there will still be other ways for the individual to proceed. The Press Complaints Commission will still have the power to consider the complaint and make a ruling. In addition, two funds will be established—raised by way of a levy on newspapers, either on profits or turnover. The first will be a compensatory fund to repay any expenses to the claimant arising from the publication of an inaccurate article, such as legal fees and so forth, perhaps, up to about £5,000. The other fund will be able to offer an interest-free loan for individuals to pursue libel cases.

In either case, the funds will be made available only after the Press Complaints Commission has judged the claimant to have a bona fide, prima facie case. While the compensatory fund would require an annual top-up, the loan fund would be made good either by the aggrieved party, should he or she lose the libel case, or by the newspaper, should the libel be upheld, although some provisions will be needed to pay off bad debts.

I propose one final sanction, which would be used only in the most extreme and serious cases. If the Press Complaints Commission deemed that an article was written with malice and recklessness and without regard to the consequences of publication, it could suspend the circulation of a newspaper for one day. In effect, it would take the newspaper off the streets because it had been irresponsible and totally reckless. That is a draconian measure, but it would act as an ultimate deterrent for editors who want to publish scurrilous material regardless of the damage that it might cause.

The Bill is not an attack on the press, but an attempt to gain the support of the House to give real teeth to the Press Complaints Commission, with the aim of outlawing inaccurate, irresponsible or malicious journalism. As far as most editors and journalists are concerned, there is nothing to fear because the vast majority of them are diligent and responsible.

My aim in seeking leave to introduce the Bill is to level the proverbial playing field between the individual and the press barons; to reduce the incidence of poor reporting; and to provide David with the rocks to fight Goliath.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Anthony Steen, Mr. Clive Soley, Mr. Martin Bell and Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith.

Press Complaints Commission

Mr. Anthony Steen accordingly presented a Bill to provide for the establishment of a statutory Press Complaints Commission; to make further provisions in respect of libel actions brought against newspapers; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 12 December, and to be printed [Bill 99].

Orders Of The Day

Government Of Wales Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on amendment to Question [8 December], That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Which amendment was, to leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

'this House, deploring the failure of Her Majesty's Government to respond to and allay the legitimate fears of the Welsh people expressed in the referendum vote of 18th September and in particular the omission from the Government of Wales Bill of any statutory assurances in relation to the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament, to the protection of geographic and cultural minorities, to the proper resourcing of Wales to reflect need, and to the safeguarding of the position of Wales within the United Kingdom and its voice within Europe, declines to give a Second Reading to the Government of Wales Bill.'—[Mr. Ancram.]

Question again proposed, That the Amendment be made:—

4.40 pm

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On 18 September the people of Wales backed the Government in creating a modern new democracy for Wales. They voted for a new Wales and a new future. They demonstrated that we in Wales are ready for the new century, more confident about ourselves than in the past.

Nobody can pretend that it was a decisive yes vote, but as my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) and for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell) said—their contributions yesterday were most welcome—most no campaigners accept the will of the people. As the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) added, only English Conservative Front Benchers want to rewrite the rules of democracy by insisting that a narrow yes vote is somehow really a no vote. Even Conservatives in Wales accept the result and the need to respond constructively to the Bill. Notably, Lord Roberts of Conwy voted no, but he is not trying to turn the clock back and has advanced some interesting ideas.

The truth is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) argued, the result was an historic achievement, overcoming old divisions between north and south; English and Welsh speakers; and industrial and rural areas—divisions that were so ruthlessly and contemptibly exploited by the Tory-led no campaigners, who appealed so nakedly to fear and grubby parochialism.

The Tories wanted Wales trapped in the past—weak, divided, and cowering before power centralised in London—but the Government led a broad popular coalition, spanning all parties, to secure a swing of 30 per cent. since the ill-fated referendum of 1979. Significantly, that swing was bigger than in Scotland, even surpassing Labour's 1 May landslide. It was a vote not for separatism but for democracy: for decentralising power from Whitehall to the people and modernising our almost mediaeval British constitution.

It was not a shock to see the Conservatives opposing this extension of democracy: the shock would have been if they had done otherwise. They opposed every great constitutional reform—votes for working-class citizens; votes for women; reform of the House of Lords—so why should they make an exception of Wales? Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) pointed out, they also opposed the establishment of the post of Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Development Agency.

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Why is the Minister so anxious about the vote? He attacks everyone left, right and centre, and the witchfinder general of Wales tries to extirpate Labour Members who voted no. There must have been large numbers of those—250,000 more than the Conservative vote. What is behind all this? There was a massive rejection on the day: 75 per cent., given the chance to vote yes, did not do so. The Minister is trying to make 75 per cent. seem insubstantial as against his own 25 per cent. What is it all about?

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I welcome the hon. Gentleman's spirited attempt to prop up the empty Opposition Benches. I was merely replying to points raised by Opposition Members in yesterday's debate, in accordance with the courtesies of the House.

The Tories wanted to be able to inflict Redwooditis on Wales again, if they returned to government. We want that disease banished forever from Wales, so that never again can the likes of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) trample all over the people of Wales. We all thought that Redwooditis, a form of political BSE, had been made safe by slaughtering more than half the Tory Members at the general election—it was indeed a radical cull, strictly in line with the rules of public health and safety—but we discover that it has not been eliminated.

Redwooditis has remained deeply embedded in the spinal cord of the Tory party and has emerged among Opposition Front Benchers as they stumble groggily through the devolution debate. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) is the Tories' voice for the valleys; Wales is safe with an Essex boy, the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin); and then we have the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the Marquis of Lothian, who is the answer to the West Lothian question personified.

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Will the Minister confirm that Devizes, and indeed Scotland, where I come from, are rather nearer to Wales than South Africa?

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Not nearer than Neath, which I represent—with a record majority at the general election, I might add—but I none the less welcome any more spirited interventions from the right hon. Gentleman.

Yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Bill as a "dangerous dog's breakfast"; I do not know what a safe dog's breakfast might be. He gave a curiously lacklustre performance: perhaps, as a closet devolutionist going back 20 years, his heart is not really in it. By contrast, his Back-Bench colleagues, the hon. Members for Poole (Mr. Syms) and for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) made thoughtful contributions, and I look forward to hearing more from them in Committee.

I notice that the right hon. Member for Devizes has promised a secondreferendum on devolution. If he does not mind, I will give him some comradely advice: referendums are not that easy to win. I speak from personal experience. If the Tories ever won another general election, I would relish the prospect of fighting a no campaign to keep the national assembly for Wales, but I offer a prediction: that second referendum will be yet another Tory broken promise. We got used to them in government, and now we are getting used to them in opposition.

Look what happened to the Tory Leader's promise of a referendum last time: the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who treated Wales as a youth training scheme for his leadership of the party, promised a referendum on the Amsterdam treaty; but that was in June, and we all know that six months is a long time in Tory politics. Last week, the Tory leadership refused to table an amendment calling for a referendum when the treaty was put before the House. The new Tory leader's motto is, "U-turn if you want to, this man's definitely for turning."

I see from yesterday's The Daily Telegraph that the Leader of the Opposition is now trying to get Scottish Tories to
"break with the past and reinvent themselves"
by changing their name following their disastrous election result. [HON. MEMBERS: "Like new Labour."] We will come to that.

One of the Tory leader's advisers told the newspaper:
The old name is potentially damaged goods".
All sorts of new names are being canvassed: the Scottish Unionist party; the Progressive Unionist party; and even the Democratic Conservative party, which I would have thought a contradiction in terms. I am sure that, if that new thinking is applied to Scotland, Wales will not be left out. Perhaps I can be helpful: what about the Tories calling themselves new Conservatives? In Wales, that could be Ceidwadwyr Newydd, or Toriad Newydd: real vote winners.

Mind you, it is not surprising that they are having this trouble, as the Tories' name came from a gang of 17th-century Irish outlaws known as the bog trotters. Perhaps that explains the incontinent rumblings of the right hon. Member for Devizes yesterday.

Long after our Tory shadows in opposition have faded from memory, my right hon. Friend's name will be entrenched in Welsh history as the person who delivered devolution for Wales. Perhaps future generations will salute him by demanding a St. Ronald's day; I am sure that Opposition Members will support that.

The Bill is not only about democracy. Wales is, by United Kingdom or European standards, a poor country. Our gross domestic product per head is 18 per cent. lower than England's: a gap that has widened over the past 21 years. Average earnings are 11 per cent. lower than in England, whereas in 1979 they were only 3 per cent. lower. Youth unemployment, at more than 19 per cent., is almost half as high again as in England.

Economic inactivity rates for those of working age, especially men, are higher than in England. Health is worse and so is poverty. While some areas, notably the south-east and the north-east of Wales, have prospered, others have stagnated at best. That is the dreadful legacy that the Tories want to maintain with the old style of government.

The Tories want Wales to be poor and divided. We want Wales to be a new, modern world-beating country, united for the first time through an assembly that will ensure that the needs of all parts of Wales are fully understood and fairly represented, a point eloquently argued by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik).

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Before the Minister leaves the question of poverty, could he clarify something? We received in the Library today a document entitled, "Principles to govern determination of the block budgets for the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales". In paragraph 8b, on the Barnett formula, it states:

"action taken by the Scottish or Welsh administrations in a devolved area has knock-on costs for the UK Government or vice versa."
Can he explain the background of the statement that has appeared?

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My hon. Friend always asks penetrating and well-researched questions. I think that he will find that the answer is contained in the memorandum to which he referred.

The speech by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire was witty and eloquent. I assure him that the Secretary of State will seriously consider his generous offer to construct the assembly building all by himself.

The Tories want to maintain the politically corrupt Tory quango state, which accounts for more than a third of the Welsh Office budget. We want the quangos abolished or merged, and all made subject to democratic accountability through the assembly, which will have sweeping powers to reform them. The Tories want local authorities strangled; the Bill offers a new partnership to empower local government, as my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones) and for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) argued.

Meanwhile, we are building an integrated Welsh Development Agency for the whole of Wales. Tai Cymru will be merged with the Welsh Office. Health service trusts will be reduced in number and reshaped. Cardiff Bay development corporation will be wound up. As my hon. Friends the Members for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) and for Gower (Mr. Caton) argued, that amounts to a fundamental shift in the way public services are delivered in Wales.

Most significant is the merger into the WDA of the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Land Authority for Wales. The Bill creates for the first time a single economic development agency for Wales. It will remove the complexity, confusion and waste that result from existing arrangements and give the assembly a powerful vehicle to improve economic prosperity across Wales. In partnership with local authorities, the business community and many others, the new WDA will have a pivotal role in developing and delivering the objectives of economic growth and prosperity for the whole of Wales. It will also be charged with delivering local solutions for local businesses and communities in the different parts of Wales.

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How does the Minister square that with the statement this morning in the Welsh Affairs Committee by Mr. Chris Barber of the Federation of Small Businesses of Wales that the merger of the DBRW into the WDA would have a catastrophic effect?

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That statement has not been repeated by many, if any, business men across Wales. They see the enormous advantages to Welsh businesses, small and large, of a unified powerhouse agency, especially with the development of English regional development agencies, which I welcome. I am sure that Mr. Barber does not speak for the whole of business in Wales.

The all-Wales remit of the new agency will tackle inequalities in investment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Mr. Ruane) pointed out in the Welsh Grand Committee last month, inward investment has created 12,280 jobs in Newport, Cardiff and Caerphilly but only 43 in Conwy, Pembrokeshire and Denbighshire. At least in part, that reflects the democratic deficit that Wales has endured for far too long.

Only by bringing the quangos, and especially the enlarged WDA, under the control of a democratic assembly representing the whole of Wales can the needs of areas that have lagged so far behind, particularly in the rural north and west, be properly addressed. To do that, the new organisation will need a strong regional structure, with boundaries closely aligned with those of the reconstituted training and enterprise councils, the economic forums and the strong regional committees for the assembly that are established by the Bill, a matter rightly stressed by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) yesterday. The WDA-led powerhouse will be equipped to spearhead our drive for a world-class Welsh economy for the 21st century, and subject to the Bill's passage, will be fully operational by autumn next year. The Bill is therefore the vehicle for not only the political but the economic regeneration of Wales.

The assembly created by the Bill will be a modern institution, accessible to the whole of Wales, in keeping with its mission to serve the whole of Wales. In that respect, I stress the importance of the Secretary of State's advisory committee. It is open to new ideas and suggestions for how business, the trade unions and voluntary groups—from women's organisations to school governors—wish to relate to the assembly. We want to create a new political culture in Wales, a new participatory democracy.

We also intend to pioneer a new digital democracy. The assembly will be designed to make use of new technology, not only in members' offices but in the chamber and externally, to link up with the outside world. I realise that the right hon. Member for Devizes has a problem pronouncing the word "digital", but if he wants I shall show him how to spell it afterwards.

The Bill ushers in an exciting new era for Wales. It is no surprise that the Tories oppose it. History teaches us that the Tories, through the English Tory establishment, always respond in a reactionary way to demands for reform. The familiar pattern is being played out before us over a Welsh Assembly. First, they rubbish the case. Secondly, they resist it, often uncompromisingly. Then, when they see that they are losing the battle, they slide into the third phase of trying to co-opt the pressure for change, as shown by last year's proposals to beef up the role of the Welsh Grand Committee, as if that could substitute for genuine devolution. Fourthly and finally, they are forced to cave in to the will of the people. When that happens, as it surely will, none of them will ever admit to having opposed a Welsh Assembly in the first place.

4.56 pm

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I am grateful for the chance to speak on the second day of the Second Reading debate. It is wonderful to follow the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain). It is so good to hear the Neath accent again—although, strangely, despite my 30 years of living in Swansea, I had quite forgotten that it sounded like that. When I refer later in my speech to inward investment, I shall not be referring to the hon. Member for Neath.

This afternoon, I shall touch on issues that were debated yesterday and introduce other matters that need to be addressed in Committee. We have been criticised by the three pro-devolution parties for being negative and for acting as an Opposition. I make no apologies for doing so. I regret that we are the Opposition but we recognise that we are the Opposition. We are the only party that speaks on behalf of the three out of four people in Wales who did not endorse the proposals. Much has been made of the twisting of the figures of 18 September into a resounding endorsement, which they were not.

The result was not brilliant for any of us. At just over 50 per cent., the turnout was down from 58.3 per cent. in 1979, when I voted no in Swansea. The split between yes and no could not have been closer—just 0.6 per cent., with 11 areas voting for and 11 against. As the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) said yesterday, Offa's dyke seems to be moving west.

It would have been better if the percentage majority in favour had been in double figures. That would have settled the issue once and for all, but it did not and it remains unsettled. The Prime Minister knew that it was not a brilliant endorsement because the day after the referendum, on the steps of No. 10, he said that he would need to address the fears of the large number of people who did not endorse the devolution proposals. What action has he taken? The Welsh Assembly is to be called the National Assembly for Wales, cynulliad cenedlaethol Cymru. A name change is always worth a try. As new Labour knows, it sometimes works. But more than a name change will be needed to sell the merits of this case.

The other major change was that the assembly bandwagon, which was due to roll in to a town near you in England, rolled backwards into Wales. It has been derailed. So the English have a great deal for which to thank the Welsh, but the Welsh have little for which to thank the Prime Minister.

Another change, we are told, is that there is to be an advisory committee which will help in setting up the assembly. We are told that it will represent all political shades. That would have been a step in the right direction, had the Secretary of State asked the parties for nominations, as the Secretary of State for Scotland is doing. We were told yesterday that the Conservatives had been consulted, but neither the shadow Secretary of State nor I have been asked to suggest a name. We have checked with a number of our representatives from Wales and they have not been asked to put forward a name. We have tabled a parliamentary question to ask exactly whom the Secretary of State for Wales consulted. We look forward to the answer. Perhaps the Secretary of State would like to intervene now and tell us whom he consulted about the nomination.

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I am more than happy to confirm that I have received a parliamentary question from the hon. Gentleman and, of course, I shall give it careful consideration and let him have a full reply. The point that I make is the one that I made in yesterday's debate to the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). I invited him to the Welsh Office at the same time as I invited the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) and the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). They came and discussed matters with me, but the right hon. Gentleman chose not to come. In his absence, I could hardly have a consultation with him.

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This simply will not do. As even the Western Mail says, recent events do not get this whole thing off to a good start—and that newspaper was pro-devolution at the very beginning. The Secretary of State has a cheek to talk about inclusivity when he has just given that sort of answer.

I was in the room when that telephone conversation took place. The Secretary of State talked about trying to force his own nomination on to the Welsh Grand Committee. Not content with choosing the Conservative nominee on the advisory body, he wants to choose one of the Welsh nominees on the Welsh Grand Committee. This is a strange and twisted form of democracy. Perhaps the Secretary of State will say whether the nominee to serve on the advisory body will be the hereditary peer mentioned in today's Western Mail.

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As the hon. Gentleman was with the right hon. Member for Devizes at the time of that conversation, he will be in a position to confirm that I invited the right hon. Gentleman to come to see me at the Welsh Office to discuss a range of issues that were likely to be before Parliament this Session. It is a matter of regret to me that the right hon. Gentleman declined that invitation. The fact that the other two party leaders accepted my invitation and have been involved in the consultation process is a demonstration of their wisdom, and the foolishness and short-sightedness of the right hon. Gentleman who leads for the Conservative party on these matters.

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The major difference is that the representatives from the other two political parties are behaving as if they were sitting on the Government Benches. We already know that the Secretary of State for Wales likes to close down debate in his own party. Now he is trying to dictate who should be the Conservative nominees on various bodies. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to confirm whether the nominee is the hereditary peer mentioned in today's newspaper? Is that his Conservative nomination for the advisory committee?

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The hon. Gentleman obviously has such a thin speech that he needs me to pad it out for him. I can confirm to him that the first meeting of the advisory committee will take place in Cardiff on Friday. All members of the committee will be present and their CVs will be made available. The whole of Wales, including the hon. Gentleman, will have the opportunity then to find out precisely who sits on the committee.

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There the Secretary of State goes again, marginalising the House of Commons. He has been given the opportunity to tell it the membership of the Committee today, but no, the information will be spin-doctored away in the media. He should not talk to us about inclusivity.

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As the hon. Gentleman wants to take the debate a stage further, perhaps I should explain that the committee will be my advisory committee. The purpose of it will be to consult people in Wales and offer advice to me.

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But you are the Secretary of State for Wales.

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If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I shall explain that the purpose of the advisory committee is to offer advice to me so that I can offer advice to the statutory commission which will prepare the standing orders. The committee will offer advice to me as Secretary of State, not to the House of Commons.

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Then let us have no more pretence that the advisory committee will represent all shades of political opinion. Let us make the position clear to the Secretary of State for Wales. He seems to be having a little difficulty here. As the hon. Member for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell) put it yesterday, all that we are asking for is a bit of chwarae teg, or fair play, on this. We do not want to hear that all political shades are being included when the Conservative party has not been asked for its nomination.

The Secretary of State for Wales has an opportunity today to seek some sort of consensus and a step forward. He was told by Lord Roberts that we were expecting a letter asking for the Conservative party to put forward a nominee. We are still awaiting that letter. If we receive it, we will put forward a serious suggestion.

If the Secretary of State carries on in this fashion, I must make it clear to everyone in the Chamber and outside that the person whom the Secretary of State has chosen does not represent us and has not been chosen by us. The person has been selected by the Secretary of State for Wales. He does not and will not speak for the Conservative party. He will speak only for the Secretary of State for Wales. I ask the media to take note of this: that nominee, whoever he may be, will never be accepted by us as a spokesman on our behalf.

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I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is far wide of the mark. The people who sit on the advisory committee will not represent anyone. They will not represent political parties or vested interests.

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They do in Scotland.

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Of course it is different in Scotland. The members bring to the committee their personal expertise and point of view. They do not represent vested political interests.

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Let us make it clear that there is no Conservative party representative on the committee. The Secretary of State can ask us to put forward a name. We will do so. But no—all that we have heard today is, "This is my advisory committee." The Secretary of State should not talk about inclusivity or the spread of political views.

Let us move on, as it seems that we shall make little progress on the issue of the committee. It has been pointed out to me that yesterday the Secretary of State for Wales said that there was a Conservative representative on the committee. He is not a Conservative representative and he does not speak for us. I move on.

The other point that I wish to make relates to the scrutiny of the Bill. We are not in the business of wrecking the Bill, but it contains more holes than a Swiss cheese and we, along with other right hon. and hon. Members, will seek to fill them in and improve the Bill. Let us follow the convention and take this important constitutional matter on the Floor of the House. The Secretary of State has said that he will table amendments of his own. Labour Members—of varying persuasions, no doubt—will want to table amendments. Let us not steamroller the Bill through a small Committee Upstairs as if it were perfect. This is another matter on which we can make progress, but only if the Secretary of State will meet us half way.

I now turn to the siting of the Assembly and the farcical nature of this shabby, sorry exercise. I know that it is the pantomime season, but recent events are at a new level. Where shall we site the assembly? In Cardiff city hall, of course. "Oh, no, you won't," says Russell Goodway. "Oh, yes, we will," says the Secretary of State—and now it is likely that the assembly will not be there. All that is missing is the familiar ring of, "It's behind you." The Secretary of State must wish that this whole sorry business was behind him. This does not bode well for an harmonious relationship between the assembly and the Secretary of State for Wales, assuming that he still holds that office when it starts up—I am generous enough to assume that he will be.

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What possible relevance do the hon. Gentleman's comments have to the Bill and the debate today?

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The hon. Gentleman made a lengthy speech yesterday. The same question could be asked about much of his speech.

The siting of the assembly was mentioned time and time again in yesterday's debate. If we cannot get that right, what can we get right? The Labour leader of the capital's authority is at loggerheads with the Secretary of State, whose warm, magnetic charm has, unusually, failed him on this occasion. We are now witnessing an unseemly, squalid row.

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I note that the hon. Gentleman is even laughing at his own lines. Is he suggesting that my right hon. Friend should have agreed to pay more for Cardiff city hall than the independently valued market price?

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No, of course not. I find it peculiar that everyone thought that a deal had been done with the Labour leader of Cardiff city council. Everyone thought that the assembly would be based at Cardiff city hall, but after the referendum, after the people of Wales had decided, we found out that there was no such deal. It all seems rather strange to us.

We are naturally taking a keen interest in exactly where the new assembly will be sited. It does not bode very well for the assembly's future if, at the outset, a Labour leader of a local authority cannot get on with a Labour Secretary of State for Wales. What happens if one of them is replaced by someone from another political party?

An unconsultative document has been rushed out to seek suggestions about which lucky area will house what some see as a gravy train. And who can blame all the Welsh authorities for fighting to house something that will bring in its wake public service jobs and all that that entails? Even my old home town, the proud city of Swansea, has become entrenched in the bidding process.

What would have happened if the row about the assembly's location had broken out before the referendum? After all, Cardiff voted no on 18 September and it seems as though it is still voting no today. The Conservative party believes that the financial estimates in the White Paper must be adhered to—after all, the £17 million start-up costs and running costs of between £15 million and £20 million are high enough.

That money must either be saved by abolishing the quangos—the Bill only makes a small start on that—or will have to come from money that would otherwise be spent on front-line services such as doctors, nurses, teachers and policemen. The average nurse costs £325 a week; the average policeman costs £491 a week; and the average teacher costs £432 a week. The price of the average politician in the assembly has not been settled by the Bill, but after the initial salary has been agreed, it will subsequently be set by the members of the assembly.

We know what will happen, because we need only look at the expenses charged by Welsh Labour local authorities when they have a say about them. We will scrutinise those costs carefully. That does not make us penny-pinching, it means that we will hold the Government to account to ensure that they keep to the spending limits presented to the Welsh people.

To help towards that end, we will oppose the ludicrous amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats to increase the number of assembly politicians from 60 to 70 at a cost of £750,000. We must remember that the areas represented by the Liberal Democrats voted no on 18 September. They did so not because they wanted more politicians but because they wanted fewer. With such crackpot thinking from the Liberal Democrats, come the next general election those people will want fewer Liberal Democrat representatives at Westminster—and so do we.

The Liberal Democrats have a long tradition of support for devolution and—

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rose—

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Give way.

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One would think that that party would make sensible suggestions about the Bill. How long does one need to sort out one's plans?

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rose—

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I am more than happy to give way.

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The hon. Gentleman has implied that the majority of Liberal Democrats voted no on 18 September. What is his evidence? There is none to prove that that is so.

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The areas broadly represented by the Liberal Democrats voted no. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends know that, because I appeared on a television programme with the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) until 4 o'clock on the night of the referendum. Nobody was less pleased than he was when his area's result came through.

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The hon. Gentleman will remember my enormous relief that my prediction about a heavier defeat turned out to be unfounded. Would he agree that it is possible that the Liberal Democrats in those two constituencies voted yes while others may not have been persuaded?

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That argument may get the hon. Gentleman to sleep at night, but it does not wash with any of us on the Conservative Benches.

The Liberal Democrats' suggestion that there should be an extra 10 seats in the assembly at an additional cost of £750,000 a year is entirely inconsistent with their claim to be a responsible, third party. It is, however, entirely consistent with their position as a high-tax, high-spend party. Perhaps those extra 10 seats would be paid for out of their mystic 1p tax rise. Never has there been a better return on a penny spent—well, almost never.

The Liberal Democrats have joined in the debate on what to call the assembly. The Scots will have a legislative body with tax-raising powers—that is called a Parliament. The Liberal Democrats want to call the Welsh Assembly, which, thankfully, will not have primary legislative powers or tax-raising abilities, a Senedd, which is Welsh for a Parliament. Let us not insult the Welsh any more than they have been insulted already. Such a suggestion is an insult to their intelligence—an assembly is what it is and what it should be called.

Let us consider the issue of proportional representation—or, rather, unproportional misrepresentation, as the proposal is neither a true system of PR nor will be representative of the wishes of the Welsh people. It will cause confusion to the masses. People will not know to whom they should bring their constituency problems. Should they write to their elected constituency Member of Parliament—a process that works extremely well at Westminster—to their constituency member of the assembly, or to an assembly member who is elected under the list system? Will those latter two representatives have the same authority, or will the constituency assembly member's word carry more weight? Can the Secretary of State tell me the answer, or has he not thought it through, as he has failed to think through so much connected with the issue?

If the proposed voting system is introduced, we will have such a complicated system of elections throughout the country and in Wales that I am sure the people of Wales will be turned off by it and utterly bewildered and bemused by the sheer variety of voting systems in use in the United Kingdom. It is almost as though the Labour party is determined to make Britain a showcase for different PR systems—for the assembly, for London, for Europe, and perhaps at local elections. I know that it is also considering the voting procedures for Westminster. Its proposals will offer a fabulous case study for political studies undergraduates and a nightmare for the man on the Clapham omnibus or on the No. 12 bus to Swansea city centre who is trying to take part in an election or write to his representative with a problem.

The Secretary of State claims that the additional member system will be good news for the Conservative party. I thank him sincerely for thinking of us when he made those plans, but if that is the case, it makes our principled stand a moral one as well. Why? Because we believe that the new system will only add to Welsh nationalism and anti-English sentiments, bringing nearer by the day the total break-up of the United Kingdom, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) feared in his speech yesterday. We will fight against that tooth and nail, for the good of the Welsh people and for the good of the people of the United Kingdom.

We already know that Plaid Cymru sees the assembly as the journey and not the destination. It is not content with the half of the cake that is currently on offer to it. It will come back for the other half soon.

We will make a number of suggestions about the proposed funding arrangements for the assembly, as stated in clause 80, which is a classic of its kind. It states:
"The Secretary of State shall from time to time make payments to the Assembly out of money provided by Parliament of such amounts as he may determine."
That's all right then, isn't it? But as Secretary of State, with his fading glory and influence, is eclipsed by every other spending Department, what real security will there be for the assembly? Yesterday, we heard in speech after speech from those on the alliance Benches about how the assembly will improve education, how it will revitalise the health service, how new jobs will flood in and how roads will be built that will make the Roman roads look like dirt tracks. Wales will become the most powerful country on the planet thanks to the assembly—and all with no extra money.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has already said that the Barnett formula will stay. The can of worms has now been opened, however, and the English regions have woken up to the formula's financial implications. Per capita spending in Wales is £4,352 compared with spending in England of £3,743—a difference of £609. If Wales were to be self-financing, the basic rate of tax would be 45p in the pound.

The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) has said that the Government must get rid of that formula and give the money to England. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) believes that London should get all the extra cash. The Barnett formula has not been enshrined in the Bill, nor is the element of needs funding. We will seek assurances about that in Committee. The last thing that Labour Members will want is for the assembly to be tempted to top-slice revenue support grant money to pay for their land of milk and honey.

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The hon. Gentleman, as hon. Member for Ribble Valley, will be aware of how important defence procurement is in overall public expenditure. His constituency probably receives more public expenditure in defence procurement per head than any other constituency in the western world. He has made himself known for lobbying for more public expenditure for Ribble Valley and for his constituents who work at British Aerospace factories in the Preston area. I think that he will accept those points. Does he accept that—if we add defence procurement to domestic public expenditure—Wales receives 5.1 per cent. of identifiable UK public expenditure, whereas it has 5.0 per cent. of the population? Will he comment on those figures and relate them to the argument that he has been making?

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No, because the Barnett formula was created to ensure that there was a needs formula to protect the needs of the Welsh people and the Scottish people. Since the Government's devolution proposals have come to light with the referendums, a can of worms has been opened, and English people and English Members of Parliament are asking why so much money is going to Wales and to Scotland and not to their own areas. Such a debate is bound to ensue. If there is a review of the Barnett formula, we do not know what the outcome might be, because we have no guarantees. We do know, however, that hon. Members will fight hard to ensure that they win as much money as possible for their own areas, based on the needs of those areas.

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Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that his understanding of the Barnett formula is that it is needs-based? Is that what he is saying?,

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Population is used as a basis of determining need. In Committee, we will ensure that the needs basis will be continued into the future—something of which there is no guarantee. The Secretary of State is not dealing with the matter in the Bill, although he is doing so in the explanatory and financial memorandum— which, as he knows, has no status. One of the fears of the people of Wales is that, if there is a review, there could be a review downwards. What will happen then?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I am sorry to detain the House, but that is sheer gibberish. He does not understand the Barnett formula, and I urge him to study it. As he is talking about needs, I should point out that Wales's GDP is 18 per cent. less than the English average. GDP in south-east England, which he mentioned, is 14 per cent. above the English average. If there were a genuinely needs-based assessment of resource distribution in Great Britain, Wales would do very well in it.

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I am very pleased that that reassures the Under-Secretary of State for Wales. I assure him that a can of worms has been opened. Has he considered the demands that will be made by the politicians who will be elected to the London assembly? They will demand a big slice of the cake. Whereas Labour and other alliance Members think only of how large their slice of the cake will be, Conservative Members fight to ensure that the cake becomes larger, so that everyone can have a greater slice of it.

Part of Labour Members' problem is their inability to answer the question of what will happen if the RSG settlement is top-sliced. We have 22 local authorities in Wales, and we have already seen—thanks to last week's announcement—a 12 per cent. council tax increase. The people of Wales will look back rather nostalgically at such increases if there is top slicing of the RSG, because the resulting shortage will be made up in only one way—in ever higher council taxes.

I should hate to fail to deal in my speech with the role of the Secretary of State. We already know that the current incumbent of that office moves in mysterious ways, but what will he do after the assembly is established? The Bill states only that he will transfer his powers to the assembly—

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Most of them.

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Yes, most of his powers.

The Secretary of State will also be able to visit and speak in the assembly. But who will speak for Wales? Will it be the assembly's First Secretary, or will it be the Secretary of State—the First Secretary's secretary? If the new leader of the assembly is Russell Goodway, relations just might be strained. If it were the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith), I predict that there would be some friction. Problems would result also if the position were held by many other people. As the botched job on siting the assembly has shown, embarrassment and stalemate are a likely result.

The House must probe more carefully who will do what in the assembly's operation and ascertain more carefully its relationship with Europe. Matters that are so important that they must receive careful scrutiny include the assembly's visiting rights to important meetings of the Council of Ministers, the Secretary of State's residual powers over money, and the role of the new regional committees.

All we know about the regional committees is that they will be established in north Wales and in other areas. If such a device is supposed to calm the people of north Wales, heaven help them. The south Wales-dominated assembly will draw up the boundaries; it will determine how it is advised by the committee; and it may then ignore that advice. The committees sound like a sop, and Conservative Members will press for greater clarification in Committee.

What about clause 47, which deals in
"equality of opportunity for all people"?
It is fine to pay lip service to that goal, but, as our reasoned amendment states, Conservative Members are not satisfied that the assembly will provide an opportunity for all the people of Wales to be properly represented and protected.

Conservative Members will be looking for assurances on the £500-million question: what type of loan will it be? Will it be a recipe for the assembly to borrow on the never-never to fund its raison d'etre, buying instant popularity that will disappear in a flash as the bill lands on people's mats? We still hear concerns expressed by businesses in Wales, which are represented by the Confederation of British Industry, the North Wales Business Club and the Federation of Wales Small Businesses.

Another strong aspect of the Union from which people have benefited is the Welsh Development Agency's achievement in attracting inward investment. The fact is that 20 per cent. of all UK inward investment goes to Wales. Will Wales and the battle to channel inward projects through the President of the Board of Trade be disadvantaged by her new concordat? How will we control nationalist fervour for increased regionalisation in the United Kingdom, breaking the bond that unites us?

The assembly's merits will have to be sold to a rightly suspicious and sceptical public. Will the assembly help Welsh farmers in their crisis? No. Will it stop the £1,000 fee for students—which has resulted in an estimated 9 per cent. drop in student numbers attending university next year? No. Will the assembly safeguard a single inward investment project, reduce class sizes or put an extra bobby on the beat? No, no and no.

Conservative Members have genuine fears about the experiment, as do three out of four Welsh voters. We have a right to voice our concerns and fears, because, after all, it is our country, too. Britain has become a melting pot, in which the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish live in each other's pocket. Each of us is proud of our culture, but we are respectful of the differences that help to make Britain great. We must resist and fight anything that throws away what we have achieved or damages the cement that bonds us together.

We are the party of the Union. We remain the party of the Union. We will not let Wales and Britain down.

5.28 pm

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I tell the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) that anyone with a sense of the history of this century should be impressed by the amazing role, function and achievements of the Conservative and Unionist party. Because of those achievements, I should have thought that, from that Dispatch Box, the House would have heard expressed a huge amount of humility about the way in which that party has reduced a great institution to the rump it has become over the past 18 years.

The Conservative and Unionist party is no longer a party of the Union. It does not have one seat representing a Welsh or a Scottish constituency. How can it possibly claim still to be the Conservative and Unionist party? The Conservative party—a great traditional unionist party—has managed its affairs in such a way that it has been driven out of two of the three parts of the Union. I should have thought that, if nothing else, there should have come from the hon. Member for Ribble Valley at the Dispatch Box a sense of humility, a degree of modesty and a realisation that, wherever we stand and whatever criticisms we might make of the Bill—I intend to make one or two myself—the Conservatives were totally rejected at the last election in Wales and Scotland.

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In view of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Conservatives' lack of representation in Wales and Scotland and our ability to be the party of the Union in those areas, is he saying that the Labour party is the party of the Union in Northern Ireland? If so, which party in Northern Ireland represents its views most closely?

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I understand that the Labour party does not fight elections formally as the Labour party in Northern Ireland and that the other parties follow the same policy, but that is not relevant to the point that from the Conservatives' Front-Bench spokesman should have come rather more humility than we heard today. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley contributed little, either to his party's cause, or to the debate on the Bill.

I have no wish to revisit the referendum result, save to say to hon. Members on both sides of the House that we should be as concerned about the fact that 50 per cent. of the population did not vote as about the 49 per cent. of those who did vote who voted no. If I heard this remark once, I heard it dozens of times during the campaign: "We did not really know enough about it—we did not understand the implications." We should all accept that, during the referendum campaign and in the preceding months, we failed collectively to get across to the public the issues and the implications of the proposals. Now, with the Bill before us, we have a chance to do just that. We should take this opportunity not only to explore the implications ourselves, but to communicate them to a wider audience—the Welsh public.

I hope that, in my next remarks, I am not treading on contentious territory for Labour, although I am happy to tread on it as far as the Conservatives are concerned. I hope to gain some measure of, if not consensus, at least understanding. I suspect that, among the 50 per cent. who did not vote and the 49 per cent. of voters who voted no, people were saying—albeit not coherently—that they were uneasy about what was going to happen. There was an air of queasiness surrounding the relationship between Wales and Britain.

The Welsh-British relationship is an enduring and important relationship—one that is felt strongly, no matter how Welsh we are. In constituencies such as mine and in other parts of the country, people were worried that that relationship would be influenced or affected negatively. During our debates on the Bill, we should hold that concern centrally in our minds. I did not hear it from the lips of any of my constituents, but I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) uttered a memorable phrase when he talked about the unbundling of the constitution. In some curious way, that was what people were trying to say—they wanted devolution, but did not want the constitution to be unbundled. It is that careful balance of devolution and remaining part of the United Kingdom that is central to our debates.

I intend to address on Second Reading two central relationships arising from the Bill: first, the assembly-Whitehall-Secretary of State relationship and, secondly, the assembly-Westminster relationship. There are other issues I care about in the Bill, but they can be dealt with in Committee.

In respect of the first relationship, I read with great interest the latest document from the Institute of Welsh Affairs. I am astonished that Conservative Members have not read the documents produced by the institute and thought about the arguments presented in them. I find that, when reading many of the institute's documents about devolution, all I can hear is the sound of axes grinding. I heard them when reading "Making the Assembly work", but I also heard the sound of a large number of pennies dropping.

The document, produced by a traditionally pro-devolution organisation, posed several questions about the relationships between Whitehall, the Secretary of State and the assembly. It asked:
"To what extent will the Assembly in practice be permitted to examine policy proposals which are still being formulated by a Ministry, since it will have no formal institutional links?"
The document continued:
"Are all Assembly members to be treated as in the same position visa vis the Government machine as Ministers who are expected to keep confidential the discussions that precede the decisions as to the exact contents of a Bill?"
Those are not nit-picking Committee points; they are questions that go to the heart of a vital issue—the relationships between an assembly and Whitehall and an assembly and central Government.

The document went further, stating:
"Against this background the Secretary of State may be drawn into the role of becoming the main link between the Assembly and Whitehall, with a consequent weakening of the direct role of the Assembly and its civil servants in negotiating on policy matters with Whitehall departments."
I shall dwell later on that serious and fundamental issue of how the assembly is to relate to the Whitehall and Westminster machinery of government. It is little wonder that the section concluded:
"With all these issues and questions we are operating in uncharted territory involving constitutional innovations that will need clarification and perhaps certain statutory guarantees."
The issue is of fundamental concern to us all: how is the assembly to relate to central Government?

When those questions are asked, and when I hear references such as I heard yesterday to concordats between the assembly and Whitehall Departments, I ask myself whether it is intended that assembly officials and possibly assembly members—who will owe an allegiance to the very different political organisation that is to be known as the national assembly for Wales—are somehow to become enmeshed in Whitehall policy making. If so, how are Whitehall officials to relate to assembly officials?

For example, if members or officials of the assembly enmeshed in the process of confidential discussions on the preparation of a Bill or a major policy decision discover things they feel are not to the best advantage to the membership of the Welsh Assembly, is it to be their duty immediately to break whatever confidentiality applies and report back to the assembly? What is the relationship to be? It is indeed uncharted territory, and it has not yet been explained in this Second Reading debate how the system is to work. I assume that it will be explained in the form of the concordats. If so, the quicker we see them, the better. This is not a marginal issue—it is a matter of fundamental and central concern.

I have been doing some thinking about the practical and political problems that might give rise to anxieties about the relationships between the assembly and Whitehall, and the assembly and central Government. My worries may seem at first sight rather prosaic.

There is, first, the question of standards in health and food safety. Section 16 of the Food Safety Act 1990 is a case in point. The statutory instruments made under that section could scarcely be called politically sexy, one might think. Hon. Members may not feel that they are the meat and drink of British politics—yet it will be under section 16 of the Food Safety Act 1990 that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will, on 16 December, ban beef on the bone.

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That is meat and drink.

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It certainly is.

We need to know, therefore, how such an issue would be dealt with if it were re-enacted in a few years' time. What, in that event, will be the function and role of the assembly? My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli fastened on this point during an exchange late yesterday evening, which I read with particular interest since I was meaning to raise it myself. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State intervened to say:
"matters relating to animal or human health are likely to be reserved."—[Official Report, 8 December 1997; Vol. 302, c. 755.]
I have seen no such statement anywhere else. What else will be reserved to the Secretary of State? These arguments are not marginal: they are central to the relationship between the Government and the assembly.

Many of the supporters of devolution tend to oversell it. It may be thought that the difficulties facing Welsh farmers at the moment could be dealt with by powers that the assembly will have, but it turns out that certain decisions on food will not belong to the assembly but will remain to be made by the Secretary of State jointly with the Agriculture Minister. So it appears that there will be limitations to the assembly's ability to help farming communities.

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My hon. Friend's last assertion is right: no one would claim that the Welsh Assembly will have the ability to deal with matters such as BSE; at least, not by statutory action. I would, however, draw to my hon. Friend's attention two important principles. First, the whole devolution construct is based on the premise that the powers that I exercise will be transferred to the assembly. My hon. Friend, on the other hand, is referring to powers that I exercise jointly with other Ministers. We have always made it clear that certain elements, especially to do with human and animal health, will have to be examined carefully.

The second principle concerns the fact that the powers that I exercise jointly, or retain to be exercised jointly or to transfer back to another Department, will be specified in a transfer order. In Committee, the House will have the opportunity to see exactly how the powers are divided up, during discussion of the transfer order.

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I am glad of that statement, but these are not matters of mere detail. They are fundamental, as they define the functions of the Secretary of State for Wales at Westminster and in Whitehall and the functions that are to be devolved. That means that we shall need a list or schedule of reserved powers as soon as possible.

Let me test my right hon. Friend with a couple of other examples. The National Health Service (Travelling Expenses and Admission Charges) Order 1988 may not sound like the stuff of high politics, but it determines who will be exempt from prescription charges. is that a United Kingdom responsibility or will it be the subject of devolution? If the assembly wanted to be more generous in this regard, could it be? I assume not, but we need clarification.

Clause 41 is one of the most complicated clauses in the Bill, yet it concerns the role of the assembly in secondary legislation. I see that the Secretary of State would like to intervene again. I certainly hope for a clear statement, soon, on exactly which reserved powers will be taken by the Secretary of State and which will be transferred to the assembly.

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There will be no statement on reserved powers, because the scheme that we envisage works on a transfer of powers. Before the Committee stage begins, a draft order will be prepared so that anyone who wants to see the detail can do so. It will be a hefty document, I can assure my hon. Friend, and it will describe the powers that are being transferred to the assembly.

As for my hon. Friend's example, if my recollection is correct these are powers that the Secretary of State exercises jointly. That being so, it will be a matter of judgment as to whether the powers can be transferred. In the case of national health service charges, we would want conformity between England and Wales, so it is most unlikely that such powers will appear in the transfer order.

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We clearly need the list as quickly as possible. It is important to define the various roles of the Secretary of State, central Government and the assembly.

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The administrative devolution that we have had in Wales for 33 years has permitted Secretaries of State for Wales to deviate substantially from UK policy, even in international treaty obligations. There was, for instance, the well known example of "Redwooditis", as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), called it. During his period of office, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) declared a free-for-all on out-of-town shopping stores in Wales, even though the Secretary of State for the Environment, whose policy had tremendous commercial importance for all planning inspectors and inquiries, believed, following the previous Prime Minister's signing of the Rio treaty on biodiversity and global warming, that we should be against out-of-town shopping centres on principle. I would not like my hon. Friend to give the impression that none of these fudged areas are to be found under administrative devolution—things can only improve under democratic devolution.

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My hon. Friend prompts me to move on to a fundamental point. Nonconformity is generally to be encouraged. When I had the privilege of serving in the Welsh Office, my Secretary of State told me never to conform and always to force Whitehall to make the case for conformity. That was a wonderful remit for a junior Welsh Office Minister. Subsequently, we handled the Community Land Act 1975 completely differently and created a land authority for Wales which has survived the test of time and is now to be incorporated in the new economic powerhouse—so I have always been a great supporter of the idea of nonconformity.

A rewritten constitution has to be defined much more closely than is normal in a cohesive political administrative structure. It is much easier for Welsh civil servants to attend meetings in Whitehall because they derive their authority from the same source—they are civil servants of a set of home Government Departments and they are answerable to Ministers, at the apex of whom is a Cabinet. That will be transformed. We have to redefine the relationship that is to exist between an assembly and central Government.

I think that that is what the discussion about concordats is all about. These are not marginal issues; these are points made by the Institute of Welsh Affairs. I hope that we can be told in the winding-up speech whether the concordats envisage enmeshing assembly civil servants, who are answerable and accountable to a completely different political institution, into the policy-making processes of Whitehall Departments. If that is to be the case, I have a feeling that it will be a horrible recipe for confusion and difficulty over who will owe allegiance to what, in all respects. That is a fundamental point in the working of a constitution. It has worked well up to now because it has been part of a single whole. The Welsh Office and the Secretary of State are part of the collective of Government.

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What about the former Secretary of State and international law?

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I assume that the former Secretary of State did not breach international treaty law. I do not know whether anybody sued him, but he must have managed either to persuade his colleagues or to operate the policy off his own bat without anybody complaining.

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rose—

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I shall give way in a moment.

We are saying that a constitution has to be clarified in a way that was not necessary hitherto. The issues raised by the document from the Institute of Welsh Affairs—I have been thinking about them myself—are very serious. Are we saying that civil servants from the assembly will be embedded in the policy-making process of Whitehall? That is the demand, and I assume that that is what the concordats will be about.

I will not weary the House now, but the Institute of Welsh Affairs makes a number of recommendations about a series of rights for the assembly and says that the civil servants of the assembly should have rights in the policy-making process of Whitehall. There is the potential for confusion of responsibility and accountability.

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Surely the hon. Gentleman's perusal of what has been proposed for Wales drives him to the same inescapable conclusion as the Northern Ireland Government in Stormont was driven to many years ago. If a devolved system is to work in a unitary state, it must be run by Unionists. In that context, will the Labour party in the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament be a Unionist party?

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I believe that in a devolved system, which I support, Wales will be run by Welsh men and women who have been elected by the Welsh electorate. That is the simple and basic criterion.

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From his experience of ministerial office over a period of years, can my hon. Friend tell me to whom civil servants owe their career under these proposals? Is it to the Welsh Office or to Whitehall? Every civil servant is human and must have in their mind where their career is coming from.

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It is to the home civil service, and that is a collective. One cannot say that Welsh Office civil servants do not admirably fulfil their functions in Wales, and many might see most of their career structure to be within Welsh administration, but some people come and go. Some of the most distinguished permanent secretaries that we have had and still have come from other Departments. That will change fundamentally. The new civil service of the assembly will be accountable and answerable to a different organisation. I can see why all these problems will arise and why we need to address them. I do not believe that they are niggling Committee points; they are fundamental and central issues.

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May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that schedule 2 is even more misleading than he suggests? Schedule 2 refers to clause 22 only in respect of the initial powers of the assembly. Clauses 105 to 107 can be used to grab back some or all of those powers as they are deemed to be international obligations as interpreted by the Secretary of State. Clause 22(1)(a) provides

"for the transfer to the Assembly of any function so far as exercisable by a Minister of the Crown in relation to Wales".
Does not that mean that some external policy that relates to Wales or tax-raising policy could be transferred to Wales? Does not that accord with what the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning was saying in an interview last week in The Scotsman? If the regions in England can become tax-raising authorities, is not that the route for Wales?

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I would not interpret it in that way. There are other clauses in the Bill which make it quite clear that the Secretary of State or Ministers will reserve all their rights over international relations and external relations. We can check that out in Committee, but I would not reach the same conclusion as the hon. Gentleman.

I shall move on, because I know that many of my colleagues want to speak. I touched on this issue because it fundamentally affects the role of a future Secretary of State. There is one area about which I feel passionately and in respect of which I believe total devolution would be wrong. One of the great success stories of the past 20 years and more has been inward investment. The powerful combination of the Secretary of State with a budget, power and the full authority of a Minister in a British Cabinet alongside the Welsh Development Agency has achieved much in inward investment.

I agree with the critique of a number of my hon. Friends and Ministers that perhaps more should have been done to generate indigenous economic development of the character often mentioned by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, the Member for Neath. It would be extremely damaging if we gave a future Secretary of State for Wales no money and no power in relation to inward investment. I do not believe that the transfer of all his functions—and the budget that goes with them—to an assembly is a good idea. I believe that it would damage the powerful mixture of the WDA and the Secretary of State. I am thinking of the problems we have now with some aspects of our inward investment.

I am passionately grateful for the interest and concern shown by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The fact that he is a British Cabinet Minister and has the powers that go with it allows him to resolve some issues. I do not think that an assembly is a substitute for that combination. If there is any room for manoeuvre, I hope that my right hon. Friend will think again about the functions and role of the Secretary of State in relation to inward investment in budgetary and functional terms. I do not want a future Secretary of State to be moneyless and powerless.

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My hon. Friend's speech is, as always, tell in and eloquent. It is a welcome change from what we have heard so far from Conservative Members. I hope that this will meet my hon. Friend's point: if there were to be a dispute between a Whitehall Department and the Welsh Assembly, it would be for the Secretary of State to talk to his Cabinet colleagues and to represent the interests of Wales and the assembly in the Cabinet. That is one of the important residual functions that will remain.

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I hate to tell my hon. Friend that, in all my understanding and experience of government, without Executive functions and a budget, one is pretty well ignored. It was interesting that the Institute of Welsh Affairs mentioned this, and I can remind my hon. Friend about it. I do not usually agree with the institute on these matters, but the penny is dropping in this document. It says:

"It must be borne in mind that after devolution the Secretary of State will be left with little more administrative support than a central secretariat of perhaps 20 or 30 civil servants. In the longer run too, it is questionable whether there is room for two politicians who both claim to represent and speak for the interests of Wales— the leader of the Assembly and the Secretary of State. And in any case, after devolution the Secretary of State will have lost those direct responsibilities over such matters as health and education that currently give him much of his influence in the Cabinet."
That has come from an organisation that is heavily pro-devolution.

I accept that health and education functions will be transferred—they are the heart of devolution—but I believe in the needs of the external economy of Wales, especially inward investment, where the function and budget responsibilities should remain with the Secretary of State. He, alongside the Welsh Development Agency and the assembly, can continue to play the role that has been so important to the development of inward investment in Wales during the past 25 years. I beg him to ensure that those responsibilities remain with him.

I want to touch on another relationship—that of the assembly with Westminster. It is interesting how little we have debated it. Have the House authorities told us, for example, what questions on Welsh affairs will be allowed here after devolution? When the Secretary of State's functions are transferred, his responsibilities will also be transferred from this House to the assembly. That is what devolution is all about. What will be the character and nature of arrangement that Welsh Members will have at Westminster to probe and ask questions of the Secretary of State? Will the Table Office say, "This is no longer the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Wales, so your question is not allowable"?

I am willing to accept that limitation because I support devolution, but we should know what will happen. We need a clear statement on the matter. I envisage a fundamental role for Welsh Members at Westminster. In a curious way, post-devolution, the reserved powers and the interesting relationship between the Secretary of State and Whitehall and central Government will mean that Welsh Members will have a vital role to play. Anything that impinges or impacts on Welsh affairs at central Government level will become the responsibility of and a matter for scrutiny by Welsh Members.

We should no longer rest on convention. We should not be told that these matters are automatic because this House is all-powerful. If concordats are to be written about the relationship between Whitehall and the assembly, there must also be a Westminster concordat. We should be told what will be the future function of Welsh Members at Westminster.

I had not intended to detain the House for so long, but the number of interventions have prolonged my remarks. I am a great believer in representative democracy and I shall take pleasure in voting for the Bill tonight. However, we cannot and must not suspend our critical judgment on its character and nature and the problems and implications in its broader sense.

Those of us who have to explain this Bill to the public want to ensure that we do not sell it in the wrong way. My plea to my right hon. and hon. Friends is that we should not claim more for the Bill and for devolution than is deserved. Disappointment and disillusionment is as dangerous to democracy as remoteness and lack of accountability. If we keep saying that the Bill will dramatically improve the social and economic inequalities from which Wales now suffers, we could disillusion and disappoint. The central case for devolution is democratic—that the whole range of administration and public life currently devolved in a variety of ways to the Welsh Office and to quangos will become more democratically accountable to a Welsh Assembly.

I have to tell my hon. Friend the Minister that the case is not economic. Democratic assemblies can make terrible decisions and do things that are wrong. At times, they can make an economic mess of matters. No one says that democracy produces perfect government. However, the quality and joy of a representative democracy is that we can sack those who make the mistakes. I do not look forward to sacking members of a future Welsh Assembly, but instead hope that a combination of Members at Westminster and assembly members will ensure that Wales is truly democratic.

6.4 pm

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The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) made a distinguished speech. I say that with diffidence because to praise a Welsh Member from a different tradition often causes some difficulty. Encapsulated in the hon. Gentleman's arguments were many of the genuine concerns about the proposal for devolved government for Wales.

I contrast the hon. Gentleman's speech with that of the Under-Secretary. In the months since he first argued for the White Paper, I have come to regard him as the witch hunter of Wales. He turns on people who have been elected by Welsh constituencies, and perhaps stood for the Labour party for many years, as though they are enemies of their party. I cannot conceive why trying to unpick and reason the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal should be a matter for criticism. It is a matter of pride that Wales produces fine Members of Parliament, who have brought Wales to the centre of the union in our national history.

The Under-Secretary's speech was so trivial it was shocking. He was an illusionist, as the proposal has the backing of just 25 per cent. of the vote in Wales. Those are all the people who turned out to vote for his proposals in the White Paper—[Interruption.] We must get to the bottom of this. The hon. Gentleman criticises anyone who recognises that 25 per cent. is only 25 per cent. After all, 25 per cent. voted against his proposals—and hanging over that is the 50 per cent. of the electorate who, given the opportunity to support his proposals, did not do so. There is no democratic system on earth with a written constitution that would accept that 75 per cent. of an electorate not supporting a proposal is the basis for going ahead with that proposal.

Of course, a referendum did not have to be held, except that it was included in the Labour party manifesto. It was described as strengthening the union, no less. The referendum went ahead on that basis, but by any ordinary valued judgment it failed. It is a miserable situation for the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary—that is, if he understands the weight of vote against his proposal. He did not achieve consent, but his manner tried to undermine consensus.

The Conservative party is not isolated in this matter. As has been pointed out yesterday and today, 250,000 more people than voted for the Conservatives at the general election voted against the Government's proposal. By any process of deduction, that must mean that a large number of Labour party supporters voted against the proposal. The witch hunter of Wales will have his work cut out in seeking out those who defied the manifesto that he holds up as the only authority in the matter.

What about the consensus of Plaid Cymru, which at least has the decency to admit that it is a separatist party? What was the language of its leader, the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley)? How did he seek consensus as he attacked the Conservative party? He said:
"What is sauce for the backward-looking, scaremongering, no-voting neanderthals is also sauce for the forward-looking, yes-voting alliance, which believes in democracy in Wales."—[Official Report, 8 December 1997; Vol.302, c. 703.]
No one is seeking consensus, and the truth is that the Labour Government are being ridden by the separatists.

In his trivial speech, the Under-Secretary attacked everyone who does not share his view. The process that this place is that of debate. We have heard the careful and rational trying to consider the various elements of the Bill. Will it work? That is what is being asked. Wales is very suspicious, and why would it not be? Suddenly it is going to be landed with large capital costs for the assembly which was valiantly rejected by the electorate of Cardiff, although I note that one of its leading Members, the distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee on Public Administration, is already announcing that he is leaving the House to stand for the assembly should it come into existence. The hon. Gentleman's own electorate rejected the proposal, but it is to be pursued as if it is a done and settled deal.

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On what evidence does the hon. Gentleman say that my electorate rejected the proposals for a Welsh Assembly?

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I base it on the turnout in the city that the hon. Gentleman represents.

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There are four constituencies in Cardiff, which means that there are many possibilities as to the results in Cardiff, West. My belief, based on having seen some of the boxes being unloaded, is that Cardiff, West in no way rejected the proposals.

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I am told that 55.6 per cent. voted no, so it is difficult to reach that conclusion.[Interruption.] I can see that the hon. Gentleman is sensitive: his own city rejected the proposals, and it is likely that his own electorate rejected them. Notwithstanding that, he feels that the result was an endorsement for the march forward of the elected assembly.

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In Cardiff, where the gravy train was expected to stop, 53 per cent. of the people did not even turn out to vote.

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You were not there.

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I quite understand that Labour Members are enormously sensitive about this. They have to get over the fact that only 25 per cent. voted for the proposals.

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The hon. Gentleman is talking rubbish.

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Order. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) spoke for 36 minutes yesterday, and has made two long interventions today; sedentary interventions on top of that are not acceptable.

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I merely postulate that perhaps the Welsh electorate are rather wise. We are told that the start-up costs will be considerable, and that the annual running costs might be between £15 million and £20 million. I think that most people can see that, to use a phrase that has already been used by a Labour Member and which stuck in my mind, we are talking about a class that is trying to get its bottom on the Consolidated Fund.

The by-product of the proposals will be the creation or extension of a political class, and I am not sure what that accomplishes for Wales. All I know is that, despite the information provided by the Government in the form of a most massive campaign in favour, the proposals failed by any recognisable democratic process to achieve validation.

My concern is not based only on the particulars of the Bill or of the referendum campaign, however magnificently it failed.

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As the hon. Gentleman was elected by only 36 per cent. of his electorate, does he consider that he was validly elected?

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The Under-Secretary must have heard four or five interventions by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) who tried to point out—I realise that the distinction might be too fine for the hon. Gentleman—the difference between a constitutional settlement, or a validation of what is attempting to be a constitutional settlement, and the ordinary processes of democracy and the election of Members of Parliament.

Most of us can perceive a distinction, but the Under-Secretary does not. That is not a surprise. I have listened to his abuse of almost all Opposition Members as neanderthal, backward-looking and not pro-democracy—

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The leader of Plaid Cymru said that.

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The language is common. I pick on Plaid Cymru only because it launched into that attack. I just know that there is nothing consensual.

We need to stand back. Wales might have rejected the proposals because they are not on an equal footing with those for any other part of the United Kingdom. They certainly do not echo the proposals for Scotland. In a sense, they marginalise Wales; or are they a statement to the effect that the Welsh people are incapable of exercising powers and functions deemed appropriate for Scotland? Does the Secretary of State for Wales think that the Welsh population are lesser in their abilities or reasoning, and could not maintain a form of government for themselves?

There is a distinction between the two proposed systems of government which has to be explained more appropriately than Labour Front Benchers have managed so far. I am concerned about the Scots and the Welsh, as they are incorporating an alien system of electing Members of Parliament. I say "alien", because it is unusual. My fear is that these great developments will reduce turnouts at elections until they lack authority and we end up like the United States, where so few people voted for the president—which is extraordinary in such a major democracy. I am worried about the unbalanced nature of the constitutional changes.

Labour Front Benchers talk about regional assemblies for England, but will not deal with how to balance the Union's constitution. It is now unequal. The fact is that neither the Welsh nor the English elector will be on equal terms with the Scottish elector. Let us imagine that the Labour party wins the next general election but that its majority is formed only by Welsh Members of Parliament or, worst of all, by Scottish Members of Parliament. How can it be sustainable in those circumstances, when the inequality of citizenship is so rawly and prominently presented to us?

This is a terribly unbalanced way to go about making constitutions. It does not seek consent and has not achieved consensus, two elements that are usually deemed to be important. It has not reached out and tried to embrace the political structures of our country. There has been no attempt to form a constitutional convention to see whether we can recognise the genuine needs of our island and its form of union. The proposals are nothing but the flaunting of a political class and a Labour party in power, owing its allegiance to whom—to Charter 88? The proposals are so piecemeal that their very lack of stability will do us down. In the end, this will be Labour's undoing.

People will come to realise the inequality and the unstated, and almost unstateable, English element in this. I am Scottish-born, and represent an English constituency. I have always been a Conservative. My fear is that so many of those who now exercise power are only political activists and do not have a broad enough vision of stability and what brings us together as a Union.

None of the proposals before us reflects those things. I am terribly fearful of a brand new Parliament that has had such a change of membership and which has so many new Members who do not value the House or the system we have, partly, perhaps, because they have been genuinely disillusioned by 18 years of Conservative government. Much is made of that, and there may be some truth in it. However, we should not throw the baby out with the bath water.

As it happens, I have always believed in devolution. I believe that Westminster is a national expression, and that local government should flourish. Are the proposals for Wales a local government measure, or something more important? They have taken a local government route but, in the end, people who wish to spend money must be able to raise it. That is the element of the proposals that will do down Wales.

The Government maintain that they can for ever support the Barnett formula, which is already under attack from hon. Members representing constituencies in the north of England, who are well aware that there are inequalities in the distribution of central finance. No Government can say that, for ever and a day, they will distribute money on the basis of such a formula when circumstances have changed. As Lord Barnett has pointed out, when his rule of thumb formula—which has worked well for nearly 20 years—was devised, Scotland was at an economic disadvantage in the Union in gross domestic product per head. Now the figure is said to be comparable with that for the south-east.

How can the formula be maintained on any rational basis when Wales is at a disadvantage compared with the rest of the Union? Of course it must be up for grabs and a subject of dissection, argument or bidding every so often. The best that the Government can do is guarantee it until the end of the Parliament. The best that the Prime Minister can do is guarantee it for as long as he is Prime Minister. Anyone who looks at the formula knows that even a change of leadership in the party presently in government may result in a rebalancing of the formula to the disadvantage of those who think that they are to be advantaged.

I did not intend to attack the gallant Under-Secretary, whose extraordinary career is an inspiration to many of us. As an aside, I am appalled that a career solely as a political activist can be the basis for haranguing—haranguing—lifelong members of the Labour party who do not support the Bill or do not think that it is necessary.

I do not know whether people in Wales listen to debates in this House any more, but they know that the dissent on the Bill goes beyond the Conservative party. Some 250,000 of those who voted no—25 per cent. of those who voted in the referendum—clearly did not vote for the Conservatives in May. That 25 per cent. includes Labour voters, Liberal Democrats, or even—dare I say it?—Plaid Cymru supporters, who felt that there was not enough separatism in the measure.

I have no hesitation in supporting the arguments of those on the Conservative Front Bench. I cheer when I hear intelligent, argued, thoughtful questions about what my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) called a dog's breakfast. The Bill is incoherent and unbalanced. The proposals are not equal to those for Scotland, and they leave England in a peculiar situation. The elements for constitutional stability are missing.

6.22 pm

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I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who, like me, is a member of the Modernisation Committee. I applaud many of the suggestions that he has made on the rights of Back Benchers, the scrutiny of the Government, open government and freedom of information. However, I do not agree with his speech, which included many speculative comments. We shall have to see what happens. We cannot simply predict the failure of the measure. It is up to the people of Wales and the democratically elected members of the Assembly to ensure that it is a success.

The Bill is part of the Government's programme to modernise our democracy. It must be seen in the context of the wider programme of constitutional reform to which the new Labour Government are committed, bringing decision making closer to the people who are affected. The wider programme will include reform of the other place, which has the capacity, without a democratic mandate, to delay legislation from this House. The introduction of a freedom of information Bill has been announced. The European Convention on Human Rights is to be incorporated into British law. A Scottish Parliament is to be established, following the recent referendum.

The package of reform will also include the re-establishment of a democratic authority for London. This fine capital city needs a structure for strategic decision making. Regional development agencies will be established, as well as regional assemblies in England, if that is the wish of the people in those regions. The Government will also establish a commission on the electoral system to ensure fair representation. I welcome that.

The House is also being modernised. It cannot reasonably fulfil all its functions. In addition to its role as the legislature for the United Kingdom, it has to scrutinise the Executive over a wide range of Departments. How many Select Committee reports are not debated? We need to be able to give more scrutiny to the Government. I share the commitment of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills to giving Back Benchers more powers of scrutiny, but this House cannot do that, particularly given its increasing role on European legislation. That is why there is a natural momentum towards devolution, which the hon. Gentleman commended.

The House is incapable of giving adequate consideration to Welsh affairs. Welsh Question Time has been reduced to just half an hour a month, and is largely monopolised by Conservative Members who have no real interest in Wales, but are simply trying to spike the Government's proposals for democratic devolution. The Welsh Grand Committee—which does not have to be entirely Welsh, is not particularly grand and is not even a committee—is not an adequate forum for debating Welsh affairs, never mind running the executive functions of Wales, as the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills has suggested.

The Bill is part of a wide-ranging programme of constitutional reform that will help to prepare Britain for the next century. It is before us because the people of Wales supported it in the recent referendum, albeit by only a small margin. Had it been defeated by a small margin, I am sure that Conservative Members would not have said that there was no mandate for not implementing the measure. The Conservatives are inconsistent—

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Does the hon. Gentleman feel that he is fully reflecting the views of his constituents, who, as I recall, voted no by a very large majority on 18 September?

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I am coming to that point right now.

My constituency recorded the highest no vote in the referendum. My constituency and the local authority of Monmouthshire are not entirely conterminous. My constituency does not include Caldicott—a largish town in the south-east—

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I am enjoying my hon. Friend's speech, but I hope that he will not respond to the silly remarks by the Conservatives. There are more important things to discuss than who voted for what. If the Conservatives cannot accept the workings of democracy, there is no point in responding to their silly childishness. The sooner they get to grips with examining the problems, such as those raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), the better they will serve the people of Wales, although they do not represent them.

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My hon. Friend makes some reasonable remarks. However, I feel that I have a responsibility to talk about the mandate in my constituency.

My constituency and the local authority are not conterminous, as I have said. Croes y Ceiliog is a major part of the Torfaen area, where the vote was pretty even. If figures had been produced for my constituency alone, they might have shown slightly more support—I put it no more strongly than that.

I must accept that there are people in my constituency who have an instinctive hostility to the proposals. However, I feel that they have an instinctive hostility to democracy. I do not have a duty to represent that. I also accept that some Labour supporters voted no. However, it was most significant that 50 per cent. of the electorate did not vote at all.

We cannot assume that people did not vote because they did or did not support the proposals. In that respect, they are the most interesting part of the electorate. I believe that many people did not vote because they did not fully understand the proposals. We have a responsibility to make our system of government more understandable.

I must therefore convey to the House and to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench some of the reservations that my constituents had about the proposals.

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Did they?

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Indeed they did, and I shall outline some of them. Although I do not agree with them all, I understand why some people had reservations.

Many people felt that they did not know enough about the proposals for a Welsh Assembly. That is related to the fact that many people do not adequately understand the present system of government, especially in Wales, where so much power rests in the hands of one Government Department and one Secretary of State.

I represent a border constituency, where people often do not feel part of the debate and the information system that involve those who live further into Wales. Many of my constituents work over the water in the Bristol area. Their background may be from the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire or south-west England. Many of them cannot pick up Welsh-medium television or even Welsh television in general. They receive television coverage transmitted from the south-west or the midlands.

Many of my constituents are newcomers to Wales who have been attracted to south-east Wales because of the success of our inward investment. They come to the M4 corridor having been relocated to south-east Wales with companies and public bodies. In my experience, they have considerable appreciation of Monmouthshire and Gwent when they discover it. They live in south-east Wales, they bring up their families there, they work there, and they serve Wales. However, quite reasonably, they do not share a culturally Welsh identity, and we must respect that. Nor do they want to be excluded from that identity.

Essentially, the Bill is not about cultural identity; it is about democracy. We talk about having a strategic elected body for London. It is not to celebrate the cultural identity of Londoners, but to provide a democratic forum for strategic policy making. The idea that the Welsh Assembly is a celebration of Welshness or the Welsh language needs to be corrected. It is essentially about democracy.

There is a feeling that the Welsh Assembly will replicate the monopoly control that the Labour party has in local government in some areas of Wales. It is to the credit of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Welsh Office that the Bill includes an electoral system to ensure that there is fair representation. I disagree with some of my hon. Friends about that.

We have an unfair electoral system, whereby the Labour party attracts 50 or 60 per cent. of the votes in Wales but gets 75 per cent. of the seats. It is equally unfair in parts of south and south-west England, where the Labour party gained a significant minority of votes but very few seats. There is a fundamental unfairness in our electoral system. First past the post is ideal for a two-party system.

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Part of the reason for my reticence about supporting my hon. Friend on that argument relates to our experience in the south Wales valleys. On one or two occasions, the Welsh nationalists have taken control and totally excluded every other political party from the democratic process. The Liberals and the nationalists talk about exclusiveness because they are in a minority, but when they get a majority, they put the screws on: there is no talk of inclusiveness then.

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The phenomenon of Welsh politics is how little progress the Welsh nationalists have made in south Wales. For many of us, the Conservatives are the Opposition. I do not expect or anticipate much inclusiveness or co-operation from them, but we are used to that.

I have some sympathy with people who have reservations about the proposals. However, I do not feel that I have to represent the no campaigners who based their views on anti-democratic and anti-Welsh prejudices. If there had been a referendum in 1920 about giving women the vote, and the majority of the electorate had voted against, I would still reserve the right to represent the minority, as I believe that democratic advance must be achieved through principles.

I turn to some of the parts of the Bill that have caused concern. Sensible people—even those who opposed it—recognise that there will be a Welsh Assembly. Some of those who had reservations before 18 September are now looking forward to it. For example, the business community does not feel that it will be adequately represented in a Welsh Assembly.

This morning, the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs met representatives of the Federation of Small Business and the South Wales Chamber of Commerce. According to the chairman of the Newport and Gwent Chamber of Commerce:
"There is a fervent wish to see the Assembly work."
In their evidence to the Select Committee, the representatives said:
"The people of Wales, having voted in favour of the establishment of a Welsh Assembly, require those involved in the process of economic development to work together to ensure that it delivers the best for Wales for the future prosperity of the country."
There is some concern that the small business community will not be adequately represented, and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will examine that issue.

There is a crisis in the farming community. I can understand those in the farming community thinking that the present system is not adequate. They need an assurance that the farming interest will be adequately represented in the Welsh Assembly. At least the Welsh Assembly will give the farming community a stronger voice in Brussels.

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How will the farmers get a stronger voice in Brussels?

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There will be more direct representation. At present, the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) is not involved in negotiations in Brussels in the same way as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture. The Welsh Assembly will provide stronger representation in Europe. [Interruption.] It is clearly a matter of dispute. I hope that my hon. Friend is in favour of stronger representation, and will support any amendments to that end.

There are important challenges. I support the principle of a more democratic Wales through a Welsh Assembly. May I draw attention to one or two key aspects in which I have a particular interest?

First, the Welsh Assembly should have an all-Wales anti-poverty strategy. That offers a rich opportunity. Recently, I attended an excellent conference at Swansea arranged by the city and county of Swansea, which has played a leading role in the development of a local anti-poverty strategy. I hope that it will be a responsibility of the Welsh Assembly to develop an all-Wales anti-poverty strategy, and perhaps a social exclusion unit for Wales, to co-ordinate policy across the assembly's departmental responsibilities, to monitor the implementation of the minimum wage and to develop social and economic policies to attack poverty in Wales.

Secondly, there will be the important challenge of co-ordinating a more effective strategy for care in the community. Like Scotland, Wales is in a distinct position to develop a more co-ordinated strategy for long-term care and support for people with physical and learning disabilities. There has been an effective all-Wales mental handicap strategy, which was widely commended outside Wales. I hope that, under the Welsh Assembly, there will be more co-ordinated all-Wales strategies. They would be the envy of England.

There will and must be safeguards in the Bill. We must expect high standards of public conduct under the Nolan recommendations. We must have—it is in the Bill—an auditor-general for Wales to ensure efficient discharge of public resources. There will be an electoral system to give fair representation. The proposal for an electoral system with an element of proportionality is one of the radical innovations in Britain that has come about as a result of the Bill. True democrats will support the principle of fair representation. The element of proportionality will ensure that the assembly broadly reflects the popular vote for the respective parties in Wales.

A national assembly for Wales provides a new beginning, a new strategic approach, which will be inclusive and will ensure that Wales is a more democratic and better place.

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rose—

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Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that an awful lot of hon. Members want to speak. Extremely long speeches are being made, and it would be very helpful if they were a little shorter.

6.40 pm

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I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) on his speech. We very much welcome him back to the House. We are grateful for the contribution that he has already made to the debate and the cause of Wales.

I want to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)—although I see that he is about to leave the Chamber. Joseph Chamberlain would have been proud of him. It was a good speech, although I profoundly disagreed with his analysis. It was the kind of speech that Chamberlain would have made in the House just over 100 years ago. It was a classic speech in defence of the Union.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills must remember why there is a growing demand in Wales for greater democracy and greater accountability. There have been occasions on which the Conservative party has not been kind to Wales. The 18 years of Conservative rule separated the votes in 1979 and 1997. During those 18 years, the kind of principles that the hon. Gentleman enunciated unfortunately meant the centralisation of power, the gradual taking away of powers from local authorities—which he applauded—and their transfer to unelected people, rather than the kind of devolution that he advocated. The then Secretary of State for Wales invariably appointed Conservatives who had been rejected by the Welsh electorate—thrown out by the Welsh people, but imposed on Wales by the Secretary of State to throw down our throats some of the things that happened over those years.

Although the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills made a classic speech in defence of the Union, he must recognise that there is a mood in Wales for change, which was reflected in the vote on 18 September. It was not the ringing endorsement that those in favour of the proposals wanted, but the difference between the votes in Wales in 1979 and 1997 was substantially greater than the difference in the votes in Scotland.

In his very interesting speech, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills criticised the proposals for being piecemeal and not part of a coherent approach. That has always been the problem with this House of Commons. It has always approached constitutional change in such a piecemeal way and never really addressed the issue throughout the United Kingdom. One of the reasons why the Liberal party split at the end of the last century was because it failed to grasp that nettle. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to agree with what many of us in Wales are saying but to recognise that things have changed and that the people of Wales want to move forward—although there was a certain reticence among some of them on 18 September.

I recognise that I have spent a little time dealing with the speech of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, but I want to deal with one more of his points. I did not take kindly to his referring to us as a bunch of separatists. If he looks back over the 23 or 24 years of Plaid Cymru Members of Parliament, he will realise the extremely valuable contribution that they have made in the Chamber, in Committees and in representing their constituents, especially since 1974. We have been part of the great change in Wales over the past quarter of a century or so. I am sorry to have detained the hon. Gentleman, but it was important to put some of the facts on the record.

The Under-Secretary of State will be aware that we have always maintained a very constructive and positive approach to the proposals that the Government have enshrined in the Bill. We all recognise that, following the result of the referendum, we have a responsibility to all those in Wales—those who voted yes and those who voted no—to ensure that the national assembly begins its work with as much good will and support as we can collectively generate.

Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) outlined some of the recent history of the battle to secure greater democracy in Wales and Scotland. That battle has gone on for about 120 years. In the 1880s, we saw the beginning of some of the debates that have culminated in the Bill. I will concentrate on three aspects of the Bill. I recognise that there are ways in which the measure can be improved, and I make my comments in that spirit.

The Bill's main weakness, as Plaid Cymru sees it, is its lack of legislative proposals. Many of the points addressed by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) could have been solved had the Welsh Assembly been given legislative powers. I recognise that there are debates about the relationship between the assembly and Westminster and the Whitehall machine. They are well understood. If one reads the White Paper and the Bill, one clearly sees that that matter needs to be addressed.

Although there are no legislative powers in the White Paper and the Bill, there are very limited powers to amend or repeal legislation under the Henry VIII reserve powers. The problem is that the Welsh Assembly will be restricted in some ways in developing policy initiatives. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the assembly wants to do things a little differently in education, health or other areas. It will not have the powers to do so. It will have only limited power through secondary legislation. The way in which we can develop legislation depends on how the primary legislative framework is prepared. It could he narrowly or widely defined. There are certain areas where we could do a great deal and others where we would be very restricted.

Recognising that the assembly will not have legislative powers, Plaid Cymru has put forward what I think many people regard as an interesting suggestion. If the assembly considers that it might be necessary for minor legislative changes, all that would happen under the Bill is that the proposal would go to the back of the queue in Westminster. We all know how difficult it is to get Bills through the Queen's Speech and into the legislative programme. Might it not be possible to accept a minor amendment to enable some fast-track procedure in Whitehall to deal with such a problem—if there were, say, a clear wish of a two-thirds majority in the assembly?

Why not revamp the Welsh Grand Committee? That proposal might find favour with some hon. Members who might have difficulty understanding the correct relationship between Westminster and the assembly. Under such a fast-track procedure, the Grand Committee could deal with Second Reading and Committee stages of legislation, and later stages could be taken in the Chamber. By that means, the assembly would not be frustrated in carrying out some of its work. Negotiations would still need to be held between the Secretary of State, the Government and the assembly about which Bills would be appropriate for that procedure, but I ask the Minister seriously to consider that proposal.

My second point is related to the debate about cabinet-style government and committee-style government. I raised that point in an intervention in the speech by the Secretary of State yesterday and he implied that the commission that he is setting up will consider the point. I have read the White Paper and the Bill again, and committee-style government is contained in the Bill virtually unchanged from the proposals in the White Paper.

The Bill states clearly that the leader of each subject committee will be appointed or elected by that committee. The leader—or secretary, as he will be called—will be the creature of the committee. Therefore, the structure will follow the local government model. That might have been appropriate when the local government model was introduced a century ago, but it does not meet the needs of a situation which requires quick decision making. If we moved towards more cabinet-style government, would that require an amendment to the Bill?

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No, it would not. It would be open to the advisory committee, and subsequently the Standing Orders Commission, to make recommendations in the standing orders of the assembly which could alter the nature of decision making in favour of a cabinet-style model within the framework of the Bill. Members of the executive committee, albeit elected by the individual policy committees, could have decision-making powers equivalent to those of Ministers.

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I am grateful to the Minister for intervening, and I hope that he is right. One of the aspects of the drafting of the Bill that surprised me was that the chairpersons of the subject committees will be chosen from a panel elected by the assembly, but the leader or secretary will be elected by the individual subject committee. I would have preferred that both positions were the subject of elections by the whole assembly, which would confirm that the assembly will have cabinet-style, not committee-style, government. I ask the Minister to reflect on that point, and I am sure that we will come back to it in Committee.

My third point is connected with the relationship between the assembly and Europe. None of us could claim that the provisions for the assembly will revolutionise the relationship between Wales and Europe. Some of the proposals are modest and I accept that. Nevertheless, they are very important. I wish to cover three basic aspects.

First, it was specified in the White Paper that one of the powers of the Secretary of State that would be transferred to the assembly was the right to control the dispersal of European structural funds in Wales. I can find no reference to the transfer of that power in the Bill. It may be implicit in some of the provisions; I hope that the Minister, when he winds up, will confirm that it is. In other words, does the Bill give the assembly the right to distribute structural funds in Wales? That was in the White Paper, but it is not in the Bill; it is important that that point is clarified.

Incidentally, the assembly will wish to maintain an office in Brussels. Votes in the Council of Ministers are important, but so are the negotiations that lead to the decisions. The discussion with Commission officials is part of the work of the negotiating team that goes to the Council of Ministers, and the assembly will need a strong office in Brussels.

Secondly, the assembly should have direct access to the United Kingdom Permanent Representation office in Brussels. UKREP has always had an official from the Scottish Office, and will continue to do so. On occasions, Welsh Office staff have worked there and have done an excellent job. However, we need an assurance that, once the assembly is established, one official in UKREP will always look after the interests of Wales. Whether that is through the Secretary of State's office or the assembly office does not really matter, but it is important that we have a representative.

Thirdly, the Scottish White Paper contains a provision that will allow the leader of the Scottish Parliament to represent the UK in the Council of Ministers—in other words, to exercise the UK's vote. We are told that a representative from the Welsh Assembly might have an opportunity to attend the Council of Ministers as part of the team. The Secretary of State has told us that there will be no difference in the way Scotland and Wales are treated in terms of the relationship with Europe, but there is an obvious difference in the White Paper. The Secretary of State has commented subsequently, but the House should be told whether the First Secretary of the assembly will ever have the opportunity to exercise the UK's vote in the Council of Ministers.

That important point should be clarified, because the Maastricht treaty makes provision for regional governments to represent member states on occasions, and that has happened in Germany and Belgium. We need to know whether that will happen in the case of the Welsh Assembly.

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When has a Minister from one of the German lauder ever exercised the vote in the Council of Ministers? The White Paper is brutal about the influence on the conduct of Council business that the Government envisage for the Welsh First Secretary. It states:

"the Assembly should be able to keep the delegation advised of its views."
It says nothing about attending the Council of Ministers, although it will be possible for the Welsh First Secretary to attend—by invitation from the UK Government and, presumably, long so the UK position is being supported.

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Representatives of the German lauder and some of the states in Belgium have represented their member state in the Council of Ministers under article 146 of the Maastricht treaty. That is confirmed in a research paper that the Library prepared before this debate. We need the issue of representation in the Council of Ministers to be clarified, because—as we understand it—the leader of the relevant subject committee would have the right to attend the Council of Ministers as part of the delegation.

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By invitation.

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I will clarify that point. At the invitation of the relevant Secretary of State, the leader of the subject committee would be allowed to participate. We would prefer that to be a right, and I hope that the Minister will tell us in what circumstances that would happen.

I am conscious of your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will finish now. We should like the issues that I have raised to be clarified in Committee, but I assure the Minister that we shall approach those subjects in a constructive manner.

6.59 pm

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I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me in what I consider to be a most historic debate in the House tonight. Every Welsh person will be looking to us tonight to vote for this radical Bill that will devolve power to our country and to our people.

For me personally, it is a privilege to be called to speak in this debate. In 1989, I was the chair of the Wales Labour party when we first decided to consult the Welsh people and parties—not just the Wales Labour party—on the need to reform government. It has been a long process of seven or eight years, but we have arrived tonight at that moment and I look forward to voting for the Bill later.

Today, it was brought home to me just why we need a voice for Wales and why we need to vote for the Bill. This morning, at the request of local farmers, I attended the famous Christmas market in the market town of Cowbridge in my constituency. It is usually a time of great festivity and Christmas cheer. Today, there was very little cheer, given the situation in which many farmers find themselves.

I have been politically active in my constituency for more than 25 years, and never did I think I would see the day when my local farmers would be carrying banners. They are doing so because of the debacle that the previous Government made of the beef industry—and agriculture in general—through the BSE fiasco in particular. It is not just the mess that has been created in this great industry of ours; it is the fact that the Welsh farmers did not have a direct voice because Wales has been denuded of power during the past 18 years, following the centralisation of responsibilities which were once those of local government.

It is no accident that it was Welsh farmers in Holyhead who demonstrated last week. It was a clear manifestation of the power that has been taken away from our country, systematically, in the past 20 years. If this Bill had been proposed a couple of years ago—and if we had had an assembly for our nation—those demonstrations would not have taken place.

The situation was brought home to me this morning by Bill Bassett, one of the oldest farmers in my constituency. He is a great character in the local community, and he approached me this morning and said that the industry had not been in a similar situation since the 1930s. That is what BSE and the crisis of two years ago has done to that community. We owe it to that community to ensure two things; first, that confidence is restored to the beef market in particular and to agricultural markets in general; and, secondly, in the longer term, that our farmers compete on a level playing field in Europe.

I wish in the short time available to me to refer to three small but important parts of the Bill. First, clause 6 refers to payments and salaries to assembly members. It is right that that responsibility should go to a senior salary review body. The Welsh people believe that salaries and allowances should be modest. However, if we are to attract the best in Wales—we have a duty to make the assembly work at its best—we should consider the options available to us. We should recommend a system which protects salaries so that we can invite industrialists, great academics and senior people from the voluntary sector, the trade unions and the wider community, and give them an inducement to put their names forward to enter politics in a way that they may not have considered before.

We could offer some form of protected salary, such as the Germans have; a system that British civil servants introduced to them at the end of the second world war. We should consider a voluntary code of practice for employers in the private and public sectors in Wales to allow them to consider sabbaticals and keeping positions open for employees to allow them to go forward to be considered for election.

The second point was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) and relates to the concerns of the business community. I share those concerns, and I wonder whether clauses 110 and 111 could extend the partnerships being considered by the assembly beyond local government and the voluntary sector to incorporate the business community. The business community in Wales could be our greatest ally in taking our country forward in terms of economic development when we have a voice and an assembly of our own.

It has been my experience in recent years, working in the inward investment field in Wales, that the business community has so much to offer the Welsh people. Within that community, we found that it was specifically English investors in Wales who were our greatest allies. Is there not a way of facilitating that through the assembly by creating private sector partnerships, conterminous with the regional economic committees, the training and enterprise councils and the four regions of the Welsh Development Agency? If we involve the business community, we can create a synergy to produce the best and give us access to the talent and skill that could act as a driving motor to take our economy forward.

It is true, and I do not wish to take anything away from the fact, that the WDA's track record in attracting direct foreign investment into Wales has been second to none, but our country's record in attracting our fair share of United Kingdom investment—the lion's share of all investment; more than two thirds of investment in the Principality—has been appalling. We have under-performed in attracting UK investment into Wales; we have out-performed every other region in attracting overseas investment. The closer to Wales one gets, the greater the difficulty in securing footloose investment and expansion investment.

It is easier to get investment from South Korea than it is from south Kensington. It is easier for the Welsh people to get investment from Tokyo than from Tunbridge Wells. It is easy to get investment from the other side of the world, but we cannot get investment from the other side of the Severn bridge. The assembly has a unique opportunity to ensure that people within the United Kingdom and Europe are attracted to Wales.

In a recent survey in Wales on Sunday, the senior industrial correspondents of all the major European countries were asked what they thought of Wales as an investment location. What did we see? We saw a London-centric—a Hampstead dinner party set—view of south Wales; coal mines and slag heaps. That view has been fed through from London and the south-east of England. The assembly could turn that around quickly and economically, and we should address that. It is a challenge that we in Wales look forward to.

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I have been interested by the hon. Gentleman's glowing idea of what the assembly will achieve. I presume, on that basis, that he will be standing for the assembly and will be leaving this House.

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The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. My role in this House is precious. I support this United Kingdom, and the assembly will not contradict its unity and the Union. If I have any say in it, I will try to sustain my role in the defence of this nation for some time; it is a role that I am proud to have. I see no contradiction. [Interruption.] I hear the laughter, the jibes and the quick points of Opposition Members, but I can stand here and speak on behalf of my people and my nation. I cannot see anyone on the Opposition Benches who is in a position to do so.

My final point is on the location of the assembly, which comes within the ambit of the Bill and the financial memorandum. I represent a seat that geographically is placed between the cities of Cardiff and Swansea. I have had the great pleasure of living and working in Swansea for some years and there is no finer and more beautiful city. The final decision as to location must be taken on the basis of what is in the best interests of our country and our nation.

I cannot conceive of an assembly outside the capital city doing anything other than detracting from the needs of our country. When that decision is taken we must be objective. If the assembly is to have the greatest effect—providing a voice for Wales and a new and modern image of Wales, which reflects the country as it is and not as people on the other side of the Severn bridge sometimes think it is—it must be in the administrative and commercial centre and the heart of Wales. It has to be in our capital city. I do not have any great desires as to where in that city it should go, but everyone in Wales would appreciate it if the building could be got under way in the not too distant future.

Once again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I must thank you for calling me to speak. It is certainly a proud moment for me. The quicker that we get to 10 o'clock, go through the Lobby and vote yes for Wales, the better.

7.11 pm

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It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith), especially as I come from the wrong side of the Severn, as he would describe it. I am not Welsh and do not represent a Welsh constituency, although I am not that far off, but I wanted to take part in this debate to do my bit—it is only my bit—to try to preserve the United Kingdom and to protect it from sliding towards the great danger of becoming a set of regions within a federal Europe.

By and large, I object to the Bill for two main and broad reasons—first, because of some of the details and secondly, because I object to the general principles of devolution as they are being applied.

On the details, the introduction of a new voting system on the back of devolution concerns me. Two new things are coming in at once. Such voting systems have not been explained to or endorsed by the electorate. That form of proportional representation is alien to Britain. Under our constitution, voters vote for people and not for parties. It could be said that they vote Conservative, Labour or, occasionally, Liberal Democrat, but by and large, under our constitution, they vote for people. Also, parties have not previously had to register. Under the Bill, they will have to.

Obviously, that represents a significant and confusing shift in the way we elect the people who run our country. We are moving not to one simple system of proportional representation—if there is such a thing—but to a dual system with all the confusion that that will bring. The Welsh Assembly will have a two-tier membership: some members will have constituents and some will not; some will have constituencies and some will not; some will receive many letters and have much work to do each week, but some will not; some will be in touch with the electorate and some will not; and, some will be serving their constituents, while others will serve those who compile the lists. I do not want that system to be introduced into this country.

Such a dual system might benefit the Conservative party at the moment. We might win some seats that we would not otherwise win, but the principle is the important thing. In this Bill, the principle is confusing and very wrong.

The assembly itself is also a matter of some confusion. The Bill does not make it clear whether it will be powerful or weak. For example, the Secretary of State will be able to overrule the assembly, direct it and revoke its decisions. Does that make this new assembly nothing more than an expensive talking shop? Or will it be concerned with the government of Wales? Will it be a powerful body? Which is it? The Bill certainly does not make that clear.

We have heard much comment on the referendum. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) pointed out, the turnout for the referendum was somewhat less than when one was held in 1978. Then, 58.3 per cent. of the electorate voted. This time, it was 50.1 per cent.

The Bill is being rushed through. The referendum was rushed through while it is fair to say that the Labour Government were enjoying a fair degree of popularity. It was rushed through before the Bill was published and there was a small turnout. Even given all that, only a tiny majority was in favour of the Bill.

Is that a full mandate—a mandate sufficiently strong to break up the United Kingdom? Is it a mandate sufficiently strong to move the United Kingdom towards the Labour Government's real aim, which is a Europe of regions? If another referendum were held in 12 months, say, it could well give a different result. It is safe to assume that by then the gloss will have gone off the Labour Government. The Bill is now published and by then we will have debated it in full, and that referendum would not be influenced by the Scottish vote.

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Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the United States has been broken up in some way by the existence of a federal system?

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The United States is a completely different country. Some areas of the United States experience many problems that I would not want us to experience. It is not comparable.

If another referendum on the issue were held, when circumstances were different—even in 12 months' time—the outcome would be very different, especially given the closeness of the vote at a time when the Government had everything on their side.

As we have heard from Opposition Members, in most countries major constitutional change requires a minimum mandate—a threshold. When the previous referendum was held, the Labour Government required such a threshold. If they had not, Scotland would have had its own Parliament then. The fact that it was not given a Parliament then caused certain Members to bring down that Labour Government. Perhaps that is what concerns this Government—not that they are likely to be brought down in the House, but that they are conscious of the fact that they need to win the next election, and that may be worrying them very much.

Virtually every club, society and association in the land has to achieve a two-thirds vote at a special meeting to change its constitution. If that is good enough for them and for many other countries, why is it not good enough for devolution votes in this country, especially as the Bill is, I understand, to be considered in Standing Committee, not on the Floor of the House?

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Did the Conservative Government have a mandate, or a two-thirds majority, to change the system of government in Wales from a democracy to a quangocracy?

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The Conservative Government were elected by the legitimate electoral means, as indeed were the present Labour Government, who achieved about 45 per cent. of the vote and are moving towards breaking up the United Kingdom and taking us headlong into a federal Europe. Do they intend to consult the electorate on that? I very much doubt it.

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I want to put a different historical point of view on two brief points. First, those to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, of whom I would be one, did not bring down the Labour Government, as it was not we who persuaded James Callaghan to delay the election from October 1978 until March 1979. Secondly, as I have told George Cunningham, I greatly regret ever having introduced a threshold, because it was seen as moving the goalposts and changing the rules, and the referendum result would have been much more decisive for the noes—at that time—had it not been introduced. That is the history as I see it.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that history lesson and bow to his great authority in the matter. As the United Kingdom is being broken up without any consultation of the English people, there should be some certainty before the Labour Government proceed down the road that they have chosen.

As I was saying, I regret the fact that the Bill will not be considered in Committee of the whole House. That prevents many hon. Members from taking part, including many Labour Members who may be critical of the Government's plans. Perhaps that is part of the Labour plan: silence the critics, ride roughshod over the House of Commons and introduce referendums before legislation.

That is no way to go about breaking up the United Kingdom, which as far as I can see is what this is all about. We are to have a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, and regional government in England. If that is not about fracturing the United Kingdom, I do not know what is. I do not believe that the measures can strengthen the Union; they can only weaken it.

I recognise some of the problems under the Union, but I believe that Wales and Scotland have done well and that their future cannot be guaranteed under the proposals. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley said, Wales received £4,352 per head to England's £3,743. If we go down the devolution road, that difference could give rise to English nationalism, which I would regret.

There could be a demand to reduce that allocation and the Welsh representation in Parliament. There could also be—indeed, there is—a demand for an English parliament. Some of those demands are acceptable and understandable, but I do not want a rise in English nationalism. I do not want there to be an English parliament, first because I am elected to represent constituents in the United Kingdom Parliament and secondly because I am against devolution.

I see no reason to prevent decisions from being made on a more local basis—for example, I am all in favour of strengthening the role of councils in Northern Ireland—but I see no need for bodies to be set up that create a potential for conflict. Two parliaments and one assembly in one country must give rise to conflict, as well as to duplication and confusion, not only constitutionally, in Government circles, but in the minds of the electorate.

Whom will the electorate blame if things go wrong, or credit if they go right? Whom will they contact—their constituency Member of Parliament; their constituency member of the Welsh Assembly; or their regional member of the Welsh Assembly? What on earth will they do? Will they not experience some gridlock if the Welsh Assembly, or indeed the Scottish Parliament, is of a different political persuasion from the House of Commons?

I am concerned about the Labour Government's master plan—if such it be—to create a federal Europe of regions. Do they really plan the end of the nation state in Europe? We have already had Scottish and Welsh devolution, we are to have a Greater London authority, and proposals are already being drawn up for English regional government.

Some might accuse me of alarmism, but when I hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying that there is no constitutional bar to a single currency, I am greatly concerned and I want to alert the public to what is going on, because I really believe that the United Kingdom is being broken up into small regions and that each of those regions will form part of a federal Europe. The British electorate have never consented to that, and would never do so. This is a slippery slope to something that the people of this country simply do not want.

It is often suggested that the Conservative party should not engage in this debate, as we have no representation in Wales; as if that meant that we had no interest in Wales. This debate is not about Wales but about the United Kingdom. Not only are we entitled to take part in such debates: it is incumbent on us to do so, and to speak out against the Bill so that we may preserve the Union and the United Kingdom and resist moves towards a federal Europe of regions.

7.26 pm

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This is an historic occasion, as it is extremely rare for politicians to be in on the making of a new political institution, and Labour Members are enthusiastic and excited about it. It is good to have the chance to get on with the job of bringing democracy to Wales, bringing power closer to people in Wales, and trying to bring prosperity to people who have been excluded for far too long. I propose to touch on three matters relating to the Bill: the committee structure; equal opportunities; and the location of the assembly.

The committee structure will be considered in detail by the advisory committee and then by the Standing Orders Commission, but I want to make some general points at this stage. Schedule 2 lists 18 wide-ranging fields of responsibility for the assembly, including agriculture, health, social services, education and the Welsh language.

It would be unwise if those subject fields were translated into individual committees, plus any other committees that the assembly may choose to set up. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), I believe that the assembly should have integrated strategies that cross all the fields of responsibility. One of the big difficulties with local government, central Government and the Welsh Office stems from the division between their various departments, which makes it hard to implement strategies that cover them all.

That is especially problematic in a field such as child care, responsibility for which is shared by education, health and social services, and which is also important to economic development. In the Welsh Office, the division is between two Ministers. In every layer of government, the division causes difficulties, and it is essential that we have strategies in the Welsh Assembly to draw together all the different threads.

It was thought that a great advantage of the new unitary authorities would be the bringing together of, for example, health and social services. However, we do not bring things together by putting them in separate committees in one body. The key to success for the assembly is to have integrated strategies for the environment, sustainable economic development, and social and economic regeneration.

We should be thinking of working in the assembly in those sorts of ways, which will tackle the particular problems of Wales. We need an imaginative, innovative structure. We need to learn from the problems that we have experienced in central and local government and in the Welsh Office in implementing such strategies.

We should consider setting up mechanisms to consider groups such as children—a children's committee. Compared with the rest of Great Britain, Wales has special problems. We have the lowest gross domestic product per head and the highest poverty rate. We have major transport problems and fewer child care places. Low pay is an issue. We have more lone parents who are not working than the rest of Britain. We need policies to which the whole assembly subscribes, and fewer, more powerful, committees that can meet the objectives of the assembly.

It is essential to establish good working structures with Government Departments. The success of the welfare-to-work policy, for instance, depends on the Employment Service and the Department of Social Security working with the assembly, which will provide the child care strategy that is essential for that policy to succeed.

I am pleased that two clauses, clauses 47 and 113, refer to equal opportunities. Clause 47 states that the assembly's business must be
"conducted with due regard to the principle that there should be equality of opportunity for all".
Clause 113 states that the assembly's functions are to be
"exercised with due regard to the principle that there should be equality of opportunity for all people."
Starting afresh, with a new body, we should be able to make certain that those principles lie at the heart of the assembly.

One of the most important ways of ensuring equal opportunity for all people is to have members who represent the range of people in Wales. That means that women should be there in equal numbers. I believe that I am the first woman to speak in this debate, which is well into its second day. We do not want to mirror that in a Welsh Assembly.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) spoke yesterday.

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I am sorry—one female Member spoke yesterday.

The women of Wales appreciate the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell), who strongly backed the principle of equal representation in his speech yesterday. The Bill leaves the means of getting equal representation to the political parties.

I welcome the element of proportionality in the Bill. If the Conservatives get 20 per cent. of the vote in Wales, it is right that they should be represented in the Welsh Assembly. That makes for a better assembly and better government. Now that an 80-member assembly, with one man and one woman for each seat, is no longer an option, it may be difficult to achieve equal representation. Is it possible to put something in the Bill to allow political parties to take positive action to ensure that women are present in equal numbers?

The Labour party has had a drive to find how many women would be prepared to stand for the assembly. We now have more than 200 women who are interested in standing. No one will ever be able to say that women do not want to put themselves forward, as has been often said in the past. It would be tragic if the enthusiasm of those women was not translated into reality. The weight of history is against us, against women being represented in political institutions. In Wales, we have only four women out of 40 Members. The process would be helped if we could include in the Bill a mechanism for positive action to get women into the assembly.

Ensuring that the assembly's business is conducted in a way that is conducive to equal opportunities, both for members and for the public, means that the needs of men and women with children and dependents should be taken into account. All evidence shows that black people tend to be excluded from political and other activities. The last census in Cardiff showed that Afro-Caribbean people were more likely to be unemployed, to live in sub-standard housing, and not to own a car than the general population, as well as suffering from racism.

We must make specific efforts to ensure that black people have access to the assembly. As we are starting afresh, we can try to do such things. Wales is a multicultural, cosmopolitan country, especially in the towns and cities of the south. It has been strongly argued already that the assembly is for everyone in Wales, for people with every accent, whose first language may be Welsh, Urdu, Bengali or English.

The Bill is an opportunity for more open government, which we hope will involve many more people than in the past. Meetings should be as accessible to the public as possible. The assembly should able to co-opt people on to committees. It should be able to co-opt people who have experience of being disabled or of being black in a mainly white country. I respect the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) about trying to attract people from business, industry and academia, but, equally, we want to attract people who have had day-to-day experience of living in the particular circumstances of Wales..

The public should be able to put items on the agendas of committees. I strongly welcome the commitment to work with community groups and the voluntary sector, which is a huge constituency in Wales, ranging from big national organisations to the small community groups that make life in Wales function. Engaging with the voluntary sector, not only as a grant-giving and monitoring body but in consultations and as partners, is important and will enhance the assembly.

It is important to engage with young people. I support a youth assembly. There should be mechanisms, such as a children's committee, for feeding in the views of children. Many schools have schools councils. We should encourage them to look at what is going on in the assembly.

There should be no question of locating the assembly anywhere but in the capital of Wales. To start it anywhere else would cause confusion and weaken it. We need dispersed, devolved methods of communicating with people, but that is a back-up, not a substitute..

The main point is to get the strongest possible assembly with the greatest ability to take decisions and thereby earn the respect of the people of Wales. I believe strongly that it must be located where the civil servants are and where decisions can be made quickly. It should be in the capital. There is a clear message from trade unions, business, international politics, Europe and the voluntary sector that there is no alternative to Cardiff. It is the one institution that cannot be devolved or go anywhere else. Many institutions can be dispersed, but the headquarters of the assembly must be in the capital.

7.39 pm

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It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan), who made a thoughtful speech, full of good, common sense and some important points. It was very much in contrast with the speech by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who opened the debate on behalf of the official Opposition.

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Go on, have a go.

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Yes, I shall have a go. It is time that someone had a go from this Bench, lest someone lump us in with your lot.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley spent a lot of time pouring out vitriol about this, that and the other. He said that the Bill had more holes than a Swiss cheese, yet he spent 10 seconds talking about them. Perhaps the Swiss cheese available in Ribble Valley is different from that which is available elsewhere in Europe. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) was right to describe the hon. Gentleman's bluster as badly lacking in humility. So it was.

That there is a lack of scrutiny of Welsh issues in this Parliament goes without saying. The Committees that consider Welsh Bills such as the Welsh Language Bill and the Local Government (Wales) Bill are packed with people from outside Wales who have no interest in what is going on in Wales, and often are there only to vote against any useful amendments. That cannot be the essence of good government. We have half an hour of Welsh questions every five weeks or so, and one day a year there is a one-day debate on Wales. That does not make for satisfactory governance in Wales.

The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) referred with high passion to the break-up of the United Kingdom that he says is inherent in the Bill. Those words were cheering to me, but I have to admit that, despite reading the Bill three or four times, I do not have the same impression. I should be delighted if he were right and I were wrong.

Yesterday's debate was rather an anti-climax, probably because the three political parties that have representation in Wales believe that devolution is a good thing. The so-called opposition came from Tory Members, whose party has no representation in Wales. Worse still, some Tory Members' speeches showed that they had little or no knowledge of Wales, its needs or the real nature of the devolutionary process. The quality of the speeches of official Opposition Members rendered the debate a non-event.

It is all very well for the little Englander, Eurosceptic tendency to churn out the old drivel, but it is an unedifying spectacle that does no credit to the Tory party. I believe that it would be deprecated by many sincere members of the Welsh Conservative party, who take a far more positive, proactive and sensible long-term view of the matter. I believe that it is possible to oppose a measure and remain constructive; but that view is not universally shared in the Chamber.

I shall not get into a debate about figures. We have learnt enough about the mandate or lack of mandate, and the yes-no, and so on. Suffice it to say that there was a majority in favour on 19 September.

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A narrow majority.

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Yes, it was. The hon. Gentleman is so predictable. Before I am interrupted again and subjected to the mantra about the thinness of the majority, I must simply say that it ill behoves a party which was in power twice for a total of 10 years on the vote of a minority of the United Kingdom electorate to try to score points in that way.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), in his wide-ranging and interesting speech yesterday, touched on many important points. We in Plaid Cymru make no secret of the fact that we want a full legislative and tax-raising Parliament in Wales. The Bill falls considerably short of that goal, but we shall continue to argue and debate and, we hope, persuade in order to achieve that end.

Lest I damn the Assembly with too faint praise, let me say that it is a welcome development. It brings government nearer to the people, and that has to be good. It also provides for rationalisation of the myriad Welsh quangos. Many will disappear, and I have little doubt that the taxpayers' money will be saved. It provides an opportunity to close the democratic deficit, and that must be welcomed by any democrat.

Furthermore, the vexed question of accountability has been a great problem in the governance of Wales. When placemen are put in places of power and authority and make a hash of things, the people of Wales want to get rid of them, but in the current situation they cannot. That is utterly repugnant and intolerable. I am sure that the Bill will tackle that aspect urgently, as it states it will and as the White Paper stated it would.

Several hon. Members who spoke in yesterday's debate stressed the need for the national assembly to be accepted by all of Wales, whether it be the populous south-east, the sparsely populated Pembrokeshire coast or wherever. We must all strive to make the Assembly fully national for all in Wales. I agree with the words of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North about involving minorities and so on to make the Assembly truly representative. Of course we must have a proper gender balance, too. That is all evident good sense, and I hope that we will see it in action in the coming months and years.

We must work to dispel the untruths perpetrated by the constructive and reactionary no campaign. We must build an assembly which is worthy of the title "national". So, while I acknowledge the need to deal with the concerns of Cardiff, Newport and Wrexham, I stress the need to deal urgently with the needs of rural Wales.

I do not say that any part of Wales deserves special pleading, but it is a plain fact that rural Wales is in decline. Given the depth of the current crisis in agriculture, the very existence of large parts of Wales is called into sharp focus. One has to ask whether an assembly would have allowed the crisis in the beef and sheep sectors to happen. I have no doubt that the assembly's sympathies would lie with the industry, but sympathy does not pay the bank interest.

Will the assembly be hamstrung and bound and gagged by the Ministry of Agriculture? The present Minister, unlike the Secretary of State for Wales, is breathtakingly complacent about the crisis in agriculture. I hope that he will wake up to the crisis sooner or later and certainly before it is too late.

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Is there not a genuine problem in that the very real difficulties of Welsh agriculture, which we all know about and some of us entirely accept, will be solved only by action by the Council of Ministers? The Welsh Assembly will not be represented in the Council of Ministers. When it comes to a question of power, how are the problems to which the hon. Gentleman rightly refers going to be solved?

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I know that the hon. Gentleman is an expert in these matters, but it is my understanding that a representative of the Welsh Assembly will be able to attend the Agriculture Council with any delegation. I am sure that Welsh needs can be dealt with in that way. I fully accept that there will not be official ministerial representation, and I regret that. That is one aspect that my party will seek to redress as the Bill proceeds. I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point, but there will be some voice, albeit that of a delegation.

Many members of the farming fraternity have asked about the powers and obligations of the assembly towards agriculture. Agriculture in Wales is quite different from that in England, with 80 per cent. of the land mass classified as less favoured. The assembly must be able to take real decisions about agriculture and make and amend policy as it is received from the European Union. I accept what the hon. Member for Linlithgow has said about that.

I sincerely believe that the problems facing agriculture and their knock-on effect on the rural economy strengthen the call for an agricultural and rural affairs committee of the assembly. Those matters are inextricably linked, as the current crisis has shown.

The National Farmers Union has taken a constructive approach to the Bill. In its short but helpful briefing, it refers to clause 33, which places a duty on the assembly to support and enhance aspects of Welsh cultural life. The NFU points out that the duty to enhance rural life is extremely important. I am pleased to note that the Bill includes a duty on the assembly to protect the Welsh culture and its language.

I also agree that there should be an explicit duty on the assembly to promote and sustain the interests of rural areas. That is not without precedent. For example, the Environment Act 1995 places a duty on the national park authorities to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities, and to co-operate with public agencies whose functions include the promotion of economic and social development in rural areas. Furthermore, the English Countryside Commission does a great deal of valuable work in co-ordinating efforts to sustain rural areas. Therefore, there are lessons to be learned from over the border.

Given the current disastrous state of agriculture and the need for urgent action given the forthcoming changes to the common agricultural policy, there has never been such an urgent need for a strategic all-Wales approach to rural life and matters rural. I believe that the assembly could be just the vehicle for that.

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The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Stormont parliamentary system had control of agriculture in Northern Ireland. If it was still in existence, does he believe that Northern Ireland would have got out of the mess created by BSE, or would it have been caught by the general ban on United Kingdom beef products?

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I am not sure about that particular aspect, but, with great respect, the Welsh Assembly will be based on good will. For historical reasons, the hon. Member's country is different from mine—

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There was plenty of good will.

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