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Respect Agenda

Volume 551: debated on Wednesday 17 October 2012

3. What steps he plans to take to promote the Prime Minister’s respect agenda in dealings between the UK Government and the Welsh Government. (122187)

I am committed to working with the Welsh Government to deliver economic growth in Wales. I do not intend that political differences should stand in the way of such co-operative working in the interests of Wales.

I congratulate the Secretary of State and his hon. Friend the Minister—llongyfarchiadau, as we say in Wales. When the Prime Minister promised a respect agenda, did he mean trying to block Welsh Assembly legislation, unilaterally abolishing wage protection for agricultural workers in Wales and tearing up a cross-border GCSE exam system without consultation? If that is the case, can he even spell the word respect? It is R. E. S. P. E. C. T., by the way.

As we say in Wales, diolch am y llongyfarchiadau. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this Government are fully committed to the respect agenda. We are working closely with the Welsh Government and I am very pleased with the relationship I am cultivating with Carwyn Jones, the First Minister.

Would both Ministers, whom I warmly congratulate, agree with me that parch, as we say in Monmouthshire, is something that works in both directions, and that the refusal of Welsh Assembly Ministers to appear before Select Committees shows a disgraceful lack of respect not only to this House but to those of us who were put in it by the people of Wales?

The word “parch” means respect and I agree that parch is a process that works in two directions. I am very hopeful that a new relationship will be cultivated not only between the two Governments but between Parliament and the Assembly.

I welcome the Secretary of State to the job and although I wish his predecessor all the best, may I say how good it is to have a Welsh MP as Secretary of State for Wales again, but why on earth is he referring the first two laws passed by the Welsh Assembly under the Government of Wales Act 2006 to the Attorney-General? The provision I included in that Act was not to allow the Secretary of State to block Welsh legislation but primarily to deal with any cross-border issues, which I cannot see apply in these cases. Why is he interfering in this anti-devolution manner?

I echo the tribute the right hon. Gentleman pays to my predecessor, who was an excellent Secretary of State. As for the references to the Supreme Court, as he knows these matters are set out in the Government of Wales Act, for which he was responsible. The reference of the first Welsh Bill—that is, the Local Government Byelaws (Wales) Bill—to the Supreme Court should not be regarded as disrespectful or hostile in any sense. It is simply an administrative procedure to clear up the issue of competence and that is it.

I add my words of support to those of the Secretary of State for Dyfed-Powys police and the community of Machynlleth as they live through the awful events of recent weeks. I also warmly congratulate the Secretary of State and his deputy and welcome them to their new role. The Opposition are thrilled that the Prime Minister finally found a Welsh MP to take on the post.

In fairness, the Secretary of State’s predecessor, with whom I did not always agree, has found a new spirit of candour in recent weeks since she left the job and has admitted, for example, that his Government have lost all reputation for competence. On this question of respect, will he continue in this spirit of openness and clear up the question of his attitude to devolution? Will he tell us straightforwardly—does he think that devolution has been good for Wales?

I do not think I can carry on accepting all these welcomes; it is far too much for me—[Interruption.] I am sure they will soon come to an end. I feel strongly that devolution is developing, and that as the Assembly and the Assembly Government mature as institutions they could be very good for Wales indeed. That is why I and my office are determined to work closely with them to assist in doing our best for Wales with them.

Mr Speaker, you will forgive me if I think that the Secretary of State’s view that the Assembly “could” be good for Wales is hardly a ringing endorsement of the devolution settlement that was so decisively supported by the Welsh people. Are not his view that the devolution settlement has “damaged our constitution” and his deputy’s view that it is “constitutional vandalism” what they really think and where they really have disrespect for devolution? Is not the truth that the right hon. Gentleman cannot speak for modern Wales—devolved Wales—but we on this side of the House can and will?

When I used the word “could”, my intention was to point out that under the Labour Assembly Government, coupled with 10 years-plus of Labour Government here in London, Wales has been the poorest part of the United Kingdom. I believe that a lot more could be done to make Wales a happier place to live, and for that purpose it is necessary for us in the Wales Office to work closely with the Welsh Assembly Government. I am willing to do that; I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support me.