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Devolution

Volume 586: debated on Wednesday 22 October 2014

8. What discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the effects of the Scottish referendum result on government policy on further devolution for Wales. (905497)

This Government are putting Wales at the heart of the debate on devolution across the UK. I am a member of the new devolution committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and I have already met the party leaders from Wales here in Westminster to discuss how we might take forward devolution in Wales as we work towards a fair and lasting settlement.

I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to his new position. I also welcome his moving from being an anti-devolutionist to a pragmatic devolutionist. May I encourage him to go further and become a real devolutionist? When he has discussions with colleagues and others, will he look at moving Government Departments and Government business away from central London to parts of Wales such as north-west Wales so that we can have real devolution and real jobs in those areas of the United Kingdom, and have a more balanced UK?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments about the need for real devolutions not only to rebalance the economy of the UK but to rebalance our politics. It is also worth pointing out that the current Welsh Administration in Cardiff is probably one of the least devolutionary Administrations that we have across the UK—they are centralising more in Cardiff. We need devolution within Wales as well as from the UK to Wales.

I am a big supporter of the Government’s devolution programme and of giving responsibility to the lowest possible level. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a concern that certain Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs want home rule for Wales, which would run contrary to the Government’s agenda?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I heard the comments by the First Minister and others, at the end of the Scottish referendum campaign, about wanting home rule for Wales. When I travel round Wales and talk to people and businesses, I find there is an appetite for more devolution, but I do not detect much appetite for home rule. Indeed, support for independence in Wales is at a historic low of just 3%.

May I add my welcome to the Secretary of State in his new role, and to the Minister? I also welcome the zeal that the Secretary of State has shown for devolution—unexpected zeal, because of course he used not to be so fond of it. For the benefit of the House, will he confirm today that he no longer thinks that devolution is what he once described as “constitutional vandalism”?

I pay tribute to the internet research skills of the shadow Secretary of State. He is referring to an article I wrote in 2007, at a time when the position of Secretary of State for Wales was reduced to a part-time job; when there was no fiscal devolution; and when there was an unbalanced, unstable devolution settlement for Wales. I am delighted to be part of a Government who are rectifying some of those wrongs.

I thank the Secretary of State for that clarification. We agree with him that devolution is not constitutional vandalism, but I will tell him what is: a Prime Minister of Britain describing Offa’s Dyke as

“the line between life and death”,

and a Tory Health Secretary hiring the Daily Mail to scuttle around traducing Welsh public services. That is constitutional vandalism and the Secretary of State’s record will be judged not by soft soap and warm words about devolution, but by what he does to condemn the war on Wales.

Not a single Member of Parliament with a Welsh constituency could stand up and honestly say, hand on heart, that, when they get out and speak to people on the doorsteps on a Saturday morning, those people do not tell them that the quality of their health services is the No. 1 issue facing the people of Wales. It is wrong of the Welsh Labour party to seek to shut down debate about and scrutiny of the performance of its Administration in Cardiff when it comes to the most important issue for the people of Wales.

12. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in Wales we have longer waiting times, missed accident and emergency targets since 2009, the worst ambulance response times in the United Kingdom, no cancer drugs fund and a 7% real-terms cut in funding? That is what Labour delivers for the NHS. Does my right hon. Friend agree that only the Conservatives can be trusted to run the national health service? (905502)

I do not want anybody holding up any part of Welsh economic and social life as a bad comparator. I want Wales to be leading and people to be holding up Wales as a good example to follow. The truth is—I think the shadow Secretary of State would admit this in private—that the Labour Health Minister in Cardiff needs to get a grip, get on top of this issue and really deliver for the people of Wales.

To return to the theme of devolution, one of the great successes of the Scottish referendum was the participation of 16 and 17-year-olds in the process. Yesterday the National Assembly spoke with one voice when it voted on returning electoral arrangements to itself. Does the Secretary of State believe that this is an issue that deserves attention? Increasingly, many young people believe it does.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I visited Scotland several times during the referendum campaign and saw for myself the enthusiasm with which teenagers were engaging in the discussion. I have yet to be convinced on the argument for reducing the voting age for all elections in the UK, but it is clear that such issues will need to be considered in the future.