The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I have had regular discussions with the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary on the spending review, including objective 1. In both the 2000 and 2002 spending reviews, extra money was made available to Wales, outside the Barnett formula, to provide public spending cover for the structural funds programmes in Wales.
Sir Nicholas Winterton : As always, I am warmly grateful to the Secretary of State and Leader of the House for his reply. But can he say whether west Wales and the valleys will receive less European Union structural funding after 2006? Will the United Kingdom Government make up the full difference, or is an EU transitional arrangement expected, with the Government making up the differences?
We are still in the process of negotiating the post-2006 position, which is not clear. However, we are determined to secure a very good deal for Wales, and I am confident that that will happen as a result of the negotiations in Brussels by, among others, the Chancellor.
This has been a fantastic boon for west Wales and the valleys. Economic inactivity levels are down by 25,000 and employment is up by 28,000 in the objective 1 area. Business is growing, growth is improving and public expenditure is going in. The funding has been very good news for Wales: it is a once-in-a-generation boost, of which we are taking advantage.
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Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): I am given to understand that the European programmes in Wales have been allocated over £65 million of additional funds as a result of the European Commission's performance reserve. How much of that will be allocated to objective 1 programmes, and does my right hon. Friend have details readily available as to how much will be allocated to north Wales?
Mr. Hain: I know that objective 1 funding has been very important in my hon. Friend's part of north-west Wales, and that she has been an energetic advocate of the case. I applaud that. I cannot provide the figures for which she asks, but I shall be happy to write to her.
What is clear is that the money going to my hon. Friend's constituency and to north-west Wales as a whole has been an enormous boost in an area thatat least during the Conservative yearshas traditionally had a very rough time economically. That is a tribute to Labour's negotiating skills, and to our achievements.
Miss McIntosh : Is the Secretary of State clear about whether the First Minister thinks there should be a transfer of primary law-making powers or an adjustment to the existing devolution settlement, allowing the Assembly to amend laws passed here? Which is it? The First Minister does not seem to be clear about it in his own mind.
Mr. Hain: The First Minister has floated a different option, which is being explored. I am discussing it with him, and once it is clear exactly how it will translate into legislative termsif that is requiredthere will be an answer to the hon. Lady's question.
It would be interesting to learn from the hon. Lady, or indeed from the shadow Secretary of State, what Conservative policy is on this. We have been clear about our desire to see progress, but it is not clear where the Conservatives stand.
Gareth Thomas: May I invite the Secretary of State to be rather more definitive than he has been in the past about which of the Richard commission's recommendations would require a referendum before implementation?
If tax-varying powers were to be adopted on the Scottish model, a referendum would certainly be required. There is no argument about that, and I think
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Richard conceded it, because the Scots had a referendum. As for whether primary legislative powers relating to functions already devolved would require a referendum, I know that my hon. Friend has advocated that, and that it has been advocated by a majority of Welsh Labour Members and a number of Welsh Labour constituencies. We are currently consulting on it.
Mr. Hain: The First Minister is arguing that one could adopt the 13.2 option that the Richard commission advocatedessentially, it involves enhanced secondary legislative powers for the Assemblyin a different configuration. Under the proposal, it is not just prospective or current legislation that would be dealt with; the Assembly would also have powers over retrospective legislation. We are looking at that idea and discussing it in detail.
Alan Howarth (Newport, East) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend explore further ways of improving scrutiny of clauses in primary legislation that confer additional powers on the Assembly, thereby building on the new procedure for scrutiny by combined Committees of the Assembly and of this House, as is currently happening with the draft transport Bill for Wales? Will he consider whether Ministers in the Welsh Assembly Government should be invited to have their proposals for primary legislation examined by Standing Committees of this House, and perhaps through other proceedings in this Chamber?
Mr. Hain: I shall certainly consider that interesting idea. Of course, pre-legislative scrutiny is an important achievement of this Government that the whole House has welcomed. All recent Welsh Bills, including the current Public Audit (Wales) Bill, were subject to pre-legislative scrutiny and were improved as a result. Perhaps I might take this opportunity to remind everybodyespecially the nationalists and the Liberal Democrats, who want to rush ahead with this agendahow much legislation has gone through in the past year under the existing settlement: nine Bills, containing 163 Welsh clauses. That is a very important achievement that this Labour Government have delivered for the people of Wales under the current devolution settlement.
Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC): The Government's proposed regional assemblies will be granted borrowing powers. The Northern Ireland Executive already have such powers and have raised more than £200 million in the past two years. Does the Secretary of State agree that granting such powers to the National Assembly would be of great benefit to Wales, and that it would be one of the few positive changes that would not split the Welsh Labour party?
The Assembly has a huge budget, which is devolved from Westminster. I should remind the hon. Gentleman, whose party advocates independence for Wales, that if that policy were adopted, Wales would be permanently borrowing from just about every bank in
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the world, because it would be bankrupt as a result of the Mickey Mouse economics that underpin that policy. In fact, since the nationalists have come out totally, transparently and honestly in favour of independence, their vote has actually fallen by 12 per cent.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with Assembly Ministers about issues relating to the application to carry out dredging in the Dee estuary.
Mr. Chapman: While nobody appreciates more than I do the importance of jobs at Airbusmany of my constituents work therethe Dee estuary is one of the most important and highly protected nature conservation sites in the United Kingdom. Can my hon. Friend assure me that when decisions are taken about dredging, the Government will balance the views of the English and Welsh sides of the estuary, take account of the balance of interests of ecology and of commerce, examine alternatives and check the extent to which dredging is actually necessary for the purpose claimed?
Mr. Touhig: All alternatives must be fully and properly assessed before any decision can be taken, and the process must robustly meet the current relevant legislative requirements. I have no doubt that that will happen.
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that most of this precious habitat appeared only in the last 50 years and that it would be utterly insane to jeopardise 6,000 top-quality jobs within Wales for the sake of some marsh land that has appeared only recently?
Mr. Touhig: All those factors will be taken into account as the assessment is made, but I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. British Aerospace employs 6,000 people and it is a crucial player in the economy of north-east Walesand, indeed, of Wales as a whole. The A380 superjumbo Airbus project will further raise the area's profile and will protect, secure and increase job opportunities in that part of Wales. All those matters must be taken into account before a decision is taken.
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