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Gillan: A strong Wales in a strong United Kingdom

Speech to the Welsh Grand Committee.

"The Opposition welcomes the opportunity to debate the implications of the Gracious Speech for Wales.

Let me deal with one issue at the outset - the Secretary of State's increasingly frantic attempts to distort Conservative policy when everyone knows he's simply trying to cover up Labour's failings in Wales.

Make no mistake. The position of my Party is clear. We support devolution in Wales. It's here to stay. We want it to work.

So we'll take no lessons in being pro-Wales from the Secretary a State when he was the one who denied the people of Wales the referendum on extra Assembly powers that we wanted to give them.

And nor will we take lessons when we have a Secretary of State who openly boasts that he negotiates a better deal for Northern Ireland than he does for Wales and then tells the people of Wales that they should be green with envy.

With commitment like that it's no surprise that he's now campaigning to take over the only office in the Government that requires even less time and effort than he puts into making the case for Wales.

Of course we're grateful that the Secretary of State has taken time off from campaigning to become the next John Prescott to come here today to present the Government's case.

And what a very thin case it was.

Last year the Secretary of State trumpeted the fact that the Gracious Speech was a 'bumper Queen's Speech for Wales' as it contained an 'unprecedented' number of Wales specific Bills.

This year in an attempt to hide his embarrassment over the lack of Wales specific Bills he argued in the Assembly that the Government of Wales Act means we no longer need any.

I read his speech, and the logic of his comments was to shut out Westminster altogether and move rapidly towards full law-making powers for the Assembly.

But we all know he won't do that because it will simply rip open the divisions in the Welsh Labour Party that the Government of Wales Act is designed to mask.

The reality is that the only way to describe this Queen's Speech is more of the same for Wales from a Government that has promised so much and yet delivered so little.

Every year we get the same old promises from Labour. And every year we get the same old Labour failure.

All we get is good intentions but no delivery.

Of course, while there are no specific Wales Bills in the Gracious Speech, most of them - some 20 in all - will apply in whole or in part to Wales.

Not least the usual raft of Home Office Bills that have become such a feature of this Government - more than 50 since they came to power. Now we have another six.

What clearer admission of failure could there be after nine years of Labour Government?

There's yet another Criminal Justice Bill and an Organised Crime Bill.

Yet people in Wales know that it's under Labour that violent crime has gone up by 50 per cent and local police forces are still dealing with the financial consequences of the botched merger plans.

There's the Offender Management Bill.

But people in Wales are aware that under Labour prisons are at breaking point and dangerous criminals are being released early. 41 prisoners are currently being held in police cells in Wales.

There's the Border and Immigration Bill.

But under Labour foreign prisoners are being allowed to stay in the United Kingdom rather than being deported and after nine years in office our borders are still out of control.

We all know that at Holyhead, funding for special branch officers has been cut, and despite it being the third busiest port in the country we still don't have immigration officers on duty 24 hours a day.

There's the Local Government Bill that promises welcome greater freedoms for local authorities from Labour's stifling targets and red tape.

But people in Wales are still reeling from the 97 per cent increase in council tax and the politically motivated re-banding and revaluation - imposed in Wales but cancelled in England because of the Election.

There's the Pension Bill - the broad thrust of which we support. But people in Wales will remember that it's this Labour Government, and the Chancellor in particular, that destroyed private pensions, halved the savings ration and placed half of all pensioners on the means test.

And all too late for the steelworkers at Allied Steel and Wire whom I met recently.

As the Rt Hon Member for Birkenhead made clear, in 1997 we had some of the best pension provision in Europe, now we have some of the worst.

And who's largely to blame? The likely next Prime Minister.

Then there's the Further Education Bill, which we would have welcomed had it been about real reform rather than yet more bureaucratic tinkering.

Again people in Wales will recall that it's under Labour that the number of 16-18 year olds not in education, employment or training has gone up in Wales.

Or there's the Legal Services Bill. Again, while we support much of the Bill, after nine years of Labour people are rightly appalled that large parts of Wales are being turned into legal aid deserts and that access to justice for vulnerable people is being restricted.

And of course we are promised more reforms of the NHS, when under Labour NHS dentistry, waiting lists and threatened hospital closures remain a national disgrace.

So it's the same old promises, and the same old failure.

Last week in his letter to Labour MPs, the Secretary of State, in a rare moment of candour, finally admitted that:

'Too often the Government has seemed to hand down policies from on high' and that 'too often our communication…feels like a lecture rather than a dialogue'.

Well he should know - because he's been one of the principal offenders in the Government.

His latest diktat from on high is the Government of Wales Act itself.

The Gracious Speech referred - in fact its only direct reference to Wales - to the Government working closely with the devolved administration.

That relationship can only be viewed in the context of the Government of Wales Act.

The Secretary of State presents it as a significant measure of devolution that settles the constitutional issue for a generation.

In reality he knows that it does no such thing and that it is both fragile and unstable.

In the Assembly debate the other day, the First Minister referred to the new Orders in Council procedure as an 'intermediate step' and a 'half way house'.

Well a half way house cannot be the same as a settlement. They are not compatible.

So it's clear that the First Minister and the Secretary of State are at odds on this.

That's why the Secretary of State is now calling for a new constitutional convention between Cardiff and Westminster.

What he didn't tell the people of Wales is that under his version of the convention the only effective power of veto over proposed legislation coming out of Cardiff would lie in his hands and his alone.

He will quite literally be able to act as the Imperial Viceroy in Wales dictating which laws come to Westminster for approval and which are sent back to the First Minister in Cardiff.

All the while, the role of this House is diminished, and Rt Hon and Hon Members from Wales marginalised.

What else can he mean when he says that there should be 'a clear starting presumption that the Assembly requests for new powers will be agreed'?

It's a centralising measure wrapped in devolved clothing.

It's all power to the Secretary of State for Wales.

Despite the Government's addiction to programme motions, at least the Bills in the Queen's Speech that apply to Wales will go through the full Parliamentary process.

That's in stark contrast to the Orders in Council that the Secretary of State allows to come to us from Cardiff.

But I give the Secretary of State this notice.

We will ensure that each and every measure that comes from Wales will be subject to the maximum scrutiny we are able to give within the limitations of the 1 ½ hours of debate we are allowed.

If anyone in Wales wants to see the complete divorce between what Labour says and what Labour does, they need look no further than the Secretary of State's letter to Labour MPs that I referred to a few moments ago.

In it, the Secretary of State says he wants 'a radical programme of progressive policies'…'to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor'.

Yet who is it that presides over Wales, officially the poorest part of the United Kingdom where the gap between the rich and the poor widening?

He does.

He talks about the need to 'grasp the leadership of the green agenda' - a clear admission that it is my Rt Hon Friend for Witney who is in fact leading that agenda.

But which Government presided over an increase in emissions in five out of the past seven years and after much persuasion from us produces a Climate Change Bill in the Queen's Speech that fails to include the annual targets necessary to make it really effective?

His does.

He talks about getting 'the right balance between the power of the state and the rights of the individual'.

So which Government is it that is introducing ID cards and engaging in a direct assault on centuries old liberties by abolishing jury trials?

It's the Government of which the Secretary of State is such a prominent member.

The Queen's Speech is the product of a divided, paralysed and paranoid Labour Government.

It's divided in Wales between the First Minister and the Secretary of State.

It's divided between Welsh Labour MPs and Welsh Labour AMs.

And it's divided in London between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.

The Secretary of State has referred to the Assembly elections next May.

He said that they would be a bare knuckle fight between Labour and the Conservatives.

Let me assure him that we will not flinching in the face of either his bare knuckles or the Chancellors clunking fist.

Labour have had nine years at Westminster, and over seven in Cardiff, to try and get it right. They've failed.

The real tragedy of the Prime Minister is that he's promised so much and delivered so little.

And the tragedy of his last Queen's Speech is that all his successor offers is more of the same.

The only prospect that's worse is the combination of socialism and separatism offered by Plaid.

They would take Wales back to the economic equivalent of the stone age by turning its nearest neighbour into its fiercest competitor.

What this Queen's Speech has made clearer than ever is that Wales, like the rest of the United Kingdom, needs a change of direction.

A change of direction that can only come from a united and revitalised Conservative Party that's setting the political agenda, rather than a clapped out and clueless Labour Party.

We need a new team in Wales.

Instead of a Labour Party that is divided and paralysed, a Conservative Party that offers the people of Wales change, optimism and hope."

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