Anger at broken pledge on quangos

Devolution for Wales: Government faces first serious backbench rebellion as White Paper is unveiled
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Indy Politics
Welsh devolution last night provided the Government with its first serious backbench rebellion. Ron Davies, Secretary of State for Wales, was forced to rebut opposition from several members of his own party as he introduced a White Paper on his proposals.

Labour MPs claimed that promises of a "bonfire of the quangos" had not been fulfilled. The White Paper says the number of executive bodies will be reduced from 19 to 14 and that one of the biggest, the Welsh Development Agency, will grow even larger as it absorbs two smaller bodies.

Llew Smith, the MP for Blaenau Gwent who complained that Mr Davies had tried to bully him into submission on the issue, was also among half a dozen Labour objectors who spoke out yesterday. "The Secretary of State said he intended to scrap the quango state in Wales and he has obviously failed dismally to do that," he said.

There were also objections from some Labour members to the proposal that the new 60-member assembly should be elected partly through proportional representation. Sir Ray Powell, the MP for Ogmore, told Mr Davies that he would vote against the measure if PR was not dropped.

Alan Williams, the Swansea West MP, said the Government had failed to spell out how the new Welsh assembly would be allowed to develop in future. Mr Davies was offering the Welsh people "the constitutional equivalent of a mystery tour," he said. "They can decide whether to go on the bus or not, but they have no idea of its destination."

Mr Davies is looking at about six buildings in Cardiff as possible homes for the new assembly, where the English and Welsh languages will be given equal status. If the referendum results in a "yes" vote, the pounds 7bn annual budget for Wales which he now controls will be handed over to the new body. The assembly will cost between pounds 12m and pounds 17m to set up and will involve additional running costs of between pounds 15m and pounds 20m per year.

Although the body will not have tax-raising powers it will have responsibility for education, health, training, agriculture, transport, industry and the environment. The Tories claimed yesterday that although it would not be able to interfere with local authorities it could divert their budgets elsewhere and force them to put up council taxes.

The new assembly will not be able to pass primary legislation, but will be able to decide on secondary measures, such as the content of the school curriculum. Mr Davies' role will be reduced to that of co-ordinator between Westminster and Cardiff, representing the new assembly at Cabinet meetings and attending its meetings to explain government policy.

Two-thirds of the assembly members will be appointed on a first-past- the-post system, with one sitting for each of 40 existing Westminster constituencies. The other 20 would be picked from party lists and would be allocated on according to the percentage of the vote that a particular party gained in each region of Wales.

The English should vote too, page 14