The Welsh Administration Ombudsman’s Report of 2000-01

Tuesday 30 October 2001

The Welsh Administration Ombudsman’s Report of 2000-01

4:10 p.m.

Alison Halford:

I, too, welcome Michael Buckley’s report, although not as positively as some of my colleagues. The ombudsman, as we all know, plays a key role in maintaining standards. The Assembly’s departments and its sponsored public bodies have a duty to be open, accountable and transparent, and any failure in that must be swiftly tackled. I will limit my comments to what I believe is the way forward for the ombudsman. I may be critical in parts, but I only wish to flag up these issues so that improvements can be made in order to serve the public better.

Many Members have already touched on the fact that last year many complaints were not investigated because they fell outside Mr Buckley’s jurisdiction. The year before, it was even worse. That backs up my long-held belief that the public is confused by exactly who does what. Mr Buckley’s considerable number of titles does not help matters. I remind you of them: Welsh Administration Ombudsman, Health Service Ombudsman for Wales, Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, Scottish Parliamentary Ombudsman, Health Service Ombudsman for England, and Scottish Health Service Ombudsman. To the novice, the titles would appear to belong to different people, but they all in fact belong to just one person. No-one should worry about having more than one job—but six? Sceptics may mutter that Mr Buckley is a one-person quango.

There is no evidence to suggest that he is not managing to do all these jobs well. That concerns me, because he should not be able to do six jobs so well. The fact that he can, points to a lack of demand. In my experience, this stems from perceived barriers to change, combined with a lack of knowledge about his functions. The result is, as Members have mentioned, that the public do not know who to go to with their complaint. Many constituents have turned to me for help, and I have had limited success. Many complaints appear to fall between the gaps or cut across boundaries. That results in considerable confusion and frustration. Some people have been failed by the system and are left stranded, with no-one to turn to. This leads me to believe that Wales has a large percentage of unrecorded complaints that are invisible to us today.

I welcome the decision last March by the First Secretary and the Secretary of State to conduct an overhaul of our present system. I would be grateful if the Minister could share the progress on this with the Assembly. I look to England with a little shame and see a consultation document already completed, a report already submitted, and recommendations already accepted. I understand the limitations of a UK/Assembly joint venture, and the inevitable senior role that Westminster will take. However, I fear that not taking steps to begin the review in earnest will result in Wales being left behind and having to accept the Colcutt recommendations, slightly tweaked to fit Welsh needs.

In this report, Mr Buckley sees no problem in implementing the Colcutt recommendations in Wales. I cannot agree. I have had reason to write to several ombudsmen, but the complaint is either outside the ombudsman’s jurisdiction, or there is, allegedly, insufficient evidence. These complaints, to my mind, have deserved a thorough investigation, and I am sad that they have failed to get that. A school report on the ombudsman would state ‘has done well, but could do better’.

The Minister for Assembly Business (Andrew Davies): I am grateful for colleagues’ comments, many of which boil down to the same point, namely that greater clarity in the process is needed. Janet is right that people must have confidence in the complaints system. If they do not, as Dafydd Wigley noted, they will not use it and it will fall into disrepute.

We are reviewing these procedures and processes, and Members may wish to make their views known to the administration, or to the reviewers. The system needs to be accessible and understandable, which is the basis of the points that were made. The ombudsman is aware of that, as he is embarking upon an awareness-raising publicity campaign to ensure that it is more accessible and understood. I am sure that we are all committed to that.

As I stated earlier, we are aware of areas for improvement and we will work on them. Next year, should I still hold this position, I hope that when I open this debate, we will either have fewer complaints or more people will be aware of the service.

 

13th November 2001. Minority Party Debate (The Conservative Party). The New Assembly Building

Alison Halford:

The decision to have a new building was taken before this Assembly was created. The building was seen as essential to establish a home for Welsh democracy. I supported it, and still do. Furthermore, we were allowed to debate this matter—let us be grateful for that. [Laughter.] Do I get extra time for laughter? We would be failing in our duty if we did not realise that the project was damaged goods even before the Assembly set eyes on it. There were no signed contracts, there was procurement confusion, disability access was played down in the original plan, crèche facilities had to be built in, and the land that was bought was too small for the building to fit onto it. I am not sure that we really knew how much it was going to cost. That was the poisoned chalice that Edwina Hart inherited.
It is not a choice between an Assembly building and better health. Wales deserves a great building that symbolises our democracy. However, I agree that that should not be at any price. As has been said, our situation is not like that in Scotland, where the price of the new Parliament building has escalated to over £200 million. It was a Conservative Government that approved the construction of Portcullis House, at a cost of £100 million, as my colleague mentioned.

Jonathan Morgan rose—

Alison Halford:

 I will not give way. That was £1 million for every office. It also rented trees. The Northern Ireland Assembly walked into the magnificent Stormont building, which was already adapted and suitable for all purposes. As a Member for a constituency in north Wales, I am more than aware of the economic needs of our public services. I am glad that Edwina is asking hard questions. However, we need this building. It is not our fault—


Jonathan Morgan:

I am grateful to Alison for giving way. We know that the costs are rapidly heading towards £40 million. We do not know whether the costs will exceed that figure. How much more would you be willing to pay? At what point do you say no, Alison—£40 million, £50 million, £100 million?

Alison Halford:

I cannot answer that question. I am not on the inner track when it comes to procurement and so on. Wales needs this building but, as I have already said, not at any cost. That is why Edwina Hart is doing a good job and needs our support.

I suggest that, if any consideration should be given of the new buildings proposed for Cardiff, it should be the Millennium Centre. That would give us time to learn the lessons of commissioning expensive public buildings. We have spent money on this project—let us get on with and let us get a building.
I accompanied a tour of 30 children from north Wales around the Assembly. It was probably the first north Wales school to visit the Assembly. The children were excited at seeing the Chamber and going to the Pierhead to see the model of the new building. When they return to Cardiff, as they will when they grow up, would it not be wonderful for them to see an innovative building, which would be a clear statement that, at last, Wales has come of age?

The Minister for Finance, Local Government and Communities (Edwina Hart):

According to some Members’ contributions I have been swinging in the wind today; somebody has been hiding behind my skirt, and now I am supposed to be designing a tapestry—so we had better all start threading.

On the day when the Welsh Conservatives propose a motion to this Assembly that is interesting, positive and perhaps a little unexpected, I will cheer, but sadly, today is not that day. The hole in the ground does not embarrass me, Alun; your party and this continuous debate on the new building does. It is not a hole in the ground, it is work that has been undertaken and that will be of use when I decide who gets the contract to construct the new building and when we get on with building it next year. That is the end of the matter. The Assembly has spoken and we are having a new building.

The Conservatives have opposed a new Assembly building since the first day that they were elected to this institution. The Assembly has rejected the Tory view from day one and should do so again today. I sometimes ask myself what is the deep-seated opposition of the Welsh Conservatives to a new building for the National Assembly for Wales? Are the Tories against public investment in civic buildings as a point of principle? History suggests not, and Mike German mentioned that earlier.

5:20 p.m.
In 1840, the Tory Prime Minister, Robert Peel commissioned Charles Barry to construct the Palace of Westminster—determined to show that the rising barons of Victorian industry could be as opulent as any feudal lord. More recently, John Major authorised the large expenditure on Portcullis House—the new accommodation for Members of Parliament—which amounted to £200 million not £100 million. That is the same John Major who commissioned the Millennium Dome. The truth is that the Tory attitude to civic buildings is based entirely on their attitude to power and politics. If a building represents the union and the empire—the centralised power of privileged elites—the Tories will not spare a penny on extravagant luxury. If a building is to represent devolution and democracy, the Tories turn their backs and want nothing to do with it.

They present their opposition to the building in terms of a concern for the health budget. That is rich. They know that the rate of growth of the health budget under my stewardship is greater than at any time under their administration. To introduce the matter of a children’s hospital into the argument is emotive and crass. We should remember that this Labour administration allocated capital to that campaign. The Tories irresponsibly cut huge swathes through the capital programmes of all public services in Wales. They destroyed the seed corn. My problem now is not providing the money, but re-creating the capacity to deliver capital programmes. However, my commitment to that is reflected in the Porthmadog and Rhondda new hospital projects.

I am often asked whether a new building is consistent with our aim to create a more equal Wales in which we seek to remove the poverty that scars our country. Attacking poverty is my first priority. Our policies for Objective 1, Communities First, redistributing resources in local government and in the NHS, all support this priority.

Helen Mary Jones:

 I emphasise that it is not just the chattering classes that want a new Assembly building and I offer the support of some of my learning disabled constituents, who visited this Chamber and described it as being shabby and disappointing. They did not think that it was very posh. However, they looked at the new building design and said that that was beautiful. I get e-mails from them regularly asking when we are going to finish building it.

Edwina Hart:

 I will ensure that the limited finance to be invested in the new building will not detract from our policies to attack poverty. When the building adds to our confidence and prestige as a nation, it will contribute towards the economic development needs of our poorest communities. That is Peter Law’s position. If we get this project right, we will improve communities in Wales. The Assembly building will be provided, and it will not be to the detriment of health expenditure or regeneration.

The Welsh Conservatives are opposed to this building because, in their gut they remain opposed to devolution. That is emphasised by the recent sentiments of the Conservative Party’s spokesperson on Wales, Nigel Evans, as indicated by Richard Edwards. At a time when the whole world is struggling with huge tensions, seeking to balance so many rights and interests, Nigel Evans tells this Assembly and the people we represent—the people of Wales—that we do not deserve a say on this issue. He tells us that we do not have the right to an opinion. I was discussing with the Member for Swansea West how Swansea had benefited over the years from exports of copper, iron, tin, coal and much else, however, as he put it, rarely has Swansea benefited as much as it did from the export of Nigel Evans from Townhill, which is in his constituency.

I was pleased that the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, took a different view. He recognised our place in the world community and used this Assembly as a platform to address us and the world. He also recognised that at a time when we are increasingly influenced by global events, we can also devolve political power. He celebrated the achievement of devolution: our capacity to manage affairs, which are specific to Wales in Wales. He recognised that Wales was a place in which to consider world affairs.

The reporting of the London media, which was mentioned by Rhodri Glyn, was predictably self-serving. Taken away from their comfort zones of Islington, Putney and Notting Hill, the pundits patronised the locals in time-honoured fashion. Nevertheless, I challenge any Assembly Member, Conservative or otherwise, not to admit embarrassment on behalf of the people of Wales for the setting that we provided when the media of the world was focused upon us. It is clear to everyone in Wales, and everyone who looks in from elsewhere, that this chamber is not suitable for the National Assembly for Wales. Peter Rogers is out of touch with the majority of constituents that Helen Mary Jones mentioned. When children visit this Assembly, they look at it in disbelief. From the mouths of babes come some truths.

It is our role as national politicians to share a vision with the people of Wales. The vision that is offered by the Assembly Government, led by Rhodri Morgan, is of a confident nation, small but clever, proud of what it is and excited by what it can be. The First Minister has supported the new building and I am sick and tired of hearing such criticisms in this Chamber. The vision that we share with our nation needs to be expressed in the physical fabric of our building. This building, in its present form, fails dismally to achieve this purpose. The design provided by Richard Rogers provides the vision that the people of Wales need. I continue to be excited by the design: the scale is right, the location is right, the transparency is right and the vision is right.

It is therefore necessary that I explain once again why I cancelled the commission of the Richard Rogers Partnership. I stress that I am committed to the design and I state that I have always admired Lord Rogers as an architect. Glyn Davies’s cheap jibes about the roof were not appropriate for this discussion. This is not about apportioning blame. I cancelled the commission only because I no longer trusted the partnership’s ability to manage the costs and share with me its understanding of those costs. I did not cancel just because the costs were rising. People in Wales are not naïve; they know that the costs of a complex building project can rise. I cancelled because when my independent advisers tried to share an understanding of why the costs were rising, the partnership refused to accept responsibility and continued to claim the opposite of what was clearly the case. If the Richard Rogers Partnership had been able to work with my advisers to share that understanding of how the project was developing, I would have been willing to come back to the Assembly to consider the cost ceiling arrangement.

I am pleased to say that, within the past week, a significant number of highly reputable firms have expressed an interest in working with us to provide the new Assembly building. I say to Assembly Members, to the people of Wales and to those construction firms, that the National Assembly for Wales will today recommit itself to providing the people of Wales with a building on the existing design. We are committed to the design and vision of the building, but we combine our vision with a sensible regard for value for money. I acknowledge Members’ recognition of the cost ceiling. After I have assessed the expressions of interest and gone through the necessary process, I will report back to the Assembly on how matters are developing.

We look forward to entering into a partnership with an organisation that can build to the existing design and work with us to manage costs. We say to the construction industry that Wales has proved itself to be a place to do business, to achieve visionary buildings with a people who can combine vision with good management. Dafydd Wigley’s comments about financial matters were most welcome in that regard.

Edwina Hart: I thank the Welsh Conservatives for providing the opportunity for us to restate our position, but I ask the Assembly to defeat their motion.

Nick Bourne:

This debate is about three issues. I am surprised that some Members—Peter Law for one—suggest that it is undemocratic to propose such a motion for debate in the National Assembly. It is part of the Assembly’s established tradition that Members can choose debates and invite Members to vote accordingly. We understand that the majority of Assembly Members want a new Assembly building. However, many Members have spoken today about a cost ceiling. Alison Halford and the leader of Plaid Cymru spoke about this—

Tuesday 30 October 2001
The Welsh Administration Ombudsman’s Report of 2000-01

4:10 p.m. Alison Halford:

I, too, welcome Michael Buckley’s report, although not as positively as some of my colleagues. The ombudsman, as we all know, plays a key role in maintaining standards. The Assembly’s departments and its sponsored public bodies have a duty to be open, accountable and transparent, and any failure in that must be swiftly tackled. I will limit my comments to what I believe is the way forward for the ombudsman. I may be critical in parts, but I only wish to flag up these issues so that improvements can be made in order to serve the public better.

Many Members have already touched on the fact that last year many complaints were not investigated because they fell outside Mr Buckley’s jurisdiction. The year before, it was even worse. That backs up my long-held belief that the public is confused by exactly who does what. Mr Buckley’s considerable number of titles does not help matters. I remind you of them: Welsh Administration Ombudsman, Health Service Ombudsman for Wales, Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, Scottish Parliamentary Ombudsman, Health Service Ombudsman for England, and Scottish Health Service Ombudsman. To the novice, the titles would appear to belong to different people, but they all in fact belong to just one person. No-one should worry about having more than one job—but six? Sceptics may mutter that Mr Buckley is a one-person quango.

There is no evidence to suggest that he is not managing to do all these jobs well. That concerns me, because he should not be able to do six jobs so well. The fact that he can, points to a lack of demand. In my experience, this stems from perceived barriers to change, combined with a lack of knowledge about his functions. The result is, as Members have mentioned, that the public do not know who to go to with their complaint. Many constituents have turned to me for help, and I have had limited success. Many complaints appear to fall between the gaps or cut across boundaries. That results in considerable confusion and frustration. Some people have been failed by the system and are left stranded, with no-one to turn to. This leads me to believe that Wales has a large percentage of unrecorded complaints that are invisible to us today.

I welcome the decision last March by the First Secretary and the Secretary of State to conduct an overhaul of our present system. I would be grateful if the Minister could share the progress on this with the Assembly. I look to England with a little shame and see a consultation document already completed, a report already submitted, and recommendations already accepted. I understand the limitations of a UK/Assembly joint venture, and the inevitable senior role that Westminster will take. However, I fear that not taking steps to begin the review in earnest will result in Wales being left behind and having to accept the Colcutt recommendations, slightly tweaked to fit Welsh needs.

In this report, Mr Buckley sees no problem in implementing the Colcutt recommendations in Wales. I cannot agree. I have had reason to write to several ombudsmen, but the complaint is either outside the ombudsman’s jurisdiction, or there is, allegedly, insufficient evidence. These complaints, to my mind, have deserved a thorough investigation, and I am sad that they have failed to get that. A school report on the ombudsman would state ‘has done well, but could do better’. The Minister for Assembly Business (Andrew Davies): I am grateful for colleagues’ comments, many of which boil down to the same point, namely that greater clarity in the process is needed. Janet is right that people must have confidence in the complaints system. If they do not, as Dafydd Wigley noted, they will not use it and it will fall into disrepute.

We are reviewing these procedures and processes, and Members may wish to make their views known to the administration, or to the reviewers. The system needs to be accessible and understandable, which is the basis of the points that were made. The ombudsman is aware of that, as he is embarking upon an awareness-raising publicity campaign to ensure that it is more accessible and understood. I am sure that we are all committed to that.

As I stated earlier, we are aware of areas for improvement and we will work on them. Next year, should I still hold this position, I hope that when I open this debate, we will either have fewer complaints or more people will be aware of the service.

13th November 2001
Minority Party Debate (The Conservative Party)
The New Assembly Building


Alison Halford:

The decision to have a new building was taken before this Assembly was created. The building was seen as essential to establish a home for Welsh democracy. I supported it, and still do. Furthermore, we were allowed to debate this matter—let us be grateful for that. [Laughter.] Do I get extra time for laughter? We would be failing in our duty if we did not realise that the project was damaged goods even before the Assembly set eyes on it. There were no signed contracts, there was procurement confusion, disability access was played down in the original plan, crèche facilities had to be built in, and the land that was bought was too small for the building to fit onto it. I am not sure that we really knew how much it was going to cost. That was the poisoned chalice that Edwina Hart inherited.
It is not a choice between an Assembly building and better health. Wales deserves a great building that symbolises our democracy. However, I agree that that should not be at any price. As has been said, our situation is not like that in Scotland, where the price of the new Parliament building has escalated to over £200 million. It was a Conservative Government that approved the construction of Portcullis House, at a cost of £100 million, as my colleague mentioned.

Jonathan Morgan rose—
Alison Halford:

 I will not give way. That was £1 million for every office. It also rented trees. The Northern Ireland Assembly walked into the magnificent Stormont building, which was already adapted and suitable for all purposes. As a Member for a constituency in north Wales, I am more than aware of the economic needs of our public services. I am glad that Edwina is asking hard questions. However, we need this building. It is not our fault—

Jonathan Morgan:

I am grateful to Alison for giving way. We know that the costs are rapidly heading towards £40 million. We do not know whether the costs will exceed that figure. How much more would you be willing to pay? At what point do you say no, Alison—£40 million, £50 million, £100 million?

Alison Halford:

I cannot answer that question. I am not on the inner track when it comes to procurement and so on. Wales needs this building but, as I have already said, not at any cost. That is why Edwina Hart is doing a good job and needs our support.

I suggest that, if any consideration should be given of the new buildings proposed for Cardiff, it should be the Millennium Centre. That would give us time to learn the lessons of commissioning expensive public buildings. We have spent money on this project—let us get on with and let us get a building.
I accompanied a tour of 30 children from north Wales around the Assembly. It was probably the first north Wales school to visit the Assembly. The children were excited at seeing the Chamber and going to the Pierhead to see the model of the new building. When they return to Cardiff, as they will when they grow up, would it not be wonderful for them to see an innovative building, which would be a clear statement that, at last, Wales has come of age?

The Minister for Finance, Local Government and Communities (Edwina Hart):

According to some Members’ contributions I have been swinging in the wind today; somebody has been hiding behind my skirt, and now I am supposed to be designing a tapestry—so we had better all start threading.

On the day when the Welsh Conservatives propose a motion to this Assembly that is interesting, positive and perhaps a little unexpected, I will cheer, but sadly, today is not that day. The hole in the ground does not embarrass me, Alun; your party and this continuous debate on the new building does. It is not a hole in the ground, it is work that has been undertaken and that will be of use when I decide who gets the contract to construct the new building and when we get on with building it next year. That is the end of the matter. The Assembly has spoken and we are having a new building.

The Conservatives have opposed a new Assembly building since the first day that they were elected to this institution. The Assembly has rejected the Tory view from day one and should do so again today. I sometimes ask myself what is the deep-seated opposition of the Welsh Conservatives to a new building for the National Assembly for Wales? Are the Tories against public investment in civic buildings as a point of principle? History suggests not, and Mike German mentioned that earlier.

5:20 p.m.
In 1840, the Tory Prime Minister, Robert Peel commissioned Charles Barry to construct the Palace of Westminster—determined to show that the rising barons of Victorian industry could be as opulent as any feudal lord. More recently, John Major authorised the large expenditure on Portcullis House—the new accommodation for Members of Parliament—which amounted to £200 million not £100 million. That is the same John Major who commissioned the Millennium Dome. The truth is that the Tory attitude to civic buildings is based entirely on their attitude to power and politics. If a building represents the union and the empire—the centralised power of privileged elites—the Tories will not spare a penny on extravagant luxury. If a building is to represent devolution and democracy, the Tories turn their backs and want nothing to do with it.

They present their opposition to the building in terms of a concern for the health budget. That is rich. They know that the rate of growth of the health budget under my stewardship is greater than at any time under their administration. To introduce the matter of a children’s hospital into the argument is emotive and crass. We should remember that this Labour administration allocated capital to that campaign. The Tories irresponsibly cut huge swathes through the capital programmes of all public services in Wales. They destroyed the seed corn. My problem now is not providing the money, but re-creating the capacity to deliver capital programmes. However, my commitment to that is reflected in the Porthmadog and Rhondda new hospital projects.

I am often asked whether a new building is consistent with our aim to create a more equal Wales in which we seek to remove the poverty that scars our country. Attacking poverty is my first priority. Our policies for Objective 1, Communities First, redistributing resources in local government and in the NHS, all support this priority.

Helen Mary Jones:

 I emphasise that it is not just the chattering classes that want a new Assembly building and I offer the support of some of my learning disabled constituents, who visited this Chamber and described it as being shabby and disappointing. They did not think that it was very posh. However, they looked at the new building design and said that that was beautiful. I get e-mails from them regularly asking when we are going to finish building it.

Edwina Hart:

 I will ensure that the limited finance to be invested in the new building will not detract from our policies to attack poverty. When the building adds to our confidence and prestige as a nation, it will contribute towards the economic development needs of our poorest communities. That is Peter Law’s position. If we get this project right, we will improve communities in Wales. The Assembly building will be provided, and it will not be to the detriment of health expenditure or regeneration.

The Welsh Conservatives are opposed to this building because, in their gut they remain opposed to devolution. That is emphasised by the recent sentiments of the Conservative Party’s spokesperson on Wales, Nigel Evans, as indicated by Richard Edwards. At a time when the whole world is struggling with huge tensions, seeking to balance so many rights and interests, Nigel Evans tells this Assembly and the people we represent—the people of Wales—that we do not deserve a say on this issue. He tells us that we do not have the right to an opinion. I was discussing with the Member for Swansea West how Swansea had benefited over the years from exports of copper, iron, tin, coal and much else, however, as he put it, rarely has Swansea benefited as much as it did from the export of Nigel Evans from Townhill, which is in his constituency.

I was pleased that the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, took a different view. He recognised our place in the world community and used this Assembly as a platform to address us and the world. He also recognised that at a time when we are increasingly influenced by global events, we can also devolve political power. He celebrated the achievement of devolution: our capacity to manage affairs, which are specific to Wales in Wales. He recognised that Wales was a place in which to consider world affairs.

The reporting of the London media, which was mentioned by Rhodri Glyn, was predictably self-serving. Taken away from their comfort zones of Islington, Putney and Notting Hill, the pundits patronised the locals in time-honoured fashion. Nevertheless, I challenge any Assembly Member, Conservative or otherwise, not to admit embarrassment on behalf of the people of Wales for the setting that we provided when the media of the world was focused upon us. It is clear to everyone in Wales, and everyone who looks in from elsewhere, that this chamber is not suitable for the National Assembly for Wales. Peter Rogers is out of touch with the majority of constituents that Helen Mary Jones mentioned. When children visit this Assembly, they look at it in disbelief. From the mouths of babes come some truths.

It is our role as national politicians to share a vision with the people of Wales. The vision that is offered by the Assembly Government, led by Rhodri Morgan, is of a confident nation, small but clever, proud of what it is and excited by what it can be. The First Minister has supported the new building and I am sick and tired of hearing such criticisms in this Chamber. The vision that we share with our nation needs to be expressed in the physical fabric of our building. This building, in its present form, fails dismally to achieve this purpose. The design provided by Richard Rogers provides the vision that the people of Wales need. I continue to be excited by the design: the scale is right, the location is right, the transparency is right and the vision is right.

It is therefore necessary that I explain once again why I cancelled the commission of the Richard Rogers Partnership. I stress that I am committed to the design and I state that I have always admired Lord Rogers as an architect. Glyn Davies’s cheap jibes about the roof were not appropriate for this discussion. This is not about apportioning blame. I cancelled the commission only because I no longer trusted the partnership’s ability to manage the costs and share with me its understanding of those costs. I did not cancel just because the costs were rising. People in Wales are not naïve; they know that the costs of a complex building project can rise. I cancelled because when my independent advisers tried to share an understanding of why the costs were rising, the partnership refused to accept responsibility and continued to claim the opposite of what was clearly the case. If the Richard Rogers Partnership had been able to work with my advisers to share that understanding of how the project was developing, I would have been willing to come back to the Assembly to consider the cost ceiling arrangement.

I am pleased to say that, within the past week, a significant number of highly reputable firms have expressed an interest in working with us to provide the new Assembly building. I say to Assembly Members, to the people of Wales and to those construction firms, that the National Assembly for Wales will today recommit itself to providing the people of Wales with a building on the existing design. We are committed to the design and vision of the building, but we combine our vision with a sensible regard for value for money. I acknowledge Members’ recognition of the cost ceiling. After I have assessed the expressions of interest and gone through the necessary process, I will report back to the Assembly on how matters are developing.

We look forward to entering into a partnership with an organisation that can build to the existing design and work with us to manage costs. We say to the construction industry that Wales has proved itself to be a place to do business, to achieve visionary buildings with a people who can combine vision with good management. Dafydd Wigley’s comments about financial matters were most welcome in that regard.

Edwina Hart: I thank the Welsh Conservatives for providing the opportunity for us to restate our position, but I ask the Assembly to defeat their motion.

Nick Bourne:

This debate is about three issues. I am surprised that some Members—Peter Law for one—suggest that it is undemocratic to propose such a motion for debate in the National Assembly. It is part of the Assembly’s established tradition that Members can choose debates and invite Members to vote accordingly. We understand that the majority of Assembly Members want a new Assembly building. However, many Members have spoken today about a cost ceiling. Alison Halford and the leader of Plaid Cymru spoke about this—

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