HC Deb 20 July 1978 vol 954 cc802-30

Lords amendment: No. 67, in page 25, line 1, leave out Clause 60.

4.7 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker

With this we are to take Lords amendment no. 68.

Mr. Morris

I was very cheered yesterday to be complimented on being sweet and reasonable in the way in which I moved the rejection of an amendment. I hope that, without causing too much anxiety to my reputation, the same compliment will be paid at the end of my speech today.

I begin by hoping that we are on common ground when I say that there is a great deal of interest in Wales about the future of the nominated bodies. They have grown over the years—I hope, again, that we are on common ground—and last night I basked in the praise of the Welsh Development Agency, the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Land Authority for Wales, which was all coming from the Opposition Front Bench. This Government, having set those bodies up, had every right to feel pleased.

We are also, I hope, on common ground when I say that if one looks at the situation logically one sees that the more interventionist a Government the greater the need for particular tools for the job in hand. If a Government are not interventionist, if there is a massive cut-down of public expenditure, those tools will of themselves wither away. Indeed, if we had the misfortune—and here I depart from common ground—of having the Conservative Party in power, I am sure that there would be a withering away of those bodies because of the cut in public expenditure which we hear about day after day from the Opposition. That is their intention and their aim.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)rose

Mr. Morris

Since I gave way about a dozen times yesterday, my brief took a long time. Nevertheless, I will give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Anderson

Again in the spirit of seeking common ground, as the people my right hon. and learned Friend has himself appointed to these bodies are of such undoubted competence, does he not sometimes fear that possibly the other people appointed by the Assembly may not be so competent as those whom he himself has appointed?

Mr. Morris

Of course, the matter of the people I appoint is being argued about. I was seeking to enlist the support of everyone on matters on which there is agreement. I hope not to enter into a discussion of that kind in the course of this afternoon, as we are dealing with the narrow ground of the rejection of the Lords amendment. The fact that I feel confident about my appointees is another matter, of course. I do not wish to develop that in the course of this debate, but I am always ready and willing to do so if necessary.

I have referred to what I hope are matters of common ground. I think that it is right in debates of this kind to establish the area of disagreement having first established the area of agreement, as I think it helps to sharpen the debate. What we are not agreed upon, I am sure, is the reason for the interest taken by people in Wales in the nominated bodies. The interest on this side of the House, be they for or against the devolution Bill, is how to democratise these bodies. I hope that there is not too great a difference between some of my hon. Friends and myself on this. Where there are differences between us, they are on other matters, certainly not on the need to democratise these bodies. The interest of the Opposition is wholly different. We have argued on other occasions about their wish to perpetuate the power to appoint. I fully understand that, and I am sure my hon. Friends do so in the same way. But again, I am not developing that point this afternoon.

I believe that we can democratise these bodies. That means that they should not be appointed by me, or my successors, or at some future date—I hope long delayed—possibly by a Tory successor. These bodies, rather than be appointed by a Minister, however well intentioned—I enjoyed the compliment of my hon. Friend—and allowing the whim of a Minister, albeit a Labour Minister or, as happens from time to time, a Tory Minister, it is right and better for these bodies to come within the purview of the Assembly.

The simplest course, that will attract many, will be to abolish the bodies. That is not so easy. Some operate outside Wales. Two examples are the Welsh National Water Development Authority, and the Severn Trent Authority. Geography and, more so, hydrography do not always respect territorial boundaries. That is why these bodies have been formed and remain. That is one reason why abolishing the bodies in question would not be the best course.

But what we have proposed is that bodies operating wholly in Wales in the devolved spheres should be dissolved and appointed by the Assembly, not by a Minister. The bodies which have remits extending outside Wales should be made accountable to the Welsh Assembly for their Welsh activities under clause 59.

The aim is to replace the indirect control of nominated bodies by Parliament through the Secretary of State—we have heard time after time of dissatisfaction on this score—with the control and scrutiny of the Assembly. That is the first object —the transfer of responsibility from the Secretary of State to the directly elected body.

Leaving the first stage, one comes to the second stage—the initiative of the Assembly once the responsibility for these bodies has been transferred to it. The Assembly may assume the functions of a particular body. It may, or may not, wish to do so overnight. The Assembly may wish to retain the form of a body while in essence the substance of the powers would have been transferred from the Minister to the Assembly. I hope no one here will confuse the form with the substance, because the essence of the proposal is the transfer of the substance from a Minister to the Assembly.

It may well be that the Assembly will deem it right to ensure that there is a smooth transition period. That is a matter for the Assembly. It is this power, this narrow ground on which we are now arguing, which has been deleted by another place.

If the Assembly decides that it wants a particular body to continue in its present form, it may appoint its own members to be the sole members of that body. It may appoint its own members with others who are not members of the Assembly, it may appoint its own members with others who are members of the Assembly, or it may appoint only people who are not members of the Assembly to man a particular body. That is at the discretion of the Assembly. If it subsumes the body in question, the Assembly could run its affairs through one of its committees or in any other way open to it.

4.15 p.m.

Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)

Could not that power sometimes be objectionable? For example, the Welsh Tourist Board receives its funds from this Parliament. It is designed, as are the Scottish and English Tourist Boards, to be part of the British Tourist Authority. If the Assembly should choose to end, to displace or to alter radically the Welsh Tourist Board, would that not be objectionable in a United Kingdom context?

Mr. Morris

I was wrong to give way to the hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) because I shall soon come to deal with anything that might offend wider national interests. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will bear with me if I do not fully reply to his point at the moment. Of course, the Welsh Tourist Board will look to the Assembly for its funds. I believe that, given the safeguard to which I shall come in a moment, it is right and proper for a body of that type to be covered by the proposal that is before the House.

I was saying that if the Assembly decides to continue a body, it may appoint its own members, or it may appoint them together with others, or it may appoint others alone. However, if it subsumes a body, it could run a specific activity through one of its committees, or in any other way open to it. All these matters would be within the discretion of the Assembly and I should not seek to add to or subtract from what we have proposed in that context.

Whichever course is adopted, I believe that we shall achieve a much higher degree of participation from those who are directly elected. I hope that the Welsh Assembly will go a long way in exercising its discretion where practicable. The bodies to which I have referred deal with difficult problems.

When people participate in decisions, it is easier to bear their consequences than those of decisions that are imposed upon them. In my time at the Welsh Office, my decisions and those of health authorities, for instance, have caused a great deal of anxiety. So many bodies operate in areas where decisions are exceedingly difficult and priorities have to be balanced. In those circumstances, the more difficult a decision is the more acceptable it is if people have participated in taking it. That is a simple yet fundamental democratic principle which I commend to the House.

I come to the question raised by the hon. Member for Barry. Although the initiative would lie with the Welsh Assembly whether it wished to subsume a particular body, it would need the formal approval of the Secretary of State. The reason is that which the hon. Member gave: to ensure that the wider interest of the United Kingdom is properly protected. I hope that my explanation has allayed the hon. Member's fears.

I believe, finally, that the proposal would achieve a significant degree of democratisation. Having considered the matter as a result of the decision of the other place, I feel particularly sore that there should be an attempt by another place to thwart our aim of extending democracy. While we may disagree in this House of Commons on our interpretation of democracy—and we do disagree on it, day in and day out—I say in sorrow rather than in anger that I do not take it kindly for another place to thwart us in our attempts to extend democracy.

I commend to the House our proposal that we should disagree with the other place.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)

We have just had five or 10 minutes of generalisations, but we have not been required by the Secretary of State to look at the practical consequences of the measure that he proposes. I intend to do that.

We are not arguing whether these bodies come within the purview of the Assembly. It is not this clause that brings them within the Assembly's purview. We are not arguing whether they are appointed by the Assembly. It is not this clause that provides the Assembly with those powers. We are not arguing about replacing indirect control by direct control and scrutiny. Without this clause the Assembly can exercise those powers.

The Secretary of State said that we were discussing very narrow ground. That was the phrase that he used at one time. But it is not narrow. We are arguing about the existence of the bodies at all. As far as the nominated bodies operating solely in Wales are concerned, that is about as wide a consideration as there could be.

I referred previously to clause 60 as the abolition or extermination clause. It is based on the premise that all nominated bodies are unpopular, so we should allow the Assembly to wipe them off the map. It sounds good. We can use words such as "democratisation", as the Secretary of State did. We can get in our shallow jibes at another place, which has rendered a considerable service by returning these amendments so that they could be debated by the elected House of Commons after the Government had imposed a guillotine to prevent that debate.

We should pause to consider the consequences of the Government's action. The first thing to realise is that Clause 60 was drafted in so tortuous a manner that it seems positively designed to produce obscurity. The essential point is that, if ail the ministerial powers of appointment are transferred to the Assembly, the Assembly can, with the Secretary of State's consent, wipe out the body and carry out the function itself, regardless how many other appointments may be made outside bodies, and without any obligation to consult those outside bodies about its action.

Mr. John Morris

Clause 60(3) provides: after consultation with the body to which it relates.

Mr. Edwards

The Secretary of State did not listen. I said that there was no obligation for the Assembly to consult the bodies that make the appointments—many of them distinguished and prominent organisations which do considerable service to the State. I repeat that a body with a membership of, say, 20 could be subsumed—to use his other horrid phrase —if only two of the appointments were made by the Minister and those powers had been transferred to the Assembly.

I take as an example the Ancient Monuments Board for Wales. Organisations that make appointments include the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments in Wales, the Society of Antiquaries the Royal Academy, the RIBA, the trustees of the British Museum, and so on. These are the kinds of bodies that are entitled to nominate members, and the Minister nominates additional members. That body can be taken over, and its work can be carried on by the Assembly, without the consent of these learned bodies and simply on the authority of the Secretary of State of the day. Of course, the Secretary of State has no obligation at all to seek the consent of this Parliament.

There are considerable doubts about which bodies—all of them established by statute—can, in fact, have their existence terminated in this summary way. The Government have failed to produce a comprehensive list. A list of principal bodies was extracted in a Written Answer on 16th March 1978, but it is not complete. The list that was given then was as follows: Ancient Monuments Board for Wales. Area Health Authorities. Central Advisory Council for Education (Wales). Development Board for Rural Wales. Historic Buildings Council for Wales. Land Authority for Wales. Library Advisory Council (Wales). New Town Development Corporations. Wales Tourist Board. Welsh Development Agency."—[Official Report. 16th March 1978; Vol. 946, c. 339.] The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson added to that list the community health councils and the National Parks Council.

In a previous debate, I was confined by the rules of order to presenting an argument about the Welsh Development Agency and the DBRW. I will say a word about them later. But on this occasion, perhaps it is not inappropriate to start with the community health councils. After all, we are supposed to be considering a measure designed to bring Government closer to the people.

It is a little startling to discover that the community health councils, the groups representing community interests in the health service at the most local level, can without legislation—without reference to the Parliament that created them —be wiped out and replaced by a committee of elected members sitting in Cardiff only a handful of whom could speak for any locality. This is supposed to be the great advance towards popular participation in government.

Of course, the Minister will say that the Assembly would do nothing of the kind, though a few minutes ago he was urging the Assembly to go a long way along this road. But whatever assertion he makes, it remains but an assertion—it is a personal opinion, not a statement of fact. If Parliament decides to set up local representative bodies of this kind, surely it should be consulted before they are wiped out. I remember we debated them at great length in this House, and hon. Members on all sides expressed strong views about their form and the functions that they should carry out.

I take as examples the Historic Buildings Council for Wales and the Ancient Monuments Board for Wales. They have rightly always been composed of people with a particular knowledge or interest in the subject. We have already seen that many of the appointments are made by learned bodies who have a special contribution to make, not least because they are concerned with the preservation of our heritage on a United Kingdom basis. Our historic buildings and sites are important not just to the Welsh people—although we treasure them with particular pride—but to all peoples of these islands whose common heritage we share.

4.30 p.m.

In our recent discussions on the Welsh Arts Council which, as a charter body, is not directly affected by this clause although it is affected by other provisions in the Bill, the Under-Secretary of State made it clear that he shared the Oppo- sition's view that the administration of the arts was best carried out without direct interference from politicians. It would have been hard to argue that art patronage and the care and preservation of our heritage were subjects best dealt with by an elected committee of politicians. The Ancient Monuments Board is composed largely of archaeologists and historians, and the Library Advisory Council—another threatened body—is, not surprisingly, heavily salted with librarians.

Before I leave the subject of these learned bodies and those concerned with the heritage, I may say that many people interested in the arts are desperately concerned to hear that the Welsh Arts Council can be simply starved out of existence by the Assembly. The Assembly does not need this clause to do the job. It can simply allocate the funds for the arts in Wales in an entirely different way and provide none for the Welsh Arts Council as it now exists. It can, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson points out, seek to administer the arts in Wales through what he describes as a "committee of culture", which does not inspire me with great confidence in the future of the arts in Wales.

Worse still, apparently it is the Government's firm view that the British Arts Council will no longer have responsibility for the arts on a United Kingdom basis. After devolution, that council will be responsible only for England, and thus there will no longer be a body able to take a comprehensive British view about our shared culture and our common heritage. I was told at a conference on the arts held in London this week that this is a matter of great concern to all those actively engaged in all aspects of the arts.

Ministers of the present Government have stood at the Dispatch Box so often and argued the case for having relatively small bodies of experts in particular subjects and presented the unanswerable argument that exists for having special nominated bodies to deal with special problems that it is not possible for them to throw the Opposition's arguments overboard quite so casually in the interests of democracy. Are they now suggesting that the Wales Tourist Board would do a more effective job for tourism in Wales if it were formed by a committee of the Assembly, with no representatives of the trade present?

It is already of concern to those involved in the tourist industry that the political nominees of the Assembly will in future be a dominant bloc in the BTA and that the trade representatives will be a minority. There is equal concern at the practice of the present Secretary of State of using the board as a home for those whom he wants to privilege with his political patronage.

But at least the trade has the knowledge that some of the most active figures in Welsh tourism are members of the board, using their invaluable experience and expertise for the general good. What possible grounds are there for suggesting that their job would be carried out better by an Assembly?

So it is as we go down the list. The Secretary of State referred to the area health authorities, and suggested that it was a great advance in the cause of democracy that they might be taken over by the elected committees of the Assembly. But one major criticism of the area health authorities is that they are too large and too remote from the people.

We should be examining the possibility of devolving management decisions down to the district level, rather than taking them away to Cardiff and making them far more remote from the people. Surely the Government cannot really contemplate a transfer of responsibility from the area health authorities to Cardiff. If so, it goes totally in the face of every recommendation that has been made by almost every political party about the way the health service should be organised.

Consider the new town corporations. Government policy hitherto has been to transfer housing and assets gradually to local government. Is it conceivable that we should now move in the opposite direction? Is that what they want in Cwmbran and Newtown? Every time I pose this question, Ministers mumble "Of course not". They say that there is no reason to think that the Assembly would do anything of the kind. If that is the case, why include the clause?

I have almost completed the list of buildings affected by the clause and I have not yet found one which would be run more effectively by a committee sit- ting in Cardiff. I challenge the Secretary of State to name a single organisation on my list that he believes should be subsumed. Which of the nominated bodies would do the job better as an elected committee sitting in Cardiff? He must have one or two in mind. If he has not, there is no reason to include the clause.

It is a strange basis for legislation to say that we think that moves in this direction would be a mistake and that we think it highly improbable that the Assembly will wish to move in that direction, but that, none the less, it should be free to act in this way if it wishes. To do the Secretary of State credit, that is not the argument he has advanced. He hopes that they will go a long way in this direction, but we should know how the Secretary of State would like to see the Assembly carry out those firm instructions. I find it inconceivable that the Government should insist on the reinstatement of this clause unless they have those clear objectives in view and understand what improvements they think could be made.

We have been told that it is all in the cause of democracy, but that can hardly be so. Without the clause, the Assembly can debate the affairs of these bodies, appoint many of their members, give or withhold funds, probe, examine and call for papers and witnesses. By insisting on the replacement of the clause, the Government are apparently proclaiming a new doctrine that the work of protecting historic buildings, developing tourism and advising on libraries is better carried out by politicians than by those with special knowledge. Even more extraordinary is the view that the way to decentralise and make more responsive the control of health and hospitals is by concentrating the functions entirely in Cardiff.

Perhaps the Government have only two other bodies in mind—the two most important that I have not referred to, namely the Welsh Development Agency and the Development Board for Rural Wales. I do not intend to repeat all the arguments that I advanced on 3rd May for retaining the separate identity of these bodies, the work of which was further debated last night. I shall simply confine myself to two main points. First, the worst way to take balanced commercial decisions about industrial investment is to place the job in the hands of politicians with strong local interests. That is not a controversial view, at least with the Secretary of State. He talked a lot about common ground at the outset. As I understand it, that is the view of the Secretary of State. In 1975, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said: The agency will be expected to act on its own initiative to seek our opportunities and directly involve itself in industry. This type of entrepreneurial role is best formed by an agency."—[Official Report, 26th June 1975; Vol. 894, c. 693.] My second point is that the Government have made clear that they see these bodies—the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Welsh Development Agency—as instruments of central economic policy. The Government will issue directives. The Secretary of State forcibly argued last night that it was perfectly sensible to devolve control of the development agency because there would be a clear division of responsibility. He said that the agency would be responsible to the Assembly for its social functions, but that, of course, he would continue to control its economic functions. Last night he rested his case almost entirely on his power to issue directives.

It is one thing to say to the Assembly "Stand aside on economic matters. I am retaining control over those and I am instructing the agency what to do about the economy." It would be quite another matter to issue those directives to the Assembly itself and then to be answerable to this Parliament for the way in which that Assembly of elected representatives carried out those instructions.

The conflict that would arise in those circumstances would be considerable. I can think of few better ways of creating conflict than for one elected Assembly to give directions in that way to another Assembly. That would be a potentially explosive situation.

In setting up these agencies, the Government again and again gave their reasons for having separate agencies. They describe their role in detail as the administration of an overall economic strategy. They gave a whole series of specific pledges to Parliament about the way in which control was to be exercised by the Secretary of State and, through him, by this Parliament. All that is now apparently to be thrown aside. The agencies could now be taken over and operated by the Assembly without any reference to Parliament at all.

I believe that that is a wholly unacceptable position. We are being asked to give authority for unknown arrangements, for unspecified bodies, at an unknown time in the future. It has not been argued that it would be an advantage for any particular body. We have been treated to nothing but broad generalisations about democracy. I believe that we are being asked to write a blank cheque for chaos, uncertainty and conflict. We should reject the proposition and support the Lords in what I believe to be a thoroughly sensible amendment.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

The Secretary of State said that the Assembly may appoint its own members to man particular bodies at the discretion of the Assembly and that this would create a higher degree of participation by elected people.

In any elected assemblies we know that there would be an enormous temptation for elected people to say that they could man such bodies. Once there is the opportunity to do so, few of us who are elected would admit that we are not ourselves extremely well qualified to do precisely that.

I wonder if I am wrong in suggesting that it is very likely that the Welsh Assembly will select a number of its members to be, for instance, members of the Wales Tourist Board, and to take some part in the running of the Wales Tourist Board. That, I understand, is what democratisation of such bodies means, rather than being accountable in the sense that bodies are accountable to this Parliament. Are they to select, from among those elected to the Coat Exchange, members, for example, of the Ancient Monuments Board for Wales?

4.45 p.m.

If not, talk of getting rid of ad hoc bodies is sheer cant. But if so, an important issue arises for all of us in this House and far wider, in Wales: is it right that elected persons should be members of bodies such as the Historic Buildings Council? I do not want to be personal about the matter, but I had better declare an interest, in so far as my wife happens to be a member of the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland.

It is not just a question whether elected people should be members of such a council; it is a question—this is a deep issue of principle that I put to the Secretary of State—whether elected people should be involved in the kind of sensitive issues of allocating money, which is the job of the HBC and related bodies. In preparing for this debate, I asked my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), who not only has experience in the Cabinet but for many years was a member of the Council of the British Museum, whether he thought that I was exaggerating the worries about elected people being put in the position of allocating funds. My right hon. Friend took the view that it was extremely undesirable as a matter of principle.

So I put it to the Secretary of State: is it wise and proper for those who are elected to do the kind of work that, for example, the HBC does, to be involved in the sensitive and delicate issues of allocating funds to particular individuals, in the name of the State? Public people who are elected are open to challenge concerning these delicate decisions. It may be the decision of this House and its Members that it is as well for people who allocate money to individuals to be elected as to be non-elected. All I am saying now is that this is surely a matter for discussion and a matter that should be discussed by this House.

I ask the same question as the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards): how do we know that in the Coal Exchange or in any other assembly there will be the expertise to run these committees? My fear is that even if there is not the expertise—we politicians being what we are, we do not like to admit that we are lacking in expertise and we jump at every chance, especially if the Assembly does not have much else to do—

The Minister of State, Privy Council (Mr. John Smith)

The hon. Gentleman should not feel inhibited.

Mr. Dalyell

My right hon. Friend says that I would not be inhibited. It would not only be I who would not be inhibited. I think that many of my colleagues would not be inhibited.

Mr. Smith

When my hon. Friend overhears other conversations, he should not think that they mean what they do not mean.

Mr. Dalyell

It is very distracting. I heard what I can only take as commentary on my speech, and I felt that I had to reply to it.

Mr. Smith

I can assure my hon. Friend that he should be under no such obligation. If he did not listen, he would not be bothered.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. It would be better if the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) kept staring at the Chair. Then he would not get into any difficulties.

Mr. Dalyell

It is very difficult in a virtually empty Chamber not to hear.

There is also the related question about new towns. I have a certain interest, because I represent half of a new town. I read and heard what the noble Labour Lord, Lord Raglan, who is the chairman of Cwmbran New Town, had to say about these issues.

Whatever our feelings on new town development corporations—mine happen to be a bit ambivalent and many of us would like to see new towns taken over at an earlier stage by a local authority—is it right and practical that people elected to an Assembly, be it in Edinburgh or in Cardiff, but let us stick particularly to the Cardiff model, should take over new town development corporations? After all, new town development corporations have relations with the rest of the community, and it is not at all certain that elected politicians to an Assembly should be those who are responsible for running new town development corporations. I know something about this matter, because I represent a new town.

I turn to another set of issues. The British system has hitherto been based upon a fusion of legislative and executive powers. I go back to the Kilbrandon Commission, which said: The division would be an arbitrary one in that the range of powers conferred on the assemblies would depend on a political judgment of the extent of the control it was necessary to retain at the centre. I am concerned about the relationship not only between the Assembly's nominated bodies but between Westminster Government and the Secretary of State and these bodies. Last July my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council proposed the establishment of the joint councils for Scotland and Wales for consultations on matters of common concern. In these 44 days we have not heard much about these joint councils. What is happening about them? For a Welsh Assembly, this joint council institution will assume a special importance, as it will be the only chance the Assembly will have of formal representation on the policy-making bodies of central Government. I need not spell out that this will be extremely important in relation, for example, to policy on the arts.

Denied a legislative role, the Welsh Assembly will have to rely upon pressures exerted at Westminster and Whitehall in the pre-legislative stages of policy making. The powers Cardiff will enjoy are dependent not only on the provisions of the Wales Bill but also upon the way in which future legislation for Wales is framed at Westminster and the degree of discretion which Westminster thinks it is right to confer upon the Welsh Assembly.

The Welsh Assembly will not have final responsibility for or be the final authority on those matters for which it will have devolved responsibility. For example, issues of housing and education policy will have to pass through three layers of government rather than two. I do not think that that is in dispute. It seems to me that precisely the same is true for those matters dealt with by these ad hoc bodies.

This is not a recipe for the devolution of power. It is a recipe for a system of government in which it will be difficult to get much done at all. It is a recipe for confusion. Sure as fate, deprived of their chance to legislate for and shape the future of, in this case, Wales, the Assemblymen will try to get their clutches on local government in Wales and particularly on the sort of functions that are carried out at present by these experts. I prefer the term "experts" to "ad hoc bodies." The Assembly's role is largely confined at the moment to supervising the services administered by local government. When there is resistance from local government, the Assemblymen will take every opportunity to find themselves a role, because they will need to do so, in taking over the business of the ad hoc bodies.

Because the Bill is under the guillotine, I do not want to pursue this matter, but someone from outside Wales has a right to ask whether this amounts to a pile of confusion in the government of part of this kingdom.

Sir Raymond Gower

When the Secretary of State was moving the rejection of the Lords amendment now under discussion, I do not know whether he intended to create the impression, which he certainly did create, that his speech could have been taken as a justification for setting up the Welsh Assembly as a sort of general arbiter above the nominated bodies, ensuring greater democratic control. That was the tenor of his speech. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) stated, that has nothing to do with this clause. It is not a question of the general responsibility which the Assembly may have for these nominated bodies. Here we have something quite different, which has been referred to in the last two speeches. It is to the credit of the other place that it has given us this opportunity to consider this clause, which we were not able to discuss during previous stages of the Bill.

I go further than the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). In my submission, a system whereby the Assembly could chose at some moment to usurp the functions of a body and run that organisation, as it can do under this clause, could be highly dangerous. I do not wish to be unkind, but I am thinking particularly of an Assembly which may be dominated for a time by one party, although it may be an Assembly of angelic qualities. This is a particularly dangerous situation. I need not develop my argument. It is obvious to everyon that there might be very great temptations in the future to exercise these functions by members of the majority party in an Assembly.

Mr. Dalyell

The Assembly might be angelic, but is not the danger that, even if it was absolutely straightforward—as I am sure it would be—elected people, without the responsibilities of Ministers and a Ministry, would be responsible for and involved with the allocation of funds? The allocation of funds is, heaven knows, a difficult enough matter at any time. It is precisely the main job of, for instance, the Historic Buildings Council. Elected people who have the onus of allocating funds—however angelic they may be—are opening themselves to difficulties of all kinds.

Sir R. Gower

That is precisely it. The hon. Gentleman has merely enlarged upon the point which I sought to make. We should not give such a power—the exercise of the functions of these bodies—to an Assembly. We should not risk giving such a power to an Assembly. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has had some of these powers before, in a different way, but he has never had in his Department the responsibility for running one of these bodies. That power has never been conferred on him under the present system. He has not been able to sack all the members of the Wales Tourist Board and exercise their powers himself. Under this clause he is not merely transferring a power, perhaps from his Department to the Assembly, but is enlarging and creating new powers which he has never before exercised.

Mr. John Morris

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely accurate. Some of the functions which have been given to some of the new bodies were directly exercised by myself before they were given to those bodies. I shall give the hon. Gentleman two examples. The derelict land schemes were directly operated. I operated them. The Welsh Office operated them. The factory building programme was also directly operated. There is nothing new in this.

Sir R. Gower

I will give the right hon. and learned Gentleman an example of powers which he has never exercised. He has given me examples of one or two powers which he has exercised under the severe scrutiny of Parliament, to which he has had to answer every time he has answered a Question from the Dispatch Box. Now, however, he is conferring on the Assembly—in relation to a body such as the Wales Tourist Board—an utterly different power which he has never possessed. That board was not set up by his Department or by him. It was set up by a previous Government, through another Cabinet. It was not set up by a Welsh Minister. It was introduced into the House by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's colleague, the Secretary of State for Transport, when he was at the Board of Trade. He introduced a Bill which set up the present arrangements for tourism to cover the whole of Britain.

5.0 p.m.

I submit that under this reprehensible system it will be possible—I do not say whether it is probable that it will ever happen—for the Assembly, dominated by a group of men who may be of superior talents and qualities and have a great knowledge of tourism, to terminate the existence of the tourist board. In that way they could upset the arrangements that Parliament deemed necessary for interlocking tourism in the three countries in the joint British Tourist Authority. Such a move would unbalance that system and the system under which the chairman of the Wales Tourist Board is a de facto member of the British authority. He will be superseded by a time-serving Member of the Assembly. All that is objectionable because—to take tourism as an example—every Member of the Assembly will consider himself to' be an expert on the subject.

Mr. John Morris

I am attempting to follow the hon. Member's argument. One thing is abundantly clear from it, and I hope he will say it in the coming months. He does not trust the people of Wales, which presumably includes the people of his constituency. Is he arguing against the involvement of directly elected people, or is his argument on a much narrower base—I do not think it is—against the assumption of these powers? In any event, without the power to subsume these bodies, directly elected people could be appointed by the Assembly, which could appoint one of its own number on to the boards.

Sir R. Gower

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong to say that I do not trust the people of Wales or the Assembly. I do trust them. I trusted the members of the several local authorities in Wales until they were found guilty of corruption. Until they are found guilty, I shall trust all the other people who follow on other bodies.

Mr. Morris

Is the hon. Member saying that, because a number of people in local government have committed offences and have appeared before the courts and been found guilty—people of varying political persuasions over the years—he does not trust local government?

Sir R. Gower

No, I am saying presely the opposite. I trust them all until they do something wrong. That, however, does not make it desirable to put this sort of temptation, which was the term used by the hon. Member for West Lothian, before such a body. I do not say that these people are likely to be bad or dishonest. As the hon. Member for West Lothian said, however, it is not desirable to produce legislation which puts people in such a position.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

Since this Assembly, the House of Commons, produces the Government and the Cabinet of the country, on an analogy with the hon. Member's argument is not that equally reprehensible? The Government of the country are more important than the Wales Tourist Board.

Sir R. Gower

The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) is making an unfair comparison. This Parliament does not appoint people to take the place of those on the British Tourist Authority. We allow these affairs to be run by experts in those matters.

Mr. Dalyell

We are talking here of what are very nearly, if not actually, offices of profit under the Crown. Take as an example the appointment of at least the chairmen and deputy-chairmen of new town commissions. They are paid appointments. If any one of us became the chairman or a deputy-chairman of a new town commission, would we not go for the Chiltern Hundreds?

Sir R. Gower

That illustrates how wrong the right hon. Member for Anglesey was. In most instances, Members of this House would be prohibited from taking such jobs by the rules which prevent us holding offices of that kind under the Crown.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

The hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) misunderstands or misinterprets me. I was refering to the circumstances in which the Assembly chose or elected its own Members to serve on such bodies. They would not be offices of profit because the appointees would already be paid as Assemblymen. Therefore, the question would not arise.

Sir R. Gower

I think it would be as well if I quoted the Bill, which says that the Assembly may provide for the exercise by the Assembly of all or any of the functions of that body and, if it so provides as to all those functions, for the dissolution of that body. This, therefore, could be carried out on a very small scale, on a moderate scale or completely. One person or a few people could be appointed, or the Assembly could remove all existing members and put its own Members in their place.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

According to clause 60, if there was a nominated body which was fulfilling a certain function it would be possible for that body to be dissolved and the function performed by it would, in effect, be taken over by the Assembly, which would mean that the function would then be performed by the Assembly.

Sir R. Gower

It could be done in that way or in another way. There is no prescription that it should be done in any particular way. The Bill provides that this matter could be handled as the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) described, or it could be done by the installation of appointees.

I submit that this is an objectionable clause which has nothing to do with democratic control of these bodies. That is ensured in another part of the Bill. The Bill already contains arrangements for the Assembly to take the place of the Secretary of State in supervising these boards and bodies. That, however, is a fundamentally different matter.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

I do not follow the point of the hon. Member's references to corruption in local government. That is always reprehensible, but is it his argument that, because a few people in local government have been found guilty of corruption, local government should not have the powers that these individuals misused?

Sir R. Gower

The hon. and learned Gentleman is being as unfair as the Secretary of State. My remark was made in defence when the Secretary of State accused me of not trusting the people of Wales. The hon. and learned Gentleman was here when that happened and he knows that that was not a statement by me but was a response to an unfair allegation. My reply was that of course I trusted these people. I trust the people on the local authorities until these things happen.

I share the view of the hon. Member for West Lothian that we should avoid a constitution or arrangement which presents such a temptation. It is highly undesirable to have as members of these boards people who need not have the slightest knowledge of the kind of work the boards are doing. They could be experts. I do not deny that there may be some Members of the Assembly who will be highly expert in many subjects. Under this system, however, people who are not experts in the relevant matters could be appointed to boards. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke gave an admirable example when he referred to ancient monuments and the sort of person who could be nominated to that body.

It is highly objectionable for the Assembly to have the power to take over these bodies. I do not think it is necessary. The Assembly has all the powers it needs under the other provisions in the Bill. The Assembly can supervise, it can guide and it can criticise. If the powers which the Secretary of State now wishes to restore are left out, it will not harm the Bill or destroy its efficacy. It will not reduce the usefulness of the supervision of the Assembly over these bodies. It will merely prevent the Assembly from interfering with their detailed functions.

I do not believe that the Assembly would need to interfere with the detailed functions of these bodies. Why should it? It is not the sort of body that is designed to do that. I hope that the Secretary of State, on reflection, will feel that there is no need for this and no case for it and that he will accept in this instance the very wise amendment made by the other place.

Mr. Ioan Evans

I am also pleased, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we are having a debate on clause 60, because I think that it is one of the most important clauses in the Bill. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has said, it deals with the question of the nominated bodies. I understand that the bodies affected by the clause include not only the Ancient Monuments Board for Wales, which has been mentioned, but the area health authorities, the Central Advisory Council for Education, the Development Board for Rural Wales, the Historic Buildings Council for Wales, the Land Authority for Wales, the new town development corporations, the Wales Tourist Board, the Welsh Development Agency, the Library Advisory Council (Wales). I am not sure that that is an exhaustive list. There may well be other bodies that we are discussing under the clause.

Yesterday we were dealing with the local government review powers that were to be transferred to the Assembly. That is an important matter. We need to look at the question of local government review. Now we have to consider the nominated bodies. I support my right hon. and learned Friend's attitude to the nominated bodies. Something has to be done about them. I do not take too kindly to the charges which are always being made against the present Secretary of State and previous Secretaries of State. I believe that they have done a first class job in relation to the nominated bodies.

There are sometimes accusations from Conservatives that the nominated bodies are dominated by Labour people. Similarly, Labour representatives often say that the nominated bodies are dominated by people from parties other than the Labour Party. Obviously the problem is a very difficult one, and I think that it raises a very large issue. I am not sure whether in the Scotland Bill similar powers have been transferred to the Scottish Assembly. I do not know whether this is something peculiar to the Welsh Assembly. If so, I do not know why that should be so.

Mr. John Morris

Far be it from me to comment on the Scotland Bill, but I understand the reason to be that the Scottish Assembly has the power of primary legislation.

Mr. Evans

So that, rather than doing it in a single clause, it is there necessary to bring in legislation on every one of the numerous bodies such as those we are dealing with here. I am sure that we would have passed this without discussion if it were not for the amendment which has come to us from the other place.

I want now to refer to the growth of the quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations of this country, the quangos. It has caused some concern to those of us who are democrats that Governments, whatever their political complexion, should have the power of patronage enabling them to determine who should serve on those bodies. But, although we may criticise the method of appointment, I think we ought to pay tribute to the people who serve on these bodies. They are people who do not wish to stand for election in order to give public service. They are people who are asked, because of their expertise, because of their ability, and because of the contributions they make to bodies with which they associate to serve on those bodies.

I think that these people do a tremendously useful job. Heaven forbid the day when they should have to stand for election in order to get on to those bodies. I am sure that I carry the House with me in saying that. Let me take as an example the Arts Council. I should like, of course, to have on that body Labour people who are interested in the arts and who can make a real contribution. But, irrespective of party, I believe that if there are people who have a contribution to make in advancing the cause of the arts, they should, even if they have no time for party politics, be brought in to serve.

5.15 p.m.

The problem now is that we have a massive system of patronage, with Ministers making nominations to these bodies. We know that there is dissatisfaction from the public, but we must often take it with a pinch of salt, because in public life there are always people who think that they can do a job better than the people who are already doing it. That sort of thing is in the very nature of public life. But we have to consider how we can tackle effectively the problem of the nominated bodies. My right hon. and learned Friend asked why we cannot have an extension of democracy. Why cannot we have appointments made not by the Secretary of State or by any other Ministers but by directly elected people?

Those who feel that an Assembly of the sort that is proposed in the Bill is not essential for the solution of these problems should, I believe, come up with some positive suggestions. We do not, of course, know what the people of Wales will decide in the referendum. I believe that there has been no greater act of democracy than the provision for a referendum so that the people may decide for themselves. The proposals for devolution having been made, the people are to be asked to consider the merits and the demerits of them, and to consider the benefits and the disadvantages. In the end the people of Wales will decide. But suppose that the people of Wales decide that they do not want the Assembly, having heard during the referendum campaign not only about the benefits but also about the many disadvantages. If they decide against the devolution proposals, we shall still have the problem of deciding what to do, for example, about reviewing local government, and other matters.

In Wales there are 37 district councils, there are eight counties, and there are 36 Members of Parliament. In addition we shall have, in the not too distant future, four Members representing the Principality in the European Parliament. Why not bring together, then, a council of elected representatives? Let the 37 district councils each elect one representative to the council. After all, the great thing about the 37 districts is that they cover geographically every part of Wales, so that every part of Wales would be represented on the council.

Some district councils might decide to send the mayor. Some might decide to send the leader of the council, but in any event there would be 37 representatives from the district councils in Wales. Similarly, there would be representatives from the eight counties in Wales. As the counties cover a larger geographical area, let us say that each county could elect three representatives to serve on the council. That would mean having 24 representatives from the counties. There would be 36 Members of Parliament representing Wales, and the four new Members representing Wales in Europe. There would be 36 Members of Parliament, but with no direct say. We may be asked on occasions to suggest certain names—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Where will the hon. Gentleman send the elected representatives? Is what he proposes to be in place of the Assembly?

Mr. Evans

What I am saying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that there is an argument for the Assembly to deal with the nominated bodies, and that we have a problem to which we must address ourselves. The clause suggests that it be dealt with in a certain way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Let me make my point abundantly clear. If what the hon. Gentleman proposes is to be an alternative to the proposed Assembly, it is absolutely out of order. That is what I am trying to get at.

Mr. Evans

If we accept my right hon. and learned Friend's point that directly elected people should serve on the nominated bodies, we can have a directly elected group of people to deal with that problem, and they can be the people I have already defined. The difference is that we should not have an Assembly involving £3 million annually in salaries and an additional £9½ million in salaries for civil servants. The body could be a parliamentary body of some sort, but if it consisted of existing elected representatives it would be just as democratically representative as any body that could be conceived. In my opinion, it would be more representative, because instead of being elected every four or five years the membership would be changing annually. There would be district council elections one year, county council elections another year, and parliamentary elections another year. We should therefore have a directly elected body, which would be serviced by the Welsh Office as it is now. That is how we can deal with this question of nominated bodies.

We do not have to have an Assembly to have a local government review. Similarly, we can deal with this matter more democratically by having directly elected representatives involved in determining who serves on nominated bodies. That need is not in itself an argument for creating an Assembly.

Subsection (1) says: the Assembly may by order made by statutory instrument provide for the exercise by the Assembly of all or any of the functions of that body and, if it so provides as to all those functions, for the dissolution of that body. I supported the Government all the way in the creation of the Welsh Development Agency, the Development Board for Rural Wales, and the Land Authority for Wales. But what is to be the future of those bodies? Are we to presume that the Assembly would, as apparently stated in the clause, have the powers to dissolve the Welsh Development Agency after we created it?

The Welsh Development Agency has done a first class job. As my right hon. and learned Friend has said, it has taken over duties of the direct land unit once performed by the Secretary of State. It also deals with the promotion and bringing in of industry to Wales.

We talk about consultations with such bodies. We all know that "consultation" is a vague word and that there are differing forms of consultation. It is not quite the same as negotiation. Presumably, there will not be negotiations with the Welsh Development Agency, the Development Board for Rural Wales, and the other bodies. Am I to understand that the Assembly would assume the functions of a nominated body and have the powers to dissolve it? That would be a major step, going much further than I visualised. I believe that those people who were appointed to the Welsh Development Agency, the Land Authority for Wales and the Development Board for Rural Wales did not think that when an Assembly was created they would be responsible to it instead of to the Secretary of State or this Parliament.

If the bodies in question have to go to the Assembly, presumably their financing will come through the block grant to the Assembly. We do not yet know the terms of that block grant. If it is to be one which is not as big as we on the Labour Benches would like, the numerous bodies then under the Welsh Assembly will be competing with the demands of existing local authorities in Wales. One can visualise the battle to determine where that money should be allocated.

It is far better that the Welsh Development Agency should be answerable to this House, just as the National Enterprise Board is. It would be far better for the Welsh Development Agency to, continue as it started, because it has started well. It is in the interests of the economy and development of the industry of Wales that that body should be connected with this. House and that the allocation of its funds be made from this House. It is far better for it to retain a close connection with the Secretary of State, as a member of the Cabinet.

Mr. John Morris

I have been following my hon. Friend's arguments, so far as it went, regarding the subsuming of the Welsh Development Agency or any other body. That is what we are discussing. The question of the transfer of the WDA, the question of the block grant, was resolved by this House in our debate last night. That is not the issue this afternoon. Whether the House accepts my advice this afternoon about subsuming, that is a narrower matter that we are now discussing. The question of transfer was decided yesterday.

Mr. Evans

I am saying that the one is related to the other, and that it does arise in this discussion. We must have regard to whether it will be in the interests of Wales for the WDA to be subsumed if it means a restriction of its financial allocation in the future. I am still not aware how the financial allocation to the Assembly is to be determined. We still do not have the answer to that question. Here we are, rushing a Bill through the House and going through all the stages—

Mr. John Smith


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think that the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) knows full well that we are not discussing that matter. May we return to what the Lords amendment says?

Mr. Evans

We are coming to the last stages of consideration of the Bill, and we still do not have the answer—

Mr. John Smith

We have been rushing all year.

Mr. Evans

Clause 60 was not discussed to any great extent until we received the Lords amendments. That is an example of political rushing.

I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that we must make the nominated bodies more democratically accountable. But he need not feel ashamed about the appointment of the people serving on the bodies concerned. They are doing a first class job for Wales and we do not need to talk about democratising that element, saying that those who are already serving are doing a job which is not in the best interests of Wales.

I shall return to this matter, perhaps not in the House but elsewhere. I say to the people of Wales "If you want to make your nominated bodies more democratic, by all means agree with both my right hon. and learned Friend and me, because we are agreed on this matter. But the question of the Assembly is irrelevant to that important issue."

Forward to