HC Deb 02 February 1998 vol 305 cc741-74
Mr. Livsey

I beg to move amendment No. 10A, in page 27, line 6, leave out from 'be' to end of line 7 and insert, 'Prime Minister of Wales or Prif Weinidog'.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. John McWilliam)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 91, in page 27, line 7, leave out

'Secretary or Prif Ysgrifennydd y Cynulliad'. and insert

'Minister or Gweinidog Pennaf y Cynulliad'. No. 200, in page 27, line 7, after 'Cynulliad', insert

'(a post whose title may be amended by provision of the Standing Orders)'. No. 194, in clause 57, page 28, leave out lines 27 to 29.

No. 199, in page 28, line 31, after 'Cynulliad', insert

', or by such title as the Standing Orders may provide'. No. 31, in clause 58, page 29, line 1, leave out 'a committee' and insert 'an Assembly Cabinet'.

No. 5, in page 29, line 1, after 'a', insert 'cabinet'.

No. 32, in page 29, line 2, leave out 'Secretary' and insert 'Minister'.

No. 33, in page 29, line 3, leave out 'Secretaries' and insert

'Ministers, who shall be appointed by the Assembly First Minister'.

No. 34, in page 29, line 3, leave out 'Secretaries' and insert

'Ministers, who shall be appointed by the Assembly First Secretary'.

No. 35, in page 29, leave out lines 4 to 6.

No. 21, in page 29, line 7, leave out 'executive' and insert 'cabinet'.

No. 36, in page 29, line 7, leave out 'executive committee' and insert 'Assembly Cabinet'.

No. 195, in page 29, line 7, leave out 'executive committee' and insert 'cabinet'.

No. 22, in page 29, line 8, leave out first 'executive' and insert 'cabinet'.

No. 37, in page 29, line 8, leave out first 'executive committee' and insert 'Assembly Cabinet'.

No. 196, in page 29, line 8, leave out 'executive committee (to such extent as the executive committee' and insert

'cabinet (to such extent as the cabinet'. No. 23, in page 29, line 8, leave out second 'executive' and insert 'cabinet'.

No. 38, in page 29, line 8, leave out second 'executive committee' and insert 'Assembly Cabinet'.

No. 25, in page 29, line 10, leave out 'executive' and insert 'cabinet'.

No. 39, in page 29, line 10, leave out 'executive committee' and insert 'Assembly Cabinet'.

No. 197, in page 29, line 10, leave out 'executive committee' and insert 'cabinet'.

No. 40, in page 29, line 14, leave out 'executive committee' and insert 'Assembly Cabinet'.

No. 28, in page 29, line 14, leave out 'executive' and insert 'cabinet'.

No. 41, in page 29, line 15, leave out 'executive committee' and insert 'Assembly Cabinet'.

No. 29, in page 29, line 15, leave out 'executive' and insert 'cabinet'.

No. 42, in page 29, line 17, at end insert— '(4A) The Assembly Cabinet shall remain in office only so long as it retains the confidence of the Assembly and no longer.'.

Mr. Livsey

The first amendment is about the description of the head of government in Wales.

Mr. Wigley

On a point of order, Mr. McWilliam. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman before he gets into his swing. Two, totally different, ideas are dealt with in this group of amendments; one group is about what people will be called, the other is about a cabinet system as opposed to a committee system. If we felt it appropriate, could we have a vote on an amendment relating to the cabinet system?

The Temporary Chairman

That would have to be considered at the end of the debate, but of course it would be in order for the right hon. Gentleman formally to propose an amendment. Standing Orders allow the group to be broken up in that way.

Mr. Livsey

As I was saying, the amendment refers to the possibility of there being a Prime Minister rather than a First Secretary. To give the Welsh assembly higher status, we may need to change the title, First Secretary.

If there is a First Secretary, he will on occasions have to speak to his opposite number in, for example, the Federal Republic of Germany, where each Land has its own Prime Minister, and we think that Prime Minister status would be appropriate. Such a situation would arise on many occasions. It would be nice to think that the leader of the assembly could discuss and even negotiate—perhaps with the motor regions—on an equal footing with leaders of other areas. We think that the title Prime Minister would be appropriate.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

I am intrigued. The hon. Gentleman said that the leaders of the Länder are Prime Ministers. I am sure his German is very good. What is the German title? There is no Prime Minister in Bonn as far as I am aware.

Mr. Livsey

I am not a German speaker. I speak French and halting Welsh, and my knowledge of German is not adequate to answer the right hon. Gentleman's question accurately. All I can say is that when Peter Walker was Secretary of State for Wales and met the Prime Minister of Baden-Wurttemberg, he was described as such in the British press. If they got it wrong, they got it wrong, but that was the description. I remember that well.

The other amendments that we have tabled in this group, including amendment No. 5, refer to a cabinet system rather than a committee system, but unfortunately they were consequential on amendment No. 11A, which has not been selected. I hope you will not rule me out of order, Mr. McWilliam, if I briefly say that the head of each Committee would automatically become a member of the Cabinet. It would therefore be a hybrid system. All the amendments refer to a Cabinet in that context. It is somewhat disheartening to have to say that, although the amendments refer to there being a Cabinet, they do so in that specific context. We believe that the amendments that refer to a cabinet system remain linked with the current selection in the sense that they are probing what a cabinet system would be like in relation to the assembly.

As we know, there has been much discussion in Wales about the possibility of a cabinet system rather than a committee system.

Mr. Ancram

Did I hear the hon. Gentleman right? Did he say that many of his amendments are merely probing amendments? We had understood this to be a matter of some significance and importance to the Liberal Democrats. We take it seriously ourselves. In the light of what has been said previously by his party, I should be surprised if these were just probing amendments.

Mr. Livsey

I mentioned at the outset of my speech the context in which the references to a Cabinet are being made. No doubt during the debate the ranking of a cabinet system compared with a committee system will be debated at some length. Some hon. Members may wish to put this matter to a vote at the end of the debate. If that is so, it is so.

We Liberal Democrats have examined the possibility of a cabinet system compared with a committee system. Committees of the assembly will represent different subject areas, different regional areas—we hope—in Wales, and other aspects of government in Wales. That being so, our party feels that we need a decisive decision-making body, which could be of the Cabinet type, where decisions will be made directly as a result of good, honest, democratic debate in the Committees. We believe that that could produce a more rapid system of decision making and clearer accountability, which is an important issue in relation to how the assembly will function. We want it to function efficiently and effectively within a democratic framework.

There are attractions in a cabinet system. It would give the assembly more status. It would also mean that Ministers in the Cabinet were able to take on responsibilities. Indeed, the functions of the First Secretary or the Prime Minister would be devolved to them and they would become more accountable.

We would not wish to diminish too much the participation of Members of the Assembly in the committee system, where they would contribute significantly to the day-to-day running of the assembly and have input into the running of the Government in Wales, depending on the political configuration of the assembly. We believe that it is right to table these amendments. We need a good, honest, debate on them to find out whether hon. Members can be persuaded that a cabinet system might have some distinct advantages over the committee system as proposed in the Bill.

Several hon. Members


The Temporary Chairman

Order. Before I call the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), I should like to apologise to him in case I might slightly have misled him. I suggested that amendments could be moved later; I must caution him that amendments now selected may fall if intervening clauses run against that line, so he may not get to that point.

Mr. Wigley

I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. McWilliam.

It is on clause 58 that the substantive question of a cabinet or committee system arises, but unfortunately—I do not criticise the selection; we are not encouraged to do that—the selection of amendments does not allow debate on an amendment to clause 58 that deals with the cabinet system.

One of the most controversial aspects of the Bill in Wales is whether we shall be governed by a committee or cabinet system. It seems—if my interpretation is right—that we can have a debate on clause 52 on the name "Cabinet", but not on any of the substance of the clause in which related issues arise.

The Temporary Chairman

I want to be clear for the Official Report. That is exactly right.

Mr. Wigley

I therefore assume that you will be fairly tolerant, Mr. McWilliam, if hon. Members go beyond the purview of clause 52 because we are bound to get into the substance of a cabinet system.

Amendments Nos. 200 and 199 deal with the right to choose an appropriate title for the officials of the assembly; they deal with whether we should have Ministers or Secretaries. The assembly should be allowed the freedom to choose the title; it should not be prescribed in the Bill. The amendment would allow the assembly to choose, rather than have a decision imposed on it. Once the assembly is up and running, there is no reason why it should not have the power to change the nomenclature of its officers. In view of the spirit in which the Government introduced the Bill, I should have thought that they want to encourage that. I should be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about why that freedom cannot be allowed.

5 pm

Amendment No. 194 would pave the way—as we then saw it—for the cabinet system, as would amendments Nos. 196, 197 and 195. Unfortunately, the amendment that deals with the guts of the cabinet system—the right to elect a cabinet—has not been selected. However, amendment No. 21, which has been tabled jointly by Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats, involves the concept of the cabinet, so I want now to discuss whether there should be a cabinet or a committee system in the assembly.

I and my colleagues feel strongly that there should be a cabinet system, for a number of reasons. We want to avoid some of the problems that arise in local government, where the committee system can sometimes be a vehicle for delay in decision making. Decisions have to go through a committee for ratification and are not valid until that committee has ratified them. We have all seen in our constituencies the frustration that is caused when people have to work through the cycle of local government committees before a decision can be ratified. That would be an unfortunate beginning for the assembly.

It is possible to secure answerability for the assembly's Ministers or Secretaries—whatever they are called—to a Committee without there being a committee system. Indeed, the development of Select Committees in this House has made Ministers accountable to a Committee that deals with the subject area—although the Minister does not have to go to that Committee to get approval for any decision that he makes. It is right that the assembly's Ministers or Secretaries should be held accountable to a scrutiny Committee and appear before that Committee, perhaps more regularly than is the case in Westminster. I am convinced that a cabinet system would provide a better mechanism for taking quicker decisions.

A cabinet system would also mean that when a Minister or Secretary of the assembly takes a decision, he has personal responsibility for it—it cannot be lost in the explanation that it was the Committee's decision to do this, or not to do that.

Mr. Denzil Davies

I am interested in right hon. Gentleman's speech. Is he suggesting that if there were a cabinet system, the Cabinet would meet in secret whereas a Committee would meet in public? Is he advocating that?

Mr. Wigley

The Cabinet that the right hon. Gentleman's party has established to run the countries of these islands meets in secret. That is inevitably the case when plans are being developed.

Mr. Davies


Mr. Wigley

The right hon. Gentleman should ask the Prime Minister why the Cabinet meets in secret. I am sure that, when the right hon. Gentleman was a Treasury Minister in the last Labour regime, he would have defended the need for discussions on the Budget to be held in secret. That is the difference between national government and local government. Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman views the assembly as a local government body—nothing more than an overgrown county council—I understand why he wants to have a local government system of committees. In such a case, the power of national government would not be available—

Mr. Davies

What about the Council of Ministers? Would the right hon. Gentleman defend the Council of Ministers' meeting in secret?

Mr. Wigley

The Council of Ministers does meet in secret. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has strong feelings about the way in which Europe works—or does not work—but there are times when it is necessary for the Council of Ministers to meet in secret. I would prefer greater openness and, indeed, a different system in the European Parliament. I would like there to be a second chamber—a chamber of the regions and nations. That would provide a different structure of openness.

With regard to the government of countries—whether the government of the United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Denmark or, for that matter, Scotland—it is right and proper that a Cabinet should take responsibility. A cabinet system would allow a more cohesive approach to government. A joint responsibility would go along with a cabinet system, but may or may not go along with the half-baked committee system that the right hon. Gentleman would like. A joint responsibility is something which adds to the ability of government to take coherent decisions and to act in support of them.

Mr. Rowlands

I thought that the whole notion behind many of the right hon. Gentleman's speeches over many months has been that there should be a new type of politics in Wales—a new style and openness in the assembly. Instead, he is describing the culture of secrecy, accountability and total collective responsibility of the Westminster model. I thought that we were supposed to pioneer some new style of politics.

Mr. Wigley

That will happen through the scrutiny that can be made available on a much better and more rigorous basis with a cabinet system. Individual members of the Cabinet will be responsible for the stance that they take. The hon. Gentleman appears to want the assembly to be a body more akin to local government than to central Government. That is the essential difference between his point of view and mine. I want powers to be transferred from Westminster to Wales. I want decisions to be taken on a national level in Wales; I do not want the centralisation of local government on an all-Wales level. That would be the danger of going down the road advocated by the hon. Gentleman.

I know that the hon. Gentleman has doubts about the model and about the assembly and that he wants a weaker model—

Mr. Rowlands


Mr. Wigley

That may be the case—

Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)

I am disappointed with the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. He appears to be denigrating local government. Is he aware that the most recent survey of public opinion on local government and its democratisation shows that it has scored a great deal higher than central Government, for the very reasons suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands)?

Mr. Wigley

I hear the hon. Lady. In no way am I denigrating local government, which does very valuable work, but there are valid criticisms of it and the speed it takes to produce decisions. Surely the hon. Lady has heard criticisms about how long it sometimes takes to get decisions out of local authorities. I was aware of that when I served on a local authority in the constituency of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), and I have seen it in my constituency. I have seen the frustration that occurs because of the requirements of the system.

Local government serves an important function. There are people who give a lifetime's service to it and they do a dedicated job, but that does not mean that it is necessarily the best system for transferring powers to Wales. I assume that the hon. Lady is not advocating that the assembly should be more akin to local government than to devolved central Government. That is the essential point. We are talking about the devolved power of central Government.

Mr. Ron Davies

I want to clarify a point that arose in the exchange between the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). My hon. Friend suggested that the White Paper and the Bill envisage that in no circumstances will any Committees of the assembly meet other than in public—

Mr. Rowlands

I did not.

Mr. Davies

I am glad that my hon. Friend acknowledges that that is not the case. I draw the Committee's attention to clause 69(1)(b), which makes provision in the Standing Orders for Committees to meet in camera. I think that everyone accepts that there will be occasions when matters of commercial or personal confidentiality are considered and that Committees will require the opportunity to meet in camera. I think also that everyone has acknowledged that there will be occasions when the Executive Committee, for example—which will examine strategic matters such as finance and policy development—will want to meet in camera. That is why the Bill and, I should think, the Standing Orders provide for it to do so.

Mr. Wigley

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his intervention. Such a provision is not to ensure built-in secrecy but coherent decision taking—to ensure that people feel that they can express aloud their ideas, determine whether those ideas are working and, if necessary, withdraw them, which is inevitable in any strategic body. A strategic approach to the issues requires that that happens not only at an all-Wales level but at an all-UK level.

There is broad consensus in Wales in support of a cabinet system rather than a committee system for the assembly. The support cuts across party-political boundaries. People in the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative party and Plaid Cymru realise the merits of a cabinet system. I remember that, after Lord Roberts—our old friend Sir Wyn Roberts—expressed an opinion on the matter, the Secretary of State said that there is essentially a continuum of possible models, running from a pure committee system to a pure cabinet system, and that the Welsh assembly will perhaps land on some point along that continuum.

I shall be glad if the Minister, in his reply, will tell us how Ministers currently think that that balance will be struck. Is there any reason, if the assembly deems that it is appropriate, why the point chosen in the spectrum should not be at or close to the cabinet end rather than the committee end? If the assembly can take the decision, that will be fair enough—because it will be allowed to develop a cabinet system. If the Bill rules that out, however, amendments will have to be tabled either on Report or in the other place to ensure that the Bill allows the possibility of such a system.

Ms Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire)

I am curious about the wording of the right hon. Gentleman's amendments. As he himself has admitted that there are advantages and disadvantages with both systems, would it not have been more appropriate to table an amendment requesting that Ministers examine the advantages of both systems and the possibility of incorporating—perhaps later—the best of those systems, rather than doing what he is doing now: choosing one system that he admits has disadvantages?

Mr. Wigley

As the hon. Lady knows, our original amendment was not selected; technically, we are debating only a name. We are therefore debating an enormously important issue without having a substantive amendment to allow us to achieve our objective. If she were so minded, yes, it would be possible to table, on Report, an amendment to achieve that end.

Mr. Livsey

The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Ms Lawrence) mentioned providing the best of both systems, which was the objective of amendment No. 11A. That amendment was not selected, which is a pity. I know that the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) also is being thwarted by not being able to debate the matter on that broader basis.

Mr. Wigley

I hope that amendments dealing with the substance of a cabinet system will be selected for the Bill's Report stage, unless by then Ministers have said either that they interpret the Bill in a manner that allows the assembly to develop a cabinet system or that they will table amendments in the other place or on Report to make such a system possible. It is immensely important to ensure that the assembly has a central and dynamic core to drive issues forward. A Cabinet would be answerable to the subject Committees and to the assembly itself.

We should remember that the assembly will be composed of only 60 persons. The Executive will therefore not be remote from its membership. An Executive would enable the assembly to take decisions quickly, coherently and strategically. A cabinet system would also provide necessary credibility in Europe and elsewhere.

The type of system that the assembly will use is a very important issue. I hope that other hon. Members will follow up on it, so that—regardless of which issues the House divides on today—we reach a conclusion on the desirability of a cabinet system and can hear from Ministers how they will satisfy the feeling that has been expressed by so many hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Ancram

I was somewhat entertained by listening to the comments on Cabinet secrecy. Every Friday morning, hon. Members have the wonderful experience of reading riveting stories about who is saying what to whom in Cabinet, who is being rude to whom and who is looking out of the window. Sometimes the theory of Cabinet secrecy is perhaps honoured more in the thought than in the action.

5.15 pm
Mr. Ron Davies

The right hon. Gentleman is not trying to tell the House that he believes those stories, is he?

Mr. Ancram

As I read that they come from "an official Downing street source", I perhaps rather naively think that they have some authority and assume that I am supposed to believe them. However, I will not get into a discussion on Cabinet secrecy, other than to say that any of those bodies can be as open or as secret as they think is appropriate at the time.

I am in the rather surprising position of supporting amendment No. 10A, which the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) says is a probing amendment. He did not say whether amendment No. 11 A, which he felt he could not speak to, is also a probing amendment. Regardless, our amendments have been tabled in all seriousness.

I tell the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) that, in tabling our amendments, we did not draw a distinction between changing the name of the First Secretary and the theory of a cabinet system. We believe that the two essentially go together and are part and parcel of what we are trying to achieve. In amendment Nos. 91 to 41, we are effectively trying to change the name of the First Secretary to the First Minister, Secretaries to Ministers and the Committee to an Assembly Cabinet. I think that we are consistent in trying to do that. Amendment No. 42 is also in keeping with a cabinet structure, as we propose that a Cabinet should continue in existence only while it retains the assembly's confidence. That would be a right and proper part of the Cabinet's role.

We propose replacing the committee system with a cabinet system. That is not a new idea for Conservative Members, as we discussed it during the referendum campaign and have talked about it since. The reasons for the replacement are essentially those mentioned by the right hon. Member for Caernarfon and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire.

Reading the Bill, it is not easy to determine how the Committee, as it is described, would operate within an assembly. The Bill seems to be confused—perhaps because the practical detail is always difficult to envisage—about whether it is designed to share power among all the assembly's participants or to concentrate it. Either objective would be possible.

Regardless of what happens to this group of amendments, the House will have to know a little more about how the Government think an Executive Committee will work in practice. A central question is where the power in the Committee will reside. Will it reside with the First Minister or with the Executive Committee? Will it reside with the individual Secretaries and with their Committees? Will it reside—as I sometimes fear is the case when there is confusion—with officials?

One of our concerns is that the current blurred position will make accountability—not only to politicians but to the public—a serious issue. The people in Wales will want to know who is responsible for what and—if necessary, as is the case in politics—who to blame if things go wrong. The experience of local government and the committee system tends to show that political accountability can become blurred. With a committee system, it is easier to argue that responsibility is shared, that it is everyone's fault if something goes wrong and, if necessary, that it is to everyone's credit if things go right. My experience is that there tends to be a less than clear political focus, although I am in no way disparaging local government by saying that.

My understanding of the Bill is that we are not creating, or at least we should not be creating, local government. A committee structure is perhaps less in keeping with what we are attempting to do than is a cabinet structure, as there is to be in Scotland. Under that system, those holding responsibility are appointed by the First Minister or First Secretary, as our amendments seek to provide. That also creates the accountability in that the First Minister decides who his Ministers will be and they are responsible for their intromissions.

I am surprised that the Government seem to have set about creating what I can only describe as a constitutional mule—it is neither one thing nor the other, neither local government nor the type of cabinet structure to which we are accustomed.

My experience of committee structures is that they give undue influence to officials. Throughout local government, officials play an important role in putting forward recommendations and hold greater sway over elected members than is the case in a cabinet structure. If the assembly is a genuine exercise in democracy—I make this point having said all I have to say about devolution—and if we are trying to make it work effectively, what is proposed would undermine it.

The proposals for a committee system are a fundamental weakness in the Bill. Our amendments, and those tabled by the Liberal Democrats, would cure that weakness. I hope that the Government will consider them, as it is a matter about which we feel very strongly.

Ms Julie Morgan

As we consider the structure of the assembly, it is important to examine the principles behind it and incorporate them into that structure. The first principle of the assembly is that it should be as democratic as it can be. That means that people who hold positions in the assembly should be democratically elected. There should be as little patronage as possible. I know that patronage is endemic in all types of government, but it should be limited, so I do not agree with the amendment, tabled, I think, by the Conservatives, that states that the First Secretary should appoint the Secretaries to the Cabinet. That would not be acceptable. The Secretaries should be democratically elected, as that would be in tune with what we are trying to do in Wales.

Mr. Wigley

Although we are not allowed to debate amendment No. 201, the hon. Lady might have noted that it would provide for the election rather than the selection of a Cabinet.

Ms Morgan

Yes, I had noted that.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Lady is making a case for electing members of the Cabinet. Would she like that to happen in Westminster, too?

Ms Morgan

We are not debating the system here, but patronage is too prevalent in all forms of government. We want a different style of government in Wales.

At Westminster, some people are in government, some are out, and the rest of us have to knock on the door and try to influence what is happening from outside. We do not want to reproduce that system in Wales.

As I was saying, the first principle on which we should structure the assembly is democracy. The second should be inclusiveness—we need to involve as many people as possible. That means that there should be a role for all Members elected to the assembly, including those who are not First Secretary or Secretaries. The importance of the National Assembly is that it should weld together the whole of Wales. We must ensure that everyone in the National Assembly has a role and feels that he or she has a part to play in planning the future of Wales.

Mr. Rowlands

A stakeholder assembly.

Ms Morgan


Another important principle on which to structure the assembly is the involvement of organisations from outside it. That can be done by some form of co-option, bringing in advisers and undertaking consultation. It will be done more easily and effectively via a committee system. A Committee should meet regularly and follow a programme of work; its members will develop expertise in the subject covered by it—although I hope that the Committees will cover a group of subjects rather than individual subjects.

In my intervention on the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), I referred to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation survey carried out in 1995. It revealed that the public had very little regard for quangos. That did not surprise us because one of the reasons we are to have devolution in Wales is the corruption of the quango system. The survey also showed that the general public had a much higher regard for local authorities than for central Government. I think that that has something to do with the element of secrecy in central Government and the fact that the Government are seen as being more removed from the people.

I am concerned that the move towards a cabinet system in Wales has something to do with status and the feeling that in some way the overall British system is preferable. In setting up the National Assembly, we should be attempting to do something different. We should be creating something unique because we have a unique opportunity.

Mr. Dafis

There might be an element of status, which is important in itself, but when we are talking about Ministers and Cabinets, we are not talking only about the British system. I am not absolutely sure that they are the norm, but I imagine that they are common in regional governments throughout Europe. That is bound to be the case in Catalonia, the Basque country and the German Lander. There is no contradiction between that and having a committee system that in fact enables wide consultation and participation and a thorough critique of what the Cabinet and Ministers might be doing.

Ms Morgan

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that contribution. There is no doubt that there is a mixture of systems in various regions and countries, but my point is that we need to come up with proposals that are dictated by what is good for Wales.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

Does the hon. Lady agree that not everything about Westminster has been an abject failure and that one of the strongest cases for adopting a cabinet system is that it is one of the few aspects that has seemed to operate effectively in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole? Would not it be sensible to take this successful experience from Westminster and apply it to Wales?

Ms Morgan

We should look at other models to find out what is best for Wales. Systems develop in certain ways. For example, the cabinet system could develop into a presidential system. One could say that that happened under Margaret Thatcher. There are dangers in every system. I do not consider everything in Westminster to be an abject failure—there is good and bad. We want what is best for Wales.

It is clear, however, that we cannot discuss everything here. The advisory committee must work on the proposals, discuss them and produce advice for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I hope that he will make that advice widely available for discussion and debate throughout Wales so that we can all participate in creating an assembly for everyone in Wales.

5.30 pm
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)

I have been listening to the debate with increasing astonishment as I fear that the Committee has been debating a Bill other than the one before us. I thought that the purpose of considering a Bill in Committee was to investigate that Bill, rather than some abstract idea.

I should like to speak to amendment No. 31 and the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who alone alluded to the problem: what is being created here? The Bill refers to various Committees, and it would be otiose to mention them all. However, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) said that it would be nice to do something different, creative and unique. The clauses under discussion achieve exactly that—to a far greater extent than she imagines.

Subsections (7) and (8) of clause 57 have a profound effect on whether the assembly has Committees or a Cabinet. Unless I am much mistaken, they allow for the Committees to delegate the functions that have been delegated to the assembly by the Secretary of State—or other Secretaries of State—to their Assembly Secretaries. They allow a strange bath-tub effect of delegation downwards by the Secretary of State to the assembly and then upwards again from the assembly to a Committee, and from the Committee to its Assembly Secretary.

The Assembly Secretaries, quite possibly endowed with plenary authority by their respective Committees, sit on the Executive Committee. Under other clauses of the Bill, the entire functions of the Executive Committee can be devolved upwards to the Assembly First Secretary. It is slightly unclear, to put it mildly, whether the Assembly Secretaries on the Executive Committee can devolve the entirety of their powers—which they may have gained from the Committees—to the First Secretary. However, it is clear that they can devolve anything that lies within the remit of the Executive Committee.

What we have is by no means a committee structure reflecting that of local government. Any local government authority that acted in that way would immediately be taken to court and prevented from so doing. Nor do we have a Westminster system in which the Cabinet is accountable to the House and has to legislate through it. I admit that in present circumstances and with an equivalent majority, not much attention is paid to the niceties of Westminster, but, formally at least, the Bill is being debated in the House and in Committee, and the Government are accountable to the House. On the contrary, under the system outlined in this part of the Bill, the functions delegated to the assembly could be legislated on exclusively and in private—as the Standing Orders could determine—within the Executive Committee by Assembly Secretaries, each endowed with plenary authority, without the need to go back to their Committees or the Assembly.

Mr. Ron Davies

That is quite wrong.

Mr. Letwin

The Secretary of State says from a sedentary position that that is quite wrong. It would be most helpful if he would elucidate on that.

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman said that the Executive Committee would be able to legislate. The Executive Committee would have no legislative powers.

Mr. Letwin

If the Secretary of State had been attending closely, he would know that I was trying to say that the Assembly Secretaries could have been given plenary power by their Committees, so in the Executive Committee, each of them could legislate in their own domain as a sort of corporation sole legislature. To use the phrase of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North, it would be a creative, unique and different arrangement.

In practice, if each Assembly Secretary had sole delegated power, they would discuss matters with one another. When they chose to act within whatever remit the Executive Committee had been given under the Standing Orders, they could also devolve their powers entirely to the First Secretary so that in those matters, the First Secretary could rule without reference even to the rest of the Executive Committee, let alone the other Committees or the assembly.

Ms Lawrence

Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the Assembly Secretaries are subject to a democratic process, as they have to be elected by their Committees? Plenary powers would have to be vested in them democratically by their Committees.

Mr. Letwin

I am delighted that the hon. Lady raised that point, as it brings me to my next and final point.

It appears that the Committees will be new and democratic in their constitution because they will be disposed in proportion to the constitution of the assembly, which, it is expected, will be proportional to the electorate. So we are meant to have a system resembling that of local government, but more so, in which proportionality is reflected through the ascending hierarchy. Far from being the case, however, that is an illusion. The Committees will vote by simple, not qualified, majority. Therefore, it will be consistently the case that a single party—the Labour party—will be able, by simple majority vote, to give plenary power to each of the Assembly Secretaries, who no doubt will be from that party, thereby depriving all other members of the Committee of the slightest vestige of power. Those individuals will then be able to legislate for Wales.

Mr. Öpik

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that is one reason why it is important to have an effective system of proportional representation? If the PR system works effectively, there will not be a monopoly of power invested in one party; instead, there will be a much wider distribution of power, so in those circumstances, his concern would fall.

Mr. Letwin

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. There could be circumstances under which the result of proportional representation would create a coalition. If the powers that I have just described were used in those circumstances, there would be an almighty constitutional muddle as the person chosen to have the plenary power could not come from all the constituent parties of the assembly.

My point is not that it is a good or a bad system, but that it is an unholy muddle. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes said, it has the appearance of a committee structure, but, in reality, it is either a committee structure similar to that in local government, but more so, or, according to the Standing Orders of which we have no current knowledge, it is the most autocratic system of legislation yet invented for an assembly not only in European history, but—as far as I am aware—in world history. Providing for both those possibilities, with an ambiguity that only a legislative draftsman could achieve, and without the Secretary of State in the White Paper or elsewhere having remotely alluded to the possibility of different approaches, has resulted in an extraordinary muddle.

Ms Lawrence

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman believes in democracy. Regardless of the constitution of the Committee, in which there may be a majority of one party, is it not the basic principle of democracy that when a democratic vote is taken, the decision rests on the will of the majority? It would appear that the hon. Gentleman is arguing against the very principles of democracy.

Mr. Letwin

I had intended to finish, but I shall reply to that important point. There are two kinds of democracy. There is the democracy of the ballot box, which is fundamental. That has led to a Labour Government with a massive majority at the moment. I fully accept that, as I accept that similar majorities might occur in the Welsh assembly. That is no problem. However, there is another aspect of democracy, which I suspect that the hon. Lady thinks is as important as I do. Of necessity, such an election occurs only every so often. Between elections, there should be a system of accountability that ensures that when legislation comes forward, it is debated and discussed in open assembly by elected representatives, who may or may not be of the governing party.

I am describing a constitutional muddle that would permit control over legislation by a so-called assembly to be entirely concentrated in the hands of a few people with plenary power to legislate in private on behalf of the assembly and this Parliament, without reference to anyone and without debate. I suspect that that would satisfy the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Ms Lawrence) no more than it satisfies me.

Mr. Rowlands

I support the system proposed in the Bill and the eloquent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West—

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)


Mr. Rowlands

I mean my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan). She demolished some of the arguments of the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley).

It is a pity that we are not on clauses 57 and 58. As in many of his speeches, the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) built great constructions around one or two points, but when we look more closely at his points, we see that they are less substantial than they appear to be. The Assembly Secretaries who form the Executive Committee will be elected by each of the Assembly Committees. It falls within the power of the Assembly Committees to dispose of or alter votes of no confidence in the Assembly Secretary if he cannot carry the support of the subject Committee that elected him. The Assembly Secretaries will be accountable to the Committee that gave them their status.

If my interpretation is right, we are seeking a different model from that so touchingly proposed by the right hon. Member for Caernarfon, which is almost identical to the Westminster model, with all its strengths and weaknesses. The Cabinet would not be elected. A Cabinet cannot be elected; it is chosen by the Prime Minister—which the right hon. Gentleman and others also want. Under the structure in the Bill, at least the Assembly Secretaries have to obtain the support of the subject Committees that they lead. That gives them the authority to be Assembly Secretaries.

Once there is a Prime Minister and other Ministers, there will be deputy Ministers. As a student of British government, I have watched the spawning of junior ministerial ranks. In the mid-1930s, I think that there were only 25 Ministers. Certainly before the first world war, there were no more than a couple of dozen Ministers. Since then, we have gained Ministers of State and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries. Such a system of deputy Ministers and deputy deputy Ministers might grow with a Cabinet structure. Lo and behold, we might even transpose from this place the concept of Parliamentary Private Secretaries. [Interruption.] I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger) was groaning or expressing hopeful anticipation of a role that he might play.

I do not deny that I have had the pleasure of being a Minister through the patronage system, but, through the 1980s, I watched the growth of patronage in both major parties, including shadow patronage, which is as frightening because it is as binding and stifling as the real thing. That has lessened independence of thought and speech in the Chamber in the past 30 years. Transposing such a system to a Welsh assembly would result in the gradual growth of patronage systems in the assembly, creating a dominant powerful Executive of the governing group. If we have a Prime Minister, we shall have a shadow Prime Minister. If we have a shadow Prime Minister, we shall have shadow Ministers. If we have deputy Ministers, we shall have shadow deputies. I do not want the patronage system, which I have seen grow in my parliamentary lifetime into a stifling influence, to be carried to the new and interesting politics that I hope will emerge from the Welsh assembly.

5.45 pm

What problem were we trying to address by creating an assembly? Surely the major problem was the concentration of power in one Department—the Welsh Office—and in the Secretary of State, who has a range of functions. Outside that system, we were trying to address the growth of the quango state. I thought that everyone campaigning for any form of devolution, however far down the road we wanted to go, wanted to bring a new spirit of openness to the decision-making processes. We wanted open debate and discussion, particularly on the allocation of resources.

The hon. Member for West Dorset talked about legislation. The assembly will not legislate—not in the manner of the Scottish Parliament. We are establishing the assembly to have an open debate on the allocation of the £6 billion or £7 billion of Government resources that are the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Wales and the host of quangos that spend some of it. That is its fundamental task. It must be done more openly than a Westminster Cabinet style of decision making would achieve. The centrepiece of the case for devolution was that we would bring a breath of fresh air to the decision-making processes for the allocation of such large resources.

Mr. Ron Davies

My hon. Friend is speaking with his experience as a former Minister in the Welsh Office. If there is any merit in the arguments for moving towards a Cabinet style, it is that hundreds of decisions have to be taken every day. They are not the major strategic spending decisions that my hon. Friend is referring to, but the day-to-day decisions that are necessary to give effect to the broad strategic decisions taken collectively by the assembly.

Mr. Rowlands

Exactly. The notion that that cannot be done by open debate in Committees is nonsense. My right hon. Friend is right. We were seeking more openness in decision making at operational and strategic level on the allocation of spending and resourcing priorities. That is the primary function of the assembly.

Mr. Letwin

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if he were trying to achieve his aim, he would have to recommend an amendment that deprived Committees of the ability to give their entire powers to Secretaries?

Mr. Rowlands

The great value and extremely important function of our Committee proceedings is to make us read the texts over and over again. I spend quite a lot of time reading them. I began re-reading clauses 57 and 58 as a result of the hon. Gentleman's interesting observations. I understand why clause 57 gives powers to the Assembly Secretaries. The Assembly Secretaries, with the First Secretary, can make decisions independently. I think that that system exists in local government, where certain power is delegated to various smaller groups, such as chairmen of committees, at various times in the year.

The hon. Member for West Dorset is wrong to imply that the Assembly Secretaries described in clause 58 would be unaccountable and—I think that he used the word—autocratic, because they derive their power entirely from their election by the subject Committees, as is laid down in clause 57. That is not an autocratic system; it is directly accountable. If one of the subject Committee Secretaries cannot carry his Committee, he will be out on his ear—not by the decision of a Prime Minister in some reshuffle, but by the power of the subject Committees and other Committees. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that that is a different model. The clauses do not construct a local government system. They construct a different decision-making process which is suited to the assembly's central task: to bring greater democratic pressure to bear on decision making and the allocation of resources.

The difference between a cabinet structure and even a local government structure lies in who controls the information that is given to the elected members. In a cabinet structure, as I know from experience, the information given out is controlled—even at departmental and ministerial levels. Certain options in the debate—in the Whitehall system and among Ministers—are eliminated. What is released to the House of Commons is basically the preferred option. Sometimes, slight variations are offered in Green Papers, but, generally, the process is one of filtering information for final scrutiny. The system that we are suggesting is different. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North suggested, it allows greater openness. It allows officials, to whom the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) referred, to deliver more information to the assembly than could possibly be provided in a cabinet structure.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman's theory about openness of government and giving control to Members of the Assembly is sound. Surely he should have begun that battle with his party ages ago. What about the closed list system, which concentrates power on political parties and not on individual candidates?

Mr. Rowlands

I have made my views on the closed list system very clear to my right hon. and hon. Friends. On this occasion, I whole-heartedly support the clauses before us.

Mr. Win Griffiths

This has been a very important debate. It was instigated by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) and has produced a wide variety of views. Most importantly, for the first time in these debates, the official Opposition have made enlightened and constructive comments on the way in which the assembly should be run.

The purpose of the amendments is to establish a cabinet model of internal organisation for the assembly. The Cabinet would consist of a Prime Minister of Wales—an Assembly First Minister—and, perhaps, Assembly Ministers, who would be appointed by the First Minister. That Cabinet would be collectively responsible to the assembly and would hold office only while retaining the assembly's confidence.

I have listened very closely to both sides of the argument. The right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) made much of the difference between a cabinet model and a committee model, especially the local government committee model. My hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) made great play of what they felt were more open and inclusive forms of decision making in local government.

In both cases, the strengths and weaknesses of the system are dependent on the people who are in charge. I recall some local government systems that included a full panoply of committees, but which were as closed and as secret as any cabinet committee structure. We must consider all systems in the context of who will be in charge. The Bill would allow, more or less, for either extreme to be accommodated. A cabinet model, more or less, could be accommodated, as the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) tried to point out in a rather theoretical way. On the other hand, at the other end of the spectrum, a pure committee system could be accommodated. We believe that there can be points along the spectrum, and that the assembly can make its own decisions about how it might like to operate. The assembly will be a democratically accountable body and be able to decide such matters for itself.

We do not want to prescribe the exact internal architecture of the assembly. The issue of how the Standing Orders might lead to the operation of the assembly has been given to the advisory group, which will pass on its thinking to the Commissioners.

Mr. Ancram

I am listening very closely to the Minister, and I thank him for the attention that he paid to our proposals. Does not he accept that the detail of the proposed committee structure is prescriptive? As my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) said, the Bill is indistinct and confused in what it is trying to achieve. It would be for the benefit of the people in Wales, and indeed the system, if the Minister were to say now that he would accept one of the amendments as a token of his good faith in the imposition of a cabinet structure. I suggest that if he finds it difficult to accept the amendments relating to the Cabinet, he should consider amendments relating to the name of the First Minister or the First Secretary. If he could accept one of them, I would be satisfied. Obviously, if he could not do that, we should have to take our own view of what he meant by the refusal.

Mr. Griffiths

The clauses allow for what the hon. Member for West Dorset thought was confusion, but what can be seen as flexibility in the way in which the assembly will operate.

The Commissioners will obviously undertake their work having regard for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's guidance—although they will also be informed by this debate. We believe that the advisory group and the Commissioners will continue to consult widely in Wales on any specific proposals on how the assembly might operate—whether it is much more of a local government system or one that moves towards a cabinet system. We believe that this debate has been very helpful in providing a view for the advisory group and the Commissioners to consider. We still see a need for consideration and flexibility in how these matters are to be handled; nothing is settled yet. The advisory group will be able to consider these things. I hope that, in that context, the amendment can be withdrawn.

Mr. Livsey

I hear what the Minister says, and I believe that he is correct in saying that we have had a good debate. I do not have time to go into all aspects of it, but obviously there are differences of opinion about whether there should be a complete cabinet or a complete committee system. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Hon. Members


Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 151, Noes 292.

Division No. 145] [5.59pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Flight, Howard
Amess, David Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Gale, Roger
Arbuthnot, James Garnier, Edward
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Gibb, Nick
Baldry, Tony Gill, Christopher
Bercow, John Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Beresford, Sir Paul Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Blunt, Crispin Gray, James
Boswell, Tim Green, Damian
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Greenway, John
Brady, Graham Grieve, Dominic
Brand, Dr Peter Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Brazier, Julian Hammond, Philip
Breed, Colin Hawkins, Nick
Browning, Mrs Angela Hayes, John
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Burnett, John Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Burns, Simon Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Burstow, Paul Horam, John
Butterfill, John Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Cable, Dr Vincent Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Cash, William Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Hunter, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Chope, Christopher Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Clappison, James Jenkin, Bernard
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Collins, Tim Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Colvin, Michael Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Cormack, Sir Patrick Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Cotter, Brian Lansley, Andrew
Cran, James Leigh, Edward
Curry, Rt Hon David Letwin, Oliver
Dafis, Cynog Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Lidington, David
Day, Stephen Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Duncan, Alan Livsey, Richard
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Llwyd, Elfyn
Evans, Nigel Loughton, Tim
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Luff, Peter
Faber, David Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fabricant, Michael MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fallon, Michael McIntosh, Miss Anne
Fearn, Ronnie MacKay, Andrew
McLoughlin, Patrick Steen, Anthony
Malins, Humfrey Stunell, Andrew
Maples, John Swayne, Desmond
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Syms, Robert
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Tapsell, Sir Peter
May, Mrs Theresa Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Moss, Malcolm Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Nicholls, Patrick Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Öpik, Lembit Townend, John
Ottaway, Richard Tredinnick, David
Page, Richard Trend, Michael
Paice, James Tyler, Paul
Paterson, Owen Tyrie, Andrew
Pickles, Eric Viggers, Peter
Prior, David Walter, Robert
Redwood, Rt Hon John Wardle, Charles
Robathan, Andrew Waterson, Nigel
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Wells, Bowen
Whitney, Sir Raymond
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Whittingdale, John
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham) Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Ruffley, David Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Wilkinson, John
St Aubyn, Nick Willetts, David
Sanders, Adrian Willis, Phil
Sayeed, Jonathan Woodward, Shaun
Shepherd, Richard Yeo, Tim
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Tellers for the Ayes:
Spring, Richard Mr. Oliver Heald and
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Sir David Madel.
Ainger, Nick Chaytor, David
Alexander, Douglas Clapham, Michael
Allen, Graham Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary
Ashton, Joe Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Atherton, Ms Candy Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Atkins, Charlotte Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Austin, John Clelland, David
Barnes, Harry Clwyd, Ann
Bayley, Hugh Coffey, Ms Ann
Beard, Nigel Cohen, Harry
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Coleman, Iain
Begg, Miss Anne Connarty, Michael
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cooper, Yvette
Bennett, Andrew F Corbett, Robin
Benton, Joe Corbyn, Jeremy
Betts, Clive Corston, Ms Jean
Blears, Ms Hazel Crausby, David
Blizzard, Bob Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Boateng, Paul Cummings, John
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Dalyell, Tam
Bradshaw, Ben Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Brinton, Mrs Helen Darvill, Keith
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Browne, Desmond Davidson, Ian
Burden, Richard Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Burgon, Colin Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Butler, Mrs Christine Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Byers, Stephen Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Dawson, Hilton
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Dean, Mrs Janet
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Denham, John
Campbell-Savours, Dale Dismore, Andrew
Cann, Jamie Dobbin, Jim
Caplin, Ivor Donohoe, Brian H
Casale, Roger Doran, Frank
Caton, Martin Dowd, Jim
Cawsey, Ian Drew, David
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Drown, Ms Julia
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Laxton, Bob
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Lepper, David
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Leslie, Christopher
Edwards, Huw Levitt, Tom
Efford, Clive Liddell, Mrs Helen
Ellman, Mrs Louise Livingstone, Ken
Ennis, Jeff Lock, David
Etherington, Bill Love, Andrew
Fatchett, Derek McAllion, John
Fitzpatrick, Jim McAvoy, Thomas
Fitzsimons, Lorna McCabe, Steve
Flint, Caroline McCafferty, Ms Chris
Follett, Barbara McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) McDonnell, John
Fyfe, Maria McFall, John
Galloway, George McGuire, Mrs Anne
Gapes, Mike McIsaac, Shona
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Gerrard, Neil Mackinlay, Andrew
Gibson, Dr Ian McNamara, Kevin
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McNulty, Tony
Godsiff, Roger MacShane, Denis
Goggins, Paul Mactaggart, Fiona
Golding, Mrs Llin Mallaber, Judy
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Marek, Dr John
Grogan, John Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hain, Peter Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hanson, David Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Healey, John Martlew, Eric
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Maxton, John
Hepburn, Stephen Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Heppell, John Meale, Alan
Hesford, Stephen Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Milburn, Alan
Hill, Keith Miller, Andrew
Hinchliffe, David Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hodge, Ms Margaret Moran, Ms Margaret
Home Robertson, John Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hope, Phil Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hopkins, Kelvin Morley, Elliot
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Hoyle, Lindsay Mountford, Kali
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Mudie, George
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Mullin, Chris
Humble, Mrs Joan Naysmith, Dr Doug
Hurst, Alan Norris, Dan
Hutton, John O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Iddon, Dr Brian O'Hara, Eddie
Illsley, Eric Olner, Bill
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) O'Neill, Martin
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Organ, Mrs Diana
Jenkins, Brian Palmer, Dr Nick
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Jones, Mrs Rona (Newark) Plaskitt, James
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pond, Chris
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Pope, Greg
Powell, Sir Raymond
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Primarolo, Dawn
Jowell, Ms Tessa Prosser, Gwyn
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Purchase, Ken
Keeble, Ms Sally Quin, Ms Joyce
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Quinn, Lawrie
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Rammell, Bill
Kemp, Fraser Raynsford, Nick
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Kidney, David Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Rooker, Jeff
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Rooney, Terry
Kumar, Dr Ashok Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Salter, Martin Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Sarwar, Mohammad Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Savidge, Malcolm Temple-Morris, Peter
Sawford, Phil Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Sedgemore, Brian Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Shaw, Jonathan Tipping, Paddy
Sheerman, Barry Todd, Mark
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Trickett, Jon
Shipley, Ms Debra Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Singh, Marsha Vis, Dr Rudi
Skinner, Dennis Ward, Ms Claire
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Wareing, Robert N
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Watts, David
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) White, Brian
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Soley, Clive Wills, Michael
Southworth, Ms Helen Winnick, David
Squire, Ms Rachel Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Wise, Audrey
Steinberg, Gerry Wood, Mike
Stevenson, George Woolas, Phil
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Stinchcombe, Paul Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Tellers for the Noes:
Stringer, Graham Mr. Robert Ainsworth and
Sutcliffe, Gerry Janet Anderson.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

I beg to move amendment No.272,in page 27,line 7,at end insert 'and the Assembly First Secretary Shall be treated as being an office of ministerial level for the purposes of Article 203 of The Treaty of Amsterdam'.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 273, in clause 57, page 28, line 31, at end insert 'and the Assembly Secretaries shall be treated as being offices of ministerial level for the purposes of Article 203 of the Treaty of Amsterdam'.

Amendment No. 440, in clause 105, page 51, line 43, at end insert— '(2) The Assembly may scrutinise proposed legislation being considered by European Community institutions, to the extent that this is necessary in order to enable the Assembly to—

  1. (a) clarify and assess the extent of the obligations which it would incur under subsection (1) in the event of the proposed legislation being enacted, and
  2. (b) express a view to European Community institutions regarding these obligations.
(3) Members of the executive committee may discuss the matters referred to in subsection (2) with the members and staff of the European Commission.'.

New clause 5—Delegations to Europe'(1) When matters over which the Assembly has some powers are being discussed with bodies of the European Union, the appropriate Assembly Secretaries shall be entitled to accompany United Kingdom Government Ministers and to participate in such discussions on behalf of the Assembly. (2) Where the matters to be discussed under subsection (1) are matters that only affect Wales and do not affect other parts of the United Kingdom, Assembly Secretaries shall not be accompanied by the appropriate United Kingdom Government Ministers.'.

New clause 9—Representations in relation to European Union— '(1) The representations referred to in section 34 may be made by means including the following—

  1. (a) the selection and sending of a non-voting representative from the Assembly to meetings of the Council of Ministers of the European Union,
  2. (b) the selection and sending of representatives from the Assembly to the Economic and Social Committee of the European Union,
  3. (c) the selection and sending of representatives from the Assembly to the Committee of the Regions of the European Union,
  4. (d) scrutiny by the Assembly of proposals for legislation deriving from the institutions of the European Union, and the publication of any conclusions reached as a result of this scrutiny, and
  5. (e) the appointment of staff members to the United Kingdom representative office to the European Union.
(2) The Assembly may decide that the representatives appointed under (c) of subsection (1) shall be the whole of the representation from Wales on the Committee of the Regions. (3) Where the Assembly exercises its power under (d) of subsection (1), the House of Commons shall, after consultation with the Assembly First Secretary, make such arrangements as it deems appropriate for the consideration of the representations made by the Assembly.'.

New clause 16—Representative office for Wales in Brussels— '.—(1) A representative office for the Assembly shall be established in Brussels (2) The office shall have the functions of providing advice to, and consultation with, the institutions of the European Union on matters affecting Wales.'.

New clause 20—Council of Ministers' meetings'(1) Before any Minister of the Crown attends a meeting of the Council of Ministers at which consideration is to be given to any issue relating to devolved matters, the Secretary of State shall consult the Assembly and seek its views on the issue. (2) When a Minister of the Crown attends such a meeting of the Council of Ministers, he may permit a member of the executive committee of the Assembly to attend with and participate in the United Kingdom delegation. (3) Following a meeting of the Council of Ministers at which any issue related to a devolved matter has been discussed, the Secretary of State shall forthwith report on what transpired at said meeting to the Assembly and answer any questions that the members of the Assembly may have.'.

6.15 pm
Mr. Jones

The Minister will recall the interesting discussion that we had on Second Reading. He responded to points that I had raised about the relationship between the National Assembly for Wales, and Europe and the European Union institutions. The purpose of amendments Nos. 272, 273 and 440 and new clause 9 is to flesh out and test the assurances that he gave towards the end of his speech on that occasion. I welcome the spirit of his remarks at the end of the second day of the Second Reading debate. We are moving in the same direction. However, there are matters that we want to have written into the Bill, although he will recognise that some of the amendments are probing amendments.

Amendments Nos. 272 and 273 would allow the First Secretary or the Secretaries of the subject Committees to attend the Council of Ministers and to deliver the United Kingdom vote on certain matters. It is generally accepted on both sides of the Committee that there will not be many occasions on which the representatives of the assembly will be in a position to deliver that vote, but it is important for us to make it clear that they are authorised to do so when the occasion arises. The Minister said that there would be occasions, such as debates on minority languages, when it would be appropriate for Secretaries to attend the Council of Ministers and deliver the UK vote. We all accept that that would be on the basis of agreement with the UK, but it should be specifically authorised.

As a former Member of the European Parliament, the Minister will know that the Maastricht treaty set out the circumstances that would allow representatives of regional Governments to deliver the vote on behalf of the member state. That treaty obligation is repeated under article 203 of the treaty of Amsterdam, in identical words to those in the previous treaty. We want it to be written into the Bill that the Secretaries, as officers for the purposes of the Council of Ministers, are authorised to deliver the vote.

There is a good reason for that. Although the Minister acknowledged that that would be appropriate in certain circumstances, the assurance would depend on the good will of the Government of the day. I have no hesitation in accepting the good will of the current Minister, the current Secretary of State or any of the current ministerial team in the Welsh Office. However, I would be worried if there were a Government of a different political complexion, or a Government who did not have the same view of those matters.

Although we acknowledge the commitment that the Minister gave on Second Reading, will he now take it one stage further and write it into the Bill, so that any future Government would not be able to say that the Secretary was attending the Council of Ministers through the good will of the UK Government? The Secretary's attendance must be authorised under the Government of Wales Act, as we hope the Bill will shortly become.

As for amendment No. 440, the Minister will know that under the Bill the assembly is obliged to implement any directives that emerge from the European Council of Ministers and subsequently become EU law. However, I cannot find any obligation on the EU institutions to ensure proper scrutiny by the assembly of such draft directives; or to allow the assembly to pass on any comments or observations while the documents are still being considered in draft form. In other words, what mechanism is there to allow the views of the assembly to be heard before the Council of Ministers votes on draft directives?

It is crucial that the views of the assembly on a number of key areas be put to European Union institutions. Agriculture is one such area. The Minister knows of farmers' concern about the current crisis; and about the importance of any reform of the common agricultural policy to rural areas of the type many of us represent, because of the effects that it will have on support for agriculture. It is vital that the assembly's views on any reform proposals under Agenda 2000 be taken into account by the European institutions. For that, we need clear structures and lines of communication.

Another such issue is the environment; indeed, agriculture and the environment often go together. The proposal is to move away from direct support for agriculture—aids to production—and towards agrienvironmental payments. Here again, the assembly will need to scrutinise any key decisions that are made.

Although transport is very important to Wales, I acknowledge that the assembly will have no responsibility for railways; but the Minister will know of the forthcoming strategic routes decisions to be taken in the EU, affecting, for instance, the north Wales coast railway line and the south Wales main line. How are they to be fitted into the European integrated transport structure? Are they to be regarded as key trans-European networks, or are they to be relegated to second-class status?

Tourism is the fourth key area of scrutiny for the assembly in the context of European Union directives. We want the assembly to have the authority both to scrutinise the directives and to put its views to the relevant EU institutions.

New clause 9 is a little more comprehensive than the amendments. Clause 34 provides that the Assembly may consider and make representations about any matter affecting Wales. New clause 9 is an attempt to find out what that really means in the context of our relations with the European Union. First, the First Secretary or other Secretaries should be part of delegations to the Council of Ministers by agreement with the UK Government of the day, either in a formal capacity or with observer status on some occasions. It is important also that representatives of the assembly be on those delegations, because many important decisions are taken well before votes are delivered or prepared statements made before the Council of Ministers. It is in the crucial negotiations leading up to decisions that assembly representatives need to be present.

The second issue dealt with by the new clause concerns the selecting of representatives to ECOSOC, the Economic and Social Committee of the European Union. Who will decide who the representatives from Wales should be? I can find nothing in the Bill referring to ECOSOC, although there is a reference to the Committee of the Regions—another matter on which the Government need to explain their thinking. Schedule 8 amends previous legislation, stipulating that representatives on the Committee of the Regions can come from local authorities or the assembly.

The Secretary of State will recall our debates on these matters, following which it was decided that representatives from Wales should be selected by local government representatives. He will further recall the problem to do with the authority of the representatives from some member states who had been selected by local government vis-à-vis the authority of others selected by regional government. The tendency was to have two classes of representative: regional government representatives being regarded as first-class members and local government representatives as second-class members. We may or may not wish to pursue that today; suffice it to say that it was the inevitable consequence of decisions taken in the past.

Now we want to know the Government's intentions. Theoretically, under the Bill, there could be two representatives on the Committee of the Regions selected by local government, or two from the assembly, or one from each. Our view has always been—I hope that I carry my colleagues with me—that they should be selected by the assembly. Our reasons for saying so have always been clear—representatives to the Committee of the Regions should represent the whole of Wales. Local government representatives tend to give a voice to the areas that they represent. That is why our preference is for assembly representatives to serve on the Committee of the Regions.

I have already discussed scrutiny on amendment No. 440, so I shall not dwell on it.

Lastly, I want to touch on the issue of representation on United Kingdom permanent representation in Brussels. On Second Reading, the Minister said that it would be possible for staff serving the assembly to be representatives, on occasion, on UKREP. That is an important issue. As the Minister knows from his experience of delegations to the Council of Ministers, much of the work is carried out well before matters are put to Ministers. Many of the ground rules are agreed during the drafting of directives by the Commission. The Commission's directive on the reform of structural funds, for example, is currently exercising many minds in Wales.

It is important that the views of the national assembly are made clear to the Commission through UKREP while directives are being drafted, rather than when decisions are being taken by the Council of Ministers. Those matters were canvassed in general terms on Second Reading. We now want more flesh on the bones. We await the Minister's response with interest.

6.30 pm
Mr. Denzil Davies

I was not going to speak until I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones). In so far as we debated the matter during the referendum campaign, neither the representatives of some of the farming unions nor Plaid Cymru thought that there was a problem. People who raised the issue were said to be trying to spoil things. Since then, we have discovered that there is a problem.

When the hon. Member for Ynys Mon said that he wanted the Welsh assembly to be part of UKREP—the United Kingdom permanent representation—he laid bare the illogicality of his argument.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

Will the right hon. Gentleman take care to read the Hansard report of the debate on Second Reading? The Minister said: Assembly staff will be able to be part of UKREP". —[Official Report, 9 December 1997; Vol. 302, c. 892.]

Mr. Davies

If that is a fact, I do not see why it needs to be specified in the Bill. There is a real problem, as the hon. Gentleman knows. There was the perfectly understandable desire—many of us have been round this course during the past 20 years—to decentralise government in Wales and devolve power from the Welsh Office. That was the basis of the whole argument for devolution. The hon. Gentleman, it seems, is no longer happy with that, and wants to turn the assembly into a Government Department.

Usually, the United Kingdom is represented on the Council of Ministers by Ministers with Departments. The hon. Gentleman is worried that, under the Bill, the Secretary of State for Wales will no longer have a Department, which will create problems when Ministers negotiate in the Council of Ministers and other European institutions. I understand the hon. Gentleman's dilemma. He wants to fill the void by sending Members of the Assembly to sit on the Council of Ministers.

That is cloud cuckoo land, as is so often the case in the arguments of such people as the hon. Gentleman who want to move further and further down the road of devolution. The hon. Gentleman's proposal would create problems. For example, will the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry represent the whole of the United Kingdom or just England, given that her departmental responsibilities will be for England and not for Wales? Similar problems will arise in relation to agriculture, and those problems are created by devolution itself. I do not see how they can be solved, but perhaps the Minister can tell us.

Devolution brings benefits and liabilities. One of the minuses is that we shall lose a Government Department headed by the Secretary of State for Wales. The advantage of that is that we can democratically debate the allocation of resources in the assembly, although Plaid Cymru does not want a democratic debate—it wants a Cabinet to determine the allocation of resources in secret, as the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) said.

A nation state's representation in the European Union is based on the Council of Ministers and, within the Council of Ministers, on Ministers who have Departments. The fact that Wales will have a Secretary of State without a Department will cause considerable problems. The amendment would make very little difference to the situation, which is a minus that Wales will have to accept.

Mr. Ancram

I broadly agree with the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). As he said, this is not a new problem. When a number of us raised it during the referendum campaign, we were accused of scaremongering—that was the word I heard most often.

I am reminded that, in the foreword to the White Paper, the Secretary of State said: An elected Assembly will give Wales a voice—in Britain and in Europe—after years of neglect. He said not that he, as Secretary of State, would give Wales a voice in Europe after years of neglect—that is a strange phrase to use in a non-political document, but I shall let that pass—but that the elected assembly would. We were entitled, therefore, to see whether the Bill would establish a new way in which to create that stronger voice.

Paragraph 3.46 of the White Paper states: Wales needs a strong voice in Europe. It says that the Secretary of State will continue to represent Wales in the Council of Ministers. As I said when we debated the White Paper, there is nothing new in that. The only new factor in the White Paper is that there will be arrangements to allow close liaison and consultation with the assembly.

When we look for details of that in the Bill, however, we find that it is silent. The Secretary of State may be able to be the voice of Wales in the Council of Ministers, but, as the right hon. Member for Llanelli said, his voice will be weaker, as he will not have a Department behind him. Moreover, there are no arrangements to formalise how officials will advise him.

Those who have held ministerial office in Wales and Scotland recognise that an enormous amount of preparation work is done by officials. They prepare for the deliberations of Ministers in the Cabinet Sub-Committee on European policy or work in the Commission on papers for the Council of Ministers. They can do that because, whether they are from the Welsh Office or the Scottish Office, they are officials of the United Kingdom Government. Yet nearly all those officials in Wales will be transferred to the assembly. How will they be brought back into that system of consultation? To whom will they owe their loyalty: to the assembly, which will be their master, or to the United Kingdom Government, on whose behalf they will appear to act?

Mr. Rowlands

I am closely following the right hon. Gentleman's argument. He mentions a point on which we have not been able to engineer a debate in Committee—the concept of the concordat. I assume that the answer to some of his questions will be covered by the concordat, but we have not heard about it yet.

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. As I was about to say, all the Government tell us is, "Don't worry; it will all be in a concordat." That, at least, is what we are told in relation to Scotland; I am not sure that we have been told it in relation to Wales.

I know what a concordat means between Governments, but I do not know what it will mean in the framework of devolution. If it means an agreement between friends, it will not be worth the paper on which it is written when the friendships cease.

How complicated will the concordat be? Will it deal with the problems of loyalty and allegiance among civil servants if they are used in that way? We are dealing with a highly complex matter that has not been thought through properly. The White Paper was pretty weak, but the Bill is totally silent. Even if there is a concordat, what will happen not if there is a political difference between London and Cardiff—as the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) suggested—but if there is a conflict of interest?

We know that there may be a conflict of interest in the Scottish context between Scottish and Cornish fishermen, for example. Whose view would the United Kingdom representative advocate in that situation? If the interests of Welsh hill farmers conflicted with those of farmers elsewhere in the United Kingdom on the important topic of agriculture, where would the loyalty of the Secretary of State or the Minister who goes to the Council of Ministers lie? What concordat will bind him to neglect, if necessary, the interests of his area in order to represent the interests of another area where he has not been elected and has no democratic representative interest? The White Paper was pretty silent about those problems, but the Bill is completely silent.

That is a major flaw in the legislation, which we warned the Government about during the referendum campaign and which has still not been addressed. It could lead to enormous resentment in the future, when the people of Wales find that, far from achieving the stronger voice that they were promised, their voice is much weaker.

At present, the Secretary of State can attend meetings of the Council of Ministers. He can participate in deliberations, vote and, if necessary, lead—I think that a Welsh Minister led on one occasion. If those responsibilities are transferred to the assembly, what will happen if there is a conflict of interest?

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

How many times did the Secretary of State for Wales deliver the United Kingdom votes during 18 years of Conservative government?

Mr. Ancram

According to the only figures that I have, that has occurred once since 1992. I do not have a complete answer, but the important point is that the Secretary of State had the right to do so. That right will be severely diminished—if it can be exercised at all—in the future. Not one element of that right will be transferred to the assembly.

I find amendments Nos. 272 and 273, in the name of Plaid Cymru, highly unacceptable and difficult to understand in terms of the rules of Europe. Amendment No. 272 states: the Assembly First Secretary shall be treated as being an office of ministerial level for the purposes of Article 203 of The Treaty of Amsterdam". In terms of the treaty, it means that the First Minister could not only represent the United Kingdom but commit the United Kingdom within the European Union. Article 203 of the treaty of Amsterdam says: The Council shall consist of a representative of each Member State at ministerial level, authorised to commit the government of that Member State". I shall refer to the difficulties involved with that in a moment.

The Liberal Democrat new clauses seek mandatory participation by saying that a member of the Welsh assembly "shall" participate. The new clauses go further and say that there should be United Kingdom representation of Welsh interests by a Secretary of the Welsh Assembly. Those issues raise enormous constitutional questions. The one point that is common to the proposed new clauses is that the Minister or the Secretary—whatever he will be called—who goes from the Welsh assembly to the Council of Ministers will also represent the United Kingdom.

However, such people will not have a mandate from the United Kingdom; they will not be elected by the United Kingdom electorate. They will be elected according to the electoral mandate of the people of Wales. They cannot answer to the United Kingdom Parliament and they cannot be held to account by that Parliament. It would be constitutional nonsense to allow such a provision to prevail.

For that reason, new clause 20 suggests the only possible means of squaring the circle: first, we should write into the Bill the obligation of the Secretary of State to consult the assembly before a matter of interest to Wales is considered by the Council of Ministers. Secondly—although it is the third part of the proposed new clause—on returning from a meeting of the Council of Ministers, the Secretary of State would be obliged to report to the assembly. That would ensure that the weak elements in the White Paper were at least present in statute, and could not be left to the whim or the invitation of a Government at Westminster.

The third part of new clause 20 suggests that a member of the Executive Committee of the assembly may participate in a United Kingdom delegation to the Council of Ministers on the basis that he is asked to do so in appropriate circumstances.

Mr. Denzil Davies

A problem remains even if that provision is written into the Bill. The Secretary of State for Wales will be a Minister without portfolio. I do not know whether there are any precedents that allow Ministers without portfolios to sit in meetings of the Council of Ministers with other Ministers who have portfolios.

Mr. Ancram

That is a very good question, but I shall not seek to answer it now. I do not claim that new clause 20 will solve the problem—I would not have started from this position in the first place. However, given that we are in this situation and that the Bill has created a large democratic deficit in relation to Wales and Europe, I believe that the Government should consider new clause 20 carefully.

6.45 pm
Mr. Livsey

I realise that time is limited, and I have made short contributions to the Committee tonight. This is another extremely important matter. The Liberal Democrat new clause 5 gives the assembly the power to send a delegation to Europe. New clause 16 enables the assembly to set up an office for Wales in Brussels.

We believe that there is a lack of statutory provision concerning the relationship between Wales and its assembly and the various institutions of the European Union. That has occurred despite the specific references that appeared in the White Paper and the Government's promise that the Bill would provide for Members of the Assembly to represent Wales on the Committee of the Regions. Apart from a provision in clause 30 enabling the power to designate a Minister of the Crown or a Government Department as being responsible for implementing European Community law, so that it is possible to designate the assembly for that purpose, and clauses 105 to 107 requiring the assembly to observe European Community law, the Bill is totally silent on the European dimension.

I would raise many other issues if I had more time. However, I draw the Committee's attention to a statement made by the Secretary of State at a crucial point during the referendum debate. In a press release of 11 September 1997, the Secretary of State said:

The Assembly will be able to take part in relevant negotiations on policy at all levels, up to and including the Council of Ministers. There will be scope for executive members of the Assembly to speak on behalf of the UK in those negotiations". We believe that it is essential to establish within the assembly a European Community Committee that will be responsible for the assembly's relations with the EU. The assembly should have the right to send observers to working group meetings to discuss matters devolved to Wales and the right to participate fully in preparatory meetings of the United Kingdom delegations to the EU. The assembly or its European Committee should have the right to scrutinise EC legislation before it is adopted. A Committee representing Whitehall and the assembly should be established in order to co-ordinate European policy in areas transferred to Wales. The assembly should also have the right to receive full reports from UKREP about EU meetings. Finally, we believe that there should be a written agreement or concordat that will establish the detail of the practical arrangements in order to ensure the effective working of the measures that I have outlined.

None of those provisions are in the Bill, and we seek the Minister's response in that regard.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan

I am sure that all hon. Members are grateful to have had a discussion about Europe—albeit a rather short one. It was a bit like old times, as the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) said. 1 think that he was recalling the famous night when Plaid Cymru did a deal with the then Conservative Government and the former Secretary of State, David Hunt. It has been a little like old times in the past week, with Labour thinking about renationalising the railways and the Foreign Secretary doing a Henry VIII and getting rid of Anne Boleyn.

We must consider whether it is practical for the assembly to represent what I believe must be the United Kingdom Government stance at meetings of the Council of Ministers. Clearly, the circumstances would have to be exceptional, and Parliament would have to agree to the meeting taking place.

Some issues could arise when the Westminster Parliament would be happy for its interests in the Council of Ministers to be represented by the Welsh assembly. One example is minority languages. Wales is generally regarded as having done far more for the Welsh language than the French Government have done on behalf of the Breton language over the past 50 years for various historic reasons.

A tragic example would be restitution of the land damaged by the Chernobyl nuclear power station accident 12 or 13 years ago. If Wales were the only part of the United Kingdom that still had land where lamb produced on it could not be eaten because caesium was still coming up through the new grass in the spring—I believe that that is the position—it would be logical for the Welsh assembly to send a representative to the Agriculture Committee or the Environment Committee of the Council of Ministers. That would clearly be sensible if it were a transferred function.

There would have to be wholly exceptional circumstances and the transferred function would have to be by agreement with the Westminster Parliament. It would surely be curmudgeonly if we were to say that never should the Welsh assembly, or the Scottish Parliament for that matter, represent, even by agreement, the United Kingdom position at a meeting of the Council of Ministers. It would be appropriate that it should do so if a particular issue affected only Wales within the United Kingdom or where Wales was generally recognised as being in the lead and having the greatest expertise and investment in a certain interest.

For the reasons that 1 have outlined, it is important that we establish that the Welsh assembly—although it must not give itself inappropriate airs and graces—can have an external arm. In the same way, the Welsh Office chose to make grants for Welsh-medium education in Patagonia, and to be a participant in the Europe of the four motor regions. In the person of Sir Wyn Roberts, it chose to talk to the Governments of Lombardy, Catalonia and so on. There was nothing wrong with that. Those activities did not attract criticism when the Welsh Office was part of the United Kingdom Parliament. It seems to me that there would be nothing wrong in those inherited rights, obligations and freedoms applying also to the Welsh assembly. The council of the isles may take that process in the direction of Ireland. There would be nothing wrong in that.

Undoubtedly, there will be exterior interests to involve the Welsh assembly, and that will be appropriate if the assembly abides by the principle of not giving itself airs and graces.

Mr. Win Griffiths

The amendments focus on the role of the assembly in discussions on European Union matters in the United Kingdom and within European institutions.

I shall quickly get out of the new clause 16, which turns on the issue of representation in Brussels. That is something which the assembly will have to decide, as it will have to decide what resources it wants to put into it and how much it wants to do in Brussels. There is no need to have anything of that sort set out in the Bill. 1 should imagine that the assembly would want such representation.

As the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) said, new clause 9 is dealt with in schedule 8. That schedule has been constructed to provide the assembly with flexibility when it comes to whether there should be two local government members, two Members of the national assembly or one member from each. We want the assembly to be able to make that decision. The assembly should not have any difficulties with that.

Should we delineate in the Bill the role that the assembly will play in discussions with the European Union within the United Kingdom and within European institutions? We believe that that can best be dealt with through the development of concordats with Government Departments at Whitehall. Clause 106, for example, makes it clear that the assembly will have a duty to ensure the implementation and enforcement of Community obligations in Wales to the extent that such powers have been given to the assembly within the Bill. That being so, the assembly will have a direct interest in the effects of a wide range of European Union legislation.

Mr. Ancram

I want to pursue the matter of concordats. What will happen if the assembly and the Westminster Government cannot agree on a concordat in the absence of anything relating to that possibility being set out in the Bill? What provision will there be for dealing with that situation? Furthermore, how long does a concordat last? Is it signed between the Governments that then exist, to be broken if the Administrations of those countries change? Is a concordat just an informal agreement that, at the end of the day, is not worth the paper on which it is written?

Mr. Win Griffiths

I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman asked that question. He knows that, when dealing with those matters, one Parliament cannot bind a later one. The concordat will be for the duration of the Parliament unless, within that period, both sides agree that there is a need to amend the procedure. There must be flexibility to that extent. As far as we are concerned, there will be no possibility of a concordat not being achieved. That is something which the Government and the assembly will be able to sort out. The assembly will be involved.

Mr. Öpik

If that is the spirit and intent, as it was on 11 September when the Secretary of State issued the press release from which my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) quoted, surely it would be logical to accept the Liberal Democrat amendments. They would take away the vagueness of the concordat and insert a specific structure that everyone could understand.

Mr. Griffiths

We do not want such a structure to be set out in the Bill because we want the flexibility to get everything in place in our discussions with other Government Departments.

The assembly will have the right in full to scrutinise European Union legislation and documents. It will be for the assembly to choose how it gets its view over to Europe. There will be several ways of doing that. There will be the official channel, which is getting the Government to take the assembly's view across to Europe through the Secretary of State. However, there will be Members of the European Parliament in Wales, and the assembly will be able to ensure that its views are known in Europe. There is no problem there.

Negotiations within the United Kingdom to set the United Kingdom line will be a part of the assembly's role. Participation in relevant European negotiations will be open to the assembly at member and at official level. The staff of the assembly will be civil servants and accordingly they will be able to participate in placements at UKREP and other parts of the Commission, just as Government civil servants are already able to do. Those are matters that will be in the concordat. I am giving the Committee a flavour of what will be available.

Mr. Livsey

Why are not the layers of the concordat in the Bill, so that we might know precisely where we are?

Mr. Griffiths

That is because we are negotiating the concordat with other Government Departments.

I have been talking about the sort of matters that will be dealt with and the role of the assembly. Assembly Secretaries will be present at relevant meetings of the Council of Ministers where that has been agreed with the lead United Kingdom Minister. Members have cited instances of when that would be appropriate, and that is what will happen. Assembly Secretaries will be able to speak on behalf of the United Kingdom in relevant meetings of the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Ancram


Mr. Griffiths

I am telling the right hon. Gentleman and a Committee of the House of Commons that the presence that I have described will be part of the agreement that we shall have within Whitehall and within government. There will be accountability to the House of Commons because all those matters will be publicly reported and known. The Secretary of State for Wales will be able to deliver to the House of Commons any information that the Opposition might want. There is no problem there at all.

The assembly will also implement and enforce European obligations.

The spirit of the amendments will be embraced in the concordat. There is nothing that cannot be dealt with in that process.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

I welcome the reassurances that the Minister gave on Second Reading, but I should have preferred to have seen them on the face of the Bill, or at least to have seen a draft of the concordat so that we could discussed it. On the basis of the assurances that he has given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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