§ Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
I beg to move amendment No. 510, in page 118, line 20, at end insert—'12. The Arts Council for Wales.13. The Sports Council for Wales.'.
The First Deputy Chairman
With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 511, in page 118, leave out lines 28 to 31.
§ Mr. Collins
This group of amendments would correct a seemingly rather serious anomaly in schedule 13: the Arts Council of Wales and the Sports Council for Wales are exempted from the provisions of clause 136 on accountability.
Under clause 136, for those bodies which are specified in parts I or II of schedule 13, which do not include the Arts Council of Wales or the Sports Council for Wales, the Secretary of State may by order make provision about the accounts of any such body,the audit of any such body's accounts, or … reports by any such body on its exercise of its functions.The clause goes on to specify that this could include the making of provisions relating tothe giving of directions by the Assemblyandthe publication and public inspection of documents.452 Given that in his introduction to the White Paper, the Secretary of State said that one of the primary purposes of the Bill—the creation of a national assembly—was to bringthe quangos under control and into the open",it seems curious that these two particular bodies should be exempted. It is especially curious because annexe B of the White Paper lists all 19 executive bodies reporting solely to the Secretary of State for Wales, but, if one excludes bodies such as the Development Board for Rural Wales which are to be wound up or merged with other bodies, every one of those 19 is to be subject to the full provisions of clause 136, with the exception of the Sports Council for Wales and the Arts Council of Wales.
The Minister is an amiable soul and a likeable fellow, and no doubt has a good reason for the special status of those two bodies, so we shall probe a little to find out what that may be. Does he regard these bodies as autonomous, executive bodies which should not be subject to clause 136? In one of its customarily excellent papers, the House of Commons Library quotes the constitution unit which has, appropriately, classed the Arts Council of Wales and the Sports Council for Wales alongside the Higher Education Funding Council and the Further Education Funding Council as autonomous bodies. However, the funding councils are fully subject to clause 136, so that cannot be the reason.
Is it because heritage and cultural matters should be given special status? That does not quite work either. Under schedule 13, the National Library of Wales and the National Museum of Wales are properly subject to clause 136. Is it because the two bodies have some advisory functions? That does not work either, because the Ancient Monuments Board for Wales and the Historic Buildings Council for Wales are subject to clause 136 and they have advisory functions.
Could the reason be that the Government regard the Arts Council of Wales and the Sports Council for Wales as unimportant? That is a little difficult to reconcile with the figures in the White Paper which show that, in the current financial year, the Arts Council of Wales is to spend something like £14.7 million and the Sports Council for Wales something like £9.1 million. Those figures exclude lottery awards which the two bodies make in Wales. The Arts Council of Wales reports that, in the last full financial year, it made a total of 228 awards, worth more than £14 million of lottery money. The Sports Council for Wales distributed similarly large sums.
I am sure that the Government would not argue that the two bodies were unimportant because I have in my possession a copy of a speech made 12 months ago by the Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition. It was a speech made at the Mansion house to the British Screen Advisory Council. He said:Art is important for the standing of the nation. When Britain is culturally successful it matters to the rest of the world. It is part of our national pride.I am sure that the Minister agrees that, if that is true of Britain, it must be true of Wales, so the two bodies are important and must be properly subject to the provisions of clause 136.
Is the reason for the exclusion that the Government believe that cultural matters should be kept out of the political sphere? There are some who hold the view that such things should be kept out of the hands of grubby 453 politicians of any party. Sadly, if that were the contention now, the Prime Minister demolished it in his speech 12 months ago when he said:New Labour wants to put the arts on the political agenda",so there is no question of the arts being kept out of the political sphere. One is left to wonder exactly what has led the Government to give special treatment to the two bodies.
The Minister, who on the whole has conducted himself amiably in these debates, will forgive me if I venture the somewhat partisan thought that the explanation may lie in the fact that the Government are embarrassed about their record on the arts and sport. That is why they do not want these bodies to have to produce reports or allow their documents to be inspected under clause 136. The Government have every reason not to want such reports to be published. Before taking office, the Prime Minister said in that speech of 12 months ago:Arts organisations have had a huge boon from the Lottery—now we need to build on what has been achieved.We found out a few months later what "building on" that meant: it meant taking £50 million away from the arts and £50 million away from sport in order to put it in the Government's coffers.
On the other hand, perhaps the Government do not want reports from these bodies because they are rightly embarrassed by their announcement last December of a further reduction in the grant made to them. The Minister may argue that we should not criticise the Government for that, as Labour is only carrying on with the previous Government's spending targets. He will forgive me for reminding him, however, that it was his party, not ours, which inflicted on the airwaves and ears of the nation for several weeks last year that dreadful pop song "Things can only get better". For the arts and sport, things are getting worse, not better.
Another possibility is that the Government may be embarrassed by what these bodies may have to say about January's announcement by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to the effect that music, art and physical education are to be struck out of the national curriculum. The Times described that as strikinga blow at the heart of British culture",and closingthe book on culture for millions of children".The Government have every reason to be worried about what would happen if the Arts Council of Wales and the Sports Council for Wales were encouraged to produce open publications and to be subject to clause 136. That is no reason why we should accept the status quo that the Bill would maintain.
I believe that the amendments will enable the Government to come clean about their pledges to the Welsh and UK arts and sport communities. They will also enable them to deliver their pledges in the White Paper; they were quite clear in that document that they wanted all quangos to be open and accountable. Just in case the Government are worried that the Arts Council might oppose this idea, I want to end by quoting an extract from the Arts Council's website which appeared this very day. It said that the Arts Council believesthat all the Arts Councils"—454 in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales—are expected to account for their decisions and to explain them to Government, the arts community and the general public.If the Arts Council is happy, I cannot see why the Government are not. That is why I commend the amendments to the Committee.
§ Mr. Rowlands
For the life of me, I cannot understand why sports and arts council issues cannot be subjected to the full rigour of democratic accountability. I have been puzzled by that ever since it was decided to exclude these two bodies. I understand that they have special status—charters and so on—but there is surely a powerful case for making these respectable quangos democratically accountable and responsible. They make operational and budgetary decisions of considerable interest to, and consequence for, large numbers of people. Why, then, are they to be excluded?
I do not want to embarrass Ministers by reminding them that before the election, we used very strong language about quangos and the quango state. The arts and sports councils were often invoked as examples of just such bodies. Like all other sensible, right-thinking people, I assumed at the time that they would be made fully accountable to the democratic assembly. Now it appears that they, more than any other organisations, are to be excluded from supervision.
I accept the problems caused by the special way in which those two bodies were set up—they were established by warrant, or whatever—but I believe that those two functions could have become the direct responsibility of the assembly. I did not think that we needed a sports council and an arts council whose budget would need accounting for. I think that they could have become an integral part of the Committee structure of the assembly. Those bodies make interesting, fascinating decisions on priorities in all sorts of ways.
§ Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)
Can my hon. Friend envisage, especially in the light of recent events, a situation in which a Committee of the Welsh assembly selected future national rugby teams?
§ Mr. Rowlands
My hon. Friend tempts me to say that things could not be worse. Things must get better. What was that lovely song we had for the election—"Things can only get better"? Certainly, after last Saturday, that must be true of Welsh rugby.
May I remind my hon. Friend that there has been lively public debate of all sorts in the Welsh media about arts expenditure. There was a debate, or argument, between the Valley arts association and the arts council. It is a curious belief that democracy will be philistine by nature. I do not believe that that is so.
§ Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the amendments will not restrict the ability of the arts council or the sports council to undertake their current activities, but simply make them accountable?
§ Mr. Rowlands
I am suggesting that the amendments are not radical enough, and that given the nature and character of the organisations concerned and the interest 455 in the way in which they spend their money and their priorities, there is a case for more direct democratic accountability and responsibility for their actions.
We made that case over and over again in the run-up to the election. I said that if one had to choose two quangos that should be subject to full democratic accountability and responsibility, it would be those two. There were arguments; there were, rightly, lively debates about the various priorities of the Arts Council of Wales.
There is not one of us who is not interested in the way in which the Sports Council for Wales spends and allocates its money. There is interest not only in its grand strategies for young people—many of which are most admirable, according to all the documents that I have read—but in the nitty-gritty decision-making processes by which grants and resources are allocated to various organisations and communities. I would have thought that that was the meat and drink of democratic accountability and of devolution in its real sense. Then we find in schedule 13, after reading through the names of all the other bodies, that right at the bottom, the quangos most exclusively excluded from any form of democratic accountability are the arts council and the sports council.
Mr. Gareth Thomas
Is it not the case that the Government have inherited an anomaly and that they have to live with it? Would it not require a separate regime to put it right?
§ Mr. Rowlands
I wish that I had brought some letters with me, because I had something of a correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the special status of those two bodies. I thought that Parliament was supreme, and that whatever the problems with the status of the two organisations and the methods by which they were established, Parliament could simply unwind the process. Although that would require various consents and various elaborations, surely it would be within the power of Parliament.
I cannot believe that it is beyond the power of Parliament to bring the Sports Council for Wales and the Arts Council of Wales within the jurisdiction, accountability and responsibility of the Welsh assembly. We fight over whole areas of parliamentary sovereignty, but apparently those two bodies are beyond the scope of that sovereignty.
I must confess that I do not understand that, and have never understood it, throughout all the discussions that we have had. We said that we would light a bonfire of the quangos and, although I do not want to burn down either the Sports Council for Wales or the Arts Council of Wales, I certainly want them to become totally democratically responsible to a Welsh assembly.
§ Mr. Wigley
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate and grateful to the Conservative 456 Front-Bench team for having moved the amendment. Tonight, in several debates, we have heard a different tenor of debate from Conservative Members.
§ Mr. Wigley
It might well have something to do with that, but, be that as it may, we should welcome the repentance of sinners on the road to Damascus. I congratulate the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), who spoke lucidly and concisely when moving the amendment. As the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said, the amendments is perfectly reasonable.
I have to be careful in what I say, as my wife is on the Arts Council of Wales, although it may well be that that gives me an added incentive to ensure proper scrutiny of that body.
§ Mr. Wigley
The hon. Gentleman should not tempt me—his wife has been on the S4C authority and we have already debated the question of whether that body should be answerable.
The Arts Council of Wales and the Sports Council for Wales are important bodies which have a strong Welsh identity—in fact, no quango has a stronger identity than those two. At times, both bodies have decisions to make that should be open to scrutiny. There has been some controversy in recent weeks about certain matters.
The status of those bodies is something with which we could deal in this Parliament, to which point I shall return; but their status has not been such as to prevent Parliament from casting its eye over them in the past. I am sure that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney and the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) will recall a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee where we debated the annual report of the Arts Council of Wales. I remember Lord Hooson—Emlyn Hooson as he then was—being involved in that. If the Welsh Grand Committee can exercise some degree of scrutiny over that body and, by implication, over the Sports Council for Wales, why on earth can the assembly not do the same thing?
If the Government have come up against some technical changes which will take a prolonged period to get through, would it not be sensible to provide in this part of the Bill an order-making mechanism that could transfer responsibility for the two bodies fairly quickly, once that procedure has been exhausted? Our debate has demonstrated a meeting of minds across the Committee, and unless there is a very good reason for refusing the amendments, this may be an issue on which the Minister should choose to give way and incorporate the suggestion in the Bill.
§ Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)
I wish to speak on the amendments, but, before doing so, I should like to thank the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) for his acknowledgement of Conservative pragmatism. It is that mixture of pragmatism and principle which has illuminated the Conservative mind throughout the centuries, and hearing that tribute 457 from the right hon. Gentleman merely confirms what most of us already knew about the Conservatives' ability to adapt to change.
It is in that spirit that I approach the amendments, because, if we are going to do this, we must do it properly. The message that the exclusion of the arts and sports in Wales will broadcast to those communities and to the whole of Wales is that they are not important. How particularly and peculiarly unfortunate that is, given that we are talking about Wales, which is the land of Dylan Thomas, of Gareth Edwards and of Barry John—I was at the match on Saturday, but we shall not go into that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) said—
§ Mr. Hanson
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that both the bodies named in the amendments were established by royal charter and that the only reason why they are not being brought under the control of the democratic assembly in the Bill is that the arrangements can be changed by invitation via the royal charter procedure? That is the only reason—it is a simple technical matter. We do not disagree with Opposition Members or with my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) on the principles of the Bill. This is a simple technical matter which can be dealt with outside legislation.
§ Mr. Hayes
No, I will not give way again because I wish to be brief and I have been generous to the hon. Gentleman once. The message being broadcast to these communities is that they have been deliberately excluded, and that must be unhealthy. I could go on at length about the Government's cuts to the arts, but I have been moderate, sensible and reasonable. Let us make this work properly by bringing the bodies within the compass of proper procedure. Let us make them accountable and, therefore, in the eyes of the public, respectable.
§ Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)
I am not sure that I can follow the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes)—certainly not about rugby. I must endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) has said. I find the drafting of schedule 13 odd for a number of reasons, not least because I have looked at similar legislation dealing with audit.
My understanding is that the Government are looking to extend the scope of auditing. It seems odd to me that the Arts Council of Wales and the Sports Council for 458 Wales should not be included, given the nature of those august bodies. It would be helpful to those bodies if they were subject to full audit, because their awards are the subject of controversy—not from an audit point of view, but from the point of view of those who do not receive awards. I am sure that many hon. Members are aware of the controversy surrounding the awards. It would be in the interests of those bodies if they fell within the schedule. For that reason, the Minister should look at the schedule from the point of view of those bodies.
§ Mr. Swayne
I have essentially only one point to make—it is to distance support for the amendments from the case made by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). The amendments are purely about financial accountability, and I reject entirely the case made by the hon. Gentleman that this is meat and drink for the democratic process.
It would have been no more appropriate to go further and take those bodies into the heart of the assembly, with Committees dishing out the funds for the arts and sport, than for a Committee of this House to undertake such a function. It is outrageous. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger) wants me to give way, I shall happily do so, but he must not continue mumbling from a sedentary position. I cannot hear what he is saying.
Putting such powers in the hands of politicians would be most dangerous. It is outrageous to suggest that the task could be properly done by politicians, who do not have the expertise for it. As for the suggestion by the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) that this was merely an anomaly that the Government had inherited and with which they had to live, that is extraordinary. For a Government who are turning the constitution on its head to say that this is an anomaly is rather weak. They will have to do better than that.
§ Mr. Hain
This is starting to be quite fun. What I expected to be an extremely technical debate has opened up into a wide-ranging one.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) on a very effective contribution from the Front Bench. If he keeps that up, he will soon be challenging his hon. Friends for positions on the Front Bench. I seem to recall that, in a previous incarnation, he was a chief spin doctor for the Conservative party—indeed, that he might even have operated from Conservative central office. I congratulate him on bringing his talents to the Dispatch Box tonight. I also congratulate him on regarding me as likable and amiable, but I assure him that flattery will get him nowhere in this debate.
I respond directly to the Conservative Members who intervened with great eloquence in the past few minutes—I am sure at very short notice—to make some arguments about the amendments. Obviously, the short notice has encouraged them to overlook a central fact about the debate, about which I am sure that, in retrospect, they will be very embarrassed.
I wonder whether Conservative Members realised, as they went to great lengths to attack the Arts Council of Wales, question its credentials and wonder why the assembly was not abolishing it or taking control of it, that the chief executive of the Arts Council of Wales is 459 Mr. Emyr Jenkins, the father of Mrs. Hague, the wife of the leader of the Conservative party. In all humility, I think that the hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) and for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) should have recognised that and perhaps taken his advice.
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful to the Minister for his unusual generosity in giving way in one of his winding-up speeches. His remarks about the father of the wife of the leader of the Conservative party came rather strangely from the Labour party, because I had understood that the Labour party did not believe in nepotism. We do not; does he?
§ Mr. Hain
I am still trying to follow the relevance of that point, but I encourage the right hon. Gentleman to keep up that type of spirited intervention. I thought that nepotism was the product of the Conservative party over the years. While we are getting rid of the Conservative quango state, any trace of nepotism will be got rid of in this context as well.
§ Mr. Laurence Robertson
I remind the Minister that I described the arts council as an august body. I was suggesting that the measures contained in the amendments would add weight to those bodies and take nothing from them.
§ Mr. Hain
I understand the point. I was merely suggesting to the hon. Gentleman that, had he had time to obtain detailed guidance during the few days in which I am sure that he has been preparing his speech, he would have had the chance to consult Mrs. Ffion Hague, who I suspect is an expert, not just on the Arts Council of Wales, but on all of Wales. Given that she occupied a very senior position in the private office of the Welsh Office and, as I understand it, did extremely well and landed up marrying the former Secretary of State, she could have 460 given the hon. Member for Tewkesbury a great deal of advice, after which he might have concluded that his intervention tonight was a little over-enthusiastic.
I appreciate that these may have been probing amendments; perhaps they were probing speeches as well. [Interruption.] Ah, we are going to get a Division at last, are we? I relish the prospect of a Division. We have been champing at the bit for a Division all evening. It is a measure of the fact that the Conservative party has adopted such a low-key approach to the Bill. Indeed, at times tonight the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans)—Ribble-on-Wales—actually seemed to praise elements of the Bill. I welcome his conversion. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Welsh Office—and, I am sure, the Welsh assembly—will carefully consider resurrecting the Mumbles railway.
These probing amendments seek to establish why the Arts Council of Wales and the Sports Council for Wales will apparently be subject only to examinations by the Auditor General for Wales of their use of resources. Some legitimate questions have been raised, and I shall attempt to answer them. The royal charters of the Arts Council of Wales and the Sports Council for Wales make no reference—far be it from me to suggest that this is an anomaly—to audit arrangements. The current position is that, by agreement as set out in their management statements, the Comptroller and Auditor General audits the councils' grant in aid accounts. In other words, there are no auditing provisions in the charters of those two councils. Perhaps the matter was overlooked. That is why, by agreement, those special auditing arrangements are set in train by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Under section 7 of the National Audit Act 1983, the Comptroller and Auditor General has powers to carry out examinations of the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the councils' use of resources. Far from ducking the issue, we believe that we should be firmer in the context of this Bill about the auditing arrangements that govern those two important quangos. The Government intend to invite the two councils to propose amendments to their royal charters that would confer on the Auditor General for Wales the function of auditing their grant in aid accounts. Therefore, although the Government agree with the purpose of the amendments, we believe that it is unnecessary to change schedule 13 to achieve the desired outcome. The Government intend that the charters, rather than an order under clause 136, should provide for the audit arrangements.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I am following the Minister as closely as I can. What if the two bodies concerned refuse to comply?
§ Mr. Hain
I am sure that Her Majesty would not want to be put in that position. My hon. Friend made some very good points—I suspect at short notice, but he was no less eloquent for that. The Arts Council of Wales and the Sports Council for Wales are bodies created by charter or royal warrant. Therefore, the assembly would not have the power simply to amend their auditing arrangements and it would not be appropriate to do so in the Bill.
§ Mr. Rowlands
If I may pursue that point, the assembly would not have the power to amend those arrangements, but Parliament does. I drew attention to that fact in correspondence and through interventions in much 461 earlier debates. I took advice from the Library, and it is clear that Parliament can overrule and change the arrangements. Is it a lack of political will, rather than a complicated technical exercise, that has led us to this impasse?
§ Mr. Hanson
I have listened very carefully to the Minister's comments. Does he mean that the Conservatives in opposition have proposed an amendment that transfers powers from Her Majesty the Queen to the Welsh assembly?
§ Mr. Hain
My hon. Friend raises a very interesting question. I am not sure that that is the Opposition's intention—perhaps it is one consequence of their amendments. We are behaving with extreme decorum and responsibility in this matter, and it is interesting to note that Conservative Members are not doing the same.
§ Mr. Hain
The right hon. Gentleman chides me for adopting new Labour practices. Apparently the Conservative party is considering changing not only its whole structure but possibly even its name. Plaid Cymru may do the same thing. Perhaps that is a consequence of the new inclusive politics that has been sparked off in the Welsh context.
§ Mr. Paterson
Can the Minister explain where the decorum and responsibility are in the clause? It is in breach of the statement made by the Secretary of State to the House when he introduced the White Paper. He said:The Assembly will be given sweeping powers to democratise and if necessary further restructure the quango state."—[Official Report, 25 July 1997; Vol. 298, c. 1124]He also said:No longer will our key public services lie in the hands of political appointees operating in secret and accountable to no one in Wales."—[Official Report, 22 July 1997; Vol. 298, c. 755.]Can the Minister explain the anomaly?
§ Mr. Hain
There is no anomaly. The Bill is full of decorum and responsibility. As the hon. Gentleman refers to the bonfire of the quangos, I shall try to answer him fully in the time available. You will tell me, Mr. Martin, whether I am in order.
The five bodies that will be abolished spend £164 million. That is almost one fifth of the total sum spent by the bodies. If the assembly abolished all the bodies possible, there would be only 16 bodies left, compared to the 45 that exist now.
§ Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. What has that to do with the Arts Council of Wales and the Sports Council for Wales?
The First Deputy Chairman
The Minister is in order. If he were out of order, I would have told him so.
§ Mr. Hain
I am grateful, Mr. Martin, and I will stay in order as best I can. I am sure that you will keep me in order if I stray. With all due humility, I was answering a question that had been put to me.
462 The assembly has the ability to leave only 16 quangos in existence, if it so chooses. That amounts to a bonfire of the quangos, which we lit with the Bill, and we have complied with our commitments in the White Paper.
Why did we not abolish all the bodies? That brings me directly to the Arts Council of Wales and the Sports Council for Wales. They, together with three other bodies—the National Library of Wales, the National Museum of Wales and the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales—are all bodies created by charter or royal warrant.
Unless the Conservative Opposition have suddenly become a republican Opposition, surely they would agree with me that it is for Her Majesty to agree changes to those bodies. It is not appropriate to amend them by means of a Bill. I am surprised at the blatant irresponsibility of the Conservative Opposition in suggesting that.
§ Mr. Wigley
If, as the Minister suggests, a voluntary change may be introduced by those bodies and taken through the appropriate channels with the palace, would it be the intention of the Secretary of State to use the provision under subsection (6) to amend schedule 13 to bring the two bodies into the schedule's purview?
§ Mr. Letwin
May I intrude briefly on this amusing spectacle by asking for genuine clarification? Now that the Minister has admitted that the National Library of Wales, the National Museum of Wales and the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales are also established by warrant or charter, can he explain why they fall not in part RI, but in part I of the schedule? Is it because they already have in their warrants or charters provisions for audit that are different from those relating to other bodies?
§ Mr. Hain
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that sensible and not excessively legalistic point. It is a straightforward and common-sense question. [Interruption.] The Whip says, "For a change." That is uncharitable.
Why does the Bill provide for the other charter bodies—the national library, the national museum—to be audited by the Auditor General for Wales? The answer is that grant is paid to the national library and the national museum under section 9 of the Museums and Galleries Act 1992, which also provides for them to prepare accounts and for those accounts to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. It is therefore possible for an order under clause 138 to transfer those functions to the Auditor General for Wales. They are thus in a different position.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I am not a republican, but I am a parliamentarian. Will my hon. Friend confirm that Parliament can abolish such a charter?
§ Mr. Letwin
First, I thank the Minister for his lucid explanation. I congratulate him on having found an instance—I think uniquely in the Committee's examination of such, and I quote, "legalistic points"—in which the Government and their draftsmen have not made an error that they subsequently need to write to somebody about to correct.
§ Mr. Hain
Touché. The hon. Gentleman makes his point with his customary elegance and legalistic wit.
As for examinations of the use of resources by the councils are concerned—the Arts Council of Wales and the Sports Council for Wales—the Government propose that the Auditor General for Wales should have equivalent powers to those that are set out in the National Audit Act 1983. Clause 137 and schedule 13 provide for that.
The national lottery accounts of the councils are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General under section 35 of the National Lottery etc. Act 1993. The Government have no plans to change that. To make the most effective use of auditor resources, the Auditor General for Wales will be able to use staff of the National Audit Office under clause 92, so that, as now, one team of auditors could order both sets of accounts. In the light of that explanation, I invite the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale to withdraw the amendment.
I wish to respond to some specific points which were raised by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale. He said that the Government were somehow embarrassed about sport and the arts. I confess, as a Minister, to being embarrassed about the performance of Wales at Twickenham last Saturday. It was the first time that I had been to Twickenham since I was carried off the pitch in January 1970, in the context of an anti-apartheid demonstration against the all-white South African team. Judging by the performance of Wales, it might not be a good idea if I were to go back too soon to watch them play.
The Government are not embarrassed about their commitment to sport, whether it be rugby, football or anything else. As a new Labour Government, through lottery and other provision we have committed ourselves to ensuring that we make Britain, and in our own context Wales, one of the best sporting nations in the world.
I move on to the arts and the responsibilities of the Arts Council of Wales, and the need to ensure, as the Bill does in the provisions that we are applying, that the accounts are properly audited. It is interesting, given the development of arts in Wales, which the Government are encouraging, that we are seeing a new arts movement emerging in a new Wales. We value our past in terms of opera and other arts as we value present achievements in 464 opera, orchestra, choral music and male voice choirs, for example. I am the president of half a dozen male voice choirs in my constituency.
§ Mr. Hain
We are seeing a new wave of pop music in Wales. It is partly because of the activities of the Arts Council of Wales in recent years that a new wave of popular music has come through such excellent institutions as the Pontardawe international music festival, which takes place in my constituency. It is supported by the Arts Council of Wales. We have seen that new wave of culture coming through Wales, and we are determined to encourage it. Given the Bill's provisions and much better auditing arrangements, that momentum can continue.
§ Mr. Rowlands
Does my hon. Friend believe that an elected Welsh assembly would do anything less—indeed, it could possibly do a great deal more—to promote just such festivals as he describes? Is that not a case for greater democratic accountability?
§ Mr. Hain
Indeed. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, because, in the context of arts provision and policy, one of the central objectives is that the assembly will enable us to involve all of Wales in influencing the overall policy for the arts and sport rather than having a limited group—under the Conservatives, some might have said an elite in Wales—influence its direction. We will have people from all over the country.
I hope that we shall see in the assembly young people who will support some of the excellent new Welsh pop bands, such as Catatonia, the Manic Street Preachers, Super Furry Animals, and the Stereophonics. Indeed, I was delighted to congratulate the Stereophonics on receiving an award at the Brit awards the other week. I did not have a bucket of water poured over me; they were delighted to see me. They are part of the new wave of music that is putting Wales right at the top of the pop agenda and on the international stage. As my hon. Friend said, the Welsh assembly will give greater strength and recognition to the new wave of pop music, with Wales leading the world not just in a democratic transformation but in the transformation of our popular culture. I am sure that the Bill's provisions will encourage that process. The amendments that the Opposition are tabling so destructively will undermine the whole popular movement for music in Wales.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale made a wide-ranging point, but I need to respond to it. He said that the Government were striking music, arts and sport—all of which are covered by the Sports Council for Wales and the Arts Council of Wales—from the national curriculum.
§ Mr. Hain
As my hon. Friend reminds us, that would never be possible under this Government. We are 465 reviewing the way in which the national curriculum is delivered in the classroom. We are saying that arts, sport and music must continue to be taught in primary and secondary schools. We have always valued the curriculum Cymraeg, the broader provision of education, and that is especially true of music, sport and the arts, where Wales prides itself on being ahead of England in the ability of our schoolchildren to perform in those areas.
§ Mr. Hain
I am interested in that information, because, as well as being vice-president of Neath rugby club, I am a Chelsea fan. It is nice to hear that result, if the information is correct.
In respect of arts policy and sports policy—in regulating the Sports Council for Wales and the Arts Council of Wales, overseeing their objectives and holding them to account—the assembly will ensure that Wales is put on the international stage. It will allow our sportsmen and women, our artists, pop musicians, male voice choirs, opera stars and the rest to have the backing of a national assembly for the first time, ensuring that their voices are heard across Europe and, indeed, the world.
§ Mr. Livsey
Does the Minister agree that it is nothing short of a tragedy that, particularly in sport in Wales, we no longer have teachers who are thoroughly involved in getting on with the business of teaching youngsters sport? One of the consequences of that is, perhaps, less than good performances by some of our national teams.
§ Mr. Hain
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is important to their development. Proper rugby coaching in schools for those children who want it, boys and girls, would help Welsh rugby. I should like to see much better provision for sport in schools. I am discussing with the Sports Council for Wales and the Cricket Council for Wales how we might take that forward, possibly in co-operation with the private sector, but I hasten to say that that is not a matter for debate this evening.
We seek to lighten the burden on teachers of the over-restrictive and over-centrally directed imposition of the national curriculum, which makes it impossible for teachers to deliver on the core skills of numeracy and literacy in which Wales, as the rest of Britain, has fallen behind in recent years.
We are seeking advice from the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales on how to introduce a new curriculum which will protect traditional subjects, such as the arts, music and sport, but allow an iron focus on the essential core skills of literacy in English and Welsh, and numeracy, without which our children cannot achieve their full potential in school.
§ Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)
Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the best things that can happen to schools is for them to be able to build on the kind of services that are provided by peripatetic teachers? The fewer peripatetic teachers there are, the poorer the 466 standard of music will be. Does my hon. Friend accept that some schools now face difficult decisions because of the lack of cash for peripatetic teachers to ensure that we in Wales can build on what we are best at? Our schools have some of the best youth brass bands and orchestras in the United Kingdom, but they require cash.
§ Mr. Hain
Peripatetic teachers are vital, whether in respect of brass bands or music generally, or of the arts, but particularly in respect of music. The same principle could be applied to sport and I agree that that needs cash. That is one of the many reasons why the Government have introduced an extra £50 million funding for education to go straight into schools budgets in local education authorities throughout Wales, including in my hon. Friend's constituency.
I have in part responded to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), but I should just like to add to that before I conclude my remarks—much, I am sure, to the relief of the Committee. My hon. Friend asked why we were not subjecting the Arts Council of Wales and the Sports Council for Wales to the full rigours of accountability. We are doing that. They will be accountable to the National Assembly for Wales under the Bill. That will subject them to accountability by elected representatives from all over Britain.
Under clause 29, we have made it clear that royal charter bodies can only gain functions; they cannot be taken away. For those reasons and all the others which I mentioned this evening, I urge the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale to withdraw the amendment. I am sure that the arts and sports policies in Wales will be all the better if that is done.
§ Mr. Collins
We have had an extremely enjoyable debate. I particularly enjoyed the reference from the Minister, who will probably go down in history as the first Minister to have filibustered his own Bill, to the idea that the Conservative amendments would undermine the popular music movement across Wales. I know that the Conservative party is on the verge of once again becoming influential, but the idea that, throughout the Principality, electric guitars are being unplugged and drums thrown down as word of the amendments spreads across the land stretches credulity a little, even as far as the Minister is concerned.
We heard speeches by Labour Back Benchers and from Plaid Cymru, and excellent speeches by my hon. Friends, all of which made the argument. I am delighted that the Minister said that the Government agree with the purpose of the amendments. As he has said that he intends to look at ways of implementing the purpose of the amendments, and despite his evident enthusiasm for a vote, which extended almost to the point of goading, we shall deny him the opportunity of a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 13 agreed to.
§ It being Ten o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN, pursuant to the Order [15 January] and the Resolution [this day], put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.467
§ Clauses 137 to 147 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ It being after Ten o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ To report progress and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. Jamieson.]
§ Committee report progress; to sit again tomorrow.