HC Deb 26 January 1998 vol 305 cc91-119
Mr. Evans

I beg to move amendment No. 209, in page 73, leave out line 18.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Barry Jones)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 158, in page 73, line 28, at end insert— '11B. Rural affairs.'.

Mr. Evans

The Secretary of State for Wales may think that my speech also is old, boring and tedious, but his criterion for labelling speeches with such words is simply that he fundamentally disagrees with what the other person is saying.

We are not asking for agriculture to be removed from schedule 2—which contains the tasks and responsibilities that will initially be transferred from the Secretary of State—because we have an enduring confidence in the Secretary of State or in the Minister of Agriculture. The Committee has only to consider the worst crisis to hit farming in many years to appreciate that that is not the reason for our amendment. The House has only to consider some of the actions that farmers have resorted to, not only in Wales but across the United Kingdom, to realise that that is not so. The Opposition do not condone those actions—as shown by headlines such as "Farmers Have Been Betrayed", which appeared in the Western Mail as early as 15 January 1998—but we should consider why farmers in Wales have felt that they had to resort to them.

My concern is that some will think that Welsh agriculture has been demoted at Westminster if it is made a responsibility of the assembly—where, undoubtedly, agriculture will be talked about at length. However, talking will not help the farmers. [Interruption.] Did an hon. Member want to intervene? No? So we will hear from Plaid Cymru only sedentary yells—but those also will not help farmers. Action will save farmers' livelihood.

We need a strong voice for Wales at the Cabinet table. In Europe, we need a strong voice fighting for Welsh and British farmers. Devolving responsibility for agriculture will diminish the weight of Welsh farming.

Mr. Wigley

I am pleased to accept the hon. Gentleman's invitation. Presumably it was the strong voice of the Conservative party at the Cabinet table in the past 18 years that landed Welsh agriculture in its current mess. How did he and the Conservative party allow that mess to occur if a strong voice in Cabinet and in Europe provides all the strength?

8.15 pm
Mr. Evans

With respect, the right hon. Member was doing better with sedentary interventions. Farmers regard the situation of 12 months ago rather more favourably than they do that under the current Government, who are—amazingly—supported in their actions by the nationalists.

Welsh and other farmers have recently held two demonstrations at the House. In those two demonstrations, because there were so many farmers, it was necessary to hold three meetings of the Welsh Grand Committee in Westminster Hall. On both occasions, farmers asked to speak to the Secretary of State for Wales—which I believe that they did—to make their representations. Under the new regime, to whom will they make their representations? Will it be to the First Secretary? If so, what powers will the First Secretary have to take the farmers' message to Government, where the real clout lies? Will the First Secretary get on the train—the 125—and be the messenger boy of the Secretary of State for Wales?

We fear for the Secretary of State's role in future. It will be a case of his sitting at the end of the Cabinet table and occasionally coughing to try to catch the Prime Minister's attention. It will most certainly be a case of being in office but having no power.

Big decisions will have to be made about the current situation and the future of Welsh farming. Let us first consider the current situation—such as the matter of claiming the European Union compensation package, for which many farmers have been asking. The assembly will not be able to pronounce on that matter, because representations by the Government will be necessary to claim such large amounts.

What of the prospect of Wales going it alone in seeking compensation that the rest of Britain would not receive? Such a plan would not be workable even if it were possible. What of the charges being faced by farmers and by renderers in traceability and hygiene schemes? The assembly will not be able to do anything about those farming matters. Action on those matters will occur only if the Secretary of State were to use his influence with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to change policy.

The assembly would not be able to do anything about the Ministry of Defence's failure to source locally the meat that it buys. The Secretary of State for Wales, however, could use his influence with defence Ministers to try to ensure that that policy was changed.

What will happen with local education authorities? The assembly cannot dictate policy to local education authorities, because that would be reverse devolution, which is quite absurd.

Farmers face the problem of the pound's strength. Will that be the assembly's responsibility, or will it be a responsibility for national Government? As we have already heard that it will be a responsibility of national Government, the issue of transferring that power is a non-starter.

The hot air of debate will not save a single farm, but it will lead to conflict between the assembly, the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of Agriculture. That is all that it will do.

What of the Secretary of State's involvement in the common agricultural policy?

Mr. Ron Davies

Come on.

Mr. Evans

Huffing and puffing—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) was accused of doing—is not one of the Secretary of State's endearing charms. If he will simply listen to what I am saying, I am sure that he will agree that farmers need a strong voice in Europe, ensuring that they are not disadvantaged. A strong voice for Wales on agriculture is needed.

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Welsh agriculture has distinct problems arising from its own distinctive features—such as the fact that so much of Wales is in a less-favoured area and is reliant on the livestock industry? In those circumstances, should not Wales have a distinct democratic voice? Will not such a voice enhance the role of agriculture in Wales?

Mr. Evans

There are distinct problems in Welsh farming—as there are in farming across the United Kingdom—and it should have a distinct voice. What the heck is the Secretary of State for Wales doing? He should be the distinct voice of Welsh farming. On two occasions, demonstrating farmers came to him to plead that he listen to what they had to say, that he recognise the problems that they were facing in farming in Wales and that he take the problems to the Minister of Agriculture so that Government policy could be changed. Although he has signally failed to be the strong voice for Welsh farmers, we do not want to remove responsibility for Welsh agriculture from him and give it to an assembly.

Mr. Ron Davies

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way—perhaps he will be able to calm down and regain his breath. Can he explain why it is so important to exclude agriculture from the devolution scheme, but not to exclude health, education, the environment, transport or any of the other matters that will be devolved? Why does he single out agriculture? Does the fact that he is excluding only agriculture matters mean that he is satisfied with the other parts of the devolution scheme?

Mr. Evans

No, it does not. The Bill has a long way to go—through both Houses of Parliament—and there are whole chunks upon which we must pronounce. I have decided to pick on agriculture because of the European involvement and because of the importance of having a strong voice for agriculture at Westminster and within the EU. Hopefully, we can try to persuade the Secretary of State for Wales that he is in an advantageous position to speak up for Welsh farmers. Looking at the plight of Welsh farmers, one sees that he does not seem to be doing a good job on their behalf.

Mr. Davies

Why does the hon. Gentleman's argument not apply equally to education or health? The relationship that I have with my central Government colleagues is precisely the same; I have devolved matters, but I am also involved in the development of overall UK policy. The relationship is exactly the same. Why does the hon. Gentleman want to exclude agriculture from the advantages of direct democratic control, but apparently is content to allow education and health to be treated in that way?

Mr. Evans

We are not content with the Bill at all—I hope that the Secretary of State accepts that—but it has a long way to go. We are testing the water through various amendments, and we have seen how the right hon. Gentleman acts when his own Back Benchers try to persuade him. If we were to table amendments to every clause and schedule at this time, we would, no doubt, be accused by the Secretary of State of time wasting.

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman has failed to answer the question, which I asked as reasonably as I could. In the light of his last comment, is he saying that, in the ideal world, he would seek to delete all of the functions listed in schedule 2?

Mr. Evans

We are trying to limit the powers that the Secretary of State for Wales is trying to give to the assembly. If it were my responsibility—and looking at what the people of Wales are saying—I would not transfer any of the powers from the Secretary of State to the assembly. We ought to make some progress before we deviate too far from the amendments. My comments seem to have caused the Secretary of State much excitement, as he rose to his feet three times. [Interruption.] I wish that the Secretary of State was as vociferous about the plight of the farmers as he is about the amendment.

Farmers need a strong voice for Wales, but it is needed here. The farmers are crying out for help, but are being offered cold comfort. The Secretary of State's inaction must not be misinterpreted as inability to act; unwillingness to act, yes. However, his unwillingness to act on behalf of the farmers will not be compensated by the assembly's willingness to talk.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

That was the most astonishing speech that I have heard during this debate by any Conservative Member. How could the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) come to this House with a straight face—it was a red face—and say that the Conservative Government, who had all the powers he claimed should rest with the Secretary of State, did everything to defend the interests of Welsh farmers? Does the hon. Gentleman realise that all his colleagues representing Welsh constituencies in the last Parliament represented rural constituencies? Does he recognise that every single one of them was swept out on 1 May precisely because he and his colleagues did not stand up for the interests of Welsh farmers?

Astonishingly, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley stated that this Secretary of State for Wales is not going to Brussels to defend the interests of Welsh farmers. How many times did Conservative Secretaries of State cross the threshold to go to Brussels to argue that case? How successful were Conservative Secretaries of State for Wales in influencing agriculture Ministers here in Westminster? I can tell him—they failed every time.

Let me give an example. In 1992, we were discussing the MacSharry reforms, which would have been emasculated under the original proposals by the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who was proposing that the reforms go much further than Ray MacSharry ever wanted. The Minister rejected the principle that Welsh and other farmers should be supported in a particular way. However, the Secretary of State for Wales did not stand up for the interests of Welsh farmers. Ray MacSharry did more for Welsh farmers than any Conservative Minister, and that should be put on the record.

Mr. Evans

Let me interrupt the hon. Gentleman's tirade to remind him that the Conservative party got twice as many votes as the nationalists. Let that be a lesson to him. I wish to ask him a straight question. What difference would the assembly make for Welsh farmers—a practical example, please?

Mr. Jones

I will come to that in a minute. The Committee should have it on record that the hon. Gentleman is claiming that the interests of Welsh farmers were better served by the kind of Administration that he and his colleagues ran than they would be by an assembly. The reason why his colleagues were swept out of those seats in Wales was because they failed. My party now represents four rural areas in Wales. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there was a dramatic shift in those rural areas away from the Conservatives towards Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party.

Ms Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire)

Perhaps I could assist the hon. Gentleman in responding to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). One definite way in which the assembly could have assisted farmers is that it would not have permitted the previous Secretary of State for Wales—the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)—to give £150 million back to the Treasury that could have gone a considerable way towards helping Welsh farmers.

Mr. Jones

That is absolutely right. The Welsh assembly will not transfer £150 million back to the Treasury when there are so many things that we could do with that money in Wales.

I am frankly astonished by the proposal that the Welsh assembly should not be discussing, or even looking at, agriculture. What will Gwilym Jones or Rod Richards be telling people on the doorstep before the assembly elections—because they will be standing for election? Will they tell people that the Conservative party does not want the assembly to talk about agriculture, and that the interests of Welsh farmers can be left to Conservative Secretaries of State for Wales? That is the point that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley is making. He has totally failed to understand what has happened in Wales since 1 May. The Welsh people rejected the present system—we want to move forward to a new kind of politics, where the people of Wales set the agenda.

The Secretary of State has indicated on more than one occasion that when the Welsh assembly has responsibility for agriculture, representatives of the assembly will have the opportunity to go to Brussels to argue the case for Welsh farmers. They will have an opportunity to influence events. During the MacSharry proposals, not once did the then Secretary of State go to Brussels to argue the case. Under the new proposals, the assembly will have the opportunity to have a real input into Welsh and European agriculture. Whether we are talking about the future of the common agricultural policy, the future of agri-environmental payments or an integrated rural policy—so desperately needed in Wales—the assembly will be setting the agenda.

Mr. Evans

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman will go to the assembly, but what will he, his hon. Friends, the Secretary of State and his hon. Friends be doing here at Westminster? Surely they should be making representations on behalf of Welsh farmers.

Mr. Jones

That shows that the hon. Gentleman does not understand what happened on 1 May. The people of Wales decided that the system had to be reconsidered. The proposal in the White Paper was that agriculture should be a devolved responsibility, and the people of Wales have since decided that that should happen. Why should the hon. Gentleman tell us that it should not?

The assembly needs to develop agricultural and rural policies for Wales in an integrated, not a disparate way. We support farmers in one way, through the common agricultural policy, but rural development is supported in another, through European structural funds. The assembly will have an important role in developing the idea that some of the structural funds that currently involve no investment in agriculture could be channelled into an integrated rural policy.

8.30 pm

The National Assembly for Wales will have an opportunity to develop those ideas alongside others that are being developed elsewhere in Europe. Integration of agricultural and rural investment, probably through revamped structural funds, will give us a more coherent rural development policy. We need to develop along those lines because agriculture is so important for rural employment, and there is so much spin-off employment in other areas. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that, in order to achieve that, we must reject the amendment.

Mr. Swayne

The principal grief that afflicts farmers in my constituency and throughout the kingdom is the current valuation of the pound, which is a direct consequence of the Government's interest rate policy. Until the Welsh assembly has its own interest rate policy or its own currency, or until we all share a European currency, there seems little point in handing over responsibility for agriculture, the fate of which is so inextricably linked to the financial policy of the United Kingdom. There may well come a time when those circumstances prevail, in which case it will be proper to have the Order in Council to transfer responsibility to the assembly; but that has not yet happened.

The scenario painted by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones), of all kinds of structural funds being put to the advantage of agriculture in Wales, filled me with absolute horror. What most upset the farmers who came to London last week was the absence of what they called a fair playing field: the thought that farmers in the rest of Europe had access to reliefs and funds to which the British Government were not prepared to allow ours access, for various reasons attendant on the Fontainebleau summit.

The prospect of Wales having access to reliefs and funds to which the rest of the kingdom has no access raises the prospect of an absence of a fair playing field in agriculture within the United Kingdom. Frankly, I do not believe that it is technically possible for that to happen, because the member state at the table in Brussels remains the United Kingdom; but the very fact that such a prospect could be raised highlights the divisiveness of the measure. The amendment should be supported, and agriculture should not be handed to the Welsh assembly.

Mr. Öpik

Having awakened the mighty wrath of Her Majesty's official Opposition earlier, I shall tread carefully and try to repay the compliment by enlightening them on our views on Welsh agriculture. We feel that the Conservative amendment would send a negative statement to a large percentage of residents of rural Wales, and indeed to the geographical majority of the country. The last thing we need at the moment is to make it more difficult for the assembly to help rural Wales. Agricultural concerns need to be addressed directly, especially in the European context.

Environmental considerations have not been sufficiently emphasised. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds recently pointed out that the kite country project in Powys, which has brought an estimated £5.4 million into the mid-Wales economy, supports 114 full-time-equivalent jobs. That is directly relevant to the creation of an integrated rural affairs policy, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones).

The assembly should have rural affairs in its remit, to allow it to support and develop such projects, not piece by piece, but coherently, strategically, in an integrated way, in the interests not only of the economy but of the environment of Wales.

The Bill will abolish the Development Board for Rural Wales and transfer its functions to a new format, under the overarching auspices of the economic powerhouse. That may have benefits or drawbacks, but it makes it all the more important that the assembly should have the specific authority to intervene in the actions of that powerhouse, to ensure that rural considerations are specifically included in its planning.

The amendment would deny the assembly the right specifically to consider issues relating to the rural economy and environment in mid-Wales. It would be a sad and rather irresponsible approach to tie the assembly's hands for a large tranche of its intended constituency of interest.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) made an interesting assessment of the competence of the current Secretary of State, but we can all agree that we should not create a political system based on an assessment of an individual's or an individual Government's performance. May I add that it was unhelpful of him to be so personal when we were debating much larger issues.

Whatever we set up should work regardless of the political persuasion of any future Government. It is logical to assume that whoever is elected to the assembly will have been put there by the democratic will of the people of Wales. Like it or hate it, we have to trust that will to decide who should be responsible for the governance of Wales.

Mr. Evans

I still want to know what the hon. Gentleman and other Welsh Members will be doing here, because the lead Minister will be the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, both here and in Europe. I have seen the hon. Gentleman working with farmers and listening to their concerns; part of his duty is to take that representation from his constituents to the Minister of Agriculture, and not to devolve it away. My great fear is that farming will be isolated and pushed back into Wales, when it is a United Kingdom issue.

Mr. Öpik

The answer is obvious. There are plenty of precedents across the United Kingdom. How does a Member of Parliament interact with his or her local authority? Inevitably there is linkage and overlap. More to the point, there is the opportunity for synergy by operating consistently at different levels of government in the common interest.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan

Perhaps the true answer to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), to use a crude, old agricultural expression, is that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The only major area of economic activity in Wales that has chosen to devolve itself is agriculture. The break-away was only partial, but, in 1955, the Farmers Union of Wales split from the National Farmers Union. Everyone thought that it would collapse in a few years, but it has lasted 43 years. No trade unions have done it, except the Undeb Cenedlaethol Athrawon Cymru in education. Some voluntary movements have done it, but, in economic activity, only farming has decided to devolve. Is not that the ultimate proof that there is a Welsh dimension to farming? If it was not devolved, we would cut across the industry's own actions.

Mr. Öpik

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his insightful intervention. We have two further important examples in response to the question of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley. First, the Welsh Office has an agriculture department that mirrors what we are trying to propose, and, through the propositions of the Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru push forward. Secondly, the Farmers Union of Wales works with the National Farmers Union in the collective interest of Welsh agriculture. Those organisations overlap, but they work in the strategic interest. During the current crisis in particular, they have created a rural policy. There is no conflict in Westminster representatives discussing agriculture while the Welsh assembly has the authority to make representations, both in Wales and directly to Europe. If we have any faith in democracy, we must believe that good people will do a good job working together.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Öpik

I shall give way for the last time.

Mr. Robertson

Is there not a contradiction? As I understand it, Ministers will retain responsibility for ensuring that European legislation is implemented. As my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) said, agriculture is by and large controlled from Europe, but we are handing agriculture to the assembly. Is not that contradictory?

Mr. Öpik

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the concepts of synergy and a Europe of the regions. By synergy, I mean that there is no need to think of life in such a linear fashion. Surely he knows about the concept of networking and the benefits of informal contacts, especially between Wales and Europe—even those that exist now. Surely he knows of the desire of some of us to create a Europe of the regions with subsidiarity, through which nations can work together directly, as they do through Europe? I reassure him that, despite the fears of his colleagues—I am not sure whether he shares them—Europe is a project not to centralise power but to devolve it. The sooner Conservative Members recognise that, the sooner they can put to bed the monsters under their passports, their fears of a more coherent whole.

Let me conclude with the simple observation that much of Wales is dependent on the money that flows around because of agriculture and other rural industries. It would be not only a mistake to prevent the Welsh assembly from operating in agriculture, but an abdication of responsibility. More than that, it would be a snub to the many people who have maintained the Welsh economy and culture for so many decades. That is why we support making a clear statement to the people of Wales that we care about Welsh agriculture. We should enable the assembly to do the same.

Mr. Ron Davies

I congratulate the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) on his thoughtful and constructive contribution. Given the unprecedented onslaught on him during the previous debate, it was a speech of great clarity and vision. He is growing in stature by the hour as a parliamentarian of renown.

In an earlier debate, I laid down the general principles that underlie the Government's approach to schedule 2. I shall not go through it all again, but I shall touch on one element later. Schedule 2 lists the fields in respect of which I am required to consider functions for transfer to the assembly. The Opposition amendment seeks to remove agriculture, forestry, fishing and food from it. That would deprive the assembly of a major area of consideration of the transfer of functions.

When the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) introduced the debate, I asked him to explain why he had singled out agriculture when he was content, at least for the purposes of this amendment, to allow health and education to be devolved to the assembly. He gave no reason. He owed it to the House to explain why agriculture was singled out. Unfortunately, he did not. He tacitly admitted that he wanted all the matters in schedule 2 to be withheld. We must conclude that this is a wrecking amendment—another manifestation of the Opposition's inability to come to terms with the fact that there will be devolution, that the Bill lays down the process by which legislation will take place, and that schedule 2 highlights the areas that I will consider for transfer of power to the assembly. I shall try to assist the hon. Member for Ribble Valley and his colleagues.

Agriculture is partly devolved. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ribble Valley raised this matter. It would be a courtesy to the Committee if he would listen to my reply because he will presumably have to advise Members whether he wishes to pursue the amendment to a vote or withdraw it. I ask him to extend the courtesy normally expected in these circumstances.

Some agriculture is devolved to the Welsh Office. The expenditure for it comes out of the Welsh block. Many other aspects of agriculture are not devolved. The Minister of Agriculture takes the lead on matters such as reform of the common agricultural policy. There is no discretion at Welsh level to exercise those responsibilities differently in Wales from their exercise in England or Scotland. Schedule 2 deals with the devolution to the assembly of the matters for which I am responsible, not the wider ones for which the Minister of Agriculture is responsible. I shall give positive examples of where the assembly would serve Wales well in such matters.

First, I shall deal with my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who, on Second Reading, asked about the extent to which the transfer order would relate to animal health and food safety. I said then that it was likely that the transfer order would not transfer my powers on animal health and food safety to the assembly. Last Wednesday, he raised the matter again. I am anxious that he should not be misled about the current position. The Government have not reached a final decision on the matter. We are discussing it, as I said earlier. As the Committee already knows, the general policy is that virtually all my functions should be transferred to the assembly. While there are sensitive and difficult questions relating to them, such as whether joint powers should be split so that the assembly can operate them separately for Wales, the present position is that the Government are considering transferring them to the assembly. There will need to be a concordat so that the powers are exercised in a manner sympathetic to their exercise at English level, by the Minister of Agriculture, and at Scottish level. I should be willing to consider any written representations from my hon. Friend or other hon. Members if they feel particularly strongly about the matter. I reassure him that we have not yet reached a decision.

8.45 pm
Mr. Rowlands

I am listening carefully to my right hon. Friend. When we discussed the matter on previous occasions, he was clear that the powers in section 16 of the Food Safety Act 1990, under which meat on the bone was banned, would not be devolved. Do I take it from his remarks tonight that he is rather more open on that possibility? I was curious to find out that a Secretary of State for Scotland may well have such powers under the Scotland Bill. A Scottish Parliament might not support a ban on meat on the bone. Is my right hon. Friend now less decisive than he was, because I thought that he had ruled out the possibility of food safety legislation becoming a devolved function?

Mr. Davies

I most certainly did not rule it out. If my hon. Friend looks at the form of words I used on Second Reading, he will see that I left the option open. His analysis of the Scottish position is quite right, because the Scottish Parliament could go its own way because the Scottish scheme of devolution is different from our own.

The general principle is that many of the powers relating to agriculture are exercised jointly between myself, as the Minister responsible for agriculture in Wales, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We have to decide the extent to which such powers will either be devolved to the assembly or remain with that Ministry. We must also consider whether there are circumstances when it would be better for those powers to be exercised concurrently, as we debated about four hours ago. There may be a case for that if it is felt that schemes operating in England and Wales on food safety or animal health should be exactly the same. The Government have not made any resolution on those matters yet, and we are considering them collectively.

It is my wish that any scheme for agriculture should be as clear as possible. If some relevant powers are devolved to the assembly, we need to establish a good working relationship between it and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, or the Department of Health, to ensure that powers are used sympathetically and consistently in England and Wales. We are considering that at the moment.

Mr. Wigley

The right hon. Gentleman has said that there is a split in current responsibilities and that there is a need to clarify exactly what powers should go to the assembly and which should remain with the Secretary of State. That is an important consideration. He will be aware that if Welsh Members write to MAFF about dairy quotas or the sheepmeat regime—matters of great importance to Wales—those letters are directed to his office because he has responsibility for such matters in Wales. When those matters are discussed in Brussels, however, it is invariably the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who negotiates on our behalf.

That is why it is important that the Secretary of State should confirm that Members of the National Assembly of Wales will be able to be part of the United Kingdom team in Brussels so that those who make representations on behalf of Wales are there to give evidence.

Mr. Davies

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not respond immediately to that question. I will deal with the European perspective later.

Amendment No. 158, the terms of which the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) outlined, proposes that a new responsibility relating to rural affairs should be included in schedule 2. I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's argument, and I take it that the purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the internal architecture of the assembly either gives expression to the concept of an integrated approach to rural affairs or places a requirement on the assembly to ensure that it adopts a more coherent approach when delivering policy. I am entirely sympathetic to those objectives, but I believe that the amendment proposes the wrong mechanism by laying a duty on the assembly to establish a rural affairs committee or to make rural affairs a policy imperative. It is for the assembly to decide its policy, so I am minded to reject the amendment, although I share the hon. Gentleman's objectives.

I believe that the definition of rural affairs is too broad and it could cover a variety of functions to be included in schedule 2. It is difficult to conceive of all the functions that would be transferred under the terms of that definition. They could include, for example, town and country planning, the environment, agriculture, forestry and fisheries and food. We have already made provision within the schedule to transfer all those functions to the assembly; in that sense, the amendment is unacceptable.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley moved amendment No.209 and asked what difference it would make if the term Agriculture, forestry, fisheries and food. were left out of schedule 2. I should like to offer five such examples, which are important. He made great play of the current crisis facing agriculture. It is bit much for the Opposition, who were in power from 1979 to 1997 and who, I have no doubt, were responsible for the mounting crisis in British agriculture, to turn round and expect an incoming Government to resolve in six months all the problems that have been festering in agriculture.

The principal problem is BSE, and there is a good reason why I want to use it to illustrate my argument. I was heavily involved in scrutinising the orders that were passed under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985. I am sure that if that secondary legislation had been subject to adequate scrutiny, public pressure would have been brought to bear, and the Government of the day would have been forced to listen to the case that was being made. Unfortunately, in the late 1980s and 1990s, the Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was a supporter were determined that there would be no public examination of the issues or proper scrutiny of the regulations relating to animal feedstuffs or the disposal of possibly infected animals. As a result of the Bill, all such orders issued under the 1985 Act would be dealt with by the assembly.

Those of us who represent Welsh constituencies were well aware of the widespread public concern about BSE long before it came to such a calamitous conclusion a couple of years ago.

Mr. Jenkin

The right hon. Gentleman was a Member of Parliament then. Why did he not do anything about it?

Mr. Davies

If the hon. Gentleman cares to go to the Library and asks for a printout of all the motions, parliamentary questions and debates that I initiated on BSE, he will discover that I was the first person to raise it on the Floor of the House, as early as 1989. He will also discover that many motions and questions pressed the Government to acknowledge the severity of the problem. When the hon. Gentleman has informed himself properly about my record on BSE, I will willingly debate the matter with him. I will not go into further detail on that because I want my remarks to keep strictly to the terms of the amendment.

Had we had the opportunity in a Welsh assembly to debate the orders issued under the 1985 Act, I have no doubt that the matter would have been subject to proper public exposure and the scandal of BSE would not have been allowed to develop as it did; the then Government were able to circumvent such scrutiny. That is one example and there are others.

Mr. Ancram

It was all done by order.

Mr. Davies

Of course it was done by order—that is precisely the point. The procedures of the British House of Commons failed to protect the public interest, because those orders could be smuggled through upstairs in Committee or pushed through in the Chamber late at night without the benefit of a vote, and that was what the Government of the day were minded to do.

Mr. Grieve

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

No, I want to develop my point. If those matters had been dealt with by a Welsh assembly, there would have proper public scrutiny and that scandal would not have happened. That is equally true of the problem of radioactive contamination in Gwynedd, which would be better dealt with by the Welsh assembly, because the orders giving effect to powers arising out of the Food and Environment Protection Act are dealt with by means of secondary legislation.

The right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) raised the question of Europe. There are two important reasons why I resist his amendment. First, there are dozens—hundreds—of pieces of secondary legislation emanating from Europe, and the assembly will have the responsibility for seeing those through. It seems to me inconceivable—

Mr. Grieve

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way? It is a serious point.

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Mr. Davies

If it is a serious point, I shall give way, but the hon. Gentleman must understand that he cannot intervene until I have made my statement. When I have done so, he may have something with which to take issue.

There are hundreds of pieces of secondary legislation giving effect to European decisions and it seems to me inconceivable that the assembly should have responsibility for debating all except those relating to food, to the protection of animal health or human health, or to the implementation of the common agricultural policy. It is vital that the assembly be empowered to deal with those matters; if the amendment were accepted, it would be unable to do so.

Mr. Grieve

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I have the pleasure to serve on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The precise problem is that there is insufficient scrutiny of statutory instruments in this place. I accept that, but the problem will not be resolved by what the right hon. Gentleman proposes, because there can be no scrutiny of European statutory instruments and, whether scrutiny takes place in Wales or here, the quality will not improve. We have to look at procedures here.

Mr. Davies

I do not like to say this, but the hon. Gentleman is both ignorant and patronising. Scrutiny will be enormously improved if we in Wales have the forum to debate those matters properly. That is the purpose of devolution.

The other point raised by the right hon. Member for Caernarfon was the question of the delegation. There will be representation from the Welsh assembly within that delegation and, when matters relating to the reform of the common agricultural policy are being discussed, that delegation will be directly informed by the views of the assembly. There may well be a difference of political views, but nothing will be the worse for that. If the particular interests of Wales—upland farming, forestry or marine matters—are represented, that view can be fed in directly. The representative of the assembly will know precisely what is happening, the nature of the British Government's case and the responses of the other European countries; and all that can be reported back to ensure full and public debate in Wales. The amendment would deny us that opportunity.

There are many other examples, but let me conclude by giving just one—the need for the development of a coherent approach to the countryside, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire. A coherent approach means that the needs of the environment must be looked at in the context of agriculture; that the needs of rural communities—health and employment, and so on—must be looked at in the context of agriculture; that planning policies must be informed by the needs of agriculture; that our education and health policies must be informed by the agricultural dimension, which is so important to rural life; and that the development of transport facilities is looked at in the light of agriculture. The amendment would strip agriculture out of that, so that we would not have the opportunity to develop a coherent approach. It is important that we have a proper forum to resolve all those issues.

Let me refer the hon. Member for Ribble Valley back to our debate last week. The hon. Gentleman should pay attention, because I am going to quote him—it is not something I want to do very often, but I shall give him the pleasure on this occasion. He was taxed by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), who said: What the hon. Gentleman just said is absolute nonsense. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley replied: It would not be the first time that I have spoken nonsense, Sir Alan, and I suspect that it will not be the last."—[Official Report, 21 January 1998; Vol. 304, c. 1045.] Tonight, we have had living proof of that.

Mr. Evans

Of course, that was said with an air of jocularity—a sense of humour, which I pride myself on having, but which unfortunately does not appear to be shared by the Secretary of State.

I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. because the transfer of powers under schedule 2 and the crisis facing farming are vital issues. No one in the Chamber doubts that farmers are facing a crisis, with incomes falling by 50 per cent. and the pound strengthening and cheap imports being sucked in. Farmers are looking for help from the Government, but they are not getting it.

The problem is that the deficiency in the Government's policy is being translated into a need to transfer the powers to the Welsh assembly and away from the Secretary of State for Wales. I do not believe that that will serve them well.

The Secretary of State mentioned an interesting aspect of food safety: the possibility that the Government would devolve some food safety matters down to the Welsh assembly. That might, in certain circumstances, allow the Welsh assembly to decide that meat could be served on the bone in Wales. I should be delighted to give way on this point as I suspect that some people in Wales who have been listening to the debate will have understood that matter as I did. I know that the Secretary of State said that he was looking for a good working relationship between the assembly and the food safety policy decided by the Government. If there is a possibility that meat on the bone could be served in Wales, but not in England and Scotland, I should be interested to hear about it.

That reminds me of a story from I was a youngster living in Swansea. Our local authority decided to ban the film, "The Life of Brian", but Llanelli council decided to allow it to be shown. It may come as a surprise to the Secretary of State for Wales, but everyone in Swansea who wanted to see the film, did so; they all went to Llanelli. It was an absurd policy and Swansea gave up its control over the censorship of films. I urge caution on the Secretary of State if that is the sort of policy that he is seeking to devolve down to the assembly.

Does the Secretary of State agree with the answer that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland gave in a written answer to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)? The hon. Gentleman asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what advantages in Brussels have accrued to (a) Catalonia, (b) Andalucia and (c) Baden-Württemberg which are not currently available to the Scottish Office in Brussels; and if he will list the special arrangements which exist within the (i) European Commission and (ii) Council of Ministers for dealing with matters relating to devolved legislative entities within member states. The Secretary of State answered:

From the contacts I have had with the Catalonia and Baden-Württemberg offices, I conclude that these offices have contributed to improving the quality of information available to their regional governments and have helped those governments contribute to their domestic debate on European proposals. Although there are frequent informal contacts between devolved governments and the European institutions, there are no special arrangements for dealing with matters relating to devolved legislative bodies within the Commission and the Council."—[Official Report, 23 January 1998; Vol. 304, c.704.] That is an important matter to take on board. If the Secretary of State for Wales agrees with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, it means that he is trying to suggest that the devolved assembly will have more power than it really has. That is an extremely dangerous thing to do.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Livsey

I beg to move amendment No. 20A, in page 73, line 19, at end insert '2a. Broadcasting'.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 155, in page 73, line 20, after 'culture', insert 'and the arts'.

No. 211, in page 73, line 28, at end insert— '11A. Public Service Broadcasting'.

No. 212, in page 73, leave out line 35.

No. 221, in clause 33, clause 33, page 21, line 20, leave out 'do anything it considers appropriate to support'

and insert 'promote'.

No. 83, in page 21, line 20, leave out 'appropriate' and insert 'reasonable'.

No. 271, in page 21, line 23, after 'historical', insert 'or archaeological'.

No. 205, in page 21, line 24, after language,', insert— '(ca) variants of the English language used in Wales, (cb) other languages used in Wales,'.

Mr. Livsey

It is certainly our view that broadcasting is an important medium in Wales. In "My Fair Lady", Rex Harrison said that there were places where English was never heard; he was commenting on the situation in Wales. In Wales itself, there are even places where television is never seen, not even Welsh television. In my constituency, in the towns of Knighton, Presteign and the district of Painscastle, it is impossible to see television from Wales, whether public service television or private sector television. It is possible for farmers to go to the Royal Welsh show, win the prize with their bull and never be able to see that glory on television, because there is no reception. Indeed, my constituents have to watch what goes on in Lincolnshire, but they have not a clue about what happens in Wales. That is one reason why we need powers in the Bill to ensure that it is possible for people living in all parts of Wales to receive clearly, and participate in, television and radio. That is not the case at the moment.

Mr. Rogers

The hon. Gentleman should not have claimed such ridiculous powers for the assembly. Even in south Wales, where we have a far greater problem, in that far more people are affected by the inability to receive television transmissions, we do not believe that the assembly can resolve the matter. It is just a matter of providing some aerial masts. Indeed, throughout south Wales we cannot receive Channel 4 or Channel 5; we can receive only S4C, and many people living in our English-speaking areas resent that very much. If, like the Welsh nationalists, they were not well behaved, they would probably withhold their licence fees.

Mr. Livsey

The hon. Gentleman is involved in engineering matters, and he must realise that it should not be beyond the wit of the Welsh assembly to get hold of all the engineers and ensure proper reception of television and radio the length and breadth of Wales.

The arguments in this regard are clear. The media define attitudes, and help people to debate and participate in the formation of attitudes. One aspect of the referendum in Wales and the debate that preceded it was that many people who live in Wales, especially in eastern, southern and north-eastern Wales, have their televisions turned in other directions or cannot receive Wales television, and I think—

Mr. Swayne

It was deliberate.

Mr. Livsey

I think that that had an impact on the referendum result, because those people had no chance to listen to any of the debates beforehand. That is especially important.

Mr. Ancram

I am listening closely to the hon. Gentleman's argument. Is he suggesting in amendment No. 20A that the Welsh assembly should pay from its budget for S4C?

Mr. Livsey

No, I am not suggesting that for a moment, and the right hon. Gentleman should not take it that I said that—I did not. The Welsh assembly needs the power to take decisions relating to broadcasting, which is especially relevant with the onset of digital broadcasting. The continuing issues of television reception, Welsh language programming and future allocation of television and radio franchises are important.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman said that the Welsh assembly should take decisions on broadcasting. Is he saying that it should take decisions but not be obliged to face the financial consequences for those decisions, which should continue to be borne by the Westminster Parliament?

Mr. Livsey

I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but, as we heard in a previous debate, the Welsh assembly cannot have tax-varying powers. It will be entirely reliant for finance on the Westminster Parliament, and I am certainly not suggesting what the right hon. Gentleman just said.

Why do we need the assembly to have some decision-making powers relating to, or at least functions of assisting in effecting a better standard of, broadcasting in Wales? Broadcasting affects Wales as a major employer, and operates in the public and private sectors.

The digital revolution was regarded as a solution for many Welsh broadcasting difficulties, such as continuing reception problems and the long-standing frustration that many people experience at being unable, as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) said, to receive Channel 4 in addition to S4C.

As many as 35 per cent. of Welsh viewers will not be able to receive digital services for at least four years after they start. In the early years, problems will be acute in rural areas. Those problems will need political solutions, which the Welsh assembly must be able to provide. For example, rural communities are generally deprived of cable services because operators are reluctant to incur the costs of laying cable in sparsely populated areas. Digital satellite may prove to be the only option, unless action is taken to accelerate the pace of digital terrestrial service provision.

9.15 pm

It is vital that the assembly has the power to pressure Westminster to ensure that viewers and listeners in Wales are not penalised. Welsh broadcasting is distinctive, not least because of the Welsh language. The assembly should have the ability to take decisions relating to Welsh language broadcasting and other broadcasting reflecting distinctive Welsh culture. That applies to English language broadcasting and television as much as to Welsh language output.

In 1993, 529 hours of Welsh language programmes were provided by BBC Wales for S4C, free of charge under the provisions of the Broadcasting Act 1990, and a total of 1,170 hours were commissioned from independent producers. The assembly must be enabled to protect and shape future broadcasting in Wales.

The amendment proposes not that the assembly assume responsibility for the funding or the setting of funding levels for broadcasting, but that it should have a recognised voice in matters relating to Welsh broadcasting. These are important issues, but I shall not detain the Committee much longer.

The assembly should also be involved in the allocation of licences for broadcasting, such as independent television franchises, to ensure that Welsh matters are discussed in the allocation process and that Welsh broadcasting remains distinctive. In that respect, our amendment is markedly different from the Conservative amendment, which refers only to public service broadcasting.

Broadcasting is at the core of the evolution of the Welsh language, its culture and co-existing cultures present in Wales. We will support the amendment tabled by Plaid Cymru to add the arts to the functions of the assembly. Broadcasting should indeed be included in the Bill. I apologise for the poor quality of my voice.

Mr. Rogers

We have just heard a typical Liberal speech, telling us what is needed and promising to provide this and that, but when it comes to delivering the goods, where will the money come from? The question is ducked completely, as in a typical Liberal party political broadcast.

The problems of television reception in Wales are engineering problems, and money must be devoted to them if they are to be resolved. No committee or working party will resolve them. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was in the House when the Broadcasting Bill went through Parliament, and I do not recall that the Liberal party made any contribution to it.

I support part of the amendments, especially with regard to the Welsh language. The Welsh assembly will, I am sure, be controlled by the Labour party. I am pleased about that, because we will know that the Welsh language will be in safe hands.

I was a member of the old Glamorgan county council when it became Mid-Glamorgan, and a large section of the Welsh-speaking area of Glamorgan was taken away. Lord Heycock, who was the chairman of the education committee, and others had developed the Welsh language schools in south Wales, in the English-speaking areas as well as the Welsh-speaking areas of West Glamorgan. I venture to say that they saved the Welsh language in the English-speaking areas of south Wales. If there is to be any development, it will be in that area.

When Mid-Glamorgan was set up, it was the Labour-controlled council which spent the resources to develop the present Welsh school system. The daughter of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State attends a school within it, as do my grandchildren, along with many others.

I should like to see the assembly play a more positive part and be responsible for the development of the Welsh language. It is only in the hands of the people of Wales that the Welsh language is safe. Similarly, it is only by implementing progressive policies and the application of resources that the Welsh language can be not only saved but developed as it now is.

It is no good saying that we would like to do this, that or the other. It is necessary always to devote resources. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) and his party would agree to the transfer of the £70 million that is presently provided to S4C by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I wonder whether that will come out of the Welsh assembly budget. Is that what is wanted, or is there to be a transfer of resources?

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire has devoted so much time to an engineering problem that detracts from the main thrust of the amendments—that the Welsh assembly should have more say in the control and development of the Welsh language.

Mr. Wigley

I am glad to take up the most recent remarks of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers). I agree whole-heartedly with much of what he said. I know that he has taken pleasure and pride in the past that his grandchildren are attending Welsh-medium schools, and are speaking the Welsh language.

I am willing to pay tribute to those such as Lord Heycock, who undertook much work on behalf of the Welsh language in Glamorgan. There were some areas where much progress was made, and others where progress has been slower. There is now, I think, an agreement across party on the Welsh language, and that is good. The issue has to that extent been taken away from some of the more acrimonious politics that existed perhaps two decades ago.

My colleagues and I support amendment No. 20A, for reasons that overlap those advanced by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey). I take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Rhondda that there is a challenge of resources. Technical problems have to be resolved, and obtaining the necessary resources is part of the overall challenge. We would argue that the block of resources that S4C receives from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should be transferred to the assembly. If there is a need for more resources, we would agree that there should be an available option to raise them from taxation. Unfortunately, that is not within the remit of the Bill.

There are things that can be done within the assembly even without the power to raise moneys from taxation. There seems to be an omission from the Bill, in that it contains no power of answerability for any dimension of broadcasting in Wales. I have read the contents of schedule 2, and I look forward to considering schedules 3 and 4. I look also to the powers that are set out in clause 73.

Are there any powers at all whereby the National Assembly can call people from the Broadcasting Council for Wales to answer on matters of public policy on broadcasting in Wales? That is perfectly reasonable. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) took part in consideration of what was the Broadcasting Bill of 1990, to which the hon. Member for Rhondda referred. Some important debates took place. I know also that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) played a leading role in considering the Bill. There must be a role for the assembly in at least asking questions and initiating a debate on a subject that has an important all-Wales dimension.

I have taken note of some of the bodies that will have an answerability. There are United Kingdom bodies such as the British Tourist Authority, the British Waterways Board and the British Wool Marketing Board. In addition, there are the Environment Agency, the Meat and Livestock Commission, the Museums and Galleries Commission and the United Kingdom Sports Council. All those bodies have a degree of answerability. It seems, however, that the Broadcasting Council for Wales does not. If the Secretary of State wants to intervene to inform me that I am mistaken, I shall be glad to be put out of my misery.

Mr. Ron Davies

The right hon. Gentleman need not labour this point. I want to respond to him specifically when I reply. I think that he will be reasonably reassured by what I have to say.

Mr. Wigley

In that case, I shall not take up any more time on that matter, but instead wait to hear the Secretary of State's comments.

What about the provision of better English language broadcasting in Wales? We have moved the agenda forward considerably on the Welsh language television front, but there is a paucity of English broadcasting, particularly on television, from Wales to Wales, and non-Welsh-speaking viewers are right to complain about it. I would not like English broadcasting to develop at the expense of Welsh language broadcasting, but there is room to co-ordinate existing channels, and perhaps to develop it.

There is a technological revolution under way in broadcasting. There are arguments about the fibre-optic cabling of areas of Wales, which may be the vehicle to provide broadcasting in Wales in future. Offers are out for a fibre-optic link along the north Wales coast. Two companies have bid for Cheshire and bits of north Wales, but there is no strategic approach, and, unless the infrastructure is in place, whole communities will lose out on future technological opportunities.

Amendment No. 155—our amendment—refers to the arts, and is purely a probing amendment. Schedule 1 refers to culture (including museums, galleries and libraries). Culture goes way beyond those. It includes them, of course, but one could specify a realm of cultural issues if one were to be inclusive.

The term used by the Government is "national heritage". We have national heritage in Wales, but it does not appear to come through in any full way in the Bill. We tabled the amendment because the arts most certainly should be covered. We are aware that reference is made to the Arts Council of Wales in schedule 3, but I want to be assured that, when referring to culture, we mean the whole gamut of culture, not just a restricted part of it—museums, galleries and libraries.

I refer briefly to the amazing amendment No. 212, tabled by Conservative Members, which wants to leave out all reference to the Welsh language. We heard earlier that Conservative Members want to remove agriculture from the responsibility of the assembly. Now they want to remove the Welsh language.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)

The Conservatives also want to leave out the environment.

Mr. Wigley

We are seeing a deliberate, cynical approach, to try to undermine the assembly lock, stock, and barrel. When the referendum result said yes, albeit by a tight majority, some more enlightened Conservative Members—[Interruption.]—not those who are barracking from the Back Benches—said, "The people of Wales have made their decision. It's up to us to get the best assembly we can. We may not agree with it, but let's get the best possible animal to meet a legitimate all-Wales agenda." So they start by taking away agriculture, the environment—even the Welsh language. They want the Welsh language to be dealt with by Committees in this place, dominated by Conservative Members, no doubt, from English constituencies, as happened with the Welsh Language Act 1993.

That is the totally cynical approach of the Tory party towards the assembly, lock, stock and barrel. Let the electorate of Wales know that, when Rod Richards, Gwilym Jones and the rest become Tory candidates in the elections, their agenda will be to take everything away. If we are ever again unfortunate enough to have a Tory Government, that is what they will be up to, so the challenge for us is to ensure that the assembly is strong enough to withstand the danger of its being eroded in the way proposed by this cynical amendment.

Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd)

I wish to address amendment No. 211, which the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) has just discussed so vigorously.

My grandfather was a Welsh speaker; seven of his children, 35 of his grandchildren and all but one of his 130 great-grandchildren lost the language. The Welsh language has taken a hammering over the past 70 years, but it is making a comeback. I have been learning Welsh for some four years, and I pay tribute to my Welsh teachers—Margaret Williams, Nesta Ellis and Christine Roberts—for persevering with such a difficult pupil. The desire to learn Welsh is growing in Wales, and Welsh lessons are being held in the House of Commons. Conservative Members are welcome to attend those lessons—I know that they take a keen interest in Welsh affairs—every Thursday at 1 o'clock. It will be interesting to see how many take up that kind offer.

The Welsh language issue is of central importance to the government of Wales, and must be a key responsibility of the Welsh assembly. If it is to flourish, we need a strategic overview, which only the Welsh assembly can provide. It is too important to be left to a quango, a committee or one individual. Its rightful place is in the heart of government, the assembly and Wales. The amendment is an affront to the people of Wales, and it should be withdrawn.

9.30 pm
Mr. Evans

The right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) said that the Conservatives were cynically trying to wreck the assembly. We are not; we are trying to improve the Bill, which is what the Committee stage is all about. Hon. Members should not misinterpret our objectives whenever we table an amendment. We simply want to improve the legislation.

I am certain that, if Rod Richards decides to stand—he has made no announcement that he intends to do so—he and Gwilym Jones, who has announced that he will stand, will win seats, and will be joined by colleagues representing the Conservative party. More importantly, they want to ensure, on behalf of the three out of four people in Wales who did not support this legislation, that the Government are sensitive to the needs of the Welsh people, as the Prime Minister said on the steps of 10 Downing street the day after the referendum result. It is important that we get that absolutely right.

This group of amendments deals with broadcasting, the Welsh language, and Welsh arts and culture. Our friendly probing amendments seek clarification. Apparently broadcasting will not be the responsibility of the Welsh assembly, and we want to know the thinking behind that. We have been accused of trying to take responsibilities away from the assembly—[Interruption.] In time, I will swap places with the Secretary of State, who has just suggested that I take his place. Why is broadcasting being kept out when so much else is being transferred?

Mr. Ron Davies

There is a simple and straightforward answer: the principle that underlies the whole of devolution is that the powers that currently rest with me will be transferred to the assembly. I have no responsibility for broadcasting, so it follows that we have no proposals to transfer broadcasting to the assembly.

Mr. Evans

That is the first acceptable answer in our three-day debate. However, there is a conflict between responsibility for the Welsh language, which is transferred in schedule 2, and responsibility for broadcasting. As has been noted, we have tabled an amendment to that provision.

We must have clarification of this issue; otherwise, enormous difficulties will arise between the assembly and Sianel Pedwar Cymru. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) asked who will pay for Sianel Pedwar Cymru if the assembly controls it, as the Liberal Democrats would like. Many people would find it odd if the assembly was responsible for it, but did not take responsibility for the financial controls. That television station was set up in 1980 by the Conservatives, and it has been expanding its remit with digital television, which will shortly be upon us.

Before I go any further, I want to pay tribute to Lord Roberts, who is a former Minister. He was second to none in his promotion of the Welsh language throughout Wales. He managed that without raising the hackles of people who do not speak Welsh. The matter could have been divisive if it had been handled wrongly. We should not underestimate his gift for promoting the Welsh language, because, if handled improperly, it could be a problem. I pay tribute to his deft handling of the issue. We need his sensitivity for this legislation, because there could be conflict.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan

The hon. Gentleman has paid a well-deserved tribute to Lord Roberts. He asks us to support his amendment, which would prevent functions relating to the Welsh language from being transferred to the Welsh assembly. Does Lord Roberts agree with that proposal?

Mr. Evans

I spoke to Lord Roberts about five hours ago, and he was delighted when I told him that I intended to pay him that tribute. Yes, he agrees with the amendment. The Welsh language was afforded protection under the current arrangements without the help of a Welsh assembly. Lord Roberts supports the amendment that we have tabled, and is happy with the way in which the House has promoted and protected the Welsh language. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) may be privy to information that we do not have, but I am merely telling the House of the conversation that I had with Lord Roberts earlier today.

We are told that the assembly will be a cure for everyone's evils. I suspect that, in a short time, just as every household will be able to get all the television pictures it wants from wherever it wants, we will all be speaking Welsh.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

If the hon. Gentleman spoke to Lord Roberts five hours ago, that was during the debate, and I did not see him leave.

Mr. Evans

That was because the hon. Gentleman did not see me come into the Chamber. When he arrived, I was making some notes on the speeches that I shall make later. I am delighted that my every movement is being tagged by the nationalists. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I had that conversation.

It will be interesting to see whether the Welsh assembly will deliver what has been claimed for it. I urge the Government's supporters, the nationalists and the Liberal Democrats to be cautious and not to build up the assembly's reputation too much, or expectations will be so high that people will feel let down if it does not deliver on the central, key propositions.

The assembly could allow Sianel Pedwar Cymru or another station to broadcast its proceedings. That would no doubt fill the people of Wales with great anticipation. It would probably be more depressing than "EastEnders" and less transfixing than the test card. I suspect that the Government will not allow that function to be transferred, but we need clarification, particularly on Sianel Pedwar Cymru, because it wants to know about its future.

Mr. Ron Davies

The hon. Gentleman does not have to suspect: it is clear that the Bill contains no provision for such a transfer.

Mr. Evans

I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has clarified that. I suspect that the people who work at Sianel Pedwar Cymru also want to know that.

A conflict may arise because of the Welsh language content in Sianel Pedwar Cymru programmes. Does the Secretary of State envisage any conflict between Sianel Pedwar Cymru and the assembly, given that responsibility for the Welsh language is being transferred? How would such conflicts be resolved?

Mr. Ron Davies

I do not envisage any conflicts, so there would be no need to resolve them.

Mr. Evans

There are all sorts of things that the Secretary of State may think may not happen, but hon. Members should consider what will happen once an assembly has been set up with 60 members, including nationalists who may be operating on their own agenda. The Secretary of State and his hon. Friend the Minister must forgive me if we envisage a worst-case scenario in certain respects. It is all very well to sit here looking through rose-tinted spectacles and believing that everything will be all right when the assembly has been set up, but, unless we legislate with a view to the worst case scenarios, there will be horrific problems in the future.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain)

Looking across at the hon. Gentleman, we are viewing the worst-case scenario.

Mr. Evans

I am delighted to hear from the Minister, but, if that is his only contribution, I should have preferred him to continue to sit where he is sitting and to say absolutely nothing, as he has for most of the debate.

I fear that there may be conflicts in the future, and I should like them to be sorted out.

Mr. Nick Ainger (West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire)

What are the problems?

Mr. Evans

I have already described the problems that may affect Sianel Pedwar Cymru, with its Welsh language remit. A large proportion of what is broadcast is in Welsh, and, indeed, 61 per cent. of Welsh speakers spend half their time watching the channel. The Welsh assembly will see that it has an important role to play, and I hope that the Secretary of State will take that into account.

Amendments Nos. 221 and 83 are intended to tidy up clause 33, which gives the assembly carte blanche to support museums, art galleries, libraries, the Welsh language, the arts, crafts, sport, and so forth. We want the promotion of those places and activities to be clarified, and to be made reasonable.

Will the Secretary of State tell us what limitations there may be on the assembly in regard to future expenditure, and the actions that the assembly may take? If, for instance, the assembly decided to set up and sponsor its own lottery, operating only in Wales, to support some of the places and activities that I have mentioned, would it be able to establish such a competing lottery? If not, what would it be able to do for that purpose?

The financial aspects are important. We are told that the assembly will have no tax-varying powers—

Mr. Ron Davies

I can help the hon. Gentleman. The assembly will have no legislative powers, and will therefore not be able to legislate to create a statutory lottery like the one we now have.

Mr. Evans

As the Secretary of State will know, a lottery called Pronto has already been set up to support something. I want to know whether the assembly, with no legislative powers, would be able to back a lottery that would compete with the national lottery.

Will there be any limitations in the support of those activities? Local authorities in Wales will want to know. The assembly will be given money to hand to authorities; if it starts to take some of that money to itself, and to spend it to support such activities, authorities will have to make up the amount themselves somehow.

The Secretary of State has told us that the assembly will have no tax-varying powers, but local authorities may have to make up the shortfall by raising the council taxes paid by people living in Wales. Until the Secretary of State can give us the answers, the people of Wales will fear that tax increases will be brought in through the back door.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy)

I oppose amendment No. 212 which proposes to leave out on page 73, "The Welsh language". To seek to remove that is a gross insult to the people of Wales, Welsh speaking or non-Welsh speaking, and to the intelligence of hon. Members. When I saw the proposal to remove the Welsh language from the functions of the Welsh assembly, I could not believe my eyes. Perhaps I am naive in thinking that the Conservative party has at last realised that the Welsh language exists, but if Opposition Members have come to that view, I applaud them.

Last week and today, we have spent many hours discussing social services, agriculture, health, rural affairs and many other issues. The one issue that is unique to Wales is the Welsh language. It is not a matter for Scotland, Northern Ireland or England and it is a gross insult to the people of Wales for anyone to suggest that iaith y nefoedd, the language of heaven, should not be a function of the assembly.

9.45 pm

I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) said about my predecessor, now Lord Roberts of Conwy. I do not accuse the hon. Gentleman of lying, but I hope that he and his hon. Friends paid attention to what Lord Roberts said in the past couple of weeks and that they will take his advice. I doubt whether Lord Roberts has said that he thinks that the Welsh language should not be a function of the national assembly of Wales.

In an Adjournment debate on Thursday, hon. Members spoke about the power cuts at Christmas and the central issue of communications. Hon. Members related the problems that were faced by the people of north Wales in trying to get people on the other end of the telephone to understand the problems and to recognise the parts of north Wales that were affected. Of all functions, the Welsh language is the one which should be included. I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Mr. Swayne

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) presented an entirely one-sided picture when he spoke about a Wales in which hundreds of thousands of people were thwarted by geography and engineering problems and unable to satisfy their demand for Welsh television. Perhaps I could set the record straight by relating the experience of my family, which is as Welsh as any of those who are sitting below the Gangway. They hail from Y Fenni in Monmouthshire, but moved there from Abergwaun in Pembrokeshire.

The family are beset by all sorts of geographical and engineering problems, but of a different kind because they do not want to receive Welsh television; they want to receive television from the rest of the kingdom. They have used their ingenuity, initiative, skill and engineering ability to overcome the problems. They did not sit back and bleat in the expectation that an assembly with vast funds at its disposal would solve the problems for them.

Mr. Ron Davies


Mr. Rhodri Morgan


Mr. Davies

Perhaps my hon. Friend will seek to intervene if he feels the need to speak on this matter.

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) when he moved his amendment. There is obviously a strong case for broadcasting to be included in the assembly's responsibilities. Broadcasting is important in Wales and there is a distinctive broadcasting agenda.

As I said to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) in an intervention, the starting principle for devolution was the need to transfer to the assembly the powers currently vested in me. Broadcasting is not one of the powers invested in me, so the Government decided that it would not be appropriate to make that fairly substantial shift of responsibility from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the Welsh Office. That is why the Bill does not contain a provision for broadcasting to be transferred to the assembly.

I can tell the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who raised this particular point with me, that substantial broadcasting responsibilities will go to the assembly. For example, there will be a general power to debate, and that will extend to making representations. I have no doubt that the assembly will want to exercise that power in respect of the Welsh institutions of the BBC, S4C and HTV.

Mr. Wigley

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify whether the general powers to which he referred will be fine tuned so that specific powers are given to the assembly to call people to give evidence or to answer questions? Will it be in the assembly's power to invite people from the world of broadcasting, especially from the Broadcasting Council for Wales, to give evidence before a committee of the assembly?

Mr. Davies

There will be a general power to invite any bodies or persons that the assembly sees fit to invite. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) finds it amusing that people in Wales should want to consider the quality of our broadcasting. I assure him that it is an important matter.

Mr. Ancram


Mr. Davies

I will give way in a moment, but first I want to reply in full to the right hon. Member for Caernarfon.

The power of summons will not be given, but the power to invite certainly will be. There will also be additional functions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will consult the assembly about broadcasting appointments in Wales, just as he consults me at present. It will be a statutory provision. We will introduce an order under clause 31 specifying the members of S4C and the BBC national governor for Wales as appointments about which the assembly must be consulted. In addition, we will ensure that the concordat that will be agreed with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will cover other broadcasting issues of special relevance to Wales.

Mr. Ancram

The right hon. Gentleman rightly extolled the virtues of Welsh television broadcasters. I understand that they do not presently fall within his remit or sphere of influence. However, he is talking about only the first draft order before the first elections for the Welsh assembly. Will he say whether, after that, he would be prepared to transfer broadcasting to the assembly?

Mr. Davies

Certainly I have no proposals, and neither do the Government, to do so. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, because we debated the matter at some length earlier, clause 21 provides a mechanism for that, if the Government of the day so wish. The assembly will be a substantial body. Broadcasting is adequately dealt with within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and I have no proposals for it to be devolved to the assembly.

In view of the endorsement of our proposals in the general election and in the referendum, the Government cannot accept amendments Nos. 20A and 211. On amendment No. 221, the draft transfer of functions order rightly implies that the assembly should have responsibility for the Welsh language. It is of great importance in Wales and it is right that the assembly should have responsibility for it. Indeed, I was amazed by the Opposition's proposal that one of the specific functions that the Welsh assembly should not be given is responsibility for the Welsh language.

I listened carefully to the remarks of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley about Lord Roberts. I have to tell him that there is enormous admiration, on both sides of the Committee, for the work that Lord Roberts did in fathering the Welsh Language Act 1993 and piloting it through the House. If the hon. Gentleman wants to learn any lessons from Lord Roberts, one should be how to approach the question of devolution.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley has accepted that the people of Wales have voted for devolution. He has accepted also that the House's role is now to ensure not that devolution is somehow blocked or frustrated but that we all combine as best we can to ensure that the legislation that ultimately emerges from the process is the best possible legislation and that the assembly, once established, is the best possible assembly. I have no doubt that if he discusses that with Lord Roberts, he will find that that is the one very clear message which Lord Roberts wishes to give to the Conservative party.

Mr. Evans

When the Bill goes to the other place, will the Secretary of State have a word with his noble Friends to ensure that they consider very carefully any amendments to the Bill tabled by Lord Roberts?

Mr. Davies

In the other place, unlike this Committee, everyone listens to what everyone else says.

I shall now deal with amendments Nos. 221 and 83. The wording of clause 33, on what the assembly can achieve, is realistic. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley asked about the use of the word promote. Using "promote" would lead to confusion. The word appropriate is the correct one in the context of the clause.

There may be many instances in which the assembly might be sympathetic to a cause and think it reasonable to offer support. However, it might remain inappropriate for it so to do. There are many worthwhile causes, such as health, education, social services and the environment. However, I suspect that without unlimited resources, which the assembly clearly will not have, it will frequently find itself in situations in which it considers it reasonable but not appropriate to support activities.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley referred specifically to clause 33 and asked about limitations. The only limitation is the provision in the Bill that The assembly may do anything it considers appropriate". "Appropriate" is an inherently limiting term. It indicates what a public body should do—for example, supporting an exhibition or purchasing a manuscript—and what it should not do, such as buying a front row for rugby games. Inserting "reasonable"—which is the point of amendment No. 83—misses the point.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley asked about the lottery. Support includes financial support, but the cost of using clause 33 will fall to the assembly and will have to be met from the Welsh block. In direct answer to the question that he asked about a lottery, the assembly cannot establish a lottery. Operation of lotteries is strictly controlled by primary legislation. As I told him, in the absence of primary legislation, the assembly will not be able to sponsor a lottery.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan

I hope that the Minister will have time to deal with Plaid Cymru's amendment No. 205, which specifically refers to the need to support not only the Welsh language but those variants of the English language that are in common use in Wales. I am thinking particularly of dialects of the English language such as that used in parts of Swansea, where everyone says "clar-eye-fi-ca-tion".

Mr. Davies

I will reflect on that point, although I cannot guarantee that I will table an amendment to deal with it.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley mentioned amendment No. 205, and the Committee considered also amendment Nos 155 and 271. All I can say is that schedule 2 lists the fields in which I must consider transferring functions to the assembly.

The only statutory function that I have in the arts—the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Caernarfon and other hon. Members—is specified in section 26 of the National Lottery etc. Act 1993, which concerns policy directions to the Arts Council of Wales on the use of lottery funds. I have a range of other functions, but that is the only statutory function.

There is provision in clause 33 for the assembly to do anything that it considers appropriate to support museums, art galleries or libraries; buildings of historical, architectural or archaeological interest; the Welsh language and arts; and crafts, sport and other cultural activities. I hope that that reassures the right hon. Member for Caernarfon. Clause 33 really is a very wide provision.

Clause 33(d), dealing with cultural activities, would cover any support that the assembly considered appropriate to foster languages other than the Welsh language that are in use in Wales. I am not sure whether the Swansea English dialect would fall into that category, although I have already assured my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) that I shall closely examine the matter.

I hope that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire—who tabled the amendment—will reflect on the fact that we have had a reasonable debate. There are sound reasons why the Government have introduced the legislation as it is. The assembly is properly empowered, and I would not wish it now to be given the message that the Committee was divided on the extent of its powers to deal with culture and other matters.

Mr. Livsey

I have heard what the Secretary of State has said, particularly in relation to broadcasting in Wales. We have had a substantial and constructive debate, and therefore I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Wigley

I beg to move amendment No. 160, in schedule 2, page 73, line 19, at end insert— '2B. Council of the Isles issues.'.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 159, in schedule 2, page 73, line 22, at end insert— '5A. European affairs.'.

Mr. Wigley

The amendment raises the question of the council of the isles, which has come on to the agenda since the Bill was published. I would be glad to know the Government's thinking on the matter.

It being Ten o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN put the Questions necessary to dispose of the remaining proceedings on schedule 2, clauses 23 to 29, schedule 3 and clauses 30 to 44, pursuant to the Order [15 January] and the Resolution [20 January].

Question, That the amendment be made, put and negatived.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

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