§ Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)
I beg to move amendment No. 53, in page 77, line 17, at end insert—'7A. The British Council.'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 54, in page 77, line 22, at end insert—'12A. The Commission for Racial Equality.'.No. 55, in page 77, line 26, at end insert—'16A. The Economic and Social Research Council.'.No. 56, in page 77, line 26, at end insert—'16B. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.'.No. 57, in page 77, line 27, at end insert—' I7A. The Equal Opportunities Commission.'.No. 58, in page 77, line 33, at end insert—'2IA. The Health and Safety Commission.'.No. 59, in page 77, line 33, at end insert—'21B. The Health and Safety Executive.'.No. 60, in page 78, line 3, at end insert—'27A. The Medical Research Council.'.No. 61, in page 78, line 12, at end insert— 716'35A. The Natural Environment Research Council.'.No. 62, in page 78, line 13, at end insert—'36A.The Office of Electricity Regulation.'.No. 63, in page 78, line 13, at end insert —'36B. The Office of Gas Supply.'.No. 64, in page 78, line 13, at end insert —'36C. The Office of the National Lottery.'.No. 65, in page 78, line 13, at end insert —' 36D The Office of the Rail Regulator.'.No. 66, in page 78, line 13, at end insert —' 36E. The Office of Passenger Rail FranchisingNo. 67, in page 78, line 13, at end insert —'.36F. The Office of TelecommunicationsNo. 68, in page 78, line 13, at end insert —' 36G. The Office of Water Services.No. 69, in page 78, line 13, at end insert —'36H The Post Office.'.No. 70, in page 78, line 21, at end insert —'43A. The Teacher Training AgencyNo. 71, in page 78, line 21, at end insert —' 43B. The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.'.
§ Mr. Dafis
The amendments would add those bodies to the list of bodies in schedule 4. I thank the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) and for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) for adding their names to the amendments: that is much appreciated.
One of the reasons for establishing the assembly was to make quangos in Wales democratically accountable. Under schedule 4, only some of the quangos will be covered by clause 73. They can be required to attend the proceedings of the assembly to give evidence and to produce documents that are in their possession or under their control.
Will the Secretary of State explain why the list in schedule 4 does not include the bodies mentioned in the amendments? It is not because they need to be free from political influence: they do not belong to the same category as those listed in part IV of schedule 3.
I have tabled the amendments to emphasise how important it will be for the assembly to have a serious influence over the activities of some of the powerful bodies referred to in the amendments. It is more important that the assembly should be able to influence the Rail Regulator, the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising or the water and electricity regulators than the Apple and Pear Research Council. We do not have a significant apple and pear industry in Wales. I should like to see it expand, but at present those other bodies are more important.
It is much more important for the assembly to be able to call the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council than to be able to call the Apple and Pear Research Council. I have to admit to a glaring, inexplicable omission in our list: I have left out the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. That is the main funding body for the Institute for Grassland and Environmental Research, and it is the only research institute that is located in Wales. My contention that it should be on the list is now on the record.
717 The assembly will want to know why, apart from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, research council spending in Wales is so low. Is it because the standard of research in Wales is too low? If so, the assembly should know why, and it would be reasonable for the research councils to advise it on how that could be rectified. Is it because of cronyism? Research councils are, by and large, located in south-east England, so perhaps that has something to do with the fact that research funding in Wales is so low. It will be important for the assembly to check on the extent to which research priorities are relevant to Welsh needs.
It will be essential for the assembly to maintain a dialogue with research councils to develop a strategy for high-quality higher education and research in Wales.
§ Mr. David Hanson (Delyn)
Does the hon. Gentleman envisage circumstances in which, if asked, any of those bodies would not supply evidence or comment to the Welsh assembly?
§ Mr. Dafis
I shall come to that issue.
The assembly has a duty to promote equal opportunities, yet the Equal Opportunities Commission cannot be required to appear before it or its relevant Committee. It has a duty to have regard to sustainable development, yet it cannot require Opraf to appear before it, and that could be essential to the development of a sustainable transport policy. Other bodies also have a key role in sustainable development.
The assembly can call the Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee, but it cannot call the Post Office, whose actions are crucial for accessibility and for the development of communications; the same applies to the Office of Telecommunications. The assembly will want to consult the British Council on how Wales is projected and Welsh culture is interpreted overseas.
I imagine that, like the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), the Secretary of State will say that those bodies will be prepared to appear before the assembly, and that the assembly's status as an elected national body for Wales will give it influence. I want the Secretary of State to say what the hon. Gentleman almost said: that it would be unthinkable and unacceptable for those bodies, when it came to the crunch, not to behave in exactly the same way as those listed in schedule 4.
If the assembly is to set about the task of building a new and successful Wales, it must have the power to influence the bodies that have, in turn, such an influence on life in Wales.
§ Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)
The Liberal Democrats support the amendments. They are not controversial, and the assembly's structures are such that we should expect it to call those bodies to give evidence. That would be helpful, because it would establish a coherent relationship between the assembly and the bodies in question. Some of them may find themselves in a difficult situation, and would welcome the fact that the assembly can invite them to important debates on topics such as the national lottery or the railways, which are 718 often controversial. The assembly would appreciate the importance of having the mandatory right to summon the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, given the tensions that that industry arouses.
The Minister has shown great magnanimity in accepting Opposition proposals on a Cabinet structure, and we hope that he will show the same generosity of spirit, common sense and inclusivity and accept the amendments.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
Has the hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to clause 74, which gives the Secretary of State the power by order to add to this list as and when? The Food Standards Agency, which deals with matters of considerable concern to us, could be added at some future date. Does not that clause satisfy the aims of the amendments?
§ Mr. Livsey
I am comparing yesterday's amendment paper with today's. The amendment referring to the British Waterways Board has somehow disappeared. I am sure that my hon. Friend would be concerned about that, because there is a canal in his constituency, as there is in mine. I am in dispute at the moment, because water is leaking into the houses of some of my constituents. I hope that the British Waterways Board will also be added to the list in schedule 4.
§ Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)
I understand the points raised by Opposition Members. The organisations listed in amendments Nos. 53 to 71 are of great importance to Wales and the effective functioning of the assembly. Organisations such as the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality will be fundamental to its day-to-day work as they already work closely with local government and other bodies to provide equal opportunities for everyone in Wales. It is absolutely essential for the assembly to have a good working relationship with such bodies and, by tabling the amendments, Opposition Members have flagged up that point. No doubt, other bodies will participate in joint projects with groups within the assembly.
As the bodies mentioned in the amendments are not the responsibility of the assembly and many of them have a wider British remit, it may not be possible to list them in the schedule. However, the amendments have flagged up the tremendous importance of the assembly working closely with such bodies as they will help determine the quality of the assembly and the way in which it will operate. Although I support the spirit behind the amendments, it may not be appropriate to add them to the schedule.
§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)
There are 10 minutes left and I congratulate the hon. Member for 719 Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) on introducing the amendments [Interruption.] I apologise for mispronouncing his constituency—this is not my lucky Report stage.
The amendments add to schedule 4 a list of bodies, increasing the number of organisations subject to summons by the assembly. The Opposition share the objective that the assembly should have a good working relationship with all such bodies. However, it seems a curious way of starting a good relationship on the right foot to require the power to summons them by force to meetings of the assembly.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) that the amendments are not controversial. In schedule 4, the Government have sought to ensure that bodies that are answerable or partly answerable to the assembly—those that fall under its competence—can be summoned to give evidence to the assembly, but that those that are answerable to the United Kingdom Parliament or are not in the purview of the assembly's powers should not be summonable. That seems a good principle to observe. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) drew attention to the importance of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality, but seemed to agree that making them summonable to the Welsh assembly was not necessary in enabling them to influence the assembly's work, nor in enabling the assembly to influence their work.
At no point in the White Paper is there any suggestion that the assembly should have the power other than to invite bodies to give evidence to its meetings. In that respect, the Bill seems to be a perfectly reasonable fulfilment of the White Paper; therefore, we shall not support the amendments.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
I well appreciate why the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) wanted to add to the list of bodies that can be summoned to give evidence to the assembly on their affairs and activities. The amendments propose that 19 or 20 bodies—or 20 or 21 bodies, depending on which day's amendment paper one has—should be added to the list. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) pointed out, we have to bear it in mind that schedule 4 lists bodies for which the Secretary of State has a statutory responsibility, and which will therefore become part of the assembly's responsibility. As the bodies listed in the amendments are not the responsibility of the Secretary of State, they will not fall within the ambit of the assembly when it is created next year. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North pointed out, that is not to say that the assembly will not have an interest in their work or that bodies such as the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality will take no interest in the work of the assembly.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion challenged me to suggest that it would be unthinkable for such bodies not to respond positively to a request from the assembly to give evidence on their work in Wales. It is very likely that they would want to respond positively to show what they were doing in Wales and, in some cases, to offer the assembly advice on implementing policies to meet their needs and demands.
720 The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) mentioned that the British Waterways Board seems to have fallen off the list, perhaps into the hole through which water is leaking into his constituents' homes. I am sure that we can retrieve it, but we cannot accept the amendments.
§ Mr. Griffiths
As the House knows, over the years since the Welsh Office was created, various responsibilities have been added to its portfolio by Conservative and Labour Governments. If, at some future date, the Government of the day decided that other duties should be vested in the Secretary of State for Wales or the Welsh assembly, that could happen.
§ Mr. Griffiths
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was just passing me the relevant part of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion raised an important point about the spending of research councils. That is certainly a matter in which the assembly could justifiably take an interest.
Although, for legal and technical reasons—despite the fluidity of the debate—I have to consign the amendments to a watery grave, I hope that the spirit in which we have debated them has demonstrated that the assembly is likely to receive a positive response in terms of inviting bodies to give evidence to it.
§ Mr. Dafis
I am grateful to the Minister for his useful response to the amendments and his confirmation that, in future, bodies can be made accountable under the provisions of clause 74. That negates the point made by the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), who suggested that, if the assembly had the right to call upon certain bodies to give evidence, that would destroy the good relationship between the assembly and those bodies. Although some of the bodies already mentioned in schedule 4 have a UK-wide remit, that is no reason for not making them accountable to the assembly. That is a point to bear in mind for the future.
The assembly should invite such bodies to give evidence not only to find out what they are doing, but in certain circumstances to tell them in no uncertain terms what they ought to be doing in Wales and to urge them to develop strategies that are compatible with those of the assembly so that it can implement policies accordingly.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
I share the hon. Gentleman's concern. There are problems with Opraf, for example. Despite the fact that I and many other hon. Members pleaded about connection requirements, Opraf decided to do nothing. As a result, it is almost impossible to catch a convenient train between north and south Wales.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.