§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Further considered on Report.
Baroness ELLES moved Amendment No. 55:
Page 8, line 37, at end insert ("and any exercise of such powers by the leader or by a sub-committee shall be reported to the relevant committee at its next meeting thereafter")
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we consider that this Amendment is a useful reminder to the Welsh Assembly, and indeed to the public who will be following the proceedings of the Welsh Assembly, that a good many of the functions and powers which have been devolved to the Assembly may in turn be devolved by the Assembly to a committee and in turn by that committee to a leader of that committee, which means that the leader on his or her own can take important decisions and exert a considerable power over many of the devolved areas without being answerable to anybody, so far as one can see, either to the Assembly or to the committee, or to have any publication of what he or she has done. This does not seem to be a democratic process in following the general principle which we seem to hear so much about nowadays, open government.
§ I am not saying, of course, that the leader will take decisions on the quiet and that they will not be known to the public, but as the Bill now stands it is perfectly possible for the leader of a committee to do so. Without putting a great many restraints on such a leader, that decisions have to be taken with a minimum number of people attending the committee, or that there should be a quorum, or anything like that, it seems a reasonable demand that he or she should at least have to report after such a decision has 1106 been taken or a power has been exercised, that the committee of which he is leader should be advised of the action taken. That seems a perfectly reasonable and sensible precaution to take, particularly when a new body is being set up with powers and functions in respect of which although they may be clearly defined, it will certainly be difficult to devise the dividing line between what can and what cannot be done. Therefore, it seems to me this is a reasonable check to demand from an executive body such as the Welsh Assembly. I beg to move.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, the noble Baroness always speaks with moderation and persuasively, but I regret to say that we do not see this matter in exactly the same way as she does. It is reasonable to expect that when powers have been derogated by subject committees to their leaders, or indeed to sub-committees, those leaders or subcommittees will report back to the subject committee on the exercise of such powers. It is really unnecessary to provide specifically in the Bill for something which can be expected to happen anyway without a statutory provision I do not think it is necessary to clutter up this Bill with quite as much detail as this. We have to leave it to the good sense of the Assembly. We must assume that they are reasonable people.
I do not believe that a provision of this sort is in all the circumstances absolutely necessary. This is a matter which is entirely within the hands of the particular subject committee; if they wish to have regular and frequent reports of this kind they can require the leader or the subcommittee to make them as a condition of derogation. Indeed it would be open to the subject committee to revoke the act of derogation at any time; they could say, "If you want to have this particular responsibility derogated to you, it can only be on certain clearly defined criteria". I see no reason for imposing a statutory requirement of this kind. We have to leave this to the good sense of the Assembly. We must assume, as I think we all do, that they will be a group of perfectly responsible and experienced people. To go into this amount of detail is in all the circumstances rather unnecessary.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, the noble Lord has given a perfectly reasonable reply, and I follow his argument, but one has to remember, before we conclude on this Amendment, that considerable sums of money are going to come within the powers of these leaders. I am not saying, of course, that they are going to be corrupt or that they will be tempted to apply these very large sums in a way that is not proper. But I know of no elected body which allocates to one of its elected members powers over such sums as this Welsh Assembly will have. Another place does not have these powers. No decisions can be taken on the allocation of any sum of money without the concurrence of Parliament. No individual could take a decision without being subject to Parliamentary control in another place.
In this instance, apparently, a leader has no control over him whatsoever when disbursing these large sums of money. I am not going to press this Amendment tonight, but it is something to which the Welsh public should be alerted, that somebody who is appointed leader of a committee will have within his or her hands considerable powers and enormous sums of money which can be allocated and disbursed in a way over which there is no evident control in the Bill as it stands now. I would like to leave it at this for the time being, but I think this has been a useful airing of this particular difficulty. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdraw.
§ [Amendment No. 56 not moved.]
§ Clause 17 [The Executive Committee.]
Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 57:
Page 9, leave out line 8.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now come to the question of the naming of certain officials. We are returning here, as is normal on Report stage, to ground which we have covered in the Committee stage. We are approaching the matter, by means of this Amendment and Amendment No. 59, by a different route. I do not doubt that my noble friend Lord Digby will wish to speak to his Amendment, No. 58, at the same time, and he will forgive me if I do the same.1108
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I think Amendments Nos. 57, 58, 59 and 60 are related so directly that we could take them all together.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, I am sorry that No. 60 escaped my notice; that also is a linked Amendment. At the Committee stage a good deal of warmth of expression was elicited by the question whether the presiding officer should be named as such in the Bill, and it was decided by your Lordships Committee that he should not be. When we were debating the Chief Executive at an earlier stage various alternative names were put forward to that term, which many of us are still convinced is profoundly misleading. The chief executive, as far as I know, throughout Wales is generally regarded as being a senior permanent official of an elected body and not a member of it.
The last sentence of Clause 17(1) starting at the semicolon in line 6, at present reads:and the person named by the Assembly as chairman of the Executive Committee shall also be its leader and shall be known as the Chief Executive".That is telling the Welsh what they are to call the person holding this office. The first Amendment, No. 57, deletes those wordsand shall be known as the Chief Executive".The Amendment No. 59 deletes the reference to him in the following subsection and inserts in its place simply the term "its leader".
I do not doubt—because one has come to depend so absolutely upon the powerful performance of the noble Lord opposite at the Despatch Box—that he will adduce very considerable arguments to persuade us from this course of action, and I shall address myself to them in a moment. In the interim, I will suggest to my noble friend Lord Digby that to insert the term "Executive Chairman", while it may remove what we regard as the embarrassing confusion implied in the role by calling him something else, will not in fact give to the Welsh the power to make their decision themselves. That they should be given the power to do so I think we are all persuaded by the powerful arguments brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, at the Committee stage. If I may quote from him col. 1170, 1109 6th June, when we were discussing the question of the presiding officer, the noble Lord said:I think that the Government would consider it altogether too paternalistic to seek to insist that any particular title such as "President", "Speaker" or indeed "chairman" were used. I very much hope that this issue will not be pressed"—and indeed it was not.The Welsh Assembly can indeed adopt the form of words suggested by the noble Lord, but we think that this is a matter for the Assembly to decide. Perhaps I may finish with a final low blow":and that may he appropriate at this juncture—we do not believe that the gentleman in Whitehall necessarily knows best!".The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, was so persuasive on the first occasion that he has persuaded us on the second that this is the proper course to adopt, and I expect that he will commend us for anticipating his wishes with this Amendment. I beg to move.
§ The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Lord Segal)
My Lords, I must inform the House that if Amendment No. 57 is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 58.
§ Lord DIGBY
My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend as regards this Amendment, although if it is passed and accepted by your Lordships it means that my own Amendment will not be called. My reason for tabling the Amendment is that I dislike the term "Chief Executive" On many occasions we are told that we should accept matters decided in another place because the Members of another place have been elected. In this instance I think that a number of your Lordships probably know rather more about local government than people in another place, and certainly some—myself included—have been elected to that particular position. We object not just because of the difference between a paid and an unpaid office or the difference between an elected and an appointed office, but because of the difference between a political person and a non-political person.
It is clear in all local government circles that the chief executive is the officer who runs the council under the direction of the elected members of that council. He is, 1110 as all civil servants or local government officers must be, non-political. In this case lie will be an elected member. He will be leader of a political Party and therefore a political animal. As far as I can see, the only precedent for this, which has been quoted, is in the proposed Executive in Northern Ireland. I should remind the House that at the time that was proposed councils in England and Wales had clerks and no chief executives. Since then we have had a new reorganisation and everyone understands that the chief executive is a non-political person. There is confusion enough in the Bill without adding to it. Therefore, I hope that the Government will see their way either to leaving the Assembly to decide this matter—I have no wish to dictate to the Welsh what they should do—or to accepting my Amendment.
My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Digby, because I think that it is very infra dig. that we should have to tell the Welsh Assembly what it should call its chief executive or whatever. Throughout our discussions on the Bill we have been told that we are rather downgrading the Assembly. Under Clauses 10 and 11 the Assembly may do anything it considers appropriate, and may make arrangements for this, that and the other. Under Clause 31 it can settle what Members of the Assembly will he paid. Therefore, it seems to me rather foolish that it cannot settle what will be the title of its chief executive, or whatever name appears in the Bill at present. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will ensure that the Welsh people have a chance to choose the title of their own leader. I have tried on one or two occasions, especially, as regards the tourist Amendment, to give the Welsh Assembly more powers. Therefore, I am being quite consistent when I suggest that it should be allowed to make its own choice as regards who will lead it in future, or what the title of the officer should be.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Elton, began his remarks with such a generous tribute to me for what I had said in Committee, I feared that all was not well, and indeed so it proved. He quoted what I had said-they were rather felicitously phrased words which I delivered on that 1111 occasion—explaining our attitude as regards the position of the presiding officer. We have spent a fair amount of time considering this particular point and we have come to the conclusion that it is right to leave the Bill as it is drafted.
The noble Lord has argued that the Assembly should be left to determine the title of the chairman of its Executive Committee, but in our view that would not be appropriate. This is a different issue from that which arose as regards the presiding officer. The Chief Executive will clearly be the most influential member of the Welsh Assembly. As its foremost member it is right that the title should have the authority of statutory provision. Some noble Lords have implicitly recognised this need for a title to be written into the Bill by supporting propositions to change it. As to that, my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge agreed during the Committee stage to think further about the title of "Chief Executive" in the light of the alternative proposals, including "Executive Chairman", then put to him. However, as I have indicated, on reflection the Government remain of the view—contrary to what several noble Lords said during the last debate and contrary, I fear, to what they have said today—that there is no real danger of the title being confused in the minds of the Welsh people with that of the senior, non-elected official of local government bodies.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, acknowledged in the earlier debate, "Chief Executive" has certainly become a fashionable title in the fairly recent past. It is used in many walks of life—as often in industry and commerce as in local government—to designate the senior member of an organisation responsible to the board or other governing body. In that sense, we think that it is a very suitable title for the head of the Executive Committee.
As regards the alternative (which has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Digby, "Executive Chairman" which has, if I may say so in a most friendly spirit, a certain Maoist ring about it) it lacks the ring of familiarity and solid tradition that surround the established title "Chief Executive". Moreover, the Chief Executive is to be the leader of the Executive as well as its chairman. Therefore, the alternative suggested is neither apt nor fully descriptive 1112 of his role. As I have indicated, we have considered this matter with some care. I recognise at once that it is perfectly easy to take a different view of the matter. However, for the reasons that I have given we have come back to the view that the term employed in the Bill is more appropriate than any alternative offered. Therefore, we think that it would be better to stay with this particular form of words.
§ Lord MOYNE
My Lords, may I suggest, coming as I do from Ireland, that the Assembly, while not a Parliament, is none the less intended to give expression to national culture. Very naturally in the Parliament of the Republic of Ireland they have chosen, for certain appointments, Irish names. Should we not give the Welsh the power to choose their own Welsh names if they wish to do so? Are we not otherwise thwarting the purpose of the Assembly?
§ Lord MOLSON
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene, but it appears to me to be inappropriate that the word "Executive", which normally is applied to civil servants who carry out the orders of the Legislalature, should be applied to the chairman who is appointed by the Legislature. If this is to be a genuine case of devolution, surely we should try to preserve the diffference between the legislative body and the executive body. It is of the utmost importance that the Executive should he maintained under the orders and control of the Legislature. The Legislature is popularly elected and I should have thought—although I hesitate to intervene on this point—that it is inappropriate to combine the words "Executive" and "Chairman"
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friends and to all noble Lords who have joined in this short but interesting debate. I am interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, had to say. He concluded by saying that, for the reasons he had given, he felt that the Bill should remain as it is. I must say that I did not find the reasons particularly compelling. He said that the term "Chief Executive" had recently become fashionable and proceeded to quote examples from industry. We, of course, are talking 1113 about politics and administration, where the traditions are older and none the less strong.
The noble Lord also said that the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Digby had a Maoist flavour. I am tempted to suggest that we might have a little cultural revolution; but then, of course, I recall what happened to those who took part in the Cultural Revolution and I withdraw the simile. It seems to me that as always the simile which is appropriate to our proceedings in this House is cricket. In this case we meet the noble Lord, Lord Harris, running smartly from east to west along the pitch scoring a run; as soon as
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 9 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 58 not moved.]
§ Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 59:1114
§ we decide that that is the direction which he wishes to pursue, we turn round and find him coming in the opposite direction with arguments totally contrary to those which he advanced at an earlier stage. I am not a cricketer; I am an oarsman; I have a certain irreverence for the game. I find the temptation to stick out my foot irresistible, and I am going to trip him up. I beg to move that Amendment No. 57 be agreed.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 57) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 61; Not-Contents, 44.1113
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Fortescue, E.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Gainford, L.||Pender, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Gridley, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Hanworth, V.||Redesdale, L.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Harvington, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Cockfield, L.||Hunt of Fawley, L.||Romney, E.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Killearn, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Long, V.||Sandys, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Loudoun, C.||Savile, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Margadale, L.||Seear, B.|
|Crathorne, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.||Sharples, B.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Middleton, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Molson, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Monson, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Tweeddale, M.|
|Digby, L.||Morris, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Mottistone, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Elles, B.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]||Ward of North Tyneside, B|
|Elton, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Moyne, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Newall, L.|
|Birk, B.||Howie of Troon, L.||Paget of Northampton, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Janner, L.||Parry, L.|
|Collison, L.||Kaldor, L.||Poasonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Kirkhill, L.||Segal, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Leonard, L.||Snow, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.(L. Chancellor)||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Stedman, B.|
|Fisher of Camden, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Lockwood, B.||Stone, L.|
|Gardiner, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Glenamara, L.||McCluskey, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.||Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]|
|Gregson, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Hale, L.||Morris of Borth-y-Gest, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Morris of Kenwood, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Oram, L.|
§ Page 9, line 10, leave out ("the Chief Executive") and insert ("its leader").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the second half of 57/59. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 60 not moved.]1115
§ Clause 21 [Party balance in committees]:
Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 61:
Page 10, line 22, leave out ("other than the Executive Committee").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I can claim responsibility for the drafting error which gives rise to the need for this Amendment. Your Lordships will recall that at the Committee stage we inserted a provision which subjected the Executive Committee to the requirements of Clause 21 as regards the balance of Parties. We did so by inserting the number "17" in the second line of the subsection, and 17 relates to the clause under which the Executive Committee is called into being. I am afraid that I failed to observe that the words "other than the Executive Committee", which neutralise the effect of that insertion, remained in the Bill. This Amendment is simply designed, therefore, as a drafting Amendment to correct that situation. I beg to move.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, we are not disposed to disagree with this Amendment given the fact that a requirement to ensure a Party balance in the Executive Committee was carried during the Committee stage, but we remain resolutely opposed to that. Our view is in no way conditioned, so far as this Amendment is concerned, by the fact that the Party opposite appear to have got a number of their supporters back from what I am sure was a series of most excellent dinners, and so have got their majority back once again.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, while I felicitate my noble friends on their return, I commiserate with the noble Lord on his friends eating at a greater distance from the Chamber. Of course, I never expect him to be persuaded by anything I say, but these frequently reiterated reservations are, I assure him, unnecessary.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 22 [Defamation]:
§ 9.3 p.m.
Lord MONSON moved Amendment No. 62:
Page 10, line 29, leave out from ("statement") to ("in").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is identical to one moved only six days ago by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, on the Third Reading of the Scotland Bill and which, after a short debate, was carried by the substantial majority of 43 votes, with support from various quarters of the House including, incidentally, at least one staunch pro-devolutionist who acted as Teller. So far as Wales is concerned, I did not think when we were discussing Clause 22 in Committee, and I do not think now, that there is any case for giving a non-legislative body like the Welsh Assembly absolute privilege as opposed to the qualified privilege which it would have automatically, as do other non-legislative bodies like the Greater London Council. This qualified privilege has hitherto been quite adequate to ensure free and unfettered discussion.
§ The Conservative Benches seemed to share my view the other day. However, when it came to a vote the Committee decided otherwise. It was, as so often happens, late at night, the Committee was thin, and therefore possibly not representative of the feelings of your Lordships' House as a whole. Nevertheless, the fact remains that there was a two-to-one majority in favour of retaining the absolute privilege clause, Clause 22 as it now is, in the Bill, so I am not seeking now to reverse this decision. I propose some thing much more modest, which I believe to be the very minimum necessary to safeguard the rights of the individual throughout the United Kingdom.
§ I should like to remind your Lordships again of an Early Day Motion in the other place on 19th June, when the honourable Member for Gillingham, Mr. Burden—a Conservative Member, as it so happens—drew the attention of the House to the fact that it was regrettable that there was apparently a growing tendency for some honourable Members, under the rules of privilege, to impugn the honour and integrity of others outside the House.
§ I am not remotely capable of matching the legal and constitutional expertise of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, so I shall not attempt to explain the effects of this Amendment in detail. In a nutshell, Clause 22, if left unaltered, will not only give the Welsh Assembly greater privileges than the Scottish Assembly, as the Scotland 1117 Bill now stands, but, even more important, greater privileges than those granted to either House of Parliament at Westminster. I believe that this would be quite unacceptable to your Lordships. I believe it would be unacceptable, too, to the other place, and indeed to the country as a whole. Here I should remind the House that the great majority of my noble friends on these Benches supported Lord Selkirk's Amendment. I beg to move.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has pointed out, this Amendment is identical with the one put down six days ago on Third Reading of the Scotland Bill by my noble friend Lord Selkirk, and was supported, very convincingly, by my noble friend Lord Colville. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, has already touched on the point of having a privilege clause for a body which is not legislative. I only make this point because during the earlier debates on this matter it was said that the Scottish Assembly needed this privilege because it was a legislative body.
Whatever the reasons, it is quite clear that the Welsh Assembly must have some protection. People speaking in it should have some protection, some privilege. The question is, how much? I do not think that this is the time to go into all the legal arguments which were put forward by my noble friend Lord Selkirk, but I think they were convincing, particularly in the point that the different Chambers and different bodies should not have different privileges. That is the real difficulty.
If you are going to give privileges to, for instance, the Scottish Assembly, then the Welsh Assembly privileges should not be different from those given to the Scottish Assembly. Whether they are more or less than the privileges given to another place I think is actually still in
§ doubt, because there was no very clear conclusion as to what, when they were inserted, was meant by the words, "whether oral or written". In order that the privileges which have been given to the Welsh Assembly should at least be on all fours and identical with those given to the Scottish Assembly, I beg to support this Amendment.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
As has been said, my Lords, I am afraid this is a case not only of déjà vu but of déjà entendu. I do not want to traverse the ground again. I am quite unrepentant in stating that the Scottish formula, using the phraseany statement (whether oral or written) made in proceedings of the Assembly".is right. The Assembly needs protection from the law of defamation and I think the better course would be to adhere to the language of "proceedings in Parliament", however imprecise that may be. Whatever lack of precision there may be about the boundries of the Parliamentary concept, I suggest that the Amendment would create even greater doubt and imprecision. It would read:any statement made in proceedings of the Assembly",and I should have thought that "any statement" would include statements both oral and written; and I wonder whether that is really in the contemplation of those who support the Amendment. If it is, we return to the same area of doubt as we are in already—but at least we have the respectability in the language of the Bill of following the language, as I submit, of proceedings in Parliament; and I oppose the Amendment for those reasons.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 62) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 58; Not-Contents, 47.1119
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||De La Warr, E.||Gridley, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Denham, L.||Harvington, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Derwent, L.||Hunt of Fawley, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Digby, L.||Killearn, L.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Drumalbyn, L.||Long, V.|
|Cockfleld, L.||Elles, B.||Loudoun, C.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Elton, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Faithfull, B.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Falkland, V.||Middleton, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Fortescue, E.||Molson, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Gainford, L.||Monson, L. [Teller.]|
|Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Rankeillour, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Morris, L.||Redesdale, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Rochdale, V.||Tweeddale, M.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]||Romney, E.||Vickers, B.|
|Sandford, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Moyne, L.||Sandys, L.||Ward of North Tyneside, B|
|Newall, L.||Savile, L.||Westbury, L.|
|O'Hagan, L.||Sharples, B.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Pender, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Parry, L.|
|Birk, B.||Howie of Troon, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Janner, L.||Seear, B.|
|Collison, L.||Kaldor, L.||Segal, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Kirkhill, L.||Snow, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Leonard, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Fisher of Camden, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Stone, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Lockwood, B.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Gardiner, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]|
|Glenamara, L.||McCIuskey, L.|
|Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Hale, L.||Morris of Borth-y-Gest, L.||White, B.|
|Hanworth, V.||Morris of Kenwood, L.||Winterbottom, L. [Teller.]|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Oram, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Clause 31 [Remuneration]:
Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 63:
Page 12, line 6, leave out ("Assembly") and insert ("Secretary of State")
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now come to the matter of the salaries of Members of the Assembly. I suggest that it might be to the convenience of the House if we were to discuss Amendments Nos. 63 to 68 en bloc because they form a coherent whole with one object in mind. The whole matter is made explicit if I explain the effect of the first of this series of Amendments. In Clause 31, the subject of which is remuneration, the first subsection at present reads:
There shall be paid to members of the Assembly such salaries and allowances as the Assembly may from time to time determine".
That is the meat of the matter. We are substituting for that:
There shall be paid to members of the Assembly such salaries and allowances as the Secretary of State may by order from time to time determine".
§ We could spend some time in going into the details of the workings of the rest of the Amendments and the implications thereof. But what interests your Lordships is a very simple question: it is 1120 whether or not the Assembly men should determine their own salaries and pensions. I do not doubt that the noble Lord opposite will be moved to make an impassioned appeal that the Assembly should be "trusted"—that is the word that is apt to come across the Table—to do this. I expect he will say that, after all, if they over-reward themselves they will pay the proper democratic price at the end of their term of office. It may not be a surprise to him to know that to some extent I concur with that view, but if I look to the position of our colleagues in another place I see the opposite danger arising. I see a Chamber for which, because of the sensitive nature of its decisions on its own payment, and their effect upon the economy and upon the standing of the House in the eyes of the public—who rightly regard those Members as the masters of the purse strings of Parliament—it never seems to be a convenient moment at which our honourable and right honourable friends can fix an appropriate reward for their services. I believe few people dispute that they are among the lowest rewarded assemblies of that nature in the world; and I think that few of us dispute that there are considerable disadvantages in this. But it is never politically the right moment to increase the salary of a politician if the decision is made by him.
§ Therefore, there are two dangers to guard against. One is the improper 1121 raising of salaries by people who, with considerable funds in their hands, may feel it right that they should reward themselves at a rate which others do not think right. On that the Welsh can rightly after the first session, express their own opinion; but we shall not thereby, and they shall not thereby, have got over the problem for good.
§ At the Committee stage we attempted to provide a peg upon which the salaries of the Assemblymen could be hung and could travel for the rest of time on the side of the Civil Service wagon, but that was thought to be inappropriate, for two reasons. One reason was that the salary peg that we chose, for example, was considerably higher than what many other people had in mind, and the other reason was that this was in itself a bad principle. I wished merely to get the Assembly out of at least one difficulty, if not two, and I am not bothered if this is not the method which noble Lords in Committee saw fit to adopt. That is a pity. I believe that there is much advantage in this method if only because it is an example which could be followed by another place. However, that opportunity has been denied us, and therefore I suggest that we choose another method which another place cannot adopt—because the other place is the superior body in this case—and which we feel should determine what the salaries and the pensions should be.
The Amendments provide not only that the determinations should be made by the Secretary of State, but that they should be made by a Parliamentary order. Amendment No. 68, which is the last in this series, says:
No order under this section shall be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by resolution of the House of Commons.".
It seems to us that that is the appropriate way to deal with the matter; that Parliament is the proper body to guard against these difficulties; and that because it is a money matter it is not appropriate that this House should carry out the determination.
§ I hope I have said enough to convince your Lordships that there is no element of patronisation or lack of trust here. I accept in general principle the arguments that the noble Lord advanced on 1122 this matter at the Committee stage. I hope I have also said enough to convince your Lordships that this is the proper way in which those who do not accept those arguments should solve the problem, and that it is also the proper way in which those who do accept the arguments should solve the problem. I beg to move.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I rejoice to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that there is no lack of trust so far as his noble friends and he are concerned with regard to the Welsh Assembly. On a number of occasions during the Committee stage and, I fear, also on Report, one has detected a certain lack of enthusiasm regarding the judgment of Members of the Welsh Assembly, and I believe that what we are now considering is another example of it. We discussed this matter during the Committee stage, and we came to the conclusion that it was not appropriate for the Secretary of State to make a judgment in this matter. I endeavoured at that time to explain why we took that view, which remains precisely our position. Our view is that the Assembly should have as much freedom as possible in deciding its procedures and other operational matters. We do not think it is appropriate, or indeed necessary, for the salaries or allowances of Assembly Members to be controlled in Westminster. We recognise that we will have to set the initial salaries, and indeed provision is made for that. Of course, somebody has to make it clear before the Assembly is set up what the initial salary is going to be. There was no dispute about that, because clearly somebody has to make it clear.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
No, I cannot tell the noble Lord what it is going to be. That is a matter which will be considered by the Secretary of State after the appropriate procedures have been gone through. No, I cannot indicate what that will be. But as was made clear, I think, by somebody during the discussion we had in Committee, it is obviously necessary for people who are going to run for election to know, roughly speaking, what the salary is going to be. That being so, it seems right that Parliament should decide that 1123 question. But, of course, once the Assembly is established, it should be for its Members to decide what salaries should be paid. Decisions on Members' salaries are, in our judgment, a matter for the Assembly, and neither Parliament nor the Secretary of State should be involved in what is essentially an internal matter for the Assembly itself.
We do not accept that necessarily it will be an embarrassment to the Assembly Members to have to decide what to pay themselves. Many people would argue that Members could be even more embarrassed by having imposed on them from outside a salary which might perhaps be higher than they would vote themselves. Indeed, it is only right to reflect in passing that the fact that Ministers make a decision about what allowances should be made as far as councillors are concerned does not spare members of local authorities from a great deal of criticism so far as this matter is concerned. I recognise that the Assembly is not a local authority, but it seems to me altogether surprising to hear it suggested that, simply because the Minister will make a decision on this matter, the Members of the Assembly will in no way whatever be criticised for whatever decision that Minister may make. As I pointed out, in the case of local authorities this is certainly not true.
Our view is that the Assembly will have responsibility for a very wide range of important matters affecting Wales, and in our view it would be quite out of keeping to deny it responsibility for fixing the salaries of Members in the light of its own assessments of its own likely workload—after all, who can know better what its likely workload will be than the Assembly itself?—and in the light of Welsh public opinion. We do not believe that an Amendment of this sort will in any way whatever improve the Bill. We think that the Assembly can be trusted to make a judgment of this sort, and, that being so, we are resolutely opposed to this Amendment.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
I strongly support my noble friend. If the Government, for the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, so very cogently explained, sets the first salary, it seems to me that that is going to be the yardstick. I honestly do not see that it is going to be 1124 very easy for the Welsh Assembly to make much of an adjustment to that salary—I am talking of the real world rather than the theoretical one—because it would be more than one might expect of even a Welshman, that it should put it down. Practically nobody in this country today personally organises a downgrading of their salary. If the Members were to put it up, then, as my noble friend has said, they would be back facing the same problem as the other place in our Parliament suffers from today.
So it seems to me that my noble friend's argument about the practicality of the situation is entirely a sensible one, and is one to be fully supported. I would suggest that, as with the Scotland Bill—and I have said this in relation to it—there is obviously going to be lots of room for amendment to the contents of this Bill after the Assembly has been set up and operating for about six years, long after most of us in the Chamber today have ceased to take an active part in politics. I said "most of us", not "all of us". When that happens there will be lots of time to adjust the various provisions of the Bill, and I am certain that it is going to be necessary. How can we get it all right first time? At this point of time the sensible thing to do is to support my noble friend's Amendment.
§ Baroness FAITHFULL
My Lords, may I ask for guidance on two things? One is what happens if there is a very big discrepancy between those paid in the Assembly and those at Westminster? Unless my noble friend's Amendment is carried are we going to legislate against a very big discrepancy? Secondly, who, in fact pays initially?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, the noble Baroness is looking at me. I have made it clear on a previous Amendment that, in view of the fact that during the proceedings on the Protection of Children Bill when exception was taken to people speaking more than once on Report, I do not intend to speak again. There was general agreement in the House on that occasion that it was inappropriate, and not in accord with the traditions of the House, to speak more than once. Therefore, there was no lack of courtesy in my not responding to the noble Baroness.
§ A noble Lord: My Lords, is it not possible to do all things by leave of the House?
§ Lord ELTON
Yes, my Lords, but it is also conventional at Report stage for noble Lords opposite to sit in pairs and if a point is missed by one then the other can take it. There is also the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack who could oblige.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, with the greatest respect the noble Lord must consult Hansard and consider what was said during the proceedings on the Protection of Children Bill. These matters were argued, and I undertook to draw this matter to the attention of the usual channels. The noble Baroness was in the House at that time and is aware of the point, and of the strong feelings that were expressed on that occasion.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, I am somewhat surprised by what the noble Lord has said. I will consult Hansard, but I should have thought that this was a matter for the Procedure Committee. I have been present at many Report stages of many Bills on this Front Bench and on the Back Benches and it has been the custom to deal with these things in tandem. I would expect to have a note passed to
§ me by one of my noble friends if I had missed a point.
§ But, my Lords, we will leave this point now. My noble friend Lady Faith-full will he able to obtain satisfaction through the post or at Third Reading. It is manifest that the decision on this must be taken in ignorance of what the sum recommended by the Secretary of State is going to be after whatever may be the appropriate procedures that have to be gone through before the decision is taken. Therefore, one approaches the situation with even more feeling that the decision should he left in the hands of Westminster. I must say that the indications that I get from Wales about what the Welsh people feel on this matter do not coincide with the indication that the noble Lord opposite gives of what his friends feel. We may be on safer ground here than he imagines. Therefore, for the many reasons adduced, and in order not to prolong further the procedure question, I intend to press the Amendment to a Division.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 63) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 67; Not-Contents, 45.1127
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Fortescue, E.||Newall, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Gainford, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Atholl, D.||Glenkinglas, L.||Pender, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gowrie, E.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Gridley, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Burton, L.||Harvington, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Hunt of Fawley, L.||Romney, E.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Killearn, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Sandys, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Long, V.||Savile, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Loudoun, C.||Sharples, B.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Lyell, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Margadale, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Middleton, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Molson, L.||Tweeddale, M.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Monson, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Vernon, L.|
|Digby, L.||Morris, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Morris of Borth-y-Gest, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Elles, B.||Mottistone, L.||Ward of North Tyneside, B|
|Elton, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]||Westbury, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Moyne, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Hanworth, V.|
|Birk, B.||Fisher of Camden, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Gaitskell, B.||Hatch of Lusby, L.|
|Collison, L.||Glenamara, L.||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Janner, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Gregson, L.||Kaldor, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Mishcon, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Leonard, L.||Morris of Kenwood, L.||Stone, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Oram, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Parry, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Seear, B.||Whaddon, L.|
|McCluskey, L.||Segal, L.||White, B.|
|McGregor of Durris, L.||Snow, L.||Winterbottom, L. [Teller.]|
|Milner of Leeds, L.||Stedman, B.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Lord ELTON moved Amendments Nos. 64 to 68:
§ Page 12, line 6, after ("may") insert ("by order")
§ Page 12, line 7, leave out from ("determine" to end of line 8.
§ Page 12, line 9, leave out (" Assembly") and insert ("Secretary of State")
§ Page 12, line 9, after ("may") insert ("by order")
Page 12, line 20, at end insert—
("(6) No order under this section shall he made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by resolution of the House of Commons.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have spoken to Amendments Nos. 64 to 68. If it is agreed by noble Lords opposite, and in the interests of the House, I beg leave to move them enbloc.
§ Clause 33 [Power of Secretary of State to prevent or require action]:
§ 9.41 p.m.
Baroness ELLES moved Amendment No. 68A:
Page 13, line 15, leave out from ("Wales") to ("but") in line 16.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this particular Amendment is put down really to help us to understand how far the functions and powers of the Welsh Assembly are going to extend. I know this matter has been discussed very widely, both in the Committee stage of this Bill and also during the Report and Third Reading stages of the Scotland Bill. But the powers and functions of the Welsh Assembly are not on all fours with those of the Scottish Assembly, so that we have to pay a little more attention in this regard.
§ That is because the Scottish Assembly has now had its activities restricted to the confines of the territory of Scotland, through Amendments which were introduced during the various stages of the 1128 Scotland Bill. They, of course, will be passing legislation, whereas the Welsh Assembly will be passing not primary legislation but secondary legislation under enabling Acts passed by the United Kingdom Parliament. Therefore what one really wants to find out is that limits are imposed on the Welsh Assembly in exerting their powers and functions so as not to involve them in what might be called cross-Border activities.
§ If one looks at Clause 33 of the Bill, the Secretary of State is given certain powers to override the functions of the Welsh Assembly in certain specific circumstances. In Clause 33(1)(a) it says quite clearly (and I think this is easy to understand) that if the Assembly proposes to take a perfectly legitimate action—one which is not ultra vires but one within its powers—that action might affect a reserved matter, either directly or indirectly, in which case the Secretary of State would have the right to override that particular action.
§ There are two conditions attached to this. Although the Secretary of State has the right to do so, it must be "desirable in the public interest". So that he has to take that into account. It is not automatic, the minute the Assembly exercises its powers in a certain direction which affects a reserved matter, that the Secretary of State has to override it. On the contrary, he has to consider whether it is desirable in the public interest to exert that authority. The "public interest" has not been defined, and he might decide that something is in the public interest of the people of Wales, but not in the public interest of the people of the United Kingdom. There is nothing in the Bill which defines the "public interest".
§ But the definition of a "reserved matter", which is what will be affected by a perfectly legitimate act of the Welsh Assembly, causes my noble friends and myself a certain amount of doubt and we should like clarification. The definition of a "reserved matter" is spelled out in subsection (3) of Clause 33, and paragraph (b) states that it is something on 1129 which the Assembly has no power to act. That might be a matter of defence, trade, foreign affairs or anything else which is not devolved to the Welsh Assembly. But paragraph (a) uses the words "which concerns Wales".
It is reasonable that the Welsh Assembly will be interested in matters which concern Wales, and they will have to be matters on which the Assembly has no power to act. But I should be grateful if we could be told what happens when a reserved matter, over which the Assembly has no power to act and which concerns Wales, also has side effects or spills over into another part of the United Kingdom. I wonder whether the words,
whether or not it also concerns another part of the United Kingdom
have any significance in the definition of a "reserved matter" and, if so, what. If one were to remove those words, what would be the effect on the definition of a "reserved matter"? Would it enable the Welsh Assembly to exercise its functions with respect to certain issues which do not at all concern Wales, and which concern only England?
For example, it might be decided to remove some hospitals from the Borders of Wales, which would involve people who were ill having to use hospitals in Hereford. Perhaps some schools might be closed down and children have to go into a neighbouring county within England. This could happen as a result of a perfectly legitimate decision by the Welsh Assembly, and it could affect another part of the United Kingdom. So I should like to know whether the noble and learned Lord can say what value he attaches to the words in subsection (3), which my Amendment seeks to leave out:
whether or not it also concerns any other part of the United Kingdom".
Secondly, does he consider that it is clear in the Bill that the Welsh Assembly has no power to take any action, or to exercise any function, which will affect any other part of the United Kingdom, without the Secretary of State being able to exercise his overriding powers under Clause 33, or under any other part of the Bill? Finally, there is one reason why I am more concerned than before; and it is one of the facets of the Bill that the more we discuss, it the more complicated
and confused the issue becomes, to me if not to anybody else. I know that the Government Front Bench not only have wisdom of their own but have considerable support from Government Departments, which we do not have on this side of the House, so I think I am perfectly justified and entitled to say when I do not understand something. Even when I do I am still entitled to ask for an explanation. I would refer to Hansard of 21st June, column 1333, where the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, in explaining this clause, said:
The Government do not think it necessary to provide a power of policy override in respect of possible repercussion on what might be termed the English dimension' of a devolved matter. One of the merits of devolution is that it will allow reasonable diversity within the continuing unity of the United Kingdom"—
which of course sounds very fine, but not very effective—
and the Government do not consider that there should be a power of policy override merely because an action of the Welsh Assembly in a devolved area might be inconvenient for the United Kingdom Government of the day".
I should be grateful for an explanation as to whether those words mean that the Welsh Assembly has powers under the Bill as it stands, with or without the words which I have left out in the Amendment, to introduce subordinate legislation which will have a cross-Border effect. I beg to move.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, I am a bit concerned. There is ambiguity in the language but I am also concerned with the nuances of this. I should like to make it clear that in the history of Wales from the time of the 11th century onwards it has always been when England has been in trouble that the Welsh archers and others have come to England's aid. Villages like the famous one of Senghenydd had to stop the miners volunteering as Sappers for World War 1. There has never been any doubt that when Britain has been in danger the Welsh, like the Scots, have loyally come to the aid of England, and they are devolved subjects. There is nothing wrong with the Welsh, from the military point of view, talking about where their regiments like the South Wales Borderers and others should be stationed. What I am worried about is that the implication seems to be that the Welsh would say, as in the phrase of the noble Prime Minister of the day, "I'm 1131 all right, Jack". That has never been the attitude of the Celts or the Scots. That is the kind of thing I am worried about. If you leave all these words out it might leave the sub-meaning that the Welsh are just thinking of themselves and not of the United Kingdom or of Britain as a whole. I am sure that the noble Baroness was not implying that, and that is why in passing I thought I should make reference to that to get it on the record.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, might I insert a couple of sentences to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, His analogy is not sound. He is talking of times when Britain has an interest and the Welsh who are British take action for it. But we are now looking at occasions when the interests of the Welsh and the English may differ, and then of course circumstances are different and the analogy does not hold. I do not think this is ground we wish to expatiate on, but I believe there was a genuine misunderstanding on it.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, it is very interesting that when we considered the Scotland Bill there passed through the House, presumably with the enthusiastic support of the Opposition Front Bench, subsection (3) of Clause 37 of the Scotland Bill which is in identical terms, save for the reference to Scotland rather than Wales, to the subsection which the noble Baroness now is asking your Lordships to amend. So presumably there is some virtue in the language, otherwise the alert and watchful eyes and minds that are occupying the Opposition Front Bench would have been ready in action and speech to amend what they thought undesirable.
As I understand it, the noble Baroness has expressed concern in this somewhat complex field, first as to whether there is any danger of the Welsh Assembly being provided with a general capacity to make subordinate instruments with cross-border effect, similar to that which was conferred on the Scottish Assembly originally in the Scotland Bill and before it was amended, following the advocacy of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, 1132 at the Committee stage of that Bill. But the answer is that the Welsh Assembly has no such general capacity. Indeed, Clause 9 of the Wales Bill which affects the main transfer of functions, advisedly includes the words "as regards Wales", and the effect of subordinate legislation is certainly closely circumscribed by the enabling powers; so I do not see that the Welsh Assembly can add any general capacity to legislate across the border, similar to that which was originally intended to be given to the Scottish Assembly.
On the other matter, the effect of the inclusion of the words,whether or not it also concerns any other part of the United Kingdom",which the noble Baroness finds creates matters of concern, the Government do not think it is necessary to provide a power of policy override in respect of possible repercussion on what might be termed the English dimension of a devolved matter, merely because a decision of the Welsh Assembly in regard to the matters within its powers, such as health or education, might be inconvenient for the United Kingdom Government of the day. It is not, we think, a matter which would entitle the exercise of policy override, which we think should only be kept in reserve in case it is needed to protect matters lying at the root of the continuing unity of the United Kingdom defence, trade, energy, economy and industrial policy and matters of that kind.
So that the formula which has been adopted preserves the important area of matters of the kind which I have mentioned, for which there is no devolved responsibility. The Assembly has no powers in respect of those matters. Nevertheless, in the case of circumstances where there could be repercussive effects on the English dimension from the exercise of the powers of the Assembly in areas like health or education—providing more hospitals or providing teachers or more schools, or whatever the circumstances may be—we do not think that there should be limitation of the use of the override powers to achieve that, and that is why we use the words in the section which concerns Wales,the reserve matter is one which concerns Wales whether or not it also concerns any other part of the United Kingdom but with respect to which the Assembly has no power to act".1133 I hope that in the light of what I have said, and the retention of similar language in the Scotland Bill, the anxiety which the noble Baroness has expressed may be at any rate somewhat assuaged.
§ 9.59 p.m.
Viscount COLVILLE of CULROSS
My Lords, I should like to spring to the defence of those who considered these words in the Scotland Bill. The noble and learned Lord is, of course, perfectly right in saying that the identical formula appears in the equivalent clauses in the Scotland Bill, but there is a difference. The noble and learned Lord will remember that the Scotland Bill as it originally arrived in this House had a formula in Schedule 2 which enabled the legislative exercise of the Scottish Assembly to cross the border. In that context, I understood the wording of the Scotland Bill, as it stood at that time, to enable subordinate legislation at least arguably to do the same, because it would take its flavour from the primary legislative activity of the Assembly, which expressly was allowed to apply to other parts of the United Kingdom.
The Scotland Bill was then amended and two new paragraphs were put in, paragraph 2 and paragraph 8, which made it abundantly clear that the primary legislative activity in Scotland could no longer cross the border at all; and that was an agreed situation, as the noble and learned Lord has just mentioned. That seemed to me to carry with it the corollary that by the same token neither would the subordinate legislation be able to cross the border, because that equally would be governed by the flavour of the primary activity which had now been constrained.
The reason why in the Wales Bill this gives me cause for concern is that there is no equivalent in this Bill to Schedule 2 to the Scotland Bill. There is no need for it, of course, because there is no primary legislative activity in the Welsh Assembly; we have nothing in terms of the flavour that I have just suggested. It is very true that in Clause 9 of the Wales Bill, as in the equivalent provision of the Scotland Bill, you have got the words "as regards Wales". That is the power to make subordinate instruments. But so you had in the Scotland Bill, and I do not think 1134 that in itself would necessarily have meant that a subordinate instrument made by the Scottish Secretary would have been bound to be confined, as the Bill reached us, solely to Scotland.
You then have this proposition, that you look to Clause 33 to see what it is that Parliament has said. True, it has said that the subordinate instrument has to concern Wales; that is in Clause 9. But it then, in Clause 33(3), contains two propositions. One is that the matter which is being complained about as being a reserved matter is something that may concern other parts of the United Kingdom as well as Wales, because that is what (a) says; but equally, and the second proposition is, that it is something "with respect to which the Assembly has no power to act". If the Assembly has no power to act in relation to any other part of the United Kingdom at all, you do not need both propositions. You do not need the words in brackets as well as (b), because if the Welsh Assembly has no power to act in respect of any other part of the United Kingdom then (b) covers it by itself.
What then, I wonder, is the point of (b). The only practical danger about it, I think, is this. The noble and learned Lord has said very clearly that there is no intention that the Welsh Assembly should pass subordinate instruments which apply to Herefordshire or indeed Cheshire. But when by mistake they do—or when on purpose they do; it does not matter which—and the Secretary of State decides whether or not he is going to use his override power under Clause 33, is he precluded from doing so by the words in subsection (3)(a)?—because the supposition there is that, although there may be matters with respect to which the Assembly has no power to act in relation to any other part of the United Kingdom, there must, from the logic of paragraph (a), be other matters in relation to which it has power to act for other parts of the United Kingdom. Otherwise, you would not put in both propositions.
All I want to make sure is that there will not be a practical slip-up and that the Secretary of State is going to be advised that, because of the dubiety of the language of the Bill, he is not able to put his foot on an attempt to cross the border. On this 1135 there is no difference between those on this side of the House and the Government; it is simply a matter of drafting. All we want to be sure about is that when we have not the equivalent of Schedule 2 to the Scotland Bill we do have the right effect in the Wales Bill.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I quite see the purpose, and the basis of the concern. I think that the language is all right. It only indicates that if there is some mere repercussive effect, say, of a measure affecting health policy in Wales which could cause nurses in England to say, "We ought to get more money to keep up with the Welsh"—apparently keeping up with the Joneses is always something which everybody aspires to achieve—or if something of that kind were to develop, the contemplation that the policy override should be used by the Secretary of State to deal with that situation is, we think, quite unnecessary. However, in the light of what has been said, I am willing to look at the matter again to be quite sure that we are achieving what apparently both sides of the House want to achieve. Having given that assurance perhaps we can return to this highly complicated matter at a later stage.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that reply, and also to my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross who is very knowledgeable and expert on these matters. This is a matter of great concern and something which we should really try to get right. I should be very grateful if later on the noble and learned Lord will let us know his views on it. On that understanding I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 35 [Welsh Consolidated Fund and Loans Fund]:
§ Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 69:
§ Page 14, line 35, leave out from beginning to end of line 39 and insert ("if the land in respect of which the order is made or an interest or right in it—
- (a) is held by excepted statutory undertakers for the purposes of their undertaking, or
- (b) is held by a local authority (or by a body formed by local authorities) for the purposes of any of the matters listed in Schedule 5 to this Act,
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a technical Amendment, and is primarily concerned with excepted statutory undertakers. Clause 35(2) provides that any power of the Assembly to make or confirm a compulsory purchase order should be subject to Ministerial consent if it concerns land held by an excepted statutory undertaker or by a local authority for the purposes of a function listed in Schedule 5.
§ The Amendment alters the subsection in three respects. First, it makes it clear that it relates not just to land itself but to interests and rights in land. Secondly, it ensures that Ministerial consent is required in respect of the land of excepted statutory undertakers only where the land is held for the purposes of their undertaking. This is a formula used in other legislation which ensures that recreational land, et cetera is not given any special protection. Thirdly, it ensures that Ministerial consent is not required if the excepted statutory undertaker or local authority affected by the order has not actually made, and failed to withdraw an objection to the order. Thus there will be no need to involve Ministers in uncontroversial orders to which there is no objection. I hope that your Lordships will agree that the proposed Amendment lends greater precision to the entry for compulsory purchase orders. I beg to move.
§ Schedule 4 [Powers exercisable only with consent of a Minister of the Crown]:
§ Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 70:
§ Page 61, leave out lines 11 to 16 and insert—
|("The Coast Protection Act 1949 (c. 74) sections 5 and 8.||The powers exercisable under subsections (4) (5) where notice of objection is served by excepted statutory undertakers.|
|The Coast Protection Act 1949 (c. 74) section 17.||The powers exercisable under subsection (4) where the undertakers are excepted statutory undertakers.|
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this Amendment provides that certain coast protection powers, which are devolved to the Assembly in Schedule 2, should be exercisable subject to Ministerial consent where they concern excepted statutory undertakers, such as, British Rail.
§ Sections 5 and 8 make provision for the resolution of disputes where objections are made to works to be carried out by coast protection authorities. In each case subsection (4) provides for the objection to be determined, and subsection (5) provides for the proposal or scheme to be approved or not approved. These powers are devolved because they are generally of a planning and land use nature. But it is necessary to protect the interests of excepted statutory undertakers where they are the objectors to the works. Hence the Amendment creates a requirement for Ministerial consent.
§ Section 17 is similar, but deals with the reverse situation where the works are to be carried out by statutory undertakers and where the coast protection authority is the body making the objection. In such cases the Amendment provides that the Assembly's power under subsection (4) to determine the objection should be subject to Ministerial consent where the works are to be carried out by excepted statutory undertakers. The power of direction under subsection (5) is reserved in Schedule 2 because it would be wrong for the Assembly to direct an undertaker which is otherwise responsible to the Government. I beg to move.
§ Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 71:
§ Page 61, line 16, at end insert—
|("The New Towns Act 1965 (c. 59) section 10(5).||The power to make an order order respect of land of excepted statutory undertakers.")|
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is another Amendment in respect of excepted statutory undertakers. Section 10(5) of the New Towns Act 1965 provides for the making of an order declaring that the land of a statutory undertaker should be subject to compulsory acquisition even though it is "operational land". At 1138 present this power is exercisable jointly by the Secretary of State for Wales, as the planning Minister, and the Minister responsible for the statutory undertaker.
§ After devolution such an arrangement would be constitutionally inappropriate as it would, in some cases, lead to the Assembly and a Minister taking a decision jointly. The Government's solution is to devolve all the powers in Section 10(5) to the Assembly, but to make them subject to ministerial consent where they concern the land of an excepted statutory undertaker. The Bill already provides in Schedule 2 for devolution, but it fails to provide in Schedule 4 for ministerial consent. This Amendment puts the matter right. I beg to move.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 72:
§ Page 61, line 30, at end insert—
|("The Land Drainage Act 1967 (c. 70) section 23.||The power of approval subsection (2).").|
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this Amendment is related to an earlier Amendment to Schedule 2, Amendment No. 38, which we considered earlier today. It concerns the powers in Section 23 of the Land Drainage Act 1976 to approve arrangements between drainage authorities on the one hand and navigation or conservancy authorities on the other. The powers are devolved in Schedule 2 because the Assembly will be responsible for drainage authorities. They are made subject to Ministerial consent by this Amendment because responsibility for navigation and conservancy authorities will generally be reserved. Both devolved and reserved interests will therefore be represented. I beg to move.
§ Schedule 5 [Reserved local matters]:
Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY had given Notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 73:
Page 61, column 1, line 48, at end insert— ("Commons and allotments").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this Amendment earlier on in the Report stage. I therefore do not move it.1139
§ Clause 43 [Payments into Welsh Consolidated Fund out of monies provided by Parliament]:
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE moved Amendment No. 74:
Page 17, line 16, at end insert—
("( ) The sums paid under subsection (1) above for the purposes of section 57(1) below shall be specified as such.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, when we debated the financial provisions during the Committee stage it was three o'clock in the morning on 22nd June, when we naturally did not have anything approaching a full House. As we believe that the financial provisions, and in particular the rate support grant, are extremely important, I want as briefly as possible to give your Lordships arguments why the rate support grant should be specified.
§ The present position is that local authorities in Wales negotiate their rate support grant with the Secretary of State. Under the present Bill it will he for the Assembly to carry out these negotiations in place of the Secretary of State. Having added up the requirements of the various local authorities, the Assembly will come to a total figure. This total figure will be a very large component part of the block grant which the Secretary of State pays to the Welsh Assembly. The block grant has, of course, to he voted by Parliament. What I fail to see is how the Members of Parliament can judge whether the amount of the block grant is either too high or too low, if they are unaware of how it has been calculated. I do not suggest that it would be necessary to specify each of the component parts of the block grant, as many may be relatively insignificant. But to specify the rate support grant, which I understand will amount to over 50 per cent. of the block grant, seems to us to he essential.
§ When the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, replied to the speech of my noble friend Lord Gowrie about the financial provisions, he made four points during his rejection of an Amendment requiring that the rate support grant should be specified and distributed: first, that the responsibility for payment of the rate support grant is transferred to the 1140 Assembly. I agree that it is, and I trust that they will pay it all out.
§ Secondly, that rate support grant is only one of the forms of central Government spending. Again I agree, but it does amount to over 50 per cent. of the block fund. It was £463 million in 1976, and will presumably be considerably higher now. Thirdly, it would be wrong to specify rate support grant alone. Why? when it is far the largest component. If the Government think that, why not specify other significant components as well? Fourthly, it would turn payment of the rate support grant into some kind of special charge upon the fund. But since the calculation of the amount of the block grant was predominantly based on the figure for rate support grant, would not that be eminently reasonable?
§ I fully realise that the financial provisions are central to the thinking behind the Bill, and it is in no way our intention to attempt to wreck these provisions. What we object to is that the rate support grant is concealed in the block grant. Not only is it concealed from the local authorities but also from Parliament, and presumably from the Assembly as well. If there is some really good reason for this, let the Government tell us what it is, but I must say, with respect, that the reasons so far advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, fail to convince us.
Since the Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Harris, kindly wrote to my noble friend Lord Gowrie, and I should like to quote from that letter. It was an extremely clear explanation and I think it would be beneficial to have it on the record:
Once the block fund is fixed the Assembly, on whom will rest the statutory duty of fixing the rate support grant, will have to determine the total to be paid out and in doing so will have to follow the procedures for consultations with the local authorities, which are statutorily laid down. This determination involves two variables, the total of relevant local expenditure and the proportion of this to be met by way of grant. This proportion may in the future rise or fall from year to year as it has done in the past; but should a fall occur in any year it would not, in our view, be right to regard this as 'withholding' rate support grant or as a form of back-door taxation. The Assembly would merely be exercising in one particular way the important, and essential, discretion vested in them to re-order priorities in devolved spending: without the ability to vary the percentage figure for rate support grant the devolution of powers in relation to local finance
and the administration of the main local authority spending services would be very seriously restricted.
§ We do not wish to restrict the Assembly from using proper discretion. On the other hand, in these days when open government enjoys popular acclaim, there would seem to be a great deal in favour of disclosing rather than hiding the rate support grant. One of the reasons is a matter to which I have not yet referred but with which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, disagreed in his letter to my noble friend: that is, the matter of the discretion allowed to the Assembly to distribute the block grant as it thinks fit.
§ Concern has been expressed in the debates both on this Bill and on the Scotland Bill that the Assembly could use this discretion in a way that, by making only a partial distribution of the rate support grant, would more or less force local authorities to increase their rates to cover expenditure to which they were already committed. Personally, I think it unlikely that the Assembly would under-distribute unless they had a very good reason. But if they had such a reason would it not be very much better if they announced it so that the Welsh people could be aware of their sagacity and prudence? If the rate support grant is not specified nobody will know whether the Assembly is over- or under-distributing, or why they are so doing.
§ Surely it is important that the Assembly should be seen by all concerned to be acting in the responsible manner that the Government are so confident they will. I hope the Government will think again, and I feel sufficiently optimistic to have almost persuaded myself that they will. We are, I repeat, in no way attempting to wreck the financial provisions: in fact we are not altering them at all. What we visualise is that failure to specify the figure of rate support grant will cause difficulty and conflict.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I rejoiced to hear the noble Lord say he did not want to wreck the financial provisions of the Bill. I am bound to say that despite any feeling that I should recommend the House to accept the Amendment, following on from what the 1142 noble Lord said, I fear I cannot do so for reasons which I will endeavour to persuade noble Lords are reasonably based. Perhaps I should give an indication at the outset of what the Bill is proposing so far as rate support grant is concerned.
At the present time a single sum is determined as rate support grant for local authorities in England and Wales. Under the Bill there will be two determinations—one to be made by the Secretary of State for the Environment for England, and one to be made by the Assembly for Wales. The Bill confers on the Assembly all the necessary powers under existing statute for determining the rate support grant after due consultation with the local authority associations; and these powers will not be available to Ministers so far as rate support grant for Welsh local authorities is concerned. The Assembly will also be responsible for distributing the grant.
The Government consider it entirely right that the Assembly should take over responsibility for rate support grant. They will exercise powers of supervision and guidance over most of the existing local authority functions, including powers to pay specific grants when applicable. Rate support grant is an integral grant in support of local revenues which does not attach to particular local authority services, whether within the ambit of the Assembly or of the Government.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
I have a long speech to make, my Lords. I do not mind giving way to the noble Earl, if he wishes me to do so, but I must tell him that I have a long speech to make on a substantial matter.
The Earl of GOWRIE
I rise only on a point of information, my Lords. He said the Assembly was to be responsible for determining the grant. May I ask what he meant by that?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I do not want to make a debating point with the noble Earl at this hour, and I hope I made this clear in my letter to him. I did not know there was any 1143 dispute about the meaning of the word "determining"; it means deciding. That is what the Assembly will do; they will have a discussion with the local authority associations and then decide what it will be. That is what determination means in this particular situation.
The Amendment would not of course affect the devolution of responsibility for determination of rate support grant, nor for its distribution to individual local authorities. It would leave these functions with the Assembly. It would merely ensure that every time the Secretary of State paid an instalment of the block fund to the Assembly he would have to indicate how much of it was referable to rate support grant. That may not be what noble Lords opposite intend by their Amendment, but that is what the effect of what they have tabled would be.
In practice the block grant will be paid over to the Assembly in instalments, each available for the whole range of payments which it will fall to the Assembly to make. The timing of payments of rate support grant to local authorities will be a matter between the Assembly and the local authorities—instalments are paid over at weekly intervals at present. It may well be, subject to discussions with the Assembly, that the block fund instalments will also be paid at weekly intervals; but, even so, the Secretary of State will have no direct concern with how much of any particular block fund payment is passed on in this fashion. The Assembly will be committed to pay over the whole of whatever it has undertaken to pay over to the local authorities, and I have no doubt that the local authorities will make a very substantial clamour indeed if they do not receive the payments to which they are entitled. It is difficult to see, therefore, what practical effect the Amendment would have. I do not know what was in the minds of noble Lords opposite when they framed it, but I am trying to explain to the House what the effect of this would be.
The question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, as to the earmarking of a sum within the block fund as the amount intended for rate support grant, is one of very substantial practical difficulty. It would not, in the Government's view, be possible to identify part 1144 of the block fund in. this way. Assumptions may be made when the block fund is being worked out as to the needs of rate support grant or any other major form of expenditure by the Assembly, but such assumptions would cease to have ally validity once the total amount was fixed. This is, indeed, what happens when the rate support grant itself is determined. Assumptions have to be made about the pattern of local government expenditure, but once the total is fixed the sums paid over are in no way earmarked for specific purposes.
Even if the Government wished to earmark part of the block fund for passing on as rate support grant, how could they reasonably do this? They will no longer have responsibility for the main spending services of local authorities in Wales. That will not be a matter for Ministers here. They will have no means of conducting the necessary dialogue with the local authority associations because, as I have pointed out, this is a matter for the Assembly. It will not be a matter for Ministers here. These discussions with the local authority associations will take place between the Welsh local authorities and the Assembly. It is not a matter for Ministers here. In this situation I am not clear how a Minister here could form a view on this matter. I am bound to say, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, that he did not give any indication when he moved this Amendment as to how this would be achieved.
It would be quite wrong for the Government to pre-empt the discussions between the Assembly and the local authorities and to deny the local authorities the rights of consultation which they have enjoyed. The Government consider that whatever assumptions it may be necessary to make when the block fund is settled, the amount of the statutory rate support grant settlement must be left to the discretion of the Assembly. I think that there will be very strong domestic political pressures within Wales to ensure that the Assembly acts in a reasonable way and comes to an equitable conclusion.
Before concluding, I might just raise one other question which I am sure noble Lords opposite will wish to consider. That is the problem of difficulty of timing 1145 as far as their Amendment is concerned. The total of rate support grant will be fixed by the Assembly well before the beginning of the financial year, whereas the payments of block fund to be made by the Secretary of State under Clause 43 will be made after the year has begun. Therefore, by that time all he could do would be to identify payments referable to a total of rate support grant fixed by the Assembly, and it would be too late for his identifications to affect the total to be paid to local authorities. This would have been committed by an order made some time previously by the Assembly.
I have gone into this matter in some detail because, as the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, indicated, the financial provisions of the Bill are of substantial importance, and no part of them is of more importance than that which deals with the rate support grant. I have endeavoured to explain why, whatever may have been the intentions of the noble Lords when they framed the Amendment, I do not believe that it has
§ the effect that they intend. I very much hope that they will be able to reflect on the points I have made in this inevitably rather extensive speech, in which I have tried to put the basis of our case.
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having taken so much trouble to explain the Government's view on this matter. I am rather disappointed that he is not prepared to accept the Amendment. We on this side of the Chamber have been subjected to considerable criticism regarding our attitude towards the Assembly, and so I took great pains to try to convince your Lordships that the whole purpose of the Amendment is to avoid potential conflict between the local authorities and the Assembly. I still feel the same way about this.
§ 10.32 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 74) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 61; Not-Contents, 35.1145
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Gainford, L.||Newall, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Glenkinglas, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Atholl, D.||Gowrie, E.||Redesdale, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gridley, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Berkeley, B.||Harvington, L.||Romney, E.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Henley, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Burton, L.||Hunt of Fawley, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Killearn, L.||Savile, L.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Sharples, B.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Long, V.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Lyell, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Margadale, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Middleton, L.||Tweeddale, M.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Monckton of Brenchley, V.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Monson, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Vickers, B.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Morris, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Elles, B.||Mottistone, L.||Ward of North Tyneside, B|
|Elton, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller]||Westbury, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Moyne, L.|
|Birk, B.||Kirkhill, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Leonard, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Collison, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|David, B.||Lockwood, B.||Stone, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||McCluskey, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Fisher of Camden, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.||Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]|
|Gaitskell, B.||Mishcon, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Morris of Borth-y-Gest, L.||White, B.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Morris of Kenwood, L.||Wigg, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Oram, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Parry, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 47 [Limitation of capital expenditure. financed by borrowing]:
§ 10.38 p.m.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 75:
Page 19, line 24, leave out ("National Water Development") and insert ("Water").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, perhaps I could explain Amendments Nos. 75 and 77 together. Both take account of the fact that the Welsh National Water Development Authority, to which the Bill presently refers, was, at the beginning of April, renamed the Welsh Water Authority. There are other similar Amendments later in the Bill: to Schedule 7, No. 81, and to Clause 61, Nos. 84 and 85; but at the moment I beg to move Amendment No. 75.
§ Lord SKELMERSDALE
My Lords, since I raised this point at Committee stage, it falls to me to thank the Government very much indeed for following through their own legislation, which by order, as the noble Baroness has said, changed the name on 1st April from the Welsh National Water Development Authority to the Welsh Water Authority. I am very grateful that they have seen sense.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 76:
Page 19, line 37, after ("1976)") insert ("for a district which is wholly in Wales or is within the area of the Welsh Water Authority and partly").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this Amendment takes account of the fact that the Welsh Assembly will be responsible for the borrowing not only of internal drainage boards entirely in Wales but also of the Lower Wye Internal Drainage Board, which, although wholly in the Welsh Water Authority's area, is partly in England. It follows from this that borrowing by the Lower Wye Board should count to the aggregate limit under Clause 47. We shall be coming more generally to the question of internal drainage boards straddling the Border when we reach Clause 61. The Government have tabled Amendments to provide 1148 for the practical allocation of ministerial responsibilities. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 77:
Page 19, line 40, leave out ("National Water Development") and insert ("Water")
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I spoke to this Amendment with Amendment No. 75. 1 beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 48 [Welsh Comptroller and Auditor General]:
§ [Amendment No. 78 not moved.]
Lord MONSON moved Amendment No. 79:
Before Clause 57 insert the following new clause:
§ ("Speaker's Conference
§ .—(1) For the purposes of this Act there may be appointed not less than six, nor more than twelve months after the first occasion on which the Assembly meets a Speaker's Conference, being a conference convened at the request of the Prime Minister and presided over by the Speaker of the House of Commons with the function of considering and making recommendations to the House of Commons relating to the appropriate number of Members of the House representing Welsh constituencies after the enactment of this Act.
§ (2) Those participating in the Conference shall be Members of the House of Commons invited to do so by the Speaker, who shall secure that the balance of parties in the House of Commons is reflected, so far as practicable, among the participants in the Conference.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I seem to be fated to move these important and contentious Amendments late at night when everyone has either gone home or is itching to get home. The fact that this may give me the opportunity to watch tomorrow afternoon on television that splendid unseeded player Mr. Tom Okker play the men's singles semi-final at Wimbledon is small consolation, because in consequence this unseeded Amendment may not reach the final draft of this Bill as it eventually emerges from your Lordships' House.
§ The Amendment is identical to one moved by various noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench, including the noble Lord, Lord Elton, during the deliberations on the Scotland Bill (and 1149 subsequently written into the Bill, having been carried by 9 votes) except that the word "Welsh" towards the end of subsection (1) replaces the word "Scottish". I did not support that Amendment because I, with a great many other noble Lords, felt that the case for a reduction in the Scottish representation to English levels, or almost to English levels, in the event of the Scottish Assembly with legislative powers coming into being, was so overwhelming and clear-cut that a Speaker's Conference would merely delay the inevitable and confuse the issue.
§ However, in the case of the Welsh Assembly the arguments are rather more finely balanced. Wales is over-represented compared with England by about 15 per cent. or 16 per cent. There does not at the present time (there may have been earlier) seem to he any good reason for this. It is not as if Wales were remote from the centre of things or the seats of power. Compared with Devon, Cornwall, Cumbria or the North-East of England, Wales is particularly well-favoured. It is possible to reach South Wales from London by car along the M4 in less than two hours. Similarly, by the 125 mph high speed train.
§ There was a suggestion the other day —I think it may have been in this House—that the third London airport he sited not at Stansted or Maplin but on the sands near Swansea, this scheme being made economically viable by virtue of the current high speed connections. It is not fanciful to suppose that within a relatively short space of time the well-known golden triangle within which most of the wealth of Europe is supposed to reside, Birmingham—Dortmund—Lyons, may become the golden tetrahedron with its westernmost point at Cardiff or even Swansea.
§ Obviously the Welsh Assembly will not be coming into being (in the event of a "Yes" vote in the referendum) on the conventional grounds of decentralisation; on the argument that Wales is an economically depressed area remote from the centre of things. Apart from anything else, Wales cannot form a self-contained economic unit, given the poor communications between north and south of the Principality.
§ On the Second Reading of the Scotland 1150 Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara—I hope he will not mind my referring to him although he is not in his seat—declared himself to be a keen supporter of devolution. By "devolution" he seemed to imply decentralisation, and this impression was reinforced by his comparing the proposed Welsh Assembly with "a large local authority", during the Committee stage. In that sense alone, the sense of decentralisation, many of us who do not care for the Scotland and Wales Bills, as they have evolved, would agree with him. However, it became clear during our deliberations in Committee, and indeed earlier this afternoon, that a far grander rôle—or at any rate the illusion of a far grander rÔle—is planned for the Assembly than was at first imagined by most of us.
§ In defending in Committee the granting of absolute privilege to the Assembly—a unique privilege for a non-legislative body—the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to the prospective Assembly as the national Assembly of Wales, the accent being on the word "national". He did so again this afternoon when defending the right of the Assembly to set up committees dealing with the Common Market. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, also defended this ability (which would be given if the Amendment had not been carried) and other areas outside the functions to be devolved under the Bill as it stands.
§ This sop to nationalist sentiment (as opposed to regional sentiment) is likely to backfire because, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor went on to point out, the Assembly will not be able to do anything about the wide-ranging subjects that it is going to be empowered to discuss. When the nationalists—and here I should interject that I have nothing against nationalism as such: it is a perfectly respectable philosophy although I do not agree with it—realise how little of substance lies behind the impressive façade which is being erected to keep them quiet for the time being, I suggest that there will be a backlash. In order to cope with this, the Government of the day will, little by little, have to concede more and more to pacify nationalist feelings. For that reason, there is at any rate a case for a Speaker's Conference, anticipating this development 1151 in advance, to review Welsh representation accordingly. The Conference may well, after due deliberation, recommend no change in Welsh representation at Westminster. If so, one would accept their verdict without demur. But the matter ought at least to be examined, I submit. From the point of view of time, trouble and expense, how much more convenient if a single Speaker's Conference were to examine Scottish and Welsh representation at the same time. I beg to move.
§ 10.49 p.m.
§ Lord WIGG
My Lords, my approach to this problem is almost identical with Lord Monson's. He and I have been associated through the passage of the Scotland Bill. On this issue my opposition is like his: we are fearful of the political consequences of the passing of these two measures. I believe that the Scotland Bill was introduced by the Government in a somewhat panic atmosphere because they were fearful of the growlings of Scottish nationalism; and this Bill is a parallel.
For my part, I am fearful of another factor. I do not believe that one can throw bones, if I may say so, to the Scottish and Welsh "growlers" and imagine that the English bulldog is going to stay at the back of the kennel and that there will be no noise from him. I have always believed that once there is an Assembly in Scotland and it becomes realised by the English electorate just what the Government have done, not only as regards Scotland but as regards the reverse effects upon England, there will rise a feeling which has remained quiescent in England for some three hundred years. It could take a very unpleasant form.
I would not have chosen, in relation to Scotland, the formula of a Speaker's Conference. I observe that in another place Mr. Pym, the Conservative spokesman there, endeavoured without success to establish a Speaker's Conference. And when the Scotland Bill was going through I certainly wanted to limit the number of Members of Parliament who would be returned to Westminster, because once the Scottish Assembly was established and it became perfectly clear that power was being transferred from Westminster to Scotland, the question 1152 was bound to arise of the continuance of the over-representation of Scottish political power at Westminster. It will be called into question. What the answer will be I do not know.
I believe that the same thing is going to happen in Wales. We have made various efforts to amend the Scotland Bill in a logical, reasonable sort of way, but it was a decision of the House that the formula embraced in the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Monson should be accepted. They wanted a Speaker's Conference. All I would say is that if a Speaker's Conference is the right technique, it was certainly not one which aroused great enthusiasm in my mind—I should much have preferred other and more straightforward ways. But if the decision of the House is to tackle the problem on the basis of the number of Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster, then what is good enough for Scotland ought to be good enough for Wales; and ultimately the numbers of Members from Scotland and from Wales must have an effect on the numbers which come from England.
So if the Conservative Party asked the House to approve—and the House did—the decision that there should be a Speaker's Conference for Scotland, then I say it is perfectly logical, even at this late hour, to ask the House to agree that the same formula should be applied to Wales. I can understand the logic of the Government's position—that having resisted it on Scotland, they will want to resist it on Wales. But the Conservative Party, having in another place put forward the technique of a Speaker's Conference, and having successfully asked the House to approve, naturally I had thought they would put down some Amendment. When I found they had not done so, I thought perhaps it was due to an oversight. After all, I have from time to time found oversights in the Government's thinking, and so perhaps it was the turn of the Opposition. Therefore, when the noble Lord, Lord Monson, put down his Amendment, in logic I put my name to it. I anticipate the opposition of the Government, but I do look forward with complete confidence to support—not very numerous it may seem—from the Benches opposite, to do for Wales what they have done for Scotland.
§ Lord SKELMERSDALE
My Lords, I would take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, on several points. Although I do not speak for my Front Bench, on my part at least this is not an oversight. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, said, if I may quote his words:what is good enough for Scotland ought to be good enough for Wales.I would entirely disagree with that. The Government have told us, and we have perhaps finally been convinced, that the Scottish Assembly is to be a legislative body, whereas the Welsh Assembly has no legislative powers at all. I would say for this reason, and for this reason only, that what is good enough for Scotland is completely and utterly different for Wales. Having said that, I would say for myself that 1 supported this move for Scotland, but for this reason I have no intention of supporting this move for Wales.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, one is always grateful for the assisting hand of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, extended on sometimes surprising occasions. However, it was not by accident that my noble friends and I had not tabled an Amendment of such significance as this, nor by oversight. It is a subject on which I personally take a deep interest, and I supported the equivalent Amendment to the Scotland Bill. The proposal in this case rests upon two propositions. The first is that the representation of the Welsh in Parliament is unfair, and the second is that something must be done about it; and I suppose there is a third, that what should be done about it is a Speaker's Conference.
The assumption is made that the cases of Scotland and Wales are similar. My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale has already given the lie to part of this proposition, because, of course, the Assemblies in Scotland and in Wales are avowedly—and how frequently we hear it avowed—not the same in function or in construction. But there are other considerations which affect the pressure which there might be for such a solution. The average electorate in England is 66,056, and in Scotland it is only 53,336; there is a discrepancy of 12,000 between the two. In Wales, however, the average is 57,088, which is a discrepancy of under 9,000. There is a considerable numerical 1154 difference here. In the matter of geographical size, one has to consider the importance of obtaining constituencies which are manageable to Members. In certain instances in Wales, this is a difficult thing to achieve if you are going to maintain the balance, and there is always the consideration of balancing the North and the South.
If we are to go back to the origins of this debate, we have to look at the Kilbrandon Report where we find that, whereas there is a need, in the view of the Kilbrandon Committee, for a balancing effect in the number of representatives in the United Kingdom Parliament, where the national Parliament is an executive affair, it is upon the executive nature of that Parliament or assembly that the argument rests, and it is not proposed that there should be a balancing act performed, if I may so phrase it, where there is no legislative function.
The Division in the House of Lords to which the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, referred, and in which I voted, pronounced in the much more powerful case of Scotland—much more powerful in the sense that there was a much stronger argument in favour of a Speaker's Conference, because the arguments for a redress of the balance were more powerful—by only 9 votes in a considerable turn-out of, I believe, 93 to 102. We are also speaking in this Bill of an Amendment that was debated at some length in a very similar form—this is, of course, true of Scotland as well—in another place. But we got over that in our case by removing an objection to the Speaker's Conference, which, it was suggested in the Commons, would have delayed the onset of devolution by an appreciable time.
There is rarely ground which I share with noble Lords on the other side of the House in this sphere, but I am very sensitive to their view on this matter—not yet expressed, but which I anticipate to be expressed—that, to the Welsh, an English insistence that this procedure should be resorted to, with the avowed intention that the Welsh representation should be reduced, when the reduction would in any case be very small and when the arguments in favour of it are less powerful than in the case of Scotland, really would look like the English having it in for the Welsh.
1155 It may not be a good thing to temper one's principles in the light of what people are going to think of them. However, where we are examining a proposition upon which the balance is so narrow and so delicate, I find this an argument more persuasive on this occasion than on most. Moreover, I am convinced that if it becomes clear during the operations of the Welsh Assembly as it feels its strength and flexes its muscles that there is a need for a Speaker's Conference, by that time there will be a Speaker's Conference in session on the matter of the Scottish representation in Westminster, and it is scarcely likely that what the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, seek to achieve by this Amendment will not in any case happen in the course of events.
For myself, I would rather like to see what remains as the real burden of the Members of Parliament for Wales after a part of it has been carried on the shoulders of the Welsh Assembly. I would not presume to instruct my noble friends on a Whip to vote on this very delicately balanced matter, but certainly I would not commend them to vote for this Amendment, and I should not myself do so either.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I have been happy to hear some supportive statements from both the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, underlining first of all the very great difference between the provisions for Wales and the provisions for Scotland and the effect of that difference upon the functions and duties of Members of Parliament.
The Welsh Assembly is going to have only executive power. It will have no powers to introduce primary legislation affecting the matters about which it has executive responsibility and authority, and I respectfully submit that that is a difference of very great importance in this field. Then, there has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, the minimal effect of any suggested change, and it would indeed be thought in Wales to be a curious piece of un-English spite if this were persisted in and that we would find an extremely unattractive accusation to have to make especially against my noble friend Lord Wigg, for instance, 1156 who is wholly innocent of any sense of spite, I am quite sure, in all matters.
The fact about the powers of the Welsh Members of Parliament will be that they will be largely as substantial as they are now. The primary legislation in relation to the matters for which executive responsibility is to be devolved to the Welsh Assembly will continue to be their business in Westminster, and then, so far as the wide range of matters essential to the unity of the United Kingdom is concerned, they will remain the sole responsibility of Parliament. That responsibility will continue to be exercised in Parliament and will not be diminished.
I seriously submit that there is no good argument for seeking a reduction in the representation of the essential interests of those who happen to live in Wales on the achievement of devolution. We have been over this ground before many times. I thought myself that the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord McCluskey was devastating on this issue so far as it related to Scotland. However, I must not, on this occasion at any rate, reopen the Scottish question. So far as the Welsh question is concerned, I submit that the case has not been made out at all and, indeed, persistence in this Amendment would be somewhat unattractive.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
If I really thought the noble Lord thought that—ah, no, no, no! That is not his line at all.
§ 11.4 p.m.
§ Lord MONSON
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that after devolution the powers of the Welsh Members at Westminster will be largely as substantial as they are now. He did not say that they would be wholly as substantial, and that, of course, lends weight to our contention. As my noble friend Lord Wigg pointed out, the Amendment does not provide for a reduction in Welsh Members, and in 1157 moving the Amendment I said that we would accept it if the Speaker's Conference were to recommend no change at all. We should think that quite reasonable.
I am most disappointed not to have had any support from the Conservative Benches in view of their attitude in regard to the Scotland Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, both made reasonable cases for leaving Welsh representation as it is, but they did not make decisive cases for doing so and therefore they made no case at all for rejecting this Amendment, which merely provides for the setting up of a Conference to examine the matter impartially and dispassionately.
A certain body of opinion in Scotland, including the Scotsman newspaper, has charged this House with anti-Scots bias in virtue of the very large number of Amendments made by your Lordships to the Scotland Bill during its passage through this House. Naturally, we strongly repudiate this charge, yet it becomes far more difficult to counter if the House in general, and the Conservative Party in particular, appear to be treating the Wales Bill much more tenderly than the Scotland Bill. But in view of the almost total lack of support I must beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 80 not moved.]
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.