§ 3.3 p.m.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Elwyn-Jones)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The Lord GREENWOOD Of ROSSENDALE in the Chair.]
§ Schedule 2 [Existing Statutory functions.]:
§ On Question, Whether Schedule 2 shall be the second Schedule to the Bill?
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I should like to begin by apologising to your Lordships for holding up the proceedings, if I misunderstood the arrangements that were made at the end of last Thursday's business. I should now like to return, very briefly, to Schedule 2, because the other day I was going to say a few words about the transport, roads and bridges, and road traffic sections of Schedule 2, but was unable to do so, no doubt owing to my own stupidity. Nevertheless, I believe that these parts of the Schedule are worthy of attention by the Committee. I hope to provide your Lordships—as I did the other day—with an opportunity to hear an explanation from the Government of how they see this aspect of devolution working in practice.
In the White Paper, Our Changing Democracy, the Government stated—and I shall not repeat it in detail, in the interests of saving time—what it was that they saw, at that moment, should be the powers over these particular aspects of policy to he devolved to the Welsh 1127 Assembly. There is one phrase that I would pick out from the list that they gave at that time. It included powers to subsidise bus and railway passenger services, to he exercised concurrently with similar local authority powers. I should very much like to know how Her Majesty's Government see this working in practice and how it can be done at the same time under the various functions devolved in the Schedules, with the provision put in Clause 11 of the Bill, which permits the Assembly, if it wants to do so, to make grants towards the carrying on of public passenger transport undertakings. This is the first major point in what will be a brief delay of the Committee's proceedings.
This is what I should like to suggest to your Lordships that we need to know. We are looking at transport in three different ways at the moment. We are looking at transport in Scotland, under the Scotland Bill; we are looking at transport in Wales under this Bill, and we are dealing with transport for the United Kingdom as a whole under the Transport Bill, which we shall begin to examine in Committee next week.
Is the noble Baroness satisfied that the various provisions of the different Bills interact in a sufficiently coherent way? Could she reassure us today which particular tidying-up processes will be needed, or is this something that we shall have to leave to another date? She has already said that the different aspects of transport have got a little out of kilter with each other. When we examine this Schedule, its paragraphs 16, 17 and 18, and, later on, Clause 11 of the Bill, the Committee will want to know whether the arrangements have really been thought through.
I shall not be long. I should like to look at one or two of the provisions of the Acts that have been put into the Schedule for retention by Westminster and devolution to Wales. I should like to know whether the noble Baroness can tell the House why it was that the Government in another place decided to leave out certain parts of the Schedule which they put in at first, because that was never debated. It was merely agreed under the guillotine on 7th March (Column 1301). It would be useful if we could 1128 understand why the demarcation line was altered at that point.
When one examines the transport provisions in the Schedule it seems that the policy clashes at which I hinted a little earlier have started to come into practice. During the passage of the Transport Bill in another place Ministers defended the cohesion of our transport system. But under the devolution proposals the issuing of licences by the traffic commissioners, appeals to the Minister, annual reports by the traffic commissioners, the charging of fees by the traffic commissioners, and the making of regulations, have all been devolved. The question I should like to put is this: How can this leave a coherent United Kingdom system for the licensing of transport? Or are my fears exaggerated in seeing this as a chipping away of the system to which Ministers of the present Government in another place pay such tributes?
I was interested in some provisions of the Civil Aviation Act. I understood, from my no doubt ignorant reading of this Act, that it might be possible for the Welsh Assembly to make rules that different noise levels were permitted to aircraft. This may be a topic about which the noble Baroness wishes to write to us. But another point that we need to examine is whether, when these powers do come into force, what she said on 15th June about the control of pollution and the like remaining at the centre is not contradicted by the provisions of the Civil Aviation Act as devolved under paragraph 16 of this Schedule.
I shall not go through the rest of the provisions relating to roads and bridges, and road traffic. I want to be reassured that the powers that are devolved will nevertheless make it possible for a coherent transport system to be maintained. If we have an Assembly, of course the Assembly must have powers that are worthwhile having; nevertheless it is important that we should be satisfied that the powers over transport and road traffic have not nibbled away at a system that has so far been to our great advantage because it is a coherent and unified system.
I hope your Lordships will not think me wholly frivolous if I say that I was a little alarmed when I started to take a slow walk through some of the sections 1129 of the Act devolved under "Road Traffic", because it is in the apparently minor recesses of the Schedules to this Bill that the details of the powers of the Assembly are to be found. Having looked at it at least six times, I am still under the firm belief that, under this Bill as drafted, the provisions of Section 60 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967, which are contained in Part XVIII of Schedule 2 and are devolved, devolve to the Welsh Assembly the powers to control the placing of bollards in Greater London. If I am wrong about this I shall he delighted to be reassured, but if it is true that the Welsh Assembly is going to be in charge of bollard placing in Greater London it does give one anxiety as to whether in other more important matters the right sections of the Bill are in the right place. If I am wrong I shall be delighted to be told so, but it is in that spirit of earnest inquiry that I raise these points on these aspects of the Bill. Once again, for misunderstandings previously incurred, may I be forgiven?
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
May follow the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, and ask one question quite briefly about another point in this Schedule? It was moved in the other place by the Minister and now is in the Bill in Part I of Schedule 2, page 26, line 36, and relates to the Local Authorities (Land) Act 1963. That sounds a very dull subject but this Act is of considerable importance in helping to solve some of the industrial problems of Wales. According to the words now in the Bill there are devolved to the Welsh Assembly the provisions of the whole of the Local Authorities (Land) Act 1963, but there are reserved to the Westminster Parliament the powers to fix rates of interest in respect of advances made by local authorities, under Sections 3 and 4, for the erection of industrial buildings within the meaning of Section 66 of the Town and Country Planning Act. I therefore wish to emphasise to the Government the importance to the economic life of parts of Wales of the industrial development powers of the Assembly and local authorities under this Act of 1963.
Also I should like to emphasise the desirability in this context of having more flexibility in relation to interest charges on the loans which local authori- 1130 ties can make and in respect of which there are reserved powers by the Parliament at Westminster. The Minister in the other place gave as his reason for reserving powers in regard to the fixing of interest rates that, although certain powers for industrial development by the Welsh Development Agency are transferred to the Assembly by the Bill, there are always safeguards, he said, to ensure that the Assembly—to use his words:… cannot distort competition between firms in Wales and elsewhere".I do not know whether the Minister felt he had to say this sort of thing in a Welsh context because of the well-known European Economic Community's legislation about the dangers of competition. But, surely, if it is against that background, though the amounts of money involved in Wales are almost infinitesimal, they are very important sums of money in the context of the Welsh economy in certain areas.
If I may mention something personal, as a one-time President of the Welsh Liberal Party—and I am proud to say its honourary life member—I have been concerned with many attempts to influence industry, including foreign based industry, as to the attractiveness of Wales. I should like, therefore, to pay a tribute to the Welsh Development Agency and to the initiative of many Welsh borough councils in trying to meet the severe employment problems in their areas from funds at the disposal of local authorities. Some noble Lords may know that several Japanese firms have been attracted to some areas in Wales. Local authorities in Wales have very extensive powers to provide facilities. These can make a differentiation between areas which can and those which cannot take up opportunities to help with the unemployment problem.
In the last two or three years abnormally high rates of interest have made it impossible for many small companies to start up or expand in Wales, or to take advantage of the facilities which local authorities have been providing in many parts of Wales. I should therefore like to urge the Government to consider how far arrangements can be made to reduce and vary interest rates on loans which come through the Local Authorities (Land) Act 1963, as this would give 1131 additional power to local authorities to help in some of the severe local industrial problems, particularly in regard to unemployment, in parts of Wales which I know very well. I fully realise that as I have not given notice of this question I am unlikely to get an answer this afternoon, but if that matter could be considered at some later state I should be very grateful to the Government.
§ Lord SKELMERSDALE
I, too, should like to raise a matter under Schedule 2 which, in my inexperience, I failed to do last week when we were discussing the Health and Safety at Work Act. My question to the noble Baroness is slightly complicated, but I hope she will not see any partisan feelings coming out in it; it is a simple desire for information. Under the description of the Health and Safety at Work Act in Schedule 2 on page 47, the functions pertaining to the Health and Safety at Work Act which are reserved to the Secretary of State are thoseso far as exercisable in relation to matters other than the control of emission into the atmosphere of noxious or offensive substances".When I was reading the Act I came across Section 1(1)(d), which relates to controlling the emission into the atmosphere of noxious or offensive substances. I also came across Section 5(1), which relates to the general duty of persons in control of certain premises in relation to harmful emissions into the atmosphere.
My question is quite simple. The noble Baroness was at pains to point out that she and her Government wanted to make Schedule 2, and indeed the whole Bill, as complete as possible but equally as simple to read as possible. I should like to know why in one breath they put into Schedule 2 these two subsections of the Act and in the next breath promptly take them out again.
§ Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY
I have a very small question for the noble Baroness on the subject of water abstraction. I think it is in Schedule 11 that the powers are transferred to the Welsh Assembly. What I should like to ask her is a question in regard to advertising. If you alter any of your rights to abstract or build reservoirs on the stream, you have to advertise in the local Press and tell your local council. You also have to advertise in the London Gazette. Will it still be the 1132 London Gazette or are we to have a Cardiff Gazette?
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, for advising me that he was going to raise these points which unfortunately we did not get raised at the end of our last session. The Government's approach on transport is that the Assembly should take over the powers which are essentially of a supervisory and local nature and concerned with Wales. Perhaps the main provisions to come within this approach are those relating to road service licensing, and it might be helpful if I explained the position on this, since we have had considerable interest shown in the question of road licensing in respect of the Scotland Bill. The road service licensing is that part of road transport which is concerned with the routes, the frequencies and the fares of bus services and is administered by the traffic commissioner for each traffic area. After devolution it is intended that Wales should become a single traffic area and the traffic commissioners will be responsible to the Assembly rather than to the Government in respect of their road service licensing function. But the public service vehicle licensing, for which the traffic commissioners are also responsible, is to be entirely reserved, since, as we explained on the Scotland Bill, it is concerned with safety standards and we think that these should remain uniform throughout the whole of the country. I see the noble Lord nodding his head so he does not dissent from that.
The freight operators' licences will also be reserved because they have implications for industry. Because the chairman of the traffic commissioners normally sits alone for public service vehicle licensing matters and is also the sole authority for freight operators' licensing, he will continue to be appointed by the Government, but the other two traffic commissioners, who will be primarily concerned with the road service licensing—the routes, the fares, the frequency of services and so on—will be appointed by the Assembly.
During the debates on the Scotland Bill I think it was generally accepted that most of the ministerial functions in respect of road service licensing were a local matter and suitable for devolution, but then some concern was expressed 1133 that the present administrative arrangements should remain, especially so that the cross-border operators— and in this case it would be those coming from England into Wales—would not need different authorisations in Wales. In the Wales Bill, as distinct from Scotland, we are devolving only executive powers, so I can assure your Lordships' Committee that there is nothing in these powers which will enable the Assembly to alter the current administrative framework. This will remain the same in Wales as in England.
The noble Lord also referred briefly to the question of aerodromes. Here again we have a difference, in that in Wales, unlike Scotland there is no Civil Aviation Authority or British Airports Authority aerodromes. In practice the Assembly powers in Wales will relate primarily to the local authority aerodromes which are of a local rather than a national or international nature. Functions with a wider national implication—for example, the policing and air traffic control—are items which are to be reserved under the Wales Act.
In so far as concerns the other general points which the noble Lord made, he referred in detail to the traffic commissioners. He referred also to the possibility of grants to the bus and the rail services. Local authorities have power under existing legislation to give grants to bus and rail services and this will be unaffected by any devolution proposals. In addition, the Assembly is given the power to make grants, by Clause 11 of the Bill, and the Ministers at present have similar powers, but for technical reasons it is necessary to deal with this matter separately in Clause 11 rather than to transfer the powers in Schedule 2. I hope the noble Lord is not going to ask me to explain the detailed technical differences and I hope he will accept my assurance that there are reasons why we should discuss this point on Clause 11.
In so far as the Civil Aviation Act and noise levels are concerned, I think the noble Lord has perhaps hit on a defect in the Bill. We have been planning to bring in an Amendment at the Report stage to amend the entry for the Civil Aviation Act 1971. It is not our intention that the Assembly will have the power to determine the noise levels at the airport, and 1134 we hope that we can bring forward a satisfactory Amendment on that basis at the Report stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, raised questions on water. I am not trying to dodge the issue, but we have numerous Amendments down on the substantive provisions on water later in the Bill and it might be better if his point were raised when we reached Clause 63 and Schedule 8. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, is dealing with the subject of water and I am sure he is much more competent to give the noble Lord satisfactory answers than I am off the cuff at the moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was good enough to write to me about his problems in understanding what we have done about the Health and Safety at Work Act. The entry in the left-hand column of the Bill lists a number of provisions to be devolved. The right-hand column provides that all of these are devolved only so far as they relate to atmospheric pollution. It is necessary to state it in this way because some of the provisions in the left-hand column have relevance to matters which go wider than atmospheric pollution, and it is not intended to involve these other aspects. The noble Lord might re-read this when he has time and sort out that it is a fact. We are devolving to the Assembly only those parts of Acts under which at present the Secretary of State has powers. It is the powers of Secretaries of State in all these enactments which are being devolved and for which we should read "Welsh Assembly". I am advised that there is not likely to be a Cardiff Gazette. That refers to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, as to how the necessary announcements about water extraction will be made. We are not intending to start a Cardiff Gazette or anything approaching that.
The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, raised wide questions on the effect on community land, on various aspects, interest rates and so on. The Local Authorities (Land) Act of 1963 is reserved in respect of industrial buildings because all matters of industrial and regional policy are reserved and are not left to the Assembly. We think that these must remain on a United Kingdom basis so that one area cannot bid against 1135 another and try to persuade people indiscriminately to go from one area to another. The control of interest rates is an important part of the control of the regional industrial incentive; therefore we think that that ought to be reserved as well, although the Act is devolved for loans other than those on industrial buildings.
The noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, also advised me in advance that he was going to raise points about the differences, after devolution, between transport in England, in Wales and in Scotland. The devolution of transport matters is expressed in rather less general terms in the Wales Bill, but the scope is much the same as that provided for in Scotland, except that there is no equivalent in Wales of the Scottish transport group. The major difference, of course, is in the form of devolution where the Scottish Assembly will have legislative powers and the Welsh Assembly will not. The Welsh Assembly, therefore, as we explained earlier, takes over existing ministerial powers in respect of transport matters in Wales. The detailed implementation of the transport policy will, as now, rest primarily with the local authorities who will be submitting their own transport policy and plans and so on.
The Assembly, through its specific powers and the provision of finance, sill be able, if it wants to, to provide a different emphasis on transport policy and will be able to co-ordinate the work of the local authorities and perhaps get a more sensible and coherent transport policy. The Assembly could make it known that a transport supplementary grant would be paid at a higher level to local authorities which gave more emphasis to the development of public transport in urban areas and less to road building or vice versa, or it could make more grants available for rural bus services under Section 34 of the Transport Act 1968. These are just two examples to show how we anticipate that it will work. All this could result in differences in transport policy between Wales and England. But this is not anything novel, as the discretion open to local authorities already creates differences, not only from one country to another but even from one county to another. Some cities worship the car and others worship the bus. Some want major roads and lots of car parking, and some want a much more frequent public passenger bus service.
1136 The Government consider it right that the role of central Government should be taken over by the Assembly so that central Government decisions and advice can be more closely altered to meet Welsh needs and circumstances. We see no reason why any policy differences that there may be between England and Wales and Scotland after devolution should lead us into any practical difficulties as most transport planning is very closely related to land use planning and is anyway undertaken very much on a local or regional basis. Responsibility for the national British Rail network is, of course, reserved and is not affected by devolution.
I do not think that I have answered in great detail all the points that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, but we shall certainly consider them. One or two went rather wider than the points we had originally anticipated might be thrown at us. I shall look at the matter and write to him and also ensure that the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, receives a copy of the reply so that we know where we must go from here.
Perhaps I ought at this stage to give a minor apology to the House for the fact that our Bill team is somewhat depleted because we suffer from having—or perhaps I should say that we have the advantage of having— Ministers of the Crown on our Bill team (a matter about which the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and I have crossed swords many times) who today appear to be missing due to their other commitments.
§ Lord ELTON
Arising out of the last contribution by the noble Baroness, may I say that as I came into the Chamber I was reflecting with regret that the bowlers are always outnumbered by the batsmen. If something has been done to redress the balance I am more than glad.
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
I should like to clarify one point which the noble Baroness raised when she so kindly referred to the Act which I mentioned in my previous speech. I was concerned only with the flexibility of rates of interest in regard to the loans which local authorities can make under that Act. The noble Baroness was so sympathetic when she said that the Government were concerned with Welsh needs and circumstances that I wonder whether she would consider providing some flexibility of interest 1137 rates in the context perhaps of a particular area, at least in Wales itself.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
Off the cuff, I should say, no, I do not think that I can do so. However, I shall take the matter away with me and look at it.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I thank the noble Baroness for saying that at least I may have got one thing right and that there is some substance in the point that I was putting to her about the Civil Aviation Act. That emboldens me to say that when looking at the Road Traffic Act which is devolved under Part XVIII of Schedule 2, I found that under Section 31(5)—which deals with the control of dogs on roads—the Secretary of State at present has the power tomake regulations prescribing the procedure to be followed in connection with the making of orders under this section ".The devolution Bill leaves the rest of that section, but devolves subsection (5). Therefore, what is devolved to the Welsh Assembly is the power to make regulations under part of a section which is not devolved to it. Perhaps the noble Baroness would look at that matter so that she, rather than we, may come forward with an Amendment on the future of dogs in Wales.
The explanation given by the noble Baroness as to how the Government see the transport provisions of the Bill working is indeed valuable and something for which I, and I hope the rest of the Committee, are grateful. Nevertheless, there is still the anxiety that, in spite of the stricter demarcation line which she has drawn, there are many bus services and bus operators whose service boundaries are nothing to do with the physical boundaries of Wales as a country or the counties of Wales as counties. Therefore, the difficulties of running services across the Border are by no means to be overlooked if a different system as regards the management of traffic develops within the Principality after the passage of this Bill and if it ever comes into effect.
I hope that the noble Baroness will, after today's debate, bring forward all the Amendments necessary on this Part of the Schedule. However, I can assure her that if she does not, we shall.
§ Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Schedule 3 [Enactments conferring powers exercisable concurrently]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 61E, 61F and 61B not moved.]
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 61C:
Page 62, leave out line 40.
§ The noble Baroness said: This Government Amendment, like the Amendment which the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, tabled and which has not been moved, seeks to delete the entry in Schedule 3 for Section 7 of the Local Employment Act 1972. Your Lordships will be aware that the Local Employment Act was one of four Acts included in Part IX of Schedule 2 which has now been deleted by an earlier Amendment. I do not want to comment now on the wider issues that may be raised by that vote, but it might have been noticed that the Government had down an Amendment—No. 57B—to delete that particular entry in Part IX of Schedule 2 for the Local Employment Act. This Amendment to Schedule 3 was also on the Marshalled List at that time as an Amendment to Schedule 11—Amendment No. 109A. The purpose of the Government's Amendments was not to change the policy in respect of the Local Employment Act, but for technical reasons to achieve it in Schedule 11 rather than in Schedules 2 and 3.
§ During the debate on Part IX of Schedule 2 we did not detect any opposition to the Assembly being given powers under Section 7 of the Local Employment Act and accordingly we propose to proceed with these Amendments. As I shall explain, the powers to be exercised by the Assembly are of a limited nature and the Government will retain the full range of powers which they exercise at present.
§ When the Wales Bill was in another place Schedule 3 attracted some considerable interest, and in the light of the debate the Government looked carefully at each of the individual entries in the Schedule to see whether they achieved what we required. Our conclusion was that the entry for Section 7 of the Local Employment Act 1972 was not quite right, and 1139 the Government's three Amendments on the Marshalled List are intended to rectify the matter. Section 7 of the Local Employment Act 1972 is concerned with grants and loans for the provision of infrastructure services for industry in development and intermediate areas. Our policy is that the Government should continue to be able to make such grants after devolution; partly because they will remain responsible for a range of infrastructure services (for example, gas and electricity), but also because of their overall responsibility for industrial and regional policy. At the same time, it is sensible that the Assembly should be able to make grants in respect of those particular services, such as roads and sewers, for which it will have responsibility in other contexts.
§ We propose that the powers in respect of these "devolved" services should be concurrent. This should not present any practical difficulties, as the power is simply one to pay grants or loans. Powers in respect of other infrastructure services are exercised by the Government alone.
§ The Bill, however, can now easily achieve this without amending the Local Employment Act itself. The wording of Section 7 of that Act is such that it would, after devolution, probably prevent the Government from continuing to exercise their powers in respect of all the infrastructure services. The difficulty is that the Act enables a Minister to make grants or loans only if he is in charge of the Government Department that is responsible for the service. After devolution that will not be so in the case of services such as roads and sewers. We therefore, now propose to tackle the whole matter in Schedule 11, where textual amendment can be made to Section 7, and the Schedule 2 and 3 entries are no longer required. The Government's Amendment to Schedule 11 will, as I have said, ensure that the Government have powers in respect of all the infrastructure services and that the Assembly has concurrent powers in respect of those infrastructure services which are devolved in other contexts. The Amendment to Schedule 3 is a paving Amendment for the later Amendment to Schedule 11, but I thought it right that we should explain our intentions at this stage of the proceedings. I beg to move.1140
§ Baroness ELLES
I should like to say that on this side of the Committee we are very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for this explanation. I do not think that she will expect us to start debating it at this stage of the Bill; we can take it when we are debating Schedule 11. However, we are very grateful for this explanation.
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
I should like to express my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman and ask for clarification. When the noble Baroness says that this is a paving Amendment, does she mean that it is a paving Amendment to Amendments Nos. 108A, 108B and 108C?
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Baroness ELLES moved Amendment No. 61G:
Page 62, leave out line 42.
§ The noble Baroness said: This Amendment is consequential on the deletion of Part IX under Amendment No. 57C. I beg to move.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
Perhaps I ought to say at this time that the Government, of course, accept this Amendment, but it is entirely without prejudice to the matters being returned to in another place.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 10 [Existing statutory functions]:
Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 61GA:
Page 6, line 22, leave out from ("may") to end of line 24 and insert ("make arrangements to support museums, art galleries, libraries, the languages and culture of Wales, the arts, crafts, sport and other cultural and recreational activities; but shall not under this section do, or include in any such arrangements anything which would unreasonably prejudice the interests or restrict the employment opportunities of those who do, or those who do not, speak the Welsh language").
§ The noble Lord said: The recent exchanges have revealed the relationship of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, to 1141 the other place. But let us pass from that and now look at Clause 10, which is very much like a dressing-up box which I remember finding in the attic of my parents' home many years ago and which appeared very dull until you started pulling things out of it. In fact, what this clause covers is of considerable importance and interest and falls into four separate areas. Our rather large probing Amendment seeks to open up all these so that a number of apparent anomalies can be resolved.
The areas are respectively arts and letters, sport and leisure, language and the National Trust. It would perhaps be for the convenience of the Committee if I restricted myself to the first of those brackets in my first interjection in these proceedings. Your Lordships will already know that we are concerned about the funding aspects of the arts. Perhaps I could remind the noble Lord, Lord Donaldon of Kingsbridge—who I understand has now taken over the batsman's wicket—of a submission made to him or his Departmtnet by the National Library of Wales on the White Paper when it was published. In it, he is reminded that it is one of the chartered bodies listed in Appendix F of the White Paper. It says:
Paragraph 261 seems to imply that the future financing of the National Library will be determined by the Assembly".
That would still appear to be the case under the Bill.
It goes on:
While the National Library of Wales is at present accountable to Parliament under the Welsh Office, because of its unique position as a national institution it has close association with the other national institutions in England and Scotland for which the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries has general oversight. Consequently the grant-in-aid provided to the National Library of Wales bears a firm relationship to the grants made to other similar institutions. Furthermore the support and the advice which the National Library of Wales has received from the Standing Commission has proved invaluable and it benefits enormously from the relationship which has been developed (largely through its association with the Standing Commission) between the various national institutions throughout the United Kingdom. It is hoped that this close association will be safeguarded".
§ I raised this question in a financial context in our debate on the 14th June, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman —who has now gone to the other end of 1142 the pitch and is not facing the bowling—said at that stage that she had not had time to consider the question and would write. The reference is in column 391 of the Official Report. Unfortunately, that letter has not yet reached me. Therefore, it is necessary, and probably beneficial in any case, that this subject should be discussed in the open rather than in correspondence, and so I seek to pursue the matter further.
The fact that the fear is not restricted to members of my own Party is revealed, for instance, in the words of Mr. Leo Abse in another place, who said on 7th December that he had:
the deepest sympathy with the views expressed in the annual report of the Welsh Arts Council—namely, that the change in status of the Welsh Arts Council which might follow devolution legislation and the consequence of it on the Council's long-term arts policy is not predictable".
He went on to say:
There will be a threat as the result of the coming into existence of the Welsh Assembly that the unique system in Britain whereby the arts are insulated from political domination could be subverted. We must not seek to impose our individual prejudices, philistinism"—
and the word is not mine—
or sophistry on the Arts Council".
The reply he received was not, in my view, satisfactory. It was that:
The Arts Council is a chartered body and as such, like other chartered bodies, is excluded from the Wales Bill.
The Bill proposes to give the Assembly very wide powers to support the Arts. It will be a matter of agreement between everyone concerned as to exactly how the new arrangements for the arts will be operated".
That appears to leave the question of funding, which is not embodied in the Charter, entirely open and, of course, a good deal flows from that. At this stage I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he has knowledge of the document produced on Devolution policy by the Welsh Arts Council in February, 1976 —I presume he does—which embodies their views on the subject. Is he aware that in that document they say that they would welcome devolution provided they could be embodied under a new Royal Charter—like that of the Arts Council of Great Britain—and provided that they could include craft and film in their purview. They add that they, just like the farmers, are anxious that regional differences within Wales should be reflected in their membership.
§ Finally—and perhaps this is the most important point—can the noble Lord silence, once and for all, the rumours which are now current that it is the Government's intention to dismember the Arts Council of Great Britain into three separate and inevitably weaker bodies for England, Scotland and Wales, thus frustrating the final plea of the Welsh Arts Council that they should at least be given two seats upon the Arts Council of Great Britain? Naturally, there are other matters, but I think that at this stage I should like the noble Lord to have an opportunity to reply.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge)
I am grateful for the opportunity of explaining exactly where the Government stand in relation to the Arts Council, which naturally concerns me particularly closely. If I may, I shall deal with that matter first. The Arts Council of Great Britain is a body nominated by the Secretary of State and created by Royal Charter. The Scotland and Wales Bills are silent on the future arrangements for such bodies, although responsibility for the arts is explicitly devolved under both Bills.
The result is that it will be for the Assemblies to decide what organisational arrangements they would like to make in Scotland and Wales. There is a wide range of possibilities. They might wish to set up their own Departments of Culture or to have their own Arts Councils, which is the rumour to which the noble Lord has referred; but it cannot be more than a rumour, because until the Assemblies exist and say what they want, there cannot be any truth in it. The Assemblies might even wish to continue to operate through the Arts Council of Great Britain, using the existing Scottish and Welsh Arts Councils, which are committees of the Great Britain body.
However, there would be technical problems with that solution as the Scottish and Welsh Arts Council money comes at present from the grant in aid for the Arts Council of Great Britain, which is provided through the Department of Education and Science; after devolution money for the arts in Scotland and Wales will come from the block grant. But 1144 there are some activities which get an Arts Council subsidy or guarantee now which cut across these boundaries and have a Great Britain dimension. In particular, I have in mind the amount of touring that is carried out by various opera and theatre companies, travelling exhibitions and certain institutions and artists who have a world reputation and following.
There will probably also be a need for some sensible arrangement for all concerned to get together from time to time to discuss matters of common interest, though whether this could be looked after by the Arts Council with an amended charter or by a new body remains to be seen. But we do need to ensure that there is no hiatus in the transitional period in the level of support to artistic activity. We therefore have it in mind that in this, as in many other fields, there will have to be preliminary discussions between officials and arts administrators and provisional arrangements to tide over matters until the Assemblies can take a considered decision for themselves. At this stage it is important not to anticipate that decision, nor to rule out any solution.
I have had this answer prepared extremely carefully because I think this is a fairly explosive subject and it is important that we should be exactly clear where we stand. The Government's position is that the arts are devolved, and therefore it will be up to the Assembly to decide what structure it wishes to employ. Many people take the view that it will be unlikely not to insist upon direct management itself, but that is only a view. It bears no relation to the reality that may come. So I think we have the position clear that the Arts Council does not have to disappear, though it is quite likely that the Assemblies in each case would prefer that it did and that some co-ordinating body was erected.
Lastly, we recognise the cross-border importance of the arts, both in relation to Scotland and Wales, and we are perfectly aware that there must be some organisation for dealing with this. It will not be laid down in this Bill but it will emerge later.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Lord ELTON
If noble Lords do not mind, I should like to take up directly two points which have emerged. The noble Lord said that his answer had been 1145 carefully prepared, and of course he will accept that my answer cannot be prepared because I have not heard his answer until now. I agree with him that this is a matter of considerable importance which leaves many questions unresolved by the nature of the solution which it proposes. I understand that the ACGB grant will be lost de facto at the moment when devolution takes place, which will remove a vehicle of considerable importance for the dissemination of the views and policy of the Arts Council, even if it is to survive. I understand that the survival of the Arts Council of Great Britain is to be dependent upon decisions made by the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies, assuming that they come into existence; and to some extent I think one must see that as subordination of the interests of the whole to the interests of the arts.
It may be that that is what devolution is. I question whether it is a right decision at this juncture, or whether any of the parts are likely to pledge themselves to the welfare of the whole in a political context, when their choice might be seen as being in some way disloyal to the community which they have just been elected to represent. But a principal consideration seems to lie in the words which I think I heard the noble Lord say immediately before his conclusion. I cannot paraphrase them but they amounted to this; that for a period all will be uncertain; for a period everything will depend upon close co-ordination between directors of museums and other services and presumably—
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
With respect, the museums have nothing to do with it. We are talking about the Arts Council.
§ Lord ELTON
I apologise. But it will be a question of ad hoc arrangements over a period, the extent of which cannot be clearer until we know when the Assembly is to sit and when it will make its decisions.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
I wonder whether I may interrupt the noble Lord again. I am sorry, but this is important. The Welsh and Scottish Arts Councils exist now, and they will not cease to exist until the 1146 Assembly decides what it is going to to with them; so I think that there will be actual continuity although there will not be continuity of grant after D.1—whenever that is.
§ Lord ELTON
I find that most helpful. What I had it in mind to say was that if, as apparently there may not be, there were to be an extended period of uncertainty, it might be a good thing to have some delaying factor on the operation of the part of the Bill which has this effect, so that the bodies which have to budget ahead would be able to count on their budget for, let us say, 12 months after devolution, and during that period of 12 months the Assembly would have been able to make known to them what the arrangements for their budget in the next 12 months might be. That is something which I will take away and reflect upon. I am much obliged to the noble Lord. I suspect that other noble Lords would like to voice an opinion on this and therefore I will now give way. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, has been patiently waiting.
§ Lord MORRIS of BORTH-Y-GEST
I feel sure that in so far as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, presented this Amendment as a probing Amendment in order to gain information from the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, he performed a valuable service. I think we realise that it needed a statement which was carefully prepared, and we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson for that. But what has puzzled me is why we are presented with an Amendment in the terms on the Marshalled List if the inquiry—and a very valuable inquiry—was merely one in regard to the financing of art galleries and what would happen in the future. One has often to look at the words of an Amendment. What does this Amendment do? It really leaves out most of the words after, "The Assembly may" and substitutes new words; namely, "make arrangements to support" in place of, "do anything it considers appropriate to support". We do not need an Amendment for that because there is no change, unless the noble Lord felt that was his way of introducing a probing Amendment.
§ Lord ELTON
It might be of service to the Committee if I were to say that that 1147 was exactly what it was. This is a probing Amendment and it is not necessary for the noble and learned Lord to demolish the case which is presented in the Amendment. He will see that a number of other matters arise from the Amendment to which I shall speak later, and that explains the length of the Amendment. It may save him a little anxiety if I say now that this is not an Amendment we intend to press.
§ Lord MORRIS of BORTH-Y-GEST
I am very glad to hear that the noble Lord does not intend to press it, but I should like to know why it was introduced in such terms. Perhaps I may continue: the noble Lord said before that it was a probing Amendment, but it is much more than a probing Amendment. Instead of the words in the clause, which are,To support museums, art galleries, libraries, the Welsh language",the Amendment has,art galleries, libraries, the languages and culture of Wales,".I am delighted to know that the noble Lord thinks that there are many languages in Wales. I am delighted that he should pay respect to the culture of Wales. I thought at first that perhaps the noble Lord meant "the language of Wales", but the word "languages" was in the third Marshalled List, it was in the fourth Marshalled List, and now the noble Lord has moved his Amendment and has made no change in the wording. Which are the languages of Wales? The noble Lord has paid tribute in the past to the Welsh language. I remember on Second Reading he said that the Welsh werea distinct and separate nation with a distinct, separate, proud and very long national tradition—some would say a good deal longer than that of the rest of the United Kingdom, for Welsh was spoken in these Islands long before the English tongue existed ".—[Official Report; 23/5/78, col. 840.]This is a very fine tribute, but it does not make the Welsh language into a number of languages.
In your Lordships' Library on one of the shelves there are two neighbouring volumes. One is the Oxford Book of English Verse, the other is the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse. The latter of course, entirely Welsh. The earliest poem in the Oxford Book of English Verse is from the 13th Century; the first poem in the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse is from 1148 some seven centuries earlier. I think that the noble Lord was justified in his Second Reading speech in paying the handsome tribute he did to the language of Wales, and I accept the tribute. But even so it does not multiply the languages in Wales. There is one Welsh language, and I think I am right in saying that Welsh scholars can fully understand and follow the language of the Welsh poem of the 6th Century.
However, what I want to know is why the noble Lord included the latter part of the Amendment. What has it to do with the financial point he raised? May I remind your Lordships of the words. The noble Lord did not even refer to this when he moved it:shall not under this section do, or include in any such arrangements anything which would unreasonably prejudice the interests or restrict the employment opportunities of those who do, or those who do not, speak the Welsh language".Why were those words introduced? What was the motive behind this?
It is true that the noble Lord now says, "Well, I am not going to go on with this Amendment". I should hope not. But does the noble Lord not owe it to the Committee to say why these words were ever put in? Do these words indicate mistrust in the capabilities of the Welsh people? I have had the privilege of listening on the Cross-Benches to most of the debate. I have listened with admiration to the speeches from the Opposition Front Bench and from the other Benches. I have listened with admiration to the speeches from the Government Front Bench and the other Benches. But I am hound to say that in one respect I think the Opposition noble Lords have been a little unfortunate. Not when it has come to going into the Division Lobbies, but in their protestations, because the more they have protested that it would be quite wrong for anyone to think that they had any mistrust of the capabilities of the Welsh people, the more the impression seems to me to have been gained on the Government Front Bench that that is exactly what they were indicating.
Do they, or do they not, mistrust the people who will form the membership of the Welsh Assembly? Is it necessary to put into a new Act of Parliament:There shall be a Welsh Assembly, but the Members are not to act unreasonably"?1149 Is that mistrust, or not? Is there any reason to think that they would act unreasonably? The Welsh have plenty of experience of dealing with bilingual communities. The Welsh Assembly, when constituted, may well be four-fifths made up of those who do not speak Welsh. Is it necessary to insert into this new Bill a provision, "Well, the Assembly must not act unreasonably"? Why would they? What reason is there to think that they would?
§ Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY
May I interrupt the noble and learned Lord? I always do so in this House with fear, but particularly when interrupting the noble and learned Lord. I do not think it is distrust of the Welsh Assembly—and I speak as a Welshman here—it is that we all distrust anybody who is above us. That is always so when I speak, and I think the same is true of my noble friends when we say that the Assembly might do something wrong. I say this with the greatest respect about every organisation; local authorities, Governments, and even your Lordships' House. It is not that I or my noble friends are, if I can put it in agricultural words, "getting at the Welsh Assembly"; it is that we are always frightened of anything new. As a Welshman, I am sure that the noble and learned Lord would feel akin to that spirit. I apologise for interrupting him.
§ Lord MORRIS of BORTH-Y-GEST
The noble Lord says that there is a certain fear of something new. The noble Lord either supports this Amendment or he does not. If he does not support it, it does not matter; if he supports it, does that mean that he would think it necessary to legislate that this new body should not act unreasonably because he would fail to have trust in the capabilities of the Members of the Welsh Assembly? The noble Lord has spoken favourably in regard to county councils. Who elected the county councils?—the same people who will elect Members of the Welsh Assembly.
I think that one day last week the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, indicated in his reply that he thought that there was again a creeping in of an expression of mistrust in the capabilities of the Welsh people. In another debate the same 1150 night, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, felt the same. But the noble Lord, Lord Elton, disclaimed it. He said on 15th June at column 650:I should like to rebut the charge more strongly in this context than in any other that the noble Lord has made that we are against the Welsh. We are not against the Welsh Assembly because it is Welsh. We are not against the Welsh Assembly because it may be no good".I am puzzled about that. The noble Lord continued:We want to make the Assembly, if it has to he, as good as it can be, …".I appreciate that these words are now going to be withdrawn, but did their inclusion indicate that there was mistrust in the capabilities of an elected Welsh Assembly to act fairly in regard to those who did, or did not, speak the Welsh language?
I am sorry that it has been necessary to go into this matter even though the noble Lord did not mention it in proposing his Amendment, but it is on our Marshalled List and I think it is right that the noble Lord should have the opportunity of disclaiming once again any idea that it is necessary to provide by Statute that the elected people in the new Assembly would act unreasonably.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
No one is going to believe this, but the noble and learned Lord has taken out of my mouth most that I was going to say about the latter part of this Amendment which was not touched on, but in his own inimitable and judicial way the case has been made beautifully. I understood that it was mainly a probing Amendment. Nevertheless, I consider the language at the bottom rather unfortunate in so far as logically it implies that the Welsh, as a nation, are likely to prejudice non-Welsh speaking Welshmen. It is unfortunate that that was attached to it.
May I say, as somebody with what we used to call the old-fashioned Higher Certificate but not A-levels, who had to probe a little into medieval Welsh and study Plant yr Hayl, The Children of the Sun, about the Incas of Peru, and look up some medieval Welsh, that I think it is absolutely necessary to have that type of scholarship available in the museums and in cultural areas. I hope that the Welsh Assembly will encourage that scholarship 1151 with a new chair of philology in Aberstwyth, Swansea or Cardiff, or the Welsh university.
I hope the Assembly in considering this matter will not be too proud to support necessary esoteric scholarship. Though it might sound odd, there is a need for esoteric scholarship in all our nations, including the Anglo-Saxon, to keep alive the cultural tie and the silver thread of neighbourliness and nationhood. I therefore hope that while we are considering sport we shall also consider the learned institutions, and I hope that the Welsh Assembly will, if necessary, consider supporting a Chair in Welsh philology or in the Welsh language, particularly to keep alive the old documents and manuscripts that go way back into history. The case having been made, I will not bore the House with repetition.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Lord GIBSON
I apologise for not having arrived at the beginning of the statement by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge; I was prevented from getting here in time. However, I arrived in time to hear him say it was the Government's view that it should be left to the Welsh Assembly to decide how the arts in Wales should be funded and for it to say whether or not there should be a Welsh Arts Council. I do not want to indicate any distrust of what Welshmen, the members of the Welsh Assembly when it is set up, may do. At the same time, I feel entitled, as an ex-chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, to express apprehension as to the effects of splitting up the three arts councils, whereas at the moment they are one. It may be politically wise—I do not attempt to pronounce on the political wisdom or unwisdom of this—but it is my duty, I feel, to say what I think the artistic effect will be and how any bad effects may possibly be mitigated.
At present, as I said on the Scotland Bill in relation to the Scottish Arts Council, the Scots and the Welsh—though let us stick to the Welsh in this context—have the best of both worlds. The Welsh Arts council has total autonomy in the dispersing of its funds, which are voted en bloc by the Arts Council of Great Britain, and I think it is true to say it has never been disappointed with its share. It has total autonomy and there- 1152 fore it cannot have any more autonomy; it can only have less; if the Welsh Assembly—which let us not assume it will—behaves with less restraint as regards interference in the arts than this Parliament does. In other words, it has everything it could want.
It also has the right to sit on the Council at the centre in London and participate in all the decisions that are taken in regard to the United Kingdom as a whole. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that the good of the whole was being subordinated for the good of the parts. In fact, it is not for the good of the parts either. It is essential that they have the right to sit at the centre and take part in the decisions at the centre, and anything less than that will have a very bad effect on the way in which the arts are administered and will cut them off from what is of deep interest to them and to us all.
If the arts are to be devolved to the Welsh Assembly, I hope it will be possible to find some means of perpetuating the essence of the present system and that there will not be any cultural isolation practised in Wales. I know it is the strong feeling of most members of the Welsh Arts Council that they are happy with the present system. If it is about to disappear, the important thing is to set our minds to finding a means of perpetuating the essence of what works so well at present.
§ Lord THOMAS
As a Welsh-born Member of this House, my view is that the Amendment, particularly the second half of it, is a reasonable, businesslike precaution to have in the Bill. We know what the atmosphere of Wales is today, but we do not know what it will be in years to come, and I think that the precaution of having a non-Welsh speaking person doing things for Wales is reasonable. I was asked to be the founder chairman of the Development Corporation for Wales and I have been chairman of the Welsh Aviation Advisory Committee, though I do not speak any Welsh—if I do, I speak only a couple of swear words. But I have not found that not being able to speak Welsh has been any barrier to doing things for Wales and being persona grata, I am happy to think, in Wales. would describe the second part of the Amendment as perfectly reasonable and 1153 logical. In my view it does not reflect at all on the fair-mindedness of the Welsh people. I would regard it as a sensible and businesslike provision to have in the Bill.
Baroness WARD of NORTH TYNESIDE
We are debating the Wales Bill and I appreciate that it is up to the Welsh people to decide what they want. That is fair enough. However, I want to know what is to happen to the Arts Council in general. Indeed, I am rather surprised that before reaching this position of discussing what the Welsh Assembly will do about their arts—in which they are, naturally, interested, and it is only right that they should be—We should not have been told whether the Arts Council has been consulted, whether they have agreed to what is being done and what will be the result if the rumour is true that the Arts Council is to be split up. I should not like that to happen. In short, your Lordships should have been told, before reaching this stage, exactly what is to happen to the Arts Council. Surely we should know, before taking a decision on this Amendment or anything like it, what is the view of the Arts Council as a whole and, equally important, what is to happen to the Arts Council.
I speak with many years experience of another place and I know, even so far as my Party is concerned, the difficulty we had in getting finance and help for the arts in general. I do not want the new devolution Bills—with which I do not agree at all, anyway—to result in the Arts Council, which I and many of my honourable friends in another place tried hard to create and support, having a decision of this sort thrust upon them without their view being known by us. Devolution should not destroy an organisation which has been built up to help the arts in general.
As for all the rest—whether the Welsh language will be spoken in the Assembly and so on—I could not care less; if they want to talk in Welsh, let them do so. But I do not want the Arts Council to have to talk in Welsh, Scots or Geordie. I particularly want to know why the position of the Arts Council has never been put forward so that, when we discuss these matters, we know what will happen to the Arts Council, something which, in 1154 my view, is much more important than whether we speak Welsh, Scots or Geordie. As I say, I really do not understand what all the argument is about. However, I should like to have an undertaking from the Government that if I table a Question your Lordships will be told in detail about what is to happen to the Arts Council, financially and otherwise, in the future.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS
My reaction to the general principle, and indeed to some of the detail behind devolving authority from the centre to Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, has already been made quite clear, and I should have preferred to give myself a self-denying ordinance that I would not repeat this reaction during discussion of the Welsh Bill. I can imagine the noble Lord opposite being pleased about that. However, I was rather disturbed by the contribution from the Cross-Benches from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest. This made me feel that, with the view I hold, I ought to have on the record some observations to run alongside the speech of the noble and learned Lord.
I consider that the noble and learned Lord was unfair to my noble friend, but I shall say no more about that because my noble friend is perfectly capable of looking after himself. However, at the same time, the noble and learned Lord was also unfair to the Parliamentary system. The noble and learned Lord spoke in a most persuasive way—and indeed we know how persuasive he is, and that makes his contribution so much more dagerous if I happen to be wrong. I consider that he was unfair to the Parliamentary system in his suggestion that one could not say that one had every confidence in the fairness and objectivity of the Welsh nation, while at the same time one wanted to write into a Bill which would give them extra authority, certain safeguards which, if one was viewing the matter in a nasty way, may give the impression that one did not in fact have that confidence. We know that in practical terms both of those propositions stand up. It is a fact that the capabilities and the objectivity of the Welsh people are neither better nor worse than those of the English or the Scots; they are just about the same. The Welsh have the same number of saints— 1155 if they have any at all—and they have the same kind of strength and weaknesses of character as the rest of us.
Because that is so, we know from experience in legislating for future government, that it is possible, under our various electoral systems, for people who are not objective, and who can be extreme and unfair, to gain control. At present in this country we are accepting all kinds of edicts from a Government who have less than 28 per cent. support from the voting population of the country. All manner of extreme things are being done. It is possible, even in the Welsh Assembly, that although the nation as a whole can be relied upon, a group which could not be relied upon to the same extent may at some time gain control of the Assembly.
There is a possibility that that will happen, and, as my noble friend said, what is proposed in the Amendment forms a very sensible safeguard. It we are legislating for the future, we have a duty to write such safeguards into the legislation. The noble and learned Lord was a most eminent Lord of Appeal, and no one should know better than a man who has held such a high and responsible office that the only reason we have laws at all—against such activities as robbery, driving above a 30 mph speed limit, and not paying income tax—is that there is a minority of people who are prepared to evade the themes of objectivity, honesty and general straightforwardness for their own self-interest. That is the only reason we have laws, and we all have to work under certain restrictions.
It is most prudent that, in passing on power to the Welsh Assembly, we write into the legislation certain safeguards which will make it less likely that damage will be done by small minorities who gain control, if only temporarily. I do not at all suggest that the Welsh people will fall below others in how they use their voting powers, but as legislators we must anticipate the possibility that the worst might happen. We may have to have a written Constitution because of what is happening throughout the United Kingdom today. I thought that the speech of the noble and learned Lord, though very persuasive, was out of character and unfair, and so I wished to have another point of view on the record to stand alongside it.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
I should like to put a point to the noble Lord before he sits down. Let us suppose that at some future time the Anglo-Saxons decide that they want an Assembly of their own, and I were to table a proposal that there should be no unreasonable prejudicing of the interests, or restriction of the unemployment opportunities, of those who do not speak the Anglo-Saxon language—or I could use the word "English" if necessary. Of course it would be absurd to legislate in that way. It is impudence to think that in these modern times a nation would be so prejudiced that such a proposal would be necessary. I would not dream of putting down such a proposal.
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
When the noble Lord, Lord Elton, with his usual charm, introduced the Amendment some time ago, I was very relieved that he did not say anything about the language question. Certainly he did not suggest in any way that the Welsh people might be unreasonable or prejudiced regarding cultural and recreational activities. I was pleased that he did not make that point, because it meant that I would not have to make certain observations more pointed as compared with the elegant phraseology of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borthy-y-Gest.
However, I wish to take up a point which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, made. He indicated—and this is quite true—that there is a fear in Wales, and elsewhere, that the Assembly may try to thrust the Welsh language on to people, and thus lead to discrimination on a language basis against the interests and employment of people. I have heard that stated on many occasions, but to say such a thing is to fail to appreciate the present pattern of the speaking of English and Welsh in Wales in a domestic, industrial and political context.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, referred to the election of county councils, the majority of members of which are not Welsh speaking. When the Welsh Assembly is elected, most of its Members will be from the industial areas of Wales, which are largely non-Welsh speaking. Twenty per cent. of the people of Wales do not speak Welsh at all. Therefore, it is inevitable that the majority of men and women in the Assembly will not be Welsh speaking.
1157 Notwithstanding the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, I must say that the Amendment, raising as it does the question of language, is divisive and unhelpful, and in Wales it will be considered to be such. I must endorse what was stated in another place by more than one Welsh-speaking Member of Parliament who have great experience in these matters. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will withdraw the Amendment without qualification. Whatever may be the motive behind the Amendment, it is the kind of Amendment which—to put it quite bluntly, as Members did in another place—is an insult to the people of Wales. The question of language should be left to the common sense of the elected Members of the Welsh Assembly, and your Lordships' Committee should not try to impose rules of language upon the Welsh Assembly.
It is many years since I last spoke in the Chamber, and I did not intend to speak this afternoon. However, in view of the fact that for two years I was Under-Secretary of State for Welsh Affairs, I think that possibly I have a right to make a very brief observation on the Amendment. I regret that I must disagree with the noble Lord who has just spoken. What is being proposed seems to me to be an eminently sensible arrangement. There has always been a number of people in Wales who wished to compel the teaching of Welsh in schools; there have always been Welsh-speaking enthusiasts. I do not think they have any need to be outraged by anything that is said in this Amendment. But, as against that, this protects the interests of the non-Welsh-speaking people. I served with the Welsh Guards in the war, and most of my men came from the Rhondda. None of them spoke Welsh; and I think that a great majority of the Assembly will probably be non-Welsh-speaking anyway. Therefore, I should like to support the noble Lord on my left and other noble Lords who have spoken in favour of this Amendment, which seems to me to make common sense and to be just what is needed.
§ Lord ELTON
I suppose it was naïve to assume that I could put down an Amendment covering four separate fields, to announce in advance that I intended to 1158 speak to only one of them and not then to be attacked on the other three, or at least on two of the other three. The naïvety was espied, inevitably, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, who descended upon me, if I may so phrase it, like a dove with talons and made it clear to all what I had done. I am therefore drawn, of course, to rebut some of the statements he has made, though I admire the cleverness with which he has manoeuvred me into a position where everybody outside this Chamber will now assume that I withdrew my Amendment, when I do withdraw it, not as a result of a preconceived plan but as a result of his charming attack upon me.
The noble and learned Lord started by giving me a bouquet, as it were. I had almost plunged my nose in it before I recalled (and he reminded me shortly) that he never hands me a rose without there is an earwig in it; nor, indeed, does he throw me a snowball without a stone is in it; nor have I met a hand more deeply clothed in velvet or more heavily shod in iron. All this I say in the best of spirits and the greatest of goodwill, because he has been a Member of your Lordships' House for 14 years longer than me. Therefore, it is with deference but none the less insistence that I must say that it is a perfectly normal procedure in this Committee to put down an Amendment in order to draw interesting and constructive views from the Members of the Committee; and if the noble and learned Lord thinks that it has not done that, then he is wrong.
The noble and learned Lord started out with a moving appeal on the language question. I might have accepted part of what he said earlier on. I might have accepted that there are only two languages in Wales—that is to say, Welsh and English (and I am surprised that the restriction to the plural which he imposes is so adamant, since it seemed to exclude the existence of English as the principal national language of Wales altogether; that I find puzzling)—but when I was last in Wales I had the good fortune to drive in beautiful weather from giving a conference in Carnarvon to making a speech in Cardiff, and I noticed what bore out an earlier experience: that the Post Office was called one thing at one end of the journey and another thing at the other. They were both Welsh words, and they 1159 were different. What is more, when I set out with temerity and, I think, folly, to attempt to master at least the basic principles of that beautiful and intricate language I discovered that there is a choice of two sets of tapes, two sets of instruction books, two manuals of instructions, both purporting to teach the same language and with entirely different contents; and I am told that if I learn one I will not understand the other. If the noble and learned Lord tells me that I am wrong, I must believe him, but everybody else in Wales tells me that I am right. Therefore I say that there are not two but three languages in Wales, and I stand by that.
I had put this Amendment down as a probing Amendment in order, first of all, to elicit the views which several of my noble friends have most hopefully advanced, which reflect views I have heard of a genuine anxiety within the Home Civil Service that the possibility of a language test before appointment to service with the Assembly would constitute an obstruction to a career prospect, and I thought that this should be ventilated. I recognise the difficulties—I had not spoken to this part of the Amendment; I now will do so—that will arise if the Welsh Assembly is to conduct its proceedings in English and Welsh, of whatever variety, and some Members thereof are monoglot and others are not. There will presumably have to be a translation service. I cannot see that anybody who cannot speak Welsh can offer to serve as an interpreter. Therefore, there must be occasions on which there is a reasonable bar to appointment on the grounds of language.
But the noble and learned Lord takes exception to this. He asks: Are we being reasonable in suggesting that the great and good Welsh, with their great and complex language, will ever act unreasonably? The noble and learned Lord is a Lord of Appeal, I understand, and he must have heard many cases on many Acts of Parliament. Almost every one has a provision to defend people from the unreasonable exercise of the powers contained in the Act. May I, since I happen to know a little about education, refer him specifically to Section 68 of the Education Act 1944, which gives a right of appeal by an aggrieved party against the unreasonable exercise of powers by a 1160 local authority, which is the nearest thing we now have to the Welsh Assembly. I cannot see that this is any breach of precedent, or that it is unreasonable, or that it is anti-Welsh.
This brings me to a central theme. I have the greatest admiration—and I am not saying this out of sycophancy or because I think it looks elegant in debate —for the noble and learned Lord, who has one characteristic which I envy above all other, and that is a streak of romanticism. However, I feel that this is tingeing what he has been saying, because the romantics, who are perhaps best represented by the French poets of the 19th century, always invest inanimate objects or organisations with abstract properties. If you are Lamartine and you want to give the idea of majesty, you refer to rocks, as in Le Lac. If you wish to talk of sorrow—was it de Vigny who wrote Le Chanson de Roland? —you refer to the wind blowing through the trees. If you want to reflect despair and you are Victor Hugo, you write of the snow. At the end of every stanza in L' Expiation, as the noble and learned Lord will probably recall, "il neigeait". Nothing could be more damped down; nothing could make you feel almost physically the despair of the retreat from Moscow more than those words.
I think this is a process which the noble and learned Lord is applying—wrongly, in my respectful opinion—to the Welsh Assembly, because he is saying that the Welsh Assembly is in some way subsuming all the ideals of Welshness; the Welshness of Wales. It is in some way something which takes up its beauty, its grandeur, its traditions; everything that he so rightly holds dear. And I am very glad that he does, because it is people like him who keep burning a precious flame which is all that stands between Wales and its reduction to a commonalty with the other parts of the United Kingdom. He is doing this, but he is assuming that the Assembly, elected or otherwise, purely Welsh or otherwise, perfect or otherwise, will contain within it the essence of all that is Welsh, and if we suggest anything which is in any way restrictive to that Assembly or to its Members this is in some way restrictive to and derogatory of, not the Members but Wales and Welshness.
I am doing everything in my power to disabuse him of that opinion. I said 1161 during the Second Reading debate and I repeat now that it is our duty to protect the rights of our fellow citizens in Wales, the Welsh, the people who do the electing, the people who want this Assembly—if they want it. Our function in this House and Committee is to see that the Assembly is such that, if they accept it, it will do the best job for them that it can. But it is made up of human beings; and the Welsh are no more venal than the English or the Scots, but they are no more saints, either. Why should legislation about Wales exclude restrictions on the unreasonable use of powers when legislation about England, Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole uses this formula on every page? I cannot see this argument.
I implore the noble and learned Lord to understand that I, at least, trust the Welshness of the Welsh; and had I had the opportunity to withdraw this Amendment before the noble and learned Lord made his speech I should have said that I had been anxious to listen to the views that we have had so usefully expressed to us. I should have reflected that the majority of those elected and the great majority of those electing the Assembly would not be Welsh-speaking, and that they would surely be able to protect their own interests. I should have wanted to think about this; I should have wished to consult with my friends, both here and in another place. That is the view that, without the very charming, entertaining and effective speech that the noble and learned Lord has made, I should have expressed at this stage.
The Committee will forgive me for defending myself at some length, because I have to some extent been defending my Party. We were discussing the Arts Council. The noble Lord opposite has now had plenty of time to consider a further carefully thought-out statement. I think that, before I move on, he will wish to answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, and the questions raised by my noble friend from North Tyneside. I presume that before this debate is over and after he has had time to collect his information, we shall, regrettably, have to look at sport and we ought to look at the National Trust.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
It is not a question of collecting 1162 information. It is a question of collecting my wits after the very long and diffuse Second Reading debate which we seem to have every afternoon—they become more and more interesting and more and more impossible to reply to. Do I take it from what the noble Lord has said, that this is Part 1 of the Amendment and that we are going to have to discuss Parts 2, 3 and 4? If so I should like notice.
§ Lord ELTON
The noble Lord nodded his head vigorously when I suggested that I ought to stop after my brief introduction to let him reply about the Arts Council. Since then, I have not been able to get a word in edgeways.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
The noble Lord had a good seven minutes and he need not complain. Before dealing with Part I of this Amendment I should like to say that I think it a thoroughly bad practice in Committee to have a very wide Second Reading debate on four or five subjects. I do not think that it is the way to do it. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, said so and I agree. I came prepared to deal with anything, as I always am. So far, nothing has been said which presents me with a problem that I cannot skip over or skid round. But it is really quite ridiculous on Committee to have a discussion of this kind. I think it is absolutely wrong. Every speaker spoke about something different. I shall do my best to sum it up.
I should like to begin by saying a word to the noble Baroness who confessed that she did not understand anything about it at all and who complained that she had not been told by the Government exactly what was going to happen. Her understanding I must leave to her; but, over the prophecy about what will happen, I had already answered quite clearly that the arts will be devolved to Wales and Scotland and that the Assemblies in Scotland and Wales will decide how to deal with them. I do not know, and neither does anybody else in the Government, what decision they will make. We can make various guesses, but we do not know. That is the answer to the noble Baroness. I fear it will not satisfy her, but it is the best that I can do.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
I did not think it would. I should like to turn to the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, in whose views I am naturally very interested, as he was until a year ago, a most successful chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain for five years. He ended by saying that the position—which is my position—will probably change and that we must try to see that it changes in the right way. That is the position.
What I said in my carefully considered statement was that there was no basic reason why the Arts Council of Great Britain should be dissolved. If the Assemblies choose to continue as branches of the Arts Council of Great Britain, there is no legal objection. I think there are very many feelings among people that it is extremely unlikely that this will happen; but that is the case. One of the things about Royal Charter bodies is that they are not altered by legislation; so that what will happen will be that any alterations that are required to the Arts Council of Great Britain will be dealt with, after discussion with the relevant bodies in Wales and Scotland, by the Arts Council of Great Britain altering its own constitution accordingly.
If I may turn for a moment to the Welsh language, I have to confess that whether or not he carries a horseshoe in his boxing glove (as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, once said he did), the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, said nothing with which I did not agree. I have been saying on Amendment after Amendment throughout the whole of the Bill that, without accusing noble Lords opposite of being deliberately anti-Welsh or trying to do dawn the Welsh, the effect of what they are doing is to derogate from the powers of the Assembly which is set up in order that the Welsh should look after themselves. I should like to say that although some noble Lords express a difference of opinion with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, I express agreement and I think that he put his case admirably, as everybody else thinks. Everybody thought it was put very admirably but not all agreed with it. I agree with it.
The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, complained that things were done by 1164 this Government on a minority vote (or something of that sort) assuming, I imagine, that he was not satisfied with the present electoral system; but I observe with horror that he voted against proportional representation; so that I think he is in the usual fairly confused state. I think that is all I need to say about the Arts Council and the Welsh language. Parts 3 and 4 are to follow.
§ Lord ELTON
Clearly, the Committee would like me to defer Part 3 until we reach Amendment No. 61J, so I will leave sport on one side. I should like to allude to the position of the National Trust. It appears that this clause will affect it closely. May I ask the noble Lord whether I am correct in assuming that the effect of this clause, taken with Clause 71 and Schedule 10, will be that such transactions as are at present necessary to the National Trust in the United Kingdom will, as they relate to Wales, still be transacted by Parliament under the special Parliamentary procedures already established'? The question can be more simply expressed than in the technical language I used by saying that I want to know whether the business of the National Trust, as it is at present supervised by Parliament, will or will not be affected by the Bill as it stands. Obviously, this is something which is of some importance. My understanding is that it will not; but my suspicion is that that might be unintentional.
§ Lord ELTON
If the noble Lord's understanding changes, perhaps he will inform me before the next stage. I think that we have now said enough on the subject. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Lord MORRIS of BORTH-Y-GEST
May I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for his very interesting and philosophical speech. I do not wish to add anything at this stage beyond saying that all my life such influence as I possess, which may be very little, has been used for the promotion of the most cordial good relations between the English and the Welsh and for the utmost co-operation. I trust that nothing that has been said in this debate will make 1165 it difficult for the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and Ito co-operate in that line.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.48 p.m.
Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 61GB:
Page 6, line 22, after ("anything") insert ("which but for the enactment of this Act would have been within the powers of a Minister of the Crown, which").
§ The noble Lords said: This is contiguous to and not consequential to or a related Amendment. This seeks to define what the clause means. We have now established areas in which the Assembly is empowered to act. Does this clause give them power to buy land or to direct that land shall be bought; and, if so, is that power subject to planning procedures? I think I can simply ask this. Can the noble Lord tell us what the inclusion of this Amendment would prevent the Welsh Assembly from doing that it would otherwise be able to do? To that extent, it is a probing Amendment. If the answer is, "Nothing", then the Assembly has only the powers of the Secretary of State. To a layman like me, "anything" means what it says: anything. Of course, the visions open and are extended on either side. Can the noble Lord reassure the Committee?
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
I expected a little trouble over the word "anything". It worried me and I cross-questioned the drafters carefully and consulted legal opinion. I must answer fully on this. I think it is a point that otherwise people can become confused about. The clause as it stands does no more than devolve to the Assembly those non-statutory powers which are now available to Ministers to support cultural and recreational activities. Where appropriate, the Bill devolves statutory powers precisely and explicitly under Clause 9 and Schedule 2, with which the Committee has become familiar in our earlier debates. But, in the main, Ministers do not rely on statutory powers to support the arts and cultural and sporting activities. Hence this clause; I am sure that there is no disagreement that the Assembly should be able to support such activities.
What are the powers it provides? 1166 They would allow the Assembly to furnish support by means of financial assistance from the block fund in exactly the same way as Ministers can provide assistance from their Parliamentary vote without explicit statutory authority. Secondly, the Assembly will be able to encourage such activities in exactly the same way as Ministers do, by acting in their capacity to do whatever a private individual can do.
The clause cannot be read as conferring powers to take action for which legislation would be necessary. It does not provide any basis for the Assembly to regulate as a matter of law or to compel anybody to do anything. It cannot be used to enforce any change on any body, statutory or otherwise. The word "anything" is absolutely limited by the inability of the Assembly to legislate. I hope that what I have said explains the situation. If not, I will have another go.
§ Lord ELTON
The noble Lord has understandable pessimism about being able to explain anything to me. That must reside in my stupidity and not in his lack of lucidity. He has been perfectly explicit and I am grateful to him. There is something that follows from this: at present the powers to which he refers, which are not explicitly expressed in the statute, relate to the sphere in which a particular Minister operates. Thus, the Minister of Education can produce funds for assisting children at school and the Minister of Health can contribute towards some medical scheme, but neither will do the job of the other. Am I right in assuming that what happens now is the block grant is funnelled down into the cornucopia of the Welsh Assembly and then, at that point, the Welsh Assembly becomes all things to all men, it becomes all Ministers to all fields? Thus, there is no distinction and it can draw on these funds which were originally specifically available for specific objects and put them, let us say, all to one object or to some object at the expense of others.
§ Lord ELTON
With remarkable rapidity we have arrived at all the information I wished to acquire. If no other noble 1167 Lords wish to speak on the subject, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.53 p.m.
Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN moved Amendment No. 61H:
Page 6, line 24, after ("sport") insert ("(including prevention and treatment of injury in relation to sport)").
The noble Lord said: We now come to less controversial matters in relation to Clause 10. The purpose of my Amendment is to ascertain the scope of the words in Clause 10:
The Assembly may do anything it considers appropriate to support … sport and other … recreative activities".
§ I have left out all the other words relating to museums and galleries, and limited it to the Assembly's action which it considers appropriate to support sport.
§ The purpose of this Amendment is to try to ensure that two most important aspects relating to modern sport and recreational activities are included in those words; namely, the prevention of injuries likely to arise in sport and training; and, secondly, the proper treatment of injuries arising in sport and recreational activities. These do not appear to he covered by the word "sport" alone in Clause 10, and my Amendment is an attempt to draw to the attention of the Government these two other very important matters relating to sport.
§ I must declare an interest because for the past 12 months I have been the honorary chairman of the Institute of Sports Medicine, which was established some years ago to develop research and teaching in sports medicine. Sports medicine is defined as the application of medical knowledge and practice to problems of active recreation, games and sports. These matters have become increasingly important in view of the great encouragement given by the Government for people of all ages to indulge in sport at club and leisure centre level. As the Committee knows, many millions of pounds have recently been spent in the building and development of leisure centres.
§ On the Continent of Europe and, as I learned only this morning, even in certain African countries, sports doctors, specialists in the prevention and treatment of 1168 injuries, play a great part in the organisation and training of athletes for international games. As members of the Committee may have seen in the Press release of 18th April this year, an appointment unique in Great Britain has been made in that the institute of which I have the privilege of being chairman, was able to procure the election of Dr. Sylvia Lackman as a Fellow of Sports Medicine at the well known women's college, New Hall, at Cambridge. Never before has this subject of sports medicine received such academic acknowledgement in the United Kingdom.
§ The institute received great co-operation in this matter from the Regius Professor at Cambridge, Sir John Butterfield, who is a treble Oxford Blue. If I may emphasise the catholicity of this new Cambridge sports medicine project, the right reverend Prelates may like to know that I received great encouragement from a Cambridge theologian of international fame, the Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, who was a one-time famous international rugby player with memories of frequent past injuries in the field.
§ Apart from the eminent doctors on the board of management of the Institute of Sports Medicine, the devoted secretariat and the university medical staff, we were able to collect information from a class of persons who were most useful to the work of the institute. They were people of both sexes who had achieved some kind of prominence in certain sports, but who were now playing at school, leisure centre or club level the games at which they had such prowess in the past. If I may say something about this Cambridge clinic, even in the past few weeks it has treated over 100 injured young persons. Surprisingly, the highest percentage of injuries—over 30 per cent.—were among raquets players. The next highest was, not unexpectedly, among rugby players, and the next rowing. These statistics from these experiences will form a basis of important research at Cambridge.
§ Since I became involved with this Cambridge project, I have come across a number of people who have been injured for life because of inadequate knowledge of simple training techniques and inadequate care for their injuries during their 1169 early days. The intensity of training of young sportsmen and sportswomen, and the intensity of competitions, has increased greatly at club, county and national level. Therefore this matter is no academic one. I do not propose to mention topical instances of problems where competitiveness has given rise to serious injuries at international level, or failures clue to gaps in even psychological—as opposed to physiological—knowledge which have produced failures in training in recent years.
§ It seems to me that the Welsh Assembly should have clear powers under Clause 10 to support this important aspect of prevention and treatment of sports injuries in the widest context. May I say that I had hoped to establish this "sports medicine project". in Wales I tried the University College of Aberystwyth, on whose Council I have the honour to serve, but they do not have a medical faculty. I was advised to try Cardiff, which is under the presidency of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I am sure he was not consulted, but I was told that they had no money available for doing such research. I have since been advised that the present wording of Clause 10 relating to recreational activities would preclude powers to assist in the important and topical subject of prevention of injury in sports. I beg to move.
§ Lord ELTON
I should like to make a brief intervention to ask for information, and perhaps it might be convenient to do so now, so that the information can be brought while the noble Lord deals with the Amendment. Can the noble Lord tell me whether the functions under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and the related functions under the regulations brought in under the Public Health Act 1961 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (Part III) are not devolved, and that this field of prevention of injury will therefore be barred to the Welsh Assembly unless this Amendment is accepted? Might it not be a good thing if the Welsh Assembly were allowed to take care of this matter?
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
Taking the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, first, before answering the other question, I can answer 1170 this very quickly in a way which I hope will be entirely satisfactory. Improvement of the treatment of injury is a statutory duty on the Secretary of State in Section 1 of the National Health Service Act 1977. This duty is devolved to the Assembly in Part VI of Schedule 2. That covers the most important part of the noble Lord's question. The Assembly will be responsible for the allocation of funds from the block grant for health and for the allocation of funds within the health field. So this particular phrase in the Amendment does not add to the statutory powers the Assembly will have.
Similarly, Section 1 of the 1977 Act places a duty on the Secretary of State to improve the prevention of injury, and so the Assembly will have the statutory right to do what it thinks is necessary to prevent injury in relation to sport within the medical field. There are, of course, other ways of preventing injury through sport outside the medical field. For example, efforts can be made to improve the safety of areas given over to sporting pursuits, such as leisure centres. But if the Assembly wish to allocate funds to this sort of activity as part of its support for sport it will be able to do so.
I was very interested in what the noble Lord had to say and I am always glad, but never surprised, to hear of anything good coming from Cambridge, where most good things come from. Really, there is no need to add to Clause 10 for the Welsh Assembly to be able to deal with every single thing that he mentioned. The noble Lord asked whether the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 was devolved. It is devolved. In view of that, I hope that the noble Lord will not consider it necessary to pursue the matter further.
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
I am much obliged to the noble Lord for his assurances, and in the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.4 p.m.
Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 61J:
Page 6, line 24, at end insert ("but shall not alter the method of appointment or the payment of grants-in-aid to the Sports Council for Wales.").
§ The noble Lord said: The Sports Council of Wales is one of the many bodies 1171 which are concerned to know a little more about their future, and the noble Lord may be able to help them by answering the questions I have implied in putting down this Amendment—a principal concern, of course, of those which appear in the Amendment itself: will there be an alteration in the method of appointment or the payment of grants-in-aid to the Sports Council in Wales?
§ When we recall that the Council, among its many other functions, including giving grant aid to "grass-roots sportsmen", as they put it in their report, also administers the National Sports Centre for Wales in Cardiff, and that they planned—I do not know whether they have started yet—in the financial year 1978/79, a beginning of the National Outdoor Pursuits Centre at Port Dinorwic in Gwynedd, we can see that here again we have body which is very much dependent on some degree of budgetary security. Already the Outdoor Pursuits Centre to which I referred has had to be phased over three years because the rate of grant they are receiving at the moment will enable them to complete the job only in that manner. There are certain penalties inherent in spreading a job that is scheduled to take three years over four or five years, and indeed over longer than that it may become impossible. That is the principal matter I wanted to raise with the noble Lord. Can he perhaps let me know the answer? I beg to move.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
The Sports Council for Wales is a body, like the Arts Council, established by Royal Charter. The Charter governs the constitution of the Council, including the appointment of members and the application of any finance received by the Council, including any money voted by Parliament.
It is constitutional practice for Royal Charter bodies to seek alterations to their charters if changing circumstances make this necessary or desirable. We said this in our discussion on the Arts Council. The Government see no need to alter this arrangement, and consequently the Wales Bill is not designed to deal with such bodies substantively. Instead, the Government expect that these bodies, including the Sports Council for Wales, will discuss with the Assembly and the Government any changes needed in their charters to take account of the new situation created 1172 by the Bill. The bodies will then, if necessary, apply for any changes in the normal way, which is by application to the Privy Council.
The Amendment proposed by noble Lords opposite appears to seek to entrench the present system of appointments and grants to the Sports Council for Wales. In the light of what I have said, the Government would regard this as mistaken. It would be wrong to enshrine in Statute—the Wales Bill—what has previously been, and in England will continue to be, a flexible non-statutory arrangement satisfactory to, and meeting the needs of, those concerned.
Under Clause 10, the Assembly will acquire powers which are currently exercised by Ministers on a non-statutory basis, subject only to approval by Parliament of the annual appropriation accounts. These powers will enable them to pay grants, and otherwise support sport, which will include grants to the Sports Council for Wales. Because of the Assembly's role in matters primarily of interest to people living in Wales, it is expected that the Council will normally look to the Assembly for its finance. Sport is a matter of local concern and it is right that the Assembly should be able to accept responsibility for its support in Wales.
The noble Lord spoke about "budgetary security". Nothing under our Parliamentary arrangement ever has complete budgetary security, and in fact the British Government could knock off the Sports Council's grant tomorrow if they wanted: they will not. We think we can rely on the Welsh Assembly to behave equally sensibly.
§ Lord ELTON
That was most helpful. The noble Lord has said, in effect, that the question of appointments and the paying out of funds received are effectively entrenched already and can be altered only at the request of the Council. I think that is probably very satisfactory.
I should just like to allude to this budgetary question. None of us yet know exactly when all this is going to happen and how it is going to fit in with the financial year: nor can we guess how quickly the Assembly will get itself organised to publish its first budget. I think that, not only with the Sports 1173 Council but with a lot of bodies, there may be a real difficulty if it takes six months for the Assembly to reach a conclusion. For example, if it is appointed in November, we have gone over the Treasury's financial year, have we not? Who will pay the salaries, and who will pay the builder during that period? I do not want to trespass upon the financial provisions, because these will be touched on later, but is it not an idea that we should keep in mind, that it might be necessary to enable the Assembly to get its house in order, without the anxiety that things will go sadly amiss while it is doing so, by arranging for the present budgetary arrangements in certain areas to continue for a period after the coming into existence of the Assembly?
The other point that I want to raise here is also a financial one, but restricted to this area. What, in this and in analogous cases, if any, is to be the role of the Secretary of State? I think that a lot of these bodies have reposed considerable confidence in the past in the fact that they had a voice in the Cabinet speaking, on a particular occasion, on their behalf. They felt that this was a way of protecting them against other pressures and of effectively advancing their cause. Indeed, I know, reverting to the Library, that they feel that they have been very well served in this way by the noble Lord's friend and colleague in the other place. That being the case, presumably this function is now to he taken away from the Secretary of State and, as in many other instances, it will reduce the totality of what he has to do. So at some stage in our debates I suppose that we need to know whether it is the Government's intention that the Secretary of State for Wales shall remain a member of the Cabinet, after devolution has taken place. It is not fair to ask the question now, but, in case the noble Lord had not thought that I would ask it, he now knows that I shall.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
The question of the interim period, if any, must be handled in this case as in the case of the Arts Council. There is a body, and there will be a Secretary of State, until there is an Assembly. I do not see any difficulty in continuity, until the Assembly has made 1174 up its mind what it will do. It is worth just mentioning that the Assembly will not have power to alter the charter of the Sports Council. That has to be done by the Sports Council, but after discussion with the Assembly. I cannot answer the last question, but I am grateful for the warning.
§ Lord ELTON
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I have taken the point about the entrenchment of the charter. I do not think that the noble Lord has quite taken my point about the interim period. I do not want to labour it now, but it is, in essence, that an Assembly could come into office late in November. It would then have to negotiate its block grant and acquire its funds. That is not something which can be done in half-an-hour over a cup of tea at No. 11. Then, at some time in the New Year, it will have to start making its budgetary plans. At some stage it has to vouch safe to all those numerous bodies which are dependent on it for funds what those funds will amount to. By then we are past Budget day, and I should have thought that by the time this had gone through the proper procedures a number of accounts could be heavily overdrawn, to the embarrassment of the voluntary bodies and others concerned. This is not my area of expertise. It is, however, a fairly practical consideration. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to reassure my colleagues later on in the debate. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 10 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY
I hasten to assure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, that I do not mean what I say. In fact, I mean exactly the opposite. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has already answered my question. My only query here was about the word "anything", and whether it meant an extra power to take land other than by Statute. I understand that "anything" in this context means nothing, and that is all I have to say.
§ Lord WIGG
I have never seen in a Bill before, either in this House or in another place, words quite like this. I gather that the noble Lord who has just spoken is satisfied about the meaning of the word "anything". If he is satisfied, then I am prepared to be satisfied, too. But this clause refers to "anything it considers appropriate". What does that mean? Does it mean that the Assembly may send out Christmas cards, double the Maundy Money on the Thursday before Good Friday or dance around the maypole? Then we come to the word "support". What does that mean? The Assembly "may do anything it considers appropriate to support". It might take the money away. It might say that by taking away the grant it is forcing something to do this or that. The House should be told exactly what is the informing principle that called for the drafting to be done in this way.
Perhaps I had misjudged the situation, but I saw on the Marshalled List that the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, would move to leave out Clause 10. My interest was aroused, not because of the cultural, recreative activities part of Clause 10, but because the Assembly may do anything it considers appropriate to support sport. That, too, is a little wide. What is meant by "sport"? What is one man's meat is another man's poison in this field. It could certainly cover the thoughts that were in my mind when I read this clause, in relation to the provisions which, happily, have now been removed from the Bill.
What could the Assembly do if it considered it appropriate to support racing in Wales, at Bangor or at Chepstow? Or it might even be that it wanted to support other courses, because there have been other courses in Wales which have now gone. In this century there used to be racing at Cardiff, and there was also racing at Tenhy. Wales has produced some very noted men who have made great contribution to Wales. I understand that Mr. Noel Murless started his career not far from Bangor race-course; and Wales has also produced great jockeys such as Fred Rees and his brother L. B. Rees. So if the Assembly may do 1176 anything it considers appropriate to support racing, one wants to know what it could possibly think appropriate in these circumstances.
When it comes to games such as rugby and soccer, there are associations connected with them which could be given support, and the Assembly could consult with some kind of organisation or group of men and women who were interested in those activities. But to put on the Statute Book a clause of this kind that can mean anything and nothing seems to me to be far-fetched. Of course, it is in line with the rest of the Bill. This has no meaning at all. It was never intended to have any meaning. This is a dummy in the shop window, and what you must not do with dummies in shop windows is look inside to see what is there, because there is nothing inside. This has not been at all thought out, but it is a pleasant evening and the House is to sit late, so perhaps the Minister would care to take a few minutes off from his other activities and just deal with my point as to what is the informing principle, so far as this clause is concerned, in relation to sport.
Perhaps the noble Lord can take three sports. Perhaps he can say what he has in mind in relation to Bingo, which is a very important activity in Welsh life—may be not in the circles in which the noble Lord moves, but in mine it is a very important activity. What, if anything, do the Government think the Assembly might do that could be considered appropriate to supporting Bingo? The noble Lord might say a word or two about the other sports which I have mentioned. I do not want him to go too wide, but perhaps he will pick out three sports which he thinks are followed in Wales and tell the Committee what he thinks this clause can possibly mean in relation to three sporting activities which are referred to by the word "sport".
I hope that the noble Lord will respond to that invitation. I think that this is rather ambiguous. "Sport" is a term which means different things to different people. To me "sport" means hunting, fishing, et cetera. However, according to the Army recruitment posters, "sport" means football, cricket and the like which I call "games." What does the noble Lord mean by "sport" in this context?
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
I think that we use the word "sport" in the widest possible sense to include racing, bingo and anything else that the noble Lord may like to include. The point is that the Assembly can do anything which it considers to be appropriate to support these activities and to support the cultural life of the Principality for which it is responsible. Whether it will spend a great deal of money on some of these activities is a matter for it to decide. I should think that it would spend very little on bingo, which pays extremely well and needs no support. In relation to racing, the money for racing does not come from the Assembly but from elsewhere. Therefore, it is most unlikely that the Assembly would do anything very specific about racing. But it could. I think that the meanings are perfectly clear. I find no difficulty about understanding what is meant. It is rather difficult to describe exactly what will happen, but this will be for the Assembly to decide.
§ Lord WIGG
I am sorry, but that is not quite good enough. The Exchequer takes very considerable sums of money out of the pockets of the people of Wales, through the functions of the Board of Customs and Excise. Therefore, the figures are returned in the annual report of the Board of Customs and Excise. Fair amounts of money are involved, and it is perfectly clear that the Assembly will not have much control over them; they will still be in the tight grip of the Treasury.
It is just not good enough for the Minister to say that "sport" is what it means to me. I am not responsible for this; this is not my conception of sport; it is the Minister's conception of sport. If the Bill becomes law, either the Minister or the Government will give to the Assembly power to do anything which it considers to be appropriate in support of these activities. The Minister could at least define the extent of the activities. It is no good the Minister saying, "We don't know what the Assembly is going to do". I quite agree with the Minister that neither he nor the Government know what the Assembly is going to do; the Government have not thought out what the Assembly is going to do. I know that I am asking the Minister a difficult question, but all that he has to do is to get up and 1178 say, "We put this clause into the Bill, but we don't know what it means. However, it does not matter very much to your Lordships what it means, because nobody is going to do anything about it". If the Minister will say that, I shall sit down and say no more.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
It is a great temptation to achieve that result, but obviously that is not what I shall say. The words are perfectly clear. "Sport" is a very wide term, as is "art", and it is absolutely unnecessary to define it here. What will happen in practice will be this. If the Assembly gives money to something which it thinks is sport but which the noble Lord does not think is sport, he can bring an action in a court of law, where he will get a definition of "sport". These general terms are never defined in Acts of Parliament. I think that the noble Lord is as ungenerous as one would expect in his description of something which seems to me to be both clear and useful.
§ Lord WIGG
I am sorry, but if I had wanted to define the term within the meaning of the Bill I would have put down an Amendment. I am not asking the noble Lord to define it in legalistic terms. I want him, if he will—and I regard it as his duty to the Committee—not to interpret these words but to tell us what was in the Government's mind when they called upon the Parliamentary draftsman to draft a clause so wide as this. What does it mean to them? What did it mean to the Ministers who were responsible for the drafting of this Bill when they put in those words? What were they seeking to do?
I do not believe that the word "sport" is in the least necessary. Why does not the Minister leave out the word "sport" and leave it at "cultural and recreative activities"?
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, was not here when the explanation of this clause was given. Perhaps I had better go through it again. The point of this clause is that under Clause 9 a number of statutory duties are made over to the Assembly by the Secretary of State. However, in addition to statutory duties, the Secretary of State exercises a certain 1179 number of non-statutory powers. This clause is designed to make sure that those non-statutory powers are available to him. Those non-statutory powers, as exercised by the Secretary of State, include what is contained in this clause. They include the support of museums, art galleries, libraries, the Welsh language, arts, crafts, sport and other cultural and recreative activities. I am very sorry, but I am unable to see any problem here.
§ Lord WIGG
I am sure that the noble Lord does not see the problem, but that does not mean to say that the problem does not exist. I am sorry that I was not here during the earlier part of the afternoon. However, I have been pursuing my sporting activities by watching the racing at Ascot, though not with the same financial benefit as when I watched the Derby—still, satisfactorily enough! The fact that a Minister has non-statutory powers obviously means that we need not worry about the Bill, because it deals here with the law and not with what the Minister may do on the side as a result of some habit he may have formed, or some work that the Department may have taken on. However, the Minister has got to answer for his statutory powers. All I am concerned about are the Minister's statutory powers. The Government have now put into the Bill a provision whereby the Assembly is to be given powers of great width and great depth. I do not know what they mean and I do not believe that anybody else knows what they mean. The powers are so wide, in my judgment, as to defy description. I do not believe that in the ultimate it makes two-penn'orth of difference whether or not they are in the Bill. That is what I want to establish: that we can all go home happily, because it does not matter. That is all.
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ Clause 11 [Other non-statutory powers]:
§ 5.28 p.m.
Baroness ELLES moved Amendment No. 61D:
Page 6, line 27, leave out from ("disabled") to end of line 29.
§ The noble Baroness said: This Amendment is a probing Amendment, to find out exactly what the Government mean by Clause 11(b). Perhaps, however, the 1180 first question is one of substance. The whole of the clause is concerned with other non-statutory powers. Therefore, the first question which I should like to ask the Government relates to the title of Clause 11(b); namely, "Other non-statutory powers." Is this limitative, or does it allow the Assembly at some stage to take further statutory powers? That is, are the only non-statutory powers, other than those mentioned in Clause 10, first those concerned with the provision in Wales of services for the war disabled and, secondly, those concerned with making grants towards the carrying on of public passenger transport undertakings in Wales? Are those the only two other non-statutory powers which are to be given, both now and in the future, to the Welsh Assembly? If they are not the only ones, what other non-statutory powers will be given? Will they have to be brought about by Act of Parliament, or will the Welsh Assembly have the right to take non-statutory powers during the course of its functions? I beg to move.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
If I may answer that question first, the other non-statutory powers are included in Clause 10.
§ Baroness ELLES
I thank the noble Lord for his reply. I have mentioned already that some non-statutory powers are contained in Clause 10. All I am asking the Government is whether, apart from those set out in Clause 10 and apart from the two powers which are specifically mentioned and identified in Clause 11, there are any other non-statutory powers. Will the Welsh Assembly, at some future date, be entitled to undertake other non-statutory powers, although they are not spelt out in this Bill? Is this a limiting clause, or is it one which is merely descriptive? That, of course, is another matter. At some stage I should be grateful for a reply from the Government.
I should now like to draw the attention of your Lordships to the particular content of Clause 11(b). My comments on this Amendment will be a series of questions. I apologise for not having notified the Government first, but, as we all know, we have been working under pressure lately. If I cannot receive the answers today I shall be very happy to have them later on. My first question is this. When reference is 1181 made to public passenger transport undertakings, are we to presume that that covers all forms of public transport—bus, rail and local air services?
The second question is connected with financial matters, because one of the powers granted to the Assembly is to make grants. I do not pretend to be an expert on the transport services, although I know that there is a transport expert on the Government Benches at the moment. As I am informed, I understand that the financing of public transport services comes from two sources. The first is the rate support grant, which is dealt with by the counties. The second, as I understand it, is the transport supplementary grant. That is a fixed figure which I understand is settled every year subject to plans put forward by counties some time in July. I understand that the figure for Wales is something like £5 million; I believe that is the kind of figure involved.
My question in this connection is this: where these grants are to be made by the Welsh Assembly—and it now has authority to make grants—are the grants to come from the block grant which it will receive from the Consolidated Fund? Are these topping-up sums, which will come from some other source, or can the Assembly merely advise, and indeed direct, the counties to spend their transport supplement grant in some other way? Can it control the way that the rate support grant is to be spent on transport within the counties themselves? Clearly, in the way the clause is drafted at the moment, there is an element of confusion. I should be grateful if we could have some clarification on this aspect.
The next question is the matter of transport policy. Clearly if grants are to he made towards the carrying on of public passenger transport undertakings, that involves a considerable element of policy: whether the money is to be spent on the repair of roads and highways; whether it is to be spent on the maintenance or improvement or even elimination of bus services; whether new airports are to be built; whether rail connections are to be improved and all those kinds of matters. Are these matters to be dealt with by the Welsh Assembly, despite recommendations from the counties, or is there to be some form of co-ordinated plan between the Welsh Assembly and the counties? 1182 Indeed, some districts in fact allocate some of their resources to bus services.
I hasten to say that in my student days, I hitch-hiked all over Wales. Certainly in those days communications were extremely difficult. Therefore, bus and rail services are extremely important to the people of Wales. The distances are very great and it is difficult to get about. Obviously it is a matter is of importance, who is to decide the policy as to the improvement, or disimprovement, of transport facilities for the Welsh people. Who will control the funds in the end? As we all know, he who holds the purse strings will, in the end, decide the policy to be implemented throughout Wales.
Finally, I know that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I quote from her recent speeches on the Transport Bill, which had its Second Reading in this House on 9th June. It was very clearly stated—and obviously I accept that she was probably reading from a brief—when, talking about the importance of the Transport Bill, she said:It is not simply a matter of resources.… This means not only proper planning; it means that someone somewhere has to take decisions".— [Official Report, 9/6/78; col. 1557.]Therefore I should like to know in this context who will take the decision? Is it the Welsh Assembly or is it the county?
Further on in the Second Reading debate, at col. 1558 of the Official Report, the noble Baroness said:The Bill seeks not to impose on counties a whole new range of duties and powers, but to clarify and extend the responsibilities which they already have".Obviously in the way that this Bill is worded it is clear that there is going to be conflict. I am not saying that the Welsh Assembly should not have these powers. This is not in the argument. I merely want to know who is going to have them, how they are to be implemented, and what status, rights and responsibilities the counties will be left with after the Welsh Assembly takes on these non-statutory powers.
Finally, the noble Baroness, very rightly and properly, said in her winding-up speech (in col. 1621 of the Official Report) on the Second Reading of the Transport Bill:On the question as to what proposals and effect this Bill would have on devolution, or the 1183 effect of devolution Bills on this Bill, which again I think was raised by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, mention has already been made in the course of the passage of the Scotland Bill through this House that some amendments might have to be made. Indeed this Bill contains provisions that affect some of the matters that are being devolved under the terms of the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill, and Amendments will have to be made to deal with these".In view of that statement by the noble Baroness, which I am sure is quite correct, I must say that I very much regret that the Government have not put forward at least some Amendments to the Wales Bill at this stage, knowing that the Transport Bill was also going through this House. I think that it might have saved us some time if we had had some Amendments from the Government to clarify what is obviously at the moment not only confusion for us but what must be very worrying for counties, which presumably at this time of year must be getting out their plans for supplementary grants. I should be grateful to the noble Lord for a reply.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
The first point which the noble Baroness raised can be answered very quickly. Clauses 10 and 11 are limited, and include all non-statutory powers. Any grant of further non-statutory powers would require further legislation.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
That is exactly what this noble Lord does mean. The noble Baroness asked whether public passenger transport included all such undertakings. The answer is that it does. The powers to he transferred to the Assembly are functions at present exercised by Ministers. These are, in the main, contained in enactments. Those to be transferred are listed in Schedule 2. I think that we are all perfectly clear about this, but it is just as well to go through it again.
There are son-le functions not contained in Statutes which are exercised by Ministers on a non-statutory basis, subject of course to the annual Appropriation Acts. Some of these functions also need to be transferred. As any listing in Schedule 2 would not be appropriate, special provision needs to be made—hence Clause 1184 11(b), which will enable the Assembly to make grants to support bus and rail passenger services on an all-Wales basis. At present such powers are available under various Acts to local authorities, but only with regard to their own areas. The powers are also available to Ministers who, as mentioned, do not require express authority, other than under the annual Appropriation Acts, to make these grants generally, although there are some limited powers contained in enactments.
The Wales Bill devolves important functions to the Assembly in the field of transport services. The provision in Clause 11(b) is therefore properly devolved to the Assembly, who will be able as a result to subsidise services as necessary, taking into account the needs of the whole of Wales, just as Ministers do now for England and Wales. It will provide a useful tool for the Assembly in the formulation of a coherent policy for public passenger transport in Wales. Therefore I suggest that the noble Baroness can put her mind at rest.
I think I should say that the non-statutory powers do nothing to affect the counties' responsibilities—the local authorities—and there will be no powers of intervention by the Assembly in the way local authorities spend their rate support grant. The rate support grant is a grant in support of the rates and will not be administered or interfered with by the Assembly. In regard to the question of Amendments, my noble friend said that the Government's intention was to make some Amendments in the Transport Bill and that is thought to be the easier way of doing it.
§ Baroness ELLES
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. In view of the comments that he has made in regard to the statement made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, concerning Amendments to the Transport Bill, I would draw his attention to the Second Reading debate, in which the noble Baroness said:For technical reasons—because all Bills are still in the process of passage through the House—they will have to be made at a later stage, either to this Bill or to the relevant constitutional Bill".—[Official Report; 9.6.78; col. 1621.]Do I take it therefore from the noble Lord that now no Amendments will be made to the Scotland or Wales Bills but only to the Transport Bill?
1185 In regard to the rate support grant, I absolutely accept that the counties will have the sole control of those sums of money to spend as they think fit for their own counties, but the noble Lord did not actually mention what role the transport supplementary grant would play and whether therefore the powers of the Welsh Assembly to grant sums for public passenger transport are entirely topping-up sums from their own block funds and nothing to do with either of the two sources from local authorities. I shall be grateful if the noble Lord will confirm those two points.
§ Lord SKELMERSDALE
Without wishing to go over Clause 10 again, I understand from the replies given by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, that both this clause and Clause 10 refer to non-statutory powers. Would it not be possible and also make it far clearer if in fact those words were written into both clauses? I may have a suspicious mind, but at the moment it gives me the idea rather of a blank cheque and I wonder whether the noble Lord might like to take up that suggestion?
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
I think the noble Lord has rather a suspicious mind. The side heading to Clause 11 says "other non-statutory powers." It is in writing in the Bill and I do not know that we can go much further. I certainly do not think it would be necessary.
§ Baroness ELLES
I took the noble Lord's reply to imply that these clauses are limitative and that any further devolvement of any non-statutory powers would have to be made by Act of Parliament. I take his word for that statement and I think that will clarify the point raised by my noble friend. In thanking the noble Lord for his explanation, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 11 agreed to.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 12 shall stand part of the Bill?1186
§ Viscount AMORY
Noble Lords will be sorry to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, has been prevented by urgent domestic circumstances from being here this evening. We shall all be sorry to know the reason for his absence, and in that situation I wish to move what I understand he would have moved, namely, that Clause 12 be left out.
I wish to support strongly the elimination of this clause which I believe should not have found its way into this particular Bill, where it seems to be wholly out of place. As I said in our Second Reading debate, to the best of my knowledge all the Welsh county councils desire very strongly the elimination of this clause. Ministers have been tireless in assuring us that this Bill does not affect the functions of existing local authorities, but here we have an invitation to the Assembly to initiate changes in functions which, if they were approved by Government, could turn the existing allocation of responsibilities topsy-turvy.
Is another surgical operation on the structure of local government desired by the public at large? I cannot believe that it is. What the public want is for the existing local authorities to be encouraged to get on with their responsibilities, concentrating on efficiency in their services and on choosing the right priorities and giving the best value for money. Those in favour of a radical revision of functions at the present time, within five years of the last reorganisation, have given no specific reasons that I have heard for their views. We are not told what the shortcomings are of the present allocation of functions or what the objects would be in any reallocation. We are left to guess. A blank cheque to the Assembly to make recommendations is really not satisfactory in any major Bill of this kind.
Ministers have made no specific charges, to my knowledge, of maladministration or inefficiency. On the contrary, quite recently they have congratulated local authorities on the success with which they have carried out the Government's wishes as to their aggregate expenditure. One cannot avoid the impression that Ministers' objections are that the last local government reform was passed by Parliament under a Conservative Government. So my first reason for disliking this clause is that it invites recommendations for another 1187 restructuring of local government without advancing the slightest specific reasons for such a major convulsion.
It may be said that it imposes no mandatory duty actually to propose changes but only a duty to consider whether to make them or not. But whoever heard of such an invitation to a new and keen public body, anxious to justify its existence? Who imagines that they would be likely to respond with the answer, "No change is required"? Such an idea seems to be almost laughable. So at this time, when stability is required for the reason I have mentioned, with a division of responsibilities which the public at large are beginning to understand, surely it must be wrong—to use a rather imaginative mixed metaphor—to pull local government up by the roots and drop it again into the melting pot.
My second reason is that if major changes are required to be initiated the Assembly seems to be quite the wrong body for this task. Changes in functions and in relations between local governments call for a very calm and dispassionate review. The Assembly, which will clearly be part of local government as a whole, involved as it will be with a lot of day-to-day judgments, and day-to-day party controversies possibly, cannot be the right body to sit back and make dispassionate recommendations of this kind. One hopes that conflicts between the Assembly and local authorities will not often take place, but I think your Lordships will agree that one cannot say they will never take place.
Again, if we are to be realists, the Assembly will be very likely after a few years of existence, to build up some kind of vested interest, if that is not an offensive phrase—I do not mean it to be—but some kind of special view, shall we say. I know some noble Lords at this point will say, "There you are, you have no confidence in the Assembly because it is Welsh". I must be very careful at this point. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, is listening, and if I go wrong in some trifling way he will, in the most gracious way possible, descend on me like a ton of best Welsh steam coal, of the very highest possible thermal efficiency, of course.
Perhaps I dare say again that I have full confidence in the Assembly. The reason 1188 I am putting this forward is not because of lack of confidence in the Assembly, or any other reason but the sole one that I think the Assembly is too close to day-to-day business and is likely to be too immersed in it and too involved to be a dispassionate judge of what is required. So if it is necessary to have a major review I really think it should be done quite separately by some entirely independent body, and I would be strongly against setting up such a body in present circumstances. I do feel that to include this clause in this Bill would be wrong policy and quite wrong timing. If the noble Lord, Lord Champion, had been here, I am sure he would have led his troops into the Division Lobby with the aim of having this clause eliminated. I am confident that my noble friends will, as I shall, support him in taking that action.
I should very much like to support the noble Viscount, Lord Amory. One thing that worries me particularly is that there is no compulsion for the Secretary of State to carry out the recommendations of the Assembly. The Members will have enough work to build up their own organisation, and it will be very frustrating for them if they do bring forward what they think are sensible ideas and they are all turned down by the Secretary of State. I would agree with the noble Viscount that a further reorganisation so soon after the last one would create more confusion to the average voter. I can say this quite categorically because I fought the Conservative local government reorganisation from beginning to end, and got myself into quite a lot of trouble by voting against it on every occasion that T could. I feel that the average voter will think himself more remote from the affairs of local government bodies which have been administering over a wide area.
I should like to quote from what Harold Wilson said in 1976; he was speaking to the Labour Party Local Government Conference in Cardiff:To impose another reorganisation would not prove a burden easily to be tolerated. We will not throw the whole of local government again into the melting pot".I think this clause is an invitation to initiate further reorganisation. If you were given this chance, you would surely want to do something to show that you 1189 were at least competent. As I understand it, local government in Wales is utterly opposed to this idea. The apparent stability of local government following the recent reorganisation has been mentioned by the noble Viscount. I suggest that it would be quite wrong to contemplate further reorganisation, which I think would be very bitterly controversial and which would also take a considerable amount of time and be very expensive. Local government should be allowed to get on with its job. An efficient organisation cannot possibly waste so much time and money repeatedly considering reorganisation. For 30 years or so—the entire post-war period—there has been talk of local government reorganisation. Even the steel industry or any other industry has not been so afflicted.
I should also like to refer to the Personal Social Services Council, which has said that reorganisation could impair the quality and delivery of its services. It is opposed to partial reorganisation which would transfer its services from the local councils to somewhat larger metropolitan districts. I have great respect, if I may say so, for the local councils in Wales; I think they are some of the best in Great Britain.
The Bill itself does not attempt to appropriate any of the functions of local government to the Assembly, but I suggest that there are dangers consequent upon any reform. Government will not be closer to the people but further away. Even the Labour Party in Wales, in the document on local government reform, admits:In view of the relatively small size of some of the multi-purpose authorities, it would also prove necessary for some expert and some specialist staff to be employed on a basis wider than a single authority; that could be done through the Assembly or by joint action between a number of local authorities".So I do hope consideration will be given to withdrawing this clause, because I am quite certain it will not improve local government in Wales, which to my mind is working extremely satisfactorily at the moment.
There is one further point I would mention. I understand that the Assembly would have to report its conclusions to the Secretary of State for Wales and would then be responsible for the distribution of rate support grant to the 1190 local authorities. Having served on a local authority, I think the last thing local government wants is a Welsh government tied to Whitehall. This would complicate the relations between the local authorities and the real central power. So I would support the noble Viscount.
§ Lord GRIDLEY
In supporting my two noble friends who have spoken on this Motion to leave out Clause 12, I rise with a certain amount of trepidation because I am speaking from the Opposition, I am an Englishman and what I have to say is something in relation to a Welsh Assembly. I have asked myself what were the reasons for writing this Clause into the Bill. It does seem to me that what one has to do at the outset is to see what will happen when the Welsh Assembly is established. This will be an entirely new body of men faced with new problems which they have not dealt with before. Under this Clause 12, Welshmen completely new to this sort of situation in a Welsh Assembly will be sitting in judgment on other Welsh people in local government authorities. This seems to me a position into which they should not be placed, and I find it very difficult to understand how this clause came to be written into the Bill. I say that I find it difficult because it seems to me that some of the problems which obviously will face the Welsh Assembly in taking over local government will be the appointment of various individuals to the local authority, possibly retrenchment, possibly expansion of certain services, possibly conditions of service of those people who are the officers of local authorities. I feel that this is not a responsibility which should be placed on the Assembly.
My noble friend Lord Amory suggested, with a great deal of force from his experience, that the people who should be considering this might be people right outside the confines of the Welsh Assembly, possibly a Commission, possibly some independent arbitrator, so that once the Welsh Assembly is set up there will be no friction or difficulty in what the Assembly will be trying to carry out. I hope I have made these comments in a constructive sense. It is not that I am criticising the ability of the Welsh Assembly to come to a wise judgment, but I think they are being put in a very difficult situation in all the 1191 circumstances. What I am trying to do is to make some suggestions for the smooth working of the Assembly.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord TRANMIRE
May I put a point of view, not from the Welsh counties, but regarding the attitude of the local authorities in Britain generally? They have been battered very much by reorganisation and are just trying to get over it. They now fear that this clause is going to make it difficult for them to plan their future. I would ask the noble and learned Lord, who I think is going to reply to this debate, to consider carefully whether it is the moment to have a clause like this in such a Bill as this. Perhaps when he replies he could detail to us what the Bill means by "review the structure". As far as I can see, there are two possible angles to this matter—either the Assembly will say that some of the functions of the local authorities should belong to the Assembly, or alternatively it might say that some of the matters that we have devolved to the Assembly from the central Government should be further devolved to the local authority.
We in the northern part of England have found that on reorganisation the straitjacket of a Bill laying down functions is not the happiest way of meeting the problem. Areas vary very greatly, and the need in an area for a particular function may be different in one part of the country from another. Therefore in many parts—there was a letter in The Times from the director of social services of the North Yorkshire County Council two days ago—by amicable agreement there has been a working arrangement of devolution. Directly you put into this Bill a review of a structure by a new body, which has many other responsibilities, it means that there will be a period of instability in local government not merely in Wales but throughout Britain. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts on this particular clause. If later on, in 10 years' time, there is need for legislation when we have settled down after the last reorganisation, there would be a case for bringing in some Bill to deal with that with some more impartial arbiter as to the structure than that proposed in this section.
§ Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY
I find myself more than usually confused 1192 in this Amendment, and as I feel I may have to make up my mind I should like some free advice. No doubt I shall get that from the noble and learned Lord. As I see it, this Amendment highlights the whole trouble of the Wales Bill, indeed devolution itself. As I have followed as best I can the Bill's progress in Committee—and Schedule 2 contains the "nitty-gritty"—I have come to realise that Central Government is not really giving the Welsh Assembly anything. It is saying to the Welsh Assembly, "You may take powers away from those below you if you wish". I make no bones about it. I do not wish to see the Welsh Assembly taking over these powers and governing from Cardiff, and destroying my local government in Llanelly, though I believe that some of my county councillors do. So I say to myself, "I must vote for this Amendment". If I do that, I might as well say to myself, "Why did I not oppose the Bill on Second Reading?". If this Amendment is passed, there will be very little for the Welsh Assembly to do. Is it right for me in your Lordships' House to do such a thing? Surely such a decision is for the Welsh people at the referendum.
I am truly in a muddle. On Second Reading I said that Wales had asked for a fish and had been given a serpent. I believe now that I was nearer the truth than I ever dreamt. If I may say so, the head of the serpent was produced by the noble Baroness on Wednesday over nominated bodies, but it was the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who let it flop out from the Dispatch Box on Thursday on the Water Board nomination. Instead of being a serpent, it appeared as an octopus with powers to grab all the nominations of nominated bodies, and now we discover it can grab the powers of local authorities. If that is what the Welsh want, an Assembly all-powerful in Cardiff with no power on the ground for local authorities, then it must be their decision. But let us make it quite clear to them that, when they vote for the Bill in the referendum, they are voting for that. As I see it, the ball is in their court; I am not at all sure it is in ours.
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
As I listened to the debate, I could not help thinking once again—and I say this without any political bias—what a pity it was that the previous Government implemented 1193 their plans for local government reform before waiting for the conclusions of the Kilbrandon Committee and the evidence associated with that same inquiry. The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, in his charming and persuasive manner, seemed to indicate that there was nothing wrong about local government in Wales; everything was perfect. But the 1973 legislation of a previous Government changed, for instance, very drastically the boundaries of local government. This is a cause of considerable dissension and unhappness in the administration of local government in Wales, because of the large counties that have been created. It modified also some aspects of the National Health Service and Welsh water undertakings with some unhappy consequences. There is considerable feeling in Wales that the planning arrangements require looking at and some reform. At the present time, planning is dealt with by district councils and county councils. Changes are clearly necessary in regard to that very important matter of planning which affects the lives of ordinary people a great deal, as well as industrial concerns.
What we are concerned about in Clause 12 is simply this: an elected Assembly, the first elected Assembly Wales has ever had, shall at some time—not necessarily immediately, because I would agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, that it should not happen straight away and commonsense in Wales would not allow it to take place for several years—be empowered to review the structure of local government and then report to the Secretary of State for Wales. The Secretary of State varies the safeguards. The Secretary of State for Wales need do nothing. I have a great sympathy for the officials of the present county councils—they are very fine men, some who are Welsh speaking, some who do not speak Welsh at all. As one might expect, they have reacted very violently against the Wales Bill, but their reactions have been far less than the reactions of the district councils. A number of district councils would in due course have welcomed a review of the present local structure. It seems to me almost unarguable that the Welsh Assembly should be allowed for the first time on a national basis to consider local government in Wales.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
May I begin by joining with the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, in expressing our regret that my noble friend Lord Champion, who could have contributed so much to discussion of this Bill in view of his long and dedicated experience in local government is not able to be present. We hope that the family question which has sent him home will be healed and resolved. We had a trial run on this issue on Second Reading, and I appreciate the concern that has been expressed by those familiar with and those who have worked for and have contributed so much to local government, like the noble Viscount himself, that there may be danger in this clause of a sort of future take-over of local government activities and powers by the Welsh Assembly. I venture to think that these fears are really wholly misplaced, and I support the approach which has just been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, on this issue.
Some noble Lords have painted a somewhat happy picture of the present system of local government in Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, referred to the reorganisation of local government carried out by the last Administration as the "idiotic" reorganisation of local government. I personally would not use such extreme language as that, but there is little doubt that whereas at countycouncil level there seems to be some satisfaction, at other levels and at the grass-roots levels I am sorry to say that that is not the picture of contentment that really exists.
The present system of local government organisation in Wales—basically the two-tier system of eight counties and 37 districts—which was established under the Local Government Act 1972, has been subjected to widespread criticism since its inception. I do not think that that criticism is based entirely on the proposition that what was produced by a Tory Government cannot possibly he good. That would be a gross exaggeration and I do not think that it explains the whole reason for the attitude of, at any rate, a substantial body of opinion in Wales which has criticised local government arrangements.
It is not for me today in this debate to list the matters of discontent as regards 1195 local government organisation in Wales. But I understand that the criticisms relate to the remoteness—especially in the case of the larger counties—of the local authorities concerned, its cost, the duplication and confusion of powers which apparently exist, and its unsuitability, particularly in the case of the former county boroughs. Those criticisms may not be sound, but they are strongly and widely held and the Government think that in the public interest, they ought to be examined carefully.
Therefore, in answer to the first proposition of the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, that there is no need for change—certainly not yet—I venture to submit that he is reflecting a view which is not the general view in Wales. Secondly, if there is need for a change, it is suggested by the noble Viscount that certainly this Assembly is not the appropriate body to make recommendations. I venture to quarrel with that view. The Assembly will take over the main supervisory responsibility for local government in Wales. That being so, it is not inappropriate that it should carry out a review of the present structure, and by that I would contemplate that it would look at the two-tier system and the powers and functions that are exercised by the components part. I cannot elaborate on that answer in reply to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, on this matter.
The Welsh Assembly will have to work closely with the local authorities in Wales in virtually all their main areas of operation. It will be responsible for most of their centrally provided finance through rate support and other grants. I venture to submit that as the elected representatives of the people of Wales and in Wales, the Assembly ought to be, and I think will be, well placed to make a proper study of the present arrangements and to make recommendations. No more is proposed in the clause as it stands than to review the structure and to report the conclusions to the Secretary of State. That review will, of course, involve full consultations with the existing local authorities, their representatives and their civil servants and with the local authority associations. Therefore, I submit that this is an appropriate body to conduct this review of a struct- 1196 ture which is deemed to be unsatisfactory by so many people in Wales.
The further fear has been expressed that this is a grab, a power-seeking idea, which the Assembly will be encouraged to pursue. The limit of the power given in the clause is to report the conclusions of its review to the Secretary of State. It will then be for the Secretary of State and the Government to form a view upon what is proposed. If changes are proposed, they will require legislation and in the last resort it will fall to Parliament to decide whether to give effect to them.
Therefore, the fears are, in my view, ill-founded. In my submission, this is the appropriate body to conduct the review. I have endeavoured to explain the reasons why it has come to pass. I confess that I have not so far been able to identify the hydra-headed snake that has obviously tormented the mind of the noble Lord Lord Stanley of Alderley, in the past few days. I am very distressed that so gentle and genial a person as he should be so harassed by such appalling nightmares as the hydra-headed Welsh snake. It is even more unattractive than some of the Welsh dragons that one sees in the ancient heraldic symbols that lie around in such profusion in Wales. I think that he can calm his mind. In my view, this is a sensible proposal, and accordingly I hope that the proposal to omit it from the Bill will be rejected.
I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord about the matter which I put to him. The Assembly will, of course, be a political body comprising two, three or perhaps even four Parties. Therefore, the Members of those Parties will have vast discussions among themselves which will be reported in the local newspapers and so on, and that will be particularly unsettling. If the noble and learned Lord really wants a reorganisation of local government, surely it is better to have an impartial body commissioned to inquire into it. That would give people more confidence. Moreover, as I suggested previously, if the Assembly is to do all this work and then submit its findings to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State may be of a different political Party from the Party which has the majority in the Assembly. It will be a very difficult situation. Let us 1197 suppose that the Secretary of State at that time does not agree with what is said. It could be said that he is disagreeing on political grounds and not on the basis of real judgment. In my view, there is a great danger here and perhaps the noble and learned Lord will consider the matter.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
As the noble Baroness has said, I should expect the Assembly to be composed of representatives of the various Parties. I should imagine that the process of reviewing the structure would not be on a single-Party basis. I hope that there would be across the board representation as regards those who are delegated to review the structure. Ultimately, of course, it would have to come back to the Assembly as a whole to make its recommendations. I think that in that way it would work. I suppose that if it wanted to do so it could, when carrying out this review, invite external guidance and advice also upon the review itself.
However, I must return to the continued refrain which certainly all Welsh Members of your Lordships' Committee will wish to repeat: we are dealing with fairly sophisticated politically-minded people who, on the whole, do not behave irresponsibly. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, is not suggesting that they will behave otherwise. Nevertheless, it is worth my reminding noble Lords of the confident view that we have of the way in which they will conduct their affairs. I do not think that there is need for anxiety.
§ Lord GLENKINGLAS
It is perhaps a little dangerous for a Scot to intervene in another Celtic problem, but the noble and learned Lord's description of the feeling of the people in Wales today of the new sort of local government struck such a clear chord in my mind of what is happening in my part of Scotland that I felt I wanted to support my noble friend Lord Amory for the particular reason that the noble and learned Lord thought I should not.
The position in Scotland is that certainly the people in the street, the people in the hills and the people in the country districts feel that the modern, large organisation is too distant and too expensive. I think that those were the words which the noble and learned Lord used, and certainly those are the two things which come most 1198 clearly through to us. If the noble and learned Lord is right in thinking that this duty should be given to a new Welsh Assembly, surely the people will say, "It is even more distant than the large local authorities that we already have". What is more, if I am any judge of how these things will turn out, the Members will have a vested interest in maintaining the salary structures of their own civil servants and perhaps of themselves to an even greater extent than local authorities have already done. Therefore, I am afraid that on this particular matter I entirely agree with my noble friend that they would be unsuitable people to make recommendations on this point.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not think it is contemplated that the Welsh Assembly should take over all local government functions. That is not contemplated at all. This democratic, national Assembly will be the first in the history of Wales since the Middle Ages. I shall not go into that, tempting as it is to talk about it. What is contemplated is that the executive powers now exercised by the Secretary of State—remotely and bureaucratically, in a faceless way, except, of course, for the handsome Secretary of State for Wales—will hereafter be exercised by the Assembly itself. That is what is contemplated; it is nothing quite so revolutionary of the kind indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Glenkinglas.
§ Lord MOYNE
I rise with some embarrassment because on this occasion I find myself in disagreement with so many of my noble friends. I think that when one is in disagreement and one is going to vote the wrong way from the point of view of one's noble friends, one is obliged to say why. I am convinced by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. The noble Lord, Lord Glenkinglas, has expressed this great disquiet and discomfort in Scotland at what has happened. I think that the function of a local Assembly is to express the local view. What Westminster has imposed in Scotland at least has been intolerable, and I think that in their new Assembly the Welsh people should be given the chance to say what changes they want. This may not be accepted by the Secretary of State, but it is exactly what the Assembly is for; its job is to look at these matters.
§ Lord ELTON
My noble friend has made a valuable contribution, though I think it may become apparent that I do not altogether share his view in the matter. Nothing I do can surprise the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. It is not my purpose or duty to defend the recent reorganisation or to declare that it is either satisfactory or unsatisfactory, but I have sat in silence, hoping that the reasoned, measured and familiar tones of the noble and learned Lord would enable me to counsel my friends not to press this Amendment But in this I have been disappointed.
It does not seem to me that the noble and learned Lord has properly rebutted the view expressed in a charming mixed metaphor by my noble friend Lord Amory, who must have been reading about the plans for plastic trees which were recently publicised, and expressed in a discussion paper produced by the Welsh Counties Committee in the following terms:Local government should be allowed to get on with its job. An efficient organisation cannot possibly waste so much time and money in repeatedly considering reorganisation. For 30 years—more or less the entire post war period—there has been talk of local government reorganisation. Not even steel or any industry, let alone government, has been so afflicted".Coming from that source, this plea must be listened to with respect and attention.
The reorganisation is recent. It takes new bodies a time to shake down. We must recognise that this is the case, not only for the local organisations of which we are now speaking but also for the Assembly to which the task of supervising yet another reorganisation is to be entrusted. I should have thought that it was natural to expect it to need two or three years in which to play itself in and to discover what it is like to work to the existing organisation before deciding how it should be altered. Indeed, there is some rather good authority for this view, because the Government's own White Paper, Devolution—the English Dimension, rejects local government reform in England because:A further reorganisation so soon after the last one would be bound to create confusion in the minds of the average elector. Probably he would feel more remote from the affairs of a local government body administering services over a much wider area".1200 Why the Welsh elector should be immune to the uncertainties that the English elector is clearly recoganised as having in this Government White Paper, the noble and learned Lord has not explained. I cannot see why the effects upon the one should not be the same as they are upon the other.
There are also rather important bodies which share this apprehension. The Personal Social Services Council has said that reorganisation of local government could impair the quality and delivery of personal social services and that it is opposed to partial reorganisation which would transfer those services from county councils to some of the larger non-Metropolitan districts. This consideraton must apply equally to any reorganisation intended for one region in the United Kingdom only, that of Wales.
Therefore, I think that I am in company which even the noble and learned Lord would regard as respectable. Indeed, his former Prime Minister, Sir Harold Wilson, said in January 1976 that to impose yet another reorganisation would be a burden not easy to be tolerated. He said:We will not throw the whole of local government again into the melting pot".It is interesting to note that Sir Harold Wilson said those words when addressing a Labour Party local government conference in Cardiff. So it cannot be an unrespectable view to hold.
But that is not the principal reason I hold it. The principal point seems to be that the reorganisation of local government in any region—and we happen to be speaking of the region of Wales—ought not to be conducted upon the evidence of that region alone, for the simple reason that at this of all junctures in our history it is essential that we preserve the fabric which unites the United Kingdom. You may well have—and I have said this on Second Reading debates so I shall not expand on the theory of the thesis—a different system of local government on one side of the Anglo-Welsh Border from that which there is on the other. But it must be constructed by a body which can see both sides of the Border with equal clarity and equal interests.
I do not think that the only route out of this difficulty that I see presenting itself to the noble and learned Lord is to 1201 say, "But of course we shall have a commission looking at the English side at the same time." I do not think that to set those two reports side by side to see where they agree and where they disagree, and to have a grand powwow between the two, and come up with some median after a long argument, is a proper, efficient or, indeed, a cost-effective way of conducting this discussion. It seems to me that from the start there should be some supra-regional body to conduct the inquiry.
I risk the lethal rain of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, in that I am saying—I see to his surprise—that I do not think that the Welsh Assembly, whatever its characteristics, will be the right body to look at this. But if we were looking at the devolution of the North-East, Cornwall, or indeed Scotland. I would say exactly the same thing.
§ Lord ELTON
And that is that the inter-regional implications of reorganisation of local government can only be properly and impartially taken on board by a supra-regional body. I think that this is being done too early. The Bill gives a duty rather than giving a power. The power could be given under other parts of the Bill at a later date. All we are removing by this is the requirement that the wrong body should do the wrong review in the wrong place at the wrong time. I hope that my noble friend presses this Amendment.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Lord WYNNE-JONES
In listening to some of the speeches, I think I have detected a certain misunderstanding of the way in which Welsh people think, work and act. The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, said that this should not be a political issue and should not be discussed in a political Assembly. But in Wales politics is perhaps the very soul of the people. Politics is discussed all the time. Politics is discussed in the chapel—everywhere. There is no divorce in Wales between politics and intelligence, as there sometimes may be in other countries. The two go hand in hand. 1202 It is precisely because of this that it is appropriate that a political Assembly should consider this extremely important matter of local government within Wales. If one does not have the political Assembly doing it, then indeed there is no authority to the result. The authority will depend upon the political Assembly.
It is important to realise this distinction between the way in which the Welsh people think about things and conduct their affairs and the way in which certain other people do. It may he that we tend to be somewhat emotional in Wales, but the question of local government is not an unemotional subject in Wales. It is an extremely important subject, and something which leads the people to respond to the actual form of government that is put forward. For this reason it is vital that the Assembly should conduct exactly the kind of review which is suggested. If it does not do it, then I think there will be a good deal of unrest, of questioning, of trouble within Wales because they will feel that they have not got the system that they wish to have. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, suggested that all this should be done by some—I was almost going to say, superhuman—body that was above the whole political theme.
§ Lord ELTON
That is not what I intended. It is not above the political area; it is above the regional arena. This is another issue altogether. It must not look at the problem from a purely Welsh point of view, because other interests are affected. I would say the same if it was an English body; it should consult the neighbours as well. Therefore, it must stand above the geographical border, that is what I said.
§ Lord WYNNE-JONES
I understand what the noble Lord is saying, and I think that he is again misunderstanding the situation of Wales. He talked of Wales as though it were one other region. It is not one other region, it is something which has a certain—I do not want to over-emphasise this—national character. Furthermore, it has a geographical character. If one looks at Wales and at the counties which have been set up, one sees that some of them cover an enormous area but with a small population: other have a restricted area with a large population. There are probably 1203 something like three or four centres of population in Wales. For the rest, they are scattered around an enormous countryside of great diversity.
This is a problem which must be solved by the Welsh themselves. It is not appropriate to have some body set up which carefully considers whether or not Wales is similar to Yorkshire and decides that what is appropriate for Yorkshire is appropriate for Wales. It is something that the Welsh must decide. Therefore, this ought to remain in the Bill.
§ Viscount AMORY
May I first refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, has said about politics and Wales. We understand this. We understand that politics is part of the air that Welshmen breath. That is not praise or criticism, but I think it is a fact. It reminds me of a case I read about where a lawyer had been talking a great deal about what his clients thought in Little Muddiford. The judge said, "I should have thought, with great respect, that the inhabitants of Little Muddiford have not even heard of this abstruse technical point". He got the reply from the lawyer, "In Little Muddiford we talk of nothing else". That has not really got any relevance to
§ Wales, but it gives me an excuse to say that I wholly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, told us about the Welsh attitude to politics, and that does not really interfere with anything I have said this afternoon.
§ I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his, as always, extremely courteous reply, and not only that but for the extreme generosity of the tribute he paid to my Party when he said that to say that anything done by a Tory Government must be wrong is a gross exaggeration. I had expected that he was going to say that, "Anything done by a Tory Government must be wrong may be an exaggeration". To introduce "would" instead of "might", and to have introduced "gross exaggeration" is extremely generous of him. Having said that, I should like to say that before he spoke I felt "Not Content" about this clause; I am afraid I still feel "Not Content".
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 12 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 79; Not-Contents, 82.1205
§ Resolved in the negative, and clause disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 13 [Powers under local Acts]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 13 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, I should like illumination on a small matter. The clause brings into the purview of the Assembly the exercise ofsuch functions given to Ministers of the Crown by or under local Acts as the Secretary of State may by order specify".I am not addressing myself to the question whether or not the Secretary of State should make the specification. I hope there may be a handy phrase or two to explain to those of us who do not know precisely the implications of what a local Act is. We have had Acts specified ad nauseam in Schedule 2; to hear a great many more brought in anonymously, as it were, is rather worrying and many of us would like to know what this means.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, local Acts are many and various, but ministerial involvement is much rarer than in Public General Acts. This is only to be expected, because if anybody secures Parliamentary approval to particular legislative provisions he should not thereafter have to go to the Minister for any further approval; 1206 so ministerial involvement tends to be limited to matters with which Ministers are already closely concerned, matters of land acquisition, disposal and the like. Also, Ministers may have minor powers which are virtually exercisable on behalf of Parliament, such as powers in relation to works; that is, the possibility of extending the time specified by Parliament for the construction of authorised works. Those are the powers in the main which lie in Acts promoted by local authorities and statutory undertakers, and many of them will be identical in character with the sort of powers we have devolved in Clause 9. So they should, therefore, devolve also, and that is the purpose of Clause 13.
The magnitude of the task has been somewhat lessened by the current activity in local authority legislation. The Local Government Act 1972 prospectively repeals all such legislation, subject to various qualifications, and this has compelled the local authorities to review their legislation, and to decide how much of it ought to be saved by such methods as are available. Their task has been eased by Part I of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act—which your Lordships debated rather thoroughly in 1976—which converts into permanent form those standard clauses which were regularly being found in the local authority legislation which the Government regarded as being worth perpetuating. So it is 1207 subsection (1) of this clause which confers on the Secretary of State power by order to specify the local Acts ministerial functions which the Assembly is to exercise—those are the functions which he now has and which will pass to the Assembly. Subsection (2) is the subsection which empowers consequential provision of any such order, and this extends to devolving the power by making its exercise subject to ministerial control, and thereby following the pattern which we set in Clause 9 and in Schedule 4. Subsection (3) makes an order subject to the Negative Resolution procedure, and provides necessary safeguards.
§ Lord ELTON
I should be over estimating my ability if I thought that I could say that I understood everything that the noble Baroness has said—
§ Lord ELTON
The noble Baroness assures me that I will when I read it, but of course she cannot assure me that I find it all to my taste. I must reserve my position on this matter, because it appears that much more than I expected came pouring out of the box when it was opened. It may be innocuous, but I cannot tell. I am much obliged to the noble Baroness.
§ Clause 13 agreed to.
§ Clause 14 [First meeting]:
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 14 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord ELTON
We were speaking earlier about the bowlers on this side and the batters on the other. I wonder whether there is an interested crowd at the rails of the pavilion seeing what is going on, because occasionally one feels that they have missed one or two balls that have been played. I should like to know—and I think everyone would like to know—what kind of time-scale the Government have in mind, and I hope that whoever is to reply for the Government (the noble Baroness, or the noble Lord) will be able to tell us this. Obviously there will be no firm commitment, but at the moment there is no adumbration.
1208 At an earlier stage I was discussing with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, the possibility of an interim arrangement being required by the length of time that might elapse between, on the one hand, the holding of the referendum—the bringing into effect of the Act—and, on the other hand, the sitting of the Assembly followed by various processes, the result of which might be a disastrous shortfall in funds which could have severe effects upon the bodies dependent upon them. Much of what we were saying then would have either gained or lost force had we had any inkling as to the answer which the noble Lord is, or is not, now to give to my question. We should like to know from the noble Lord when he thinks that the Secretary of State is likely to direct that the first meeting of the Assembly shall be held, in terms of, say, the lapse of time from the holding of the referendum. This may be in the lap of the gods, but I am sure that the noble Lord hopes—and he may even expect—that the Secretary of State for Wales may, on that distant day, be the same person as now holds the office, or certainly that the Secretary of State will belong to the same Party as is at present in power. Therefore, there must be some plan in the back of the Government's mind; otherwise, there will be an awful nonsense. Can the noble Lord tell us what the plan is?
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
I should like to reply to this question on an off-the-cuff basis because this matter is not in any sense contained in the clause, which simply refers to an arrangement. The referendum will take place at a certain time. After that Parliament will need to consider the result, and the Parties will need to select their candidates, which will take some time. Then there will he an election campaign, followed by an election. I do not think that at this stage anyone can give a timing. What one can say is that the election will follow the referendum as soon as is reasonable, because there are fairly standard times for elections; this we understand. As soon as the election has taken place, the Assembly will assemble. How, ever, to put a timing on this seems to be quite impossible.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
I consider that the noble Lord opposite has put for- 1209 ward a quite legitimate probing point, but no definite time can be given, as is obvious from what the Minister has just said. After the referendum there will be constituency matters and selection of candidates to be dealt with, as well as all the other ground work which every practical politician realises exists when it comes to electoral assemblies. In the half minute that I intend to speak I wish to make a suggestion; namely, I should like to see the first meeting of the Assembly take place on St. David's Day, or as near as possible to that day, after the referendum decision.
§ Lord ELTON
I do not think that we have got much further. There is another dimension; namely, the question of the order laid before Parliament in the light of the result of the referendum. It is possible that the referendum will be won or lost. There is also a real danger that a majority of those voting in the referendum will vote for devolution and that, while that majority will be significant, it will, nevertheless, be less than the 40 per cent. required. Therefore, there will have to be delicate discussions, as well as delicate political decisions in Parliament. I have elicited that there is, as always, considerable uncertainty here, but I have not elicited any idea as to how far the area of uncertainty may extend, and we may return to this when we consider the financial provisions.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
The noble Lord has elicited some idea regarding the point he raises, which is the best he could possibly expect. A certain number of things have to happen. I have explained these at tedious length, and the noble Lord's estimate as to how long these matters will take is liable to be very much the same as mine. The period after the referendum may need to include the Parliamentary procedure. After that, there must be a time for an election, and once there has been an election there will be an Assembly. It does not seem to be very mysterious.
§ Lord ELTON
The noble Lord has made it clear that there is no intention to delay matters further once the decision is taken in Parliament, and it was necessary to know that. I am much obliged to the noble Lord.
§ Clause 14 agreed to.1210
§ Clause 15 [Standing orders]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 15 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord ELTON
I should like to slip in a point here before the dinner break. It occurred to me last night to inquire about this. Under the provisions of Clause 15, the Secretary of State may give directions for regulating the procedure of the Assembly pending the making of its own standing orders. Most noble Lords here are very well versed in Parliamentary procedures, but it would be nice to know what the force of those directions would be; to what extent would they be binding upon the Assembly. The clause does not appear to state that the directions shall be binding upon the Assembly. It is said simply that the directions shall be sent by the Secretary of State in an envelope, and the assumption is that the Assembly is bound to follow them; but I do not know whether or not this is the case. I should have thought that it was not, and this may or may not be a matter of importance. I suspect that it might be, but probably is not.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
I believe it is fairly clear from the clause that the initial regulation issued by the Secretary of State in the interim period before the Assembly has met will be binding until it has met, when of course it will have the power to make any change it wishes.
§ Lord ELTON
I should like to have this point clear. Is it the case that the standing orders will have effect until the body that they are intended to control meets?
§ Lord ELTON
Therefore, they will have effect only when in fact they have no effect, because they cannot have effect when the Assembly has not met. Is that right? That would seem to be the most extraordinary situation to appertain. I take it that beyond that point the standing orders are matters which the Assembly can agree to operate, but is at liberty to dispose of piecemeal. Therefore, it will substitute its own binding orders, either step by step, or altogether, when it has agreed them.
§ Clause 15 agreed to.
§ House resumed.