§ . Where the determination of planning appeals on planning applications under town and country planning legislation has been transferred to the Assembly by an Order in Council under section 22 of this Act, the standing orders must include provision for this function to be exercisable by one person appointed by the Assembly for that purpose.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the first of three amendments in my name which try to put wealth creation, especially in the rural economy, as a priority for the assembly. As I have been trying to point out, without a flourishing economy there will be little room for culture.
§ The amendment tries to simplify the planning system. As your Lordships will be aware, if a farmer, entrepreneur, or wealth creator wishes to diversify, he or she has nearly always to apply for planning permission. The route is tortuous, expensive and time-consuming, often to the extent that it delays matters so much that the opportunity is lost, and so a few more rural jobs are also lost.346
§ The first stage is to persuade the local planning authority of one's case. As was clearly pointed out on Report by my noble friend Lord Kenyon, local councillors are often swayed by their constituents. They may prevaricate beyond the permitted time, as they did in a case in which I was involved, or they may decide against guidelines laid down.
§ The next and expensive step is to go to appeal where, if the inspector rules that the applicant's case is justified and valid, he will recommend to the Secretary of State that planning permission be granted. However, as the Bill is written—I have pointed this out before—the decision will be left in the assembly's hands. Unless your Lordships support my amendment, in theory the whole of the assembly could re-examine the case, thus reverting to stage one; that is, the case being decided by vociferous and articulate NIMBYs who may reverse the decision.
§ Apart from being time-consuming, that destroys planning law, for it is essential for farmers and wealth creators to have strict guidelines which they can follow so that they can know how and where they can diversify or develop. I hope, of course, that the assembly will study the complexities of the problem. I am sorry to say that the corruption—potential—that the planning system, encourages will make that difficult for the assembly. As I understand it, the assembly will have the power to do so. I hope that it will discipline local planning authorities when they behave irresponsibly. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams, who said that the system could be made to work if only one managed it properly (Hansard col. 1451). I would add to that "honestly". That is why I have tabled the amendment after Clause 72 which I call the "sleaze" clause. I hope that the assembly will study the French system.
The amendment is a simple first stage. It would ensure that the final decision would be taken by one person. That person will be decided by the assembly. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. It also, I hope, satisfies the noble Lord, Lord Williams. At col. 1452 of the Official Report of 9th July, he said,
it is always an advantage in Wales not to be a committee".
I am sure that with the exception of my noble friend Lord St. Davids we would all agree.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Williams, was kind enough to take the trouble to write to me reiterating his sentiments, and stating that he would draw the Secretary of State's attention to the fact that I, and I think he too, preferred one person to adjudicate. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that; and I hope that your Lordships will give him every encouragement to urge the Secretary of State to take a similar view.
As always there is a snag in life. That snag was vividly pointed out by my noble friend Lord St. Davids. At col. 1450 of the Official Report of 9th July, he stated:
The National Assembly Advisory Group has discussed the matter. It came to the conclusion that responsibility should go to the first secretary, and perhaps through him to a relevant subject committee. It may be the wish of the first secretary or the subject committee to appoint a panel drawn from the national assembly members to hear such appeals".
Golly!—or whatever parliamentary words I may use to that effect. It goes without saying that I much regret disagreeing with my noble friend's inept remarks although I entirely accept that they put the whole problem into a nutshell. I most sincerely hope that those are only the mistaken views of the noble Viscount, and not those of NAAG, for they spell out delay, confusion and political intrigue, and, perhaps some noble Lords might say, sleaze and all the symptoms of a waffle shop—something about which I and the 74.4 per cent. who did not vote for an assembly were concerned. Fortunately, my noble friend, like me, often gets the wrong end of the stick. However, I hope that, like me, he will admit it.
§ It is up to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and, I hope, the Secretary of State to prove that my suspicions about what might happen are unjustified. The noble Lord could do that this evening by accepting my amendment.
§ Finally, I repeat my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for his letter and sympathetic reply to my queries at Report stage. However, I point out that his letter was slightly incorrect in stating that this is an identical amendment to the one tabled at Report. It is not. I had taken his advice and specified that the function should be exercised by one person and, with regard to the feelings of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies—I am sorry that he is not in his place today—that the assembly should decide who that person should be.
§ I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will be able to accept this minor amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, when I sat on the Benches presently occupied by noble Lords, I used to say that any amendment I contended for was minor on the basis that it might well be accepted. The noble Lord is right: it is not an identical amendment because he now specifies one person rather than the presiding officer of the assembly.
We do not think that this is a matter for the face of the Bill. However, I reiterate that it is essential that all planning decisions, whether at first instance or on appeal, should be made without unnecessary delay; and, crucially, that they are seen to be transparent and impartial. One of the reasons that sometimes they are not is that one has an overpowerful monolith, whether in local government or in an assembly context. That is one of the important reasons why we wanted a proportional system which would give opposition parties a fair crack of the whip in the new assembly.
I can reaffirm that I believe the present system should be properly managed, efficiently and effectively. I do not refer simply to farming applicants for development because all applicants should be treated in the same way; I entirely agree with the noble Lord. An appeal or process that continues for two years is extremely expensive in terms of money, energies lost and dissipated, and perhaps employment chances which are lost forever. I can say—I hope that it is helpful—that my right honourable friend Ron Davies, the Secretary of State, shares those views.
348 The real question is how we can best improve the planning system in Wales. We are waiting for the National Assembly Advisory Group's views. We expect those to be at hand in the next few weeks. Thereafter, the Secretary of State will use NAAG's report as a basis for preparing detailed guidance which he will put to the commission which is to prepare draft standing orders.
Those decisions are yet to be made. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I am not sure that simply identifying one person will be the solution. It will not necessarily be so because it depends which person is identified. The noble Lord probably envisages that it may be the first secretary or a subject committee secretary; I do not know. I can only say that I entirely sympathise with his views. I believe that the planning regime at present is too slow, cumbersome and expensive and does not deliver the goods for those who are entitled to look to it. I do not refer only to applicants. Not everyone who raises an objection is of necessity self-evidently just a NIMBY. People often are rightly conservative in their views about changes to their habitat and environment.
On the principle, the noble Lord is pushing at an open door so far as I am concerned. I cannot prescribe what the assembly will do, but I can reaffirm the fact that the Secretary of State has every sympathy with his objective. However, I do not believe that we should put on the face of the Bill this narrow prescription that it should be only one person. After all, he or she might be someone entirely unsatisfactory to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. It is a possibility.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, it would be churlish if I were to divide the House on this issue because the Minister has come so far my way. I make one point. The noble Lord says that some conservative members do not like planning proposals. I should make it clear that it is "conservative" with a small "c". In most cases I would disagree with their views.
I am worried that NAAG will get the better of the noble Lord and the Secretary of State and will put in a panel. But the noble Lord has persuaded me that I am pushing at an open door. It would be foolish of me to divide the House and create a division between us. I think that there is little between us.
I thank the noble Lord for his efforts, the letters he has written, and the thought that he has put into the provision. I hope that he, I, and the Secretary of State will be successful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Clause 76 [Role of Secretary of State for Wales]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 36 to 38 not moved.]
§ Clause 80 [Grants to Assembly]:
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 39:
§ Page 41, line 41, after ("State") insert (", recognising the needs of Wales in relation to the needs of the United Kingdom as a whole,").349
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in a sense, this amendment to Clause 80 has been overtaken by events, in particular the Chancellor the Exchequer's Statement of yesterday announcing the planned increase in public spending over the next three years.
§ The application of the Barnett formula to the increase in education and health spending in particular means that Wales, too, will have increases. However, there is some doubt about how significant those increases are to be. They will be related to key targets which the Government and I might usefully define as "needs".
§ The realisation of those spending plans in Wales, as elsewhere, will no doubt depend on the progress of the economy. There are different predictions as to what the future holds in that regard and how the spending plans will be affected. However, your Lordships will be glad to know that I do not intend to engage in an economic debate.
§ I tabled the amendment in its revised form in order to make clear that when we discussed the needs of Wales on the second day of our Report stage we were referring to the needs of Wales in relation to the needs of the United Kingdom as a whole. Since then, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has written to me. A copy of his letter has been placed in the Library. He expanded on the information given by his noble and learned friend as regards the Government's difficulties in accepting my amendment, with its requirement to recognise the needs of Wales and reconciling that with the continued application of the Barnett formula. As the letter puts the matter very succinctly, I shall read two paragraphs for the record. However, the Minister has yet another argument to adduce which I find less persuasive.
The argument that appeals to me is as follows:
The last Labour government undertook a review of the relative needs of Wales in the late 1970s, prior to the introduction of the block and formula arrangements. The Welsh baseline has since been uprated annually by application of the formula, as well as, of course, being subject to change when further functions have been devolved to the Welsh Office.
To introduce an assessment of need into the annual payment mechanism—as your amendment would have required—would be radically to alter the formula, if not to do away with it altogether. Rather than simply applying the multiplier, the Secretary of State would have to determine the needs of Wales. This would effectively mean recalculating the baseline figure rather than applying a population-based ratio. Under this approach, there could be no consistent and automatic variations to the Block such as the formula provides, as the Block itself would necessarily be subject to continuous annual review. That, it seems to me, would make the formula effectively redundant".
That is a clear exposition of the key argument. The Minister knows that I do not wish to jeopardise the application of the formula, imperfect as it may now be. However, I shall continue to argue that if and when the Government come to revise it, the needs of Wales should be recognised in the context of the United Kingdom as a whole.
§ There is a need for a review such as was carried out in the late 1970s to take account of subsequent changes over the past 20 years or so and the present position. It may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I say that I do not intend to press the amendment to a 350 Division. I shall simply reiterate my concern at the lack of principle, referred to in an earlier debate by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, behind the clause and the Secretary of State's absolute discretion in allocating grants to the assembly. The assembly will be dependent each year upon the good will and ability of the Secretary of State to secure a good deal for Wales. Yet in all probability he will have far less say in Whitehall after devolution. If he should belong to a party which does not control the assembly he will have little chance or incentive to fight for extra resources for his political opponents.
§ The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith, to which he will speak soon, presents a fascinating proposition. I shall listen to him with great interest and to the Government's comments on his remarks. I beg to move.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, my Amendment No. 40 is grouped with Amendment No. 39. I should begin by apologising to the House for tabling an amendment of such substance at Third Reading. When I did so I was advised that it was outwith the custom of the House to discuss new business, which the formula is, at Third Reading. Indeed, I would not have tabled the amendment except for the terms in which at Report stage the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, dismissed my noble friend's amendment on the needs of Wales.
I should also explain to the House that I have tabled what I might call the elder brother of the amendment to the Scotland Bill. I had originally thought that with a bit of fortune and a fair wind, the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill would be completed before we reached the Third Reading of the Wales Bill. However, in a way, the Wales Bill is finishing with a strong sprint, whereas the Scotland Bill is still languishing in the early laps, steadily going round and round the track.
I was advised also that it is for the House to decide what is a matter of substance which should or should not be discussed. At this stage, I had better pause before I continue in case anybody would like to say that I am strictly out of court.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is perfectly entitled to raise this matter and to have it discussed.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, I am extremely grateful for that and I shall attempt to explain briefly the effect of the amendment. It is an attempt to put on the face of the Bill a method of calculation for the funds for which the Welsh national assembly will have to be responsible. In so doing, I say to all noble Lords in the Chamber that if we can achieve it, that is a great insurance for the funding of that assembly.
Everything which is taking place at present in the field of devolution is building up to the point at which there is likely to be an English backlash. If we have something like this on the face of the Bill, although I agree that it provides a method by which the formula can be changed, it also ensures that funding for the Welsh national assembly can be guaranteed into the 351 future on the basis of legislation—that is as opposed to the present situation in which, as my noble friend on the Front Bench pointed out, the Welsh national assembly's funding depends on the success of the Secretary of State for Wales in his negotiations not just with the Chancellor of the Exchequer but within the Cabinet. If he is a good Secretary of State, he will secure a good volume of funding. However, one can envisage circumstances in which he may be metaphorically sand-bagged or, perish the thought, "handbagged" into something which may be less advantageous.
§ Lord Islwyn
My Lords, I have listened to the noble Lord with great care. I am sure that he will be aware that my noble friend Lord Barnett has indicated that Wales is under-funded under his formula at present.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, I shall deal with that point. However, I should point out that as I understand the Barnett formula, it never considers what I regard as the base block of Welsh expenditure, but it applies the increases pro rata.
My formula goes to the heart of the base block. It is essentially population-based. I had to consider whether that was wise given that in respect of local authorities, a population base would be inappropriate because, by and large, local authorities are too small and there can be extremely large variations in demographic factors between local authorities. But once one is dealing with a region or a nation of the size and population of Wales, population becomes a valid factor, albeit I have varied it to a small extent to take account of the lower population density of Wales which is not as low as the very low population density of Scotland. That is why I have tabled a different amendment in relation to Scotland. It is right, however, to acknowledge that particular factor. After that, we can leave it aside.
Two other factors are involved. The first is relevant public expenditure. Public expenditure in Wales is a vastly greater figure than the expenditure which will be delegated to the national assembly for Wales. Therefore, I have concocted that phrase "relevant public expenditure", which is that proportion of public expenditure which is delegated to the national assembly of Wales in relation to, or as a percentage of, total public expenditure for Wales.
One then takes that percentage figure and applies it to national United Kingdom public expenditure, divides it by the total population of the United Kingdom to reduce it to a per capita figure, and multiplies that by the population of Wales.
I have also introduced a third factor, namely, the relative prosperity or, if one wishes to be pessimistic and look at it that way, the relative poverty of Wales. I have produced a sliding formula which would increase the amount for public expenditure if Wales were relatively unfortunate and relatively less prosperous and which, of course, would diminish it if that were turned round and it became of more than average prosperity.
It could be argued that the slope on the graph that I have produced is too steep. In fact, I believe that Wales would probably do extremely well out of my formula. 352 As it stands at present, the Welsh GDP per head, which I have used as a measurement of prosperity, is quite low relative to the UK average. Therefore, the Welsh would get considerably enhanced public expenditure and I believe that that would be right. If, as a result of that enhanced public expenditure Welsh prosperity began to increase, so the volume of public expenditure would go down and there would come a point at which it might even go below the UK average if Welsh GDP per head went above. If one looks at what has happened over a 20-year or 30-year period in Scotland, it will be seen that the Scots have moved from a period of relative poverty to a situation now where they more or less match the average GDP per head for the United Kingdom, although there is some debate as to whether they are immediately above it or below.
My formula takes all those factors into account and would produce a finite sum. If it were on the face of the Bill, that finite sum would be due to Wales and there would be nothing that a future Secretary of State or Chancellor of the Exchequer could do about it. In order to avoid the need to recalculate that sum annually, there is also a provision which says that it needs to he recalculated only triannually. That is in line with the practice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of trying to have triannual calculations of funding to produce a degree of stability. There is also a mechanism to permit the formula to be changed by affirmative order in both Houses of Parliament, after consultation with the Welsh national assembly should that prove to be necessary.
In all seriousness, I do not expect the Government to adopt my formula. I also stress that I have no desire to supplant the name of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. Indeed, I would rather that he were present this evening so that he could adopt my formula as "Barnett Mark II", because it seems to me that that is what it sets out to be.
I shall finish where I began. My proposal would be a great security for the future of the Welsh national assembly because its funding would be on the face of the Bill, whereas at present it is dependent on the good will and success of the Secretary of State for Wales in negotiation with the Government. We should not assume that the present apparently happy situation for Wales will continue for all time.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I listened with care to what the Opposition spokesman said about his amendments. One tries to keep pace with events which are relevant to what we discuss in this House as they are taking place. The noble Lord said that he had no idea of the value of the settlement or of how much money was involved. However, I understand that that has already been announced. Nevertheless, there is reference to it in today's edition of the Financial Times. With the leave of the House, I shall quote from the article, which says:With an eye to the devolution elections in Scotland and Wales next May, Gordon Brown [has] provided significant"—I emphasise "significant"—real terms increases for the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office".353 But nothing is said there about what has been provided for England; in other words, whether it will remain static or whether our percentage has been increased. Indeed, nothing is said about it. We have been left out completely in the cold in terms of announcements.
I took the trouble to read in detail in Hansard what was said yesterday by my noble friend Lord McIntosh while repeating the public expenditure Statement. Again, for the benefit of the House, I shall repeat what he said:At every stage we are linking investment to reform and it is on this basis that the Education Secretary tomorrow will announce the biggest single investment in education in the history of our country. In this and in other services there will be separate announcements based on the Barnett formula for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland".—[Official Report, 14/7/98; col. 133.]All those three parts of the United Kingdom—and there may be good reasons for it—are heavy drawers, in debt, if you calculate what they put in and what they have to take out to run the countries. Northern Ireland is grossly overfunded, but that is necessary because of the situation there. The latest figures that I have seen show that Northern Ireland contributed £3 billion, but took out £7 billion. That money was needed for certain measures because the people in Northern Ireland cannot learn to live with one another. However, all that money has to be found from somewhere. There is no one to speak up for England in the same way as there is in Wales and Scotland because the population of England is more fragmented.
I assume that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has reached decisions on this matter with the authority of the Cabinet. The person who knows more about the Barnett formula than anyone else is the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, himself. He thinks that formula has fallen by the wayside and needs to be reassessed. Some £871 more of expenditure is spent on each person in Scotland as compared with England. That is a large sum of money. As I have said, if we brought the expenditure on each person in England up to the level that it is in Scotland, it would cost over £300 billion. That calculation was done for me in the Library. If you multiply 5 million people by £871 that amounts to a great deal of money. To try to find out the relevant figures I tabled today a Question for Written Answer. I asked what the Chancellor's Statement of yesterday means in terms of expenditure on each person in the various areas of the United Kingdom.
There is no question in my mind that some kind of a review must take place. Wales may be getting a bad deal. However, if we continue with the Barnett formula in its present form, Wales will continue to get a bad deal. Certainly England is getting a bad deal. Therefore it appears to me that the only people who are getting a good deal are those north of the Border. I wish someone would tell the Scottish people that because they should have been told about that much earlier.
This is a bizarre situation. This Bill will set the scene in Wales for time immemorial. It will not be changed within the lifetime of anyone here. We have heard catch-phrases about formulae but we do not have any hard and fast figures. It appears that we cannot alter that 354 situation; it is almost a waste of time debating it. However, if the differences in expenditure on the various parts of the United Kingdom widen still further that will be a serious matter.
I have been called an English nationalist because sometimes I stand up for England. If I were doing the same for Wales or Scotland, I would be called a patriot. Someone has to say something. The Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly will act as focal points. In my opinion there will be interminable strife between those bodies and another place. Whatever economic measures the Chancellor of the Exchequer puts in place, they will never be sufficient to satisfy the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly. The nationalist parties in those two areas will make sure that that is the situation.
We shall have to examine the Scottish Bill when it comes before this House. Given the way business has been calculated, we shall probably take the Report stage when we return in October. We shall have a hefty meal on the Bill, because the sums will probably be known by then. I am not sure that it is not a deliberate sleight of hand that all these announcements have been made before the Bill becomes law, when it is in its final stages, as a fait accompli, and neither the other place nor this House can have any say as to what is taking place on a major issue such as this. I wanted to make this comment, and to lay down markers in respect of the Bill. This is not the best way to treat another place or this House. I am sure that most Members in the other place do not have a clue as to what will happen in terms of finance for the people they represent south of the Border.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, I spoke rather late in the course of the Bill's passage, at Report stage, on a similar amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, and my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas. I attempted to argue that in the case of the Welsh assembly, which does not have tax-raising powers—that is an important distinction between the Welsh and the Scottish case—the formulation presently on the face of the Bill is probably as good as we shall get, and we should stick with it. It allows for flexibility and does not lay matters down in writing. I attempted to argue that if matters are laid down in writing, what may seem advantageous now is likely to cause a problem when circumstances change.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has proposed that the Barnett formula should be on the face of the Bill and the question is: should it be adopted? Matters which may appear harmless in administrative or political office calculations are extremely dangerous when they are set down in a piece of legislation. That is partly because expenditure per capita, GDP per capita, and population will become great matters of contention if they are set out on the face of the Bill. As I said previously, we do not know the population of Wales accurately, except in census years. They would be calculations, albeit good calculations.
We referred to regional per capita GDP estimates when we discussed the form of the European structural funds. The UK stands to lose quite an amount as a result of the reform of the conditions adopted. Now, the regions of the UK are arguing that the per capita income 355 formula is not good enough, and that it should relate to unemployment. But our unemployment is lower than in the rest of Europe. We should not take just any unemployment, but the full cycle. We should try for a definition under the current cycles which is as advantageous as possible. There will be a lot of battles about variable definitions and so on.
What happens currently, so far as I understand it, is a mixture of an administrative and a political process. My right honourable friend has not changed the Barnett formula in his latest Statement. Because he has upped the expenditure for the whole of the United Kingdom, the Welsh Office and the Scottish Office will receive more money.
I say to my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick that £300 million is roughly what the Government spend on the whole country. To take round figures, for 60 million people it is about £5,000 per capita. About 54 million—
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, on the figures that I received today, Scottish per capita spending is presently nearly £600, not £500. That difference represents quite a lot of money spent on 5½ million people.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Desai, continues, perhaps I may make two observations. I love to listen to economists, but I am reminded of the old cliché about the exam questions always being the same but the answers different. Of course, one could put it the other way round.
I wish to ask the noble Lord whether he agrees with this point. I have used figures that are either available in the Library or could be easily calculated. They are sufficiently generally available to be regarded as facts in my formula, so it is not what I would call a speculation; it is pretty finite. One would go back to the last census for an accurate figure for the population of Wales. Even that figure is projected forward in official figures to take account of what is happening.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, I do not doubt that. However, if it is made a legal matter, the projections will become the subject of debate. The noble Lord was rightly sceptical about economists, just as one can be sceptical about statisticians. Projections are not easy to make.
What I am saying is that we will not remove contention by putting something down on paper. I wish to illustrate for my noble friend that if we spend £300 billion and England's population accounts for the bulk of the 60 million, England's portion is easily calculated. All we are doing is to make a marginal adjustment for Wales and Scotland which allows for the sparsity of population. The noble Lord may argue that it could turn out that the English portion could be higher or lower. There is no rule that equal per capita expenditure across the country is necessarily any more equitable than expenditure which depends on various other calculations, such as one relating to sparsity of population.
I would rather leave the matter to be decided by administrative and political bargaining outside legislation than include it in legislation. That would 356 make the process much more contentious. If my noble friend Lord Dean wants the Barnett formula to be reformed, he should oppose the amendment because the only hope of the formula being reformed is not to put it on the face of the Bill.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said and with his approach. It seems to me to be asking for trouble to spell out any kind of formula on the face of the Bill.
I heard the noble Lord, Lord Dean, refer to the product of Northern Ireland taxation and the cost. I believe he has done the same for Scotland and Wales. Let us take the Welsh economy as an example. Most of the companies which operate in Wales have their headquarters in England. They pay their taxes in England. How does one account for that? There is the sparsity of population problem, both in Wales and Scotland, but it is particularly acute in Wales.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that the relationship and the financing are best left as a matter of political judgment to the common sense of the negotiators. They generally end up with something reasonable and fair.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, perhaps I may make a contribution from my place on the Back Bench. I wish to say a few words about Amendment No. 39. It refers to a principle, not a formula. It is a fair point to make because on Report, the House had the choice between a principle and a formula. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, has pursued persuasively the principle of the amendment at every stage of the Bill's progress through the House. That is an indication, in my view, of the importance which he, with his long experience as a Minister at the Welsh Office, attaches to the amendment.
I listen, as always, with great care to my noble friend Lord Desai, when he casts light on economic and financial issues. I take the point, which was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that at times there are dangers in setting down a principle in print. However, a matter which at the outset appears to involve a point of mere administration, may turn out in the end to involve a point of principle. What is missing from this clause in the Bill is the principle.
I had hoped that the Government would bring forward an amendment to meet the anxieties which a number of us expressed. But be that as it may, I listened also to what my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick, said. In addition to the technical arguments for or against the amendment, a political issue arises in relation to Clause 80 which should not be overlooked; namely; that an assembly of the Welsh people which cannot call in aid an objective statutory principle for determining the fairness of the block grant with which it is funded, could quickly become dissatisfied with its position. The dissatisfaction therefore may not just come from the English regions; there could be dissatisfaction also within Wales.
357 I have sought to emphasise that point to Ministers and to emphasise that all this could create a grievance. I have received no assurance on the point and can only hope that the Government have taken that risk fully into consideration.
§ Lord Kenyon
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith is too modest. If there was a vacancy for Chief Secretary of the Treasury and he was there, we would now be debating the Dixon-Smith formula. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that we should not be asking to put a formula such as his on the face of the Bill, so I am sorry to say that I shall not be supporting him in that respect.
However, I believe that there is a genuine anxiety here which I expressed in my speech on Second Reading. I can see that the English regions may become restless at the fact that Scotland and Wales may receive more by virtue of the Barnett formula, and the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, drew that to our attention. A debate, probably in relation to the Barnett formula, has gone on throughout the passage of this Bill and no doubt the Scottish Bill as well, to a much greater extent than it has done for the past 20 years. It may be that the time has come to review the Barnett formula.
Earlier today we had a Statement on the settlement in education and were told what is going to come next year, the year after and the year after that. But the government of Wales have not got a clue what is to come next year, the year after or the year after that. I believe that the amendment as tabled by my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy is a modest amendment which will give some certainty to making sure that Wales is not ignored should the colour of the government change at the next election, or should other circumstances change. I hope therefore that the House will support him in his amendment.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, was certainly economical when introducing his amendment. I hope to emulate his economy. The question he put on the last occasion, which I think he graciously accepted was substantially dealt with by the letter I sent to him, was: would his amendment jeopardise the Barnett formula? We have no doubt that it would because the Barnett formula does not seek to recognise the needs of Wales,in relation to the needs of the United Kingdom as a whole",which are the words of the noble Lord's amendment.
The Barnett formula has applied to the Welsh block a proportion of changes to comparable English—I underline the word English—spending programmes which emerge from the Government's spending decisions. The proportion applied, as your Lordships know, is that of the population of Wales relative to that of England. To introduce an assessment of need into the annual payment mechanism, as the noble Lord's amendment would require, would involve radically altering the basis for current arrangements, if not doing away with it altogether.
358 I turn to the formula of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. His amendment demonstrates the difficulty of trying to put a funding formula on the face of any legislation. It is not workable. First, it does not seek to define relevant average government expenditure per head. Secondly, it relates the level of Welsh funding to the average figure for the United Kingdom. But I remind the House again that the Barnett formula does not work with reference to the United Kingdom. It works to relevant spending programmes in England. Thirdly, the noble Lord's amendment would involve a never ending spiral because the figure produced by subsection (2B) could be increased, as mentioned in subsections (2C) and (2D), which would then, in turn, affect the average government expenditure per head of the United Kingdom which had earlier been used as the basis for the calculation in subsection (2B). I shall not say "touché", but I did think about it.
I entirely understand the spirit of the noble Lord's amendment, which is perhaps to draw out some anomalies. But I think that he simply substitutes further anomalies for his presently observed anomaly. It is on occasions like this, when I study the noble Lord's amendment, that I deeply regret that I was not brought up in a Jesuit school.
We believe that what is on the face of the Bill is right, not least for the reasons set out more authoritatively than I can do by the noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Hooson. We cannot accept these amendments. That may come as no surprise. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has been partly satisfied by the explanation that I gave in the letter and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will understand that we cannot in all the circumstances, not least because it is not workable, accept his amendment.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
My Lords, I said earlier that I would not press the amendment to a Division. I thank my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith for the thought he has given to this issue. Although the reception which his idea has received this evening may not be altogether satisfactory, it may well be the start of something that could develop in the not so distant future. I think that his formula is right to concentrate on the Welsh figure for GDP, which is about 83 per cent. compared with the average of 100 per cent. Wales has very substantial needs and it would benefit under my noble friend's formula, which is generous in that respect.
A number of speakers have said that perhaps it is as well to leave the formula outside the Bill. I am not sure how long we can go on talking about needs while knowing that those needs are met through a formula calculation. I am not sure how long we can listen to the author saying that it needs revision and how long we can abstain from carrying it out.
One must also have some sympathy for the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dean, who I am sure understands that the principle that I have been enunciating takes into account the needs of the English regions as well. The fact that we have asked for the needs of Wales be met in relation to the United Kingdom as a whole indicates that we have the interests 359 of England as well as Wales very much in our minds. I believe that it is only a matter of time before the Government are forced to reconsider their view on the Barnett formula and the way in which both Scotland and Wales benefit from it. They will have to have new thinking. I am sure that the thoughts put forward by my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith will figure in anybody's consideration of what should be done in the future. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 40.
§ Page 41, line 42, leave out from ("Parliament") to end of line 43 and insert—
§ ("(2A) The first payments under subsection (1) shall he calculated in accordance with subsections (2B) to (2F).
§ (2B) The relevant average Government expenditure per head of the population of the United Kingdom shall be multiplied by the population of Wales.
§ (2C) The figure arrived at by virtue of subsection (2B) shall be increased by 5 per cent. to take account of Wales' population density compared with the United Kingdom.
§ (2D) The figure arrived at by virtue of subsection (2C) may be increased or decreased by 1 per cent. in respect of every 1 per cent. by which average gross domestic product per capita is less or more (as the case may be) than the average gross domestic product per capita for the United Kingdom.
§ (2E) The formula set out in subsections (2B) to (2D)
- (a) shall be used to recalculate the basis on which payments under subsection (2) are to be made every three years after the first calculation is made and every three years thereafter;
- (b) may be amended by order made by the Secretary of State after consultation with the Assembly.
§ (2F) The power to make an order under subsection (2E)(b) shall be exercised by statutory instrument which shall be laid in draft before Parliament for approval by resolution of each House.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have had an interesting discussion. I shall not add very much. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that if my formula proves to be unsatisfactory at some point in the future, he will be aware—since he has read my amendment—that there is provision for it to be changed. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, hit the nail precisely on the head when he mentioned the potential for dissatisfaction with funding in the Welsh national assembly or in Wales at large under the present arrangements. Although we have a Government who believe greatly in openness, the way in which these aspects of funding are calculated is something of a closed book.
§ For better or worse, as the years roll by the Welsh national assembly budget and that of the Scottish parliament will be shredded by Members in the other place and possibly even by Members of this House. Comparisons will be made item by item. Regrettably, it will become a battlefield. I do not wish to say anything more. I accept the point that the Minister made about the roundabout effects of my amendment. That is the disadvantage of putting it forward at this stage of the Bill. I accept that. I also accept that it would be wholly inappropriate to take it further.360
§ [Amendment No. 40 not moved.]
§ Clause 82 [Loans to Assembly by Secretary of State]:
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale moved Amendment No. 41:
§ Page 43, line 5, leave out ("with the consent of the Treasury").
The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this is my last attempt to remove unnecessary words from the Bill. The phrase to be omitted in this case is unnecessary beyond any rational argument. I emphasise "rational". The noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General at Committee stage at least accepted that the words were unnecessary. The tune was changed at Report stage. I ask noble Lords to look at Clause 82. Subsection (1) allows the Secretary of State to make loans to the assembly. Subsection (2) is vital:
The Treasury may issue to the Secretary of State out of the National Loans Fund such sums as he needs for making loans under this section".
The noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General at Committee stage drew attention to that provision which means that the consent of the Treasury is in any event required if the Treasury stands on the path between the Secretary of State and the national loans commissioners. Subsection (5) limits the amount of loans that may be outstanding to £500 million, but subsection (6) provides:
The Secretary of State may from time to time by order made with the consent of the Treasury substitute for the amount specified in subsection (5) such greater amount as is specified in the order".
It is perfectly obvious that the words "made with the consent of the Treasury" are unnecessary.
§ When the great jurist, Sir Frederick Pollock, handed over the chair of the Law Quarterly Review to another great jurist, the father of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, he gave the following advice about commenting upon judicial pronouncements. If one needed to criticise a judgment one should say, "With respect"; if the judgment was clearly wrong one must say, "With great respect"; but if it had to be read to be believed one must say,"With the most profound respect".
§ It is with the most profound respect that I turn to the Government's argument on this provision. At Committee stage the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General accepted that the words were unnecessary but bravely went on to say that that was not a matter for criticism; on the contrary, it was a matter for congratulation because the Government were making plain what was necessary.
§ By the time we came to Report stage that argument could not be sustained; indeed, it was expressly withdrawn. The Government then accepted that unnecessary words should not be in the Bill. But the first argument having failed another two were cooked up. The noble and learned Lord's first argument was that although your Lordships know and others know that the consent of the Treasury is necessary under the circumstance the members of the assembly and the general public might not know. That is a completely fantastic argument. They have only to look at the clause to see that the consent of the Treasury is required under subsection (2), to which I have just referred.361
There are only three people under the clause who are concerned: the Secretary of State, the Treasury official and the national loans commissioner. Nobody else. So that argument was obviously not a very convincing one. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord went on to a second argument which he said was more substantial. Well, it could hardly be less substantial than the first. However, when one looks at it, it has no substantiality at all. The argument was that under the draft transfer of functions order made under Clause 2 the consent of the Treasury under a number of statutory provisions and secondary legislation is no longer required. That, as far as I have been able to ascertain, is because they were inconsistent with devolution. The noble and learned Lord went on to say:
While I accept that that process is somewhat removed from that of raising the assembly's borrowing limit".—[Official Report, 9/7/98; col. 1400.]
That was real understatement. Not only is it somewhat remote; it is utterly irrelevant. Will the Minister say whether he stands by those two arguments, the only ones we now have? In particular, what is the possible relevance to the abrogation of the need for Treasury consent under the draft order?
§ The House will remember that the famous philosopher, Bradley, described metaphysics as finding bad reasons for what we believe on instinct. What have been advanced so far are bad reasons for what the Government do not wish to concede because they once put their hands to the letter. I beg to move.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, with the utmost ineffable respect I cannot agree with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said. We have debated this interesting point at some length. There are many Acts over the past decades dealing with borrowing from the National Loans Fund and the like where legislation has explicitly imposed a requirement for the Secretary of State to obtain the Treasury's consent. I refer to the well known paragraph 4, of Schedule 3 to the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 as an example.
I do not resile from anything that the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General said. He has every confidence that I shall maintain his position steadfastly—so much confidence that he demonstrates it by not being here on this occasion. It is appropriate to have it on this occasion. At the end of the day, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, is saying that what he says three times is true; I am saying that what the Solicitor-General has said twice and I a third time is true. We are not going to agree.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, it is not enough to say that we think it is appropriate. None of the arguments has been addressed. It is absurd for a government who parade under the banner inscribed "Modernisation" to cling to these ancient phrases just because they turn up in the computer in parliamentary counsel's office. However, as I have said, these matters 362 are not suitable for a Division. Therefore, without thinking for a moment that the case has been made out, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 115 [Consultation with business]:
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 42:
§ Page 60, line 43, leave out ("it considers appropriate") and insert ("is reasonably required").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have two amendments grouped with this one. The first amendment, Amendment No. 42, again tries to bring wealth creation to the forefront of the assembly's mind because, having followed the Bill through, my feeling is that it is a second-class citizen to culture. Perhaps I may draw your Lordships' attention to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Roberts who said:
But it is curious that there is not more about partnership with business in the Bill".
On Report the noble Lord, Lord Williams, tried to tell me that his amendment dealt with my concern, but I must point out that as the Bill is written there is no need for the assembly to consult business. Following the Government's amendment of the clause on Report, the assembly is now charged to:
carry out consultation with such organisations representative of business and such other organisations as it considers appropriate".
§ The clause as now worded appears to me to have some ambiguity as to whether the assembly's discretion relates now to the matter upon which it consults or whether its discretion relates to such other organisations. However, the Minister interpreted the wording as meaning discretion on the consultation rather than the organisation (Hansard col. 1458).
§ The purpose of the amendment is to give reassurance to business—as I have already learnt from the noble and learned Lord business includes agriculture—that the assembly will be under an unambiguous statutory obligation to consult business except where such requirement is patently unreasonable; for example, except in special cases no one would expect the assembly to consult the agricultural industry about policies or possible legislation which are remote from farming issues, such as the powers proposed to be devolved under legislation dealing with public museums and galleries.
§ On the other hand, the agricultural industry must be consulted not just on matters directly affecting it, but on such other issues which indirectly affect its interests such as planning, environmental protection, the compulsory purchase of land and housing policy. I co-operated with the noble Lord the Chief Whip on that matter.
On Report the Minister stated:
its decisions on how consultation should be organised will need it to be reasonable".
By importing the words "reasonably required" into the Bill the House would merely be giving statutory force and more certainty to what the Government had already clearly agreed should be the right way to proceed.
The amendment would reassure business and of course agriculture that the Government were devolving discretion,
as well as avoiding over-prescription".—[OfficialReport, 9/7/98; cols. 1455–59.],
to use the Minister's words. If nothing else—I hope for more—I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will at least give my advisers credit for carefully studying his words, trying to ensure that they are clear and encouraging for business and agriculture.
§ Amendment No. 43 makes it possible for someone knowledgeable in agriculture and rural development to be considered as a member of the Welsh Development Agency. Again, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for his letter, a copy of which is in the Library. It helped me to understand the Government's views. However, needless to say, I feel that too much emphasis in the Bill is placed on culture to the detriment of wealth creation.
On Report at col. 1472 of the Official Report of 9th July, the noble and learned Lord said that the criteria for appointing members to the Welsh Development Agency,
include industry which, of course, covers agriculture as well".
I was pleased to hear the noble and learned Lord say that and I thanked him when summing up. It would be difficult to define rural development. If the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Williams, cannot do so, I shall not attempt to do so here, although I am sure that I could do so outside the Chamber.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, wrote in his letter of 13th July:
However, it has been the policy of successive governments not to add to the competency list as the view taken is that the existing provision already allows the Secretary of State to exercise a wide interpretation as to the extent of competences he should bring to the board of the Agency. In this way, the need for greater prescription as to the range of experiences sought—or having continually to add to that list—is avoided".
§ I have two matters to raise on the letter. First, in future the Welsh Development Agency will have only nine members. I approve of that. Indeed, it gives me heart that the Secretary of State and the noble Lord, Lord Williams, are determined to avoid the wish of my noble friend Lord St. Davids to have a waffle shop. I hope that he can assure me that the Secretary of State will make every effort to ensure that agriculture and rural development are taken fully into consideration.
§ Secondly—it is a technical point—I ask the Minister to explain what I call the Renton rule. My noble friend explained it to me many times during the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. I often wanted to add or subtract a species to a schedule. My noble friend warned me that if I then left any species out, lawyers would assume that it was, or was not, protected. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, understands what I say. I think that it is a well-known legal position.
§ Why will lawyers not assume that someone experienced in agriculture and rural development does not fall into what I call the Renton trap to which I have just referred, and therefore be assumed not to have a 364 place on the Welsh Development Agency board? That is why I wish to have those words added to Section 2(3) of the Welsh Development Act 1975.
§ Finally, I repeat my plea that by accepting the amendments the Government will be drawing the attention of the assembly to the importance of wealth creation in the countryside. I beg to move.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, I shall speak briefly against the amendment. I am able to confirm what I was not able to say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, on 9th July when I disappeared to Llangollen,—it being a more profitable that night to be at the centre of international Welsh culture than your Lordships' House.
I offer the noble Lord my support for Clause 115 as amended on Report. I express my satisfaction that the broad wording of the clause—and it is why I oppose the amendment—means that there will be a serious consultation with business, including consultation with trade unions as appropriate. I also welcome the fact that it will be for the assembly to decide in which ways that consultation is operated. I oppose the amendment and endorse the clause as it stands.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, Amendment No. 42 amended Clause 115, as the noble Lord kindly indicated. There is no doubt thatbusiness and such other organisations as it considers appropriateincludes agriculture and rural development. I am happy to affirm, as the noble Lord specifically asked, that the Secretary of State pays particular attention to the interests of agriculture and rural development. We believe that the amendment has got it about right, but, equally, I recognise, as I have on many occasions, the legitimate concerns expressed by the noble Lord. I hope that I have tried fully to recognise those in writing, as he indicated.
He is right that the list of competencies in the 1975 Act has not been extended. We do not believe that that is necessary and perhaps I may give an example. Recently, the Secretary of State instituted a public open competition for appointments to the board of the WDA, which is to be reconstituted later this year. We have received more than 200 applications. The WDA is to assume the responsibilities of the present land authority for Wales and the Development Board for Rural Wales. Within that total, 15 per cent. of the applications relate to individuals with direct experience of farming, tourism, food and catering and entrepreneurial skills in rural areas. Therefore, it is plain that the list of competencies does not discourage or dissuade people with relevant expertise in the area which the noble Lord has identified from putting themselves forward.
Furthermore, as I have indicated on earlier occasions—perhaps it is helpful to repeat it—the agency will set up a rural policy unit based in mid-Wales. There is no doubt that the agency, working under the strategic direction of the Secretary of State, will ensure that it pays careful attention to the vital contribution which is made to Welsh economic life by rural areas in Wales, rural development and the business of agriculture.
365 I have said it before and I will say it again: it is not simply the economic aspects of rural life, agriculture, farming, rural development and rural activities which are important. As the Secretary of State has demonstrated abundantly, we believe that there is a very important social and cultural context to rural life in Wales, quite apart from its economic contribution which we all value and cherish.
I believe that the amendment has got it about right. I hope that the assurances I gave to the noble Lord in my letter and to your Lordships tonight will suffice for his present purposes.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I point out that he has not answered my question. My Amendment No. 42 proposes to leave out "it considers appropriate" and insert "is reasonably required", which I explained at considerable length. Why is not that better than the provision written on the face of the Bill? I do not believe that the noble Lord addressed that point at all.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, the noble Lord is right. I believe that the present drafting is perfectly suitable to bring about any consequence that the noble Lord requires. We thought about the issue quite carefully and took quite a lot of trouble to get it, we thought, right. We believe that if one is devolving powers to an assembly one ought to say that what the assembly considers appropriate is the test that ought to be applied. The noble Lord is right; I omitted to say that and I am sorry.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, the noble Lord's answer to the final question is deeply unsatisfactory. I am merely putting on the face of the Bill what the noble Lord said on Report. I am minded to press the amendment to a Division, but I am sure that the noble Lord would find that extremely churlish. In order to be more reasonable, I shall conclude my remarks on this series of amendments by saying something that has worried me considerably throughout our discussions on the Bill. Every time that I have moved an amendment—and this applies also to all noble Lords on this side who have moved amendments—I have been told by the Minister to trust the assembly. I have been told to get lost.
I gave reasons earlier why I felt it was my job to examine the matter and not necessarily to take everything on trust. If your Lordships did that, it is time they went home. Perhaps we should. I realise that what I am about to say may well upset noble Lords on the Benches opposite because of the matter that I have just mentioned.
I have tried to go beyond that assumption of saying, "Let's trust the assembly", but I must go further. I remind your Lordships that 74.4 per cent. of the Welsh did not vote for an assembly. That means that they, like me, did not really trust the assembly to work for their best endeavours. I am trying—I realise inadequately—to represent the views of that 74.4 per cent. of Wales. In that regard, I know I have the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who raised that issue earlier.
366 Before the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has a coronary, I remind your Lordships that I live and earn my living in Wales. Last night I listened to a group of Welsh-speaking farmers who, as is their wont, spoke in English for my benefit. They too are concerned, although, like me, they want the assembly to work well, which means efficiently, to encourage efficient farming and not be the waffle shop which both I and they are most fearful of, and I still am most fearful of, particularly hearing the remarks of my noble friend Lord St. Davids.
I shall not press the amendment to a Division. However, I am disappointed by the fact that the Minister did not look carefully at my Amendment No. 42. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 43 not moved.]
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
My Lords, briefly on this occasion I should like to say a few words. I am extremely indebted for the support that I have had from noble Lords on this side of the House throughout the five gruelling days in Committee and the two days on Report. We have just been listening to my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley. To come along the Benches, as it were, we have heard from my noble friends Lord Dixon-Smith, Lord Kenyon, Lord Balfour, Lord Rees, a former Chief Secretary and, of course, my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, who has the distinction of having carried the only amendment that we are sending to the other place.
I believe that it is in order to thank some noble Lords on the Cross Benches. In particular, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I am sure that we have all enjoyed listening to him, as we have the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. He does not always agree with us but we know it is a passing phase and we shall be somehow together in one way or another on some platform or another. However, my real thanks must go to my redoubtable colleagues; namely, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon and my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I want to thank the latter most sincerely for the help that he has given me in the heat of the day. Perhaps I may also extend my particular thanks to my noble friend Lord Courtown—
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, for the sake of the record, I should inform the House that the noble Lord who has done so much work on the Bill is the Lord Mackay, but not of Drumadoon.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord; indeed, he has given me the opportunity to recall my noble friend Lord Onslow of Woking, who has also participated in our proceedings.
367 Finally, perhaps I may thank the Ministers who have dealt with us with courtesy and who clearly had a genuine desire to deal with our concerns. I and my noble friends have very much appreciated the letters that we have received, which have not been slow in amplifying replies given in debate.
Of course, we still have our concerns about the Bill which are very well known. For example, there is our concern about proportional representation, the whole set-up and, indeed, the indecision as to whether we will have a Cabinet-style or a local government committee system. Frankly, we are appalled by the proposal that the Secretary of State should also be the first secretary because to us that is a complete denial of devolution; indeed, it is a complete nonsense. Similarly, we are not altogether happy with the inclusive political approach. There is a potentially corrupting element within that inclusive politics. I also believe that the values of adversarial politics are underestimated.
We are also very much concerned—as, indeed, are Members in all parts of the House—with the absolute discretion left to the Secretary of State as far as concerns the financing of the assembly. We know that the assembly will start with a great many commitments that have been entered into by those who become members of the assembly. Despite yesterday's announcement about spending by the Secretary of State, and later the assembly in Wales, my own simple view is that such increases as we have seen will be totally inadequate to meet the needs of the assembly.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
My Lords, it is my pleasant task to congratulate the Government on a great achievement in bringing forward the Government of Wales Bill. It is an important milestone for Wales and the fulfilment of the longings and expectations of many of us on these Benches over many years. The first stirrings of a parliament for Wales can be traced to the Cymru Fydd movement at the end of the 19th century led by David Lloyd George. It was a tenet of the Liberal and, subsequently of the Liberal Democrat faith, that there should be devolution and that Wales should have its own parliament.
We are most of the way with the Bill. We have said from the beginning—indeed, from Second Reading—that we feel that there is a logic which will drive the assembly to require primary legislative powers. I have in mind the conflict which will exist between the programme laid down by the Westminster government and the reduced role of the Welsh assembly in merely dealing with the secondary legislation under that programme. We believe that that tension will ultimately lead to the sort of parliament that we have sought all our lives. I pay tribute to my noble friends for carrying on that fight over many years. Both my noble friend Lord Geraint and my noble friend Lord Hooson have been foremost in projecting the concept of the parliament of Wales over that period of time.
I believe this Bill has shown the value of inclusive politics. We are grateful for the way in which since this Bill came to your Lordships' House. We have been involved at all stages of its consideration with the Government and with others as regards the way in which 368 things can be progressed, what concessions can he made and so on. We have welcomed that. I believe that Welsh people have an agenda for ourselves which goes far beyond party politics. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, to whom many tributes have been paid— I add my own as regards his period as Secretary of State—laid the foundations for the way in which Wales has progressed. That has been followed by others, currently by Ron Davies. No doubt that will follow through into the assembly. We all know what needs to be done in Wales in terms of improving indigenous industry, improving our education and our health and bringing us up to standards which compare not simply with the rest of the United Kingdom but with the very best of world standards. I believe that the assembly, with the power and the enthusiasm that it will have, will achieve those goals.
I pay tribute to others who have contributed to our discussions. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, said a moment ago that he has constantly heard the phrase, "Trust the assembly". I pay tribute to the way in which the noble Lord has constantly reminded us of the most serious crisis and challenge that faces us in Wales at the moment; namely, the agriculture crisis that affects so many of the people for whom he has spoken. But when the noble Lord uses that expression, "Trust the assembly", he brings to mind the words of William Ewart Gladstone—the centenary of whose death we celebrated last week in Hawarden, in my part of the world—when he said that the Liberals trust the people and the Tories fear the people. That is something that I read 30 years ago. It has remained with me and it has inspired my Liberal politics throughout that time. Trust in the people and trust in the assembly will make the assembly succeed.
I also pay tribute to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, who has, without question, abandoned many of the former demands that his party has made and has contributed so much to these debates. I was disappointed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, say that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, would be joining the Conservative Benches. I think that was the force of what he was saying. It was once said of the noble Lord that he walked around with a copy of Marx's Das Kapital under his arm. It is said to be the Good Food Guide these days. Perhaps in the future it will be the works of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. I do not know, but I hope the noble Lord is not moving too far in that direction.
I, of course, pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, whose contributions have been so important. Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for the way in which they have steered this Bill through the House, answering all the questions that have been put to them in a succinct, amiable, sharp but pleasant way.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, in pursuance of my role as the honorary president of the Welsh national culinary team, I am very happy to carry the Good Food Guide under my arm. It reminds me of the wonderful eating places that we have which I shall not name. I do not need 369 to carry the works of Karl Marx under my arm because they are in my head. They are part of the cultural history of this century and of Welsh politics. I am proud to be in that tradition, although in a re-invented form.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, that when he discourses upon the values of adversarial politics, I shall respond by saying that the only platform I intend to share with him is that wonderful platform at Llandudno Junction station, when I shall be, God speed, en route to Cardiff by train.
In endorsing everything that has been said, I wish to pay two tributes. I want to mention in particular, if I may do so without embarrassing him, my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies. He has been a beacon of light to me over many years and in many contexts in Welsh politics. He inadvertently lost a certain by-election, which was won by my previous leader in another place, Gwynfor Evans. Certainly he is also with us still in the great debate on the national question in Wales.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, perhaps more than any other member of the Labour Party, has played his role in bringing us to where we are today. He has argued the national question, in and out, in difficult times. I remember him as a political adviser to the previous Welsh Office administration under the right honourable John Morris, the Minister in another place. I remember the difficult times that we had following the failure of the Wales and Scotland Bills and of the referendum. My noble friend kept faith, and the changes that have taken place in the Labour Party since have been in no small measure due to him. I hope that I do not embarrass my noble friend. We are both Meirionnydd boys at heart, and that is important to us.
Finally, by convention we never speak in this place of the unsung heroes of our debates, who are those who sit in the Box. I thank the officials for their effective briefing at all stages of the Bill. They have kept Members of all parties in touch. I say that because I hope to work with them again!
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, it would be wrong to let this moment pass without saying just a few words. First, I very much hope that the assembly will be an effective organ for government in Wales. I wish it well. I have expressed doubts in the past as to whether this was the right way forward. But once the decision had been taken in the referendum, I had no doubt at all that it was our job to make the legislation as effective as possible and to seek to ensure that the assembly acts for the total good of the people of Wales. I hope that it does.
I wish to thank in particular both Ministers who have replied to our debates throughout with courtesy. They have sought, both in the Chamber and through correspondence, to respond to us and meet the points that we have raised. Of course I rather regret that they have not shown more willingness to accept some of the suggestions that we have made to strengthen the Bill. They will have learnt at least one lesson during the passage of the Bill; namely, that if they wish to shorten the time which the debates occupy on the Floor of the House, they would do 370 well to avoid unnecessary verbiage in the legislation, and therefore miss the chastisement that they have justifiably received in the notable contributions of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale.
It has been a courteous and sometimes lively debate. I have much enjoyed the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who, with dog-like devotion, has supported the Government throughout. No Labrador has been more faithful, though at times I thought that the noble Lord had misjudged his role—he seemed to be trying to shoot the birds as well as retrieve them. He seemed at times to believe that he had become a Minister in the administration, and was more enthusiastic than any Minister has been.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, on the vigorous way in which he has personally defended the interests of Mr. Ron Davies, whom he obviously feels needs defending. His role has been that of the guard dog, yapping in defence of the Minister. As I said, I hope that the bones will be duly thrown. We have enjoyed our debates. They have been good and vigorous debates. As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, knows, I greatly respect him for the contribution that he has made to Welsh politics.
I believe that we have improved the Bill. My noble friend was wrong in saying that I was responsible for the only amendment. There are other amendments.
I conclude by saying that I wish the present Secretary of State for Wales well. I admire the way in which he has carried the legislation to this point; it is a considerable achievement. Now, as a result of my amendment, which was passed, he will have to stand down as Secretary of State, but I wish him every possible success in his leadership of the executive of the new Welsh assembly and the further work that he will do there on behalf of the people of Wales.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, the Bill must not pass without a tribute from the Cross Benches to the occupants of the Front Benches on whom the heavy burden of the scrutiny and defence of the Bill has fallen. It naturally gives me particular pleasure, as a superannuated lawyer, that of the two Ministers, one was a former chairman of the Bar Council and the other is the Solicitor-General.
There have been many notable speeches from the Back Benches, especially those of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, speaking with all the authority of a highly respected Secretary of State. I hope it would not be invidious if I refer only to one speech. That was the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, at the Committee stage. For those of us who favoured devolution, the result of the referendum gave some cause for concern, all the greater when one looks at the map. It seemed to me very important when the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said that he looked to the assembly as a forum in which real differences could be reconciled, a forum of reconciliation. If that can be done, as we all hope, it will owe not a little to the way in which the measure has been discussed in Parliament, in the other place, so far as I can judge, and certainly in your Lordships' House.
371 In the meantime, we on the Cross Benches are deeply grateful for those on the Front Benches.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, there is light amid the encircling gloom. We have almost finished this Bill, subject to some refinements which the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, will readily and eagerly anticipate may be made in another place.
It has been a good-natured and good-hearted debate over a long period, with us often sitting quite late. When the Bill first came to my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton and myself we asked how we could improve it. We both sat and pondered for a while and thought we ought to introduce some superfluous verbiage, just to please the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale.
I shall not reiterate the tributes which have been paid, except particularly to the officials in the Box who have produced a masterly service for everyone. They have given briefing to Peers on all sides of the House, prepared amendments and provided explanatory notes. NAAG has 372 done a good and significant job of work here, whether or not one agrees with its conclusions. I believe that John Elgar Jones deserves a word of praise, as does the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, who has done a good public service to Wales and, it may be, quite a significant political service to his own party, though it has been unpopular at times.
It was extremely generous of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, to say that this was significantly the work of Ron Davies. I know it will be very much appreciated. It is the construction and product of his moral, intellectual and political energy. I do not believe that 18 months ago most people would have thought that he would manage it. It is a significant political achievement and one on which I know people will want to congratulate him. But he will particularly recognise and appreciate the source from which that very generous tribute came.
I say no more. I commend the Bill to the House.
On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes before eleven o'clock.