HL Deb 02 June 1998 vol 590 cc317-32

(" . The Assembly shall seek to foster the economic and social well-being of rural communities, and shall for that purpose co-operate with local authorities and public bodies whose functions include the promotion of economic or social development in Wales.").

The noble Lord said: I shall try to be as brief as possible, but there are no less than 10 amendments grouped with Amendment No. 103. That is not my fault but that of my old friend, the Government Chief Whip. For reasons I do not understand, he no longer listens to me.

In Clause 33 there is a general duty on the assembly to do anything it considers appropriate to support Welsh culture, including language, arts and crafts, sport, and so on. Much of the area of Wales is rural and is highly prized in terms of its countryside and way of life. It is very desirable for the health of agriculture and of related industries, including tourism, that the economic and social well-being of rural communities should be fostered in future. The purpose of Amendment No. 103 is to place a statutory duty on the assembly to this end and to ensure that the assembly co-operates with local authorities and public bodies which are relevant to the promotion of economic or social development in Wales. Although some people are sceptical about the value of general statutory duties, I believe that there is merit in setting the assembly a clear objective.

Amendment No. 105A is complementary to the new clause which I propose in order to oblige the assembly to foster the economic and social wellbeing of rural communities. The amendment would place the assembly under a specific duty to consult with farming and other rural organisations when formulating policy and preparing legislation which would affect those interests. Although in Clause 115 there is a general duty on the assembly to consult business as appropriate, the rural character of much of Wales justifies a much more specific guarantee of consultation on action which the assembly is contemplating.

As I understand it, commissioners will be appointed to draw up the standing orders for the assembly and, having done that, be exterminated. Amendment No. 113 would ensure that at least one of the commissioners had knowledge of agriculture and rural affairs. I fear the Minister will say that the commissioners' job will be merely technical. I am sure that Members of the Committee will agree with me that technical matters are often very important. I hope that, despite his background, or indeed because of it, the Minister will understand the importance of having at least one person as a commissioner who is not a lawyer or an accountant, as I believe is proposed. I should like to know whether, when the commissioners have drawn up the standing orders, they will, in the modern term, be downsized, or, in my terms, be made unemployed.

The purpose of Amendments Nos. 120, 153, 159 and 161 is to ensure that there will be adequate rural representation on the various committees of the assembly. If I understand correctly, the committees will be constituted on a party basis, in the same way as Select Committees studying Bills in another place. If I am not correct—and, if I am not, I shall, like the Irish, change the question—I can foresee a situation in which there might be no rural representation on a committee because a political party might not have, or want to choose, a person with rural experience. I accept that that is less likely in relation to the regional committees, as opposed to the main Cardiff-based subject committees.

The purpose of Amendments Nos. 154 and 170 is to ensure that the assembly will have to take account of the economic and social well-being of rural and local communities, and that will be in addition to the advice from regional committees, with which I deal in Amendments Nos. 165 and 166—I believe we are dealing with them tomorrow.

We then come to Amendments Nos. 260 and 262, which are extremely important. Amendment No. 260 seeks to ensure that the Welsh Development Agency will consider the effects that its proposals will have on rural Wales. Amendment No. 262 seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State can select a person as a member of the Welsh Development Agency on account of his wide experience of and capacity in agriculture and the rural development.

More importantly, I should like to raise a specific problem of such organisations as the Welsh Food Promotion. That organisation includes other sub-organisations such as the Farm Assurance Scheme and the Guild of Welsh Slaughterhouses. I understand that the Government have reservations about that organisation; indeed strong reservations. I am sorry to hear that, for a lot of voluntary work has gone into it. Slowly, farmers and slaughterhouse men realise that they need to join such schemes. I fear that the Secretary of State may, like me, suffer from impatience.

My question is an important one and I should like an answer from the Minister. If food promotion and all that it involves is going to be subsumed into the new Welsh Development Agency, will there be a specific agricultural section in it with agriculturalists on it? I believe that deals with all 10 amendments, with which I have dealt in five minutes so there is no need for the noble Lord to go to sleep. I beg to move.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I have a great deal of sympathy for the thrust of the amendments so ably moved by my noble friend. They reflect the general concern of people in Wales about the future of rural areas.

My noble friend seeks to ensure that rural interests are represented at commissioner and assembly committee level, and that the economic and social well-being of rural communities is in the forefront of the assembly committee's deliberations. It is a hope that I share. But the Government may feel reluctant to incorporate the amendments in the Bill and it may be that, when we come to discuss the regional committee structure, we should return to this issue of the future safeguarding and promotion of rural areas.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I share the sympathy which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, expressed. However, we do not believe that the right way forward is to deal with all these amendments together.

The general theme seems to be that there ought to be special treatment for agricultural and rural communities. But the assembly is to be an inclusive forum for the whole of Wales and Clause 120 requires the assembly to make arrangements with a view to ensuring that functions are exercised with due regard to equality of opportunity for all. It would not be right to single out specific communities for special treatment. Indeed, there are many urban areas which suffer significant hardship—not those one normally thinks of, perhaps, but they include the slate-mining districts of Gwynedd, the South Wales valleys and parts of Cardiff not far from where the assembly will have its home.

We do not agree that the assembly should have a duty to foster the economic and social well-being simply of rural communities—Amendment No. 103. The whole point of the assembly is co-operatively to foster the economic and social well-being of the whole of Wales. In doing that, the priorities ought to be for the assembly and not for the Bill

In relation to Amendment No. 105A, I sympathise with the noble Lord's concerns. Sound policy making requires consultation. But of course that is already in the Bill—Clause 66 dealing with regulatory appraisals and Clause 115 on consultation with business. Agriculture and rural interests would be covered, where relevant, by both those provisions.

Amendments Nos. 113, 120, 153, 159 and 161 seek to ensure appropriate rural representation on committees and the standing orders commission. Amendment No. 154 requires subject committees to exercise functions having regard to consequences for local communities in rural areas.

Amendment No. 153 is misconceived. The nature of the commissioners' work on the standing orders commission is not to require rural or indeed urban or industrial or business representation. It is simply, as the noble Lord thought I might say, to draft detailed rules for the conduct of business—details such as quorums, motions for debates, committee procedures and the like. A rural representative, designated as such, has nothing to put forward by way of offering anything to the commission. It is really a matter for the assembly to decide.

I have to give the same answer to Amendments Nos. 120, 153, 159 and 161. In accordance with the political balance principle, a consequence of Clause 55, each party will have an allocation of seats on each committee. It is then for each party to nominate those of its members it wishes to fill the allocation of seats on each committee. It is a matter for the parties to decide who is best for a particular committee. It will be a matter in practice for the parties, not for the assembly.

Amendment No. 154 would require each subject committee to have regard to the economic and social well-being of local communities in rural areas. We would expect any such subject committee to consider the consequences of its proposals for all of the local communities likely to be affected, whether in rural or urban areas, whether they were mining communities suffering from a decline in the coal industry or agricultural areas suffering from the recent decline in agricultural prosperity.

As to Amendments Nos. 260 and 262, again I understand the noble Lord's concern that the enlarged WDA should take into account the needs of rural Wales. We believe that the enlarged agency will do that. The Development Board for Rural Wales has been taken into the new agency which will be responsible for the development of all parts of Wales, including rural areas. There will therefore be a parity of expertise available throughout Wales.

It has already been announced that the agency is to create a rural policy unit located in mid-Wales. The unit will co-ordinate the agency's work in respect of rural areas to ensure that those areas benefit wherever possible and as appropriate from the agency's activities. It is implicit in Section 1 of the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 that the functions of the agency are to be discharged in such a way as to have a positive effect on the economic and social well-being of local communities whether in urban or rural parts of Wales.

The second part of Amendment No. 260 requires the agency to devote as much of its resources to rural parts as to non-rural parts of Wales. I simply do not understand how that could possibly work. How could one define rural Wales appropriately? How can one possibly get this fly to stop flying around my head? I think there ought to be a special committee for that. How precisely is one to define minimum amounts of expenditure? The aim has merit. I do not dissent from that. However, achieving such aims is best done in the co-operative way I have described rather than through over-prescription. There are enormous numbers of prescriptions here.

Rural areas, particularly the more remote areas of Wales, have their problems. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Welsh Office recently announced the creation of a rural partnership to take forward development of the themes to which the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, is so committed.

Amendment No. 262 would require the WDA to have on its board at least one member with rural affairs expertise. No representation has been made by the WDA to have a board member with such particular expertise. We have had 400 responses to advertisements for board members. We hope to get a strong board, bringing expertise from many walks of life, but over-prescription is really not the answer. Everyone knows how important agriculture is as an industry in Wales and as a social component. The WDA Act already puts a duty on the agency to have proper regard to the needs of agriculture in the exercise of its functions.

I have dealt with the amendments perhaps a little lengthily but I know their importance not only to the noble Lord who has tabled them but to a large section of the Welsh population generally. I hope that I have dealt with the question of Welsh Food Promotion. There will be the rural policy unit. It will be based in mid-Wales and it will have the appropriate expertise to deal with the matters which are within the ambit of Welsh Food Promotion. I do not dismiss or treat lightly the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, but we conscientiously believe that this overprescriptive approach is not the right way to get the sought-after remedies.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I thank the Minister for that answer. Perhaps I may first of all say that I did not put all those amendments together and I did not want them put together. They were complicated enough and they were rather too much of a mish-mash. I suppose what I am saying is that urban areas have more votes than rural areas, which is what concerns us. I fully accept what the Minister said about Amendment No. 1 13—that commissioners are merely draftsmen and therefore they can be lawyers, accountants and such like. I just wanted confirmation that that was their job. I am not quite so keen on parties deciding on who will sit on the committees, for the reasons I gave in my original speech.

I know that Welsh Food Promotion is a touchy subject, not only with the Secretary of State but also with farmers who have served on it. My telephone has been quite hot recently. I shall read carefully what the Minister said. I am not sure that it will entirely satisfy those who ring me up and so I may have to come back to the matter on Report. Meanwhile, I thank the noble Lord for his reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 103A to 103C not moved.]

Clause 33 [Support of culture etc.]:

Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 104:

Page 21, line 23, after ("historical") insert ("or archeological").

The noble Lord said: It is a little early in the morning to discourse on the difference between "historical" and "archeological" as in my amendment but I would ask the Minister in his response to explain the wording of Clause 33(a) and to confirm that the archeological artefacts within the ownership of the Secretary of State and also others that are in private ownership but are conserved are to become part of the assembly's activity of support.

Amendment No. 105 was inspired by the rather uncharacteristic remarks at Second Reading of my noble friend Lord Moran. I have notified him of my intention to raise this issue. I declare my interest as chair of the Welsh Language Board. In his Second Reading speech he indicated (at col. 1092 of Hansard) that in its handling of the Welsh language the assembly should be careful not to go too far in imposing Welsh on everyone. I wish to make it absolutely clear that the policy of successive governments has been to extend the Welsh language by consent and by voluntary agreement through schemes with public bodies which obviously have a statutory force. But the implementation of those schemes has been continually by public consent on the basis of guidelines approved by Parliament. Clearly, the assembly will proceed on similar lines. Indeed, the linguistic clauses of the Bill are equivalent to those of the Welsh Language Act 1993.

My noble friend suggested that Clause 33, to which my amendment relates, would allow the assembly to promote the Welsh language and would create difficulties. He went on to instance his experience as High Commissioner in Canada and to talk of the militant language policy in Quebec and its effect on businesses. He then referred to "language police". He said: I hope that we shall never see the introduction of language police in Wales, or the adoption of policies which arc burdensome to business". He concluded that part of his speech by saying: Bilingual debates in the assembly, with simultaneous interpretation, will be practicable but they will be expensive".—[Official Report, 21/4/98; col. 1093.]

I wish to make it quite clear that I very much regret that those remarks were made in debate in this House. I fail to see where they come from. I have spent much time, along with my officials of the language board, in the county of Powys where my noble friend lives and in discussion recently at a seminar with Powys County Council. I can say that in that border area of Wales, where not much Welsh is spoken in most of the homes, there is strong support for the development of bilingualism among consenting adults both in public and in private.

Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will accept that the intention of the assembly is to be positive and to promote the Welsh language within the context of promoting the English language equally within Wales. It is about the promotion of two languages and not about one replacing another, whatever may be the unsuccessful policies pursued by some of my transatlantic colleagues in Quebec.

Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 202A which refers to standing orders and, consideration to be given to the translation of information … into languages other than Welsh and English". It concerns the issue of languages in Wales which are spoken by significant numbers of communities but which are not official languages recognised as such either in this Bill or outwith it. I shall return to this matter at a later stage when we can talk at greater length about the concept of citizenship in Wales.

There is concern among certain members of the community in Wales. Members of our communities are described in a term which I would not personally endorse as "ethnic minority community members" and represent a small minority of the population. According to census figures it is less than 2 per cent., although that is a strange way of collating the figures. There is concern that they are not fully aware of the implications of the assembly for them as citizens and that they are not sufficiently included in the Secretary of State's inclusive formula for the assembly. I have had private discussions with the chair of the CRE in Wales, Commissioner Ray Singh, who is a distinguished lawyer and a member of the national advisory group. I know that he is very much aware of the need to ensure that all members of our communities feel that they are equal citizens of Wales. An indication that the assembly will be able legally to undertake activity in a limited way in other languages as well as Welsh and English would be helpful to indicate linguistic inclusiveness. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will not misinterpret my intervention as in any way a criticism of his specific amendments. But I would like to take this one opportunity of questioning the Government on the whole purpose of Clause 33, although had I realised at 10 o'clock that this amendment would not come up until after midnight I might well have preferred to remain in a state of ignorance.

Clause 33 theoretically empowers the assembly to do anything that it considers appropriate to support museums, the Welsh language, arts and crafts, and so on. But it cannot do literally anything which it considers appropriate since it has no legislative powers as far as primary legislation is concerned, although, as the noble Lord,

Lord Thomas of Gresford, reminded us one hour and 20 minutes ago, it does have certain powers of secondary legislation, but these are tightly circumscribed. So in essence virtually all that it can do as regards museums, historic houses and so forth is to decide on the optimum distribution of the £7 billion collectively at its disposal annually. This being the case, does not Clause 33 merely replicate in part Schedule 2, given that all the subjects deemed worthy of support and encouragement in Clause 33 are already devolved by the Bill? In other words, they are already listed in Schedule 2. I refer specifically to items 2, 3, 13, 18 and, to some extent, item 5. Clause 33 has a nice idealistic ring about it, but does it actually add anything of substance to the Bill?

12.30 a.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

As a former chairman of the steering committee of Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments for many years, I rise briefly to say that we always regarded archaeology as an integral part of history. It may not always have been so and that may be why we had a variety of bodies dealing with it: the Ancient Monuments Board, the Royal Commission, the National Museum and Cadw itself. One of the great achievements of Cadw was to co-ordinate all that activity and to bring all those involved together under its own umbrella, where, to the best of my knowledge, it rightly remains.

With regard to Amendment No. 105, I would be very wary of leaving out a direct reference to the Welsh language, although I appreciate what the noble Lord has in mind. I fear that there are too many people who would take advantage of the opportunity to disregard their statutory responsibility for the language.

Lord Prys-Davies

I rise to express my concerns about Amendment No. 105. I welcomed paragraph (c) of Clause 33, as it appeared to me to confer a right, if the need arose, for the assembly to take some positive steps to promote the policy of supporting the Welsh language where no specific power would otherwise be available for that. The Minister will no doubt correct me if I am wrong, but I have understood that there is no such power in the transfer functions orders made since 1964. Therefore, I very much welcome that provision.

I believe that if the amendment were carried, it might bring comfort to some people who believe that the Welsh language is already receiving too much support. If the Government accepted the amendment, that would not allay the anxieties about the Welsh language commitment of the assembly which I have heard expressed. There are those who are concerned that, with its budget under pressure, the language may suffer. To treat in 1998 the requirements of the Welsh language in Wales as if it were on a par with any other language spoken in Wales, as was the case 100 or even 50 years ago, or to treat it as if it were on a par with the French language in Canada is, in my view, right out of the question.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for initiating this interesting debate even though it is rather early in the morning.

Amendment No. 104 invites us to add buildings of archaeological interest to those which the assembly may support under Clause 33. It seems very likely that a building which is of archaeological interest will also be of historical or architectural interest, so in that sense the amendment may be unnecessary. More relevant is that the assembly will, we intend, inherit the functions of the Secretary of State under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, which provides explicit powers for providing support for sites of archaeological interest. I believe that that covers the point raised in Amendment No. 104.

Amendment No. 105 seeks to provide that the assembly can provide support for "languages in Wales" as opposed to the Welsh language. I fully understand the concerns that led the noble Lord to table the amendment. Indeed, they were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. I hope that he will not mind my saying that the English language, which is the relevant one, is unlikely to require such support. The Government are perfectly content with the present wording of the clause and do not share the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, about the language police. In any event, it may be that the answer to the noble Lord's point is that the assembly will inherit specific functions in the field of education and that in the exercise of its function it must have regard to equal opportunities for all under Clause 120. That may encompass the provision of service or information where appropriate in languages other than Welsh and English, including Braille and various minority languages.

Turning to Amendment No. 202A, I congratulate the noble Lord on the intellectual ingenuity of the proposition that standing orders must require the assembly to consider translation of information about its work into languages other than English or Welsh. We are not persuaded that standing orders could properly contain a provision requiring the assembly to consider whether it wanted to do something.

Leaving that aside, we appreciate the point that is made. The assembly will need to reach out to all people in Wales and seek to communicate with them in the most effective way, irrespective of race or ethnic origin. That may involve the provision of information in languages other than English and Welsh, but that must be a matter for the assembly to decide in the light of the resources available to it. It may be that, subject to the views of the electorate of Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, the noble Lord will be in a good position to influence the assembly's approach to this matter.

What does Clause 33 add to any of the powers listed in Schedule 2? As to Schedule 2, that lists areas of policy in which the Secretary of State must consider transferring powers to the assembly, whereas Clause 33 gives the assembly in effect power straight away to spend money on the particular issues raised there.

I hope that that answers satisfactorily all the points raised. We cannot accept the amendment, and we hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it.

Lord Elis-Thomas

I am grateful to the Minister. I am glad that we have had this short debate and that my noble friends have taken part in it. Perhaps I am a little over-sensitive on issues of bilingualism and equality, but I have a horror of returning to the bad old days. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 105 not moved.]

Clause 33 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 105A not moved.]

Clause 35 [Staff]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 106:

Page 22, line 11, at end insert— ("( ) Where, under the powers provided in subsection (1), the Assembly makes appointments of staff, it may, if it considers it appropriate, direct the Permanent Secretary to the Assembly (as defined in section 64(2)) that—

  1. (a) certain staff shall be answerable to the Assembly First Secretary and the Executive Committee of the Assembly and shall be regarded as the staff of the Assembly First Secretary and the Executive Committee; and
  2. (b) certain staff shall be answerable to the Assembly (or committees of the Assembly) and shall be regarded as the staff of the Assembly and its committees.").

The noble Lord said: My noble friend Lord Crickhowell dealt with the points raised in the amendments to Clauses 33 and 47 during Second Reading. He acknowledged his indebtedness to certain Members of the other place who had sought to explore the issues. My noble friend crystallised the position with regard to staff in the following way: With a cabinet system most of [the staff] will have primary responsibility to the executive, but the assembly will need its own servants—its clerks and those who are responsible for its administration.".—[Official Report, 21/4/98; col. 1058.] Amendment No. 106 provides that the assembly directs the permanent secretary to allocate the staff between the executive and assembly committees and that they be answerable accordingly.

It is quite clear from this amendment and Amendment No. 112 to Clause 47, which refers to the professional loyalty of civil servants, that my noble friend is anxious to avoid a clash between civil service loyalty to the executive and to the assembly in its executive-checking role. The point is an important one. It is obvious that the executive will have its own interests and that they may have to be closely guarded at times. After all, it will probably meet in secret. It is equally obvious that the ordinary assembly member will have his or her separate interests in the executive's activities and in a wider field. Some division of staff is inevitable. We are familiar with that here in Parliament, where we are well and independently served as Members by our own staff in both Houses. There is no question of where their loyalty lies, even though they all belong to the Home Civil Service. We may not have the division of labour exactly right in the amendments, but I do not think that we are far from it. I commend the amendments to the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Elis-Thomas

I shall speak to Amendment No. 193 in this group. It is intended to lay on the commissioners and the assembly's standing orders the specification of the proportion of staff who will be delegated to provide information for members who are not necessarily members of the executive committee. That is a concern that I shall obviously rehearse later this evening on another amendment. It is merely to note the point that I do not believe that the Government so far, or perhaps the National Assembly Advisory Group so far, has grappled with the consequences of creating a cabinet system for the rest of the assembly members. Those are the consequences in terms of the flow of information, and what is called in another place and this place, the "guarantee of the rights of Back Benchers". I use that expression in quotes, because my view of the national assembly is that there should be no Back Benchers. It is a body corporate of 60 people, all of whom have a responsibility for the governance of the country and for their activity there. We must have ways of ensuring that all members, including the subject committee members, who are not members of the executive, will be able to be serviced properly by the staff of the Welsh Office, whose excellence we are observing even at this early hour of the morning.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

This group of amendments is concerned with the structure of the Civil Service which will support the assembly. It raises an issue which we are all concerned to see settled satisfactorily—that is, to ensure that all parts of the assembly have the administrative support they need to function effectively.

The structure of the assembly—its executive committee, its subject committees and so on—is designed carefully to give a balance between an effective executive and a full and meaningful involvement of minority parties in the policy-making and legislative processes of the assembly.

We all share the aim of ensuring that the assembly, in all its roles, including those which involve vigorous scrutiny of the assembly, is properly supported by its staff. I hope that the Committee will equally share our aim of preserving the valuable political impartiality of the Civil Service so that we avoid the risk of political interference in the running of the assembly's administration.

The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, made clear on Second Reading his intention to examine the position of the civil servants and the support that they will provide to assembly members. I remind the Committee that those issues have been addressed also by the National Assembly Advisory Group set up by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I refer in particular to Chapter 5 of the advisory group's consultation document, issued on 17th April, copies of which are in the Library.

Clauses 35 and 64 are intended to ensure that the permanent secretary (and not elected members) remains responsible for the management of the assembly's officials. As the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Conwy and Lord Crickhowell, will know from their extensive experience of the Welsh Office, permanent secretaries do not exercise that function in isolation from their Ministers; they do so in consultation with them, and in ways which will deliver the service that Ministers require. The Civil Service serves the political agenda. That will be equally true under the assembly.

Amendments Nos. 106 and 112 would require the creation of separate groups of staff among the civil servants who will support the work of the assembly. I do not believe that it is right or necessary to prescribe in statute how the staff of the assembly should be organised. In addition, the amendments will be a departure from the principle underpinning the Bill, that all the staff of the assembly, whether they support directly the assembly and its committees or the assembly secretaries, will be members of the Home Civil Service.

The role of the Civil Service will evolve under the assembly. It will be serving not "the Government of the day" but the assembly, in all its roles. We expect most of the Civil Servants to work in support of the assembly secretaries and the executive committee, in a manner not too dissimilar to the support which the Secretary of State receives from staff at the Welsh Office—to develop and implement the functions and policies of the assembly.

The role of the office of the presiding officer—to organise the business of the assembly, to enable the subject committees to operate effectively and, vitally, to safeguard the right of individual members—will mean that the staff there will need to be seen as independent of the assembly secretaries and the executive committee.

However, there is no need to suggest that the consequence of this is a need to create different groups of staff within the civil servants supporting the assembly as a whole. As is currently the case with the Welsh Office, staff are able to undertake a range of responsibilities within different areas of the department. Such moves are encouraged for career development purposes and I would anticipate that this should apply equally with the assembly. Of course, there may well be circumstances where staff will have to work within "Chinese walls" but this is a concept that is well understood.

In view of this explanation, I urge that the two amendments are withdrawn.

Turning to Amendment No. 193, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that it will be important that those members who are not assembly secretaries suffer no disadvantage in being able to access support and information to fully discharge their roles. However, I am sure that the noble Lord is not seeking to suggest that civil servants should be asked to provide personal support to help such members in their constituency and political business.

Nonetheless, I agree that members not represented on the executive committee need to be well informed, and this was also a point made in the advisory group's consultation paper. The Government's proposals for freedom of information legislation, together with the provision of modern IT facilities, central library and research facilities for assembly members are very much in our thinking in the range of office-based support which members should receive. A more novel proposal put forward by the advisory group is that there should be regular factual briefings by senior officials of the assembly.

I hope that I have indicated that we hold firmly to the need to retain the Civil Service principles of impartiality and political neutrality, but that at the same time we are exploring with an open mind the best ways of organising the assembly's staff to ensure that it properly supports the whole assembly. It would not be helpful to legislate to enforce a particular division of roles within the assembly. That would freeze the position and prevent the organisation from evolving in the light of experience.

In view of my reassurances about support and provision of information to members, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, to withdraw his amendment.

Before the noble Lord does so, in this group is a government amendment, Amendment No. 192A. That amendment is intended to bring greater clarity to the drafting in Clause 64. It is purely drafting.

Lord Elis-Thomas

In view of the reassurances so ably drafted by the officials that will serve the assembly, I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I am not totally convinced that a division of the staff will not be necessary. When I introduced the amendment, I believe that I made an error in describing the servants of this House as being members of the Home Civil Service. I am told that they are in fact employed by the Clerk of the Parliaments. I stand corrected by myself.

We shall consider carefully what has been said. We may return to the subject at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35 agreed to.

12.45 a.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 36 shall stand part of the Bill?

The Earl of Balfour

Clause 36 deals with inquiries and states: The Assembly may cause an inquiry to be held into any matter relevant to the exercise of any of its functions". Subsection (2) of the clause refers to Section 250 of the Local Government Act 1972 (witnesses and costs at local inquiries). Witnesses can be called and may be required to produce documents. However, the assembly is not a local authority; it is a new body. Surely a new body requires its own legislative powers to force a witness to be required to take an oath: "I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth".

In Scotland, the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936 clearly provides for the oath of witnesses, and if they do not take it they can be fined. I wish to draw the Committee's attention to Clause 25 of the Scotland Bill. Its title is "Witnesses and documents: general" and it states: The Presiding Officer or such other person as may be authorised by standing orders may … administer an oath to any person giving evidence in proceedings of the Parliament, and require him to take the oath. Any person who refuses to take an oath when required to do so … is guilty of an offence". I found nothing in this Government of Wales Bill which provides for these conditions of oath. It is an important point. I realise that the hour is late and I do not expect an answer from the Minister tonight. However, would he be good enough to look at the matter between now and Report?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Yes, certainly.

Clause 36 agreed to.

Clause 37 [Polls for ascertaining views of the public]:

On Question, Whether Clause 37 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I have a small point to make. I was reading the clause earlier. Subsection (1) states: The Assembly may hold a poll in an area consisting of Wales or any part (or parts) of Wales for the purpose of ascertaining the views of those polled about whether or how any of the Assembly's functions… should be exercised". That seemed fair enough. Then I noticed that in brackets it states: (other than those under section 34)". I went back to Clause 34, which states: The Assembly may consider, and make appropriate representations about, any matter affecting Wales". Does the bracket read "other than any matter affecting Wales"? I suspect that I know what is intended, but I wonder whether the draftsman would like to cast his eagle eye over this to ensure that there is not something wrong about the way the provision has been constructed.

Secondly, if it has been constructed the way I think it has, is that to prevent the assembly ever being able to organise a poll about the independence of Wales?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

The draftsman is, I am sure, absolutely confident in the rightness of his drafting—but will, of course, review it appropriately. There is no ulterior motive to be found in any clause of this magnificent construction.

Clause 37 agreed to.

Clauses 38 to 42 agreed to.

Clause 43 [Different exercise of functions by Assembly]:

[Amendment No. 107 not moved.]

Clause 43 agreed to.

Clause 44 [Construction of references to Ministers and departments]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 108:

Page 24, line 31, at end insert— ("( ) References in any enactment to property vested in or held for the purposes of a government department shall be construed as including references to property vested in or held for the purposes of the Assembly (and in relation to property so vested or held the Assembly shall be deemed to be a government department for the purposes of any enactment).").

The noble and learned Lord said: This minor amendment to Clause 44 ensures that references in enactments to property vested in or held for the purposes of a government department are to be construed as including references to property vested in or held for the purposes of the assembly. The equivalent provision was made by subsection (2) of Section 74 of the Wales Act 1978.

The amendments are necessary because the assembly will not be a government department. The various references to land held by government departments would, without these amendments, need specific amendment in the transfer order or in an order under Clause 151. These arrangements will be relevant in relation to statutory provisions referring to Crown land. An example is Section 327(1) of the Highways Act 1980 which, in common with similar provisions, refers to Crown land as including land belonging to a government department. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 109:

Page 24, line 32, leave out ("subsection (1)") and insert ("this section").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 44, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 45 [Parliamentary procedures for subordinate legislation]:

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 110:

Page 24, line 35, leave out (", confirm or approve").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 111A. These are drafting amendments. Subsection (1) of Clause 45 refers to, "make, confirm or approve", whereas subsections (3) and (4) refer only to "made". Amendment No. 111A also ensures that parliamentary procedures do not apply to subordinate legislation made by the assembly simply because the legislation is subject to the agreement of a Minister of the Crown or government department.

As we discussed in the context of cross-border matters, assembly subordinate legislation will be subject to parliamentary procedure if the assembly's legislation applies to England, or if it applies to the activities of a cross-border body outside Wales or if it contains legislation made by or with a Minister of the Crown. I invite Members of the Committee to agree these technical amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendments Nos. 110A and 110B:

Page 24, line 42, leave out ("that purpose") and insert ("the purposes of this Act").

Page 25, line 11, leave out from ("if") to ("in") in line 23 and insert ("it—

  1. (a) contains subordinate legislation made or to be made by a Minister of the Crown or government department (whether or not jointly with the Assembly),
  2. (b) contains (or confirms or approves) subordinate legislation relating to an English border area, or
  3. (c) contains (or confirms or approves) subordinate legislation relating to a cross-border body (and not relating only to the exercise of functions, or the carrying on of activities. by the body").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 111 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 111A:

Page 25, line 31, at end insert— ("( ) In this section "make" includes confirm or approve and related expressions (except "made exercisable") shall be construed accordingly; but an instrument (or draft) does not fall within subsection (4)(a) just because it contains subordinate legislation made (or to be made) by the Assembly with the agreement of a Minister of the Crown or government department.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 45, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 46 agreed to.

Lord Carter

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.