Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion

  The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion is a London-Welsh based learned society (founded in 1751), which takes an all-embracing interest in the encouragement of studies of the literature, science and the arts as they relate to Wales. Its approach to these areas is catholic and encompasses contemporary as well as historic issues.

  The Society welcomes the Committee's enquiry. Its scope is large. While the promotion of Welsh interests may have common threads in any country in the world, the Society would, however, like to concentrate on one particular aspect: the effectiveness of UK government arrangements in ensuring that Welsh interests are taken into account when UK policy on EU issues is determined in Whitehall. This we see as being fundamental in promoting Welsh interests

  Power within the European Union is principally vested in the Council of Ministers. We think, therefore, that the Committee, if it decides that this is an appropriate subject for investigation, should focus its scrutiny primarily on how the Whitehall machinery for formulation of UK policy on EU issues arising from decisions in the Council of Ministers, can take into account particular Welsh dimensions, where they exist. We recognise that it is the responsibility of the UK government to formulate policy on EU issues for the UK as a whole, and cannot therefore be tailored to the interests of one region within it, be that Scotland, Wales or, say, south-east England. Our unease, which we hope the Committee can assuage, is that following the setting up of a Welsh Assembly, the Welsh voice on EU issues in Whitehall might be diminished rather than enhanced.

  Subsidiary aspects that might also be looked at are: representation on Brussels official level committees, secondment of staff to the office of the UK Permanent Representative (UKREP) and attendance at both Whitehall and Brussels ministerial meetings.

  We are aware that at the time of the Welsh Referendum, the UK government stated that following the establishment of a Welsh Assembly, concordats would be agreed between the Welsh Assembly and UK government departments providing for Welsh input into Whitehall policy formulation on EU matters. While some concordats may have been agreed, little publicity has been given to their terms. The Committee could usefully make known the terms of these concordats, ascertain whether they are operating to the satisfaction of both the Welsh Assembly and UK government departments and establish whether there are any gaps.

  It would be useful to establish whether there is a concordat between the Welsh Assembly and the Cabinet Office regarding Welsh representation in the various official level inter-departmental committees for discussion of EU issues, for which the latter provide both the chair and the secretariat. We presume that prior to devolution the Welsh Office were invited to attend the main official level inter-departmental committee. But what is the position post-devolution? Has it been agreed that official serving the Welsh Assembly may also attend either as full participants or observers? If not, the Committee may wish to investigate the obstacles and see if they can be overcome. If representation is still limited to the Welsh Office (with the latter charged with liaising with the Assembly), what would be the position if some day the Welsh Office became subsumed into an Office for the Regions?

  The importance of a Welsh presence on inter-departmental committees can be illustrated by a hypothetical (but not unlikely) case of a Ministry of Agriculture Memorandum submitted to the relevant official committee in relation to one of the many schemes for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Under concordat arrangements Welsh views may have been taken into account by MAFF in drafting the memorandum. However such a memorandum might be vigorously challenged during committee discussion by UK government departments, requiring drastic amendments. Failing agreement at official level, the matter might be raised to ministerial level, with no Welsh input assured. A similar scenario could be envisaged for a discussion of the EU Structural Funds. Non-involvement of officials serving the Welsh Assembly in these discussions would not only deprive them of insight into the dynamics of UK policy formulation, impoverish their understanding of all the complex factors that UK policy has to take into account, but would weaken the Welsh input into UK policy formulation.

  The Cabinet Office has traditionally been reluctant to disclose which ministers are members of Cabinet committees. In the light of devolution, however, it would be useful to establish whether the Secretary of State for Wales is a member of the relevant Cabinet committee dealing with EU issues, or he is only invited where a strong Welsh interest is recognised. As the First Secretary of the Welsh Assembly is not a member of the UK Cabinet, it seems unlikely that he would be invited to attend. The Committee may wish to confirm, however, that he will have access to the Prime Minister if he deems important Welsh interests to be at stake.

  Draft EU legislation and other issues for the agenda of the EU Council of Ministers get thoroughly discussed beforehand in meetings of the EU member states at various official levels convened by the Commission in Brussels. UK officials attending these meetings follow the UK line agreed in Whitehall. It might be useful if, on occasion, officials of the Welsh Assembly might be invited to accompany the UK team. During discussion they would, of course, be required not to deviate from the UK line.

  The office of the UK Permanent Representative (UKREP) is a major player in UK policy formulation, particularly in relation to negotiating tactics. UK departments eagerly seek posts in UKREP. The Committee might investigate how feasible it would be to arrange occasional secondments of one or two officials serving the Welsh Assembly (who remain members of the UK Civil Service) to UKREP.

  The Committee may wish to press that the First Secretary of the Welsh Assembly should be part of the UK ministerial team to an EU Ministerial Meeting when an issue of major interest to Wales is being discussed.

  The Committee may wish to enquire whether post-devolution arrangements to give Scotland a voice in UK policy, hold any useful lessons for Wales.

John Sarve

Honorary Secretary

14 October 2000

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