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Lord Lucas: I am fascinated by the excellent exposition of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, on the nature of opposition. We are not in the dispirited state in which the Liberal Party finds itself; we are in opposition, not in eternal opposition. We believe that one day we will find ourselves once again on the Benches opposite and contributing all our skills and understanding to the governance of this country.
That makes us considerably more interested in this Bill, and I am particularly interested in hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will have to say about the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, demonstrated quite conclusively that the difference between what the Welsh and the Scots are being offered is merely a matter of scale not of substance; that the two issues are as one and that we were entirely right to press to a Division the amendment we have just won.
I am also interested in hearing the answer of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, to the question posed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, as to why the Welsh are getting less. If the Government know that the Welsh want less, why do they need a referendum? If they do not know that the Welsh want less, why do they not ask them?
Perhaps I may conclude by adding one small piece of knowledge to the great store of that possessed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. Yes, the assembly will have considerable powers over secondary legislation. It is clear from what Ron Davies said on 30th June in the Grand Committee that extensive powers for altering legislation and changing matters are envisaged for the assembly, presumably through some massive Henry VIII clause to be incorporated in the Bill to come before us. It is clear from what Mr. Davies said that the Welsh White Paper is long written and prepared; it is sitting there waiting only for the Scots to deal with the difficulties which may arise. I hope that we will see it soon. I do not see any reason why the Welsh should have to wait on the Scots forever.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: As the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said, what is being sought by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is really a "preferendum"; a choice of a range of alternatives which could be four. The question set out indicates that the voter does not have to use all the preferences and therefore one could have 25 per cent. for (a), for (b), for (c), and for (d), which would not be illuminating as a guide to future political arrangements.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: If the noble Lord will give way, perhaps I can point out that it is not a question of what is offered to the Welsh. They are being asked what their view is. That is what these amendments are concerned with.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I understand what the amendments seek and I am stating the Government's position, which is not that held by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas; in fact, it is virtually the opposite.
If we go down the road advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, it is perfectly possible that the result of the "preferendum" could be wholly inconclusive. That would be the worst of all possible worlds for the people in Wales, where this matter has now been under discussion for around 100 years in one form or another. I am not claiming personal knowledge of 100 years ago, but I remember as a small child of five being brought up, as were most of my Welsh colleagues on these Benches, in an actively political household that that was the important topic of the day, particularly among
As has been said on many occasions, Scotland is different. It has a different system of law, of education, of health and of local government. Its modern history is utterly different from the modern history of Wales and therefore we are offering to the people of Wales in the referendum the opportunity to say "Yes" or "No" to the Government's proposals, the detail of which will be in the White Paper. I shall deal with the White Paper specifically, if it is convenient, on Amendment No. 29.
We say that Wales has been different in its modern history; it is also different in its present relationship to England. We are intent--if I may put it in that way--to give the people of Wales their choice. It is for them to decide and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Before the Minister sits down, will he deal with the questions I asked? Is it intended that the assembly should have power over secondary legislation? If so, is it intended that there should be power to amend secondary legislation?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I said, I hope without being unduly repetitive, that the detail will be contained in the White Paper. The White Paper will be full; it will be debated in your Lordships' House and I am not proposing to be drawn--I know the noble and learned Lord will accept that I am not being discourteous--on detail which is in the White Paper and has not yet been published.
Lord Elis-Thomas: I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Simon for his persistent questioning on this issue. Indeed, I look forward to his contribution to the debate on the White Paper which may or may not already be written and sitting in the Welsh Office in Cardiff. I do not presume to know about those things.
I was glad for the historical perspective brought to the subject by the Minister. He is right to emphasise that the whole question of a degree of autonomy for Wales has been a major issue of public debate among those who have been concerned about political developments on a cross-party basis. That has been exhibited again tonight. There is a party in Wales which still apparently insists on not being part of that debate. That was fairly clear from the responses of the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Crickhowell.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, emphasised the campaigns that had taken place to establish the office of Secretary of State. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, made a fascinating and powerful speech in defence of the office of Secretary of State. But what has happened down the road? His leader, Mr. William Hague, has apparently abolished the office already. He has established in Mr. Michael Ancram a constitutional supremo and has
Lord Elis-Thomas: I am grateful to the Minister. He was leading a picket line in Mold the other day. Are we seriously to believe that the Conservative policy to be canvassed in the referendum when it comes will be to retain the office of Secretary of State when that office does not exist? The Conservative opposition have to have a rethink on this matter. If my contribution to this debate has done nothing else except once again draw out the totally negative attitude of the Conservative Party towards constitutional progress in Wales--
Lord Crickhowell: Is the noble Lord suggesting that he would wish the role of Secretary of State to be abolished? While I can see all kinds of reasons for continuing to develop the system of government in Wales--I took some fairly substantial steps myself when I was Secretary of State--I would robustly defend the continuing existence of a Welsh Secretary, playing the influential role that he can in the government of Britain as a whole and in defending the interests of the Welsh people. I hope that the noble Lord's party is not resiling from that position.
Lord Elis-Thomas: Most certainly not. It is not my party or the parties of other colleagues which are riven with contradiction on the matter. Our position is clear. As long as the United Kingdom is operated as a unitary state, with one central government, without division of powers and without subsidiarity and federalism, there is a continuing case--I am glad to have agreement, as always, from those on the Liberal Benches on these matters because they are the experts on federalism, whatever may be the caricature of their position today--for the offices of Secretary of State for Wales and for Scotland to remain.
As I understand the Government's proposals, the office of Secretary of State as an office of the United Kingdom Government Cabinet cannot be affected in its detail. We are dealing there with a different operation. I see that noble Lords opposite are dissenting. Clearly they want to go back to the days when the Secretary of State determined everything in Wales--either the Secretary of State himself or his officials, totally unaccountable to the people of Wales directly, although accountable to Parliament indirectly through Question Time and so on. They want to remain with that system--in which I again declare an interest because I am part of it: I serve on an NDPB--but that is not an acceptable way of running a country. Indeed, I was often distressed by having Conservative colleagues along the corridor and outside the House referring to me as if I were a justification for the fact that the nominated system worked, because here was a quango chair who was not a Conservative. I am now publicly expressing all this disquiet because there has been a change of government. However, it is important that all of us who have been involved in the present system of operating government in Wales should come out and make it clear that it is not an acceptable way to run a