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Lord Sewel moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 2, line 14, at end insert--
("But an alteration in a register of electors under section 11(1) or (2) or 56 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (correction of registers and registration appeals) shall not have effect for the purposes of the referendum unless it is made before the start of the period of eleven days ending with the date of the referendum.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]

Lord Sewel moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 2, line 21, after ("with") insert ("paragraph 11 of Schedule (Conduct of the referendums, &c.) and").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 not moved.]

Lord Sewel moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 2, line 28, at end insert--
("( ) An order under this section shall be made by statutory instrument.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

22 Jul 1997 : Column 1322

Welsh Assembly

4.17 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement made in another place. The Statement is as follows:

    "With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about the Government's proposals for creating an assembly for Wales.

    "This Government believe that, in the United Kingdom, too much power is centralised in the hands of too few people. We believe that there is too little freedom for people in each part of the United Kingdom to decide their own priorities. Our manifesto made clear our intention to give Britain a modern constitution fitting a modern and progressive country. We believe it is right to bring decisions closer to the people, to open up government, to reform Parliament and to increase individual rights.

    "Madam Speaker, the White Paper I am publishing today marks a major step forward in the achievement of our proposals for Wales. We propose to create a democratically elected assembly that will give the people of Wales a real say in the way public services in Wales are run.

    "Since the Welsh Office was set up over 30 years ago, there has been a progressive devolution of administration to Wales. As Secretary of State for Wales I am responsible for taking decisions about health, education, economic development, roads, planning and many other public services that matter to people's lives. I am accountable to this House. But our procedures here are too often seen as remote from the day to day realities of devolved administration.

    "Madam Speaker, this Government are committed to bringing decisions closer to the citizen. Our aim is to improve public services by making them more responsive to the needs and the views of people in Wales.

    "Wales will continue to share the same framework of laws as England, including the primary legislation made for it by Parliament; and it will remain firmly part of the United Kingdom. But the new assembly will assume many of the functions and powers which I currently exercise. It will have at its disposal the staff and budget of the Welsh Office--now totalling £7 billion. It will determine policies and set standards for major public services. It will bring forward secondary legislation where necessary to implement these policies. It will assume responsibility for unelected bodies in Wales and have powers to reform them and bring them to account. This means that in future decisions on schools, health care and other key services will be taken by people directly elected by, and accountable to, Welsh voters, and responsive therefore to their views. And we will be equipping the assembly to set a new economic agenda for Wales, focused on Welsh needs and priorities, to create the new jobs and industry that Wales still badly needs. Above all else the assembly will provide a clear and distinctive voice for Wales.

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    "Madam Speaker, the Government intend that the assembly should be a new kind of elected body, open to all talents and close to the people it serves, working in partnership with central and local government, for the benefit of all parts of Wales. It is this Government's intention to forge a new kind of politics. The assembly will therefore be based on principles of partnership, democracy and inclusiveness.

    "Partnership. First, the assembly will improve the government of Wales by working in partnership with others, and especially with Welsh local government. That partnership will respect the legitimate role of each of the tiers.

    "Madam Speaker, in making this point, I thank my honourable friend the Member for Rhondda for his most helpful paper on the proper relationship between the assembly and local government. Let me tell him and the House: the assembly will promote and foster local government in Wales; the assembly will regularly review with local government how effectively that commitment is being observed; the assembly will not be given any new power to take functions away from local government; but it will be given powers to transfer functions from quangos to local government. The establishment of the assembly gives local government a new opportunity to reassert its rightful place as an equal partner in the governance of Wales. The assembly will also need to work closely with other key partners, including business and industry and the European institutions. The business community will gain easier access to key decision-makers in the assembly as it pursues its new economic agenda; and the assembly will listen to the voice of business and respond quickly and effectively to its needs.

    "The assembly will foster a new relationship with Europe. The administration of European structural funds is a matter of great importance to us in Wales. This responsibility will pass to the assembly which will, in consultation with the Commission, be able to determine priorities for European funding in Wales. Assembly members with executive responsibilities and their officials may, where appropriate, have a role to play in delegations to the Council of Ministers as agreed by the UK Minister leading those negotiations.

    "Democracy. I turn to the second principle: democracy. For the first time the key decisions for Wales will be made by people elected by and democratically accountable to the people of Wales. The executive committee will provide the political leadership for the assembly and will be subject to scrutiny through the processes of question and debate. Under the assembly, policies which matter to people in Wales--education, health, and other key public services--will be determined in Wales.

    "I now turn to the quango state. In recent years the growth in the number of unelected bodies and some of their activities have caused great concern in Wales. Our proposals for a new and democratic structure of government in Wales will address that concern. The assembly will be given sweeping powers to

22 Jul 1997 : Column 1324

    democratise and if necessary further restructure quangos that remain. That is a major package of reform, but in the Government's view the need to start the reform of the quango state in Wales is too urgent to be left to await the assembly. Action is required now even before the assembly is established--a point which has been made forcefully by my right honourable friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney in earlier debates. I agree. The Bill establishing the assembly will by merging the WDA, the DBRW and the Land Authority for Wales, create a new economic development agency for Wales. It will be a powerhouse to promote the economic regeneration of Wales. It will also transfer Tai Cymru's staff and functions to the Welsh Office and wind up that body.

    "We will also wind up Cardiff Bay Development Corporation by March 2000 while securing the continuing development of Cardiff Bay; reduce the number of training and enterprise councils in Wales from six to four; and make important changes to NHS administration. The Government have already announced that the number of NHS trusts will be reduced. Today I can tell the House that the Health Promotion Authority for Wales and the Welsh Health Common Services Authority will be wound up and their functions transferred. Taken together, Madam Speaker, these proposals will have a profound effect. Unelected bodies will be reduced in number before the assembly is established and placed under proper democratic control and scrutiny once the assembly is in place. No longer will our key public services lie in the hands of political appointees operating in secret and accountable to no one in Wales.

    "Inclusiveness. Madam Speaker, the third principle I mentioned was inclusiveness. The assembly we propose will have 60 members. Forty of them will be directly elected from constituencies, with 20 additional members to provide an element of proportionality. Voters will be able to vote both for constituency candidates and for party lists for additional members. The assembly will reflect all of Wales in its membership and in its working practices. Its committees will give all political parties in the assembly the opportunity to make their distinctive contribution to its work. And our proposals for regional committees will give all parts of Wales a stake in the assembly's success. I want people of real ability and commitment representing the widest possible range of interests to serve in the new assembly. In particular, although this is not a matter for legislation it is vital that we see greater participation by women in public life in Wales, and I look forward to seeing a high proportion of women as assembly members.

    "The United Kingdom. Madam Speaker, it has been suggested by members of the official Opposition that our proposals in some way threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom. That is simply wrong. Parliament will continue to be responsible for primary legislation for Wales. There will be no reduction in Wales's representation in Parliament as a result of our

22 Jul 1997 : Column 1325

    establishing the assembly. The Secretary of State will continue to represent Welsh interests in the Cabinet and will participate fully in the Government's formulation of policy--and, through his links with the assembly, will ensure that Wales's voice is more clearly heard on issues of major importance to Wales. In the same way, assembly officials, who will be members of the Home Civil Service, will work in close partnership with officials in other government departments in developing policy proposals. Wales will remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. Let there be no doubt of that.

    "Conclusion. Madam Speaker, on 18th September we intend to submit these proposals to the people for their endorsement. I am making arrangements for the White Paper to be widely available throughout Wales. A leaflet describing our plans will go to every household and the White Paper text will be made available on the Internet. Everyone in Wales will have the opportunity to know about our plans and to contribute to the debate in advance of the referendum. The Welsh assembly is a key element in this Government's project for a new Britain with strong communities, a modern constitution and a confident place in the world. In this new Britain, Wales will have its voice. These proposals are right for Wales and right for Britain, and I commend them to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.29 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for repeating the Statement made in another place and for his great courtesy in helping me to obtain a copy of the White Paper in time to have at least a glance through it before the Statement was repeated. It appears that the Welsh Office's van had forgotten that the House of Lords was here. If we come to the Bill that is to implement devolution I suspect that it will have good cause to remember where the House of Lords is for many long nights.

In terms of getting the information out to the wide world, I was particularly interested to note that this would be published on the Internet. I took the trouble to look at the Welsh Office site before I entered the Chamber to see whether this great event was presaged. The only statement that I could find on the subject was that press announcements had been withdrawn for the period of the general election. There may be a little updating to do.

Those of us who have been lucky enough have now received copies of the White Paper. I believe that it is available in the Printed Paper Office. One can now see the mess of pottage for which the Welsh are being asked to exchange their birthright. One sees at considerable length the dishonest question that is to be posed to that great country. On the one hand one is told that nothing in this threatens the Union. On the other hand if one happens to be a Plaid Cymru supporter one

22 Jul 1997 : Column 1326

is told that this is the first step on the road to independence. There appears to be no shame about presenting those two answers to the same question.

The White Paper is entitled A Voice for Wales. It should be A Lost Voice for Wales. All that will be left at the end is an off-stage croak. It is as if the Government had invited a member of a great Welsh choir to step forward and take a solo part, only to tell him afterwards that he would have to sing the solo part in a locked room in the basement. Wales will be sidelined in government and Parliament. It will be a sad day if the proposition is ever agreed to.

I shall concentrate on asking the Minister some questions. I do not necessarily expect to receive answers today. I hope that he will be able to reply to me in writing before our debate--say, by next Tuesday evening--so that we can follow up the points which concern us.

I turn first to a subject which will be of considerable interest to the House; that is, the mechanism by which power will be devolved to the assembly. We are faced with a wide range of secondary legislation over which it is proposed the assembly should have power. Some of the secondary legislation has a great deal of flexibility in it; other parts are narrow. How will we set about widening that discretion so that the assembly can make use of it? Are we to be faced with an enormous Henry VIII clause so that it can all be done by secondary legislation, perhaps by the assembly itself, within some rather loosely defined power?

We are told that Welsh legislation will continue to pass through this Parliament. On what sort of timetable? How will it be done? Who is to promote it? Who is to ensure that it receives the precedence that it should have in the scheme of things? The White Paper says that the assembly will examine proposals for UK legislation to see what relevance they have for Wales. When will it do that? Will legislation be released to the Welsh assembly in advance of its coming to Parliament? Does that constitute a promise to publish all Bills several months in advance so that they can be looked at by the assembly?

It would be helpful if the Government, in their publicity, would make clear the limitations of what is being proposed for Wales. An interesting article in today's Western Mail contains two equal and opposite misunderstandings. The teachers have put together a "Teachers say Yes" campaign for Wales. They had a conference yesterday. One speaker said:

    "We would not have seen the imposition of nursery vouchers; we would not have seen the opting out of schools"

if there had been a Welsh assembly. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is not the case. Those laws would have been passed in this Parliament and would have been effective in Wales. All that the Welsh assembly could have done would have been to ensure that they were pursued properly in Wales. The Welsh assembly could not have opted out of the legislation.

The second misconception in the article is the statement that the Welsh assembly could channel more funds to schools. That is equal and opposite. There is a widespread misconception that the Welsh assembly will

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not interfere with local government; that local government will continue to choose how much money goes to schools. That is clearly not the opinion of the teachers. Nor is it my opinion, having read the White Paper. It is clear to me that what is proposed for local authorities is that they should be subject to the power of the assembly. The assembly should decide how much money they are getting; should be able to ring fence what they are doing; and should be able to give directions which amount to pretty thorough control of local authorities. I should be delighted if the Minister would confirm that my understanding is right.

It would be helpful also if the Minister could outline the limitations that there will be on the assembly's powers which justify the policy of continuing with 40 Welsh MPs. It is clear that that policy will be called into question if some people's views of how wide the powers go are supported. As I understand it, the reason why the number of Welsh MPs is not to be reduced is that the powers are limited. A restatement of that by the Minister would be welcome.

Much was made of the quango state, although the reduction, as I see it, is from 80 to 71, which is not a major reduction. It rather gives the lie to a great deal of the rhetoric used in the run-up to the White Paper. Will the Minister confirm that what is at issue is not the power of the quangos passing to the assembly, but power over the quangos passing to the assembly? By and large, they will continue to exist. If they do not continue to exist, that is because, for the most part, they will have been merged with other quangos.

Will the Minister also confirm that the power to appoint members to those quangos as well as the power to hold the quangos to account will rest with the assembly? Is that not a rather surprising conflict of interest with which we deal adequately in our Parliament by having the appointment by Ministers and the questioning by the PAC? Why does the Minister believe it to be satisfactory that appointment and holding to account should be done by the same body? Will the Minister enlighten me as to the continuing role, or otherwise, of the NAO when it comes to the affairs of the assembly and of the quangos which it will control?

A little noticed--I do not believe that it has been widely presaged--element in the White Paper is the advent of regional committees of the assembly, representing the different bits of Wales. That surely must be a recipe for dissent between the different parts of Wales and a mechanism to allow it to happen and to encourage it. Will the Minister enlighten us as to how those regional committees will dovetail with the all-Wales committees, and how that process might be made to work without the dissent which seems inevitable?

My noble friend Lord Crickhowell, in his recent amendment, made much of the fate of the Secretary of State for Wales. When he has a chance to read the whole of the White Paper he will see that that creature is not to be a broker; he is, at best, to be a bookie's runner. He will have immense difficulty deciding where his loyalty lies. Is he a member of the Cabinet and responsible to the Cabinet under collective

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responsibility or is he someone who is loyal to Wales? When the two take different views, where will his heart and voice be? Surely it will quickly result in neither side believing that he is one of them, and his becoming totally excluded and irrelevant.

The assembly's powers to direct and control the cash flowing to local authorities; to control what they are doing; to cap them or not cap them, as it chooses in the future; to set rates and business rates, amount in the end, if I read it aright, to the assembly having tax raising powers. If the assembly can withdraw money from local authorities for its own purposes, leaving those authorities to make up the money through the council tax, that is just as much tax raising as if it had power over income tax. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain why, in that case, the Welsh are not being offered the second question that the Scots are.

An interesting variety of proportional representation is proposed for the elections. I am sure that it will greatly please the Liberal Democrat Party. I am not sure that I understand its details. What surprises me is that it is to be based on Welsh Euro-constituencies. Is it not true that by the time the assembly comes to be in place there will be no such constituencies? Wales will be all one region within the list system. So has the Government's thinking become a little confused as to what it will be based on? Where are the powers over the police which the Prime Minister promised to Wales only last week? I see no mention at all of them in the White Paper.

I have one last question: will Peers be entitled to vote for this? That is of local interest and I have failed to pick it up in the White Paper. As the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, said in speaking to my noble friend's amendment, the Government have out-Chinesed the Chinese with one country, four systems. Indeed, why stop there? The Government will not stop there because there will be a different system for London and it may be that the different regions of England will be able to choose their own system.

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