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The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I was suggesting that that is the situation at the present moment rather than what the Government are proposing.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, it is clearly what the Government are proposing and they are proposing to take it further. I find their reasons for this proposition entirely inscrutable. However, we shall subject the inscrutable to scrutiny to make it suitably acceptable.
I add my thanks to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement made in another place. First, I should like to congratulate the Government on producing this White Paper. I barely know the Secretary of State for Wales but I have the impression that he is a very direct, straightforward chap who is a determined person. He has delivered what he has been working so hard to do
I say that I congratulate the Government but, as they are aware, the proposals do not begin to achieve what my party stands for; that is, a domestic parliament for Wales. Our support for the Government is based on the fact that we much prefer the Government's proposals to the status quo because the status quo had become virtually intolerable in Wales. We had so many quangos, a disproportionate number of which represented Conservative interests. That was what was so objectionable about it.
The electors of Wales demonstrated their disapproval of that in the election results. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will be very happy to know that if the Government's proposals are approved in Wales in the referendum, at least it will ensure that the Conservative Party has some representation in the government of Wales which otherwise it might not have at all either in the other place or, indeed, at the result of the next election.
I wish to ask the Government a certain number of questions on this matter. Obviously the greatest virtue of this proposed new body is that it will be a forum in Wales and it will be the first directly elected forum that we have ever had in our history. But the second very important matter concerns the quangos. As I understand it, the Government will abolish or amalgamate some of them before the next election. However, I do not read in the White Paper and do not understand that the assembly will have the power to abolish quangos. I believe that gradually we could do away with all the quangos in Wales. From a business point of view, I am a great believer in having managers to manage and who are responsible to somebody. That somebody should be the elected body in Wales. Therefore, I do not see the need for quangos as such if we are to have a properly run assembly.
That is the answer to many of the criticisms made from the Opposition Benches. Devolution is an evolutionary process. I think I am right in saying that in 1964, when the Welsh Office was set up, it had 260 civil servants. That coincides almost exactly with the number of civil servants now employed in the regional offices set up by the Conservative Government in England in 1994. They now number 260 on average.
Therefore, that devolution has been started in England, which was already apparent in Wales before 1964 when the Welsh Office came into being. We may see in Wales the development of a means of having regional government which could be extended to England because the basis for it already exists there and was set up by the last government. However, modestly, they do not seem to take any credit for it. It may be that they wish to hide that devolutionary tendency from the electorate. I do not know.
The third matter is the relationship of the Welsh assembly to Europe. Obviously the European Structural Funds, which are so important in the development of Europe, are disbursed regionally. But what exactly will be the power of the Welsh assembly? For example, is it envisaged that there will be a European committee of the Welsh assembly which will specifically and directly deal with Brussels on those matters? With regard to membership of the assembly, I understand that the Secretary of State for Wales is to be an ex officio member. That is almost certainly part of an evolutionary process because I cannot see that there will forever be a Secretary of State. In time, that office will disappear.
Are MPs to be allowed to be members of the assembly? I very much hope not. In the White Paper it is said that it is intended that members of the assembly should regard it as a full-time occupation. I hope that Members of Parliament at Westminster will not be able to duplicate matters and become members of the assembly. Nor do I think that councillors from the various local councils in Wales, except for the community councils, should become members of the assembly. I do not believe that there should be, as it were, a clash of interest. It would be very much better for the assembly if it were independent of both national and local government, as far as that is possible.
The regional committees proposed will clearly be very important. There is an oft-repeated suggestion that the rural parts of Wales--and north Wales in particular--will be dominated by south Wales. Will the Government bear in mind that it is not so much a question of the division of north Wales and south Wales as a division between the industrial areas and the rural areas. For example, there will be a great deal to be said for the mid-Wales region of the five old counties--Cardiganshire, Meirionnydd, Montgomery, Brecon and Radnor--being subject to one regional committee because they have similar problems as opposed to the problems of north Wales or south Wales taken as a whole. Therefore, I hope that the Government will be able to confirm that there is no rigid thinking on those matters in relation to the regional committees.
When the Welsh Office is divided--and I refer to the majority of civil servants who come directly under the assembly--will there be a means of ensuring that the executive side works very well because in Parliament Ministers deal with the executive side of government while we deal with the legislative side? The Welsh assembly will deal with secondary legislation but if it is to control most of the civil servants in Wales by what means will they ensure that they are answerable to the assembly in an executive way? That matter needs a good deal of thought and guidance by experts.
I believe that the White Paper sets out exactly what the Government said they would produce. I have always made it clear that if the choice were mine I should have a different White Paper, as I am sure would the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, from his viewpoint. I believe
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in his opening remarks. I appreciate his courtesy. If there was a misunderstanding about the journey that a particular copy of the White Paper followed at a particular time, I am happy to say that it was no more than that. I am also happy about the way he has approached his responsibilities vis-a-vis mine. I am grateful for his suggestion that if I wish to give mature consideration to particular matters I may write to him. I promise him, I dare say to the horror of the officials, that should I do so he will have the letter by Tuesday evening, as he graciously suggested.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, for his introductory remarks, in particular about the Secretary of State for Wales. Whether you agree with him or not, what you see is what you get! As the noble Lord said, it is a refreshing change and for the avoidance of doubt perhaps I may say that I agree with him.
Perhaps I may attach my answer to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and extend to him the privilege that was offered to me by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Members of Parliament will be able to stand as members of the assembly. That is made plain in the citation that I gave from paragraph C.7.
Equally, the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, is correct in indicating that it is anticipated that membership of the Welsh assembly would be a full-time job. Ultimately, it will be a matter for individual political parties to decide whether it is sensible and appropriate that, for instance, an MEP ought to stand for election to the Welsh assembly. Different parties have different views. In the Northern Ireland context, the Reverend Ian Paisley is a Member of another place and a Member of the European Parliament. Such issues are best left to individual party and personal decisions.
Both noble Lords raised the question of the committees. It is intended that there shall be four different types. First, there will be subject committees, which will be responsible for particular areas of policy such as education or health. Secondly, there will be scrutiny committees, which will need to scrutinise proposed assembly orders or financial matters, therefore ensuring that the appropriate rules are properly followed.
Thirdly, there will be regional committees providing different parts of Wales with opportunities to express their views on matters of local concern. I deal specifically with the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. We have very much in mind the problems
Fourthly, there will be an executive committee, which will provide political leadership for the assembly in the same way as does the Cabinet. I confirm that the Secretary of State will be a member of the assembly, able to take part in the deliberations but not to vote.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked about the police function. It is well known that the police function is a Home Office function. It is intended to remain with the Home Office. However, perhaps I may give a sensible, foreseeable example. If there were serious questions about police practices in any part of Wales, or in any area of Welsh life, it may well be that the assembly would wish to concern itself with what might have gone wrong. I do not say that in the sense that it would be able to direct police practice, which is firmly lodged in the present arrangements for the police forces. However, I believe that it is legitimate for such an assembly at least to ask for conversations and for an exchange of views with the appropriate police authorities, even perhaps with the appropriate chief constable. I see no difficulty or problem with that if one approaches the matter on the basis that I believe the majority of people in Wales will approach it; namely, that we want to make it work.
Of course, we can be gloomy and say that Wales is fit for no better control over its affairs than it presently has. We can turn our backs on the opportunity that we now have; the first opportunity to have accountable, devolved, representative government in Wales, as the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, rightly said. It is true--it has been said many times and it remains true--that there are devolved powers but they are not accountable in a full sense to the people of Wales. They have been unduly obscured. They have been kept private and secret, although the sums involved are vast--£7 billion or so of public money per year.
We believe that a sea change has occurred in Wales in the past 20 years. We believe that the proposal is what the people of Wales want. They want a decent consideration of their opinions. I invite your Lordships to accept that they do not say that in any sense of wishing to be aggressive or confrontational. Earlier this week, the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, made a point which stuck in my mind. Wales as a country has matured and changed and developed confidence during the past 10 years or so. He is right in saying, "Go and look at Cardiff." It is now a metropolitan, European city. We do not look down on anyone.
Specific questions were asked about the control of local authority expenditure and the functions of the present Secretary of State. They will be transferred to the assembly. We say that that will democratise the current arrangements. We say that we are looking for a spirit of mutual respect between the local authorities in Wales and the new assembly. I am happy to repeat that no member of a local authority in Wales need fear that his or her powers will be decreased--quite the opposite is true. As regards tax, the arrangements currently in place whereby the Secretary of State determines the size of the local government settlement will transfer to the assembly.
A specific question--I believe it to be important--was asked about the National Audit Office. There will be an auditor general for Wales who will be supported by the National Audit Office. We are entirely in agreement with the spirit behind the question of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Of course we need to be absolutely certain that the arrangements for accountability of public spending are properly in place.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked how power will be devolved. It is proposed that power will be devolved by a transfer order to be available for scrutiny before the Committee stage of the Bill. I hope that your Lordships think that is appropriate.
A further question was asked about control of the quangos. These bodies spend a vast amount of public money. I believe there is serious concern in Wales about accountability and whether or not the money is appropriately controlled. The assembly will be able to set the strategic framework for the quangos, make appointments to the quangos and fund them. Ultimately, it will be able to limit their powers.
We shall have to await the conclusion of those eligible to vote in Wales. I believe that it will be a positive conclusion. I believe that we have a fair wind for a voyage which will be exciting and which will have a productive outcome for those who care about the government of Wales.
Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating a Statement made by my right honourable friend in another place, Mr. Ron Davies. Before I ask a number of questions I declare an interest
In asking questions about this document I emphasise that, contrary to what my noble friend Lord Hooson might have implied, this is a White Paper which I unreservedly welcome. This is a White Paper which the Government promised and the Government have delivered it. More than that, it sets out a detailed and extremely intelligent structure of government for Wales. Contrary to what has been implied by some Conservatives opposite, it is not a staging post to anywhere else; it is a viable system of government in its own right. It is as stable, and can prove to be as stable in my view, as the Welsh Office in its great days under the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell.
This paper proposes for Wales three exciting developments. I am impressed by the commitment to regional devolution within Wales. Does the Minister foresee that there will be direct links between the regional committees of the assembly within Wales and local government, and also the training and enterprise councils and indeed other agencies which are currently established as joint agencies with local government?
My next question relates to the relationship with Europe. My understanding is that the assembly will elect members of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union. That is to be warmly welcomed. It was an unsatisfactory situation--although my own party, Plaid Cymru, benefited from it--when members were nominated. Now that there is a directly elected tier in Wales--if this is approved in the referendum--there will be direct election from the assembly to the Committee of the Regions.
Can the Minister confirm that it is the Government's intention that the assembly will scrutinise European legislation in draft form in detail; that the assembly will be able to continue to develop the existing WEC arrangements in Brussels should it so wish; and that the assembly will be able to have its own independent representation in parallel to representation of the current UK structure in Brussels?
My next point relates to the issue of equal opportunities. How do the Government intend to ensure that their objective and ours of greater equality of representation within the assembly is pursued? It is crucially important that this body is seen to represent the whole of Wales and that the gross gender inequality of the whole of Welsh politics should be urgently addressed.
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