Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Elis-Thomas: I am constantly surprised and enthralled by the views of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. As a distinguished former Secretary of State, he seems to be arguing that the position, hypothetically, in which a Secretary of State might also be the first secretary of the assembly is somehow different from the position he distinguishedly occupied for eight years. Surely, all the arguments that he has adduced about the position of Secretary of State in Cabinet in relation to the Treasury, and the Secretary of State acting as first secretary administering funding in Cardiff, applied to him when he was in that position.

11 May 1998 : Column 930

The noble Lord's amendment seeks to prevent any Minister of the Crown being a member of the assembly. I do not know on which continent the former Secretary of State lives, but if he will glance over at mainland Europe he will find many Secretaries and Ministers who are members for a transitional or longer period at the level of local government, municipal level, local mayoral level, regional assembly level, the European Parliament and member states. That brings a coherence to government between the different levels and ensures that politicians who develop a skill at one level can make it available at another.

In the emerging federation of the peoples and nations of these islands in the United Kingdom, surely we will look for a way in which politicians will be able to serve at different levels and sometimes simultaneously. If that is possible, the potential talents at different levels will develop and make those switches.

There is another equally important point. We will later deal with European and UK issues as set out in Amendment No. 204, which we will not consider tonight. That amendment proposes that Members of this House and the European Parliament should be able to participate in the assembly or its committees but not vote. In other words, I argue that people other than the Secretary of State should be members of the assembly and may hold office, depending on the circumstances of the day. Other Members of this House, another place and the European Parliament might be able directly to contribute to the debates of the assembly and to scrutinise work--for example, in the European committee which many of us would like to see established--or in the administration. To prevent that happening, as the noble Lord seeks to do, is to separate in a graphic way the levels of administration in government and governance within this kingdom. Indeed, perhaps I may be so bold as to suggest at this time of night that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is becoming a separatist.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Perhaps I might indicate the amendments with which we are dealing in this group. Amendment No. 43 stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. Amendment No. 44 is in my name. Amendment No. 45 is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. Amendment No. 46 is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. Amendment No. 47 is in my name and Amendment No. 48 is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. Obviously they are grouped together because they inter-relate.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, would disqualify from membership of the assembly any serving Minister of the Crown. I recall a concern which he raised on Second Reading and reiterated tonight about a person simultaneously being a member of the United Kingdom Cabinet and the executive committee of the assembly. His present amendment goes significantly further than that and, as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, indicated,

11 May 1998 : Column 931

disqualifies any Minister of the Crown from membership of the assembly as a whole rather than the executive committee.

As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, developed his arguments, my mind turned to the experience of continental Europe which was fully set out and amplified by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I shall not repeat or return to it.

We believe that it may be very useful for the assembly, particularly, perhaps, in the first five years or so, to have among its members people who have good experience in other political institutions such as this House, another place, the European Parliament and local councils. After all, the assembly's work will be to work closely and positively with all those other bodies. People who are members of both bodies may be very useful in establishing and cementing those relations, for the benefit of all sides, not simply from the Welsh assembly but also for the bodies from which members may well come.

I remind the Committee that the Bill allows the Secretary of State to make provision to abate the salaries of assembly members so that there would be no necessary question of members being able to draw two full salaries for public service. I really cannot see the virtue of excluding members of other bodies from being members of the assembly because we hope that that assembly will attract people who wish to serve it and therefore Wales as a whole; secondly, people with appropriate experience; and, thirdly, people who are not simply doing it for enhanced salaries.

The noble Lord said that he thought that simultaneous membership of the Cabinet and the executive committee is almost conceptually impossible. It seems to me that essentially it is a matter for the Prime Minister of the day to decide who should be a member of his Cabinet. I do not see the conflict in quite such a harsh, irreconcilable way as does the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. I understand the nature of his concern and I understand quite clearly that he proposes to return to this matter in due course.

Amendments Nos. 44 and 47 are drafting and technical amendments. The first maintains a consistency in terminology throughout the Bill. The second is necessary to tighten up any possible loopholes arising in circumstances where there are people undertaking the work of a post designated in the Order in Council but where there is no formal post title.

Amendments Nos. 43, 45 and 48 would firstly remove the power, to be exercised by Order in Council, to disqualify from membership of the assembly the holders of certain designated offices; and, secondly, remove the provision which disqualifies from membership of the assembly persons who have been disqualified from being a member of a local authority under Section 17(2)(b) or 18(7) of the Audit Commission Act 1998; that is--and this is important--members of local authorities who are responsible for incurring or authorising unlawful expenditure or whose wilful misconduct has caused a loss or deficiency.

11 May 1998 : Column 932

We believe that there should be that exclusionary power. Persons are excluded, by similar provision, from the House of Commons. The purpose of the Order in Council power is precisely that exclusion.

The Order in Council power will be exercised by Her Majesty on the recommendation of the Secretary of State. Subsection (5) specifies that no recommendation may normally be made unless a draft SI containing the order has been placed before, and been approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament. Both Houses of Parliament will, therefore, be able to consider the order proposed under subsection (1)(b) and express any concerns at that point. The only Orders in Council which will not be subject to that procedure will be those where the Order in Council varies or revokes an existing Order in Council and the assembly itself has resolved to ask the Secretary of State to recommend the making of the new order.

The provisions relating to disqualification are perfectly sensible and proper. I am sure that the Committee would agree that people should not be allowed to stand for election and to sit in assembly places if those very same people have been deemed unfit--and after all, that is not lightly done--to be members of a local authority.

I realise that the amendments interlock and that is why I have dealt with them together in that way. I recognise the force of the concerns and I answer them generally in this way. These are new arrangements for a new assembly. We cannot be governed endlessly by the dictates of the past or the requirements of historical experience. As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said, this is a new world and we are looking for new arrangements. That is precisely why we have a devolution Bill.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: Perhaps I may begin by making a brief comment on the government amendment, Amendment No. 47, which amplifies the power to designate by order the offices whose holders are disqualified by allowing designation of an office,

    "by reference to any characteristic of a person holding it".

Do we really mean "any characteristic"? Indeed, the mind boggles. Then there is that subtle extension of the definition of office to include, "any post or employment". I know that we are moving into a new world with the assembly, but need we really have such an extensive order-making power? It seems to be far too widely drawn for us to feel comfortable with it.

However, I should like to concentrate my remarks on the amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. He is absolutely right to seek to debar Ministers of the Crown from membership of the assembly, for the all- powerful reasons that he outlined. My noble friend raised the matter on Second Reading and forewarned the Government of his intention to bring forward a prohibitive amendment.

The situation arises because the Secretary of State, Mr. Ron Davies, has already indicated that he is to throw his hat into the ring and seek membership of the assembly, as indeed the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Donald Dewar, has said that he will seek

11 May 1998 : Column 933

membership of the Scottish parliament. However, what is not at all clear to us is whether they will cease to be MPs and, therefore, members of the UK Government. We are grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General for his speech at the end of the Second Reading debate in which he said:

    "The Secretary of State can also be the first secretary, subject to the views of the assembly and the Prime Minister".--[Official Report, 21/4/98; col. 1134.]

There are various strands here to be separated. First, there is the fact that it is open to MPs to seek membership of the assembly. There is nothing unusual in a dual mandate of that kind. Some of us recall members of a Northern Irish Parliament at Stormont also holding seats at Westminster, and Westminster parliamentarians also sitting in the European Parliament. Indeed, there are arguments in favour and against such dual mandates. It can be argued that dual membership does help maintain cohesion between representative bodies, as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, suggested, but there are problems with it.

The second strand is that if MPs are allowed to hold seats in the assembly, it is possible that they could become Ministers in the UK Government and/or members of the assembly executive. There are all kinds of possible permutations and combinations, but the one that has clearly gained prominence in recent weeks is the possibility of the Secretary of State for Wales holding, additionally, the post of first secretary to the assembly. The first position, that of Secretary of State for Wales, depends on the Prime Minister and the second on the assembly, together with the approval of the majority party within it. We all realise that there is a superficial attraction in the notion that the Secretary of State could hold both offices for a transitional period and that that would somehow ensure a smooth start for the assembly.

However, of one thing we can be certain: if the Secretary of State and the first secretary do not understand each other's roles and work together in reasonable harmony, there will be serious difficulties. It is this possibility that has nurtured the idea of combining the two posts, at least for a time. The internal disagreements and personality clashes within the Labour Party in Wales have not helped to inspire confidence.

As my noble friend emphasised, the combination of the two offices is constitutionally unsound. As a member of the United Kingdom Government, let alone the Cabinet, the Secretary of State will share in their collective responsibility to this Parliament. As first secretary of the assembly executive he will share in that executive's collective responsibility to the assembly. Therefore a conflict of interests and loyalties could easily arise. The joint holder of these offices could find himself subject to opposing decisions and resolutions endorsed by Parliament and the assembly, as regards resources, for example, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell indicated.

Under this Bill the Secretary of State has a number of specific responsibilities in relation to the assembly and he is responsible to Parliament for their discharge. They are quite separate and distinct from the

11 May 1998 : Column 934

responsibilities of the first secretary and the executive. Those responsibilities in toto do not lie well together. Their combination in one person would make a nonsense of devolution. I am astonished that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, suggested otherwise because we would have not devolution but a substitute for the governor-general that we heard so much about in the old days, with a tremendous accretion of powers within himself.

Finally, I must point out that there is the strongest presumption in this clause against office holders becoming members of the assembly. That is what the clause is all about. Of course the Secretary of State is himself an office holder under the Crown. I strongly support my noble friend's amendment. I am sure that we shall return to it in due course.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page