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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am glad to have the opportunity to try to explain the purpose of the provision in Clause 28(1). The Government have made clear that they are committed to bringing public bodies in Wales under democratic control via the assembly. To that end, we propose to bring Welsh public bodies under the full control of the assembly. We see no need for health authorities to be treated any differently in that regard. Implicit in that approach is that the assembly must be able to reach decisions on how it views the commissioning and delivery of services. The NHS is a key public service in Wales and the assembly needs the power to determine how best to meet the health needs of all people in all areas of Wales.

Since its inception, the NHS has undergone widespread structural and organisational change. Those changes continue apace. What might appear appropriate today may not be appropriate in some years' time. In particular, the role of health authorities is changing and will change further, as we move to replace the wasteful internal market, to abolish GP fundholding, to establish local health groups and to embrace a new public health agenda--many of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, referred to.

The assembly will be best placed to determine what structure of health authorities, if any, Wales needs. Under existing statutory powers that we propose to transfer, the assembly will be able to re-draw the health authority map, if it sees fit, or to rescind the existing delegation of certain functions to health authorities and discharge them itself. However, it would be unable under existing powers to transfer to itself those functions presently bestowed directly on health authorities by statute, particularly functions in relation to family health services. Thus it could choose to relieve an authority of most of its functions but yet be required to retain the authority in existence when it would be more effective to discharge the remaining functions in another way. Clause 28 is designed to ensure that such an anomaly does not arise. The amendment would frustrate that intention and oblige the assembly to apply to Parliament for help in handling a matter of relevance solely to Wales. It is intended to provide greater flexibility, rather than less.

I submit that it would be a misplaced use of your Lordships' time if the Government had to bring forward primary legislation to give effect to changes in the NHS in Wales that the assembly could perfectly well handle for itself. That is why we wish to give the assembly the powers over health authorities in Clause 28, which mirror those applicable to other public bodies in Clause 29, and those that the assembly will inherit over NHS trusts when existing statutory powers are

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transferred to it. Health authorities are important bodies with an important role, but there is no reason to put them in a privileged position as compared to other important public bodies in Wales.

That is not to say that the assembly would necessarily want to abolish any or all health authorities in Wales. Our contention is merely that it is conceivable that the assembly might reasonably wish to have the flexibility to do so at some future date and that it would be wholly contrary to the spirit of the Bill to deny the assembly the power to do so, if appropriate. These amendments would leave with Parliament a power that the assembly might need and should have.

The assembly's powers over the NHS will make the health service in Wales fully accountable and responsive to Welsh needs. At the same time, the NHS in Wales will remain very much a part of an integrated national service with common standards on matters that require a common approach. The Committee will also have heard the persuasive speech on NHS matters at Second Reading from my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I am pleased to reassure him and other Members of the Committee that close working relationships between the NHS in Wales and the rest of the UK remain very much part of our plans. However, potentially useful powers that will not prejudice such relationships should be in the assembly's hands. That is what Clause 28 is intended to accomplish and what the proposed amendments would constrain.

In view of that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendment to a vote.

10 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I understand all the reasons for the clause; what I do not understand is the Government's current haste to reform the NHS before the assembly comes into being. However, there will no doubt be a further opportunity to discuss the health service in Wales when we discuss the new clause to be introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, relating to the health service. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 84B not moved.]

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Public bodies subject to reform by Assembly]:

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 85:

Page 82, leave out lines 5 and 6.

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 85, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 86 to 91. These amendments are concerned with the powers being given to the assembly under Clause 29 and Schedule 3 of the Bill to reform a number of Welsh public bodies. Those bodies, listed in Part III--for example, the Countryside Council for Wales--may only gain functions under this process. However, bodies listed in Part I of the schedule

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may lose or gain functions and, in the case of the former, the assembly is given power to abolish the function and, indeed, the body if it feels so inclined.

There are three bodies of direct concern to agriculture listed in Part I; namely, the dwellinghouse advisory committees in Wales, the agricultural wages committee for Wales and the sub-committee for Wales of the statutory advisory committee for England, Wales and Northern Ireland set up under the Hill Farming Act 1946. They will advise on the exercise of powers under that Act.

Those bodies provide an important service on these subjects in Wales yet, as the Bill is drafted, it is possible that in the extreme case both the functions and the bodies could be abolished. The purpose of these amendments is to ask what the Government's intentions are with regard to them. Those intentions are tested by a proposal to transfer those bodies to Part III, thus joining the list of bodies which may only gain functions.

In passing, perhaps I may mention that while in my rat and pigeon-infested attic I fell over the Wales 1978 file. Strangely enough, I discovered that the agricultural dwellinghouse committee was not devolved in that Act. I beg to move.

Lord Elis-Thomas: I am grateful to the noble Lord for falling over the 1978 Act in his attic. I am sure it is not rat infested, as he maintains. I am sure that those picturesque windmills that he has on his land will have blown all the rats away.

My particular amendments grouped here relate to the Higher Education Funding Council. I should declare an interest as chair of the Welsh Language Board, which may lose or gain functions under Part I. I will not rehearse what was said in earlier higher education debates.

My concern is about the separation of functions between the Further Education Funding Council and the Higher Education Funding Council. I speak as someone whose only serious job ever was in adult and then higher education--or so my mother keeps telling me. She is 82 and would know these things.

I am concerned about the joint planning and funding of the whole of the education system post-16. The different nomenclatures of continuing, lifelong, higher and further mean that the system is now so complex in terms of provision and need that these distinctions are not what they used to be. Therefore, to place the HEFCW in a reserve position under Part III and not to make possible a more effective integration of the further education and higher education planning functions represents a step backwards.

There is serious concern, particularly in the bilingual sector of education--which obviously I represent in a statutory capacity--about the failure of strategic planning and the lack of effective allocation of resources. The separation away of HEFCW from the further education body can only exacerbate that. I ask the Government to give an indication of whether they are serious about the lifelong planning of post-16

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education in Wales in the context of the assembly. Otherwise the assembly will be hampered in attempting to get value for money in post-16 education.

The Earl of Courtown: The Committee will be glad to hear that I shall be extremely brief. My noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley has explained the purpose of his amendments to which my name is attached. I will not repeat what he said. I shall be most interested to hear the Minister's intentions for safeguarding these bodies. He may say in response that it will be up to the assembly to make such a decision. That will be very little comfort to the agricultural industry. As we are all aware--it has been said many times this evening--agricultural confidence is at its lowest level for years, particularly in Wales.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My noble friend Lord Stanley, the noble Earl and the members of the three agricultural bodies listed in Part I have my sympathies. They were wrongly described as quangos by the Labour Party in opposition. They are in fact advisory rather than executive and helpful both to the Government and to the industry.

The main point about Schedule 3 with its four categories of bodies subject to reform by the assembly is that it appears to pre-empt the assembly's consideration of these bodies. A more ample explanation is required than that available to us in the Government's notes on clauses. The bodies under threat are clearly those listed in Part I and the potential gainers are those listed in Parts III and IV. Those in Part IV are royal charter bodies and cannot be touched anyway.

Is Clause 29, to which this schedule is attached, primarily inspired by the commitment to reduce the number of quangos in Wales? I hope not because some of these bodies do invaluable work on an all-Wales basis. It would be a shame to carve them up so that they lost their effectiveness. An example is the Wales Tourist Board. Like the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, I must express surprise at finding the further and higher education funding councils divided. As a Minister I had a hand in setting them up on a very economical basis, as I thought, whereby they were jointly administered, much to the benefit of both.

The further education sector in Wales is not really large enough to justify a separate administration. We were fortunate to be able to couple them. There are other advantages to running the two sectors together, as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, implied. I am saddened at the prospect of their division, and I hope that they can soon be reunited.

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