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Lord Williams of Mostyn: I think that the noble Lord is reverting to Clause 31.

Lord Rees: No.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: That deals with membership of the audit committee, which was the point that the noble Lord was making.

Lord Rees: Could the Minister reassure me that there is no possibility that a person with executive responsibility in the assembly could be a chairman of the audit committee?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: According to Clause 31(4) neither the assembly first secretary nor an

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assembly secretary may be a member of the audit committee. The first secretary and the assembly secretaries together comprise what has been called the executive. Therefore if neither the first secretary nor an assembly secretary--that is, the executive--may be a member of the audit committee, it seems to me that neither could be chairman of the audit committee.

Lord Rees: I apologise for taking up time.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Not at all.

Lord Hooson: Does not the present phrasing of the Bill represent the reality of the political situation in Wales? The clause is designed to ensure that the dominant party in Wales--the Labour Party--does not have the chairmanship of this committee. That is the proposal. The Minister might look at the drafting to see whether it can be changed to meet the theoretical situation--in his view, I am sure--that might occur in the future.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I shall consider that suggestion. Perhaps I may now turn my attention to replying to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I take his point entirely that this is an extremely important aspect. I was going to mention to the Committee, but he has done that already, that another place has set up a similar body. I am sure that it will do useful work. The noble Lord said two things: first, this will flag up the importance of the issue-- I entirely agree--and, secondly, it seems to be an ideal mechanism--I entirely agree--but the ultimate decision should be for the assembly.

Lord Elis-Thomas: I am grateful to the Minister, and because we both sustain each other in these matters, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 61, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 62 [Regional committees]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 164:

Page 32, line 3, leave out from ("establish") to end of line 11 and insert ("five regional select committees to hold the executive committee accountable for the exercise of its functions in that region.
(2) Each regional select committee shall be responsible for an electoral region in effect at the last ordinary election.").

The noble Lord said: This is an important amendment. No one doubts the importance of Clause 62, which provides for the establishment of regional committees in Wales. There are distinctive regions within Wales, with their own special interests. It is important to the success of the national assembly that people feel at regional level that their interests are being considered and safeguarded. Some may regard the clause as perpetuating divisions, but I do not share that view. Neither do I think that the Secretary of State shares that view, because some Members of the

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Committee will remember that the Secretary of State, in commenting in the Welsh Grand Committee on the referendum, on 18th November last year, said:

    "The referendum results showed a marked difference in the views between North Wales and South Wales and between East Wales and West Wales. I am conscious that we need to do a lot more work to bring Wales together. We must address the genuine concerns, and I acknowledge the fact that we must listen and continue to listen".

One of the ways in which the Bill proposes to deal with that problem is by setting up these regional advisory committees under Clause 62. Unfortunately, the clause refers only to North Wales. That is not even geographically defined. The "other regions" are without number or geographical definition. We know that the committees proposed, when established, will advise the assembly and will consist of elected assembly members for each area. The first problem is to define the regions geographically. The advisory group set up by the Secretary of State which examined the issue, but came to no firm conclusion, recognised that this is an issue on which there will be many different viewpoints and that none of the possible options would be perfect.

The advisory group mentioned two such options, the first being the four regions proposed by the Welsh Office for the recast Welsh Development Agency and the second being a seven-region model based on rurality and socio-economic indicators. I am told by the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, that there is also in circulation yet another new model which divides Wales into two.

Lord Elis-Thomas: The sheep and goats.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: The first four-region option described by the advisory group in its consultative document entitled A National Assembly for Wales as option A is not far removed from the five-region proposal based on the assembly's own electoral region pattern, which in turn is based on the five European parliamentary constituencies.

I would be the first to admit that, although those electoral regions, as they are referred to in the Bill, are not ideal in physical geographical terms, they are acceptable because an attempt has been made to secure constituencies of roughly comparable size in population terms--around the 400,000 mark. It is population and people who matter most in electoral representation. That has meant creating a mid-Wales electoral region which reaches from Llanelli to Llanrwst--an absurdity by most people's standards, but not immutably so. I think adjustments should be possible over time. The electoral regions as defined in the Bill which are to be used for the purpose of electing assembly members on a proportional basis would seem to be a good starting point.

I would argue that there is much to be said for establishing the five regional committees under Clause 62, based on the electoral regions used in the assembly elections and comprising the assembly members elected for those regions. Why adopt a different regional arrangement from the one used for elections to the assembly? If there are infelicities they can surely be put right in time by the Boundary Commission.

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It has been suggested that the assembly's regional committees should be coterminous with other bodies' regional groupings--the WDA or the local authorities. But there is no suggestion in this clause that the membership of those committees should be extended beyond assembly members to other persons belonging to different bodies.

If our proposal is adopted, each committee would have a sizeable membership, I calculate of about 12. I have no quarrel with the advisory group's analysis of the role of regional committees in:

    "ensuring that the Assembly has close links with the regions, liaising with regional economic fora, unitary authorities, town and community councils and other local groups",

and drawing the assembly's attention to issues of concern to the regions. Some will feel, in the regions in particular, that this is inadequate. The electors of the regions may not be satisfied that their needs will be attended to. We therefore propose that each regional committee shall have the power to censure the executive committee, and that the executive committee should resign unless the assembly passes a vote of confidence in it within 28 days.

Members of the Committee may well think that that is taking matters somewhat far and that the more moderate line taken by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley in his amendment is preferable. But Cardiff can be very remote to some of the Welsh regions, and the right to censure and to call for the executive's resignation would give the regional committees teeth which they currently lack. They would have a powerful means of drawing attention to their complaint and their censure could clearly not be ignored. The executive, too, would be put on its mettle to ensure fairness of treatment between the regions, and the fear that the assembly will be dominated by South Wales interests to the detriment of the remainder may be overcome.

I hope that I have set out a fairly reasonable case for the amendment. There is much concern in different parts of Wales, and a fear that they may be ignored. I do not think we are as yet in a position to command a national spirit behind the assembly. After all, politics is about interests, and the regions in Wales have different interests which they want safeguarded.

I shall listen with interest to the debate on the amendment, and to the Government's views. Whatever they are, I hope that the regional subdivision of Wales will not be yet another matter left to the determination of the assembly. Frankly, it is a problem best resolved here. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Viscount of Oxfuird): I have to advise the Committee that should this amendment be agreed to, I am unable to call Amendments Nos. 165 to 167 due to pre-emption.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: I hope that the Minister will agree with my noble friend that I am moderate. Amendments Nos. 165 to 167 are grouped with the amendment. The purpose of Amendments Nos. 165 and

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166 is to ensure that the assembly will take account of the economic and social well-being of local communities in rural areas.

In case the Government have not yet got the message, there is a real crisis in Welsh agriculture at present, and being a pessimistic farmer I see too clearly the similarity between today's problems and those that occurred after the repeal of the Corn Laws. I believe that there is every chance of Welsh agriculture suffering a 50 to 60 year depression unless we, the Government, in conjunction with farmers, accept the problem and try to solve it, which I am sure is possible.

My fear, however, which the amendment addresses, is that our urban societies, which outnumber the rural ones, will not understand, or if they do will not heed, the rural communities' problems. It is a point I sought to make last night at some unearthly hour. However, the Minister rebuked me for being so suspicious and untrusting. I am sure that these problems will be aired in the regional committees. However, my fear is that the assembly will take this line of argument. I am sure all noble Lords have said at times to their wives, "What do you want to do today?" and before she has time to reply, they say, "This is what we shall do". That is the problem about which I am worried.

Relevant to the problem that I seek to resolve in the amendment is the issue of geography. I hope that I shall receive full support from the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. If we are to have the quality of person serving on the assembly, it is important that it is made possible and easy for such people to attend the assembly at Cardiff when they live in North Wales, and Anglesey in particular. At present the reliability of service, rolling stock and regularity of trains is bad to very bad. Do the Government have any plans to improve that? Without an improvement, they will not attract the right quality of person from North Wales to sit on the assembly, in particular as I hope that that person has another worthwhile job. I think of a potential Labour candidate who has just turned down the offer to become a candidate for the assembly for those reasons.

I suspect that the Minister will reply that the problem is not the Government's and is in the hands of the train operators. But no train operator can afford to improve the service for one assembly member. It is a real problem. I hope that the noble Minister will not reply, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, when we discussed this matter previously, by saying, "The noble Lord knows better than anyone how to get from Holyhead to Cardiff". I did not know then, and I still do not know.

Amendment No. 167 ensures that regional committees are established for Mid Wales and West Wales as well as North Wales to ensure that the problems that I have enumerated on Amendments Nos. 165 and 166 are addressed.

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