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Lord Thomas of Gresford: I support the spirit of the amendment. I believe it is important that there should be direct and ready access among business, voluntary organisations, organisations such as the partnership council and the new assembly. In the previous amendment we discussed the possibility of a joint committee with voluntary organisations. To my mind it is wrong that there should be a filter between the assembly and the businesses and associations that it is intended to serve which would prevent direct communication. We support that aspect of this amendment.

Further, we believe it is important that there should be a positive duty upon the assembly to consult. Obviously as regards ordinary run of the mill matters it will consult, but the critical issues which cause controversy may be the ones where consultation is ignored. For that reason I support the amendment.

Lord Elis-Thomas: At the risk of my reputation, I again find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. There is an important issue here for the unfolding of the assembly's work. In that context I welcome the great weekend declaration at Llangollen made by William Hague; namely, that we are all now to make the assembly work. I also welcome the declaration of Mr. Michael Ancram that we are all now new unionists. We must wait to see what happens as regards the Conservative Party in the assembly. I say all that to cover myself.

The important point here is that we should treat all our social partners in the assembly on the same basis. I am a little fascinated by the wording in the relevant clauses that refer to those social partners. As regards local government under Clause 113, the assembly is to "sustain and promote" it. In Clause 114, as regards the voluntary organisations we have just debated, the assembly is,


A little later we shall discuss equality of opportunity, to which we must have due regard. A report will have to be made on that subject. "Sustainable development", which again we shall discuss later, is to be promoted. But when we come to the poor business sector, the assembly is, according to Clause 115, only to,


    "carry out such consultation with representatives of business as it considers appropriate ... ".

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There is a serious defect here in the Bill. It seems to me that the legislation we are drafting for the National Assembly for Wales falls far short of the best practice of other European legislation and indeed of the best practice of the European Union, its parliament, its Commission, ECOSOC, its Committee of the Regions, and so on, where there are very clear procedures for consultation with business and business experts in any area where legislation is being drafted and regulations are being prepared, so that the business sector knows the direct costs. By the "business sector" I mean, in accordance with my Amendment No. 247A, a whole series of potential forms of enterprise, including people employed by those forms of enterprise and indeed charities and other organisations in the third sector. Whatever the businesses are and whatever form they take, then surely the business costs to them of regulation are an essential issue.

We debated this matter earlier when I put forward a proposal which I discussed with CBI Wales to try to have the business impact assessed. I appreciate upon due reflection that may not have been the appropriate part of the Bill to try to secure an amendment, but it seems to me that Clause 115 is far too broad, too unspecific and too lacking in content in contrast with other social partnerships and factors we have been debating.

It is essential that we should have, if not a strengthened clause, then standing orders to ensure a form of consultation for all aspects of relevant subordinate legislation of the assembly with the business sector and that there should be clear deadlines and procedures for all such consultation. Indeed, there might be a case for using the regional committees as an important form of business consultation. But there should be clear guidelines in standing orders on the intended form and structure of business consultation.

I give one final example of what I mean. We witnessed yesterday in Cardiff a marvellously good-spirited demonstration on very serious issues relating to the agricultural industry and the countryside. The Secretary of State, Mr. Ron Davies, saw fit--and I congratulate him--to meet not only representatives of the farming unions but also others who are in social partnership in the country side, the voluntary bodies and others involved in the demonstration in support of the agricultural industry.

Consultation is not something which should take place only in periods of crisis. It should be an ongoing part of the assembly's activity. All forms of business, agricultural businesses, service industries, tourism organisations and the very important manufacturing sector, should take part. Maybe the Government will tell us that the specific scheme for dealing with business is the Welsh Development Agency in its new form. I notice that the agency in its statement on the enlarged WDA, and very active and communicative chairman, David Rowe-Beddoe, emphasise that the enlarged WDA will be highly customer focused and will provide greater support to indigenous business and in particular SMEs.

So the commitment is there from the WDA on behalf of the assembly to be a closer business partner of indigenous businesses and of SMEs in Wales and of all

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the agency's potential customers. Why can we not have that clearly stated in the clause which involves business? Why can we not have the commitment to enterprise which we know to be at the heart of this Government's policies and of the policies of all the political parties in Wales more clearly spelt out on the face of the Bill?

Lord Stanley of Alderley: I put down a similar question concerning consultation with agriculture earlier. I got the usual "trust the assembly" answer. I hope that the noble Lord, when replying to my noble friend and indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will be able to be more specific this time.

Lord Prys-Davies: I have listened very carefully to what has been said by noble Lords and I want to refer to Amendment No. 247A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, and in particular to paragraph (d). To the best of my recollection, the term "social partners" is not employed in the Bill. The word "business" is employed and "representatives of business" is a term used in Clause 115. However, the word "business" is an indefinite term. I believe that its meaning is wider than "trade". I believe it includes (a), (b) and (c) in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, but does it include a trade union?

I am interested in a commitment to discussions with representatives of the trade unions. I have my doubts whether the man on the Rhondda omnibus would understand the term "business" to include his trade union although I have no doubt that he would wish that to be so. I do not have with me the relevant House of Commons Hansard, but I seem to recall that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales, Mr. Ron Davies, explained in the other place that the term is intended to include trade unions. I would support that, but I believe that the clause requires amendment to make it abundantly clear.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I have a good deal of sympathy with the thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, and my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies said. My noble friend is quite right. The Secretary of State did give an assurance when Clause 115 was being considered in another place that consultation with business would include consultation with trade unions, and of course the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, Amendment No. 247A, together with this group, includes all four amendments spoken to and in a sense prefigures the debate on Clause 115 stand part.

Amendment No. 247A does take the matter further by defining "business" in the way set out by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. The problem with that approach is that there is always a danger that something may be left off the list. We have tried to avoid over-prescription and to look for flexibility, but I take the noble Lord's point very much to heart, because what I have just said relates to drafting and is not about substance.

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On the substantive point made, not least by the noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Prys-Davies, I see the force of the argument. If the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will withdraw his amendment I undertake to come back at Report stage with an amendment reflecting our preferred approach to drafting; there is not really an issue of substance between us. I think that ought to satisfy the reasonable requirements of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.

Amendment No. 247ZA puts a new clause into the Bill. I am not sure how confident the noble Lord is about the amendment, because it jars with what is already in the Bill. Subsection (4)(c), which we discussed on the last amendment, already makes it plain that the voluntary sector scheme has obligations in respect of consultation. The partnership council could, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, indicated, be the forum for the usual consultation on local government finance. We do not therefore think that Amendment No. 247ZA helps at all: in fact it really rather muddies the waters.

Amendments Nos. 247ZB and 247ZC are, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, pointed out, simply intended to take out the words "such" and "as it considers appropriate". No assembly ought to be required to carry out consultation with representatives of business which it does not consider to be appropriate. If we adopt the approach suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas--as I have indicated we accept it in substance and general thrust--that ought to meet the legitimate requirements of the noble Lord.

I would point out that Clause 66 places quite a number of duties on the assembly. There have to be various regulatory appraisals, including consultation with business, before subordinate legislation is given effect by the assembly where burdens might fall on business. So the interests of business in the field of subordinate legislation are well covered by Clause 66. If we bring forward an amendment intended to cover trade unions and similar organisations, that ought to meet the reasonable requirements of all noble Lords who have spoken.


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