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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the first thrust of the propositions that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, put forward was that we ought to avoid the appearance of nannying, that in some way the Labour Party would be able to use spin doctors to impose their nannyish will upon the assembly in Cardiff. Nannies can impose: "Eat up your greens and/or rice pudding". Nannies can also prohibit: "You must not watch television after nine o'clock. You must not be able of your own free choice, as a devolved assembly, to choose who shall be your first secretary". That is what it comes to.
Many of your Lordships conceive there to be principled objections to these matters. Those principled objections substantially and significantly derive from the past history of our constitutional arrangements. As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said today, not for the first time, and as noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches have said on prior occasions, we are dealing with new arrangements which cannot necessarily be circumscribed or constrained by past political or historical experience.
Amendment No. 22 would put an absolute legislative veto, an absolute prohibition, upon any Minister of the Crown becoming a member of the assembly. These amendments are not entirely the same. The prohibition in Amendment No. 22 would disqualify a Minister of the Crown, whatever his ministry were, whatever his occupation in government were--for instance a Law Officer--from being a member of the assembly. There might be some circumstances in which it would be entirely appropriate for a Law Officer to be a member of the assembly, particularly in the early months and years of the assembly's work. It is not for me to determine, nor for your Lordships to exclude, what would be the decision of the electorate in Wales. When it came to the first secretary or the leaders of committees or secretaries of committees, it would then be a decision of the assembly. The Labour Party presently has many virtues, but omniscience is not one of them so far as I perceive. Power is not one of them.
We are to have a freely elected assembly in Wales on a deliberately inclusive proportional representational scheme specifically devised and put in the Bill to ensure that the Conservative Party will have a fair proportion of representation. That is a generous view. It is undoubtedly objectively generous. It is much more generous than would have been the case if devised by any other party. There is likely to be a significant Plaid representation and a significant Liberal Democrat representation. This is the moment when we say, "We shall devolve to you." Why? "Because, without presumption or being patronising, we trust you to attend to your own affairs." Despite that, there seems to be the belief that says, "small infant, you cannot crawl. You will not be allowed to totter. Nanny will be there to stop
Amendment No. 22 does not prohibit a Member of Parliament in another place from being a member of the assembly, or a Member of the European Parliament, or a Member of this House. There might well be conflicts there, but the point about conflicts is that, when detected--not when presumed, conjured up from the fevered imagination--someone has to come to a particular conclusion. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for the illustration that he proffered because it underlines the point I seek to make.
The noble Baroness in question was offered the opportunity of two co-existent, though not coterminous, positions of authority: one on the county council and one as the chairperson of the organisation the noble Lord specified. What happened? Questions were legitimately raised. The conclusion was arrived at. By whom? By the local authority, not by absolute prohibition by any Act of Parliament. The local authority came to the conclusion that that was inappropriate. The county council is trusted therefore to detect and gently chide the noble Baroness, or gently raise the question: "Is this appropriate?" It came to its own independent conclusion. But this assembly is not allowed to have that.
Devolution? Hobbled discretion is not, I think, what we were about. It is said that no one of the 50.6 per cent. majority considered the possibility of a Minister of the Crown being a member of the assembly. But did they reject it? Was it the pressing question of the day in any of the discussions? I rather doubt it. The whole point about devolution is that one devolves. One is not washing one's hands of the issue. One is saying to the new infant, "We shall trust you to mature in your own way. New arrangements for different times are for your informed discretion, not for nanny's prohibition on the face of the Bill."
The later amendments focus more distinctly on what, I hope I say without presumption, has been the significant question in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, because he ventilated these questions at earlier stages. Amendments Nos. 70 and 73 are intended to disqualify the Secretary of State for Wales, or any other Minister of the Crown, whatever his ministry--I repeat in parenthesis--from being an assembly first secretary or even an assembly secretary.
We forget two things in language, which I say gently and politely is somewhat over-extravagant for our present situation. No one can be first secretary of the assembly or any form of secretary in the assembly without the assembly wanting that to be the consequence. In other words, we are devolving choice--that is, power--to the assembly to choose the first secretary and any other secretary it might think appropriate. I emphasise the words "it might think appropriate." And that at a time in the first nine months of the assembly's life or at some time in the future when a person might be the free, unfettered choice of a freely elected assembly on a proportional basis.
If that person happened to be a Minister of the Crown or a Secretary of State for Wales, why should the assembly not have that choice? Because the checks and balances are there all inbuilt. There is no diktat; there is no governor general. This is not the raj. Governors general in the great raj were not, so far as my historical knowledge goes, ever subject to dismissal by a locally elected house of parliament. They were imposed by a government in Westminster, thousands of miles away.
It is not a governor general who is to be imposed on a assembly. It is moderately insulting to an assembly to think that it would be susceptible to such an imposition. The first check is that we have an election. The second check is that the elected persons--whether we think the choice of the electorate is right, wrong, or indifferent--then have a block, if they wish, because they can vote down the first secretary at any time. They can dismiss secretaries at any time. It may be a rather more powerful assembly in Cardiff Bay than one sometimes finds in another place in this building.
The other safeguard is that it is for the Prime Minister to propose to his Cabinet, subject to the endorsement of another place, who should be Secretary of State, who should be his Minister. If the Prime Minister--whoever it might be at whatever time in the future--comes to the conclusion that the person best suited for public service--that is important--as Secretary of State for Wales, or in any other ministry of the Crown, happened to be someone who had the democratic mandate of the electors in Wales, why should he not have the option open at least to put it to his Cabinet colleagues, for the approval of another place--or, I concede, the majority in another place?
I recognise the principles behind the amendments. I give them, I hope, a decent regard, because I honour the motive that engenders them. I believe that they are fainthearted in the end; that they approach the assembly with a feeling of infinite mistrust; and that they are in fact quintessentially nannyish in the sense of, "We can stop you doing this. We are more powerful than you. We shall use our power."
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I need not detain the House for long. The Minister is a distinguished advocate. He did his best, but his case was pretty thin. The real case was advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. It was that Mr. Ron Davies wishes to do it, and therefore it is a matter for him. He suggested that it was desirable that people should be able to opt for different levels of government. Yes, but they should have to opt; they should have to make a choice. We are not trying to deter anyone from taking part in the assembly's work, but any Minister who wishes to should choose in which parliament and administration he wishes to serve.
We were told that if it were necessary for Mr. Ron Davies to return to save the nation from his post in the assembly, having abandoned the British Cabinet, he could not do so. That is wrong. He could perfectly well be appointed by Her Majesty to lead an administration, and do what Ministers always had to do in this country
The noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Benches asked about Europe. The situation there is different. The administration takes collective decisions about our position in Europe; it is not a question of one individual with a different set of interests having to take decisions which may be in conflict with the government of which he is a member.
We were told by the Minister--it was the only case that he advanced--that the proposal would interfere with the free choice of the electorate. I do not believe that that is true because, as I have said, it is open for Mr. Davies and any other Minister to decide to stand for the assembly, to opt for that level of government, and to offer themselves to the electorate of Wales. I wish to test the opinion of the House.