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Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I have only one point to raise but it is an important one. Just before we adjourned for the dinner break, my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, raised the crucial and absolutely vital issue of the manner in which European agricultural policy will be handled by the UK Government and by the assembly. Indeed, it is a subject to which we shall return when dealing with a later amendment.

I simply point out to the House that on 25th March in another place Mr. Ron Davies (at col. 618 of Hansard) said that all this was to be "covered in concordats". In other words, it is absolutely vital as regards the way in which agricultural policy and negotiations are to be handled that that should be a subject for concordats. Therefore, it seems to me that this is the kind of subject which should come before Parliament for explanation and probably for approval.

I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, about being too legalistic. Indeed, when the noble Lord urges that we should not be legalistic, we must take the argument seriously. However, there are subjects of such profound importance, both for the United Kingdom and for the people of Wales, that it would be absolutely inexcusable if the agreements that had been negotiated were not known to Parliament and to the assembly, fully understood and out in the open. I believe that on subjects of that importance the agreements should receive the approval of both bodies.

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I am impelled to speak on this matter by the strange form of language used by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, when he

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described what we are about as a devolution experiment. Devolution is not an experiment; it is an experience. The experience of devolution which we are about, the process of change, is what these concordats are really about. I have considered these issues in some detail since the Committee stage. I now understand more fully the importance of not viewing concordats as statutory instruments. Therefore they should not be subject to the same SI procedure. These are publicly agreed relationships between levels of government. This is what quasi-UK federalism tastes of, if I may express it that way just after supper.

It is important that we should see these measures on the one hand as flexible instruments and on the other hand as instruments which, as it were, can be tasted as they are used. In other words, these are relationships; they are not necessarily textual documents which are analogous to subordinate legislation or instruments of law. Therefore I think it is important that they are not part of the procedure of statutory instruments in either this House or another place or in the assembly. On the other hand, they must be transparently understood procedures. Here I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. I believe it is possible in our debates here to flag up how we can establish relationships which on the one hand have clear validity in terms of relationships of government but on the other hand are not subject to the detailed textual analysis in statutory terms that occurs with an SI.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for the thoughtful way in which he addressed this issue as it is a matter of great importance. In a sense he is quite right to say that although there are precedents, there are likely to be more concordats than in the past. I also entirely take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell--which was made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts--that Parliament should know what is going on. I reiterate what was said in our debate on 2nd June. We intend that virtually all concordats between the assembly and Whitehall will be published.

As regards the point on transparency, which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, we intend that drafts will be available for scrutiny and comment. We do not want to hide anything. I can envisage some circumstances where an area is so delicate that one cannot necessarily publish its details in full. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, was right to say that one does not want legalism because that makes one the servant of drafting and legal procedures. Concordats may need to be altered. They do not need to be as rigid as statutory instruments, as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said. We have come to the conclusion that concordats should not be statutory instruments or legal instruments, any more than the Barnett formula is. However, it is important that people should know what the arrangements are in order to be able to discuss them and to suggest improvements. There are bound to be alterations as time passes and circumstances change. I agree entirely with all noble Lords who have spoken.

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The concordats must be open, clear and available for the public to read and to understand. A commentary should be provided if necessary in appropriate cases.

I hope that I have been able to satisfy your Lordships that we want the concordats to be open. After all, the assembly must be trusted to carry out its developing work in a way which is appropriate to changing circumstances. The concordat is the way to do that. One does not need something set in law to obtain workable arrangements, as long as one bears in mind the absolutely essential principle that the measures should be publicly available for scrutiny and comment.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I made a careful note of what he said about concordats. He said it was important that they should be open, clear and available to the public to understand. It seems curious that the Minister should say that but at the same time fail to ascribe any particular role to Parliament in either helping to formulate and finalise concordats or in interpreting concordats to the public so that they understand matters properly. There is no question as to the importance of the concept. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell referred to remarks made about the role of concordats as regards the connection between the assembly and Europe. His comments were sufficient to show how important they are.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, referred to the need not to be too legalistic. I should point out that the first of our amendments is closely related to a Liberal amendment tabled at Committee stage. Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord of his remarks. He said:


    "The way we have put it in this amendment is that any concordat that is entered into should be laid in draft before Parliament and then, but only then, should one side or the other think it necessary, will the matter come before Parliament on a Motion to annul it".--[Official Report, 2/6/98; col. 271.]
Therefore I do not think that we are being too legalistic. We are simply following the example set by the noble Lord. That said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 41:


After Clause 26, insert the following new clause--

Concordats in relation to agricultural and environmental payments

(" . The Assembly may enter such concordats as may be required with a Minister of the Crown or with the officials of such a Minister to ensure that those persons in Wales entitled to receive payments under European Community and national agricultural and environmental schemes are treated no less equitably than persons entitled to receive such payments in England.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment follows the problems expressed in the previous two amendments, but it itemises a special but very real practical problem. In Committee. I raised the question of what happens when a concordat does not perform satisfactorily. I have tabled this amendment to try to persuade the Government of the need for a better system than has obtained over the past few years in relation to the payment of grants to Welsh farmers. Those farmers

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have received their subsidies, be it the beef special premium or IACS payments, months later than their English counterparts. Naturally, that has caused resentment, to put it mildly. I do not really care who makes the payments. However, it concerns me that as the problem appears to be the outdated computer in Cardiff, time and money could well be spent on it whereas it might be cheaper and quicker to make use of a computer system that is in use, say, by MAFF. Having said that, I would not wish the regional Welsh agricultural department offices to be closed as they provide a very useful and valued service.

The amendment would oblige the assembly to tackle this long-running problem in any way it thought best. It would impose on the assembly a discipline: to be at least as quick in making payments to Welsh farmers as in making them to English farmers, which has not happened in the past. It would not allow the usual excuse that the Welsh computer was out of date, or whatever.

In short, the amendment would add a little more openness, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, and indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. It would also add competition which I understand the Government are keen on. I expect the noble Lord will say that this problem is not relevant to the Bill. However, I assure him that it is very relevant to the average Welsh farmer. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I entirely take the point made by the noble Lord in his concluding sentence. There is a sense of grievance, which I know well, in relation to delays in payments attributable to out-of-date computer systems. However truthful that may be as an explanation, the reason why you are not receiving your cheque on time pales into insignificance compared with the blunt fact that it is not arriving on time. I therefore understand the noble Lord's concern and do not overlook it for a moment. I know from personal conversation that this has been a source of great worry and anxiety to the Secretary of State. One is inheriting a computer system which many would say is simply not up to the work.

The amendment goes much wider than the question of the computer. I had understood the width of his amendment to be that there ought to be a uniform system throughout the United Kingdom even after the devolved assembly takes power.

As the noble Lord said earlier this evening, I wrote to him on 24th June about various issues and put a copy of my letter in the Library. I cannot say that there will not be changes to support arrangements in the future. There are presently allowed variations in the level of support or variable rates for different areas of the United Kingdom. I accept, having heard the refined way in which the noble Lord puts his amendment, that he is focused particularly on a single issue. If that is the purpose behind the amendment, I have dealt with it so far as I can.

I do not believe that this amendment is the way to deal with late payments on a computer system. If the noble Lord wishes me to develop a broader reply, I am

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happy to do so. Perhaps he will indicate whether he wishes me to develop my sermon or whether I have dealt with the point he made, albeit not satisfactorily to him.


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