Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, Amendment No. 43 differs significantly from Amendment No. 51, and Amendments Nos. 63 and 64 themselves differ from the other two sets of amendments. I think that some errors have been perpetrated this evening. A phrase used in respect of Amendment No. 43 was,

I then look at the words of Amendment No. 43, and this gives no rights. It says,

    "At any meeting of the Council of Ministers ... of the European Community at which matters relating to Assembly functions are to be considered".
Assembly functions, I take it, are as set out in Schedule 2 on page 82 of the Bill. They include culture, museums and libraries, water and flood defence and the Welsh language. A great gamut of functions numbered 1 to 18 appears on page 82.

But what happens then?

    "a member of the executive committee (established under clause 56) shall"--
and I omit some words deliberately,

    "be entitled to speak and vote on behalf of the Assembly and of the United Kingdom."

The reason that I omitted some words deliberately is to underline them now and to point out again that it is an error to say that any right of any sort is being given, because what is suggested in Amendment No. 43 is simply this:

    "shall be entitled to speak and vote on behalf of the Assembly and of the United Kingdom",
with the consent of the Minister of the Crown leading the United Kingdom delegation. That is exactly the present situation which obtains, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell himself observed. He quoted the treaty, saying that the key words were that the representative to the Council of Ministers is,

    "authorized to commit the government of that Member State".

1 Jul 1998 : Column 777

I agree. The Government's view, which I believe to be correct, is that if they wished they could authorise an assembly secretary or a Scottish minister to take on that role and commit the United Kingdom. Therefore I repeat that no right would be given, because it remains entirely at the discretion of the Minister of the Crown leading the United Kingdom delegation. So to speak of "rights" is wholly misconceived, not to say bogus.

The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, reviewed constitutional arrangements in at least two other European Union countries. One concerned the position of the Lander. He spoke of a particular article of the German basic law which of course is subject to the direction of the German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe. He spoke of the German basic law, which is a written constitution referring to areas of exclusive competence of the Lander. Exactly so; but that has nothing to do with our present situation. The noble Lord spoke of the domestic legislation of Spain, as to whether or not the autonomous government of Catalonia could take the lead. That, too, is nothing to do with our present situation. Whatever piece of domestic legislation is introduced and passed in the Westminster Parliament, nothing in domestic legislation can override any legal rules binding in European Union contexts at the Council of Ministers. I repeat: nothing at all.

Therefore, Amendment No. 43 would do nothing more than underline the present situation. It is perfectly open to any lead Minister of Her Majesty's Government in the Council of Ministers to nominate even at the moment anyone,

    "authorized to commit the government of that Member State".
It is quite right, as indicated in the citations that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, made, that the only EU member is the United Kingdom. It is within that context that the UK Minister of the Crown can, if he or she wishes, nominate another person to speak and vote on behalf of the UK.

As I indicated earlier, Amendment No. 51 is different. I suggest to your Lordships that these are the sort of arrangements which are apt to be decided within the context of concordats; in other words, the assembly should put its mind to having a concordat with Westminster--and, in turn, Westminster should do likewise--about how one would have discussions, considerations and co-operative thoughts about what ought or ought not to go on. Therefore, Amendment No. 51 should not be on the face of the Bill but should be the subject of a concordat.

Other observations were made about the views of the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, to which, of course, everyone pays the highest regard in this House. But, if I jotted down the citations correctly--and I cannot say that I got down every reference that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, made because I do not think it was possible to do so--there is reference again to the phrases, "authorized by the government" and, indeed, "authorised to speak and vote as a representative of the UK Government". As far as I am aware, subject to

1 Jul 1998 : Column 778

correction, there is nothing in European law which prevents the UK Government designating a lead Minister,

    "authorized to commit the government of that Member State".

The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, asked further questions relating to the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, as to what would happen if there were a session limited to the lead Minister of the United Kingdom. The answer is that the situation would be exactly the same as it is at present. It depends who the UK lead Minister is and what delegation in number is entitled to remain in the closed session. If within that number the UK lead Minister wants an official, a lawyer or a designated member, exactly the same rules would apply.

Other questions were put to me and I hope to deal with all of them tonight. However, if I miss any of them, I shall certainly write to the noble Lords who have shown an interest in the matter. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, was courteous enough to read out my letter. I promised to research, in so far as I could, the question which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, put to me. I believe that I correctly represented the present situation in that letter; namely, that Bavaria, among the Lander, had represented the German Government where cultural issues had been the main agenda item.

The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has a point when he says, especially in the context of the Welsh assembly, that cultural matters--including language, and so on--are important in the life of the nation and also in the context of tourism. People like to visit Wales because, in part, it is different. That is not unimportant. The mere fact that it relates to culture does not mean that it is of no value; in fact, it is of deeply profound value in the context of Wales.

I gave the House a further example about the Catalonian autonomous government attending on behalf of the Spanish when language issues were under consideration. I do not believe that any of those examples were incorrect. If I have misrepresented factual situations, then I shall be only too pleased to say that I am sorry that I was factually wrongly advised and wrote a factually incorrect letter. But I do not think that any attack on my factual assertions has been made, or is capable of being made. The document states that it is possible for an assembly member to lead such a delegation. Nothing I have heard from any of your Lordships this evening even begins to persuade me that I am wrong in that assertion, either politically, legally, or as a matter of fact.

Distinct questions were asked on an earlier occasion. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, was kind enough to say that he would not speak on this matter but wished me to deal with his points. I am most grateful to him for his courtesy. The question was asked: where EU schemes allow discretion, will it be open to the assembly to use that discretion? My answer is "yes". If a European scheme allows no discretion, the assembly will consequently have no freedom to act differently. The suggestion has been made that where joint issues arise, the assembly would simply rubber-stamp or initial

1 Jul 1998 : Column 779

papers prepared in Whitehall. That is not so. Joint functions will have to be exercised by both parties in agreement. That is not entirely different from the present situation where of course the Welsh Office makes representations to MAFF. In the discussions one Minister may be more persuasive than another, or one set of officials may be less persuasive than another.

I was asked: what would happen if MAFF conducted negotiations, or an assembly secretary conducted negotiations, on behalf of the United Kingdom in Brussels. Could the MAFF Minister be questioned in another place? That would, of course, be a matter for the Speaker and Standing Orders in another place. If a MAFF Minister is reporting to another place on concluded negotiations in Brussels, I see no reason why in appropriate circumstances questions should not be put to the Minister in another place. I stress that it is not for me to determine these issues or to be discourteous to another place and the authorities of another place. However, I see no reason in principle why that should not occur.

At present all members of the United Kingdom delegation in any context have to speak to an agreed line. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is quite right: the agreed line is sometimes the result of bruising encounters. I reiterate there is no question of an assembly secretary, or indeed first secretary, being able to speak on behalf of the United Kingdom without two things obtaining: first, the permission of the UK lead Minister and, secondly, speaking to an agreed line. However, that is no different from what the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, did when he spoke in such circumstances as the UK Minister, as he told the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, earlier.

That is the present situation. I do not dissent from what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said. We need to know what the present situation is. But we also need to bear in mind that the assembly will grow and change organically. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has a point there. The assembly is able to scrutinise and debate proposals for European legislation. It is able to make representations to the Secretary of State when it has reached its own conclusion. It is able to deal with these matters in concordats, which will be prepared on the basis of efficiency and decent, co-operative working relationships, and which will be published. Assembly members will be able to sit on the Committee of the Regions. They will be able to submit nominations to the UK Government for Welsh representation on the economic and social committee.

Therefore it is a mistake to lodge oneself, willingly or unwillingly, in the straitjacket of the simple factual question of who can lead on behalf of the United Kingdom Government. The answer is precisely the same as that which applies at present. The only person who can lead for the United Kingdom Government is someone who will present an agreed policy and who will be nominated by the lead Minister.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page