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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he answer a question? Let us say that there is an agreed line, and the Minister

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for, say, agriculture or trade does a deal in the middle of the night. As the Minister will appreciate is the case with all these matters, the deal is never absolutely perfect; there has to be a little give and take in order to achieve the deals. Currently a Scottish Office, Welsh Office or Northern Irish Minister is bound by the collective responsibility of the one government to defend the agreement, even when he may perhaps have to swallow quite hard and possibly receive a lot of stick in his own back yard.

I cannot quite get my mind round what will replace collective Cabinet responsibility when it comes to defending the outcome of any package. I understand it down the corridor, because the lead Minister will be a UK Minister, or else he will have delegated the responsibilities. I suspect that in relation to the issues I am talking about, the lead Minister will be a UK Minister. How is the Welsh Secretary tied in to that decision? Currently, Ministers in the Welsh Office are tied in by collective responsibilities in government. That will not happen. How will he be tied in in the future?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it seems to me that there is no difficulty at all. If it is the Welsh First Secretary who is representing the United Kingdom line and the United Kingdom Government, because the UK is the only member of the EU, if he or she negotiates, for instance, on cultural matters, he or she will have to defend the agreement arrived at loyally. That is a necessary implied condition of his or her becoming the lead United Kingdom Minister.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I was not solely concerned with him as the lead UK Minister or if he was simply part of the discussion which went on beforehand and the UK was represented by, say, a MAFF Minister who came to those decisions. My suspicions have constantly been raised because the Minister goes back to culture and things like that. I want to get on to the big economic issues which drive the European Union and make up the common policies of the European Union. Those are the matters on which I want assurances. Let us say that the Welsh Secretary is not asked to be the lead Minister, and that the lead Minister is a MAFF Minister. Perhaps I did not make my question clear. How does the Welsh Secretary become tied in to what is currently collective governmental responsibility?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord makes at least three points. I do not call culture "things like that", because it is extremely important. Turning to the noble Lord's points, there are three Ministers involved: there is the lead UK Minister; and he spoke of the Welsh Secretary--I am not sure whether he meant the Secretary of State or the First Secretary of the assembly. I am not nitpicking; I believe that there are three Ministers possibly involved. If it is the Secretary of State for Wales, there is no problem. If it is the first Secretary, and he has negotiated with MAFF and failed in the negotiations, it is a matter for his judgment what dissent he puts in the public arena, because he is an assembly First Secretary. If he wishes the United

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Kingdom position to be x and it is x-minus, then it is a matter for him, of course bearing in mind the political realities--he has to deal in future negotiations with Westminster colleagues. I hope that no one is of the brutalist school and will say, "I haven't had all that I wanted on this occasion. It is my bat. I shall now depart". He has to work with colleagues in Westminster in the future.

If one wants to be defeatist about these matters, or even unduly cautious, one can ask: what if there is no good faith, or what if there is an enormous chasm? One will approach these matters pragmatically, as Ministers do presently. If they cannot bear collective responsibility, they have the option of resignation. However, there are intermediate possibilities as well. I do not believe that these matters cannot be made to work if we wish them to work. However, I stress that nothing in domestic legislation can override European Union legislation in this context.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for what he has just said to strengthening the arguments that I put earlier regarding the impossibility of the Secretary of State for Wales being the First Secretary. His remarks were incompatible with that situation. I was slightly surprised that both he and the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas seemed rather belligerent on this subject. I do not believe that they are entitled to lecture either me or my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy on the subject of the importance of the Welsh assembly. There are not many people who have devoted more energy to encouraging and strengthening Welsh culture in all its aspects than we have. I could not be a stronger supporter of those subjects to which the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, referred.

Most of the matters which come under that umbrella are, in any case, the responsibility of the UK Government at present and will be the responsibility of the Welsh assembly. They are hardly touched on by European policy. These amendments are actually concerned with crucial issues on which we are wholly or substantially dependent on European policy; I refer in particular to agriculture and some aspects of industrial policy.

The Minister referred to wishing to give rights. I used the phrase, "put on a statutory basis". I was seeking to put on a statutory basis the words, the undertakings and the expectations raised earlier by Ministers. Indeed, though the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, seemed a little belligerent about my amendment earlier, it was probably because he hurried through dinner and had not read it. I find it hard to believe that he can criticise my amendment, which in many respects has much in common with his amendment. We are trying to give more power and effectiveness, more involvement to the Welsh assembly. I believe that we are aiming in the same direction with the same objectives.

I said also that I doubted whether national law could overrule European rules. The Minister confirmed that fact. I would add that it is not for me to decide between the legal wisdom of the Minister and the practical experience of my noble friend Lord Cockfield as a

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commissioner on the exact relationships in that respect. However, there are some issues which are not absolutely clear.

I fear that we are in a bit of a muddle about crucial negotiations. There are two aspects to this matter. One arises when we are putting together a policy. In my time as a Minister, the Minister of Agriculture always, as a matter of principle--it was true also for the Secretary of State for Industry--before going to Brussels for important negotiations, discussed the issues with the Secretaries of State for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and reached a totally agreed position. As my noble friend pointed out, when they came back with whatever deal they had succeeded in obtaining, collective responsibility bound them together.

The situation will be different when the Minister is the representative of a different body and of a different assembly. It will not be possible to have the same cohesion in the agreement when they go and it is by no means clear that there will be the same unity about what has been achieved when the Minister returns, having completed his negotiations in the middle of the night.

The truth of the matter is that the position will not be stronger under existing arrangements. We are justified in our fears that in many respects it will be weaker. However, we received a detailed response to many of our questions. We shall want to consider that response carefully. It would not be right at this late hour--we always seem to come on to this important subject late at night--to divide the House. However, there are still issues which leave me extremely unhappy about the position and I shall want to consider the position carefully before Third Reading. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 31 [Consultation about government's legislative programme]:

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 44:


Page 20, line 21, leave out ("such").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not propose to be belligerent about this amendment but I am deeply disappointed that there has been no movement by the Government on this important issue; that is, the consultations to be carried out between the Secretary of State and the Welsh assembly about the Government's legislative programme.

As drafted, Clause 31 is written almost entirely from the point of view of the Secretary of State. It provides that he will consult with the assembly as it appears appropriate to him to do so. He is not required under subsection (4) to undertake consultation with the assembly about a Bill if he considers that there are considerations relating to the Bill which make it inappropriate for him to do so. All the emphasis is upon giving to the Secretary of State a discretion as to whether to consult the assembly. If he does not want to, he does not have to.

What is wrong with this is that it does not reflect the true balance between the Westminster Parliament and, specifically, the Welsh assembly. We know that the

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arrangements are different in Scotland and no doubt they are different in Northern Ireland. But, for Wales, all the primary legislation is to be made at Westminster, and it follows that the secondary legislation, which will be for the consideration of the Welsh assembly, must be contained within the framework of the primary legislation that is passed here. That primary legislation will obviously reflect the policies of the government who are elected to Westminster. They may be of the same political colour; but they may equally be of a totally different political colour. It seems to us on these Benches that where one has this constraining influence of the primary legislation--the framework within which everything that the assembly legislates about must be contained--it is essential that the Secretary of State should consult the assembly; not on matters that he considers to be appropriate but on the whole of the legislative programme.

That is the purpose of the amendment. It does not impose on the Secretary of State a particularly onerous burden. After all, the whole of the Bill removes from the Secretary of State many of the burdens that he sustains at the present time. Having taken away from him the weight of the responsibility of running the day-to-day work of the Welsh Office and the consideration of how the budget is to be spent, it is surely not too much to ask of him to come to the Welsh assembly and to explain, discuss and consult over the primary legislation within which the Welsh assembly has to work.

I think that all those eager young people, such as Kirsty Williams, to whom reference was made earlier today by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, who are going to go along to Cardiff, full of enthusiasm and ready to put into effect the policies that the Welsh assembly considers to be appropriate for Wales, with a spark to do something for their country, will suddenly hit an enormous barrier--the existing primary legislative programme of the Westminster Parliament. Surely, the Secretary of State should be obliged to consult about it. I beg to move.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has made a powerful point. I should have found it more powerful if the noble Lord had taken part in the previous debate, which was about consultations and discussions surrounding important matters on Europe. But that does not seem to matter too much.

I think that both are equally important. All governments use phrases like "such consultation as he thinks appropriate", and it is always difficult to defend them. It is a fairly vague form of words. I have no doubt that we shall receive some assurances from the Minister. It is particularly important, as the noble Lord said--perhaps we omitted this point in the previous debate--if the people involved are of different political parties with different manifestos and different agendas. That is when it may be convenient for the Secretary of State in the Westminster Government to decide not to bother consulting because he knows jolly well that when he

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consults he will find that he has an opposite number with an entirely different agenda. The noble Lord has made some valid points and I look forward to the Minister's reply.


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