Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, during our Committee stage I expressed my concern about the priority being given to regional committees by a number of your Lordships. Having reflected upon my statements since then, I find that I am entirely in agreement with myself, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, might make of that when he reads Hansard.

This amendment is particularly unworkable. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, appears to be second guessing the assembly function at different regional levels. The amendment makes secretaries doubly accountable both for the national delivery of their programmes and for the regional delivery in as yet unspecified regions. Times have moved on. The announcement in the other place and in this House only at the beginning of this week about the new regions for Objective 1 status of the European Union for statistical purposes indicates that as regards regions of Wales we must be flexible. I have always been opposed to the notion of creating a place called North Wales because I do not know where that is. Is it the coastal strip, or is it mid or west? Where is it? The whole question of regional committees, although that was part of the

1 Jul 1998 : Column 810

debate in the referendum, has moved on. To try to re-establish an internal regionalism in a country of 3 million people with a double notion of accountability on the secretaries and the executive of the assembly is to place an unnecessary burden upon them.

The assembly will deliver new forms of national unity through diversity using the structure of existing local authorities. To create a doubly accountable regional committee over and above the current tiers of the new unitary authorities and over and above the activities of the NDPBs within Wales, including the WDA and its regional structure, is to create an incredibly structured and disorganised form of accountability within the country. I ask that the whole issue of internal regionalism and its divisive potential should not be flagged up so strongly by politicians who are seeking to curry votes, as I suggested in Committee, out of regional disparities and differentiation. The big issue we have to face has been displayed yet again by Regional Trends No. 33 published last week. It shows the overall income per head in Wales and the overall performance of the Welsh economy in relation to the rest of the UK and Europe. We should be mobilising ourselves in order to tackle those issues and not spend so much time on internal divisions and structures to balance between them.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, I put my name to the amendment because in Committee I expressed concern that the regional committees would be "waffle shops" and have no influence. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, replied that if that were the case there would be no point in having them. Quite so; I could not agree more with the noble Lord.

However, I am not sure whether that reply agreed with my point that they were toothless wonders or whether the noble Lord did not mean me to take it in that way. I gained the impression from the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that he was following a similar line of thought because, as he repeated tonight, the committees were in existence only for political reasons in order to encourage North Wales to vote for an assembly.

At least the noble Lord, Lord Williams, now has the chance to clear up this muddle, for, if he really believes that the regional committees will be able to influence the assembly and not be second, third or even fourth-class citizens, he must accept the amendment moved by my noble friend. It will at least give them a tooth, albeit a poor one.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I do not accept that the sole purpose of these provisions--to give North Wales its own regional committee and for there to be other regional committees--was simply to sell the concept of devolution.

One of the problems that we face in Wales, as we do in the United Kingdom, is the pull of the south east. In Wales, it is the pull of Cardiff, where the decision has been taken to site the assembly. As a North Walian, I have a very clear view of where North Wales is. I know North Wales from west to east. It is a very clearly defined area in my mind. I know also that the people of

1 Jul 1998 : Column 811

North Wales are not familiar with the south east of Wales and even less so with the west of Wales. Consequently, they tend to feel isolated from centres of gravity such as south east Wales.

I believe that a regional committee such as is envisaged for North Wales is extremely important. It will reassure the people of North Wales. I am pleased to see the provision in the Bill. I support it. As for other regions in Wales, it is for the assembly to determine what is appropriate; what sort of advice is required in respect of those regions; and to form its standing orders accordingly.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it seems to me that there are three issues here deriving from the amendments and comments made: boundaries, powers and membership.

If Amendment No. 89 were accepted, there would be five committees: one for North Wales, one for mid and west Wales, and then western, central and eastern parts of South Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, himself said that, if his amendment were accepted, we should have the absurd situation of a single committee representing Llanelli and Llanrrhos. One would have other oddities; for example, most of us would say that Aberdare and Treorchy have much more in common with Merthyr, which is not in the same electoral region, than Cardiff, which is. The noble Lord's amendment would prevent that arrangement and similar arrangements being reflected in the assembly's committee structure. It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is right to say that that is for the assembly to determine. That deals with boundaries.

As regards powers, those regional committees are not intended to hold the assembly to account. They are advisory and they will work, one assumes and hopes, with other public bodies in the area--for example, North Wales--to have what may well be genuinely not a separatist but a collective North Wales view which it can put forward to the assembly as a regional committee. That seems to be perfectly reasonable to me.

As regards membership, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, suggests that his Amendment No. 90 would make the selection of members easier. That may be so. But the committee is not to be constituted to make selection easier but to perform a specific role which is advisory in the most effective way. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, says the committees will be toothless waffle shops. No, it depends on the members who are elected, their commitment to their advisory function and their commitment to making the assembly work, not on the basis of confrontation--we have had enough of that over the past 25 or 30 years in Wales--but in a spirit of co-operation.

The boundaries suggested in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, will not work and should properly be within the province of the assembly's decision.

1 Jul 1998 : Column 812

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I am disappointed by that reply. Of course, I recognise that the amendments I have tabled have their shortcomings. But I should like to have a more positive attitude on the part of the Government.

We have been told quite clearly that the key features, beyond those contained in the clause, are to be sorted out by the assembly. I simply note the fact that this another highly problematical area which we are foisting on the assembly, even before it starts. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 90 not moved.]

12.15 a.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 91:

After Clause 61, insert the following new clause--

Youth advisory committee

(" .--(1) The Assembly may establish a committee to provide advice to the Assembly about matters affecting young people in Wales.
(2) A committee established under this section shall be known by such title as the standing orders may provide (but is referred to in this Act as the youth advisory committee).
(3) The members of the youth advisory committee shall be--
(a) all members of the Assembly under the age of 26 at the time of their election to the Assembly, and
(b) members selected by the Assembly from outside the membership of the Assembly.
(4) The standing orders of the Assembly shall provide for the selection of the members referred to in subsection (3)(b).
(5) The youth advisory committee shall elect one of its members to chair it.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we had a useful debate on 3rd June (col. 425) on the notion of a youth advisory committee. I raise it again now. Unexpectedly--perhaps I should have realised this--the proposal has generated much more support outside this House than I imagined likely. Indeed, they talk of nothing else in Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff and other places. Therefore it seems to me that we have to return to this issue and flag it up with perhaps slightly more support from the Government than was shown--although I am always very grateful for all assurances I receive from Government Ministers during these debates--and perhaps a little more assurance on the importance of this issue in terms of citizenship. Maybe I did not spell out sufficiently clearly what we are dealing with. We are dealing with a nation in which the remaking of a culture, particularly by the younger citizens, is an essential part of how we take the nation of Wales on, and the fact that a new institution does not come into being merely by legislation or Acts of Parliament. It comes into existence by being remade by the people who participate in it and relate to it. I hope

1 Jul 1998 : Column 813

that not only will the notion of a youth advisory committee be something that somebody will take on but that the assembly itself will be seen as something that moves and excites the people who will make the Wales of the next century.

That is the reason why I bring forward this matter again: to get a little more support for it from all sides of the House and to underline the fact that I think it is particularly important that we should, in the development of citizenship, pay attention to the recreation of a form of inclusive citizenship that gets us beyond the divisive stereotypes which are still in evidence, even in your Lordships' House, because certain noble Lords have referred to themselves as North Walians. I am not a Walian; I am not an alien; I am a citizen of Wales--and so, one hopes, are many in your Lordships' House here this evening, or this early morning. Indeed the young people who will participate in the youth advisory committee will not be Walians; they will be citizens of Wales. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page