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Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 212:


Page 59, line 17, leave out ("of the Assembly").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 115 [Consultation with business]:

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 213:


Page 59, line 20, leave out ("such consultation with representatives of business") and insert ("consultation with such organisations representative of business and such other organisations").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this group consists of Amendments Nos. 213 and 214. Amendment No. 213 represents the Government's response to the amendment moved in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. He proposed a definition of "business" and I said we would consider that sympathetically and return, which the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas has not--that is, he has not returned, though he may have considered the matter sympathetically.

Our amendment includes within the range of consultees, organisations representative of business and such other organisations as the assembly considers appropriate. That clearly is likely to include trade unions, although it may not be the case that they should or will be consulted in every circumstance; and it equally could include other bodies. We have deliberately left the matter at the assembly's discretion to tailor the practicalities of consultation to specific circumstances. But we are quite clear that the assembly will wish to consult representative organisations of business regularly, since the subject-matter of consultation is the impact on business of the exercise by the assembly of its functions. And no organisation will be better equipped to advise the assembly on that than business organisations.

We would expect consultation to be undertaken on behalf of the assembly by the relevant assembly secretary, whose decisions will be informed by that consultative process. It will be he who will be directly accountable to the assembly both for the consultative process and for the decisions informed by it. There will, therefore, be a reporting-back mechanism, to that extent, integrated into the consultative process. We are proposing to give the assembly flexibility as to the

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process of consultation but, of course, its decisions on how consultation should be organised will need it to be reasonable, offering relevant organisations, particularly those representative of business, a fair and proper opportunity to express their view. That is the overriding principle.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who is hopefully engaged in fishing, described me as "crafty enough to see that a small amount of movement would be a good thing", and I was deeply shocked. We did listen to the arguments. I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, is not present, but he will read it in Hansard tomorrow. We did respond to the arguments and I think that the adoption of this amendment would be an improvement.

Perhaps I can prospectively resist Amendment No. 214 and it is probably helpful if I do it in this way. This draws attention to the particular need for the assembly to consult trade associations representative of business in rural areas. I believe that it is best left to the assembly. If one makes this amendment then, in due time, someone will wish to make representations for a particular amendment to deal with trade associations in urban areas.

I do not think we should go down that route. The assembly, self-evidently, will want to consult with associations of the type mentioned in the amendment and with associations representing other categories of business as well. It ought to be free to do so, without being divisive and without the apparent fear that it is in some way giving priority to one type of association (namely, rural) over another (namely, urban).

I beg to move my own amendment and, in due time, prospectively, invite the noble Lord to withdraw his.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, I knew it was a terrible mistake to be kind enough to say to the noble Lord that I would not have my amendment grouped with his because it allowed him to make those remarks; but that it is not quite in line with what I was going to say.

My amendment follows the debate in Committee on my noble friend Lord Mackay's Amendment No. 247ZA (cols. 1333 to 1379) and resulted in the Government's amendment today that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has just mentioned. Certainly, the noble Lord expressed sympathy. I have to tell him that I am a farmer. I am getting a little worried about his sympathy with no money on the table. We may have trouble at Third Reading. That is all I am saying.

The noble Lord certainly expressed sympathy with the proposal put forward by my noble friend and indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, who understandably is not here, that the assembly should consult with representatives of business. Of course, I count agriculture as a business. Unfortunately, the Government do not really tackle the particular issue. I took particular note of the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. He said:


    "No assembly ought to be required to carry out consultation with representatives of business which it does not consider to be appropriate".--[Official Report, 15/6/98; col. 1338.]

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I gained the impression from that remark that if the assembly did not like something then it should not do it. Indeed, I go further than that, in that as the Bill is written--and I shall be interested to know if the noble Lord puts a different view on it--there is no need for the assembly to consult business on anything whatever if it does not think it appropriate. Of course, I am sure that the noble Lord will say that if it took such a line it would soon be out of a job--and maybe eventually the electorate would so decide--but I am not so sure. As I said before, the wishes of the business world and the public particularly the NIMBYs--and I am sorry to come back to them--are often at cross purposes. It might, therefore, be a political decision for the assembly not to consult business and to put its head in the sand, which I am sure we have all done at some stage in our careers.

To return to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, it would not be appropriate to force the assembly to consult. I can, of course, give the noble Lord examples in previous statutes where that has been the case, but he said it was not necessary. I do not really want to go through all the examples that I have been given by my helpers, but perhaps I shall give one because it relates to a person whom we all worship in agriculture; that is Tom Williams. He was the Minister of Agriculture, as no doubt the noble Lord knows, in 1947 when in farm price reviews Ministers had to consult with bodies such as appeared to them to represent the interests of producers in the agriculture industry. I can give the noble Lord many more examples if that is what he wishes.

I come back to my overriding concern. The balance of the assembly is being directed to everything other than business and the production of wealth. It really worries me when I see the difference in the standard of living in farming in Amlwch where I farm and in Oxfordshire. I want the assembly to take this problem on board and to devote if not all then a great deal of its energies to getting us off the poverty line. We are on the poverty line. I do not think the noble Lord realises that. I do. I travel between both farms and I travel up to London. The assembly will not do this unless business--and agriculture is concerned here--is always at the front of its mind.

This is a very small House of Lords amendment towards that. I hope the noble Lord will accept that, after 25 years here, I know the difference between a House of Lords amendment and a wrecking amendment. This is not a wrecking amendment. I would have preferred the amendment moved in Committee by my noble friend Lord Mackay. The Government would not accept it, so I have tabled this very modest one. I am sure the noble Lord will realise that I have borrowed the words of my amendment from Clause 66 where it states that consultation with business must take place where the costs of complying are likely to be significant. I beg to move.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Stanley. Despite the Government's amendment, the most striking fact about this clause is its brevity compared with the clauses

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relating to local government and voluntary organisations. Brevity is no bad thing in legislation, provided that the key points are fully covered. Clearly, my noble friend Lord Stanley does not think that the clause is adequate. He has put down his own extended clause with an emphasis on business in rural areas. Those areas are already suffering an imminent threat as a result of the decline in farming incomes. My noble friend's concern is fully justified and I share it.

There is a broader threat to business, not confined to rural areas, from the recessionary pressures that are now building up in the economy. Successive rises in interest rates and the consequential strong pound are causing difficulties to Welsh businesses generally, especially to the inward investors from overseas, the major part of whose output is exported.

The recession, threatening though it may be according to many observers, has not really hit us hard yet with rising unemployment on any significant scale, but such a situation could develop very soon. I hope it does not happen but I cannot close my mind to that possibility. I do not think the Government should do so either.

During a recession our dependence on wealth producing businesses becomes apparent, especially if they begin to falter and fail. Their substantial contribution to our spending programmes tends to be taken for granted in prosperous times; and of course business likes to be left alone. But there should be close consultation with business in Wales at all times and the assembly should certainly participate in it. That is acknowledged by the Government in their newly-published Pathway to Prosperity: A New Economic Agenda for Wales, about which we heard earlier in the day. The document states that,


    "Little can be achieved if everyone is pulling in different directions. The National Assembly for Wales will provide the mechanism for creating consensus and working to common goals".
There are some very good lines in the document such as,


    "The public sector in Wales must be clear that its role is to support wealth creation not control it".
The document then goes on to talk about the need to develop partnerships and extend them,


    "beyond narrowly defined industrial, commercial or institutional interests".
But it is curious that there is not more about partnership with business in the Bill when there is so much about partnership with local authorities. There is a whole clause and a whole schedule. One can understand the political importance of local authorities and harnessing them to the assembly through partnership to secure co-operation and to avoid possible conflict. The Government have gone to great lengths to achieve that objective. Similarly, the voluntary organisations are also being shepherded into the assembly's fold.

But at the end of the day business, as a major provider of employment and resources, may well be more important than either local authorities or voluntary organisations to the success of the assembly, because it will be judged by the people of Wales by the extent to which Wales prospers or fails in its care. It is therefore essential that the assembly understands the needs of the business community and promotes its well-being. The

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assembly must certainly not regard business as a milch cow; a bottomless well of resources; otherwise the assembly may well find that business reacts adversely and either ceases to expand or even begins to withdraw from Wales as the climate becomes too hostile.


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