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Lord Hooson: My Lords, surely the Secretary of State's role changes with the Bill. He is not just a member of the Cabinet, he is a conduit between the assembly and the Government. It is highly desirable that only the Secretary of State should be the conduit. It may well be that when approached by the assembly he would suggest that an approach should be made to another Minister. Surely it would then be open to the Secretary of State to authorise the other Minister, as the link man, to go to the assembly. I should have thought that that would rarely arise.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, used that classic Welsh phrase, "We will not go back into all those old arguments". No one is that lucky! I shall not go back into all the old arguments about the Ron Davies disenablement clause, because presently, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, rightly pointed out, it is part of the Bill. I shall attend to the points put originally by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, expanded today by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson.

In response to the propositions which were argued by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, our intention is that it shall be the Secretary of State for Wales--the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, is right--who is to be the conduit between Westminster and the assembly. To make that plain, we have suggested Amendment No. 25--that once per year obligation should rest on and should devolve to the Secretary of State for Wales, and the Secretary of State for Wales alone. His duty is to consult about the Government's legislative programme. That is not therefore an entry upon a white horse preceded by trumpeters and a convenient diktat; it is consultation. That will of course develop in an organic way, as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has pointed out on many previous occasions.

It is right of course that there may be some Bills which have to do only with England and which are of no interest, or relevance, or connection with Wales or the assembly. Clause 31(4) deals with that situation: the Secretary of State for Wales is not required to undertake

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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. One could think of many examples which have nothing to do with Wales at all, and which may have just to do with England or a limited part of England. We intend it to be the Secretary of State for Wales, which is why we wanted to make it plain.

I shall turn now to one or two wider questions, including the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. Clause 33 allows the assembly to consider, and make appropriate representations about, any matter affecting Wales; and that includes the opportunity to make representations about its views on the Government's legislative programme to any person, including any other Secretary of State other than the Secretary of State for Wales.

We have tried to meet the argument put forward--we thought that it had validity and value--so that there will be this obligation once a session on the Secretary of State to undertake consultation by attendance and participation. I know the virtues of the telephone, the fax and even the postcard. But we do not think that that treats the assembly in a decent, respectful way. It will be an assembly of value, entitled to proper respect, not just a postcard. Therefore, we think it reasonable, having considered with some care the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and others, that the requirement should be the attendance and participation of the Secretary of State for Wales alone.

If another Secretary of State or Minister wishes to attend the assembly, and the assembly wishes to make those arrangements, that is entirely for the assembly to decide when it has come to its conclusions about what its standing orders should or should not say. Therefore, I shall not be drawn into the argument on whether or not a particular Secretary of State will suffer from incipient schizophrenia. I have to rely on the Bill as amended in its drafting by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell.

Perhaps this is an object lesson: never try to be helpful; and never listen to anyone's arguments. I think that we have a perfectly sensible, reasonable, workable scheme. Doubters there may be, but they do not persuade me.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he be good enough to deal with the argument, such as it is, that in well established constitutional and statutory law there is only one Secretary of State, and it is always the Secretary of State who is referred to; and whoever is most suitable among the various Secretaries of State responds to the task? If that is so, it would meet the point of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts; namely, that there may be in some cases some more suitable Secretary of State to attend than possibly the Secretary of State for Wales who in any case answers to the description of the secretary.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I understand the noble and learned Lord's point, but we are dealing with a specific limitation which is intended to be the limitation to the Secretary of State for Wales. It is the Secretary of State for Wales--not for Northern Ireland,

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for Defence and not even the revered Secretary of State for Home Affairs--who is to go down to Cardiff to the assembly and have this attendance and participation. That is what we intend. That is why we have drafted the Bill in this way.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 26:


Page 20, line 22, at end insert ("but including attending and participating in proceedings of the Assembly relating to the programme on at least one occasion.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 27:


Page 20, line 32, after ("State") insert ("for Wales").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 28:


Page 20, line 34, after ("State") insert ("for Wales").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 29:


After Clause 31, insert the following new clause--

Consultation and participation of Assembly in relation to Council of Ministers meetings

(" .--(1) Before any Minister of the Crown attends a meeting of the Council of Ministers at which consideration is to be given to any issue relating to functions which have been transferred to the Assembly, the Secretary of State shall consult the Assembly and seek its views on that issue.
(2) When a Minister of the Crown attends such a meeting of the Council of Ministers, he may permit a member of the executive committee of the Assembly to attend with and participate in the United Kingdom delegation.
(3) Following such a meeting of the Council of Ministers, the Secretary of State shall report the proceedings of that meeting to the Assembly and answer any questions that Assembly members may have.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we debated this new clause rather late on the second day in Committee. The basic issues have been touched on in other debates, such as the debate on agriculture on the first day on Report. I am prepared to accept the statement of the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General on 2nd June, reported at col. 312 of the Official Report. He stated:


    "The starting point is that the UK is the member of the EU. The UK can choose who is the most appropriate person to speak ... on behalf of the UK, in the Council of Ministers. The UK could choose to have as its representative a secretary from the Welsh assembly".

The noble and learned Lord went on to say that such a person would be in a parallel position to that in which I found myself when speaking occasionally on behalf of the United Kingdom. That part I do not accept. I was a Minister in the United Kingdom Government, while the assembly secretary would not be. I was answerable to the United Kingdom Parliament while the assembly secretary would not be. There are other consequential differences but I shall not pursue them.

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However, it is worth noting that we have been able to establish in the course of our discussions that attendances in a leading role by non-central government Ministers at the Council of Ministers have been limited to attendances by a representative of the Land Government of Bavaria and the Government of Catalonia to participate in discussions on cultural and linguistic issues. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who was a Minister in the Scottish Office, attended as a United Kingdom Minister with a brief to represent the interests of the United Kingdom fisheries. The noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, was in a similar position. He described it clearly during Second Reading of the Scotland Bill.

Our discussions on such matters have tended to obscure the fact that these issues are peripheral to the conduct of business at the Council of Ministers where the lead is normally taken on behalf of the United Kingdom by the relevant United Kingdom Minister. That is the usual practice when important issues are at stake. In our view, that practice is unlikely to change substantially after the assembly has come into being. There may be occasions when an assembly secretary may attend the Council of Ministers with the agreement of the leading UK Minister, and theoretically he or she may participate in negotiations, but in our view such participation will be a rarity rather than a common practice.

The procedures before and at negotiations are likely to be similar to those described by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish on the second day in Committee when we discussed the new clause. If we are to ensure that the best interests of Wales are served, in agriculture for example, we urge the Government to accept the new clause. It gives the Secretary of State for Wales a well defined role in consulting the assembly prior to important negotiations at the Council of Ministers, and in reporting to the assembly on the outcome of the negotiations.

That would not debar the assembly from taking any supplementary action it feels necessary. The assembly secretary could still attend a Council of Ministers meeting at the invitation of the leading UK Minister. We believe the involvement of the Secretary of State is important because he is a Member of the United Kingdom Government and on a similar footing to the lead Minister. He will be able to safeguard Welsh interests in a way that the United Kingdom Minister is under no obligation to do. Welsh interests will be the paramount consideration of the Secretary of State for Wales.

We are all aware of the great changes facing the European Union and the important developments ahead in many areas of policy. It is clearly important that Wales should have its input into those changes, and that can best be achieved through the United Kingdom Government who will have their own perspective on them. Welsh views will have to be incorporated in the

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perspective. Who would be better placed to ensure a favourable outcome than the Secretary of State acting on the advice of the assembly? I beg to move.


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