Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, continually speaks against himself. I think the rhyme goes,


I nominate him for the diplo-docus award for repeating this debate. When he argues that the implementation of an Act of Parliament should not relate to the position of an individual Minister, it seems to me that the tactic of the Conservative Opposition on this matter is entirely to do with a political campaign they are running against Mr. Ron Davies, my right honourable friend in another place. Clearly I have no brief to defend Mr. Ron Davies. I have no cause to defend the right honourable leader of my party, Mr. Dafydd Wigley. However, I have cause to try to prevent the Conservative Party once again from shooting itself in its foot and in its mouth. Either it wants to see this new creation, the National Assembly for Wales, work, or it does not. Either it participates actively as a Conservative Party to seek representation in that body, or it does not.

It seems to me that the main interest of the Conservative Party is to try to run a political campaign to undermine the structure of the assembly and the transitional period. Why is the noble Lord arguing--as he did in the previous debate--that there are no experts in Wales who understand how to negotiate agricultural matters in the European Union, or any other matter?

15 Jul 1998 : Column 325

Apparently none of us in Wales has any information or knowledge about European policies, regional policies, structural funds, or whatever, that is appropriate to the assembly. Yet at the same time he is saying that no Minister of the Crown should be in the assembly. On the one hand he is saying that there is no expertise but on the other hand he is saying where there is expertise it should not be put at the disposal of the assembly.

Let us take a case other than the Secretary of State. Let us take the hypothetical case of Mr. Win Griffiths, an excellent and able environment Minister in the Welsh Office. What if he were to stand for the assembly-- I understand that he will not do so--as a Minister of the Crown? He is a parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Welsh Office. Why should he be prevented from doing that?

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I think the noble Lord is wrong.

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I understood he was a Minister of the Crown. However, I am now told he is not. I assumed he was, as he is a parliamentary Under-Secretary.

Lord Crickhowell: He is!

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, he is a Minister of the Crown. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. I shall continue my argument without being interrupted by a representative of the English regions. Let us take the case of Mr. Win Griffiths, an environment Minister in the Welsh Office. He is a knowledgeable and able Minister with European experience as he was formerly an MEP. What is to prevent him from becoming a Minister in the assembly? This amendment would prevent that. The noble Lord would do us all a great service--it would mean we could get to the BBC Wales current affairs party earlier rather than later--if he were to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I must apologise for not having been in the House when my noble friend began to speak to his amendment. Having spoken at some length on earlier occasions, I had not intended to intervene again on this subject. However, I cannot allow the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, to get away with what he has just said.

To begin with, I deny absolutely that there has been any campaign against Mr. Ron Davies personally. Indeed I went out of my way on a previous occasion to make clear that I followed no such campaign. A curiosity of the debates that we have had on this occasion is the ferocious way in which the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has on each occasion defended Mr. Ron Davies, for whom he seems to have an extraordinary personal loyalty at this time. I hope in due course he is thrown a bone or two and is rewarded for that devotion.

This is a matter of pretty important principle. My objection to what is being proposed, quite apart from the issues of constitutional propriety and the impossibility,

15 Jul 1998 : Column 326

I believe, of holding these offices without a grave conflict of interest, is that I regard it as totally insulting to the people of Wales to be told that Ministers should hold this dual office and therefore ensure that far from being an independent assembly able to act as it thinks fit for the people of Wales, it will be dictated to and obliged to conform to the government agenda laid down by Cabinet. That, of course, is the reality of the matter if one has a dual agenda of this kind.

The noble Lord is talking nonsense when he says that we are preventing the distinguished public servants to whom he has referred--I grant those able Welsh Ministers their ability--from standing for the assembly or being Ministers in the assembly. We are not doing anything of the kind. They can stand down as Ministers of the Crown and stand for office in the assembly. I am not like those on the Liberal Benches who have argued against a dual mandate; I welcome a dual mandate. I think there is much to be said for a dual mandate and to have people sitting in the House of Commons who are also sitting in the assembly and perhaps in Europe too. I have nothing against that. However, I am against any Minister holding a dual ministerial mandate. I believe that to be improper and an extraordinary curtailment of the freedom and independence that this assembly should have.

I find it extraordinary that the noble Lord, whom I respect for his belief in the importance of the assembly, believes that the kind of control from the centre that would be inevitable if we have this structure is defendable and acceptable. It is a nonsensical proposition. I strongly support my noble friend in the arguments that he has advanced. If we are to have this assembly, I want more than anything for it to be strong, free and independent.

The noble Lord again advanced the absurd argument that that would be necessary in the transitional period; otherwise the poor, inexperienced assembly members (if ever there was an insulting comment) would not be able to govern Wales. The reality is that the whole Welsh Office will be behind them, still serving the assembly. Indeed, experienced people will be there, such as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, who has been around quite long enough to look after himself and the work of the assembly. My noble friend is right that there will be certain functions that those people have not undertaken. They will not have negotiated in Europe. But assembly representatives and secretaries will not negotiate on important issues in Europe anyway. Noble Lords do not have to take my word for it. I have a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, telling me that he agrees exactly, and that it will be in only a minority of cases, and in particular circumstances, that they will be likely to negotiate in Europe. The House should firmly support this proposition and reject the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the decibels have been rising, as in the male voice choir competition at the Llangollen international eisteddfod last Saturday afternoon, at which the noble Lord was present. We should approach this matter calmly and rationally. As

15 Jul 1998 : Column 327

the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell said, we on these Benches are in principle against the dual mandate extending far into the future. As my noble friend Lord Hooson said when he spoke on this topic at an earlier stage, we see advantages in having experienced people in position for the assembly's first term. Accordingly, it is perhaps better to have the acerbics whom one knows in the Labour Party taking charge to start with than those one does not know. It may well be that experienced Ministers can play a part at the beginning of the period of office. But after that, when experience has been gained, whether in Europe or elsewhere, of how the assembly works, it is our view in principle that after the first term there should be no dual mandate and that Ministers of the Crown should not be involved in the workings of the Welsh assembly.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I have listened with care to the previous remarks. My background makes me rather reluctant to accept the proposal in the Bill as it stands. We should be creating a precedent which could be used in other parts of the United Kingdom. What would there be to stop somebody coming up with the idea that a Minister could be the Lord Mayor of London? In terms of population, London is at least four times larger than Wales. What would be wrong in somebody claiming that? Why is the privilege merely for Wales? When the English regional bodies are brought into being, although they will not be elected, quite a number of them will represent a larger population--

Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, will my noble friend consider that such a system seems to work well enough in Paris? If it works in Paris, it could probably work in Cardiff, Leeds or Manchester.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I am not talking about Manchester; I am talking about the proposal for Wales. The case that is being made; namely that total experience is available, is pretty thin. Some years ago, a Conservative, against all the wishes of people in the hinterland, decided to form metropolitan corporations. Some of the areas they covered were larger than Wales in population terms, but they were not run on a "dual purpose" basis. The elected members made the policy and those authorities were soon manned by people with adequate training from other authorities under the political guidance of the parties that happened to win the elections.

There is no need for the system of dual responsibility that is suggested. It would be to embark on a slippery slope. I am not prepared to say that I shall vote for the proposal. However, I offer words of caution: this would be a difficult and dangerous precedent to set. We cannot suddenly take one part of the United Kingdom and say that it is different--other than Northern Ireland, where the situation has to be catered for differently. I should not like to see any Minister, whoever he is, running an authority such as the assembly or the new Scottish parliament. That is alien to our beliefs. There could be a clash of interest. My view is that it should be left alone.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page