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Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He may be a Welsh Presbyterian, but it is hardly relevant to quote the Rev. Ian Paisley in this context because the European Parliament is an entirely different structure from an assembly structure within a member state of the European Union.
The fact of the matter is that the Government are breaking new ground by allowing Ministers of the Crown to stand for membership of the assembly--or by not disqualifying them from doing so. As the noble Lord said, it will be argued that the European Parliament is different from the assembly--as, indeed, it is. However, I wonder whether the differences that exist between the European Parliament and the assembly justify the addition of this particular difference. I believe that that is questionable. Ministers of the Crown bring powers with them. They will certainly be a cut above the ordinary members of the assembly and they will be better placed to secure election or selection to the executive.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that the role of the Secretary of State for Wales will be dramatically different following devolution and that at this precise moment no one can foresee in just what way the powers will be curtailed or how they will be exercised? Therefore, does not the noble Lord agree that it makes sense in the logic of events that, for the first sitting of the assembly in its first period of four years, a person of experience should be at the helm?
Lord Roberts of Conwy: On the contrary, my Lords. I do not accept what the noble Lord has said. We know perfectly well what the Secretary of State will be doing. We know that according to Clause 22 he will hand over his functions to the assembly. We also know that as first secretary of the executive, under Clause 56 he will then take up those functions. The question is: how can those duties be reconciled?
The question of holding two government posts, as opposed to representative offices, is entirely different from the matter of which I was speaking earlier. We were discussing the role of the dual representative mandate. We are talking now about the dual ministerial mandate. Again, the Government appear to be breaking
Similar words appear in the 1997 ministerial code. I believe that it was the latter point--that is, the Prime Minister's interest--that the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General had in mind when he asked us to consider appointments from that point of view. He said at Third Reading:
It was at that point that my noble friend Lord Crickhowell intervened to indicate that this was a move into very new territory. The noble and learned Lord was quite right to consider the situation from the standpoint of the assembly. He then said:
In the course of our debate reference has been made to split-ticket voting. Here we are talking about split ministerial responsibilities and loyalties. As my noble friend pointed out in a speech earlier this afternoon, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Hain, takes a very different line from the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General. His is a very different point of view. He stated that it would be politically unacceptable and constitutionally undesirable to have this kind of dual ministerial mandate.
I shall return to that matter in one moment. I should like to deal with the position in which we now find ourselves, my noble friend Lord Crickhowell having proposed an amendment in lieu of the one with which the Commons have disagreed. He has proposed that a Minister of the Crown should not hold office simultaneously as a member of the assembly executive for a period exceeding 12 months from the first sitting. We have given the Government the further choice of six months or three months. Those proposals arise from the statements by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the other place on 22nd July and the general knowledge that the Secretary of State for Wales appears to be intent on seeking election to the assembly as first secretary. He has let it be known that his holding of the two posts would be temporary. That was reflected in the remarks of Mr. Hain at col. 1181 when he said:
Mr. Hain has been left in no doubt about the validity of that last two-pronged sentence not only by the Conservative spokesman in the other place Dr. Liam Fox but by his own Labour supporters Julie Morgan and the right honourable Alan Williams.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, can the noble Lord explain how the conflict of interest will arise? The noble Lord has said that if a Minister of the Crown is first secretary there may be a conflict of interest. However, Ministers of the Crown are allowed to sit in the Welsh assembly, albeit not as Ministers or as first secretary. In that case is there not a conflict of interest in the noble Lord's argument? Does the noble Lord believe that any possibility of a conflict of interest, which would be a disadvantage, would be outweighed by the enormous advantages that would accrue to Wales and the Welsh assembly by having within it a person of stature in its formative years? The assembly is new and we want it to succeed. Is it not better to leave it to the responsibility of the individual concerned rather than envisage the very rare possibility of a conflict of interest?
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I hope that my tongue did not slip. I was talking about a conflict of loyalties. A Minister of the Crown belongs to the United Kingdom Government and shares in the collective responsibility of that government. He has to support the decisions taken collectively by that government. If the same Minister of the Crown is also first secretary of the assembly and executive he will have a collective responsibility to that executive and assembly. It is quite clear that there may be a situation in which a conflict of loyalties arises between the functions of the Secretary of State as a Minister of the Crown and a member of the United Kingdom Government and the functions of the first secretary of the executive of the Welsh assembly.
That view gained a good deal of sympathy. We all have sympathy with that view. But when the Minister was asked by Mr. Wigley, President of Plaid Cymru, whether the Government would consider a time limit on a dual ministerial mandate the answer was a flat no. It is to be hoped that the Government have had time to reflect on that blunt response and consider the wealth of alternatives that we have presented to them. If all of them are refused--the 12 months, the six months and the three months--I shall not know whether to laugh or cry or launch into the slaves' chorus from "Nabucco". The effect of that on this Bill would be the total negation of devolution in any meaningful sense. It would mean a greater concentration of power in the hands of the Secretary of State-cum-First Secretary. Where would his
Noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite will realise that our amendment shows a willingness to compromise, even on fundamental principles, in order to ensure a smooth transition of functions from the Secretary of State to the assembly if time alone is required. But one is bound to ask why the Secretary of State is so concerned about the transition of functions and the structure of government proposed under the Bill that he must also hold the first secretaryship. Why is it so important that the two offices should be conjoined even for a time? Are there inadequacies in the Bill? What are the difficulties that the Secretary of State anticipates? Does he anticipate a conflict of wills between himself as Secretary of State and First Secretary--as there was between himself and Mr. Russell Goodway, Leader of Cardiff County Council, about the choice of the location of the assembly? Obviously, it would be desirable for the Secretary of State and the elected first secretary to work closely and harmoniously together. But it is possible that they may not and that in the years to come there will be a clash of personalities. They may end up at loggerheads with each other.
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