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Lord Islwyn: My Lords, is not the noble Lord forgetting about the fact that there are such things as elections? It is certainly not automatic that the present Secretary of State for Wales is going to be leader or first secretary of the new assembly.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. That is a point that I am coming to as I bring my speech to an end. Perhaps I may just make this point. The relationship between the Secretary of State and the first secretary will, we may be sure, vary considerably over time, but that is no reason for delaying the full implementation of the Bill.
There is a great deal of concern over this matter, as those who have studied proceedings in the other place will be aware. That concern extends far beyond the Opposition Benches both here and there. There is a danger, of course, that the Secretary of State may make a nonsense of devolution by over-centralising power in himself and arrogating too much power to himself. There is also the danger that he may make a fool of himself, as the noble Lord implied, by being thwarted in his ambitions by the will of the assembly and failing to be elected as first secretary. Neither of those scenarios makes for a promising start to the assembly.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have never approached this question on the basis of personalities. When we discussed this at some length earlier I said that I recognised the principles behind the amendments. I said that I would give them decent regard because I honour the motive that engenders them. That is the way I wish to approach matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, spoke about the fundamental principle. The fundamental principle for which we contend is that this is a devolution measure. That means the devolution of powers; it means the devolution of discretions, of choices or, to use the phrase that the noble Lords, Lord Hooson and Lord Thomas, used, it means the devolution of options.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and I are both retired lawyers, but we are not so long retired that we cannot recognise selective quotation when it is offered before us on a plate. What Mr. Hain said is perfectly correct and I am happy to say that I can endorse fully the comments and assurances made by Mr. Hain in another place. However, what Mr. Hain actually said--I hate to go to accuracy--was this:
The important matter is this: the question was then put by Mr. Wigley to Mr. Hain: would the Government in that House consider a limited dual mandate, in effect, on the face of the Bill? Mr. Hain replied:
He developed his reasons. He said that there might be some circumstances in the future where it would be mutually beneficial to the Westminster Parliament and the assembly in Cardiff if a duality were available.
Two institutions have to agree. The assembly has to agree and Parliament here has to agree. If there were the significant prospect, either of a conflict of loyalties, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, or a conflict of interests, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, it is for the two institutions respectively to come to their conclusion.
I believe that the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, was intended to be flexible and helpful, and I hope to respond in exactly the same way. I ally my answer to his approach, if I may, to the questions put distinctly by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. He asked what would be the requirement in the earlier transitional periods. It is not a fearful prospect; it is simply that the purpose of a transitional period is to ensure that those things which ought to be done are done efficiently, appropriately and in a timely way, such as the transfer of functions, the adoption of concordats with government departments and making the necessary financial arrangements. I can say with the specific authority of the Secretary of State that I should be very surprised and disappointed if that transitional period extended even as long as 12 months. I hope that I have responded in the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, put his questions.
What we are saying is that we do not see the virtue or the value of saying that it will be three months, six months or 12 months. I do not say this tendentiously, but the original amendment, which was carried against
We have discussed over a long period whether there should be a possible duality between being a member of the assembly and any Minister of the Crown. The amendment was not limited to first secretary or Secretary of State for Wales. That has been abandoned or not pursued. What we now have is this position. There is a general recognition, and I do not dissent from it or water it down in the slightest way, that it would not be politically acceptable or constitutionally appropriate for the duality to continue for ever. I do not believe that Westminster would stand for it, and I am quite certain that Cardiff would not stand for it. That, as the noble Lord, Lord Islwyn, said is what elections are for, to correct, if there were any, a tendency towards the elected dictatorship which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, spoke of.
What we are saying is this: if we are approaching this voyage on the basis of trust in devolution we must let the assembly come to its own conclusion. I believe that the questions which have been raised and the amendments which have been put have drawn out sufficient indications, assurances and comments to satisfy the reasonable requirements of those who had conscientious doubts about the scheme of the Bill. The Bill is about devolution. It is about a devolution of options. There might well be a period in five years' time when a short duality, subject to the mandate of both institutions, might well be appropriate. Why should we not trust the assembly to make that choice? In the end, that is the fundamental principle for which I contend. I do not believe that there is a fundamental principle which can be identified in any of the amendments because the internal logical inconsistency cannot be explained away.
Lord Hughes: My Lords, perhaps I may extend to my noble friend dual congratulations. First, I join all other Members of the House in congratulating him on his new appointment. Secondly, although lawyers are not usually accused of brevity, I must congratulate my noble friend on managing to reply to 49 minutes of argument in seven minutes.
Having paid my tribute to the Minister, perhaps I may say at once that he has responded in the helpful way I hoped he would. I began by giving a text to the House. I referred to the remark by Mr. Peter Hain in another place:
As I observed earlier, it was perhaps a pity that some of those points were not made at an earlier stage by government Ministers. However, we had a clear statement in another place from Mr. Hain and I am extremely pleased that the Minister has gone out of his way to endorse fully and comprehensively the comments of Mr. Hain. That means that both Houses of Parliament have now had the assurances that we have been seeking.
I still feel a slight sense of discomfort that something that is constitutionally undesirable might occur as a consequence of the Bill, but because we all want the Bill to be the basis for a successful assembly we should now be prepared to accept the assurances given. The Minister was particularly helpful in what he said. He went perhaps further than Mr. Hain on this occasion. Mr. Hain was almost as warm in his praise for the Secretary of State as I was, and he brought tears to the eyes of those in another place when he spelt out the sacrifices to be made. However, he did not spell out how long those sacrifices might be postponed.
We have now had a clear statement which has been most helpful. We have been told that certain things need to be done. I refer to the transfer of functions; the concordats that need to be put in place; and the financial arrangements to be made. The Minister said that when he spoke of those matters he was speaking with the authority of the Secretary of State, and that he would be surprised and disappointed if the period was as long as the 12 months that I put as an outer limit in my amendment. In those circumstances, it is right to accept those undertakings and the statement that the Government have now made about their position. I express my gratitude for the fact that they have done so clearly in this House--even more clearly than in another place. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.