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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to debate in this House the progress of the National Assembly for Wales. I am very grateful for the significant number of noble Lords, many of whom have served Wales with great distinction, who have indicated a wish to speak in the debate. I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, that he is a very welcome guest at our Welsh debate this evening.
I must confess that it had been my hope to engineer this debate so that it fell on St David's Day. It shows that I am as yet inexperienced in the arcana of the procedure of this House that I have fallen short of the fence by a number of days. I shall try again next year.
From Cardiff, I received challenges today about the legitimacy of this House, and indeed this Parliament, debating the activity of the Assembly. In answer to that, I would say, first, that it is sometimes helpful for those who are on the inside looking out to hear the views of those who are informed and are on the outside looking in. Secondly, I would remind those who object to our having this debate at all that theirs are devolved powers from this Parliament and that there is a self-evident legitimacy to a debate of this kind.
I hope that I shall be forgiven for reminding the House of my party's commitment over many years to the devolution process. In the 1992-97 Parliament, when I was in another place, I was Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Wales. With Ron Davies from the Labour side, I was instrumental in agreeing with Labour the devolution settlement that was adopted. I
I also want to pay tribute to the party leaders in the Assembly--unbelievably, there have been seven so far--and to all the Members of the Assembly for their energy and dedication and for their unstinting efforts to make the Assembly the focus of everyday Welsh political life. Unfortunately, recent polling and the observations of many of us who live in Wales and have strong political interests, show that the Assembly has yet to win the respect of the Welsh electorate, let alone their hearts and minds. I want it to. No public institution paid for from public money can look to its future with self assurance unless it earns public support, though perhaps it is too much to expect any elected body to earn public esteem.
The events of recent days involving the replacement of the First Secretary have, on reflection, in my view not enhanced the reputation of the Assembly within or outside Wales. The adoption by the new First Secretary of an unchanged Cabinet, with no new policies whatever, seems decidedly odd after such conspicuous events. I know from perusing past debates that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, who will reply tonight, has sound historic Welsh credentials and a real knowledge of the issues. Therefore, it is with hope and even expectation that I urge upon the House tonight that several changes are needed to sustain the impetus of devolution and to give firmness to its purpose.
The first relates to the Assembly and its powers and role. It is old ground and I shall not dwell there. I simply say that the Assembly, with the changes I propose, would be well able to deal with primary legislation and, like the Scottish Parliament, should do so. If any public money was involved and it was thought right, that could be subject to scrutiny in this Parliament. But all grown up regional parliaments in the western world--at least, almost all--have some primary legislative powers and the Welsh Assembly should be no exception.
The second change I advocate--and it is a very important one--is that the separation of powers should be recognised in Cardiff in every sense. There are many top-quality public servants working at and for the Assembly. Their personal independence cannot be seriously doubted. Notwithstanding that, as was recognised by John Osmond in his December 1999 report for the Institute of Welsh Affairs, those public servants are serving two masters; the Assembly Members and the Welsh Cabinet. That is unsatisfactory and involves a conflict of interest far beyond the acceptable.
I suggest to your Lordships that, like the two Houses here in Westminster--and, indeed, like the Scottish Parliament--the Welsh Assembly should have a Clerk's department employed by, advising and answerable to the Assembly only. The staff should be no part of the executive arm of government. They
Connected, and on the issue of neutrality, is my third proposal. This, unfortunately, involves some criticism of someone I admire and I am pleased to see in his place; the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, who is the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales. In recent weeks, his self-vaunted refusal to take or heed the advice available from those senior officials I have mentioned has been regrettable. His comment prior to the confidence debate to the effect that Mr Alun Michael should get on his knees and pray for his job was deliberate, intemperate, ill-judged and, frankly, inflammatory. The noble Lord is an admirable politician, but he should consider whether he feels he is suited to what is necessarily a position of neutrality. And above all, perhaps it is right that there should be further enshrined in the rules of the Assembly a role for the Presiding Officer which is akin to that of the Speaker of the House of Commons.
The next issue to which I turn is the mode of debate in the Assembly. I suggest that the debating rules should be amended to give more Back Bench time in the most important debates. No Welsh politician worth electing ever fears or resents criticism and scrutiny in robust debates. The rules of the Assembly are stifling real debate. The no-confidence plenary motion was a stark example. It was the Assembly's most crucial debate, yet it took one hour or so only, with no Back Bench contributions. Indeed, if one looks at the lay-out, it is sometimes more reminiscent of the phoney parliaments of the old, planned, centralised economies than of the parliament which it seeks to be. The way in which Members are not identified with the areas they represent, in my view is not helpful to the public. Indeed, it is incongruously "unWelsh". It would befit the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, who has laughed throughout most of my speech, to hear these remarks as representing the views of many people in Wales.
My sixth point is that we must devise clearer and more routine links which are crucial between this Parliament in Westminster and the National Assembly for Wales. Too many people in Wales do not understand those links at the moment. They are too indistinct and that lack of understanding extends to some of us.
I turn briefly to the way in which the discussion in the debate on no confidence in the First Secretary was bedevilled by Objective 1 discussions. The discussion was bedevilled by a great deal of misinformation about the nature of Objective 1. I know that others will speak to that in more detail.
I hope that this debate will contribute something to the evolution of the Assembly. Above all, I hope that it will be recognised that party advantage should be set aside to two ends. The first is to give Wales a consistent and stable government with a clear programme until the next Assembly election in 2003. The second is to awaken Welsh people to the potential and importance of the Assembly, which I support. I want to see that reflected in large turn-out figures at the 2003 election as opposed to the disappointing turn-out at the last.
Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, I welcome this short debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew. It gives us an opportunity to discuss how things are developing at the National Assembly for Wales. I hope that some constructive points will emerge in the course of the debate which will also be of help to the Assembly.
Throughout my life I have argued the case for a Welsh elected assembly. The main object of Welsh devolution was to evolve a more democratic control over the actions of central government in Wales, to achieve more direct accountability of Welsh government to the people of Wales, to improve the material and social well-being of the people and to safeguard the heritage of Welsh nationhood.
The setting up last year of the National Assembly for Wales was for me a national and historic achievement. It was a milestone of huge significance in the history of Wales. Of that, I have no doubt. Having fought for a national assembly for decades, the expectations of many people were very high when the Assembly first opened its doors.
However, I am conscious that there has been much criticism of the way the Assembly has conducted its affairs. Those criticisms have been widely reported in the press. I shall not recite them this evening, but of course they have worried me, as they have all noble Lords. I have been particularly concerned that they could be exploited by the opponents of devolution in order to seek to damage the concept of devolution itself. Therefore, I wish to say as clearly as I can that my belief in the values of devolution and my confidence in the ability of the Welsh people to take charge of Welsh affairs has not been altered or weakened by anything that has gone on at the National Assembly. Rather, they have underlined that the National Assembly, and the national responsibility which it implies, was long overdue.
I tend to believe that most of the problems which lie at the source of the criticism are teething problems, because less than 12 months ago, most of the Assembly members were without previous experience of government. Others may take a different view of the nature of those problems. However, I am pleased to understand that some of the critics who fiercely opposed the proposal for a Welsh Assembly, right up
It has always been my belief that the future of a country must ensure respect for its different traditions. There is no easy way of safeguarding this. I would therefore not rule out of consideration the possibility of bringing members of other parties into the Executive, provided that there is sufficient consensus among them about the issues which need to be addressed.
As has already been said, the National Assembly has a new First Secretary. Last week, Rhodri Morgan took over from Alun Michael. I have known Alun Michael and his family for many years. Despite his major contribution to the setting up of the Assembly, a week or so ago he felt obliged to resign his office. That was his judgment. I welcome his successor, Rhodri Morgan, who has a large reserve of goodwill throughout Wales. He is an able and popular politician in Wales. It is my earnest hope that, under his leadership, the criticisms will be examined. If they are valid, they will be eliminated or alleviated.
As I said earlier, expectations were high last May. Those expectations are now more realistic. But I believe that the Assembly, with its teething troubles sorted out and uniting behind a broad programme of government, will grow in stature and responsibility as it wins the confidence of the people of Wales.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, has done us a service in raising this Question this evening. The decision to devolve political power in Wales was taken by the narrowest of margins. If that vote was taken again today, against the background of our experience so far, I doubt whether the result would be repeated. The majority in Wales are cynical about the whole exercise and believe that they are getting poor value for their money. Or, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, put it, the Assembly has yet to win the respect of the Welsh people.
Their cynicism stems from the fact that they feel that they have been treated with contempt by the Government and in particular those in the Labour Party feel that they have been manipulated and duped. There is an extraordinary lack of connection between the words used by the Government and their actions.
Over the past nine months, government in Wales has been paralysed. Partly that has happened because, even over the simplest matters, there has been endless debate and discussion in the Assembly itself. Partly it has happened because Mr Alun Michael combined, in a peculiarly disastrous manner, an inability to take decisions with an unwillingness to delegate. All over Wales, public bodies stand helpless, public appointments stand vacant and people await some sign that the administration has the capacity for action.
The question now is whether Mr Rhodri Morgan will be an improvement. His political career so far--and, I would add, his popularity--has been built on his talents as a hostile critic. He has been negative, destructive, rude and has seldom advanced a positive idea. The million dollar question is whether he can harness his undoubted talents and energy for a positive purpose. I hope that he can and that he will. The opposition parties should give him a chance, but if he fails they are entitled, acting together, to be as critical of him as he has so often been of others in the past.
I say, "acting together" advisedly. We have been told repeatedly by Ministers that devolution would bring together the political system in a new arrangement that was to be inclusive. That makes all the more remarkable the Prime Minister's extraordinary tirade at Question Time in another place about the fact that the Conservative Party had been prepared to act with Plaid Cymru in the Assembly vote of confidence. Does he not remember that moment on 19th September 1998 when his Secretary of State stood, hands aloft, with the leaders of Plaid Cymru at the School of Music and Drama in Cardiff? Does he not remember those happy days of 1974 when Labour was struggling to retain power and the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas--I am glad to see him in his place and I know that he will remember this--got phone calls every Sunday from the Government's Deputy Chief Whip? Patrick Hannon, the Welsh political correspondent for the BBC at the time, quoted the noble Lord as saying:
The Prime Minister's position is absurd. If you have an electoral system that fails to produce an overall majority, the governing party may need to act with others--the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, inferred that that was so. It follows that if there is to be effective opposition to bad or inadequate government, the same rules of combination and inclusivity must apply.
Mr Rhodri Morgan has a problem: he is called "Mr Brown". If there was no matching funding for Objective 1 expenditure for Mr Alun Michael, one can be sure that there will be none for him either. Therefore, where do we go from here? Almost certainly, the Assembly will fail to meet the expectations that have been created. It will blame that fact on a lack of powers and a lack of funds. It will demand more of both. Indeed, the process was started here this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew. As Mr Neil Kinnock observed when Michael Foot offered a measure of self-government, "A measure of self-government? You might as well talk about a measure of pregnancy!"
Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. This is almost a re-run of our pre-devolution debates. I am, of course, grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for enabling us to have this debate. Unfortunately, I shall disappoint him. I shall not respond to any of the issues relating to the recent events in the National Assembly. I believe firmly that, as the Presiding Officer, I should not take advantage of my position in this place to defend myself, if I ever felt the need to, from his criticisms in a court of law, in this House or, indeed, in any other place.
However, I wish to speak briefly about the implications of devolution for this House and, indeed, for the United Kingdom as a whole. I believe that we have achieved the beginnings of a new system of democracy in Cardiff which in style and content is very different from that at Westminster. That is not a criticism of Westminster; it is not a statement of praise for what we do in Cardiff. It is a reflection of the nature of devolved government. Devolved government will ever be thus. Whether it be Northern Ireland with its tremendous difficulties, the devolved Parliament in Scotland or the Assembly in Wales--we all operate differently.
I believe that the lesson we must learn is the importance of understanding that new political institutions will of themselves create different political cultures in the way that they respond and operate. This House must understand its role as a quasi-federal structure in relation to the new devolved United Kingdom. That requires an understanding of how devolved political culture operates and a way of analysing that--not in comparison with what happens in Westminster but what happens in devolved bodies in other legislatures within the Commonwealth or Europe, wherever those comparisons are valid.
I turn to my final point. Devolved bodies are accountable to the electorates of the devolved areas, nations or regions where they function. Ultimately, they are accountable in terms of the electorate to those structures. Therefore, when they operate on a day-to-day basis they must bear in mind that they do so in a political context with a new legitimacy, albeit a marginal one in the context of Wales because of the result in the devolution referendum. They are accountable to the areas they represent. Within those structures, their accountability to their elected representatives is as real as is the traditional accountability of the home Civil Service within the United Kingdom to this Parliament and Government. I believe that that most important principle increasingly is being understood in Wales and Scotland and has been understood over a long period in Northern Ireland, as I know from my noble friend Lord Molyneaux.
Therefore, I have every confidence that the new Assembly in Wales will be able to develop its own style of government and its own unique politics in a way which will be different from Westminster but which will not require Members at Westminster to feel the need to debate its activity. In the nature of devolved bodies, what they do and how they function will be different from what happens here. The responsibility of this House is to care for the new United Kingdom in a manner which allows those devolved bodies to represent the electorates they are elected to represent.
One of the greatest joys in my political life was to attend the first sitting of the National Assembly for Wales last May and to see our dreams become a reality. Having spent 15 years of my working life preparing and developing the policies for devolution of the Assembly through the Labour Party, it was truly a wonderful day. Thanks to the Labour Government, we now have devolved power in Wales and it makes me feel proud to be Welsh, just as we all felt very proud last Saturday. I am sure that your Lordships will join with me in congratulating the Welsh rugby team on its great success at last. It is hoped that it will go forward
The new Assembly has been in existence for just eight months. During that period, the former First Secretary, Alun Michael, played an important role in ensuring the smooth transition of power which has been no easy task in that new Assembly. I pay tribute to his determination and courage in making the Assembly work.
In his resignation speech, he demonstrated great dignity, ensuring that the Assembly could go forward and build on the work which he had started. History will be a better judge of his efforts, for his achievements will surely be recognised.
I view with great sadness the events leading up to the no confidence Motion. In that regard, I must agree with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew. It must be said that there is a general feeling among many people in Wales that the impartial role of the Presiding Officer, which should be very similar to that of the Speaker in other parliaments, was not maintained. That may be just a perception but, even so, it is a perception which must be acknowledged. Again, I recognise that those matters must be dealt with in Wales rather than in your Lordships' House. It is up to the members of the Assembly to decide whether or not they need to re-examine the role of the Presiding Officer.
The new First Secretary in the National Assembly for Wales, Rhodri Morgan, recently quite rightly said that our own Parliament had taken over 800 years to mature and develop. In the eight months or so since the new National Assembly has acquired its powers, we should not expect it to have achieved perfection. That said, our young democracy in Wales has achieved much in a very short time in terms of process and policy.
In terms of process, the new institution is up and running in a very short time with a combination of a Cabinet/government structure and a series of subject committees chaired by nominees from all the four parties in the Assembly. The subject committees are transparently and genuinely inclusive. There is considerable evidence of cross-party collaboration in their scrutiny and policy development roles. The agreed budget is evidence of the way in which collaboration is being developed between the Cabinet and the subject committees, with 30 of the 33 recommendations being accepted by the Finance Secretary, Edwina Hart.
And then there is the highly innovative corporate plan, Better Wales, which highlights the importance of transparency, accountability and, above all, improvements in the service for the people of Wales; for example, better jobs, health, education and social services.
In terms of policy development, the Labour Government of course believe that democratic devolution means developing policies in Wales appropriate to the needs of the people of Wales. I wish to highlight two of our Labour manifesto
First, the education and training action plan was a major manifesto commitment for Wales which has now been progressed very considerably and has certainly influenced much of the thinking behind the Learning and Skills Bill. Discussion of the plan by the post-16 education committee has been a model of cross-party collaboration in the field of policy development.
Secondly, probably the most important development in the Assembly in the past eight months has been the work of the health and social services committee in relation to its discussion on the need for a children's manifesto for Wales. That is another of the party's manifesto commitments. Of course, that assumes much greater significance following the publication of the North Wales child abuse report.
In conclusion, the Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy, has stated frequently in the past eight months that devolution for Wales is a settled question. By that he means that it is a democratic advance for the Welsh people which we, as a Government, have now achieved following a democratic mandate in the referendum. We have a challenging time ahead of us. What the Welsh people now need and deserve is a period of stability. It is only through such stability and improvement in the services provided to them by the Assembly that we shall win wider respect for the new institution which the Welsh people have created.
Surely the first task of the Assembly is to demonstrate to the people of Wales that it is making effective, imaginative, sensible and thorough use of the powers that it has. It has very considerable powers. Let us remember what they are. Basically, they are no more than control of the managerial and administrative powers of the Welsh Office. The powers of the Secretary of State were transferred to the Assembly and it has some other powers. But because it is an elected Assembly it can have far more influence than a mere administrative office.
I do not agree with Jan Morris that there is a crisis in the Assembly. There may be one in the Labour Party over it, which is partly in Cardiff and partly in London. There is no crisis in the Assembly as such. I believe that Simon Jenkins is quite right in saying that this is devolution in action. If the people of Wales do not wish to be dictated to from London they will say so, and they have. The question is an internal problem for the Labour Party and not for the rest of the Assembly.
I wish to deal with two particular matters--one economic and the other social--over which the Assembly has a great deal of control. I deal first with the Objective 1 status in Wales. A great deal has been written and said about that. I refer to an article in the Financial Times by its political editor, Mr Brian Groom, on 10th February, which I believe was the very day of Mr Michael's resignation. The heading states,
There is a crisis which has been created by the Government on that. About a fortnight ago in this House I said that we must remember that in Wales we see what is going on across the Irish Sea. We also see the funding which occurs there. We have seen the transformation of the economy of the Irish Republic. Without any doubt whatsoever the truth is that Wales has fallen behind the Republic of Ireland over the past 10 years.
I say to the Labour Party and the Government that if they do not provide matching funding from the Exchequer, which the people of Wales were given to understand would be achieved, and if it is not provided this year, the Government will run the risk of losing every seat that they have in Wales. I believe that they will find the matching funding. If they do not, then there is something wrong with them. Equally, I believe that they should find matching funding for those areas of England which have Objective 1 status in Merseyside and Cornwall, for example. It is a crucial problem for the Welsh Assembly and for the Labour Party in particular, which is the major party in the Assembly.
Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, raises an important Question and I thank him for his thoughtful speech. But I answer the Question in the affirmative. The Government's policy objectives in relation to devolution of power to Wales are being achieved. Of that I have little doubt.
In the nature of the settlement the Welsh Assembly is not only a new body; it is also a new kind of democratic institution. It is not a parliament as we know it. The late Richard Crossman may have called it a "mini-parliament"; others have called it a "quasi-parliament". It meant that new working methods, new ground rules, new procedures and new conventions had to be designed and settled. In those circumstances, no one can reasonably imagine that there would not be teething problems when the Assembly got down to business.
It is, in my view, unfortunate that the pro-devolution parties in Wales had not worked together in a Welsh constitutional convention to educate themselves, and public opinion, about the practical issues and expectations raised by devolution and to agree guiding principles which would govern their relationship within the Assembly when it was formed. I say that notwithstanding the strenuous efforts in 1991 and 1992 of the then Archbishop of Wales, Alwyn Rice-Jones. The idea of a Welsh constitutional convention went against the orthodoxy of the day--that was particularly true of my party--and the opportunity was lost.
I turn to the running of the affairs of the Assembly. It is evident that it has been through difficult times. But my noble friend Lord Cledwyn was right when he suggested that most of its troubles are teething troubles. I agree that it is also difficult to evaluate some of the indictments; for example, the alleged lack of coherence between the subject committees or the proper degree of understanding between officials and Assembly members. We are in difficulty in evaluating the criticisms because, to some extent, the Assembly has only been operating for nine months. It is difficult to determine factors such as efficiency of government when it has only been operating for that time.
But I take forward the point raised by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn that perhaps the Assembly or one of its committees could analyse, with benefit, the evidence for the criticisms which have been voiced and address any mischief which may exist. I would expect it also to take on board some of the proposals advanced this evening, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.
We come to his successor, Rhodri Morgan. He brings many qualities to the post of First Secretary. I believe that there has been a widespread favourable reaction in Wales to his election as First Secretary. The people in the street believe that he is a radical who is on their side against the establishment. For five years, when he was in Opposition, he worked on the Welsh Assembly plans. Now, as First Secretary, he will certainly have the authority to give impetus, focus and direction to the Assembly. I hope and believe that he will do precisely that. If I am right, his election will have been of considerable significance for the Welsh political landscape.
The late James Griffiths, the Charter Secretary of State for Wales, was fond of an old Welsh saying: Deuparth gwaith ei ddechrau--that getting a job started is two-thirds of the task. The Welsh Assembly is up and running. Mistakes have been made, but mistakes have, of course, been made by all human institutions. There is clearly much hard work to be done by the Assembly members. However, I believe that the foundation for a creative period in Welsh history is now in place. I believe that the tide at Cardiff Bay is at last turning for the National Assembly. However, I add a word of caution. There are always unforeseen dangers; there are always new opportunities; the tide will always ebb and flow.
Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach: My Lords, like everyone who has taken part in this debate, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for raising this timely Question. In answering it, we need to stand back and recognise three features of the Welsh Assembly. The first is that it is not yet a year old; it is only seven months old. The second is that it is a totally new kind of body in British politics. The National Assembly is itself a body corporate. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, remarked, that certainly poses difficult problems for civil servants in their allegiance to, on the one hand, the Members of the Assembly and, on the other hand, the members of the Executive. Because it is a new body, it has had to devise new rules and create new procedures. It cannot rely on Westminster. The third feature is that the Labour Party is in a minority position in government.
We therefore have a body which is less than a year old, an entirely new kind of body, and a minority government which is complicated by the introduction of proportional representation. All this amounts to a
To my mind, the first great achievement is that after 600 years, as was said explicitly by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, we have a National Assembly in Wales overseeing a budget of £7 billion, with Welsh issues being debated at greater length and drawing upon greater expertise than was possible at Westminster. When I go to Wales, as I often do, I sense that there is at present in Wales a buzz and a self-confidence which comes from the Assembly.
Thirdly--here I disagree with certain speakers--I must pay tribute to the Presiding Officer and say how pleased we are to see him in his place this evening. I think that he has been remarkably successful in steering this new institution through uncharted procedural matters. We know that he is Welsh but, even so, he has done a tremendous job, which is also to the benefit of the Assembly.
Finally, I do not see the Objective 1 issue as being a vote of no confidence by people in Wales. With a proper committee structure, one expects its members to probe issues. I think that the members of that committee should be congratulated on exposing the dissembling nature of the Treasury's behaviour in relation to the accounting of money from the European Regional Development Fund which remains in the coffers of the Treasury.
In the past, I have argued strongly from these Benches that Welsh devolution was a good thing and something which would bring serious benefits to Wales. It would be mean-spirited of us this evening, as well as ill-informed, if we said that it was anything other than a success. The Government have every right to feel pleased that their objective in having a devolved Assembly in Wales--and I say this as a Conservative--has been achieved.
However, I have three brief concerns. The first is the relationship between Cardiff and Westminster. The unearthing of the Objective 1 issue, primarily by Plaid Cymru, does not inspire trust by Cardiff in us here at Westminster. I believe that a constructive relationship between Cardiff and Westminster is important for both Wales and the United Kingdom. But with the contrast that is inevitably made between the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, this will not be easy. Therefore, we in Westminster should do everything in our power to minimise the lack of trust
Secondly, there is the question of the improved economic performance in Wales. I do not think that it is impertinent for me to raise the issue tonight because I have a vested interest in seeing democracy work in Wales. Also, as a taxpayer, I have a vested interest in seeing Wales be successful. I am concerned at the past reputation of the First Secretary in his attacks on the Welsh Development Agency. I sincerely hope that there is not the feeling in Cardiff that the civil servants can really manage the Welsh economy. The market economy has to be embraced but, most importantly, that must obviously happen within the context of social cohesion.
My time is really up, but I should like to mention my third point. Largely because of the role that I played with Mrs Thatcher in developing grant-maintained schools and NHS trust hospitals, I have always felt that devolution does not finish in Cardiff. Indeed, devolution should go beyond that. I hope that we shall see that in the Assembly. The challenge now is for the Assembly to articulate its vision for Wales--one which trusts the people as much as government. If it does so, I believe that in the next election we will see a real success and an endorsement of devolution.
Lord Brookman: My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew. Therefore, I believe that his critics in Cardiff, whom he mentioned earlier, are surely wrong. Indeed, it is valuable for us to have this debate. However, I must confess that the noble Lord threw me a little: I thought that the Question was whether the Government's,
In my view, the answer to the direct Question posed is yes. Indeed, the setting up of the Assembly, its very establishment, is the cornerstone of the devolution of power to Wales. Therefore, from my perspective, devolution is a settled question; a fact of life. Therefore I was somewhat concerned--I sensed some sour grapes here--at the brutal remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell.
Paul Murphy said that this was a settled question and that the establishment of the Assembly was a fact of life. I agree with that. One critically important aspect of the Government's devolution programme is their commitment to ensure that the policies are both appropriate to the needs of the people of Wales and are developed by the Welsh people themselves. In this respect I was impressed by the recent comments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he said that we
I am optimistic rather than pessimistic about the future. That is why I strongly welcome--as I hope do many other noble Lords this evening--the joint ministerial committees on the knowledge economy, on child poverty and on pension poverty. Such major issues cannot be overcome by Wales alone. As Paul Murphy said recently, poverty and unemployment do not respect national boundaries. I agree with that, as I am sure do many others here this evening.
Cardiff and Westminster working in democratic partnership is an important major new development since the creation of the National Assembly. We, the Welsh, have the people and the personalities to ensure success.
Many have already mentioned my next point. I wish to place on record my appreciation to the current Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, will agree that Paul Murphy was a key player in the Good Friday agreement. Alun Michael has already been mentioned. As the initial First Secretary of the National Assembly his hard work and commitment in difficult and challenging circumstances ensured that the Assembly was a success at the beginning and that our young democratic Assembly was established. We should pay tribute to him for that.
It is my belief that the new First Secretary, Rhodri Morgan, will bring his rich talents and leadership to his new post. Rhodri needs our support to ensure that the Government's devolution objectives continue to be driven forward in Wales for our people. I am absolutely convinced that such matters as match funding or Objective 1 status will be achieved if we are united in Wales for the people of Wales.
Despite the difficulties he has experienced I wish at the outset to pay tribute to the work of Alun Michael, who became First Secretary of the new Assembly last May. It was he who coined the phrase "dynamic devolution". In my view the people of Wales are in his debt because of the commitment and the dedication he has demonstrated over decades to make "dynamic devolution" a reality over the past year.
Increasingly politicians and members of the public in Wales are recognising that the Assembly will succeed or fail on the basis of whether it actually makes a difference to the lives of the people of Wales. The new First Secretary in Wales, Rhodri Morgan, put it in a
The Question posed tonight is to ask Her Majesty's Government whether their policy objectives in relation to devolution of power to Wales are being achieved. I suggest that they are being achieved. But we must recognise that the Assembly is new. It is early days. It must be given time to progress those objectives. Given that time, I have every confidence that they will be achieved. But the measure of achievement is clear. Not until standards of living and opportunities for the Welsh people have been substantially enhanced will the policy objectives be fully achieved. I have no doubt that the Assembly, given time, will succeed.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, a number of your Lordships have pointed out that the Assembly has suffered from a great deal of negative publicity in its first eight months. I rather sympathise with the views of Mr Alun Michael when he said that the media in Wales was in "a fragile state" and called for a tougher and more challenging type of journalism which concentrates less on personalities and more upon the facts and realities of the decisions the Assembly has to make.
To conquer the cynicism to which the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, referred, the Assembly's information services should be far more proactive in promoting the Assembly and explaining the way in which it works and the decisions which it takes. There is good news, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, said a moment ago. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hooson that the Assembly is not in crisis. There is a buzz, as the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, said.
The positive side is that the machinery for policy making constructed for the Welsh Assembly is beginning to work. It is a new and different way of policy formation, as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, pointed out. I have been impressed, during the course of the Learning and Skills Bill passing through your Lordships' House, at the way in which
However, there is also disappointment. The policy objectives trumpeted were a stronger economy in Wales, more jobs and better access to European funds. Mr Alun Michael unhappily failed to convince us that he was an advocate for Wales in Westminster rather than for Westminster in Wales. If he feared the impact of any criticism of the Blair Government or of the Treasury on Welsh Westminster Labour-held parliamentary seats, I am afraid that Ceredigion was the answer, where the Labour Party came last.
I feel that an opportunity has so far been lost to achieve those shared objectives by reason of a lack of co-operative mechanisms within the Assembly. Mr Michael wrote to the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Michael German, on 29th November, in response to suggestions that he put forward, saying:
No core programme for government has ever been worked out upon which consensus between the parties can be built. I am sure that every Assembly Member is working for the benefit of Wales. In the short-term, there are no real major ideological differences. But if there is to be the kind of partnership approach which Mr Rhodri Morgan has now commended, if there is to be inclusivity and the stability to which the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, referred, it has to be recognised that, as partnership, it cannot be portrayed as a Labour programme, credited to the Labour administration just with the support of other parties. I fully understand why the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, refers to the fulfilment of Labour Party manifesto commitments, but I hope she appreciates that we on these Benches have been talking for 20 and 30 years about the ideas that eventually surfaced in the Labour Party manifesto. The ideas come from everyone with Wales at heart.
So why is there no core programme? It is because the agenda is driven by Westminster. It is bound to happen where the primary legislative function is withheld from Cardiff. The priorities are bound to be Westminster priorities. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hooson that the Assembly has to perform its existing functions, but I also believe that there must be slow evolution towards primary legislative powers for the Welsh Assembly itself if devolution is ever to function properly. We need to develop the subject committees; we need to open cross-party discussion of Green Papers and White Papers, with consultation with interested bodies in Wales and the taking of evidence where appropriate, as happened with regard to the Learning and Skills Bill. Welsh primary legislation should be drafted in Wales in parallel and considered by the Assembly in plenary session prior to its introduction at Westminster.
Those are developments for the future. We must continue in Westminster to discuss these issues. I reject any suggestion that it is not appropriate for us to discuss them. If there is to be development along those lines, this is where it is going to start. My noble friend Lord Carlile said that we must sustain the impetus of devolution. Mr Charles Kennedy said a week ago in Cardiff that:
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I add my compliments to those already given to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on securing this timely and valuable debate. I would remind the noble Lord that I have an oral Question down for 1st March, so he can turn up here to assist me with his daffodil.
There are two very different views of the current position of the National Assembly. One is cheerfully optimistic and was well represented by the Prime Minister in an article in The Times on 12th February, in which he argued that devolution is giving new expression to existing regional and national identities.
Others are, if not cynical, frankly disappointed. That is the description most commonly applied to the Assembly's performance to date, even by many of those who voted for it in the referendum. It would be very unwise to ignore that feeling in the country.
Personally, I believe that we have to distinguish between the National Assembly as such, which shows all the immaturity and inexperience of a novel institution, and the Labour administration's handling
I want to raise a key practical point which has to do with our role here at Westminster as primary legislators--a role that we still have, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that it will probably continue for the foreseeable future.
It has become clear in recent weeks that the Assembly is badly out of sync with the UK Parliament in that the Assembly has not completed its consideration of policy before we have begun our consideration of Bills that give effect to those policies. One example is the Learning and Skills Bill, which sets up a new major council for education and learning in Wales. We took the Second Reading of the Bill weeks before a plenary session of the Assembly approved the overall policy. That is putting the cart before the horse in a big way. The message must be loud and clear: if Assembly members want this Parliament to take account of their views, they must complete their deliberations before the primary legislative process begins. There are serious consequences if that does not happen.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who also attended the Committee stage of the Bill last week, knows as well as I do, as does the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, who will reply to the debate, that the Bill is incomplete so far as concerns Wales and significant amendments will have to be tabled at a later stage. That may mean curtailment of our consideration of them. This is a serious matter. I suspect that it is causing some concern within the Government and that they will wish to put it right.
The same criticism can be levelled at the Local Government Bill, which was also first introduced in this House. It was established on the first day in Committee that the Welsh amendments would not be available until Report stage because of some dilatory consideration within the Assembly. If those amendments are significant, we may be in recommittal territory.
To sum up on this point, the Assembly must adjust itself better to the primary legislative process. What is subject to primary legislation in England must surely be similarly treated where Wales is concerned. It is no use leaving everything to secondary legislation. That is not the catch-all that some believe it to be. It has its limitations.
I say with some regret that a number of Assembly Member give the impression that they wish to distance themselves from this Parliament and relish their isolation. If so, I believe that they are mistaken. There are many of us at Westminster who genuinely wish to be helpful to the Assembly and to see it succeed, but to achieve our aim we must be kept fully informed of the Assembly's proceedings in its committees as well as its plenary sessions. We must not be kept in the dark.
In conclusion, I am very glad that the Presiding Officer is in his place. I have read in the press that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, came under a great deal of what I regard as undue pressure from the Government during the recent turmoil and that there is public concern about the independence of his office and staff. If that were true, many of us would share that concern. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Crickhowell and I tried to press an amendment to secure the independence of that office during the passage of the Government of Wales Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness who is to reply is able to reassure us on that particular score.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for giving the House the opportunity to debate this matter tonight. I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to the noble Lord's Unstarred Question and to most of the points raised in the debate. It is clear from the contributions of all noble Lords who have spoken that there is wide-ranging support and goodwill to make devolution work. I cannot resist the temptation to join all those noble Lords who have claimed historical support for the principle of devolution. I join my noble friends Lord Cledwyn, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Brookman, among others. For us, the establishment of the Welsh Assembly is an enormous achievement.
For the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, 100 years ago Keir Hardie, Labour's first MP who represented Merthyr, argued for devolution along with workers' rights, reform of the House of Lords and a minimum wage. I am happy to join the noble Lord in welcoming his party to the principle of devolution established by Keir Hardie.
The Government's policy objectives in relation to devolution of power in Wales were very simple: to give democratic expression to the sense of identity which has always existed among the people of Wales. We believe that that policy objective has been clearly achieved. As my noble friends Lord Cledwyn and Lord Brookman indicated, we do not believe that central control promotes good government. Government should be close to the people, and the Assembly is a clear implementation of that policy. It is vitally important that the Assembly works well with central government, and that is happening.
Noble Lords will recognise that what goes on by way of informal contacts is at least as important as the formal mechanisms. There is a formal memorandum of understanding with the UK Government which sets
The noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas, Lord Griffiths, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and Lord Roberts, have suggested that the legislative process in Westminster does not always mesh well with the policy processes of the Assembly. The same issue has been raised in the Assembly in the debate on the Government's legislative programme which was attended by the Secretary of State for Wales. As a result of that debate, the Assembly has discussed a draft protocol under which it can put proposals for primary legislation to the Secretary of State. He expects to receive it in the near future and will discuss it with colleagues and an agreed procedure will be adopted.
However, the process this year is not being held up until the adoption of the protocol. The informal links are already in place and in accordance with the memorandum of understanding and various concordats, discussions are already taking place.
I can understand the pride of my noble friend Lady Gale at being present when the Assembly first met in May immediately after the elections. But noble Lords are also aware that the Assembly did not receive its functions until 1st July; and detailed policy discussion did not get under way until the autumn. As my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies said, it was inevitable, therefore, that this year would not always run totally smoothly. As my noble friends Lord Cledwyn and Lord Prys-Davies, and the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, said, the Assembly is a new body. It is a learning process and an exciting challenge both for the Assembly and for Whitehall. I welcome the transparency of policy making in Wales.
The Government have no wish to put difficulties in the way. As the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, said, the systems are new and the UK Government have had to learn how to accommodate them. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, referred to the new political culture that will be inevitable in new political institutions. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, and my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, in being confident that we shall learn from experience and will have far fewer problems next year. It is in the nature of human beings and human organisations that no one can predict that there will never be another problem. But we are working hard to ensure that we work together.
I respond to the point of the noble Lords, Lord Hooson and Lord Griffiths, that the Assembly already has many powers to control and influence matters of great importance to the people of Wales. It has always been our view that this gives the Assembly genuine scope to make a real difference in Wales, and I know that the new First Secretary feels the same.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred to this young institution as having some dilatory consideration procedure, for example, with regard to the Local Government Bill. In developing this new process there will obviously be a mismatch of timing from time to time. But we believe that the process is valuable and we must work hard to make it work. My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies referred to the lack in Wales of the benefit that the people of Scotland had in the form of the constitutional convention.
The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, stressed the importance of our working in partnership with the Assembly to develop procedures which allow the decisions that it takes to be implemented. But it is not the job of any of us in this House to second guess the decisions taken in Wales by those closest to the lives of the people who will be affected by those decisions.
I was a little concerned when the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, used the expression "we must be kept informed". It is important that in a democracy we are kept informed, and that everyone is aware of what institutions are doing. I am sure that he did not mean that we ought to be informed, as it were, as the parents in a family in a political democracy where the different partners are developing. I am quite sure that we want a partnership approach rather than a heavy-hand approach, which would be totally at odds.
It is not for noble Lords and certainly not for the Government to discuss, debate, evaluate and judge the policy, procedures and political judgments of the Assembly. Those are matters for the people of Wales, and the success of devolution will ultimately depend upon the suitability of the decisions that are taken, in terms of them gaining the confidence of the people of Wales.
The noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Griffiths, referred to a buzz and self-confidence. I have also felt that, and not only in the context of the Welsh rugby success that was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale.
The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, raised the issue of the current First Secretary and the WDA. Rhodri Morgan has been the Assembly's Economic Development Secretary since May. During that time he has worked closely with the WDA in promoting the economic prosperity of Wales.
The noble Lords, Lord Roberts, Lord Griffiths, Lord Carlile and Lord Elis-Thomas, raised issues in regard to the Civil Service. Assembly civil servants are members of the unified Civil Service and carry out
My noble friend Lady Gale referred to the draft strategy document, Better Wales. I compliment the Assembly on the process of consultation that it is undertaking in that regard. I agree with the points raised by my noble friend about the importance of the development of quality areas, in particular in regard to the tragic story of the North Wales Child Abuse Inquiry report and the Assembly view that there is a need for a Children's Commissioner.
I return to the issue of Objective funding. As my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity stated, no-one should doubt the commitment of the Government to ensuring that the money necessary to match funding in those areas where it is appropriate will be the subject of detailed discussion during the comprehensive spending review. It would not be sensible to take one
I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to Alun Michael's hard work and his contribution to the setting up and operation of the Assembly. I extend my very best wishes to Rhodri Morgan in his new role. We have an example of devolution in action and I join all noble Lords, once more thanking the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in developing the debate, but stressing yet again that we must not appear to usurp the role of the Assembly in making its own political policy judgments and developing democracy in Wales. We all wish it well, even though it is not yet 1st March.
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