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Lord Roberts of Conwy: I am delighted to hear that the Government have decided to review their original proposals, not least because I can tell the Minister, who I know is always anxious to receive information about what goes on in the Principality, that there are many people in Wales--indeed, many organisations, ranging from the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales to the Country Landowners' Association, and so on--who are relying upon the Assembly in some way to correct anything that may be faulty as far as they are concerned in primary legislation passed by this Parliament.

The Government are absolutely right to say that they will consult the Assembly. The question arises as to what form this consultation will take. We know that devolution is a comparatively new development, that matters have not been finalised and that many developments are still open, as it were, to further development. However, there is the question of the form that the consultation will take. The Assembly is an executive body, but it has a Cabinet. It is also driven by a committee system. It is not clear to me as to who will be consulted. Will it be the Labour-led Cabinet, or the committee system, which consists of members of

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other parties too? Some Members of the Committee will be aware that that Cabinet may well change because there is a proposal to include the Liberals in it. That would make it into a different coalition from the system that we have had before.

This matter concerns who will be consulted. Whose views will be taken into account? We hope that a variety of views from different parties in the Assembly--I repeat that the Assembly is an executive body--will be heard and reported upon. Amendment No. 349 intrigues me. It reads:


    "Where the Secretary of State lays before Parliament the draft of an instrument containing regulations ... he shall also lay before each House of Parliament a document giving details of the consultation".

I have spoken of that consultation and expressed the hope that that document will contain a variety of views as befits consultation with an executive body, which is what the National Assembly for Wales is, unlike the Scottish Parliament. As I say, we hope to see a variety of views expressed as a result of that consultation.

However, the amendment further states,


    "and setting out any representations received from the Assembly".

We know that representations can mean objections. What will happen if objections are expressed by different members of the Assembly and different political parties represented in the Assembly, which is an executive body as I have said? At the end of the day, will the Government override the consultation and the representations received from the Assembly? It seems to me that that is a crucial point. I know that it is not easy for the noble Baroness to reply immediately, but I know that she will do the best she can, which is always more than acceptable. There is a real question in my mind as to what happens if the Assembly makes representations that are not consistent with the wishes of the Government. At the end of the day, do the Government have the power to override the Assembly and, in other words, tell it what to do?

Lord Jopling: There is another aspect of this group of amendments which bothers me. My concern stems from the remarks of my noble friend Lord Roberts. These amendments give more powers to the National Assembly for Wales. Clause 48 refers to restricted byways. When there is a proposal to amend existing legislation, what happens about highways which cross the border between Wales and England? The National Assembly for Wales may well have strong views about what should be done with regard to amending existing legislation on a restricted byway on the Welsh side of the border. Nothing in this group of amendments gives a duty to those concerned on the Welsh side to consult with people on the English side where the byway may pass from Wales into England.

The Government are amending the Bill by this group of amendments. There should be provision for consultation and attempts to reach agreement between the bodies of the National Assembly for Wales which consider these matters and the relevant authorities on the English side of the border. Nothing in this group of amendments deals with that point.

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It is an important matter. I understand that difficulties may arise on this point in practice. Therefore I hope that, when the Minister replies, the noble Baroness will explain what will happen with a restricted byway which crosses from Wales into England.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Byford: I take the points raised by my noble friends Lord Roberts and Lord Jopling. One could well have two different systems along the same pathway. I am sure that that is not the Government's intention.

I have two simple questions. As regards the proposed consultation, is there any time schedule to which the Government are working? How long will the various bodies have to consult? When they have consulted, to whom do they come back? It is not clear in this clause.

My noble friend raised the question of the make-up of the National Assembly for Wales. He knows far more about it than I shall ever attempt to know. It is important that we understand who at the end of the day makes the decision on behalf of that assembly. Again, that is not clear.

Mine are simple and minor points. If one is going to consult again, how long will the consultation last? When the bodies have consulted, to whom do their conclusions come back? Who can override their views? Do their conclusions end up with the Secretary of State? These are practical issues on which we should be grateful for guidance.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: I declare an interest as the current president of the Offa's Dyke Path Association. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, says that there might be problems. There are considerable problems as regards who is responsible for upkeep or who takes certain financial or administrative responsibilities, as the Offa's Dyke path meanders between England and Wales. Some local authorities are more generous than others. Some have their own staff to undertake maintenance and upkeep. Others devolve responsibility to different bodies. It is confusing for the lengthmen, the archaeologists and others concerned with the upkeep of this path. I believe that the Bill will increase the number of cases where that confusion already exists. I fear that it will become worse.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that the answer about where the final decision is taken at the end of the process is, here in Parliament, through the process of affirmative orders being laid before Parliament, except in those areas where Parliament has decreed that it would be entirely compatible with the powers and remit of the National Assembly for Wales for the assembly to make those decisions.

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Cross-border difficulties, including the issue that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford raised, relate to two types of devolution: the historical devolution of powers and duties to local authorities in England and Wales; and the historical situation in Wales combined with the recent devolution to the National Assembly. There are always difficulties over whether certain features should be taken away from local government completely and transferred to a single body, cutting out local views. I am sure that among your Lordships, as elsewhere, there is a range of views, from those who argue that the contribution of local government has led to marked innovations and improvements in services--albeit on a differential basis, because different authorities have been involved--through to those who believe that the same pattern should be applied everywhere, even if it means forgoing innovation. We shall have to continue to look at that.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, asked about what happens when borders are crossed. The situation is very little different from that of the M4, the bridges that cross from England to Wales or the roads that cross from England to Scotland. Many decisions will have to be taken on how this wholly new category of highway should be treated under various enactments and whether particular provisions should apply. We need adequate consultation on the basic principles. Joint agreements will be needed on the policies that will apply on both sides of the border.

The Government and Parliament should retain those powers that could give rise to amendments to a wide range of legislation and those that could affect non-devolved areas, such as possible amendments to the criminal law relating to road traffic and highways.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, asked about who speaks for the Assembly and kindly offered to bring to the House, and to me in particular, news of what was being said in the Principality. I am extremely grateful to him, but I assure him that I have my lines of communication and I spend quite a lot of time in the Principality. People in the Principality never hesitate to put their views across.

The Government consult the First Secretary. Tempting though the noble Lord's suggestion is that I ought to start to discuss, on behalf of the Government, how the First Secretary consults the Assembly and distils the view of the majority, I fear that this may be where angels fear to tread. The noble Lord and I agree totally that if the views of the majority of Members of the Assembly, which any First Secretary would be wise to heed when speaking for the Assembly, did not represent the views of all Members, those whose views were in a minority would not be backward in making certain that we were aware of them in looking at the orders before Parliament.

However, I believe that, in suggesting that government should become involved in assessing the minority views within the Assembly, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, tempts me down a primrose path that leads the wrong way. I fear that he is aware of that. I am sure that he would not have raised the question

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in quite that way had the majority view been that of the Conservative Assembly Members. Perhaps I am wrong and malign the noble Lord.


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