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Baroness Byford: Perhaps the noble Baroness will give way. I fear that I cannot let that pass. I believe that the question raised by my noble friend is genuine. Obviously, if the Government want consultation to take place then the First Secretary, whose responsibility we now know it will be, will have to take into account the many varying views. I know that my noble friend will speak for himself; he has never been backward at doing that. However, speaking as an amateur by comparison, I am struck by the thought that he may find himself in a dilemma. He may well find himself wanting to follow one path, whereas the majority view may want to follow another.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: That is the structure of devolved government which applies in Wales. The First Secretary is accountable to other Members of the Assembly and to the people of Wales for the way in which he achieves that. It is not for us to comment on the process whereby he achieves a way of speaking for the majority view and for the Assembly in those circumstances. I believe that an attempt is being made to put forward the view that it will not be possible to achieve consensus and agreement. We do not accept that that is likely.
I was asked about time consultation. The time taken on consultation is the same as in other areas. It is impossible to lay down in legislation the type of detailed constraints on time for consultation that I believe were sought in the question. We shall try to ensure that we are fair and that common sense is used. Ultimately, it will be for Parliament to judge that adequate participation has taken place.
Lord Northbrook: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may seek clarification. I may have misunderstood what she said with regard to representations received from the Assembly. Did she say that she would not include the minority views or did she say that the whole ambit of views would be taken into account?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I said neither; I said that the form in which the views of the Assembly were expressed was a matter for the Assembly. However, I said that I had no doubt that, were the Assembly majority view to be expressed and for there to be an alternative minority view, my experience of politicians in Wales leads me to believe that people in both Houses would be in little doubt that a further minority view existed. I say that based simply on experience. The formal and only position that the Government can take is to listen to the First Secretary speaking for the Assembly. Does that clarify the matter?
Lord Roberts of Conwy: I am sorry if the noble Baroness thought that I was seeking to mislead her. I was simply trying to invite her on to my open boat, which is the byway open to all traffic, when it comes to discussion of the Welsh Assembly and its future.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: I shall not pursue that line. The noble Baroness said that the ultimate decision would be taken here in Parliament. I understand that. It is shorthand for the fact that the ultimate decision lies with the Government and the Government's decision being approved by Parliament. I have no objection whatever to that.
On the matter of consultation, the Minister said that the consultation was limited to consultation within government, in effect, and with the First Secretary of the Welsh Assembly. I suggest to the Minister that that is an extremely autocratic procedure. It is hardly democratic if all that has to happen by way of consultation is for the Secretary of State to talk to his good friend the First Secretary of the Welsh Assembly. And that amounts to consultation which is then reported to Parliament! I beg to differ and say that that is a travesty of consultation.
I certainly do not want to involve the Committee in further detailed discussions of this point. But the power resides in the Assembly, which is an executive body with its own Cabinet and committee system and so on. It is rather like a super-county council. That is where the power lies. To say that consultation on the part of the Secretary of State is sufficient if it is limited to the First Secretary is, to my mind, really begging the question.
I fire this shot across the bows of our boat: there are many people in Wales, particularly in the academic world, who now believe that the Assembly is inadequately equipped and that it should have legislative power. I warn the Minister that the current position, when we say that consultation involves simply the First Secretary, is power to their elbow. I am sorry to have mixed my metaphors but what I mean to say is that our boat may very well have not only a shot across the bows but also have a shot amidships if that message gets home.
I do not want to take the matter too far but the Minister will know that there has been discussion about a protocol which would govern the relationships between the Assembly and government and Parliament here at Westminster. We know that that protocol has been in draft for a number of months but it has not been finalised. The Government control the Assembly at the moment, but they may well not do for long because they will be dependent on the Liberal Democrats if their deal goes through. The Government control it now, and they should finalise
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: First, the protocol governs the way the consultation occurs between the two bodies; it is not about the internal decisions. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, that I did not say that the Government simply consult the First Secretary. If I was heard to say that, perhaps I expressed myself badly. I said that the Government consult the First Secretary: it is the responsibility of the First Secretary and the Assembly to determine the way in which the views of the Assembly are expressed by the First Secretary.
The noble Lord referred to the issue of who controls the Assembly. I find the use of the term "control" slightly old-fashioned. I prefer "administer" or "govern". I do not like concepts of control. The decisions that are taken within the Assembly, such as who forms the executive, who is accountable and how people are consulted, are a matter for the First Secretary. I would certainly not advocate any First Secretary being told by Westminster how to approach that; even less the Members of the Assembly being told how they formulated their views.
The question of minority views is a matter for the procedure and process adopted for the internal consultation within the Welsh Assembly as to what their views are. That is a matter for them. The only point I made is that I believe that the least helpful way would be for us to speak from here about the way the Welsh conduct their affairs within their Assembly.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps she could try to answer a key question which has arisen in the course of our debate. Let us suppose that the Assembly takes a quite different view from the Government in its representations which this place and the Government will receive from the Assembly. Who shall prevail?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: That will depend on the circumstances and on the judgments which have to be made. Some issues on which the Assembly will be consulted are matters which are wholly reserved to Westminster. I refer, for example, to criminal law. It is possible that the Assembly will have a view on that. There will be other matters that are totally within the powers and jurisdiction of the Assembly and other matters on which there will have to be a matter of common agreement.
I refer the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, to the fact that the same applies to points of contact in the north between England and Scotland where the jurisdiction and responsibility for roads are different both sides of the border. That is a feature of devolution. Those that support it welcome it and have faith in the process. Those who wish to undermine it do not have the same view.
Baroness Byford: In responding to my question on the time factor, the Minister indicated that that would be flexible. I understand that the normal procedure is a minimum of eight weeks. Perhaps the Minister could confirm that. In view of the difficulties about which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford spoke earlier, I am slightly anxious that, should the Assembly decide to keep the time factor to a minimum, that will not be long enough. There are present ongoing problems, let alone problems which may occur in future. I wonder whether she could clarify the position.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Before the noble Baroness replies, it is precisely because of what might happen if the majority opinion in the Welsh Assembly was different to the majority in Parliament, that my noble friend's questions are so important. The problem arises if there is a disagreement. It seems that we are setting up a confrontational situation if the Welsh Assembly and Westminster have different political majorities. So, with great respect, the noble Baroness ought not to talk as she did.
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