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Lord Roberts of Conwy: I am grateful to the Minister for the tidying-up operation that has clearly taken place. His description of the amendments makes it clear that the provisions relating to the National Assembly for Wales have been considerably improved. However, that begs the question about the consultations that occurred with the National Assembly before the Government tabled their amendments.

The Minister should take on board the fact that consultation between central government and the National Assembly for Wales is not as refined, polished and advanced as it should be. However, he paid a clear tribute to the First Secretary, Mr Rhodri Morgan, who has obviously taken the matter in hand. As a result, the Bill's provisions relating to Wales are better. We shall of course study the amendments once the Bill has completed its Committee stage and before we reach Report.

Who will supervise the Bill's implementation in Wales? Apart from the National Assembly, a host of bodies is contained in Schedule 1. Those bodies, which include the Ancient Monuments Board for Wales and the Arts Council for Wales, are responsible to the National Assembly. I accept that under the Bill's provisions, the National Assembly is a public authority that is accountable; so, too, are what I might call the subsidiary authorities that are responsible to the National Assembly. For example, how will the information commissioner work in Wales? Will he or she have a specific relationship with the National Assembly, or will he or she deal directly with the bodies that are subsidiary to the Assembly?

I am glad that the noble Lord took on board the point that was made about consultation. The arrangement by which the Secretary of State will consult the National Assembly is ably dealt with in

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Amendments Nos. 61 and 68. I dare say that there is further provision for consultation before making additions to or subtractions from the list in Schedule 1.

The position of the National Assembly for Wales is in marked contrast to that of the Scottish Parliament, which is, so far as I can make out, excluded from the Bill. That is not the case with the Northern Ireland Assembly. Before the introduction of the amendments to which the Minister has spoken, the provisions relating to the Northern Ireland Assembly were rather better than those relating to the National Assembly for Wales.

I note the Minister's comments on the Welsh Assembly's subsidiaries, which will still be covered. However, some bodies are not mentioned in Schedule 1, namely the Cabinet of the National Assembly and the associated committees. I assume that the Bill will cover them through the title of the National Assembly for Wales. A further problem involves local authorities, especially in view of the provisions in the Local Government Bill for cabinet-style government.

I conclude with a question. Are the Government sure that under the proposed new cabinet system for local government, local authorities will still be subject to the Bill's provisions?

Lord Lucas: I take this chance of riding on our general discussion about Wales to ask the Minister to clarify the position of the Welsh language under the Bill's provisions. Am I right in thinking that an application under Clause 7 could be made in Welsh? The provisions of Clause 10(1)(a) suggest that a request that the reply be received in Welsh would have to be acted on. Under Clause 19(1), would information provided in English be deemed to be not reasonably accessible to someone who was a Welsh speaker? To pursue the matter further, what is the position of someone who does not speak English or Welsh and who is a relatively recent immigrant or a member of a minority community? Would the Bill entitle such a person to ask for, and expect to receive, information in the language that he happens to speak?

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My preliminary advice is that the amendments improve the Bill no end with regard to Wales. We support them. One can only wonder how a provision as odd as defining a government department as including the National Assembly for Wales was ever included, particularly when other clauses specifically contradict that. The National Assembly should never be regarded as a government department. It is clearly a public body.

Scotland is excluded under Clause 78 because it is within the authority of the Scottish Parliament to carry forward any equivalent legislation. The United Kingdom Government are covered in so far as their powers extend to Scotland, but not the departments affected by devolution. My information is also that the amendments clarify the position for Northern Ireland.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: To respond to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, we are alive to the need for consultation, particularly on the Bill. There is

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regular consultation between Home Office officials and the National Assembly for Wales about the terms and implementation of the Bill. The noble Lord was right to identify that many of the changes were brought forward at the request of the First Secretary.

I was asked who will supervise the implementation of the Bill in Wales. Every public authority is required to produce a publication scheme. That has to be approved by the information commissioner, who is responsible for the day-to-day implementation of the Act.

For the purposes of the Bill, the public authority is the National Assembly for Wales. The Cabinet and its committees will be subsumed in that. Equally, executive or cabinet-style local authority committees are covered by reference to the local authority.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked about a question put in Welsh. Welsh language requests will be dealt with in accordance with the Welsh language scheme that will apply in relation to the relevant authority.

I think that that deals with all the questions that have been asked. I commend the amendments to the Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 58 and 59:


    Page 2, line 38, leave out ("or by a government department") and insert ("by a government department or by the National Assembly for Wales").


    Page 2, line 41, leave out ("or by a government department") and insert ("by a government department or by the National Assembly for Wales").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 60 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 61 and 62:


    Page 3, line 9, at end insert--


("( ) Before making an order under subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall--
(a) if the order adds to Part II, III, IV or VI of Schedule 1 a reference to--
(i) a body whose functions are exercisable only or mainly in or as regards Wales, or
(ii) the holder of an office whose functions are exercisable only or mainly in or as regards Wales,
consult the National Assembly for Wales, and
(b) if the order relates to a body which, or the holder of any office who, if the order were made, would be a Northern Ireland public authority, consult the First Minister and deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland.").


    Page 3, leave out line 12.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 63 not moved.]

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 [Further power to designate public authorities]:

[Amendments Nos. 64 and 65 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

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Clause 6 [Public authorities to which Act has limited application]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 66:


    Page 4, line 16, leave out paragraph (a).

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 67. Clause 6(3) allows the Secretary of State to limit by order the right of access to specified information that is held by a public authority. The provisions were described in another place as "housekeeping measures"--a phrase that was used a little earlier. They allow the Government to amend the Bill to take account of changing functions. We support the idea behind the provision but the question is how it should be worded.

The Bill says that the Secretary of State may by order amend Schedule 1,


    "by limiting to information of a specified description the entry relating to any public authority".

Amendment No. 66 would require the Secretary of State to specify the functions of the public authority that were to fall within or without the Bill, rather than particular information. That is more desirable.

Amendment No. 67 would limit the Secretary of State's power by removing the ability to amend any limitation. He could still remove a limitation if he wished to do so. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The amendments would deny the Secretary of State the power to make an order to limit to information of a specified description the entry in Schedule 1 relating to any public authority and would remove the power to amend any such limitation.

When the amendments were debated in another place, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office, acknowledged the potential mischief at which they were aimed, but we still believe that they are unhelpful--I do not often use that word--and unnecessary in dealing with the perceived mischief.

Members of another place were clearly concerned that the limited order-making power in Clause 6(3) could be abused by Ministers intent on removing whole areas of information from the provisions of the Bill.

The Government have listened to those concerns and responded. Our proposals do not allow the Secretary of State to use his powers arbitrarily. Any order made under Clause 6(3) would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure by virtue of Clause 80(2)(a). That means that any proposal to vary or limit the scope of an existing entry in Schedule 1 could be given effect to only after the careful consideration and approval by Parliament of a draft order. We believe that that is a sufficient safeguard.

Amendments Nos. 66 and 67 go further than is reasonable. They would remove much-needed flexibility in the approach to coverage under the Bill. It currently applies to tens of thousands of public authorities, many of which pursue functions that are conferred on them otherwise than by primary

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legislation. It is right that the Bill should have a mechanism for excluding information relating to functions that public authorities have acquired by other means when it is not appropriate for such information to be subject to the rights in the Bill.

We do not want to get carried away with the Bill's proposals. Very few entries contain such limitations and we do not intend to increase that number dramatically by use of the order-making power in Clause 6(3). However, it is a necessary power. I hope that I have encouraged the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

9 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: I believe that it would greatly assist the Committee if the noble Lord could provide examples of the kind of limitation which he believes Ministers should be allowed to make regarding documents or information relating to a specific description. I can well understand that he is putting forward a general argument but it is in relation to a specific power. If the Minister could provide examples of the kind of power which he proposes should rightly be exercised under this extension, I believe that that would enable us to understand why that is so necessary.


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