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Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, one of the most revealing debates we had in Committee was that initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Crickhowell has taken up the key themes. I fully support his amendment.
The aim is to reinstate the basic protection that characterises chartered bodies such as the Arts Council of Wales. Whatever other views there may be, the status of those bodies, along with the variable status of other non-governmental organisations, was accurately described in Section 28 and the four parts of Schedule 4 to the Government of Wales Act 1998. Those provisions actually describe the statutory status of the various bodies. There is no doubt in my mind that the Assembly Government, in their haste to set alight the much-promised bonfire of the quangos, circumvented Section 28I use the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morriswhen they considered the future of the Arts Council. They appear to have resorted to Section 32 for justification. That provision has been amplified and now appears in this Bill as Clause 61, while Section 28 has been left as a remnant in the 1998 Act.
I hope that the Minister will either confirm or deny that Section 28 is still required to complete the abolition of the Welsh Development Agency, the Wales Tourist Board, the Welsh Language Board, and other easily disposable quangos. It may well be, subject to confirmation, that Section 28 accounts for their preservation.
I shall not repeat many of the points that have been made, but I want to refer to the bonfire of the quangosor the reform of Assembly-sponsored public bodies, to use the governmental terminology. Government departments had the benefit of Cabinet Office guidance on non-departmental public bodies. It was issued in September 2004, as far as I can make out, and arose, presumably, because of reviews of public bodies outside Wales at the time.
The guidance states that a chartered body cannot be dissolved by executive action. It then lays down the line that has, in effect, been taken with the Arts Council of Wales. The guidance goes on to say:
"If the body concerned receives a grant-in-aid and the Secretary of State is responsible for all the appointments to the Board, then, if the Secretary of State wishes to cease funding that body and terminate the appointments or not renew them, the body would effectively cease to resist. If served with notice of the Secretary of State's intentions, the last act of the body should be to Petition for the surrender of the Charter. Arrangements would then be made for the disposal of any assets and liabilities before the process would be completed".
As I understand it, the Assembly Government have gone quite far down that road; their progress has been arrested only by the adverse vote in the Assembly in
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February. They have appointed a committee to look into this matter, and no doubt we will hear the outcome in due course.
It is important to remember that after the Bill becomes law and Welsh Ministers become Ministers of the Crown under Clause 84 in certain circumstances they could petition the Privy Council to end the chartered body. Again, I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm my understanding of the position.
I must return to another major point arising from our debate in Committee, when I described the action of the Assembly Government in the arts context as an error of judgment. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, intervened to say that that may or may not be right, but the question is whether this House should prevent the Assembly exercising that judgment. It was and still is a fair point. In a subsequent debate the noble Lord described himself as a genuine devolutionist rather than a restrictionist, and his meaning was perfectly clear.
My immediate answer was to question whether it was right for this House to aid and abet the Assembly in what it was trying to do with the use of Section 32 of the 1998 Act and Clause 61 of this Bill by appearing to ignore the still-operative Section 28. The noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, also argued in his closing speech that, in view of the political and potential legal difficulties in the clash between Sections 28 and 32 of the 1998 Act, we clearly have a supervisory role. He argued very strongly that, in discussing a Bill that provides the mechanisms for further powers to be granted, we must surely be able to discuss the use made of powers already given. The same fundamental issue underlies today's debate. My personal view is that while I am content to allow the free exercise of powers for good or ill, I cannot tolerate or wilfully connive at a manipulation of powers that will undermine a longstanding and generally agreed principle, as the arm's-length principle in arts patronage certainly is. In my view, nothing but harm can come of it.
With regard to the consolidation point in Amendment No. 104, the Minister was good enough to send me clarification about which parts of the 1998 Act were likely to survive this Bill. Clarification took the form of an annex listing sections and schedules the Government did not intend to repeal and which would therefore remain in effect. It is a very mixed bag. After the swathe of repeals has been cut, some 12 sections and one schedule of that Act are subject to amendment by Schedule 10 to this Bill alone. Other sections and schedules are subject to change under this Bill, as is other legislation such as the Public Audit (Wales) Act and the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Act. The net result is that it is indeed difficult to find out precisely what the law is in certain areas, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell pointed out. I therefore endorse my noble friend's call for some consolidation of existing legislation.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, this has been an interesting short debate. I am interested in the fact that a lot of the discussion centred on the
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amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Temple-Morris in Committee. As was acknowledged at the time, he was having an interesting discussion about the nature of our arts funding and the relationship between the Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Assembly. He made some interesting and valuable points, as I said at the time. As someone who has lived in the interface between Government and the arts practically all my life, I recognised so many of the arguments. During our second day in Committee I explained and clarified in my letter, which is available in the Library, the status of Section 28 and Schedule 4 to the Government of Wales Act 1998. However, I will try to give further clarification.
Amendments Nos. 34, 35 and 78 would introduce Section 28 and Schedule 4 to the Government of Wales Act 1998 into the Bill. These provisions relate more to the law applying to Welsh public bodies than to the rest of the subject matter of the Bill. The Bill is focused clearly on setting out a new constitutional framework. I reiterate that these provisions will not be repealed or re-enacted in the Bill. The amendments are therefore unnecessary.
A lot of discussion centred on Amendment No. 35, which introduces Section 28 of the Government of Wales 1998 into the Bill. The effect of the amendment would be negligible because Section 28 has not been repealed and still stands on the statute book. The amendment also fails to take into account that the functions currently belonging to the Assembly will, with the enactment of this Bill, pass to Welsh Ministers as a result of separation.
Section 28 of the Government of Wales Act is just one of the numerous provisions on the statute book which confer functions on the Welsh Assembly. Like other functions conferred on the Assembly, they will, with the enactment of the Bill, pass to Welsh Ministers. That is provided for in Schedule 10 to the Bill.
The Bill is designed to reflect the current devolution settlement, not that of eight years ago, when the Government of Wales Act 1998 was passed. As a result, it does not include provisions which do not need to be re-enacted. This has kept it from being an unnecessarily complex piece of legislation.
Amendment No. 80 would make Welsh Ministers consult the charter bodies before being able to fund other bodies in the support of culture. The amendment would put an unnecessary constraint and burden on Welsh Ministers. From the point of view of bodies seeking funding, it would add another layer of bureaucracy.
Although there was an interesting discussion about Amendment No. 104, we believe that it is unnecessary. There is no need for the Secretary of State to take up Parliament's valuable time in "consolidating" the Bill with the Government of Wales Act 1998. Schedules 10 and 12 to the Bill set out clearly which provisions of that Act are to be amended and which are to be repealed as a consequence of the Bill. I hope that
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noble Lords will agree that the amendments are unnecessary and, furthermore, are unsuitable, as they do not take account of separation.
In summary, the Government of Wales Bill does not materially alter the position with regard to the power to support culture or the powers to reform public bodies in Wales, beyond placing them, as executive functions, with Welsh Ministers. As I have said a couple of times, that is a natural consequence of the separation of the Welsh Assembly Government from the Assembly, which has all-party support.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, asked about the abolition of these bodies. Welsh Ministers could not petition the Privy Council for abolition of a charter body because they are not Ministers of the Crown. On the positive sidethe noble Lord touched on thisthe Welsh Assembly Government are in the process of working up a new culture strategy which will look at new policy on areas such as the theatre in Wales. It has also set up the Stephens review to look at the role of the Arts Council in Wales and funding for the arts, again, addressing points raised in Committee. The Welsh Assembly Government recognise the importance of the arts and enabling people to take part in a diverse range of arts activities, but matters relating to those and how they are achieved are very properly for the Assembly.
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