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The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): As Amendments Nos. 52 and 65 are also being spoken to, I should point out to the Committee that, if Amendment No. 52 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 53 to 59, inclusive, and that, if Amendment No. 65 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 66.
Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Amendment No. 66 is grouped with this amendment. It is the first of a number tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Courtown. At this stage, their purpose is to try to discover how the Bill will affect farming and the rural economy. I emphasise that I hope that they will be probing, provided of course that the Minister gives me a sensible, and not a Dark Ages, answer, which I am sure he will.
I remind the Minister that agriculture was not devolved in the 1978 Wales Bill. Bearing in mind that for better or worse Welsh agriculture is irreversibly tied into the common agricultural policy and world markets far more so now than in 1978, I wonder why this change of heart by the Labour Government has taken place; or do the Government agree not at all with the noble Lords,
As I agreed on 13th June 1978 with the Labour Government's decision not to devolve agriculture, I hope that the Minister will agree, first, that I am in good company and understand why I am somewhat doubtful about the practicality of devolving agriculture. In short, I believe that on the question of devolving agriculture the Government are guilty until they prove themself innocent.
I have read the recent transfer order, plus the explanation provided by the Government, and I find it extremely difficult to understand. Indeed, I am not sure that it is worth the paper it is written on. I say that for two reasons. First, only 36 per cent. of the Acts to be devolved are mentioned in the guidance notes. As to the rest, presumably no decision has been made, or if it has we have not been told, or the Government do not want to tell us. Therefore, I look forward to hearing the explanation. Secondly, like the first transfer order, it is not definitive. Those Acts marked to be devolved could, as I understand it, in the end not be so devolved; or those not mentioned could be devolved. I hope that your Lordships will realise why I am somewhat confused.
If the Minister therefore believes that we are querying some matters which appear to him to be perfectly obvious or repeating matters which have been raised by my noble friends on the Front Bench, I can assure him that the lateness of the transfer order, after it had been through the other place and after we had had one day in Committee, and with the guidance notes and the groupings, makes it extremely difficult for those who are not full-time politicians. But obviously the Minister believes that ordinary people should not become involved in Parliament and that Parliament should be left in the hands of full-time politicians or even the Prime Minister, which I understand is now the new Labour gospel. Having said that, I hope that the Minister realises that the way in which he replies to my amendments might make it much easier for the various farming organisations to respond constructively to the Government's autumn consultation.
I am sorry to take time, but Clause 22 is crucial, as was explained by my noble friend, because it explains the mechanism for transferring ministerial functions to the assembly by an Order in Council. A draft of the first Order in Council must be laid before Parliament before the first ordinary election next year. The Government have published two drafts of the first transfer order--the one I have mentioned--and are committed to public consultation on the subject this autumn. Under the terms of subsection (4) of the clause relating to the Orders in Council, they are subject to the affirmative procedure, as pointed out by my noble friend. Therefore, drafts must be consciously approved by Parliament. However, as my noble friend mentioned, the subsection provides that in the case of an Order in Council which varies or revokes a previous order, the order cannot be approved
That means that once functions have been transferred to the assembly by means of the first Order in Council, the assembly has an absolute right of veto on future changes to those arrangements. If it were subsequently decided at UK Government level that a function which had been devolved ought instead to have been retained for some national reason, it can be transferred back to the UK Government and Parliament only if the assembly agrees to that. I am not a politician, but knowing what politicians are like it seems likely that the assembly would resist any transfer back of a function, however compelling the case for doing so in policy terms.
The rigidity of the clauses drafted works the other way, too. In other words, if the UK Government subsequently decide that they wish to transfer some additional function to the assembly, the assembly could refuse to accept the proposed function. Your Lordships might think that that is strange. I do not. Although I accept that it is a less likely position than the first problem, it could nonetheless lead to a difficulty in which the assembly perhaps wishes to evade responsibility for a politically unpopular or sensitive matter or one which involves limiting financial funds.
The purpose of Amendment No. 66 is to retain flexibility whereby the Secretary of State would consult with the assembly about subsequent Orders in Council which propose to transfer more functions or to claw them back, but would not give the assembly the veto that it has on this process as the clause is drafted, or as I understand the clause is drafted. The Secretary of State is, of course, accountable to Parliament for his actions. The formula used in this amendment appears in Clause 32 where the Secretary of State is obliged to consult the assembly about the Government's legislative programme.
In case I have not made it clear, I feel strongly about the ability to transfer matters to or from the assembly being made easier and quicker. Who knows what disaster may happen in the future that needs immediate action? Chernobyl springs to mind.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I wish to speak to Amendment No. 58 which stands in my name and that of the noble Earl, Lord Northesk. The purpose of the amendment is simply to ensure that the order transferring powers to the national assembly for Wales is published well before any election is due and, one hopes, well before candidates are selected, so that they may know what the functions of the assembly are to be. I am extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, for a letter which answered some of the points I raised at Second Reading. He states,
Like the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, I have examined the second draft order. It comprises a wonderful list but it does not impart information. If one is seeking information from it, it may as well be written in Cyrillic characters, as far as I am concerned. However, I am not a lawyer familiar with these things. Some of the transferred Bills have information attached to them but many of them are simply listed.
I then turned to the guide which one would expect to provide information. As regards local government, the area in which I am particularly interested, I found a list of 38 Bills. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, pointed out that this Bill may be added to or subtracted from. I understand that, as negotiations are being carried out and this matter must still be subject to review. However, of the 38 Bills listed only 13 have schedules. One might think that the schedules would provide information. This reveals the core of what I regard as a fundamental problem. I studied the Caldey Island Act 1990. I assume that the natives of Caldey Island are probably familiar with it, but people standing for the assembly of Wales are less likely to be so. The order states that the function is to be exercised concurrently with the Secretary of State. That is fine. The information imparted in the guide in Section 4(3) states,
As a layman I am no further forward, except that as a privileged Member of this Chamber I can go to the Library and obtain a copy of the Caldey Act and find out precisely what is in it. However, we should consider the poor man in the west of Wales who is trying to find out what his functions are. He does not share my privilege. He undoubtedly can go to a library somewhere if he is prepared to travel and he may well get access to the document. There is a real difficulty here. We must bear in mind that Clause 22 is the heart of this Bill. It concerns the transfer of functions. The functions are listed and specified. However, they should be listed and specified in such a way that a layman--I count myself a layman--can understand clearly the functions of a member of the assembly. The purpose of my amendment is to get those functions out into the open in good time so that the public may be aware of them in detail.
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