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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: This is an interesting amendment which enables us to reflect on the relationship between quango members and the new assembly. The following phrase comes to mind; namely, "There is nothing like a quango basher come to repentance". Last year we were told there would be a great bonfire of quangos. It is a good job it was not a cold winter because I do not think any Members of the Committee would have been warmed by the bonfire of quangos. Indeed, far from having a bonfire of quangos the party opposite has established a considerable number of additional quangos. Some quango members have been replaced. I say, charitably, that some members of my party who were on quangos have been replaced by more independent minded people. Uncharitably, I might say that members of my party have been replaced on a number of quangos by members of the Government's party. It is interesting to note that there has not been much of a bonfire. Indeed our monetary policy is now governed by the biggest quango of all; namely, the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. That is a non-departmental public body if anything is, and one that wields huge power over the economic life of our country. But that is another issue. I am not sure that the Welsh Language Board, of which the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is the distinguished chairman, wields anything like the power of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. Nevertheless, the Welsh Language Board plays an important role. It has certainly played an important role in this Committee so far as we have heard much about it.
The noble Lord posed some interesting questions about the relationship between the non-departmental public bodies in Wales and the assembly. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has already made it clear that he is a candidate for the assembly. Yesterday he appeared to attempt a little electioneering, although I do not suppose there are many voters from his constituency in this Chamber. Today he appears to be trying to ensure that he can keep his chairmanship of a quango and be elected to the Welsh assembly. I see no problem in that. When I joined this Chamber I was for a little while the chairman of a quango, the Sea Fish Industry Authority. I was perfectly able to be a Member of this Chamber and to chair the quango. All I had to do was obey some rules laid down, known as the Addison Rules, which meant that I could not answer for my quango; the Minister had to do that. Fortunately, we never got into enough trouble for the Minister to have to come to the Dispatch Box and answer for us. Equally, I took the view that I could not in all justice speak on the issues over which my quango held some sway. Therefore I did not take part in any of the fisheries debates in this House. I thought that that was possibly taking the Addison Rules a little too far, but it seemed the right and proper thing to do considering that I was the government-appointed chairman of the body.
I shall not even attempt to suggest that there might be a Welsh language equivalent of Addison. The noble Lord may wish to advise me on that point. I am sure that the Addison Rules could easily be applied to members of the Welsh assembly who sit on quangos. That would be a perfectly reasonable way for the assembly to proceed. I hope the Minister might be able to give some indication of the Government's thinking on that matter. It would seem to me unfortunate if walls had to be drawn between members of non-departmental public bodies and members of the Welsh assembly. I simply do not see the need for that.
The point of the noble Lord's amendment, in relation to which he raised the discussion on quango membership and the assembly, is that the non-departmental public bodies which operate within the fields covered by the assembly should have their performance monitored by the assembly. I cannot see that there is anything in the Bill to prevent the assembly discussing the issues for which the bodies are responsible. Indeed, I think that they would clearly be well within their rights to do so. I think they would also be within their rights to discuss issues surrounding quangos whose responsibilities were not directly under the Welsh assembly umbrella. One clause makes it clear that the assembly can debate almost any matter, whether it is within its bailiwick or not. It therefore seems obvious that, so far as the responsibilities of any non-departmental public body are concerned, the Welsh assembly will be able to discuss the issues.
The next step is: can the assembly monitor those matters? Can it ask the chairman and others to come before it? Certainly this House can do that. In my capacity as chairman of the Sea Fish Industry Authority I appeared before the European Committee dealing with fisheries in this House. So it is perfectly possible. I hope the Minister will be able to assure the noble Lord that the Welsh assembly will be able to do that. Without in any way disparaging the work of the assembly, it will not in fact have a terrific amount to do when one considers the burdens placed on it in comparison with Members of the other place or Members of this House. It would seem perfectly sensible that tasks such as that mentioned in the noble Lord's amendment could reasonably be added to the assembly's workload. Many of the public bodies will deal with matters of great importance to people in Wales and Welsh life. It is right and proper that there should be some monitoring arrangements between the assembly and those bodies. If it helps the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, on its way, I give it a fair wind. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to the points we have made about the bodies.
Lord Hooson: It seems to me that it is an essential duty of the assembly to monitor the work of non-departmental public bodies--with a view, I hope, to abolishing a number of them. One of the purposes of setting up the assembly was to deal with the question of quangos. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, adverted to the fact that the workload of the assembly, though it will be
I am a great believer in delegating executive power to people and, if they do not discharge that power correctly, getting rid of them. The assembly can do that. It can surely summon before it chairmen, managers and so on of non-departmental public bodies and question them. Surely that will be one of its functions. I understand, as the Minister will be able to confirm, that there is a power in the Bill for the assembly, with proper due consideration to the functions carried out by those bodies, to decide that some of them are not necessary. Certainly, some will be necessary. However, I am saying that one of the duties of the assembly will be to examine this whole question. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, should be too sanguine about the future of some of the quangos.
There are two distinct questions here. One is: can there be overlapping membership of the assembly and the non-departmental public bodies? We propose to consult on that matter in the context of the use of the Order in Council power under Clause 12 of the Bill. It is important to bear in mind that not all non-departmental bodies are the same. At the one end of the spectrum, for example, is a body that is extremely well run in public scrutiny, admirably opened up by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas; namely, the Welsh Language Board. But at the other end of the spectrum one has a wholly dissimilar body, the National Library, which is again admirably run but operates in quite a different context. So the question of overlapping membership is important.
It is also important to bear in mind a concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, on earlier occasions--namely, what measures should be considered in relation to abatement of salaries--so that one could not simply have an acquisition of salaries by being a member of the assembly and many other quangos or NDPBs. That matter certainly needs to be considered.
The advisory commission has given a good deal of thought to this matter. Noble Lords will see some useful suggestions for consultation at paragraphs 6.8 to 6.11. It suggests not the outcome proposed in this amendment, but a division of responsibilities between the assembly secretary and the subject committee to ensure proper accountability. That matter is out to consultation by NAAG. Noble Lords may think it better to await its views. The outcome will be recommendations which I dare say will be reflected in the assembly's standing orders.
It therefore seems to me that we share a common purpose; namely, openness, accountability and, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, indicated, good-quality representation on the quangos. That is very important. It seems to me that the assembly would have the power to question and monitor, and that it ought to do so in a co-operative and discrete way. That is essentially a matter for NAAG's eventual recommendations and for the assembly's conclusion on the standing order powers.
I frequently say that matters are for standing orders. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said that this is leaving rather a lot to standing orders. But the enormous bulk of arrangements in another place depends entirely upon the standing orders, which have developed organically over the years to meet changing circumstances and changing requirements. Your Lordships' practice is not dissimilar--though, being infinitely more civilised, we do not need anyone to order us. But we have our ways, which are not set down in statute, and are much the better for that.
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