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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: At the risk of embarrassing the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, perhaps I may say that I think he has a point. That seems to be my role this afternoon--coming in after the noble Lord and saying that I think that some of his arguments have validity.
I presume--and I am going to go on this assumption--that the noble Lord's new clause relates to those parts of European legislation which would come inside the competence of the Welsh assembly. That therefore raises matters of considerable importance for the assembly. The difficulty I see is that devolved Welsh affairs will no longer be the concern of this Parliament. That is the whole point of devolution. So, for example, if some documents come and they are examined by the European Communities committees of your Lordships' House, what role will your Lordships' committees be able to play in scrutinising European legislation concerning Wales? Will your Lordships' committees have to pass by the Welsh parts, or will your Lordships be able to look into matters and to call witnesses on the Welsh parts of any legislation or on the Welsh impact of any legislation?
I am sure that happens at the moment. It certainly did when I served on one of the sub-committees of the European Communities Committee. Would it still be within the powers of this House to discuss devolved Welsh issues in the context of European issues? Similarly, if Members of another place were looking at a piece of draft legislation coming from Europe, would they be allowed to explore the consequences for Wales? If they were not, clearly no elected person from Wales would be scrutinising it unless the assembly did. If they were allowed to scrutinise it, that would be fine; but equally I do not see why the assembly members should somehow be blocked out. I hope that they will have an important part to play.
I suspect that the Minister will say that standing orders will allow the assembly to set up such a committee if it so wishes. I am sure it will. The trouble with being a Minister for some time is that you begin to know what the answers are before you have been asked the question. I think the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, makes an important point. We would be signalling to the assembly that these matters are hugely important and that far too many of the parliaments of Europe do not pay nearly enough attention to the proposals coming from Brussels.
It is often said that of all the parliamentary bodies in Europe, your Lordships' House does more on the scrutiny of European matters. That is to the credit of your Lordships' House but it is not to the credit of the other bodies. I therefore think that the Welsh assembly should have an important role in scrutinising legislation coming from Brussels in order to see how it affects the Welsh position and then to make its observations known. I am not sure to whom it would make its observations known. That opens up the whole debate of last night. I presume that the assembly makes its observations known to the UK Government; or does it make them known to Brussels; or does it make them known to both? It certainly will have to make them
This is an important issue. Even if the Minister tells us that the amendment is not necessary and that he is sure that the assembly will set up such a committee, I hope he will give an indication that in the Government's view such a committee ought to be set up, even if such a provision is not on the face of the Bill.
Earl Russell: I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has introduced the amendment. Five years ago I had the privilege of listening to Jordoi Pujol of Catalonia discussing the relations between Catalonia and the EU. The relations of the EU with the separate nationalities that make up the states of Europe is an extremely interesting field of development which I hope will continue in Wales.
There is just one word in the amendment which gives me cause for concern--that is the word "shall"--for reasons outlined by the Minister on Amendment No. 154A. This is essentially a matter of the assembly's own procedure and regulation of its own business. Any representative assembly should be in charge of settling its own proceedings. It is not good to have those proceedings settled by rules imposed by another place. Nor indeed is it good to have them laid down in statute in tablets of stone.
Some of us may remember, for example, the clause in the Defamation Bill in the previous Parliament which caused considerable confusion by attempting to regulate procedure by statute. It really is not wise. Even in dealing with the pre-Union parliament of Ireland, which was a parliament regarded on this side of the water as somewhat subordinate, attempts were not made by Westminster to regulate the proceedings of that parliament by statute.
The assembly may well wish to set up such a committee. It may wish, in the light of the limited number of people to staff committees, to address the same objective by another route. It would be a failure in respect for the Welsh assembly for us to lay down in statute in this House how the assembly shall conduct its own proceedings. So if the noble Lord wishes to return to this matter at another stage, I hope he may employ the word "may" instead of the word "shall".
Lord Beloff: It gives me enormous pleasure to be able to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I do so from a state of ignorance since for many years, for reasons which will be obvious to your Lordships' House, I have been kept off all the scrutiny committees of the House. So I am not fully acquainted with the current state of the documents that come. But my understanding is that the bulk of European legislation, if I may call it that, is of a general character. It says that all sheep shall have five legs, or whatever it may be. Normally, as I understand it, there is no distinction made between one country and another so one would not expect even a reference to the United Kingdom to figure in a regulation or a directive from
How are those documents to come before the Welsh assembly? Will it be the responsibility of the relevant ministry in Whitehall to make sure that a copy is sent by pigeon post or other form of communication, directly to the Welsh assembly and for it to be put before the committee? As I understand it, the documents do not lend themselves to consideration by subordinate bodies. It would be perfectly proper and natural, for the reasons that have been given, for the Welsh assembly to want to look at documents which concern Wales, but they will not be about Wales. For that reason, there seems to be a problem. However, that certainly does not prevent me from supporting the amendment because if Wales is to have an assembly it should confront the trouble from Europe along with the rest of us.
Lord Kenyon: I, too, welcome this amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I remind the Committee of the existence of the Committee of the Regions. That body deals with regional matters. I was a member of that committee for four years when it was set up under the Maastricht Treaty. As a member of a local authority only in Wales, I found that there was very little consultation. There was a little bit of informal consultation between the Association of Welsh Councils and the Council of Welsh Districts.
But when local government in Wales was reorganised the unitary authorities and the Welsh Local Government Association decided that they did not wish to consult with the members of the Committee of the Regions, so each member of that committee was out on his own. I am delighted to see that under this Bill the membership of the Committee of the Regions will be selected by the assembly. I sincerely hope that it will discuss the opinions that come from the Committee of the Regions. I can assure the Committee that an awful lot of bumpf comes from that organisation and, I presume, also from the Economic and Social Committee to which appointments will also be made. There will be the opportunity to discuss these matters in much greater detail than we have had until now.
Lord Prys-Davies: Before my noble friend replies to the debate, I would like to take further the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. It is important that there is a duty on the lead department in London to provide the Welsh executive with prompt information as regards such Community obligations which the United Kingdom is contemplating making or approving and which have a direct or indirect effect on the devolved functions of the Welsh assembly. It is important also that it consults the executive on such obligations and provides it with the opportunity to take part in the negotiations. Otherwise, when the order or directive arrives it is then
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