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Lord Dixon-Smith: I apologise to Members of the Committee for not being present at the beginning of this discussion; indeed, I had not intended to intervene in it. As an Englishman, I find myself in the peculiar position, once again, of being on my feet, but in this instance perhaps with a word of warning. This is a debate about devolution. It is about devolution to a country with a long and proud history, which existed as a proper country a long time ago.
Devolution is an infectious disease if it is taken to its illogical extreme. There is a danger with devolution if we start to divide Wales into separate regions. A colleague of mine, who is not present in the Chamber this evening, described the country of Wales as a number of separate kingdoms and he is someone with a deep knowledge of Welsh history. The danger is that the devolution bug will be catching. If a part of Wales at some subsequent time feels that it is disadvantaged, it may begin to exert pressure on the national assembly for devolution from it.
I believe that it would be wholly regrettable if that were to happen. Although that example may seem a little like science fiction or, indeed, a little far fetched, some of the regional pressures and regional organisations that we see in Europe seem to press in that sort of a direction. Therefore, the concept of a regional sub-structure below Wales is not inconceivable. If it is conceivable, I believe that it is something about which we should be most concerned. There is great merit in the structure that is being proposed; but if we put in place the possibility of a sub-structure, I am not sure that we will not in fact undermine the foundations upon which this particular Bill is laid.
One way to deal with the matter is to be as flexible as the Secretary of State has indicated on various occasions; in other words, one does not have to have all the assembly business conducted in Cardiff on every occasion. That is an important point. Indeed, subject to the assembly's views, there is no reason at all why some committees should not sit outside Cardiff. Without wanting to be intrusive into the assembly's position, I believe that there is much virtue in that suggestion. It is perfectly simple these days to conduct business on video links. Much of the business of the Welsh Office is carried out in that way as indeed is that of the University of Wales. Sometimes it is just not possible or indeed necessary to have people gathered together in the same inconvenient location.
It is intended that this should be a modern building with use of IT and video links. In particular, the Secretary of State has made it perfectly plain that he wants an inclusive assembly so that those with disabilities or those who have to look after young children will not be disadvantaged as regards standing for the assembly. Therefore, we should not always have imprinted upon our minds the thought that Westminster is the only available model; indeed, it is not.
Amendments Nos. 164 to 169 fall into a slightly different category than that of Amendment No. 170. The first amendments look to three things. First, they define the boundaries of the regional committees as those of the five European constituency areas. Then they require the assembly to have regard to a regional committee's advice when making decisions affecting a region. Thirdly, there is the empowerment to censure with the consequence that the executive committee must resign unless the full assembly passes a motion of confidence.
The Government have problems with the first two propositions and we do not think that the third is necessary. We have not yet reached any decision on what the boundaries might be, but the one thing that we are clear about is what they should not be; namely, coterminous with the boundaries of the electoral regions.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble and learned Lord has helpfully asked why. Indeed, I was just about to give the answer. Those boundaries are predominantly determined by electoral arithmetic. As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, the five regions must, as far as possible, have about the same number of electors. That
The noble Lord gave the example of the distance, which is more than geographic, between Llanelli and Llanrwst. They are a world apart in many ways. I suggest to Members of the Committee that it would be very odd if the assembly wanted a regional committee which was giving advice on matters affecting the Vale of Glamorgan but excluding Bridgend. One only has to look at the details involved to realise that there are difficulties about what Amendments Nos. 164 and 168 would require.
As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said, the advisory group is consulting and has produced two maps each of which has some merit. The Welsh Affairs Select Committee supported one version, but the other also has its advocates. We should, perhaps, wait and see what the advisory committee recommends. As the noble Lords, Lord Thomas and Lord Hooson, pointed out, there is great virtue in letting the assembly decide what it best knows about.
I turn to Amendment No. 169. Members of the Committee opposite having pressed on the Government the merits of individual ministerial responsibility and the cabinet system, now propose that if the members of a regional committee are displeased by the performance of a member of an executive committee, they will be able to table a motion of no confidence and have it debated. That is not required because provisions on motions of censure are already available. We discussed those earlier. This measure is otiose. Any member of a regional committee by definition will be a member of the assembly. Any member of the assembly by definition--subject to standing orders about whether a quorum is needed to sustain the hearing of a censure motion--is entitled to table such a motion. I repeat that the measure is unnecessary.
Amendments Nos. 165 and 166 require the assembly to have regard to regional committees' advice. I understand the sentiments behind the amendments, but if the assembly does not have regard to regional committees' advice there is no point in having regional committees at all. I suggest that the scheme of the Bill makes the matter perfectly plain.
Amendment No. 170 requires that the regional committees should have regard to the effect which their proposals might have on local communities in rural areas. I do not think I can stress my next point strongly enough. I have sympathy with the deep concern that the noble Lord has expressed on this matter on a number of occasions, not only in the context of this Bill. One of the maps proposed by the advisory group would produce a regional committee which would have no rural committees to consider.
I do not resist the amendment on that ground, but I point out that any regional committee of any worth is bound to take account of the impact of any of its proposals on its local communities. After all, some rural communities have been badly hit, but one has only to
Lord Roberts of Conwy: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. The general feeling expressed by a number of Members of the Committee is that this is a matter best left to the assembly. Of course one respects that view, but we are dealing with a difficult problem as the Government are aware. The advisory group has told us that this is a difficult issue to resolve. It is a matter on which there are many different points of view. None of the possible options is perfect. I believe we would do the assembly, the Secretary of State and everyone a good service if we could complete Clause 62, as it were, and provide the divisions that are anticipated in that clause.
As regards the need for a committee system, there are two poles of opinion. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is totally devoted to the concept of national unity and a national approach. He wishes us to underplay the regional issue. I thought that the noble Lords, Lord Hooson and Lord Davies of Coity, were nearer the mark, especially when the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, said that unity would not be achieved overnight. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, talked of the need to respond to the regional aspirations that exist in different parts of Wales. The Government are absolutely right to think that there is a real need for these committees to express the views of different parts of Wales. I am assured by the Minister that it lies within the power of members of the assembly to initiate motions of censure which, by their very nature, will have to be attended to. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said that we would create two tiers of members, as it were, through the electoral regions. However, the two tier membership already exists by the very nature of the composition of the assembly--the 40 constituency members and the 20 who will be elected by PR from the electoral regions.
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