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Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for tabling this amendment. On a number of occasions--at Second Reading, in Committee and on Report--I have referred to what I regard as an essential feature of the assembly; namely, that there should be close communication between the assembly in Cardiff and the Westminster Parliament. The link person as far as I am concerned is the Secretary of State for Wales.
We ought not be in a position where the Secretary of State for Wales could say to the Cardiff assembly--as he could have done under the clause as originally drafted--"I do not believe it is necessary for me to come and talk to you at all". This is a great improvement.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, in spite of the support that these amendments have now received from two notable lawyers, I ask whether Amendments Nos. 25, 27 and 28 are really necessary. In constitutional theory, statutory interpretation, and invariable statutory practice, there is only one Secretary of State. Any modern Secretary of State can act for any other, the one who is appropriate will act in the circumstances. Under these circumstances, without any question, it will be the Secretary of State for Wales. It is unnecessary to say so.
Later in the Bill there is repeated reference to "the Secretary of State". If, as we now hear in this group of amendments, that refers to the Secretary of State for Wales, that can only cause confusion and possibly give rise to argument.
As to Amendment No. 26, a different matter arises. That provides that the Secretary of State should attend and participate on at least one occasion in proceedings of the assembly relating to the legislative programme at Westminster. That seems to run counter to the spirit of the amendment which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell; which was accepted by your Lordships, and which is now Clause 12(1)(e). It is very much in the spirit of devolution and subsidiarity--particularly of devolution--that the Secretary of State should be kept separate from the assembly. He can perfectly well correspond by telephone between Whitehall and Cardiff, and the postal service is reasonably reliable. It is quite unnecessary and undesirable to stipulate that he should attend on at least one occasion to explain the legislative programme. I hope that further consideration might be given to that.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, my amendment, which is now incorporated in the Bill as Clause 12(1)(e), has been referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I entirely agree with everything that he said. What is being done here is curious. It is entirely appropriate that the Secretary of State should be the lead Minister in most matters in the relationship with the assembly. On the legislative programme, it is not clear to me that he is the most appropriate Minister. The Secretary of State for Wales is not the Minister in Cabinet normally responsible for devising the legislative programme or presiding over the Cabinet committee which decides on it.
It is a curious introduction that there is to be a debate held about what is to go into that legislative programme in the assembly with the participation of the Secretary of State. It is not clear when that debate is to take place. Is it to take place before the Queen's Speech so that it can influence the legislative programme? It is odd that before the Cabinet has decided on the legislative programme the Secretary of State should participate in a debate on the subject in the assembly. That raises all sorts of interesting issues.
Whether or not that is true--whether or not the Secretary of State is going to have such rather curious conversations with himself--I particularly draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 31(4). With this amendment inserted, that clause would read:
In terms of conflict of interests, it is a bizarre proposition that the Secretary of State for Wales, wearing his hat as a member of the British Cabinet, should decide that there are considerations which make it inappropriate to consult with himself about any matters that should be brought before the assembly. It is an example of the nonsense that would be created if my provision was removed in another place--and then brought back to this place. We will get into a mess if the Secretary of State carries out these double duties. I hope that the Government will not seek to overturn the decision of this House on an earlier occasion.
Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, the noble Lord is unfortunately reverting to his former self. His self of last week was an improvement on his self of the previous week. Now he is reverting to that argument again and denying the electorate of Wales such consultation. He is also denying my right honourable friend in another place, Mr. Ron Davies, the right to make personal and political judgments about his own political career.
I remind the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that when he was Secretary of State, he was continually consulting with himself about issues in relation to Wales. Those consultations took place entirely in private, within his own cranium, and were not subject to scrutiny by anyone.
We are in a new situation where the Secretary of State for Wales may, for a transitional period, be also the first secretary of the assembly, dependent entirely upon the political will of the people of Wales. It is high time that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, whom I greatly respect, gave up this argument.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He overlooks the fact that for every action I took as Secretary of State for Wales I was answerable to one Parliament, and, indeed, had to answer to that Parliament. My objection to what is being proposed here is that one individual will be answerable to two separate assemblies simultaneously. That will inevitably cause conflicts of interest which it may be impossible to resolve.
We will not go back over all those arguments, because that is not what I was going to talk about. I was going to talk about the fact that the views of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford have been accepted by the Government. I regret that the views I tried to put forward have not been accepted in full. At this late stage I am asking whether the consultations that are referred to, as the Secretary of State appears during his attendance to discuss the programme, might be two-way consultations. I invite the Minister to envisage a scenario where the Secretary of State presumably appears in a public plenary session of the assembly, a member of the assembly gets up to ask--in English or Welsh, it does not matter because both will be equally valid and translatable--"But why aren't you legislating on this matter which is of great concern to us in this assembly?" The Secretary of State will explain.
In that position the Secretary of State will have heard a proposal for legislation emanating from the assembly itself which is being passed on, as it were, to this Parliament. That is an issue about which I should like the Minister to think again. It makes eminent sense that there should be a cycle of responsibility and a full circle of communication on these matters. It should not be just a matter of the Secretary of State appearing and saying--here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell--"We have decided that there shall be this legislative programme from the point of view of the UK Cabinet". Surely there should be an opportunity also for the assembly to say, "But in our activity on delegated legislation, we have identified these issues which require primary legislation, and, will you, as Secretary of State take that on?" I am keen to establish that there is room here for a cycle of communication which would be helpful to the relationship between Parliament and the assembly, for which I believe that my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford has been seeking.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I seek an explanation of one or two points that arise from these amendments. May I have some clarification? Is it the effect of the Government's amendment that it is the Secretary of State for Wales alone who is involved in consultation about the Government's legislative programme under Clause 31? Because it would appear that if that is the case of course assembly men and women would be prevented from seeking consultation with another Secretary of State with more direct responsibility, perhaps, for a piece of legislation that interested assembly members. They might, for example, be interested in a piece of legislation not connected with the devolved field--a Home Office or Treasury measure with a special potential effect on Wales.
The question is whether the relevant Secretary of State would be debarred from attending the assembly to talk about such matters. There is the further question of whether the Secretary of State for Wales would be adequate to advise the assembly on such matters.
Until the Government's amendments, I think that I am right in saying that Clause 76 was the only one that referred to the Secretary of State for Wales. Our amendments to Clause 76 would allow any Secretary of State to attend and participate in the assembly's proceedings. It is conceivable, after all, that a situation could arise, as happened in the history of the Welsh Grand Committee, where a Minister, other than a Welsh Office Minister, would be called upon to participate in the proceedings. I understand from the Minister's last remarks that other Secretaries of State would not be debarred from approaching the assembly, or being approached by the assembly, and addressing it. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments.
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