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Mr. Livsey: Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that the crucial difference between the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly is that the Scottish Parliament has primary legislative powers. It is a totally different situation from that which will obtain in Wales.

Dr. Fox: In the previous debate--about alter ego parties--I wondered whether we were talking about the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party, but I realise now that they are playing their usual welcome-mat role for the Labour party.

We are debating a matter not of degree but of principle--that there would be a conflict of interest, and one cannot serve two masters. If one is to represent someone in one body, one cannot be bound by collective responsibility in another. Such an arrangement--especially given the nature of the Welsh devolution settlement--would be constitutional nonsense. The Government would do well to accept now that it would be nonsense--before they land themselves in the hot water that they will so richly deserve if they do not accept the Lords amendment.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): I oppose Lords amendment No. 27, which is based on a narrow-minded personal vindictiveness towards my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State Wales. I therefore support the Government motion to disagree with Lords amendment No. 27.

Inclusivity is a fundamental aim and principle of the Assembly. Inclusivity is essential to ensure that the National Assembly for Wales reflects all the political and cultural traditions in Wales and that it gives fair representation to women; to minority ethnic groups; to north, south, east and west Wales; to Welsh-speaking and non-Welsh-speaking areas; and to areas that voted yes in the referendum and to those that voted no.

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Another principle was to ensure that experienced and high-calibre candidates stand for the Assembly and that Members of the House of Lords should themselves be free to stand for the Assembly. Although the Lords cannot stand for this House or even vote in parliamentary elections, they will be able to be Members of both the House of Lords and the National Assembly for Wales. I therefore cannot accept the Lords intention of preventing hon. Members and Ministers from standing for or holding office in the Welsh Assembly. There is no constitutional reason why a Minister of the Crown cannot be a Member of the Welsh Assembly.

It would be wrong also to assume that there would be any conflict of interest. Ministers, and Ministers of the Welsh Assembly, will be accountable to both bodies and will be judged on their integrity by their own electorate. As the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) said, there are good reasons why such a dual mandate should be encouraged and given in a transitional period, to ensure continuity and co-ordination in the establishment of the new National Assembly for Wales.

Dr. Fox: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a difference between being an hon. Member and being a Minister of the Crown? One is about independent scrutiny of the Executive whereas the other is about being a member of the Executive.

Mr. Edwards: I say again that individuals' integrity will dictate how they should conduct themselves.

I have read the speech made in the other place by Lord Crickhowell. I think that it was a highly personal and spiteful attack that was not worthy of someone who has been Secretary of State for Wales and involved in public life since that time. I shall make no personal comment on Lord Crickhowell.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan: Why not?

Mr. Edwards: If I had more time, I would pay a long, glowing tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales for all that he has done to ensure that the Bill gets through not only the House but--perhaps more important--through the Wales Labour party. However, there is not time to do so.

I take exception to the right of the unelected House of Lords--especially of the dominant hereditary group in the House of Lords, 62 of whom voted in support of Lords amendment No. 27--to seek to overthrow one of the Bill's important principles. It is a serious indictment of our parliamentary system that we allow people to legislate who have inherited the right to do so--because they are the eldest son of someone who already had the right to be in the other place. We do not allow people to inherit the right to practise or implement the law; how can it be justified that anyone should inherit the right to make or amend the law?

If this debate and the fiasco offer one important lesson, it is that we must swiftly end the hereditary principle: abolish the right of hereditary peers to legislate. I hope that Ministers will act on that as soon as possible.

The principle of inclusivity must allow hon. Members to stand for the Welsh Assembly. I therefore ask the House to reject Lords amendment No. 27.

Mr. Öpik: I should like, first, simply to comment on Conservative Members' persistent failure to understand

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what is going on--that politics has moved on in Wales. They do not grasp that the politics of conflict and confrontation can quite reasonably and effectively be replaced by something else: the supremacy of good ideas.

7.15 pm

Let us move on to Conservative Members' rather astounding failure to understand the opportunities presented by giving the new politics a chance and by giving the future Secretary of State for Wales--whoever he or she may be--the chance to participate in both this Chamber and the Welsh Assembly. Allowing the Secretary of State briefly to play both roles is a matter not of principle but of judgment and practical considerations.

Allowing a Secretary of State for Wales also to be First Secretary presents three benefits and two concerns. The first benefit is the expertise, experience and continuity that one person might bring to the job. The second benefit is having essentially a directly elected Cabinet member who will have a considerable vested interest in being a real voice for Wales. The third is the loyalty that that individual would most likely have to Wales. The job of First Secretary will be attractive and it is unlikely that someone would want to compromise it by being a party puppet.

I must, in fairness, say that the Conservatives have raised two legitimate concerns.

Mr. Evans: If one person is both First Secretary and Secretary of State for Wales, he or she will--as Secretary of State for Wales, because of Cabinet collective responsibility--have to attend Cabinet meetings. What if the Assembly wants that person as First Secretary to be somewhere else? He or she will either have to accept Cabinet collective responsibility or speak for the people of Wales in the Assembly and be sacked as a Cabinet member. Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that that would be a real problem?

Mr. Öpik: That point was one of the two concerns that I was about to mention, and was raised earlier by the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox). It is a legitimate concern, although it is not sufficient to overcome the benefits of allowing one person to hold both offices.

I think that--without going too deeply into the Cabinet's functions--it should be possible for one person to represent both Wales's interests internally within the Cabinet and the broader public interest. However, as I said, one of the big jobs for whoever might hold both jobs will be to establish etiquette and precedent by temporarily holding the dual position. Then we shall see if he or she is sacked--perhaps because the pressures are too great.

Dr. Fox: I know that the Liberal Democrats have trouble with the matter--it is almost 100 years since any of them was a Minister--but the first point made in the ministerial code is that Ministers must accept collective responsibility. The code has been established by No. 10 Downing street. It will not be for the Secretary of State for Wales to decide on etiquette. A code has already been established and published by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Öpik: Such a one-dimensional approach to profound constitutional changes saddens me, but perhaps goes some way to highlighting why we sometimes have

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such a fatuous debate. We must be willing to experiment with new ideas on the assumption that we can make them work. If we cannot make them work, we will have to revisit the ideas and the processes that are failing. However, simply to assume that we must change nothing because of some legitimate concerns and obstacles is to assume that we must always maintain the status quo.

The fact that the Welsh people have voted for the Welsh Assembly and--more to the point--the fact that both the overwhelming majority of hon. Members and all three parties representing constituencies in Wales agree that we want to make the Assembly work should go some way in warning the Conservatives that they are out of kilter with the public mood.

My second concern is the fear of vesting too much power in one person. That is not in itself a problem, but if the individual concerned cannot help behaving in a compromising way, we shall need to review the situation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) said, the difficulty would be exacerbated if the Assembly had primary legislative power.

We should be willing to try having both roles held briefly by one person. In the light of experience, it may even turn out not to be a sustainable process, but we will find out soon enough. In the meantime, we have to cut ourselves some slack, try new processes and not be afraid to make a few mistakes. It is prudent to be honest about those concerns and imprudent to try to reduce every debate to simple political attack that does not serve the interests of the Welsh Assembly.


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