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Dr. Fox: Is not that precisely the point? If the situation is constitutionally undesirable, what difference does it make whether it lasts for a month or a year? If the principle is wrong, is not the time scale irrelevant?

Mr. Hain: If the hon. Gentleman had waited a moment, I would have explained the facts of political life to him and he would have realised that there is a difference between permanency and a transitional period. There is a very strong case for a transitional period, particularly at the beginning when the Assembly is bedding down and the order transferring the functions of the Secretary of State has still to be implemented. There is a great deal of sense in having some continuity in the interests of stability and good government.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) talked about potential conflict. If there were conflict, it would have to be resolved. If that conflict could not be resolved, there would have to be a resignation from one post. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West insults my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State if he imagines that he could ever be a lame duck First Secretary of the National Assembly or Secretary of State--he has demonstrated his abilities over the past year.

The Conservative Lords amendment is not about the Secretary of State.

Mr. Wigley: We almost all reject the Lords amendment because it would not allow any Minister to stand, but does the Under-Secretary understand that many of us would be

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uneasy about the prospect of any long-term dual mandate? Can he assure us that, to meet the points that have been made from both sides of the House, the Government would be prepared to consider an amendment in another place that would limit any dual mandate to the time necessary for the transitional orders?

Mr. Hain: No, we would not be willing to consider that. The right hon. Gentleman has played a constructive role in the passage of the Bill through both Houses. I caution him against falling into a Conservative trap.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of the track record of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, is not that the point? Let us put on record the reality behind the vindictive and pernicious amendment, which comes from a failed former Secretary of State for Wales and is directed at one who has an excellent track record.

Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend makes his point powerfully.

The Conservative Lords amendment is not about the Secretary of State. That is the main issue before us. The amendment puts a blanket ban on any Minister being a Member of--and maybe even standing for--the Assembly. The Conservative Lords have not thought through the consequences of their proposal. It is difficult to imagine, but if the Conservatives won the next general election and a Conservative Assembly Member were elected to the House of Commons, there could be a ban on his being appointed to ministerial office at least until he had resigned from the National Assembly. If the person in question were Rod Richards--I take his name at random--perhaps that would be a good idea and in the interests of the Conservatives. I discovered him loitering with intent on the pavement outside the Welsh Office last week, taking an interest in our affairs. There may be no other Conservative Member elected from Wales. Perhaps that is why the Conservatives are so keen on the issue. Perhaps it is not a Ron amendment, but a Rod amendment to prevent his being put in that position.

Let us consider the issue another way round. Consider a serving Minister who wanted to stand for election to the Assembly in May, but was taking a Bill through the House to Royal Assent in the summer before standing down from a Government post. That person would be prejudiced from standing for the National Assembly. A Minister who was seeing out a British presidency of the European Union to the end of June would not be able to stand for election to the Assembly in May. The Lords have clearly not considered such transitional arrangements, which would be prejudiced by their amendment, which we reject.

Imagine a Conservative or Liberal Democrat First Secretary of the National Assembly who stood for the Commons and was appointed Secretary of State in a new Administration. There might be a new approach to devolution that would require some transitional arrangements. That would be blocked if the amendment were passed. Consider a further transfer of functions in the next century. Perhaps broadcasting might be transferred to the Assembly. A Welsh Minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport could usefully be an Assembly Secretary--not in the long term, but on a transitional basis. Others with inside experience of Whitehall as a Transport Minister or an Industry Minister

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would have invaluable experience for the post of Assembly Secretary, taking forward policies with maximum consultation and agreement.

We could consider the situation in reverse. A Welsh Secretary could have a great deal to contribute to a Whitehall ministerial post on a transitional basis. Such cross-fertilisation would be constitutionally and politically useful. Many other unforeseen circumstances could be blocked off if we put a rigid straitjacket in the Bill, as the Tory amendment would. It could be extremely damaging; it could prevent talented people from making a contribution to the good government of both Westminster and Wales.

Why is Wales being made a scapegoat? No such rule is proposed for Scotland, Northern Ireland, the European Parliament or local councils. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) that amendment (a) is just a vehicle for another petty, spiteful attack on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. The Conservatives cannot attack his policies on schools, health, jobs and housing because they are very popular. They cannot attack his historic role in establishing the Assembly because that, too, is popular. Even Tories are falling over themselves to stand for it. The Conservatives cannot cope with a Secretary of State who is popular in Wales for the first time in 19 years.

Dr. Fox: No such amendment has been tabled to the Scotland Bill because the Secretary of State for Scotland has said that no transition period is required and that he will not be standing as Secretary of State and First Minister. Why is that not so for Wales?

Mr. Hain: Since the hon. Gentleman has just taken a new job that he claims to be able to do, he, of all people, should know that the Scottish situation is different from the Welsh situation; that is why. The Bills are different and the powers exercised by the Assembly and the Scottish Parliament are different. He must acknowledge that.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it right for the Minister to mislead the House? No Member of the European Parliament can hold any office in any Parliament or Assembly. That is why the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) could not take the job in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is a point of debate, not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Hain: The Conservatives are so used to Secretaries of State being unpopular in Wales that they find it difficult to comprehend somebody who holds the office being able to wander around the Royal National Eisteddfod, for example, without a phalanx of bodyguards protecting him, or mingle at the Royal Welsh show with demonstrating farmers who welcome rather than abuse him. The Conservatives cannot cope with a people's Secretary of State.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not out of sycophancy--I leave that to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith)--

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but out of admiration for his work. He is choosing willingly to leave a Cabinet post--one of the highest posts in the Government, to which most Members of Parliament aspire only in their dreams. He is giving that up--at some point in the future--and is prepared to take a salary cut and all the reductions in status that his self-removal from the Cabinet will entail in order to help give birth to Wales's new democracy. Unlike Conservative Members--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The Minister must be given a hearing.

7.45 pm

Mr. Hain: Unlike many others whom we can imagine, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not making any presumptions about his position in the Assembly. He is standing in order to take part in the creation of the new and vibrant democracy in Wales. Instead of being denigrated, he ought to be congratulated on that.

I pay tribute to the way in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State fought many difficult battles--sometimes even in the tortuous labyrinths of the Welsh Labour party, and at other times--coaxing and persuading a hesitant Welsh nation into greater self-confidence and common citizenship. Notwithstanding the sniping of Conservative Members, Lord Crickhowell said of my right hon. Friend on 15 July:

I am sure that, on reflection, even Lord Crickhowell accepts that his authorship of the amendment was misconceived.

Apart from on this matter and a few others, the Lords have shown much greater intelligence and responsibility than the Conservative Opposition in this House, as a reading of the debate shows. After the assurances that I have given, and considering the problems with the amendment that I have identified, I am sure that their lordships will not want to put a road block across the passage of the Bill and that, instead, they will allow Wales's exciting new democracy to grow and flourish on schedule, as we are determined it should.

Lords amendment disagreed to.

Motion made, and Question put, That amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment No. 27 bemade--[Dr. Fox.]

The House divided: Ayes 148, Noes 265.

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