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Mr. Forth: I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman because I can see, now that he points it out to me, that the proposal looks like an afterthought. If we and the people of Wales were to think that their Assembly was little more an afterthought in the eyes of the Labour Government, I should not like to be in the shoes of either the Minister or, more particularly, the Secretary of State for Wales when he next visits Wales, because he would have a lot of explaining to do. I hope that the Minister will give us an initial explanation, and then we shall see what happens.
Mr. Hawkins: I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he not agree that this is but the latest example of the Government's embarrassment over matters connected with Wales? He will recall that the Prime Minister suffered the enormous embarrassment of the person whom he sought to impose as First Minister being thrown out.
Mr. Forth: I agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I certainly will not be tempted by my hon. Friend on this occasion. I want to move on swiftly to consider proposed paragraph (b) in Lords amendment No. 10, because that gets us into even deeper water.
Mr. Lilley: The National Assembly for Wales is clearly not a Department. The right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) suggested that it was a Department in its own right, but surely it is not really a Department.
Mr. Lilley: Surely it is not really a Government in its own right either; it is an Assembly. Is it suggested therefore that information held by Members of that Assembly should be covered by the Bill? If so, is there not a dangerous analogy, in that, subsequently, information held by Members of Parliament would be covered by it? Why is my right hon. Friend so worried about Wales and the Welsh Assembly, and why does he expect to receive any answer from the Minister, when he has not answered the far more important question asked by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) about whether the House will have less entitlement to information than members of the public? That is the supreme aspect of parliamentary privilege
Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He raises another question--as to whether anywhere in the Bill or the amendments there is a commitment that the Government should consult the House of Commons. On this occasion, is the National Assembly for Wales being placed above the House of Commons in terms of the obligation to consult? I was hoping to leave this subject but, while I am on it, I have a final thought. Will the consultation process with the National Assembly for Wales include the possibility of a vote by the Assembly on whether it is satisfied with the Secretary of State, or will the consultation process take another form?
I do not know whether we are supposed to assume that the Presiding Officer will make arrangements to consult Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The only obligation in the amendment is to consult the Presiding Officer, which will give that individual an enormous degree of influence and the power to speak on behalf of the Assembly.
Mr. Gummer: I do not know whether my right hon. Friend agrees, but I still think it difficult to understand how one consults the National Assembly for Wales. Clearly, it has been decided that it is impossible to consult the Northern Ireland Assembly and that one has to discuss the matter with the Presiding Officer only, but what is the mechanism for consulting the National Assembly for Wales? Will there be a meeting which its Members all attend, or does one harangue them? What does the Bill suggest one can do to consult the National Assembly for Wales? I can understand how one can consult the Presiding Officer of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but not how one can consult the National Assembly for Wales.
Mr. Forth: As my right hon. Friend points out, although paragraph (b) of the amendment specifically refers to the Presiding Officer of the Northern Ireland Assembly--it is helpful in that regard--in a sense, it undermines the consultation concept because it is directed solely at one individual. Although paragraph (a) refers to a wider group of people--namely, the National Assembly for Wales--as my right hon. Friend points out, it leaves us completely in the dark as to how one adequately and satisfactorily consults under the terms of the amendment. The Minister has much explaining to do before we move on.
Mr. Forth: As far as I can see, it is all very tidy: jobs for the cronies. All these people are multi-tasking and shuttling between Assemblies, Parliaments and the House of peers. How they can do justice to their posts is beyond me. The hon. Gentleman is right, and we will want to hear more from the Minister about that.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): My right hon. Friend is agonising over why only the Presiding Officer of the Northern Ireland Assembly will be consulted. However, might not the answer be that the only way to obtain a single coherent opinion from the Northern Ireland Assembly is to ask one person? In that way, one would obtain a coherent view.
My right hon. Friend also might like to consider why the Government chose to consult only the Presiding Officer in Northern Ireland. If Ministers consulted Sinn Fein-IRA and refused to agree with them, they might get shot.
Mr. Forth: I hope that would not be the case, and I doubt whether that point was at the forefront of Ministers' minds when they considered the wording of the Bill. However, the issue shows the extent to which they have got themselves into difficulty.
Moving swiftly on to the next amendment in this group which has caught my eye--amendment No. 29--we see that the plot definitely thickens. The amendment explicitly refers to communications taking place, first, between Ministers of the Crown. We understand that concept because two of them are sitting here, eager to answer our questions. It refers also to communications