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Lord Elis-Thomas: I am in a little difficulty as regards the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. I have recently been selected as a candidate for the national assembly. I am proud of that and I thank the constituency party of the Party of Wales, Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, for the honour of selecting me to seek election to an elected office. I say that by way of declaring what I hope is a prospective interest. I speak in support of Clause 2 as it stands. However, I must indicate strongly my objection to the tone of those who have spoken so far. With all due respect--as we say in
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that Clause 22 is the heart of the Bill. But there is nothing new here: all it does is place on the face of a Bill the process of transfer of powers by Her Majesty through Order in Council. The Welsh Office--that great institution of state which we now all love and which the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, will no doubt soon extol as being somehow preferable to further transfers to the Welsh assembly--has been created by this very process. There is nothing mysterious about further transfers that may in time emerge. As I made clear in this Chamber at the beginning of our debates on this Bill, I am not in favour of further transfer of legislative power in the Bill. There are arguments for further transfer of executive functions, and those will emerge when we discuss later amendments. The heart of Clause 22--the process of transfer--is well known to this Chamber.
As regards the notion of the assembly having a veto, I say in all generosity to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, that that is not the kind of language with which we should grace our devolution debates. We are not in the business of talking of vetoes, either as regards this Parliament at Westminster or the parliament at Holyrood or the national assembly in Cardiff Bay. We should talk of partnerships. We should not talk of threats of imminent collapse and the withdrawal of powers. We should not talk of Westminster drawing back powers, nor should we talk of Cardiff refusing to take responsibility. I refer again to the tone of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, who suggested that those of us who seek election to the Welsh assembly might somehow shirk our responsibilities either towards the people in Wales who would elect us or towards this Chamber as a partner assembly within the Union. That is not the way we think of the arrangements that we seek between the peoples and nations of these islands, to coin a phrase so beloved of my noble friend Lord Molyneaux. What we are discussing is how we progress the devolutionary process by agreement, not by threats of imminent collapse or refusal of responsibility.
That brings me to the specific amendment on agriculture. As someone who has lived the whole of his life in rural Wales, I have great difficulty with the notion that agriculture, which is at the very heart of the economy of rural Wales, should not be a matter for which the assembly should have care and responsibility. It is not a matter of coming out of the CAP. No one can come out of the CAP these days, whether in western Europe, central Europe or even eastern Europe. We are searching for ways in which we can work together within that framework and the overall WTO frameworks. But surely there are ways in which an assembly for Wales, having care for the whole rural
Lord Crickhowell: I have known the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, long enough to know that it would be very foolish to question his integrity or assiduity, or the determination with which he will pursue his duties in the assembly. Indeed, it is not my intention to question the integrity of any member of the assembly in any way or to extol the virtues of the Welsh Office. I merely wish to draw attention to what we are doing in this Parliament at this time.
Like my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith, I am worried and puzzled. My noble friend referred to Caldey Island. As the former Member for Pembroke, I ought to have been immediately able to answer the question he raised on that particular Act. As I expect he knows, almost all the inhabitants of the island are monks. I suspect that the clause to which he refers has something to do with the electoral procedures on Caldey Island. There are problems in conducting elections on an island which cannot always be reached during a campaign or on election day.
The point of my remarks is to draw attention to what this Chamber is being asked to do today. Looking round, I am not sure that every Member present has examined the transfer order or the notes kindly provided by the Government to explain it. My noble friend on the Front Bench thanked the Government for making the notes available, and I believe he described them as helpful. I am sure that was the Government's intention; however, they are the most unhelpful set of notes I have ever read in all my time in Parliament. I do not criticise the civil servants who worked hard to draw them up. It may be my stupidity that means I find it hard to interpret them. The notes tell us that they are the result of a trawl through over 300 Acts of Parliament: one goes back to 1841. A long list is provided of the Acts to which reference will be made in the order.
One then turns to the further notes to see whether one immediately gets a clear view of what it is that we are doing in relation to Clause 22. I had some involvement in the passage of the Water Resources Act 1991.
Most of us have difficulty in passing legislation. We are often confronted with lengthy Bills and do not always find it as easy as do the parliamentary draftsmen to interpret the exact meaning of each clause. However, we usually have the opportunity of turning through a Bill to get a pretty clear idea of its intentions clause by clause. If we are not enlightened by our own reading, the detailed debates in this House will probably throw some further light on the matter. That is the object of a Committee stage. In relation to this Bill, we have to turn to this very long list. Then, in order to discover what it is that we are doing, we have to look at the notes which identify the clauses in the long list of Bills. Presumably, if we then want to know exactly what we are doing, we have to go to the Library and take out the volumes containing the Acts. If we all did that, and brought them into the Chamber, we might bring proceedings to an early halt.
There is a difficulty here. We are being asked to pass a Bill--the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas is absolutely right; Clause 22 is the heart of the Bill--which transfers an enormous range of powers, and yet we are to have the greatest possible difficulty in understanding what we are doing. There is to be an order in due course. I believe that my noble friend said that we shall be able to debate it for an hour and a half--the result of a trawl through more than 300 Bills!
The reality is that we are being asked to pass this legislation largely on trust. We have to assume that the Government have got it right. We have to assume that the civil servants in my former department have gone through the right Acts, extracted the right powers, and included them in the order, and that everything that is being done is being done appropriately.
It is true that under earlier legislation powers were transferred to the Welsh Office--although it has to be said not quite on this scale. The process was spread over a number of years. I had some responsibility for the transfer of powers relating to local government--for example, grant-giving and education powers were transferred step by step in different pieces of legislation. It was possible to consider step by step what was being done in the case of the Welsh Office.
I do not have a solution to the problem that confronts us. Like my noble friends who spoke from the Benches behind me, I am simply confused as to exactly what it is we are doing; and I think it right that this place should understand what it is being asked to do. We should not be misled into believing that all is clarity, and that we as a legislative assembly are clearly in command of the actions that we are taking. I do not believe that to be the case. We are having to take on trust the actions of the Government and those who have done the trawl, and hope that they get it right.
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