some default text...

Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I accept the spirit of what the noble Lord said and I am grateful to him. As he said "plain man's guide" I picked up the document in question. I am not sure for how many plain men I could write a guide. Either one prepares something that is so simplistic that it is of little value except on the basis of "mum and apple pie" or one gives the detail so that those who are genuinely interested can make their own researches. However, I shall pay every decent regard to what the noble Lord said. I believe that the answer is likely to be no, for the reason I have given, but I shall certainly consider it. I am grateful for the suggestion.

Amendment No. 59 deals with the question of whether the draft order should contain functions in each of the fields specified in Schedule 2. Subsection (2) does not require that the draft order contains functions in each of the fields in Schedule 2. It requires the draft order to make provision for transferring such functions in each of the fields as the Secretary of State considers appropriate. It is possible, though unlikely, that he may conclude that there should be no functions in the draft order in one of the fields in Schedule 2, so we do not believe that Amendment No. 59 is of benefit.

I have deliberately taken a little while because particular questions have been raised. I believe that some of the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderney, are directed specifically to the next group of amendments. It is probably more convenient if I deal with them at that stage. However, I shall respond generally to his questions about the position in 1978 vis-a-vis the present proposals. The Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office have taken on many more functions since 1978. It is for that reason that the functions in the transfer order are much more extensive than those listed in the 1978 Act. I believe that agricultural responsibilities were transferred to the Welsh Office in the course of 1978.

I hope that my responses are helpful. I have deliberately held back my detailed responses to the questions raised by the amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Stanley of Alderley and Lord Willoughby de Broke. It is probably better if I deal with those issues at that time. On the basis of what I have put forward in a spirit of non-controversy I hope that all noble Lords will decide not to pursue their varying and contradictory amendments.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: I am sure that the Committee is grateful to the Minister for his interesting

2 Jun 1998 : Column 213

response to the debate. It would have been surprising had it not been so. All noble Lords realise that the clauses which transfer functions lie at the very heart of the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, the transfer of functions is on a massive scale. It would be curious if we did not pause to consider the matter. We are passing functions from the Secretary of State to the assembly under some 300 Acts. We are passing very considerable powers to the assembly.

The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, referred to partnership. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, referred to the civilised relationship that should exist between Parliament and the assembly. It is no part of our endeavour to belittle the assembly or to snatch functions properly transferred to it. But we believe that there is a duty incumbent upon Parliament to take care of the partner to whom it is transferring functions. Surely, we would be irresponsible if we did not take some kind of precaution in the event that matters did not go well and functions were not properly exercised by the assembly. Difficulties might occur either for the United Kingdom or for the assembly, as we have seen happen in local government, and we would be unable to take back functions given by this Parliament.

The Minister made much of the fact that Amendment No. 67 conferred an override power on the Secretary of State. However, it was pointed out that that power existed in the field of Community obligations and cross-border issues and functions. If they are not properly carried out, the Secretary of State has an interventionist role.

Lord Elis-Thomas: I do not want to delay the noble Lord but I have difficulty understanding his position. I believe that he is in danger of invalidating those very Conservative candidates who presumably will be standing for election to the assembly. Surely, if they are to be elected they are responsible for the devolved functions and are accountable to the electorate whereas international obligations and cross-border issues are precisely so--cross-border issues to do with bodies who have no say in elections to the assembly.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: I congratulate the noble Lord who is clearly launching into his campaign. As to Conservative candidates for the assembly--I can assure the noble Lord that there will be a contender against him--there is still a duty upon them, as upon us, to ensure that the assembly performs its functions satisfactorily. What we seek to do is to make some provision in the event that difficulties occur.

Earl Russell: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Is he not failing to make the distinction between "unpopular" and ultra vires? Is it not rather unwise in this Chamber to suggest that assemblies may lose functions if they discharge them in a way that does not satisfy the Secretary of State?

Lord Roberts of Conwy: The Committee has already covered almost all the situations in which there can be malfunction. All that we seek to emphasise here is that the transfer of functions is entirely one way. I would

2 Jun 1998 : Column 214

have thought that a Parliament which executed a massive transfer of powers of this kind would make some provision in case those powers were not used appropriately. But I am reassured by the fact that it can be done by primary legislation. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for emphasising that point. I give way.

5 p.m.

Lord Islwyn: Is not the term "carrying out its functions satisfactorily" a relative one? There are differences, for instance, in the pattern of voting in Wales compared with England. We have been led to believe that people of the highest calibre will be encouraged to stand for this new assembly. I hope that many of those people of high calibre will be elected. If they are going merely to dance to the tune played at Westminster, they will not be of much calibre at all.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: All sides of the Committee realise that membership of the assembly should be of the highest quality. The general assumption behind this massive transfer of functions by Parliament to the assembly is that it is, as one noble Lord has said, a matter of trust. It is being done on trust. We are seeking to ensure that should there be any malfunction and substantial call for the return of powers to Parliament that should be provided for. It is possible for such a return of functions to take place, because of the continuing power of this Parliament in primary legislation. Bearing that in mind, and with the assurances that we have been given, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 51 not moved.]

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clause 22 [Transfer of Ministerial functions]:

[Amendments Nos. 52 to 59 not moved.]

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 60:

Page 13, line 14, at end insert--
("( ) No draft of an Order in Council laid before each House of Parliament under subsection (2) above shall make provision for transferring to the Assembly functions concerning animal health and welfare.").

The noble Lord said: I shall speak first to Amendments Nos. 60 to 63 and then follow with Amendment No. 64 which is slightly different. This series of amendments tries to clarify the Government's intentions regarding the transfer to the assembly of four areas of function relating to agriculture: animal health and welfare; food safety; health and safety; and pesticides. It is clear from the guide to the draft transfer of functions order published in May, that the Government:

    "has not reached final decisions on all aspects of them".

The guide refers to some agricultural functions being exercisable by the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of Agriculture, acting together. An option is to

2 Jun 1998 : Column 215

split that joint function so that the assembly will be able to exercise the functions separately. The guide points out that before splitting the functions in that way:

    "it is necessary to consider whether it is desirable to do so".

I wonder what that phrase means. I hope that the Minister will agree that Parliament should be told now what is or what is not desirable.

The draft order proposes to transfer the main animal health and welfare legislation (the Animal Health Act 1981 and the Animal Health and Welfare Act 1984), but I wonder whether it would be sensible to have different regulations applying to animal diseases either side of the Border. Diseases, particularly animal ones, can spread easily, and are no respecters of boundaries.

Similarly, the main legislation on food safety (the Food Safety Act 1990) is on the list to be transferred, but in the case of some emergency would not it be desirable to have a quick and uniform UK plan? My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke has tabled an amendment on the subject. I am concerned also that it must be possible in such cases to transfer power back to the Secretary of State or to the assembly.

It is proposed under the draft order to transfer the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 which includes provisions on the control of pesticides. Surely the Government do not intend to duplicate the specialist and carefully constructed system of scientific advisory committees which currently vet the safety of pesticides, which this place debated at considerable length when that Bill went through. I look forward to a positive answers to those queries, because time is running out.

I move now to Amendment No. 64 which, as I said, is slightly different. Clause 22(1) provides that a function can be transferred to the assembly to be exercised concurrently with the Minister of the Crown. The draft transfer order proposes to transfer the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, including provisions for a right of appeal against planning decisions to the Secretary of State.

It is desirable that planning decisions reached on appeal follow a consistent policy and are reached at arm's length from what can often be turbulent local politics surrounding a proposed development. I fear-- I am always frightened of everything--that if the assembly had sole charge of reaching decisions on appeals there would be no guarantee of those decisions not becoming politicised in due course. For that reason, there is merit in having that power jointly with the Secretary of State.

I suppose that I should declare an interest. Anyone who has ever had experience of trying to obtain planning permission knows only too well how local authorities--I am sorry to say particularly my own in Anglesey--are swayed by public opinion, and, I fear, on occasions, by backhanders. Farmers today need to diversify to survive. They need to know that their applications to do so will be dealt with in accordance with the guidelines laid down and not on political or personal prejudice. The amendment's intention is to achieve that.

2 Jun 1998 : Column 216

I suspect that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, and, of course, the Liberal Peers will say that I should be more trustful. Not only is my name Thomas, but 50 years of farming have made me always assume the worst. We are a revising Chamber, and that is the attitude that we should take. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page