Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I believe that the first part of the noble and learned Lord's questions were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, who said that he would welcome a plain man's guide to the kind of matters to which he referred. I said in answer to the noble Lord that it was an idea with some merit and I promised to look at it. I make the same response in answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, because it seems to me that that kind of clarification, almost by way of a tick list, is likely to be useful. I shall write to the noble and learned Lord on that subject.

On the broader question, if subordinate legislation within the assembly is to have an effect on England, that will be subject to the Westminster parliamentary process. Secondary legislation in respect of Wales is for the assembly. I take the noble and learned Lord's point--he is a constitutional purist--that some reference to that ought to be made in the Bill. I shall reflect on that and write to the noble and learned Lord as soon as I possibly can. It may not be tomorrow or the day after because we shall be engaged in Committee here, but I shall certainly write to him on both matters as soon as I can.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I thank the noble Lord on both counts.

Clause 22, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 67 not moved.]

Schedule 2 [Fields in which functions are to be transferred by first Order in Council]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 68:

Page 81, line 18, leave out ("Agriculture,").

The noble Lord said: Schedule 2 lists the 18 fields in which functions are to be transferred by the first Order in Council. We have that order before us in draft form. We have sought to amend the first field listed, which relates to,

by removing "agriculture" simply because it was not at all clear to us, or to others, how the Government's responsibilities for agriculture were to be carried out. In a sense, this is therefore a probing amendment.

Shortly before Second Reading, NFU Wales sent a letter to Welsh Peers, signed by its director, Mr. W.J. Goldsworthy, from which I now quote briefly:

    "Although the Government proposes to devolve many operational aspects of agriculture, the Secretary of State has emphasized that important aspects of agriculture will not be devolved, including the

2 Jun 1998 : Column 240

    vital matter of the reform of the CAP where it is envisaged that the Minister of Agriculture will continue to take the lead. He has stated that there will be representation from the Assembly in the UK delegation to EU negotiations. It is not clear, however, how this arrangement would operate in practice".

Those were the words of NFU Wales, as represented to us by Mr. W.J. Goldsworthy, and I am bound to say that I agree very much with the substance of his last sentence because I am not clear about just how that arrangement will work in relation to Brussels.

The noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General threw some light on the matter in the general context of the United Kingdom's relations with the European Union in his speech at the end of our Second Reading debate. He said:

    "Where appropriate, assembly secretaries, as well as officials, will have a role to play in delegations to the Council of Ministers, as agreed by the UK Minister leading those negotiations".

As well as referring to taking part

    "in relevant negotiations on policy at the Council of Ministers",

the noble and learned Lord said that

    "Assembly secretaries will be able, subject to the agreement of the lead UK Minister, to speak on behalf of the UK in relevant negotiations in Brussels".--[Official Report, 21/4/98; col. 1130.]

That all sounded fine at the time--until we began to consider the practical realities. Agricultural issues that affect only Wales are practically non-existent. So, the reality of assembly participation in European Union affairs is likely to be very different from the theoretical promise made by the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General whom I am glad to see in his place.

There are very difficult years ahead for British farming, years of tricky negotiations in Brussels over Agenda 2000 and on the future of agriculture. Wales at the moment has a much weakened industry, which had its income almost halved last year compared with the year before. There is deep concern, which has been echoed in this Chamber, not only about the future of farming as such, but about the impact of its decline on rural communities. That concern has been expressed repeatedly by my noble friends, and in particular by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley.

As Mr. Goldsworthy said in his letter to us:

    "Just before the referendum last September ministers assured farmers that a Welsh Assembly will benefit rural communities".

The NFU welcomed that pledge, but a lack of clarity persists about how that benefit is to be achieved and about what devolution will mean in practice for farming.

Perhaps I may quote Mr. Goldsworthy's letter just once more:

    "It appears that some decisions on devolving agriculture have yet to be taken, notably on food safety and animal health matters".

We heard about that earlier. Mr. Goldsworthy continues:

    "Whilst the Scottish Parliament will have the power to enact its own food safety legislation which may lead to different laws north of the border, does the Government envisage different secondary legislation on these important matters as between England and Wales, or identical regimes?"

I think that we have had the answer to that question, but there still remains the issue of how the subject of agriculture will be dealt with by the assembly.

2 Jun 1998 : Column 241

The NFU has raised a number of other pertinent issues, but they are more closely related to other clauses to which we shall come in due course. In this discussion, I believe that the Committee would like to hear a fairly detailed account of how it is proposed to deal with agriculture under the scheme of devolution proposed, bearing in mind its current parlous state and the momentous changes proposed at European Union level.

I have also tabled Amendments Nos. 77, 78 and 79, relating to Clause 23 which I understand the Government are to withdraw in its entirety. Therefore, I do not see much point in speaking to those amendments. I beg to move Amendment No. 68.

7 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for moving this amendment and for referring particularly to agriculture, to which I shall come in a moment. Grouped with Amendment No. 68 are Amendments Nos. 69, 70, 72 and 73 to 76 which stand in my name. I am pleased to have next to me my noble friend and fellow former party leader on the Cross Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, who can be entrusted to speak to my amendment, Amendment No. 70, on British-Irish issues as they relate to the assembly.

I want to introduce this series of amendments by emphasising what I take to be the object of Schedule 2, which is to name--quite literally--the fields in which functions are to be transferred. In earlier debates, the question of "fields" was given almost a literal definition. I understand that this schedule indicates areas rather than specific functions. It is therefore not surprising that there is not absolute clarity.

During the latter part of the Recess, I read with fascination the transfer order and marvelled at the work of the officials who have combed through all the pieces of legislation relevant to the current functions of the Welsh Office. On that basis, I believe that even potential Welsh assembly members might benefit from a lay-Welshperson's guide to the current functions of the Welsh Office and to what might be the assembly's forthcoming functions. It seems to me that the assembly may spend quite some time trying to find out just what it is able to do and what its competences are in a whole series of policy areas. That is why I have tabled a series of amendments on other fields which are not currently listed.

I believe that an ideal case for transfer is consumer protection. That is an area which is generally administered by local authorities within Wales. In any event, most consumer protection legislation falls within the framework of European legislation. When the Front Bench opposite waxed eloquently about legal conflicts or disagreements between the United Kingdom and the national assembly in Cardiff it occurred to me that it had forgotten that whole areas of domestic policy, particularly in the environmental, public health and consumer protection fields and a host of other matters, already fall within European Union regulation. These areas are subject to directives and legal instruments of the European Union to which the United Kingdom Government and the national assembly must pay equal

2 Jun 1998 : Column 242

regard. I believe that consumer protection would be a subject for transfer, and I should like to hear from the Minister why it does not appear in the first draft transfer order.

I turn now to my favourite subject of railways. The particular evidence that I produce is my Rail Rover valid until 10th June and issued at Bangor, Gwynedd. It allows me to travel the length and breadth of Wales. As Members of the Committee are aware, to travel the length and breadth of Wales one must go along the beautiful Marches. One is continually reminded that the borders of Wales have been open for a thousand years. In my view there was no reason to tear up the north-south communication on the west coast either. I believe that if any subject is appropriate for joint action between the national assembly and a Minister of the Crown in England it is the railway network. I shall not spend time, although I could, on the quality of the west coast track or the North Wales connection to Holyhead, at any rate not this evening. Noble Lords should not tempt me. I wish, however, to register one protest about the failure to include railways in the transfer order; similarly, inland waterways, as referred to in my Amendment No. 72. These, like other watercourses, traverse the border. I refer to the beautiful Llangollen Canal and so on. These are very appropriate subjects for immediate transfer.

The police, prisons and probation service are referred to in Amendment No. 73. This is even more probing. I shall not speak about the particular difficulties of Parc. I know that the Minister has those Home Office interests very much at heart. But the administration of the probation service and the police service in Wales appears to be a suitable candidate for effective transfer. Those services are already administered at a Wales level.

In case the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, believes that I was a little rough with him earlier in relation to his amendment dealing with override powers, I totally support his Amendments Nos. 74 and 75 on rural affairs and rural regeneration. I link them with my amendment dealing with sustainable development. That should permeate the whole of the assembly's work. We shall come to that matter in greater detail later. It is important to flag up that we view sustainable development as a subject area in its own right and not as an add-on.

How does the Minister see the assembly progressing requests for further fields of transfer? I believe that there is a case for the assembly having an input into its own specific powers. It may be able to request further transfers to be considered by government by order according to Clause 22, and particularly Schedule 2.

I express disagreement with what I perceive to be the arguments underlying Amendment No. 71. Speaking as a member of the Standing Committee which considered the Environmental Protection Act 1990, I believe that the arrangements arrived at between the conservation agencies in England, Scotland and Wales have worked well. I am disappointed that this subject should be reopened. No doubt the CCW has a view on this matter. I look forward to the Minister informing the Committee

2 Jun 1998 : Column 243

of that view. I believe that the Countryside Council has worked admirably as a countryside agency combining habitat concerns and national park and access issues. Of course, it will be accountable to the assembly but it is also a partner in the UK-European wide statutory conservation family. I do not want to see anything done to weaken that partnership. The JNCC is a body in the ownership of the various countryside agencies. I believe that that arrangement should remain under the assembly.

As to the agricultural issues raised so clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, it is essential that the assembly has an input into the debate on the future of the CAP. I fail to understand why the noble Lord, who lives in the most attractive valley in Wales, Conwy, and in sight of the most striking mountain range in Wales, seeks to argue that somehow there are issues of Welsh agriculture that are separate from UK agriculture or European agriculture. Surely, the Welsh assembly will be able to scrutinise all potential changes in Agenda 2000 and express a view. That view will be part of the overall UK position as it will be part of the inter-regional debate within Europe concerning mountain regions. Does the noble Lord believe that I am answering for the Government? I seek to help him. These matters should not be subject to division between us. Agricultural policy is borderless. For those reasons it is essential that there should be an input from mountain regions such as Wales into the whole European debate on the CAP. The assembly can provide that directly in a way that is complementary to anything that may be said at UK level. I am pleased to see that agriculture is to be transferred as a subject. I am certain that relationships can be worked out to ensure that the assembly has a strong voice to represent the NFU, the FUW, CLA and all the other agricultural bodies in Wales.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page