Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Stanley of Alderley: Amendments Nos. 74 and 75 are grouped with the amendment. Before I speak to

2 Jun 1998 : Column 247

the amendment, perhaps I may emphasise the importance of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, about the relationship between the assembly and Brussels. I shall study all the Minister's replies on this subject before Report stage, in particular the relationship between the assembly and Brussels to which I referred when I introduced my first amendment today.

Farmers need clarity on this vital matter. We cannot wait and see. I have to say this to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. His simple and hopeful view that the assembly will find it easy to deal with Brussels may not prove to be quite correct. However, I can assure the noble Lord that a later amendment is intended to tackle the problem of geography, and the railways on the north coast of Wales.

I shall be most interested to hear the Minister's reply to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Moran. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that it was the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who made the statement, not me.

Amendments Nos. 74 and 75 enable the Secretary of State to transfer to the assembly his functions over rural affairs and rural regeneration. It is important that that is done. The assembly will then be able to ensure that subject committees have responsibilities in those two fields; some may regard them as the same field. I shall be interested to hear the Government's view. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure me that rural affairs and rural regeneration will have a statutory place on the subject committees.

Baroness Nicol: I support Amendment No. 71 on which the noble Lord, Lord Moran, spoke so well. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is right. The arrangement with the Countryside Council for Wales has worked extremely well. It is to ensure that that happy arrangement can continue that we have put down Amendment No. 71. In the overall picture which is being painted of devolution, we are nervous that the needs of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee may be overlooked. We seek reassurance from the Minister.

The need for that committee is as great now as it was in 1991. I hope that my noble friend will take seriously the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, in particular as regards the responsibilities of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee in advising Ministers on policies relating to nature conservation in Great Britain as a whole and internationally, and, perhaps most importantly, in establishing common standards for research, monitoring, data collection and analysis. Those matters must be dealt with. I hope that my noble friend will provide some answers.

Lord Prys-Davies: In support of Amendment No. 68, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, drew heavily on a letter from the NFU Wales. I have a letter. My letter is dated 15th April; I am not sure whether we are referring to the same letter. However, in that letter I see no argument for omitting agriculture from Schedule 2. The NFU asks a number of questions, some of which are awkward. When the Minister replies, I shall be grateful if he will

2 Jun 1998 : Column 248

confirm that there is no reason why the assembly secretary cannot be a member of the UK representation at the Council of Ministers, and, although a member of the assembly, speak as a representative of the UK with the agreement of the lead department.

No reference has been made to the Farmers' Union of Wales. It is an important agricultural union in Wales. In its letter of 6th May it tells me that it would be "strongly opposed" to a move omitting agriculture from the Bill. That point should be on the record.

I wish briefly to refer to Amendment No. 70, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I believe that there is a positive case for ensuring that the Welsh assembly will have a representative on the Council of the Isles whenever that is established. There are three reasons why that is important. First, the council will be a permanent forum to discuss matters affecting the British Isles as a whole, and various parts of the British Isles. Secondly, it should provide a link between the two assemblies and the two, and possibly three, parliaments. That will be valuable. Thirdly, it would facilitate the co-ordination of policies where co-ordination is considered appropriate. That is a positive argument on why the assembly should have representation on the Council of the Isles.

The Earl of Selborne: I support the noble Lord, Lord Moran, on Amendment No. 71. I should like to put on record how enormously supportive of the concept of a joint committee was not only the Countryside Council for Wales but also the Welsh Office during the five years that I was chairman of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, was a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, as was the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. It was instrumental in drawing attention to what would have been a serious gap in the legislation. It was only through the intervention of that committee that the joint committee came on to the statute book. It is appropriate to have this probing amendment which ensures that a system which has worked well continues under the legislation we are considering today.

Lord Chorley: I wish to speak to Amendment No. 71 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moran. I am happy to follow the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who had such a distinguished chairmanship of the JNCC. He really made it work.

We have been told many times today that in a Bill as complicated and far reaching as this we have to take many factors on trust. One is happy to do that, but at Committee stage of the Bill it is fair to probe exactly what is meant and what can happen. That is what the noble Lord's amendment seeks to do. There is little I need to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Moran, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said. The crucial issues relate to those areas where nature does not recognise boundaries. It has been said that although normally inhabiting Wales, the red kite does not recognise the Welsh border. Therefore when we seek to establish common standards we need to have a UK-wide framework. That is the rationale of the JNCC.

2 Jun 1998 : Column 249

While the Bill is probably acceptable, it would be helpful to have a more knowledgeable and positive assurance from the Minister when he replies. It is to be hoped that that will settle the matter for the next 15 years.

Lord Geraint: I have lived on the land all my life and have been dependent on the agricultural industry. I have spoken to many young farmers during the past three or four months. The majority are in favour of the Welsh assembly discussing agriculture among other issues relevant to the people of Wales. I congratulate the Government for allowing debates on agriculture, forestry, fisheries and food in our parliament. I am delighted that the Government have conceded the requests of the young farmers living in rural Wales.

7.30 p.m.

The Earl of Balfour: I wish to make a special appeal in respect of rural affairs and farming. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Stanley will correct me if I am wrong, but the hill farmers--what is regarded within the CAP as the less favoured areas--are having a very difficult time. I am a farmer, but I am not in that bracket.

Secondly, I am surprised that Schedule 2 makes no mention of employment. Employment represents some of the difficulties that we are facing and if the Welsh assembly could take part of that on board it would be good for the country.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps I may comment on the amendments which my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy did not speak to and give a view on each in turn. I begin with Amendment No. 71, which was spoken to and explained perfectly by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. The Minister should remove from his mind the idea he can resist the noble Earl, Lord Selby, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, any better than could the Government in 1990 in relation to the Environmental Protection Act. The noble Lord made a formidable case, backed by his two formidable noble friends. I, too, look forward to what the Minister has to say. I shall look carefully for the read across to the Scotland Bill, which is soon to appear before us, to see whether environmental aspects regarding Scotland are being dealt with as I believe they should be.

As regards the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, I am not convinced about consumer protection. I accept his point that much consumer protection is EU-wide, but not all. Therefore, it is important to keep some of these issues on an all-UK basis. In the unified market of the United Kingdom, let alone that of Europe, it would be wrong to have the potential of running two different systems. I understand that Schedule 5, paragraph 6, to the Scotland Bill makes it clear that such powers are reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament. If the Minister is unable to confirm that, no doubt he will write to me if I am wrong.

I believe that railways and inland waterways criss-cross the border, and I do not believe that their separation is sensible. The assembly, like the Scottish parliament, will be able to debate whatever it wishes and

2 Jun 1998 : Column 250

no doubt communicate with the Government here when it is concerned about such issues. However, ministerial responsibility should rest in a unified way with the Westminster Government. I suppose that in that I am agreeing with the Government's position as regards this legislation. I would also include prisons, the police and the Probation Service, although the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, having the Home Office brief on these issues, will be able to answer those questions much better than I can.

This Parliament will have the primary legislative powers on legal matters--the civil law and the criminal law--and therefore it is sensible that the police, prisons and the Probation Service should remain here. The Scottish position is quite different because all primary legislative powers will be devolved to the Scottish parliament.

I turn to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy. Given that agriculture and forestry are to be devolved, I can see little objection to the amendments proposed. However, together with my noble friend, I have considerable reservations about devolving agriculture. I agree with noble Lords who said that it is important that agriculture should be the concern of the assembly. I fully appreciate that, but I worry about the EU aspect. I shall not develop that argument now because there will be a chance to do so later.

The world is a place where the guy with the Gatling gun controls things, and as regards agriculture, the guy with the Gatling gun will be in this Parliament. He will go to Brussels and conduct the negotiations. I believe that we are doing agriculture and fisheries a disservice in Scotland, Wales and possibly Northern Ireland if we attempt to separate them out in such a way that the Minister who negotiates and makes the decisions will not carry the can in the other place for the decisions he makes about Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I have considerable difficulty with those issues, but they are not the subject of my discussion.

As the lawyers say, without prejudice to that position--if that is not what the lawyers say, no doubt they will tell me--I cannot see why, if agriculture and fisheries are devolved, rural affairs, rural regeneration and sustainable development, mentioned by the noble Lord, cannot also be devolved. There is an inconsistency about devolving some things and not devolving others which we shall come across quite a lot. I would rather we addressed agriculture and fisheries in a different way, but if we are to go down the road the Government suggest I can see no reason for them to resist my noble friend's amendment or those of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I shall deal with forestry in later amendments.

I have left the amendment about the Council for the Isles until last because it raises an entirely new and different point for us all. I understand that the council will encompass the UK--I presume in its capacity as the government of England, although I am not sure--the Republic of Ireland, Ulster, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey and Wales. I put Wales last because we are discussing Wales tonight. The interesting point is that all of them are different.

2 Jun 1998 : Column 251

The Minister's department speaks for Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, which do not carry a devolved responsibility. I have recently returned from Guernsey, so I know that it is not devolved in the way that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are to be devolved. The responsibility of the United Kingdom Government is external affairs and defence, not the internal arrangements of those countries. They are not devolved in the way in which we are looking at Ulster, Scotland and Wales; they fall somehow between the devolved position and the totally independent position of the Republic of Ireland.

I presume that the Welsh assembly will be sending a delegate or a delegation to that council, together with delegations or delegates from Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the UK. I presume that there will be English representatives from the UK. If that is the case, matters regarding the Council of the Isles as far as Wales is concerned should be delegated to the Welsh assembly. It would be totally illogical if they were not. If it is to be a proper Council of the Isles, with all those governments, despite their different constitutional arrangements, being represented on it, then the government of Wales--I prefer to think of them as that--should be able to attend with their own delegation from the assembly, taking their own line. Therefore, I am sure that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is right. I look forward to hearing a description of what the Council of the Isles will do. No doubt that will interest the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, just as much as it will interest me.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page