some default text...

Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn: We have discussed Amendments Nos. 68 to 76. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, made it plain that he would not be moving Amendments Nos. 77 to 79 because events have overtaken them. Therefore, the issue essentially relates to the functions which are to be transferred to the assembly.

The first group of amendments seeks by amending Schedule 2, to add to or to subtract from the functions which will transfer to the assembly. Perhaps I may indicate my understanding of what Schedule 2 does and does not do.

Clause 22(2) puts a duty on the Secretary of State for Wales to consider including in the initial transfer order appropriate functions which fall in each of the fields listed in Schedule 2. Without such a provision there would be nothing in the Bill to indicate the extent of the initial powers to be transferred to the assembly. Clause 22(2) and Schedule 2, taken together, reflect the policy that virtually all the functions now exercised by the Secretary of State for Wales should be included in the initial transfer order.

Therefore, adding new fields to the list in Schedule 2 would have the effect of requiring the Secretary of State to consider transferring functions in those other fields to the assembly. It would not require him to transfer any or all of them. If the additions were simply matters included in one of the broad fields already in Schedule 2, the amendment would have no effect at all. Conversely, removing a field from Schedule 2 does not

2 Jun 1998 : Column 252

mean that the transfer order under Clause 22 could not transfer functions in that field to the assembly. Schedule 2 does not constrain the ability of an order to transfer any ministerial function.

When introducing Amendment No. 68, the noble Lord, Lord Conwy, whose approach was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, proposed that the assembly should not have functions with respect to agriculture. We take a diametrically opposite view in that respect. I am bound to say that our view is that which was elucidated by the noble Lords, Lord Geraint and Lord Elis-Thomas.

As I indicated, Schedule 2 does not constrain the scope of a transfer order. Therefore, if the objective of Amendment No. 68 is to prevent the assembly having functions vis-a-vis agriculture, it will fail. We do not fundamentally understand why an assembly should not have devolved powers on agriculture in a country such as Wales where it is so important. Indeed, the noble Lord said that farmers are faced with difficult circumstances and that farm incomes have very seriously decreased. However, quite apart from that, it is economically and socially important right across Wales; and, indeed, culturally and linguistically. We believe that it is absolutely right that functions with respect to agricultural policy should, as far as possible, be subject to the democratic scrutiny and accountability of the assembly.

If we had an assembly without devolved powers on agriculture, I believe that that would simply hobble the assembly before it starts its work. I would anticipate--although these are matters for the assembly--that one of the very first tasks that assembly members will consider will be the setting out of a strategy for the next few years as regards agricultural policy within its own competence, domestically, in Wales.

When we devolve powers to the assembly, we do not wish to take away from it at or about its birth functions of such importance. The noble Earl, Lord Balfour, asked about employment. Employment, in the sense of the functions of the Employment Service, is not a function of the Secretary of State for Wales. But, of course, economic development is referred to in Schedule 2.

My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies inquired as to whether an assembly secretary could speak at European Council meetings. He is right to suppose that he or she could do so; any assembly secretary could speak at such a meeting and put forward what view had been agreed.

There were also specific questions about--

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I thank the Minister for giving way. Although this is perhaps not the time to mention it because we will deal with such matters later, I believe that the Minister will have to try to persuade some of us who have been to such meetings on many occasions--for example, on agriculture and fishing--that, at any time, anyone other than Ministers of member states sits round the table and leads in discussions for their country.

2 Jun 1998 : Column 253

7.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies asked whether or not it would be possible for an assembly secretary to speak at a European Union council. I believe that my answer was accurate. It would indeed be possible for him or her so to speak and attend such meetings.

There were specific questions about how the assembly is to organise itself, especially as regards agriculture. They are primarily decisions for the assembly to make. I cannot repeat too often that we do not wish to be prescriptive and dictatorial. We are trusting the assembly with new powers; we are trusting the electorate with their decisions; and it is for the assembly to develop organically through its standing orders and procedures and decide how it wants to carry out its business and how it wants to set its priorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, asked a particular question about how requests for further transfers of functions will be dealt with. It is open to the assembly at any time to make representations on any matter. I am happy to confirm that it could make requests for further transfers of functions. Of course, it would then be for the Government and Parliament of the day to decide how to respond to those requests.

There were many distinct questions about Europe. However, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is right to suggest that we probably ought to deal with such matters when we come to discuss Amendments Nos. 102, 103B and 103C.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, and other noble Lords spent justifiable time on their concerns about Amendment No. 71, which refers to the "special functions" of the three nature conservancy councils discharged through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). The second draft of the transfer order indicates that we propose to transfer to the assembly the Secretary of State's power under Section 133 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to direct the Countryside Council for Wales to undertake those special functions in place of the JNCC. That is a reserve power in that the JNCC will continue to discharge its present range of functions unless or until the power of direction is used. Within the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Secretary of State will retain the power of direction in respect of the Nature Conservancy Council for England and the Scottish Executive will inherit the power so far as it relates to the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland.

We are discussing important questions. I have been able to see that the CCW has been in correspondence with the noble Lord who substantially took the burden of this area of the debate. Its view is that it would prefer responsibility for CCW to go to the national assembly. The CCW has come to that view after some thought because its letter is only dated with yesterday's date. The CCW makes the point, which I shall repeat for what it is worth, that the Secretary of State will be left without any expertise in this area and that,

    "it will be far better for the national assembly also to have responsibility for the special functions and to share in an ongoing commitment to a common approach to nature conservation. Indeed,

2 Jun 1998 : Column 254

    if the two special functions are left with the Secretary of State this could reduce the sense of ongoing commitment on the part of the assembly who will give us in CCW our direction, budget and much else in the future".

I recognise the concerns that were so moderately put by the noble Lord and those who supported him. However, we believe that a good deal of the answer is to be found in the conclusion of the CCW as expressed in its letter.

There may have been a glitch about the prior notice that the noble Lord gave me. He said that he had written to me--and, of course, I accept that--about the duality that he detected as regards Clause 22 and the other clause--

Lord Moran: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I should point out that I did not say that I wrote to him; indeed, I telephoned the Minister's private secretary.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: That is, perhaps, the answer. I have been trying to research a letter. The noble Lord is quite right. However, he did not say that he had telephoned. I regret to say that even my private office is being less than wholly perfect. As far as I am aware, that message did not come to me. Nevertheless, I shall research the matter overnight and hope to have an answer for the noble Lord by tomorrow. I have in fact been asking my officials to find a letter and have been met by indignant denials that any such letter was received. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for resolving the matter.

The amendments tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, seek to add fields to Schedule 2. I have simply explained that, if such amendments were accepted, it would not mean that functions in those fields were obliged to be transferred. Reference was also made to consumer protection. The Secretary of State for Wales does not deal with trading standards or other aspects of consumer protection. Our scheme has been that it is powers which he has presently which are to be devolved to the assembly.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was right: taking the police, prisons and the Probation Service away from the Home Office, which deals with them so admirably, is not on the menu. We have no plans to change Home Office responsibilities in that area.

Amendment No. 70 refers to the Council of the Isles. I think that the nomenclature now has become the British-Irish Council. It is a dramatic idea and it offers the possibility of a consultative forum between different areas within the islands of Britain. I think that in principle it is a most attractive idea if it can be made to work.

Whether the national assembly wishes to take part in it and make it work is a matter for the assembly, as it will be a matter for the Manx legislature and the legislatures in Guernsey and Jersey. I returned from the Isle of Man yesterday where I discussed this among other issues. I visited Jersey and Guernsey a few days earlier. It is not appropriate to discuss legislation on the British-Irish Council in terms of this Bill. However, it

2 Jun 1998 : Column 255

appears to be appropriate to discuss virtually everything else in the discovered world in terms of it. If there is to be such legislation it ought to be discussed when that legislation is brought forward.

Amendment No. 72 refers to railways and inland waterways. The main statutory function that the Secretary of State exercises in relation to rail transport and inland waterways is in respect of freight facilities grants under Sections 139 and 140 of the Railways Act 1993. Those grants encourage the transfer of freight from road to either rail or inland waterways. These functions are more than adequately covered by the field of transport in Schedule 2. The only other functions that the Secretary of State has with respect to railways are incidental ones; for example on planning and non-domestic rating. The principal functions relating to the railways are within the remit of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. These should allow the railways to operate as an integrated network within a clear financing and regulatory regime set by him. The Government have no plans to alter that.

Those are the responses to the matters which have been raised. As I said, I have specifically not discussed those matters which were not raised because of our earlier decision with regard to Clause 23.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page