|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Elis-Thomas: We are getting somewhere. We now have it established that a senior Welsh Office official led, at official level, a debate on minority languages--obviously that is something that I endorse fully, although I do not endorse the term "minority languages"--and that the Minister of State attended an informal council on regional policy. So we are there already. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, shakes his head. I know that he will say that we are not leading the negotiations. These things do not work in that way. He
Clearly the national assembly will be represented there, both through UKREP and the input into the relevant European interdepartmental committee of the UK Government. It is important to put this in the overall European context. We are dealing with a flexible and moving scenario of European representations by regional Ministers.
I am surprised that in our debates no mention has been made--I shall not go into detail--of the constitutions of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Belgian state, or the diverse and wonderful arrangements that our colleagues in Catalonia manage to derive through their continuing relationships with parties of various hues in Madrid and elsewhere. We are dealing with a moving picture of European representation both at official and ministerial level. Whether it is in the formal sense of the federal state structure or the more asymmetrical form of autonomy in the Iberian peninsula, which is much more like what is emerging in the UK, those are facts of political life. Therefore I am certain that the national assembly will be able to devise its various strategies for operating as a serious partner at the European level in the formal sense as well as in the existing less formal contacts we have through the procedures instituted by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is getting excited.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I can understand why and how a senior civil servant from the Welsh Office, who was a senior civil servant of the British Government, could take a lead on an issue peculiar to Wales (if I may use that word in its nicest sense of minority language) which does not have a great deal of English interest. The Scottish Office must have been content to allow the Civil Service to bat on behalf of Gaelic as well.
However, as regards fishing and agriculture, while I accept that theoretically there may be occasions when the issue before the Council of Ministers may be one entirely contained within Wales, I cannot envisage those circumstances. Therefore it will be a UK problem which is developed and explored in the Council of Ministers. That is where I do not believe that a Minister from the Welsh assembly could speak for the United Kingdom. That is my problem.
I can well envisage that a UK government of whatever colour might decide that the secretary for agriculture, countryside, agri-environment and sheepmeat, of the national assembly for Wales, might be the appropriate person to take a lead role on that issue in terms of reform of the common agricultural policy. I can well imagine that a UK Government might decide that on agri-environment initiatives and the development of national parks it would be appropriate for the secretary from the national assembly to lead in European
For the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, to suggest that somehow secretaries of the national assembly for Wales are less competent to speak on the European level, and less able to lead on an agreed UK line than Ministers of the UK Parliament does a grave disservice to the partnership arrangements between the Parliament and the national assembly.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Lord must not put words into my mouth. I do not doubt for a moment that they might be perfectly able to lead from an ability point of view, and know all about their subject. I question the issue from the constitutional position. It is a Council of Ministers of the member states of the Union. The member state is the United Kingdom. The Minister we are envisaging, no matter how able, is not a Minister of the United Kingdom. Perhaps I am making a mountain out of a molehill, but I think that it is a serious problem and no one has answered me properly.
Lord Elis-Thomas: This is my final riposte to the noble Lord. Other member states make specific arrangements. I said that I would not involve myself in the federal position in Belgium. But arrangements are made there. There are four or five categories--I forget how many--of Council ministers. The mix depends on which region leads on which subject.
Many arrangements are possible within a devolved structure. The Scottish parliament has precisely the same relationship with the European Union as the national assembly will have, except possibly in the area of legislation. It could be argued that Scottish Ministers could debate legislation directly whereas national assembly Ministers might not on primary legislation. Apart from that, relationships are similar. On reflection, I am sure the noble Lord will concede that his unionist tendencies have overtaken his judgment.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: This is an important debate. The nub of Amendments Nos. 102 and 103C is the role the assembly will play in discussions on EU matters in the United Kingdom and with EU institutions.
In respect of Amendment No. 103B spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, as I explained earlier, the Government do not believe that it is appropriate for concordats to have the force of law, or for the detail to appear on the face of the Bill.
Both amendments seek to explore the level of representation that the assembly will have in Europe. The Government's position is that the assembly will play a direct role, but that it is not appropriate for that to be dealt with on the face of the Bill.
I readily acknowledge the extensive personal knowledge of the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, on how both the Scottish and Welsh Offices operated within a unitary government. I hope that they will accept that in this Bill
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, slithered between two different positions. First, when he was taking his fisheries example, he was talking about practicality. But then the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, was politely interrupted by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, saying that constitutionally there would be a difficulty about somebody from the assembly speaking in the Council of Ministers. Then in the course of the debate the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, confirmed that a senior official from the Welsh Office, or possibly himself, had spoken in the Council of Ministers on a Welsh language issue. Taking that as an example, if a Welsh language issue is raised by an EU institution, the representative at the EU institution is plainly a representative of the UK Government. But there is nothing wrong with the UK Government saying that the obvious and most appropriate person to speak on behalf of the UK Government, which is the player in foreign policy terms, is somebody from the Welsh assembly. That particular issue has been transferred to the assembly.
I see neither practical difficulty in that case nor any constitutional difficulty, so long as it is remembered at all times that the relevant player in foreign policy terms is the UK, because it is a member of the EU.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: If the noble and learned Lord will forgive me for repeating his expression, I believe that he slithered neatly from the position of a civil servant, an official, albeit of the Welsh Office, who is of the United Kingdom service taking the position on the front desk. Civil servants do take positions in place of Ministers, especially during election interregnums in a country where there is no government, as occasionally is the case with some of our European friends, thanks to proportional representation. They have to be represented by officials, but they are officials of the member state's government.
The official who represented the UK perhaps came from the Welsh Office but he was a UK civil servant. I understand that civil servants who work for the Welsh assembly will still be UK civil servants. I suspect that there may not be such a problem about them, but is the Minister saying that assembly members will be civil servants in some capacity and that they will be able to represent the UK in the same way as a civil servant? I believe that that is a bit of a slither.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page