Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for initiating this interesting debate even though it is rather early in the morning.

Amendment No. 104 invites us to add buildings of archaeological interest to those which the assembly may support under Clause 33. It seems very likely that a building which is of archaeological interest will also be of historical or architectural interest, so in that sense the amendment may be unnecessary. More relevant is that the assembly will, we intend, inherit the functions of the Secretary of State under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, which provides explicit powers for providing support for sites of archaeological interest. I believe that that covers the point raised in Amendment No. 104.

Amendment No. 105 seeks to provide that the assembly can provide support for "languages in Wales" as opposed to the Welsh language. I fully understand the concerns that led the noble Lord to table the amendment. Indeed, they were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. I hope that he will not mind my saying that the English language, which is the relevant one, is unlikely to require such support. The Government are perfectly content with the present wording of the clause and do not share the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, about the language police. In any event, it may be that the answer to the noble Lord's point is that the assembly will inherit specific functions in the field of education and that in the exercise of its

2 Jun 1998 : Column 325

function it must have regard to equal opportunities for all under Clause 120. That may encompass the provision of service or information where appropriate in languages other than Welsh and English, including Braille and various minority languages.

Turning to Amendment No. 202A, I congratulate the noble Lord on the intellectual ingenuity of the proposition that standing orders must require the assembly to consider translation of information about its work into languages other than English or Welsh. We are not persuaded that standing orders could properly contain a provision requiring the assembly to consider whether it wanted to do something.

Leaving that aside, we appreciate the point that is made. The assembly will need to reach out to all people in Wales and seek to communicate with them in the most effective way, irrespective of race or ethnic origin. That may involve the provision of information in languages other than English and Welsh, but that must be a matter for the assembly to decide in the light of the resources available to it. It may be that, subject to the views of the electorate of Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, the noble Lord will be in a good position to influence the assembly's approach to this matter.

What does Clause 33 add to any of the powers listed in Schedule 2? As to Schedule 2, that lists areas of policy in which the Secretary of State must consider transferring powers to the assembly, whereas Clause 33 gives the assembly in effect power straight away to spend money on the particular issues raised there.

I hope that that answers satisfactorily all the points raised. We cannot accept the amendment, and we hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it.

Lord Elis-Thomas: I am grateful to the Minister. I am glad that we have had this short debate and that my noble friends have taken part in it. Perhaps I am a little over-sensitive on issues of bilingualism and equality, but I have a horror of returning to the bad old days. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 105 not moved.]

Clause 33 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 105A not moved.]

Clause 35 [Staff]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 106:

Page 22, line 11, at end insert--
("( ) Where, under the powers provided in subsection (1), the Assembly makes appointments of staff, it may, if it considers it appropriate, direct the Permanent Secretary to the Assembly (as defined in section 64(2)) that--
(a) certain staff shall be answerable to the Assembly First Secretary and the Executive Committee of the Assembly and shall be regarded as the staff of the Assembly First Secretary and the Executive Committee; and
(b) certain staff shall be answerable to the Assembly (or committees of the Assembly) and shall be regarded as the staff of the Assembly and its committees.").

2 Jun 1998 : Column 326

The noble Lord said: My noble friend Lord Crickhowell dealt with the points raised in the amendments to Clauses 33 and 47 during Second Reading. He acknowledged his indebtedness to certain Members of the other place who had sought to explore the issues. My noble friend crystallised the position with regard to staff in the following way:

    "With a cabinet system most of [the staff] will have primary responsibility to the executive, but the assembly will need its own servants--its clerks and those who are responsible for its administration.".--[Official Report, 21/4/98; col. 1058.]

Amendment No. 106 provides that the assembly directs the permanent secretary to allocate the staff between the executive and assembly committees and that they be answerable accordingly.

It is quite clear from this amendment and Amendment No. 112 to Clause 47, which refers to the professional loyalty of civil servants, that my noble friend is anxious to avoid a clash between civil service loyalty to the executive and to the assembly in its executive-checking role. The point is an important one. It is obvious that the executive will have its own interests and that they may have to be closely guarded at times. After all, it will probably meet in secret. It is equally obvious that the ordinary assembly member will have his or her separate interests in the executive's activities and in a wider field. Some division of staff is inevitable. We are familiar with that here in Parliament, where we are well and independently served as Members by our own staff in both Houses. There is no question of where their loyalty lies, even though they all belong to the Home Civil Service. We may not have the division of labour exactly right in the amendments, but I do not think that we are far from it. I commend the amendments to the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Elis-Thomas: I shall speak to Amendment No. 193 in this group. It is intended to lay on the commissioners and the assembly's standing orders the specification of the proportion of staff who will be delegated to provide information for members who are not necessarily members of the executive committee. That is a concern that I shall obviously rehearse later this evening on another amendment. It is merely to note the point that I do not believe that the Government so far, or perhaps the National Assembly Advisory Group so far, has grappled with the consequences of creating a cabinet system for the rest of the assembly members. Those are the consequences in terms of the flow of information, and what is called in another place and this place, the "guarantee of the rights of Back Benchers". I use that expression in quotes, because my view of the national assembly is that there should be no Back Benchers. It is a body corporate of 60 people, all of whom have a responsibility for the governance of the country and for their activity there. We must have ways of ensuring that all members, including the subject committee members, who are not members of the executive, will be able to be serviced properly by the staff of the Welsh Office, whose excellence we are observing even at this early hour of the morning.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: This group of amendments is concerned with the structure of the

2 Jun 1998 : Column 327

Civil Service which will support the assembly. It raises an issue which we are all concerned to see settled satisfactorily--that is, to ensure that all parts of the assembly have the administrative support they need to function effectively.

The structure of the assembly--its executive committee, its subject committees and so on--is designed carefully to give a balance between an effective executive and a full and meaningful involvement of minority parties in the policy-making and legislative processes of the assembly.

We all share the aim of ensuring that the assembly, in all its roles, including those which involve vigorous scrutiny of the assembly, is properly supported by its staff. I hope that the Committee will equally share our aim of preserving the valuable political impartiality of the Civil Service so that we avoid the risk of political interference in the running of the assembly's administration.

The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, made clear on Second Reading his intention to examine the position of the civil servants and the support that they will provide to assembly members. I remind the Committee that those issues have been addressed also by the National Assembly Advisory Group set up by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I refer in particular to Chapter 5 of the advisory group's consultation document, issued on 17th April, copies of which are in the Library.

Clauses 35 and 64 are intended to ensure that the permanent secretary (and not elected members) remains responsible for the management of the assembly's officials. As the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Conwy and Lord Crickhowell, will know from their extensive experience of the Welsh Office, permanent secretaries do not exercise that function in isolation from their Ministers; they do so in consultation with them, and in ways which will deliver the service that Ministers require. The Civil Service serves the political agenda. That will be equally true under the assembly.

Amendments Nos. 106 and 112 would require the creation of separate groups of staff among the civil servants who will support the work of the assembly. I do not believe that it is right or necessary to prescribe in statute how the staff of the assembly should be organised. In addition, the amendments will be a departure from the principle underpinning the Bill, that all the staff of the assembly, whether they support directly the assembly and its committees or the assembly secretaries, will be members of the Home Civil Service.

The role of the Civil Service will evolve under the assembly. It will be serving not "the Government of the day" but the assembly, in all its roles. We expect most of the Civil Servants to work in support of the assembly secretaries and the executive committee, in a manner not too dissimilar to the support which the Secretary of State receives from staff at the Welsh Office--to develop and implement the functions and policies of the assembly.

The role of the office of the presiding officer--to organise the business of the assembly, to enable the subject committees to operate effectively and, vitally, to

2 Jun 1998 : Column 328

safeguard the right of individual members--will mean that the staff there will need to be seen as independent of the assembly secretaries and the executive committee.

However, there is no need to suggest that the consequence of this is a need to create different groups of staff within the civil servants supporting the assembly as a whole. As is currently the case with the Welsh Office, staff are able to undertake a range of responsibilities within different areas of the department. Such moves are encouraged for career development purposes and I would anticipate that this should apply equally with the assembly. Of course, there may well be circumstances where staff will have to work within "Chinese walls" but this is a concept that is well understood.

In view of this explanation, I urge that the two amendments are withdrawn.

Turning to Amendment No. 193, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that it will be important that those members who are not assembly secretaries suffer no disadvantage in being able to access support and information to fully discharge their roles. However, I am sure that the noble Lord is not seeking to suggest that civil servants should be asked to provide personal support to help such members in their constituency and political business.

Nonetheless, I agree that members not represented on the executive committee need to be well informed, and this was also a point made in the advisory group's consultation paper. The Government's proposals for freedom of information legislation, together with the provision of modern IT facilities, central library and research facilities for assembly members are very much in our thinking in the range of office-based support which members should receive. A more novel proposal put forward by the advisory group is that there should be regular factual briefings by senior officials of the assembly.

I hope that I have indicated that we hold firmly to the need to retain the Civil Service principles of impartiality and political neutrality, but that at the same time we are exploring with an open mind the best ways of organising the assembly's staff to ensure that it properly supports the whole assembly. It would not be helpful to legislate to enforce a particular division of roles within the assembly. That would freeze the position and prevent the organisation from evolving in the light of experience.

In view of my reassurances about support and provision of information to members, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, to withdraw his amendment.

Before the noble Lord does so, in this group is a government amendment, Amendment No. 192A. That amendment is intended to bring greater clarity to the drafting in Clause 64. It is purely drafting.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page