Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will agree with me that it is necessary for the well-being of north-west England that the west coast main line should be physically directly linked to the Channel Tunnel link. Will the Minister explain what, if anything, today's announcement does to bring that objective forward?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, as I said in the Statement, the obligation in the development agreement for the provision of the infrastructure for direct regional services is the same as it has always been. My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister recognises the importance attached by Members of this House and another place to putting regional services in place. That is why he has asked the consortium, which was chosen only today to operate Eurostar, to report to him by the end of the year on the viability of regional services.

Lord Desai: My Lords, I commend the innovative way in which the financing of £3.5 billion of bonds issued by LCR has been handled, but could I ask for a clarification from my noble friend? What happens to the risk on those bonds if LCR goes out of business or is bought up? Do the Government face any extra risk on that?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am always nervous when I reply to economists' questions, whether they are from behind me or in front of me. I think I made it clear that if LCR were to be bought the taxpayer would have 35 per cent. of the proceeds. I made it clear also that the assessment of the Office of National Statistics is that the risk of the bonds being called in is so low that they do not count as public expenditure. Even on the lowest, most pessimistic forecasts--not the median forecast upon which the Government are operating--for Eurostar passenger traffic, there is still enough income to repay the bonds. With regard to the bond for the completion by Railtrack, the cost of that bond is covered because there is an undertaking by Railtrack to purchase the completed section as soon as it is built.

Lord Monson: My Lords, the Government are to be congratulated on securing a better deal than that trailed in the press in recent days, although, as pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee--a point not totally dispelled by the noble Baroness's answer to the noble Lord, Lord Desai--there are still risks to the taxpayer should anything go wrong.

Perhaps I may put a question to the noble Baroness which is germane to the Statement, although it may not appear so at first sight. I ask out of pure curiosity and certainly not to capitalise upon the awful tragedy which took place near Celle today. Which is statistically safer per mile travelled within western Europe--plane travel or train travel?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I can find that information for the noble Lord. There is always a

3 Jun 1998 : Column 369

difficulty in comparisons between accident and fatality rates of different modes of travel when one compares aircraft with rail or car travel by per mile or kilometre travelled rather than per hour travelled. Off the top of my head, I should not like to give those statistics.

I think that the whole House would like to record the concern I am sure we all feel about the tragic accident in Germany today.

Government of Wales Bill

4.52 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 119B:

After Clause 54, insert the following new clause--

Functions and accountability of Assembly Secretaries

(" .--(1) The executive functions of the Assembly shall be carried out by the Assembly Secretaries and by officials acting on their behalf.
(2) In the discharge of all such functions and otherwise, Assembly Secretaries shall be accountable to the Assembly for their actions and those of officials acting on their behalf.
(3) The Assembly may by resolution of no confidence at any time require any Assembly Secretary or Secretaries to resign.
(4) The standing orders of the Assembly shall provide for any motion of no confidence to take precedence over all other business and shall specify a reasonable minimum period of debate on such a motion.").

The noble Lord said: This new clause is inspired by the somewhat bare bones character of the preceding Clause 54. The purpose of the new clause is to clarify the functioning and accountability of the assembly secretaries.

Subsection (2) makes clear that they are accountable to the assembly. Subsection (3) gives the assembly power to pass a resolution of no confidence, and requires an assembly secretary's resignation. Subsection (4) of the new clause requires that such a Motion of no confidence be given precedence over all other business. This proposed procedure is not dissimilar to what happens in another place. Ministers, not infrequently in my experience, face critical Motions reducing their salaries by an insignificant amount, although devastating so far as concerns their reputations as ministers if the Motions are passed.

There is no doubt about the assembly's power over the executive. The first secretary has the power to dismiss as well as appoint assembly secretaries under Clause 54. The new clause gives the assembly a clear opportunity to vent its criticism of an assembly secretary who has transgressed. It overrides any protection that may be given to such a secretary by the first secretary who appointed him, or by the executive. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I have already indicated to the Committee that we wish the assembly to begin with a Cabinet system, but do not consider it appropriate for that system to be entrenched forever and a day, as the new clause provides. I do not think that I can add

3 Jun 1998 : Column 370

further to what I said earlier; namely, that we expect to see most of the executive functions carried out on the assembly's behalf by the secretaries. But we do not think that one needs something set in stone.

There is a novel point which has not previously been discussed by the Committee. That is the question of votes of confidence. I have to say at once that on this we agree with the noble Lord who proposed the new clause: it is a matter of some importance. That is why the advisory group has been considering it. It is making detailed recommendations to the Secretary of State about the provisions which should be made in standing orders rather than on the face of the Bill to allow Motions of no confidence to be put down and debated. We shall be looking to those recommendations to provide advice on the issue raised by subsection (4). I believe that the noble Lord identifies an important point: the Motion of no confidence taking precedence over other business, and, I dare say, to be debated in plenary session. But we believe that these are proper matters for standing orders. The timing of debates would also need to be reflected in standing orders.

We anticipate that the recommendations will take careful account of the fact that unlike the House of Commons the assembly is elected for a fixed four-year period without the possibility of recourse to the electorate if the vote of no confidence in the first secretary, or any other secretary, were to be passed. I imagine again that the advisory group would be giving advice to the Secretary of State, should there be a successful vote of no confidence in the first secretary, as to when there should be a new assembly election for a replacement first secretary.

I can assure the Committee that the points made by the noble Lord, in particular the new point about votes of no confidence, are much in our mind. We expect the recommendations of the group to be available in the summer. Provision will be made in standing orders to deal with the questions which have been identified by the noble Lord.

I viewed his questions as inquiring and probing and have replied in that way.

Lord Rees: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to ask one question. The most difficult question is to be addressed in due course. I refer to a vote of confidence in what for shorthand I call the administration of the assembly--the majority party's ruling group, however it is described. What would happen--as is, I think, a convention in this House or another place--if there were a measure to reduce the salary of one of those ministers in the assembly; in other words, if there were a vote of no confidence in a particular member of the administration? I do not expect an immediate answer. However, when the noble Lord deals with the wider question of a vote of confidence in the whole administration, perhaps he will address his mind to that question too.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: We await the recommendations of the advisory group. I believe that the noble Lord's question is well founded. I anticipate this possible outcome: that the vote for reduction of

3 Jun 1998 : Column 371

salary in the conventional way, if directed against the first secretary or any subordinate secretary, would be treated as a vote of no confidence. It would then be for standing orders to prescribe exactly what should happen in terms of precedence of business, re-election, reselection and so forth. That is, I believe, the answer that I can presently give to the noble Lord.

5 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. My first reaction is that we are leaving a great deal to standing orders. I am sure that he and the Committee are becoming increasingly aware of that. I make that as a general point rather than as a specific point related to the amendment.

I am pleased that the Minister appreciates the point that we have made in the new clause about the possibility of the assembly being critical of an assembly secretary and having at least the opportunity to declare its criticism by a motion of no confidence. It is a valuable suggestion because it has a resemblance to proceedings in the other place which are of value.

I conclude by pointing out that as the Bill stands the first secretary has the power to appoint and dismiss. However, it is conceivable that circumstances could arise where an assembly secretary is rightly under severe criticism but is protected by the first secretary or by the executive as a whole. In those circumstances, it is clear that we would wish the assembly to have the opportunity to be critical and to vent its criticism openly.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page