some default text...

Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 202K:

Page 38, line 11, after ("remakes") insert ("the").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 74, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 75 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Bodies and offices covered by section 75]:

Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 202L:

Page 83, line 17, at end insert--
(" . The British Council.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to add to the list of bodies in Schedule 4, with reference to Section 75 which deals with the power to require attendance and production of documents. Yesterday, at col. 210 of the Official Report, the Minister indicated some progress on Schedule 2 whereby it was intended that the assembly should be involved in the nomination processes for members of the CRE, the National Disability Council and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

We are moving closer towards relationships between nominated bodies and NDPBs--which were creatures of the Welsh Office under the previous system--and those UK bodies which have a strong impact on the population within Wales. The reason that various bodies are added will be clear to those with an involvement.

I shall not go through the list at this time of night. As it is at the top of the list, I acknowledge the importance of the partnership that now exists between various bodies in Wales and the British Council, in particular in recent years where reorganisation of that council has led

3 Jun 1998 : Column 450

to a more proactive partnership role in the promotion internationally of Welsh cultures and language through the British Council's activities.

I mention also the importance of the research councils. Those bodies expend substantial public money. When one refers to the need to develop the level of research at higher education institutions within Wales, the role of the research councils seems crucial. I should like an indication from the Minister of the rationale about the number of bodies listed in Schedule 4 to which Section 75 powers relate and the possibility of extending that list at a later date. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Lord asks two questions: first, what is the rationale; and, secondly, what is the basis for further additions to the list of bodies which could be summonsed. The assembly is free to invite any public body to give evidence. We have limited the power of summons. We thought that the principal point of difference was to specify public bodies only where they are working in areas where the assembly has its own responsibilities. In Schedule 4 there are references to many agricultural bodies and health bodies, both subject areas where the assembly has statutory functions.

The 17 additional public bodies have activities which cannot be directly related to the range of functions which the assembly would have. For instance, there is no functional remit on equal opportunities or race relations and therefore we do not see that the assembly ought to be able to summon the EOC or the CRE. For the same reason, we have left out industry regulators.

I turn to the second point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, because it is important for the future. Clause 76(5) allows the Secretary of State to add bodies to the list in Schedule 4. The Secretary of State has said many times that devolution is a process not an event. Certainly, subsection (5) is specifically included. I hope to deal with the kind of questions about the future and future relationships to which the noble Lord referred and I hope that that explanation is of assistance.

Lord Elis-Thomas: I am grateful to the Minister. After putting up the flag and taking it down, and with a view to putting it up again at a later stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 202M to 202AC not moved.]

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 76 [Witnesses and documents: supplementary]:

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 202AD:

Page 39, line 37, leave out from ("scale") to end of line 38.

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is simple. It is to remove the power to imprison for up to three months any officer or employee of a public body who fails to turn up at the assembly when bidden to do so or fails to produce documents when bidden to do so. No doubt such disobedience if it occurs would cause considerable inconvenience and perhaps a level 5 fine--in other words, up to £5,000--is accordingly justified. However, I very much doubt whether the

3 Jun 1998 : Column 451

75 per cent. of the Welsh electorate who failed to vote for the assembly believe the offence to be so heinous as to merit imprisonment for any period. Furthermore, I doubt whether the majority of the 25 per cent. who voted for the assembly believe so either.

Although their functions are not strictly comparable, the GLC, which was responsible for almost three times as many people as the Welsh assembly will be, did not have such powers. Theoretically, the House of Commons Select Committees have the power to send recalcitrant or disobedient witnesses to the Tower, but they are wary of ever doing so. They know that as a result of the imposition of disproportionate sentences--disproportionate in the eyes of the public--martyrdom can be created. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Clause 75 allows the assembly to summon employees or members of a public body to give evidence or, just as important or more so in many cases, to produce documents. Clause 76 makes it a criminal offence to refuse to give evidence or to falsify or destroy documents. The falsification or destruction of documents strikes at the very heart of any proper inquiry that could be made into wrongdoing.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, is right in saying that Clause 76(3) gives a maximum penalty of up to three months. He made an analogy with the GLC and I offer another. The provision is replicated for the Scottish parliament in the Scotland Bill with exactly the same terms. Indeed, the power of imprisonment is a kind of statutory parallel to the House of Commons' power to imprison for contempt. I take his example to bolster my argument. He said that it is virtually theoretical and rarely if ever used. That is right, but it is a useful power which the assembly ought to have in order to make it plain to anyone who refuses to give evidence on a lawful occasion, or who tries to pervert the course of justice by the falsification or destruction of documents, that this is a criminal offence of some seriousness.

Lord Monson: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. I agree with him that the destruction of documents is a serious matter and that perhaps it is right that imprisonment should be available for that particular offence. But as regards imprisonment for simply failing to turn up, I simply cannot agree that that is justified. Indeed, I would not have thought that the vast majority of the public would think so. If it ever were to be imposed, I believe that it would be highly counterproductive. However, in the absence of any further support, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 76 agreed to.

Clause 77 [Role of Secretary of State for Wales]:

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 203:

Page 40, line 15, at end insert--
("( ) The Assembly may require the Secretary of State for Wales to attend any proceedings of the Assembly or a committee of the Assembly.").

3 Jun 1998 : Column 452

The noble Lord said: The wording which appears alongside this clause in the margin of the Bill is quite extraordinary. It simply refers to the,

    "Role of Secretary of State for Wales".

Here we are dealing with the Government of Wales Bill and one would have thought that there might be set out there something for the Secretary of State to do. In fact, all that he can do is,

    "attend or participate in the proceedings ... of the Assembly",

so long as he does not vote and does not attend or participate in the proceedings of a committee of the assembly or, indeed, any sub-committee. Apart from that, the only other role for the Secretary of State for Wales under this Government of Wales Bill is to receive certain documents at the same time as members of the assembly.

I suggest that the Government take another look at the wording that appears alongside that clause in the Bill. It does not in any sense encompass the role of the Secretary of State in his functions regarding operating, as I said last night, as the channel of communication between the Welsh assembly and the Westminster Parliament.

Amendment No. 203 says:

    "The Assembly may require the Secretary of State for Wales to attend any proceedings of the Assembly or a committee of the Assembly".

No sanction is suggested; indeed, we are not interested in fines or in imprisonment because, obviously, if the Secretary of State, as the Minister of the Crown, is required to attend the assembly, he will go. However, we believe that the assembly should be able to require the Secretary of State to appear before it so as to explain the current position of the Government, of the Cabinet, as regards the policies that the Government propose to include in future primary legislation; and to discuss with the assembly, or with a committee of the assembly, their concerns, their proposals for secondary legislation and how that all fits in within the scheme of things.

It has been a recurring theme of discussions on this Bill that there should be proper channels of communication so as to smooth over any difficulties which may arise between, for example, a government at Westminster of one colour and an assembly in Cardiff of an entirely different colour. One of the objections which might be raised to the proposed amendment is that it in some way makes the Secretary of State accountable to the Welsh assembly. I do not flinch from that; indeed, I see no reason why the Secretary of State should not be accountable for his role as a communicator to the assembly. Moreover, I see no reason why he should not be called upon to explain the positions that he has taken in Cabinet and explain how he is presenting to the Westminster Parliament the concerns of the Welsh assembly. We believe that he should be accountable in that sense.

We are entering into an entirely new constitutional settlement so far as concerns Wales. If that means that the Secretary of State is accountable in a way which we have not known in the past, so be it. It is a new institution. It will require new machinery and it is

3 Jun 1998 : Column 453

machinery of this particular sort that we consider to be absolutely essential if the arrangements are to work smoothly.

This in a sense follows on from the amendments that we moved last night and to which we shall return. We hope that this amendment is acceptable to the Government. We hope that they will rethink their position. We hope that they will define a serious role for the Secretary of State. In the course of our discussions a number of people have asked what responsibilities the Secretary of State will have. People have commented that his role will be light. Here is a function that he should exercise. We commend this amendment to the Committee. I beg to move.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas: Amendment No. 204, which stands in my name, is grouped with this amendment. We have discussed the role of the Secretary of State, the role of Members of both Chambers of the UK Parliament and the role of Members of the European Parliament. I do not wish to go over all that ground again but it is important that we consider new ways of developing collaboration between the national assembly in Cardiff Bay, these Chambers of Parliament and the structures of the European Parliament and the European Union, because whether some Members of the Committee opposite like it or not we are now moving into a quasi-federal relationship within the United Kingdom. That requires subtle ways of operating as between the different levels of elected bodies. It requires some creative thinking about the best way to deliver these relationships.

I mention the European dimension because, as I mentioned earlier tonight, I am a member of Sub-Committee C of the European Communities Committee of this Chamber. I have therefore had the opportunity to meet many members of other member states' parliaments, of the European Parliament and of other regional or subordinate assemblies within the European Union. One of the criticisms that is constantly heard involves the lack of a satisfactory relationship between the different levels of elected bodies within that structure; that is, the lack of a good relationship between this Chamber, another place and the European Parliament; and the lack of a good relationship between the regional assemblies in other member states and their national assemblies and the European Parliament. There is a continual drive to try to develop these relationships.

My amendment suggests that we should be innovative in the national assembly. We should seek a formal arrangement whereby MPs and Members of this Chamber who have an interest in, or who represent constituencies in Wales, and MEPs should be involved in discussions in the assembly. I have not perhaps assisted the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in trying to find a role for the Secretary of State.

The trouble with constitutional debates is that we tend to talk about structures. I shall illustrate what I mean by giving the Committee a scenario. Let us consider the agricultural crisis, which is a theme that has run through our debates. Within that context what better forum is

3 Jun 1998 : Column 454

there for a proper and serious discussion of the issues than that of MPs, Members of this Chamber, MEPs and members of the national assembly being together in Cardiff Bay or Westminster--Cardiff Bay would be a more appropriate location--to discuss these issues? I do not refer to the kind of debate that we had in the Welsh Grand Committee of another place in Carmarthen a few weeks ago, which was truncated because of various circumstances--not a second-hand debate on the issues, but one in which all those with an interest and responsibility could be present. That could include-- I say this for the entertainment of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay--Members of the UK Parliament, not necessarily representing Welsh constituencies, who had an interest in the subject. Fisheries, forestry, agriculture, sheepmeat and all the issues that we discussed overnight are all relevant here. They are good examples of what such a creative, constructive forum could take on board.

There are models from different kinds of parliaments. The Bundesrat and the Bundestag in the German Federal Republic, the Austrian federal structure and the Danish structure have different ways of ensuring that their representatives within the European structure are mandated, or subject to scrutiny or recall, in different ways in relation to their obligations. We are presented here with an exciting opportunity. All I ask from my noble friend the Minister is an assurance that what I crave is not impossible. Not that it should have to happen, as of course I flag up with my "shall" flag, but that it might happen. I therefore look forward to his response.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page