|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Roberts of Conwy: As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, explained, Amendment No. 203 allows the assembly to require the Secretary of State for Wales to attend proceedings of the assembly or a committee. He already has an entitlement to attend and participate in assembly proceedings, but not proceedings of a committee or sub-committee. I should be grateful if the Minister could explain the thinking behind subsections (1) and (2) of this clause. It seems odd to debar the Secretary of State from committees. Can we be certain now that he will never be required to attend a committee?
The amendment would seem to fill a gap, by enabling the assembly to require the Secretary of State's attendance at proceedings of the assembly or its committees. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said at the beginning of his remarks, it is a permissive amendment through and through. The Secretary of State is not bound to respond positively to an assembly requirement to attend any of its proceedings any more than a Minister in the United Kingdom Government is bound to attend a Select Committee. He can send a civil servant in his place, although it might be very unwise to do so and might result in heavy criticism of the Minister concerned.
One cannot help wondering what the situation might be if the Secretary of State for Wales were also a member of the assembly, and possibly first secretary of the assembly. In that case these problems would presumably not arise.
The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, extends the entitlement of the Secretary of State to attend and participate in assembly proceedings to other MPs and MEPs generally, and to assembly committees as well, but makes the exercise of the entitlement conditional upon the request of the assembly or its presiding officer or his deputy.
As we have heard, the assembly has extensive powers under Clause 75 to require the attendance of a great number of people to give evidence to it. I appreciate that MPs and MEPs are in a very different category in that they are not beholden to the assembly in any way.
I am certainly excited by the prospect held out by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, of MPs and MEPs contributing to assembly discussions. But, although I see some validity in the arguments and the potential value of contributions by MPs and MEPs to the assembly's deliberations in certain circumstances, I am bound to point out that there are some dangers, too. I should hate to think that the noble Lord might find that the invitees whom we are talking about might be supporters of the dominant party only; or that they might be asked to attend for party political reasons, so that they can have a home platform, perhaps, for their views at a critical time, possibly before an election. For once, I ask that standing orders should guard against abuses of that kind.
I am very much in sympathy with the thrust of the noble Lord's amendments and I appreciate the kind of synthesis and innovative ideas that can come from a new combination, a new meeting of minds. That, I am sure, would be to the benefit of Wales and all who might come to Wales, from Europe and elsewhere. But we may well be told that it is not necessary to write this on the face of the Bill.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: We do not believe that the assembly ought to be able to summon the Secretary of State. I respectfully disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. The Secretary of State is not accountable to the assembly; he is accountable to Parliament at Westminster. That is an important point. I echo his view, which I think was shared by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that one wants collaboration between the Secretary of State and the assembly, and I was pleased to have the warm endorsement of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, of the prospect of the present Secretary of State perhaps becoming first secretary or assembly secretary in due time, for the convenient ordering of business, if I understood his drift correctly.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, asked specifically why there was the limited reference in Clause 77. We thought it was appropriate for the Secretary of State to be able to attend plenaries as of right. He can, of course, attend committees by invitation. We thought that that was the right balance. That is the reason that we came to that judgment.
With regard to Amendment No. 204, we do not think it right that others should participate in assembly meetings, apparently influencing its actions by speaking, although I appreciate that it is proposed that they
One reason for allowing MPs and MEPs to be members simultaneously of the assembly, if they can persuade their electorates that they should be, is that it provides collaboration and cross-fertilisation. We would certainly expect Welsh MEPs to work closely with the relevant committees by giving evidence and by providing information and documents on European developments in particular fields of policy. We believe that that is the way to do it rather than by their appearing to join in as non-voting members of the assembly. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that one wants the closest possible collaboration with MPs and MEPs, but we believe that it should be by giving evidence and providing information rather than by attending meetings of the assembly in their own right.
Lord Hooson: Perhaps I can intervene to say a word on Amendment No. 203. The noble Lord said that the view of the Government was that the assembly should have no right to summon the Secretary of State. Let us forget the scenario in which the Secretary of State is also the first secretary of the assembly and take it for granted that the Secretary of State is somebody separate from the first secretary. He is surely going to be a link man between the Government and the assembly. It seems very odd that he has a right at any time to attend a plenary session of the assembly, and yet the assembly has no right to ask him or require him to attend the assembly.
It may well be--let us forget the present political persuasion of the Government--that the Secretary of State is of a different political complexion from the complexion of the assembly. Surely it is right, if the Secretary of State for Wales is the link person between the Government and the assembly, that the assembly must have the right to require him to attend.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Fundamentally, the Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament in Westminster; he is not accountable in that sense to the assembly. He is there as an important channel of communication but it does not require him to be summonsed to an assembly. His accountability and fundamental duty lies in Westminster.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I am extremely disappointed at the response of the Government to this amendment. As my noble friend said yesterday--or it may have been this morning--the Bill has certain assumptions built into it. One is that the Labour Party is dominant in Wales and therefore for the rest of time will be the dominant party. However, I remind the Committee that the Liberal Party won every seat in Wales in 1905 or 1906--I stand corrected. The second assumption is that the Secretary of State is of the same
If we remember what we were discussing yesterday, the Secretary of State may choose to discuss such part of the Government's programme at Westminster as he thinks is fit and suitable for the assembly to consider. As the Bill is drafted at the moment, that is entirely within his discretion. We are trying to look at other possibilities where there are different parties in power. It may be the Labour Party at Westminster and the Liberal Democrats in Cardiff; it could be a combination of parties in Cardiff or it could be the Conservative Party in Westminster and so forth--we do not expect to see them in Cardiff, obviously.
All sorts of possibilities arise and one ought to look at the legislation not from a single point of view, as it is framed at the moment. That is the reason why we are urging--as we urged yesterday--that there should be a requirement for the Secretary of State to explain himself. We should not go back into outdated constitutional theory that the Secretary of State for Wales is accountable only in Parliament. Why should not he be accountable in the sense of having to explain what he is doing to the Welsh assembly? After all, in this Bill the Secretary of State has a right to go into the assembly if he chooses and to speak. If he has a right to go in and to speak at his own discretion, why cannot the assembly question him? Why cannot it require him to go there when there is something of real importance afoot?
I urge the Government to go back and rethink their position on the role of the Secretary of State: give him a meaningful task to carry out. I promise the Minister that we will be back to see how far he has got in his thinking and perhaps to expand upon our own thinking at a later stage of the Bill. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Page 40, line 18, leave out from ("any") to ("and") in line 19 and insert ("proceedings of the Assembly itself which have taken place or are to take place,").