Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Elis-Thomas: I am grateful to the Minister for his response, and in particular for the last few sentences. He referred to my potential Amendment No. 247A in the context of Clause 66, which is already incorporated in the Bill.

It might be appropriate, as the Minister ponders on fleshing out the spirit of his intention, for him again to examine Clause 66 to see where certain aspects of business consultation not spelt out in the clause might be spelt out more specifically in his redrafted amendment on Report. On that basis, I welcome his remarks.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am sure that all of us who have taken part in the debate are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for his response. Matters were lining up to be an interesting four against one. However, the noble Lord was crafty

15 Jun 1998 : Column 1339

enough to see that a small amount of movement would be a good thing in response to four noble Lords who thought that the clause was not quite right.

I am grateful to the Minister. Some of the parts of his answer I well recognised. I think the computer must simply slot in the usual study when somebody asks for a list. I can remember saying, too, that something might be left off it. And I remember that many noble Lords did not believe me. So perhaps I have just joined the list of those who do not believe, having come from the list of those who do believe.

The noble Lord understands the point that we have all made about the importance of business. I was idly looking at the wording of Clauses 113, 114 and 115. Business could certainly be forgiven for feeling that it was very much thrown in as an afterthought. I know that that is not what the Government meant. I am therefore grateful, as we all are, to the noble Lord for promising to take this matter away and return to the House incorporating some of the points that have been made. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 115 [Consultation with business]:

[Amendments Nos. 247ZB to 247A not moved.]

Clause 115 agreed to.

Clauses 116 to 118 agreed to.

Clause 119 [Publication and inspection of documents]:

The Solicitor-General (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) moved Amendment No. 247B:

Page 61, line 12, leave out ("of the Assembly").

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment has already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 119, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 120 [Equality of opportunity]:

On Question, Whether Clause 120 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Rather than table any amendments to this clause, I thought it as well to indicate that I was not content with the clause and to ask the Minister a few questions in relation to it. Having been chided on a number of occasions about this Parliament acting, as it were, as the "nanny" or Big Brother of the Welsh assembly and trying to include matters in the Bill which the assembly would be perfectly able to do for itself, it seemed to me that Clause 120 comes well within that category. I suppose it is included for reasons of political correctness. I cannot think of any other reason. Perhaps the noble Lord will therefore explain why the Government feel it necessary to include this clause. Is it that they do not trust the assembly to deal with these matters properly?

As the clause stands, whose equality of opportunity are we talking about? Are we referring to those who are to be employed by the assembly, those who will be members of it; or are we looking at every part of the outside world which will have dealings with the

15 Jun 1998 : Column 1340

assembly--agriculture, business, and so on? The clause seems rather vague. I am not sure exactly whose equality of opportunity we are addressing. Perhaps the Minister will explain.

If the Minister means the clause to be rather narrower than merely an all-embracing motherhood and apple pie provision, perhaps he ought to come forward with an amendment narrowing down the application of the clause either to the membership of the assembly or to those who will be directly employed by it. The former will be decided by the electorate; the latter are the only people over whom the assembly has some sort of control and some sort of say. I therefore wonder what the clause means. I have the distinct impression that it was slotted in as a matter of political correctness and that it does not carry a great deal of weight. If that is the case, possibly it could be omitted and the assembly could be allowed to deal with these matters on its own. It would reduce the Bill just a little. It is fairly extensive Bill, made more extensive by amendments that have already been made.

Lord Elis-Thomas: Here comes my golden opportunity to distance myself completely from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. I have had the great privilege of trying to implement legislation involving the principle of equality in the field of language for almost six years. In that work, equality has been an important guiding principle for me, not only in relation to the organisation of the Welsh Language Board but in relation to those with whom we have sought partnerships.

I understand this clause to mean what it says; namely, it seeks to promote real equality of opportunity for all people in Wales within the purview of the assembly. The clause is followed by a statement of the arrangements for giving effect to this principle and to how equality is to be promoted.

That provides an opportunity for the assembly to promote nor merely linguistic equality but equality of opportunity in terms of gender. In addition, it can promote equality of opportunity in terms of what is described in UK parlance as ethnic minority communities, although I do not like that wording.

Therefore, we are in a sense creating the opportunity in this clause to develop a form of citizenship of Wales, where all those citizens of the country and the new assembly will live under the principle of equality of opportunity for all people. That can be a very positive framework. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, referred to motherhood and apple pie. It is not about that. It is about the basis of consensual democracy, which is equality of opportunity for all people.

In the past we have seen some vicious debates on the lines of "linguicism" in Wales, if I may use that term, and certainly on the lines of racism. We have also seen--and there is no danger of my exciting the noble Lord, Lord Islwyn, since he is not in his place--examples of sexism within Wales in all political parties and outwith political parties. This clause gives the assembly the guiding light of equality with which to work. Therefore I warmly welcome its inclusion in the

15 Jun 1998 : Column 1341

Bill. I look forward to seeing the assembly working hard at implementing in practice the principle that is stated in this clause.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I must confess that I find the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, in support of Clause 120 absolutely convincing and persuasive. It is perfectly plain that the clause has two functions. It sets out an objective from which I should not have thought one could dissent. Further, as regards "over-nannying" and not allowing the assembly to get on with things, arrangements are left entirely for the assembly.

I revert to and echo the spirit of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. It is useful to have a particular discipline. The discipline is set down in Clause 120(2), that after every financial year, far from saying "Mom and apple pie are, by and large, a good thing conceptually", the assembly must get down to the nitty gritty of saying what arrangements have been made and how effective those arrangements were. I cannot think of a better scheme of devolved power to the assembly with an objective stated, but with the assembly, within the parameters of subsection (2), setting down its own standing orders.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, asked: whose opportunities? Of course it would include employees and members. One would expect that as a matter of course. Perhaps I may give one illustration. If the assembly were considering an aspect of public transport, it would have to do so having regard to disabled people's capacity to benefit from those transport services. It would have to make arrangements to ensure that that aspect of policy was considered. It seems to me that it is rightly in the Bill. There is a correct balance of objective on the face of the Bill--arrangements to be on the basis of subsidiarity, as it were, to be decided by the assembly.

I take it that the noble Lord was only probing because I am sure that these days no one would suggest that one should disagree with the principle of equality of opportunity for all people. I commend the clause.

Clause 120 agreed to.

5 p.m.

Clause 121 [Sustainable development]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 247C:

Page 61, line 22, leave out from ("out") to end of line 24 and insert ("how it proposes, in the exercise of its functions, to promote sustainable development.").

The noble and learned Lord said: Members of the Committee will be aware that in February in another place my right honourable friend the Secretary of State introduced an amendment to the Bill which, among other things, placed a duty on the assembly to:

    "Make a scheme setting out its proposals for securing that its functions are exercised with due regard to the principle that sustainable development should be promoted".

Those provisions are now found in Clause 121(1).

15 Jun 1998 : Column 1342

Since then, the Government have been impressed with the arguments both from within this House during Second Reading and from other interested bodies that the provisions in the Bill relating to sustainable development should be clarified.

Amendments Nos. 247C, 247E and 247F reflect the Government's response and, I trust, will be seen as a yet further example of this Front Bench being prepared to listen carefully to any and all proposals aimed at improving the Bill.

Amendment No. 247E deals with subsection (1) to Clause 121 and would place a clear and direct duty on the assembly to make a scheme setting out how it proposes, in the exercise of its functions, to promote sustainable development. This is an important change and reflects the Government's strong commitment to sustainable development. The amendment to subsection (2), Amendment No. 247E, is simply to ensure that the assembly is not required to review its scheme in the year following the first election (for fairly obvious reasons already referred to by my noble friend in respect of the voluntary sector) but that it will have to do so after each succeeding ordinary election.

Amendment No. 247F introduces a very important change which I am sure will be welcomed by the Committee. It requires the assembly to produce a report after each ordinary election after the first, giving an assessment of how effective its proposals (as set out in the scheme and implemented) have been in promoting sustainable development.

I believe the amendments show the Government's clear commitment to sustainable development. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page