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Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I was not going to get excited about this issue but, as the noble Lord will remember, amendments were tabled in Committee about making the role of presiding officer on that model a guardian of the rights of members who are not part of the executive. There is merit in that approach. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell has suggested another approach; namely, creating the role of clerk.

However, both proposals come back to the issue of separation of the activity of administration as part of the executive and the executive committee, and the role of the members of the assembly generally and their rights, privileges and opportunities.

In particular, with regard to the supply of information and active participation in the role of the body, and reverting to the earlier debate at the beginning of our proceedings today to which the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell referred, the notion of a corporate body which has responsibilities vested in itself and shares or delegates those responsibilities internally on the basis of accountability clearly applies to the executive notion. It applies also, in a very important way, to the rest of the body in that the supply of information and the opportunity for scrutiny are matters which need to be cared for.

I have not read what Mr. Ron Davies said in the other place but I am sure I agree with what he said about an oppositional mind-set. It is equally important that we do not have a Crown in Parliament mind-set in the assembly in what is not a Crown in Parliament type body in that it is a corporate body which shares responsibility. Therefore, on that basis I hope that we can have assurances from the Minister that, whether it is a clerk of the assembly or a presiding officer, there is a way of dealing with the issue of the spread of information and the guarantee of the democratic movement of the body, as it were, alongside the executive function, towards which I believe my non-belligerent colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, was moving in his amendment. I am grateful to him for moving it.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, these amendments concern the support structure of civil servants who will serve the assembly. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Roberts of Conwy, for giving us an opportunity to debate what is an important issue. I recognise also the genuine concern of the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell, Lord Roberts of Conwy and Lord Elis-Thomas, all of whom are concerned to ensure that the assembly is served well by its staff so that it can be most effective.

Perhaps I may set out briefly how the Bill presently deals with the problem. Clauses 34 and 63 ensure that the permanent secretary remains responsible for the management and structure of the officials who will deliver the objectives of the assembly. The Home Civil Service will deal with the different roles and responsibilities of the executive of the assembly or its

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committees with impartiality and independence. The structure which supports all parts of the assembly will reflect this.

Amendments Nos. 54 and 55 would create different groups of staff within those appointed by the assembly. This would depart from the principle that all staff of the assembly will be members of the Home Civil Service and the principle that the assembly is a single body. Amendment No. 56 would create a separate office of clerk to the assembly, which would serve the assembly and its committees, whose staff might or might not be members of the Civil Service.

Most of the staff of the assembly will serve the assembly secretaries and executive committees, developing and implementing the policies and functions of the assembly. In practice, staff will have dedicated roles to carry out particular functions, which is the same arrangement as applies today. The office of the presiding officer, which will provide support for assembly committees and safeguard the rights of individual members, will need to be seen as independent from the executive. I think we are all agreed in relation to that.

However, this does not mean we believe that this is best achieved by separating the office from the main body of staff. The organisation of the assembly's civil servants will need to be capable of ensuring the efficient and effective delivery of the assembly's standing orders. This may change in time, and there is a compelling need for flexibility so that the changing needs of the assembly may be met.

The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has suggested allowing the assembly to decide which members of the staff would be members of Her Majesty's Home Civil Service. That would breach the fundamental principle that the national assembly shall be a single body corporate, with one group of staff. These amendments would restrict the ability of the permanent secretary to meet the needs of the assembly. In particular the statutory requirement to create a separate office of clerk to the assembly would circumscribe the responsibility of the permanent secretary to set up the most effective and efficient structure to respond quickly to the assembly's requirements.

The amendment would also reduce the benefit to the assembly gained by allowing staff to develop their skills by experiencing both policy development and the different challenges of supporting members and committees. There are many benefits a poacher may bring when he becomes a gamekeeper, and vice versa. The position is, I believe, different from the Scottish parliament, for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. That is a much more powerful body in terms of being able to produce primary legislation and one where other requirements are needed.

We believe this is the most sensible arrangement. We believe that these are arrangements whereby the independence required from the office of the presiding officer to support the members of the assembly will be preserved. We believe this is the best way to provide

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the effective implementation of the assembly. I hope I have said enough to persuade the noble Lord to withdraw their amendments.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, Government Ministers, whenever they have a weak case, repeat several times the phrase "we believe". The trouble is that I do not believe and I do not believe that the case was made out. We heard from the noble Lord the Minister that there was a compelling need for flexibility. I agree. Therefore I do not see why we should fix at the outset the unalterable fact that all the servants of the assembly are to be members of the Home Civil Service. He told the House that it was a fundamental principle that there should be one body corporate, but he spent quite a lot of his speech acknowledging that there were to be two different components which would need different staff, who would have to be separated.

Again and again we have been told that we should not pass amendments to this Bill which impose a rigidity of structure and make it impossible for the assembly to set up sensible arrangements when it has considered the matter. Yet, to use the Minister's words, we believe that they are in this case imposing just that kind of rigidity. No one has a greater admiration for the services provided by the civil servants in the Welsh Office than I. They have served me astonishingly well and they bore with me with great patience for some eight years. But I do not believe that they have every quality or every skill. Indeed, I believe that qualifications may be required which are not found within the Home Civil Service.

Again, at this time of night, it is clear that we cannot divide on the matter. Nevertheless, it is extremely unsatisfactory that, having admitted in both Houses of Parliament that special arrangements will be needed, we get no clarification at all from the Government about how these things will be handled. Moreover, we have stuck into the Bill the shackles which will tie the hand of the assembly in the future and make it impossible for it to decide what is necessary. I may well return to the matter on Third Reading. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 not moved.]

11.15 p.m.

Clause 41 [Agency arrangements and provision of services]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 57:

Page 23, line 9, after ("any") insert ("private contractor,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it seems rather odd that Clause 41 should allow arrangements to be made,

    "between the Assembly and any relevant authority",
for the performance of functions and the provision of services but that the private sector should be excluded. We know full well that the sector is a considerable performer and provider in that field. This is a probing

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amendment. Is there is reason why this sector is excluded, or is it simply that private companies are not, strictly speaking, "authorities"? I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, Clause 4l deals with two issues. It allows the assembly to arrange with other public bodies for them to exercise functions on its behalf or to undertake functions on behalf of other public bodies; and it makes provision for professional and technical services one to the other.

As I understand it, the amendment seeks to probe whether the assembly will be able to seek private sector involvement for the discharge of its functions. Perhaps I may say at the outset that there is nothing in the Bill which would preclude the assembly from considering whether to contract from the widest range of sources for the provision of services and supplies in relation to its functions.

While private sector firms can do anything within their competence, public bodies are constrained in the provision of services to what is authorised by legislation. Thus, with the establishment of the assembly, powers need to be provided to enable public bodies and the assembly to provide services to one another. That is the purpose of Clause 41. As private contractors already have the ability to contract with the assembly without the need for legislation, I suggest to the noble Lord that his amendment is inappropriate. I therefore invite him to withdraw it.

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