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Lord Thomas of Gresford: I recall, when a Scottish crime Bill was passing through this House under the previous administration, there were, at about one o'clock in the morning, some seven of your Lordships present: two on each of the party Benches and one Cross-Bencher. They included three Scottish lawyers. There we were, laying down the criminal law and making massive alterations at that hour and with so few people present. Now here we are, beginning the Welsh section of this vital Bill at 11 o'clock at night. I find it disgraceful that there are no Welsh Peers on the Government Benches. Surely there must be some Labour Peers hiding nearby in case the Committee is counted out again who could give a view on this aspect of the Bill. I appreciate that the noble Baroness is here and will be speaking for the Government, but in her support I feel it would be right to have a Welsh Labour Peer present.
A great deal has been said this week about devolution, but let me just say something about the way this Bill has come to pass and to point out the enormous advantages there are. It so happened that the Education and Training Action Group for Wales published a paper in March 1999 making recommendations on the implementation of the proposals for the provision and administration of education and training in Wales. The committee of the National Assembly, the Post-16 Education, Schools and Early Learning Committee, then took the decision that it needed to hear the views of the action group at first hand and took oral representations on the subject from ETAG and from 20 other organisations. It also considered submissions from many other individuals and organisations. Under the chairmanship of Mr Cynog Dafis, the former Member of Parliament
That committee, which is of course cross-party and contains members from all parties represented in the assembly, discussed the proposals in depth. Following that and the production of its report, the contents of this Bill were then presented to those responsible for it. The committee considered its provisions before it was published and came to certain conclusions. What has been produced for consideration by noble Lords is quite unlike the generality of material addressing legislation that comes before this House. It has been produced after the deepest consultation with all the interested bodies in Wales by a cross-party committee and after a presentation to the Welsh Assembly which gave its approval to the wording of the Bill. It is in that context that I believe the amendments put forward so persuasively by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, should be considered.
Finally, I shall speak to the amendments put forward by the noble Lord. If the Welsh Assembly committee has had the opportunity of considering these matters not simply in committee but also in full plenary session and has come to the conclusion that it is happy with a membership of between 10 and 12 people, this Committee ought not to interfere with that decision. In Amendment No. 151 the noble Lord referred to the proposal to insert,
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I am fully aware of that but, of course, the method of appointment of the council differs. In England it is an appointment by the Secretary of State and it is right that there should be statutory guidelines for that. Here, the National Assembly itself will appoint the council and will do so in accordance with the policy. It will have the freedom of action to choose whom it considers to be appropriate to sit on that council. It will have the personal knowledge of the people who are appointed, and it should be given the maximum amount of prescription and freedom to choose those who will do the best job for Wales in this vital area. With this and with other amendments which are to be moved to the Welsh section, I respectfully urge the Committee to accept that the Welsh Assembly really does know best and that it is best informed to take those decisions. I oppose the amendment.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I begin by saying that, as a resident of the country, I find it difficult to be constantly challenged as to what percentage of me is Welsh and what percentage is English. One day perhaps someone will ask me what part of the country my great-great-great-grandparents came from! I can assure the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Roberts of Conwy, that I speak for the Government on Wales and that I am totally committed to doing the best that I can on Welsh issues and on issues relating to the people of Wales that come before us.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I apologise to the noble Baroness if she should take anything that I have said as a criticism of her. I have heard her speak for the Government on Welsh issues. I know that her heart is fully in it and I apologise if I suggested anything to the contrary.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I thank the noble Lord. Perhaps I may be forgiven for saying this, but I believe that those of us who have spoken for the interests of Wales have had to repeat some things many times. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, quite rightly referred to levels of pay and comparative levels of pay in Wales. I am very proud of the fact that, in introducing a national minimum wage and, ultimately, even convincing the noble Lord's party that that was the right thing to do, this Government have given greater help to regions and parts of Wales than perhaps they have done to many other parts of the country. Therefore, I am pleased to recognise that.
I believe that it is useful to begin by placing on record that, while I can well understand why the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is seeking Amendments Nos. 149 and 150 to bring the permitted number of council members for Wales in line with that for England and the arguments that he has put forward, the LSC in
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, outlined clearly the position with regard to this legislation and the provisions for Wales and the difference in England. Perhaps I may correct the figures that the noble Lord gave in his reference to the decision taken by the full Assembly. The figures were 45 to five. The amendment obviously did not carry the support of the Assembly members.
Our proposals will enable the National Assembly to provide the CETW with wide representation from outstanding individuals with relevant expertise to ensure that the high quality education and training needs of Wales are met. We are confident that with a membership of between 10 and 12 we are striking the right balance. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
I turn now to Amendment No. 151. There must be a reasonable balance between educational, business and other interests on the new council for Wales. Its members will be appointed by the national assembly on the basis of Nolan principles and guidance and following the Assembly's own procedures. The National Assembly is firmly committed to the principle of selection based on merit and to the well-informed choice of individuals who have a broad range of experience and expertise with no single interest dominating.
That is a very important principle which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, perhaps did not recognise. It surprises me that he did not do so. It is not that one chooses someone who has this experience or that experience. I know from the skills that are available that there will be many who can offer a range of different backgrounds and experience, bringing together the needs which must be met.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred also to the importance of raising the provision for and expectations, and standards of people in Wales. That is exactly why the provisions of the Bill will enable greater coherence in secondary and FE provision by removing barriers to collaboration between schools and further and higher education colleges and by enabling the creation of new centres.