Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he comment on the Countryside Agency's proposal that it will help villages to prepare appraisals? I accept that district and county councils have the lead role in preparing overall strategy. However, I thought that the Countryside Agency had a well-funded programme to help villages to prepare appraisals which would be most unlikely to fit into an overall strategy to be followed by district or county councils. How will parishes regard these village appraisals in the light of the comments that the Minister has just made? Will that work be worth while, unless the Government view as important within the wider framework such work at a local level?

3.45 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Countryside Commission's initiative would allow parish councils to engage in a range of initiatives, but to do so within their current powers. Village appraisals would be conducted in such a way that parishes could help play a part in the community planning which is being undertaken by the district or county. The manner of participation may differ from village to village. That is understood and forms part of the whole approach to parish activities which the Countryside Commission is endeavouring to nurture. However, that does not alter the point that the well-being power itself and the community planning strategy are not the responsibility of parish councils but of district or county councils.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the Minister says that he expects parishes to play a full part in partnerships and that the guidance which the Secretary of State will issue will make that clear. I do not think that that quite answers the question, because the guidance will presumably primarily be guidance for levels of local government other than parishes.

I accept that parishes do not always play a primary role in their communities' well-being, but I do not accept that they never play a primary role. It seems to me that the Government have failed to answer the basic underlying question; namely, what harm can there be in extending these powers to parish councils? Simply leaving on the statute book Section 137, which is widely accepted to contain inherent difficulties, seems to go against the assurances that the Government have given about how they value parishes.

I did not make that point in my opening remarks as it did not lie behind the amendment. The amendment was not tabled to have a go at the Government but to support parishes. As we all agree that it is right to do so, I fear that I have not been given an answer to my question as to why the well-being power should not apply equally to that part of our local government and our local history. I hope that another place will be able

9 Mar 2000 : Column 1168

to pursue this matter more effectively than clearly I have been able to do. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 not moved.]

Clause 3 [Limits on power to promote well-being]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 4:

    Page 2, line 43, at end insert--

("( ) In its application to Wales, this section has effect as if for any reference to the Secretary of State there were substituted a reference to the National Assembly for Wales.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, first, I wish to place on record my gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Conwy and Lord Thomas of Gresford, for their understanding with regard to the difficulties that we faced in ensuring that the views of the Assembly were taken into account. We understand the strain that was placed on them in dealing with amendments that were tabled late.

These amendments make provision for the role of the National Assembly for Wales in respect of the well-being powers in Wales. Amendment No. 4 would give the National Assembly for Wales the power to make regulations under Clause 3(3) to place restrictions on the use of the well-being power by local authorities in Wales. It also makes it clear that the National Assembly may issue guidance to which Welsh authorities must have regard when using the well-being power.

Amendment No. 6 sets out the particular arrangements which must be followed when the Secretary of State proposes to use the Clause 5 power in a way that will affect Welsh local authorities. First, the Secretary of State must consult the National Assembly before making any provision that would affect Welsh authorities. Secondly, the Secretary of State cannot make any provision that would affect legislation that has been made by the Assembly unless the Assembly has given its consent for him to do so. These provisions will protect the legitimate interests of the National Assembly in matters relating to local government in Wales.

It is of course entirely possible that the Assembly will wish to see specific legislative changes made for the benefit of authorities in Wales. So Amendment No. 6 also provides a formal mechanism for the Assembly to make proposals to the Secretary of State for such changes to be made.

Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 9 make consequential changes to the detailed consultation and scrutiny procedures in Clause 8. These procedures will apply to any order that the Secretary of State proposes to make under Clause 5 or Clause 6 and which affects Welsh authorities. Amendment No. 7 requires the Secretary of State to consult the National Assembly on any proposal for legislation that affects Wales. Amendment No. 8 is a simple drafting change to reflect the new provisions of Amendment No. 7. Amendment No. 9 requires that the views of the Welsh

9 Mar 2000 : Column 1169

Assembly, like those of other consultees, must be made available to the House alongside any proposed draft order.

Together these provisions will ensure that the Assembly is fully consulted and has ample opportunity to scrutinise any proposed changes to legislation in Wales. They will ensure that the views of the Assembly are available to Parliament when it comes to scrutinise any proposed orders made under Clause 5 or Clause 6. I beg to move Amendment No. 4.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, as the noble Baroness indicated, this is the first of a series of Welsh amendments to the Bill. I am grateful to the Government for tabling them--if not by Report, as once promised, then at least by Third Reading.

There was a time not so long ago when Ministers thought that they might not be able to table the bulk of these amendments until the Bill reached another place. They have clearly pulled out all the stops, and we had a deluge of amendments earlier in the week. Had we not received these amendments today, they would have had to be moved in the other place and we would have been able to discuss them only during our consideration of Commons amendments, with all the limitations that that involves.

The Government's difficulty arose because of continuing discussions, internally and with the National Assembly for Wales,

    "both about the process which should be used to amend primary legislation affecting local government in Wales and about the procedures for implementing this legislation for Welsh local authorities".

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will recognise that a substantial part of what I have just said is a quotation from a letter which the noble Lord was good enough to send me on the 25th of last month.

I think that we have a right to know of major changes proposed by the Government before Bills pass through this House. I am glad that the Government have seen fit to table the Welsh amendments, albeit at a late stage. I think that that is an acknowledgement of the principle that we should be able to see changes proposed by the Government.

I detect a similar difficulty in connection with the Learning and Skills Bill, which occasioned my comment that the Assembly was out of step with the primary legislative process for which this Westminster Parliament is still responsible. I think that the Government have had a hand in this too; perhaps I was too heavy in my criticism of the Assembly. I shall come to that in a moment.

A similar difficulty seems to be arising in the case of the Care Standards Bill. Only last week, the Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy MP, intimated in the Welsh affairs debate that provision for a children's commissioner for Wales may well be introduced into the Care Standards Bill, which is in an advanced stage of its progress through this House. Of course, in that case there were special circumstances arising from the Waterhouse report. I am sure that this House will be understanding about that, as it always is.

9 Mar 2000 : Column 1170

I do not want to labour the point, but it is becoming increasingly clear that if we are to provide Wales with the legislation it needs, the Assembly and the Government must be in step with the legislative process here. I am not sure that this principle is, as yet, fully accepted and understood. I think that the Government understand it, but perhaps the message has not, as yet, got down to Cardiff Bay. I say this in a helpful rather than critical spirit.

I know that the Assembly is not yet a year old and that there are bound to be teething troubles and so on, and that the Government are well aware of the problem. My sole concern--I think it is a legitimate concern and I know that this is the Government's wish too--is to ensure that the primary legislation that this Parliament provides is not defective so far as it concerns Wales; that it is as sound and as comprehensive as we can make it; and that people will benefit from it and not suffer because of inadequacies.

The House will be glad to hear me say that I fully appreciate the purpose of the amendments, as outlined by the noble Baroness, which is, of course, to provide for the inclusion of the National Assembly in Clauses 3, 5 and 8. Clause 5 contains a very substantial power to amend or repeal enactments. In so far as it is right to grant such a power at all, it is appropriate that the Assembly should be consulted in Wales.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page