|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, will the Minister comment on the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Holme, and I about the moonlighting of Secretaries of State? We do not argue for one Secretary of State for Wales and one Secretary of State for Scotland; from these Benches, we say that to have a senior Secretary of State for one of the major departments moonlighting, to use the terminology, as Secretary of State for Wales or Scotland cannot be right.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I am no senior wrangler, but it seems to me that there are three options: no Secretary of State for Wales, a full-time one or one who shares some of his responsibilities between Welsh and other issues. There are no more than three options. So one must take the position that there should be a full-time Secretary of State for Wales, even though no one seriously thinks that there is sufficient work for one; or that there is no need at all for a Secretary of State for Wales in the Cabinet, which is not the Government's position; or, logically, that there should be a Secretary of State for Wales in the Cabinet who, sensibly, undertakes other functions as well.
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the alternatives, but the burden of our report was that there should be one Secretary of State responsible for the devolved parts of the United Kingdom. He did not address that in his schema of alternatives.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I grant that there is a further option, which is to bundle them all in together and have one Secretary of State. The Government's view is that it is clearly better to have an identifiable Cabinet Minister who is seen to speak for Wales and for Scotland, arguing that case simply and clearly in Cabinet. We have taken a view on that and we think that we are right.
Lord Biffen: My Lords, if the Secretaries of State have to share their functions with other government departments, will they also be answering to Select Committees in respect of Scotland and Wales and taking parliamentary Questions? That all begins to add up to a substantial addition to their current burdens.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, there has been no change whatsoever to the responsibilities of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales. They still carry the functions that they carried two weeks or so ago. The Government are in a reasonably good position to make an assessment as to the weight of those responsibilities, because they have been carried out during the past few years since the devolution
I turn to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, about improving the process for legislation affecting Wales and Scotland. That is a correct challenge, to which I shall return in more detail. We have not reached perfection there; there is room for progress.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, raised the thorny issue of the Barnett formula, to which many members spoke. Is there a better way? One thing about the Barnett formula is that, compared to the distribution settlement for local government, it is relatively simple and clear. It may seem complicated, but it is a masterpiece of clarity and simplicity compared with some of the alternatives. I suspect that that is why the committee, which is not alone in this respect, found it difficult to find something that was a wonderful improvement on it. We have no current plans to change it; on the other hand, one always keeps an open mind on such issues.
The noble Baroness also spoke in some detail about the importance of addressing improvements to the handling of legislation. As I said, we are actively reflecting on that. For example, we are considering how to make more explicit in explanatory memoranda to Bills the exact effect on Wales or the powers of the National Assembly. The Welsh Affairs Select Committee recently made several further suggestions to improve procedure and the Government are considering their response to those recommendationsincluding on the relevance of the so-called Rawlings principle.
We do not think that there have been significant procedural difficulties in relation to Scotland. Nevertheless, our guidance makes clear that the Scottish Executive must be consulted on all relevant legislative proposals, whether or not the Sewel Convention applies.
Lord Morgan: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting my noble friend, but I should like to ask about Wales. It is not simply a matter of procedure. The point is trying to establish or carry into effect the wishes or will of the Welsh Assembly. How can it be satisfactory when it asks the Government for eight Bills and gets none?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I do not think that the influence of the National Assembly for Wales can be measured in terms of the number of Bills that it gets in a parliamentary Session. As has been signalled already, there have been two since the devolution settlement. The Government have passed a considerable number of Bills that have had major implications for Wales. There is an active process, which I indicated earlier, for intergovernmental discussions on those issues.
We are not complacent; we do not believe that necessarily the arrangements are perfect. Let me give a homespun example in how this House scrutinises UK-wide legislation on Scottish issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, who appears against me on the other Benches on various Bills, makes powerful contributions about how Scotland would be affected. She constantly raises those issues. That seems extremely important and necessary.
Furthermore, we have also looked to bring key civil servants down from Scotland to discuss with noble Lords from opposite parties how a Bill would affect Scotlandeven before we move into Committee in an attempt to inform our considerations in Committee. That illustrates the need for us to keep an open mind on how we improve the process of UK-wide legislation and how we consult and involve devolved nations.
The noble Lord, Lord Morgan, made the general comment that the process has been a success, as most people in the debate said. He gave a rather novel argument as to why it had been a success, saying that Conservatives now have a stronger role in Wales. As a pluralist, I must acknowledge that argument, even though it is slightly against my natural mindset.
As to whether the Joint Ministerial Committee is to be beefed up, in essence, it is government machinery that can be taken up or down according to necessity and demand. I was asked where the civil servants would go. There is a relatively clear answer: politically, civil servants in the Wales Office or the Scotland Office report to the respective Secretaries of State as they have always done. Departmentally, for pay and rations purposes, they are in the Department for Constitutional Affairs. We do not want to have to move them between departments every second the Secretary of State might move. Physically, they are in the great historic office buildings that they have occupied for some timewell may that continue.
Noble Lords asked questions about the report of the noble Lord, Lord Richards, on the National Assembly for Wales. If, as we would expect, the National Assembly for Wales refers it to the Government, they will respond as a Government when the Secretary of State speaks. Secretaries of State speak for the Government, not just their departmentI do not need to tell the House that. Formally, the Secretary of State for Wales, in that instance, will respond on behalf of the Government.
I must not detain the House for too long. I was slightly saddened by some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Holme, raised. I cannot believe that he was saying the Government were wrong to indicate that after a proper process of consultation and legislation they would move towards a supreme court, an independent judiciary, at least offering the House of Lords the opportunity to elect its own chairman or, presumably, to oppose stronger arrangements in Government for overviewing constitutional relationshipsthat will be my department's
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. The sadness is probably more on my side that a set of reforms that we on these Benches supportas I made clearhad not been thought through in detail. They were not simply presented badly but in a process that betrayed that they were more an ad hoc reaction to events than a thought through set of constitutional changes.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I hear the noble Lord's point. I do not agree with it. Those issues have been argued by many commentators. They are changes that should have been made for many years. I would have hoped that the Government's indication that they will now do so would receive a warm welcome. In response to a further question, we have no current intention to change the Barnett formula.
On civil service loyalty, the Civil Service code was amended in 1999 before devolution took effect to make clear that civil servants in the Scottish Executive and the National Assembly for Wales owed their loyalty to the administrations that they served. The Civil Service code also provides that civil servants must comply with the law, as one would expect.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked whether the arrangements were risky for the future. I have signalled already that formal structures of government are in place that can be expanded or contracted to deal with future events.
It is germane to the establishment of the Department for Constitutional Affairs to say that we now have a department led by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, who very much wished to be with you today but is on pressing business in the North. He would like to have responded to the debate in person. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to do so because, working to him, I will have a ministerial responsibility for these issues. I am afraid that noble Lords will not escape from me on these issues today.
I will be pleased to have further discussions, both with the committee and with leading members who have spoken on these issues, if there are any matters of interest or concern to them. That is an offer. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer would also wish to say that he will be most pleased to talk further with the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, at any time that suits it, about issues that concern it now or its future work programme.
I shall conclude on that note. The Government's commitment towards devolution, which was not always universally applauded, but is respected around the House, has succeeded in Scotland and Wales. Nobody ever says that any change you makeat least in our constitutionis rigid and firm for all time.
As signalled by several speakers, we must learn from different practices of government, politics, consultation and public involvement in the devolved administrations. There are good lessons to be learnt, and I hope that we get guidance on some of them from expert research and advice. The process of pre-legislative scrutiny in Scotland, particularly as it has a unicameral system, must be strong. But it works well, and people in Scotland value that. We should look at the process and listen to it.
I am not convinced at this stage that there is an urgent need to set up new bureaucratic structures. However, there is a responsibility on the Government, the Department for Constitutional Affairs, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and me to keep under active review, and to monitor, how the devolved relationships are working and, respectively, how they might work in future. I am therefore pleased to take the kernel of the Select Committee's advice, albeit with a slight difference of emphasis on the exact mechanism for responding to that advice. It seems right that the Government should look forward, consider what might happen and put in place suitable contingency arrangements come the day. I am therefore very glad to welcome the report. I look forward to working with the committee on future studies.
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I thank everyone who contributed to what has been a short but very rich debate. There have been some excellent contributions. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Holme, in commending especially the contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, which were much appreciated.
The subject of our report is extremely important, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, said, it is not widely discussed. It deserves and needs to be discussed. I hope that this debate will contribute significantly to the discussion.
I am most grateful to the Minister for his response to the debate. He covered a great deal of ground and offered a much more positive response than that of the command paper. I welcome that. The machinery is in place; we are not suggesting new machinery, our concern is that it is working intermittently. At present, with the new structures I am not clear about who controls the switch. I welcome the Minister's offer on his own behalf, and that of the Secretary of State, to assist the committee. There are a number of issues that we would welcome the opportunity to pursue.
I emphasise the point touched on by the Minister and drawn out by the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson. Our recommendations are not simply confined to being directed at Government; we are raising a number of recommendations directed at Parliament. There is a lot that we must consider and that we can learn from devolved bodies. At the same time, we must look at