As I was saying, Sir Myer, before we were interrupted by the spluttering of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's damp squib of a Budget, I believe that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) was wrong when he said that Ministers who are unfortunate enough to have to deal with devolution will see their political careers blasted. That is quite wrong as regards the Minister of State, who I am sure every hon. Member on both sides of the Committee will agree has increased his already high reputation by the manner in which he has handled the Bill. The hon. Gentleman was prompt to intervene only recently to give the Committee an assurance, which some of us would like to see strengthened. However, his promptitude in intervening on that occasion reflects the way in which he has handled the Bill throughout.
I agree strongly with all the points of order that have been made from both sides of the Chamber about the importance of debating and voting on the 40 per cent. amendment. I wanted to pay a compliment to the Minister of State because at the end of my brief remarks I shall say some extremely unpleasant things about not him but his Department.
In a dazzling intervention at the beginning of the debate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) pointed out that the amendment exposes the process whereby this seemingly harmless subsection could be used to extend the competence of the Assembly not merely within Wales but well beyond the Welsh border.
If the Minister of State supposes that the Assembly would not seek to extend its competence beyond the borders of Wales, I suggest that he cannot have studied with his usual diligence the debates that took place some time ago on the setting up of, for example, the Welsh National Water Development Authority.
In Part I of Schedule 7 many of the matters there contained relate to bodies concerned with the supply of water, inland waterways and forestry. These are matters that in a proper defence of Welsh interests could be held to require an active concern with what goes on beyond the borders of Wales. Rivers and forests march majestically over borders. If that is so, the Welsh Assembly, which like all elected Assemblies will be for ever seeking to extend its powers, will be bound to press the Minister to use the power given to him by the subsection. It will be bound to try to force the Minister to do what he has a power to do, and to judge by the way in which he responded by a shake of his head when I asked him to confirm that the word "modify" could not be interpreted to mean "extend", it seems clear that the Assembly, like me, will not expect any stout resistance from him or from the Secretary of State when it puts forward its demand that its competence should be extended.
In short, the subsection is making the worst of a bad job. If there has to be a subordinate Assembly to which certain powers hitherto exercised by the United Kingdom Parliament are to be devolved, it is vital that the demarcation of functions be clearly, definitively and once and for all settled. If that is not done, we shall have a recipe for perpetual conflict. The subsection is a major ingredient in that poisonous recipe.
The accident of the guillotine has pushed the amendment to the top of the queue. The result is that it is being debated. Some may say that it is being debated at greater length than its importance deserves, although I would disagree with that contention.
It has emerged in the course of brief debate that this harmless little subsection is intensely dangerous in its consequences. How many more such dangerous consequences and subsections are there lurking in seemingly harmless portions of the Bill that we shall never debate? The danger is immensely increased because we are trying to operate without parliamentary papers. You, Sir Meyer, were not even aware that I was due to open the debate today, because you were not in possession of a copy of Hansard. I understand that no hon. Member is in possession of a copy of Hansard.
Has it come out today? It was not available yesterday. I managed to duplicate a copy of Hansard that was in the Library. Our task is made much more difficult because without parliamentary papers we cannot give proper consideration to the random samples of the Bill that we are debating, let alone those that we are not.
I must confess that the suspicion is growing that the Lord President, who is responsible both for getting the Bill through the House and for ensuring that we have a proper supply of parliamentary papers, is not exerting his utmost zeal to ensure that we get our papers. I hope that I am wrong in supposing that the absence of parliamentary papers, which is complicating our task, has anything to do with the right hon. Gentleman.
The Government, who are pushing ahead so recklessly with Welsh and Scottish devolution, are hoping, no doubt encouraged by the result of the by-election in Glasgow, Garscadden, that they will be able to salvage some seats in Scotland, if not in Wales, and are quite ready to sacrifice the unity of the Kingdom to their own electoral prospects. They are selling our national heritage for a mess of porridge.
The House will acquit me of being the creature or the toady of the Lord President, but I must say that the implication of the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) that, in order to get his way on Welsh devolution, my right hon. Friend has somehow arranged that we do not get parliamentary papers cannot be taken seriously. Let us dismiss that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acquit my right hon. Friend of any such daft thoughts or deeds.
I was also a little puzzled by what the hon. Member for Flint, West said about what I had said about careers. I read this in Hansard and tumbled that it was an off-the-cuff remark to the Home Secretary whom I tried to tempt into the debate, believing seriously that he and other senior Ministers should have interested themselves and heard part of our debates. Any remark that I made was to try to tempt him to hear what we had to say rather than an aspersion on my hon. Friend the Minister of State. That should be put in context.
Time is of the essence so I shall raise just one subject—the British Waterways Board. I have received a letter from Mr. H. C. Rutherfurd, the solicitor to the Board. He says:
So far as the Board are concerned the proposals in both the Scotland and Wales Bills are precisely the same and will have the same effect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) knows that the Board is no less concerned now than it was when we first met them and at subsequent meetings that we have had.
The public document of the Board says:
The Board are concerned that, should the proposals contained in the Bill affecting their Undertaking become law, the integrated system which they now control will become fragmented. The funds required for maintenance of the inland waterways and for capital investments will be derived from three sources with the probability that the principles applied in the allocation of such funds will not be consistent.
If consistency is desirable—and I am assured by technical experts that it is—how do the Government propose to achieve consistency without the expenditure of great costs in terms of the Civil Service? How is policy to be synchronised for purposes which I think go no further than giving the Assemblies something to do? The search to find them something to do has been fairly frantic. I cannot see why we should acquiesce in the fragmentation of the British Waterways Board. The Board goes on:
It will no longer be possible for the Board to allocate their scarce resources of money and manpower in the best interests of the waterways.
Those who represent, for example, those concerned with the Union Canal between Edinburgh and Glasgow or any other canal in the United Kingdom know that the Board has problems and that its major problem is the shortage of money. These matters must be taken seriously. The Board goes on:
The proposals will enable the Scottish Assembly to alter the Board's statutory duties and responsibilities. A separate organisation could be created for the Scottish waterways which, in the view of the Board, would inevitably be much more costly and dissipate staff effort. The existing career opportunities for staff would be prejudiced.
Does the same thing apply in Wales? What is to be the Welsh career structure? I am willing to be told that there is nothing to fear on this matter, but I have stated the view of the Board. The Board's document continues:
The Board have managed the inland waterways since the 1st January 1963. They remain of opinion that these can be administered intelligently and economically only as a unified system. This was acknowledged when the Water Act 1973 became law and re-affirmed in Paragraph 27 of the Green Paper about the future of the Water Industry. … They would, however, welcome the proposal for the appointment of Members to the Board representing Scottish and Welsh interests. This would enable these Bodies to keep themselves informed and to comment on the inland waterways in Scotland and Wales, without the untenable financial demarcations proposed in the Bill.
The document points out:
Paragraph 15 of the White Paper stated that the essential task on which the Government have concentrated is that of developing the devolution schemes to define those areas of activity where decisions affect primarily people living in Scotland and Wales. It would be plainly wrong (they say) to devolve to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies powers over activities which substantially affect people elsewhere or the well-being of the United Kingdom generally. The need is to achieve a balance—to reconcile unity and diversity in a stronger and better system, offering more achievement and satisfaction to the parts while improving the efficiency and stability of the whole.
It would come better from others to raise the question of the Birmingham water supplies, but this is obviously a matter which must affect anyone concerned with the economic future of the United Kingdom.
In the absence of any satisfactory explanation, the Board remains convinced that the principles for devolution as stated by the Government have not been correctly applied in deciding that inland waterways should become a devolved matter. I hope that we shall have an explanation of that decision today.
The document goes on:
The Board are not aware of any public pressure for inland waterways to be devolved—in fact, the evidence is to the contrary. Those concerned seem reasonably satisfied with the way in which the Scottish waterways have been managed within the overall finances of the Board even though such finances have been restricted.
The Welsh waterway system which is much smaller is unlikely to be sustained and developed to the full if left dependent on Welsh resources alone. For example, most of those using the Llangollen Canal live in England as do most of those interested in the Montgomery Canal restoration. The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal has more local use, but not to the extent that local resources are likely to be adequate to maintain it nor—in normal circumstances—to meet the existing need for considerable repair.
Any of us who have to deal with canals know that the cost of repair is simply enormous. The Board goes on:
At present the Board can deploy finance according to operational needs rather than geographical location.
What will happen if the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies are given responsibilities for the inland waterways? The Board's document continues:
The Board view with alarm the proposal that they will no longer be able to deal with their finance on a comprehensive basis. The artificial attribution of costs proposed in the Bill will add considerably to day-to-day work with no benefit to inland waterways and cannot be undertaken on a basis satisfactory to all. The Board note that theirs is the only nationalised industry created by the Transport Act 1962 to be affected by devolution. The British Transport Docks Board, for example, have harbours at Ayr and Troon and in South Wales which are managed locally. The functions of the British Railways Board in Scotland and Wales are not affected.
Is the hon. Gentleman not faced with the problem that once Assemblies are set up in Scotland and Wales, it is almost inconceivable that they will not want to control inland waterways and water authorities in their areas?
That is correct. This is part of the argument of those of us who are completely against separation. Whether the Government like it or not, it is in the nature of the beast that once people become Members of Assemblies, they will claim all sorts of things, and this will be one of them. There will be hardly any Assemblyman who thinks that he ought not to claim water.
The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) would assent to this because if he were a Member of the Assembly, even if it were a devolved Assembly, within weeks he would be shouting for control of canals and all the rest of it. So that question is not in dispute. The Board goes on to say:
Since 1968 the Board's freight and amenity activities have become of increasing importance to Great Britain. The Government and users of the inland waterways regard the creation of uniform standards and unified management as essential. Certainly the promotion and development of Commercial Waterways for freight transport in a unified manner would be within the principles of the Government's transport policy.
The Board administer the waterways economically and carry out the statutory duties imposed upon them by the Transport Acts 1962 and 1968. They apprehend that under other arrangements the administration of the waterways will be less economic; less efficient overall; not provide an adequate career structure for professional and other staff and put navigation on the inland waterways at risk.
I have to emphasise that this is the Board's professional opinion and not the opinion of myself or any other amateur. The Board says:
No account appears to have been taken of the basic essential services provided by the Board in England for all the waterways, using suitably placed centres of specialist skills.
In the Board's opinion the inland waterways should continue to be dealt with primarily on a Great Britain basis and can only suffer if the financial and legal obligations become divided. The proposals are unjust to those using or benefiting from the waterways.
The Board recall Paragraph 20 of the White Paper, 'British Waterways: Recreation and Amenity' (Cmnd. No. 3401 1967):
'In the waterways this country possesses a priceless asset, an asset whose value will grow as the demand for leisure facilities intensifies. The Government now intend the British Waterways Board to have a new and positive role to play in the development of this potential recognised by statute for the first time. This is in effect a new charter for the waterways. But to get the most out of this charter legislation and official action will not be enough. The Government is confident that many thousands of ordinary people will welcome its plans and it looks to all those who enjoy the waterways to help in seeing that they are fully, imaginatively and adventurously used as the great amenity network they are.'
The Administration which published that White Paper obviously recognised that the
Board had a Great Britain function. However, this is not the first occasion upon which proposals have been made which could lead to disintegration of the Board's system. The Board have hitherto successfully resisted on firm grounds such proposals as being not in the public interest. They recall their observations on DOE Circular 92/71 that the professional and technical services which they provide for running the system (engineering, estates, freight, amenity, legal and accounts) are inextricably bound up one with the other. All depend on central direction. The essential and interdependent expertise is bound to be lost if control becomes fragmented. The Board provide economic use of scarce technical manpower. This cannot readily be replaced for parts of the system which may become separately organised and for which judgments will be made by those who have no responsibility for the system as a whole.
I have deployed this case at some length. It is a serious case. Late at night there was a slightly bizarre interchange—at least, it read like a bizarre interchange—between my hon. Friend and me when I asked "What shall we say to Sir Frank Price, the chairman of the Waterways Board?" The interjection in Hansard is "Hello", and the argument went on. This is altogether an earlier hour. All I say to my hon. Friend the Minister of State is that it is not sufficient—I am sure that he did not mean to say it in this way—to say "Hello" to these arguments. They have to be faced, and I am sure that he will face them.
I hope that I may intervene briefly to ask the Minister one or two questions relating to this amendment, and specifically to the use which he contemplates making of the power which would vest in him, if the Bill is passed as it stands, relating to the Welsh National Water Development Authority and to is fishery powers in particular.
I ask this because, as I understand it, the Bill provides that the Assembly may control the way in which the Severn—Trent Water Authority carries out almost the whole range of its river management functions in that part of the River Severn basin which lies in Wales. The policies so imposed, which may well be designed to secure purely local objectives, may nevertheless be in conflict with the policies applied in England under the control of the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and preclude the effective management of the River Severn basin as a whole for the benefit of all local interests and millions of consumers throughout the Midlands and further afield.
I am sure that the Minister does not need to be reminded of the importance of managing water resources as a unit in the case of a river, because this was clearly demonstrated in the drought of last summer. It is vital for each river system to be considered in its entirety, in drought conditions in particular but also at any time.
It is because the powers relating to this part of the clause and to Schedule 7 would appear to affect the ability of the river to be managed as an entity that I seek to intervene briefly on this matter. The Minister will probably accept that it would be undesirable that there should be different arrangements applying to discharge consent between Wales and England. If that were so it would be possible for discharges to be made in one area or another under different conditions and perhaps only minimal treatment, which would be bound to have a harmful effect on the quality of the water. Having just heard that the Government's consent regulations are to be lowered as a convenience in order to implement the Control of Pollution Act, Part II, I am afraid that fishery interests are not particularly confident of the interest of this Government in investing in pure water.
It is also true—I believe that the Minister will know this as well—that there could be difficulties if there were different byelaws applying to parts of the river which ran along the national boundaries, which is the case in relation to parts of the river Teme and the Severn in the Severn Trent Water Authority's area and also applies in the case of the Wye and the Dee in the Welsh National Water Development Authority's area.
Perhaps I could interpolate there that the Welsh National Development Water Authority has already shown some disposition to uproot established byelaws and to seek to introduce, in pursuit of interests of its own devising, changes in practices which have been accepted and recognised as acceptable by conservationists, anglers and all interests for a long period in regard to the Wye.
I know that the case is sub judice and that there is to be an inquiry under an inspector appointed by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Cardiff shortly on the matter. But the auguries are not very good now because the initiative for change has come from the Welsh National Authority.
The particular point that I want to stress—I declare an interest in so doing, in that I fish in Wales, I am a riparian owner in a small way and I vote in Wales, in case the Minister is not going to take this matter too seriously—is that there is considerable concern amongst those who fish in the rivers that run through England and Wales that there should not be a split personality approach to the interests of the river as an entity for angling purposes. This is particularly important where salmon are concerned because most of the catch of salmon is now taken in England and most of the salmon spawn in Wales.
This makes it easy to see that it would be uneconomical for one authority to spend money and effort in looking after the spawning areas of a fishery unless there were some compensating benefit in the form of catches. This is inherent in the way in which salmon fisheries operate.
Some people fear that there may be a conflict between salmon interests and other interests in Wales. They believe that if there is no exclusion of this function the predominant interest will go against the salmon fishery and that this might have a serious effect on the salmon fishery of the River Severn as a whole. The Minister probably has the figures, but in case he has not, I should say that they show in recent years that the overwhelming proportion of the salmon catch is made in the English part of the River Severn. They show that the commercial methods of catching in the estuary, for instance, in 1977 brought over 2,500 fish, and that the rod catch below Shrewsbury was some 650. Above Shrewsbury it was 340 which is a welcome increase, thanks to the new fish pass there.
In the other head-waters, the Teme, the Vyrnwy, the Banwy and the Tanat, that catch tapers away, so that the overwhelming proportion of salmon are caught in the English part of the river. On the other hand, the number of redds counted in 1977 shows that there were 642 in the main part of the Severn in Wales, and in the Rhiw, the Banwy, the Tanat and the Vyrnwy there were over 1,000 redds counted. But the number of redds counted in the English part of the river was minimal.
If there is to be any assurance that the river will be managed in the interests of preserving and, I hope, improving the historic salmon fishery which the Severn represents, it is important that it should be managed as a unit and that there should be no conflict and subordination of local interests to the overall interests of the river.
I am interested in the matter being raised by the hon. Gentleman. Does he agree that on the Continent of Europe there are numerous examples of different stretches of rivers which are controlled by different national authorities? That does not act in any way adversely to the fishery or other interests. If that is possible there, why is it not possible between us?
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the history of the Rhine is an advertisement for international management of a salmon fishery, he had better take further instructions on the matter. The short answer is that this is the quickest way to destruction. There is no overriding interest. Therefore, local interests are put first. The end result is disaster. That is what I fear. The hon. Gentleman serves to underline my fear in this matter by suggesting that it will be effective to split responsibility and management in this way. I hope that the Minister will not take the same kind of casual, local, chauvinistic view as we have just heard from the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) but will give me some reassurance on this matter.
I speak as a member of the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council and declare my interest. That body was set up by the Government. It includes people who use canals and waterways both commercally and for leisure purposes—anglers, boaters and so on. There are two Members of the House of Commons on that body, one from each side. The hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) represents the Opposition and I liaise between that body and the Government side.
We, the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council, are advisers to the Government, and we have advised the Government on this matter. We certainly received the evidence from the British Waterways Board to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) referred. On the whole, we agreed with it. We have also had strong representations from users of waterways in Wales, and all are strongly against the devolution of inland waterways in Wales. In the main, these are all part of the English waterways system.
Mention was made of Llangollen. There is also the important Montgomery Canal which many people are anxious to see opened for leisure purposes. The Prince of Wales Committee and the Variety Artistes Association have given a great deal of time and money and help, and there have been many volunteers, in trying to get the canal open. Slow progress is being made. It will be an important addition to amenities in the county of Powys as well as in England.
Does the hon. Gentleman regard it as practical politics or practical anything to have a Welsh Assembly and to leave internal parts of the Welsh waterways system under some other organisation? If he believes that—I am not speaking as a devolutionist—I suggest that it is absurd.
I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am taking the Montgomery Canal as an example. Powys is one of the poorest local authorities in the United Kingdom. When it builds new roads, it is driven almost of necessity not to think about the possible reclamation of the Montgomery Canal. It is only by grants from central Government towards the cost of highways and so on that Powys has been able to prevent the canal from being rendered impossible of being opened by the lowering of bridges and so on. Some temporary arrangements have been made in the last few years to meet local needs. But, in the long run, that canal will be opened only if it is part of a national system.
Another canal exclusive to Wales is the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal. That is a very beautiful canal running through the Brecon Beacons. Recently there was a complete collapse of one section. Unless money had been forthcoming from the United Kingdom Government, that section would not have been reconstructed. It is being reconstructed now. That section is essential to the operation of that canal. Money would not have been forthcoming from Cardiff, so canal users believe, for the reconstruction of the canal. If a separate organisation were set up to run the few canals in Wales, it would find difficulty in getting money from the Cardiff Assembly. The canals are all part and parcel of the English system. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian said, the career structure, expertise and so on must come from within a United Kingdom body.
I suggest that all who are interested in the waterways in Wales want them not to be devolved but to remain under the control of the United Kingdom. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian that people openly say "If we must find something for the Assembly to do, let us hand the waterways over because they are not important." That is the wrong attitude. I suggest that we do not want the inland waterways of Wales devolved. We do not think that it would be practical or desirable from the point of view of English or of Welsh users or in the interests of the structure of the system as a whole.
When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) opened the debate on this clause, he described it as a manhole clause. As someone who has not got his legal knowledge, I should describe it as a maze clause, because, wherever one turns, one comes up against what appears to be an impenetrable barrier of comprehension, incredibly confusing and difficult to understand.
My interest in Part I of Schedule 7 is in the Forestry Commission. To find out the full ramifications on this matter one has to go from Clause 61 to Schedule 2, to Schedule 7 and finally to Schedule 11.
I thought that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) would refer to Amendment No. 92 standing in his name. I feel that I am in order in pursuing this matter at this time because experience of sitting on these Benches during these debates on the Bill makes me realise that often the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak when it comes to getting on with the debate. I sometimes beg leave to wonder whether we shall reach Amendment No. 92.
The Forestry Commission operates throughout the United Kingdom as a whole. It cultivates and markets its own timber and controls and particularly encourages the private sector as well.
Some of my hon. Friends have reservations about the Forestry Commission. I do not share those reservations. I think that it is a peculiarly British institution which has made a great contribution to forestry. The important thing is that it works. It is a funny combination, but it works. The essence of the underlying regulations governing the Forestry Commission is that it is a centralised body looking at one forestry estate in England, Scotland and Wales.
We lost the debate on the Scotland Bill. But the situation in Wales is different, and I suggest that the Committee can draw back from taking an irrevocable decision about the Forestry Commission. If not, the expertise and success that have been achieved will be at risk. It will be at risk because legislation is being introduced for the sake of legislation. There is no wrong to be put right; there is no injustice to be remedied. It is a desire to make what might be described as a tidy package.
It has not been possible to refer to the Minister of State's arguments on the Scotland Bill in relation to the EEC. His argument then was that we were entitled to separate forestry and agriculture because the latter had certain EEC connotations and the Minister had to remain responsible. That is not so. There are great EEC ramifications in forestry and the two situations are the same.
Murray Hunter, a Forestry Commissioner, in a letter of 14th April states:
It would not be proper for me to comment to you on the wording of the Bill, or how the Government or the Minister concerned would interpret it. These are matters on which the Government spokesman will no doubt give the appropriate explanations to the Committee, and the advice of officials will of course have contributed to these explanations.
One of the difficulties is that the experts in forestry feel tied out of loyalty. Given our system, they are quite right not to give what might be their real views on these matters. This is one of the difficulties that arises. There does not seem to be a single Welsh Member on the Government side who is concerned with devolution and forestry.
I accept what the hon. Member said. This is the difficulty. We do not know what advice is given by the experts on this question or on that question which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow).
It would be wrong for me to be derogatory about a future Welsh Assembly and to imply that it would be incapable of exercising the functions that the Minister now exercises. But the Assembly could exercise these functions differently. I draw the Minister of State's attention to Sections 4 and 5 of the Forestry Act 1976. In one of those sections the Minister is involved in the whole question of advances, planting grants and subsidies of one form or another. Section 5 deals with the question of restrictive covenants under which most of the timber in the private sector is grown. It is easy to see that under those two sections alone there could be a totally different regime in Wales from that in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The ramifications of this are tragic. Timber is one of the commodities of which there is the greatest shortage throughout the United Kingdom. It represents our biggest import bill. If we play our part right and expand the industry over the next 25 years we shall be in a position, when the oil begins to run out, to have a viable timber industry. This can be done only if the estate is a United Kingdom estate and looked at as a whole.
I turn to the point that was raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) about the waterways. The hon. Member talked about staff, conditions of service and careers. The same situation will occur in the forestry industry. As far as I can see from this labyrinth that we have been through, there is nothing to stop an Assembly creating completely different conditions for Wales from those which apply in the rest of the United Kingdom. The implications for the future of the forestry and timber industry are very great indeed. I hope that before it is too late the Government will take another look at this.
I have spoken frequently in our debates on devolution but this is one issue on which I speak primarily wearing a constituency or county hat. I represent a part of the country which is much affected by the provisions of the Bill.
The River Severn flows through my constituency. If it were not for the control of the river further up, we should still experience the regular flooding of part of my constituency in the Severn Gorge with which I was familiar when I first represented The Wrekin.
My constituency is in the Severn-Trent Water Authority area. Woods and forests cross the border between my county and Wales. I have an interest in seeing that there is an integrated waterways system.
I take on board all the dangers that hon. Members have mentioned in the debate. Of course there are dangers. As the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) said, this is a complex Bill. If one wishes to find all the provisions that relate to these six bodies, one has to examine several parts of the Bill. A wide variety of changes in the law are specified. There are also changes in who shall, hereafter, exercise executive functions. For example, one finds that if Schedule 2 is approved, it shall be the duty of the Welsh Assembly to promote a national policy for water in Wales in harmony with a national policy for water in England and to secure its effective execution by the bodies responsible.
That shall be the duty of the Assembly. But what happens if—perhaps because of no will of its own and not deliberately—the Assembly fails in that duty? Of course there is a danger. The forestry provisions are similar. In the same schedule the Forestry Commission has powers to make regulations under Part II of the Forestry Act 1967, but they cannot be made without the assent of the Assembly.
That poses the possibility that there will be radically different regulations for forestry in England and in Wales since the Forestry Commission would not be able to change the existing regulations in Wales were the Assembly to withhold its consent.
There are also the dangers of the type that my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) mentioned in connection with waterways. What would happen under Clause 50 of the Bill if there were, in the course of a financial year when the capital programme for loans to this body by the Welsh Assembly had already been approved, a need for a substantial, emergency, additional capital expenditure? The provisions in Clause 50(1) appear to place restrictions on the ability of the Assembly to act and help the body that is affected.
There are dangers. But we have to set against them the need to make a sensible devolution package and to devolve together functions which go together. It makes little sense to say that we shall reserve, for example, all powers over water to the Minister responsible to this House. That would be separating it from all local functions. I accept that there has to be, in some sense, a national water system and a pattern of large water authorities. But we all know that the supply of water is a localised matter in many parts of the country. It would make little sense to say that we should retain ultimate responsibility and leave that matter for the Minister who is ultimately responsible to the House. It would not make much sense to say that we should retain Welsh waterways in the same manner since much of their usage is, and should be, of a local character.
It would not make much sense to say that we shall retain the River Severn because it flows for much of its length through England and has its source in Wales. I do not think that there are real dangers of the sort that were described earlier.
I recognise that those dangers exist potentially. We have a conflict of view. There are potential dangers but we must devolve as much as we can of essential local Welsh matters if we are to have a sensible package of devolution. We cannot simply pick out bits and pieces over which British national control should be retained.
When I was dealing with devolution in a ministerial capacity I never came across a body that said it wanted to be devolved. Many bodies said that they did not want to be devolved, but it would be surprising to come across a United Kingdom national body the members of which said unanimously or even in a majority that they wanted to be devolved to Scotland and Wales, that the powers that were now exercised in subordination to a Minister should not be continued in that way but that they wanted to be responsible to two or three masters.
None of the bodies said that, but that does not support an argument against devolution. There is, therefore, this conflict of interests, and that is where I come to the amendment before the Committee. It seems to me that this debate has in a sense been stood on its head. The provision that the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) seeks to delete is the essential safeguard against the potential dangers that I have described.
At present the Bill says,
In relation to a body listed in Part I of Schedule 7 to this Act, a Minister of the Crown may by order modify or exclude any provision of this Act.
Of course there must be such provisions if there is to be rapid action when Clause 50(1) impedes the emergency provision of capital expenditure, or might be held so to do. Action of that sort must be possible when something goes seriously amiss in the co-ordination of water policy in England and Wales. But the Opposition should be seeking to strengthen the provisions of this subsection, not delete them.
I quite understand the reluctance of anyone to give up powers. However, when my hon. Friend was a Minister of State what did he say to these bodies on two issues? First, is their career structure to be broken up between Wales, Scotland and England? Secondly, how did he reply to the question of the pooling of expertise and technical capacity? It seems that it is not just a question of a body wanting to give up its authority. There are very real technical reasons for not doing that, given the shortage of resources and that technical expertise in these matters is concentrated.
I do not think that those questions arise in respect of the boards or bodies that we are discussing. It is possible to mount the first of my hon. Friend's arguments in respect of the Civil Service. It is a specious and spurious argument even in that respect, however, because all along we have said that we shall keep a single United Kingdom Civil Service. His argument certainly does not apply to the British Waterways Board or the Forestry Commission. They will keep a united expertise and a single structure. Doubtless, members of the Forestry Commission will be examining specifically the problems of forests in Wales. I have no doubt that they do that at the moment, and I can see no significant difference in that respect.
Does the hon. Member not recall that in our debate on 5th April reported at column 590, I made clear that I accept that the purpose is to enable, the Government to restrict the powers of the Welsh Assembly, but I said that the language of the Bill enabled those powers also to be increased. It was to that that I objected. I set out the procedure by which that could happen. Even if the Government do not wish it, they may find, once the Assembly is set up, that they are under considerable pressure to use the power that the Bill gives them.
We are back to an old familiar point. In any event I do not accept that "modify" means "extend" or, at least, "extend significantly". As it stands the Bill says that a Minister may by order modify or exclude any of the provisions of the Act. The Opposition repeatedly argue that if the Welsh Assembly asks the Minister so to do the Minister will inevitably and inexorably do it—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]. If the Opposition are not arguing that, what are they arguing? There seems to be no validity in the argument that to confer power upon the Minister is ipso facto to confer upon the Assembly the power to extend its own powers.
If the hon. Gentleman is serious in his question the answer can be given very simply. One of two things will happen. Either the pressure will be very great and the Minister will acquiesce, in which case there will be an extension of non-statutory powers in a most undesirable piecemeal way. Alternatively, the Minister will resist, in which case there will be precisely the kind of political clash and conflict between Westminster and Whitehall, on the one hand, and Cardiff and Whitehall, on the other, which those of us who oppose the Bill seek to avoid.
It is not unknown for local authorities to seek an extension to their powers, whether collectively or individually, I have yet to hear the argument that because they can do that and because the House may on the recommendation of a Minister on occasions agree to accede to such a request, we should not have local authorities. Yet that would be the burden of the hon. Gentleman's argument.
The hon. Member says this grandly and largely, but can he nominate an authority which can arrogate powers to itself in this way? Is it not more customary for them to seek to promote a private Act?
That is precisely my point. The hon. Gentleman asks whether I can name a body which can arrogate powers to itself in this way. But by the provisions of this Bill the Welsh Assembly could not arrogate powers to itself. I think that the nub of his argument is the point we have come back to so frequently in our debates. The Opposition object in principle to devolution. They are not objecting only to the devolution of particular powers. They do not like the notion that we can create an Assembly in Wales which can exercise a range of powers which at the moment is exercised by Ministers responsible to this House. They will not recognise that in a complex Bill of this sort it is necessary to provide safeguards such as this clause contains, and they will not accept that those safeguards are of the essence of devolution if devolution is to work. It is their fundamental hostility to the Bill which is at issue, not the provisions of this clause.
Like the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler), I have a constituency which is supplied with water by the Severn-Trent Water Authority. I therefore have the same interest as the hon. Member, but I come to totally different conclusions from him. Perhaps this is for the reason that he mentioned, that I start from the premise of being highly suspicious about devolution and I feel that all sorts of problems and anomalies are unnecessarily created by the Bill. I do not dismiss the problem that he rightly raised—the issue of national objectives being left to the Assembly and the problems of resolving the difficulties that arise, problems that the hon. Gentleman seemed to dismiss as non-problems or as problems that were worth suffering because of the wider objectives of the Bill. I totally disagree with the hon. Member.
The main problem in my constituency and in the whole of the West Midlands arises in a sense because 50 per cent. of the water supplied throughout the region and 90 per cent. of Birmingham's water will under the Bill be within the control of an authority upon which the bodies that I deal with are almost totally unrepresented. The consumer in my part of the country is to be virtually powerless in dealing with the provision of water.
The Bill, recognising this to some extent, says what it will do by nods and winks; and, in the context of what we are talking about, this is one of the nods and winks. The Minister can intervene on certain occasions—and there is very little definition in the Bill as to when he can intervene—and matters can be referred to him; if there are conflicts he will step in. There are schedules which list the particular instances in which he can do this.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) said, in this case the Minister's powers for intervention, as expressed here, might actually worsen the situation for my constituents and the supply of water in my area, because the pressure on him from Wales, in circumstances which are highly individual, make the situation worse rather than better.
Therefore, I support the amendment because I think that we have an excuse here for not doing anything specific about the resolution of these conflicts and problems which are created by the Bill. What I would rather see is amendments brought forward—by the Government I hope—to deal quite specifically with the problem by allowing far greater representation, for instance, by the bodies supplying water to the authority which, in effect, will be sovereign in this matter.
I agree with the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), who said that he feels that this is all a bit of a tragedy because we are looking for jobs for the Assembly to do and we thought that water was an innocent thing. But, as has been shown in the case of fisheries, the supply of water and forestry, many highly sensitive matters are involved here, and I suspect that they have not been formally thought through.
But if we cannot get greater representation, I feel that there is an obligation upon the Government to build into the Bill, at the very least, the machinery whereby, quite formally, the Severn-Trent Water Authority, in this case, can make public representations and public objections in a way in which it will feel totally uninhibited in terms of representing the interests that it serves. At present, the whole thing is done, as I say, by nods and winks in the Bill—"Come and see us quietly. The Minister can intervene in certain circumstances." But what is proposed is totally unspecific and very worrying.
I am sure that the Minister has had plenty of representations on this precise matter from the Severn-Trent Water Authority. That authority is extremely concerned about the vagueness of the Bill and about the authority's ultimate powers to serve and represent its interests, which are now becoming extremely ill-defined.
The reason I support the amendment is that the Bill does not do anything to cover the specific anomalies and specific conflicts which, if allowed to persist, will result in the largest water authority in the country being powerless, in effect, to serve the consumers that it has been set up to serve. We might as well wind it up, because it will remain powerless, in effect, on all major matters of policy.
I hope that the Minister will come up with something rather more specific than the generalised statement that we are now debating which, anyway, could work to the further detriment of the authority concerned.
I am very grateful—and I am sure that the Committee concurs with me—to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) for exploring the argument so nicely in his opening remarks on the amendment. The clarity with which he put forward the pitfalls opened by the Bill was quite remarkable. My hon. and learned Friend drew attention to the manner in which the Minister could, in a very insidious way, expand the powers relating to forestry. I should like to address my remarks to the question how these matters can relate to water, with specific reference to the Welsh National Water Development Authority, which covers Herefordshire.
Herefordshire is one of the areas referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) as being sensitive. We are very sensitive about the way in which we are overshadowed by the WNWDA in the whole matter of water. There is considerable apprehension in Herefordshire, especially among the farming population. In fact, to sum it up basically, we are not happy with the safeguards that are set out in the Bill.
Herefordshire is covered by the Wye hydrological basin, relating to the WNWDA, and partly covered by the Severn hydrological basin, which is dealt with by the Severn-Trent Water Authority. Therefore, problems are beginning to manifest themselves by the fact that the two water authorities are to be handled differently under the Bill. One is to be considered mainly part of Wales or under Welsh auspices, and the other is to be considered mainly part of England under English auspices.
In Herefordshire we do not take kindly to the concept of control from Wales. I have said before in earlier debates on this devolution Bill that we spent a long time asserting our difference from Wales, and that we see this now being eroded back to where we started. As it is, we do not relish being part of the WNWDA. There are problems enough in having a split ministerial responsibility between the Secretary of State for Wales and the Ministers at the Department of the Environment, without the added dimension of a Welsh Assembly being an additional spanner in the works.
Since the vast majority of the territory of the WNWDA is in Wales, Herefordshire and, indeed, part of Cheshire will, under the provisions of the Bill, be heavily overshadowed by Wales. Indeed, Clause 65, which we may or may not reach in this consideration, indicates that under the proposals of the Bill, all of Herefordshire is to be covered by the WNWDA and is to be considered as part of Wales for water purposes. This will have the effect of extending the sphere of operation of the Welsh Assembly across the border and into parts of England. I do not think that this is acceptable.
My sympathy extends very much towards my part of the world, which is Herefordshire. But I should like to make it quite clear that I want to see the whole question of water removed from the concept of devolution altogether. I think that it is a national matter which does not lend itself to being tackled in a devolved manner. The problems that we are creating for ourselves by running together regional water areas which cross national boundaries and then trying to run national boundaries through them make a nonsense of the whole issue. This is one of the symptoms of that nonsense, which we are now trying to tackle, to which the Bill gives rise and, indeed, amplifies.
I have said that it is not an attractive proposition to have the Welsh Assembly with a finger in English pies and, indeed, particularly in Herefordshire pies, because the Welsh Assembly will be responsible, in electoral terms, only to Welsh interests. This cannot be acceptable to the English areas affected. As a result of the clause, Ministers will have powers to
modify or exclude any provision of this Act."
It is difficult to see how the interests of the English side of the border can be guaranteed protection.
It is set out that, in effect, Herefordshire will be subject to the Welsh Assembly for a whole host of functions. These include drainage charges—I have specific interest in land drainage matters—the appointment of nominee land drainage members of the Welsh National Water Development Authority, and the payment, constitution and appointment of regional land drainage committees.
Local representation in bodies involved in these matters is immensely important to farmers and fishermen in the South Herefordshire area. Schedule 11 indicates that one member from Hereford will be appointed by the Hereford and Worcester County Council to the regional land drainage committee. But one member will be very heavily overshadowed by the massive weight of Welsh opinion on the other side. What guarantees have we that Herefordshire's interests will be properly safeguarded? I can see none in the Bill.
The anticipated urban domination of the Welsh authority—Assembly—I will insist on calling the Welsh Assembly the Welsh "authority" and I have a feeling that that is what it will turn out to be—its anticipated urban domination does not breed any confidence that rural interests, let alone Herefordshire's rural interests, will be adequately considered, let alone safeguarded. With the powers contained in subsection (2) left in the Bill, there can be no guarantees that the representation will not be either modified or excluded in the future.
In trying to fight this, the representatives from the English side of the border will be hopelessly outgunned by the Welsh interests with specific reference to land drainage matters. The Welsh National Water Development Authority, the Welsh Office and the Welsh Assembly have overlapping functions. Are local and regional land drainage committees to be the servants of one, two or all those masters?
I am following with interest the hon. Member's speech about Herefordshire being overshadowed by Wales. I often think of the similar situation of Wales being overshadowed by England. However, he had a remedy. He could have put down an amendment to make Wales an entity in the administration of water, thereby excluding Herefordshire completely. There was no need to follow the hydrological principle. It is not followed in the Fens or for rivers running between Scotland and Wales, and it need not be followed in the case of Wales.
I considered that, but felt that it was better to take the concept of water out of devolution altogether because of the problems that it created. I see no reason to modify my views in the light of the hon. Gentleman's intervention.
I am worried about political influence on the Herefordshire and Cheshire side of the border as a result of the structure of the Welsh Assembly, whose politics may be quite different. Because of the extension of the Assembly's powers across the border through the WNWDA, it could impose policies to which Herefordshire was completely unsympathetic.
I understand that the Severn-Trent Water Authority has received assurances against that kind of control by the Welsh, but I cannot see how the Bill provides safeguards. Are we to depend totally on ministerial assurance?
I heartily agree. That is certainly the sort of point which worries me. Arrogant Socialist government often seeks to dictate to areas which are not under its control. The same problem will arise over the water representation on the WNWDA. Schedule 11 provides for the appointment of five members from England—one each from the county councils of Cheshire and Hereford and Worcester, one each from the district councils covering Herefordshire and Worcestershire and one as a sort of carve-up between the Secretary of State and the Minister.
The amendment to the Water Act 1973 contains that explicit structure:
…the Welsh Assembly shall not charge any committee of the Assembly with the exercise of the power to make an order varying that constitution.
So far, so good. But under the clause, if that was not to take effect, the Minister would have power to vary Schedule 11. He would therefore be able to amend the Water Act 1973 by statutory instrument subject to the negative procedure, which seems too easy a way to do a massive exercise like amending a major Act.
I have tried to show that in my part of the country we are not happy with the safeguards or the way in which the interests of rural England and the Marches will be looked after in the circumstances which will arise from the Bill. I hope that the Minister will give me some positive statement on how these matters will be safeguarded.
That great Welshman Nye Bevan was one of the strongest opponents of devolution. He made a speech in which he said that the problems of sheep farmers in Devon, Carmarthen and Argyll were similar and should be dealt with by one Government. Quite rightly, the Government have decided not to devolve agriculture—but they are to devolve forestry.
Most of us who are interested in forestry favour its integration with agriculture. Because the EEC has a common agricultural policy, ours has to keep in line, whereas there are so far no pronounced EEC policies on forestry. That may not continue for long. Interesting discussions are going on in an attempt to co-ordinate European forestry policy. In the Alps and many other areas, such as parts of central France, big reafforestation programmes are in hand because it is realised that much of the hill peasant farming is no longer viable in modern conditions.
The same is true in this island. Much hill farming is not viable without a subsidy from the State. It may be necessary and desirable from our national point of view to keep hill farming going. As a member of the executive of the National Trust, I know that we do that in the Lake District to keep land in its present condition, grazed by sheep so that it will not return to scrub.
I think that the hon. Member said that hill farming was not viable. Hill farming in the kind of areas that I represent is certainly an essential part of the cycle of breeding and rearing animals and the lambs and calves bred in those areas are then exported into the lowlands for fattening. Far from hill farming not being viable, market prices recently have shown a substantial improvement, particularly in that sector, although there are problems with the overall income generated. But the hill cow subsidy is a subsidy to the producer which is reflected in the total cycle of agricultural production. Without that input, it would not be possible for the whole cycle to be viable.
I agree that I probably exaggerated, but it is a fact that the merging of hill farms is necessary to make life viable for many farmers. In the national interest—not the Welsh, the Scottish or the English, but the British interest—we must keep a great deal of hill farming going, if necessary through State subsidy. If we are to have a big forestry industry—we need it in view of the large imports of wood products—land must be made available for afforestation. The great difficulty for the Forestry Commission and private people wanting to plant is to obtain the necessary land.
There should be a United Kingdom policy on how to use our limited supply of land. I would favour discussions among forestry interests on both sides of the Committee and between the Government and the Forestry Commission and private owners to achieve an agreed planting programme for the next 50 years. Such a programme was set out in 1919. I estimate that by the end of this century we shall have approximately carried out that planting programme, partly through the Forestry Commission and partly through private owners. A national policy and programme on forestry must be agreed, and it can be done only on a United Kingdom basis. It must be linked with agriculture. There must be no competition but a planned division of land use between those interests.
I agree that in our forests there should be recreational and other activities. The Forestry Commission and a number of private owners have done a great deal to develop these leisure activities, but that is not the main purpose of growing forests. The main purpose is to produce timber. This is very important from a national point of view, because the timber-producing countries are tending to send the finished products here and the timber-using industries will find it more and more difficult to obtain their raw materials if they cannot obtain them inside this country. Therefore, we must have forestry run on a United Kingdom basis.
What do the Government propose? The Forestry Commission is to remain a United Kingdom organisation. The English part of forestry is to be financed from Westminster, but the Assemblies in Wales and in Scotland are to control the amount of money made available and the size of staffs in Wales and Scotland. I do not see how it is possible to run an industry successfully on a United Kingdom basis when it is divided up in that way.
Why should this one particular nationalised industry be divided up? We do not propose to divide up coal, the railways, iron and steel or any of the other nationalised industries. There is no case for dividing up forestry in the way suggested.
There is strong opposition to this proposal throughout the industry. Last weekend I addressed a gathering of professional foresters from the whole of the United Kingdom. They were all against the proposal to divide up forestry or devolve it in this way.
Most members of the Civil Service trade union covering the Forestry Commission are in Scotland, but their organisation is strongly against devolution and the breaking up of the industry. I agree that it has been said that the career structure will be safeguarded. I have found only one private forester who supports devolution, and he is a Scot, not a Welshman. Everywhere else people in the industry, whether in the Commission or working in the private woodlands, are against devolution of the industry. They want it to remain united.
The Commission is somewhat muted, because it has Civil Service loyalties. With his great knowledge of the industry, can my hon. Friend confirm that there will be great problems for the administration of forests in England if the headquarters remain in Edinburgh and great problems in Scotland if it does not? After it has been taken from Basingstoke, to have yet another upset would not be a good idea.
I am strongly in favour of the headquarters being in Scotland, because the greater amount of the land already forested or to be forested is in Scotland. But the danger here is that the English and Welsh sections may feel out on a limb because they are much smaller than the Scottish section of the industry.
The industry must be planned on a United Kingdom basis. Who can organise if the planting programmes are to be decided by the Assemblies in Scotland and Wales while Westminster decides the programme for England? Who can organise matters not knowing where the finances will come from year to year? That strengthens my case for trying to have an agreed 50 years programme.
I believe that this is another example of the Government's looking around for something to devolve. They asked "Why not the Forestry Commission? Why not pass it over or divide it up?" I think that that has been rather the attitude. If we are to have proper use of land in this small island in the years to come, it must be decided on a United Kingdom basis. There must be unity in policies on agriculture and forestry, and they must work together.
I want briefly to support and reinforce what has been said by my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) about forestry. I had the honour on Monday last week to be invited to a large forestry gathering in Wales. I am unable to pronounce the name of the county in which the meeting was held, but I think that before local government reorganisation it was Flintshire.
Although the temperature was several degrees below zero and there was a strong north-east wind, I had the opportunity to talk to a considerable number of the 100 or so people present, mostly from Wales, I think. I did not hear from any of them any desire that there should be devolution of forestry to Wales.
We also had the honour to have with us the Chairman of the Forestry Commission and I had the opportunity to listen to a considerable speech from him. It may be that because of his official position he is unable to make any definite pronouncements about the merits or otherwise of devolution, but there was certainly nothing in the tenor of his speech to suggest that he actively favoured it.
The hon. Member for Dagenham referred to some of the disadvantages that must flow from any disorganisation of the present Forestry Commission structure. He mentioned integration with agriculture. I am sure that when we see what is being done or attempted in Europe and what is likely to be done or attempted in this country we must realise the importance of this.
The integration of forestry and agriculture is a most difficult and complicated question. It ultimately all comes down to a question of land use. It is absurd to think that in Wales this will be done by an authority which is different from the Ministry which will still be dealing with agriculture from London.
One might also mention the critical and topical problem of tree diseases. Some of us are aware of the terrible devastation that has recently happened to our elms. I read an alarming article in a forestry paper in the past few days saying how many potential tree diseases there were in the world. The total was about 100. At any time, because of the large imports of timber that we must have, our trees may become infected by any of those diseases. When that happens, it is surely sensible that we should have an authority which is paramount in the whole of this island—disease control must be a question of geography more than anything else—and is capable of putting forward concerted policies which geographically cover the whole of Great Britain.
I do not know what expertise there would be in a Welsh Assembly to deal with such questions. I do not even know whether it would be possible to translate into the Welsh language most of the diseases. I am not an expert on this.
If it would be bad to make this suggested devolution to the Assembly, I believe that it would be even worse to leave the position as it is apparently contemplated in the clause, because it is left in a state of total uncertainty.
It seems that we might be left chronically with the Minister being subjected to recurring pressure from an Assembly to make an order for devolution in regard to forestry, an order which he had not originally made. To have permanent uncertainty in this important industry would be the worst possible result.
Therefore, I hope that on reconsideration the Minister will accept the amendment and Amendment No. 92 and stop this nonsense.
Some time ago, it seems, the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) moved the amendment, on the sixth day of our Committee proceedings, and put forward in his usual careful way a precise legal argument, the general effect of which was that the powers conferred on the Minister by the Bill were too wide and might be abused. Indeed, the hon. and learned Gentleman argued that there could be a form of creeping devolution whereby the Minister, without reference to Parliament or with inadequate reference to Parliament, could confer on the Welsh Assembly extra powers of a kind which might not meet the approval of Parliament if the matter were put forward in the most precise way in which most of the matters are dealt with in the Bill.
We are in this case dealing with the bodies listed in Schedule 7, and subsection (2) has relevance to the bodies in Part I of Schedule 7. These are bodies which operate at present on an England and Wales basis or a Great Britain basis. Consequently, some provision needs to be made to divide their responsibilities so that they can account satisfactorily to and be responsible to the Welsh Assembly for their activities in Wales, while remaining responsible to the Government for their other operations.
Another way to do it—it was attempted in the Scotland and Wales Bill—would be to make special detailed arrangements for all the bodies concerned. But that would have burdened the Bill with immense detail about accounts, appointments, finance and other matters which might better be dealt with by order.
I have sympathy with the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), who said that he had difficulty in finding his way round the Bill. I agree that in some parts it is complex. But if we do not take the slightly broader power set out in the clause, we have to go into greater detail. One of the effects of carrying the amendment would be that we should have to go into greater detail, and would find the problems even greater.
Another difficulty is that if detailed arrangements are made in advance, it means that they have to be made without the opportunity for the Welsh Assembly to be consulted on the nature and detail of the changes to be made. Indeed, in many cases the Assembly might be content that only minor changes were made—for example, enabling it to make a nomination to a board of management, or some such matter as that.
It was necessary, in dealing with these bodies, to distinguish between those whose devolution is central to the devolution of functions in the field in which they operate and those whose devolution can be postponed. We felt that provision must be made for the first group from day one, and they are listed in Part I of Schedule 7. Other functions, whose devolution could be postponed without producing administrative complication, are set out in Part II. Accordingly, those bodies shown in Part I have already had most of the relevant functions transferred by the entries in the appropriate part of Schedule 2. Some of the functions which need to be divided as between England and Wales are at present expressed in a way which makes them unsplittable—if I might use that word—without some modification.
The effect of an order under the clause would be to re-express the functions in a way which would make them operable separately by both the Assembly and the Minister. The order is needed not just to confer clearly defined powers on the Assembly but to tidy up the powers remaining with the Minister. By contrast, functions relating to bodies shown in Part II have mostly been reserved in the appropriate parts of Schedule 2. An order under Clause 61(3) is accordingly needed in order to transfer these functions for the first time.
I could go into greater detail, but I think that the essential point argued by the hon. and learned Member for Cleve land and Whitby was that it was really too much to give this power to the Minister. Very often in a Bill—and subsequently in an Act of Parliament—quite wide powers are given to the Minister, and Parliament is rightly careful about conferring such powers on the Minister, and asks Ministers for justification for them. The justification that I offer here is that it allows us to cut down a great deal of the detail in the Bill. This means that, in a sense, we have to take on trust to a certain extent the powers that the Minister exercises; but that is a usual' feature of many Bills. It is also worth bearing in mind the limited scale that is involved here. It is only the bodies in Part I of Schedule 7 which are affected by the subsection which it is sought to delete.
One point which might be of interest to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is that we intend later in the course of these debates to accept amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and in the name of the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) which will have the effect of transferring the British Waterways Board and the Inland Waterways Advisory Council from Part I to Part II. My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham and the hon. Member for Reading, North both made detailed representations to the Government on the matter, and I had the opportunity of discussing them. Although I do not think that they agreed with all my arguments or conclusions, I think they accepted that we were seeking to assist in some way. As I have indicated, it is our intention to accept the amendments, so that there will be these exclusions from Part I. Therefore we are dealing only with the rest of the bodies in Part I.
Some hon. Members seemed to feel that the Welsh Assembly could take power to itself, but these powers can be conferred only if a Minister of the Crown seeks to give it the powers. I do not know that it would be a characteristic of a Government that they would readily seek to shower new powers upon a Welsh Assembly. It would have to be a considered collective decision by the British Government that certain powers ought to be transferred. The likelihood of there being vast changes to the devolution settlement by the use of ministerial powers of this character is, therefore, a little farfetched politically.
The hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby did not say that this would happen. What he said was that, on the face of the words in the Bill, it could technically happen, and I think that is so. But we have to look at it with an eye to some political reality.
Before I leave that part of the argument, I should perhaps mention that the hon. and learned Gentleman referred briefly to the fact that the only safeguard that Parliament has is the negative resolution procedure. Although he did not develop that at length, it was a key part of his argument. He said that such wide powers, on the face of it, were to be given to a Minister that it was not very desirable for the control of Parliament to be only by the negative resolution procedure. I have thought very carefully about that. There is a great deal of substance in what the hon. and learned Gentleman said. Amendment No. 294 relates to this point.
Having reflected on this matter, I am convinced by the hon. and learned Member's argument that it would be desirable that, instead of the negative resolution procedure applying here, the affirmative resolution procedure should apply. I therefore intimate to the Committee that if the hon. and learned Gentleman moves Amendment No. 294 at the appropriate point—I think that will not be very far from now—I shall be disposed to accept it.
There were some other points raised in the debate with which I should now like to deal. Hon. Members ranged far and wide on a number of precise points. The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) mentioned fishing and pure water, and the necessity for having a national policy on water resources. I thought that his aspirations on policy questions were desirable, and that there ought to be the maximum co-ordination between the Welsh Assembly and the British Government on the management of our water resources.
The hon. Gentleman may care to note that Clause 65(3) and Part II and Part IV of Schedule 8—we may come to those later on—give the Minister considerable powers to intervene to protect the interests of England, Indeed in Schedule 8, Part II, paragraph 3(1)(b) on page 66 there is specific mention of the interests of the owners of fishing rights in England. The Severn will continue to be managed as a whole by the Severn-Trent Water Authority. The authority will remain in existence, even though ministerial powers may be divided. The hon. Gentleman should, with respect, weigh that in the balance together with the points that he made.
One has to look at these matters with a eye to reality. I am simply reminding the hon. Gentleman that there is power in the Bill, in the event that such a thing occurred, for the Minister to intervene. That is a protection which relates to the sort of concern that the hon. Gentleman has in mind. I feel that it is reasonable for me to draw his attention—and that of his constituents who are concerned about the matter—to that point.
During the debate I have heard feats expressed about England dominating Wales, and equally about Wales dominating England. It rather depends on which side of the border one is standing, or which side one represents. I felt that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) did not have a very large vision. He said that he was interested not in Wales but only in Hereford. The Government in planning legislation have to look at both sides, and we have tried to do our best by giving quite wide powers of intervention, if they are needed. We hope that it will be possible for many of these matters to be resolved by co-operation between the Assembly and the British Government.
Some hon. Members feared that Amendment No. 92 would not be reached. As a result the hon. Member for Buckingham, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham took the opportunity to air their views on forestry. I think that they are wrong. I think that we shall reach Amendment No. 92. The knife on this part of the guillotine does not fall until 9 o'clock. I have indicated that we are likely to accept a number of amendments between now and Amendment No. 92. Therefore, it is quite possible that we shall have a debate on Amendment No. 92.
In fact, we might even have been on that debate now were it not for the fact that some hon. Members were so apprehensive that we might not reach it that they made their speeches in advance. The hon. Member for Buckingham was quite frank about that. I think that it would be better to have a proper debate on forestry when we come to that matter. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales is anxious to reply to that debate when it is reached.
The main point of this debate has been about subsection (2) and the attempt and suggestion by the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby that it should be deleted. These are all matters of judgment. I think I have gone some way to allay some of the fears by indicating that in the circumstances we are agreeable to accepting the affirmative resolution proposals. It may that the hon. and learned Gentleman will wish to withdraw his amendment. But that is a matter for him. The offer to accept the amendment is in no way conditional upon his doing that. We have come to the view that the affirmative resolution is genuinely more desirable because some complicated matters may be involved about which Parliament ought to be reassured.
The Minister of State said that some people were afraid that England would dominate Wales while others were afraid that Wales would dominate England. He drew the conclusion that those fears were unjustified. I would draw the conclusion that if it is possible to arouse fears on both sides of the Anglo-Welsh border then something must be seriously wrong with the Government's proposals.
In moving this amendment a fortnight ago, I made clear that our objection was to the fact that the Minister was able, without a full Act of Parliament, to extend the devolution powers of the Welsh Assembly not only by transferring the powers of certain independent bodies to the Assembly but also by extending the provisions of the Wales Act itself, so that the Schedule 2 powers could be greatly increased and more power be given. In addition, the powers which at present are excluded in Schedule 2 could be removed by the modification which the Minister could make.
The Minister of State was candid enough to indicate that that was a justified fear in the sense that those powers did exist under subsection (2). If, of course, the Act had said "limit" rather than "modify", that fear would not have been justified. But the Minister has not suggested altering that. The situation remains that what the Government are proposing would enable the Government to transfer powers to the Welsh Assembly and to modify the Act itself, greatly increasing the devolved powers passed to the Welsh Assembly.
It is true that Clause 61 has been sufficiently eroded by the arguments that have been put forward for the Government to indicate that they are prepared to remove two of the bodies from Part I of Schedule 7 and also to substitute the affirmative resolution procedure for Clause 61(5). These are certainly improvements to the Bill, but they do not deal—
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I was not being naive. I was about to say that, although the changes which the Government indicated they would accept were beneficial, they do not go far enough for me to seek to withdraw the amendment or to do anything other than advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to support it in the Division.
The Minister talked about political reality. Although the power theoretically existed for the Minister to confer new powers, over and above what was in the Bill, by the order referred to in subsection (2), he asked whether it was likely that the Minister would do so. In answer to that, I revert to the point that I made in an earlier intervention. One of two things will happen. Either the pressure will be exerted and the Minister will acquiesce—that is one undesirable consequence in which devolution powers will be passed to the Assembly without a proper Act of Parliament and simply by means of a statutory instrument, an order and a vote of this House, but not proper legislation—or there will be strong representations from Cardiff which the Minister will resist.
What we say is that that will lead to precisely the kind of political conflict which is at the root of our objections to this whole form of devolution. That will happen again and again. It is because we object to that happening that we shall divide the Committee and seek to persuade it that it is not right for subsection (2) to remain in the Bill.
Had there not been a guillotine motion I would have repeated at length, ad nauseam and seriatim, all the questions which I have put about the Inland Waterways Board. However, I shall spare colleagues that for the only reason that there is a guillotine.
Frankly, if I was churlish about it, I would say to my hon. Friend the Minister of State "Thank you very much for nothing". This transfer from Part I to Part II is meaningless. It sounds good enough, but it is absolutely empty and meaningless. It is impossible that an Assembly would not ask for these powers. Therefore, here again we are at a point of conflict.
I am sorry that the Minister of State appeared to think that in making this relatively small concession he was removing our chief objection to this part of the Bill. He seemed to think that what remained was comparatively trivial or less important. But what is very objectionable is that the power for a Minister in future to extend this area of devolution should exist in the Bill at all. The Bill should either provide a full procedure for some separate future legislation—it should make clear that it did not envisage any such extension—or there should be no Parts I and II at all.
Even so, that would not meet our objection because our objection is to the clause itself which permits this procedure. I am sorry that the Minister of State thinks that that is so unimportant.
|Division No. 172]||AYES||[6.38 p.m.|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Arnold, Tom||Hampson, Dr Keith||Percival, Ian|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Hannam, John||Peyton, Rt Hon John|
|Atkinson, David (Bournemouth, East)||Haselhurst, Alan||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Banks, Robert||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Bell, Ronald||Hawkins, Paul||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Heath, Rt Hon Edward||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Benyon, W.||Hicks, Robert||Raison, Timothy|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hodgson, Robin||Rathbone, Tim|
|Biffen, John||Holland, Philip||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hordern, Peter||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Rhodes James, R.|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hurd, Douslas||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||James, David||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Brittan, Leon||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Jopling, Michael||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Brooke, Peter||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Brotherton, Michael||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Rodgers, Sir John (Sovenoaks)|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Knox, David||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Buck, Antony||Lamont, Norman||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Langford-Hoit, Sir John||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Shepherd, Colin|
|Chalkor, Mrs Lynda||Lawrence, Ivan||Shersby, Michael|
|Channon, Paul||Lawson, Nigel||Silvester, Fred|
|Clark, William (Croydon [...])||Le Marchant, Spencer||Sims, Roger|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Clegg, Walter||Luce, Richard||Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Macfarlane, Neil||Speed, Keith|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||MacGregor, John||Spence, John|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Stainton, Keith|
|Dunlop, John||Marten, Neil||Tapsell, Peter|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Mather, Carol||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald||Tebbit, Norman|
|Elliott, Sir William||Mawby, Ray||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Emery, Peter||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||Miscampbell, Norman||Viggers, Peter|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Wall, Patrick|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Moate, Roger||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Molyneaux, James||Wells, John|
|Gorst, John||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Gray, Hamish||Mudd, David||Younger, Hon George|
|Grieve, Percy||Nelson, Anthony|
|Griffiths, Eldon||Neubert, Michael|
|Grist, Ian||Newton, Tony||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Grylls, Michael||Nott, John||Mr. Jim Lester and|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Onslow, Cranley||Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.|
|Allaun, Frank||Crawshaw, Richard||Grant, John (Islington C)|
|Anderson, Donald||Cryer, Bob||Grimond, Rt Hon J.|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Davidson, Arthur||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Harper, Joseph|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Hayman, Mrs Helene|
|Bates, Alf||Dempsey, James||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Bean, S. E.||Dewar, Donald||Hooley, Frank|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Dolg, Peter||Hooson, Emlyn|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Dormand, J. D.||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Duffy, A. E. P.||Hughes. Roy (Newport)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Eadie, Alex||Hunter, Adam|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Janner, Greville|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Buchanan, Richard||Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Johnson, James (Hull West)|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Jones, Barry (East Flint)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Eristol S)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Kelley, Richard|
|Cohen, Stanley||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Kerr, Russell|
|Coleman, Donald||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||George, Bruce||Lambie, David|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Gould, Bryan||Lamborn, Harry|
|Crawford, Douglas||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Pavitt, Laurie||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Litterick, Tom||Pendry, Tom||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Lyons. Edward (Bradford W)||Penhaligon, David||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|McElhone, Frank||Radice, Giles||Thompson, George|
|MacFarquhar, Roderick||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Tierney, Sydney|
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Tomlinson, John|
|MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Robinson, Geoffrey||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Maclennan, Robert||Roderick, Caerwyn||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|McNamara, Kevin||Rooker, J. W.||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Madden, Max||Rose, Paul B.||Ward, Michael|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Watkins, David|
|Marks, Kenneth||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Watt, Hamish|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Rowlands, Ted||Welsh, Andrew|
|Mendelson, John||Sedgemore, Brian||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Mikardo, Ian||Sever, John||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Whitlock, William|
|Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Silverman, Julius||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Skinner, Dennis||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Newens, Stanley||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Oakes, Gordon||Spriggs, Leslie||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Ogden, Eric||Stallard, A. W.||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Steel, Rt Hon David||Woodall, Alec|
|Ovenden, John||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald||Woof, Robert|
|Padley, Walter||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Palmer, Arthur||Stoddart, David||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Pardoe, John||Strang, Gavin||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|Park, George||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Mr. James Tinn.|
I beg to move Amendment No. 90, in page 24, line 21, after 'imposing', insert
', or enabling the imposition of,'.
This amendment is similar to one that was moved on the Scotland Bill. It arises from the fact that Clause 61(3)(d) provides that an order dividing responsibility for any public body listed in Schedule 7 may impose
any special limits in addition to or in substitution for existing limits".
The provision is intended to cope with the situation where an existing Act lays down a statutory limit on the amounts which may be advanced to a body from the National Loans Fund or, as in the case of the Housing Corporation, on the total amount of guarantees which may be issued.
Statutory limits of this kind cease to have any relevance when the Welsh operations of the bodies concerned are subject to the control of the Assembly with the advances to be made from the Welsh Loan Fund. Therefore, it is desirable to make it possible to have separate Welsh limits laid down.
Clauses 61(3)(d) as it stands enables a ministerial order itself to impose new Welsh limits on the total which may be advanced to the British Waterways Board for its Welsh operations. This could involve some derogation from devolution in that it could involve the Minister in decisions which properly accord to the Assembly as part of its new responsibility for the body concerned. The amendment accordingly provides for an alternative procedure which is likely in practice to enable the ministerial order to provide for any new limit that is desired to be imposed by the Assembly, possibly by order made in plenary session.
Paragraph 12 of Schedule 11 already provides for limits on borrowings by new towns in Wales to be so laid down by the Assembly. This is purely a technical amendment and I hope that the Committee will agree to it.
With this we shall take the following amendments:
No. 91, in Schedule 7, page 64, leave out lines 5 and 6.
No. 93, in page 64, leave out lines 11 and 12.
No. 94, in page 64, line 23, at end insert:
'The British Waterways Board. The Transport Act 1962 (c. 46), section 1'.
No 95, in page 65, line 13, at end insert:
The Inland Waterways Amenity, The Transport Act 1968 (c. 73), section 110' Advisory Council.
Government amendment No. 217 is consequential upon the decision already announced to hon. Members that we propose to accept Amendments Nos. 91, 93, 94 and 95. However, I must say that when it was made known that we were prepared to accept the amendments the news was not greeted with much pleasure in some parts of the Committee and I began to wonder whether we were doing the right thing.
This matter was raised earlier when we were discussing inland waterways in general terms. The Government believe that the responsibility for inland waterways and, by extension, ministerial responsibility for operations in Wales of the British Waterways Board and the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council should be transferred to the Welsh Assembly at some stage. It is not the case, as has been suggested, that the Government are scurrying around looking for functions to give to the Assembly.
The waterways have close links with other devolved matters. They are very closely connected with tourism, the countryside and leisure facilities. If these matters are to be devolved it is reasonable and proper, and it makes a neat package, for the inland waterways to be devolved similarly. We must take account of the fact that responsibilities for transport infrastructure are to be devolved as well.
We have received a number of representations suggesting that the immediate transfer of responsibility for these bodies could cause certain difficulties. When we were discussing this matter on the Scotland Bill the Government accepted comparable amendments which will, in fact, permit the timing of the devolution of these responsibilities to depend on a request from the Scottish administration.
For these reasons, I ask the Committee to accept the amendment.
I accept that the Government have been kind enough to make a small concession, but although it was made in line with the concession on the Scotland Bill there is a fundamental difference between the Welsh and Scottish waterways. The Welsh waterways are connected directly with England and are not separate canals and waterways. Therefore, I hope that, despite this concession, the Minister will reconsider this matter at a later stage.
The idea of the operation of the inland waterways being set up as a separate entity in Wales is almost laughable. There are 80 miles of canals and 20 locks. The existing staff consists of two engineers and about 60 manual workers. To set up a board to run this operation is a complete nonsense and I urge the Minister to rethink the matter.
The amendment enables the Assembly to take this on "at some time". The dangers of "some time" can be those of the Assembly doing things in no time at all. The Welsh will be anxious to do things and they will set up a new water authority to get on and run these canals. With 80 miles of waterways this is a nonsense. The canals include a reserve waterway of 30 miles—the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, which is not part of the British Waterways Board itself. Therefore, the whole proposal is a complete nonsense.
The voluntary bodies are very concerned about this matter. They feel that the British Waterways Board provides a good back-up service to the work they are doing to try to get the canals reopened, and to provide a leisure industry on which Wales depends. But they believe it is nonsense to set up a new authority to run a small organisation like this.
Much of the operation is run from two towns across the border—Northwich and Gloucester. This means setting up an administrative headquarters to run the new authority, and this would mean once again entering into a lot of bureaucratic machinery to run a very small entity.
The Select Committee, which looked at the whole question of the British Waterways Board, said:
Your Committee recommend that the Government should table an amendment to remove the British Waterways Board from the provisions of the Scotland and Wales Bill".
That was the view of a Select Committee of this House which examined the matter in considerable detail and it was recommending that the Government
should delete that body from the Bill. Although there are some arguments on the Scottish side where it can be said that the canals are treated as separate because there are more of them, the waterways in Wales run directly into England. Therefore, the provision as it stands would be a nonsense.
The other important matter relates to the Select Committee report on the future of the British Waterways Board—a report which puts in question the Government's White Paper on the future of the water industry. Because of the Select Committee's report, I believe that we should go ahead and debate the water industry and try to elicit what the Government intend to do about the future of the water industry. That matter is tied up with these provisions and is important in considering the future of inland waterways. Many of the voluntary bodies are concerned and anxious that they will not obtain the backup which they have obtained from the British Waterways Board in carrying out many of the voluntary projects.
I urge the Minister to think again about this matter in relation to Wales because the situation as it stands is ridiculous. We should aim at providing a body that will be able to do something worthwhile for the inland waterways.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) was right to describe the clause as a manhole clause. A great deal has come up from this manhole in the course of this debate, and when we go down into the manhole we find that it leads us into the tunnels of Schedule 7.
Considerable permissive powers are given in Clause 61 to Ministers of the Crown in relation to the bodies in Schedule 7. There are 24 public bodies listed in the schedule, six in Part I and 18 in Part II, but the Government have now transferred two of these bodies from Part I to Part II, which was a wise thing for the Government to do.
By Clause 61 a Minister of the Crown may by order subject to affirmative resolution—and we are glad that the Government accepted our amendment in that regard—make significant changes in the composition and supervision of these bodies after consultation with them. Exactly what the word "consultation" means in this context remains to be seen, but I imagine that the Government can proceed with or without the agreement of the body concerned.
The difference between the bodies listed in Parts I and II is that those in Part I are subject to Clause 61(2) whereby a Minister of the Crown
may by order modify or exclude any provision of this Act".
We are familiar with excluded powers and functions—indeed, Schedule 2 is full of them—but the power to modify provisions can mean an addition to or subtraction from the powers of the Assembly. My hon. and learned Friend was right to imply that the greater threat was to increase the powers of the Assembly at the stroke of a ministerial pen, and subject now to an affirmative resolution.
I believe that subsection (2) also reveals the Government's uncertainty about the rectitude of their proposals in regard to the bodies listed in Part I. They are important bodies in the sense that their policies and activities have repercussions far beyond Wales. In this instance we have the Government seeking to tamper with their constitutions and delivering to an untried Assembly powers of appointment to them.
Some of these bodies require that those nominated to them should be able to take a British national view in addition to a Welsh national view. Some are bodies which require primarily from their members considerable knowledge and expertise in the subject, and the question is whether the Assembly can provide such people. Will they not by their nature be politically-motivated persons who will have to beat the Welsh drum all the time? They will be answerable to the Assembly, and nothing will matter there except the direct and immediate interests of Wales.
There is a similar but shorter schedule to the Scotland Bill—Schedule 13—providing for Assembly nominations to certain bodies with United Kingdom responsibilities. If Wales and Scotland can press their regional interests, English national interests will have to be represented, too. That seems to me to be logical and inevitable. Therefore, the whole character of the public bodies affected may be changed. I do not think the Government wish to see such a change, but they have landed themselves with it, and, in my opinion, it will come about.
With regard to the 20 bodies now listed in Part II of the schedule, an order under Clause 61
shall not be made except at the request of the Assembly".
In other words, the provisions of the Bill may not be modified or excluded in relation to those bodies. There are important bodies here, too, such as the National Water Council, which was set up under Section 4 of the 1973 Water Act. So far as I can see the Government at present do not intend to tamper with the constitution of that body. It has a statutory Welsh member in the chairman of the Welsh Water Authority. Members of the council have to be
persons appearing to the Secretary of State or the Minister, as the case may he, to have special knowledge of matters relevant to the functions of the water authorities".
There is no regional representative qualification for membership, yet the Government are leaving the door open so that the Welsh Assembly could press for the power of nomination.
That is the significance of Part II and, for that matter, of the whole schedule. It is a launching pad for an extension of Assembly influence and power and threatens to undermine the wholly British approach and character of the public bodies concerned. This clause and schedule anticipates the outward ripples of devolution and the regionalisation of bodies which hitherto have been British-national in composition and outlook.
We have heard a great deal about the need to democratise nominated bodies, and that has been one of the Government's major arguments for devolution. But what will happen in practice? We can see how local authority representation may be undermined on the water authority for Wales and assembly nominees substituted, but what do we really mean when we talk of Assembly appointments? We mean appointments by the Chief Executive and the ruling caucus of the Assembly in all probability. That will be no more democratic than the present system and possibly a good deal less.
What should concern us most is the threat to British institutions with an all-British outlook. I do not think that the House of Commons can approve such a major change of policy and direction as that proposed in the Bill. What we are discussing is giving Ministers the power to sabotage major pieces of legislation to which Parliament has given considerable time and thought over the years. What is worse is that if we pass the clause and schedule we shall be contributing directly to the undermining of the unity of the United Kingdom as it is represented by the public bodies listed in the schedule.
Considerable mention has been made of forestry. There was a short debate on forestry during proceedings on the Scotland Bill. On that occasion the Government failed to give a convincing reply. That is why I suspect that some Labour Members have tabled an amendment on forestry that suggests that the Forestry Commissioners be deleted from the schedule.
That raises the key question whether forestry should be a devolved subject. The arguments against it are that forestry has traditionally been closely allied to agriculture, which is not being devolved except as regards land use and management. Forestry is under the control of a United Kingdom body—the Forestry Commission—and is a subject requiring uniform treatment throughout the United Kingdom.
There is a strong argument against the proposed divorce between forestry and agriculture. That argument has considerable force because before land can be taken for forestry it has to be cleared as being surplus to agricultural requirements. That has meant that in the past the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has had to be consulted. It now appears that when dealing with Wales the Assembly will have to be brought into the picture and its permission obtained. It is not clear to me whether the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will, as represented by the Welsh Office, have to be consulted as well.
Afforestation relates to land use. That is a devolved subject, together with agricultural land management, the countryside, tourism and rural development. It could be argued that the Assembly alone will have to be consulted and that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may safely be ignored. If that is so, farmers who are also timber growers will have to deal with two separate bodies. It will be necessary for them to deal with the Secretary of State and the Welsh Office as regards their farming activities and with the Assembly through the Forestry Commission when dealing with their timber growing.
The split between forestry and agriculture is highly debateable. It is strongly opposed by the Timber Growers Association, on the ground that forestry and agriculture are sister industries and that they should work closer together rather than drift into possible opposition. The Government's statutory advisory body, the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee, is also against devolving responsibility for forestry.
The real worry of timber growing is that the grants available for planting and management will no longer be uniform throughout the United Kingdom but will vary according to region and that different policies will be pursued in different parts of the United Kingdom. For example, in Wales there is a real fear that because of the preponderance of industrial area representation in the Assembly there will not be much sympathy for the rural timber grower, and little financial support.
All these matters have British-national implications. We have heard from various hon. Members about the importance of forestry to the United Kingdom economy. About 11 per cent. of the total area of Wales is afforested. Of that acreage about 8 per cent. belongs to the Forestry Commission and 3 per cent. to private timber growers. In United Kingdom terms, timber is our third largest item on the import bill. Surely it is vital to British interests that afforestation should be properly encouraged so that we may meet far more of our timber needs from our native resources.
It is a well-known fact that other countries—some of which have been mentioned, and are frequently mentioned by Plaid Cymru Members—have afforested far more extensively than the United Kingdom and have less dependence on imports, which come mainly from Eastern European countries.
The case against the divorce of forestry from agriculture has been well put by the Scottish Woodland Owners Assocation. What it says about Scotland is equally applicable to Wales. It observes that there are two major users of rural land and that there is a uniformity of view among all who deal with the two industries that they must work in closer partnership and not in opposition.
Land use policy in relation to the private sectors of forestry and agriculture, the assocation says, is bound up with the payments of grants and subsidies. Forestry is to be devolved, but agriculture is to remain the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government. As the Assembly's policy for forestry could be at variance with the Government's policy for agriculture, and vice versa, divergence could arise between the two industries hindering their coming closer together.
The association argues that the Government should retain responsibility for forestry and agriculture and should move towards a grant system embracing them both for the fuller development of land in the uplands and hills throughout Britain. To bring that about it is essential that the formulation of policy and the grant system for the two industries should remain under one control. These are the arguments that the Government have failed to answer to date.
The assocation goes on to tackle an argument put forward by the Minister of State. On 1st February the hon. Gentleman said that
the Government's involvement with agriculture is in financing agriculture. It is very difficult to make different arrangements for financing support systems in agriculture in different parts of the United Kingdom."—[Official Report, 1st February 1978; Vol. 943, c. 606.]
That is a difficulty that applies equally to forestry.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the Government's attitude to forestry. Why is it that we seem to be dealing at length with forestry on every conceivable occasion except the specific amendment to which the Committee will turn following this debate, which relates to forestry? It would be much more intelligent for the Committee to concentrate on forestry when it considers the appropriate amendment.
The hon. Gentleman says that forestry has been referred to extensively in the debate. That is right, but the only person who has spoken in the debate so far is himself. The extensive reference comes from himself and no one else.
I am seldom in the position when I have to say to a Minister that I regret that I gave way to him. However, I am afraid that I must say that on this occasion. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that we have debated the clause quite extensively in discussing the amendments to it and that forestry has featured prominently in our discussions.
We are dealing specifically with the power of a Minister to make provisions by order to enable powers to be exercised by the Assembly to authorise the appointment of additional members to the Forestry Commission, to apportion assets and to change financial arrangements. The whole of Clause 61 betrays the uncertainty of the Government and indicates that they are still in a state of muddle as regards the bodies in Part I of Schedule 7, including the Forestry Commissioners. The political and constitutional aspects of whether it is wise or unwise to devolve forestry are no less interesting and important than the economic aspects. In some ways, they are, perhaps, more important.
The Forestry Commission is apparently not shaken by the prospect of devolution. I have a letter from the secretary to that effect. The commission has been helpful to me over matters of fact. The secretary said in his letter:
As I am sure you will appreciate, the Government having decided to proceed with the proposal to devolve forestry, the Forestry Commission's task, as an arm of the Government,
is to determine in what way it can be made to work in the best interests of forestry. The existing organisation of the Commission is in fact well suited to the task. The flexibility needed to manage the Commission's business efficiently, in both its role as Forestry Enterprise and Forestry Authority, and to take full account of regional differences is provided at present by the maximum devolution of responsibility to eleven Conservators (5 in England 4 in Scotland and 2 in Wales). The Commissioners accordingly regard the Government's decision to maintain the Forestry Commission as the instrument for carrying out the English, Scottish and Welsh policies as a workable one.
It is a letter from Mr. P. J. Clarke, the secretary of the Forestry Commission. He talks about devolution in terms of the responsibility of the 11 conservators, but we are talking not about the conservators but about the commissioners.
Let us look more closely at what is proposed. There are 10 commissioners, including one with a special interest in Wales. They are appointed by Her Majesty the Queen on the advice of Ministers. In addition, there is a national committee for Wales comprising nine members, with the Welsh Commissioner at their head, two regional advisory committees, one for North Wales and one for South Wales, and the two conservators.
We are talking about the power of Ministers to appoint additional commissioners. It must be significant that the Government want this power and we are entitled to ask why they want it. I believe that the answer is fairly clear. The commission at present is not primarily a regional representative body. It represents forestry interests as a whole and ancillary businesses. The Forestry Act 1967 is clear on the composition of the commission. It says:
Of the persons for the time being appointed to be Forestry Commissioners—
The Act goes on to provide regional representation on the national committees for England, Scotland and Wales.
The Government appear to want to change all this at the top—at commission level—to enable regional representation to take place. Clearly, this could take precedence over the interests of forestry as a whole in the United Kingdom. That is the crux of the matter.
I give the Government credit because I believe that they are dubious about the wisdom of the change that they have in mind. That is why Clause 61(1) is permissive. It may be why we have a Part I and a Part II of Schedule 7, with Clause 61(2) applying only to the bodies listed in Part I.
The inclusion of the Forestry Commissioners in Part I, coupled with the amendment in Schedule 11 to the 1967 Act, may help a further stage of devolution. The changes in the Act described on page 73 of the Bill envisage separate regulations for Wales concerning the felling of trees. These cannot be made without the consent to the Assembly and parliamentary consent is done away with in the last two lines on that page. The commissioners' powers to make byelaws are to be restricted in Wales and will not be able to be operated without the consent of the Assembly, and once again Parliament's powers are to be set aside.
In other words, what is contemplated is an entirely different kind of Forestry Commission with members appointed as representatives of regions in addition to, or in place of—we do not know which—the members appointed for their knowledge and experience of the industry. Behind these regional commissioners in Scotland and Wales will be the Assemblies with power to change regulations and byelaws. This set-up cannot be conducive to the formation and execution of a United Kingdom policy for forestry. That is abundantly clear.
Equally, any Welsh or Scottish commissioners, appropriately having the best interests of their own areas at heart, may have an undue influence on policy in the United Kingdom as a whole. As a Welshman, I should be the last to complain about this; but I also have a sense of fairness and if Wales and Scotland are to have regional representation I know that it will not be long before the various regions of England are asking for representation on that basis.
How will they have any sort of influence? Presumably, the three sets of commissioners will be appointed by three different bodies. The Welsh Assembly will appoint the Welch commissioners, the Scottish Assembly will appoint the Scottish commissioners and the British Parliament will appoint the English commissioners. Surely, therefore, they are atomised, and this is part of the whole argument.
We are talking about a permissive power. I do not have the hon. Gentleman's imagination. This could work out in a variety of ways, but it is quite possible that it could work out in the way he has suggested. I emphasise that the requirements of the 1967 Act are specific and I cannot see how the requirements of the Wales and Scotland Bills, which provide for a different sort of commissioner—a regional representative—are consonant. The procedure is totally objectionable because of the drastic change of policy that can be brought about simply by order.
Another subject that has been extensively discussed in this debate is the Welsh Water Authority. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) has a later amendment on this subject. He is not the only hon. Member concerned about the authority being included in the schedule. The authority itself is concerned at the proposal. So, too, are the Welsh local authorities which appoint most of the members of the authority. They are very concerned about the permissive powers given to Ministers to authorise the appointment of additional members.
The exercise of this power could, in the case of the Welsh National Water Development Authority, overturn the predominance of local authority appointees if the Minister so wished. At present there are 35 members of the WNWDA—20 nominated by the local authorities and 15 by Ministers. The Secretary of State has transferred his powers of appointment to the Assembly, under Schedule 2, and those powers are described in Section 3(10) of the Water Act 1973, now to be amended according to paragraph 39 of Schedule 11 to the Bill.
The constitution of the WNWDA is thus liable to change. Five of its members are to represent English local authorities on the Welsh borders. No committee of the Assembly can make an order varying the constitution, but there is no suggestion that the Assembly itself may not do so. That is something that the Committee must bear in mind.
When the constitution of the Severn-Trent Water Authority is described, the proposed amendment to the 1973 Act specifically states—I quote from paragraph 33 of Schedule 11, on page 77 of the Bill—
orders … shall be so framed that the total number of members appointed by the Secretary of State, the Minister and the Welsh Assembly is less than the number of those appointed by local authorities.
There is no similar provision proposed for the WNWDA, and one suspects that the intention is to pack it with Assembly nominees rather than local authority representatives.
Thus the democratic principle inherent in the present system of appointments to the WNWDA, the same principle that underlies the composition of English authorities, looks as though it is to be set aside so that instead of a body largely nominated by the local authorities we shall have a body predominantly nominated by the Assembly.
There is a real difference in that the local authority nomination system allows for a better and fairer geographical distribution of representation than, I suspect, the Assembly system will allow. We certainly need clarification of the Government's intentions in this area of devolution.
The Government are clearly and rightly concerned about the water situation in Wales and the possible misuse of powers by the Assembly. Why else should the Government write into the Bill such extensive powers of intervention on the part of the Secretary of State? They form a major part of Schedule 8—which again, alas, we are unlikely to debate before 9 p.m. this evening. The WNWDA has been reassured by the Government and told that it does not fall under Clause 62(1) and that there is, therefore, little likelihood of its functions being assumed by the Assembly. This has been confirmed by the Written Answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne
(Mr. Gow) on 16th March. Nevertheless, it seems to me that if the WNWDA falls under Schedule 7 and Clause 61, with its curious powers to
modify or exclude any provision of this Act
and to appoint additional members, then a situation could develop in which the WNWDA fell into the category of bodies whose functions could be assumed.
In any case, Clause 62 lends itself to more than one interpretation, as we shall see if we reach it. So the assurance given to the WNWDA does not seem to be a secure assurance at all.
The reconstitution of the WNWDA so that responsibility may be devolved to the Assembly again highlights the difficulty of safeguarding the British national interest, which is clearly involved since Welsh water is supplied to major English cities. The Government have done their best, I think, to protect that interest by imposing duties upon the Assembly and by giving the Secretary of State these powers of intervention. But these measures quiver with uncertainty as to the eventual result.
Then there is the geographical split of power on England—Wales lines, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) referred. This split may result in different practices being followed within the authority's own area as a result of the independent exercise of powers by the relevant English Minister in the English sector of the authority's area and by the Assembly in the Welsh sector of the authority's area. The position has been summed up as follows by the WNWDA, but it is really almost a comical summing up because it shows the utter folly of this split of powers. I shall certainly not go through all of what the authority says. However, it begins by saying:
The independent exercise of these powers could inter alia lead, under the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Acts 1951 to 1961, to one half of, say, the Dee Estuary being controlled waters and the remainder uncontrolled, and the Welsh and English parts of the authority's area having different forms and content of effluent registers and consents to discharge, and different policies for the determination of appeals against consent conditions.
The authority goes on to talk of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and, again, about the possible effect of a split. Similarly, it talks of the Water Act 1945,
the Water Resources Act 1963 and so on. Of the Water Resources Act 1963, the authority says:
It could lead to the impossible position of there being two different determinations of the minimum acceptable flow at the same location, where the national boundary follows the mid-line of the river, to two different policies on Section 60 appeals, and to two different sets of directions for exercise of authority discretion to reduce charges for certain abstractions.
Is not the hon. Gentleman really dealing with this matter and the boundaries on the Dee and so on as if they were the boundaries between Siberia, Russia and China? Does he not think that the same type of co-operation can be achieved after devolution as exists now between the various local authorities along the border?
I shall be coming to that point. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has heard a great deal of the debate on the clause, but perhaps he has not heard all of it. Certainly it seemed to me that there was some confusion, because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows only too well, the boundary of the WNWDA does not coincide with the national boundaries of England and Wales. Therefore, there is this overlap with regard to powers. To suggest a split along the lines proposed in the Bill gives rise to these possible situations, as the WNWDA has pointed out to us.
The WNWDA goes on to talk about the effect of the split of powers on the Land Drainage Act 1976, the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975, and so on. But what the authority says is what the right hon. Gentleman has just suggested, namely, that there should be consultation. I assure hon. Members that, if they read this document from the authority, they will see what a reductio ad absurdum devolution is in the context of the WNWDA.
If the Government are determined to go ahead, the Welsh National Development Water Authority's advice to include provisions to ensure consultation is certainly valid and the least that should be done to try to prevent future conflict. That there will be conflict we can be pretty certain. The Government are also clearly fearful of it, but determined to proceed in the fond belief that everything will turn out right in the end. Frankly, I do not share their optimism.
I have one observation to make and two questions to ask.
I think that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and, indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, who supports the Bill, ought to pay some attention to what the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) and many other hon. Members have been saying in recent days. I wonder whether we have underestimated to some extent the effect of the geographical pressures that we are building into these bodies for the first time. The truth is that never before in organisations such as the British Waterways Board has there been a temptation to fight for one's own corner. From now on people will fight for their own geographical corner rather than take an overall view.
That is not how the British Waterways Board has worked. I have had a great deal to do with that body for constituency reasons. On the whole, it takes an overall view. Now it will be very different. The hon. Member for Conway was right to point out that the inevitable result of setting up this kind of arrangement will be that the various regions of England, far more than ever before, will fight for their own corner. If this is what we want, well and good, but I do not think that it will lead to efficiency in the management of the waterways.
I have two questions. First, what is the extra cost to the United Kingdom taxpayer of this division of responsibility for waterways in Scotland and in Wales by setting up an organisation in Wales to look after, as we heard from the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant), about 80 miles of waterways? My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State or my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State must surely know the extra cost that is envisaged for this new arrangement.
Sir George Sharp, the chairman of the Labour-controlled Fife local authority and a heavyweight of the Labour Party in local government, described the Scotland Bill publicly in The Sunday Times as "useless, impractical and crazy". He knows something about these matters That was the opinion of a most experienced Labour local authority heavyweight in Scotland about the Scotland Bill at the weekend. Therefore, I ask: what is the extra cost of the new arrangement?
The second question is purely factual, and perhaps I should know the answer. Where, under this scheme, are forestry policies to be made in relation to Wales? Are they to be made in Cardiff or are they still to be made in Edinburgh? What is the role of Edinburgh in relation to forestry in Wales? Who appoints the Forestry Commissioners responsible for Scotland, for Wales and, indeed, for England? I do not think that I do my hon. Friend the Minister of State an injustice, but I thought that in an interjection he said "But it does not work like that." I stand open to all kinds of corrections, but I merely ask the factual question: who appoints the Forestry Commissioners who will in future be responsible for Welsh forests, for Scottish forests and for English forests? For example, to what extent will forestry in Wales be in any way connected with decision-making at the Forestry Commission's headquarters currently in Edinburgh?
One of the arguments for empire is that it is always possible from the centre to take an overall view. The argument of the centralists has always been that the more centralised the power is, the easier it is to take an overall view.
Where does the logic of that argument lead us? It would lead us to the argument that there is no need for any kind of subordinate government or legislative power at all, because everything is best done from the centre. I totally reject that argument.
I have been provoked to make this contribution because we have had the most exaggerated criticisms of this clause and its provisions. While the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) was on his feet, I went into the "No" Lobby and looked at the powers of the Secretaries of State under Acts passed by the Conservative Government, namely, the Local Government Act 1972, the Water Act 1973 and the National Health Service Reorganisation Act 1973 to see what provisions were reserved to the respective Secretaries of State to make new pro visions as to certain bodies and so on. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should look at those Acts. The criticism made by the Conservative Opposition of Clause 61—that it reserves power to the Secretary of State which could be misused—could be made of each of those Acts. We have always in modern times reserved powers to Secretaries of State. In each of the Acts that I have mentioned, such powers could in theory be misused.
The Opposition, in order to try to frighten the people of Wales about this matter, are suggesting that these particular powers actually will be misused. They did not make that sugegstion on the Local Government Act, on the Water Act or anything of that kind.
The truth is that while the Bill has been going through Committee we have had a constant repetition of Second Reading arguments. It is utter hyprocrisy for the Opposition to say that the guillotine has made it impossible to have detailed consideration of the Bill. When there is an opportunity for detailed consideration of the Bill, they resort nevertheless to all the arguments that they used on Second Reading. As those who have taken an interest in this matter know, we have heard a continued campaign against the Bill and all its provisions. There has been a total disregard, by and large, of the specific provisions in the Bill. There has been no real attempt to improve the Bill, but simply an attempt to kill it. That is what the debate has been about. I am convinced that, as a matter of procedure, if we are to have a careful and detailed consideration of a Bill, it is better that it should go to a Committee upstairs than that it be left to a Committee on the Floor of the House.
I shall not conceal from the hon. and learned Gentleman that many Opposition Members are opposed to devolution altogether. The worry that we express is not that the Assembly is given too great powers but that we are building into the Bill an invitation to the Assembly to seek to increase its powers. That is what makes this legislation different from anything previously. We have an elected body which has an open invitation to try to put pressure on the Minister to concede greater powers. That is what concerns us.
I heard what the hon. Gentleman said. In modern legislation many reserve powers are generally left with Ministers and there is therefore theoretically enormous scope for misuse. In fact, however, Ministers generally dare not misuse these powers because this country's democratic base depends not only on Acts of Parliament but on constitutional conventions. The country could not be run democratically were it not for the constitutional conventions which govern our behaviour. No doubt, they will develop in any relationship between the House of Commons and the Welsh Assembly and between the Secretaries of State and the Welsh Assembly. It is on that basis that civilised democratic government depends. The House of Commons must naturally be careful to see that it does not give to a Minister excessive power or power which could be exercised in a way for which he could not be called to account.
The truth is that we have ways and means of calling any Minister to account if he oversteps the mark. It seems to me that there is a campaign to put exaggerated fears into the mind of the Welsh electorate. I can understand people who are against devolution in principle. So be it. If they are against it, they are against it. But hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench are doing an ill service to Wales by grossly exaggerating the dangers of this Bill.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) might be right to say that some Opposition spokesmen have been prone to exaggerate their fears. But he is wrong in his description of the powers in the clause and the powers which existed before in Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales. I hope that the hon. and learned Member will consider this aspect. After all, the Secretaries of State are Ministers in a Government for the whole of the United Kingdom. The pressures on them are not merely to look after the interests of Scotland and Wales but they must look after the whole of the United Kingdom.
The pressures that might obtain in the Assemblies will be of a different order. Their horizon will probably end at their responsibilities for Scotland and Wales. They will not have this larger vision of the whole of the United Kingdom. That is why it is natural that some hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have expressed these fears, particularly when discussing the transfer of United Kingdom services.
Surely the hon. Member accepts that people's minds work on different levels. A man can be a good community councillor and yet be a tremendously good European. He can be interested in the Common Market. He can take a broad national view of British politics and yet be a devoted county councillor, always fighting for his patch in the county council. Exactly the same will happen in the Welsh Assembly. It almost certainly will happen.
That might well be the case. But the water issue is not easily kept within the territories of Scotland or Wales. For that reason hon. Members have been somewhat apprehensive that this clause contains unusual powers for possible extension and change after the Bill has been enacted.
It was natural that hon. Members should also be dissatisfied with the degree of protection in the Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery is wrong in his assessment. In expressing these fears we have not exaggerated. The way in which the clause is drafted is open to serious criticism. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will think again.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) that much of the debate on the clause revealed a basic hostility to the concept of devolution. It is true that hon. Members went somewhat further since in many contributions suspicions were cast on the motives of a Welsh Assembly and on the ability of an Assembly to do the job properly. It seemed to me to be a permanent search for conflict, looking down every manhole—or up every manhole, according to the direction in which one wished to go.
We are dealing with public bodies which operate in Wales across a wide range of functions. These bodies have responsibilities which affect the day-to-day lives of Welsh people. It is right that when we are transferring functions to an elected Welsh Assembly these bodies should somehow be made accountable to that Assembly for their actions in Wales. That is what the clause and the schedule seek to do.
The complication is there because these bodies exist either on a Great Britain basis or on an England and Wales basis. To suggest that this grants draconian powers to the Secretary of State is a nonsense. The powers are limited because they apply only to subsection (2).
My hon. Friend intimated earlier that having taken into account some of the criticism we were prepared to agree to accept Amendment No. 294 so that the statutory instrument made under Clause 61 will be subject to affirmative resolution. That means that these "draconian" orders are now to be subjected to affirmative resolution of the House of Commons. To describe that in the way in which hon. Members described it is a form of exaggeration.
The debate has focused attention on two bodies—the Forestry Commission and the water authorities. Even if one accepted the case against devolution or that one could have a form of devolution, one cannot contemplate any devolution without devolving responsibilities for water. That is not on. Water is far too sensitive an issue in Wales to contemplate devolution without granting powers over it to an elected Welsh Assembly. We have sought to devise a machinery of Government which will make the Assembly responsibile for water in Wales and, at the same time, graft on essential safeguards so that the England—Wales aspect is protected. I believe that it is protected. If we had time to discuss Clause 65 we would see the safeguards in that clause and in Schedule 8.
The hon. Member returns to the suggestion that the Assembly would be so dull as to try to act without any form of consultation. There will be many issues with which the Assembly will have to deal, apart from water, over which there will have to be consultations, whether it likes it or not. The whole nature of modern Government, whether it is exercised in the House of Commons or in a Welsh Assembly, depends to a considerable extent on consultation. As a Minister at the Welsh Office I spend an enormous amount of time consulting. Hon. Members should not ask me to find that duty to consult in a particular case in statute. Any responsible Minister or body—and I believe that the Assembly will be a responsible body—will have to consult and will consult when the situation demands.
Hon. Members have referred to the Forestry Commission. There is a relationship between agriculture and forestry. However, we are convinced that it is right to devolve forestry in Wales while at the same time reserving for the Government and for Parliament those aspects for which a single policy is essential for the whole of Great Britain. What are the essential aspects that we are reserving? First, we are reserving the tax system which is of fundamental importance to the private sector of the forestry industry. We shall be reserving plant health matters, an essential advisory service, and we are also reserving the apparatus of a single Forestry Commission serving the whole of Britain with a common staff structure and pay scale.
We were asked about the appointment of forestry commissioners. The procedure will remain unchanged. The appointments will be made by Her Majesty the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, as happens now. Policy will be decided by the commissioners subject to directives, and those directives will be given to the commission either by the Ministry of Agriculture in England or by the respective Assembly in Scotland or Wales.
We must see these directives in perspective. They are now extremely rare. Instead of their being issued at the drop of the hat, the arrangements are satisfied through the normal proceses of consultation.
I did not catch the hon. Gentleman's point. The commission is listed in Part I of Schedule 7 because it is one of those bodies—the others include the Housing Corporation, the Severn-Trent Water Authority and the Welsh National Water Development Authority—the functions of which we believe should be transferred to the Assembly at the earliest possible moment. Those in Part II can tolerate some delay, and the Secretary of State would make an order adjusting the arrrangements between these bodies only after receiving a request from the Assembly itself. This is a central concept of devolution, which is why Part I provisions would not need a request from the Assembly.
The Minister said that appointments to the Forestry Commission would continue to be made by Her Majesty the Queen. Did he mean by that that Clause 61(3)(b) providing for an order requiring or authorising the appointment of additional members does not apply or is unlikely to apply to the Forestry Commission?
I shall take another look at the point the hon. Member is making, but my understanding is that if an order were made requiring the appointment of additional forestry commissioners, it would still be made by Her Majesty the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister.
In Clause 61 and Schedule 7 we have established a fair division which will make these bodies responsible, first, to the Assembly for their functions in Wales and, secondly, to central Government for their functions in the rest of the United Kingdom. Given the complications, it is not easy to try to devise a system which can deal with bodies operating on this basis.
I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that answer. I hope that any hon. Member who thinks that he will become a Member of the Welsh Assembly is under no illusion but that on the question of forestry he is simply a member of a powerless advisory body. I do not know whether that satisfies hon. Members. I see the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) shaking his head. However, the Minister has news for him because this is Edinburgh government. The people who appoint the commissioners will clearly have absolute authority. It will be a unitary Forestry Commission, but that was the understanding of some of those who work for the commission. We have heard a very interesting answer from the Minister. The Welsh Assembly is only an advisory body. On forestry the Welsh Assembly is an advisory body only.
My hon. Friend is reading a lot more into my reply than was intended. I was dealing with the appointment of the commissioners and I said that policy would be decided by the commissioners subject to directives of the Welsh Assembly, and so on. One has to bear in mind that it will be a matter for the Assembly to decide how much land should be devoted to forestry in Wales, and it will be up to the Assembly to balance expenditure on afforestation. These then are considerable powers for the Assembly, but I did not make the suggestion that my hon. Friend seemed to think.
Those who have the power of appointment will retain the real power, especially if that is combined with Treasury power. What relationship will exist between the Executive of the Welsh Assembly and the forestry commissioners based in Edinburgh where a difference of opinion arises? I do not say "if", because there will certainly be differences of opinion. Who will resolve them? I fear that we are getting into a great muddle on this issue.
My hon. Friend is looking for differences. Who resolves the differences now? One cannot imagine that there are never differences under the present set-up over the needs and interests of forestry as between Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom. These are now resolved mainly by sensible consultations between sensible people. That is how it will be in the future, except that it will involve different people. Instead of there being Ministers and commissioners, it will involve Members of the Welsh Assembly and commissioners.
As I understand it at present, these differences are resolved either by the full Cabinet or more likely by a Cabinet sub-committee. That is a united body in the sense that its members are of the same Government. The situation will be wholly different under the new set-up. The bodies will be different and they may represent different political parties. The same problems of conflict that we have discussed many times before in the last 39 days of debate are present here, too, and that is a fact of life. This is a complexity which is unlikely to be resolved. This is not only a question of opening manholes or of saying that these differences will be resolved by reasonable men. If we were all reasonable men there would be no need for the Bill in the first place, but the situation is not like that. There are great conflicts. There will be conflicts about water. The Minister says that that is such emotive subject that it is unthinkable that the powers over it should not go to the Welsh Assembly. In such circumstances the conflicts are built in, and we do no service to ourselves in pretending that these conflicts do not exist.
The Minister has been very good in answering the question put to him, but can he not conceivably see any difference between a state of affairs in which these matters are settled, to use his own words, by sensible people acting in a sensible way, who are predominantly members of the same administration and therefore on good terms with each other, and a new situation in which the Assembly may be hostile to the administration here? Can he not see any difference in those two situations?
Let us consider some of these bodies. I doubt whether one could say that the Dental Estimates Board will be hostile to a Labour or a Conservative Government. I cannot see a great deal of political contact involved with the Horse Race Totalisator Board. There is the Public Health Laboratory Service Board. There is a whole range of bodies. I think there are about 24 of such bodies in Part II. Those are advisory bodies who will tender the same technical and professional advice to a Welsh Assembly as they now tender to a Government.
The bodies in Part I are probably causing a little more controversy. The water authorities seem to be the hot dogs. The water authorities have existed for a number of years and often have on them a majority of members who hold a political view that is very different from that of the central Government, and it has not caused the great upheaval which the hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) seems to suggest.
The point that I was making about the 24 bodies in Part II was as to the hostile directive that one gives to the Gaming Board for Great Britain. I do not think that is on. Basically we are talking of the water authority. The Welsh Assembly will be responsible for drawing up a Welsh water policy which will have to conform, by this very statute, to the England and Wales water policy. I would have thought that that was a perfectly reasonable and sensible provision.
I shall make one observation. Whatever the Welsh situation, I am absolutely clear that it was news to a great many people in Scotland that the forestry commissioners are to be appointed in relation to Scottish forests by the British Government. That is something which we still will have to go into. Whatever the actual fact of the situation, the impression is abroad that Scottish forestry will be under a Scottish Assembly—almost full stop.
If that is the case we have problems about the English forests. I asked a factual question, and I hope that my hon. Friend has the answer. What is the extra cost of creating a Welsh waterways authority? There must be some estimate because we know that in everything that the Government do there is a cost-price tag attached to it. It may be very small, for all I know, but a new organisation which has to run 80 miles of waterways, or whatever it is, will presumably require extra costs. As my hon. Friend is searching for an answer, I shall draw his attention to the British Waterways Board's view:
The Welsh waterway system which is much smaller is unlikely to be sustained and developed to the full if left dependent on Welsh resources alone. For example, most of those using the Llangollen Canal live in England as do most of those interested in the Montgomery
Canal restoration. The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal has more local use, but not the extent that local resources are likely to be adequate to maintain it nor—in normal circumstances—to meet the existing need for considerable repair.
If these things are to be done on a Welsh basis, it will require a separate organisation. In my capacity as one who is concerned, as are my hon. Friends, about costs to the United Kingdom taxpayer, I ask what is the Government estimate for creating a new organisation. I see that my question seems to send the Under-Secretary to sleep. I am waiting for an answer.
We are for ever being chided with making Second Reading speeches. I ask a very reasonable, factual question. What is the estimated cost of this new organisation for waterways? The answer is a lemon, as in so many other things. Nobody knows.
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman), the Government Whip, knows the answer. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Foreign Office knows. He is informative on every other subject. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) can answer my question. Finally, I turn to the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
I had not intended rising to speak in the debate again, but I do so because on several occasions while we have been going through Committee my hon. Friend has asked questions about costs and has been told that the total figures of costs are those in the Financial Memorandum. I am not able to split each cost down to match the wording of every line in any particular clause, but although my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian says that he has not heard, we have given him the details. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spelt out some of the information in a major debate on the subject. It is not the case that the answers have not been given, but somebody has not been listening.
It is not an unreasonable question to ask. We are discussing the important subject of Welsh water. We are setting up a new Welsh waterways authority. What is the rough cost of it? If I have missed the answer, perhaps I could be reminded, if I am stupid or have not heard or have been temporarily absent for half a minute. The least that the Government Front Bench can do is to remind me. I know that it is irritating for my hon. Friends, but it is a legitimate question. I can be silenced in a moment by being given a figure. I am not filibustering. I want to get on to the next business, as does the Secretary of State.