Government of Wales Bill

– in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 27th June 2006.

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Votes in this debate

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 42 [Defamation]:

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 27, line 15, at end insert—

"(1A) The Welsh Ministers may by regulations make provision for and in connection with establishing in any legal proceedings that any statement or publication is absolutely privileged by virtue of subsection (1).

(1B) No regulations are to be made under subsection (1A) unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing them has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the Assembly."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 46 [The First Minister]:

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Agriculture), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 28, line 13, after "Her Majesty" insert "from among the members of the Assembly"

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Agriculture), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, Amendment No. 27 raises a very interesting anomaly with which we have to contend. The amendment clarifies that the First Minister must be an Assembly Member. It appears that there is a crucial omission in the Bill which means that it is possible for someone who is not an Assembly Member to be selected as First Minister. I cannot imagine that happening; none the less, it is a possibility. As Clauses 46 and 47 stand, it would be possible to nominate someone as First Minister who is not a Member of the Assembly, provided he or she became a Member within 28 days. By contrast, ordinary Ministers must be Assembly Members. That is quite clear. In addition, the parallel provision in the Scotland Act 1998 requires that the First Minister already be a Member of the Scottish Parliament. This amendment ensures that only sitting AMs can become First Minister. Looking at the clause, it is possible to see how that anomaly could come about. We are anxious to know whether the First Minister is to be appointed by Her Majesty after nomination in accordance with Clause 47, as the Bill says in Clause 46 at the moment, or whether it would be very sensible to ensure that he or she is an Assembly Member. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. It is essential that the First Minister should be a Member of the Assembly. But I assure him that the amendment is unnecessary. Clause 46 provides that the First Minister is to be appointed in accordance with Clause 47, which states that the Assembly must,

"nominate an Assembly Member for appointment".

Therefore, the condition that the First Minister must be an Assembly Member is already in the Bill.

Amendment No. 28 would insert a provision that the First Minister must tender his resignation to the Queen if the Assembly passes a vote of no confidence. It is also unnecessary, but this is a very important point, and I am not surprised that the noble Lord wants reassurance on it. Clause 48 provides that the Welsh Ministers must resign if there is a vote of no confidence in them. If that happens, it triggers Clause 47, which requires the Assembly to begin the process of appointing a First Minister if certain events occur. The noble Lord will have noticed that one of those events is,

"the Assembly resolving that the Welsh Ministers no longer enjoy the confidence of the Assembly".

That triggers the process.

During the period between nomination and appointment of a new First Minister, the First Minister will remain in office because there must be someone in Government from whom the civil servants who are the staff of the Welsh Assembly Government can derive their authority to act. However when a different person is appointed as First Minister, the former First Minister ceases to hold office as a result of Clause 46(4). I hope that the noble Lord has received the assurances that he needs to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Agriculture), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, I did not refer to Amendment No. 28 in great detail, but the Minister is right to think that this would be a vote of no confidence in the First Minister. I am satisfied with the Minister's response. The point seems to be covered in adjoining clauses. I can see that it is safe to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 28 not moved.]

Clause 49 [Counsel General]:

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

Clause 51 [Limit on number of Ministers]:

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Agriculture), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 30, line 30, leave out "twelve persons" and insert "20 per cent of the Assembly"

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Agriculture), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, Amendment No. 30 would ensure that no more than 20 per cent of the Assembly will hold ministerial office. That will allow sufficient Assembly Members to remain to scrutinise the Executive. The issue was debated earlier this evening. Twelve Members out of 60 Members is 20 per cent of the Assembly. We believe it is not desirable that the provision go over that. In a sense, Tomorrow's Wales would have been interested in this particular situation. It anticipates, as it has in other amendments I have put forward this evening, that if the Assembly gets more powers and as a result there are more Members, then, as now, only 20 per cent of the Assembly could hold ministerial office. We believe that this would be a very useful adjunct to the Bill and ensure that the Assembly is not too top heavy from a ministerial point of view. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Shadow Minister, Wales

My Lords, we discussed something along these lines in Committee. I was one of those who expressed anxiety that too many Assembly Members might be appointed Ministers. I refer to the situation in Scotland where, as I understand it, no limit was placed on the number of Members who could be Ministers. Therefore, there are approximately 22 Ministers in the Scottish Parliament.

We are glad that in Clause 52 the Government have put a cap on the number of Ministers in the Welsh Assembly Government, and I, for one, hope that the cap remains there.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the Government share the position adopted by both noble Lords that there should be a cap on the size of the payroll vote in the ministerial team. We think that the Bill already sets a sensible strategy limit. Let me mention that we have a guideline on this. There are a total of 112 Members of Parliament in the ministerial team out of the 659 Members, which is, as those with rapid arithmetical competence would have recognised, 21.7 per cent as regards the Commons. This is 12 out of 60. If at some future stage the arguments of the noble Lords opposite win favour and the Assembly increases in size, certainly with this provision the percentage would obviously decrease. But here it is fixed at 12. It will be recognised that that is a reasonable percentage. I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Agriculture), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, I have heard what the Minister had to say. There was a thought in this that there would be a level of consistency for the future. But at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 59 [Implementation of Community law]:

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

moved Amendments Nos. 31 to 33:

Page 34, line 37, leave out "to make regulations"

Page 34, line 42, leave out "regulations" and insert "provision"

Page 35, line 3, leave out "regulations" and insert "provision"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 61 [Support of culture etc.]:

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative

moved Amendment No. 34:

Page 36, line 6, at beginning insert "Subject to the limitations of section (Reform of Welsh public bodies) and Schedule (Public bodies subject to reform by Assembly),"

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative

My Lords, on the second day in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, moved an amendment concerning the future of the Arts Council of Wales and the Assembly's right to give financial support to various bodies under the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, has explained to me that, because of important prior engagements, he regrettably cannot be here. That is a great pity.

I want to refer briefly to the long speech that the noble Lord made then, which set out the circumstances in some detail. He spoke of the importance of the arm's-length principle, which has been with us since 1945 and, as he reminded us, was introduced by Jennie Lee. He then drew attention to Section 28 of the Government of Wales Act 1998, which gave the Assembly the power to abolish a range of public bodies or absorb them into the Assembly. He pointed out that the exception provided some protection for a number of public bodies, because it debarred the Assembly from removing any function from organisations unless it was done with the consent of the body concerned.

He quoted quite extensively from documents issued by the Labour Party before the introduction of the Act and specific undertakings given by Ministers in the other place that royal charter bodies such as the Arts Council of Wales, the Sports Council for Wales, the National Library of Wales, the National Museum of Wales and the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments—bodies created by charter or royal warrant—were all protected in that way. He then described the circumstances that had arisen in the Welsh Assembly where Mr Pugh, the Minister concerned, sought to circumvent the restrictions in Section 28 by using the power to do anything that the Assembly considered appropriate to support a number of organisations, which are now contained in Clause 61. They were then in Section 32 of the 1998 Act.

During the extensive debate that followed, the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, asked a very shrewd question. He asked what has happened to Section 28 of the 1998 Act. We were then told that it had not been repealed but was still in force.

That brings me to my various amendments. It is rather unfortunate that the section, and the schedule which accompanies it, have not been repeated in the Bill. The equivalent provisions were placed very close together in the 1998 Act and anyone considering the powers under Section 32 would immediately have recognised that restrictions on those powers were provided by Section 28.

In the light of what has happened, and the major row that developed in the Welsh Assembly, it is rather important that we do not separate the two provisions completely and tuck away Section 28 and the schedule in another Bill with which people will probably not be so familiar.

My Amendments Nos. 78 and 80 would simply put Section 28 of the 1998 Act and its schedule back into the Bill. They are altered only by the deletion from Part I of the schedule of bodies that have already been abolished or absorbed. I have checked and got my information from the Welsh Assembly as to what those bodies are. Otherwise, Section 28 and its schedule are put back exactly as they were. Clearly the Government cannot have any objection to the section and the schedule, as they have not been repealed. It is simply a question of whether it is helpful to have their provisions in the Bill so that there is absolute clarity about the position.

My Amendment No. 34 would do something new. It would make it clear that the power to "do anything" under Clause 61, which I put back into the Bill, cannot be used to overthrow the safeguards of the replaced Section 28. It would simply make it absolutely clear that the power to "do anything" does not override the restrictions in the section and its schedule. Having said that, I have discussed this with Mr Geraint Talfan Davies, the former chairman of the Welsh Arts Council, who I must say was not well treated on that occasion, but we have already covered that ground. He reminded me that it will still be perfectly open to the Assembly to provide grants to arts bodies and other organisations covered by Clause 61 so long as it does not do so on such a scale that it in effect abolishes them or so weakens them that they can no longer function. I am not a lawyer, but I suspect that if it went that far, it might be open to legal challenge as to whether it had gone too far. There is certainly a power, and rightly so, for the Assembly to provide grants on occasion to arts bodies. I did so when I was Secretary of State, as did a number of my successors. I supported the Welsh National Opera and various theatres in Wales when it was important that they should have one-off grants to deal with particular situations. I am not arguing in any way that that power should not be available, but my Amendment No. 35 does require the Assembly to consult the relevant bodies if that power is used. That is important. If you are going to give a grant, you will want to consult the relevant organisations on the effects of doing so. That provides a form of discipline so that the powers are not used unwisely and recklessly. That is the purpose of the first four amendments.

Prompted by the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, we sought to inquire how much else of the 1998 Act had not been repealed and was still in force. I must say I was pretty startled when I got the schedule from the Minister. It appears that 36 sections of the 1998 Act and some six schedules—I think I have the calculation about right—still exist in whole or in part. Many of them have been amended, and some of them are being amended by the Bill that we are debating now. That will clearly create quite a problem for those who administer the law in any form, both in the Assembly and outside it, because in order to be sure of what the powers of the Assembly and the scope of the activities are, one has not only to refer to the Bill that we are debating today or indeed to the 1998 Act as it was, but to go through the extremely difficult and complex process of discovering how the many sections have been subsequently amended by changes not only by this Bill but by a whole list of Acts that have been passed in the interval. I think that I am right in saying that the Minister referred to just such an amendment to a section or schedule when we debated an amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Noakes.

My final amendment is simple: within a year the Government should produce a consolidation measure. That would bring together in one Act a clear position on which people can base their judgments. Rather happily, we started the proceedings today with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor introducing a consolidation measure on other legislation. He pointed out that it is a simple process. It was moved without any dissent in the House and will be looked at by an appropriate committee. Therefore, there cannot be any great obstacle to having these two measures consolidated in this way.

I have to confess that when I first looked at this Bill, in ignorance I thought that it was in effect a consolidation measure. I thought that it would cover all the matters that concerned the Welsh Assembly, which would be brought together in a different Bill. It was a bit of a revelation to discover how much of the 1998 Act would not be touched and would float around in its previous existence, although in a much more complex form because of the various amendments and repeals of individual sections. That is the basis on which I table my final amendment.

I believe that the case originally made out by the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, was powerful. There are grounds for concern about these important bodies, which should be provided with appropriate protection. I therefore hope that the House will support that view. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Rowlands Lord Rowlands Labour 8:45 pm, 27th June 2006

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, for tabling his amendments. In doing so, it allows us to follow up the arguments and discussions that took place following the speech made by my noble friend Lord Temple-Morris. My noble friend has reminded us that his speech raised considerable concerns in many of our minds about what had happened. Initially, when we found out that Section 28 had not been repeated in this Bill, there was perhaps a natural, cynical suspicion that there was something behind this exclusion. However, I then saw the list of other sections that have not been repeated, which the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, mentioned. Therefore, I do not find the absence of Section 28 as sinister as I perhaps initially thought. It is still there; it is in force; and it will apply.

I am sorry to tell the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that in doing this service to the House he has made me, and perhaps others, look at the extraordinary Schedule 4 to the 1998 Act. I apologise for my lack of memory or perhaps a lack of research. I cannot recall what I or others said on the schedule when the Bill was going through, but just look at the nature of it. There are an extraordinary four categories of quangos or bodies under the heading, "Bodies which may lose or gain functions", including:

"An agricultural dwelling-house advisory committee . . . An agricultural wages committee . . . the Welsh Industrial Development Advisory Board . . . The Welsh Language Board".

I plead ignorance on how originally Ministers explained what those four bodies have in common that led to them being bracketed in this way under this category. They are four extraordinarily different bodies in many respects. If there is a simple explanation, I would be willing to accept it. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, would be happy to give it.

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord is slightly misled by the fact that I have deleted all the bodies that have been abolished or merged. This was the list of all the quangos that the Welsh Assembly might wish to abolish, and these just happen to be the survivors which for one reason or another it has chosen not to abolish or has not yet got around to doing so. The list was comprehensive; the exceptions are listed elsewhere in the schedule.

Photo of Lord Rowlands Lord Rowlands Labour

My Lords, the noble Lord would have made a good point if there had just been a schedule listing all the bodies, but we have a categorisation here that offers them four different kinds of protection ranging from minimal protection to retrenchment. But what have the first four bodies listed in the present schedule in common that causes them to be bracketed in this particular category?

For example, let us take Part III, listing the Countryside Council for Wales, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Welsh National Board for Nursery, Midwifery and Health Visiting. Again, I should have asked in 1997 and 1998 when we were debating this issue: what do these three bodies have in common that requires them to be bodies which may only gain functions, but in this case not without consent? In Part IV I understand that there is a common denominator for the bodies listed. As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, explained, in many cases they are chartered bodies or very well established. However, I have a problem with this part. I assume that it seeks to re-entrench these bodies. I have always believed that one of the great portents of devolution was to bring the quangos under control; it was one of the issues that swayed the referendum. People had concluded that quangoland had grown too big.

While I shall pay tribute to them both in a moment, both the Sports Council and the Arts Council were in the vanguard of Welsh quangoland. Just as the Assembly has now brought into itself ELWa and the WDA, thus creating a better critical mass for policy-making and bringing operational policy together in some of these bodies, I see no reason why, at a date in the not too distant future, sports and arts issues should not also be part of the appropriate department of the Assembly Government—for the same reasons that these other bodies have been brought in already.

When I served on the Richard commission, one thing that struck me very forcefully when we looked at this area was that there was a growing tension between the quangos and Ministers. While it was never explicit, remit letters from Ministers grew longer and longer as they endeavoured to develop policy for these quango bodies. At the same time, the poor quango bodies had their budgets. While Ministers could tell them to do this, that or the other, they were not responsible for the budgets. That divorce between policy-making, management and operational issues has become increasingly less justifiable and defensible now that we have democratically elected Ministers in an Assembly to whom these bodies can be directly answerable. It is for Ministers to explain their decisions.

Strangely enough, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, because he has prompted me to review my own thinking and to say that I could not possibly go into a Lobby and support the schedule as it stands. First, I do not understand how the bodies have been categorised and, secondly, I no longer believe in entrenching quangos because reversing that is one of the important processes of devolution.

However, I support the noble Lord on Amendment No. 35. The Arts Council and the Sports Council have done very good work and I have admired the chairs of those bodies. I have had personal dealings with them and I have found them easy, transparent and helpful in every respect in all my constituency responsibilities in the past. It is no criticism of them but I believe that they should be democratised. However, until that happens, I think the noble Lord's Amendment No. 35 has considerable merit—I hope my noble friend will not slam the door on it—as, indeed, does his reference to consolidation. It may be that now is the time for that.

What we admired about the drafting of this Bill as opposed to other Bills is that the parliamentary draftsmen did not do what they traditionally would have done: a paste and scissors job on the original 1998 Act. In fact, very unusually, this Bill was rewritten and incorporated all but 25 clauses from the original Bill. It is not as complete as we thought it was because now we know of all the clauses that have been left out. I think the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has a very good point—at an appropriate moment there should be a consolidation so that we have one and only one Government of Wales Act. But I have to say to the noble Lord that I could not possibly go into the Lobby and support his schedule because the law that has stood since 1998 is, in my opinion, no longer relevant.

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Agriculture), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 9:00 pm, 27th June 2006

My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate, particularly as the previous two speakers were Welsh Office Ministers and speak with much experience of dealing with these bodies. I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, that Amendment No. 35 is worth supporting. In the hiatus that has occurred in recent times, it would have been a vast improvement on what actually happened so far as consultation is concerned.

I have asked a number of Assembly Members what they think about this amendment and there is a division of opinion among them—particularly in regard to those bodies in Part IV which may only gain functions and only with consent. It is almost as if what we have got here is a bonfire of the quangos and the exclusions are the point at which the matches got wet, or something like that, and did not bring it to a conclusion.

The worries that people have are that the bodies in Part IV, in particular, are of great value and have status—I refer to the Arts Council, the National Library and the National Museum—and one asks the question whether it is necessary to bring them into the Assembly. I can see all the arguments why they should be—including the good reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, has just given—but the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has also made a case for them being as they are in the amendment. One of the principles that we have got to address is that the amendment enables participation on a wider scale than would be the case if they were in-house in the Assembly, although of course the democratic aspect of that is extremely important and I do not underestimate it.

There is also the issue of accountability. I certainly wondered at the time whether if certain bodies which no longer exist as quangos had been made very accountable by, perhaps, having to report on a quarterly basis in front of Ministers and committees of the Assembly and being asked some very awkward questions as to what was happening, that different kind of model might have worked. It certainly might have worked in the case of the Arts Council. When one considers Amendment No. 35, if consultation had occurred perhaps things might have been a lot different.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, did us a big service by putting these questions and issues in front of the House. I think that on balance there is a case for retaining some of the remaining quangos—the five in Part IV—but it is extremely important that they are accountable to the Assembly, a democratic body, which can examine exactly what is going on so far as the finances and the running of these bodies is concerned.

This is a mixed bag of amendments; they have been very helpful in producing the debate, particularly the suggestion in Amendment No. 104 on consolidation. It seems a good idea to consolidate all this so that we know exactly where we are with these bodies.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Shadow Minister, Wales

My Lords, one of the most revealing debates we had in Committee was that initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Crickhowell has taken up the key themes. I fully support his amendment.

The aim is to reinstate the basic protection that characterises chartered bodies such as the Arts Council of Wales. Whatever other views there may be, the status of those bodies, along with the variable status of other non-governmental organisations, was accurately described in Section 28 and the four parts of Schedule 4 to the Government of Wales Act 1998. Those provisions actually describe the statutory status of the various bodies. There is no doubt in my mind that the Assembly Government, in their haste to set alight the much-promised bonfire of the quangos, circumvented Section 28—I use the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris—when they considered the future of the Arts Council. They appear to have resorted to Section 32 for justification. That provision has been amplified and now appears in this Bill as Clause 61, while Section 28 has been left as a remnant in the 1998 Act.

I hope that the Minister will either confirm or deny that Section 28 is still required to complete the abolition of the Welsh Development Agency, the Wales Tourist Board, the Welsh Language Board, and other easily disposable quangos. It may well be, subject to confirmation, that Section 28 accounts for their preservation.

I shall not repeat many of the points that have been made, but I want to refer to the bonfire of the quangos—or the reform of Assembly-sponsored public bodies, to use the governmental terminology. Government departments had the benefit of Cabinet Office guidance on non-departmental public bodies. It was issued in September 2004, as far as I can make out, and arose, presumably, because of reviews of public bodies outside Wales at the time.

The guidance states that a chartered body cannot be dissolved by executive action. It then lays down the line that has, in effect, been taken with the Arts Council of Wales. The guidance goes on to say:

"If the body concerned receives a grant-in-aid and the Secretary of State is responsible for all the appointments to the Board, then, if the Secretary of State wishes to cease funding that body and terminate the appointments or not renew them, the body would effectively cease to resist. If served with notice of the Secretary of State's intentions, the last act of the body should be to Petition for the surrender of the Charter. Arrangements would then be made for the disposal of any assets and liabilities before the process would be completed".

That quotation comes from a research paper issued by the National Assembly for Wales.

As I understand it, the Assembly Government have gone quite far down that road; their progress has been arrested only by the adverse vote in the Assembly in February. They have appointed a committee to look into this matter, and no doubt we will hear the outcome in due course.

It is important to remember that after the Bill becomes law and Welsh Ministers become Ministers of the Crown under Clause 84 in certain circumstances they could petition the Privy Council to end the chartered body. Again, I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm my understanding of the position.

I must return to another major point arising from our debate in Committee, when I described the action of the Assembly Government in the arts context as an error of judgment. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, intervened to say that that may or may not be right, but the question is whether this House should prevent the Assembly exercising that judgment. It was and still is a fair point. In a subsequent debate the noble Lord described himself as a genuine devolutionist rather than a restrictionist, and his meaning was perfectly clear.

My immediate answer was to question whether it was right for this House to aid and abet the Assembly in what it was trying to do with the use of Section 32 of the 1998 Act and Clause 61 of this Bill by appearing to ignore the still-operative Section 28. The noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, also argued in his closing speech that, in view of the political and potential legal difficulties in the clash between Sections 28 and 32 of the 1998 Act, we clearly have a supervisory role. He argued very strongly that, in discussing a Bill that provides the mechanisms for further powers to be granted, we must surely be able to discuss the use made of powers already given. The same fundamental issue underlies today's debate. My personal view is that while I am content to allow the free exercise of powers for good or ill, I cannot tolerate or wilfully connive at a manipulation of powers that will undermine a longstanding and generally agreed principle, as the arm's-length principle in arts patronage certainly is. In my view, nothing but harm can come of it.

With regard to the consolidation point in Amendment No. 104, the Minister was good enough to send me clarification about which parts of the 1998 Act were likely to survive this Bill. Clarification took the form of an annex listing sections and schedules the Government did not intend to repeal and which would therefore remain in effect. It is a very mixed bag. After the swathe of repeals has been cut, some 12 sections and one schedule of that Act are subject to amendment by Schedule 10 to this Bill alone. Other sections and schedules are subject to change under this Bill, as is other legislation such as the Public Audit (Wales) Act and the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Act. The net result is that it is indeed difficult to find out precisely what the law is in certain areas, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell pointed out. I therefore endorse my noble friend's call for some consolidation of existing legislation.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, this has been an interesting short debate. I am interested in the fact that a lot of the discussion centred on the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Temple-Morris in Committee. As was acknowledged at the time, he was having an interesting discussion about the nature of our arts funding and the relationship between the Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Assembly. He made some interesting and valuable points, as I said at the time. As someone who has lived in the interface between Government and the arts practically all my life, I recognised so many of the arguments. During our second day in Committee I explained and clarified in my letter, which is available in the Library, the status of Section 28 and Schedule 4 to the Government of Wales Act 1998. However, I will try to give further clarification.

Amendments Nos. 34, 35 and 78 would introduce Section 28 and Schedule 4 to the Government of Wales Act 1998 into the Bill. These provisions relate more to the law applying to Welsh public bodies than to the rest of the subject matter of the Bill. The Bill is focused clearly on setting out a new constitutional framework. I reiterate that these provisions will not be repealed or re-enacted in the Bill. The amendments are therefore unnecessary.

A lot of discussion centred on Amendment No. 35, which introduces Section 28 of the Government of Wales 1998 into the Bill. The effect of the amendment would be negligible because Section 28 has not been repealed and still stands on the statute book. The amendment also fails to take into account that the functions currently belonging to the Assembly will, with the enactment of this Bill, pass to Welsh Ministers as a result of separation.

Section 28 of the Government of Wales Act is just one of the numerous provisions on the statute book which confer functions on the Welsh Assembly. Like other functions conferred on the Assembly, they will, with the enactment of the Bill, pass to Welsh Ministers. That is provided for in Schedule 10 to the Bill.

The Bill is designed to reflect the current devolution settlement, not that of eight years ago, when the Government of Wales Act 1998 was passed. As a result, it does not include provisions which do not need to be re-enacted. This has kept it from being an unnecessarily complex piece of legislation.

Amendment No. 80 would make Welsh Ministers consult the charter bodies before being able to fund other bodies in the support of culture. The amendment would put an unnecessary constraint and burden on Welsh Ministers. From the point of view of bodies seeking funding, it would add another layer of bureaucracy.

Although there was an interesting discussion about Amendment No. 104, we believe that it is unnecessary. There is no need for the Secretary of State to take up Parliament's valuable time in "consolidating" the Bill with the Government of Wales Act 1998. Schedules 10 and 12 to the Bill set out clearly which provisions of that Act are to be amended and which are to be repealed as a consequence of the Bill. I hope that noble Lords will agree that the amendments are unnecessary and, furthermore, are unsuitable, as they do not take account of separation.

In summary, the Government of Wales Bill does not materially alter the position with regard to the power to support culture or the powers to reform public bodies in Wales, beyond placing them, as executive functions, with Welsh Ministers. As I have said a couple of times, that is a natural consequence of the separation of the Welsh Assembly Government from the Assembly, which has all-party support.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, asked about the abolition of these bodies. Welsh Ministers could not petition the Privy Council for abolition of a charter body because they are not Ministers of the Crown. On the positive side—the noble Lord touched on this—the Welsh Assembly Government are in the process of working up a new culture strategy which will look at new policy on areas such as the theatre in Wales. It has also set up the Stephens review to look at the role of the Arts Council in Wales and funding for the arts, again, addressing points raised in Committee. The Welsh Assembly Government recognise the importance of the arts and enabling people to take part in a diverse range of arts activities, but matters relating to those and how they are achieved are very properly for the Assembly.

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative 9:15 pm, 27th June 2006

My Lords, I listened with interest to what the Minister said. I understand entirely that putting the section and schedule back into the Bill is not strictly necessary because the Act has not been repealed, but I advance the argument that it was important to have the two provisions standing together.

Unless I am looking at a totally different Marshalled List from everybody else, there is some confusion. It was not Amendment No. 45 that roped back in the sections of the 1998 Act, but the later amendments. The key amendment for me is Amendment No. 34, which provides the power to do anything, subject to the limitations of the section that is going back in and its schedule.

I got a good deal of support around the House for my Amendment No. 35, which deals with consultation. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, for his observations. Like him, I entirely agree that there was nothing sinister in omitting the section and the schedule from the Bill. I also welcomed his support for Amendment No. 35. He made a powerful speech suggesting that the powers of Section 28 and its schedule were not necessary, or should not be there, or should be altered or amended. But that is not what we are about here. That is not up for debate. If he had wanted to do that, he should have tabled appropriate amendments. The Government are not altering or repealing or changing Section 28 now, and probably for the reason that my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy declared—that it is still absolutely necessary if the so-called bonfire of the quangos is to go on. Without it, the whole process would be halted.

We are not really debating whether these provisions should have been put into the original legislation, or whether particular organisations should have been given protection. They are listed as they are because they are charter bodies. There are appropriate ways of getting rid of charter bodies which are not covered by this Bill, or the 1998 legislation, and which need to be dealt with appropriately. There was a suggestion that these bodies should be subject to democratic supervision. I can only say that, in my time as Secretary of State, the National Museum of Wales, for example, as well as the National Library of Wales and the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments, found their expenditure of moneys and so on under pretty close supervision at times by the Welsh Office. I am sure the Assembly has all those powers today. When I took the decision that we should fund the new galleries of the National Museum of Wales, my successor, the noble Lord, Lord Walker, intervened very tightly on how that project was run. So those powers are all there.

We had a brief reference to the arm's-length principle. I happen to be one of those who believe it has stood the test of time. I think that to have an Assembly dealing with detailed day-to-day decisions on a whole range of arts bodies around the country would be a profound mistake. I follow the affairs of the Arts Council of Wales pretty closely. My wife was a member of it for seven, eight or nine years—I forget—and I attended a great many of the functions that it supported and have done so ever since. I am afraid I think that we need to ensure that the safeguards are retained, that people take notice of them, and that the arm's-length principle is upheld. Therefore, I intend to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 34) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 41; Not-Contents, 55.

Division number 5 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Government of Wales Bill

Aye: 39 Members of the House of Lords

No: 53 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 35 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip 9:34 pm, 27th June 2006

moved Amendment No. 36:

After Clause 77, insert the following new clause—

"THE WELSH LANGUAGE

(1) The Welsh Ministers must adopt a strategy ("the Welsh language strategy") setting out how they propose to promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language.

(2) The Welsh Ministers must adopt a scheme ("the Welsh language scheme") specifying measures which they propose to take, for the purpose mentioned in subsection (3), as to the use of the Welsh language in connection with the provision of services to the public in Wales by them, or by others who—

(a) are acting as servants or agents of the Crown, or

(b) are public bodies (within the meaning of Part 2 of the Welsh Language Act 1993 (c. 38)).

(3) The purpose referred to in subsection (2) is that of giving effect, so far as is both appropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practicable, to the principle that in the conduct of public business in Wales the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality.

(4) The Welsh Ministers—

(a) must keep under review both the Welsh language strategy and the Welsh language scheme, and

(b) may from time to time adopt a new strategy or scheme or revise them.

(5) Before adopting or revising a strategy or scheme, the Welsh Ministers must consult such persons as they consider appropriate.

(6) The Welsh Ministers must publish the Welsh language strategy and the Welsh language scheme when they first adopt it and—

(a) if they adopt a new strategy or scheme they must publish it, and

(b) if they revise the Welsh language strategy or the Welsh language scheme (rather than adopting a new strategy or scheme) they must publish either the revisions or the strategy or scheme as revised (as they consider appropriate).

(7) If the Welsh Ministers publish a strategy or scheme, or revisions, under subsection (6) they must lay a copy of the strategy or scheme, or revisions, before the Assembly.

(8) After each financial year the Welsh Ministers must publish a report of—

(a) how the proposals set out in the Welsh language strategy were implemented in that financial year and how effective their implementation has been in promoting and facilitating the use of the Welsh language, and

(b) how the proposals set out in the Welsh language scheme were implemented in that financial year, and must lay a copy of the report before the Assembly."

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 36, I shall speak to Amendment No. 116. During our debates on this Bill, we have heard many cogent and persuasive arguments from all sides of the House about the rare opportunity that this Bill presents with regard to the Welsh language. Those arguments have been powerfully and passionately expressed, and the Government have listened carefully to the points that noble Lords have made. Having reflected carefully on those arguments, I am very pleased to be able to bring forward Amendments Nos. 36 and 116, which show that the Government are listening to reasonable concerns expressed during debate in the House.

The concern expressed, in particular by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, was that the current good practice of the Welsh Assembly Government in respect of the Welsh language would not be safeguarded in the future. The Government therefore propose to put the current good practice on a statutory footing. The requirement to adopt a strategy setting out how the Welsh Ministers propose to promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language corresponds to Iaith Pawb, the national action plan for a bilingual Wales.

The requirement will adopt a strategy to complement, as my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies himself argued in Committee, the function of promoting and facilitating the use of the Welsh language. This will continue to be a requirement of Welsh Ministers, whether they acquire statutory function of the Welsh Language Board or not, as a result of the WLB merger. The requirement to adopt a Welsh language scheme is explicitly linked to the principle of equality between English and Welsh. This mirrors the Welsh Assembly Government's current practice.

The transitional provisions in Amendment No. 96 will mean that the Welsh Ministers will inherit Iaith Pawb and the Welsh Assembly Government Welsh language scheme as they exist before the separation, so there will be continuity. I commend these amendments to the House. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Shadow Minister, Wales

My Lords, we welcome the Government's new clause, which fills a considerable gap that became glaringly obvious in Committee, when the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, introduced his new clause upon which the Government have closely modelled their own. The noble Lord is to be warmly congratulated.

The new clause compensates for the inexplicable loss of Section 47 of the 1998 Act from this Bill, and the deplorable inadequacy of Clause 35 which replaced it. If the Bill, prior to the introduction of the new clause, provides an indication of the way the Assembly Government were going to treat the Welsh language after the emasculation of the Welsh Language Board and its merger with the Government, then all those protesters who have feared the worst were right to do so. The Government may have seen the light in the nick of time because the protests were mounting, and involving not just Cymdeithas yr Iaith—the Welsh Language Society—but the normally peaceful body Merched y Wawr, the Welsh women's movement. All are deeply suspicious of the Government's intentions.

The new clause seeks to remedy the twin omissions noted by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, in Committee, when he said:

"They are, first, the omission from the Bill of a duty by Welsh Ministers to treat the Welsh language on a basis of equality with the English language, and secondly, the equally significant omission of a duty on Ministers to promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language in the good governance of Wales".—[Hansard, 19/4/06; col. 1147.]

Both requirements were enshrined in our Conservative Welsh Language Act 1993, which has served successive Governments, and the country, well over the years.

As far as I can see, the only significant part of the clause of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that the Government have not incorporated into theirs is his requirement that there should be an annual assessment of the effectiveness of the Government's measures. I understand the Government's view that the annual report should provide an adequate indication of progress, or lack of it. Lack of progress would require an in-depth assessment of the measures taken.

My personal concern about the new clause centres on subsection (5) and Welsh Ministers consulting,

"such persons as they consider appropriate", before adopting or revising a strategy or scheme as described in the clause. I would like them to have to consult a statutory body of advisers with some expertise and experience in language matters.

The only reason that I have not tabled an amendment to this effect is that I am told that the future of the Welsh Language Board is shrouded in a mist of uncertainty. Or is it?

"On 30th November 2004 the First Minister announced that the Welsh Language Board would be merged into the Welsh Assembly Government"— so reads the opening sentence of the culture and language Minister's foreword to his consultative document of March this year on the future of the board and other related matters. He goes on to say:

"The merger programme is already well on track and the merger of the Welsh Language Board will contribute to the creation of a core of the Welsh public service".

It is difficult to see the Assembly Government resiling from that position—it is possible but unlikely. In its response to the consultative document in May, the Welsh Language Board seems to have given up the ghost, although I may be unfair to it in saying so.

As I understand the consultative document, entitled Making the Connections, it is intended to retain the residual body that remains after the dissolution of the board in an advisory role under the chairmanship of the Minister until an independent regulator or judge adjudicator, sometimes referred to as "Y Dyfarnydd" is appointed in due course. It is not a very satisfactory proposition.

Bearing in mind the short shrift given to the board and the totally unsatisfactory provision for the Welsh language in the Bill before the inclusion of the new clause, it is vital that we have a firm commitment from the Government to the substance of the new clause and the policy foundation that underlies it. That means that there should be statutory independent advisers to ensure it. The Assembly Government's own consultative document makes frequent reference to the need for "expert external advice" on Welsh language issues. This is their opportunity to show that they mean it.

Photo of Lord Prys-Davies Lord Prys-Davies Labour

My Lords, for my part, I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord Evans and to the Government for tabling this amendment. I am very happy to accept the amendment and the Welsh Language Board is also satisfied. I believe that it satisfies all the objectives of the amendment which I have been pursuing with the Government for some weeks. In particular, in view of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, I point out that in subsection (8)(a) there is a provision for Welsh Ministers to publish an annual report on the effectiveness of their implementation of a strategy to promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language. The Welsh language is in a vulnerable state and there is no doubt at all in my mind that this is an important amendment.

It is a late hour and I do not want to delay the House, but I thank everyone who supported the original amendment in Grand Committee. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, for his generous words. There has been wholehearted support for the amendment from the Welsh Language Board, from the Gorsedd and from many individuals throughout Wales who care deeply for the language and who have written to Ministers in support. I also place on record my appreciation of the interest and vital support of the First Minister of the National Assembly, Mr Rhodri Morgan. I look forward to this amendment being part of the law of the land.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench

My Lords, briefly but very sincerely, I also tender my congratulations to the Minister, to the Government and to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, on what I believe is a very significant step forward. I do not think that it was entirely worthy of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, to suggest that there was bad faith on the part of Her Majesty's Government, least of all any suggestion of sinister motives. However, it would have been easy for Her Majesty's Government to have said, "Well, by and large, this is what we have been doing for many years, this is the policy set out in publications such as Iaith Pawb"—that is the language of everyone. I believe that giving statutory sinew to the policies and practices of the Assembly is extremely significant. On the future of the Welsh language, the psychology is all important. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, says that its position is fragile. I am sorry to say that I completely agree with him. This House will have heard on many occasions the famous words of Edmund Burke:

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing".

For the Welsh language to remain in jeopardy, it is only necessary for those who wish it well to be utterly passive about its future.

I am very glad to see the word "must" included. It occurs in Clauses 72 to 78 inclusive. Normally the mandatory provision in a statute is brought about by the use of the word "shall", but "must" makes it more mandatory still.

I am very proud indeed to be in the House tonight to see a measure that I am convinced is of considerable significance as regards the future of the ancient language of Wales. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Spokesperson in the Lords, International Development, Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Whip

My Lords, briefly but sincerely I express the thanks of those on these Benches for the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. Sometimes we say, "Cymal Gwilym Prys-Davies". We shall possibly look at today and say "The Prys-Davies clause that led to so many other things". It opens doors and opportunities in the Assembly. There is now virtually a blank cheque for the Assembly to support the Welsh language, even as the Cymdeithas yr Iaith—the Welsh Language Society—requests the appointment of a language commissioner. They must discuss this and make the most of the opportunity that is presented to them today.

There is a continuing move forward for the language. We thank the Government for accepting this amendment and, of course, as I have said already, we thank the noble Lord who originated it. Diolch yn fawr—that means "Thank you very much".

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative

My Lords, I cannot let this pass without saying a few words. First, I thank the Minister for his involvement in the amendment and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, for his role. He has had considerable success. My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy and I have battled together for more than 30 years on behalf of the Welsh language and have introduced a number of important measures in its support. Over the years, no one has deserved more credit for the support of the Welsh language than my noble friend. For the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, to accuse him of sinister motives seems to me to be a great pity. I shall not give way at this moment.

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord said it was unworthy of my noble friend to suggest that there were sinister motives. As the noble Lord spent most of the last speech he made in Committee accusing me of sinister motives, I am not going to take lectures on the subject from him. My noble friend raised some important issues about the role of the Welsh Language Board. In view of the serious doubts raised by the chairman of the board in the last publication that I read, I hope that my noble friend's remarks will be taken very seriously.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am delighted that all noble Lords welcomed this amendment. I thank my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies for pressing this important point so effectively, with the result that we have today.

Two questions were asked by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. I think the first has been answered by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies. Subsection (8) of the new clause requires the assessment of effectiveness. The noble Lord mentioned consulting at least twice. This is a standard provision; there are similar provisions for the voluntary sector and business schemes. The Welsh Ministers should have some discretion. The Welsh Assembly Government have already established a practice of consulting widely on all such schemes and strategies, and that is what they will do with that.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, this is a constructive note on which to end today's proceedings. I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at eight minutes before ten o'clock.