HL Deb 23 May 1978 vol 392 cc828-47

2.50 p.m.

The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Elwyn-Jones)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint your Lordships that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Since the beginning of March the House has laboured conscientiously and at length in discussing the Government's proposals for devolution in Scotland. Our debates on Scotland will be resumed during the Report stage after the blessed interval of the Whitsun Recess. Today we turn our attention to the companion devolution Bill for Wales. I confess readily that I myself will feel more at home in discussing its implications for West Glamorgan than for West Lothian, or for Llanelli than "Llanark". The paucity of the Welsh Members in the House for the purposes of the consideration of the Wales Bill in contrast with the serried ranks from Scotland who spoke on the Scotland Bill will no doubt be balanced by the hwyl and eloquence of the chosen few from Wales.

Although the Scotland and Wales Bills are different—significantly so in some respects—they have been framed on the basis of the same underlying principle. This principle is crucial and it cannot too often be underlined. It is that devolution, while bringing decision-making closer to the people most affected by those decisions, must not involve any loss to the political and economic unity of the United Kingdom. Those who live in the United Kingdom have an immense bond of friendship, of shared history and, indeed, of shared sacrifice in war and peace. Working in union over the years, they have achieved far more together than they could have done separately. They have a deep sense of allegiance to the United Kingdom as a whole. It is our belief that devolution will strengthen the United Kingdom by recognising the need to give the people of Wales and Scotland a proper and more direct responsibility in meeting their own particular needs.

In recent years, the distinctive traditions and needs of Wales and a desire for greater participation in public responsibility there have increasingly led to a growing wish for special governmental arrangements for and in Wales. This has been met by the establishment by successive Governments of bodies to deal with various Welsh matters and problems, and by the establishment in 1964 of the Welsh Office itself. Since then, the Welsh Office has assumed responsibility for a large range of matters including housing, local government, health, personal social services, education and, most recently, agricultural policy. However, this process of administrative decentralisation, important as it has been, has been accompanied by a growing desire for closer democratic control and accountability in Wales. We believe that this can best be achieved by a democratically elected body directly answerable to the people of Wales.

Of course, Wales and Scotland have different histories, traditions, problems and aspirations. Wales was politically united with England by the Welsh Tudors long before the Act of Union with Scotland. Wales has been, and remains, more closely associated with England legally and administratively, historically and geo-graphically, than Scotland. This is basically why the proposals in the Wales Bill are different from those in the Scotland Bill. While the main areas of devolved activity are the same in the case of Scotland and Wales (with the notable exception of law and the legal system) the critical difference is that in Scotland the Assembly will have legislative competence. The case for this rests partly on the existence of Scottish law and a separate legal system, and also on a long tradition of distinctive Scottish legislation in other matters. Wales does not have a separate legal tradition and system, although it did have nine centuries ago in the glorious days of the great law maker Howell Dda, which, for the benefit of the uninformed, means Howell the Good. That may, however, have been known to most noble Lords already.

The Government's consultations have suggested, as did the Kilbrandon Report, that, whereas public opinion in Scotland favoured a legislative assembly, the aspirations in Wales were different. There, the desire is for greater democratic control over central Government activities in Wales—in other words, executive but not legislative devolution.

We came to this conclusion ourselves, but not without considerable discussion and consultation. This started in 1973 with the report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution, which had itself engaged in a great deal of consultation. It continued with several White Papers and Discussion Documents, leading in the last Session to the Scotland and Wales Bill and in this Session to the two separate Bills currently before the House. We have not been inflexible. We have listened to and taken account of the views which have come to us. And where it seemed right to do so, we have made changes in our proposals to meet those views.

I would suggest, even to those who might be firmly opposed to our proposals and indeed to any concept of devolution—and of course I appreciate a difference of view about this—that they cannot escape from the fact that the possibility of devolution is now firmly before the Welsh people. There is also now a clear expectation that their views will be able to be expressed in a referendum. That possibility, that expectation, cannot now be rightly denied.

I turn now to the Bill itself. In view of the list of noble Lords who have indicated a wish to speak in the debate, I shall not seek to describe its provisions in detail, but I should like to draw attention to certain of the major provisions and to the points where the Bill differs substantially from the Scotland Bill. It may well be that in subsequent debates your Lordships will wish to concentrate on those points of difference. There is a good deal of provision in the early part of the Bill corresponding to that in the Scotland Bill, when we come to consider it.

My Lords, the Bill provides for a directly-elected Assembly in Wales with functions currently exercised as regards Wales by Ministers of the Crown. Arrangements for elections to the Assembly and qualification for membership are set out in the Bill. Unlike the proposals for Scotland, however, the Bill confers, as I have indicated, executive functions directly on the Assembly itself. This is an arrangement more appropriate for a body which is to exercise executive but not legislative functions, and follows a pattern suggested by the Royal Commission in their report. There will be subject committees covering the Assembly's functions and reflecting the political balance in the Assembly. They will be democratic committees. The Assembly will be able to delegate functions to these committees and the committees in turn will be able to delegate to their leaders. The most important of the committees will be the Executive Committee, the composition of which is set out in Clause 18. It will include the leaders of the subject committees. The Bill places certain essential responsibility on that Executive Committee. Over and above these arrangements, it will be for the Assembly itself to decide what rôle the committee should adopt and how this might be developed.

The precise arrangements for carrying out the devolved functions are for the Assembly itself to decide. The Bill simply provides the framework. This is a principle that arises at several points in the Bill. What we have tried to do is to strike a balance by which the minimum requirements to establish the structure and essential roles are set out in the Bill, but the Assembly is left free to construct its own working arrangements on the basis of those minimum requirements.

The Assembly will exercise its powers over a wide, but precisely defined, field. The powers to be devolved are in the fields of primary concern to the Welsh people, such as health, personal social services, education, cultural matters, physical planning and the environment, roads and transport. In these and other fields the Assembly will take over the powers of the Secretary of State for Wales and other Ministers. The principle has been to devolve those functions which are domestic to Wales and on which decisions can be taken by the Welsh Assembly without detriment, damage or disturbance to the United Kingdom as a whole. Nevertheless, the Bill confers effective responsibility on the Assembly over a range of important powers

Parliament will, of course, continue to be responsible for primary legislation in devolved and other fields. But so far as secondary legislation and executive action are concerned, it is necessary to strike a balance between the functions which are to be the responsibility of the Assembly and those which will continue to be the responsibility of Ministers. Our proposals, therefore, include the essential reservation of those functions where there is an overriding United Kingdom interest. Ministers will, accordingly, retain direct control over such matters as the conduct of international relations (including our developing partnership in the European Community); policies for national security and the management of the economy; energy, employment, regional policy and our system of social security. As an example of a field where devolution must be accompanied by a system of control, the industrial functions of the Welsh Development Agency will be carried out under guidelines to be laid down by the Secretary of State. There need therefore be no fear that the devolution of certain powers to Wales must necessarily be at the expense of another part of the United Kingdom. We are legislating for a considerable increase in decision-making in Wales, but in respect of those matters which are essentially domestic to Wales. The proposals in the Bill—and I here return to what I call the arch-essential underlying principle—will not act to the detriment of the political and economic unity of the United Kingdom.

I turn briefly to the provisions in the Bill dealing with executive competence. Because the Scottish Assembly is to be provided with legislative competence, it is possible to describe the fields of devolved activity in plain words as in Part 1 of Schedule 10 to the Scotland Bill (although it should be noted that in Part 3 of that Schedule it has been necessary to define borderline cases with some precision by listing the appropriate enactments). In Wales, where executive competence only is involved, it has been necessary to single out in each particular case the ministerial functions which are to be devolved, and this is done by listing the appropriate enactments which confer powers and duties, and that is set out in the lengthy—and, I must say, on the face of it alarming—Schedule 2 to the Bill. This, I fear, is inevitably a complicated process—individual Acts of Parliament may embrace a wide variety of topics within a single and simple title; and reservations are needed to cover powers which cohere with those which are not to be devolved rather than those which are.

Many functions, I need not emphasise, cannot be devolved in toto; for instance, within education, teachers' pay will continue to be fixed on an England and Wales basis to preserve mobility within the profession, and the University of Wales (as indeed was the case with the Scottish universities) is not to be devolved, because we believe it is better dealt with as part of the wider United Kingdom university system. The first column in Schedule 2 specifies devolved functions; the second column then specifies exceptions from the functions as identified in the first column. Although Clause 10 and Schedule 2 deal with most of the functions, other functions which it is desired to devolve are covered at present by pre-rogative powers. These are dealt with in Clauses 11 and 12; and Clause 12 is designed to give the Assembly a specific task to review local government.

I readily concede that the provisions in the Bill will provide scope for conflict. So there was when county councils were set up. But experience has shown that, with goodwill and willingness to make the new arrangements work, the difficulties can be resolved. I concede that the partnership between Westminster and the Welsh Assembly must be based on consultation and co-operation if it is to work satisfactorily. However carefully the lines are drawn between devolved and non-devolved functions, there could occasionally be circumstances in which the legally proper exercise of functions by the Assembly could have unacceptable repercussions on matters which remain the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government.

In those cases the Government must retain the power to intervene in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole. But the power to intervene will be available only where the activities of the Assembly would adversely affect reserved matters; that is to say, those matters, such as the management of the economy, for which the Government maintain direct responsibility throughout the United Kingdom. This accounts for the overriding provisions in Clauses 34 and 35 of the Bill setting out the powers of the Secretary of State to prevent or require action which would or might affect a reserved matter and to revoke subordinate instruments of the Assembly affecting a reserved matter. Those provisions require such an override direction by the Secretary of State to be subject to the appropriate resolution procedure in both Houses, but in addition they provide that the House of Commons can confirm a resolution which this House has rejected or failed to pass. The details of those arrangements are set out in Clause 71 of the Bill, and a similar provision was included in the Scotland Bill.

My Lords, it may be helpful for me to indicate now that the Government accept that this House has already decided, in a Division on the Scotland Bill, that the arrangements proposed in Clause 71 of the Wales Bill are not acceptable to your Lordships. The House decided that that Bill should be returned to another place without the procedure proposed. The Government will be ready to accept that same outcome, so far as this House is concerned, if similar amendments are, in due course, advanced to the Wales Bill.

I have already made clear that the conduct of international relations is to be reserved, but the implementation of international obligations in so far as they relate to devolved functions is to be the responsibility of the Assembly. However, as in the Scotland Bill, the Government will retain concurrent powers themselves to implement any obligation if this appears desirable or necessary. In other words, the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that our international obligations are discharged is retained by Ministers at Westminster, as are the powers necessary to ensure implementation, but the Welsh Assembly can nevertheless itself act to secure implementation in the matters for which it is responsible.

Clause 12 of the Bill specifically charges the Assembly with reviewing the structure of local government in Wales. As your Lordships may know, there is considerable and widespread unease about the way in which local government reorganisation has affected Wales. This is not the time to describe the concerns which have developed, but there is little doubt about their existence or strength. It is I believe appropriate that when the Assembly is established, one of its early tasks should be to review the matter. It will, after all, have to work very closely with local authorities in Wales because it will be taking over central Government responsibility in many fields in which local authorities are also closely involved—for example, housing and education. But I should stress that the Assembly itself will have no power to reorganise local government; its remit is solely to report its conclusions to the Secretary of State. Any changes in the present system would require primary legislation and as such, of course, will be for Parliament itself to decide.

One area in which the Wales Bill is almost identical to the Scotland Bill is that of finance. Briefly, the approach we have adopted is that the Government and another place should decide what aggregate financial resources should be made available for the devolved services collectively, but the Assembly should decide how that total should be divided up between the different devolved services. We believe that only the Government and the House of Commons can properly decide how the financial resources of the United Kingdom should be shared between the different parts of the United Kingdom, and that this must be done on the basis of relative needs, which only the central Administration is in a position to assess, following consultation with the devolved Administration.

To use the language of the Kilbrandon Commission, we have chosen to adopt an expenditure based system and not a revenue based system, under which the resources accruing to each part of the United Kingdom would depend on its own revenue raising capacity. We have done this advisedly because we see the effects of the expenditure basis—that is, based on relative need—as unifying, whereas those of the revenue basis would be divisive. We have repeatedly made clear that we are not opposed in principle to granting to the devolved Administration independent powers to raise supplementary revenue to meet particular spending objectives which may not be catered for by the block fund. But, for reasons which the Government have made clear on a number of occasions, it has not been found practicable to include supplementary taxation powers in the present Bill.

A good deal of time has been rightly spent in our discussion on the Scotland Bill on pre-Assent challenge to the vires of Assembly Bills and post-Assent legal proceedings involving devolution issues. These problems, of course, do not arise in Wales, so we cannot look forward to a repeat performance of the remarkable differences expressed by noble and learned Lords of the Appellate Committee upon this matter. As the Assembly is to have no legislative competence, it was unnecessary to describe its functions in broad general terms as had to be done for Scotland. A question of whether a particular function is or is not exercisable by the Assembly can, therefore, arise but rarely. The legality of the exercise of the powers of a Minister is, of course, open to challenge in the ordinary way in the courts by an aggrieved citizen. The same will apply precisely when these same powers are exercised by the Assembly. Clause 70 will not affect the citizens' rights. Its object is to establish beyond doubt that the Attorney-General will be able to bring proceedings to protect the public at large from acts of the Assembly which are not within its powers. Clause 70 provides specifically that the Attorney-General can institute an action.

Finally, my Lords, I wish to say a few words about the referendum, which is another area in which our proposals for Wales and for Scotland are now identical. The evidence of our extensive consultations demonstrates that the Welsh people want a greater voice in the government of their own affairs, and that we believe a democratically-elected Assembly can best provide. They want greater control, in this way, over the decisions that are taken on matters involving distinctive Welsh interests and circumstances. But it is equally clear that they, like the Scots, I believe, overwhelminglyrejectindependence and separation. However, the Government fully accept that, before we embark upon a constitutional change of such significance as is proposed, it is important and right that the Government's beliefs should be tested. In order, therefore, to be sure that our proposals do command popular support a referendum will be held in Wales. We believe that it is right to let the people of Wales express their views on the proposals. It must be evident that there is no question of the Assembly being imposed against the wishes of the Welsh people, and that certainly is not the Government's intention.

I have outlined the major provisions of the Bill and indicated the more significant ways in which they part from the Scottish proposals. We believe that our proposals represent a satisfactory and workable system for political devolution to Wales within the continuing political and economic unity of the United Kingdom. The people of Wales, as I have ventured to say, want greater participation in their own affairs and more direct accountability, but not separation. They now expect the opportunity of making known their own views directly to Parliament. I believe that if Parliament were to deny these legitimate and reasonable expectations by rejecting this Bill, we run the risk of fuelling a campaign which, on a false prospectus, has the declared aim of breaking up the United Kingdom. What is more, I believe that it would now damage Parliament itself.

Our proposals offer the Welsh people greater democratic control over those matters that directly concern them and greater participation in government within the continuing framework of the United Kingdom. The important constitutional reform that the Bill proposes will, I believe, by allowing more scope for the expression of national diversity, strengthen the union, not weaken it. The next step is to give the Bill a Second Reading. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, I think that the House is fortunate to have a Lord Chancellor of such astonishing stamina and charm that with so much pleasant persuasion he can introduce this Bill when he is already so fully extended with the Scotland Bill. As I think he is the only Member in the front runners in the debates that are to follow who will be fully committed to both at the same time; I should like to state my admiration in advance for what I know is his capacity in running them both together.

It is perhaps fitting that we should be debating this Bill so soon after hearing the words in the Prayers referring to the: …uniting and knitting together of the people of this realm". That is a question which will have to remain closely within our purview throughout. Of course Her Majesty's Government are in a strange position on this Bill. They have ignored the advice of my honourable and right honourable friends in another place, just as Mrs. Worthington was deaf to the advice of Noël Coward. The noble and learned Lord will remember the song, "Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington ". But here he is for the Government standing before us with his ill-favoured protégée as if it were a beautiful and accomplished actress at the final audition before some grand opening—the opening of the great referendum season playing to packed, if rather horrified houses all the way from Anglesey to Gwent. In fact, of course, what is wanted is not an audition so much as a consultation. Whether even surgery—both plastic and drastic—can save the career of this sorry little starlet remains to be seen. For myself, I doubt it; but on that we shall have more to say later.

First, let us look at this less than acceptable document to see what it actually is. This Bill is a draft Act of Parliament and one might, therefore, suppose that it had been produced by some Parliamentary process; that it was the product in toto of the House of Commons. But, of course, for the most part it is not. The Government, by a three-line Whip, carried a timetable Motion putting a gag on the Commons for a great part of the Bill's process. The Bill has 83 clauses, but only 16 have had any debate at all so far in another place. After the clauses are printed 12 Schedules, only two of which have so far been debated in another place. No fewer than 67 clauses and 10 Schedules are the product, not of Parliament, but of the Civil Service and Government Ministries as yet unchallenged by Parliamentary discussion of Amendments.

A very large and important part of this Bill to reform the government of Wales is untouched by any elected representative of the people, least of all by the elected representatives of the Welsh people whom it so closely touches. In going through the Bill in the Committee stage we must, therefore, remember that we are the first House of Parliament to do so and we must recall also that we—and only we—can make it possible for the elected Members of another place ever to discuss any of it in detail from now on. Once it has left another place the rules of Parliament, as your Lordships well know, allow discussion in another place only of those parts that we send back to it altered by Amendments.

Being aware of this, Her Majesty's Government must recognise and accept that Amendments will have to be pressed, not out of hostility or Party spite, but in order to enable the elected House of Parliament to do the job it was elected to do. I hope that they will also agree that it is fair for me to say that, although we shall do all that we can reasonably be expected to do to keep up with the timetable they propose, we should be failing in our duty, not as a Party but as a House of Parliament, if we did not give very thorough attention especially to those parts of the Bill which have not yet been scrutinised. After all, under our Constitution, law is not made by a Government acting in isolation; though it is a very sinister threat to our Constitution that so often Governments behave as if it was. Law is made, and ought to be made, by each House of Parliament acting in agreement with the Crown. On this occasion, if our House does not act, the other House will have precious little say in the matter. That then is the task that we have to carry out starting on 6th June.

Let us look, first, at the avowed purpose of the Bill and then at the means by which it chooses to achieve that purpose, and its chances of doing so. Throughout the whole of this process let us remember the two overriding considerations of the preservation of natural justice within the Principality and the Kingdom, and the preservation of the unity of the Kingdom itself. These are standards which I devoutly trust are common to all Members of this House. The avowed aim of this Bill is to bring control of the government of Wales more closely into the hands of the Welsh nation, and in this we have no quarrel with the Government whatever. We are absolutely at one with them. We believe in a louder and more effective Welsh voice in deciding how Wales should be run. That is an important point, of course, of agreement; we are agreed where we want to go, but, alas! we are not agreed about how to get there.

The Welsh want a bigger say in the government of their Principality because they are concerned about the state of the economy and particularly unemployment in the Principality, and because they are a distinct and separate nation with a distinct, separate, proud and very long national tradition—some would say a good deal longer than that of the rest of the United Kingdom, for Welsh was spoken in these Islands long before the English tongue existed. But this Bill will do nothing that cannot already be done to encourage the use of language or bolster tradition, and it will do nothing whatever to reduce unemployment. Truly, the Welsh have asked for bread and the Government have given them a stone.

How have they set about it? They have set about it in a remarkably costly and inefficient way. The initial bill for implementing this peice of legislation is to be £6.6 million according to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum at the front of the Bill, and the running costs on top of that will be £12.5 million a year. As I understand it, that corresponds to approximately £9.50 per adult head of population in Wales in the first year and £6.25 every year thereafter, whether or not this budget is subsequently exceeded. It also requires the employment of 1,150 extra civil servants. If there is no compensating reduction for these jobs in England, this is manifestly—whatever we are told elsewhere to the contrary—the construction of a new and expensive tier of Government. On the other hand, if there is a reduction, these resources are simply being transferred from England to Wales. I really cannot believe that the Welsh will cheer aloud at this great crowd of earnest officials, this great rustling heap of paper, and above all this spectacular charge of £12.5 million to be added to the burdens which they already carry.

What, I wonder, will the sacked English civil servants have to say on the matter? Will they just waste naturally, as so many steelworkers are expected to do, or will they follow their jobs to Wales? I see that £1¼ million is allowed for the transfer of staff to Cardiff. Maybe that is what it is. If so, will the Welsh be so delighted to receive into their midst a lot of English civil servants? Is that the sum total of administrative devolution?—that they shall he administered by the same Englishmen but from Cardiff rather than from Westminster. The Bill is full of such anomalies—privileges for which the Welsh will have to pay if they accept this Act, if it does become an Act.

It is likely that democratic injustice will be involved, and this I think will become clearer as I work through my theme. After all, there is a likely preponderance—I would say an inevitable preponderance—of nearly two-to-one of urban and industrial constituencies to rural and agricultural constituencies, and I presume, that also applies in their representation. This of course is a fact of life, though it may be aided by artifice. But up till now there has been the moderating influence of the Secretary of State, without which, frankly, the Welsh farmers and many of my noble friends would be alarmed.

I shall illustrate in a moment how the structure laid down in the Bill for the Assembly, together with the powers which it is proposed to give it, combine to make this a very real and rational fear. But, first, may I say that if Her Majesty's Government are going to argue that the Secretary of State will still stand continually in judgment upon every decision of the Welsh Assembly, like some archetypal nanny running a playgroup, then there is no real devolution at all. What is more, he will be building such a pressure of frustration and hostility towards himself as can only do irreparable damage to relations between Cardiff and Westminster.

It is at such unsuspected points that the Bill begins to drip its corrosive drops on the fabric of the Union. Indeed, I wonder at times, as I get deeper into the text of the Bill, whether the advisers to the Government have not been the small extreme group of Welsh separatists, the very people, I understand, whom this Bill was designed to buy off. It seems to have in it a powerful engine with which to advance their cause. If it is to be a means to put Wales at a distance from England, instead of bringing the Welsh people closer to their own government, then it offends both my own loyalties and I believe those of most of my Welsh fellow subjects. Indeed, there is an equal and opposite danger; that is, the danger of making the Assembly so powerful in restricted areas as to make it unsuitable to exercise its authority unsupervised. This Government, who have always surprised me with their agility, seem to me to be about to perform the incredible feat of falling into both traps at once.

The organisation of the Welsh Assembly has within it, as it is set out in the Bill, dangers not already properly grasped. It is to be organised on a committee structure, as the noble and learned Lord from the Woolsack said, with a number of committees which would be democratic, in that they reflected as closely as possible the political affiliations of the main Assembly. So far so good. But the Executive Committee—which I hope your Lordships did not take to be covered by the noble and learned Lord's reassurance of the democratic principle, because it is not—is to be comprised chiefly of the chairmen of the subject committees, and the majority of the subject committees will, of course, appoint the chairmen. Therefore, the urban and industrial interest, which I referred to earlier as being seen as a threat to the Welsh rural interest, will predominate. It will not merely have charge of the business of the democratic committees, as they have been called, but also it will comprise the hard core of the Executive Committee where all the real decisions are made. Although the Bill permits other Members to be added to this caucus, it does not require them to be so, nor does it require them to deliberate before the media. There is therefore an open invitation, which it would be very difficult to resist, for a Party caucus to conduct its business in confidence behind closed doors.

I wish to make it absolutely clear at this stage—and I do not wish ever to be accused of not having done so—that I impute to Welsh people or to Welsh local government no more and no less human frailty than to English or to Swedes or to Scots or anybody you care to name. But the fact is that where you have one-Party Government, particularly at the local level, particularly when it is enabled to conduct its business in private, and particularly when there is no introduction of people of an opposite political colour into the Chamber where the real decisions are made, there is a very great temptation for corruption, and very often it takes place. We are not here to legislate for saints, nor are we here to legislate for best cases; we are here to legislate for human beings and against worst cases. This is something we must bear in mind when we come to that part of the Bill.

It would, I suppose, be natural to have at this stage a discursus upon the financing of this Bill but this is ground which has been covered to some extent in the Scotland Bill. Not only that, but I feel that the niceties of the situation are better thrashed out in Committee, though I will say this: it is necessary to be aware that what is proposed is that the Welsh Assembly shall receive large sums of money, which it has not raised, and for increasing which it will not receive the odium if it requires more, and shall distribute them to client local authorities. It will be open to them—in fact, I dare say that it will be necessary—to give more in proportion to one of their clients than to another. This will of course make for political stress and will also enable an authority to be starved so that some favoured project must either be abandoned or a separate rate raised for it. To that extent, therefore, the Assembly has a rate-raising power in the Bill.

However, what should principally catch our eye is the fact that this body will now stand square across the road to Westminster along which the negotiations with central Government were made by the local authorities in Wales before the Bill. If that is not a way of making government more distant from the Welsh people, and if that is not a ludicrous obstacle to find when you are trying to make people feel that they are closer to Government, I do not know what is. Maybe there is a way round it; we shall look for it. The excuse which will of course be given to every disappointed client authority will be that the English were too mean. It is a divisive provision, and I think in the light of various considerations, that, rather than saying that the Welsh had asked for bread and been given a stone, I should have said that they had asked for an egg and being offered a scorpion.

I am not encouraged under these circumstances—in fact, I should frankly be discouraged under any circumstances—to learn that the Welsh Assembly is to decide how large a staff it will employ. I should be disconcerted under any circumstances to find that, apparently, the Auditor and Comptroller General, who is to inspect the Assembly's books, annotate its balance sheets and supervise its finances, can actually be sacked at the Assembly's request. I am sure there must be countervailing provisions about this, and I look forward to hearing the noble and learned Lord's explanation of them. What I find very hard to swallow is that the Assembly can in fact itself write the cheque for its own salaries. Not only that, but I see that the Members can also, after perhaps a minimal tenure of office and possibly even upon vacating it at the request of the electorate, vote themselves a comfortable pension as well. When they expose themselves to the risk of being voted out of office is another matter of some interest as there is no provision for dissolution except by passage of time.


My Lords, has the noble Lord—


I wonder whether we are wise to get ourselves into exchanges in the Second Reading. I am sure I shall make the noble Lord more excited in a minute or two. Perhaps he will bound forth when I have said what I have to say next. If I may revert to the anxiety of the Welsh farmers, may I say that it is not a special case, it is a convenient case typical of the position of many. As I read the Bill, there is a thoroughly bad principle running through it. By very many channels through the clauses and Schedules there are transferred to the Assembly the duties of hearing appeals and deciding upon them. The noble and learned Lord may put me right on this hut, as I see it, this is what happens. May I give an abbreviated example.

Under the Bill, the Welsh Commission inherits the duties and powers of the Countryside Commission and the Welsh Assembly is empowered to give to that Commission general but binding directives. These may well require them to purchase land compulsorily—agricultural land—and that is nowhere in the Bill defined. The appeals procedure is set out in the Countryside Act 1968 and the appeal was formerly to the Minister, but now, as I read the Bill, through the operation of Clause 9 and Schedule 2, it would appear to be the Assembly that discharges this function.

The Assembly can and will delegate its functions under the Bill to the committees, including the Executive Committee, the character of which we have already discussed, and can in fact delegate its functions to one man. What is worrying people is where the appeal is to lie and by whom it is to be heard. Will it be a committee which reflects the political colour of the Principality or will it be a committee which reflects the political colour of the caucus, which will be necessarily an urban bias. As I say, this runs right through a lot of considerations—education, health, planning and many others. The function of devolution ought to draw the administrative and judicial apart. What it does here apparently is to make them converge. A decision in justice ought to be made by somebody without an interest. It should not be brought as close as it is apparently under this Bill, so that it may acquire a local colour in the justice itself.

To the same Assembly will be given in Clause 12, as the noble and learned Lord has already said, the option, in fact the task, of reviewing local government and suggesting reorganisation. I think it is naive to suggest that this effort would be gone into without those suggestions being considered and acted upon, and there is widespread alarm among many that yet another reorganisation of local authorities should be following so soon upon the last. In the light of the advice which I understand is circulating in advance of the formation of the Assembly, I think it likely that many people in the district councils will expect the county councils to be abolished. I think that they will then find that the process continues because a power-holding body is something like a sponge. It tends to draw power up into it, and other functions will be devolved upwards as well.

So far, I have said nothing in the debate on this Bill about an important consideration. I am happy that I have not, because the noble Lord anticipated me with the welcome announcement of the Government's position on Clause 71. That has saved your Lordships from four or five minutes of diatribe from me, and may have persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, to remain in his seat after all.


That is not very likely.


I have left many other matters untouched: the shape of Westminster legislation after devolution; the appointments to, and financing of, public, statutory and appointed bodies; the effects in this respect of Clause 60, which allows the Assembly to gobble up that enormous, elaborate and powerful organisation that we recently spent so long creating—the Welsh Development Agency. I shall not go into what I suppose will have to be renamed the Carmarthen question, or whatever, from the West Lothian question.

This Bill creates an Assembly ill-suited to express the aspirations, or direct the affairs, of a proud, loyal and talented nation, and places it at the head of a vast throng of superfluous civil servants squarely in the road by which local authorities have hitherto communicated directly with national Government. It encourages them to be in conflict with Westminster over resources and policy. It gives them vast sums to spend which they have not raised, and puts before them numerous temptations which I do not think mortal men will for long resist. This body will be entrusted with apportioning virtually the whole revenue of local authorities and with hearing appeals from their neighbours against the effects of policies they have themselves instituted. It is instructed to investigate local government and to suggest changes in it. The only check upon its proceedings will, in normal circumstances, be supplied by the Minister whose power it is supposed to be exercising.

I have not dwelt upon the truly hideous complexity of the inter-relationships of clauses and Schedules. Indeed, when a Lord Chancellor describes a Schedule as "complicated", as we heard this afternoon, mere mortals such as we quake at the thought of unravelling their complexities. I think I have said enough to convince your Lordships at this stage that I believe this to be a very bad Bill indeed. It is a tragedy that it should be chosen as a means of achieving a desirable purpose. I referred earlier to the Bill as being a hapless child. The Lord Chancellor has been standing in relation to it as Mrs. Worthington. I called it his squinting protégée. I did not do it justice. I apologise. It is not only squint-eyed, it is also knock-kneed, pigeon-toed and hollow-chested.

However, this is a consultation, not an audition. It is our job to try to make the Bill presentable. We shall do what we can, but we cannot achieve miracles. Nor, my Lords, shall we any longer try to stop Mrs. Worthington putting her daughter on the stage. The audience has already booked its seats and has a right to see the performance. However, there is a limit to what surgery can accomplish. If she is booed and hissed off the stage, that is no worse than she deserves for producing this tortuous and doubtful thing, and presenting it as if it were a fitting reward for the aspirations of a great and good people who inhabited these Islands before we did.

Finally, I am no Welsh speaker, but the first Amendment that we must surely draft into the Bill is to the appendix to Schedule 12. This prints the form of ballot paper to be used in the referendum. There may be a reason—I do not know what it is—but incredibly it does not have a single word of the Welsh language upon it when it asks the question "Do you want devolution to Wales?" So much for the sensitivity of this Government. Many of their supporters do not speak Welsh, either. Let me enlighten them as to two phrases they may quite soon and quite often be hearing: "Ewch i ffwrdd; dim cynulliad i Gymru". In case the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, is not at hand to perform the offices of translation for them, I shall tell them that they mean, "Go away, no Assembly for Wales".