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Mr. Wigley: I have listened carefully to what the Secretary of State said and I will want to read Hansard to ensure that I have understood his words and that what is on the record is clear and undisputed. If I understand him correctly, he is saying that, if, to meet other aspirations, there is a need to change this legislation after it goes on to the statute book, another Act will need to go through Westminster--through the House of Commons and the House of Lords--to give the National Assembly of Wales the powers it may seek.

A Government may be in power here who are willing to give time for such an amendment to the Act, or a Government may be in power who have been in office for 18 years and who are not willing to give the time. If the latter is the case, we have a serious problem.

There should be some mechanism whereby, if the National Assembly of Wales expresses in clear-cut terms the desire for legislation to be passed here, that desire has some precedence and can make some progress. It should have some status, despite the fact that it may not represent the view of the then majority party in the House of Commons. If we do not have that, clearly we are totally at the mercy of the majority party in the House of Commons in relation to any such legislative change.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): Bearing in mind the narrow majority--some people might say the minority--of people in Wales who voted for the very limited powers of the present assembly, does the right hon. Gentleman--being the great and wonderful democrat that he is, and believing in the people of Wales--think it appropriate that any extension of powers should not be fought for on the Floor of the House, but should go back to the people of Wales in a referendum?

Mr. Wigley: Conservative Members seem to agree with that intervention by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), who I am glad to see has entered the Chamber and joined our debate. Very soon after the referendum, I heard him say that he believed that the

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referendum had been held, that a decision had been made, and that the important matter now was to build the best possible National Assembly for Wales. I whole-heartedly agree with him in that aspiration--which, in tabling our amendment, we are attempting to realise. I have heard him criticise the assembly, which was proposed by the Labour party, because it was not strong enough or a real Parliament. Our amendment provides an opportunity for him to join us in the Lobby--to show that he is committed to gaining that real Parliament that will do the real job that is needed for the people of Rhondda and elsewhere. I welcome his intervention.

4.15 pm

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Given what the right hon. Gentleman has just said about the referendum result, does he not feel that, for the reassurance of the people of Wales, there really should be a judicial inquiry into polling irregularities? Given the narrowness of the referendum majority as recorded, would not he and Plaid Cymru feel much more confident if we could all see that those results were thoroughly checked?

Mr. Wigley: That is a complete red herring, and a completely unnecessary detraction from the debate. If Conservative Members felt that strongly about the matter, where were they in the two months after the referendum? They had to be goaded into taking any action on the matter by an article in The Scotsman; goodness only knows why it appeared in that newspaper initially, but so be it.

A decision has been taken, and, as hon. Members on both sides of the House--even Conservative spokesmen--have said: it is now time to establish the best possible National Assembly for Wales. We must now establish an assembly that works effectively and efficiently and that meets all the needs of Wales, although everyone will not agree with all the details in establishing it.

Our amendment states that, if we are to be clear about the assembly's role, there will have to be a clearer statement of the meaning of the legislative powers provided in the Bill. We believe that, in establishing the National Assembly for Wales, we will get to grips with the needs of the people of Wales only by including in the Bill primary legislative powers for at least some subjects. I therefore recommend our amendment, and I shall listen with considerable interest to the comments by hon. Members from both sides of the Committee, and to the Minister's reply.

Mr. Rowlands: The interesting speech made by the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) prompts me to speak. Like him, I should like to clarify the situation. We did not propose in the White Paper--or to the Welsh people--that the Welsh assembly should be a law-making body and make primary legislation. I think that he will accept that that was not the basis on which we sought the people's assent and consent. His case is that amendment No. 52 is a paving amendment that would extend the Welsh assembly's scope to include making primary legislation.

In the White Paper and in the Bill, we proposed a legislative character for the assembly in the form of order-making powers. I was interested in the right hon.

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Gentleman's interpretation of those powers. He said that the Bill provides at least the power to block implementation of legislation from the Westminster Parliament and that it would be possible for an assembly to refuse to move or authorise a commencement order for a Bill--which would be one of the most effective ways to negate legislation from the Westminster Parliament.

If that interpretation of the proposed legislative power is correct, it will be a considerable negative legislative power and it does not require the adjective "legislative" proposed by amendment No. 52. The right hon. Gentleman gave the example of education and said that if an assembly had existed it would have been possible to prevent any nursery voucher scheme. I should be very grateful if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will confirm that the Bill contains such a power.

Sadly, we must not stray from the subject of the amendment, but I have a horrible feeling that clause 41, one of the most important and confusing in the Bill, may not receive the scrutiny that it deserves. It deals with a complicated matter. I realise that I cannot bring the debate forward, but as the right hon. Member for Caernarfon raised the issue of what functions were or should be in the Bill, I feel that we should have some clarifying statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as to the legislative nature of the Welsh assembly and its order-making powers.

Do the powers go as far as the right hon. Member for Caernarfon suggests? Will it be possible for the Welsh assembly to negate the effective implementation of any form of legislation from Westminster by refusing to move the relevant orders?

Mr. Wigley: It would be able to block only legislation that required orders. It would be in the hands of the Westminster Parliament to create primary legislation that did not require such orders.

Mr. Rowlands: I appreciate that explanation, but if the United Kingdom Parliament wanted to get around the powers of the Welsh assembly, it would have to reverse the development of shorter primary legislation with considerable order-making powers that has been the pattern of legislative change in the past 50 years.

Many Acts require commencement or implementation orders. Is the power to negate any legislation from the United Kingdom Parliament in the Bill and, therefore, within the legislative capacity of the assembly?

Mr. Ron Davies: In a sense, my hon. Friend has answered his own question as he has said that legislation takes many different forms. Those different forms of legislation can confer different powers on the assembly. That is the essence of secondary legislation. It will be for primary legislation to identify the powers of the assembly to deal with secondary legislation. It is a matter not just of blocking, although that may arise, but of the powers that will be available to the assembly to create distinctive secondary legislation, which might be quite different from the parallel secondary legislation that applies to England, to meet Welsh needs.

Mr. Rowlands: I followed closely what my right hon. Friend said. I can see how a Welsh assembly might exercise order-making powers within the framework of

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the primary legislation to create secondary legislation that is different from that which applies to England. Does the term "different from" go as far as making it possible to for the assembly to negate any part of the primary legislation or to prevent it from being implemented, for example by refusing to move a commencement order, or will the United Kingdom Parliament reserve the exclusive right to move commencement orders? Will primary legislation list a series of orders that the United Kingdom Parliament will implement, rather than leave the decision to the Welsh assembly, even in respect of areas and functions that have been transferred to the assembly?

Mr. Davies: The areas and functions being devolved to the assembly are not relevant to the argument. If we do not reach clause 41, I shall be happy to write to my hon. Friend to ensure that by the time the Bill is enacted any outstanding questions that he might have are properly addressed.

I must refer back to my hon. Friend's original question. The answer will depend on the primary legislation enacted by the United Kingdom Parliament. It is quite possible, in one Session of Parliament, to pass half a dozen Acts that give the assembly different powers that might or might not require commencement orders. It will depend on the nature of the legislation and the decision of the House as to which powers are given to the assembly and how they can be exercised.

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