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Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman has spoken twice of tax-raising powers. I know that the Liberal Democrats believe in tax raising, but the new clause refers to tax-varying powers.

Mr. Livsey: For once, I accept the accuracy of the hon. Gentleman's comments. As I said earlier, we could have reductions in tax.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): It is ironic that Conservative Front Benchers should make that pedantic semantic point given that, although the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) campaigned vigorously throughout the length and breadth of Scotland for a no vote, I did not hear him once use the phrase "tax-varying powers"; he always referred to tax-raising powers.

Mr. Livsey: The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) also visited Wales and argued that the Welsh assembly was not powerful enough because it would not have tax-varying powers. He said one thing in Scotland and the opposite in Wales.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): The argument about devolution and federalism is complicated. Most federations are composed of regions that have given up part of their powers to the centre for purposes of common use. Devolution is more a matter of a central authority giving some of its power to lower levels. Devolution and federalism are different concepts and the ease with which they are blurred, especially in Liberal thinking, is a mistake.

Mr. Livsey: There is nothing blurred about Liberal thinking. It is clear that what was achieved in the last century through federalism in Australia, Canada and the United States owes much to Liberal philosophy, because it involves constructing powers that can best be exercised at the appropriate level of government. Devolution, in this centralised country in which we live, is about giving powers back to the people so that they can exercise them in the detailed knowledge of what is happening locally. To be fair to the Secretary of State, he has said that he wants to give away powers to the Welsh assembly and he is right to do so.

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): Does the hon. Gentleman see any contradiction between the wish to give additional, devolved powers to a Welsh assembly and another aspect of Liberal philosophy--the wish to centralise decision making in the hands of an unelected and unaccountable European central bank?

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. Hon. Members must keep to the subject of the amendments.

Mr. Livsey: Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Martin. I shall say only that our amendments are

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important in respect of the description of the assembly, its legislative powers and its ability to vary taxes. They would create a senedd with real powers worthy of the aspirations of the people of Wales.

Mr. Rogers: I shall briefly deal with the title "legislative" proposed in amendment No. 52. As my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said earlier, the matter is tied up with clauses 41 and 42. There is a real dilemma, beyond talking about silly name changes, about exactly what the assembly will do. There is confusion about whether it will have the power to vary legislation only if such a power is given in every Act that goes through this Parliament or whether it will have a general catch-all power to vary what happens in Wales in respect of all legislation.

Having read clauses 41 and 42, which I hope we will eventually reach, I am more confused than I was when I started. I support the proposal that the assembly should be a legislative assembly because I do not want an assembly that has no more than the power to vary nursery vouchers, for example, or an assembly that is falsely said to have powers that it does not in fact have. One Minister has said that we would not have had the miners' strike if we had had a Welsh assembly; he needed reminding that the strike started in Nottingham. It has been said that we would not have had the effects of Thatcherism with a Welsh assembly, as though the Severn bridge would have cut off the disease of Toryism and Thatcherism at that line. The proposed assembly will not do that for Wales, unfortunately. It will not have the necessary legislative or tax-varying powers. It will not be able to do anything for the economic development of Wales because it will not have the power.

I should like the assembly to have legislative power, but I think that the Welsh nationalists--I must be careful to use parliamentary language--are being a little devious. They have their agenda: a separate Wales with its own Parliament and legislative powers. That is an honest position but it has nothing to do with this debate. What was put before the people of Wales was the proposal that there should be an assembly with the powers contained in the Bill. After all the cuddling that the leader of Plaid Cymru has done over the past few months, he ought to cwch up a little closer now and vote with us.

Mr. Dafis: In responding to my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), the Secretary of State asked for examples of how primary legislative powers would be useful and of how their absence would be a disadvantage. I thought that I would give some examples involving education.

It is clear that the key task for the assembly, in the context of the priorities that the Government have set, will be to create a first-rate school system in Wales. I shall stick to schools for the moment, and not consider higher education. Our purpose must be to raise standards so that we have the best in the world. That is part of the Government's rhetoric, and I strongly identify with that. The question is whether the assembly will have the necessary powers to achieve such aims.

The previous Government decided that the means to drive up standards in schools was the creation of a competitive market. That was the logic that they applied to the education system, believing that it would achieve

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the purpose. Parents choosing schools, schools selecting pupils and league tables are all part of the same mechanism. In many ways, the present Government are still pursuing that agenda. The School Standards and Framework Bill has many similar provisions. Without going into the rights and wrongs of that approach in principle, I believe that it is not likely to yield results in Wales. The geography and demography of Wales mean that parents cannot be provided with the significant choice between schools that they need to make decisions on the basis of the standards that schools can offer. It is not a useful mechanism for Wales. We need another approach, but one that nevertheless emphasises excellent standards.

We inherited from the previous Government's reforms a structure that is not conducive to promoting high standards. Key functions, at an all-Wales level, are provided by an unsatisfactory organisational structure. First, there is the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales, which was established by the Education Act 1993. It is responsible for curriculum development, the provision of materials and testing, and it is now also responsible for vocational qualifications. The previous Government decided not to give those functions to the body that existed at the time, the Welsh Joint Education Committee, because they did not want to do anything to strengthen local government. The WJEC was a local government body. It lobbied for the functions to be given to it and that was debated in Committee, but the Government did not want it.

We now have two bodies in Wales: one responsible for curriculum and assessment and the WJEC, which is the examining body. The WJEC is now a limited company owned by local authorities. I cannot see how it makes good sense to separate curriculum development and assessment from examination. Assessment and examination are part of the same process and there is a good argument for merging the two.

5.15 pm

Mr. Ancram: Which amendment is the hon. Gentleman addressing?

Mr. Dafis: I am addressing amendment No. 52 and establishing the case for legislative or equivalent powers. I remember that you, Mr. Martin, were one of the Chairmen of the Committee that considered the matter, so you understand my point. I am considering whether it makes good sense to merge the two bodies. As a matter of interest, the establishment of an all-Wales body, which we might call the education council for Wales, is Plaid Cymru policy. Such a body would have strong local government representation.

Mr. Rogers: Like the WJEC.

Mr. Dafis: Indeed, it would be a body not unlike the WJEC, but it would have the functions of the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales, and would have to be established by statute in primary legislation. It would also have representations from those in higher and further education.

The assembly will have powers in relation to the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales, which is a body from which powers can be taken or to which

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powers may be added. Under schedule 2, the authority could be abolished. However, I do not think that the assembly could transfer such powers to the WJEC--I would like to be enlightened on this--or, better, revamp it to create an integrated body responsible for curriculum, examination and testing. A further possibility would be to bring in the inspectorate, which is ensconced inside the Welsh Office. We would then have an integrated body for quality control. It seems to me that that would be a very useful instrument in raising education standards in Wales.

It is worth considering local government and its responsibilities in relation to schools. The previous Government exercised a pincer movement on local government which weakened its position and its ability to deliver services to schools. First, they introduced local management of schools. I had no objection in principle to LMS, but the way in which it was done had an effect on local government. Following LMS, the Conservative Government reorganised local government and created small counties and small local education authorities in Wales. The evidence suggests that those small bodies lack the ability to deliver the support services that schools and teachers need to respond to the demands and pressures on them to raise standards.

Small local education authorities do not have the benefit of economies of scale. Some of them are setting up ad hoc co-operation with each other to provide support services. There is a strong case for delivering support services through a national organisation. When I say national, I mean an all-Wales organisation. I think that the word "national" will increasingly be used in Wales to apply to Wales rather than to the whole of the United Kingdom. Some people might disagree with the idea of creating an all-Wales body to be responsible for delivering services, such as in-service training, to schools. Some people might see it as a centralising process, but I do not see it that way.

The important issue for us tonight is whether, if it wished to do so, the National Assembly for Wales would have the power to bring about changes and create structures and systems that are appropriate, suitable and acceptable to Wales in order to raise standards. Most of the reforms of the past 18 years were not ideologically acceptable in Wales. I believe that the answer to my question is no because I do not believe that the assembly would be empowered in that way. It would find itself constrained. It would have to work, manoeuvre and manipulate the situation within severe constraints. It would find itself hobbled like a gipsy's horse in an area crucial for the advancement of Wales as a successful country, which is the enterprise that we are all about.

I applied to sit on the Standing Committee which is considering the School Standards and Framework Bill, but I was not accepted. As a result, there is no Member of Parliament from Wales on that Committee, apart from the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain). There ought to be a Back-Bench Member from Wales on the Committee, but that is by the way. Clause 93 of the School Standards and Framework Bill contains provisions to encourage selection on the basis of ability or, as it calls it, aptitude in a number of subjects. It is not clear to me that Wales would not be subject to the provisions of that Bill. I believe that the selection process would apply to Wales.

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It is true that the School Standards and Framework Bill contains a disclaimer in clause 118(6), where it says:

I am not sure what the word "respectively" is doing there. As I understand it, that clause does not make provision for Wales not to be subject to the provisions of the School Standards and Framework Bill. I should like an answer to my question. How will the Welsh assembly be empowered to do what, for practical reasons, it might feel it necessary to do?

The assembly's lack of legislative power will certainly be a cause of frustration and dissatisfaction to Members of the Assembly. Conservative Members would be delighted at that; it is what they hope for. They hope to see dissatisfaction and frustration in the assembly. If we want to prevent that and, if as I presume is inevitable, the Government do not give the assembly primary legislative powers, some other mechanism must be created.Plaid Cymru Members have suggested this fast-track mechanism. The Secretary of State spoke cautiously and promisingly on this important issue.

The amendment should be acceptable to hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber because it accepts that primary legislative powers should remain at Westminster. That is not where I come from, and the Secretary of State understands that; I do not have to explain the point. The amendment respects the conviction of people in this place that this is where primary legislation ought to be made. It does not seem to me unreasonable that the National Assembly for Wales should have the serious power to tell the House of Commons that it wishes primary legislation to be enacted in a particular way, and that the House of Commons should respond positively. That is a practical way ahead which would enable the assembly to do its work effectively and set in place the type of measures that we all want in order to make it a success.

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