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Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon): I have been listening carefully to the debate on this group of amendments, especially the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) on the issue of legislative powers. Despite his eloquence and the powerful case he put forward, I suspect from his interventions that the Secretary of State is unlikely to concede the amendment. However, another possibility is open to the Secretary of State, which has been put to him on more than one occasion.

In the absence of legislative powers being transferred to the national assembly, how will Westminster deal with a legislative framework to develop its powers in respect of secondary legislation? The Secretary of State has said that the assembly will need to find a dynamic relationship with Westminster. There will always be such a dynamic relationship, but I suspect that it will work best when the Welsh assembly is governed by a party that is largely in sympathy with the party governing in Westminster. The right hon. Gentleman has to accept that his case tends to fall down when the Government in Westminster want to introduce legislation that is diametrically opposed to what the settled will of the Welsh people, through the Welsh assembly, wants to achieve.

We have to look at circumstances in which that might happen. The Secretary of State has said that, in future, the Conservatives might have a majority in Britain that would enable them to govern in Westminster. I am not interested in the likelihood that, in the first term of a Welsh assembly, there will be a Labour Government and an assembly in Cardiff that is sympathetic to that Government; but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to address the situation in which there is a Conservative Administration here in Westminster and a non-Conservative Administration in Wales.

5.45 pm

Mr. Ron Davies: The principle has to be the same, regardless of the nature and political colour of the Government here in Westminster. The hon. Gentleman should not strain too much against the prospect of improvements in the Conservative party. It is a serious point that the Conservative party is currently going through an ideological debate and will eventually emerge as a party that recognises that power is best devolved. It was interesting to hear the Conservative spokesman arguing strongly that the assembly would provide a powerful voice in Europe and that we should put on the face of the Bill the assembly's representative powers in respect of Europe. If that sort of progressive thinking develops, who knows what sort of Conservative Government we might have in 10 or 15 years' time?

Mr. Jones: That is an interesting point and it has merit, because the logical outcome of the Conservatives' attacks

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on the Bill is that they would either abolish the Welsh assembly and the Scottish Parliament, or opt for the federalist solution. Nevertheless, the great danger facing the Welsh assembly is that it might find that it wants to put something right in a way that requires legislation, but is unable to act quickly because of the Westminster logjam.

Let me give the Secretary of State two brief examples. He will know that, occasionally, Bills come to the House simply to raise the borrowing powers of the Welsh Development Agency, because that requires primary legislation. We can assume that that will be necessary in future, and, although such legislation passes through the House quite quickly, a time and a slot have to be found in the Westminster timetable. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman another example.

Mr. Davies: Before he does, the hon. Gentleman should reflect on the fact that the previous Conservative Government allowed for those increases to be dealt with in future through secondary legislation.

Mr. Jones: That was a change.

Let me put another point to the Secretary of State. He will know that we have had some interesting discussions in the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs on the issue of conterminosity. The Welsh assembly will be given powers to change the boundaries of quangos, but not of local authorities. There is a powerful argument in favour of conterminosity--in other words, that services should be developed within boundaries shared by quangos and local authorities. Major legislation might not be needed for that to happen--a small Bill might suffice.

If we had a fast-track procedure--which might not require amendments to the Bill, but only changes in the Orders of the House--and the Welsh assembly made it clear to Westminster that it wanted a small legislative change to be made, all that would be needed would be for the Bill making that change to go through a revamped Welsh Grand Committee. It would not tie up the House in a lengthy procedure. It could adopt an easy procedure--the Welsh Grand Committee. I see no reason why that could not be considered.

Mr. Dalyell: Before we leave the subject of conterminosity, will the hon. Gentleman forgive me for asking whether he will be a conterminous Member of Parliament?

Mr. Jones: I shall not enter that debate; I simply wish to put a serious point to the hon. Gentleman.

In north Wales, many local authorities deliver social services, and a trust delivers community care. When Gwynedd health authority and county council were in existence, community services could be developed on the basis of geographical area. That possibility has been lost as a result of the changes in local government and how the health service has developed.

There may be other ways of proceeding, but the Welsh assembly will be unable to follow that course, because, while it can change the boundaries of the quangos, it cannot change the boundaries of local authorities. Therefore, although the Government could consider using

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other procedures, a fast-track procedure would assist the Welsh assembly in implementing its policies, provided that a major piece of legislation is not involved.

It is generally accepted that one of the dangers for the Welsh assembly in its early years is that it might be frustrated from making simple changes--those that call not for major legislation but simply for minor amendments of the kind that I described. It would be frustrating for the Welsh assembly, in its first term, to find that the Westminster Parliament could not find time to implement Welsh legislation. A fast-track procedure would remove the intense frustration which Assembly Members may feel.

Mr. Ron Davies: The hon. Gentleman has argued that case before, and I have always listened carefully when he has done so. First, it is important to establish the assembly, and the assembly will have a heavy responsibility to prove itself. Secondly, what the hon. Gentleman argues for cannot be legislated for in the Bill, because it is for the Westminster Parliament to adopt its own procedures.

I have long argued that constitutional change is a process of evolution. The assembly must establish itself, and if circumstances arise in which relatively minor changes are needed, it will be a case of waiting for the relationship between the Welsh assembly and the Westminster Parliament to mature. The assembly must establish itself in such a way that the House feels comfortable about adopting new procedures to facilitate the assembly's wishes.

Mr. Jones: That was an extremely helpful intervention. The Secretary of State acknowledges the fact that circumstances could arise in which that procedure could be used. I am grateful to him for acknowledging that there is a strong case for that. I suggest that the Committee considers that that option will be available to the House. Now that we have it on the record that it is a matter for discussion, we should pursue it when the opportunity arises.

Mr. Donald Anderson: Clause 1 is the foundation clause for the Swansea assembly. I draw three conclusions from the debate so far. First, the Conservative party in Parliament has not come to terms with the result of the referendum. Its spokesman, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), used expressions such as out of the frying pan and into the fire. His speech was negative and carping--and some distance away from what I hear from Conservative party members in Wales.

Secondly, all the interesting wordplays that we have heard, adding to or subtracting from the definitions in the Bill, tell us something about those who suggest them. They are trying to reconstruct the assembly as they would like it--with more legislative powers, with tax-raising powers or diminished powers--not as it was broadly endorsed by the people of Wales and in the White Paper.

Thirdly, the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) put their fingers on a key point relating to the interface between this Parliament and the proposed assembly. Of course there are likely to be frustrations, because politicians in the assembly will

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have a vested interest in pushing the boundaries further, while some hon. Members in this Parliament will take a minimalist view.

However, the Secretary of State should answer this simple question: are there circumstances in which the assembly can refuse to implement an order that applies to the rest of the United Kingdom? If so, in which circumstances will that be possible? I hope that he will answer not just in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney but will tell all hon. Members. How do we deal with the serious problem described by the hon. Member for Ynys Mon and others: how to implement speedily relatively minor matters relating to the assembly on which everyone agrees and which do not detract from the sovereignty of this Parliament? I invite interested hon. Members to make a submission, perhaps in the light of experience of the workings of the assembly, to the Modernisation Committee. If it is a problem, I hope that it can be dealt with reasonably by people of good will on both sides.

Perhaps I may outline a few of the principles that the House should adopt. This is an evolutionary situation because we have no constitution and the Bill is not set in stone. No institution is static; institutions are dynamic and will progress. A big step has been taken: we are to have an assembly for, or of, Wales. It is therefore a matter of adapting. I believe that the European Parliament was first called the European Assembly. I have used the analogy of the Welsh Office before in the House. The Welsh Office was a pretty puny creature when it was first created; the fact that it now has much greater powers simply reflects the fact that all institutions are dynamic and evolve with the passage of time.

The second principle is that constraints are imposed on us by the referendum. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) ably said, although the referendum showed an acceptance of the Government's proposals, it only just showed acceptance. The slim majority imposes certain constraints. For example, no one who wanted the assembly to have much greater powers would have voted against it. Hence one can conclude that, had the Government proposed greater powers--in terms of primary legislation or taxation for example--the people of Wales would not have accepted the assembly. That should impose a certain humility on us as we frame the legislation to establish the assembly.

The third principle concerns the constraints imposed by the nature of Wales. I shall not go into the divisions in Wales between the north and the south, and between those who use the Welsh language and those who do not. Happily, through wisdom, we have developed a consensus and we should do nothing to upset it.

The final principle is clear. Wherever possible we should trust the assembly people. We should not be too prescriptive. We should give them as much discretion as possible so that they can work out their own rules and procedures. We should not put a straitjacket on them, but trust them to make up their own rules.


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