Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Rogers: Is my hon. Friend saying--or shall we leave discussion of the issue until we debate clauses 41 and 42--that the assembly will have powers to introduce secondary legislation only if such powers are

20 Jan 1998 : Column 862

included in the primary legislation passed in Westminster, and that the assembly will not otherwise have the power to initiate secondary legislation?

6.30 pm

Mr. Griffiths: The assembly will have all the powers vested in it by the draft transfer order that was published yesterday. My hon. Friend will undoubtedly have seen just how extensive those powers will be. The assembly will be able to initiate secondary legislation only when it has been given the power to do so. It will not be able to conjure legislation from the air and call it secondary legislation. The power will be specific.

As I said, clause 29 will provide the assembly with some primary powers, but they will apply only in very specific circumstances, which we can tease out when we debate the relevant clauses.

The right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) and my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) have all raised procedural points on the legislative powers. I hope that they will examine the draft transfer order in some detail, and join the debate on the relevant clauses with all the knowledge that will be at their disposal.

Sir Raymond Powell: The Minister mentioned the powers that the House will give to the Welsh assembly. Will he explain what will be left for Members of Parliament to deal with after all those issues have been assigned to the Welsh assembly?

Mr. Griffiths: There is a straight and easy answer to that question: all primary legislation will still be considered by the House. My hon. Friend will have every opportunity to sit on Committees considering health, education and industry Bills, all of which will have an impact on Wales. The job of hon. Members at Westminster will be to ensure that Wales's interests are best served.

Mr. Rogers: The right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) implied that the assembly would have the power to block legislation in Wales. Will that be possible?

Mr. Griffiths: It depends on how one uses the word "block". Some people might regard as blocking, for example, situations in which the Secretary of State has power to initiate action under secondary legislation and decides not to do so. The ability to block will depend on the nature of the orders and on whether they have to be introduced by a certain date. For example, some people might say that, in the past nine years, the Welsh Office has blocked the creation of city technology colleges.

Mr. Dafis: Is the Minister saying that the assembly of Wales will be able to block measures only if the Westminster Parliament is willing for it to do so?

Mr. Griffiths: If in legislation the Westminster Parliament provides a discretion for the Secretary of State

20 Jan 1998 : Column 863

of Wales and for the assembly in Wales, they will be able to decide whether to use that power, as Secretaries of State for Wales have done in the example that I cited.

Dr. Marek: Based on my time in the House debating Bills that provide for orders and regulations, one aspect of this Bill worries me, and I wonder whether the Minister will be able to help me. Many regulations and orders use the phrase "the Minister may". What is to stop a succeeding, unfriendly Administration saying that "the Minister shall"--removing all the permissive powers that Welsh Office Ministers currently exercise?

Mr. Griffiths: My hon. Friend is making the point that legislation sometimes states "may" and sometimes states "shall", but gives some leeway about when that "shall" will be used. We shall have to consider exactly how the House deals with legislation, and the assembly will have power to operate under the secondary powers.

Mr. Donald Anderson: Does my hon. Friend accept that it might be worth while stating in each statute the implications for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh assembly--just as we currently state the public expenditure implications of Bills?

Mr. Griffiths: That will be a matter for the House to decide at the appropriate time.

The House will have to decide on establishing a fast-track procedure or something like it, either within this legislation, if the House were minded to act so quickly, or at a later date--such as, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West said, with the establishment of a council of the isles, as part of a solution to the Northern Ireland problem.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for missing the beginning of his speech. He is telling the Committee that the Bill is not a settlement, but an unholy mess in which the assembly will have no idea, from one Act of Parliament to another, how much power will be devolved to it. Is that not so?

Mr. Griffiths: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has already had an opportunity to study yesterday's draft transfer order. The very long list of powers that will be held by the assembly in Wales shows that there is absolutely no uncertainty over many powers. In future--through the Secretary of State, through hon. Members at Westminster and through representations in response to White Papers and Green Papers--the assembly will have an opportunity to participate from Wales in the Westminster legislative process. There is no question of there being an uncertain muddle. A dynamic and developing relationship is a positive part of the process and growth of government of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Öpik: Is not future strength based on the fact that the assembly's powers and authority can evolve according to the will of the people of Wales and according to what works in the relationship between Westminster and Cardiff or Swansea?

Mr. Griffiths: Although it is not formally written, one of the great strengths of the British constitution is that, as the issue of sovereignty has grown over the years, it has

20 Jan 1998 : Column 864

responded to the demands of certain groups of people. Those in power who have responded to change have saved themselves, whereas those who have not--like poor old Charles I--have lost their head. It was the Conservatives' failure to respond to change that resulted in their severe truncation at the general election.

Mr. Rogers: I am still a little confused about the blocking power--it was the right hon. Member for Caernarfon, not the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis), who threw that cat among the pigeons. It has been said that certain Conservative diseases, which were desired by some odd people, might not have been inflicted on Wales if we had had a Labour assembly.

The poll tax is a graphic illustration. During the referendum campaign, we heard about a range of things that would not have happened to Wales had there been an assembly; we certainly would not have had the poll tax. The right hon. Member for Caernarfon said that an enlightened, Labour-controlled Welsh assembly would not have implemented that disease. I want to know whether a Labour assembly will have the power to stop such measures, as has been claimed.

Mr. Griffiths: My hon. Friend has raised an extremely helpful point. The legislation allowed the Secretary of State to implement orders to introduce a scheme for the poll tax. Although the poll tax itself would have been introduced, had there been a Welsh assembly, there could have been differences in banding, there could have been more bands in Wales and there could have been different discretions. The poll tax could and would have been an entirely different animal.

The name of the assembly, which is addressed by amendments Nos. 10 and 142, should not detain us. As my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, West and for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn)--and to a certain extent the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans)--have intimated, usage will determine what the assembly will be called in common parlance. For the purposes of the Bill, a great deal of discussion arose out of a proposition in another place by the chairman of the Welsh Language Board that received support from both sides of the House. We debated the matter at some length before deciding on the form included in the Bill.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): The Minister unintentionally misled the Committee a moment or two ago when he referred to banding in respect of the poll tax. There was no such banding. What did he have in mind?

Mr. Griffiths: I believe that the orders--and we can check them--included powers to introduce different ways in which to implement the poll tax. However, we shall return to the matter at another point in the debate.

As to whether the title should include "of" or "for", there is a national orchestra of Wales and a national museum of Wales, but there is a Sports Council for Wales. We felt that an assembly for Wales would produce a better feeling of inclusiveness, rather than giving the impression that it related to a particular group in Wales or only to people who had been born in Wales--I would be in a bit of trouble in that respect. Although we are not absolutely wedded to that title and we are prepared to discuss it later, I hope that the amendments will not be pressed so that we do not have to resist them altogether.

20 Jan 1998 : Column 865

Although the word "senedd" may enter popular usage, we do not want to put it in the Bill as it may raise fears among some people. An interesting debate developed about whether the word originated from the Latin for senate or from the Greek for synod, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West pointed out. However, in modern English parlance, the word "senedd" is the equivalent of parliament, which is derived from the French word "parlement", but the French "parlement" was nothing like the modern National Assembly, which is the French equivalent of our Parliament.

Next Section

IndexHome Page