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Mr. Ancram: The right hon. Gentleman is indulging in his usual tactics. He will find that, after four years in Northern Ireland, I am not as easy to bully as some of his Back-Bench colleagues. I shall certainly not be bullied by him. I know what he is up to. When he decided to sneak the Bill away into Committee upstairs, he was not prepared to come to the Dispatch Box to announce it himself. He was sitting in the Chamber at the end of the Second Reading debate and he got the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), to do it, perhaps because he foresaw that he might have to back down and did not want his own words thrown back in his face.

Let me return to the amendment. We have heard some doubts about what an assembly will be able to do to legislation passed by the House. I asked a question during the previous debate to which the Secretary of State has not responded--perhaps his hon. Friend will do so in due course. Parliament can decide whether a commencement order will be in new primary legislation to keep it out of the hands of the assembly or whether discretion will be given to the assembly. However, there is a lot of existing legislation with orders passed by the House on the understanding that, if the Secretary of State did not use the discretion given to him, he would have to answer to this sovereign House for not doing so. That is how the sovereignty of the House is exercised on that discretion. If an assembly is able to decide not to exercise such discretion, even though it was Parliament's intention that it should do so, there will be no come-back because there is no accountable relationship between the assembly and the House on that.

Mr. Davies rose--

Mr. Ancram: I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman, but I hope that he will leave something for his hon. Friend to say at the end. He appears to be responding as we go along.

Mr. Davies: The right hon. Gentleman has not put a lot on the table yet, so there will not be a lot for me to

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leave to my hon. Friend. The right hon. Gentleman does not understand the scheme that we are proposing. The issue is not the assembly taking powers to itself. The assembly will have only those powers given to it by Parliament. During the passage of the Bill, Parliament will have the opportunity to delete clause 29 if it wants to withhold those powers from the assembly. We shall have a further opportunity when the transfer order, which I published yesterday, is put before us. The right hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to look at all the Acts that will be affected. There will be no question of hiding that information from the public domain. There will be a full process of discussion, we shall publish the final draft order in the autumn and Parliament will have a final opportunity some time next year to approve it.

The powers will have been described, debated and approved by this House of Commons, and this Parliament will decide that those powers can be exercised by the assembly. If that is not the exercise of Parliament's sovereignty, I do not know what is.

7 pm

Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for one thing; he may save me from having to table a question, because I had intended to ask him which of the Acts of Parliament referred to in the draft order still had commencement orders outstanding on them. Once we have the answer to that, we should then be aware of what discretion we should be passing to an assembly that will not have the accountability back to Parliament that is at present exercised by the Secretary of State. If the right hon. Gentleman can tell me that he will do that during the Committee stage, I shall not table the question--but if he cannot I shall, because I feel that that would force him to make the position clear.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he thought my amendment one of the least important. However, its real purpose is simple. Essentially, it is to establish the veracity of the claim made during the referendum campaign, that the measure is Unionist in intent, and is intended to strengthen the United Kingdom--I believe that the right hon. Gentleman will recollect those words having been used in relation both to Scotland and to Wales--not to detract from the sovereignty of this Parliament here at Westminster.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan: Is the right hon. Gentleman seeking to persuade the Committee that the purpose of his amendment is declaratory rather than practical?

Mr. Ancram: It has to be declaratory because such an amendment, or such an assertion, describes an existing situation. As the Secretary of State rightly said on Second Reading, this Parliament can change that situation if it wants to. It would not be unusual or unprecedented to include such assertions. They are made where there is a question mark over whether what is being done is intended to diminish the strength and unity of the United Kingdom or intended, as was said during the referendum campaign, to strengthen it.

I said on Second Reading that there was within the body of United Kingdom statute a clear precedent--that of the Government of Ireland Act 1920, as amended in

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1922. Section 75 of that Act is still outstanding and, with suitable changes, forms my amendment. Obviously, I have changed the words "Northern Ireland" to the word "Wales".

That provision is there, and is still on the statute book, because it served to give a reassurance that what was being done in the Government of Ireland Act, especially as it related to Northern Ireland, was not part of a slippery slope leading to a united Ireland but would retain the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament over all matters in Northern Ireland, and retain Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

Mr. Morgan: I promise that this will be my last intervention. Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not seek to compare the Government of Ireland Act with the Bill that we are debating, when the degree of devolution in that Act is 100 times greater. There is no comparison. There was a need to provide reassurance in respect of the Government of Ireland Act because that was similar in nature to the Act that set up the Dominion of Canada, which contained a colossal amount of devolution and reserved few matters to the United Kingdom Parliament. The purpose of such an Act might have created a clear political necessity, which is hardly justified by a measure such as that before us, in which there is only one hundredth as much devolution.

Mr. Ancram: The difficulty that I have with such an intervention is that it suggests that the amendment is unnecessary.

Mr. Morgan indicated assent.

Mr. Ancram: If the sovereignty of this Parliament is complete, what is there to prevent the amendment from being accepted? If it is an assertion, as I have said it is, and if it is in line with what the hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State believe to be the case anyway, what have they got against inserting it into the Bill? [Interruption.] They say that it is unnecessary.

However, if we turn to the Scotland Bill, concerning devolution north of the border, although we do not find that assertion--I should like to see it there, too, and will table an amendment accordingly--we do find another assertion, equally drawn from Northern Ireland legislation. In that case, the legislation is the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, which asserts in another way, but extremely clearly, the supremacy of this Parliament over Scotland.

In clause 27 of the Scotland Bill, we read:

That provision is in the Northern Ireland legislation as well. One could equally well argue that it is unnecessary there too, because as it is clearly the case that this is a sovereign Parliament, obviously it can do that. So why is that assertion in the Scotland Bill?

It is there for the same reason that it is in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973--because the assertion was needed to reassure. If there is no concern in the mind of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) that what is proposed for Wales might lead further down the road to the independence of Wales and the separation and

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break-up of the United Kingdom, what has he against the amendment, which would provide belt and braces for the intended position?

The only possible reason for leaving such an assertion out is that one knows that, ultimately, it is likely to be disproved, or may have to be reduced in some way.

Mr. Ron Davies: How can it be disproved?

Mr. Ancram: The Secretary of State has himself said that the Bill is not stable, because devolution is not an event but a process. He himself envisages things moving on, and if he puts his hand on his heart he cannot say that he is certain that we shall end up with the sovereignty of this Parliament still intact. That is why he will not put the assertion in the legislation.

Mr. Llwyd: I am curious to find out how many times the right hon. Gentleman, as a Minister, has used the word "otiose" in such proceedings. It is the proper legal definition, and it is parliamentary language, too. If something is unnecessary, it should not appear on the face of a Bill. That is pretty obvious.

Mr. Ancram: I do not believe that the assertion is unnecessary, but to those who say that it is, I say that I should prefer to see it on the face of the Bill. If there are those of us who think that it is required, and if it would not affect the position either way, I do not see the objection.

It is interesting that new clause 3, proposed by the Liberal Democrats, replicates the clause that I mentioned in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, because they, too, believe that there is a need for such an assertion. We are asking not for a statement that would change anything, but for the Government to give those of us who have always been nervous about the effect of devolution on the United Kingdom a reassurance that the United Kingdom will remain intact, as will the sovereignty of this Parliament.

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