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Clause 2


Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 2, line 14, leave out ("proceedings of") and insert ("anything done by")

5.15 pm

Mr. Win Griffiths: I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2, 4, 13, 17, 19, 23 to 25, 28 to 32, 37 to 44, 46 to 48, 50 to 53, 55 to 68, 70 to 81, 83 to 124, 127 to 143, 145, 147 to 150, 152 to 154, 156, 159, 160, 164 to 167, 171 to 185, 188, 189, 191, 193, 196 to 198, 200, 202, 204 to 206, 208 and 209.

Mr. Griffiths: At one time, I thought about speaking to each of the amendments individually, but, having taken soundings in the House, I find that there is general agreement that they are technical amendments, so I commend them all to the House.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli): When lawyers hear words such as "technical" and "drafting", even the power of the Whips cannot prevent them from standing up to speak. I shall talk briefly about amendments Nos. 108,

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109 and 111. When lawyers see phrases such as "Community law", they really start getting worried--or at least, some of them do.

Amendment No. 108, as contained in the booklet entitled, "Lords amendments to the Government of Wales Bill", would leave out the phrase "Community law or" from clause 108, in page 55, line 30. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Indeed; perhaps that is a good idea. The original clause 108 says:

to do anything that is

    "incompatible with Community law",

and the Lords amendment would take that out.

I do not know whether we are debating a wholesale repudiation of the acquis communautaire, or whatever that is in Welsh--or, for that matter, in English. Are we now debating the abrogation of the whole of the treaty of Rome? No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will tell me that we are probably not. My first question is why--although I would welcome such a move--are we knocking out the words "Community law or", leaving clause 108 specifying only the European convention on human rights?

I may be wrong--I may be reading the wrong document--but I believe that amendment No. 109 to clause 108 would make an insertion that relates entirely to the European convention on human rights. Will my hon. Friend briefly explain that? I was intrigued because amendment No. 109 refers to subsection (1), but there is no subsection (1) in clause 108, at least not in my copy of the Bill. There are many versions of the Bill. I have No. 98. Perhaps clause 108(1) is in another version of the Bill.

Mr. Wigley: Yes.

Mr. Davies: I am glad that Plaid Cymru's legal advisers have kept the party up to speed on that.

Amendment No. 111 to clause 109 is very long and deals with many matters such as quantities relating to the United Kingdom, areas consisting of part of the United Kingdom, Community obligations and the Assembly's power. Again, I should be grateful if the Minister would briefly explain the amendment, because it makes no sense to me. It seems fairly complicated. That amendment also refers to subsection (1), but the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) tells me that that is all right.

Mr. Wigley: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies: I do not want to delay the House by provoking the right hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] I can see that the Whips are very pleased with some of my remarks.

Subsection (1) is referred to, but I cannot find it in my copy of the Bill. I hope that I am not making life too difficult for my hon. Friend the Minister--I merely want to know what will happen to the acquis communautaire.

Mr. Win Griffiths: I thank my right hon. Friend for bringing those matters to my attention. One of the problems to which he has alluded is the many different versions of the Bill that have appeared over time. I reassure him that amendment No. 108 removes

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Community law from clause 108 because that is dealt with in clause 109. I refer my right hon. Friend to subsection (7) in amendment No. 111. That amendment refers to subsection (1) because clauses 108 and 109 have been transposed. Subsection (1) is what is currently the whole of clause 109. I said that these were technical amendments and, if there is any need for further correspondence on this matter, I shall be happy to help my right hon. Friend in that way.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): How will the Minister know whether legislation is incompatible with Community law? Clause 109(7) says that the Assembly can do nothing if legislation is incompatible. We should remember the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. We had to wait about eight years before we found out that the Act was incompatible with Community law. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) has contempt for such business. He used to be in favour of freedom and liberty--I wish that he still was.

Who will tell the Minister what legislation is incompatible? Will he telephone the Commission or the Foreign Office? How will he know what is incompatible when often we do not know that for many years, until the European Court tells us?

Mr. Griffiths: The hon. Gentleman is famous for his ability to grasp issues of Community law. Let me assure him that we shall seek advice from our lawyers on any such issue, so he need not lose any sleep.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2, 4, 13, 17, 19, 23 to 26, 28 to 32, 34 to 48, 50 to 81, 83 to 124, 126 to 210 agreed to. [Some with Special Entry.]

Clause 54

Assembly First Secretary and Assembly Secretaries

Lords amendment: No. 49, in page 28, line 12, at end insert--
("( ) The Assembly First Secretary, and each of the Assembly Secretaries, is a Crown servant for the purposes of the Official Secrets Act 1989.")

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.--[Mr. Ron Davies.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendment No. 82.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): I hope that, with the aid of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), I can persuade the House to disagree with Lords amendment No. 49.

The amendment is a response to what was clause 49 in the first version of the Bill that came before the House, which stated that, for the purposes of the Official Secrets Act 1989, all members of the Welsh Assembly should be Crown servants. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) accepted that that might be inappropriate. He gave assurances to the House that the Government would consider that and return with amendments in the House of Lords. They have done so,

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and now propose that only the First Secretary and other Secretaries--essentially the Executive Committee of the Welsh Assembly--should be Crown servants for the purposes of the Official Secrets Act.

The Under-Secretary--I take his views as having been sincerely expressed--has been concerned during his political career with the pervasiveness, extent and usage of the Official Secrets Act. I put it to the House that when one considers the nature, functions and duties of the Assembly, one wonders why any Official Secrets Act is necessary. The Government have advanced weak arguments here and in another place, where the amendment was moved.

The Government and the House accepted the necessity for an Official Secrets Act in respect of a restricted number of functions: defence, security, intelligence, foreign affairs and certain crime and investigative powers. None of those, per se, falls within the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly. They are, perhaps, relevant to the Secretary of State for Wales who sits in the British Cabinet, for whom those issues may arise, but in what respect would they arise for the democratically elected Assembly for Wales? The only example that the Under-Secretary gave the House, on 26 March, was the only relevant argument that he made. He said:

He went on to say that the idea was not a novel one.

If one starts disinterring and asking what is behind this or why it is necessary, the example given is not necessarily appropriate. Many hon. Members will have served on county councils, local authorities and so on, where directors of social services are advised by the police in the course of their investigations as to sensitive matters. That does not require the Official Secrets Act or a swearing to it.

5.30 pm

All that I have ever asked the House since the Act came into being is that we should unpick the purpose behind it and ask why it is necessary. The Minister's argument does not stand up. Much confidential information that is exchanged would be covered by the Official Secrets Act. One of the problems that lies in the way that this is constructed is that the Minister is a Minister of the Crown. He may give information to Members of Parliament, or to anyone in society at large, but he is self-authorising, as long as it is within the construct of Cabinet policy. Who will self-authorise in a Welsh Assembly? The amendment is effectively gagging.

I simply ask the good people of Wales and of Britain how they can in conscience be bound when they come upon a piece of information that they profoundly believe is important to the well-being or safety of their constituents. I do not believe that they can be bound in those circumstances.

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