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Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you may be aware, the Government were heavily defeated yet again in the Lords

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this evening on section 28. Has a Minister requested permission to make an urgent statement to the House this evening, as would be entirely right and proper, on whether the Government intend to abandon this ill-thought-out provision so that the rest of the Bill can have a fair passage?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): That has nothing to do with the Chair.

Lords amendments No. 6 and 7 disagreed to.

Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendments Nos. 6 and 7 agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 8 disagreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 9 and 10 agreed to [Special Entry].

Clause 10

Obtaining information


Lords amendment: No. 11, in page 6, line 18, after ("body") insert
("or giving a direction under subsection (5)")

Miss Melanie Johnson: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 12 to 14, 17, 18, 23 and 26.

Miss Johnson: The amendments all relate to provisions regarding the devolved Administrations. Lords amendments Nos. 11, 12, 13, 18, 23 and 26 all relate to the Welsh Assembly. Nos. 11, 12 and 18 introduce requirements for consultation in areas where the Assembly has an interest. No. 13 will allow the Assembly to amend the Government of Wales Act 1998 to introduce resource budgeting. Nos. 23 and 26 amend the Act to bring its accounting provisions in line with the provisions of the Bill. In particular, the amendments will enable the Assembly to prepare whole of government of Wales accounts.

Lords amendment No. 14 is a new clause, providing for the devolved Administrations to invest in Partnerships UK, and No. 17 is a minor change consequent on the new clause.

Mr. Letwin: The Economic Secretary has passed fairly rapidly over the amendments. We do not intend to press the matter to a vote, but the House needs some explanation of the considerable changes that the amendments introduce, the largest and most important of which is the Henry VIII power given to the Secretary of State under Lords amendment No. 13. The amendment says:


Time was when Henry VIII provisions allowing the repeal or alteration of Government-inspired primary legislation were unheard of. Then, sadly--I admit the joint responsibility of Governments of all parties--the phenomenon became known. Then we descended to the level at which it was so much known that it was

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almost frequent. Then, under the aegis of the present Government, with their overwhelming control of the House, that which was frequent began to become regular.

Many of us inveighed against that and made a practice of drawing the attention of the House to each and every Henry VIII provision that was introduced. At least even then, until tonight, when such provisions were made, a careful explanation was given. Here, I fear that we face the final nadir, with Parliament being superseded by what is virtually Executive action--an order--and the Economic Secretary not even making a nod towards the fact. I do not accuse her of any especial malfeasance, as she is merely following the trend of her ministerial colleagues in getting to the point at which the making and unmaking of primary legislation by administrative order is regarded as a matter of such course that it hardly need be mentioned.

That should never be a matter of course, however, and it cannot be regarded as such, especially on a night when the Government have used their overwhelming majority to attempt to overturn the Lords in their defence of Parliament. What an irony that, on such a night, following such a vote, the Economic Secretary should not even bother to bring to the attention of those few hon. Members remaining in the House that what they are about to accept--may the Lord make us truly thankful--is a Lords amendment under which Parliament is to be superseded by an administrative order. I hope at least that I have said enough to taunt the Economic Secretary into giving some explanation of why it needs to be done in that way.

I return to the other elements of the amendments. Amendment No. 12 is interesting, not least because it says that


We see another example of the Treasury acting after mere consultation. I wonder whether the Economic Secretary could tell the House why it is that the Treasury is left with the discretion in the amendment in the first place. I assume she believes devolution to be an important step, so why does not the National Assembly for Wales and the Auditor General for Wales have the right or the power positively to prevent the Treasury from making an order if they do not regard that order as in any way appropriate?

We are dealing with the intersection of complex UK legislation, which is designed primarily for England and Wales, with the devolution process. Many people in the House of Commons and in the other place have a great interest in that intersection. We would like some explanation of whether the Economic Secretary believes that we have now reached the end of the road and finally clarified the relationship between the Treasury and the Assembly and its organs, or whether we will see a further chain of needed amendments and changes to capture that relationship in its proper form.

The Auditor General for Wales is after all a new creature, who was created by a Bill in which it was discovered inter alia that, in its original draft, the National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order 1999, under which the Secretary of State transferred his powers to the National Assembly for Wales, transferred power over the Brompton cemetery in London to the National Assembly. That was the care with which that order was originally designed. That is no reflection on the

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extraordinary labours of those who put together--[Interruption.] I do not jest. My hon. Friends question my sanity in raising that issue, but I am not jesting. I am telling the literal truth. A reference to Hansard for the debates that concerned the Government of Wales Bill will show that.

The fact is that the officials who laboured mightily to produce the relevant legislation, the devolution legislation, were operating under time constraints which made even the time constraints under which those who produced the Government Resources and Accounts Bill worked seem leisurely. Therefore, it was no surprise that grave mistakes were made. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) regards my categorisation of the Brompton cemetery as a grave mistake in itself, but I assure him that it was an entirely unintentional pun, which until his lightning eye ascended on it had escaped me. The mistakes that were made were graver than the grave. They concerned the whole structure of that lamentable piece of legislation.

The serious point in the context of this Bill is that we do not know what the real position of the Auditor General for Wales will be and how that Auditor General will relate to the CAG and to the NAO, and hence to this Parliament and to that Parliament. I trust that the Economic Secretary will give us a full explanation of how she sees those relationships being articulated following the undoubted acceptance of the Lords amendment and whether, as I say, having accepted the amendment, we have genuinely reached the end of a rather tortuous road in constructing that financial relationship.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): I am not quite sure whether I should declare an interest as a member of the Audit Committee in the National Assembly. In case I need to, I do so.

I am glad on this occasion to rise in support of the Government, although obviously the measure does not go as far as I would want to in this matter, as in so many others. I assure those on the Conservative Front Bench that it is a process, not an event. The process no doubt will go on. I point out to them only that, in the context of these amendments, I have no doubt that their colleagues, the Conservative party of Wales, as it now calls itself, will support the provisions. I am sure that that will be an indicator of the growing divergence between the two parties.

Mr. Letwin: The right hon. Gentleman's presence on the Audit Committee gives us some cause for confidence. Let me add that one reason why we shall not oppose the amendment is that we understand that our colleagues in the Welsh Assembly support it.

9.45 pm

Mr. Wigley: I am glad to hear it. I believe that the hon. Gentleman's colleagues in the Assembly no longer regard the father Act as lamentable either; but perhaps we should not pursue that.

The hon. Gentleman said that the Auditor General for Wales was a new creature. Sir John Bourne is not a new creature, although he may be experiencing a new

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incarnation--an incarnation that he is rather enjoying. To his surprise, he secured not a fraction of the budget for which he had asked, not almost the whole of it, but the entirety. I do not think that he has ever received such a welcome as the welcome he received when he took his role in the Assembly.

The audit function in the Assembly has got off to a very good start, which I think justifies the transfer of powers that we are discussing.


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