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Mrs. Gillan: The point is that it is pre-legislative scrutiny. We will not have the document; it could change. It was the right hon. Gentleman, I believe, who said that he did not think that the Orders in Council would trouble the legislative programme to any great extent:
He is damned by his own words in showing that there will be a downgrading of the role of the House. There was no demand for such a move. It was not proposed by Lord Richard. No other party has put it forward. It is simply a compromise to try to keep the anti-devolution and pro-devolution wings of the Labour party together, although in the long run I suspect that it will satisfy neither.
There is a straightforward solution. If the Secretary of State is so confident that this move is right for the people of Wales, he should let them have their say. Instead, he is offering the people of Wales a referendum on proposals in the Bill on which he admits that there is no consensus, which he does not expect to call for many yearsall because, in his own words,
No matter what the Secretary of State says, the changes in part 3 are not minor matters. They fundamentally alter the relationship between Parliament and the Assembly, and the people of Wales should be given a vote on them. Now I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.
The people of Wales did have a vote, in May 2005, when they returned 29 Labour Members of Parliament in Wales. In the manifesto on which we all stood, we made clear that we would present proposals for the Assembly to be given enhanced legislative powers.
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There have been occasions on which I have been less than enthusiastic about more powers for the Assembly, but that was the manifesto on which I stood. Does the hon. Lady believe that that carries any weight at all?
Mrs. Gillan: I think that the hon. Gentleman will be the first to volunteer to give up his seat in the House so that there can be more Welsh Assembly Members, should more powers be devolved to the Assembly.
The detail in the hon. Gentleman's manifesto simply is not there. Orders in Council were certainly not envisaged at that stage. It is a clever idea, but it is a Johnny-come-lately idea. If it is such a marvellous idea, what is the problem with giving the people of Wales a vote on it?
Huw Irranca-Davies : I have already welcomed the hon. Lady to Wales and to our debate. Does she agree that one of the great successes of the last couple of years is the quality and extent of pre-legislative scrutiny applying to Wales? She is new to her post, but if she does agree, does she consider such scrutiny to be a good model to apply in this instance?
Mrs. Gillan: It is not a question of the merits or otherwise of pre-legislative scrutiny. It is a question of what is proposed in the Bill, and what is currently proposed in it is singularly unclear. We shall seek clarification throughout the Committee stage, and we shall re-examine these very points. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in examining the detail that we trust the Secretary of State will provide. Orders in Council were not envisaged in the Richard report, and have caused a great deal of consternation not just in this House but in another place, and it is important for us to be allowed three days of scrutiny on the Floor of the House.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): May I say something before the hon. Lady leaves the subject of powers? She will know that differences of view between the Assembly and Westminster are reconciled through the judicial committee of the Privy Councilwhich, as I am sure she will agree, is not the most open and transparent body in the British constitution. Can she suggest a way in which the process might be changed in the future?
Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for treating me as if I were in the Government. Perhaps he would like to ask me that question if I were Secretary of State for Wales, but I think that it should be put to the current Secretary of State.
That is what we must examine. It is a way of passingalmosta concealed grant of direct legislative competence to Cardiff, and we need to examine it in
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detail. However, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to answer the hon. Gentleman's question, as he is currently the Secretary of State.
The proposed rigging of the electoral system will, despite the protestations of the Secretary of State, prevent candidates who stand in one of the 40 single Member constituencies and who fail to be elected from also standing on the regional top-up lists in any of the regional constituency areas.
The prime motivation for this appears to be the political interests of the Labour party in Wales. The Secretary of State and the First Minister have both said that, in respect of full law-making powers, we have to wait for the consensus. That is fine, but clearly there is no consensus whatever for the proposed change to the electoral system.
Mrs. Gillan: I do not believe that the changes to the electoral system for all elections throughout the UK were featured in the manifesto. Or did it apply only to Wales? This is an issue on which the Welsh Affairs Committee divided on party lines.
The commission also made the point that such a change needed to be considered in a UK rather than just a Welsh context. Perhaps the Secretary of State could tell the House when he expects his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to adopt the same procedures for elections to the Scottish Parliament. Why did such changes not form part of the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Act 2004?
Mr. Hain: As the hon. Lady has raised the issue, I shall tell her that the measure appeared in the UK manifesto. A more extensive description appeared in the Welsh manifesto, but the specific commitment appeared in Labour's UK manifesto, which was fought on by every candidate throughout the UK.
Does that mean that the Government will apply the measure to Scotland, in which case why
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did it not form part of the Labour party's representation to the Arbuthnot commission? If it is a principle, which the Secretary of State has said it is, it should apply right across the UK.
The truth is that this is a spiteful and anti-democratic measure that should have no place in a Government of Wales Bill and may not even survive a challenge under human rights legislation. In December, the Secretary of State boldly asserted that, in his view, the Bill would settle the constitutional question in Wales. In his own words:
The Bill offers little prospect of long-term constitutional stability. It proposes a hybrid system of enhanced legislative powers that weakens Parliament and the role of Welsh MPs, while fundamentally changing the 1998 devolution settlement without giving the people of Wales a vote or a voice. Further, it seeks to rig the electoral system to the partisan advantage of the Labour Party.
If the Government thought that the time has come to make further devolution to Wales, the honest way of going about it would be to consult the people of Wales now, through a referendum, and not wait until some intermediate point along the path, by which time important changes will have been introduced under the guise of this Bill. The Secretary of State had the opportunity to improve the operations of the Assembly simply by separating the Assembly Government from the Assembly Members. Instead, I am afraid that he has chosen to pursue his political interests at the same time, jeopardising the legislation and compromising the people of Wales by adding provisions for partisan, party purposes. I am sorry that he has made that choice.
We have had no choice but to table a reasoned amendment, and I ask the House to support it in the Lobby tonight. I will not vote against Second Reading if a vote is called because there are elements of the Bill that we Conservatives support, but because the Secretary of State has chosen to include partisan, party proposals, I had no choice but to table a reasoned amendment and to include it in the Order Paper. I ask my hon. Friends to vote with me on it.
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