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Mr. Grieve: If the question is, do people wish to be governed by Order in Council moderated in its detail by the Welsh Assembly, that is a matter[Interruption.] That is the question, and if the question cannot be put, perhaps that is a good reason for not embarking on the project in the first place. The complexity of the Government's proposals is one of the reasons why I find them objectionable and why I am anxious about them. The proposals will deprive the House of its ability to carry out its function of scrutiny of primary legislation, but it does not hand that function lock, stock and barrel over to the Welsh Assembly. It hands it over to a hybrid system in which the key linchpin is the Secretary of State. To that extent, the other model, which is to give primary legislative power to the Welsh Assembly, is certainly constitutionally much neater, but it runs the risk of being rejected.
I am afraid that I have very little doubt, as was pointed out eloquently by some Members who participated in the debate, that the reason that the Government have not embarked on the referendum is that they do not think that they will carry the Welsh electorate with them. The success of devolution has not been sufficient to justify it. We cannot support the most important part of the Bill, and that explains why we must table a reasoned amendment. As it is the central part of the Bill, how can we possibly not register our displeasure at an early stage about the way in which the Government have chosen to proceed?
There are all sorts of unanswered questions about the procedure. The Government say that there will be pre-legislative scrutiny, but they completely gloss over what will be subjected to such scrutiny. It will be only Orders in Council. Assembly measures cannot be subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny because they will not exist. The Government are thus misleading the public and some of their Back Benchers about what will happen.
The capacity of the House to have any real input into the detail of legislation will be affected. I always remember Tam Dalyell's comment that the devil lies in the detail, which he rightly said repeatedly in the devolution debates of the late 1990s, and our inability to examine the detail is the absolute Achilles heel of the way in which we legislate in this country. Even if the Assembly is well meaning and works hard, I do not think that it is an adequate substitute for what we do in the House. If it were to be such a substitute, the proper way of achieving that would be to transfer primary legislative functions to the Welsh Assembly. If the people of Wales do not want that, the Secretary of State should accept that they perhaps want to work within the existing system, not along the lines that the Government propose.
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I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) said that the Bill was a sleight of hand. It is in fact a deception because it proposes a major constitutional change, but denies a referendum to the Welsh people through which they can express their view on it. On those grounds alone, we would be entitled to vote against the Bill on Second Reading, but because we wished to support certain aspects of it, the proper course of action was to table a reasoned amendment. I encourage hon. Members on both sides of the House to give serious consideration to supporting it.
On the electoral system, we are in danger of embarking on a theatre of the absurd. I am a believer in first past the post. I did not like it when we introduced proportional representation systems, and I still do not like them. However, if we are going to have them, we have jolly well got to accept the consequences of having them and try to ensure, as a Parliament, a degree of consistency in respect of them.
The exceptional measures that the Government have decided to apply only to Walesnot to Scotland or the London assemblydo not stand up to close scrutiny. Elected Members of an Assembly or Parliament are members of a body corporate. If we decide to give people alternative ways of getting in there, we have to live with the consequences. The purpose of getting into Parliament or an Assembly is to participate in the decision-making process. Parties exist because they wish to promote individuals who they think can participate in that process and make a contribution. Fettering that discretion because the political classes in Wales do not like the fact that losers get in by an alternative way that they themselves enacted in legislation eight years ago is not an adequate response. If the House wishes to devise another system, I am only too happy to co-operate with the Secretary of State or the right hon. Member for Torfaen to achieve that. However, I am not prepared to see tinkering with a system that has been justified and explained to the House on numerous occasions after being brought in, but has suddenly ceased to be flavour of the month.
I thank hon. Members who expressed words of greeting to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham as she takes over her task as shadow Welsh Secretary. I look forward to the debates in the Committee of the whole House when we will have the opportunity to consider the detail of the Bill. However, the Bill is sadly wanting. I am afraid that it is a typical piece of new Labour tinkering with constitutional propriety. It is a dishonest piece of legislation because it says that it does something, yet in fact does something rather different and far more fundamental to the constitution of this country.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger):
I, too, welcome the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) to her new position. I also want to pass on my condolences to the families of Merlyn Rees and Tony Banks.
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It has been a long and interesting debate, to which I believe I am the 27th contributor. We have learned something from the position of the Tory party: it is even more divided than it was on devolution. The comments made by the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) do not seem to be in tune with those of his new leader. As there have been so many contributions, I am sure that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not address every one that has been made. Some big issues have been raised and I will address those.
We have had a great deal of discussion and debate about the Orders in Council and the Assembly measures. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham mentioned the issue, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis), the hon. Members for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). I will not go on with the list, but many Members made reference to the Orders in Council.
According to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), the issue seems to be whether the Order in Council process will allow proper scrutiny of legislation. It might be worth while explaining how the system is proposed to work and then perhaps hon. Members will be reassured. An Order in Council would start with a debate in the Assembly, in which the policy arguments would be discussed. The Assembly Government would then request the Secretary of State to lay an order. It would be a preliminary draft Order in Council, alongside which would be an explanatory memorandum that would detail the policy, the practical effect and the legislative impact of the order.
It would be for the House to decide how to undertake the pre-legislative scrutiny. We have the Welsh Affairs Committee, which has scrutinised many all-Wales pieces of legislation and done an excellent job. We also have the facility, if needed and if the House felt it was required, to use
Yes, the preliminary draft measure, along with its explanatory memorandum, will be attached. It will therefore, going through its pre-legislative scrutiny, be amendable. My right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen expressed concern that it could not be amended. In its preliminary draft form, when it was going through the pre-legislative scrutiny process, it could be amended. Once the process has been completed, it would go back to the Assembly for the wording of the order to be confirmed. It would come before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who would lay the Order in Council. We would then have an hour and a half debate on the Floor of the House, if required. The usual channels would decide how it would work.
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The important thing, which the Conservative party cannot accept, is that the detail of the legislation that would be proposed and to which permission would be given by this House would be scrutinised by the Assembly. We are getting rather a spurious argument. The Tories have not changed that much and they do not want further powers devolved down to the Assembly for it to scrutinise its own legislation.
There is no fundamental change to the devolution settlement. Parliament remains in pole position. As many hon. Members will know, we are already giving framework powers to the National Assembly for Wales. For example, in relation to the NHS Redress Bill the Assembly will be given framework powers to develop its own scheme. Under that Bill, the Assembly will decide its own regulations on a complete smoking ban in Wales. Those processes are ongoing. Our aim in the Orders in Council process is to overcome the parliamentary legislative logjam and to fast-track Welsh legislation. It is certainly not a back-door mechanism; it is open and transparent, unlike the present procedures. The Assembly may want a piece of legislation to be passed, but it is up the Secretary of State and various Committees in this place and in government to decide whether it becomes part of our legislative programme.
Let me assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West, who is no longer in his place, that there was widespread consultation on the White Paper and that the Parliament Act cannot be used in relation to Orders in Council. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) compared the process in the Bill with the Northern Ireland process, but, as I am sure he now accepts after my explanation, they are not alike. The detail of the Orders in Council under the Bill will be scrutinised by the Assembly.
Another issue that exercised hon. Members on both sides of the House is that of dual candidacy. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) and other hon. Members quoted the Welsh Affairs Committee report and the evidence given to that Committee, but having read that report I have to say, in all humility, that I saw no evidence that the Labour party is being partisan; what I saw was opinions expressed by academics and others. In fact, evidence presented by other academics argued strongly that dual candidacy was a real issue.
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