Previous SectionIndexHome Page

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Lembit Öpik: No. I am about to finish and Members can make speeches of their own.

Scotland has a Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh Liberal Democrats who helped to guide the original devolution legislation through in 1997 were always apprised of the difference. We felt that Wales was getting a second-class arrangement in comparison with Scotland. I ask right hon. and hon. Members to consider that just as Scotland has a Scottish Parliament, it would be reasonable for Wales to have a Welsh Senedd.

We believe that this is an iconic matter. We will listen to whatever contributions are made, but we sincerely hope that Opposition parties, and the more progressive people on the Government Benches, will see fit to support the amendment.

David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): I was disappointed not to be able to contribute to the debate on 9 January. I know well, from reading early-day motion 1421, that Welsh Members take an active interest in the deliberations of the Scottish Parliament, and this is reciprocated by Scottish Members in respect of the National Assembly of Wales—[Hon. Members: "For Wales!"] I mean the National Assembly for Wales. In any event, the Scottish Parliament provides an important point of reference in the explanatory notes on the Bill.

I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) said, and it is pretty much the same as what he said in the debate in 1997, when the Liberal Democrats made the same proposal. Now, as then, we are not convinced of its merits. Indeed, our view is even more pronounced now than when it was eloquently put on that occasion by my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans).

The term "Welsh Assembly" has been in common parlance for some six and half years among the people of Wales. Some—although not those on the Conservative Benches—may take its name in vain; others may speak
23 Jan 2006 : Column 1170
more highly of it. It would bring little benefit, other than to signwriters and stationers, who are already well catered for in Wales, to change the name at this stage.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): As the hon. Gentleman's party now ostensibly supports furtherance of the devolution settlement, would he be in favour of the Assembly being called the Welsh Parliament or the Parliament of Wales?

3.45 pm

David Mundell: We are not in favour of that proposal unless it is the clear wish of the people of Wales, as evidenced in a referendum.

We should not forget that it is not the name or, dare I say, the powers of a body that deliver it recognition, authority and respect. It is how it behaves and what it delivers for the people. Many bodies and organisations have sought to operate with a different name but have had mixed success, because ultimately it is the public and what they want that matters, and in this case they clearly recognise the Welsh Assembly.

If we reflect on the work of the Richard commission, we see that it is clear that on a number of aspects voters in Wales are confused, as I think we shall hear throughout the consideration of this Bill, about the exact role of the Assembly, just as people are in relation to the Scottish Parliament. In light of that confusion and of the need to address it, I see no benefit in moving forward with this measure at this time when the effort should be directed towards extending understanding of the Welsh Assembly. Accordingly, we oppose the amendments.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The amendment is worthy of support. Adverting to what has just been said about some perceived confusion, I should say that the new building in Cardiff is to be known as the "Senedd". Therefore, far from creating more confusion, the proposal might even clear up confusion. I do not in principle see why it should not be called a Senedd. In future, who knows, there might be regional assemblies in England, and a distinction must be drawn between the legislative body for the whole of Wales and a regional assembly in England. Therefore, the amendments are sensible.

I do not want to dwell too long on the amendments, but if the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) is to divide the Committee on this issue, we will support him. I am glad that we have had the opportunity to debate these amendments and we will support him in a vote.

David T.C. Davies: I am surprised that Plaid Cymru Members are choosing to support the amendment, because I would have thought that, for different reasons, we would all have an interest in opposing it. I oppose the amendment because, as the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) has pointed out, the word "Senedd" translates, as probably everyone here knows, as "parliament". To suggest that the Welsh Assembly should be called the Welsh equivalent of "parliament" would add a lot of confusion. I would not have thought that that would be in the interests of Plaid Cymru, as it would suggest that a parliament exists, but at the
23 Jan 2006 : Column 1171
moment we have only the Welsh Assembly. It would almost be a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act to describe the Welsh Assembly as a parliament. I and many of my colleagues would like it to remain a Welsh Assembly. Therefore, we do not support the idea of calling it a parliament, as that would add to the inevitability of it becoming one.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman clarify for my benefit and for that of others whether the new debating chamber is to be called a Senedd? Would not calling the debating chamber as well as the rest of the institution a Senedd cause confusion?

David T.C. Davies: It will certainly cause a lot of confusion. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is correct that the debating chamber is to be called a Senedd, but I am afraid that he will have to ask others why, because they certainly did not consult the hon. Member for Monmouth when coming up with its name. He will surely recognise, as his colleagues appear to, that at the moment we have the National Assembly, and that, we are told, is what it will remain even after this legislation goes through. To call it something else, even in Welsh, will add to the confusion and I therefore suggest that we oppose the amendment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) said in introducing this group of amendments that it was iconic. Basically, he and others believe that they should have a parliament for Wales, but the Government of Wales Act 1998 and this Bill do not create a parliament.

The hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell)—the name of his constituency is even longer than mine—made the point that there was an extensive debate on the term "Senedd" in the Committee on the Government of Wales Act 1998 and it was decided then that the title "Assembly" was appropriate. Although I understand the position taken by the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), the Government and the Assembly are happy with the title "National Assembly for Wales". Several hon. Members referred to the risk of causing further confusion and the possibility that people would start to refer to the body as "parliament", which could cause it to be confused with this place.

All hon. Members agree on the proposals in the Bill for the separation of the legislature and the Executive. One of the reasons why we need that separation is to give clarity to the devolution settlement in Wales—the public need to understand who is responsible for decisions. In putting that separation into effect, we are sticking with the terms that have gained common currency in the past four years: "the Assembly" and "the Wales Assembly Government". It has been argued that a new name for the Assembly would bring home to people the difference between the Government and the legislative body, but I do not believe that that argument is justified. The fact is that people have got used to calling the Assembly "the Assembly" and changing its name to "the Senedd" would only cause confusion.
23 Jan 2006 : Column 1172

Given that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire has said that he will press the amendment to a Division, I urge the Committee to reject it.

Lembit Öpik: In our extensive debate today we have more or less rehearsed the debates that those of us who were in Parliament in 1997 had then. For that reason, it is appropriate to be concise in responding to the key points made.

We need to start looking at the big picture. We are not dealing with legislation for the next few years: it is likely that the decisions that we make today will be in force for decades and that the institution itself will exist for centuries. It is therefore appropriate that, six or seven years into the Assembly's life, we get the terminology right. There is a difference of view, but I am surprised that the hon. Members for Caerphilly (Mr. David) and for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) think that people would be confused if "Senedd" meant a building as well as an institution. I presume that they are speaking from experience—that on at least one occasion the hon. Member for Monmouth got lost because both the building in which we are debating and the political institution of which we are a part are often referred to as "the British Parliament," but I have never got lost like that and I have never heard of other politicians doing so. More than anything, as the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said, changing the name would create consistency between the bricks and mortar and the politics of Wales. Hon. Members need not fear: in 10 years' time, "Assembly" will have been comfortably replaced by "Senedd".

Next Section IndexHome Page