|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Grieve: We come now to an important part of the consideration of part 3 in respect of Assembly Measures. As we pointed out briefly on Second Reading, the problem concerning the Assembly Measures procedure is that it is a way of getting around the necessity of holding a referendum to give primary legislative power to the Welsh Assembly. As we explained and is our view, while there may be arguments for or against giving primary legislative power to the Welsh Assembly, that is a matter for the people of Wales to determine if they so wish and a referendum is the essential precondition for doing that.
The problem of the route that appears to commend itself to the Government and that is contained in part 3 is that it envisages achieving roughly the same outcome by a mechanism that does not require a referendum and does not give primary legislative power to the Welsh Assembly. It allows the Welsh Assembly to enact Orders in Council, which are equivalent in scope to primary legislation.
23 Jan 2006 : Column 1178
We exist in this House to scrutinise legislation. We may not do it as well as we should. Guillotines, lack of time and a host of other problems, some of them archaic procedure, do not lend themselves to our always doing it properly. Nevertheless, the process of a Billthe process on which we are embarked this afternoonis important. We are here not just to pass principles of legislation but, normally, to look at its detail. As most of us know, the process by which we examine the detail of legislation, if people are prepared to bother to come into the Chamber, sit, listen and participate, can improve legislation. The people who go up to the Committee corridors and listen to a Standing Committee are often pleasantly surprised to note the spirit in which the debate is conducted and sometimes the willingness of the Government to accept proposals.
On the whole, it is a pretty good process but the problem is that the Government intend to take the detailed scrutiny of the legislation away from this House and to give it to the Welsh Assembly. Not only that, but the process that they are proposing to the Committee to get around the problem of not enacting primary legislation entails a diminution of scrutiny and a raising of the power of the Secretary of Statethe Executiveto interfere with the legislative process. Throughout the procedure in part 3, it is the Secretary of State who will be exercising a form of tutelage over the way in which the Welsh Assembly carries out its functions. He has the power to block and to interfere and, in many cases, he will be able to exert influence because he can threaten to stop the procedure.
Mr. Grieve: The Minister nods, but we have since had a correction. The difficulty that I am describing is that the House will be asked to vote on an Order in Council that cannot be amended but which sets out the parameters of what the Welsh Assembly legislates on. After that, the House has no further role in the process.
The Secretary of State made it clear that the Government will do all that they can to provide information about a proposed Assembly Measure before the House votes on it, which will happen at the end of the normal short debate on an Order in Council.
23 Jan 2006 : Column 1179
The problem arises once the House has voted on the proposal and the Secretary of State has approved it: after its own scrutiny process, the Assembly might produce a Measure substantially different in detail from the draft proposal on which this House votes.
That problem must be inherent in the procedure that the Secretary of State proposes. Although this House will retain responsibility for primary legislation in this country, there is a danger that it will abdicate some of that responsibility.
Mr. Grieve: The Secretary of State shakes his head, but an MP is sent to the House to legislate. If the people of Wales make it clear in a referendum that they want the Welsh Assembly to have responsibility for primary legislation, and if the Government hand over that responsibility, the result will be similar to what happened with Scotlandthis House will relinquish some of its power, and therefore shed an element of sovereignty.
The Secretary of State will accept that, when the Government's proposed procedure is a hybrid, the responsibility for good governance remains here. However, the Government's proposals envisage that this House will part with its responsibility in response to a draft document that cannot be reconsidered. That is what worries me: once the principle of the Order in Council has been accepted, the Secretary of State and the Assembly will resolve the details of legislation and Parliament will have no further opportunity to consider the matter.
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman and his party have to decide whether they are on the side of the Assembly, and whether they favour the proposed modest extension of its powers through Orders in Council and the Assembly Measures that will follow. The Opposition are in a bind: when it comes to the crunch, they do not want to give the Assembly more powers because they would prefer to retain all the power in Westminster. I stress that nothing will be decided other than as a result of this House's express authority, which will confer on the Assembly the ability to promote Measures in the area designated by the Order in Council. The House and Parliament will remain in charge.
Mr. Grieve: I am grateful for that intervention, because I do not think that the Secretary of State understands the procedure of this House at all. This is the Committee stage of a Bill that is an important constitutional measure. It is being held on the Floor of the House so that hon. Members, and especially Opposition Members, can probe and question the Government about their proposals.
"are a total insult to the people of Wales. Not only do they prove that the Tories still don't understand devolution and don't trust the Assembly. They show that the Tories are trying to turn the clock back and reverse the outcome of the 1997 referendum."
The Secretary of State has been in this House longer than I have and he can read the amendments that we have tabled. May I gently point out to him that some of them adopt the alternative position? That seems not to have dawned on him in considering the Bill. [Interruption.] He says, "They are all down there." This is a classic illustration of all that is wrong with this Government. What does he think that we are supposed to be doing here today? We are supposed to be scrutinising and probing and putting proposals to the Government that might indeed commend themselves to him. Yet all he does is to lump our amendments together, put out a propaganda statement that is worthy of South Africa's apartheid regime in terms of trying to blacken one's opponents, and tell the Committee that this is a wrecking procedure. It is nothing of the kind. [Interruption.] If the Secretary of State would listen, he would discover those areas of the Bill that we think could be improved, and those about which we are concerned.
One way in which we might address the problem that I identified is to provide a mechanism through which the House of Commonsand, indeed, the House of Lordscan both vote to empower the Assembly to work out the detail of such legislation and enact it, and vote on that legislation once it has been prepared, so as to give its seal of approval. That mechanism does not involve 16 more hoopsit involves one.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|