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Mr. Grieve: In each case, we want to achieve two things. First, we want it to be clear that the changes are what the people of Wales want. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) will move the next group of amendments on the need for a referendum on the part 3 proposals. Those proposals are of as great constitutional significance as the part 4 proposals. In fact, in terms of the practical consequences of removing scrutiny by this House from the life of the people of Wales in certain areas of primary legislation, part 3 is as important as part 4, so it is in our view wrong to deny people a referendum in those circumstances.
The question is what is the formula that we would offer the people of Wales? That is what the amendments in this group are about. In brief, they envisage that this House, instead of just voting to allow the Assembly to enact legislation in accordance with the framework in a draft Order in Council, would have an opportunity to see the finished product when it came back from the Assembly. The House would then have the opportunity to say yes or no to it.
At one point earlier, I heard a sedentary intervention that implied that the amendments would provide some appalling obstacle or would be anti-democratic in terms of the Assembly's rights. However, it is worth noting that the Secretary of State already possesses major residual powers under the part 3 procedure to obstruct the passage of legislation. If I am asked whether it is better for the Secretary of State to have the powers to obstruct or for this House to take a decision because it considers that the legislation is unsatisfactory, I think that, in terms of democratic accountability, it is better for this House to make the decision. The further debate of one and a half hours that would take place would be extremely important in highlighting whether Members of the House have any reservations about what the Assembly has done and about the detail on whether there was any great difference between the original instruction or permission that was given to the Assembly and the end product that came back.
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It is worth remembering, for examplethe hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) will be aware of thisthat there are all sorts of mechanisms and procedures by which the Secretary of State can make the Assembly reconsider the detail of its proposals under part 3, so the idea that the Assembly has unfettered discretion under part 3 simply does not reflect the case. What is lost in part 3, as it is drafted, is our ability as Members of Parliament to serve the people of this country properly by carrying out our normal scrutiny role. I am prepared to go along with that, but only if we have the opportunity of looking at the end product as well as the proposal.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): By way of underlining the case that my hon. Friend makes, does he recall Second Reading on 9 January and the part of that debate in which the Secretary of State told me that he was preserving his power to intervene in certain cases precisely to protect Parliament? May I put it to my hon. Friend that the mistake that the right hon. Gentleman has made is to regard himself, on the one hand, and Parliament, on the other, as synonymous? Surely if the interests of Parliament are to be protected and we have a choice as to whether the Secretary of State or the House is to do that, most of us would opt for the latter.
Mr. Grieve: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. There are some worrying aspects of part 3. I have a niggling feeling that it is only the beginning of a process that, one day, we will find foisted on people in England as well. Effectively, this Parliament will shed its responsibility for primary legislation except as a rubber stamp or stop mechanism. It will be said that it is so much better that such legislation is considered at a lower level with a wonderful dialogue taking place between the Executive and Assemblies that can be browbeaten. Scrutiny of such legislation can be dispensed with when, in fact, it has been our meat and drink for many centuries. It is in the detail and in our willingness to address the detail that lies our best ability to serve our constituents and the electorate of this country.
It is one thing to part, by way of devolution, as we did for Scotland, with a tranche of powers and say, "This is what you want and we wash our hands of our responsibility for it", but it is quite another to create a hybrid in which we will end up being criticised for poor governanceand rightly so, because we will have parted with part of our responsibility and thereby failed to discharge other parts of it in any way that is proper.
I hope that amendment No. 161, which provides for that double scrutiny, commends itself to the Committee. The other amendments in the groupamendments Nos. 171, 178 and 179are consequential and simply amend other clauses, including clause 101, so that they read in a manner that is compatible. That is the intention, but the draftsmen may inform us that they could be improved. If the Government find the principle of what we are saying worth while, I am sure that the draftsmen will be able to put it into proper order.
I would like an explanation from the Minister as to what that would mean in practice. If the Assembly enacts Assembly Measures in a manner and by procedures that are fundamentally flawed and subsequently overturned by the courtsthat is the likely route that would be takenwhy should those Measures be deemed to have been valid at the time? I am worried about that.
I understand the need for such a provision when a sovereign body is legislating because it is not answerable to anyone. However, why is such a safeguard being provided to the Assembly, as a subordinate body, because I would not necessarily have expected it to have one? It might mean, for example, that an Assembly Measure could wrongly affect people's private interests and that, subsequent to it being overturned because of the invalidity of the process, there would be no redress for those individuals whatsoever. Is that the proper course of action for the House to adopt? Perhaps the Minister will be able to give me another explanation for why subsection (3) has been included in the Bill. The provision troubles me, so I hope that he will be able to enlighten us on how it is intended that it will work.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Subsection (3) troubles me, too. It is extraordinary that the proceedings of the Assembly could be deemed invalid, yet that the legislation that was passed, which could affect thousands, if not millions, of people, could be deemed valid in the courts. Surely that would undermine the duty of care relating to legislative scrutiny in Wales.
Mr. Grieve: I agree with my hon. Friend. It would also undermine the duty of care that we owe to the people of Wales of ensuring that the legislation that they will get through the hybrid system is acceptable. The buck stops with us. Why should we give a blanket exemption to the Assembly if it fails to operate in line with the statutory powers that have been conferred on it, without which it has no power whatsoever?
There are aspects of the Bill that cause concern because of the extent to which the Assembly will be able to depart from its standing orders. We want to have the necessary reassurance that the Assembly will discharge its functions under the hybrid system in the way in which Parliament intends, but the Bill will allow it to change its standing orders so that it does not scrutinise legislation fully. That is an extraordinary thing to do in part 3. It might be a proper thing to do in part 4 if we are handing over a tranche of responsibilities entirely, but doing that in part 3 is very odd. I hope that the Minister will take the first opportunity to respond to that point.
I apologise for taking up so much of the Committee's time, but the matter is important and numerous interventions have been made. If part 3 of the Bill were to be acceptable in any way, a situation in which the House did not have control over the final text of legislation to be implemented, even if the detail had been worked out by the Welsh Assembly, would be quite wrong. The amendments are designed to address that situation.
I listened intently to what the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said. He is a good debater and an extremely clever man. I share his concerns about the numerous aspects of the Bill that almost give a mandate to the Secretary of State to run Wales from his armchair. However, there are several reasons why I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's solution is right. I believe that there will be sufficient scrutiny, even at stage three, and that more than a sufficient role for Members of Parliament will be built in to the process as the Bill stands.
I have two great concerns. First, having allowedperhaps that is the wrong word; perhaps I should say "permitted", or even "seen"the National Assembly to go into considerable detail as part of a process that may last many months, we have that detail brought to us in this House, and in an hour and a half, we are expected to go through all the detail and all the amendments that are necessary. That is not feasible.
The hon. Member for Beaconsfield rightly said at the beginning of his speech that we often get legislation wrong in this place. That is partly because we are overworked; we have too much to do. With European legislation and everything that goes on in Committee and so on, it is difficult to catch up with everything that goes through this House. This suggestion would add to that work load.
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