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Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I want to make a brief contribution. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) says that part 3 gives primary legislation to the Welsh Assembly by the back door. That is the basis of his argument, which is a huge exaggeration. The proposals in the Bill are relatively modest. I would support primary legislative powers and campaign for them, but only if there were a referendum. I do not believe that the proposed measures introduce primary legislative powers.
Part 3 clearly preserves the right of Parliament to oversee legislation in Wales in principle. It is clearly laid down that that right will be debated in Parliament and that the Assembly will not be able to go ahead with anything unless it is debated here. If the hon. Gentleman's proposals were adopted, it would make the whole process much more cumbersome and difficult. It
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would be a step backwards. As a result, a proposal that I support strongly, albeit a small step forward, would be held back.
Mr. David Jones : Does the hon. Lady agree that, once legislative competence has been devolved by adding a matter to one of the fields listed in schedule 5, the Assembly can continue to make Assembly Measures ad infinitum, without any input from this House? Once legislative competence is devolved, it is devolved for good, and this House will have no input in the process.
Julie Morgan: As has been noted, devolution exists already. The Assembly is democratically elected, and we must trust its ability to carry out legislative functions. The Opposition are making a great mistake in attempting to hang on to power in Westminster in a way that will not allow the Assembly to develop.
There will be difficulties when it comes to scrutiny, as the Assembly has only 60 Members, and it must take that problem on board and deal with it. However, I strongly support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) and others about the importance of pre-legislative scrutiny and of working together through the Welsh Affairs Committee. When I was a member of that Committee, we worked with the Assembly to carry out joint scrutiny of quite a few Bills. That extremely effective way of working can be built into this process.
Nick Ainger: Before I respond to the debate, I want to point out that the amendments, and the contribution by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), take us back to the fundamental question of devolution. The Opposition are reluctant to accept that the democratically elected Assembly in Cardiff does have powers to scrutinise legislation and to hold the Executive to account. The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has said that the Tories have moved to a pro-devolution position, but the amendments seem to cut across that.
The enhanced legislative powers that part 3 would enable to be conferred on the Assembly are an adaptation of the current settlement. Parliament will be able to scrutinise and control the powers that it devolves to the Assembly on a case-by-case basis. It will then be for the Assembly to scrutinise how those powers are used to make Assembly Measures that address the needs of Wales.
In the 1997 referendum, the people of Wales voted by a small majority for devolution powers that were clearly explained. Those powers were subsequently legislated on, and I took part at some length in the debate in this House about the transfer to the Assembly of the Secretary of State's function to make statutory instruments. The Minister seems to want to fudge the issue, so does he agree that the Bill, by means of the mechanism in part 3, transfers further powers to the Assembly? If part 3 is enacted, therefore,
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the Assembly will be able to do things that it could not do previously. Can we get that established at the outset, so that we can see the parameters of the debate?
Nick Ainger: Very simply, the answer is yes, because giving the Assembly enhanced legislative powers was a manifesto commitment. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman had to ask that question, given the purpose of the Bill and everything that we have said about it, including in the White Paper.
The Bill is designed to give the Assembly enhanced legislative powers, but the amendments show that the Tories still have no faith in the Assembly's ability to scrutinise its own legislation. If that is not so, why does Amendment No. 161 enable Parliament to examine an Assembly Measure not only at the beginning of the process but at the end, and to say yes or no to it? That is not accepting devolution.
David T.C. Davies : As one of the more sceptical Assembly Members, I can assure the Minister that we do not think that the Assembly would fail to do the job of scrutinising; it would do as good a job as it possibly could. My point isto some extent, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) agreed with thisthat 60 people, even with the help of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee and of Joint Committees, are not going to be able to do as good a job as the 1,000-plus who sit in this House and in the other place.
Nick Ainger: That is an interesting point, but once the hon. Gentleman has been here a little longer and been through the Whips Office, he will perhaps realise how many people are actually actively involved in scrutinising legislation. It is interesting to count the number of Members who participate in the scrutiny even of controversial Bills on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading. The Assembly currently sits for only two or three days a week, and as the First Minister and its Presiding Officer have said, it will have to sit full time. Its doing so will address a lot of the practical problems associated with 60 AMs scrutinising legislation.
The hon. Member for Beaconsfield said that these amendments would not affect current processes, but frankly they attempt to turn the clock back. Schedule 11 allows for framework powers that can be given to the Assembly through primary legislation to be converted into Orders in Council or into Assembly Measures. If his amendment were accepted, legislation that the Assembly had been given the power to develop by primary legislation passed in this House would have to come back to this place for further approval. That is nonsensical. We are trying to give the Assembly enhanced powers, but if his amendment were accepted, the Assembly would have to come back here for approval of such legislation, yet secondary legislation undertaken by the Assembly would not be affected. That, too, is nonsensical.
The Minister will surely see some logic in our proposal. The giving of enhanced powers to do things that previously were not possible is a very good reason for asking that such legislation be sent back for
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approval. However, we are content that the ordinary powers provided for under statutory instrument should not be sent back. That is a perfectly basic and sensible point, and if I have misunderstood the Minister he will doubtless explain himself.
Nick Ainger: That is not giving enhanced legislative powersit is keeping a very tight grip on such powers. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read the White Paper, and I remind him that the Bill's purpose is to give enhanced legislative powers to the Assembly.
Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the Ministersuch to-ing and fro-ing can be helpful. He clearly did not listen fully to what I said. I pointed out at the outset that if the Government want to give the Assembly primary legislative functions, we will support part 4, subject to a referendum. Instead, however, they propose to give the Assembly the ability, through Order in Council, to enact Assembly Measures that currently require primary legislation passed first in this House. That is where we have a disagreement. If the Minister wishes to proceed down that route, my view, without the part 4 procedure, would be that although I might be prepared to let the detail be worked out by the Assembly, I should still wish the Measure to come back to be validated by the House before it could be enacted.
We have a disagreement, but to say that I am not prepared to give enhanced powers to the Assembly is to traduce my words. No logical analysis could lead the Minister to that conclusion, leaving just a desire, I am afraid, to make propaganda, which slightly irritates me.
The Temporary Chairman: Order. I make a plea for slightly shorter interventions. From the Chair, they appear to be becoming short speeches. I appeal to hon. Members to try to make interventions shorter.
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