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Is it not worse than that? Is it not true that when Labour politicians saw how close the result of
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the referendum was likely to be, they went round the Principality telling people that they need not be frightened, because the proposals were a step not towards a Welsh Parliament but towards a kind of local government in which Wales would be able properly to examine the details rather than the principles? If they had not done that, they would have lost even that referendum.
Mrs. Gillan: I have always had the impression, from talking to people who lived through that, that the message from the Government at the time was the one that they thought their audience wanted to hear. On one street corner, they played the proposals down, telling people that they would stay firmly part of the United Kingdom, that primary legislation would remain with Parliament, and that the Assembly would deal only with secondary legislation, while on the next street corner, they were selling the measures as the final road to independence.
Mr. Llwyd: I shared many a platform with people from the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats at that time, and I did not hear any of that kind of thing being said. While the hon. Lady is talking about putting this question to the people of Wales, may I ask her to comment on something that her leader in the Welsh Assembly said recently? He said:
"I think we have at the moment an insecure settlement which cannot persist. We either need to move forward to legislative powers or abolish the assembly and I think that's not an option. We've got to see how we can move things forward and that's got to mean legislative powers."
Mrs. Gillan: These are obviously selective quotes from the hon. Gentleman. However, neither of those statements is incompatible with our view that, if we are to move forward in that fashion, we should hold a referendum. I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman appreciated the spirit of our amendment, which would allow the people of Wales to have a voice. Too often, they have been ignored. The amendment would provide the opportunity for them to say what they would like and whether they approved of the detailed plans in the Bill. If the people of Wales were capable of being consulted on the detailed proposals before, why not ask them again this time, when the mechanisms for legislation and the outcomes are so patently perceived to be changing in such a complex and opaque fashion?
Another reason that is given for the introduction of Assembly Measures is the lack of parliamentary time and the alleged frustrations of the Welsh Assembly Ministers with their failure to secure legislative time. When I spoke to the First Minister a few weeks ago, the only real example that he cited was the failure to get legislation considered that would make St. David's day
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a bank holiday. In other words, it was a proposal that he had put forward and that the Government had sought to block by ignoring it.
There is no real evidence of a vast backlog of legislation. These measures are therefore an indictment of the way in which the Secretary of State fights his corner in Cabinet for legislative time to be given to Wales. If that is the case, will a full list of every proposal that has been rejected by the Labour Government to date be placed before the House? I invite the Minister to place in the Library of both Houses a list of the requests that the Secretary of State and the Department have received from the Assembly that they have failed to satisfy. If we had that list before us, we would be better able to understand the position relating to the legislative timetable and the blockage to which everyone is alluding.
It is interesting that, while we are arguing about this in Westminster, the First Minister is arguing a different point in the Welsh Assembly. Last week, he stated that a "Westminster Department or two" would be able to get a Bill that they would not be able to get at the moment because of the lack of time in the parliamentary year. It is interesting that the Assembly should be pleading the case of Government Departments here, but I find it hard to believe that the parliamentary timetable is really so overcrowded, especially as the Government have now pulled their Northern Ireland on-the-runs legislation and appear to have pulled their legislation on the National Offender Management Service. They are also devoting six days on the Floor of the House to this Bill. I believe that there would have been plenty of time to accommodate not only the hard-done-by Westminster Departments so fondly defended by the First Minister but any outstanding requests from the Assembly.
However, the very fact that detailed scrutiny is to pass to the Assembly highlights the variation between the Government's proposals and what the people of Wales have voted for. Such a change should receive their blessing or otherwise. Such a complicated process should not be put before the House when we could dispense with part 3 if we speeded up the process here and left in the Bill future legislative powers and the provision for the main referendum that has already been suggested. I believe that there is enough parliamentary time, and that this is really a question of business management. However, if this procedure is to be introduced, the people of Wales should have a voice in the matter.
Furthermore, the Minister should have consulted fully in this Parliament before the Bill goes through. In order to know what we would be putting to the people of Wales in a referendum, we should ensure that we have considered these proposals properly in this House and the other place. I was surprised to find that the proposals for the Assembly Measures had not been examined by the Procedure Committee in this House. I wrote to its Chairman on 11 January to ask the Committee to examine the implications of the legislative proposals in the Bill, so that it could give its view on parliamentary scrutiny for the procedures in both Houses. Before any
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matter is put to the people of Wales in any referendum, they should know the views of this House on the procedures that are being promulgated.
On Second Reading, the Secretary of State gave the impression that these matters had been discussed with Lord Holme and Lord Dahrendorf, the Chairmen, respectively, of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Constitution Committee in another place, and that the Committees had been consulted. However, reading the letters from those Chairmen to the Secretary of State that have been placed in the Library of both Houses, it is obvious that neither the Committees nor the Chairmen had even seen the Bill, let alone had the opportunity to comment on it in any fashion. So perhaps the Minister could let us have sight of the response of the Secretary of State and tell us whether the Committees of this House and the other place will have the chance to examine these complex procedures, which were certainly not envisaged by the Richard commission. They would need to be examined to discover the full implications of what we would be putting to the people of Wales in a referendum. As Lord Richard suggested, as a very minimum, the Henry VIII powers ought to be considered, not least to see whether a more transparent and understandable method could be used than the tortuous route envisaged under the Order in Council mechanism.
The Conservative party is committed to giving the Assembly the chance to work well. I do not want to rehearse the argument that we should allow it to improve its current performance before loading more competences on to its Members. As the Richard commission has said, however, given the complexity of devolved powers, knowing what the Assembly can and cannot do is becoming less of a problem for those close to Government, but it remains a central issue of accountability for the people of Wales. Perhaps it would therefore be more sensible to divide the Executive from the Assembly and look for a period of stability rather than load on another piece of complex legislative architecture. Were the Minister to dispense with part 3, maintain the status quo and consider improving the way in which the Welsh Assembly works currentlyas it was envisaged workingperhaps we would withdraw the amendment, as there would be no need to insist on a referendum of the people of Wales.
I want to prevent an open-ended opportunity for repeated referendums should the initial result not be in accordance with the Government's wishes. As we shall see later in our deliberation of the Bill, the Government have a tendency to leave the door wide open for repeated referendums, as they have done on part 4. That would not be healthy legislation, so one of my amendments would rule that out.
The Secretary of State and Labour Ministers constantly try to depict the Conservative party as negative towards devolution. As I have explained, we have proposed a referendum not because we would expect a negative reactionI leave that to the Secretary of State and the First Ministerbut simply to ensure that the Government are moving ahead at a speed that is acceptable to the people of Wales. Nor are we reluctant to see further powers given to the Assembly,
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which should only be done if it has the capability to exercise those powers and the full backing of the Welsh nation.
We have been disappointed by the progress made by the Assembly in its current tasks and would like to see it improve its performance before we spend more time saddling it with what must be one of the most complicated legislative procedures imaginable. If we burden the Assembly in such a fashion, we will risk its existence, because we will be rushing the process to keep pace with Labour's political timetable.
The people of Wales deserve better than that. They deserve a voice in the process. We should consult them before the event, not after. If the Minister has the guts to do it, I ask him to accept the amendments and give the people of Wales the vote that they deserve. He was happy enough to consult them previously, and he should be happy to do so again.
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