|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Nick Ainger: I think that everyone has got it off their chest nowthis artificial indignation, saying that we have something to hide, are misleading the people of Wales and are dishonest. It may be helpful to Conservative Members to read out from the public document that was the UK Labour party's manifesto and the manifesto that we fought the election under in Wales. The UK manifesto says:
"In Wales we will develop democratic devolution by creating a stronger Assembly with enhanced legislative powers and a reformed structure and electoral system to make the exercise of Assembly responsibilities clearer and more accountable to the public."
He has now left his place, but as the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said, the Labour party fought on that manifesto, which was open with the people of Wales that we would give them enhanced legislative powers. I know that Plaid Cymru went further, as did the Liberal Democrats. In Wales, overwhelmingly, those parties that won were looking to give the Assembly more legislative powers. For Conservative Members to claim that we have been trying to slip the proposal through and hide it is totally unacceptable and contrary to the facts. The Labour party had a special conference in September 2004, some six months before the general election, in which we clearly debated the issue and formulated the policy on which that manifesto commitment was based. We have not been trying to slip something through, as was confirmed by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, to whom I am grateful. Conservative Members have failed to make the case that the proposal represents such a substantive change from the position in the 1997 referendum, and the case that was put then, that a second referendum is justified.
At all stages, Parliament will be able to grant powers to the Assembly that are very confined. That means that the change is not hugeunlike the major constitutional change that followed the 1997 election, when the
23 Jan 2006 : Column 1226
60 Members of the Assembly were elected. They were given Executive powers and the ability to deal with secondary legislation that previously had been handled by this place.
The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said that such significant changeshe did not say how they were significantwarranted a referendum. However, part 4 of the Bill states that there will be a referendum if there is a call to move to full primary powers. We are not hiding that, or trying to run away from holding a referendum, as we will hold referendums when they are warranted. I was amazed to hear the right hon. Gentleman ask why, if we were so confident of our manifesto commitment, we were reluctant to put it to a referendum. Our manifesto contained many pledges to the people of Wales and of England, so is it being suggested that all those commitments should be subject to the referendum process? That would be a nonsense. The people of Wales and the rest of the UK gave this Government a mandate to implement this specific manifesto commitment, and that is what we intend to do.
Mr. David Jones: Is the Minister suggesting that it was proper to offer the people of Wales a referendum on the devolution of secondary powers, but not to do so when primary powers are being devolved, albeit on a piecemeal basis?
Nick Ainger: That is exactly the pointwe are devolving primary powers on a case-by-case basis. In each case, Parliament will decide whether it agrees that a measure should be sent down for the Assembly to develop its Assembly Measures.
The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) referred to the comment made on Second Reading by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) that this was a salami-slicing process. Schedule 5 sets out the process by which matters that can be legislated on are identified, so if my right hon. Friend is right, the salami is an awfully long one. Some would say that the Bill goes the whole hog, but if that is true the hog comes rasher by rasher. The Opposition seem to fear primary powers being devolved without a referendum, but that process will take many years, during which time I believe that a referendum is bound to be held.
Nick Ainger: That is true, but it will happen on a case-by-case basis. The documents placed by the Government in the Library give a clear and focused definition of the powers that each Order in Council would confer.
David T.C. Davies:
I shall twist the Minister's metaphor a little further. He has talked about salami slices and rashers, but are not the complicated
23 Jan 2006 : Column 1227
constitutional measures in the Bill more of a dog's breakfast than a cooked breakfast? Few people will understand it.
Nick Ainger: My hon. Friend is right to say that the hon. Gentleman made a bit of a hash of his question, but I do not think that the proposal is that complicated. It is certainly more transparent than the current process. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham asked how many pieces of legislation the Assembly had asked for. I shall not deal with every request since 1999, but at present there are three proposals for Bills that it would like to have on the statute book.
In this Session, the Government are dealing with this Bill and two others. In addition, there have been requests for Bills on tourism and accommodation registration, housing, and local government community councils. There is no way that those Bills could be fitted into the legislative programme for this Session, as they would have to compete with Bills coming from all the Departments in Whitehall. The main purpose of these proposals is to ensure that the Assembly can get the legislation that it needs in a reasonable time and without encountering the logjam that exists as a result of our processes in this Parliament.
Mrs. Gillan: The three pieces of legislation to which the Minister referred could easily be dealt with in less than the time being devoted on the Floor of the House to this Bill. However, I hope that the Minister will give his opinion on what Lord Richard told the Welsh Affairs Committee. He said:
"Let's be frank about it, it is a device to avoid having to come to Westminster and ask for primary powers to be formally devolved. It is quite an interesting device. It is quite a good device in that sense because what you end up with is a situation in which Cardiff ends up with greater powers, Westminster can say they have not devolved primary legislative powers, but depending on the way in which the Order in Council procedure is used, it could, in effect, be a concealed grant of almost a direct legislative competence down to Cardiff."
Nick Ainger: I disagree with Lord Richard on his last point. The Bill is extremely transparent and conceals nothing. There will be pre-legislative scrutiny of all the relevant Orders in Council, the Assembly will use its own procedures to give proper scrutiny to Assembly Measures, and this House and the House of Lords will be able to decide whether the powers defined in the Order in Council should be given to the Assembly.That is a much more transparent system than what we have now. Under the present system, the Assembly can make a request for primary legislation, but there is no real discussion about why that legislation gets delayed or is prevented from reaching the statute book.
On the previous group of amendments, we debated at some length how the proposed powers will work and the degree of change that they represent. The Government argue that Parliament will retain control of the process by
23 Jan 2006 : Column 1228
which power is given to the Assembly to legislate in clearly defined areas, so the Bill does not represent a change that is so substantial and significant that it warrants a referendum. Moreover, I challenge Opposition Members with Welsh constituencies to say how many people have gone to their weekly surgeriesor written to them, or phoned their officesto demand a referendum on the Orders in Council. The fact is that nobody has expressed any concern about a referendumexcept members of the Conservative party. I understand that Nick Bourne, who leads the Conservatives in the Assembly, has gone on record as saying that there are divisions within the party on this issue. One good reason for having a referendum is to resolve that issue within the Conservative party.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|