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Mr. Gummer: Can my hon. Friend imagine a circumstance in which the House decided that it was suitable for the Welsh Assembly to consider a matter, yet the Assembly thought that the importance of the matter was such that it had to rush the process through? I think that those two things are utterly contradictory.
Mr. Grieve: I agree with my right hon. Friend and cannot imagine such a circumstance. The process under part 3 that must be followed to get the Order in Council, including the delay periods, shows that Assembly Measures are hardly the material of urgent business, so it is difficult to understand why subsection (2) is needed at all.
I hope that the Minister will accept that I say sincerely that subsection (2) is an invitation to possible conflict. Someone could decide to short-circuit the process, and the difficulty would be that the poor old Secretary of State would have to decide whether to apply his veto because hon. Members would make representations to suggest that the whole matter had not been considered by the Welsh Assembly and that full scrutiny had thus not been carried out.
I look forward to hearing the explanation for subsection (2) from the Minister. There is justification for including such a provision in part 4, if it is ever to be implemented, but I do not understand the justification
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for including it in part 3. If I understand the Government's position correctlylet me leave aside the question of whether I agree with the principle of the processthey are offering the reassurance that the people of Wales will get better governance because the Welsh Assembly will have more time to flesh out the details of a principle that has been approved by the House. However, subsection (2) is a mechanism by which the Government say that if the Welsh Assembly wishes to circumvent that principle, it may do so.
I look forward to hearing the Minister's response because unless it is adequate, we might well wish to pursue this important matter on Report, if not now. However, I do not want to provoke a conflict at this stage because even though I am not wildly happy with part 3 of the Bill, I want to improve it.
Amendments Nos. 171 to 173 are probing amendments that relate largely to the same point: the Standing Orders for private proposed Assembly Measures. The House has different procedures and Standing Orders for its consideration of private measures, so I understand that the Welsh Assembly would need different procedures, too. However, private proposed Assembly Measures would still need to be considered fully. We must not have a situation in which that process can be short-circuited. Although I accept that there must be a mechanism for a separate system, the amendments reinforce the point that I am making about subsection (2).
Mr. Llwyd: I support amendment No. 174. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) is on to a good point. I cannot imagine any circumstances in which an Assembly Measure should not be produced bilingually. It would be frankly unreasonable to expect all the paperwork generated by the Assembly to be bilingual, but an Assembly Measure, which will be akin to a parliamentary Bill, should be published in both languages. I fully support the hon. Gentleman and add my voice to his call for an explanation of the circumstances that would justify such an exemption.
Mr. Grieve: I regret that I failed to speak to amendment No. 174, but the hon. Gentleman gives me the opportunity to set out the precise explanation that I want from the Minister. Bilingualism appears to be absolutely embedded in the Assembly, so surely the idea of an Assembly Measure that is not bilingual is very odd indeed.
Mr. Gummer: I owe a filial duty to my Welsh-speaking father to support amendment No. 174 and the need for bilingual provision. I have always held it against him that we did not learn Welsh in the household, and I am pleased that the Welsh language is now much more widely spoken. I support the general idea that the Welsh Assembly should be bilingual in its entirety, although I understand that complex legal tomes or scientific articles could be excluded. There should be no possibility of the two languages being thought of as anything other than equal.
David T.C. Davies:
I am happy to agree entirely with my right hon. Friend, but sometimes things can go too far. For example, the emergency signs for lifts in the Welsh Assembly were written in English and Welsh and
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also set out in both English and Welsh Braille. I am given to understand that during the first six months that the Assembly was in place, the Welsh Braille sign was upside down, so the only way in which people would have been able to use it would have been if they had stood on their heads.
Mr. Gummer: We can find the absurd in many such situations. It is the very nature of a law, although I do not know what to call it because one word that can be used is impolite in the House and the use of the phrase Murphy's law is now illegal because it is racist. Whatever the law is called, these things just happen.
The matter is crucial. It is crucial the other way round, too, because it is also important that English-speaking Assembly Members are not put in a position in which an important document is not available in English. Wales has done remarkably well in returning to a choice of languages. The fact that a great language was not lost is a rare and encouraging example. It would be odd if the Committee decided not to do everything it could to encourage that further.
Nick Ainger: This has been an interesting and, hopefully, brief debate. Clause 97(2) enables the Assembly, in its Standing Orders, to provide for the circumstances in which a particular proposed Measure can come before the Assembly and be taken through a procedure that is different from that set out in clause 97(1). As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) said, there is an equivalent provision in clause 110(2), as regards Bills in the Assembly.
I am sympathetic to the concern that we ensure that all Assembly Measures receive proper scrutiny, but clause 97(2) does not circumvent that. Instead, it recognises that there may be circumstances in which the Assembly's standard scrutiny procedures would not be appropriate because the Measure concerned deals with a matter that requires urgent attention. Animal health, such as foot and mouth, is an example of that. The circumstances would arise when the Assembly has already been given powers to legislate by this place. If a foot and mouth outbreak, or another animal health issue, required it to legislate quickly, clause 97(2) would allow it to truncate the process, as we have done on occasion.
I imagine that the Assembly's standing orders set out the time between its equivalent of our Second Reading, Committee stage, and Report and Third Readingthe same stages as we go through. The standing orders could be amended to allow the scrutiny process to take place over one or two days. That is sensible. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that we have included the provision for those purposes. It will be used on rare occasions, but it would be wrong for the standing orders not to set out proceedings in which the Assembly can address urgent issues.
I understand the force of what the Minister says, but the difficulty is that the expression "Assembly Measure" will cover the enactment of what we consider to be statutory instruments and secondary legislation, and the enactment of a form of primary legislation, for which we have given permission. The two
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things have been rolled together, something that we touched on yesterday. In those circumstances, should we not at least make an attempt to bring back a distinction, because the two are rather different?
Nick Ainger: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but there may well be a need for the Assembly to take advantage of the permission, given by this place, to legislate not just in secondary legislation but, in effect, through its Measures system. I would be surprisedit would be illogical and, possibly, irresponsibleif those standing orders did not allow for emergency legislation to be enacted by the Assembly.
Mr. Llwyd: Given that the Minister is unable to give an example, apart from animal health, why not leave it to the Assembly to create its own standing orders? Why do we need to tell it what to do? The clause says "must include" so and so. It is prescriptive and tells the Assembly what to do. [Interruption.] On any reading, that is what it says.
We are not telling it how to do it; we are just giving it permission to change its standing orders, in whatever way it wants, so that it can expedite a Measure. We are not being prescriptive in that respect. We are allowing the Assembly, under its standing orders, to address the problem that I set out. We are putting in the Bill the provision for the Assembly to come up with its own solution, through its standing orders, to the need to introduce urgent legislation.
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