|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
: I shall speak to amendments Nos. 39, 40 and 43. We had a debate on similar matters last week, and I do not propose to speak for longI see the Secretary of State grinning at that. I merely restate that it is high time to consider devolving the probation
30 Jan 2006 : Column 59
service, the police service and the prison service. It does not make a great deal of sense to have them stand out as reserved matters, but since I made a longer speech last week, suffice it to say that I once more put down a marker on that subject.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I have some sympathy with the amendment on hunting with dogs. The difficulty, which we must face up to and which comes even more to the fore on the amendments to do with prisons, probation and the police, is that if we are to have a unified legal system, as England and Wales do, then while it is possible to have diversity within regulatory frameworks, to start to move towards dealing with fundamental issues of law and to have a divergence would mean that the principles of a unified legal system became increasingly difficult to operate. Of course, that applies more strongly to the police than to issues such as hunting with dogs. It could be argued that hunting with dogs falls within the regulatory framework, not that of fundamental legal principles. It is a difficult area, but as long as the people of Wales wish to see the maintenance of the union between Wales and England, with a measure of devolution and the retention of the principle of a unified legal systemwhich is one of the underpinnings of that unionwe should be wary before we split the responsibilities for certain legal areas between London and Cardiff.
The amendments seek to expand the competency of the National Assembly in various areas. On broadcasting, there is an anomaly in the devolution settlement: cultural policy is devolved and will continue to be so, but broadcasting remains entirely a reserved matter. That is not acceptable, because broadcasting is arguably one of the most important and far-reaching cultural media we have.
David T.C. Davies: I understand the principle behind the hon. Gentleman's argument, but given the way in which the Welsh Assembly has behaved with the Arts Council for Wales and the creeping politicisation of the arts, does he really think that it would be a good idea to give even more potential influence to the Welsh Assembly over areas such as broadcasting?
Adam Price: The hon. Gentleman's point is well made in the context of recent eventsit would be inappropriate to go into detail at the moment. The issue of the arm's length principle in cultural policy is a broader question. I have some sympathy for the continental European model of Ministries of Culture, but in that instance it is for the Ministers involved to use those powers responsibly. That may not have happened in the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
In the European Union, local television and radio are not reserved under the Spanish constitutional settlement and that has allowed the Basque region some flexibility
30 Jan 2006 : Column 60
in developing a Basque medium television service in the different regions of the Basque country. Broadcasting will need to remain a competency at the UK level, but these proposals do not even allow for the possibility of shared competency. Given the likelihood of further developments, such as television through the internet, the clear dividing line in legislative competence in this Bill will not be conducive to such developments.
Competition policy is a wholly reserved matter under this Bill, as it is under the Scotland Act 1998, but there are areas of confusion where competition policy has an impact on devolved matters. One example is the confusion over changes in pharmacy regulation that the Office of Fair Trading wanted to introduce some years ago to give supermarkets the power to increase their market share and to deregulate the sector. There was confusion about where legislative competence lay, as obviously there was an impact on health, which was devolved in Wales and Scotland, yet it was also a competition matter. Allowing some degree of shared competence in competition policy would clarify where legislative competence lies.
The proposals for the postal service are probably the most bold and radical in the group of amendments. As the Liberal Democrats have raised the spectre of Post Office privatisation, perhaps we should devolve responsibility for postal services or give the National Assembly the ability to get involved in their regulation. There is no guarantee about the future operation of postal services and we are all well aware of what has happened under the recent closure programme for urban and rural post offices.
Finally, I return to the St. David's day public holidayan issue that I have raised with Secretary of State on several occasions. It is part of the wish list that the Welsh Assembly Government have sent as part of their legislative demands. Unfortunately, the Government at Westminster have not seen fit to accede to those demands. It should not be a matter of wish lists; it should be the right of the elected representatives of the people of Wales through their Government to decide whether we, like most other EU nations, should have an annual public holiday on our national day.
There may be a case for a public holiday on St. George's day, although this is not the time for that debate, but we in England and Wales have only eight public holidays by right, which is the lowest number in any EU country apart from the Netherlands. Of course, workers in the Netherlands are entitled to more annual leave, so there is a compensatory allowance. As the Secretary of State will know, there are 10 annual public holidays in Northern Ireland. We are asking only for one extra day, not two.
Bank holidays are entirely devolved to the Scottish Parliament and discussions about creating a national day are ongoing there. I understand that there has been reference to the possibility of creating a new annual British national dayfor example, on Trafalgar dayso, surely, under the Bill the National Assembly for Wales and the Labour Government in the National Assembly should be given the right, for which they have asked, to have the same devolved competence as the Scottish Parliament so that, like most EU countries, we can have a public holiday on our national day.
I respect the position of the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price). He wants many matters to be transferred to the Welsh Assembly, but they are outside the terms of the devolution settlement. He cannot just toss off in the middle of a speech a series of powers for devolution, ranging from energy, the police, probation, the Prison Service, public holidays, hunting with dogs, broadcasting, the generation, transmission and supply of electricity, oil and gas and Sunday trading, to licensing the sale and supply of alcohol.
All those matters may have points in their favour, but they must be considered properly on their merits and there are proper procedures under existing transfer of function orders and arrangements and there will be machinery, under the Bill, to take such matters forward if the whole of Parliament desires it.
I shall resist the temptation to get into arguments about hunting with dogs or about public holidays, although in respect of the request for a public holiday on St. David's day there was never a bid from the Assembly for legislation and there was never any consultation with business or anybody else who might have been affected by Wales having a different public holiday from England when cross-border trading and business arrangements are so highly integrated.
The Bill does not alter, and is not intended to alter, the boundaries of the current devolution settlement. Any proposals to adjust the boundaries should be left to the machinery for that purpose contained in the Bill. Indeed, the National Assembly for Wales has not asked us to adjust the settlement in the way Members propose.
Mr. Hain: As I hope Hansard will show, I was careful to say that the Assembly passed a motion to that effect, which was transmitted to me, quite properly, by the First Ministerin fact, I think it was transmitted to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy)but the Assembly has never made a bid for a Bill to that effect. That is the point. The Assembly has never made a specific request for a piece of legislation to take its place in a hierarchy of bids over and above other bids.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|