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Mr. Gummer: Does my hon. Friend accept the fact that I believe in further devolution, and that, as we have taken this step, I would like the Welsh people to make many more of their own decisions? There are arguments about whether we should have devolution at all, but now that it has been introduced, it ought to be effective. What is so dangerous is the fact that we are evolving a system in which the prime player is neither the Welsh people through their Assembly, nor the United Kingdom people though the United Kingdom Parliament, but the Government through executive action. That is intolerable and undemocratic.
I agree entirely. This is a creeping process, which has probably been going on for some time. This Parliament has been successively surrendering powers of legislative competence through the greater use of statutory instruments and Orders in Council for a long time. In 1966 there were, I think, 35 statutory instruments, whereas there are now some 3,000 to 4,000 a year. That is already a measure of the loss of
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competencebut at least in key areas of primary legislation, historically we have kept the competence. That is what we are surrendering now.
As I have said, if I were being asked to surrender that competence to a Welsh Assembly taking over our powers, I might argue against that because of my attitude to devolution, but I could not fault it as a procedure. I also have to acknowledge that in the Scottish context, that has worked quite well. However, I am not prepared to surrender the power of this House to scrutinise and enact legislation to a system that very considerably increases the power of the Executive.
Lembit Öpik: I am trying to understand the Conservatives' position on this matter, because that would help us to see what the hon. Gentleman seeks to do with his amendments. Can he clarify the definitive Conservative party policy? As the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) has pointed out, there seems some confusion between what the leader of the Conservatives in Wales was saying and what the hon. Gentleman is saying now.
Mr. Grieve: I am afraid that the only confusion is in the hon. Gentleman's mind. The Conservative party's position is extremely straightforward: any increased devolved powers for the Welsh Assembly should come through part 4. If the people of Wales want those devolved powers, they can have them by voting in a referendum under part 4. If they chose to have them in that way, our party's task would be to facilitate that process and make it work effectively.
The Conservative partythe official Oppositionwill not at any stage subscribe to a system of governance that removes legislative competence from everybody and hands it to the Executive. I hope that that is now clear to the hon. Gentleman, and that he understands exactly where we stand.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill would make it easier for the Government to impose regional government in the west midlands without offering a referendum?
Mr. Grieve: It is true that the people of Wales will have no referendum on the part 3 proposals. My hon. Friend will have noticed that one of our amendments would require a referendum to be held. The people of Wales should be consulted on whether they wish to be governed by Order in Council, but the Government have never consulted the people of Wales on part 3. It was dreamt up by bureaucrats and will be imposed on the people of Wales. It suits the Government because it resolves the internal problems in the Labour party, with some members set against further devolution and some wanting much more.
I wish to return to the internal problems in the Conservative party. If the Order in Council procedure is such anathema to the Conservative party, why, on 25 January in the Assembly Committee
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considering the Bill, did the leader of the Welsh Conservative party ask for more subject areas to be added to schedule 5?
Mr. Grieve: Schedule 5 defines the powers that could be given to the Welsh Assembly under part 3 or part 4. I do not see a problem with those of my colleagues in the Welsh Assembly who say that they would like more devolved powers for Wales. The question is how those powers should be devolved. It seems to me to be a fairly simple matter.
Mr. Gummer: If I sat in the Welsh Assembly, I would want the schedule to include several powers that it does not include at present, but I would expect thatin order to press for part 4 to be enactedthe people of Wales could make that judgment. The argument advanced by the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price), with whom I often agree, misses the point. If one wants greater devolved powers, this is the only way to achieve that under the format presented by the Government.
Mr. Grieve: My right hon. Friend makes a good point. To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) about whether such powers could be used more extensively in England, the answer must be yes. Indeed, the whole constitutional trend since Labour came into power in 1997 is to minimise the use of Parliament for governmental business. The Government go to considerable lengths to avoid having legislation scrutinised in this place. When it is scrutinised in this place, the guillotining of business means that we cannot give it adequate scrutiny. One of the real ironiesI regard it as a disgraceis that the Government, having preventing us from scrutinising legislation properly, claim that as Parliament cannot do the job they might as well give it to someone else. That is a pattern of behaviour from this Government.
The House should not subscribe to part 3, unless the Government choose to have a referendum on it and allow the Welsh people to understand what it is all about. That is what we try to achieve in new clause 1.
It would be and, from a constitutional point of view, part 4 would be a much better option than part 3. If someone offered me a choice between part 3 and part 4, I would choose part 4. Although it is a major constitutional change, part 4 at least has some internal coherence, which part 3 lacks. I accept that it is possible that the Welsh people, if they were to be consulted, might decide that they wished to be governed by Order in Council under the part 3 procedure. If that choice were put to them, I would enjoy campaigning in Wales and explaining to people what part 3 is all about. If the Government think that part 3 is such an attractive proposal, they should accept new clause 1, and I hope to hear the Minister say so before the end of the debate. If new clause 1 is accepted, we will see the same spirit of
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concord that we saw when the Government accepted an amendment tabled by Labour Back Benchers a few moments ago.
New clause 3 is a fall-back position. Inadequate as part 3 is, new clause 3 would provide a system for a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament and the Assembly to scrutinise draft orders. That would go some way to remedying the democratic deficit of part 3. Amendment No. 7 is consequential to amendment No. 4.
Our view is straightforward. Further devolution can work only if it is honest in empowering the legislature rather than favouring the Executive. Part 3 is a bureaucrat's charter. It is also a charter that suits Government very well, and hundreds of years of acquired rights, which are enshrined in legislatures, are being systematically eroded by the drafting of part 3. The House should have nothing to do with it. It is unworthy of the Government to propose it. Despite having sat through Committee and debated the Bill extensively during its passage, I did not understand a point that the Minister made today. If, however, it is true that Parliament will have only the vaguest notion of the detail of what the Assembly will enact, that is an even more compelling reason why part 3 should be rejected. Part 3 is the creature of the Executive and I hope that the House will send out a signal that some of us, at least, will not accept that principle.
Ian Lucas: What we have just heard is a gross misrepresentation of the system that is proposed and betrays a profound lack of understanding of the legislative system that has been in operation, certainly since I came to this place in 2001. That is perhaps not surprising from the Conservatives, because they have limited experience of legislation affecting Wales during that period. In reality, that legislation has been subject to unprecedented scrutiny, because of the emergence of pre-legislative scrutiny. I suggested as much to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) during earlier proceedings on the Bill, but he does not seem to have taken it on board.
Pre-legislative scrutiny was instituted under the Conservative Government before 1997 and has developed substantially since then, especially since 2001 in respect of Wales. Proposals from the Assembly have been scrutinised by Committees of the House, primarily the Welsh Affairs Committee. They have been almost scrutinised to death. In at least two cases, the Public Audit (Wales) Bill and the Transport (Wales) Bill, the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Welsh Affairs Committeeoften working with the Assemblymeant that no substantial amendments were needed when the measures came before the House. Bills have avoided taking up unnecessary Chamber time due to the extent of the pre-legislative scrutiny. No amendments were tabled in the House and Bills went through without difficulty.
As pre-legislative scrutiny will apply to the process outlined in the Bill, I cannot for the life of me understand why it is regarded as so heinous. The Conservatives often seem to believe in a Whig concept of constitutional history whereby legislative processes in the Chamber reached a state of grace in 1997, such that no constitutional improvement could be possible after that date and that any proposal made since then has
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been a usurpation of the powers of the general populacepowers that the Government are determined to take from them.
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