|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Grieve: I certainly do not suggest that the problems date only from 1997some of them predate 1997. I want to pick the hon. Gentleman up on one point. He talks about pre-legislative scrutiny, but of whatthe Order in Council or the draft measure? That was the point I made to the Minister, who in Committee made a considerable error that he subsequently had to correct by writing to people. He said that
"the preliminary draft measure, along with its explanatory memorandum, will be attached. It will therefore, going through its pre-legislative scrutiny, be amendable".[Official Report, 9 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 121.]
He had to withdraw those comments, but I did not understand from them that we would not see the preliminary draft measure; yet I understand from what he said earlier today that we shall not see it, so how can we even consider, in pre-legislative scrutiny terms, what the measure will be?
Ian Lucas: The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that the preliminary draft measure will be given pre-legislative scrutiny, which will be amendable. There is no suggestion that Members will not have the opportunity to consider proposals. They will be considered by the House and by Assembly Members, probably in a joint legislative Committee of the Assembly and Parliament.
Mr. David Jones: Is not the hon. Gentleman falling into the trap of thinking that each Order in Council is a one-off? In fact, each Order in Council will devolve primary competence, for a particular matter in a particular field, to the Assembly. The Assembly can then, if it wants, revisit that devolved competence and create further Assembly Measures, which will never be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the House.
Ian Lucas: Since the Government of Wales Act 1998, devolution of further powers has occurred regularly, as anyone familiar with the development of devolution must be aware, and we have not needed a referendum at every stage of that process. Indeed, until our debates on the Bill, I had never heard a suggestion that a referendum was needed every time a power was transferred to the Assembly. The process has been continuous, but the Conservatives do not seem to recognise the dynamic of devolution and the joint relationship that has developed between the Assembly and Parliament.
There is a slight difference between transferring further functions to the Assembly to operate under the existing devolution settlement and creating a new devolution settlement subject to the
28 Feb 2006 : Column 169
powers in part 3. The hon. Gentleman has a legal background and I am sure that if he gave even a moment's thought to the difference between the procedures in part 3 and the existing situation, he would acknowledge that point.
Ian Lucas: Of course there will be a change in the process, but as I pointed out earlier the reason for it is that the existing process leads to the House considering legislation unnecessarily, because it has already been scrutinised. The Conservatives are grasping at straws when they suggest that we are engaged in some perverted constitutional exercise that undermines fundamental liberties. The Government have a proud record on developing pre-legislative scrutiny, recognising the existence of the Assembly and facilitating working relationships between it and the Westminster Parliament that have led to an improvement in the scrutiny of legislation affecting Wales. Far from undermining those relationships, the measure will improve them.
Mr. Gummer: It would be foolish to ignore the background to this part of the Bill. Clearly, some Government Members want no further devolution. For them, even the description of continuing devolution given by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) would be anathema. It is pleasing that the Father of the House is not in the Chamber, for he would have been very unhappy had he heard that.
Other Labour Members want more devolution. Both views are perfectly reasonable. Indeed, one might find a range of views about devolution among Opposition Memberswhether there is enough or whether it should go further. What is unacceptable is to try to paper over those cracks in a way that strikes at the very heart of the activity of Parliament. That brings me to a direct argument with the hon. Member for Wrexham, but I hope that he will acquit me of anything other than real concern for parliamentary democracy.
I admit that I would have liked a different way of sharing power in the United Kingdom from that decided on in 1997 and thereafter. However, having undertaken it as we have, it is unacceptable that the people of Wales should have a form of devolution significantly different from that provided for the people of Scotland. Were there an opportunity for a referendum, I hope that the people of Wales would vote for greater devolution, much along the lines of that accorded to people in Scotland.
What seems unacceptable is to say that, because the majority party does not believe that it could achieve a common view, it will offer the people of Wales what is in part 3 instead of what is essentially in part 4, but that, of course, they must not have a vote on it, because if they did, they might recognise just how silly it issilly in the sense that this is a means whereby the future of the people of Wales is removed from the parliamentary hands in which it is now and from any referendum and placed in the hands of bureaucrats and Ministers.
The problem for the Government is that all the parallels to this are unflattering; they happen in circumstances where dictatorial Governments, very often monarchical in kind, wanted to have a
28 Feb 2006 : Column 170
parliamentary structure that discussed things, argued things, scrutinised things, but did not actually decide things. The trouble for any of us who take an interest in 19th century history is that the Minister's explanation sounds closer to those of Louis Napoleon[Interruption.] It is all right for the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), but I hoped that he would have read up about Louis Napoleon, because he would have found out just how parallel the proposal is.
As my Welsh nationalist friends know, I am in no way unsupportive of many of the positions that they take, but I am disappointed that both they and the Liberals have fallen for the significantly dangerous sleight of hand that the Conservative party is trying to remove under the amendment. I am not trying to remove it to reduce the Welsh Assembly's powers. I want to remove it so that we can move on to offer to the Welsh Assembly greater powers through the referendum, which would do so publicly and clearly, and I would be happy to debate with the Father of the House the advantages of going further, while he would no doubt explain the advantage of going backwards, which is, of course, the usual direction of his party.
Lembit Öpik: Although the right hon. Gentleman may indeed be Suffolk, Coastal's first Welsh nationalist, can he nevertheless not grasp the scepticism that some of us feel about his claimed embracement of the devolution project, given that other Conservative Members have made it clear in the debate that they do not support the devolution of further powers? In addition, there is an absolute mess of policy confusion between what Nick Bourne says for the Conservatives in Cardiff and what right hon. and hon. Members say regarding Conservative policy in Westminster.
Mr. Gummer: Subtlety never was a great Liberal virtue, but let me try to explain what is a very clear subtlety in this matter. It should not matter to the hon. Gentleman that Conservative Members will have different views on devolution; what should matter to him is whether the people of Wales will be given an opportunity to decide what they think about devolution. He is a Liberaland this is the point of my speech with which the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd can agreeand, in reality, Liberals are always illiberal. When people ask them, "Are you going to stand up for democracy, choice and people deciding?" "Oh, no," they say, "much better to let the Government do it, because we might then get a bit, and we might not have to face the electorate to argue the case." It is very interesting: scratch a Liberal and we always find a fascist. That is absolutely true, universally.
It is no good saying that I have used an unsuitable word. I mean it in the precise terms of people who believe that the state is right and that the state system should overcome the realities of democracy. The trouble is that the provision proposes the use of Orders in Councilthe very phrase is one of those that means something horrific. It means that the Government and Ministers use a technique that specifically makes
28 Feb 2006 : Column 171
democratic control as febrile and slim as is humanly possible in a House that calls itself a Parliament. It is a carefully contrived method of making it almost impossible for anyone to disagree. If that is not the mechanism of Napoleon III and his successors, I really do ask what would be.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|