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Mr. David Jones : I shall be brief, as I know that time is short. The Bill is a huge missed opportunity. The Secretary of State said that it is intended to settle the devolution issue for a generation, but it will do nothing of the sort. What it has done is to sow seeds of constitutional strife that it will take the next Conservative Government to resolve.
Some elements of the Bill are laudable: I support them, and should have liked to do so wholeheartedly. First, the separation of the legislature from the Executive is manifestly desirable. The arrangement established by the original devolution settlement was wrong, and should have been rectified long ago. That is a laudable provision and I support it.
Similarly, if the Secretary of State had had sufficient courage to go to the people of Wales at this stage and ask them if they wanted more devolution and more primary powers, I would have had much more respect for his position. However, he did not do that; instead, he has resorted to an opaque and byzantine device that effectively gives primary powers to the people of Wales without prior consultation in a referendum. The Secretary of State will find that in years to come the people of Wales will grow to resent that. They will demand the right to state their position in a referendum, and I hope that they do it sooner rather than later. I also hope that at that stage the Secretary of State will listen to what they have to say and abide by their decision.
The Bill is flawed. As a matter of principle, I cannot possibly support it. Frankly, I find the position of Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats accommodating in the extreme. They have compromised their principles, but the occupants of the Conservative Benches will not. For that reason, I shall vote against the Bill.
Huw Irranca-Davies : I am pleased to speak towards the end of the very long process of our dealings with the Bill. I spoke on Second Reading, I spoke in Committee, and I am pleased to be here at the denouement. I am also pleased to see that at the end of the long process of Welsh debate on what will become the Government of Wales Act, many English Members are gathering on the Benches here to see it through[Interruption.] And Scottish and Northern Ireland Members, too.
I begin by congratulating fellow Members on the arduous journey of these debates, and on bringing the Bill to what I hope will be a successful conclusion, which we shall see in a few moments. I also thank the Chairman and the members of the Welsh Affairs Committee, who have contributed so strongly to the development of the Bill with their ideas. I want to mention the members of the Wales TUC and the CBI, whose support has undoubtedlyalbeit on one small part in one clausecontributed significantly to ensuring that the voices not only of employers, but of employees
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and unions are more firmly represented in the Bill than has previously been the case in legislation. That recognises the good work that the Welsh Assembly has already done in dealing with the affairs of business, and also puts it there right in front of us so that there can be no retreat.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) mentioned that we now have half a loafbut my reading of the situation is that at the moment half a loaf is what is being demanded. There is no stomach for anything more than what is on offer. However, this is still a process, and there are still questions. Devolution was never a moment in time, or a definitive statement followed by a stop.
What is in the Bill undoubtedly will not satisfy some Members here because it does not go far enough for them. For others, it goes much too far, and they would like us to roll back the whole thing. I have been speaking to my constituents since the start of the process, at the time of Second Reading and all the way through. I have to say that there are not many people knocking on my surgery door to ask about the Billand when we do get into discussion about it, there is no great appetite for running headlong into further referendums and transfers of primary powers. However, what there isand what the Bill in its present form recognisesis the fact that the Welsh Assembly Government are starting to deliver well. They are starting to be recognised more and more by the Welsh people for the way in which they connect with communities, consult and, at a very local level, do far more than the old Welsh Office used to do. That is good, but there is no appetite to rush headlong any further.
The three main components of the Bill, and the split between the Executive and legislative powers, seem to have caused no great difficulty for most people. By and large, that was one of the easiest areas to take through. I think that all of us, or at least many of useveryone apart from the Conservativesare looking forward to maximum use of the Orders in Council, and to seeing that system working. It is a good stage development of the devolution process. Labour Members recognise that the Bill does not go as far as some people want, but we think that what we now have with the Orders in Council, and what we will be voting on in a few minutes, is exactly what the Welsh people are now willing to accept.
The most contentious area of all is the idea of standing as a first-past-the-post candidate in one seat, losing and then, the following morning, being resurrected as a regional Member. We will never agree on that across these Benches, butas we have said throughout progress on the Billit does not seem right, in terms of natural justice, that there should be a Lazarus-like resurrection of candidates the morning after they have been soundly defeated. We will not agree on that, but we think that the changes are appropriate.
I also wish to put firmly to bed the idea, which has been frequently thrown at us, that the most contentious proposal has anything to do with gerrymandering. We have shown time and again that[Interruption.] As has just been said from a sedentary position, it is not partisan, because Labour Members will be as likely to
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lose out as Opposition Members. I do not wish to regurgitate the arguments from Committee, but the changes are to no one party's particular advantage.
I welcome the approach being taken by the Liberal Democrats and Plaid, because even though they are not happy with everything in the Bill, they have said that they will go out and try to make it work. Regrettably, that is in stark contrast to the major Opposition party. At the beginning of this process, we hoped that the Conservatives would say that although they had difficulties with some of the details, they supported in principle the idea of staged devolution at a pace suitable to the Welsh people. Unless Opposition Members change their views in the next few minutes, it seems that only one party in Wales will, once again, nail its colours firmly to the anti-devolution mast. That is a matter for great regret because, regardless of the difficulties with the Bill, it would be great to be able to say with one voice that we were all united.
Mrs. Gillan: I reiterate that it is with heavy hearts that we will vote against the Bill. We are not prepared to support devolution by taking scraps that fall from the Labour table, as the Liberal Democrats and Plaid obviously are. In voting in that way, we will vote in the interests of the Assembly, the people of Wales and Wales itself. To represent our position in any other way would be dishonest.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I have been called worse things in my time and probably will be again. However, whether the Bill is scraps from the table or half a loaf, what is on offer tonight is exactly what the Welsh people are demanding. It is a huge regret that at the last minute of the eleventh hour the Conservative partythe main Oppositionshould set its face firmly against devolution. The Conservatives cannot seriously hold their heads up high tomorrow. They cannot ever again say that they support devolution. They would be laughing stocks if they tried to maintain that position.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Jessica Morden), I take particular pride in and satisfaction from the fact that new clause 12which is unique to this Bill and has been incorporated into it through the Government's acceptance and with cross-party supportwill strengthen the links not only with employers' federations and small and large businesses, but with our union colleagues. That will be a major advance in the Assembly's existing arrangements. In major decisions on environmental, social and economic well-being, there will be a duty for the Assembly to consult employers and employees.
That is a huge move forward and I regret that this evening the Conservatives will be voting not only against devolution and the principles of devolution, but against new clause 12 which gives a voice to employers and employees. Alone in the House, the Conservative party is setting its face against the CBI, the TUC and devolution in Wales. That is remarkable and I look forward to Conservative Members justifying it not only to their constituents but to the head of the CBI in Wales and the head of the TUC.
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