Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
TUESDAY 25 OCTOBER 2005
Q80 Mrs Moon: You have touched a
little bit on what I wanted to ask you about which was your comment
about the unacceptable strains that could develop if you had a
different government in Westminster to that in Wales. I wondered
could you be a bit more detailed and specific about what you see
some of those strains being and what you feel could be done to
alleviate them? I appreciate I am asking you to project into the
future, but it would be helpful if from your experience you could
outline what you see as the particular problems.
Lord Richard: There are two arguments
actually. One is that the sort of fears that I am expressing are
illusory and the alternative is that you do not need to worry
about it because the system is now so bedded in that it would
be very difficult for any Secretary of State or any government
up here to reverse the process. I am not as optimistic as that.
It does seem to me that if you had an administration up here of
a different political complexion to Cardiff then, to put it at
its lowest, the Westminster administration could act as a brake
upon the Assembly's doing what it is they want to do. Take smoking,
which is a very good example actually, the Assembly want to ban
smoking in public places in Wales; they cannot. Scotland just
did it and the Secretary of State for Wales actually did it in
Northern Ireland in his other capacity. It seems to me that is
a bit crazy that you have got a situation in which the Assembly
wants to do something, everybody knows they want to do something,
everybody agrees that it should be able to do something in Wales,
but it cannot and in order to get it done they have to depend
upon, in effect, the goodwill of the Westminster Parliament, and
Westminster inevitably will look at it on an England and Wales
basis not just on a Wales basis. I think the danger is the brake
point, that it could act as a brake upon the legitimate aspirations
of a properly elected Assembly in Wales. I do think that if you
start down this devolution route you have got to recognise the
fact that as a nation Wales has got certain rights. If you want
to treat it as if it were a glorified county council, okay, that
is another matter, then you treat it like a glorified county council.
If you want to treat it as a nation you have to treat it as a
nation and if you treat it as a nation it has certain rights,
and one of those rights seems to be basic, that on the whole it
ought to be able to pass the legislation that it thinks right.
Q81 David Davies: Lord Richard, you
talk about an administration, presumably you mean in London, acting
as a brake on the Welsh Assembly. Is it not the case, though,
that at the moment Welsh Members of Parliament can act as a brake
potentially on an administration which has a different view. You
talk about rights but you do not mention the responsibilities.
Surely the point here is if Wales is to be given the power to
go off and do its own thing, then it cannot be right that Welsh
Members of Parliament can go along to Westminster and vote on
matters that affect only Englandbecause at the moment that
is what is happening and they are the ones who are potentially
putting the brake on English aspirations?
Lord Richard: I am not going to
deal with the West Monmouth question any more than I can deal
with the West Lothian question.
Q82 David Davies: It is intrinsically
a part of this, is it not?
Lord Richard: It is an issue that
at some stage will no doubt have to be resolved by discussion
between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. That is the
point. At the moment if you talk to Welsh MPs (and I expect this
is true sitting around this table here) you would take the view
that in relation to Welsh affairs you play a valuable role at
Westminster in helping to govern Wales properly. You obviously
take the view that in relation to English matters you play a responsible
part in helping to govern England.
Q83 David Davies: These are not English
matters per se, are they, they are Welsh matters because it is
Welsh MPs who are going over to England. The problem is whenever
the West Lothian question is put to you, you say, "I am only
interested in Wales." I am putting to you that Welsh MPs
can act as a brake on England and you are saying that is nothing
to do with me, however you are highlighting the fact that a potentially
different administration could act as a brake on Wales. Surely
you cannot separate the two issues; they are one and the same
Lord Richard: Except there is
this distinction, is there not: I am talking about an administration
in Westminster; you are talking about Members of Parliament in
Westminster. I am saying if you have got a government in Westminster
that can be a pretty effective brake. If you have got a group
of MPs in Westminster, I do not think that has the effect of a
brake because there is no secretary of state and administration
here saying no to the administration in Cardiff. That is a slightly
constitutional-type answer to a question. At the moment I am bound
to say I think your question is unanswerable. I have always taken
that view over the West Lothian question and I think it applies
just as much to Wales as it does to Scotland.
Q84 Mr Crabb: Given what you said
earlier about your view on the state of public opinion in Wales
with regard to devolution, would you therefore disagree with the
Government who said that they do not believe there is a consensus
within Wales about giving full legislative powers to the Assembly?
Lord Richard: That is an interesting
question. I would like to see more evidence but I do not accept
the fact that there is none. In other words, it does seem to me
that there is some evidence which shows that the people of Wales
would like greater legislative competence. Whether that is sufficient
at this stage to fight a referendum campaign I am not entirely
convinced but I do think the evidence is capable of being gathered.
Q85 Mr Crabb: How do you view that
stream of public opinion in Wales, and it is a significant stream,
that would either keep the status quo as regards the Assembly
or even favour abolition? In your enquiries did you just ignore
that stream of opinion?
Lord Richard: We did not ignore
it. We looked very hard to find people who wanted to abolish the
Assembly and go back to the old status. There were some but there
were not very many. Most people in Wales now accept devolution
and the Assembly as part of the fabric of the way in which Wales
Q86 Mr Crabb: Maybe we are peculiar
in Pembrokeshire but there is a significant strain of opinion
Lord Richard: Well, it did not
surface in Haverfordwest and we had a good meeting in Haverfordwest.
Q87 Mr Crabb: At what point do you
feel it would be useful to test public opinion in Wales with a
Lord Richard: When the Government
has decided what they want to do in Wales. If the Government decide
that they are going to grant legislative powers to Wales, there
ought to be a referendum, but I do not think you could have a
referendum on a referendum. I do not think you could go and ask
the people of Wales, "Do you want a referendum on primary
powers?" I do think there is evidence that can be gathered
which would indicate what the state of opinion in Wales was and
at the moment the latest poll I have seen is the one which Aberystwyth
did which was 64%. I would like to see a more recent one.
Q88 David Davies: Lord Richard, what
aspect of these proposals to enhance the Assembly legislative
powers, if any, would be most contentious in the House of Lords?
Lord Richard: On the White Paper
Q89 David Davies: Yes?
Lord Richard: I think the Order
in Council procedure. Their Lordships will not like that. They
will find it odd. First of all, they do not like being disturbed
too much and this I think will disturb them quite a lot and, secondly,
they really have a feeling, particularly in the Delegated Powers
Scrutiny Committee, which is a powerful committee in the House
of Lords, that Henry VIII powers on the whole are not acceptable,
that you can perhaps use them in exceptional circumstances but
to found a constitutional settlement on that basis, I think their
Lordship will have problems with that. The other thing one must
say about the White Paper proposals is if you see them as a transition
then you can approach them in one light, which is the light that
on the whole I think I have. If you see them as an end in themselves
you approach them I suppose with a much more critical view and
you ask yourself, "Is this going to be the final constitutional
settlement?" Does that make sense?
Q90 David Davies: Yes, it does. Have
you had any indication whether the changes to the voting system,
which we are probably going to ask you about in a minute, are
going to be contentious in the House of Lords?
Lord Richard: Yes I think it probably
will be, but...
Q91 David Davies: I do not know whether
the Chairman wishes to come in.
Lord Richard: Not violently I
would have thought because it is the second stage in the process.
Q92 David Davies: That begs the question
is it not the case that it is going to be contentious because
it is such an illogical thing to do?
Lord Richard: Illogical?
Q93 David Davies: I think so, to
change the voting system. You were making the case earlier on
that we need a bit of consistency in the devolution system, and
we need the same powers in Wales as we have in Scotland (although
not in England of course), but surely what we are now doing is
to change the voting system once again and it is a system that
the public currently do not understand that well. They are going
to understand it even less well and it is going to be a completely
different system to the one that is being used in Scotland or
in Northern Ireland or of course in England. I will tell you straight,
I think the only reason it is being done is because the current
voting system favours parties other than the Labour Party and
the only reason it is being changed is that it will cause a certain
amount of inconvenience to the minority parties particularly the
Lord Richard: Let's be clear what
you are asking about. Are you asking me how did we come to the
conclusion on STV, do I think that is going to be contentious,
or are you asking me about the abolition of the right to stand?
Q94 David Davies: The abolition of
the right to stand on both. The STV effectively is not going to
go through the House of Lords, is it, because it has not been
Lord Richard: Let me go back a
bit. The basis of our argument on the electoral system was the
size of the Assembly. In other words, we saidand I have
said it quite often sincethat if the Assembly can run itself
on 60 then problems with the electoral system tend to be lessened,
tend to be slightly subsumed. If, on the other hand, you have
got to put the number of AMs up because you cannot run the Assembly
on 60, given that 12 are ministers and therefore you have not
got enough people to do the job, if it goes up to 80 people, how
are you going to elect the 80. Your arithmetic then does not work
if you want to keep the existing constituency boundaries.
Q95 David Davies: But it is not at
present going to go up to 80, is it? The only change that we are
going to see in the electoral system is the change to prevent
people from standing both for the lists and for the constituencies.
Lord Richard: I will not avoid
that, I promise you, but I thought you wanted me to justify the
STV proposal first.
Q96 David Davies: I think that is
a very interesting point and I would love to have that debate
with you some time but that was the not question, the question
was more about the changes that are being proposed. Perhaps you
could tell us what your view is on the changes being proposed.
Do you think it is constitutionally right, given your view that
we should have more consistency, that we are going to make these
systems more inconsistent?
Lord Richard: There is something
wrong in a situation in which five people can stand in Clwyd,
none of them can be elected, and then they all get into the Assembly.
On the face of it that does not make sense. I think a lot of people
in Wales find that it does not.
Q97 David Davies: That is a good
argument for first past the post rather than STV.
Lord Richard: First past the post
Q98 David Davies: I said that is
a good argument for the first past the post system rather than
the STV one which you actually propose in your report?
Lord Richard: Not if you are going
up to 80, it is not.
Chairman: Could we pause a moment there
and ask Hywel Williams to come in.
Q99 Hywel Williams: As you said earlier,
stage three full powers is the end point and if stage two is so
complicated and difficult, for me at least to understand, what
possibly could be the argument in favour of having a stage two
Lord Richard: I think you must
ask the Secretary of State that. I suspect one of the arguments
is sitting in this room actually. It avoids difficulties over
the number of Welsh MPs, over the size of constituencies in Wales,
it avoids all those difficulties, but it is actually an interesting
and complicated device. I am not against devices if they work,
but I am against devices if they look as if they are going to
be difficult to run and if the end result is as yet unclear, and
it is to me.