Select Committee on Welsh Affairs First Report


CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Government White Paper

    1.  The reconstitution of our Committee and the Parliamentary timetable meant that our inquiry concluded outside of the consultation period set out for the White Paper. However, we trust that the Government and Members of the House will wish to draw upon our Report and its findings during the Second Reading debate and the debate in Committee on the Bill during its passage though Parliament. (Paragraph 16)

    2.  We welcome the intention of the Wales Office to introduce a coherent and freestanding Bill and hope that it will bring a greater level of clarity to the devolution settlement for Wales. (Paragraph 23)

    3.  Whilst we welcome the publication of the White Paper, it is short on the detail necessary for proper pre-legislative scrutiny. A draft Bill would have been more appropriate. We are not convinced that the deadline of the 2007 National Assembly elections would have debarred the Government from publishing a draft Bill and still completing the Parliamentary process for the Bill in this very long session. Given that it is a constitutional Bill, we are disappointed that the Government have shied away from its commitment to publish draft legislation on this occasion. (Paragraph 29)

Welsh Statute Book

    4.  We agree that a "Welsh statute book" would be highly beneficial and reiterate our predecessor's view that a clear and comprehensive register of Welsh legislation should be a requirement of the devolution settlement. Furthermore, we add our voice to that of the National Assembly Committee in recommending that the Governments in both London and Cardiff agree on the means by which a "Welsh statute book" can best be made available. (Paragraph 30)

Separation of the Legislature and the Executive

    5.  We welcome the proposals to make formal the separation of the Legislature and the Executive of the National Assembly for Wales. (Paragraph 35)

Assembly Ministers

    6.  We conclude that the approval of Ministers by Plenary of the National Assembly is an attractive proposition and therefore we recommend that provisions to that effect be included in the Bill. (Paragraph 36)

Dissolution of the National Assembly

    7.  We conclude that a mechanism to dissolve the National Assembly in the event of a stalemate between the political parties is a sensible and pragmatic suggestion. Therefore we recommend that the Bill include provision for the National Assembly to dissolve itself in the event of being unable to appoint a Welsh Assembly Government. (Paragraph 40)

Deputy Ministers

    8.  We agree with the proposal to put Deputy Ministers on a statutory footing. That statutory footing will need to include a clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of the Deputy Ministers. The Government must be alive to the fact an increase in the payroll vote of the National Assembly will have an impact on the size of the backbench body and the potential to cause strains on the scrutiny functions (Paragraph 41)

Numbers of Ministers and Deputy Ministers

    9.  We believe that a statutory upper limit for the number of Ministers including Deputy Ministers is a sensible approach to the composition of the National Assembly, and we welcome the decision of the Wales Office to include provisions to that effect on the face of the Bill. (Paragraph 42)

Title of the Welsh Assembly Government

    10.  Concerns remain that the current title of the Welsh Assembly Government may have the potential to continue the confusion over the status of the Executive and the Legislature. In respect of the Bill, we believe that Welsh Executive would be a more appropriate term to use in Statute. (Paragraph 49)

Size of the National Assembly

    11.  The Government has taken a strong line against the possibility of increasing the number of Assembly Members from 60 to 80. However, a 60 Member Assembly may not prove sufficient to carry out its scrutiny and legislative roles. In that event, the National Assembly for Wales and Parliament may at some date in the future wish to reassess the size of the National Assembly, at which time the electoral process will also need to be considered. (Paragraph 57)

    12.  With respect to Committees, we reiterate the concerns raised with us that the 60 member limit on the National Assembly and the size of the National Assembly payroll vote has the potential to place serious strains on the National Assembly Committees' ability to carry out its scrutiny of the new Welsh Executive. The Government will need to be alive to this potential danger when it introduces its Bill. (Paragraph 60)

Committees of the National Assembly

    13.  The structure of the Committee System in a reformed National Assembly will be a matter for that institution to decide. However, as Members of Parliament for Welsh constituencies, we recognise the important role that the regional committees have played in taking the National Assembly out of Cardiff to other parts of Wales. We recommend that this important part of the Regional Committees' work is retained in any new Committee structure. We further recommend the retention of the statutory provision for a North Wales Regional Committee. (Paragraph 62)

    14.  We agree with the Government's proposals to remove Ministers from being members of scrutiny Committees of the National Assembly. However, we note the recommendation of the National Assembly Committee that flexibility on this issue is necessary with respect to legislation and other specific Committees. We look to the Government to ensure that the necessary flexibility is contained within the Bill. (Paragraph 66)

    15.  We recommend that provisions equivalent to Sections 23 to 26 of the Scotland Act be enacted in respect of the powers of Committees of the National Assembly for Wales. (Paragraph 68)

    16.  We agree with the National Assembly Committee that the Welsh Assembly Government should send either a Minister or an official when a National Assembly committee insists on attendance by Government witnesses. (Paragraph 70)

    17.  The use of co-opted members is a matter for the National Assembly. However, we agree that, should the National Assembly wish to continue with that practice, the protection of those Members needs to be made explicit. We look to the Government to ensure that co-opted Members of National Assembly Committees are protected from defamation to the same level as Members of the National Assembly, when serving on Committees. (Paragraph 73)

Standing Orders of the National Assembly

    18.  We understand the legal requirement for the Secretary of State for Wales to give statutory effect to the Standing Orders for the National Assembly for Wales. We are less convinced with the need for that Office to be the final arbiter of any disagreement over those Orders. We believe that the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly, not a Government Minister of another institution, is a more appropriate location for that role. Therefore we recommend that the Government include in the Bill, provisions to ensure that the Presiding Officer, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for Wales, be the arbiter on Standing Orders for the National Assembly. (Paragraph 81)

Human Resources

    19.  It would be undesirable to include in the Bill provisions for specific increases in staff for the National Assembly as they have yet to be identified in detail. Furthermore, future demand will best dictate the level of necessary resources. However, it is clear, that in moving from the Corporate Body model to a "free-standing" legislature, enhancements will be necessary to support Assembly Members in their new tasks. We look to the Government to provide those resources where they are clearly necessary. (Paragraph 85)

    20.  In its Report the National Assembly Committee welcomed the separation of Government and National Assembly Staff but recommended that the Bill include "a Statutory 'broadly in line' provision" with respect to the salaries of National Assembly staff. We agree with the recommendation of the National Assembly Committee. (Paragraph 87)

National Assembly Committee Recommendations

    21.  We note the recommendations of the National Assembly Committee in relation to the statutory duties of the National Assembly, the special provision for the Welsh language and the examination of the Resource Budget. We look forward to hearing the response of the Government on those recommendations. (Paragraph 93)

Legislative Proposals: Stage 1

    22.  Should Wales-only Bills continue to be introduced to Parliament, we would expect the Government to maintain its policy of publishing them first in draft form so that they could be subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny by this Committee in conjunction with the appropriate Committee of the National Assembly. (Paragraph 96)

    23.  We look to the Wales Office to play an active and visible role in the education of Government Departments in this respect. We recommend that the Wales Office, in its response to this Report, set out clearly, the precise procedures that are in place to ensure that those roles are carried out effectively. (Paragraph 100)

    24.  We recommend that the Wales Office supply the Committee with quarterly memoranda setting out those Bills which contain significant Welsh clauses. (Paragraph 101)

    25.  We recommend that the Wales Office include under the heading Territorial Extent in the Explanatory Notes to Bills, a statement listing the clauses in Bills that relate to Wales; and explaining how the Government's new commitment to more permissive legislation for Wales has been enacted in relation to those clauses. (Paragraph 103)

Legislative Proposals: Stage 2

    26.  We recommend that when submitting a proposal for a draft Order in Council for pre-legislative scrutiny the Wales Office also provide a detailed explanatory note which would make clear the scope of the proposal, the practical effects of the proposal on Wales, and the legislative authority that would pass to the National Assembly. (Paragraph 108)

    27.  We recommend that any proposal for a draft Order in Council be laid before the Parliament. Once it is laid, we recommend that it must lie before Parliament for a period of 60 days, not including any time during which parliament is dissolved or prorogued, or either House is adjourned for more than four days. We recommend that a draft Order consequent on the proposal may not be laid before Parliament until the end of that period. (Paragraph 110)

    28.  Therefore we recommend that provisions similar to those for the Scottish Grand Committee under Standing Order 115 should be made for the Welsh Grand Committee. (Paragraph 118)

    29.  We believe that, in principle, all draft Orders in Council should be debated on the floor of the House. Therefore we recommend that Standing Orders be amended to disapply Standing Order No.118 in respect of draft Orders in Council made under the proposed new Act. Should there be a general agreement that a draft Order be referred to the Welsh Grand Committee the Minister could, on such an occasion, table a motion to refer it to that Committee. (Paragraph 120)

    30.  The Secretary of State has an important role to play in facilitating the progress and passage of Orders in Council. In particular, he will provide advice and support to ensure that Orders in Council are drafted correctly, and conform to Parliamentary rules. We are not convinced that it is necessary for him to act as a filter, and use those powers to refuse to lay an Order in Council based on its policy aspirations. A request from the National Assembly, if it is in order, should be submitted for the approval of Parliament, not for the approval of the Secretary of State. Therefore we recommend that the Secretary of State's powers be limited to refusing Orders in Council on the basis of procedure, and not on the merits of the policy aspiration. (Paragraph 131)

    31.  Orders in Council may be instigated not only by the Welsh Assembly Government, but also by individual Assembly Members or National Assembly Committees. Should a Welsh Assembly Government request be refused we can see some logic in the Secretary of State responding to the First Minister. However, that logic does not apply to Orders in Council that have been instigated through the non-Government route. The procedure for a refusal needs to be consistent. In light of the fact that the National Assembly, as the legislature will approve all Orders in Council, we consider it more appropriate for the response be sent to the Presiding Officer and not the First Minister. (Paragraph 132)

Legislative Proposals: Stage 3

    32.  We note the proposal for a post-legislative referendum, and its approval by Parliament using the Order in Council procedure. That approach would avoid the need for further primary legislation, and the inevitable delays that such a route would cause. However, the Order in Council mechanism would not allow the question to be put in the referendum to be amended, nor would it allow for the possibility of a number of questions to be put. Therefore, the new Bill that will be presented to Parliament will represent the only opportunity for all Members of Parliament to consider that wording in detail. The wording of that question should be straight forward and therefore one that should survive any length of time between the enactment of the Bill and a possible future referendum. Therefore we recommend that the wording of the question for the referendum be included on the face of the Bill (Paragraph 136)

    33.  In the event of a referendum returning a majority "No" vote, we agree that a long period of reflection would be necessary. It would be wrong for a series of referenda to be held solely to attempt to force a particular decision. The Bill will need to contain explicit provision to stop repeated referenda in the event of a "No" vote. The period between a "No" vote and a second referendum is open to debate, but we consider two National Assembly terms as an appropriate time-gap before a referendum is called for a second time. (Paragraph 137)

    34.  We note the Government's preference for the 1978 model for the definition of any future transfer of primary legislative powers for the National Assembly. (Paragraph 142)

    35.  A two-thirds majority in the National Assembly in favour of a referendum would represent a clear broad consensus that there was general support for a referendum. In the absence of any further opinion poll "evidence", it would rightly be the basis for submitting an Order in Council to trigger that referendum. Therefore, we remain unconvinced that the Secretary of State could draw upon any other demonstration of support or otherwise that would give him a clearer insight into whether the trigger should be pulled or not. For that reason we do not consider it appropriate for that Office to have the power to refuse a request for a referendum. Rather it would be for Parliament to decide on the fate of that request. We recommend that the power of refusal by the Secretary of State be excluded from the Bill. (Paragraph 145)

Electoral Reform

    36.  Taking into consideration evidence to the Committee, informal feedback from the public and written evidence submitted to the Committee, we support the proposals for electoral reform as laid down in the White Paper. (Paragraph 156)


 
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Prepared 13 December 2005