Select Committee on Welsh Affairs First Report


FORMAL MINUTES

Tuesday 29 November 2005

Members present:

Dr Hywel Francis, in the Chair


Mr Stephen Crabb
Nia Griffith
Mrs Siân James
Mr David Jones 
Mr Martyn Jones
Mrs Madeleine Moon
Jessica Morden
Hywel Williams
Mark Williams



Draft Report (Government White Paper: Better Governance for Wales), proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the Chairman's draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1 to 104, read and agreed to.

Paragraphs—(Mr David Jones)— brought up and read, as follows:

    In evidence to us the Secretary of State argued that the Order in Council procedure did not represent a significant change in the constitutional settlement for Wales as set out in the 1998 Act. When asked about the constitutional impact of Orders in Council he asserted that:

      "the UK Parliament, in respect of the powers that go to the Assembly under this new procedure, makes the decision. That is exactly what the 1998 Act provided for and was endorsed by the people of Wales in 1997".[270]

    Some of our witnesses took a different view. Lord Richard argued that the proposals for Orders in Council had the potential to be a "concealed grant of almost a direct legislative competence down to Cardiff".[271] In their written evidence Professors Rawlings and Miers also saw the potential for "the further invasion of executive activity into the legislative processes".[272]

    Professor Rawlings, in and article in the Public Law journal has also argued that "the UK Government has been sold on the idea of affording Wales forms of secondary law-making power which effectively blur the traditional dichotomy between executive devolution and legislative devolution, such that Cardiff can make the kind of policy rules commonly expressed in, but without the formal status of, statutes. An approach that sits comfortably with the empowerment model, one might even call this a form of quasi-legislative devolution".[273]

    In our opinion the views set out above do not support the proposition that the Order in Council procedure is nothing more than what was agreed to by the Welsh people in 1997.

    We believe that the Orders in Council procedure represents a step-change in the transfer of powers from Parliament to the National Assembly. We conclude that it is inappropriate for such a change to take place without the explicit support of the people of Wales. Therefore we recommend that the proposals for Orders in Council be put to the people of Wales in a referendum before they are considered in Parliament.

    Notwithstanding our view that Orders in Council should not be used prior to a referendum of the Welsh people, we now highlight some practical and procedural issues that the Government will need to address in relation to the Orders in Council process, were it to be implemented.

Question put, That the paragraphs be read a second time.

The Committee divided.


Ayes, 2
  
Mr Stephen Crabb
Mr David Jones 

Noes, 7
  
Nia Griffith
Mrs Siân James
Mr Martyn Jones
Mrs Madeleine Moon
Jessica Morden
Hywel Williams
Mark Williams



Paragraphs 105 to 130 read and agreed to.

Paragraphs 131 and 132 read as follows:

    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.

    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.

Motion made, to leave out paragraphs 131 and 132 and insert the following new paragraph:

    We reiterate our view that we do not accept the White Paper's proposals for Orders in Council. We acknowledge and approve of the role of the Secretary of State for Wales and Welsh Members of Parliament in promoting and safeguarding the interests of the people of Wales in Parliament. - (Mr David Jones)

Motion made, and Question put, That the paragraph be read a second time.

The Committee divided.


Ayes, 2
  
Mr Stephen Crabb
Mr David Jones 

Noes, 7
  
Nia Griffith
Mrs Siân James
Mr Martyn Jones
Mrs Madeleine Moon
Jessica Morden
Hywel Williams
Mark Williams



Paragraphs 131 and 132 agreed to.

Paragraph 133 to 137 read and agreed to.

A Paragraph - (Mr David Jones) - brought up and read, as follows:

We further recommend that the wording of the question include the option for the abolition of the National Assembly for Wales.

Question put, That the paragraph be read a second time.

The Committee divided.


Ayes, 4
  
Mr Stephen Crabb
Mr David Jones 
Mr Martyn Jones
Mrs Madeleine Moon

Noes, 5
  
Nia Griffith
Mrs Siân James
Jessica Morden
Hywel Williams
Mark Williams



Paragraphs 138 to144 read and agreed to.

Paragraph 145 read as follows:

    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.

Motion made to leave out paragraph 145 and insert the following new paragraph:

    Whilst a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly is an indication of consensus within that body, it would not amount to an indication of any wider consensus within Wales. We therefore agree that the Secretary of State should have the power to refuse the request for a referendum. - (Mr David Jones)

The Committee divided.


Ayes, 2
  
Mr Stephen Crabb
Mr David Jones 

Noes, 7
  
Nia Griffith
Mrs Siân James
Mr Martyn Jones
Mrs Madeleine Moon
Jessica Morden
Hywel Williams
Mark Williams



Paragraph 145 agreed to.

Paragraph 146 to 155 read and agreed to.

Paragraph 156 read as follows:

    Regardless of the merits or reasons for the proposed changes to the electoral system in Wales, we are concerned that party political feelings on this issue, from all sides, will draw the focus of the Bill away from the many welcome proposals that will be contained within it. We therefore recommend that the Government redouble its efforts to gain a cross-party consensus on electoral reform before the Bill passes into legislation.

Motion made to leave out paragraph 156 and insert the following new paragraph:

    We are wholly unconvinced by the arguments put by the Secretary of State and the First Minister in favour of electoral reform and prefer the evidence of the Electoral Commission and our academic witnesses. We conclude that there is no good reason to change the current arrangements for the election of regional Assembly Members. - (Mr David Jones)

The Committee divided.


Ayes, 4
  
Mr Stephen Crabb
Mr David Jones 
Hywel Williams
Mark Williams
Noes, 5
  
Nia Griffith
Mrs Siân James
Mr Martyn Jones
Mrs Madeleine Moon
Jessica Morden



Another Motion made to leave out paragraph 156 and insert the following new paragraph:

    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 - (Nia Griffith)

The Committee divided.


Ayes, 5
  
Nia Griffith
Mrs Siân James
Mr Martyn Jones
Mrs Madeleine Moon
Jessica Morden

Noes, 4
  
Mr Stephen Crabb
Mr David Jones 
Hywel Williams
Mark Williams



Paragraph 156, as amended, agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report, as amended, be the First Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.

Ordered, That the provisions of Standing Order No.134 (Select committees (reports)) be applied to the Report

Several Papers were ordered to be appended to the Minutes of Evidence.

Ordered, That the Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee be reported to the House.

[Adjourned till Tuesday 6 December at Ten O'clock.







270   Q194 Back

271   Q78 Back

272   Ev 7 Back

273   Hastening Slowly: The Next Phase of Welsh Devolution, [2005] Public Law, (Winter). Back


 
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Prepared 13 December 2005