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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am not quite sure what the noble Lord is saying--quite right to do what? No, I do not agree that it is ever right to break a UN embargo. I do not believe that; nor do my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Government of Wales Bill

3.38 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [The Assembly]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 8, at beginning insert ("Subject to the sovereignty of the Parliament of the United Kingdom,").

The noble Lord said: It is worth noting that at the start of this Committee stage we are faced with 65 pages of amendments, new schedules and new clauses. The bulk of those pages--over half--are occupied by government changes to the Bill. Some of them are welcome, and one is sufficiently significant to require a change in the title of the Bill. I refer to the provision relating to the new office of welsh administration ombudsman.

However, I am not complaining at all about what is before us so much as what is not. We still have not seen the Bill relating to the registration of political parties which will shortly feature in our discussions on the Bill, as it has already done in debates on a number of other measures, where it is also relevant. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who has been cooling

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his ire in Scottish waters this weekend, will, I feel sure, have more to say on the point when it arises in the course of our deliberations.

I am grateful to the Minister for his letter today very much regretting the fact that the second draft of the transfer order, which he promised would be with us before the Committee stage, is not yet available. He told us during his Second Reading speech that it is a bulky document, and that I can well believe. He also told us that it would be available well before we discuss Part II of the Bill. We look forward to its publication, although it is hardly likely to qualify as relaxing bed-time reading.

As regards the amendment which I am moving and the others grouped with it, the aim is to clarify beyond all possible doubt the relationship between the national assembly for Wales and this United Kingdom Parliament. Some may take the view that the contents of the Bill make the relationship clear enough and that the amendments are therefore otiose and unnecessary. But there are good precedents for their inclusion in legislation and we should not disregard those precedents lightly. I shall come to them in a moment.

One of the arguments in favour of devolution advanced by the Government during the referendum campaign was that devolution would strengthen rather than weaken the unity of the United Kingdom. That argument was based on the acknowledgement that the pressures for devolution were inherently centrifugal, but by devolving powers downwards from the centre, a formal statutory scheme of devolution would provide an appropriate opportunity to redefine the bonds that hold the United Kingdom together. Among the forces that make for that unity, the sovereignty of this United Kingdom Parliament must surely be supreme.

Included in the precedents for a statement of this supremacy was the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 which followed Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. It stated that:

    "Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters and things in Northern Ireland and every part thereof".

My colleagues in the other place tried to secure the inclusion of a Welsh version of that clause in the Bill at Committee stage, but the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Win Griffiths, argued against it, as did the Secretary of State, Mr. Ron Davies. Mr. Davies said in an intervention:

    "There is no need to make it explicitly clear that sovereignty rests with the House, because it clearly does. Nothing that the assembly or any future Government do can undermine the sovereignty of Parliament".--[Official Report, Commons, 20/1/98; col. 866.]

My right honourable friend Mr. Michael Ancram, never had an answer to his counter point at col. 869 that:

    "If the sovereignty of this Parliament is complete, what is there to prevent the amendment from being accepted?"

The substance of the amendment was not otiose or unnecessary in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 or its predecessors. But we are not seeking the full replication of that clause in our first amendment today, merely the inclusion of a reference to the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament in the opening clause

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of the Bill. We are doing so because many people in Wales would feel reassured by the presence of such a reference on the face of the Bill. Such reassurance is necessary at present. I believe it would be helpful to the Government and to the implementation of the Bill. I should have thought that this Government who claim to be sensitive to public opinion would have ensured the inclusion of such a reference without a prompting amendment of this kind.

As I understand it, the Government propose to remove all references to the Government of Ireland Act 1920 from the new constitutional settlement for Ulster emerging from the Belfast Agreement. However, another section of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act is to be preserved in some form or another--that is, the Section which asserts that although measures classed by the Northern Ireland Assembly would have the same force and effect as an Act of Parliament,

    "This section does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Northern Ireland".

That latter section has been adapted and incorporated in the Scotland Bill where it is to be found in Clause 27(7). A Welsh form is reproduced in our second amendment, Amendment No. 2. Similar wording appears in the Belfast Agreement, paragraph 33.

Again it may be argued that such a re-statement is not necessary in the Government of Wales Bill principally because, unlike Scotland, no primary legislative powers are being devolved to the assembly in Wales. Primary legislative powers remain with this Parliament. The point was made by the Minister, Mr. Win Griffiths, when he replied to the Committee stage debate in the other place. He said:

    "It is unnecessary and otiose for a similar statement to be included in the legislation for the Welsh assembly because the National Assembly for Wales will not have the same wide-ranging primary legislative powers as the Scottish Parliament".--[Official Report, Commons, 20/1/98; col. 875.]

That, of course, is true, but the Welsh assembly will have very extensive secondary legislative powers and there are more to come. The truth is that we cannot anticipate all the circumstances that may arise or what use will be made of those powers. What we know is that there is a great deal of concern here in this Parliament about the growing use of such delegated powers, the adequacy of scrutiny and so on.

This Bill proposes a further enlargement of the whole field of delegated legislation and envisages some differences between the secondary legislation emerging in Wales and that stemming in England from the same primary legislation. Anyone who doubts that need only look at Clause 26 of the School Standards and Framework Bill which gives considerable latitude to education authorities in Wales in implementing government policy.

Shortly before this debate, we received the 18th Report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. The committee expressed its concern and drew the special attention of the House to its comments on the provisions transferring the exercise of existing legislative powers to the assembly and the new legislative powers conferred on the assembly. It also draws to the attention of the House the

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exceptionally large number of Henry VIII powers in the Bill. So there we have the concern of the Select Committee. This is an area of considerable potential confusion and even conflict. Many people--including the people of Wales--would feel safer if it were made absolutely clear where the ultimate authority lies.

As the Secretary of State for Wales said on more than one occasion in the referendum campaign, devolution is an ongoing process, and that is clearly implied in the Bill. Future legislation will contain order-making powers, some of which will be exercised by the assembly. We have no idea at this stage what those powers may be in the future or how they will be exercised. But we know that there is no provision for the return of powers to Westminster, whatever happens--even if things go badly wrong; there is only provision for going forward. That is what one might call the ratchet effect.

There is provision for the Secretary of State to intervene if the assembly acts contrary to UK treaty obligations and there is a right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council if the assembly acts ultra vires and so forth. However, there is no encouragement to this Parliament or obligation upon it to give its protection or assert its supremacy should the need arise. The thrust of the Bill is to give the assembly as much independence as possible. I am not at all sure that that is the best approach that could be adopted. I would have preferred to see a more co-operative approach and more co-operative links between the assembly and this Parliament; that would have been helpful to both.

We value the unity of the United Kingdom and the supremacy of Parliament not only from an institutional standpoint but from the point of view of the affected citizen. One cannot forget--though the Government may wish to--that three-quarters of the electorate in Wales did not support the Government's devolution proposals. The inclusion of a reference to parliamentary sovereignty and primary legislative power may provide those people with the reassurance that they need.

To include the amendments purely on that account may be thought to be cosmetic. But at this point we do not know what circumstances could arise in future where the intervention of the UK Parliament may be called for. We know that circumstances arose in Northern Ireland where it was necessary to abolish the Stormont Parliament at a stroke, and I hope that the same thing never happens to the Welsh assembly. But such extreme circumstances are not inconceivable and should clearly be provided for in the event that this Parliament is called upon to intervene either by the people of Wales or by their representatives at Westminster. We should not be blind to the worst scenario. We could be held culpable if we were.

For all those reasons it would be a wise precaution to place a reference to parliamentary sovereignty on the face of the Bill, together with a clear and unambiguous statement regarding the power of Parliament to make laws for Wales. It may seem otiose now, but who can

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guarantee that it will always be so? The addition of our amendments would reassure millions and help them to see the assembly in a proper perspective. I beg to move.

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