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Lord Elis-Thomas: Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene to comment on a remark he made earlier. Surely the assembly will have a shared responsibility in any United Kingdom matters which are partly devolved, in that the assembly is covered by the override power--the only one in the Bill, as far as I understand it--ensuring that the assembly does nothing to contravene UK international obligations. The assembly therefore will be involved in GATT and the WTO, but it will not be contravening what the UK may be doing in those areas.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Lord. Indeed, the assembly will be covered by those things, but it will not be involved in the negotiations or the conclusions. However, I agree with the noble Lord that it will be obliged to follow them.
The problems will arise if the assembly does something or does not do something. That will clearly be difficult for the United Kingdom Government. What powers do the Government or the Secretary of State have? Amendment No. 67 suggests, in a modest manner, a way round the problem. The first part gives the Secretary of State powers to notify the assembly if he considers that it is failing in the discharge of any of the functions delegated to it. One hopes that at that point the assembly will consider the position and take steps to satisfy the Secretary of State that it is doing its job properly by discharging the functions or that it is taking proper cognisance of whatever external issues are being brought to bear on the matter in front of it.
The second part of the amendment deals with a situation where, for whatever reason, the assembly decides that it is not going to take any cognisance of the centre. I know that the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Elis-Thomas, think that that is my fevered imagination. But government's experience--of both parties--with local government suggests that occasionally subsidiary governments decide to dig in their heels and see what happens. I appreciate that the Welsh assembly may be different from any other body that we have in this country in local government, but I am not entirely convinced. I have watched local government occasionally decide to dig in its heels and challenge central government: "If you want it that way, come and do whatever you need to do. We are not going to play ball".
The second part of the amendment therefore gives the Secretary of State some powers to deal with the situation if he thinks it necessary. If he goes way outside the spirit of the words in the new clause, I have little doubt that the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Williams of Mostyn, and their colleagues in the legal profession will get stuck in, and I do not believe that the Secretary of State would last very long in court if he were clearly going beyond the words on the Marshalled List.
Let us presume that all is well from the legal point of view. In order to attempt to ensure that the Secretary of State does not have dictatorial powers, we have ensured that he can exercise this kind of override position only subject to the democratic control of this Chamber or another place. I accept that it is possible that there may be a huge political divide between the Houses of Parliament in London and the assembly in Cardiff; that will inevitably happen at some stage. I should like to think that neither will take the view that they want to break the whole thing apart by taking a purely political view of any issue.
I should like to think also that the words in the new clause are constructed in such a way that, if a government at Westminster were taking a view which was entirely political and clearly had not much relevance to the wording in the new clause, again the legal profession would be called in to play and the Government would suffer a bloody nose in the courts for exceeding those powers--a subject of which I have some experience in my previous existence, so I know that judges can do that kind of thing.
I hope that I have explained at least a little to the Committee's satisfaction. I am not trying to give the Secretary of State huge or dictatorial powers but measured powers whereby he can point out to the assembly that it is not doing things properly or is making difficulties for itself. That could lead to discussion and the possibility of a satisfactory outcome. Failing that, the Secretary of State could proceed not by diktat but by statutory instrument which would be subject to the democratic control of the House. This is
Lord Rees: Every Member of the Committee taking part in the debate approaches the Bill with the utmost good will, benevolence and optimism with regard to the assembly, its functions and future. That was the tenor on Second Reading. Whatever reservations we may have had at an earlier stage we are now faced with the practical prospect of translating the thinking behind the Bill into sensible, statesmanlike measures. Against that background we are obliged and bound to consider in some detail what powers are being transferred to the assembly, how those powers can be modified, increased or diminished in the future, and what is the ultimate control and where does it lie.
I shall not take up the Committee's time on the details of the powers at this stage. There will be many amendments allowing for that. Nor will I consider how those powers can be added to or subtracted from. I want to reflect on the responsibilities of the Westminster Parliament in relation to the assembly. We cannot just wash our hands of the assembly once the Bill is passed into law, if it is passed into law without substantial amendment. We retain constitutionally the ultimate responsibility for the running of the United Kingdom. I shall not deal with delicate matters in relation to Scotland; we shall come to those in due course.
Implicit in the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Elis-Thomas, was that any thought of Westminster needing to control or reflect on the performance or powers of the assembly would be regarded as an affront to the people of Wales or those who might be elected to the assembly. That is absolute nonsense. I come from a part of Wales which reflected its reservations in the referendum in spite of the rather unattractive and shabby way the referendum was put. We indicated our reservations. We were perfectly entitled to do so. We are entitled to reflect those reservations today and in the debate we will be having in weeks to come. We are entitled to consider them.
Supposing things do go wrong? Supposing there is friction between the assembly and Westminster? How are these matters to be resolved? Although we had not seen the Bill at the referendum stage, the way its conception was put to the people of Wales at the referendum was that the long stop after all is Westminster. If it is said that any power handed to the assembly is gone for good, no matter how the assembly performs, then one has to face the fact that a deliberative chamber can reach some very odd conclusions which may not be very practical. Are we to say that that is a matter for the assembly, that we have given it powers and that we have no further responsibility? I do not take that view. We have, and will have, a continuing responsibility.
How that power is exercised and how the assembly exercises its powers will be a matter for deep reflection both here and in Cardiff. We have to face the possibilities in a realistic and practical way. We must not draw conclusions that we do not have confidence in the people of Wales and that we are going to keep them
I hope that we can have a measured and careful debate on these questions, particularly on the relationship of the assembly with Parliament in Westminster. On that basis Amendment No. 67, which my noble friend commended, deserves our careful and sympathetic consideration.
Lord Hooson: I want to make the briefest of interventions. Obviously devolution is a process and much depends on the civilised relationship between Parliament and the assembly. What I find objectionable in most of the amendments to be put forward is that they are sowing the seeds of dissension into the Bill. It is the attitude that says we want an overall control and right to withdraw powers and so on. That is quite unnecessary. If there were to be a real clash of principle between the assembly and Parliament--after all, this is a major devolution--this Parliament is sovereign. If it came to a question of a clash between the assembly and Parliament, then all the power is with Parliament. Why therefore is it necessary to sow the seeds of dissension into the Bill?
Lord Stanley of Alderley: I agree entirely with the principle of what the noble Lord is saying. However, the noble Lord says that if there is dissension sovereignty rests at Westminster. I do not see where that is written into the Bill. I think the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, misinterpreted the tone of my amendment. I am saying that if things go wrong I want exactly the same as the noble Lord.
Lord Hooson: The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, protested many times during his speech that he was not a politician. I thought he was giving a first-class impression of one. He knows I have very warm regard for him. In a relationship such as we are developing between the Welsh assembly and Parliament, you cannot have everything set in stone. You must not anticipate every little problem and give jagged edges to every solution. It will depend on a civilised relationship.
The citizens of Wales realise there are many advantages of being part of the Union; people in England and Scotland realise there are great advantages in giving the people of Wales a good deal of control over their own affairs. The relationship will be a developing, growing one.
Much will depend on the concordats which will be set out. They will be a means of setting in motion what will become constitutional conventions. No doubt they will be amended along the way, but they will become constitutional conventions in the relationship between Parliament and the assembly. That is the way to proceed, not on a basis of suspicion and spite.
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