HC Deb 07 July 2004 vol 423 cc822-4
2. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales on the devolution of further powers to the Assembly. [181913]

6. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West) (Lab)

If he will make a statement on the Richard commission inquiry into the powers and working of the National Assembly for Wales. [181917]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain)

The First Minister and I have had regular bilaterals on these matters.

Miss McIntosh

Is the Secretary of State clear about whether the First Minister thinks there should be a transfer of primary law-making powers or an adjustment to the existing devolution settlement, allowing the Assembly to amend laws passed here? Which is it? The First Minister does not seem to be clear about it in his own mind.

Mr. Hain

The First Minister has floated a different option, which is being explored. I am discussing it with him, and once it is clear exactly how it will translate into legislative terms—if that is required—there will be an answer to the hon. Lady's question.

It would be interesting to learn from the hon. Lady, or indeed from the shadow Secretary of State, what Conservative policy is on this. We have been clear about our desire to see progress, but it is not clear where the Conservatives stand.

Gareth Thomas

May I invite the Secretary of State to be rather more definitive than he has been in the past about which of the Richard commission's recommendations would require a referendum before implementation?

Mr. Hain

If tax-varying powers were to be adopted on the Scottish model, a referendum would certainly be required. There is no argument about that, and I think Richard conceded it, because the Scots had a referendum. As for whether primary legislative powers relating to functions already devolved would require a referendum, I know that my hon. Friend has advocated that, and that it has been advocated by a majority of Welsh Labour Members and a number of Welsh Labour constituencies. We are currently consulting on it.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD)

May I ask the Secretary of State to explain Rhodri Morgan's compromise option?

Mr. Hain

The First Minister is arguing that one could adopt the 13.2 option that the Richard commission advocated—essentially, it involves enhanced secondary legislative powers for the Assembly—in a different configuration. Under the proposal, it is not just prospective or current legislation that would be dealt with; the Assembly would also have powers over retrospective legislation. We are looking at that idea and discussing it in detail.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend explore further ways of improving scrutiny of clauses in primary legislation that confer additional powers on the Assembly, thereby building on the new procedure for scrutiny by combined Committees of the Assembly and of this House, as is currently happening with the draft transport Bill for Wales? Will he consider whether Ministers in the Welsh Assembly Government should be invited to have their proposals for primary legislation examined by Standing Committees of this House, and perhaps through other proceedings in this Chamber?

Mr. Hain

I shall certainly consider that interesting idea. Of course, pre-legislative scrutiny is an important achievement of this Government that the whole House has welcomed. All recent Welsh Bills, including the current Public Audit (Wales) Bill, were subject to pre-legislative scrutiny and were improved as a result. Perhaps I might take this opportunity to remind everybody—especially the nationalists and the Liberal Democrats, who want to rush ahead with this agenda—how much legislation has gone through in the past year under the existing settlement: nine Bills, containing 163 Welsh clauses. That is a very important achievement that this Labour Government have delivered for the people of Wales under the current devolution settlement.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC)

The Government's proposed regional assemblies will be granted borrowing powers. The Northern Ireland Executive already have such powers and have raised more than £200 million in the past two years. Does the Secretary of State agree that granting such powers to the National Assembly would be of great benefit to Wales, and that it would be one of the few positive changes that would not split the Welsh Labour party?

Mr. Hain

The Assembly has a huge budget, which is devolved from Westminster. I should remind the hon. Gentleman, whose party advocates independence for Wales, that if that policy were adopted, Wales would be permanently borrowing from just about every bank in the world, because it would be bankrupt as a result of the Mickey Mouse economics that underpin that policy. In fact, since the nationalists have come out totally, transparently and honestly in favour of independence, their vote has actually fallen by 12 per cent.

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