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Orders in Council

Volume 453: debated on Wednesday 29 November 2006

3. In what circumstances he expects to use Orders in Council under the provisions of the Government of Wales Act 2006. (102919)

Orders in Council will be used to grant enhanced powers to the National Assembly at the request of the Welsh Assembly Government.

Given that Orders in Council will be used to transfer primary legislation powers to the Assembly, can the Secretary of State confirm that any proposals he presents will be the subject of proper parliamentary debate and scrutiny rather than just a one-and-a-half-hour debate here or in the other place?

As the hon. Gentleman knows—although he, or at least his party, voted against the Government of Wales Act, which was a pretty shameful and typically anti-Welsh stance for the Tories to take—there is new provision for Orders in Council to streamline the process of the Assembly’s gaining extra powers. As I told the Assembly yesterday, however, there is no question of Parliament simply rubber-stamping requests from the Assembly. Parliament has never been in the business of rubber-stamping anything. There will, I trust, be proper scrutiny through the Welsh Affairs Committee, and probably something similar in the House of Lords.

Could an Order in Council be used to remove a royal warrant from a company that is closing its factory in Rhondda? The Queen and the Prince of Wales currently provide a warrant for Burberry, but it is trying to withdraw its production from the United Kingdom by closing the Rhondda factory. Will the Secretary of State write to Her Majesty to try to persuade her to remove the royal warrant?

May I add my welcome to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), and send my sincere best wishes to the Secretary of State’s wife for a speedy and full recovery?

As the Secretary of State will know, yesterday the National Assembly unanimously passed a motion calling on the First Minister to seek the support of the United Kingdom Government for the establishment of an agreed protocol on how the Secretary of State will consider each application from the Assembly Government for an Order in Council under the Government of Wales Act. Will the Secretary of State commit himself to an urgent discussion on that protocol, and in due course sign up to it on the basis that it is crucial to the working of the Act?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his best wishes to my wife, which I will certainly pass on to her.

In the light of the Government of Wales Act it is important for us to modify the protocols, particularly devolution guidance notes. They must be a matter between the Welsh Assembly and United Kingdom Governments, not between the Assembly and the House of Commons or Parliament as a whole, but there is no doubt that action is needed. I told the Assembly yesterday that we should establish a presumption in favour of granting it extra powers unless the principle or scope of the request is clearly wrong—for instance, if it covers a non-devolved matter.

I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) about Elizabeth; Conservative Members too wish her well. I also thank the boys for welcoming me back. I obviously need to be back at the Dispatch Box to rebut the rubbish that the Secretary of State talks about Tory policies both in this House and in the Welsh Assembly. Can the Secretary of State clarify whether under the new Act an Order in Council—a request for legislation made by the Welsh Assembly Government—can be amended or refused by any of the following: the Welsh Grand Committee, the House of Lords, this House or himself?

I relish having the hon. Lady back at the Dispatch Box, and I am glad that she has returned to it with her normal feisty approach to matters. As she knows, because she was present for some days in Committee on the Floor of the House, the Order in Council procedure will be subject to proper scrutiny. I believe that the Welsh Affairs Committee is the right vehicle for that, and any amendments and so forth can be considered in that context. As the hon. Lady brought up rubbishing Tory policies, let me remind Members that the Tories’ hypocrisy on devolution is absolutely staggering: they did all that they could during the passage of the Government of Wales Bill to stop the Assembly getting new powers.

The Secretary of State knows that we voted against that Bill on Third Reading with a proviso. Is it not really the truth that the request for an Order need never reach this Parliament because he has taken to himself the powers of a Viceroy of Wales and he himself can block or alter the legislation, so it need never reach this House and this House can be taken out of the equation? Is that what his new constitutional convention is about, and is not this threat to refuse their requests the ideal weapon to bring Rhodri Morgan and Welsh Labour to heel?

I do not know whether the hon. Lady was preparing that rather silly intervention while she was away. The truth is that the Secretary of State would be in discussion with the First Minister about what the Assembly proposed to put to the House—if the hon. Lady were ever to occupy the post of Secretary of State she would be in exactly the same position. That route via the Secretary of State is the route by which any such proposal comes before this Parliament. So of course there will be discussions. This is not a question of acting as a Viceroy or exercising vetoes; it is about undertaking the proper procedures. As for the hon. Lady’s argument that her party opposed the Bill with a proviso, let me point out that they voted against it on both Second and Third Reading, which shows their anti-devolution stance; they are the same old Tories.