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Cross-border Issues

Volume 461: debated on Wednesday 6 June 2007

4. What discussions he has had with the First Minister on the National Assembly for Wales’s legislative programme as it relates to cross-border issues. (140337)

The First Minister will announce later today the Welsh Assembly Government’s strategic and legislative programme for the coming months. He has already announced in plenary on 25 May that he will bring forward proposals in relation to child poverty, affordable housing, climate change and better access to health care.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. How closely do the Labour Government in Westminster intend to involve Westminster MPs in scrutinising Welsh legislative issues? Is not the Secretary of State concerned—as Opposition Members are—that such scrutiny opportunities for Westminster MPs are limited to statutory instruments, secondary legislative bodies and Welsh Committees? What can he do to give more scrutiny by the House?

I very much support the principle of scrutiny, particularly pre-legislative scrutiny, which I took forward in my previous post as Leader of the House. The Welsh Affairs Committee has the opportunity to pre-scrutinise matters and only yesterday produced a valuable report, which noted that the whole House could be involved. Although it is a Welsh Members’ Select Committee, other Members have the opportunity to give evidence to it and to contribute to the scrutiny process. There are other ways of achieving that, too.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s positive comments about our report. Would he be prepared to appear before the Select Committee to discuss the matter more fully? Like him and the whole House, we are keen to ensure that there is thorough scrutiny of all framework powers going through the Welsh Assembly Government.

Undoubtedly, the introduction of Orders in Council, as provided for in the Government of Wales Act 2006, to give the Assembly the opportunity to take extra measure-making powers is an important advance, and my hon. Friend’s Committee will have a valuable pre-scrutiny role. He referred to framework powers, as did the report, and my right hon. Friends the Members for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) and for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) have also raised the issue on the Floor of the House. It is an important issue, and an explanatory memorandum will of course accompany each proposed framework power in an England and Wales Bill and will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. We need to make sure that a full explanation is provided by the Welsh Assembly Government so that Members have the chance to look at what they are being invited to endorse in a Bill.

In discussing with the First Minister his proposals for climate change legislation, will the Secretary of State ensure that the First Minister is fully aware of the controversial cross-border issues that will arise over proposals for the Severn barrage? Will the Secretary of State and the First Minister ensure that before they proceed they visit the barrage de La Rance at St. Malo, where they will see how over 40 years, and to generate only 3 per cent. of the electricity of Brittany, the environment has been devastated and biodiversity has been sterilised? The impact of the barrage on that part of France has been devastatingly bad and there will be great opposition to the Severn barrage on those grounds alone.

That is not my understanding, but obviously if the hon. Gentleman wants to put evidence before me I shall be happy to look at it. As I understand it, the evidence shows that La Rance river, which is the only equivalent project that I know about, has seen an increase in biodiversity. Given the support for the proposal in the south-west, from Bristol down to Taunton, including the regional development agency and local authorities, I think the Severn barrage could be of enormous benefit environmentally and in every other way.

I am not sure that the Secretary of State will have time to visit the Rance project; after all, he did not have time, or was unable, to attend the opening of the Welsh Assembly yesterday. However, will he find time to ask the First Minister how he can claim to be leading a listening Government in Wales when he has not discussed his legislative programme with the other parties and did not even attend the televised debate between party leaders on the legislation last night? Is not the truth that Labour continues to take Wales for granted even when it has lost its majority and lost its authority?

This is from a Welsh Conservative party that did extremely badly at the 3 May elections and that has consistently lost ground in Wales over the past 20 years because of its anti-Welsh policies and the way in which unemployment went up and bankruptcies and public spending cuts increased in Wales under the Tories. All that would lie in Wales’s future if Tory Ministers took power away from a Welsh Assembly Labour Government. Tory Ministers back in power and in charge of Wales is not something that the people of Wales want.