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Devolution

Volume 491: debated on Wednesday 29 April 2009

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the constitutional settlement on devolution in Wales. (270717)

My assessment of the devolution settlement is that the Labour-led Assembly Government are delivering real policies to underpin the lives of the people of Wales.

As a committed Unionist, may I ask the Secretary of State whether he believes that to make devolution work for all the people of Wales there needs to be constructive, open dialogue between Cardiff and Whitehall? In what ways can that dialogue genuinely be improved?

As a committed Unionist myself, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there should be constructive dialogue between Whitehall and Cardiff. That is accomplished in a number of formal ways, including regular meetings between me and the First Minister, and between Ministers and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, together with a dialogue between Members of Parliament and Assembly Members of all parties. It is vital that the people of Wales understand that the best way forward for the Welsh people is through a partnership between this Parliament, the Assembly in Cardiff, this Government and the Welsh Assembly Government.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s observations, particularly his emphasis on partnership. One of the key elements of the Government of Wales Act 2006 is the role of the Welsh Affairs Committee in pre-legislative scrutiny of legislative competence orders. We have worked effectively with colleagues in the Assembly, especially Ministers, and we are committed to increasing that participation and partnership. Does he agree?

Yes, I do, and I think that the work of the Welsh Affairs Committee is, in many ways, more significant following devolution than before it because there is a huge role to play, certainly in dealing with the LCOs—my hon. Friend’s Committee does a good job on that, I know—but also, as the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) said, in maintaining a dialogue between Members of Parliament and Assembly Members, particularly by way of scrutiny. The Welsh Affairs Committee does a great job and my hon. Friend does an outstanding job as its Chairman.

As a descendant of Owain Glyndwr and yet another proud Unionist, may I ask the Secretary of State whether he shares my concern at the taxpayer-funded All Wales Convention? It is going round demanding extra powers for the Welsh Assembly, which I and most of the Welsh people know will cost more money and inevitably lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom? What is he doing to ensure that the other side of the argument is put?

I do not think that I need do very much, as long as the hon. Gentleman remains the Member of Parliament for Monmouth. I am not a descendant of Owain Glyndwr, certainly not with a name such as mine, but I agree that the convention should be open to everybody in Wales to put their points of view. It is, in effect, testing the water. If the convention believes that a referendum is necessary, the people of Wales will decide. In the meantime, right across Wales, people have the opportunity to put the hon. Gentleman’s point of view, and indeed the opposite.

Speaking as a Euro Unionist, not a British Unionist, and as a supporter of Owain Glyndwr, but also not as a descendant of his, and in the spirit of partnership between the nations of these islands, what does the Secretary of State think of my party’s proposal that each of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom should take its turn in nominating the UK representative as commissioner in the European Commission?

Not much, really, but I do think that there is a case for Assembly and Scottish Government Ministers sharing with British Government Ministers representation at meetings in Brussels, Strasbourg and elsewhere. That has happened over the years and there is an important role to be played. However, in my view, only the sovereign state Government is able to nominate for the role of commissioner.

May I add that I agree with the Secretary of State’s remarks on the previous question?

The reality of the relationship between Westminster and Cardiff Bay is not quite as cosy as the first two questions perhaps suggested. Now he has had a chance to work with the LCO process, and bearing in mind the sudden rush of LCOs coming through, is he entirely happy with the procedures: the scrutiny process, which affects the Welsh Affairs Committee’s work load by giving it a lot of heavy work; and the public and political intervention from the Assembly’s Presiding Officer, or does the system need improving?

I think that the system needs monitoring all the time, and that there is room for improvement all the time. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and members of the Welsh Affairs Committee are considering, for example, how to improve the speed with which LCOs are dealt with. I commend them for that. I note the hon. Lady’s comments about the role of the Presiding Officer, and I will pass on her views when I next meet him.