Report (1st Day) (Continued)
59: After Clause 49, insert the following new Clause—
“Rail: franchising of passenger services
(1) Section 25 of the Railways Act 1993 (England and Wales: public sector operators not to be franchisees) is amended as follows. (2) In the heading, omit “and Wales”.(3) At the end of subsection (2A) insert “or a franchise agreement in respect of services that are or include Wales-only services.”(4) After subsection (2A) insert— “(2B) For the purposes of this section a “Wales-only service” has the same meaning as in section 57 of the Railways Act 2005.”(5) This section does not have effect in relation to any invitation to tender under section 26(2) of the Railways Act 1993 issued before the day on which this section comes into force.”
My Lords, this week, with the chaos caused on Southern rail, we have seen how poorly run railways can impact on people’s lives. I know this to be true because the shadow Chief Whip has told me to get a move on as he needs to catch a train—a Southern rail train, which is even more difficult.
One of the key ambitions of the Welsh Government is to establish and develop a dynamic economy in Wales. Central to this is the fact that we will need to ensure that it is supported by an effective integrated transport network—including, crucially, the rail network. The question we are addressing in our amendment is: who should be allowed to bid for the franchise to run the railways in Wales?
With ambitious milestones envisaged for the delivery of the public transport network in Wales, such as electrification, the introduction of the South Wales Metro and widespread structural improvements, it is important to make sure that all possibilities are open in relation to who can run our railways. That is essential for the implementation of our ambitious plans for improved passenger services across Wales. We need to ensure that the development of that franchise and the ability of anyone to bid for it are married with the economic ambitions for the area.
The current franchise saw a surge from 18 million annual passenger journeys on the network in 2003 to 29 million journeys by 2013. With the numbers forecast to grow by a further 74% by 2030, it is imperative that we plan for that growth in a more integrated and responsive way. If we leave it to the UK Government, we will be in trouble, because only about 1% of the money spent on rail infrastructure enhancements across England and Wales from 2011 to 2015 was spent on Network Rail’s routes in Wales. I repeat: 1%. And we wonder why there is disparity in the way that people respond to government in this country. That has to be addressed, and we want to address it. However, that is not what I want to talk about here. I am sorry but I needed to say that, because I am really angry about the fact that only 1% was spent in Wales. It is important that that is understood.
The Welsh Government are currently undertaking a franchise round to decide who will be responsible for running the Wales and Borders franchise, including the operator for the planned Metro. In theory, we understand that a not-for-profit organisation could have bid for this franchise round. But we would like to see the possibility in a future franchise round for the Welsh Government themselves to be able to bid for the franchise if they wish to do so. This is something that has been allowed for in Scotland and was agreed in the Smith report, but it is being denied to Wales.
Let me underline the absurdity of the situation by telling noble Lords about the current bidders for the franchise. The preferred bidders to build the South Wales Metro and run the next Wales and Borders franchise have just been announced. The choices reflect the injustice of British railway politics. Abellio is a subsidiary of a Dutch state-owned rail company; Arriva forms part of a German state-owned company, Deutsche Bahn; Keolis belongs to the French state-owned rail service, SNCF; and the only truly private bidder is MTR, a Hong Kong-based rail company. It is illogical to allow a foreign state-owned company to run a franchise in Wales while prohibiting public sector organisations from running the Welsh franchise. Wales should not be maintained as another nation’s rail colony. It is purely a matter of logic that the Welsh Government should be granted the opportunity to bid if they wish in future to run that railway network.
We understand that the next franchise will run from 2028 but we believe that this is an important matter of principle. We believe that the Government are being ideologically blinkered in their objection to the public sector in Britain being allowed to deliver rail services. I beg to move.
My Lords, I look forward to the Minister’s response to this because he is not on a good wicket at the moment. This is not a good week to be defending privately run franchises or arguing that railways run by the private sector are automatically the solution to all our problems. I reassure the Minister that on these Benches, we are not massive fans of nationalisation either—we are fans of what works. As you study franchises across Britain and railways across Europe and the world, you will see that all sorts of configurations work in different circumstances and that similar configurations do not work in other places. There is no one solution.
I do not think it is necessarily appropriate for the Welsh Government to be trying to run a railway service. However, it is conceivable that the Welsh Government might wish, for example, to enter into a partnership with the private sector on some kind of joint venture, or to set up some sort of novel structure, of which they would be a part, perhaps on a not-for-profit basis. I remind the Minister that Transport for London is a real success story in many respects, and has a structure that quite clearly includes a government element. I also remind the Minister that when the Government were forced to take over the east coast main line from a failing private sector franchise, they did rather a good job of running the railway and saving the situation. Therefore, we support in principle the idea of giving the Welsh Government the freedom to decide what shape of franchise they want and to participate in that process if they wish to do so.
I realise that the Minister will say that there are practical difficulties because the railway runs not just in Wales but in England. If the rail franchise is run by the Welsh Government, it might be regarded as slightly irregular, I suppose, for the service in England, but no more irregular than the private sector franchise being run by the Dutch state railway company, which is what happens in England at the moment. I also realise that we are talking about a long way into the future, because the processes for the next franchise will not be prepared until 2028. For that reason, I hope the Minister will listen and think about this. There is value in playing the long game on the railways and in looking at how we can get the best investment in services in the long term. One thing that would persuade the Welsh Government to invest in railways in Wales would be to give them a little more power and control over them.
My Lords, in supporting my noble friend Lady Morgan’s excellent speech, I make one brief point. The Welsh Government are not seeking to have their civil servants run the rail franchise—I do not believe anybody thinks that that would be a good idea—but to configure the right package for Wales. We can take the example of Welsh Water. To be precise on this and, I hope, not pedantic, Welsh Water is a not-for-dividend company. It is not a not-for-profit company. It has to make profits to invest. Any entity taking over the Wales rail franchise would have to do the same. But Welsh Water is run much more efficiently than privatised water companies in England because it can raise its capital at a far cheaper rate on the market than private companies—noble Lords can look at the figures—because it does not have to satisfy the shareholders’ speculative roundabouts. The amendment would give the Welsh Government the opportunity to invite bids of that kind.
Finally, if the Minister is serious about his support for devolution to Wales, why does he not respond to the Welsh Government’s specific request to have this amendment carried into statute?
My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment and the wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. Having listened to the discussions on the Bill, however, I strongly support a step-by-step approach. I can see the arguments on either side and recognise that the Silk commission recommended devolution. My recollection is that it recommended that the executive responsibility for the Wales and border passenger rail franchise be fully devolved. But it did so with a number of conditions and safeguards. The Government confirmed in the St David’s Day Command Paper that they would consider which non-fiscal parts of the Smith commission agreement might be implemented for Wales, including the commitment to amend Section 25 of the Railways Act 1993 to permit public sector operators to bid for rail franchises, for which Scottish Ministers are responsible.
As I understand it, the commitments that have been made have now caused the two Governments to work together on the detailed arrangements for the next franchise, including how cross-border routes could be procured and managed and signalling the likelihood that services primarily serving English markets would be transferred to other franchises for which the Secretary of State is responsible, all of which is welcome. I suppose my main question for the Minister is: can he please give us an update on exactly where we are because I would not want us to accept the amendment if it flies in the face of the careful consideration between the two Governments of how this could all be brought into effect in time for the next franchise, but in particular during the course of next year?
My Lords, I am very grateful for the build-up from the Benches opposite. I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate on the railways. Perhaps I may say first, although I do not think the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, referred to it, that although Amendment 91 is in this group, I would like to return to it on the second day of Report, in the new year. I see that the noble Baroness is content with that.
I turn to Amendment 59 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely. She is seeking to press the Government to a decision on a matter that we committed to consider in the St David’s Day Command Paper, as my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral has just indicated. That matter is whether to legislate for Wales in a similar manner to the provision in the Scotland Act 2016 regarding the powers of Scottish Ministers as committed to in the Smith commission agreement to enable Welsh Ministers to invite UK public sector operators to bid for rail franchises for which they are the responsible franchising authority. Let me deal first with the point about not-for-profit and not-for-dividend organisations. They are currently able to bid and there is no proposal to alter that, so the likes of Dwr Cymru, as I indicated in Committee, would be able to bid in relation to this.
I know the Welsh Government are keen to have this power, but I have to tell noble Lords that we have no proposal in this area, particularly given that it will be 2028 before it could kick in. I think that by common agreement the current border franchise contract will be agreed in 2018. We do not propose to permit public sector bidders in the interim because we do not see any urgency about this. On that basis, I cannot give the reassurance that is sought.
I am very disappointed with the Minister’s response. I do not understand why we cannot have the same rights as Scotland for the public sector to be able to bid for the franchise. We are not asking to be given it; we are asking for the right to submit a proposal, which, as the noble Lord suggested, is allowed in the Smith commission agreement. It is a double standard to allow German, Dutch and French state-owned companies to bid for the franchise but not Welsh state-owned companies. The noble Lord will understand that when talking about railways you need a long-term approach. That is why we do not think it is premature to be pushing this. I am afraid I am not convinced by the arguments put forward by the Minister and I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Amendment 60 not moved.
Clause 51: President of Welsh Tribunals
61: Clause 51, page 42, line 40, leave out “Wales public” and insert “devolved Welsh”
Amendment 61 agreed.
Clause 56: Provision of information to the Office for Budget Responsibility
62: Clause 56, page 47, line 1, leave out “Wales public authority” and insert “devolved Welsh authority within paragraph (a) or (b) of section 157A(1) that is”
Amendment 62 agreed.
Clause 60: Consequential provision
63: Clause 60, page 49, line 5, at beginning insert “Subject to subsection (2A),”
My Lords, I shall not speak to Amendments 63 or 64, but I shall speak to Amendment 65. As the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, reminded the House, I had the privilege of being Lord Chief Justice of Wales for some time and I regard this as a constitutional question. I also recognise that at this time of the night, a speech like that of Welsh-born Henry V before the Battle of Agincourt—or before the walls of Harfleur—will not do very much for anybody, so I will confine myself to a few choice words, but maybe more than I intend.
I make this speech because this provision is simply a constitutional aberration. Here we are in the mother of Parliaments, an institution where the principles so movingly crafted by Abraham Lincoln on the blood-soaked field of Gettysburg, about government for the people by the people and of the people—democracy—is embodied. Yet we are to provide a Minister of the Crown with powers to amend, repeal, revoke and modify—perhaps I can use the word “disapply” to cover all those—any primary or secondary legislation. We do it all the time in what are called Henry VIII powers and we all let it happen. We should not, but we do—so let us face the fact that there are Henry VIII powers in this provision.
Secondary legislation can overrule primary legislation, but this is the malevolent ghost of King Henry VIII wandering through the valleys of Wales because, at least in the provision as it stands, if the primary legislation of this Parliament is to be overruled there are going to be regulations which would empower this House to overrule it. I disagree with the process but it is up to Parliament, and Parliament provides it. The necessary regulations are subject to parliamentary approval or annulment, but—this is the crucial but—the regulations that would empower the Minister to disapply legislation of the National Assembly for Wales are not subject to the equivalent control by that Assembly. We seem to have been discussing this legislation all day yet any part of it—primary, secondary, tertiary or whatever it may be—can be wiped out by a Minister without any consultation with anyone at the National Assembly for Wales. In other words, we would wipe out the enactments of a democratically elected Parliament that we call the National Assembly.
If I may say so, I find a ministerial diktat that is given such powers quite astonishing. It is astonishing that it is considered here in the mother of Parliaments. There is not a scintilla of control of the Executive envisaged in these provisions, which is why I describe them as a constitutional aberration. I am sorry to use strong language and I know I am not before Harfleur, but it is an insult to the democratic process which this Parliament created when the National Assembly for Wales was created. That is my prime concern, but I am concerned, too, about the legislation itself.
Can we just remember that this is open to question as a piece of legislation? Clause 60 as it stands is inconsistent with the spirit and arguably, I suggest, with the precise language of Clause 2. If Parliament is normally precluded—as it would be for the reasons we have discussed this afternoon—from legislating about devolved matters without the consent of the National Assembly, why on earth should a Minister or the Executive, not Parliament, be given wide-ranging powers, including powers to disapply primary legislation of the Assembly by secondary legislation without any consent, without so much as a “by your leave”? There may be political consequences, but in law that is what we are being asked to consider.
I know that the Minister, who has dealt with me with the greatest possible courtesy, will no doubt point out that that is what happens in Scotland. So it does. We should be embarrassed that we allowed it to happen. The fact that it happens in Scotland does not alter the fact that it was an aberration there and will be an aberration here. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, in his excellent opening statement on Amendment 63 and the amendments grouped with it. I shall speak to my Amendments 64 and 71 and to Amendment 65, to which I added my name.
Amendment 65 may be the most effective amendment in this group. The amendments seek to ensure that the National Assembly for Wales has primacy when it comes to secondary legislation in areas of devolved competence and to removing Westminster’s powers to undermine Welsh devolution through what are known as Henry VIII powers. It is worth reading out the amendment:
“Page 49, line 7, at end insert—
‘(2A) The Secretary of State may not make regulations under subsection (2) unless the National Assembly for Wales has passed a resolution approving a draft of the regulations”’.
That seems a very reasonable thing to do. When these points were put forward in Committee, I found the Minister’s response, particularly to the points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, to some extent disappointing and perhaps a little misleading. The Minister argued that Acts of Parliament and Acts of the Assembly should be treated equally in areas of devolved competence. The Minister characterised the argument as being about equality, although no one appeared to be using that word to describe the intentions of these amendments. It is not a matter of equality; it is about establishing the supremacy or primacy of laws created by the Assembly in Wales for Wales. The Minister argued that a number of Welsh Assembly Acts require amendments to Westminster Acts and that a statutory provision to create more accountability for secondary legislation would shift the balance too far in favour of the Assembly. However, as my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas highlighted, we are talking about two very different scenarios. The Assembly is simply amending Westminster Acts, which are the legislative framework on which Welsh law has been built for centuries. In contrast, unwanted attempts by Westminster to amend Assembly Acts are simply interventions in what should be an area of unquestionable authority for the National Assembly for Wales. It therefore seems quite a misnomer to say that any attempts to use Henry VIII powers to undermine Welsh law are a matter of equality. The issue is about ensuring that Welsh Assembly Acts have the respect and legal standing that they deserve.
I shall also briefly address a further point raised by the Minister. He argued that Clause 53 will be used to address “minor” or “consequential” issues only. It was argued that any wholesale changes to this process would create unnecessary complexities for these necessary but uncontentious pieces of secondary legislation. He will be able to see from Amendment 64 that by including the word “minor” in the appropriate line of the clause, I have addressed that issue. I hope he will acknowledge that and perhaps accept the amendment.
I understand that, as with primary legislation, AMs are afforded the right to vote on a consent Motion for any changes to Westminster orders and regulations which infringe into areas of devolved competence. This is called Standing Order 30A and is referred to by the abbreviation SICM for statutory instrument consent memorandum. However, this is only agreed to by convention, and recognised only in Assembly standing orders. It has absolutely no legal standing—even less than the somewhat pathetic standing given to the Sewel convention by including the word “normally” in the Bill.
The Assembly cannot rely on the kindness of Westminster to ensure that it can continue to exercise the powers we have fought so hard for it to have. Will the Minister therefore accept the advice of so many legal and constitutional experts and recognise that it is no longer acceptable to have these arcane and undemocratic clauses in the Bill—or, for that matter, in any Bill of this nature? A way out of this totally unnecessary mess would be to require the National Assembly’s agreement to the use of any statutory instrument by Westminster. At a stroke, that would resolve the issue. If the matters are as uncontentious as the Minister claimed them to be, there would be no difficulty in getting that Assembly agreement.
As things stand, I can well see this matter becoming a dominant one, which could well lead to the National Assembly refusing to pass a legislative consent order in relation to the Bill. If that were to happen, it would be a direct consequence of the Government refusing to apply even-handed common sense and instead running terrified of upsetting the Scots by giving Wales this additional power. We have been told time and again that just because something is appropriate for Scotland, it is not necessarily appropriate for Wales. In this instance, the boot is on the other foot, and for the sake both of the self-respect of our National Assembly and of the even-handed resolution of disputes between Westminster and Cardiff Bay, I urge the House to accept this amendment.
My Lords, Clause 60 is an example of the encroachment of the Executive on the privileges of Parliament that has increasingly come to the forefront in the last two or three years. It is necessary to look at the provisions of that clause very carefully. In subsection (2), it says:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations make such consequential provision in connection with any provision of this Act as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.
Parliament passes primary legislation, and a Secretary of State introduces regulations. The control that Parliament has is by way of statutory instrument—sometimes by the affirmative procedure, sometimes by the negative procedure. This is an issue that has troubled the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, of which I am a member, for some time. Every time this provision appears, a statement is made which the Government have, in the last two or three years, ignored. Subsection (3) says that “Regulations under subsection (2)” made by the Secretary of State “may amend, repeal”—and these are the important words—
“revoke or otherwise modify … an enactment contained in primary legislation, or … an instrument made under an enactment contained in primary legislation”.
That is the Henry VIII clause which permits a Minister to bring forward a statutory instrument to amend an Act of Parliament passed by Parliament.
There are two ways of doing that, as I have already indicated: by affirmative resolution, whereby the amendment does not take place unless the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament; or by the negative procedure, whereby a draft is produced and subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution by either House of Parliament. Your Lordships are familiar with the bringing forward of Motions in the House to seek to annul regulations that are subject to the negative procedure. However, this clause, at subsection (6), says:
“A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (2) that includes provision amending or repealing any provision of primary legislation may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament”.
That is the affirmative procedure, but the words are “amending or repealing”. It is not necessary to have an affirmative resolution if the purpose of the regulations is to revoke or otherwise modify the Act of Parliament that is under consideration. So whereas subsection (3) refers to amending, repealing, revoking or otherwise modifying, an affirmative resolution is required only if the provision amends or repeals. If it revokes or otherwise modifies an Act of Parliament, the negative procedure is enough, according to this clause.
As I have said, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee is faced with this problem all the time; we were faced with it this morning in relation to the Higher Education and Research Bill that was debated in your Lordships’ House last week. As I say, we make recommendations on this issue. The Government used to comply with the committee’s observations but for the past two or three years they have ceased to do so. Your Lordships are dealing with something that is very serious—Henry VIII powers that are being exercised by negative resolution. Noble Lords will know that for the negative resolution to be introduced into the House requires a Member actually to raise the issue of his own volition and make the Government respond, as opposed to the Government coming here and asking for permission to amend the Act of Parliament. This is an important constitutional issue that this Government should take on board. For that reason, I support the amendments that have been tabled.
My Lords, I support the amendments, which are similar to those that I had the pleasure of moving in Committee. Since then, we have had a most interesting and informative letter— yet another Bourne letter, I may say; the collected correspondence of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, is becoming voluminous—that is extraordinarily revealing. It appears that if we have bad habits, other Assemblies, including the Welsh Assembly, are now catching them. The letter tells us:
“In 2015 and 2016, eight out of the twelve Acts passed by the Assembly included a power for Welsh Ministers to make consequential amendments to Acts of Parliament”—
that is, our Parliament—
“without any role for Parliament to scrutinise such secondary legislation”.
It turns out that the Assembly is doing exactly what we are threatening to do. It is bringing in legislation, including Henry VIII powers, that will then be used to amend legislation, primary and secondary, that this House has passed. That is a constitutional absurdity and we have to put a stop to it at both ends.
In fact, not only has the Welsh Assembly taken these Henry VIII powers in eight of its 12 Acts, it has exercised them already. In three cases it has amended our primary legislation without our knowing or being consulted. I do not know who was asked. I ask the Minister to elaborate on this, because it is all in his letter. Another four pieces of secondary legislation have been made by the Assembly that amend SIs made by the UK Parliament. So there are three pieces of primary legislation and four secondary that have been amended by the Welsh Assembly, using their Henry VIII powers, without either this House or the other House knowing.
I have the privilege of serving on two committees of this House that spend a lot of time on secondary legislation, as well as the Joint Committee with the Commons. They are most impressive committees. An enormous amount of effort is taken and thorough, diligent work is done by the legal advisers and the members of the Committees. We pore over our draft statutory instruments and report if there is any special reason—if we need to draw attention to defective drafting, in the case of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, or to vires issues or broader issues in the case of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.
I am astonished that we spend all this time making sure that we bring to this House statutory instruments that are fit for purpose, yet I now find that another Assembly—the Welsh Assembly—has amended the statutory instruments that we have so carefully prepared. I do not know how it has amended them; I do not know the nature of the amendment—I will press the Minister to explain in a minute—but this is the sort of situation that we get into. It is a sort of inter-ministerial legislative stitch-up: “You can amend it in your legislation —it is sufficient, it saves time and it is convenient”. Neither House should be interested in ministerial convenience. It is our job to be inconvenient at times, and I believe we should be in this case.
Will the Minister now tell us, based on the letter he has sent us, which sections of which Acts of Parliament—primary legislation—the Assembly has amended? I do not have a clue; none of our committees seems to have found out about it. Secondly, which statutory instruments have been amended by the National Assembly and which paragraphs of our statutory instruments have been changed? We have to put a stop to this; we have to put our foot down. I will read the last paragraph of the letter:
“There was no requirement for Parliament to scrutinise any of this legislation”.
It appears that Parliament was not party to any of this legislation, only Ministers. That is not true. Acts of Parliament and statutory instruments belong to this Parliament as much as they belong to Ministers; they are as much our constitutional property as they are that of Ministers. We need to put our foot down and find ways and means to ensure that this will not happen again. It is now happening to us, as we threatened to do it to National Assembly legislation. Let us put a stop to it, please.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree with the submissions made by everyone who has spoken on this matter. If I may say so, my heart swelled with pride at the wholly magisterial and superb condemnation of the situation by my noble and learned friend Lord Judge.
This provision has no place in the mores or principles of the 21st century. It is a remnant of a monarchical diktat. Although it does not seem to have been abused by government at all in recent years, but used only for something utterly mechanical, it is still the letter of the law—a law that, I submit, is indefensible. I hope the Minister will not seek to defend the indefensible when he replies.
In Committee, I cited a book written by a former Attorney-General, Sir Gordon Hewart, in the late 1930s, entitled The New Despotism. He was worried about the powers being exercised daily by Ministers in such a way as to circumvent Parliament. He was not dealing with this problem but with positive powers allowing Ministers to make regulations in a wide field. What he would have said of this, I just do not know. It is an anachronism that we must get rid of, because it has no place whatever in the fundamental basis of our parliamentary system in the 21st century.
My name is down to Amendment 68, which covers this situation and goes a little further. It deals not just with the Cardiff Assembly but Westminster. I appreciate there is a distinction between them, as my noble and learned friend pointed out, but I thought it proper to include both for this reason. Most of the legislation that affects Wales and creates devolutionary powers for Wales does not come from Cardiff—it comes from here. For that reason, I should have thought it entirely proper to include it in the condemnation, which should be regarded as utter and absolute, of these Henry VIII powers.
I therefore ask the Minister to say yes. It may well be that there is no abuse of these powers and that no modern Government would dream of abusing them, but that is the letter of the law. It is a dangerous law and one that has no place in our day. Let us get rid of it as soon as possible.
My Lords, I support the amendments. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, referred to Henry V as a Welshman; indeed, he was a Monmouthshire man like myself. Of course, Henry VIII was a Welshman too, and he was less benign to Wales than the other Henry, just as the situation described by noble Lords is not benign.
Over the past 20 years, the way in which legislation has been made in Wales has developed enormously. When it started in the late 1990s, the Welsh Assembly was effectively a big county council, and all it could legislate on initially was secondary legislation. Then my noble friend Lord Hain introduced the 2006 Wales Act, under which we had a sort of hybrid situation with legislative competence orders. Now, as the House knows, primary legislation can be, will be and is being made by the National Assembly for Wales. Those of us who live in Wales are subject to the laws of two parliaments and the diktats of two sets of Ministers.
Over the past two decades, the relationships between the two Governments and the two parliaments have themselves developed. At times, it has been very difficult, as my noble friend Lord Hain and I as Welsh Secretaries knew only too well. But now my noble friend Lord Rowlands has revealed—and the Minister himself revealed it in his letter to Members of this House—that a deeply unpleasant and unconstitutional situation is growing that allows Ministers in one Government to change the laws of another assembly or parliament. That is very wrong.
I rather suspect that the Minister will say that these amendments should not appear in the Bill for various reasons—not least of which is “It doesn’t happen in Scotland”, but that was a major oversight when the Scotland Bill was going through. In previous constitutional Bills, very often a Minister has indicated in the House what the consultation process can be. If the Minister cannot assure us that such provisions will appear in the Bill, perhaps he can reassure the House that there will be proper consultation between the two Governments and the two assemblies and parliaments, whenever the changes are made. That is not as good as putting changes in the Bill, but at least it would be something.
My Lords, we have heard how Clause 60 allows for consequential provisions on Assembly Acts to be made by the UK Secretary of State. In other words, if there is a need for a tweak to be made to a new law introduced, or if there is a need to change a different government Bill as a result of the introduction of a new Bill, it could be done without going through the whole rigmarole of a full-on legislative parliamentary procedure.
We can all see the sense that now and again that is necessary. That is not an unusual state of affairs; it is not unusual for a Minister to be able to make consequential orders in relation to laws made and enacted in the United Kingdom. However, as we have heard, if a consequential law were to be introduced in Westminster, there would be that opportunity for both Houses to approve such changes before they could be enacted. If I may say so, I think that this House carries out that role very well; it is the House that really takes that seriously. As has been underlined, the major difference in relation to Wales is that the opportunity to approve consequential changes is not available to the Welsh Assembly on laws that affect it. That has been criticised vehemently by the Delegated Powers Committee.
My amendments would limit a requirement that statutory instruments would have to be approved by the Assembly so that it applied only if they related to provisions that would be within the Assembly’s competence or would amend the Government of Wales Act 2006. So it is a restricted responsibility. The Assembly would not be trying to grab power in any way—it is just making sure that the Assembly is able to do the work that it has responsibility for.
As the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, said, the Minister responsible for this Bill has been very good in keeping us informed. He has sent us reams of letters, which have been very useful for knowing how the Bill is developing. In his letter of 2 December, the argument that he used was that this happened in the Scotland Bill. I said earlier today that that was because the SNP was not awake—it was not keeping an eye on things—but that does not make it right, just because the Welsh are on the ball. It is important that you should listen to us. Two wrongs do not make a right.
The Minister went on in that letter to suggest that,
“given the consequential changes that will need to be made in relation to local government elections in Wales in this Bill, consequential changes to existing secondary legislation will need to be made in relation to electoral registration”.
What are the Government afraid of? The Welsh Assembly is not going to block consequential amendments proposed by the UK Government that are in its interests. Why cannot the Assembly, like both Westminster Chambers, in matters affecting its powers have the right to an affirmative vote, as is done here?
The second argument that is marshalled, as the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, pointed out, is about the fact that the Welsh Government are starting to use the power. The noble Lord made a valid point—again, two wrongs do not make a right. We need to calm both Governments down in terms of introducing so many Henry VIII clauses. This is about parliamentary scrutiny; it is very important.
I do not expect the Minister to roll over when I, an opposition person, call something a constitutional aberration, but I would advise him to listen very carefully when the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, says that something is a “constitutional aberration”. I ask the Minister to think very carefully on this matter.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who participated in the debate on the amendments in this group relating to Clause 60. First, I understand the points made on the powers that are being brought in, specifically in relation to legislation that is having an effect beyond the particular legislature. Secondly, as a general point, I am grateful for the acknowledgement of the reams of letters that noble Lords are receiving, but I fear that probably more attention is being paid to the letters than to the debates, because the situation as regards the Assembly’s power was something that I made great play of in Committee. So the letter was not saying anything new—I mentioned this issue in Committee, so that particular point should not have taken noble Lords by surprise, as it appears to have done.
I am grateful to the noble Lord—indeed, I did go further in the letter, that is true. There would have been little point in sending it otherwise. But I was underlining the point that I thought that noble Lords were saying that I had not mentioned this in Committee, which I had.
On the situation, I can say this—and I hope that it will meet with general approval—and pick up particularly the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy. I am very grateful for his wise words in developing some way forward in relation to this matter. I have spoken to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales, who has written to the First Minister and the Presiding Officer—I think significantly—in the National Assembly, to give two assurances. First, any intention to exercise the power in Clause 60 in respect of legislation made by either the Assembly or Welsh Ministers would be discussed between officials well in advance of regulations being laid. I think that this is common practice in any respect and, in relation to the particular point made about elections, this is something that is already happening. I think that sometimes noble Lords do not realise the good will that exists between officials, and indeed between the Administrations, in taking things forward.
Secondly, the Secretary of State will write to the First Minister and Presiding Officer, informing them of any intention to make regulations which affect legislation made by the Assembly or Welsh Ministers and to do so at the earliest stage before regulations are laid. It will then be for the National Assembly to act as it considers appropriate in relation to that information. I will be urging my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to seek some assurance that the Welsh Government will act in the same way in relation to matters that are decided at the Assembly which affect our legislation. It seems to me that this is only fair and deals with the issue that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, was referring to in reverse. I do not think that, in essence, there is any difference between the two practices.
I hope that this will give the reassurance that is being sought in relation to the practice. I recognise the points that are being made and I think that this deals with them in that it alerts people at the earliest reasonable opportunity. I thank noble Lords for contributing to the debate. I understand the points that are being made but, in relation to that undertaking of some institutional underpinning at National Assembly level, I hope that noble Lords would accept these assurances and not press their amendments.
Before the Minister sits down, I thank him for the suggestion that there will effectively be some kind of early warning system. But he suggested that it would allow the Assembly to act appropriately. What does he mean by that? What would the Assembly acting appropriately mean?
My Lords, I am too old a hand at devolution to suggest what would be appropriate for the Assembly; that would be a matter for the Assembly in the particular circumstances of the case. I do not think that I can second-guess what it would want to do; it would depend very much on the circumstances and the view of the Assembly on a particular matter, not to me as Minister at the Wales Office here.
My Lords, I appreciate the point that the noble Lord is making, and indeed the point that the noble Baroness is making, but I suspect that this would be part of the response of the Presiding Officer to the Secretary of State now that she has the letter—or hopefully has the letter, because it has only just been sent. That would be a matter for dialogue between the Presiding Officer, First Minister and Secretary of State.
Before the Minister sits down, can he address one point that I raised with him? If the matters under consideration for the use of these orders are generally small, consequential, almost trivial sortings-out, why on earth is it not possible to have a consent order in the Assembly for any orders being made here and vice versa, so that everybody is built in? If they are not controversial there would be no difficulty in getting them.
My Lords, again, I do not want to second-guess what will happen in the discussion subsequent to the letter being received. It is a fair point, but I suppose it does raise the question of when something may be minor to one person but not another. I think that it may be easy to identify but more difficult to define what is minor. I take the point but, sometimes, there may be a need to act with great facility. The point here is that the approach that I have suggested—indeed, the approach that we are carrying forward—involves a dialogue between the National Assembly and our own Parliament, through the Wales Office, which can hopefully drive this matter forward. That is what I have been seeking to do and I hope that noble Lords will accept this as a way forward in relation to what could otherwise be a difficult issue.
Amendment 63 withdrawn.
Amendments 64 to 72 not moved.
Consideration on Report adjourned.
House adjourned at 9.55 pm.