Power to Enter into Concordat

Part of Orders of the Day — Government of Wales Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 25th March 1998.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State 8:45 pm, 25th March 1998

That was not the first time this evening that the right hon. Gentleman has appeared impatient. Had he accepted our suggestions about the timetabling of these parts of the Bill, he would have had rather more time to make his case.

The Government's attempts to bypass Parliament really know no bounds. One of the few Divisions in which the Prime Minister has voted since 1 May was earlier today, on the business motion governing today's debates. That is yet another example of the Government's disdain for the House.

Concordats may sound friendly, but when we begin to examine what they are and what they will do, we find them rather sinister. Earlier this year, we were helped by a Government written answer which had attached guidance setting out their view of the purpose and nature of these concordats. I have looked at that guidance with some care; rather than reassuring me, it has filled me with even deeper foreboding. It states: Their purpose is not to create legal obligations or restrictions on any party; rather, they will set the ground rules for administrative co-operation and exchange of information. Setting "the ground rules" sounds wonderful—as if the Government are setting the rules by which the game will be played. However, when we asked previously what the concordats were for, we were led to believe that they were not for administrative co-operation and exchange of information but for important matters like deciding how much money the Welsh assembly will get and how the voice of Wales will be heard in the European Council of Ministers. Those are not administrative, co-operative matters or exchanges of information; they are matters of fundamental importance to Wales and to this Parliament.

The next paragraph says: Concordats are not necessarily the only way to regulate these relationships in future. Good, say I—something better. Not at all. We are told: Other, less formal, arrangements will be appropriate in many cases, and in others there will be no need for any standing arrangement at all. We suddenly begin to see something that is highly alien to our democratic principles: the introduction of what have become known in America as "Executive agreements"—agreements not between legislatures, Parliaments or countries but between Administrations so that they can bypass democratic procedures.

The concordats will be used for exchange of information and arrangements for liaison on EU and international matters". By what right does a concordat that does not come before this House decide on matters of liaison within the European Union, or on other international matters? Are not those of concern to this House and to elected Members of the Welsh Assembly? How can they be dealt with on the same basis as the concordats?

The document also refers to "any financial arrangements", but are those the financial arrangements under clause 80? Do they relate to the Barnett formula? Will they all now be regulated by non-statutory, non-legally enforceable documents, which will become known as concordats?

Those are the reasons why, earlier in our proceedings, I tried to explore what the concordats were about. The document tells us firmly that they are non-statutory and not intended to be legally enforceable. That is interesting, because it gives rise to all sorts of questions. The document also says that they are not intended to impose duties and liabilities.