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.

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that, because it is one of the questions that I was going to ask the Secretary of State to respond to when he replies to the debate. Without having seen a concordat, 1 cannot take a view, but it might well found an action for judicial review, for instance. In a sense, that would then bring into question whether it was creating obligations or liabilities and whether it might at some stage become legally enforceable.

These concordats have no status whatever. We are surprised that, although they will deal with major matters, they will normally be signed by a senior official. Only if they are politically sensitive will they be signed by Ministers and Assembly Secretaries. Thus, they will not be regarded as sufficiently important for a Minister to be involved in their negotiation and signing, but will be signed by officials within Departments.

We need to ask a number of fundamental questions about the concordats. First, what status will they have? I hope that the Secretary of State will give us an answer for the first time. Are they like Executive agreements in the United States, which are deliberate ways of bypassing the legislature, and thus matters of considerable constitutional interest and challenge in the United States? If they are, we should be told. Secondly, will they found actions for judicial review? Has the Secretary of State taken advice on whether he is correct in saying that they are not intended to create or impose duties and liabilities? Is he secure in his expectation that that will not happen?

Who will decide who signs the concordats? What are the criteria for deciding whether they will be signed by a Minister or an official? That may appear a semantic question, but it is not. We know that Ministers come and go, and that Governments come and go, but that officials, by their nature, tend to stay. We need to know whether a concordat signed by a Minister will end with the departure of that Minister, and whether a concordat signed by a Minister on behalf of a Government will end with the departure of that Government. It seems that a concordat signed by an official might last, because the officials will still be there, and the interests in which they signed will remain. That will create not just one category of concordat, but a series of categories.