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

I thank my hon. Friend for introducing the subject of that particular concordat, although I think that I could give him examples of some rather more modern and ecclesiastical concordats. At least we knew the basis of those concordats, and the way in which they could ultimately be enforced in constitutional terms. What we have here are documents—I call them documents, but I do not even know whether they will be documents. In any event, they will be constitutional eccentricities which, at present, have no status, and no basis that we know of on which they can be enforced.

Are the concordats unilaterally breachable? If one side decides that a concordat is no longer a concordat, will that be the end of the matter? If so, is any remedy available to the other side? Will there be financial implications? I understand that the concordats could well be used to decide matters such as the resourcing of the assembly under clause 80 or, indeed, the workings of the Barnett formula. If they have financial implications, will they be open to inspection by the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons—and, if so, on what basis, if they are not born of the House of Commons?

Let us come to the nub of the issue. How can someone who is not a representative of the United Kingdom be delegated, on the basis of an informal agreement, as a representative of the United Kingdom in the Council of Ministers? We are told that that will be one of the purposes of the concordats. How can that be done on the basis of, if necessary, no more than the signature of an official?

Will there be two types of concordat? Will there be concordats that are essentially between officials and, therefore, theoretically, under the terms of the Bill, between members of the same civil service, and concordats which, being between separate Administrations, constitute a very different animal? That, too, will arise in relation to Europe. I understand that concordats will be drawn up between two Administrations in order to allow one to be represented on the delegation of the other, which will be based on the advice of civil servants common to both—civil servants who, I believe, will move between their offices in Cardiff and the Cabinet Office in London in order to formulate the policy that will be taken to the Council of Ministers.

A series of strange, sinister beings called concordats are being introduced— [Horn. MEMBERS: "Sinister?"] Hon. Members may smile, but it takes only one mouse to begin to chew away the rope that holds a building together. I see the beginnings of a deliberate attempt to bypass the House of Commons increasingly. We are starting with a few small concordats; five years later, we shall find that more and more is being done by concordat.

In the absence of answers, there is only one way in which the House can continue to control what is happening here: requiring all concordats to being brought to both Houses in draft form for approval. If that is done, we shall have a chance of protecting the interests of the House.