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 Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands Labour, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney 8:45 pm, 25th March 1998

New clause 9, which is grouped with the right hon. Gentleman's new clause, would have the same effect, so I share the right hon. Gentleman's objective. However, I intend to employ a different argument because I thought that he rather over-egged his argument.

To return to my Bagehot, two buckles will link the assembly to Whitehall and Westminster. One is the Secretary of State and the other is the concordats. Those are the two instruments which will be used to achieve a relationship. They will deal with—if I can borrow a phrase from a different situation—the three areas of cohabitation that will have to be worked out.

9.15 pm

I am referring to the cohabitation between the Secretary of State and the assembly; the cohabitation between the Secretary of State and Whitehall and the powers that he might have; and the cohabitation between the assembly and Whitehall. The concordats deal mainly with the third category of cohabitation—the relationship between assembly officials and Whitehall officials.

If the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) had bothered to read column 745 of Hansard on 2 March, he would have seen that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spelled out rather well the reason why we have to have concordats. He described a series of relationships between Welsh Office officials and Whitehall officials on a host of issues. Those officials regularly meet in a working relationship within a common political structure.

I was rather surprised that my right hon. Friend described the relationship as harmonious. If it is, it has changed a great deal since my time in office 20 years ago, when there was a great deal of tension. Quite often, Whitehall would either try to pull a fast one or simply ignore the Welsh Office. I gather that everything is now sweetness, light and harmony, although I find it a little difficult to believe.

My right hon. Friend rightly pointed out that there is a meaningful basis to the relationship—that the officials work in a common political administrative-executive structure. When Welsh Office officials go to Whitehall, they work under the same rules, with the same common purpose, and bound by the same set of relationships. Therefore, many of the points made by the right hon. Member for Devizes were off target.

The fundamental issue is not that there is something sinister about the relationship or that we do not need concordats. I understand why we need them—to establish the sort of relationships that exist now and which were well described by my right hon. Friend on 2 March. The problem is that we are in a wholly different political environment with different sets of loyalties. The officials coming to Whitehall from the Welsh Office or the assembly will not have a common political administrative-executive allegiance; they will be separate people with separate relationships and separate loyalties—not to a Minister who is part of the collective system of Westminster, Whitehall and Cabinet, but to the First Secretary and other Secretaries who will have different priorities and different political instincts.