Power to Enter into Concordat

Part of Orders of the Day — Government of Wales Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 25th March 1998.

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Photo of Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones Plaid Cymru, Ynys Môn 9:30 pm, 25th March 1998

No. I need to make some progress.

Will there be a concordat on European matters between the Department of Trade and Industry and the assembly on issues such as structural funds, but a concordat between the Foreign Office and the assembly on representation of the assembly in the UKREP? Let us say for the sake of argument that a civil servant from the assembly is seconded to the permanent representation in Brussels. That is a function decided by the Foreign Office. Would there need to be a separate concordat on that arrangement? These are matters that need to be properly clarified.

I did not like the use of the word "sinister" by the right hon. Member for Devizes because it is provided that the details of concordats should be published. The difficulty as I see it is that in the vast majority of cases there is no opportunity for anyone other than officials to decide the contents of the concordat.

Let us assume that there is a concordat between an assembly official and a DTI official about the relationship between the assembly and the Council of Ministers. How will the assembly make it clear that it wishes to have better representation in Europe if the officials have denied that in the official concordat? At what stage would, say, the First Secretary of the assembly be able to discuss with a Minister in the DTI the extent of that concordat? Who would be in a position to amend the concordat if the relationship was obviously not working?

That is one reason why we believe that there should be some way in which amendments to the concordat can be discussed in the assembly. If a concordat signed between officials obviously is not workingßžfor example, the discussion of European mattersßžand an amendment is proposed, it is vital that the assembly's voice is heard before the amendment is finally agreed.

I do not always share the Secretary of State's confidence about the future relationship between the assembly and Whitehall. I readily agreeßžhe has often made the point-that the relationship is good at present. It is founded on mutual trust. I do not think that that will always be the case. I shall give the Secretary of State an example. Let us assumethat during the right hon. Gentleman's term of office a concordat is signed on sensitive European matters. Let us assume that, two general elections down the line, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) becomes President of the Board of Trade in a Conservative Government. Let us assume that he wants to tear up the concordat, as he wanted to do when he was Secretary of State for Wales. Let us be blunt about it; he did not want Wales to have any relationship with the European Union. He wanted all the negotiations to be handled here in Westminster. He did not want Wales to have any influence in Europe. If he tears up the concordat, what happens?

The Secretary of State needs to reassure those of us who generally support the move towards better relationships between Departments about what would happen in that event. We need to know that there would be some system to enable the assembly to continue with the arrangements that had been in place under a previous Government.