Power to Enter into Concordat

Part of Orders of the Day — Government of Wales Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 25th March 1998.

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Photo of Mr Ron Davies Mr Ron Davies Secretary of State, Welsh Office 9:45 pm, 25th March 1998

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) for his comments. I am grateful that he took the trouble to read the report of our debate on 2 March. It was a full and substantive debate, and I remind the House that many of the questions that we have been debating today were raised on 2 March, and that full answers were given. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for acknowledging that. I shall reply to the points that have been made on the three clauses, and then I shall deal with any other questions that are raised.

Each of the new clauses refers to concordats, and seeks to put them on a statutory footing. Certain procedural requirements are set out that would apply to them. We have made it clear consistently since the White Paper was published, and in a statement of principles that I published on 27 February, that it will be important to have clear mutual understandings about the working relationship between the assembly and Government Departments. We have been equally clear that it would be unhelpful to turn these into law. That is why the concordats we propose are not intended to be statutory.

Our aim is to preserve the good working relationships that my Department currently has with other Whitehall Departments, so that the business of governance in Wales continues to be conducted smoothly and efficiently. Concordats will set the framework for administrative co-operation and exchange of information dealing with the current processes and the main features of good working relationships.

Concordats already exist between the Welsh Office and local government. These are not legal agreements or agreements that are subject to the affirmative procedure. They are agreements entered into between myself as Secretary of State and the 22 unitary authorities in Wales. They set out the basis on which we consult, respect one another and ensure that the good business of government in Wales is conducted. That is an example of how concordats will work in practice. Suggestions that practical working arrangements should have a legal basis or be subject to procedures of the House are fanciful.