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 Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies Labour, Llanelli 9:45 pm, 25th March 1998

I shall not give way. The right hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to put his points at length, and I want to reply to them. If there is sufficient time, he can come back at me.

It might assist the House if I give some specific examples of matters that I expect to be covered in concordats. The ground to be covered in each document will need to be settled by the assembly and the Government Department concerned. To answer the question of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones), the documents will be signed by the assembly. If a concordat related to political matters, an Assembly Secretary would sign it, together with a Minister. In other circumstances, it may be that, if the concordat related to working arrangements between civil servants, it would be signed at that level.

The hon. Member for Ynys Môn is correct in assuming that there will be different concordats relating, to take the example he gave, to the Department of Trade and Industry on the one hand and the Foreign Office on the other. Those concordats will have to be mutually compatible. However, different concordats will be entered into with the objective of ensuring that matters such as Welsh representations to the European Union are conducted in a way that minimises friction and ensures that the voice of Wales is heard properly. That is an example of how the concordats will work.

I understand that some hon. Members, such as the right hon. Member for Devizes, can think only in terms of conflict. It just goes to show what an outdated mindset the Conservative party has. We are entering an era of new politics, when it is possible to co-operate and put aside party political differences in the interests of better government. When the right hon. Gentleman understands that, he will be in a better position to argue his case at the Dispatch Box.

Concordats would cover consultation arrangements in relation to proposals for legislation and Executive action, such as the exchange of information, including policy papers, analysis and statistics; and joint working, including participation in working groups, official committees and so on. They are two-way processes. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) raised the question of confidential information. When a party requires confidentiality, that will have to be written into the concordat and respected.

Concordats will need to address those issues in the context not only of domestic policy and legislation but of the European Union. The assembly's role in policy discussions, both in the United Kingdom and in Europe, on matters within its field of responsibility will therefore be a central feature of relevant concordats. In line with current arrangements, the concordats will provide for matters such as access to relevant papers, attendance at interdepartmental meetings, consultation with the assembly about the development of the United Kingdom negotiating line, and participation in United Kingdom delegations to Brussels. They are precisely the points that were raised during the debate.

New clause 10 would require concordats to be published within a week of having been agreed. The assembly's concordats will be published documents, but I do not believe that it is necessary or appropriate for the legislation to specify the timing of publication. I informed the right hon. Gentleman in a written answer on 10 March that any draft concordats produced by my Department in preparation for the assembly will be published subject to the provisos mentioned in the Government's White Paper on freedom of information. I do not expect the drafts to be ready until well after the Bill has completed its passage through Parliament.

That underlines my point that concordats are practical documents that deal with working relationships rather than matters that need to feature on the face of legislation. The terms of concordats will be agreed between the assembly and Government Departments after the assembly has been elected. As new clause 5 suggests, there is no case for requiring these documents about working arrangements to be subject to prior approval by both Houses of Parliament.

New clause 9 suggests that it is necessary to have an order in council providing for the assembly and Government Departments to agree concordats between them. If the Government thought that the assembly needed any specific power to enter into concordats, we would have included that in the Bill. I am afraid that I cannot offer my hon. Friend any encouragement regarding new clause 9. New clause 11 would require all amendments to concordats to be agreed by a majority vote at a meeting of the assembly. That unnecessarily threatens the discretion of the assembly to decide how it wishes to approve them.

This afternoon, we have seen a synthetic exercise in indignation from the right hon. Member for Devizes. He realises that he can do little to prevent the passage of this legislation into law—he is simply looking for an excuse to call a Division.