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Clause 45 — Welsh Assembly Government

Orders of the Day — Government of Wales Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 28th February 2006.

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Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland 3:41 pm, 28th February 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 27, line 32, leave out 'Assembly Government' and insert 'Executive'.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 12, in page 27, line 37, leave out 'Assembly Government' and insert 'Executive'.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

The purpose of the amendments is to ensure a consistent approach to the devolved Administrations of the United Kingdom. Such consistency has not been evident in much of the debate—we seem to have moved away from the idea that there should be a coherent approach to the devolved Administrations. In Spain, there is something that is often called "asymmetric devolution," whereby different parts of the country are governed in different ways, but I do not accept that difference is needed for difference's sake.

In Scotland for the past six and a half years, the clear and accepted description of the Administration in the Scottish Parliament has been "the Scottish Executive." Were the equivalent body in Northern Ireland fully functioning, it would be called "the Northern Ireland Executive". It seems logical, coherent and beneficial to efforts to promote wider understanding of the functions of the devolved bodies that in Wales we replace the rather uncomfortable phrase, "Assembly Government" with "Executive."

To have a coherent system throughout the United Kingdom, with a Scottish Executive, a Northern Ireland Executive and a Welsh Executive, would allow and promote better understanding of what the Executives do, compared with the Assembly or Parliaments. Indeed, it would also assist debates in this House, because hon. Members' references to "the Executive" would be clearer. A degree of coherence that has not previously been evident would be brought to the whole package if the amendments were made.

As I am sure the Minister knows, the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs thought that "Executive" was a better term than "Assembly Government". The arguments advanced within the Committee have merit, which should commend them to the Minister. I hope that the amendments will be regarded as non-contentious and that they will attract Government support.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs 3:45 pm, 28th February 2006

Briefly, David Mundell has made a coherent case for the amendment, but I counsel him against building up his hopes, as the hallmark of this Government on naming things is inconsistency. He will recall the debate in which the Government opposed a proposal to call the Welsh Assembly the Welsh Senedd, because they were worried that the public would mix up the political institution with the building. We now have the Welsh Assembly in a Welsh Senedd building, which is typical of the fuzzy logic that we have come to expect on naming. Here is my tuppenny-worth: consistency is needed, but we should also accept that we are aiming to establish a Welsh Government.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend will agree that it is important that the people of Wales should be able to distinguish between the Government and the Welsh Assembly. Too often, the Assembly has taken the blame for poor action by the Government. That contrasts with the golden age of Welsh devolution, in which a Liberal Democrat-led coalition delivered for Wales. The Labour Government, however, do not deliver for Wales.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

My hon. Friend has made a brilliant and insightful point, which doubtless makes the Minister's skin crawl as he remembers paradise lost and the brief halcyon era of the Welsh Assembly in which the Liberal Democrats led the way and ensured the only period of stability during the Assembly administration. He makes an important point, too, about the need to distinguish between the Government of Wales and the Assembly as an institution.

In conclusion, the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale rightly pointed out that that can be achieved with his wording, but I would prefer the whole thing to be called the Senedd. On balance, I prefer the word "Government" to "Executive".

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Spokesperson (Defence; Transport; Economy & Taxation; Miners Compensation; Regeneration; Trade & Industry)

This is a modest demand, and a perfect opportunity for the Government to concede one amendment to the Opposition parties. We are only talking about a name change—it does not change the concrete constitutional settlement one iota, so I hope that the Under-Secretary will find it in his heart to offer us some charity. Names are important—we know that is the case in Wales, which has a logocentric culture—because they are part of the means by which people understand their political institutions. The separation of powers is one of the most important principles in the democratic tradition, and it has been enshrined belatedly but happily in the new settlement.

The problem is terminological inexactitude, which was cobbled together—[Hon. Members: "Oh!]. All without notes, I hasten to add. An informal arrangement was cobbled together in about 2000, but it is now being formalised, unfortunately. The phrase is inelegant, infelicitous and inaccurate, and it does not allow us to clarify for the Welsh electorate where political responsibility lies. There is an important principle at the heart of accountability. The National Assembly for Wales includes all the parties that are represented, and its Government includes the party—[Interruption.] I am reminded that it includes more than one party in coalition. We therefore require clarity on the issue.

I am all for constitutional innovation, but I could find only one other example of a national assembly Government in history. The Turkish republic had two Governments at one time—an Ottoman Government in Istanbul and a national assembly Government in Ankara under Kemal Atatürk. That was a difficult period in Turkish history, and it is the one example in history of something like a national assembly Government. It is a misnomer and we should take the opportunity offered by the Bill to bury it. We do not have a United Kingdom Parliament Government. We do not have a Scottish Parliament Government. Why should we be left with the strange phrase, "Welsh Assembly Government"? It mystifies most of us, it will certainly mystify the Welsh electorate, and the Minister should accept this not unreasonable demand from the Opposition parties.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

I have carefully considered the arguments advanced by David Mundell and by the Welsh Affairs Committee in its report on the Bill. However, the Government do not agree that using the title "Welsh Assembly Government" will perpetuate confusion over the different roles of the Executive and the Legislature. Rather, changing the title at this stage is likely to cause even more confusion than keeping the names with which people are already familiar. As Adam Price said, the name has been in place for five or six years. People understand what the Welsh Assembly Government is, and a change to another name would cause confusion.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

No, I do not, and nobody burst out laughing when the hon. Gentleman mentioned it.

Hon. Members referred to the Scottish Executive. In Scotland, the term "Scottish Executive" has been used since devolution and it is now familiar and well understood, but the Government do not believe that that is a reason for changing a term that is now familiar in Wales. I see no problem. It has been argued that there is confusion between the Assembly and the Government. The term "Welsh Assembly Government" provides clarity. It is not a terminological inexactitude, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr suggested. It is quite clear. We have no intention of changing the name, so I ask the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I am disappointed by the Minister's response to a reasonable suggestion. Earlier in our consideration of the Bill we were told that it was designed to set the framework for a generation, so it would have been worth taking the opportunity to add a much clearer definition of the roles of our devolved institutions within the United Kingdom. Lembit Öpik made a valid point. One of the great challenges of the devolved arrangements is the attempt, particularly under Labour stewardship, to tie in the institution with the Government, and to channel towards the institution any form of public dissatisfaction with the Government. With respect to public services, it is not necessarily the Scottish Executive or the Welsh Assembly that is not delivering, but the Administrations within those institutions, and we need to work further—

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas PPS (Bill Rammell, Minister of State), Department for Education and Skills

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Labour Welsh Assembly Government introduced the distinction between the Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly for Wales?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

The Labour Welsh Assembly Government had to take a degree of responsibility for their actions. Both the Scottish and Welsh institutions are governed by majority decisions, rather than by communal decisions of the entire body. The Welsh Affairs Committee has recognised that the addition of the word "Executive" would provide the new UK devolved settlement with a degree of coherence, so the Minister's argument is unsatisfactory. I will not divide the House on this issue.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

The hon. Gentleman was right to table the amendment. The point made by Ian Lucas, who has unfortunately left the Chamber—no doubt he was blown away by the force of the hon. Gentleman's argument—underlines how important it is that we never again get into a situation in which an entire institution carries the blame for the errors of the Government of the day.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. If the Minister had been willing to accept the amendment, common sense would have prevailed. Sadly, that is not the case, but I am glad that we have had the opportunity to put the issue on the record.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.