'(1) The Welsh Ministers must make a scheme ("the business scheme") setting out how they propose, in the exercise of their functions, to take account of the interests of business.
(2) The business scheme must specify how the Welsh Ministers propose—
(a) to carry out consultation about the exercise of such of their functions as relate to matters affecting the interests of business, and
(b) to consider the impact of the exercise of their functions on the interests of business.
(3) The Welsh Ministers—
(a) must keep the business scheme under review, and
(b) may from time to time remake or revise it.
(4) Before making, remaking or revising the business scheme, the Welsh Ministers must consult such organisations representative of business (including trade unions) and such other organisations as they consider appropriate.
(5) The Welsh Ministers must publish the business scheme when they make it and whenever they remake it; and, if they revise the scheme without remaking it, they must publish either the revisions or the scheme as revised (as they consider appropriate).
(6) If the Welsh Ministers publish a scheme or revisions under subsection (5) they must lay a copy of the scheme or revisions before the Assembly.
(7) The Welsh Ministers must—
(a) within the period of two years beginning with the day on which the business scheme is first made, and
(b) subsequently at intervals of no more than two years,
publish a report of how the proposals set out in the business scheme have been implemented.
(8) The Welsh Ministers must lay before the Assembly a copy of each report published under subsection (7).'.—[Huw Irranca-Davies.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
Order for Third Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
If I may say so, Madam Deputy Speaker, to have a daughter of Wales in the Chair at this time is indeed most appropriate.
St. David's day, tomorrow, sees the official opening of the inspirational new Assembly building in Cardiff bay—the very same building where the Bill was launched only two and a half months ago. A truly iconic building that has attracted architectural acclaim from all over the world, I have no doubt that it will become a powerful symbol of the new Wales. With the Bill now empowering the Assembly to be bolder and more ambitious than ever before, the people of Wales have all the more reason to feel proud.
Devolution and decentralisation of power have been watchwords of the Labour Government. Just as one of our first acts in 1997 was to bring forward proposals for an Assembly for Wales, so we have moved swiftly in our third term to build on the success of devolution. Once again, that destroys the myth that any party other than Labour is the true party of devolution. It was a Labour Government who appointed the first ever Secretary of State for Wales. It was a Labour Government who broadened and deepened the role of the then Welsh Office. It was a Labour Government who passed the first Welsh Language Act in 1967 and it was a Labour Government who called the 1997 referendum and then passed legislation for a democratically elected Assembly for Wales.
No other party has come anywhere near to delivering so much for Wales. Indeed, no other party has ever delivered any devolution for Wales. So as we commemorate 100 years of the parliamentary Labour party, we can be truly proud that devolution, one of the ideals of our first parliamentary leader, Keir Hardie, has not only been achieved, but is being improved. Once again, it is Labour and only Labour that is delivering on devolution.
I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales for his sterling work on the Bill. After four years of silence in the confines of the Whips Office, his voice has been heard during the five days of consideration that the House has given to the Bill. He has dealt patiently and diligently with the issues that Members have raised.
I should also like to express my appreciation of the work of my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan, who, notwithstanding his role as a Whip, has also been able to assist in the progress of the Bill from the Front Bench. Similarly, I thank my Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend Chris Ruane, who has supported me with his customary energy and enthusiasm—the quietest man in the House. Above all, I thank my excellent team of hard-working officials, drawn from both the Welsh Assembly and our own Wales Office—a partnership in action.
I thank my hon. Friend Dr. Francis, who, with the members of his Select Committee, produced a report on the Bill that helped to inform our deliberations. As I have said previously, I envisage his Committee playing a very significant role in the pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposed Orders in Council that will come before the House by virtue of the proposals contained in part 3. Such pre-scrutiny is crucial, and it will be open to all Members to submit written evidence for consideration, or even to seek to give oral testimony if they so prefer.
I am glad that we have been able to subject the Bill to detailed scrutiny, through some 33 hours of debate on the Floor of the House. The House will be aware that the vast bulk of the Bill was either modelled closely on the Government of Wales Act 1998, or modelled on other statutory provisions that have worked effectively. The finance provisions, for example, draw heavily on those in the Scotland Act 1998. Those 141 clauses have broad cross-party support. I am therefore particularly pleased that the House was able to concentrate its scrutiny on those parts of the Bill that are genuinely new—the 24 clauses on enhanced and primary powers and our proposed electoral changes. Those are clearly the most significant parts of the Bill, and I am pleased that they have been given such thorough consideration.
One thing that has not survived the scrutiny of the House is the credibility of the Opposition and their new, supposedly more constructive stance on devolution. First, they tried to scupper the Bill at the outset by tabling a reasoned amendment on Second Reading, and I am told that they may even vote against the Bill on Third Reading. Then they attempted to construct a process of 16 locks to hamper the Assembly acquiring enhanced legislative powers. Then we saw them try to insist on a referendum before Parliament could grant the Assembly even a modest extension of its legislative powers through the Order-in-Council process. Then they tabled amendments that would have reduced the democratically elected Assembly to little more than a Committee of Parliament.
Finally, the Opposition tried to strike enhanced powers out of the Bill altogether, even though such powers were a clear Labour election manifesto commitment. It is hard to square that approach with the view of their leader, Mr. Cameron, who says that he wants to make devolution work. It is even harder to reconcile that with his opinion that, on devolution, the Tories share the views of the Liberal Democrats. They called themselves liberal Conservatives in the recent Scottish by-election. Well, there is not much liberal about their attitude to Wales. I thought Mrs. Gillan would bring a new approach; instead, she has played the same old Tory gramophone record of suspicion and hostility to more powers for Wales.
"wish to maximise the chance of getting their chosen people into the Assembly.—[Hansard, 30 January 2006; Vol. 442, c. 112.]
Mr. Jones was worried that such a reform would make life tougher for weak Tory candidates. The Government's view remains that such matters are for the electorate, rather than the political parties, to determine, so we intend to put the voters back in charge by requiring candidates to choose between the constituency and the list seats and by removing the ability of candidates to guarantee election for themselves regardless of the voters' verdict. There will be no more each-way bets at the voters' expense.
We have made great progress in Wales since the establishment of the Assembly, through a strong partnership between our UK Government and Rhodri Morgan's Labour Welsh Assembly Government. Wales has a strong economy, more jobs, rising prosperity, better hospitals and better schools, but it still has huge challenges to face. Levels of economic inactivity are still far too high. Welsh industry is facing tough global economic competition. Although crime is falling compared with the situation under the Conservative Government, it must be reduced still further, and antisocial behaviour must be combated. We also face important decisions on energy policy to cut costs, guarantee security of supply and keep Wales clean and green. By giving the Assembly the means, through the Bill, to respond to those huge challenges, we will enable Welsh politics to focus on policy delivery, rather than debate about more or fewer powers.
The Bill will settle the constitutional debate in Wales for a generation. For the first time ever, it places full law-making powers for Wales on the statute book. It also recognises the need to proceed by consensus, requiring a referendum while providing a path towards primary powers when that consensus emerges. Some argue that that does not go far enough and that we should move to a referendum immediately. All I say to them is: remember what happened in 1979. The defeat then set back the cause of devolution for a generation. Even in 1997, when all the parties except the Tories were united, we only just squeaked home. I have no doubt that if a referendum were held today, it would be lost. Indeed, I cannot see it happening before the end of this decade.
I urge all supporters of primary powers, of whom I am one, to recognise the need for consensus. The Bill provides a route to primary powers, but places the responsibility on supporters of primary powers to go out there, build a consensus and win the argument. In the meantime, the Bill develops the existing devolution settlement by conferring enhanced legislative powers on the Assembly—while ensuring that Parliament remains in overall control—and giving it greater discretion to determine the detail of Welsh legislation. That streamlined procedure will enable the Assembly to break free from the Westminster logjam, while ensuring that the final say remains with Parliament just as it does today, as was endorsed in the 1997 referendum. The Bill also means that the Assembly will start to gain new powers from 2007—four years earlier than the Richard commission recommended.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Murphy, whom I commend for his insightful contributions during the course of our deliberations on the Bill, has referred to the views of the man in Splott market. I am sure that he would agree that the true test of devolution is whether it enables us to deliver positive benefits and lasting changes to the lives of our constituents, whether they be in Cardiff, Pontypool, Neath or Holyhead. The Bill will enable the Assembly to achieve exactly that. It is right at the political centre of gravity in Wales. It provides for better, more responsive, more accountable Welsh government and helps us to build a world-class Wales.
The Bill will provide a lasting constitutional settlement for Wales. It establishes a flexible constitutional architecture that will adapt to Wales's changing needs over the years to come. It is designed to endure. Whatever changing circumstances we face over the coming years, there will be no case for a successor Government of Wales Bill in the decades to come—this really is it. I commend the Bill to the House.
I offer the Secretary of State and all Welsh Members my best wishes for St. David's day tomorrow. I was at a delightful service earlier today in St. Mary Undercroft with the Under-Secretary of State for Wales. Together with Jenny Willott, we had the privilege of contributing to the service to celebrate St. David's day. I was sporting a daffodil at that stage, but I am not now because I gave it to a little girl—I think from the London Welsh school—who was also performing at the service. I thought that that was rather nice because she was able to take it home to her mother. I notice that Members on the Labour Front Bench are already wearing their daffodils, but that the Secretary of State's daffodil is wilting rather badly. That, I hope, is a reflection on Labour's fortunes in Wales, particularly after this Bill.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friends for their assistance on the Bill. My hon. Friend Mr. Grieve argued with great erudition, particularly on using Orders in Council to delegate law making to secondary legislation. It is always a pleasure to listen to him. He is exact and precise, and he has not found his equal at the Dispatch Box in the Under-Secretary. My hon. Friend David Mundell, who I think is taking a well earned break, having been on the Bench alongside me for many hours, has argued from a position of great knowledge on devolution, particularly in Scotland. It is sad that the arguments made by Opposition Members have been swept aside by the Government and given little credence.
There have been valuable contributions from Opposition Members. I draw attention in particular to those of my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer. I am pleased to note that the three Conservative Members with Welsh seats have all participated in the proceedings on the Bill. I wish that the same could be said for Labour Members with Welsh seats, not all of whom, I am afraid, have taken an active part or interest in the passage of the Bill.
I started on Second Reading with a positive attitude towards the Bill. There were some aspects on which we agreed with the Government and others that we drew to their attention in the hope that they would rethink their proposals. We purposely did not vote against Second Reading, but chose to highlight the problem areas of the legislation with a reasoned amendment, which we used expressly to launch our concerns about some of the matters in the Bill. With the new, strong intention of my party to try to make devolution work for the people of Wales, I had hoped that the Government would respond positively to our concerns, but that has not been the case.
We see successful devolution depending not only on the support of the people but on some broad political consensus, requiring in turn constructive dialogue between the political parties. We have seen little or none of that during the Bill's passage, and I notice that the other Opposition parties also received scant responses to their points. They have been swept aside and ignored by the Labour machine, which cannot bear to be questioned on any part of the Bill.
In fact, the only amendments that have been accepted are those tabled by Huw Irranca-Davies. I will examine carefully what the Minister said about that, but that appeared to be a Government-placed new clause and amendment because they came as very little surprise to the Minister. [Interruption.] Yes, the new clause came from the CBI and the TUC, but it could just as easily have been tabled by the Government as by the hon. Member for Ogmore. I congratulate him on managing to at least produce some amendment to the Bill, which otherwise appears to be totally unamendable—it has much in common with the Assembly Measures that it sets up.
As the Bill has progressed, more issues have emerged, and even the Father of the House has expressed disquiet at some of the provisions. Various claims of support put forward by the Government have not prospered under close scrutiny, and it has become apparent that Labour is putting party politics before the interests of people in Wales. If we are to have a devolution arrangement in Wales that is built to last, we will need more thought and consultation with the people of Wales than is evidenced by this Bill, and all-party support as far as possible.
Briefly, taking the parts in turn, on part 1 we agree with many of the provisions. However, the partisan way in which the Government have plucked out a change to the electoral arrangements to placate their own party members and against any clear advice from the Arbuthnott commission, the Electoral Commission, leading academics and even Labour-sponsored research projects, has made a mockery of their attitude toward the Assembly itself. Even there, a tied vote on that subject revealed that only Labour Assembly Members wanted the change, and in Divisions during our debates in this place, we have had the support of all the Opposition parties. A further change at this stage will undermine electoral confidence at a time when education of the electorate would seem to be the priority, in the interests of electors themselves. Furthermore, banning dual candidacy may impinge on candidates' human rights. I hope that the Members of the other place will look closely at those provisions, coupled with those in clause 11.
We support and agree with the separation of powers of the Assembly and the Executive in part 2. That, in itself, would have justified a Bill that would have received all-party support of the sort that the Government should have sought on changes in the constitutional position of Wales.
Part 3 is fraught with problems. It introduces the Order in Council provisions, which amount to primary legislation by the back door, to cure an alleged legislative blockage, which has not been proved under questioning. I do not know who is the author of that tortuous legislative route, but it cannot be one who has the best interests of the Assembly in his heart. The procedure is devolution by statutory instrument—or, as the Father of the House said, devolution by salami-slicing. It is a device for saying one thing to one audience and another thing to another, as was pointed out by Lord Richard, whose report has largely been pushed to one side. Lord Richard has expressed some major qualifications in respect of procedure, so I hope that he and his colleagues in the other House will examine the proposals, not least because, if viewed in conjunction with the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which moves the Executive away from traditional ways of legislating to Orders in Council, they lead me to believe that we need to exercise great caution about the ways in which we are changing our systems.
We have argued that, if part 3 does indeed delegate the substantial powers to which the Secretary of State referred, that should be put to the people of Wales. Apparently, that is not a route that the Government are willing to take in respect of either the part 3 powers or the part 4 powers, unless and until they can win any referendum put to the electors. The Bill is not about consulting the people of Wales but about achieving a Labour agenda.
The Secretary of State said that part 4 will settle the constitutional issue for a generation—a claim that he repeated this evening. How can that be, when part 4 leaves the question of additional powers wide open? How can it be, when not even the number of MPs has been discussed, or the number of AMs that might be required if the Assembly takes on the full law-making powers set out in part 4? Some Labour Members have suggested that the whole electoral system should be reviewed; perhaps it would have been better to reflect on that.
The Bill leaves the House with a lot of unfinished business and with a Government who are trying to create the impression that they are pro-Wales but, after scrutiny by Opposition parties, it has emerged that they are, in fact, purely pro-Labour. Claims have crumbled under scrutiny. The Secretary of State prayed in aid Lord Dahrendorf, Lord Holme and Sir John Arbuthnott, but his claims proved to be not strictly accurate. His claim that there is a legislative blockage hardly stood up to scrutiny, and his claim of abuse by AMs of the electoral system has not been substantiated. He has ignored the Richard commission, Assembly Members, the Electoral Commission, the Electoral Reform Society and leading academics to go his own way and produce legislation that means that the people of Wales will not be consulted at the right time and that will give more responsibility to the Labour Assembly Government before they have even got to grips with the responsibilities that they already have.
The Assembly Government have not yet grasped the new local democracy with efficiency or effectiveness. They have broken promises to the electorate—for example, on free care for the disabled and free breakfasts for all primary school kids. They have ditched targets on economic matters, truancy rates and GCSE pass rates, and they have presided over huge increases in waiting lists for operations. That is to name only a few areas in which the performance of the Welsh Assembly Labour Government needs to be improved. To give the Labour Assembly Government more powers before they have flourished and got to grips with the difficult business of governing in areas already under their control is like suffocating the institution before it has embarked on its democratic journey. Faith in the Labour Assembly Government is fragile. Turnout fell at the last Assembly elections by 8 per cent. to 36 per cent., and the Electoral Commission said that that was the result of a lack of awareness of the role of the Assembly and a growing disconnection between the politicians and parts of the electorate.
The Secretary of State said at the time that the low turnout was dreadful and that politicians were "talking past the people". I agree, but it is the Secretary of State who is talking past the people in the Bill. I want the Assembly and the Assembly Government to do a good job for the people of Wales, and my party wants them to succeed. The Bill includes some good proposals, but the Government could not resist the chance to play party politics with it. It is therefore with a heavy and a disappointed heart that, to support the Assembly and to give the people of Wales a voice, I urge my colleagues to vote against the Bill. I regret that we were unable to have a better dialogue with the Government during its passage.
I want no nonsense from the Secretary of State and I do not want to hear his usual track of alleging that Conservatives are against devolution. He knows that that is not true. We want to make devolution work and we want it to secure substantial cross-party agreement on many matters. Ours is not an anti-devolution vote, nor is it an anti-Assembly vote. It is a vote against a Government who put party before people. That is not good for the House, and it is not good for Wales. The Opposition will do everything they can to explain to the people of Wales that the Labour Government are trying to manipulate their future for 10 or 15 years on the basis of a Labour fix while they remain in power. I sincerely hope that they will lose that power at the next Assembly election in 2007. In the meantime, to protect the health of the Assembly, its effectiveness and efficiency, and in the interests of the people of Wales, the Opposition have been forced by the intransigence of the Secretary of State and the Government to vote against the Bill.
I did not take part in Committee, for the very good reason that I believed that the Government had achieved the right level of devolution and introduced the necessary changes in Wales for the Assembly to further its powers and grow in the way that we all want. I believe that Committee is the appropriate forum for Members to voice their concerns to the Government. I welcome the amendments that have been made, but I am disappointed that the Opposition are going to vote against the Bill.
David T.C. Davies may wish to raise other desirable options. I would have liked a provision to elect 40 male and 40 female Members, so that there is an in-built gender balance. However, that is not the way this place works. The Bill, on the whole, is acceptable to my electorate and will carry forward devolution in Wales, as I said.
The comment that we should all vote for the Bill because the hon. Gentleman happens to think it is a good idea is extraordinary, especially given the fact that, in opposition, Labour Members often voted against Bills, such as the Maastricht Bill and even the Welsh Language Act 1993, which they subsequently thought were quite good ideas. They always put their party politics first. We are putting our principles first tonight.
We have heard some interesting debates and exchanges, not least the rather curious claim from David T.C. Davies that as Mr. Jones points out, something that is rank and despicable when Labour does it is a matter of positive principle when done by the Conservatives. But that is not the only reversal that we have witnessed in the five days of debate on the Bill. Who would have predicted at the turn of the century that there would come a debate and a vote where the Government argued passionately in favour of the d'Hondt electoral mechanism and the Liberal Democrats voted against it? What a remarkable turn of events.
We also had the remarkable discovery of a mysterious and shady organisation, the Bevan Foundation, and we unveiled some research sponsored by a cheeky monkey from Caerphilly, as it turned out. He is not in his place today. I presume he is out there trying to prove, together with another 47 random members of the public, that 35 per cent. constitutes a majority. The most surprising claim is that because the Conservatives support devolution, they will vote against it. I studied philosophy at university, and I never came across that kind of logic. I got a 2:1, so I was not too bad at it.
Mrs. Gillan said some interesting things in the spirit of the new liberal Conservatism that did so well in Dunfermline. She said a moment ago that she had started with a positive attitude towards the Bill on Second Reading. Let me remind her that she said on
"as Leader of the Opposition just before Christmas my right hon. Friend"—
I presume she meant Mr. Cameron—
"made it clear that devolution and the National Assembly are now established features of the Welsh political landscape. I hope that the Secretary of State will resist the temptation to revisit past battles over devolution and misrepresent out position. A future Conservative Government will seek a constructive relationship with the Assembly".
As far as I can tell, one can judge a party by what it does, and today, if I understood the hon. Lady correctly, the Conservative party, the official Opposition, will vote down a flawed but nevertheless genuine contribution to the devolution debate and to devolution. I agree that the Bill is disappointing, but why vote against it? Surely she understands that all the high talk about a pro-devolution Conservative Government does not stand up if the Conservatives cannot even bring themselves to support such a limited and timid measure as the Government offer.
On the subject of fighting old battles, the hon. Lady will remember that the hon. Member for Monmouth said on
"I was delighted to stand against the original proposals for the Welsh Assembly. I can see that it has had some advantages in terms of openness, but those advantages do not outweigh the disadvantages. We have caused enormous damage to the UK".—[Hansard, 9 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 46, 88.]
The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham has said that her party is united, and Mr. Grieve criticised my suggestion that there are splits. However, I did not make up those two quotations, which were made in the same debate by Conservative Members of Parliament. The biggest irony is that the Conservative Member who talks down devolution is a Welsh Member.
If the hon. Gentleman were to shorten his speech, he would get to hear some more comments. I am sure that many people would like to hear from the monkey rather than the organ grinder.
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. If the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal were available for comment, I am sure that he would have something to say in his defence, but no doubt he is at home writing his next speech on Northern Ireland or Scotland.
Although I have had a little bit of fun at the expense of Conservative Members, my criticism of the Conservative party is entirely serious. The Conservative party cannot be credible on devolution if it offers vague, warm words about hoping that the Bill would be good enough by Third Reading while behaving in a way that shows that its colours have not changed one iota on devolution. I believe that the mood of the hon. Member for Monmouth is in tune with what is going on in the Conservative party.
The Bill poses real dilemmas for the Liberal Democrats. We are a pro-devolution party that believes passionately in the best devolutionary arrangement for Wales, which was set out by the Richard commission. The Richard commission proposed an 80-Member Senedd with primary law-making powers elected by a single transferable vote system, and the Bill delivers some of that. The Bill provides two pathways for the Assembly to gain primary legislative powers, which are otherwise known as Assembly Measures, namely the Order in Council procedure and a referendum in Wales. It also creates a strong and clear basis for the Assembly to exercise greater powers more efficiently by separating the Assembly's Executive and legislative elements. That change was so desperately needed that the Assembly was heading that way itself through various ad hoc measures, and it is to the Government's credit that they have formalised that distinction. The Bill is a step away from the Conservative anti-devolution strategy, which would significantly dilute the potential for Wales to gain primary legislative powers by putting a whole series of restrictions and conditions between where the Liberal Democrats would like the Welsh Assembly to be and where it actually is.
So much more could have been done in the Bill, which is the product of compromise not with other parties or pro-devolution organisations in Wales, but with Labour Back Benchers. By caving in to internal pressure, the Government have missed an opportunity, and a number of points will need to be reconsidered in a future reworking of the devolution argument. In fairness, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham has highlighted concerns that we share. The extreme concentration of power in the hands of the Secretary of State is not appropriate. The arrangement is almost colonial: unlike Scotland, Wales must go cap in hand to the Secretary of State for Wales.
The Secretary of State can turn down requests for pretty much any reason. As the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham said, every one of the modest changes that we proposed to reduce the Secretary of State's governor-like potential to intervene was rejected. The Welsh Affairs Committee said that
"the Secretary of State's powers should be limited to refusing Orders in Council on the basis of procedure, not the merits of policy aspiration."
The Secretary of State can shake his head, but he must recognise that the limitations proposed by the Committee have been ignored.
The banning of dual candidacy has been discussed in great detail. We feel that there is no justification for that, as did the Richard commission. The Government have acted in a way that I can understand emotionally but is not right in terms of human rights and democracy. Having people standing in a list on a constituency basis does not devalue the integrity of the electoral system or act as a disincentive to vote in constituency elections. Nevertheless, we lost that vote, and Welsh democracy has been somewhat compromised as a result.
We talked about the Barnett formula and the injustices of having a somewhat random formulation. I proposed, and we voted on, the modest request for a panel of experts to suggest how it could be done better, but even that was not accepted by the Government.
The limit on the scope of the Welsh Assembly's powers is another frustration. The Secretary of State rightly commented on Wales's potential to be a beacon for the environment, yet the Assembly does not even have the power to legislate on power stations over 50 MW. That could become very significant in the nuclear debate.
On powers over policing, we all know that the majority of people in Wales, and a large proportion of police officers themselves, are opposed to the centralist—
All right. Nevertheless, Madam Deputy Speaker, we did discuss those issues, and in every single case I felt that the Government were not only intransigent but completely unwilling to listen to the many reasonable points made by Members on both sides of the House.
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman very carefully. He has read out a catalogue of aspects of the Bill with which he categorically does not agree. How does he think that he will help the Assembly and the people of Wales by abstaining or voting for it? Can I persuade him to join me in the Lobby with the intention of voting to try to improve the situation for the Assembly, and not to accept the flawed Bill to which he has outlined his objections?
Despite its imperfections, of which there are many, the Bill is marginally better than the existing arrangements. The channels to primary powers, narrow though they are, represent an improvement on the Government of Wales Act 1998, the passage of which I was as intimately involved in. Liberal Democrats will support the Bill because it is a small step in the right direction towards the truly democratic and authoritative representative body that Wales needs and desires. What matters now is that we understand the way in which the new system will work. In particular, I hope that the Secretary of State will apply his mind to the many criticisms of the Orders-in-Council process that he envisages. I am not even sure that we have spotted all the unintended consequences, but I suspect that it will be fraught with problems.
My answer to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham is that we have to make a judgment about the real situation. Instead of making the tokenistic gesture of filing into the No Lobby, as if that is in any way a responsible and mature commitment to what we are trying to achieve, we will, with a heavy heart, vote with the Government.
The Conservatives feel uncomfortable about that because it serves only to highlight their anti-devolution position and I am not surprised that they want members of other parties to vote against the Bill, but there is no prospect of the Liberal Democrats doing that.
The hon. Lady accuses me of hypocrisy. How ironic that she does that after pretending to hope that the Bill would change so much that she could vote for it on Third Reading. She pretended that, in all but absolute fact, the Conservatives voted against Second Reading, dressed up as voting for a reasoned amendment. She should be cautious before accusing me of hypocrisy. I may be many things—an unsuccessful punter when it comes to the leadership election in my party—but I do not believe that I am hypocrite.
The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham is now blackmailing me from a sedentary position and it has worked. I shall move on to my conclusion.
The true party of devolution—the Liberal party—was talking about devolution when the Labour party was in short pants. It is a delight to witness the first faltering steps towards a grasp of what devolution means. I know that the Secretary of State, who is truly in favour of devolution, would perhaps like to go further.
In his heart, the Secretary of State is a Liberal, and hope springs eternal.
Although we hoped for a big step forward, we have a small shuffle in the right direction. However, even the Bill's modest powers are better than nothing. I assure hon. Members that Liberal Democrats will continue to dream of a devolution settlement that is worthy of the nation that we represent. It is a shame that the Government found themselves snoozing for five days at the various stages of the Bill's passage. However, I hope that, through working together, the Government will perceive the flaws in the measure and have the humility to come back and put right the elements that they have allowed to go badly wrong in the five days and 33 hours that we have had in which to debate the matter so far.
I want to place on record my personal support for the Bill and that of the Welsh Affairs Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing.
In Committee, I presented several constructive proposals and criticisms on behalf of the Welsh Affairs Committee. We noted the Government's responses and it is important to acknowledge that we are taking an important—some may call it modest—step forward. Nevertheless, as a strong and long-standing supporter of democratic devolution, I believe that it is a critical step forward for the people of Wales. I am proud on behalf of not only the Welsh Affairs Committee but my constituency and the people of Wales to say that the Bill constitutes a major step for democracy in Wales and in the whole of Britain.
Does my hon. Friend accept that, when one is attacked on the one hand for not going far enough and on the other for going too far, it may be because we have got it right?
I think that I understand my hon. Friend and I suppose that I agree.
It is important to recognise at this vital stage that the Bill was a Labour manifesto commitment that we are now fulfilling. I am delighted, on behalf of the Welsh Affairs Committee, to support it.
The Secretary of State began his speech with the bizarre accusation that the Conservative party is trying to undermine devolution or prevent it from working. Ever since the referendum, the Conservative party has worked flat out to ensure that an institution with which we did not especially agree works as well as possible for Wales. That is why we got involved in the Welsh Assembly and why Conservative Assembly Members work so assiduously to scrutinise legislation in Committees and in the Chamber. That is why we hold surgeries every week, and why we raise issues on behalf of our constituents at local and national level—
Very well, Madam Deputy Speaker, but one of the major effects of the Bill is the change in the voting system that has been proposed because Labour Members have said that they are tired of Members who represent regions popping up in constituencies and opening up offices to compete with other Labour Assembly Members for their work. That is what my Conservative colleagues in the Welsh Assembly have done, and I am very proud of them. It is partly because we have worked extremely hard to make devolution work for the people in Wales that Labour Members have become frustrated and have had to use their strength in Parliament to change the voting system in a way that they know will hinder the Opposition parties. I represent a constituency in the Welsh Assembly, but I have had Assembly Members from other parties, including the Liberal Democrats, claiming to be the Assembly Member for Monmouth. In reality, if the constituency Member is doing their job properly, they have nothing to worry about.
The Secretary of State for Wales undermined his own argument when he admitted that he would never hold a referendum unless he thought that he could win it. We argue that the Government should hold a referendum and let us see what the people of Wales have to say. I am not afraid to put these matters to the people of Wales, even if the Secretary of State is. We know why the people would vote against giving any further powers to the Assembly. Contrary to what the Secretary of State says, we have longer hospital waiting lists there, and fewer schools, and higher council taxes—
Order. The hon. Gentleman has been asked once to confine his remarks to the content of the Bill. I hope that he will do that; otherwise I shall insist that he does.
We will vote against the Bill tonight not because we do not want devolution to work but because we want to reflect the views of the people of Wales. Even the Secretary of State for Wales has admitted tonight that those people would not be in favour of giving the Assembly any further powers.
Tomorrow will be an historic day in Wales, and I shall be down there with my colleagues—yes, in a building that we might not particularly have wanted in the first place—making sure that devolution works.
It is always a pleasure to follow David T.C. Davies, who leads so graciously with his chin on so many issues. He talks about a referendum, but we know that he would vote against it. He has said tonight that he is pro-devolution, yet he is going to vote against that, too.
I happen to agree with a lot of what Lembit Öpik said, but we think that things should move at a different pace. That is the difference between us. In 1997, I was happy to work with many pro-devolution parties to get the Assembly up and running, and it was a great tribute to the cross-party coalition that that happened. The referendum result in my constituency reflected the national picture—51 per cent. were in favour and 49 per cent. against, which is why we have to be a little cautious about the pace at which we move forward. I engage a great deal with my constituents and I do not think that they have the appetite for the great change that the Liberal Democrats and, certainly, Plaid Cymru want—namely, total independence. Plaid Cymru wants to use the Assembly to move towards full independent status. I want the Welsh Assembly to work for the people of Ynys Môn, and I believe that the Bill is pitched just about right in that regard.
I am proud to follow a strong tradition, along with my hon. Friend Nia Griffith. Our predecessors, Jim Griffiths and Cledwyn Hughes, were the real architects of devolution, and they knew what was acceptable to the people of Wales at the time. They set up the Welsh Office and introduced the biggest pieces of legislation of the time to help the Welsh language. I remember talking to Cledwyn Hughes after the 1997 referendum debate. I thought that he would be very disappointed at what was on offer, but he said no, it was about right. It was enough, given the shock when we lost the referendum in 1979, and he felt that we had to move at an appropriate pace.
The Bill has three main parts. There is consensus on the part that separates the Executive from the corporate body of the Assembly. We all agree with that. My difficulty with the Conservatives' argument is that although, in Committee and on Report they said time and again that we should not amend an arrangement that was only a few years old, they agree with us on that aspect. Even Mrs. Gillan said tonight that we could have had a Bill dealing only with the separation of powers. The Conservatives really are confused about the Bill as a whole.
Then there is the banning of the dual mandate. That is confusing. Like the hon. Member for Monmouth, I do not get exercised about it, but I recall that when I was first elected a Member of Parliament, the Assembly Member who is now the leader of the Opposition in the Assembly did get exercised when a Conservative list Member used to claim to be the based Assembly Member in that constituency. That has changed a little. It does not really bother me, but it is confusing when losers under the first-past-the-post system become winners. I think it right to adjust the position. The Opposition's arguments about gerrymandering and rigging were unfounded—they had no evidence to support their claim that the measure would benefit the Labour party. I do not think that it will be of benefit, but I think that it will clarify the situation.
The other main measure involves Orders in Council. On the eve of St David's day, I hope that one of the first Orders in Council from the Welsh Assembly will be for a public holiday in Wales. It would be very symbolic. I believe in enabling powers, and in working in partnership with the National Assembly. It is important for that young institution to produce positive measures that we can discuss and on which we can make progress.
I want devolution to move faster because I am a pro-devolutionist. I always have been, following a proud tradition in my constituency. However, I do not think that we should move too far ahead of the people in Wales. I think that the Bill has the balance about right. That is why, as a pro-devolutionist, I am proud to support pro-devolution measures—unlike the Conservatives, who claim to be pro-devolution but are prepared to vote against any pro-devolution measure at any stage in the House.
I am sure that we are all looking forward to the end of this long groundhog day, so I shall be brief.
Ministers, I am sure, hope that the eventual passing of the Bill will be greeted in Wales with a Millennium stadium-style roar of approval, but I believe that it will be greeted with an empty millennium dome-style wall of silence and lack of interest. We should not forget that nearly two thirds of the Welsh electorate did not participate in the last Assembly elections two and a half years ago, and I see nothing in the Bill that will deal with that problem.
I want devolution to work. I am one of the Conservative Members who are open-minded about how the devolution settlement might be extended and deepened in years to come. What the people of Wales signed up to in the referendum, by the thinnest margins, was Executive devolution, not legislative devolution. What the Bill gives them is legislative devolution in all but name, through a piece of constitutional trickery. That is why, with a heavy heart, I shall vote against the Bill this evening. I want the Assembly to work—I want it to be an expression of a vibrant political culture in Wales. However, I consider the Bill to be deeply flawed.
It gives me great pleasure to speak on Third Reading. I know that my predecessor James Griffiths, the first Secretary of State for Wales, would have been proud to see the Bill become law. He was very clear that there should be a Wales Office. He was also very clear that there should be a strong voice for Wales in the Cabinet. He was an enthusiastic advocate of devolution long before it became popular. At the same time, he did not want independence for Wales—he saw Wales as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
To me, the Bill represents an important step in bringing decision-making nearer to the people—the people who will be affected by the decisions. Given the increasing emphasis on globalisation, it is important for us to find the correct level for each type of collaboration and each type of legislation. I believe that the Bill brings power to a more appropriate level. At a European level, we can discuss issues such as the environment and working together to maintain decent working conditions and standards of living for workers across the European Union, while ensuring that our own workers are not undercut.
In this place, we discuss issues appropriate to the UK as a nation, such as defence, finance and law and order. The Bill will enable the Assembly to have a much greater degree of flexibility—a flexibility that will allow it to reflect more truly in its legislation the concerns and wishes of the people of Wales. As I said, I see the Bill as an important step in bringing decision making closer to the people. We need to go further and to ensure that we listen more carefully to our town and community councils. We must renew and strengthen our community spirit and get more people involved in the decision-making process.
Although the list system has been much criticised, it does give a much louder voice to those voters whose parties do not do so well under the first-past-the-post system. They have the Labour party to thank for that. The Assembly is a very representative body that reflects the diversity of community and politics in Wales. The Bill will give it greater opportunity to reflect the needs and wishes of the people of Wales. I look forward to attending the opening of the new Assembly building tomorrow, and I wish the Assembly as an institution a very successful future.
Nia Griffith is of course right—the Charter Secretary of State for Wales advocated the creation of a Welsh Office as early as 1946, I believe. Of course, it took almost 20 years to achieve that modest objective, and that is part of the problem that we as a nation have had to face, namely, the exasperating, almost glacial speed of political devolution.
Time is short, so if the hon. Lady will forgive me I will not give way.
This Bill, like so many home rule Bills in our history, stands in a long line of half-measures and missed opportunities. Tom Ellis's home rule Bill, for example, was struck down by a Liberal Government and certainly was not given time or support. Such things have happened throughout our history. People sometimes speak of a slippery slope to independence, but the slope certainly is not slippery and it is always uphill. Every small step constitutes precious ground that those of us in the national movement, and devolutionists in other parties, have had to fight for every inch of the way.
Lord Morgan of Aberdyfi has pointed eloquently to the fact that it took some 70 to 80 years longer to establish a Welsh Office—in 1964—than it did to establish the Scotland Office. He said that that was a product of our being a conquered people. Only a Labour parliamentarian could say that without getting heckled, but there is probably something in what he says. Consider our history as a nation. In contrast with Scotland, we did not retain—in fact, we did not even have—modern institutions of civil society. We had an absentee aristocracy, followed by an absentee landlord and political class. Because of that, we have had to make these halting steps forward—steps that we see once again in this Bill.
I do not think that the Government have got the Bill just about right, but I do not think that they have got it totally wrong, either, which is why I will support Third Reading. If we had refused all along the crumbs and half-loaves that were sometimes given to us by the political establishment in this place, the Welsh nation would have withered on the vine. We have to accept that pragmatism—the accepting of sometimes deficient measures—is part of our history. However, I look forward to the day when Government of Wales Bills no longer echo in this Chamber and when the governance of Wales will not be a matter for debate in this neo-gothic monument. It will be a matter, entirely properly, for the people of Wales, and will be dealt with where it belongs—in the Senedd that will be symbolically opened tomorrow. One day, it will be open in earnest, and have all the powers that a Welsh nation with the right of self-determination will deserve.
The late Gwyn Alf Williams said that Wales as a nation had existed for almost 1,600 years, and that it was about time that we got the keys to our own front door. We are still waiting. The Government somehow suggest, through the post-referendum device, that Welsh democracy—and, by extension, even the Welsh nation itself—is not yet mature enough to have the full range of primary law-making powers. I reject that assertion. It is symptomatic of the strange position that Wales is in that one of the oldest nations in these islands and on this continent should be one of the youngest democracies. There is a contradiction and a tension there, and that is why I think that, in his heart of hearts, the Secretary of State does not believe his own assertion that the Bill, shot through with contradictions as it is, can resolve the national question that we in Wales have debated for so many generations. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is also shot through with contradictions and tensions: he is certainly a complex political operator.
The Secretary of State said earlier that the matter has been resolved for a generation, but I think of a generation as lasting 20 years. I am not prepared to wait that long to get primary law-making powers in Wales—[Interruption.] He also said that no other party had delivered devolution for Wales. However, I thought that the referendum campaign was meant to be a collective enterprise that went beyond political party divisions. How easy will it be to resurrect that sense of collective endeavour, given the sectarian and partisan approach displayed even tonight by the Labour party and the Secretary of State?
We must recreate the national consensus created in 1997 so that we can make progress along the long and arduous path towards national self-determination. By their approach to the Bill, the Secretary of State and his colleagues have made that difficult task even more onerous. Unfortunately, that will be the badge of shame that he must carry.
I shall be brief, as I know that time is short. The Bill is a huge missed opportunity. The Secretary of State said that it is intended to settle the devolution issue for a generation, but it will do nothing of the sort. What it has done is to sow seeds of constitutional strife that it will take the next Conservative Government to resolve.
Some elements of the Bill are laudable: I support them, and should have liked to do so wholeheartedly. First, the separation of the legislature from the Executive is manifestly desirable. The arrangement established by the original devolution settlement was wrong, and should have been rectified long ago. That is a laudable provision and I support it.
Similarly, if the Secretary of State had had sufficient courage to go to the people of Wales at this stage and ask them if they wanted more devolution and more primary powers, I would have had much more respect for his position. However, he did not do that; instead, he has resorted to an opaque and byzantine device that effectively gives primary powers to the people of Wales without prior consultation in a referendum. The Secretary of State will find that in years to come the people of Wales will grow to resent that. They will demand the right to state their position in a referendum, and I hope that they do it sooner rather than later. I also hope that at that stage the Secretary of State will listen to what they have to say and abide by their decision.
The Bill is flawed. As a matter of principle, I cannot possibly support it. Frankly, I find the position of Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats accommodating in the extreme. They have compromised their principles, but the occupants of the Conservative Benches will not. For that reason, I shall vote against the Bill.
I am pleased to speak towards the end of the very long process of our dealings with the Bill. I spoke on Second Reading, I spoke in Committee, and I am pleased to be here at the denouement. I am also pleased to see that at the end of the long process of Welsh debate on what will become the Government of Wales Act, many English Members are gathering on the Benches here to see it through—[Interruption.] And Scottish and Northern Ireland Members, too.
I begin by congratulating fellow Members on the arduous journey of these debates, and on bringing the Bill to what I hope will be a successful conclusion, which we shall see in a few moments. I also thank the Chairman and the members of the Welsh Affairs Committee, who have contributed so strongly to the development of the Bill with their ideas. I want to mention the members of the Wales TUC and the CBI, whose support has undoubtedly—albeit on one small part in one clause—contributed significantly to ensuring that the voices not only of employers, but of employees and unions are more firmly represented in the Bill than has previously been the case in legislation. That recognises the good work that the Welsh Assembly has already done in dealing with the affairs of business, and also puts it there right in front of us so that there can be no retreat.
Adam Price mentioned that we now have half a loaf—but my reading of the situation is that at the moment half a loaf is what is being demanded. There is no stomach for anything more than what is on offer. However, this is still a process, and there are still questions. Devolution was never a moment in time, or a definitive statement followed by a stop.
What is in the Bill undoubtedly will not satisfy some Members here because it does not go far enough for them. For others, it goes much too far, and they would like us to roll back the whole thing. I have been speaking to my constituents since the start of the process, at the time of Second Reading and all the way through. I have to say that there are not many people knocking on my surgery door to ask about the Bill—and when we do get into discussion about it, there is no great appetite for running headlong into further referendums and transfers of primary powers. However, what there is—and what the Bill in its present form recognises—is the fact that the Welsh Assembly Government are starting to deliver well. They are starting to be recognised more and more by the Welsh people for the way in which they connect with communities, consult and, at a very local level, do far more than the old Welsh Office used to do. That is good, but there is no appetite to rush headlong any further.
The three main components of the Bill, and the split between the Executive and legislative powers, seem to have caused no great difficulty for most people. By and large, that was one of the easiest areas to take through. I think that all of us, or at least many of us—everyone apart from the Conservatives—are looking forward to maximum use of the Orders in Council, and to seeing that system working. It is a good stage development of the devolution process. Labour Members recognise that the Bill does not go as far as some people want, but we think that what we now have with the Orders in Council, and what we will be voting on in a few minutes, is exactly what the Welsh people are now willing to accept.
The most contentious area of all is the idea of standing as a first-past-the-post candidate in one seat, losing and then, the following morning, being resurrected as a regional Member. We will never agree on that across these Benches, but—as we have said throughout progress on the Bill—it does not seem right, in terms of natural justice, that there should be a Lazarus-like resurrection of candidates the morning after they have been soundly defeated. We will not agree on that, but we think that the changes are appropriate.
I also wish to put firmly to bed the idea, which has been frequently thrown at us, that the most contentious proposal has anything to do with gerrymandering. We have shown time and again that—[Interruption.] As has just been said from a sedentary position, it is not partisan, because Labour Members will be as likely to lose out as Opposition Members. I do not wish to regurgitate the arguments from Committee, but the changes are to no one party's particular advantage.
I welcome the approach being taken by the Liberal Democrats and Plaid, because even though they are not happy with everything in the Bill, they have said that they will go out and try to make it work. Regrettably, that is in stark contrast to the major Opposition party. At the beginning of this process, we hoped that the Conservatives would say that although they had difficulties with some of the details, they supported in principle the idea of staged devolution at a pace suitable to the Welsh people. Unless Opposition Members change their views in the next few minutes, it seems that only one party in Wales will, once again, nail its colours firmly to the anti-devolution mast. That is a matter for great regret because, regardless of the difficulties with the Bill, it would be great to be able to say with one voice that we were all united.
I reiterate that it is with heavy hearts that we will vote against the Bill. We are not prepared to support devolution by taking scraps that fall from the Labour table, as the Liberal Democrats and Plaid obviously are. In voting in that way, we will vote in the interests of the Assembly, the people of Wales and Wales itself. To represent our position in any other way would be dishonest.
I have been called worse things in my time and probably will be again. However, whether the Bill is scraps from the table or half a loaf, what is on offer tonight is exactly what the Welsh people are demanding. It is a huge regret that at the last minute of the eleventh hour the Conservative party—the main Opposition—should set its face firmly against devolution. The Conservatives cannot seriously hold their heads up high tomorrow. They cannot ever again say that they support devolution. They would be laughing stocks if they tried to maintain that position.
Like my hon. Friend Jessica Morden, I take particular pride in and satisfaction from the fact that new clause 12—which is unique to this Bill and has been incorporated into it through the Government's acceptance and with cross-party support—will strengthen the links not only with employers' federations and small and large businesses, but with our union colleagues. That will be a major advance in the Assembly's existing arrangements. In major decisions on environmental, social and economic well-being, there will be a duty for the Assembly to consult employers and employees.
That is a huge move forward and I regret that this evening the Conservatives will be voting not only against devolution and the principles of devolution, but against new clause 12 which gives a voice to employers and employees. Alone in the House, the Conservative party is setting its face against the CBI, the TUC and devolution in Wales. That is remarkable and I look forward to Conservative Members justifying it not only to their constituents but to the head of the CBI in Wales and the head of the TUC.