Clause 4 — The Welsh Government

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 30th April 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this we may take new clause 5—The National Assembly for Wales

‘The Government of Wales Act 2006 is amended by adding at the end of section 1 (The Assembly)—

(a) The Assembly may change its name by means of a resolution agreed to by a simple majority;

(b) on the first occasion a resolution under subsection (6)(a) is passed, the expression “National Assembly for Wales” shall be replaced wherever it occurs in the GOWA 2006 by the name contained in that resolution;

(c) on any subsequent occasion, the name contained in a resolution under the terms of subsection (6)(a) shall replace the previous name in the same manner;

(d) unless the context requires otherwise, in any enactment, instrument of other document passed or made before this subsection comes into force any reference to the National Assembly for Wales is to be read as, or as including, a reference to the Assembly as renamed.”.’.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Government Whip

Let me begin, Mr Chope, by thanking you and welcoming you to the Chair. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

Following the 2011 Assembly election, the First Minister of Wales announced that the Welsh Assembly Government wished to be known instead as the Welsh Government. That change was made in order to make clearer the respective roles of the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales following the devolution of full law-making powers. Since then, the term “Welsh Government” has increasingly been used by people throughout Wales, and it is now the commonly used term for the Executive. However, “Welsh Government” remains an informal moniker, and “Welsh Assembly Government” is still the formal legal name in statute.

In recognition of the widespread use of “Welsh Government” as the generally accepted term, and following the request from the First Minister, clause 4 provides for the name of the Executive to be changed formally. That will mean that, for the first time, the new title can be used in formal legal documents, in keeping with common parlance. The clause provides that any reference to “Welsh Assembly Government” in existing legislation should be read as a reference to the “Welsh Government”, unless the specific context requires the former name to be used.

As usual, Plaid Cymru Members wish to go even further and have tabled new clause 5, which seeks to devolve to the National Assembly for Wales the power to change its name through a resolution passed by a simple majority. In renaming the Welsh Assembly Government we are simply reflecting what the Executive are now commonly known as. The same is not the case in respect of the National Assembly; people within and outside Wales know the legislature as the “National Assembly” or the “Welsh Assembly”, and I detect no popular clamour in my constituency or any other part of Wales I visit for a change in the name of Wales’s legislature.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Government Whip

I am aware of all kinds of views from individuals across Wales on what the name of the legislature should or could be. I also recognise that the Silk commission recommended that if the Assembly wishes to change its name to the Welsh Parliament, that should be respected. However in tabling new clause 5 and other amendments Plaid Cymru seems to be doing exactly what it has wrongly accused this Government of doing: cherry-picking the Silk recommendations for implementation through this Bill.

The Secretary of State’s written statement on 3 March made the Government’s view clear: we do not regard this Bill as an appropriate vehicle for implementing Silk 2 recommendations, that those recommendations requiring primary legislation should be matters for the “next Government and Parliament” and, as such, they are for political parties to consider in preparing their election manifestos. That remains this Government’s approach, so I urge Plaid Cymru Members not to press their new clause to a vote.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope.

I rise to speak in favour of new clause 5, which stands in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. We will not be pushing it to a vote, because we want to save time and to have a discussion on income tax powers, which is what we really want to discuss in detail. However, I say to the Minister that, regardless of his opening remarks, our new clause is in the spirit of clause 4, which he has just presented. I hope the Government will see sense in due course, either in the later stages of the Bill’s progress in this House or in the other place.

New clause 5 would give powers to the National Assembly to change its name to the “National Parliament” or to any other name should it so decide. I stress that the new clause does not call for the institution’s name to be changed in this Bill, but rather that the power to take this decision should be granted to the National Assembly, as proposed in the Silk 2 recommendations. The Minister was being somewhat mischievous in saying that we were cherry-picking from the Silk recommendations, because our new clause is in line with the Silk 2 recommendations, in that it is a matter for the National Assembly if it wishes to change the name of the legislature. The new clause would empower it to make that decision rather than having to make a request to the UK Government of the day, as it has done for the name of the Executive.

The new clause would mean that the National Assembly would be able to change its name by means of a resolution agreed by a simple majority. It is gratifying that clause 4 officially changes the name of the Executive to the “Welsh Government”, a title that has been used widely for practical purposes since the 2011 election. There was a Scottish precedent for this change of title in 2007, when the “Scottish Executive” were renamed the “Scottish Government”. There has been broad agreement that the term “Welsh Assembly Government”, which had been in use since 2002, had been confusing and anachronistic after the separation of the Executive and legislative functions of the Assembly in 2007. It also gave rise to the unfortunate acronym WAG—being given the same label as a premiership footballer’s better half has done little for the democracy of our country. I have never used the term since I was elected, instead always using “Welsh Government”, so I was delighted that following the 2011 election the First Minister made the case that the Executive would be known as the “Welsh Government” thereafter. So I fully support clause 4, which makes that name official in legislation.

Now that the National Assembly is able to pass its own laws, it should be called a Parliament. However, I appreciate that others hold a different view, and that in the European tradition, the meeting place of a legislature is generally termed an Assembly. In France, for instance, the national legislature is called the Assemblée Nationale—if my memory of international rugby trips to Paris serves me correctly. Surely it should be a matter for the democratically elected Members of the national legislature of Wales to determine the name of the legislature in which they serve. That is what we are trying to achieve in new clause 5, but I will not press the matter to a vote. I expect there to be greater deliberations on this topic when the Bill reaches the other place.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean 7:00 pm, 30th April 2014

I fully support clause 4, but I want to touch briefly on new clause 5, about which the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan

Edwards) has just been talking. I do not support new clause 5, and I am glad that he is not going to press it to a vote. Although he makes the point that the text of the new clause does not pick a particular name, there is a bit of a hint in the title about where he is going. It is, I think, a qualitative difference. The Minister, in setting out the Government’s position, made it clear that the renaming of the Welsh Assembly Government to the Welsh Government is following public opinion and public usage, and simply therefore reflecting the reality of the situation. What the hon. Gentleman and his party are trying to do is the opposite. They are trying to push for changing the name of the Assembly in order to change the nature of the Assembly. Calling it the National Parliament for Wales, which implies a single institution, is clearly part of their campaign to move to a position where Wales ceases to be part of the United Kingdom and becomes an independent country. That is not something I support, which is why I do not support the new clause and why I think it is qualitatively different from clause 4.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

I was anxious not to get involved in a debate about the actual name, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that, in the UK’s tradition, Scotland became a law-making Parliament and was named as such. That is why I make the case for using the term “Parliament”. However, there are individuals, including those in my own party, who would prefer to keep the term the National Assembly. We want to empower the National Assembly to make that decision rather than the House of Commons.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

I see that point, but the danger is that the name change becomes part of the campaign to change the nature not just of the institution but of the relationship between Wales and the United Kingdom. That is why I think that the approach the Government are taking in clause 4, which is effectively to reflect popular usage of the term Welsh Government for the Welsh Assembly Government, is perfectly straightforward and sensible. Moreover, that is done through primary legislation and therefore keeps that decision for this House. I do not support new clause 5, which would give that power to the National Assembly.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

It would be wrong to describe this as some sort of partisan nationalist plot to change the name of the National Assembly. As I have already said to the Under-Secretary of State, the position of the Tory leader in the Assembly group is to change the name to a National Parliament. Indeed it is even the position of the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly who is, of course, a Labour party Member.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

I take that point. I would oppose new clause 5 whoever drafted it, because the whole concept of changing the name to achieve a political outcome is not something that I support. We can have a debate about independence and whether the Welsh Assembly should turn into a Parliament of an independent Wales, but we should have it openly. We should not use changing the name as a surreptitious way of moving along the debate and hope that nobody notices. The hon. Gentleman has cunningly designed the new clause so that it does not say anywhere what the National Assembly should be called, but, as I have said, it is given away in the title as a little hint about where he wants to go. It is whatever the parliamentary equivalent of a Freudian slip is, which gives it away.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member)

I think there may be some confusion here, because of course this Parliament enabled the Scottish Parliament to be so called, and there is no appetite for us to say to the Scottish Parliament that it can call itself what it likes—even the Scottish kingdom. Plaid Cymru is saying that the Welsh Assembly should be able to call itself what it likes, and there is, I understand, a strong case to call the National Assembly the National Parliament of Wales, but there is confusion here about what we are talking about. Scotland has no power to decide the name for itself.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

That is a good point. There are two separate arguments, one about what we should call the different institutions and another about which body is the right body to pass the legislation to enact those changes. I think that the Government’s approach in clause 4, which recognises the reality of what we call the Welsh Government and reflects that in primary legislation passed by this Parliament, is the right one, rather than the approach followed by those who have signed up to new clause 5. That is why I will oppose the new clause, but I am glad that the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr is not going to press it to a vote. I hope that the Committee will support clause 4.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr Chope. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

We support clause 4, which renames the Welsh Assembly Government. That is what the Welsh Assembly has long said that it would like to happen and it reflects normal custom and practice across Wales, so we are pleased that the Government have decided to change things and use the term Welsh Government in future.

On new clause 5, we accept that there is a debate to be had about the name. Silk part 2 refers to the prospect of a Welsh Parliament and it is ironic that the leader of the Conservative party in Wales holds that view. I admire the chutzpah with which the Under-Secretary glossed over that, as it is an irony that the Opposition see clearly. However, this is an area of debate that ought properly to be dealt with in any legislation that reflects Silk part 2 rather than under this Bill, which properly reflects the preponderance of Silk part 1. For that reason, even if the new clause were pressed to a vote, we probably would not support it.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Government Whip

I agree very much with the comments made by my hon. Friend Mr Harper. There are two elements to the debate. The first is about what we call the legislature and the second is about where the decision is taken. As for the first, there is an emerging debate in Wales about what we should call the National Assembly and whether it should have its name changed. The leader of my party’s group in the Assembly has a view that I fully respect. He is an excellent colleague and I am sorry if I gave the impression that I was glossing over his views, but I still maintain the position that the debate is emerging and has not yet engaged with the public consciousness. Until we get to that point, it is probably a debate that will not be resolved.

As for the second part of the debate, the Silk commission referred to the decision on where the decision should be made in part 2 of its recommendations. We have been clear and consistent all along that decisions about the Silk part 2 recommendations are not for this Bill but for a future Parliament and a future Government and for the parties to consider in their manifestos. I stand by my earlier remarks and ask Jonathan Edwards not to press his new clause to a vote.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.