Wales: Governance

– in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 15 June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip 3:21, 15 June 2005

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend Peter Hain, the Secretary of State for Wales, in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"Devolution has proved to be a success both for Wales and for the rest of the United Kingdom. By establishing the National Assembly for Wales in 1999, following the endorsement of a referendum, the Government have moved the process of decision-making closer to the people.

"Six years on, the benefits can clearly be seen: record levels of employment, rising standards in education, and ground-breaking initiatives such as the Children's Commissioner, free bus travel for the over-60s and the disabled, and Assembly learning grants.

"With equal numbers of male and female members, and pioneering commitments to open government, sustainable development and equal opportunities, the Assembly has been a progressive institution, attracting interest from around the world.

"After the experience of six years of devolution, and two full sets of elections, it is appropriate now to review and improve the working of the Assembly—not to make change for change's sake, but to ensure that it continues to meet people's needs in Wales and remains accessible and accountable to them.

"The White Paper therefore covers three key issues which the Government believe need to be tackled to deliver better governance for Wales. It addresses the response of the National Assembly to the report of the commission on its powers and electoral arrangements, chaired by Lord Richard of Ammanford, and the commitments made in the Labour Party's general election manifesto.

"First, the White Paper contains the Government's proposals for legislation to effect a formal separation between the Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government.

"The lack of a clear separation between the Assembly itself and Assembly Ministers and the civil servants working for them has generated confusion about who is responsible for decisions. And, under the corporate structure, Ministers are in the contradictory position of sitting as members of subject committees meant to scrutinise their decisions.

"Secondly, the Government are proposing to give the Assembly, gradually over a number of years, enhanced legislative powers in defined policy areas where it already has executive functions. As a first step, the Government have decided, from now onwards, to draft parliamentary Bills in a way which gives the Assembly wider and more permissive powers to determine the detail of how the provisions should be implemented in Wales. That will not require any change to the Government of Wales Act, but will require a more consistent approach to drafting legislation for Wales.

"As a second step, we propose to put in place a streamlined procedure enabling Parliament to give the Assembly powers to modify legislation or to make new provision on specific matters or defined areas of policy within—and only within—the fields in which the Assembly currently exercises functions. Orders in Council conferring these powers would be made at the request of the Assembly Government and would be laid by the Secretary of State and be subject to specific authorisation by both Houses of Parliament through the affirmative resolution procedures. It means that more legislation will be 'made in Wales', and that the Assembly Government will be able to secure more effectively and more quickly the legislative tools it needs to get on with the job of building a world-class Wales, with a globally competitive economy, and high-quality public services.

"These enhanced legislative powers are adaptations of the current settlement and do not require a referendum. However, it may prove in the future that even these additional powers and streamlined procedures are still insufficient to address the Assembly's needs. The Government have therefore agreed to provide the option of further enhanced law-making powers. That would mean transferring primary legislative powers over all devolved fields directly to the Assembly. But, as a fundamental change to the Welsh devolution settlement that option would require the support of the electorate through a post-legislative referendum, triggered, first, by a two-thirds majority of Assembly Members, and, secondly, by a vote by Parliament. The Government envisage no particular timetable for this, as it would be dependent on a consensus which certainly does not exist at present.

"The history of Welsh devolution referendums is salutary. The big "No" vote in 1979 showed the dangers of conducting a referendum before sufficient consensus had emerged, and the Government remain conscious of the narrow majority in 1997 when it appeared that there was indeed such a consensus.

"I note that the Richard commission itself saw the acquisition of primary powers as a process which would take a number of years to achieve, and not before 2011. My own view is that the new Assembly arrangements should be allowed to bed down through the next Assembly term between 2007 and 2011 and that there is no case for considering a referendum until at least the following Assembly term of office.

"The people of Wales may wish to be convinced of the reasons for going beyond the new enhanced law-making powers before being invited to vote in a referendum. We therefore need some years' experience of the new system before we can make a proper assessment of when that might be.

"Finally, we propose to deal with a weakness in the existing additional member electoral system for the Assembly. There is widespread concern that the present operation of the regional list system in Wales is damaging the vitally important relationship between Members and their constituents, and indeed, causing unnecessary tensions between Members themselves.

"For losing candidates in constituency elections to be able to become Assembly Members through the regional list, and thus claim to act as a Member for that very same constituency, both devalues the integrity of the electoral system in the eyes of the public and acts as a disincentive to voting in constituency elections. We therefore propose to amend the provisions in the Government of Wales Act to prevent individuals simultaneously being candidates in constituency elections and being eligible for election from party lists. Candidates will have to make a choice.

"I believe that the proposals contained in the White Paper provide a practical, common-sense road map to sensible, staged improvement of the existing arrangements.

"One of the key reasons why the transition to devolved government in Wales has been a smooth one is that we have moved at a pace determined by the people of Wales. This White Paper reflects that guiding principle. It will provide a reformed structure that is more accountable, more participatory and more effective, giving more powers to the Assembly, leading to better governance for a better Wales. I commend it to the House".

My Lords, that completes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Spokespersons In the Lords, Wales 3:29, 15 June 2005

My Lords, we are grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place by the Secretary of State for Wales. It is a significant Statement in that it points us towards the Government's way ahead for devolution in Wales. But I do not believe that it will please either ardent devolutionists or sceptical critics of the process. It extends devolution with one hand and reasserts central government control with the other.

The Statement and the White Paper begin with the story of the success of devolution in Wales—high employment, free bus passes for the elderly and so on—and conveniently ignores the failures, such as the cock-ups over student fees, the still spluttering bonfire of the quangos and the interminable hospital waiting lists. It would take all the magical powers of Merlin to spin those outcomes into a success story.

But let me begin with the first of the three prongs of the White Paper: the proposal to abandon the corporate structure of the National Assembly and split the executive, the Assembly Government, from the Assembly as legislature. That is a very welcome reform for which some of us have been calling for some time. The current structure has resulted in confusion in the public mind, where the Assembly has wrongly become synonymous with the Assembly Government. When the Government's actions are statutorily attributable to the corporate Assembly, real accountability flies out of the window. It is high time that they were separated.

But the proposal will mean a major, radical change in the character of the Assembly. Its main function in future will be to hold its government to account, and that means scrutinising their activities with a vengeance. The cosiness of the current committee system, whereby Ministers sit alongside Assembly Members, which attracted the critical eye of the Richard commission, will disappear, and the relationship between Ministers and Members will be more akin to what we are familiar with at Westminster. Can the Assembly cope with the total change of attitude required? I hope so.

The second prong of the White Paper is concerned with the transfer of primary legislative powers. Yes, the Assembly can have them in certain devolved areas if the Assembly Government ask the Secretary of State to obtain an Order in Council granting such powers in a specific area and both Houses of Parliament approve the order by affirmative resolution. The Bill establishing a Commissioner for Older People, to which your Lordships gave a Second Reading yesterday, is an example of the sort of thing that the Government have in mind. Will that be a tolerable procedure for a self-respecting, democratically elected body? The question will be asked, we may be sure. But it is that or nothing, or the present system, which I am glad the Government intend to improve as regards the style and framework of legislation presented and to streamline in so far as pre-legislative scrutiny is concerned. I hope that your Lordships' House will be involved in such joint scrutiny too.

In the longer term—six years hence and possibly more—further primary legislative powers may be granted subject to an affirmative referendum. That will be triggered by a two-thirds majority in favour at the Assembly, endorsed by the approval of this Parliament. This is a two-pressure trigger, obviously devised by someone familiar with a .303 rifle. But it is not so much a trigger as a blunderbuss to stop a referendum in its tracks. Those proposals will go down like a lead balloon and prompt endless recriminations about Wales being treated differently from Scotland. It will be damned as discrimination on a national scale. The Government's answer is that there is no consensus currently in Wales in favour of an outright transfer of primary legislative powers—and they are probably right on that score. But there is no reason why we should not have a "preferendum", in which various proposals could be put to the electorate.

The most immediate outcry will be against the third prong of the White Paper—the proposal to change the electoral system so that first-past-the-post constituency candidates cannot appear as list candidates anywhere in Wales, even outside the area covering their constituency. How can this be wrong in Wales and right in Scotland? While we are aware that the Richard commission was critical of the current arrangements, we do not believe they should be changed piecemeal. The White Paper proposal will mean each party finding many more candidates—and I do not believe that any party in Wales has an abundance of candidates of high quality. We want only the very best to become Assembly Members under either scheme of election. It is not only the minority parties who will suffer under the new proposals; the Labour Party too may lose some of its leading lights in the Assembly who are elected by the list system.

Will these proposals, if implemented, result in better governance for Wales, as the White Paper's title proclaims? The Government believe they will, but that may be because the proposals mean the greater involvement of central government in the Assembly's affairs. I see that the Secretary of State proposes to draw up new Standing Orders for the Assembly himself. That will occasion a rumpus. We have already noted his controlling role in securing Orders in Council, allowing the Assembly primary legislative powers.

My overall impression is that the Government's enthusiasm for devolution as a cure-all is flagging. Perhaps their experience in the north-east of England accounts for it. They certainly appear to be turning the tables on the National Assembly for Wales. Whether they will be allowed to do so with impunity remains to be seen, but I should not be surprised if their plans were rejected. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us when the Government expect to introduce legislation to implement the White Paper.

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Agriculture), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 3:36, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I thank the Minister for reading out the Statement, and for giving us the opportunity to look at the Statement before reading it out. We welcome a model for further devolution of powers from Westminster to Wales. Certainly we welcome the splitting of the corporate body of the Welsh Assembly into an executive on the one hand and the legislature on the other. That is logical and, indeed, overdue. I for one was not happy with the situation when the Bill went through Parliament in 1998.

I believe that the Assembly will function better and that there will be better scrutiny. But why are there no proposals for an increase in the number of Assembly Members, as proposed by the Richard commission, which focused on the importance of ensuring that all legislation was properly scrutinised? For those like myself who have been striving for a Welsh parliament for some considerable time, it is very disappointing that full primary legislative powers are not ceded to the Assembly. The Government's proposals for legislation are really a half-way house. There is a bit of a get-out clause in adopting parts of the Richard commission report, particularly paragraph 13.2, as a final solution. We have no real hard promises about what the long-term situation will be.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government in Westminster can block Welsh legislation through Orders in Council, which may not go through and could possibly be made into barriers for procedures in promoting lost legislation? Maybe some of these proposals are a device for avoiding a referendum, perhaps to save some of Labour's own MPs in Wales who do not agree with full legislative powers and see this as a way out—perhaps to avoid a reduction in the number of MPs in Wales, with their full legislative powers. We believe that the Government have lost a huge opportunity to give Wales full legislative powers, as proposed by the Richard commission, which was an all-party commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Richard.

The commission was extremely thorough and took a lot of evidence. I understand that the process and the report cost more than £1 million. Indeed, one of the proposals that the Liberal Democrats made when going into coalition with Labour in the Assembly was that a review of the legislature and the powers of the Assembly should be undertaken. It is an excellent report with a target date for implementation after 2011. Perhaps the Minister agrees that the Government have salami-sliced parts of the Richard report as regards a possible final answer for legislative procedures for Wales.

Obviously, we welcome the possibility—as outlined on page 6 of the Statement—of further legislative powers for Wales. However, that is left as an open question. The middle paragraph on page 6 states:

"However, it may prove in the future that even these additional powers"— that is, those in the White Paper

"and streamlined procedures are still insufficient to address the Assembly's needs. The Government has therefore agreed to provide the option of further enhanced law-making powers".

The Statement does not say when that might occur, or even whether it will occur. It is as if it is not finally attainable—we have supported devolution for a very long time—because the apple is slightly out of reach on the tree. I hope that the Minister will disabuse me of that view.

The proposed voting system quite correctly takes on board the Richard commission critique. There is no question that it is a "duff" system as regards first-pass-the-post and regional members. But why, oh why, do the Government not adopt the commission's proposal of election by single transferable vote? That is a better and far more proportional system which would operate to the advantage of all the people of Wales and all the parties in Wales.

The White Paper leaves open the possibility of a government of a different complexion from that in Wales at present making mincemeat of the Welsh Assembly. The Minister will have heard the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, mention the word "preferendum". We know that the Conservatives' "preferendum" includes a question which would see the abolition of the Assembly at some future unknown time. If there had been progress on the Richard commission proposals, there would have been an ordered process to give full legislative powers to the Assembly after 2011. I and my party believe that this will be seen in Wales as dropping the ball just short of the try line.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip 3:43, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Livsey, for their comments on the Statement. I begin by drawing attention to the fact that if noble Lords, or, indeed, anyone, wishes to comment on the White Paper, they have the opportunity to do so. That should be done by Friday 16 September. Sensible proposals for the White Paper will be considered during the consultative period.

I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, welcomes the separation of the Assembly into a legislature and an executive. All parties in the Assembly are keen on that. I see absolutely no reason why the Assembly should find it intolerable to enact measures under the terms of an Order in Council approved by Parliament. There is no question of Parliament approving the detail of the measures; that would, of course, be for the Assembly. For example, yesterday we discussed the Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Bill. An Order in Council will probably have been phrased to,

"Establish and make provision about the office of Commissioner for Older People in Wales; to make provision about the functions of the Commissioner for Older People in Wales; and for connected purposes".

That is the Long Title of the Bill.

As for treating Wales differently from Scotland, in 1997 the people of Wales voted for the current settlement. Her Majesty's Government judge that there is no consensus in Wales for equivalent powers to those of Scotland. The Government's proposals to improve the current settlement but to make no radical change are in line with the wishes of the people of Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, should take that point on board as regards his comment that we should cede primary legislative powers to the Assembly now. There is not the will for that. If there were a referendum, we would probably lose it. In our view that would be a disaster.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, mentioned the proposed change to the electoral arrangements. I draw his attention to the Electoral Reform Society's submission to the Richard commission, which was quite damning about the measure. It states:

"A system in which candidates can lose elections but nevertheless win seats undermines respect for the electoral process . . . if defeated candidates are perceived to enter the Assembly through a back door, it can damage public confidence in the system".

In the previous election some Assembly Members were elected having obtained 5, 6 or 7 per cent of the vote. Such a system is indefensible. That is why we decided to take action against that.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, asked about timing. We consider that it would be inappropriate to make any changes during the course of an Assembly. I am sure that he would agree with that. We plan to introduce a Bill before Christmas. All the changes can be made at the time of the Assembly elections in May 2007. I should point out that the changes we propose to the corporate structure are uncontroversial and have been welcomed by both noble Lords. However, they are extremely complex and will take some time to work through.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. We have discussed why we are not devolving all power at the moment. We would be very happy to consider any representations on more Assembly Members that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, wishes to make; it is an interesting issue. The noble Lord asked whether Parliament could block a measure if a Secretary of State were to refuse permission for it. Obviously, he or she would be obliged to publish their reasons. We believe that that is sufficient to prevent a Secretary of State refusing a measure simply because he wished to. However, that is not the intention of the measure and we do not anticipate that that would happen.

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, asked why we did not simply accept the recommendations of the Richard report. The Richard report is an extremely valuable contribution to the debate on the development of the Welsh devolution settlement. It was delivered to the Assembly and was read with very considerable interest. It has informed the thinking on the White Paper. Some of the commission's recommendations are contained in the White Paper. For example, the separation between the legislature and the executive in the first stage of the development of the Assembly's legislative power is exactly what the commission recommended.

What we are looking at in Wales is an evolutionary process. We started well, and we have had six years. It is necessary to confer more powers on the Assembly, and the next stage, as the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, says, will be the devolution of primary legislative powers. That can only be done when there is consensus in Wales that the people wish it to happen.

Photo of Lord Richard Lord Richard Labour 3:49, 15 June 2005

My Lords, I will just say one or two words, since in a sense it is my corpse that people have been cutting up; or at least the corpse of the commission. On the whole, I give this White Paper a qualified welcome; it gets a B verging on B+. Some things are clearly right, such as dealing with the corporate structure. Some of the provisions in the White Paper about the electoral system are to be welcomed. I take the point about Clwyd; it is difficult to see how five people can be rejected by the electorate and nevertheless end up as Members of the Assembly. Something must be done about that. I also say to my noble friend that I am not convinced that there is no majority in Wales for these proposals. The latest polls show 64 per cent, a two-thirds majority, in favour of giving primary legislative powers to Cardiff.

Having said all that—and I accept that there are different views—I inform my noble friend that my personal aim is to see established in Cardiff an Assembly for Wales with pretty well the same legislative powers as the Scots have. I do not understand why—in one United Kingdom—one nation, Scotland, has certain powers and another nation, Wales, does not. There is a fundamental illogicality there that must be dealt with. That is my aim; so the test in relation to this White Paper becomes pretty simple and pretty clear. Does it advance that aim or does it retard it? I have always regarded devolution as a progression. It is not a once and for all act. Someone once famously said that devolution is a process; and it is. I ask myself now whether this White Paper and these proposals help that process. Clearly, it does.

The White Paper contains the important acceptance of the principle that the National Assembly needs greater legislative competence than it has at present. Therefore, the acid test for me is whether these proposals give it greater legislative competence. The answer is that they do, though perhaps not in a way that I would have liked at this stage. That brings me on to the point that I wanted to make. For me, the crucial point here is that the commitment to primary legislative powers should be in the Bill. It is not enough for a Minister to get up and say that he thinks it is a good idea after 2011. There must be a commitment in the Bill that if a referendum takes place in Wales, and if it has a positive result, then it will happen.

We have here something along the lines that the commission reported; namely, that there will be an interim period during which the White Paper proposals can be implemented. The object of the exercise is to have primary legislative powers in Cardiff that can be exercised in exactly the same way as they are in Edinburgh.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the contribution from my noble friend Lord Richard. When I was at school, if I got a B+ for an essay I was absolutely delighted. I am pleased that he has given that mark to the White Paper.

It is rather dangerous to look at the BBC poll stating that 64 per cent are in favour of primary legislative powers, because before the 1979 referendum the opinion polls were saying precisely the same thing and giving the same sort of percentage. As we know, we narrowly won that. I know that my noble friend Lord Richard has that vision, and I know that he feels that this White Paper advances and progresses that vision. The crucial point that he raised is whether there will be a commitment in the Bill to primary powers being devolved. The answer is "Yes". I hope that will satisfy him. I also invite him, as I invited other Peers a moment ago, to take advantage of the consultation process that finishes on 15 September. Obviously, given the role that the noble Lord played with his report, we will take particular notice of what he says.

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative

My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for interrupting his response to the noble Lord, Lord Richard.

There was a curious phrase in the Statement—I think I heard it right—that these proposals would help to make a "world-class Wales". The status of Wales in the world does not depend on the proposals of the part-time Secretary of State or anyone else. I am glad to say that Wales can stand by itself on its own status and reputation.

I welcome some of the proposals in the Statement. I certainly welcome the separation of the Assembly and the Assembly Government. That must be one way of dealing with the shortcomings that my noble friend Lord Roberts correctly identified and that the Statement carefully avoided; the things that have gone wrong, the weaknesses in the management of the health service, the whole affair of student fees, and the quangos. Of course, we must have an Assembly that can examine and criticise the Government rather than being arm in arm with the Government. I am rather more welcoming to the proposed change in the electoral arrangements than was my noble friend Lord Roberts. The present arrangements are really pretty indefensible, but we need to debate the alternatives carefully to make sure that we get the right solution.

I was pleased to read that we will have a referendum before we go on to have a major change in the legislative status of the Assembly. When I heard the detail of what is proposed, it took my memory back to the original debates before the first referendum, when Members of the House who wished to defeat the whole concept wrote in a series of barriers that had to be overcome. Here we have the Government writing in right at the start an enormous barrier of a two-thirds majority and the consent of this House combined with that. That seems to me an extraordinary proposal. If the Welsh people want to go forward, they should be allowed to go forward on the basis of a straightforward referendum vote, and it must not be fiddled by the Government in advance.

I opposed and won that original debate, but when the Welsh people voted for an Assembly, I said, "Well, let us make it a success". I have confidence in the views of the Welsh people. If we are going to talk about having more Assembly Members, I hope that we will remember that there may be consequences for the number of Welsh Members of Parliament. Those two issues cannot be separated.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, for his comments. I agree that when we talk about Wales as a world-class country we are certainly not saying that the Secretary of State, or Westminster, is responsible for that. The responsibility lies firmly with the Welsh people and their skills.

The noble Lord raised an interesting point about the barriers to full devolution, arguing that if the Welsh people were totally in favour we should not have any barriers here in Parliament to prevent their wishes being heard. That is an interesting point that we will consider. I am grateful for the general welcome to the White Paper from the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, even though he has a number of reservations.

Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Labour

My Lords, having played a small part in trying to devise a better means of government in Wales for more years than I care to remember, may I warmly congratulate the Government on their evolutionary approach, in particular for Westminster to be less prescriptive? Parliament has traditionally been reluctant to give Henry VIII powers to Ministers. Surely it must be right for Westminster to legislate more generally and to give powers that it would not otherwise give to a democratically elected Assembly.

I welcome in particular a more consistent approach to the drafting of legislation—an old hobby horse of mine when I was Attorney-General. Having said all that, I wonder what thought the Government have given to the possibility of governments at Westminster and Cardiff not being of the same colour. How well would the present proposals work in those circumstances?

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Morris for his support for the Bill and in particular his point about a more consistent approach to legislation, which, as I said in my opening speech, is very important.

On the question of there being different coloured Parliaments in Cardiff and here, my feeling—it is just my feeling—is that obviously things will be worked out in an intelligent and constructive way. I cannot imagine that if a different political party controlled the Assembly there would be any tension or difficulties between Cardiff and Westminster.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister agree that, if and when Wales is granted the same degree of self-government as Scotland, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, would like, it will be necessary for a convention to be established whereby honourable Members in another place who represent Scottish, Welsh or indeed Northern Irish constituencies will automatically abstain whenever legislation dealing with purely English matters is voted on?

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, that matter is raised on many occasions. We are looking into the future, and we address such problems as they occur.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Chair, Draft Mental Health Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Mental Health Bill (Joint Committee)

My Lords, I am sure that many in Wales will welcome the fact that the White Paper provides an opportunity for consultation, the true separation of powers that has been needed since the beginning of devolution and the removal of the absurd dual candidacy opportunity. However, if we all share the aspiration that devolution should evolve a little more quickly than the human species, will the Minister put some flesh on the bones of what he describes in the Statement as the process towards greater legislative powers taking place gradually over a number of years? Does that mean this year, next year, some time, never; or is it intended to accommodate the 2011 target of the Richard commission?

Will the Minister also explain to the House why, given that the majority of Welsh politicians are comfortable with the idea of proceeding quickly towards greater primary legislative powers and are not afraid of putting that to the people of Wales, the Government in London are so afraid of putting it to the people of Wales?

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, refers to the timetable. As I said in the Statement, we have taken 2011 from the Richard report. The noble Lord is asking what is likely to happen in each year between 2005 and 2011 to reach that point. That is a valuable point that we should take on board and consider addressing as we move towards the final White Paper. If any noble Lord felt that behind that was the notion that we would try to avoid the issue by prevarication, it would be an uncharitable thought and not one that I would accept.

Photo of Lord Rowlands Lord Rowlands Labour

My Lords, it was my privilege to serve on the Richard commission under my noble friend's chairmanship. I will give the White Paper an "A-"—a rather more generous examination mark than my noble friend—primarily because it takes the devolution settlement forward significantly in a meaningful way, without opening up a new agenda. Initially, through the structures of the framework legislation and, secondly, through Orders in Council, we will grant greater and greater legislative competence to the National Assembly and build on the legislative partnership that has already grown between Westminster and the Assembly.

We will have the considerable scrutiny skills of this House and the Commons alongside the developing scrutiny skills of the Assembly—a kind of legislative trinity of Commons, Lords and Assembly. I see extreme value in allowing that process to build up and develop and seeing how it works.

I remind my noble friend that one of the central conclusions of the Richard commission report was that, if we transferred a portion of primary powers to the National Assembly, to exercise those powers we would have to increase the Assembly's membership by 20? Consequently, we would open up the issue of how those extra 20 Members would be elected—probably under a different electoral system altogether. I hope that my noble friend will confirm that such radical changes should be put to the Welsh people in a referendum, because they would be a radical departure from what was agreed in 1997.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rowlands for making those points, and I pay tribute to him for his membership of the Richard commission and the contribution that he made to it. I agree with him that the radical changes that he proposes should be part of a referendum. I thank him for his positive endorsement of the White Paper.

Photo of Baroness Gale Baroness Gale Labour

My Lords, I warmly welcome the White Paper, and I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Rowlands has given it an "A-"; the people of Wales would probably do that as well.

I would like to ask about legislation: if we went down the road of full legislation, we would have to have a referendum, as other noble Lords have said. I saw no great desire for further devolution among the people of Wales behind all the doors on which I knocked and the different constituencies I went to during the general election. The White Paper takes us along the devolution path that we are treading, one that would be acceptable to the majority of the people of Wales.

The Statement refers to modifying legislation or making new provisions on specific matters or defined areas of policy. Everyone knows that the Welsh Assembly debated greatly banning smoking in public places. I am sure that its Members would love to do so. Would the White Paper allow them to pass such legislation without it coming through Parliament?

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Gale for her endorsement of the White Paper. I will put an extremely interesting document—it is headed Bills and Bill provisions which could have been enacted by the Assembly under a new Order in Council—in the Library. It lists a number of Bills that I and various other Members of this House have spent many hours discussing in the Chamber and in Committee. In that list, the noble Baroness will be delighted to see a health improvement and protection Bill—a smoking ban Bill—so the answer to her question is an emphatic yes.