Wales Bill - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Elis-Thomas Lord Elis-Thomas Plaid Cymru 9:15 pm, 7th November 2016

I have always believed that constitutional legislation in any state should be intelligible, or as intelligible as possible, not only to the practitioners of public life but to the general public. This is particularly the case with the constitution of Wales. The episode that we are now involved in is a further obfuscation of the constitution rather than its opening out to intelligibility, which is why these amendments on consolidation are important. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who will no doubt want to speak to them.

The question of how a constitution is made accessible was highlighted in the outstanding judgment of the High Court last week. In their judgment, their Lordships said:

The United Kingdom does not have a constitution to be found entirely in a written document. This does not mean there is an absence of a constitution or constitutional law. On the contrary, the United Kingdom has its own form of constitutional law, as recognised in each of the jurisdictions of the four constituent nations”.

But because the constitution of Wales is currently spread over four pieces of legislation, it hardly meets the test of being intelligible to the population or to any of those active citizens who wish to participate in understanding their constitution.

This has been a persistent theme of the National Assembly’s relevant committee dealing with constitutional matters. That is why the predecessor committee of the current one, of which I was also a member for a period, recommended that a clear commitment should be given to consolidating the constitutional legislation of Wales and to having this done in the current parliamentary term. If for good reasons of their own the UK Government did not feel able to undertake such consolidation, there should also be a clear provision—or at least there should not be any hindrance—in any Bill so that the National Assembly itself could undertake it. Amendments to this effect were tabled in another place and in the debate the UK Government said this was not necessary because the constitutional settlement for Wales is the Government of Wales Act 2006 as amended—a matter to which I alluded earlier. Quite simply, the urtext that is the basis for our understanding of the constitution of Wales is the Government of Wales Act 2006 as amended, but it does not meet the test of consolidation and intelligibility.

Is it not now time to give the people who are most concerned about this matter—those of us who must live and work through the constitution we are given by courtesy of the Houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom—responsibility to make that consolidation? It is not an attempt to amend legislation, merely to consolidate it. This approach should recommend itself to all who are concerned about constitutional clarity and democratic principles. All that Amendments 43 and 44 would do is permit the National Assembly to consolidate the devolution statutes relating to Wales in both its languages. This is not to blow my own trumpet because I happened to be born bilingual, but we are officially a bilingual legislature. We work actively and daily in two languages. To allow us to legislate and provide consolidation in this area would mean that we were able to serve our citizens much more effectively. I beg to move.