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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales 9:30 pm, 7th November 2016

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their participation in this part of the Bill. Through these amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Elis- Thomas, is seeking to provide the Assembly with the competence to consolidate the law as it applies in Wales. Through Amendment 43, I think that he seeks to broaden the circumstances in which the Assembly could legislate other than in relation to Wales. However, the amendment as drafted would actually narrow the Assembly’s competence to legislate otherwise than in relation to Wales by making the “no greater effect than necessary” test more restrictive. I am sure that this is not the noble Lord’s intention.

Through Amendment 44, the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, seek to give the Assembly a wide-ranging power to restate without modification any law that provides for the government of Wales. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, was referring to an alternative Bill that is not a consolidation measure. We would hesitate to accept an alternative Bill which is nothing to do with consolidation.

Nevertheless, let me answer the question about consolidation because it seems to me that the consolidation of United Kingdom legislation can realistically take place only in the United Kingdom Parliament, and no more could or should the United Kingdom Parliament consolidate legislation of the Welsh Assembly or, for that matter, the Scottish Parliament.

The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, asked why we have not consolidated previously. The reason is that we have been under continuous pressure—I think that probably applied to the previous Government as well—to change the laws in relation to Wales because it has been a fast-moving position. There has been understandable pressure to make amendments, and it is difficult to consolidate the law at the same time as the law is being changed. In relation to an area that I know something about—company law—before the consolidation in the Companies Act 2006, which was then and I think still is the largest piece of legislation ever to go through the UK Parliament, there had not been a substantial consolidation measure since 1948, although there had been consolidation to some extent in 1985. That is why these things get postponed.

Before we get too exercised by this, I remind noble Lords that this does not alter the law. The law is there. I would need to be convinced, as I think others would too, that people in Wales are hanging about for a consolidation measure and that they want the law somewhere neatly. I do not think they are particularly exercised about this. I would have to be convinced that this is something that is exercising people up and down Wales or, indeed, in England. There was a suggestion—I am characterising it slightly—that this primarily concerns Wales, but it concerns England too, and Scotland, because it carves out the constitutional position within the United Kingdom.

That is not to say that it may not be necessary at some stage, but when it is done, it is important that it is done in the UK Parliament. In the meantime, it is important that we get the law right. I appreciate that we have got some way to go on some of that, but it is more important to get the law right before we consider consolidating it, so I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.