Wales Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 14th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Elis-Thomas Lord Elis-Thomas Plaid Cymru 5:00 pm, 14th December 2016

My Lords, perhaps I may respond positively to the amendment introduced in response to the discussion that we had during our first day in Committee on the notion of so-called Welsh law. I commend the Government on their simplicity as well as their inclusiveness by invoking the terms of the law that applies in Wales and pointing to the various bodies of law that apply in Wales, which include the growing body of Welsh law produced by the National Assembly and Welsh Ministers, the law of England and Wales as enacted in this Parliament, the context of European law and the law that is made by precedents and the decisions of the courts. All that is very welcome and I am grateful to the Minister for his response.

It coincides with an equally important statement made in the National Assembly yesterday by Mick Antoniw, the Counsel General, who indicated that to pursue the greater public understanding of the law in Wales, and Welsh law as defined, he intends to instigate a project of consolidation and codification as a pilot. I warmly welcome that statement as well. Therefore, there is a willingness on the part of the legal profession in Wales and its senior government officer in the form of the Counsel General to ensure that the Law Commission’s recommendations for the creation of a dedicated legislative code office and the greater consolidation and codification in an intelligible form of Welsh law are pursued. I particularly welcome as well the decision to publish on the Cyfraith Cymru/Law Wales website further discussion and evaluation of the advantages of consolidation and codification.

That brings me to the other issue I want briefly to touch on: the ongoing response of the UK Government and the Minister to how we progress the analysis and measurement of the effectiveness of the combined jurisdictions and the administration of justice in Wales. I have seen the letter from the Secretary of State to the Welsh First Minister and I had the benefit of a short discussion before I left Cardiff this morning with the First Minister about this, but it is not for me to stand up in this House and purport to represent the position of the Welsh Government. That would be severely out of order.

What the Minister has announced in response to the discussions we have had here and elsewhere has indicated a willingness to understand that there is a balance between the sovereignty of Parliament as understood historically and the increasing democratic accountability and lawmaking potential of the National Assembly. I am looking for a way in which we can move beyond a rather sterile debate where red lines are drawn between various approaches. I am not sure that the committee or commission that the Minister is outlining goes quite far enough on the kind of road I envisage.

I also point the Minister and this House towards the remarkable case presented to the Supreme Court by the Welsh Government which emphasises that, whatever the history of the United Kingdom has been historically, in terms of the relationship between the nations, the only way to operate is by treating the United Kingdom as an association of nations that is now not so hierarchical but more equal. Therefore, in looking for ways we can work within frameworks, is it not time to try to ensure greater equality of representation on commissions, committees or working groups that study these issues? I am not sure that the chairing of a committee by a senior person from the Cabinet Office meets the case. This requires equal representation from practitioners and stakeholders in Wales and in the United Kingdom, and an independent chair.