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 Baroness Morgan of Ely Baroness Morgan of Ely Shadow Spokesperson (Wales) 5:00 pm, 14th December 2016

My Lords, I have tabled Amendment 2 relating to the establishment of a justice in Wales commission. I am very pleased to hear that there has been a degree of movement by the Government on this matter. We emphasised in Committee that we were largely dissatisfied, as I think are the Welsh Government, with attempts by the UK Government to address the fact that over time there will be this increasing disparity between English and Welsh laws, albeit they will both still be dealt with under the single England and Wales jurisdiction.

We have heard about this working group and I am glad that we have had a letter to inform us of the Government’s suggestions. We have not had as much time as we would have liked to deliberate on those, but I am pleased that the Government have recognised the need for some kind of ongoing committee or representation to make sure that they are constantly taking the temperature of the changes that will be happening. We made it clear that we were unhappy with this working group; we did not think it had been thought through in agreement with the Welsh Government but had been imposed on the Welsh Government, who certainly did not feel that they necessarily needed to respect any outcomes of it. That is why we are pleased to see the move to a more equitable system in which the Welsh Government will be respected.

Whether the committee outlined by the Minister goes far enough is questionable. We wanted a commission rather than a committee, but I am not going to nit-pick on that point; it is more important to look at the purpose of this group. I am glad that the Minister recognises that there will be, and is already, a distinct legal identity to Welsh laws but a number of points need to be addressed in relation to this committee. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, just made the point that it needs to be seen to be more independent—equidistant from the UK and Welsh Governments. We have moved from the Ministry of Justice having the chairmanship to the idea that it might be somebody from the Cabinet Office but, given that it could be chaired by a representative from the UK Government, we wonder whether it would be better to have a more independent representative chairing the committee.

However, what is more important to me is the need to be clear that the people on the committee should be senior individuals, with the independence and expertise required to carry weight with both Governments. In that sense, it is crucial that both Governments are involved in making sure that they can agree on its membership. Can the Minister give us a commitment today that that will be respected—that there will be a joint agreement on who those experts will be? I should like it to be absolutely clear that this will be an ongoing group, because the body of Welsh law is likely to grow over time. It should not be a task-and-finish group; it needs to be ongoing. I am anxious to hear the terms of reference for this group. Can the Minister give us some indication of them? Would they also be agreed with the Government of Wales? If we are not to get an independent chair, those terms of reference need to be agreed by both Governments.

I hope the Minister will listen to those few requests on this issue. I am very pleased to see that he has come a long way towards us on it. A few tiny paces further would be very welcome but there have been a number of changes, as he suggested in his opening statement. On the new definition of Welsh law and in other areas, the Government have once again kindly listened to the changes that need to be made to the Bill. I thank the Minister for that.