My Lords, I think this is an occasion on which we should not speak for more than a minute and a half, and that is my intention. I support the Government’s amendment, and I thank the Minister for his consideration, but I make it clear that I regard it as an interim statement—something that will not stand the test of time. As Welsh law develops, the case for a Welsh jurisdiction will become overwhelming. There is an old Welsh song that asks, “Who will be here in a hundred years’ time?”—“Pwy fydd yma mewn can mlynedd?”—and perhaps that is the view that one should take.
At the moment we have a Bill that gives the Assembly reserved powers. The legislative competence of the Assembly is growing, yet we have two different legislatures passing laws for the same small territory. That is a situation unique in the UK and in Europe, and it seems bound to result in confusion and perhaps, in due course, conflict.
The idea of a distinct Welsh jurisdiction is supported by the legal professions in Wales. University law departments see Wales as lacking a legal identity, which actually it had for 300 years after Henry VIII’s Act of Union, so we have to catch up with Henry VIII. The idea is supported strongly by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd; his wording is careful but he has said that it is perfectly possible to have a single justice system with two separate jurisdictions within it. Similar views were expressed by the great Lord Bingham in his work The Rule of Law.
So this is a well-meant interim settlement, a stopgap, that will not last. There is a void in the devolution settlement and eventually we will need a permanent principal settlement, both for the sake of devolution in Wales and, frankly, for the sake of the union of the UK.