My Lords, my concerns in Amendments 5 and 7, to which I have added my name, lie around relationships, trust and respect—because, for all the legalese, that is essentially what is at issue here.
The National Assembly for Wales will be 21 years old this year—in human terms, a coming of age: the age of maturity and majority. Over these last 21 years, I have watched the Assembly take on more powers and responsibility—successfully, on the whole—and have seen many of its politicians increase in expertise and stature. But the inclusion in the Bill of these clauses, which would enable Ministers of the Crown to amend the devolution settlement, can only be described as a retrograde step and will surely have a detrimental effect on the relationship between Westminster and Assembly Governments.
These clauses give the Government the power to amend the Government of Wales Act in certain circumstances, without the consent of the Welsh Assembly. It is a recipe for a breakdown in trust and respect. The words “potential major constitutional conflict” have been mooted, and the potential for such a situation concerns me greatly. Far better, then, to use the route already open to the two Governments and already referred to by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Finlay: consultations that could lead to the Assembly agreeing with changes to its own competence through a Section 109 Order in Council.
Whether we are talking about families, schools or workplaces, or, as in this case, politics, trust and mutual respect are key to successful relationships. The taking away of freedoms and powers is a means of control, and not a constructive act of relationship building between adults, or adult institutions—unless of course in this instance the aim is to disregard the relationship and impose the will of the UK Government on the Assembly Government. This Government, with their large majority in the other place, are in a position of power, but they have a duty to avoid unnecessary conflict and relationship breakdown by using that power wisely.