Clause 25

Part of Further Education and Training Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:30 pm on 14th June 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships) 1:30 pm, 14th June 2007

The principle of transferring powers stands alongside the means of transferring them. If the allegation made by former Welsh Ministers that this matter has not been handled properly has any substance, then it deserves proper airing in this Committee. I am not making heavy weather of this. Let us be honest, the Government would not have put a Welsh Minister in this Committee if they did not think that it was a big deal. If the Government had expected the clause to be dealt with on the nod, the Minister would not be here ready to deal with it.

I have no doubt that Ministers and Whips were as surprised by the speeches on Second Reading as I was. Having looked at the clause, I think it is an important matter that warrants a little consideration in Committee. However, mindful of the comments of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion and put my four other questions for the Minister in short order.

Before I do so, however, I simply want to point out that the Secretary of State for Wales said this in a written answer to the right hon. Member for Torfaen:

“To assist parliamentary scrutiny, all framework powers granting wider and more permissive powers to the Assembly will be accompanied by an explanatory memorandum setting out the policy context underlying the proposals. Copies will be sent to all Welsh MPs and will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.”—[Official Report, 11 January 2007; Vol. 455, c. 661W.]

In those circumstances, it would have been right and proper to have made that information available to members of the Committee. I have checked, and I have not received the explanatory memorandum, and I have spoken to the hon. Member for Brent, East, who has not received it, too. I do not know whether any of my hon. Friends have received it. Certainly, when I went to the Library last night, the staff there could not locate it. I finally came across it this morning, when I returned to the Library—following a contact with the Department, it had become available. I got it about 10 minutes before I entered the Committee at 9 am. I am concerned about that. I do not suspect any lack of good will, but I certainly think that that was not appropriate, given the assurance that was made about fully informing Members in the way that responsible Ministers normally do. I hope that the Minister will say something about that.

The memorandum implies that the format set out in clause 25 for giving the National Assembly for Wales  primary legislative powers will become the norm. Can the Minister confirm that it will become the norm? If so, what measures for pre-legislative scrutiny will be established? Has the clause been referred to the Welsh Affairs Committee, and has the Committee commented on it? If framework papers such as clause 25 extend the scope of the Welsh Assembly, are they not subject to scrutiny by the Welsh Affairs Committee in the same way as legislative competence orders?

I think that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby is right. In essence, this is about transferring power, which is not in dispute. What is in dispute is the way in which the Government have gone about it. The Government should be held to account, particularly when Members from both sides of the House are raising serious questions about whether the process allowed proper comment, scrutiny and discussion before we reached this stage.