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    14 April, 2006

    Climbdown welcome on Abolition of Assembly by Order Bill

    I welcome the decision by Cabinet Office Minister Jim Murphy to amend the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. Ministers will not now have the power to abolish the Assembly by Order! (This could only have happened with our consent, but it would have been daft to have had a provision which technically allowed it just as we are going through with the new Government of Wales Bill. Listening to him on The World at One it was clear that he had got the point about the implications of the Bill for the Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. I raised these issues when Cabinet Office officials came to present to the Assembly's Economic Development Committee in March:

    Leighton Andrews: I have a final question for the Cabinet Office team. Would it be
    possible under clause 1 for, say, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs to propose an
    Order abolishing the Assembly? I realise that we would have to be consulted on that, but
    would that be possible?
    [220] Mr Treharne: That was going to be part of my answer. However, that would still be
    rather controversial.
    [221] Leighton Andrews: But, technically, would it be possible?
    [222] Ms Milner: Only if the Assembly agreed to it.
    [223] Leighton Andrews: Would it be possible for the Secretary of State for Constitutional
    Affairs, under clause 1, to propose, by Order, the abolition of the National Assembly, and the
    only thing that would then happen would be a consultation with the Assembly on its
    [224] Ms Milner: No; the Assembly would have to give its consent to that.
    [225] Leighton Andrews: Okay. I realise that it is unlikely, but sometimes you need to test
    the level of bizarreness of a proposal to understand how it works. Would it be technically
    possible to produce an Order abolishing the National Assembly, therefore abandoning the
    Government of Wales Act, and subsequent legislation relating to the Assembly, provided the
    Assembly agreed to it? I am just thinking of the situation where, heaven forbid we ever get
    another Conservative Government, but, assuming we had John Redwood as Prime Minister,
    that is not beyond the bounds of possibility, is it?
    [226] Mr Treharne: It is not.
    [227] Leighton Andrews: It is not beyond the bounds of possibility?
    [228] Ms Milner: However, the Assembly would have to give its consent and the
    parliamentary scrutiny committees would have to agree that abolishing the Assembly was not
    highly controversial.

    [229] Leighton Andrews: However, technically, you could abolish the Assembly by Order,
    rather than by an Act.
    [230] Mr Treharne: Technically, you could, but it would never get that far.
    [231] Leighton Andrews: Okay.
    [232] Christine Gwyther: You have your answer; it was ‘yes’, but try not to panic too
    [233] Leighton Andrews: It is alright, I am not panicking.

    (Apologies, I cannot get Typepad or Notepad to sort out the formatting)

    I returned to the issue later in the Committee, and suggested a simple amendment which would take care of this problem:

    [274] Leighton Andrews: I have a quick question for the Cabinet Office. It would be
    possible, would it not, to have a small sub-clause included in the first section to the effect that
    the Act may not be used to abolish the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament
    or the Northern Ireland Assembly? That might be reassuring.
    [275] Mr Treharne: To put a list of enactments, going back to the theoretic—
    [276] Leighton Andrews: There are only three involved.
    [277] Mr Treharne: Sorry, I was thinking about when you start to make lists. However,
    there are certain aspects that you may wish to change through our Orders or as a consequence
    [278] Leighton Andrews: No, but you could use the word ‘abolish’. You could phrase it so
    that it would state that nothing in the Act shall confer on Ministers the power to abolish the
    National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly. That
    would be very simple, would it not?
    [279] Mr Treharne: It would, and if such an amendment were laid, we would discuss it as
    it goes through the Houses.
    [280] Ms Milner: I think that the reason why we do not have something along those lines
    at the moment is the thought that that is not really necessary, given the other safeguards that
    we have about maintaining necessary protections and rights and freedoms, and the policies
    being proportionate, and consultation and the various levels of undertakings on highly
    controversial matters. However, yes, if we got an amendment to that effect, we would have
    [281] Leighton Andrews: Minister, is this something that you might raise with the
    Secretary of State?
    [282] Andrew Davies: Yes, I was just going to make the point that, sometimes, the view
    from London is very different from the view from Cardiff, Wales or Edinburgh. It would be
    helpful, because the committee has asked some very thought-provoking questions, and clarity
    is needed on this. The situation is confused, as Gwyn said, by the fact that you have two Bills
    currently going through, one of which, the Government of Wales Bill, will change the
    situation, and the Bill that we are looking at now refers to the current constitutional position,
    which will change. However, it would be useful for me to return with a paper to committee
    pointing out our understanding of the situation.
    [283] Christine Gwyther: I am not going to attempt to draw the various strands of this
    discussion together, because we are all quite tired now. I thought that this would be a dry
    subject, but it has actually provoked an awful lot of debate, if not hysteria at some points.
    However, I will take the committee’s view on whether we should submit an amendment, as
    Leighton suggested. If you want me to put that to committee as a motion, I am happy to do
    [284] Leighton Andrews: I would be happy for the Minister to come back to the next
    meeting with a further paper so that we can look at that. Provided that the Minister, in the
    meantime, has also sought clarification from our Secretary of State, that would perhaps be
    helpful, and, presumably, it would not be too late, at that stage, should we want subsequently
    to carry this forward into the House of Lords debate on the Bill. If we are meeting in three
    weeks’ time then I do not know.
    [285] Christine Gwyther: Would it be too late by then?
    [286] Mr Treharne: We have got until around the end of May and then we will probably
    go to the Lords in the first week of June.
    [287] Leighton Andrews: Well, that is fine then; we have time, have we not?

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