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Clause 22

Transfer of Ministerial functions

Lords amendment: No. 33, in page 13, line 25, at end insert--
("( ) Schedule (Transfer etc. of functions: further provisions) (which makes further provision about the transfer etc. of functions by Order in Council under this section) has effect.")

Mr. Win Griffiths: I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 34 to 36, 45, 54, 151, 157, 158, 161 to 163, 168 and 170.

Mr. Griffiths: The amendments clarify what functions the Assembly may be given in England in respect of the sea and in respect of cross-border bodies--that is, bodies whose activities relate to Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom.

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The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), signalled on Report on 25 March the intention to table in another place amendments relating to clause 23. He undertook that any such amendments would not enable the transfer order to give the Assembly more functions in England than was possible under clause 23, and that they would maintain the mechanisms that are in the Bill in respect of the Assembly's functions in England. We have kept to that undertaking.

The principal amendments are No. 34, which deletes clause 23; No. 170, which reproduces many of its provisions in a new schedule; and No. 157, which defines "Wales" as including the territorial sea adjacent to Wales. I propose to concentrate my remarks on the significant changes made by those amendments.

Paragraph 3 of the new schedule limits the range of functions that the Assembly can be given in parts of England that adjoin Wales. Previously, the Bill had allowed potentially any function to be given to the Assembly in respect of a cross-border area; however, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made clear on Report, we intend to transfer such functions to the Assembly only in respect of rivers and other water-related matters. The term "rivers" encompasses the functions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State currently exercises in respect of flood defence and navigation on rivers. The amendment also makes it clear that the Assembly can be given functions only in parts of England that adjoin Wales, and only if the Assembly is given the equivalent functions for the whole or part of Wales. That constitutes a significant narrowing compared to the approach in clause 23(6)(c) and I hope that the House will agree that the clarification is welcome.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I want to get an assurance from him. He has got to paragraph 3, but is going to explain paragraph 2 of the schedule?

Mr. Griffiths: I hope that I shall cover that. Perhaps my hon. Friend will remind me of it, if it appears that I am not going to do as he asks.

I am sure that the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) will find the amendment particularly helpful in demolishing, once and for all, the suggestion that the Assembly would have responsibility for schools in parts of Herefordshire. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary had already dealt with that point on Report on 25 March--Hansard column 645, if the hon. Gentleman wants to check--but the amendment puts the matter beyond any doubt.

Amendment No. 157 provides that:

which extends 12 nautical miles from the coast. That definition of Wales will apply for all the purposes of the Bill. One effect is that the Assembly may be given ministerial functions only in respect of the territorial sea.

Two other provisions flow from that definition of Wales. First, amendment No. 158 provides an order-making power to determine any boundary between the parts of the sea that areto be treated as adjacent to Wales and those that are not. Amendment No. 151 provides for such an order to be subject to the affirmative

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resolution procedure. That power is necessary in the case of the Dee and Severn estuaries and the Bristol channel, where the coast of Wales lies less than 24 nautical miles from the coast of England.

Secondly, paragraph 4 of the new schedule, which is inserted by amendment No. 170, provides that the transfer order may require a Minister of the Crown to consult the Assembly about certain functions essentially to do with the disposal and abandonment of oil and gas installations in the sea adjacent to the territorial sea--that is, beyond the 12-mile limit. There is a similar order-making power to define the boundaries of "Welsh controlled waters" for the purposes of that paragraph.

Paragraph 3 makes it clear that an order under clause 22 may give the Assembly functions in respect of a range of cross-border bodies as diverse as the Environment Agency, Audit Commission, Intervention Board and the North West and North Wales sea fisheries committee, to give just a few examples. The previous definition in clause 23(6)(d) would not have allowed the Assembly to inherit many of the functions that my right hon. Friend currently exercises, and the amendment corrects that oversight.

In the light of the further consideration that we have given to the Assembly's functions, it has become apparent that there are a limited number of functions that it will exercise in Wales but whose principal effect may be felt in England. The effect could take the form of a serious adverse impact on water resources, the water supply or the quality of water in England, and relates to matters such as abstractions from, and discharges into, rivers that flow across the border. We believe that, in recognition of the interests of people living in England who may be affected by the Assembly's decisions in Wales, there should be a limited override power allowing the Secretary of State to intervene and to take certain decisions in place of the Assembly.

4.15 pm

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion): Why does the Minister think that the Secretary of State is likely to behave more responsibly than the Assembly?

Mr. Griffiths: It is not an issue of responsibility, because I am sure that the Assembly, the Secretary of State for Wales and other Secretaries of State with responsibilities in England whose actions might affect Wales will behave very responsibly. It is a cross-border issue involving consultation at an English level. In the cases that I have described, it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to have some responsibility in this matter.

Mr. Wigley: In order to ensure that we understand him correctly, will the Minister spell out his intentions in respect of these changes? Is he really saying that we will give the Secretary of State--whose political colour may be different from that of the Government of the Assembly--a veto over the Assembly when it comes to decisions about abstracting water from rivers in Wales in order to supply the industrial needs of cities in England? Is that what the Government are offering in the

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amendment? Has the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions turned over Welsh Office Ministers to that extent?

Mr. Griffiths: The issue has absolutely nothing to do with the right hon. Gentleman's question. It is a matter of approaching the matter sensibly.

The Environment Agency could also have some input. The Assembly will have to consider issues on the Welsh side of the border, and the Secretary of State will consider those on the English side. For example, the Environment Agency would have something to say if a decision had adverse effects on the Welsh or English sides of the border. There can be no question of any action taken by the Secretary of State in relation to England having a detrimental effect on the Welsh side of the border. It is a question of balancing these matters, and that is provided for in paragraph 6 of the new schedule. The override power can apply to functions in parts of two named Acts only, and, in due course, the transfer orders will set out our proposals for the precise areas where the override power will be available.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to the right hon. Gentleman about a number of those issues, and I am sure that he will want to consider that correspondence. Certain matters relating to abstraction--to which the right hon. Gentleman referred specifically--will not be covered by this provision; responsibility will remain with Welsh bodies. The right hon. Gentleman should look at the legislation. Abstraction is dealt with under part II of the Water Resources Act 1991, and is excluded from the override provisions. I give him an absolute assurance on that point.

On the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), paragraph 2 of the new schedule is already covered by clause 23(6)(a). It is not new. The purpose is to allow the Assembly to be given responsibility for any function that relates to the Welsh language and culture, whether inside or outside Wales--for example, the power to make grants to education authorities for Welsh language teaching under the Education Act 1996. We propose that the Assembly should have that power for Wales and England.

Irrespective of the override power, as a matter of administrative law the Assembly will have to take account of the wider impact of its decisions across a range of environmental functions, including any impact that may be felt in England.

I have just been reminded that part II of the Water Resources Act was included in the override power, although it says explicitly--this is where my confusion arose--that applications will not be a matter for Ministers, but will be dealt with my the Environment Agency. Ministers would participate in the process only if an application were rejected and was subject to an appeal.

I hope that, with all those matters taken into consideration, the House will be able to agree to the amendment.

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