Select Committee on Liaison First Report



Memorandum to the Liaison Committee

 1. This Memorandum is our second Annual Report, consisting of an update on the work of the Committee since the publication of our first Annual Report (First Special Report of 2000-01, The Work of the Committee Since Devolution (HC 81)) in December 2000.

The Committee's work programme in 2001

 2. The year began with the publication on 15 January of the Committee's Third Report of Session 1999-2000, Social Exclusion in Wales (HC 365). We held a very successful press conference at the Dusty Forge Community Centre in Ely, Cardiff, which was attended by the Secretary of State and the First Minister, among others. The Report was the subject of a debate in the House on 5 February 2001, on a Motion tabled by Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales on an Opposition Day.

 3. The Committee's first inquiry of the 2000-01 Session, Wales in the World: the role of the UK Government in promoting Wales abroad (First Report, Session 2000-01, HC 38) ran from October 2000 to March 2001. We held six session of oral evidence, three of which were in Wales. The inquiry focused on the Government's work to promote Wales in three broad areas: trade and investment; tourism; and culture, language and sport. This was an opportunity for the Committee to examine an area which is almost entirely reserved, although the Report did contain a number of recommendations on matters which fall largely within the responsibilities of the National Assembly. The Assembly responded to our recommendations, for which we are grateful (Second Special Report, Session 2001-02, HC 311).

 4. The Report concentrated heavily on the tourist industry in Wales and it became apparent as the publication date approached that the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Wales was having a major adverse impact on the industry. We travelled to North Wales to re-visit some of the people involved in the tourist industry to whom we had spoken during the course of the inquiry. We held a public press conference at Port Meirion to launch the Report, at which we also canvassed views on the handling of the foot and mouth crisis. Following these meetings, we wrote to the Secretary of State for Wales to relay to him some of the concerns we had heard.

 5. During the remainder of the Parliament, we pursued a number of issues through smaller inquiries. We took evidence on job losses in the steel industry in Wales from the Chairman and acting Chief Executive of Corus Group plc on two occasions, focusing on the company's plans to scale down its operations in Wales, which involved the closure of several steelworks, or parts of steelworks. We took evidence from the Post Office about Post Office closures in Wales; this also followed on from the recommendations we made in Social Exclusion in Wales about the importance of tackling financial exclusion and the role of the proposed Universal Bank (ibid, paras. 83 & 84). We also visited two Young Offenders Institutions in England—Ashfield Prison and Young Offender Institution, Pucklechurch, and Eastwood Park Prison, Young Offenders Institution and Remand Centre, Falfield—to examine the situation of young offenders from Wales who were serving their sentences in England. We produced a short Report on the subject, Welsh Young Offenders Held Outside Wales: Interim Report and Proposals for Further Inquiry (Second Report, Session 2000-01, HC 511). This is a subject to which we hope to return during the present Session, possibly in the context of a wider inquiry into children and young people in Wales.

 6. In December, we took evidence on farming and food prices in Wales (Minutes of Evidence taken before the Welsh Affairs Committee on 4 & 11 December 2001, HC 427). This was a follow-up to our Second Report of 1997-98, The Present Crisis in the Welsh Livestock Industry (HC 447), in which we recommended that the Office of Fair Trading should examine the role of the supermarkets in the food chain and the retail pricing of meat (ibid, para. 40). The Competition Commission has recently completed a Report on Supermarkets (Cm 4842), which went some way to meeting this recommendation and we took evidence from them, as well as from organisations representing farmers on a number of issues relating to livestock farming, meat pricing, the role of farmers and supermarkets in the food chain and farming in Wales under a devolved agricultural policy.

 7. On 18 December, we took evidence on the Children's Society in Wales, following their decision to close their operations in the country. We were joined beforehand for informal consideration of the possible lines of questioning by Ann Jones AM, Chair of the Assembly's North Wales Regional Committee and a member of the Health and Social Services Committee, who has taken a close interest in this subject. We had invited members of two Committees: Health & Social Services and Equality of Opportunity, including the Assembly Minister for Health and Social Services. We found this to be a very productive exercise which provides another model for methods of joint working with the Assembly (see The Work of the Committee Since Devolution, para. 30).

Relations with the Wales Office

Departmental Report

 8. After the election, we took evidence from the Secretary of State and Wales Office officials on the Wales Office Departmental Report and other Departmental Matters (Minutes of Evidence taken before the Welsh Affairs Committee on 23 October 2001, HC 298). Although this was an interesting session, which shed some light on the operation of the Wales Office, we are not convinced that the small size of the Office—44 staff, with running costs of around £2.3 million—justifies a full-scale evidence session on the Departmental Report each year. As the Secretary of State pointed out during the meeting, his is essentially a "political office" with few executive functions. We will consider next year whether there is a better way to approach the scrutiny of the Wales Office's performance and budget, perhaps by means of written evidence alone.

Government Responses to Reports

 9. We commented in our first report to the Liaison Committee that the Government was slow in producing responses to our reports; only one of seven responses published in the 1999-2000 Session was on time and one was more than six months late. We noted that the need to co-ordinate responses with the Assembly and the small size of the Wales Office staff had both contributed to these delays and expressed our hope that there would be some improvement in the future. We have received two Government responses since then: on Social Exclusion in Wales (Second Special Report of Session 2000-01, HC 378) and Wales in the World (First Special Report of Session 2001-02, HC 270). Whereas the first of these was only one week late, the response to Wales in the World arrived six and a half months after the Report was published. The Secretary of State wrote to the Chairman to apologise for his failure to provide a response on time and we subsequently raised it with him in the oral evidence session on the Departmental Annual Report (ibid, QQ. 28-30). It appears that the Wales Office initially believed, mistakenly, that a response would not be required following the election, and that the comparatively small size of the Department also contributed to the delay. The Secretary of State has assured us that this will not happen again.

Relations with the National Assembly for Wales

 10. We have continued to enjoy good relations with the National Assembly for Wales. We held meetings with the Assembly's Panel of Committee Chairs on 15 January and 29 November, at which we discussed the future work programme of the Committee and how it could be co-ordinated with the work of the Assembly and its committees. We have also discussed other matters of mutual interest, such as how we handle recommendations on matters falling within the Assembly's responsibilities and access arrangements for AMs at the Palace of Westminster. We are grateful to the Presiding Officer for his efforts to make us feel welcome at Cardiff Bay by allowing us to use our Palace of Westminster passes to gain access to the building; we regret that it has not yet been possible to establish reciprocal arrangements for AMs at Westminster.

 11. On 28 and 29 November we held a series of meetings with individual Committees of the National Assembly:

  • ·  we gave evidence to the Assembly's Committee on Equality of Opportunity on our Report on Social Exclusion in Wales;

  • ·  the Chair and three other members of the Environment, Transport and Planning Committee gave evidence to us on the outcome of their consultation exercise on public transport in Wales, in connection with our inquiry into transport in Wales; and

  • ·  we held an informal meeting with the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee to discuss three areas where the work of our two committees had the potential to overlap (Objective 1, broadband cabling and transport).

This was the first time that representatives of a NAW Committee had given evidence to us and the first time we had given evidence to a Committee of the Assembly. All three meetings were very productive and, although we will continue to look for more co-operative models of joint working with Assembly committees, we believe that the practice of them appearing as witnesses before us and vice versa is one way forward.

 12. The National Assembly has also provided us with written evidence to our inquiry into Transport in Wales and a response to our Report on Wales in the World. As we noted in our first Annual Report, we are always happy to receive a response from the Assembly to our Reports, either as part of a Government response or as a separate document, but we are not in a position require them to provide one. We have also received informal briefings from Assembly officials on broadband cabling (including officials from the Welsh Development Agency) and Objective 1 funding (including officials from the Welsh European Funding Office). We are most grateful to them and to the First Minister for giving his permission for these briefings to take place.

Legislative scrutiny

 13. We have taken note of the recommendations of the Liaison Committee concerning pre-legislative scrutiny in Shifting the Balance (First Report of the Liaison Committee, Session 1999-2000 (HC 300), paras. 61-63), as well as other recent developments in this area such as the Report of the Hansard Society's Commission on the Scrutiny Role of Parliament and the Leader of the House's recent Memorandum to the Modernisation Committee (HC 440, Session 2001-02, paras. 16-25). The Welsh Affairs Committee is in a peculiar position with respect to draft legislation, especially bills which extend to Wales only or England and Wales bills with particular significance in Wales—because they make different provision for Wales and England, for example, because they impinge on the powers of the Assembly, or because the circumstances in Wales mean that the impact of the legislation in practice will be different from that in England. When such a bill is published in draft, it might reasonably be assumed that one or more of the Assembly's committees will examine it. This is the intention with the draft NHS (Wales) Bill which the Government plans to publish this Session, for example. When a bill which extends to, but has no particular special significance for, Wales is published, it falls in the first instance to the relevant departmental select committee to consider it.

 14. Nonetheless, we believe that we have an important role to play in considering primary legislation as it relates to Wales. Before the general election we commissioned a memorandum of evidence from the Government on this subject and it is something to which we hope to return during the course of this Session. It may be that, if we are to engage in systematic examination of bills which relate to Wales, we will need additional resources to do so. We also hope to find time to examine any draft legislation which relates to Wales, provided that this will not involve simply duplicating work which is already being done by the Assembly or by another departmental select committee.

Martyn Jones

Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee

  15 January 2002

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