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Council Tax Benefit (Pensions Entitlement)

Tony Baldry accordingly presented a Bill to provide that persons who own their own homes and are in receipt of state pension should automatically receive council tax benefit; to require local authorities to inform all such persons about their rights to council tax benefit; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 16 June, and to be printed [Bill 116].

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Government of Wales Bill

[2nd Allotted Day]

Considered in Committee [Progress, 23 January].

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

[Relevant documents: The First Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 2005–06, Government White Paper: Better Governance for Wales, HC 551, and the Government's response thereto, Third Special Report of the Committee, Session 2005–06, HC 839, are relevant.]

Clause 94

Amendment of Schedule 5

Amendment proposed [23 January]: No. 180, in page 51, line 26, after 'Assembly', insert
'in which the number of Assembly members voting in favour of it is not less than two thirds of the total number of Assembly seats'.—[Mr. Grieve.]
4.43 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following: Amendment No. 154, in page 51, line 28, after 'approved', insert '(i)'.

Amendment No. 155, in page 51, line 29, at end insert


(ii)   has been laid before each House of Parliament and has been approved by a resolution of the House of Commons, but has been rejected by the House of Lords.

(5A)   If subsection (5)(b)(ii) applies, the Order in Council shall not take affect until one year has elapsed since the date on which the House of Commons came to the resolution.'.

Amendment No. 27, in page 51, line 29, at end insert—

'(5A)   In the event of approval of a draft statutory instrument by the Assembly, as specified in subsection (5)(a), but there not being within 60 days of that approval, an approval by a resolution of each House of Parliament as specified in subsection (5)(b), subsection (5) shall cease to have effect in the case of that draft statutory instrument, and the procedure specified in subsection (5B) will then apply to that draft statutory instrument.

(5B)   The procedure which will apply in cases specified in subsection (5A) will be that no recommendation is to be made to Her Majesty in Council to make an Order in Council under this section unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the Order in Council—

(a)   has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the Assembly, and

(b)   the resolution of the Assembly is passed on a vote in which the number of Assembly members voting in favour of it is not less than two-thirds of the total number of Assembly seats.'.

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Amendment No. 187, in page 51, line 29, at end insert—

'(5A)   Any draft of an Order in Council laid before Parliament under this section must be accompanied by—

(a)   a detailed memorandum setting out the scope of the proposal, its practical effects on Wales and the legislative authority that would pass to the National Assembly, and

(b)   a draft of the proposed Assembly Measure.

(5B)   Before an Order in Council is subject to a resolution of both Houses of Parliament, the Secretary of State must make a motion to refer the draft of the Order in Council, along with the draft Assembly Measure, to the Welsh Grand Committee for consideration.

(5C)   A report of the debate in the Welsh Grand Committee on the draft Order in Council and Assembly Measure must have been available to both Houses of Parliament for a period of not less than 60 days before any Order in Council is made under this section.'.

Amendment No. 211, in page 51, line 29, at end insert—

'(5A)   But subsection (5) is not satisfied unless the resolution of the Assembly is passed on a vote in which the number of Assembly members voting in favour of it is not less than two-thirds of the total number of Assembly seats.'.

Amendment No. 212, in page 51, line 29, at end insert—

'(5A)   But subsection (5) is not satisfied unless, before the draft of the statutory instrument containing the Order in Council has been approved by a resolution of the House of Commons

(a)   the Welsh Grand Committee has debated the draft, and

(b)   the Welsh Affairs Committee has reported to the effect that it approves the draft.'.

Amendment No. 122, in page 51, line 38, leave out 'either'.

Amendment No. 123, in page 51, line 39, leave out from 'Parliament' to end of line 1 on page 52.

Amendment No. 181, in page 51, line 39, leave out from 'Parliament' to end of line 41.

Amendment No. 53, in page 51, line 40, at beginning insert 'if subsection (7A) applies,'.

Amendment No. 54, in page 51, line 41, at end insert—

'(7A)   This subsection applies only if the Secretary of State has reason to believe that the Assembly Measure made under the order—

(a)   would have an adverse effect no any matter which is not specified in Part 1 of Schedule 5,

(b)   might have a serious adverse impact on water resources in England, water supply in England or the quality of water in England,

(c)   would have an adverse impact on the law as it applies in England, or

(d)   would be incompatible with any international obligation or the interests of defence or national security.'.

New clause 4—Refusal to lay draft statutory instrument—

'In the event of approval of a draft statutory instrument by the Assembly, as specified in section 94 (5) (a), followed by a refusal to lay that draft statutory instrument before each House of Parliament, as specified in section 94 (7) (b), the Counsel General or the Assembly may refer to the Supreme Court for decision the
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question whether the Secretary of State's decision to refuse to lay the draft statutory instrument was made reasonably in the circumstances and intra vires.'.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): Sir Alan, as I was saying only at 10 o'clock last night—

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): It seems like only yesterday.

Nick Ainger: Indeed it does. We were discussing the group of amendments beginning with No. 180, and I was talking about the proposal in the amendment that would require a two-thirds majority before any Order in Council process could begin. I was saying that the Order in Council process is one that is completely different from the Order in Council that would introduce a referendum on primary powers for the Assembly. It is a completely and utterly different order. An Order in Council, for example, that would have brought in the legislation that would have enabled the Assembly to consider the legislation on the public administration ombudsman or transport in Wales would be very different.

4.45 pm

I wish to remind the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) of the situation when parties present their manifestos at election time. If the Welsh Assembly Government that is formed in 2007 is elected on the basis of a manifesto commitment and if that commitment needs new legislation to be delivered, it would be a clear basis for a proposed Order in Council to enable the Assembly to legislate on that matter. With the electoral arrangements that we have for the National Assembly for Wales, it is unlikely that the ruling group or party would have a two-thirds majority. The hon. Gentleman's proposal would mean that a party or group of parties, having fought an election on a proposal, would not be able to legislate for that proposal.

Even when no specific manifesto commitment is involved, such a request will not come out of the blue. To take the transport example that I mentioned earlier, I placed in the Library the Order in Council example with its explanatory memorandum. Before the draft Bill came before the House, we had a full report by the relevant Assembly subject Committee, which led to the conclusion that the Assembly needed further powers to enable it to play a more effective strategic role in transport in Wales. Opposition Members should recognise the fact that the Assembly, as a democratic institution, has an open process for debating and developing policy, as does the Welsh Assembly Government. The requirement for a two-thirds majority before an Order in Council could be introduced is wholly disproportionate.

Amendments Nos. 187 and 212 address an important issue that has been mentioned by right hon. and hon. Members, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). On Second Reading and on several other occasions, he raised the issue of pre-legislative scrutiny and how it will be carried out. I recognise the importance of pre-legislative scrutiny in the proposal for Orders in Council. Several interventions have been made on that point and I am
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grateful for the many suggestions that have been made as to how that process could be conducted, including the proposals in amendment No. 187.

I should say immediately that I do not think that it is right that the Government should prescribe in the Bill how such scrutiny must be conducted, but that is what amendment No. 187 suggests. That would not allow parliamentarians the proper discretion to determine the most appropriate arrangements. However, in my letter to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) of 17 January, which was circulated and placed in the Library, and which covered the illustrative examples of Orders in Council, I outlined the normal procedure that I envisaged for scrutiny of such proposals. It may be helpful if I run through them again for the benefit of the Committee.

When the Assembly has a proposal, it will discuss it with the UK Government. If broad agreement were reached, the Assembly would produce a proposed draft Order in Council—this is the difference between what is set out in amendment No. 187 and what I propose in my letter. The proposed draft Order in Council would be accompanied by an explanatory memorandum, as is shown in the examples attached to the letter. It is worth pointing out that the proposed draft Order in Council could be amended, which would mean that more weight would be given to pre-legislative scrutiny than would be the case if the process of scrutiny did not allow amendments to be made, which I understand is what is set out in amendment No. 187.

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