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I thought that the hon. Gentleman said that I was rambling. My lip-reading skills are obviously not as good as they used to be. I am rambling slightly, because I am perplexed by this clause.
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Perhaps Welsh Ministers could provide me with a few staff. The Opposition can always do with staff, because support is thin on the ground for Opposition Members. The staff we have are very able, but perhaps I could apply to Welsh Ministers for more staff, or goods and services, or even accommodation when I visit Wales, because it would appear that such provision is within the ambit of clause 60.
"This clause gives the First Minister, the Welsh Ministers and the Counsel General the power to give financial assistance (whether by grant, loan or guarantee) to any person engaged in any activity which the Welsh Ministers consider will secure, or help to secure, the attainment of any objective which they aim to achieve in the exercise of their functions. Conditions may be attached to such assistance."
As if it is not sufficient that under clause 60 Ministers may do anything for anybody who is, in their judgment, furthering the aims in subsection (1)(a), (b) and (c), they can also give money, by way of a grant, loan or guarantee, to anybody, anywhere, who is engaged in any activity that
It thus appears that Welsh Ministers could decide to be the mortgagors of their own houses or the houses of their staff. They could offer grants to businesses coming to Walesindeed, any assistance whatever. How will the provisions sit with European legislation on offering grants? Under the Bill, anything that a Minister wanted to do in exercise of his or her functions could be accompanied by giving financial assistance to third parties.
We have already debated the Counsel General and as I understand it that individual need not be an elected Member of the Assemblyanyone at all could be appointedyet if the section applies to the Counsel General, that person can give
"financial assistance . . . to any person engaged in any activity which the Welsh Ministers consider will secure, or help to secure, the attainment of any objective which they aim to attain in the exercise of any of their functions".
mean that the First Minister will be able to make similar decisions in relation to Welsh Ministers. If a Welsh Minister required a residence to further his aims, would the First Minister be able to provide the funding from taxpayers' money, perhaps on advantageous terms? We do not know what conditions would be attached, under subsection (2), to the repayment of any moneys paid out by the First Minister. Will it be a slush fund that allows anybody to have access to any money at any time to do anything that they want?
I could be wrong and it will be interesting to hear the Minister's interpretation of those two clauses, but as they stand, they would pass to the Assembly Government, to Ministers and to a possibly non-elected Counsel General, broad and sweeping powers with no let, stay or hindrance.
I have tabled two small and reasonable amendments and if, after I have listened to the Minister, I am not satisfied, I may want to vote on them. On page 35, at line 38 of clause 60, I propose the insertion of the words "within their powers", to act as a limit or brake on the provisions. Likewise in clause 70, I propose including the word "reasonable", because a test of reasonableness is needed on the wide powers granted under clauses 60 and 70.
I am sad that we did not have time to explore those matters in Committee, but I am grateful that we have been able to do so on Report. I very much look forward to what the Minister has to say about the two clauses.
Nick Ainger: Perhaps I can help the hon. Lady. I will try to respond to all the points that she made, but first I should give a clear explanation of clauses 60, 70 and 71. Clause 60, on the promotion of well-being, has been included so that, together with clauses 70 and 71, Welsh Ministers will have available to them the wide general powers that UK Ministers have inherently as Ministers of the Crown. That is known as the Ram doctrine, which was established, if my memory serves me right, on 2 November 1945.
Given the nature of the Welsh devolution settlement, we believe that those clauses are the best way to give Welsh Ministers comparable general powers within their responsibilities. That will remove the uncertainty that relates to section 40 of the Government of Wales Act 1998. The provisions will empower the Welsh Assembly Government to pursue a range of actions for which there is no specific statutory power.
The hon. Lady asked for certain examples of how such powers will be exercised. They could include, for example, taking action to promote sustainable development and joint working with other public bodies to improve public services. She asked about the environment, and the powers could include taking action to promote energy efficiency in Wales. Another
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example is collaborating with other bodies, especially in the public sector, whose functions are not devolvedfor example, supporting the police in tackling drug-related issues. Hon. Members have raised such issues on a number of occasions at Welsh questions.
A further example is providing appropriate information to prosecutorsthis perhaps relates to the hon. Lady's question about the Counsel Generaland regulatory bodies to assist them in considering whether to bringing cases to court. Another example is disseminating information that is of benefit to the public sector or the wider publicfor example, joining in a recent campaign on responding to civil emergencies. Those are examples where Ministers do not have the power to intervene to take executive action, but those issues are in line with the responsibilities of UK Ministers. Section 40 of the Government of Wales Act 1998 gives Welsh Ministers certain powers, but these clauses will clarify their roles.
Nick Ainger: First, there is a limit in that every bit of expenditure will be subject to the Audit Committee. The hon. Lady suggested that Ministers could offer mortgages to members of staff. Clearly, they would not be allowed to do that: the Audit Committee would jump most heavily on a Minister if such action was considered.
Nick Ainger: I shall come to the limits of the word "anything", but I was responding to the question that the hon. Lady asked about European law. Clause 70 is subject to Community law rules on non-discrimination and the free movement of goods and services, so any action by a Welsh Minister will be constrained by Community law in that respect.
The hon. Lady asked about limitations on the power of well-being. Other limits are already set out in the Billfor example, on human rights in clause 80, on Community law in clause 79 and on international obligations in clause 81.
Mr. David Jones: I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) was expressing the concern that, on the face of it, these powers could exceed the powers that are conferred in relation to matters and fields that are devolved to Assembly Ministers. The Minister has already said that the powers would enable Assembly Ministers to exercise such functions "within the area of their responsibility". However, that phrase does not appear in the Bill. Could the matter not be simply resolved and clarified by adopting the wording that my hon. Friend suggests or that the Minister himself has just used?
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