Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Nick Ainger: I used that phrase because the Minister for Economic Development and Transport might, for example, want to start giving grant aid to a theatre
28 Feb 2006 : Column 148
company that wanted to tour in Europe. That is certainly a distinct possibility and it would be good to promote Wales in that way. The Welsh National Opera already does that. That is why I used the phrase "within their responsibilities". However, as in the case of UK Ministers, Assembly Ministers are not necessarily creatures of statute. They occasionally have to take Executive action that is outwith any legislative provision that they have. That is why we need the clauses in relation to well-being. This is not an unusual way of doing things. The Local Government Act 2000 already gives powers to local authorities to take action and expend money for the benefit and well-being of the people they serve.

Mr. Jones: Does the Minister recognise that the clause could give Assembly Ministers powers to exceed the powers that they already have by virtue of the devolution settlement? My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) expressed that concern, but the Minister has not adequately addressed it.

Nick Ainger: I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman does not feel that I have responded to him. All that we are trying to do with the clauses is provide the same powers that already exist in this place. Members do not complain about the additional powers that UK Ministers can exercise, even though Ministers have not got the right, by statute, to exercise those powers. I referred to the Ram doctrine earlier and although I will not bore the House by going through it, it gives a Minister the ability to exercise power when he feels that it is necessary, as long as he remains accountable to Parliament for those actions. Ministers in the Welsh Assembly will remain fully accountable to the Assembly for all their actions and any money that they expend, in exactly the same way in which UK Ministers are accountable to Parliament now.

Mrs. Gillan: Will the Minister tell me whether the provisions were included in the original Government of Wales Act 1998 and, if so, whether they were in exactly this form?

Nick Ainger: The provisions were not in exactly this form, but we are putting them in this form because we are trying to clarify exactly what Ministers can do and what the limits are.

The hon. Lady also asked about a Minister's ability to act outside Wales. I touched on a good example. If the Welsh National Opera was doing a major tour of Europe that could be used to promote Wales and help economic development and tourism, the relevant Minister could subsidise part of that tour as a way of promoting well-being in Wales.

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again; at least we are having a dialogue on the matter. If Ministers are going to act within the provisions of schedule 5 and the devolved powers, why does it not say that in the Bill? Why is the Minister, at this stage, giving Assembly Ministers the same level and breadth of powers as full Ministers in the UK? Surely
28 Feb 2006 : Column 149
this is another example of the devolution settlement being breached and broadened without people appreciating it.

Nick Ainger: No, to return to the point that I made earlier, section 40 of the Government of Wales Act 1998 already gives similar powers, but these clauses clarify the situation so that there is no confusion. Following advice, we believe that clarification in this form is necessary.

The hon. Lady was asking about Ministers' ability to exercise powers. These are executive functions to be exercised by Ministers and they will be subject to the scrutiny of the Assembly and, certainly, if any funding is involved, to the scrutiny of the Audit Committee.

Mr. David Jones: I am grateful to the Minister for his generosity in giving way. Will he turn his mind to clause 60(4)(c), which gives Welsh Ministers power to exercise any function

Would that give a Welsh Minister the power to exercise a function given to him on an agency basis by a UK Minister, for example?

Nick Ainger: The well-being power is there to assist the people of Wales. Clause 60(1) sets out the objects to which that power applies. The answer is yes, if it could be shown that an individual outside Wales could perform a duty that was to the benefit and for the well-being of people in Wales, that would not be outwith the clause.

The power to promote well-being is closely modelled on similar powers given to local authorities in section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000. Local authorities, too, were given that power to reduce uncertainty over their powers to act where there was no specific power relevant to what they wanted to do even though it would benefit people in their area. A similar provision was included in section 30 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, for similar reasons. The power would not alter any existing function of Ministers of the Crown, and there are specific constraints on Welsh Ministers, such as the prohibition on doing anything incompatible with Community law, so those functions do not need to be restated. The power would not override the International Development Act 2002.

Mrs. Gillan: The Minister appears to have made two conflicting statements. I think that I am correct in saying that, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones), he said that under these clauses it will be possible for a Welsh Minister to exercise the functions of a UK Minister. However, he has just said that this provision does not alter the position of a Minister of the Crown. Perhaps I do not understand, but the two statements appear to be conflicting and I should be grateful for clarification.

Nick Ainger: To clarify the point, I am certainly not suggesting that a Minister would be able suddenly to take on the functions of a UK Minister. I am suggesting
28 Feb 2006 : Column 150
that, if a UK Minister were in a position to assist the good people of Wales, and there was a requirement for funds to be provided, that would be possible under these clauses.

The amendments seek to remove or constrain the power to promote or improve the well-being of Wales to such an extent that it would become meaningless. It would create uncertainty over the powers of Welsh Ministers to act where there was no specific power relevant to what they wanted to do, even though it would be for the benefit of the people of their area. For the reasons that I have outlined, we believe that the power is necessary, as it has been for local government and the Greater London Authority.

Amendment No. 65 would remove clause 70, which would make no sense. The power already exists for the Assembly in section 85 of the Government of Wales Act, and is being transferred to Welsh Ministers by the Bill. The removal of the clause would restrict the ability of Welsh Ministers to carry out executive functions.

5 pm

Amendment No. 66 is unnecessary. The power in the clause is identical to one in section 40 of the Government of Wales Act. Although the provision is for the Assembly as a whole, the function in question is an Executive function, which is better carried out by Welsh Ministers. Welsh Ministers are accountable for their actions. If their actions were deemed unreasonable, they would be subject to action by the Assembly or by the Audit Committee, and potentially to judicial review.

Mrs. Gillan: Will the Minister deal with my question about the Counsel General, please?

Nick Ainger: I think that I touched on that. The Counsel General would be in a position to expend moneys to ensure that prosecutions took place, and I specifically mentioned that he could take action to assist other authorities in bringing prosecutions. Although he would not be given specific powers under schedule 5 or following the enactment of part 4, the Counsel General would be able to assist other authorities in bringing prosecutions; at present, no statute gives him the power to do that.

We have had a good explanation. I hope that I have reassured the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham that the powers are not, as she suspects, huge and wide-ranging, unrestricted either by statute or by the Assembly. Far from it. We are making sensible arrangements so that Welsh Ministers can exercise Executive functions to benefit the people of Wales. I ask her to withdraw the amendment.

Mrs. Gillan: I understand why, from time to time, Ministers—whether in Westminster or in the Assembly—need to exercise Executive powers, but I am not fully satisfied by the explanation that the Minister has given. A lot of points still need to be clarified, and it is unfortunate that we will not be able to do that at this stage. The fact that the clauses are closely modelled on provisions for the Greater London Authority and local
28 Feb 2006 : Column 151
authorities has little bearing, because, as we have often heard, the Assembly in Wales is different from the Greater London Authority and local authorities. If there are similarities, one would hope for consistency across government and that Ministers would apply the changes that they intend to make to the electoral system in Wales to the electoral arrangements for the GLA and the Scottish Parliament.

The way in which the Minister has presented his explanation has led to confusion. I am not entirely convinced that under the clauses as drafted it would not be possible for a Minister to take on the functions of a Member of this House or a member of the Government on an agency basis. His assurance that the clauses clarify and limit what Ministers can and cannot do is as nothing, because there is nothing limiting in them. Ministers may well be subject to scrutiny by the Assembly—so they should be—and by the Audit Committee; none the less, the powers given under the two clauses remain unfettered.

I want Welsh Ministers and the Assembly always to do things that assist the people of Wales, but I do not want them to have powers that could be abused or are wider than they should have at this stage. To bring Welsh Ministers into line with UK Ministers is yet another way of devolving by the back door.

Once again, the Government should have been honest about devolution, and perhaps they should have gone the whole hog and held a referendum. However, they have not done so—they are salami-slicing, as the Father of the House has said. The provision is another slice of salami, and it is being made by stealth, rather than in an open fashion. Amendments Nos. 64 and 66 are small amendments, as I mentioned. They do not fundamentally alter Ministers' ability to ensure the well-being of Wales, but they clarify the position and provide the limits that the Under-Secretary believes exist in clauses 60 and 70 as drafted.

Next Section IndexHome Page