Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Written evidence from Citizens Advice Cymru



  A new Government of Wales Act coming out of the recommendations in the white paper "Better Governance for Wales" would presumably repeal all of the measures in the existing Government of Wales Act 1998. Some of these measures are of particular interest to charities such as ours and we have particular comments to make in relation to these measures.


  Section 114 of the Government of Wales Act currently includes the duty to ". . . make a scheme setting out how it propose, in the exercise of its functions, to promote the interests of relevant voluntary organisations" and has provided a formal framework of how it engages with the Voluntary Sector through the Voluntary Sector Partnership Council (VSPC) and biannual meetings between Ministers and relevant voluntary sector networks.

  We would have concerns over how a new Act would affect the current relationship and dynamic of these arrangements. Firstly, we would hope that the formal relationship with Voluntary Sector Networks through the VSPC would still include the membership of Assembly Members from all parties and representatives of the Voluntary Sector. This enables an open dialogue and an opportunity for scrutiny of WAG policies in relation to the Voluntary Sector. We have questions about the potential change in the role between Ministers, as part of the newly constituted Executive of the Assembly, with the Voluntary Sector.

  We would like to ensure that the ownership of the Voluntary Sector Scheme and its development, particularly in relation to the funding relationship through the Code of Funding would remain with the Assembly in terms of adoption in plenary, resulting in an annual publication and a review following each election. We would also want to retain the role of the VSPC in scrutinising the WAG compliance with the Scheme and also the robust monitoring and review of its implementation and development.

  We would strongly advocate maintaining the independence of the voluntary sector in terms of determining the membership of the VSPC and its formulation of networks and representatives to Ministerial meetings.


  The WAG already consults widely about changes it proposes in secondary legislation. We would want this process to be retained and suggest that the new Act build in a requirement for this, ie those relevant interest groups/individuals should always be consulted.

  S31 of the 1998 Act requires the Secretary of State to consult with the Assembly about the Westminster government's legislative programme. We would want this process to be retained, although under a new Act, the consultation will presumably be with the WAG rather than the Assembly. We suggest that charities such as ours be copied in on this consultation and be given an opportunity to feed in their own proposals to the WAG in an open and transparent manner.


  S48 and s120 of the 1998 Act build in requirements for the Assembly to carry out its work and functions so as to facilitate equality of opportunity. We would want these provisions to be retained as a minimum and be revisited in terms of the requirements to address inequalities.

  It should be remembered that that voluntary sector has a duty under charity law to its principles in the delivery of services, which tie into the aims for placing citizens at the centre of public services delivery and also in aspiring to equality and justice for all. Further, it needs to be acknowledged that the voluntary sector in many cases may go beyond current government agenda in terms of addressing inequalities and our input will be useful in this process to challenge and monitor the effectiveness of public services in Wales.

  We would expect the new Act would make stronger provisions to reflect the principle of addressing inequalities, particularly given the new culture of placing the citizen at the centre of public service delivery plans, through the Making the Connections policy agenda.


  The 1998 Act sets out in some detail what committees should be established and the membership of the committees, whereas the white paper is proposing that it should be left to the Assembly to decide on what committees it wants (see paragraphs 2.15 and 2.16).

  We would strongly suggest the role of the regional committees is maintained and strengthened as it is a very effective means of having a direct dialogue with WAG Ministers and Assembly elected representatives on both the agenda subjects and on any matter raised in the open forum.

  We would also strongly suggest that the current level of access to participate in committee proceedings eg a right to feed in written comments on any agenda item and to make presentations and representations to committees is at least maintained and even enhanced in any new committee structure. This is particularly important given the proposals to develop the culture of scrutiny "on traditional parliamentary lines" and to remove the provision in the Act requiring Ministers to be members of relevant subject committees. There will be a growing need within the voluntary sector, as part of the wider lobbying society, to be able to participate as far as possible in this scrutiny function.


  S70 of the 1998 Act requires that most proceedings, including those of the committees, should be open. This should be retained and we urge the greatest degree of openness that is compatible with government business.


  The issue of handling publications by the Assembly as a legislature and from the Welsh Assembly Government is an issue of openness, ie making things publicly available. In this respect, s119 of the 1998 Act makes some requirements about publication and charging for them, but is silent about electronic publication. The times, and the internet, have moved on since 1998 and we have made representations about the deficiencies in the usability and the accessibility of information on the Assembly's website is.

  It would be reasonable to require a new Assembly and WAG:

    (a)  to maintain a website;

    (b)  to ensure all documents are promptly published both in paper and in electronic form;

    (c)  to publish all legislation and guidance in its draft as well as the final form; and

    (d)  to ensure that the website is well-structured so as to enable documents to be readily located.

  The requirement for prompt publication is particularly important in view of the dilatory way in which some things go onto the present site.


  Citizens Advice across England and Wales has a mandate to change policy in order to improve the lives of our clients and population as a whole through policy change. There are many examples of how evidence from Citizens Advice has informed and formulated policy change and in turn, legislative change in Westminster and Cardiff which have an UK-wide impact or a Wales-wide impact eg statutory tenancy deposit scheme, minimum school uniform grant, changes to the prescription charges scheme, changes to credit licensing laws.

  The new provisions proposed would need to be coupled with the guarantee that the Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly as a legislature, has the capacity to handle its new powers and that the right environment is created in order to cultivate positive legislative proposals that will bring real benefit to the people of Wales. This means that eg Orders in Council and subsequent legislation may need to be drafted in conjunction with organisations like ourselves and this requires additional capacity on both sides of the lobbying environment. We would hope that the office of the Council General will be given the sufficient resources to cope with the new demands that this environment will create so that the National Assembly can become more responsive to the needs of civil society in Wales. We would also hope that the National Assembly will also be given the sufficient level of resources to scrutinise this legislative role.

November 2005

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