Draft Government of Wales Act 2006 (Consequential Modifications and Transitional Provisions) Order 2007

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Nick Ainger: I referred to that.
Mr. Jones: The Minister says that that is the case.
Will the Minister also explain why it was decided to pursue the procedure provided for in paragraph 31(8) of schedule 11 to the 2006 Act—that is, the Assembly recommendation route—rather than the parliamentary route, which is provided for in paragraph 31(7)? At first sight, it appears to me that using the parliamentary procedure would have been more convenient and perhaps more logical, but I am sure that there is an explanation, which I look forward to hearing.
The effect of paragraph 3 of schedule 2 to theorder is to transfer the competence for the making of subordinate legislation in respect of travel concessions—that is, legislation relating the Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Act 2002 and the Enterprise Act 2002—to the Assembly. Will the Minister please explain why the decision was taken to transfer such functions and why that transfer could not have been provided for in the 2006 Act itself, given that it has only recently passed through Parliament?
Paragraph 4 of schedule 2 provides for additional functions to be subject to scrutiny by the Assembly. A large number of such functions are inserted into tables 1 and 2 in paragraph 35 of schedule 11 to the 2006 Act as a result of the order. Will the Minister please explain why such scrutiny powers were not included in the Act when it was considered originally by Parliament?
Subject to the answers to those somewhat technical questions, I once again commend the Wales Office officials on what must have been an extraordinarily difficult task. I trust that the new Assembly, when it is constituted, will appreciate that hard work.
I shall turn briefly to the shorter of the two statutory instruments—that is, the regulations on access to election documents. These are clearly desirable and sensible measures, providing as they do for the important issue of access to and inspection of documents that will be in the custody of local electoral registration officers, rather than the National Assembly as previously.
I have only one question, and I hope the Minister can help me. It relates to the cost of producingcopy marked registers and other documents, whichare important tools to all political parties. Is it intended—as I hope would be the case—that a uniform pricing system will be prescribed in respect of the production of such documents? It would be unfortunate and, I would suggest, wrong if individual local authorities were to be entitled to impose their own pricing regimes in respect of producing such documents, given their importance to political parties as part of the political process.
I have no other observations to make, except to thank the Minister once again for his clear explanation of the draft instruments.
10.51 am
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): I have one or two brief questions. Following the points made by the hon. Member for Clwyd, West, am I correct in thinking that the transitional provisions referred to in paragraph 4 of the order in relation to the Transport (Wales) Act 2006 and the Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Act 2006 would mostly have been transacted after the passage of the Government of Wales Act 2006? If so, the Government could not have done it any other way, but I would not mind seeing if my understanding is correct there.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, West, makes a valid point about the cost of producing electoral documents for those who require them. Can the Minister also say how long electoral officers will be required to retain them? The Conservative spokesman also made a point about standard fees, which are vital matters in any election scenario.
I am sure that the Minister will respond in due course on those points. Apart from that, I echo what the hon. Member for Clwyd, West says: a lot of work has gone into this order. In the light of what I said earlier, I believe that much of it does could not have been done sooner. I do not entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the usefulness of the notes. Perhaps I am a bit behind on these matters, but some of them were not exactly the most useful that I have seen in my life. Having said that, I am sure that every effort was made to assist us, and having no further comments I do not wish to delay the Committee further. I am pleased that the order has been laid; it is totally non-contentious.
10.53 am
Mr. Bone: What is the Government’s view on why more power is being given to the Executive and Ministers, and taken away from the Assembly? I thought that the whole point of devolution was to get government closer to the people. If we were talking about this Parliament, I would be arguing strongly as a matter of principle for powers to be taken from the Executive and returned to Parliament.
On the technical issue, the Minister’s opening remarks covered the situation regarding the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments fairly rapidly. Could he go over that in a little more detail, as it is unusual for the Committee to correct a draft statutory instrument? I was not quite clear whether it was corrected before coming for consideration to the Committee, or by the Committee itself. I would likean explanation of the actual differences that the Committee, or the counsel to the Committee,picked up.
My last point is on the draft regulations. Do they follow exactly the regulations applicable in England in relation to electoral law and the marked electoral register, or are there differences? Were those differences, if any, decided on by the UK Government, or were the views of the Assembly taken into account?
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Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Martlew. I shall be brief, surrounded as I am by incisive legal brains. I shall make some general observations about the orders, although the Minister has gone some way to allaying some of my concerns.
I appreciate that many of the changes are procedural and are a consequence of the passage of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Like the hon. Member for Clwyd, West, I question why many of the changes could not have been made by the Act rather than through statutory instrument. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy made a valid point about legislation that has been passed subsequently, but many of the changes are to legislation that was passedmore than 10 years ago, such as the Disability Discrimination Act, the Local Government Act and the Sex Discrimination Act. That we are now confronted with a huge volume of modifications to those Acts suggests that there were some omissions from the Government of Wales Bill. Provisions that we are briefly considering now could have been debated more fully and amended at the Committee stage. I should be interested to hear the Minister’s viewson that.
My other concern is general and echoes the point that the hon. Member for Wellingborough made. The provisions transfer powers from Assembly Members to Assembly Ministers. Many will be legitimate transfers, but there is a general concern that power is moving from the Assembly to the Executive. The Assembly must be consulted and allowed to vote on decisions wherever possible; the creation of the Executive, which I support, must not lead to seepage of power away from elected Members to Ministers.
The Minister alluded to the fact that the issues that we are discussing will impact on the way in which the Assembly operates. The Assembly has now been dissolved, as we are in an election period. Will the Minister reiterate the timetable, as we are debating the matter during an election period? Otherwise, I support what the Minister said.
Mr. Llwyd: On a point of order, Mr. Martlew. To correct the hon. Gentleman, the Assembly is not dissolved; it is dissolved only a minute before the vote is counted.
The Chairman: That is not a matter for the Chairman—not this Chairman, anyway.
Mark Williams: I stand corrected and thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.
10.57 am
Nick Ainger: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy for making that point. He is absolutely correct. The statutory instruments are therefore not covered by what used to be called purdah, which, in these politically correct days, is called the pre-election period.
A number of questions have been asked and I shall try to respond to them. If I do not respond to all of them, I shall write to hon. Members. A number of colleagues made the point that the legislation givesthe impression that powers will be concentrated in the hands of a few Ministers. That is true; when we had the debates on what became the Government of Wales Act 2006, every party in the House recognised the need for a separate Executive and legislature. The provisions merely confirm that. The Executive functions that already rest with the Assembly Ministers will not be changed. It is clear that the power lies with the Ministers and that they are directly accountable to the Assembly. All parties thought that that was a good move, so I am surprised that some colleagues have raised that issue today.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, West, asked about the Counsel General and why he or she was not to be subject to the provisions of the Race Relations Act or the Disability Discrimination Act. The reason is that he or she will be part of the Assembly Government in the same way as any other Minister or the First Minister. Therefore, it is a political appointment and it will be consistent with the other appointments of the First Minister, the other Welsh Ministers and even the deputy Welsh Ministers, if they are appointed. The Counsel General will be treated in exactly the sameway as the other members of the Welsh Assembly Government.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the diversion of functions order and why it went through the Assembly process, through to the Privy Council, rather than through the parliamentary process. Both options were available, but as the order deals with the diversion of functions to the Assembly, it was suitable for the Assembly to consider it. I am sure that the usual channels would prefer that, bearing in mind the level of business that has to go through this House. Where it is possible to go through a proper, democratically accountable process, which the Assembly follows as we do here, it can be an advantage to see that sort of business going through the Assembly, because it is basically an internal issue for the Assembly.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about schedule 2 to the order—the transitional provisions—and asked why they were not in the 2006 Act itself. Basically, as the hon. Gentleman indicated, an awful lot of work has been done in cross-referencing legislation and so on. A further trawl of legislation turned up more enactments where transitional provisions were needed, which were not originally picked up when the Government of Wales Bill was laid before the House.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough asked about the access to election documents, and whether they were similar to those in England. I am advised that the answer is essentially no. However, the regulations work by applying the provisions in the regulations covering parliamentary elections, modified only so far as to reflect the different document used in the Assembly elections. In principle, therefore, they are the same, but in fact, because different references are made, they are slightly different.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion asked why there are so many changes happening now. Basically, it is because these are purely consequential and transitional arrangements following on from the enactment of the Government of Wales Act 2006, and they are often simple textual amendments to Acts resulting from the policy that we have agreed that the matters in question should lie with the Assembly Ministers rather than with the Assembly.
I think that I have covered all the questions—
Mr. Bone: Will the Minister deal with the point about the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments?
Nick Ainger: The problem was spotted by one of the staff of the Joint Committee. The Joint Committee looks for any inaccuracies or errors, typographical or otherwise, before an order goes before the Committee. The error, which related to the commencement date and was nothing major, was spotted before then. That was all it was. I hope that reassures hon. Gentleman.
Mr. David Jones: There was one further point, which related to the use of the term “Cabinet”.
Nick Ainger: That is a very important point. I had better write to the hon. Gentleman about it.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Government of Wales Act 2006 (Consequential Modifications and Transitional Provisions) Order 2007.


That the Committee has considered the draft Representation of the People (National Assembly for Wales) (Access to Election Documents) Regulations 2007.—[Nick Ainger.]
Committee rose at six minutes past Eleven o’clock.
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