Draft National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) (No.2) Order 2006

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Mr. Evans: Speaking as someone who is Welsh and who used to live there, I cannot see any reason at all why people ought not to be able to tick a box that says that they are Welsh and living in Wales. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it might be useful to learn how many Welsh people are living in England, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland, too?
Hywel Williams: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Cosmologists suggest that there is a lot of dark matter out there, and in census terms there is a lot of dark matter in England and in Scotland and Northern Ireland—that is, the Welsh, particularly the Welsh speakers, who live mainly in England. I understand that there are about 30,000 of them. It would be also be interesting to know about that, although perhaps I am running ahead of myself.
I was saying that there was a great deal of outrage and unhappiness in Wales about the 2001 census. The national statistician was perceived, rightly or wrongly, as arrogant and unwilling to listen to the arguments—then he was willing to listen, but not prepared to move. There was a certain amount of confusion. I hope that, given the transfer, we can avoid that unhappy situation in future.
Hon. Members neglected to say that we in Plaid Cymru distributed ready-made stickers to attach to the 2001 census form—with the encouragement, I might say, of 60 Welsh town councils and eight Welsh local authorities, all of which were in favour of a tick box for Wales. We distributed 190,000 of the things. I do not know how many were used, but it is a measure of the unhappiness felt that 190,000 individuals were ready and willing to take one, if not attach it to the census.
I hope and trust that the situation will not be repeated. Is there any recommendation on how the Assembly should consult with the population of Wales in respect of making a recommendation? I suppose that that is a matter for the Assembly. However, I hope that it will consult as widely as possible. I have black friends who want to call themselves “black Welsh”; I do not know whether that could be accommodated. It has already been mentioned that some people would like to call themselves “British”, and that should be accommodated as well. Perhaps that complexity can be considered before the next census. I hope that there will be as wide an ability as possible for the census form to be modified for specifically Welsh needs.
Mr. Evans: I am not even sure about tick boxes any more—the issue goes wider than that. Surely there should be a blank space in which people can describe themselves as they see themselves. Polish and Ukrainian people are moving into Wales and have done so for many years: Polish Welsh, Ukrainian Welsh—the list is endless.
Hywel Williams: For salience, identities should be Welsh, British or Scottish. That is the salient point. As someone with a passing knowledge of statistics, I think that a large number of categories would be a nightmare. We should confine the options to the most obvious ones.
Lastly, I should like to make a couple of broader points. Following the 2001 census, Plaid Cymru made several calls for an inquiry of sorts into the decision-making process leading up to it. Can the Minister tell me whether there was such an inquiry and what conclusions were reached? My party also called for an office of national statistics for Wales in the hope that such a problem could be avoided in future.
3.8 pm
Nick Ainger: I am grateful to Opposition Members for their contributions, which are genuinely welcome. As the hon. Member for Clwyd, West asked a large number of questions, I shall first deal with some of the points made by other Members.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion asked about the extra questions that the Assembly may wish to see on the census form. I assure him that that decision is for the Assembly. If it wanted a certain question about nationality or whatever, that would be agreed. Obviously, a lot of consultation will take place in the next few months. We want to get it right; we do not want a repetition of what happened in 2001, and that is one of the main reasons why we are discussing the order.
Mr. Evans: The Minister says that questions would be agreed, but they would come only at a cost. Clearly, the Treasury would say, “If you want six other questions, we are amenable, as long as the Welsh Assembly Government know that they would have to pay this much for them to appear.”
Nick Ainger: Yes, as I said, I do not think that there would be a huge cost attached to sticking a question on the form; it is the analysis that would incur costs. The basic principle is that, if the additional question or questions add cost to the process, the Treasury would expect the Assembly Government to pay, and the money would come out of their general budget. That is perfectly reasonable.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon asked whether an inquiry followed the problems in 2001. The background is that, by the time that the Assembly was formed in 1999, the key decisions on the 2001 census had already been taken. Clearly, the Assembly is heavily involved in the planning and preparations for the 2011 census and is represented at all levels of census governance. With the order in place, I am confident that there will no repetition of what happened in 2001.
On UK comparability, the hon. Gentleman asked whether the order could lead to a census that did not allow comparison between the UK and Wales and so cause confusion. I am assured that that is not the case. The ONS will be responsible for carrying out the census in Wales; the Registrars General of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the Welsh Assembly’s chief statistician have agreed the intention to promote UK harmonisation—subject to the need for approval by the relevant legislatures, where appropriate. All the significant players are working together to ensure that comparability is established, not only between Wales and the UK as a whole, but presumably between Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England.
Mr. Jones: Does a written protocol on those matters exist, or is it intended that one will be developed? If there is a protocol, is it possible to obtain a copy?
Nick Ainger: My understanding is that there is agreement between all the players, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman to confirm whether there is a written protocol.
I have mentioned the cost on a couple of occasions, so I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied in that regard. The cost of additional questions would fall on the Assembly. He also asked about the control ofthe census: I confirm that funding will remain the responsibility of the ONS, as will the conduct of the census throughout the UK. The Assembly will have to meet the costs only of any variations that it wishes to make to the census in Wales.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Statistics and Registration Service Bill, which was introduced recently and in which an amendment to section 3 of the Census Act 1920 is proposed to require the Chancellor to consult the new statistics board that would be set up under the proposed legislation, before making any regulations under this provision. In anticipation of the order, the Statistics and Registration Service Bill has been drafted to require the Welsh Ministers to consult in relation to Wales. I think that hon. Gentlemen have raised points about that consultation.
I shall now respond to the points that have been made about the part of the order that deals with land waste.
Mr. Jones: The Minister has not quite touched upon one or two other matters, which he could perhaps address before we leave the census issue. He will recall that I raised the issue of consultation with the Assembly before making a recommendation for the census. What form will that consultation take and have any protocols been put in place? I raised another matter about whether the Wales Office had agreed to that element of the order? That is not clear from the memorandum that accompanies the draft order. I have a final point about the single registrar for England and Wales, who, of course, will remain when the order has been made and be responsible for the census in England and Wales. Has that been considered and is it anticipated that difficulties will arise as a result of there being one registrar for England and Wales?
Nick Ainger: I shall respond quickly to those three questions. On the Statistics and Registration Service Bill, I mentioned that it will contain a requirement for Welsh Ministers to consult in relation to Wales. I can assure the Committee that, as the hon. Gentleman should know, the Welsh Assembly and Government are not shy about consultation.
Mr. Jones: The Minister is missing the point, I am afraid. Forgive me—I have not made myself clear. The consultation that I was talking about relates to article 4 of the draft order, which makes it clear that no recommendation can be made by the Minister—a UK Minister, not an Assembly Minister—unless the Assembly has first been consulted.
Nick Ainger: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for posing his question again. Is he asking what form of consultation will take place between the Treasury, or the Office for National Statistics, and the Assembly? Presumably, as I explained earlier, the Assembly will be represented at all levels of the census formulation. I am still not clear about the point that he is making.
Mr. Jones: Paragraph 7.5 of the explanatory memorandum explains that the
“function ... of making a Census Order is exercisable by Her Majesty in Council”,
on the recommendation of a Minister of the Crown, who, of course, would be a UK Minister. Article 4 of the draft order makes it clear that no such recommendation can be made by the UK Minister unless the Assembly has first been consulted. What form is that consultation going to take, how long is it likely to take and how is it envisaged that the result of the consultation should be taken into account by the Minister before making the recommendation for an Order in Council?
Nick Ainger: As I said in my opening remarks, a Minister of the Crown can recommend that such an order be made, and under section 22(1)(c) of the Government of Wales Act 1998, it is possible to direct that the function can only be exercised after the Minister has consulted and/or obtained the consent of the Assembly. The hon. Gentleman is asking how that process will take place. It would be for the Assembly to decide how it consults, but I imagine that at some point, if a Minister is minded to consult, he would write formally, and after May 2007, that would be done directly to the relevant Minister in the Assembly to seek their consent to the order.
Mr. Jones indicated dissent.
Nick Ainger: I think that I have been as clear as I can be. If a Minister is minded to use section 22 of the Government of Wales Act 1998, he has to have consulted and/or received the consent of the Assembly. After May 2007, he will have to seek consent not from the Assembly but from the relevant Assembly Minister, and it will be up to that Minister to decide whether to put the proposal before the Assembly or to consult on it. I think that I have covered the issue.
The second question was whether the Wales Office was consulted. I do not think that I would be standing here if we were not involved in the consultations. It might be due to an omission that we were not listed, but we should have been; otherwise, I would not be here. I can confirm that there will be a single registrar for England and Wales, and that I cannot see any problem arising from that.
Moving on to the waste on land issue, I am advised that there will not be different regulations in England and Wales as a result of section 156. The transfer merely allows the Assembly both options—to make composite regulations with DEFRA more regularly, and to make its own regulations in relation to Wales where necessary.
The hon. Gentleman also asked why only section 156 is being transferred—what about, for example, genetically modified crops? We have had a wide ranging discussion, but I do not want to get into a debate about GM crops, and I am sure that you do not either, Mr. Cummings. Let me say merely that no further transfers of section 156, as it applies to other parts of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, have been discussed. That is not to say that there will be no further approaches and discussions in future.
On the waste regulations, the proposal is that the regulations will be the same in England and Wales. I thought that I had explained in my opening remarks that the issue has been highlighted because the two main water companies that operate mainly in Wales also cover a small part of England. It is essential, therefore, that the order aligns the sections that I quoted at length with the boundaries of those water companies.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the costs that relate to the preparation of regulations. Those costs will come out of the running costs of the Assembly’s environment protection and quality division and the legal services department.
Mr. Jones: The Minister will recall that I raised the question of democratic accountability, which I do not think that he has addressed.
Nick Ainger: I was coming to that.
Mr. Jones: Forgive me, I thought that the Minister was moving on.
Nick Ainger: These are highly technical matters, relating to water fittings, and they apply in both England and Wales. I can understand that, in theory, people might have issues to raise about the effect of the regulations. If such people live in England, they can take their problems to their Member of Parliament, who can raise it directly with the relevant Assembly Minister. If there are any problems, I suggest that people contact me or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and we will ensure that matters are addressed. I emphasise that these are technical matters relating to pipe fittings.
Mr. Jones: Is the Minister therefore acknowledging that there is no democratic accountability?
Nick Ainger: I will not go through what the pipe fittings are, because I do not want to delay the Committee unreasonably. I have yet to hear anybody in my surgery claim that there is a democratic deficit in relation to pipe fittings. We must be realistic. I cannot predict that there will never be a problem with pipe fittings that people want to raise with their elected representative. What I have said to the hon. Gentleman is that, if there is a problem, there are channels that people can use to address it.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the length of the debate in the Assembly. I do not want to comment on the procedures in the Assembly, in the same way as I would expect no Assembly Member to comment on our proceedings.
I hope that I have responded to all the points. I apologise to hon. Members if they feel that I have had to go into arcane detail about pipe fittings. I commend the order to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) (No.2) Order 2006.
Committee rose at twenty-eight minutes past Three o’clock.
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