Draft National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Social Welfare) Order 2009

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Hywel Williams: I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Dean.
I welcome the legislative competence order both as a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, which considered it, and as one of the sponsors of the Bill that became the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004, which was promoted by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis). I have a long-standing interest in carers matters.
I agree with what has been said from both sides of the Committee about the importance of cross-border issues, and I should certainly like the Welsh Assembly Government to address carers issues and other health matters effectively, perhaps at the Measure stage, when there is a more practical set of proposals to deal with. I think that the hon. Members for Clwyd, West and for Brecon and Radnorshire were right to draw attention to the matter, and I support them.
The LCO was first introduced by my colleague in Plaid Cymru, Helen Mary Jones, in February 2008, and was later adopted by the Welsh Assembly Government. She has pointed to the delay in passing the LCO. I accept entirely that the processes are slow—the wheels grind slowly—but there are clearly carers in Wales who would benefit from the passage of the LCO and subsequent Measures, so would that the order had been passed earlier.
The order will give the National Assembly power to legislate to promote the well-being of carers, to support the provision of care by carers, and to compel bodies to work together to provide information and other matters to carers, all of which are long overdue. The Welsh Assembly Government have the power to issue guidance to local authorities and the NHS in Wales, but no power to legislate, which led to the need for the LCO.
On the point made by the hon. Member for Clwyd, West about guidance, when the Select Committee took evidence on 2 March, I asked the Assembly Minister with responsibility for welfare:
“could the variation in service provision be improved simply by enforcing existing statutory guidance regarding the provision of information and carers’ assessments? Can you do that using the existing statutory guidance”.
Her answer was brief:
“In my view, no, not adequately.”
I take it that she has the required expertise to come to that judgment, so I am happy to bow to her on that matter. The matter was discussed extensively by the Committee, so I am happy to leave it with the Minister from Cardiff saying, “No, not adequately.”
The Assembly has indicated its intention to introduce a Measure soon. That, of course, is a matter for the Assembly but, as I said, I would welcome that as soon as possible. To quote my colleague Helen Mary Jones again:
“There was no opposition to this proposed LCO, either here or at Westminster, yet carers who could have been enjoying enhanced rights today will have to wait another six to nine months, at best, and possibly another 12, depending on how Measures can be brought forward.”
There is therefore a degree of urgency.
The Welsh Affairs Committee eventually concluded, to cite page 3 of the report’s summary:
“the purpose of the proposed legislation which the Welsh Assembly Government intends to make under this new competence is clear. The proposed Order is consistent with previously announced Welsh Assembly Government policy and the existing powers of the National Assembly for Wales in the field of social welfare.”
Again, that is clear enough for me. I hope that that leads this Committee to support the power.
On the exceptions issue, I could do no better than to refer to arguments proposed by the former Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who discussed fixing each exception or having floating exceptions. He noted that fixed exceptions to specific matters have drawbacks: they are lengthy and potentially unclear, and the need to consider all possible scenarios can lead to great complications. Having floating exceptions fits in more naturally, in drafting terms, and does not require cross-referencing. Hopefully, that will lead to welcome change and simplicity in what I have said many times is a fairly complicated system. Given the point that we are at, I am happy to support the two orders but, as might be expected, I say that the sooner we replace the powers with part 4 powers, the better.
4.54 pm
Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): I will try to behave under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean. I apply a test to such measures of whether they are needed and whether further devolved powers are required, so I find a debate about whether the powers are required of great interest. My position is that guidance could and maybe should have been given and then reinforced, perhaps through additional legislative competence, should that have been required.
Nevertheless, this is a very important issue for me in my constituency, as it is for all hon. Members in Wales because we have a particularly high incidence in Wales of the difficulties that arise from having to care for people. I am particularly concerned about young carers. The sooner we get something done about that, the better. If this measure helps to reinforce the Assembly in doing that, I will not be parsimonious about it or object to it in any way.
However, I want to sound a note of caution. The question of not creating disadvantage is very important. I have people coming to my surgeries this week who are carers, and they are confused and very concerned. They are concerned that carer’s allowance, individual allowances, disability living allowance and so on are getting mixed up. That confusion all arises from a consultation that is happening in England about how changes might be made through discussion of a Green Paper.
I want to ask the Minister to ensure that collaboration is not just a one-way street. The issue is not just about the Assembly explaining more effectively to England what it might be doing and why it might want to do it; the process works the other way, too. As the hon. Member for Caernarfon said earlier, this is a very complex set of issues and we are all interested in getting things right. So, can the Minister, in considering this measure, look not only at what the Assembly, the Welsh Affairs Committee, his Department and Parliament might do about the mechanisms that apply but at some of the confusion and concern that these consultations can engender among people who do not deserve that, because they are already overburdened enough, thank you very much, with the day-to-day difficulties of getting along and doing the caring that they are charged with?
4.57 pm
Mr. David: It has been a brief but extremely positive and worthwhile discussion.
First, I want to say that I am very pleased that the proposed order on exceptions seems to have support from all sections in the House. I think that there is common agreement that it is essentially a technical matter, and that we want to simplify things and make them more straightforward, ensuring that there is as little complication as possible. So I will not say any more about that proposed order.
With regard to the carers order, several very important points have been made. As was made clear by the hon. Member for Clwyd, West, an important starting point for the debate is that the number of carers in Wales is disproportionately large. We have a legacy of ill health, partly because of the industrial process, and many people find themselves having heavy burdens placed on them because of the need to care for their loved ones. Therefore, I think that we are all united in ensuring that there is greater support available, so that those carers are aware of their rights and receive the greatest possible support to carry out their caring role.
The hon. Gentleman raised two specific points. The first was whether this LCO is actually necessary. I suggest that it is necessary because, as the Welsh Assembly Government Minister, Ms Gwenda Thomas, made clear in her evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee and as I made clear in my evidence, there is legislation in place. We can point to the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004, which resulted from the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon—the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Bill—and was an extremely important measure. However, it essentially gave local authorities responsibility to give due consideration to a request for information, for example. This LCO would build on that work and take it a stage further, to ensure that the Assembly had the responsibility to do much more to ensure that local authorities provided much better support and co-ordination for carers. So I think that the LCO is necessary.
The second point that the hon. Member for Clwyd, West made was about cross-border implications, and a number of other Members also referred to that subject. He is absolutely correct in pointing out that many of the issues relating to carers are not peculiar to Wales; they stretch right across the United Kingdom, on both sides of Offa’s dyke. It is important that we should do everything possible to ensure that there is the greatest co-ordination and exchange of information between authorities in England and Wales. The explanatory memorandum, as the hon. Member for Clwyd, West mentioned, contains a specific reference to that, and the Assembly will consider it carefully at Measure stage.
We have protocols in place, and those have been very successful to date. One of the main functions of the Wales Office, these days, is to ensure that such cross-border co-operation is mutually beneficial. I give the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire a commitment that if the LCO is successful and leads to Measures, the Wales Office will as always be proactive in ensuring that the best cross-border co-operation takes place.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire made some important points, and referred to his general support for the order, as well as the need to streamline the LCO process. I agree about that, and it is one reason for our bringing forward the LCO on exceptions. It will streamline the process and make things easier to traverse when we look at the statute book. Nevertheless, a process of simplification will go on. We are at a relatively early stage in the LCO framework powers process, and are learning as we go along, and things will—as they are doing—get smoother and more effective.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon also gave his full support, and made the point that the order emanates, in part at least, from the work of the Assembly Member for Llanelli, but the LCO goes much further than what was proposed by Helen Mary Jones and although it has perhaps taken a little longer than she would have liked, she would surely welcome the added value that it gives to her initial modest proposals.
I welcome the reference to young carers by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. They in particular fulfil a vital social role and deserve much more support than they currently receive.
My final point is the one that my hon. Friend made about collaboration. Devolution has two essential purposes, I believe. The first is to bring decision making closer to the people. That is effectively happening. Also, different models of provision exist in different parts of the United Kingdom. If devolution is to have the maximum positive impact, it is incumbent on us to ensure that one part of the UK can learn from another. I suggest that that is one of the key roles, in this post-devolution era, of the Wales Office.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Social Welfare) Order 2009.

Draft National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Exceptions to Matters) Order 2009

That the Committee has considered the draft National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Exceptions to Matters) Order 2009.—(Mr. David.)
5.3 pm
Committee rose.
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Prepared 20 October 2009