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Lord Freyberg had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 17:


"POST-RETIREMENT MARRIAGES
As of 6th April 2005 widows, widowers and surviving registered unmarried partners of all service personnel shall receive a full widows' forces family pension based on their spouses or partners length of service and final salary, provided that their marriage took place before the service personnel's 60th birthday."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, for their kind words. This is a late hour at which to take the matter any further, so I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

Public Audit (Wales) Bill [HL]

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENTS

[The page and line references are to Bill 108, the Bill as first printed for the Commons.]
 
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1 Clause 3, page 4, line 26, at end insert—
"(3A) In determining how to exercise his functions under this section, the Auditor General for Wales shall take into account the views of the Audit Committee as to the studies which he should undertake or promote under this section."

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.

I start by saying a few brief words about the amendments before us. Nine amendments have been brought from another place. They are comparatively minor and technical in nature, and I shall deal with them in accordance with the Order Paper.

Before doing so, I would like again to thank the noble Lords and noble Baronesses who contributed so effectively to the debates on the Bill in its passage through this House. The fact that there are comparatively few amendments before us for consideration is a result of that constructive and robust scrutiny. It is a job well done, and I am grateful to everybody. I also warmly thank the Bill team, led by David Powell from the Welsh Assembly. They have been very helpful to me and very responsive to the many good points made during the various stages of the Bill's passage through the House.

Two of the amendments relate to Clause 54. I will deal with the detail of them along with the other amendments. On a wider front, however, I can confirm that detailed work is progressing on the order under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 that will amend Section 49 of the Audit Commission Act 1998 to ensure a general presumption in favour of disclosure. The Government still intend to bring the order before Parliament as soon as possible, certainly before the end of the year. That will in turn clear the way for Clause 54 of the Public Audit (Wales) Bill to be likewise amended.

Your Lordships will also be aware that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales has announced in another place that the Government intend to repeal at the earliest legislative opportunity the sanction of imprisonment for failure to comply with the amended provisions of Section 49 and Clause 54. The sanction of a fine for unlawful disclosure will remain.

Commons Amendment No. 1 will require the Auditor General for Wales to take account of the views of the National Assembly Audit Committee in determining which studies to undertake or promote in the exercise of his functions under Clause 3. Sections 100 and 145 of the Government of Wales Act 1998, which relate to value-for-money examinations in respect of the National Assembly and Assembly-sponsored public bodies and NHS bodies in Wales respectively, require the Auditor General to take account of the committee's views. The amendment will bring Clause 3 into line with those provisions. In practice, the Auditor General would consult the Audit Committee on his proposals under Clause 3.
 
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During debate in another place, the difference in approach was remarked on. The Government undertook to consider that comment further, and the amendment is a fulfilment of that undertaking.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, we are all grateful to the Minister for his introductory remarks. He is certainly right in saying that the House has put a great deal of work into the Bill, and we welcome the measure. Among those who have played an important part in improving the Bill is my noble friend Lady Noakes, whom I am glad to see beside me on the Bench this evening.

The amendment provides a satisfactory way of involving the National Assembly Audit Committee in the selection of subjects for value-for-money studies within the ambit of the Assembly and its sponsored bodies. The amendment will ensure that there is proper communication on such matters between the Auditor General and the Assembly's Audit Committee. The last thing that we want to see is duplication of effort; we want to see liaison, understanding and co-operative effort, where they are required.

I am bound to say that the amendment was anticipated during proceedings in Standing Committee in the other place. We now see the fruition of that anticipation in the amendment, which we are happy to support.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the interesting aspect of the Bill for us is the fact that it emanated from the joint Liberal Democrat and Labour Government in the National Assembly for Wales. Consequently, we have always felt some ownership of the Bill, and we are delighted to see that it is being put into effect.

We were slightly chided by the Conservative spokesman in another place for not making amendments to the Bill. It is difficult to make amendments to one's own Bill, which is how we see it, particularly if we were not in the position of having the advice that was available to the Government. Consequently, we have approached the Bill, save for Clause 54, with good will. In any event, the Government have been greatly assisted in their consideration of the finer detail of the Bill by the formidable combination of the auditing experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the ministerial experience of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. I give them the palm for detailed scrutiny of the Bill.

With regard to Clause 54, we were always anxious that the criminal sanctions in the Bill, which applied only to reports made in respect of local government, should be removed. It seemed to us that that part of the Bill had come from alien sources, namely the Welsh Local Government Association, which at that time—happily, no longer—tended to be dominated by what I have described as the dinosaurs of the Labour Party in south Wales. Happily, since the previous elections,
 
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that is no longer quite the case. It managed to get its oar in and try to preserve for itself the criminal sanction relating to local government reports.

The solution, which was arrived at with considerable effort on the part of the Minister and Mr Touhig, to whom I also pay tribute, is not entirely satisfactory, but it is as good as we will get. At earlier stages of the Bill's passage, I said that we did not accept the principle that the criminal law in Wales must be the same as the criminal law in England. Every regulation that is passed by the National Assembly using its powers of secondary legislation that contains a sanction makes a difference between the two systems of criminal law. That principle must be recognised.

Given that the Government were not prepared to give way on the issue, I am happy that, in the unlikely event that anybody should seek to bring a criminal charge under Clause 54 as it is now drafted, they would undoubtedly fail, on the basis that an application would be made to stay such a prosecution on the ground of an abuse of process, having regard to the assurances that have been given not only by the noble Lord but by Mr Touhig in the other place. Consequently, I remove all hint of criticism. I accept gratefully the effort that has been put into the matter and the work that has emanated from all sides. I assure the Minister that we support the Bill, which we regard as being partly our own.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENT

2 Clause 12, page 11, line 38, leave out paragraph (g) and insert—
"(g) a fire and rescue authority in Wales constituted by a scheme under section 2 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 or a scheme to which section 4 of that Act applies;"

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting : My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2. It would be appropriate to take Commons Amendments Nos. 2, 4 and 9 together.

The amendments relating to Clauses 12 and 46 and Schedule 1 take account of the provisions of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004, as they affect the Public Audit (Wales) Bill. The Fire and Rescue Services Act replaces fire authorities with fire and rescue authorities. The amendments will change the three relevant references in the Bill, at Clauses 12 and 46 and Schedule 1. The Fire and Rescue Services Act received Royal Assent on 22 July.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)


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