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Schedule 5 — Assembly Measures

Orders of the Day — Government of Wales Bill — [1st Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 23rd January 2006.

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Votes in this debate

The Chairman:

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 25, in page 109, line 39, at end insert—

'Field 13A: police, probation, and prison service'.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Spokesperson (Defence; Transport; Economy & Taxation; Miners Compensation; Regeneration; Trade & Industry)

If my hon. Friend Mr. Llwyd appears in a second, he may want to say a few words about amendment No. 25, which is more his area of competence, although sadly at the moment not that of the National Assembly.

On the Under-Secretary's suggestion, I will be pithy. Energy is topical at the moment with the publication today of the Government's consultation paper and the energy review. As energy provision is such a vital function and a secure, diverse and sustainable supply is so important, the issue is clearly of vast interest across the nations, but there are particular interests and the nature of energy differs across the United Kingdom. Energy has of course played a very important part in the history of Wales; we have certainly produced enough of it for the rest of the UK over a couple of centuries at least. It remains a key political issue in Wales for a variety of reasons.

However, there is an anomaly. Although energy remains a reserved matter, even under the Scotland Act, elements of it have been devolved and will be under the proposals in this Bill for Wales. Energy efficiency, for instance, is a devolved matter provided that it does not involve regulation or prohibition, as is energy conservation, and so on. Some elements of renewable energy are devolved and will continue to be so under the Bill. However, where there is interconnection, therein lies a problem.

At the moment, projects under 50 MW onshore are devolved to the National Assembly, whereas projects bigger than that remain a reserved matter in the Department of Trade and Industry. We argue that that is not acceptable. If we are to have a comprehensive energy policy for Wales, we must have greater devolution of power. That is why we seek through this amendment to introduce a new field for energy, which will allow the National Assembly, following the enactment of this Bill, to propose Orders in Council, extending some of its competence in energy.

Offshore developments are another area of increasing interest. There is an interesting feasibility study about possible tidal developments in Swansea bay and other coastal areas of Wales. Currently, and following the enactment of the Bill, such developments remain an exclusive power of the DTI. The Assembly should be enabled to propose an Order in Council to allow it greater control over such areas.

Moving to the more contentious issue of nuclear power, the National Assembly for Wales should decide whether Wales sees the building of a nuclear power station. We have heard the Secretary of State for Wales express the view that he does not believe that Wales should go down the nuclear route, and similar statements have been made by the Minister for Economic Development and Transport who has responsibility for energy in the National Assembly. There is consensus among three, if not four, of the political parties—and, who knows, some of the independents as well—on the fact that we do not want Wales to go down such a route, but currently and under the Bill the National Assembly does not have the power to reject the imposition of a new nuclear power station, whether in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire or any other part of Wales.

Surely that cannot be right. The Scottish Executive have the power under the Electricity Act 1989 to award or to reject power station consents. All we are asking in the amendment is that the National Assembly have the right to propose an Order in Council giving itself the same power as the Executives in Scotland and, indeed, Northern Ireland have.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Government are serious about having a genuine debate on nuclear power with the country, they should not be afraid to give the Welsh Assembly that authority? After all, it would be utterly undemocratic to force a nuclear power station on a community that clearly would resist such an application.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Spokesperson (Defence; Transport; Economy & Taxation; Miners Compensation; Regeneration; Trade & Industry)

I entirely agree. When the Government publish the results of the consultation, it will be interesting to see whether there are different responses in the constituent nations of the United Kingdom. It is a matter for England if England wants to go down the nuclear route, but I suspect that the response in Wales will be negative. As the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Wales says, Wales should have right to decide its own future, because we shall be binding future generations.

I could go on to talk at length about other energy issues, but I am conscious of time. However, I should like to mention the energy corridor between the liquid natural gas terminals, which are themselves contentious, as the Under-Secretary knows. The proposed route of the pipeline goes through my constituency. That matter, too, is reserved; it is dealt with by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, although it cuts across planning and energy policy. Surely greater responsibility should be given to the National Assembly to enable it to produce a comprehensive energy policy that the people of Wales support.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland 8:30 pm, 23rd January 2006

I welcome the amendments, even though I do not propose to support them. I welcome them because they allow me to tell the Minister that it is perfectly possible to support devolution and the evolution of devolution without supporting every measure that is proposed. During the course of today's proceedings, we have heard ridiculous attempts to rubbish the commitment of my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron to devolution, not only in Wales but in Scotland.

The Opposition understand that what we have now is asymmetric devolution, which means that not every provision of the Scotland Act will be replicated for Wales. I do not share the views of Lembit Öpik on the way in which energy provisions are working in Scotland. I have great concerns that nationalist elements in particular wish to use the difference between the powers that the Scottish Parliament has and the powers that the UK Parliament has to create a constitutional block and, if possible, crisis by presenting differences on energy policy. If the UK Government's policy is to have nuclear power in the UK, it is not for the Scottish Executive and Scottish Parliament, using provisions relating to other matters, to attempt to block the Government's energy policy. All such attempts to distort the devolution settlements should be resisted.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Why would the hon. Gentleman resist the opportunity to give local communities some say over whether they have to put up with a nuclear power station which, as Adam Price rightly pointed out, is an investment not for a generation, but for centuries?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

The hon. Gentleman is expressing his political views in respect of the nuclear industry, but in Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom where nuclear power stations exist, many communities would welcome a new development. It is a misuse of constitutional powers to block UK Government policy in that regard.

Earlier, the Minister dealt with the powers relating to the police force and the England and Wales jurisdiction. From my brief experience of Wales questions, it is clear that many colleagues favour closer links between police forces in the north of Wales particularly and in parts of England. Measures that restrict such a possibility should be resisted. We shall therefore oppose the amendments.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

I support both amendments moved by Plaid Cymru Members. It would be our intention to include within the competence of the Assembly control over the police service in Wales. We will therefore support amendment No. 25.

We also support amendment No. 26, which would include energy in the Assembly's fields of legislative competence. We are conscious that Wales has been asked by the UK Government to bear a bigger burden of renewable energy generation than some parts of England. Targets have been set for Wales that have not had the support of the Welsh people and were not subject to the consultation necessary to ensure that they were well received.

Adam Price pointed out that planning permission for power stations generating more than 50 MW is still a reserved matter for the Department of Trade and Industry. We know that that produced a serious problem in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mark Williams in the case of Cefn Croes. That could have been handled better if the Assembly had had direct powers to deal with it. The difficulty arose because there was a misunderstanding about what representations could be made to the Department of Trade and Industry about the determination of that planning application.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West

Would the hon. Gentleman suggest, therefore, that the Scarweather Sands application was sensitively handled by the Assembly?

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

I know the application to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I do not have as much detailed information about that as he has, so I would not like to comment. The reservation of certain energy matters to the Department of Trade and Industry was intended to cover nuclear applications. As the capacity of renewable power stations has increased, wind farms, which were not thought to be caught by it, have been caught by it.

We support the inclusion of both energy and police matters in the fields of competence of the Assembly. I hope the Minister will take that on board.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I rise to speak to amendment No. 25, which seeks to extend the field of competence of the National Assembly by including the policing, probation and prison services within the purview of its powers. Senior police officers in all four police forces in Wales have been saying for some time that the time has come for a move towards the devolution of policing. That feeling has been exacerbated of late by the somewhat insensitive way in which the Home Secretary is seeking to impose an all-Wales force in place of the four that we have at present.

We are proud of our police forces in Wales, and all four are in the upper quartile of each league table in which they appear. They were also recently given an excellent clean bill of health by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary and therefore have every reason to say that they are happy with their lot, and with the status quo. They believe that the only way of maintaining that is to devolve policing to the National Assembly, with which would come the probation service and the Prison Service. Both the National Association of Probation Officers in Wales and the Prison Service have expressed warm views about the path towards further devolution, and the way in which they see their future. We believe that they should be taken together as a package, as it were. That impetus has been given extra power by the fact that the National Offender Management Service is now being considered by the Government. This would effectively bring privatisation into the probation service and the Prison Service.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the way in which the National Offender Management Service has been handled has been disgraceful? We have been promised legislation, and legislation has been introduced and then withdrawn. We are still waiting for that legislation. Rumour has it that no NOMS legislation will now come forward, and that instead a small part of a mixed Home Office Bill will be allocated to the proposals. However, this would have the same effect of bringing in contestability through the back door without consulting the very people who work in the service.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

The hon. Lady and I have both taken a close interest in the NOMS fiasco. One of the worst aspects of it is that there has been no consultation whatever with those on the front line in the probation service or the Prison Service. Anyone who knows anything about those services knows that they are like chalk and cheese; they are incompatible. Even though they are both part of a wider service, they are not compatible with each other. One is there to befriend and to bring people back out into the wider community; the other is about incarceration, which involves elements of retribution as well as of education. These issues worry the people who work in those services in Wales and if NAPO and the Prison Service were to conduct an opinion poll or take a vote on the matter, people would say overwhelmingly that their future would lie better in Cardiff than with the Home Office.

I am grateful for this opportunity to make those points, and I hope that the Minister will give a reasoned response to the amendments.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

I hope that I shall be in order, Sir Alan, if I talk about schedule 5, even though I shall not refer to the two amendments—

The Chairman:

Order. No, the hon. Gentleman would not be in order if he were to do that at this particular juncture.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

I am going to disappoint hon. Members who have contributed to this debate, because I am going to give a technical response to the amendments rather than engaging with the points—although they have been well made—about whether the powers should be devolved to the Assembly, and with the reasons why hon. Members think that that should be the case. I shall explain the process as I go along, and perhaps hon. Members will then understand the position.

As I made clear earlier, this Bill is not about broadening the terms of devolution but deepening it. The two amendments would broaden devolution into areas such as energy, police and the probation and Prison Service, with which the Assembly does not currently have the Executive functions to deal. That goes against the basic premise for the way in which we have established the fields in schedule 5. Those fields, as they are set out, are exclusively those areas in which the Assembly currently has Executive functions. The proposals for which hon. Members have argued—that energy, police and so on should be included—would contradict the premise that the only matters that appear in schedule 5 are those in which the Assembly has an Executive function.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs 8:45 pm, 23rd January 2006

My hon. Friend makes the point that there is no extension to new areas, but schedule 5 is materially affected by schedule 7, which limits each of the different fields in schedule 5. He might note that under culture, which is in field three, there would be an exception, whereby the Assembly would not have powers, for broadcasting. There would also be an exception for telecommunications. He might know, however, that cable television does not fall into either of those two categories. Will he make sure that that is not also an exception?

The Chairman:

Order. I hope that the Minister will not respond to that intervention at this juncture, as we are debating energy, police and the probation and Prison Service.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

The best way to deal with that intervention, Sir Alan, is to write to my hon. Friend, because the matter is complex and relates to telegraphy, wireless and goodness knows what. If he is patient, I will respond to that point and place a copy of my letter in the Library.

As I was explaining, schedule 5 includes only those matters in which Assembly Ministers will have Executive functions. By accepting the amendment I would go against the whole premise of how schedule 5 is set out. Hon. Members will accept that only giving powers to legislate in areas where Ministers would have Executive powers is common sense. It would be nonsense to give them powers to legislate in areas where they do not have any Executive powers.

Under clause 58, further Executive functions may be transferred to Welsh Ministers. If at some point in future the Welsh Assembly Government assume Executive functions in a new field, it will be possible for schedule 5 to be amended to add that. The Bill is not intended to alter the boundaries of the current devolution settlement. It changes the structures and mechanisms, but the appropriate means of transferring new responsibilities in new fields from UK Ministers to the Welsh Assembly Government is either an Act of Parliament or an Order in Council. Under clause 58, that could include a transfer of functions order. In those circumstances, schedule 5 could be updated to enable legislative competence in respect of that field to be conferred on the Assembly. However, it should be for Parliament to agree at the time whether those responsibilities are such that it would be appropriate to enable the Assembly to acquire legislative competence in that field, too.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

On a number of occasions the Minister has prayed in aid his party's manifesto, which stated that a Labour Government would give the Assembly enhanced legislative powers. It seems to me that a good enhancement would involve the police and energy.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman does not understand my point about what constitutes broadening and what constitutes deepening. I believe that enhancing means deepening, not widening. Let me repeat that we do not see the Bill as a vehicle for giving the Assembly further, wider powers, other than those listed in schedule 5.

Members may argue that adding the new fields would not affect the current settlement because an Order in Council would still be needed to confer the competence. It is, however, important for schedule 5 to give an accurate picture of the fields in relation to which the Assembly could acquire legislative competence at any one time. The schedule would give a misleading impression if it appeared to suggest that the UK Government might agree to grant the Assembly legislative competence over areas that remain predominantly the responsibility of UK Ministers. Given that explanation of how the process works, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Spokesperson (Defence; Transport; Economy & Taxation; Miners Compensation; Regeneration; Trade & Industry)

The Minister let the cat out of the bag by saying that he would give the technical response. It was almost a theological response, and I did not quite follow it. The Minister seemed to be saying that Parliament might have an opportunity to consider adding new fields in the future, but that that was not possible today. I did not understand why it would not be possible today, if the Committee were so minded.

A number of us have said that on issues such as nuclear power—that is just one example—Wales should decide. That is the central principle of democratic devolution. When there is a range of views across the nations in these islands, surely the national representative institution of the Welsh people should decide on Welsh energy policy. The same principle applies across the nations. Scotland currently has more powers than we do. Here is an opportunity for us to have parity of power.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, but this is a devolution issue. Surely the Assembly itself should ask for the powers that he suggests it should have. It has not done so, and in effect the hon. Gentleman is suggesting the imposition on the Assembly of something that it has not requested.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Spokesperson (Defence; Transport; Economy & Taxation; Miners Compensation; Regeneration; Trade & Industry)

Can the Minister give me an example of an occasion on which, in plenary session, the Assembly has voted against—

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Spokesperson (Defence; Transport; Economy & Taxation; Miners Compensation; Regeneration; Trade & Industry)

I cannot prove a negative either, but I should be interested to see the evidence. I suspect that there is consensus across the political parties representing the Assembly against the imposition of a nuclear power station on Wales, but unfortunately, unless the amendment is passed, those representatives will not be able to ask for the power that exists in Northern Ireland and Scotland, which would allow them to decide on that crucial issue. We therefore wish to press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 45, Noes 391.

Division number 137 Orders of the Day — Government of Wales Bill — [1st Allotted Day] — Schedule 5 — Assembly Measures

Aye: 44 MPs

No: 390 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Abstained: 1 MP

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Schedule 5 agreed to.