Permanence of the National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Government

Wales Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 24th January 2017.

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Photo of Natascha Engel Natascha Engel Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Lords amendments 2 to 8, 11 to 27 and 33 to 35.

Lords amendment 36 and amendments (a) and (b) thereto.

Lords amendments 37 to 43, 45, 47 to 136 and 138 to 177.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns The Secretary of State for Wales

As I stated earlier, we have engaged constructively with peers, the Welsh Government, the Assembly commission, colleagues on both sides of the House and a range of other interested parties on the issues raised, and we have made changes to improve the Bill where there is a good case to do so. The Bill today is a better one as a result. The large number of amendments in the group is testimony to the fact that the Government have been open to improving the new devolution settlement where possible. I do not intend to discuss each amendment in detail, but I will draw some of them to the House’s attention.

We have amended the Bill to deal with concerns about how universities are treated in the new reserve powers model. During the Bill’s passage through the other place, concerns were raised by the higher education sector that defining universities as “Wales public authorities” might suggest that they should be classified more widely as “public authorities”. This was not our intention. Amendments 3, 4 and 115 resolve this issue by renaming “Wales public authorities” as “Devolved Welsh authorities”. This responds to calls from universities and Universities Wales. We have also ensured that the Open University will be defined as an authority that carries out a mix of devolved and reserved functions, reflecting its status as a UK-wide institution. This will allow the Assembly to legislate to confer functions on the Open University in devolved areas without requiring the consent of a UK Minister. We have also expanded the list of devolved Welsh authorities in response to concerns raised by the Welsh Government and others.

The Government have introduced several amendments relating to tribunals that resulted from extensive discussions with the Welsh Government, the Ministry of Justice and the senior judiciary and which are intended to improve the management of the workload of devolved tribunals and to maximise flexibility in the deployment of judicial resources in Welsh tribunals. The amendments tabled in the other place will create a statutory office of president of Welsh tribunals to oversee the work of the devolved Welsh tribunals. New schedule 5 provides for a two-stage process for the appointment of a person to this new statutory role. The new clauses will also allow for the deployment of judges between Welsh tribunals and reserve tribunals in England and Wales so that they might share expertise in a way that cannot happen under current legislation. These are important amendments that are the product of constructive work with the Welsh Government, the Ministry of Justice and others.

The Government’s key aim in introducing the new reserved powers model is to deliver clarity on the boundary between the Assembly’s competence and the competence of this Parliament, particularly in the light of the Supreme Court judgment on the Agricultural Wages Board settlement. Many amendments therefore either alter or remove altogether reservations contained in new schedule 7A to the Government of Wales Act 2006.

The Government have tabled a number of amendments to deal with the planning system and the law that governs the construction of buildings, responding to concerns raised by the Welsh Government. Amendment 71 devolves competence for planning in relation to railways, making it consistent with the position in Scotland. We have also brought forward amendments that replace the full reservation of compulsory purchase with one that covers only compensation. This was again in response to discussions between the UK Government and the Welsh Government.

As for amendments to schedule 1 more widely, we have demonstrated our willingness to devolve significant further powers to the Assembly where a clear rationale can be made for doing so. Amendment 80 removes the reservation relating to teachers’ pay and conditions. This was something that I was keen to devolve from the outset, but I recognised concerns that were issued by colleagues on all sides of the House as well as by the teachers’ unions. Following constructive engagement with the First Minister and discussions between officials, we are pleased that we both came to the same conclusion—that education is a devolved matter and that it makes more sense for the Assembly and Welsh Ministers to decide the pay and conditions of teachers in Wales, particularly in the light of the greater divergence between the education models that exist in England and the education model that exists in Wales. It is sensible to devolve teachers’ terms and conditions.

Amendment 72 devolves the community infrastructure levy in Wales. That was a priority for the Welsh Government, and has been for a number of years. We have listened to the case that they made and we are again delivering on a demand made by them. We were happy to respond positively and constructively to these calls.

Finally, amendments 36 and 52 devolve legislative and Executive competence to the Assembly and Welsh Ministers to regulate the number of high-stake gaming machines, authorised by new betting premises’ licences in Wales. This is an issue in which Carolyn Harris showed particular interest and passion during the earlier stages of the Bill’s scrutiny. The Silk commission made no recommendation on the devolution of betting, gaming and lotteries, but we agreed as part of constructive dialogue with the St David’s day process to consider non-fiscal recommendations made by the Smith commission that it would be appropriate to take forward in Wales.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General

I, too, place on record my congratulations to my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris on the success of her campaign on this issue. Does the Secretary of State agree that when statistics show that an average of £3,000 a day is being staked on these machines, it is very important to devolve these powers and for the regulations to be implemented?

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns The Secretary of State for Wales

I will come on to that specific point, because a review is being conducted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport which will address the specific issues that the hon. Gentleman raises. For the moment, I shall stick to explaining the rationale behind the amendments on fixed odds betting terminals.

One proposal was for the powers to be devolved to stop the proliferation of these so-called fixed odds betting terminals. We concluded that these powers should be devolved in Wales, as they are in Scotland, coming out of the Smith commission. Amendments 36 and 52 therefore ensure that the Bill mirrors the provisions in the Scotland Act 2016 in respect of high-stakes gaming machines. The amendments apply to sub-category B2 gaming machines, and would provide the Welsh Government with a means to address public concerns in Wales regarding the proliferation of these machines. These machines were regulated by the Gambling Act 2005, which was introduced when the Labour party was in power.

The Opposition amendments would go much further than what is already devolved in the Scotland Act by extending this provision to all existing gaming machines with a stake of more than £2, and by devolving powers over existing licences. We did not believe that that was appropriate. As I mentioned a moment ago, the Government have already announced a review into the issue because we recognised the flaws in the 2005 Act. As a result, we are carrying out a thorough process to examine all aspects of gaming machine regulation, including the categorisation, maximum stakes and prizes, location and number of machines, and the impact that they have on players and the communities in relation to, for instance, problem gambling and crime. All those factors are potentially relevant and interrelated. The powers that we have agreed to devolve are intended to enable the Welsh Government and the Assembly to take action to prevent the proliferation of fixed odds betting terminals.

The review that we have announced is the appropriate mechanism for consideration of all those issues in a far more holistic way. I urge Opposition Members not to press their amendments to a vote, but if they pursue them, I shall do my best to respond to some of the issues that concern them. I urge Members to support the Lords amendments.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Labour, Clwyd South

I support Labour’s amendment (a) to Lords amendment 36, which would reduce the relevant stake for fixed odds betting terminals to £2. I welcome the review that is being carried out by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and I also welcome the move to devolve this power to the Welsh Assembly. My reason for doing so is very much in line with all the work that has been done by my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris, but I fear that we could find ourselves in a ridiculous position. All of us—apart from certain advocates for the betting industry—know that what is happening with fixed odds betting terminals is deeply concerning. Figures as high as about £1.7 billion have been quoted as the profits made on these horrible machines, which cause so much devastation in our communities. We all agree that something must be done fairly urgently, but I fear that the House of Commons could collectively vote to put in place a stake of below £10 but then, if we pass the Lords amendment as it stands, the stake could be reduced only to a minimum of £10 in Wales. That does not seem right to me.

Let me put it another way. Collectively, the House could vote for a maximum stake of £2 in England and Wales, but once the matter is devolved to Wales, the Welsh Government would be limited to £10 and then the House of Commons could not go for a lower stake here, simply because the Government would tell us that that this was a case of English votes for English laws and we would be banned from lowering the stake.

All we are asking for is something very pragmatic—something that would give us the right to decide the level of the stake and benefit communities. Let us make no bones about it: these machines, and what is happening in the gambling industry, are hitting our poorest communities the hardest. We see the impacts of it in our industrial villages and in our towns. Let us say once and for all to the harder elements of the gaming industry, some of whom I am sure will be e-mailing us all later, that the nonsense of what is happening with FOBTs must come to an end. Let us say, “Do not think you can intimidate us, or those in the communities who are fed up with the hold that you have on them.”

It is time for us to act firmly. It is time for us to give the Welsh Government full devolution in this regard. It is time for us to lower the stake even further, if possible. It is time for the Welsh Government to have the power to do that, and, hopefully, this place will as well.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

As the Secretary of State has pointed out, there are a lot of amendments in the group, many of which are welcome and deal with important issues. Given the limited time that is available, however, I shall focus on Lords amendment 36 and our amendments to it.

We welcome the Government’s Lords amendment, as we did when it was moved in the other place, but, as has already been said, we want it to go further. Today gives us the opportunity to achieve that. Our main point of contention with the amendment is that it limits the powers that are being devolved to the Welsh Assembly to regulate fixed odds betting terminals. That ability to regulate will apply only to machines licensed after the Bill becomes law that have a stake of £10 and above.

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has been campaigning on this issue for some time. It has been an invaluable source of help in our work on the amendments, so I want to put on record my thanks to it. I also thank the all-party group on fixed odds betting terminals, which is so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris). It has just completed its inquiry into the machines and is due to publish its report very shortly.

Both groups are clear, as we are, that the £10 threshold set by Lords amendment 36 is still too high. FOBTs are the only machines on the high street with stakes of £2 and above; all other machines in pubs, arcades and bingo halls are capped at £2 and under. Amendment (a) to the Lords amendment would allow devolved regulation of machines with stakes of £2 or above, rather than £10. Only fixed odds betting terminals would be covered by the amendment, so any fears that the Welsh Assembly would be overstepping agreed devolution limits on gambling would be unfounded.

In a similar spirit, amendment (b) to the Lords amendment would ensure that the Assembly had the power to regulate all current and future licensed FOBTs from the point that the Bill becomes law. That is important because there are an estimated 1,500 terminals in Wales and according to the latest figures, which cover 2015, £50 million was staked and lost on them during that period.

The financial and social problems and harm that these machines cause in communities across Wales is well known. Having the ability to regulate those terminals already in place would ensure that the Welsh Assembly would not have its hands tied when seeking to deal with this issue.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:15 pm, 24th January 2017

The Secretary of State mentioned how the Government are devolving teachers’ pay to the Welsh Government because education is devolved. FOBTs are now being devolved, but not full regulation, which simply means that we will be coming back with another Wales Bill to introduce the necessary regulations. Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Government concede this point, it would simply mean we would have the measures in place now and would not need to return to this point in future Wales Bills?

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government have the opportunity to accept that we could lead the way in Wales. The Secretary of State has already pointed out that he is aware of the social and economic problems that these machines cause, and despite the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s review, the Bill represents an opportunity. We know what the problem is, and we know we could deal with it right now.

The Secretary of State says that the Government’s intention is simply to match the powers given to Scotland, but the devolution arrangements for Wales, England and Scotland are already different—they are not in alignment—so there is no reason why the Government could not accept our amendments today and agree to the lowering of the stake and that all current and future machines should be covered. Anything less than that would be a bureaucratic nightmare for the Assembly and only half a solution to an already accepted problem. It is unacceptable for the Government to refuse to give the Welsh Assembly the full powers that it needs to deal with this problem simply because Scotland does not yet have them.

There has been a 50% increase in betting shops in Welsh town centres since 2004, but that overall statistic masks the true story. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling shared with me some research from Geofutures showing what many Labour MPs already know: there are four times as many betting shops in areas of high unemployment than in areas of low unemployment. The machines are deliberately placed so that people who are least able to cope with the drain on their finances that problem gambling can cause are subjected to the highest exposure to those machines most likely to cause it.

These terminals allow players to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds, which is why, although only 3% to 4% of the UK population use FOBTs, those players account for 66% of all UK gaming machine losses. Already massively profitable bookmaking companies benefit even more from the losses on those terminals, to the tune of £1.7 billion just in the last year across the UK.

It is not only Opposition Members who think that this is a problem. Polling carried out by 2CV for the campaign showed that 82% of betting shop customers perceived the use of fixed odds betting terminals as an addictive activity, with 32% of those borrowing cash to feed their habit. It also showed that 72% had witnessed violent behaviour emanating from players using the machines. Other research has backed this up, consistently showing that fixed odds betting terminals are one of the most addictive and problematic forms of gambling. One study published in a journal from the Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, found that the terminals had a fourfold correlation with problem gambling, which is higher than any other gambling product available in the UK.

The machines are already causing real and lasting damage to some gamblers and they exacerbate problem gambling more than any other form of betting. If the UK Government will not tackle this issue now, they need to give the Welsh Assembly the power to do that in Wales. The power to regulate existing machines is crucial to tackle the harm that they are causing in many communities across Wales, and our amendments would help to ensure that all such machines could be regulated. I urge the Minister to follow his own logic, to be innovative and to accept our amendments. If he does not do so, I am ready to test the will of the House, certainly on amendment (a).

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I welcome the consideration that colleagues in the other place have given to this matter. I declare an interest as chair of the all-party group on fixed odds betting terminals, which are affectionately known as FOBTs. As many colleagues know, I have campaigned on this issue for more than a year. Sometimes I feel that it has taken over my life. There are 35,000 FOBTs located in high street bookmakers up and down the UK. These high-stakes, casino-style games are in low-supervision environments and are easily accessible to those who are most vulnerable to gambling-related harm. In Wales, there is a growing problem with FOBTs in local communities. According to the latest statistics, more than £50 million was lost on FOBTs in Wales in 2015.

The Lords amendment is welcome, but it does not go far enough. Powers should be devolved to the Welsh Assembly to allow local authorities to deal with existing clusters of betting shops in deprived areas. The most effective way to do that would be to reduce the maximum stake playable on a FOBT to £2, but the power to achieve that is not included in the Bill. There are growing calls for a reduction in the maximum stake, with more than 93 local councils across the UK, led by Newham Council, having now petitioned the Government to reduce the stake to £2.

The all-party group has concluded its inquiry into the machines. We found beyond reasonable doubt that the maximum stake on a FOBT should be reduced to £2 on a precautionary basis, in line with the objectives of the Gambling Commission. The full findings of the report are due to be published shortly, and we have been encouraged by the willingness of Ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to work with us on this issue. I very much hope that they will respond positively by reducing the stake and properly regulating FOBTs. I eagerly await the result of the current stakes and prizes review.

These machines are directly linked to problem gambling, with four out of five FOBT gamblers exhibiting problem gambling behaviour at stakes in excess of £13 a spin, compared with one in five when stakes of £2 and under are involved. FOBTs cause significant economic and social problems. In particular, they lead to increased incidents of money laundering in bookmakers, as the gambling activity is largely unsupervised and it is therefore relatively easy for fraudsters to use it as a way to clean their money. They are also leading to more problems as players take out payday loans to sustain their FOBT usage. Increasing crime levels have also been reported, with betting shops now accounting for 97% of all police call-outs to gambling venues. Up to September 2014, there was also a 20% increase in police call-outs to betting shops. There has been a clustering of betting shops on Britain’s high streets, with a 43% increase in the number located in towns and city centres. This is destroying the health and vibrancy of our high streets.

The most effective way to limit the harm of such machines is to reduce the stakes, which are currently set at up to £100. A substantially lower stake would bring FOBTs into line with machines in other low-supervision environments such as adult gaming centres and bingo halls. The Gambling Commission itself says that if stakes were being set now, it would strongly advise against £100 stakes on a precautionary basis. A lower stake of £2 is the level that the previous Government said would bring adequate public protection. I encourage the Government to support amendment (a) to the Lords amendments, to devolve powers to Wales and to allow local communities to tackle the problems caused by FOBTs. Such a proactive move not only would recognise the danger of these addictive machines and establish good practice to protect our communities from it, but would be a positive step towards ensuring that we, as a society, take our moral responsibility seriously.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Europe), PC Westminster Leader

The third group of Lords amendments is wide-ranging and covers a variety of subjects. Some of those subjects are more welcome than others, and I regret to say that some resulted in my party voting down the Bill in the National Assembly. I will not address each amendment, as time is limited, but I will focus on key amendments that are salient to my colleagues’ decision making in the Assembly.

Under scrutiny, the Government have conceded on certain issues, for which I commend them. Those include areas where Plaid Cymru has pressed the Government in both places, resulting in Government amendments—that work should be noted. Lords amendment 73, for instance, devolves compulsory purchase, which was mentioned earlier. A previously silent subject, the National Assembly will now, without question, have the power to legislate to enable important infrastructure projects to go ahead. However, those are only small concessions that skirt around more substantive policy areas that could really make a difference.

Lords amendment 38, for instance, adds a new clause creating a statutory office for the president of Welsh tribunals; Welsh tribunals are already devolved. Although that is a welcome move on a practical level, it does little to satisfy those of us, including the Welsh Government, who have been calling for a separate legal jurisdiction to ensure a truly lasting devolution settlement. Without a strong and definitive legal jurisdiction of our own, surmounting the challenges that we all face in unpicking European law in the great repeal Bill will be even more difficult.

I would go so far as to say that the whole Wales Bill has been overtaken by Brexit. Leading constitutional lawyers and academics, and even the leader of the Welsh Tories, agree that the constitutional future of the British state is in flux. There are many possibilities and opportunities for both those, such as ourselves, who champion devolution and those who are sceptical about devolution. Famously, devolution is a process not an event, and we should be clear about the dangers of substantial rollbacks.

That brings me to the main focus of my speech, a series of Government amendments—all variations on Lords amendment 3—that will give Wales public authorities a different name, that of “devolved Welsh authorities.” The wording clarifies what constitutes a devolved public authority. Although, in isolation, the amendment is not a concern, it alludes to a more worrying aspect of the Bill, in which there are substantial rollbacks.

Throughout the scrutiny of the Bill, we have tabled amendments following concerns expressed to us by the Welsh Language Commissioner regarding the Bill’s potential effect on the National Assembly’s power to legislate on matters pertaining to the Welsh language. The effect of schedule 2 is that when the National Assembly wishes to legislate for the Welsh language, it will require the consent of the relevant UK Minister. Under the current settlement, ministerial consent is required only when legislating to impose Welsh language functions on Ministers of the Crown.

Ministers in both Houses have confirmed that if a future Welsh language measure were to be proposed, it would no longer be applicable to many more reserved authorities, such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Crown Prosecution Service. Consent would be required to add to the list of devolved public authorities, which are contained in the Lords amendments before the House today. The Minister’s words offered no reassurance, or indeed any justification, as to why the Bill should include such a regressive step.

The National Assembly for Wales research service has produced a briefing paper confirming our fears, outlining the fact that under the Bill there will be a loss of legislative power relating to the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011. In the other place, Lord Bourne agreed that that would in fact be true. He justified the Government’s position by stating that amendments we had tabled to rectify that rollback would,

“cut across one of the underlying core principles of the Bill: the Assembly should not be able to impose burdens on non-devolved bodies without agreement…To add a specific exception to the consent process for the Welsh language would undermine that principle.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 January 2017;
Vol. 777, c. 1935.]

So there we have it—an admission by the Government that the Bill does indeed take powers away from the National Assembly; any exemption for the Welsh language would undermine UK sovereignty.

Earlier I mentioned the dangers of a reverse devolution agenda post-Brexit, but it seems as though that is the reality we are already facing today. Unfortunately, that is not the only example of significant rollbacks in the Bill; the ancillary measures in it have been the subject of damning criticism during scrutiny. As to any Assembly Acts deemed ancillary to any of the reservations, of which there are in excess of 200, the UK Government would be entitled to overrule the Assembly.

The Plaid Cymru group in the Assembly last week voted —rightly, I think—against the legislative consent motion for the simple reason that powers are being clawed back. The existing legislative powers of the Assembly were endorsed by a measure of 2:1 in the 2011 referendum, and the powers implicit in that vote are now being retracted. Some of the legislation enacted by the Assembly since that referendum was made under powers that will no longer be available to it when the Bill becomes law. We tabled amendments at several stages of the Bill’s consideration to delete the word “normally”, so that there would be no doubt as to whether the Government would grant an Assembly LCM following today’s historic Supreme Court ruling. We will continue to take that stance, and my colleagues in the Assembly are drafting an LCM as we speak.

To finish, I quote no less a personage than the leader of the Welsh Tories. In a radio interview on 17 January, Mr Andrew R.T. Davies said:

“This won’t be the last Wales Bill. Brexit will require devolution changes to realign those responsibilities.”

I can assure the House that my party will do everything in its power to reverse the rollbacks to ensure that Welsh interests are taken seriously during Brexit and to build a truly lasting devolution settlement for Wales.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns The Secretary of State for Wales 4:30 pm, 24th January 2017

With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to respond to the points that have been made. I thank all those Members who have made contributions today, and throughout the Bill’s passage through the House and the other place.

I am disappointed that the Opposition want to divide the House on the proposals we introduced in the other place on fixed odds betting terminals. Those proposals responded positively to calls that were made by colleagues on both sides of the House and by the Welsh Government. The Silk commission made no recommendations in that area, but having considered the Smith commission recommendations for Scotland, we believe it is right to put the Assembly on the same footing as the Scottish Parliament and allow it to legislate on the proliferation of fixed odds betting terminals in Wales.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

The Secretary of State asserts that only Members on this side of the House oppose the proposals, but Conservative Members of the Welsh Assembly oppose what the Government are proposing and have supported my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris, including Darren Millar from north Wales. Has the Secretary of State consulted his Assembly Members on this point?

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns The Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman makes a relevant point. We take the issue of problem gambling seriously. As I mentioned, we are committed to looking at all aspects of gaming machine regulations as part of a wide-ranging review of gambling. The regulation of fixed odds betting terminals is covered by the Gambling Act 2005, and we recognise that flaws exist in the current regulatory arrangements. They were introduced by the Labour party and it is time that they were reviewed. That is what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is doing. We will act when that work has been completed, so I hope hon. Members will vote against the Opposition amendments and in support of the Lords amendments tabled by the Government.

Paul Flynn suggested that the Bill showed a half-hearted approach to devolution. In the positive spirit in which the Bill has progressed through both Houses, I remind him that legislative competence orders were in place when we came into power in 2010 and started this process. A conferred model was in place then; the Bill introduces a reserved model. We have in place a needs-based funding settlement—something that has been called for for decades—and we are devolving significant tax powers. We have removed the water intervention powers and extended the Welsh Government’s powers in a significant range of areas, such as energy, fracking, elections and running their own affairs. A host of positive steps have been taken.

We all know that Members in the other place rightly pay close scrutiny to matters of constitutional importance in Bills such as this. Despite being in a minority in the other place, the Government were not defeated on the Bill, so I hope that Members from both sides of the House, and all Opposition Members, will recognise the significance of the Bill and, once and for all, welcome it because of the positive steps it takes in bringing about a devolution settlement that will last for a long time to come.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendments 2 to 8, 11 to 27 and 33 to 35 agreed to.

After Clause 48