Permanence of the National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Government

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

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Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns The Secretary of State for Wales 4:00 pm, 24th January 2017

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.