Wales Bill - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 10:30 pm, 7th November 2016

My Lords, I greatly regret that we are discussing one of the key features of the Bill at this very late hour but there are things that certainly need to be said on this issue.

I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, about policing. My party has been firmly committed to the importance of devolving policing to the Welsh Assembly for many years. That is simply a recognition of the reality of the situation. If you talk to senior—and junior—police officers in Wales, you see and hear their feeling of identity with the Welsh Assembly. It is to the Assembly that they look for the structures within which they work on a day-to-day basis. Devolving policing would not prevent them from linking in with, for example, training facilities or on rules and regulations across Britain. I have observed the way in which a police force in Northern Ireland manages to do that very successfully in a very difficult situation, and at a much greater distance from England. It works well.

In addition, it is very important to remember that the funding of policing in Wales comes predominantly from local sources within Wales one way and another. Therefore, it is important that the Welsh Assembly has more than a guiding hand on that.

In addressing the amendments in my name, I also share the Assembly’s serious concern about the impact of reservation 37 on the prevention, detection and investigation of crime. That illustrates the complexity of this situation and the way in which these issues are interwoven. For example, think of the ability within the Assembly’s power to deal with domestic abuse and sexual violence. The Assembly passed its own violence against women Act so clearly has competence within that area. However, it seems that the reservation I just referred to would make it very difficult for the Assembly to act in that area. It is important that we bear in mind the responsibilities of local government in this area as well as those of the police. The whole thing is an interlinked whole, and by not devolving these responsibilities you make it difficult for work to be done as effectively as possible.

I will refer briefly to the issue of dangerous dogs. Earlier, the Minister referred briefly to the issue of heat and cooling—which I now realise is in a different group of amendments—and its strategic importance. I fail to see the strategic importance of control of dangerous dogs or the confusion there could be over devolving the control of dangerous dogs to the Assembly and hence to local authorities in Wales. The dogs themselves will not be confused by the border, and I dare say their owners have other things on their minds when they find themselves in ownership of a dangerous dog.

Amendment 53B—I am slightly puzzled about why it is in this group—inserts fares and ticketing systems as an exception to the reservations on consumer protection. I put forward this amendment because the Bill contains a more detailed description of what the reservation called “consumer protection” means than the current Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act.

When the Assembly’s relevant committee looked at this, it was concerned that it is not clear whether the,

“supply of … services to consumers”,

referred to in the Bill applies only within the context of the Sale of Goods Act or whether it is intended to apply to the wider supply of services to consumers generally. If so, it seems that the Assembly would possibly not be able to exert powers on regulation of bus fares or the introduction of smart ticketing, for instance. I suggest that this cannot possibly be described as strategic either and that it is properly part of the Assembly’s powers over the control of bus services. The Assembly already has powers over transport and will have more in future, and it is important that it is given the full armoury of those powers. I would be grateful if the Minister could look at that and say whether clarity can be brought to this issue. It is important that it is confirmed that the Assembly would have powers over bus fares and ticketing systems as well as over other aspects of bus services.

Finally, I cannot sit down without drawing the Minister’s attention to the harsh judgment of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House. It says on the vast list of reservations in the Bill:

“In our view, the dividing line between certain reservations and exceptions is very fine and gives rise to difficult questions”.

It refers to nine pages of detailed restrictions, even with regard to matters that are not reserved. It says that some restrictions are “dauntingly complex”. I note that the Government themselves have tabled eight amendments to the reservations, so they are clearly finding this dauntingly complex as well. The committee also says:

“It is unclear whether the combined effect of the changes will result in the Assembly gaining legislative competence … or losing competence”,

and suggests that all this will therefore be left to the courts to decide. We were trying to get away from all that. I believe that the Bill makes the fatal error of mirroring the current settlement, which was complex, flawed and imprecise.

By trying to mirror the current settlement and failing to give more powers—indeed, to go in reverse on pensions by taking the opportunity to tighten up on those powers—the Government are not going to provide with the Bill the certainty and long-term settlement referred to in the St David’s Day agreement. I therefore urge the Minister not just to look specifically at the amendments I have addressed here but to take a long look at many of the detailed reservations that could never be described as strategic.