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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales 9:00 pm, 7th November 2016

I shall be very happy to discuss it further with the noble Lord.

The inclusion of exceptions to the Minister of the Crown consent process would undermine the whole principle of providing clarity within the devolution settlement over who can legislate for what.

The remaining government amendments in this group—Amendments 78A to 78D and 80A—build upon Clause 13, which is an important part of the Bill. Through that clause we are devolving competence to the Assembly so that it can set up its own regime for the audit and accounting of the Welsh Government and its public bodies, similar to the arrangements made by this Parliament for the UK Government and by the Scottish Parliament for the Scottish Government. Clause 13 has been the subject of detailed discussions between the United Kingdom Government, the Welsh Government, the Assembly Commission and the Wales Audit Office, and these amendments are the result of those discussions.

Through Amendment 78A we are devolving competence to the Assembly to amend Section 146A(1) of the Government of Wales Act 1998. Amendment 78B replaces paragraphs 5(2) to 5(6) of new Schedule 7B, as inserted by Schedule 2 to the Bill, with simpler drafting without changing the effect of the provisions in any way. The effect of these two amendments is that the Assembly will be able to modify Section 146A(1) of the Government of Wales Act 1998, which allows the Welsh Ministers to delegate or transfer supervisory functions to the Auditor-General for Wales, provided that that amendment is a provision about the oversight of the Auditor-General for Wales.

Through Amendments 78C and 78D we are devolving competence to the Assembly to amend sections of Part 5 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, other than those that are already listed in paragraph 7(2)(d), without the consent of the Secretary of State provided the amendments are incidental to, or consequential on, provisions relating to budgetary procedures or devolved taxes.

Finally, Amendment 80A will put in place key safeguards in paragraph 7 of new Schedule 7B so that the Assembly will be able to amend Treasury functions in Sections 138(2) and 141(4) of the Government of Wales Act 2006 only with the consent of the appropriate Minister.

Section 138(2) allows the Treasury to appoint another member of the staff of the Assembly as principal accounting officer for the Assembly Commission if the Clerk is unable to discharge these responsibilities or the post of Clerk is vacant. There are already arrangements for dealing with the replacement of an Assembly Clerk in certain circumstances, such as incapacity, and the accounting officer appointment should follow from that process. If these arrangements are changed, it is only reasonable that the Treasury gives consent because it is the guardian of the overall accounting officer system in the UK.

Section 141(4) ensures that the Treasury may continue to determine the form in which the Welsh Government submit their returns for the whole of government accounts. Although we are content for this to change in principle, the Treasury quite rightly wants to make sure that any change aligns with the arrangements for the Scottish Government, and so a requirement to seek Treasury consent is sensible.

These are technical but important amendments that build upon the important provisions in Clause 13. I therefore commend government Amendments 42A, 78A, 78B, 78C, 78D and 80A to the Committee and I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.