Wales Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 14th December 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 5:30 pm, 14th December 2016

My Lords, the amendments in this group relate to universities and public bodies. Their purpose is to address concerns expressed by universities in Wales that their classification as Wales public authorities in the Bill could have wider consequences in terms of categorising them as public authorities. The ministerial consent restrictions do not apply to legislation relating to “Wales public authorities”. This expression is defined in Clause 4 of, and Schedule 3 to, the Bill. The Wales public authorities expressly include the governing body of an institution within the higher education sector within the meaning of Section 91(3) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 and a regulated institution within the meaning of the Higher Education (Wales) Act 2015, other than the Open University.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for raising this issue in Committee. During our debate on their amendments, the noble Baroness and the noble Lord expressed concerns which had been raised by universities based in Wales. They sought to reverse the universities’ classification as Wales public authorities because of concerns that this might suggest that they should be classified more widely as public authorities. This was not the intention of the Government, and the relevant provisions did not purport to have any wider effect—but I had considerable sympathy with the points made, as did my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and I agreed to reflect on the wording before Report. Having done so, I pleased to bring forward these government amendments— I appreciate that there are many of them—to rename “Wales public authorities” as “devolved Welsh authorities”. The amendments also move universities out of the list of public authorities in Schedule 3, because Clause 4 makes it clear that the listed authorities are public authorities.

Instead, separate provision is being made for governing bodies of an institution within the higher education sector in Wales, so that they are classified as devolved Welsh authorities and the Assembly can continue to legislate in relation to them without requiring ministerial consent. At this point I should also make clear that this will not apply to the Open University, because its activities are not principally or wholly carried out in Wales. It will be a “reserved authority” and the United Kingdom Minister’s consent will be required for the Assembly to legislate in relation to the Open University.

Although we have responded to the particular concerns of universities, I should clarify that it is not our intention that the definition of devolved Welsh authorities and the list of authorities should have wider meaning. They apply only for the purposes of the Bill. Another effect of the amendments is that universities will be taken to be in Wales even if they carry out some activities outside Wales, so long as their activities are carried out principally in Wales. This is to ensure consistency with the approach taken in the Higher Education and Research Bill.

These amendments again demonstrate that the Government have listened to concerns expressed by noble Lords in Committee and, where we believe that there is good reason to modify the Bill’s provisions, we are bringing forward amendments to address the concerns. I commend the government amendments in this group and beg to move.