Clause 15 - Money

Transport (Wales) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I have a straightforward question for the Government. The amendment is designed to probe the necessity of the clause, which relates to money. Although I realise that a money section may or may not be necessary in the Bill, I must ask what money the Government have in mind.

As I understand the Bill, no changes will be made to the Welsh block grant. All the money for the proposals involved must be found from the Assembly’s current budget, so to what money does the clause refer? I notice that the Minister is receiving all sorts of assistance, so I am sure that he will be so kind as to provide us with all further details relating to the money to which the clause refers, and that I shall be able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman is right that no additional money will be given to the Assembly through the block grant for the measures contained in the Bill if and when it is enacted. Nevertheless, the Bill could give rise to increases in expenditure, which is the reason for the clause and the inclusion of a money resolution.

I assure the hon. Gentleman, however, that there will be no extra money in the foreseeable future.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Is the Minister saying that although the Government do not intend to increase the block grant on the basis of the Bill, they are giving themselves the opportunity in the future to make additional payments—for example, through the block grant—for expenditure that is incurred as a result of the Assembly, say, lobbying Ministers in its attempt to influence new initiatives on the basis of what it is allowed to do under the Bill?

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales 12:00 pm, 28th June 2005

If circumstances arose in which the Bill incurred additional expenditure and we did not have the clause, we would have to return to the House and introduce primary legislation to take the necessary powers, which would be illogical. As I said, we do not believe there will be any need for Parliament to grant additional funds to enact any of the functions in the Bill, but who can predict what might happen in the distant future? The clause is a safety measure. I hope that that explains its purpose.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am deeply unhappy with that explanation. The explanation that the Minister did not give us is why the Government do not simply increase the block grant. There is no need to use the Bill as an excuse to give the Assembly more money; the Government can simply do that. There is no restriction on extra funding to Wales at any stage; it will be “Barnetted” and go into the block grant. The Government have already proposed to increase the block grant for Wales on a year-on-year basis until 2012. I am curious about why, suddenly, we need the belt and braces of the clause.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman is an experienced parliamentarian and he will know that there is always a money clause in Bills, not just those that relate to Wales. I shall try to help him further: the Bill carries   the potential for increased expenditure by the Assembly and local authorities; that needs to be authorised, regardless of anything that the Government might have to say.

I am trying to reassure the hon. Gentleman, first, that there is no intention to increase the block grant because of anything in the Bill. I cannot make predictions, but I cannot think of an example in which the Assembly would require the block grant to be increased rather than deciding to fund a particular function in the Bill from its own block grant and expenditure. However, it would be ludicrous not to provide for such an eventuality in the future and rather than going through the process of primary legislation, the clause has been included to cover the possibility of Parliament having to vote more money to the Assembly for the functions in the Bill. That is why the clause is there.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I understand why it is there; the Minister explained it perfectly. Today we have agreed to the Assembly having all sorts of extra spending facilities, should it choose to use them—the ability to spend money on air transport, for example. The Government are clear that that is within the Assembly budget and we are all comfortable with that.

What is worrying is what decisions the Treasury may have taken—a Treasury Minister moved the proposal on Second Reading—that allowed the Government to have the wording in the Bill. The Government must estimate their expenditure at UK as well as Welsh level, so the Treasury must have thought about how much money the Bill could cost or it would not have allowed the clause to stay in the Bill. From my short experience in the House, I know that the Treasury would not issue a blank cheque of any kind.

The Bill has the potential to incur huge bills, should the Assembly so decide. We have pretty much agreed that providing air transport is not financially viable, but the Assembly can sponsor it. That could involve massive amounts, because there is virtually no limit on what could be spent flying A380s in and out of Cardiff. I know that that was never the Government’s intention, but they must have discussed the matter with the Treasury; otherwise, the clause could not have been tacked on to the bottom of the Bill.

The clause changes the Bill dramatically, because the Government’s list of intentions never included allowing the Assembly to spend more than there is in the block grant. I totally accept the Minister’s reasoning for the belt-and-braces approach, but I do not think that he has told us the whole story, so I shall give him the opportunity to do so now.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

I shall respond again. I am assured that every Bill includes such a clause.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

That may be so, but every Government Bill certainly includes such a clause.

Let me try to help the hon. Member for Leominster. A UK-wide piece of legislation on transport or another issue may require the Assembly, a joint transport authority or a local authority to carry out functions in addition to those currently funded directly by the Assembly, and the clause would enable them to do so by allowing for additional funds to be made available for that purpose.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does not that fly in the face of devolution? The idea behind devolution is that the Welsh Assembly knows what its budget is, makes its decisions and gets on with things. It is not on suddenly to say, “It’s all right if they get into a pickle. We’ll bung ‘em.” That is absolutely against the spirit of everything that we have discussed today.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman is deliberately or inadvertently not understanding what I am saying. A new Act might be passed in Westminster requiring the Assembly to carry out additional functions that are not in the devolution settlement. There are grey areas in terms of transport, and air transport, as we discussed, will remain the responsibility of the Department for Transport, not the Assembly. However, a new requirement in future might mean that the Assembly, a joint transport authority or a local authority has to take additional sums from those that are being spent at the time. In those circumstances, that money could be spent.

Let me reiterate that most of the debate is theoretical. All the funding that we have discussed will be from within the block grant. Whether a decision was taken to subsidise an air transport route from north to south Wales or to have a new heads of the valleys long-distance bus route, the funding would come from within the Assembly budget. All that I am saying is that, as with all other legislation that we pass in the House, the Bill contains a money clause, and this one is no different.

We have gone round the houses sufficiently, and the hon. Gentleman has received his explanation. I hope that we can now move on to consider clause 16.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister has done a grand job. He has done everything that he can to explain the position to me and he has been charming and charitable, so he must not take my next point personally. Glancing around the Room, I do not think that he will have trouble outvoting me on this clause, but it is important that he does so because I do not see how the clause can be part of the Bill if he is serious about devolution. The idea that every Bill must have a money clause is fine, if they all apply to England and Wales.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour, Ogmore

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I may be able to assist him.

If, at some time in future, the great Bill that is fermenting in the Treasury at the moment concerning the high-speed electrified line from London Paddington to Llangynwyd in my constituency is passed, I would not expect the Assembly to pick up the costs. If the Treasury is going to pump-prime that, I would expect money to be passed down. That is an   example of the sort of unforeseeable circumstance that may happen in two or three years’ time in my constituency, and I would expect monies to follow accordingly.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I totally understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but there is no need for that to be done through the Bill. That is the point.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

I do not really want to pursue this point because we have probably done it to death, but does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that if he succeeds in winning a vote to take the money resolution out of the Bill, there will—[Interruption.] I am not holding my breath. If somehow that happens, there would be various elements of transport policy under the jurisdiction of the Assembly, which could not be supported financially by a Government sympathetic to that transport policy in Westminster.

Even if a Conservative Government were absolutely determined to electrify the line that the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) spoke of a moment ago, the Secretary of State for Wales would be obliged to tell the Chancellor, “I’m sorry, but we can’t pay for the bit that starts under the Severn and goes west towards Wales.” Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that in 10 years’ time he would want to be restricted as Secretary of State for Wales in his support for Wales concerning what would appear to be a random collection of areas of transport policy?

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I totally understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I understand why he says it, but he is wrong. He is wrong because even if I were to electrify the hon. Member for Ogmore, I would still have to—

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Shocking indeed.

If I were to do so, I would have to pass a Bill that has a proper money resolution because that money would need to be spent. This Bill does not have a money implication. It is Budget neutral according to the Treasury and the Minister. All the spending will be done by the Assembly from within the block grant. Therefore, the idea that more money will be needed, hypothetically—I think that is the Minister’s argument—at some distant date when something changes can be legislated for at the time when that hypothetical future becomes reality. Therefore, there is no need for the Treasury to have the opportunity to spend.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

On a point of order, Miss Begg. I have received further information on the matter. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the clause is in italics. The money resolution was passed on Second Reading and the clause cannot now be deleted. Can you confirm, Miss Begg, that a money resolution was passed on Second Reading and that the clause cannot, therefore, be deleted?

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

Yes, a money order was passed on Second Reading, but it is for the Committee to go through the Bill clause by clause so it can express its view. It still has the opportunity to express its view by voting against the clause.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful for that ruling. It is an excellent example of why we should probe the Government at every opportunity to find out what they are up to. I think that they appreciate knowing what they are up to as well. However, I do not agree with the reasoning that underlies including the clause. I understand that it may be impossible for me to take it out of the Bill but I am not going to give up without having a go, so I shall press the matter to a Division.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

It is worth pointing out that if the vote on clause 15 were to be lost, it would still have no effect on the Bill.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 11, Noes 2.

Division number 2 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 15 - Money

Aye: 10 MPs

No: 1 MP

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

NOES

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

That is not a point of order for the Chair. I will leave it to individual Members to decide.

Clauses 16 and 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill to the House.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

I thank hon. Members for their presence. I hope that the new Members have found this a learning experience—I certainly have in the Chair.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

Thank you for the way in which you have chaired the Committee, Miss Begg. It has been a pleasure to serve under you, even though it has been a brief experience—perhaps some would say the briefer, the better, but there we are. Through you, I thank the officials, the police and all the others associated with the conduct of the Committee. I thank my officials, who do not technically exist here, and I thank everyone for all the contributions that have been made. The Committee has been held in a good spirit and it shows   the benefit of pre-legislative scrutiny. The flow has been relatively easy today because a lot of the hard work has been done in the Welsh Affairs Committee and the National Assembly’s Economic Development and Transport Committee.

Although we were unable to accept amendments from the Opposition, those amendments were perfectly proper and gave us the opportunity to debate some important issues. They allowed the Government to place on the record our intention in respect of the Bill and the Opposition to express any concerns that they had. As a result of our deliberations, we will produce a good piece of legislation.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I share in the thanks of the Minister and the whole Committee for the way in which you have handled the sittings, Miss Begg. The Committee has been exciting, and, particularly in the case of the last Division, groundbreaking in the way in which it has enabled us to discover certain parts of the legislative process. I agree with much of what the Minister just said, particularly about the hard work involved in the pre-legislative scrutiny.

One of the reasons why pre-legislative scrutiny is so effective is that the Government’s mind is very open at that stage. Any Member who can get his or her views through the Select Committee to the Government is likely to get a favourable response. Traditionally, that used to take place in the Standing Committee on the Bill. I would like the Government to be more open-minded, but this is not necessarily the Bill with which to emphasise that point. I can see the Chairman of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs chuckling from a sedentary position, because he knows, as I do, that that just does not happen anymore. However, we have—throughout—sought to test the Government and their resolve about the way in which they have worded the   Bill. We have drawn attention to the various anomalies. While I am not always happy to have to withdraw my amendments, I am grateful to the Minister for his constructive and helpful comments and guidance. Last but not least, I thank those hon. Members of the Opposition parties who did not table amendments—they must try harder next time.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Further to whatever that was from the Englishman abroad, I thank you, Miss Begg, for a superlatively well chaired couple of sittings today, right up to the nail-biting climax on clause 15 on a vote that could not make a difference and was, anyway, lost. You may be interested to know that as soon as tomorrow afternoon I shall be flying Andrew Davies—one of the key players—from Cardiff international airport to Welshpool international airport. No doubt that will give me an opportunity to update him on our proceedings, on your exceptional chairing of the Committee and on the fact that it seems that, despite occasional contretemps today, there is a significant degree of agreement among all parties that the Welsh Assembly deserves the powers that the Bill gives it.

I look forward to a more integrated approach to road, rail and air transport in Wales in the future.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development)

I add my thanks to you, Miss Begg. I congratulate everyone on a well tempered and interesting debate. I look forward to many more such debates in the Welsh Grand Committee and Welsh Standing Committees. I do not know how things are done in Scotland, but I think that this is a model for how things are done in Wales. I wish the Bill good speed.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill to be reported without amendment.

Committee rose at twenty-two minutes past Five o’clock.