Select Committee on Welsh Affairs First Special Report


The Welsh Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Special Report:—



1. In its First Report of Session 1999-2000, Shifting the Balance, the Liaison Committee said that it would "expect all appropriate select committees, by the rise of the House for the Christmas 2000 recess, to assess progress on "live" recommendations and criticisms, and to report."[8] This Special Report is our response to that recommendation.

2. We are in a very different position from most of the select committees to which the Liaison Committee's recommendation applies, since a large part of the work of the old Welsh Office was devolved to the National Assembly for Wales towards the end of the last Session of Parliament. We do not consider that our recommendations made before devolution are still "live", nor do we consider it appropriate to ask the National Assembly to comment on the implementation of recommendations which, when they were made, were the responsibility of the UK Government. We have only recently received the Government's replies to the reports we have published since devolution; it is still too early to ask for follow-up on their implementation.[9] We have therefore decided, in this Special Report, to focus on the work of the Committee since devolution. A summary of that work is set out in the Annex.[10]


3. On 1 July 1999, responsibility for a large part of the work of the Welsh Office passed to the National Assembly for Wales.[11] The majority of Welsh Office staff became officials of the Assembly, with a few transferring to the small Office of the Secretary of State for Wales (the Wales Office) and the old Welsh Office ceased to exist. Developing and defining the Committee's role in the light of devolution has been one of the major challenges facing us during this Session of Parliament.

4. Much of the groundwork for the Committee's role post-devolution was laid in the Procedure Committee's Report, The Procedural Consequences of Devolution.[12] We submitted two memoranda of evidence to the inquiry and members of the Welsh Affairs Committee gave oral evidence to the Procedure Committee.[13] We argued that there was an important role for the Welsh Affairs Committee post-devolution. We felt that there was a danger that Welsh interests might be neglected at Westminster after devolution and that the Committee could act as a voice for Wales and as a bridge between Westminster and the Assembly, though not as the voice of the Assembly.

5. We felt that the Committee could play a useful role in the scrutiny of Welsh legislation, and of UK­wide (or England and Wales­wide) legislation as it affected Wales, perhaps particularly at the pre­legislative stage. In this role, we envisaged that it would work closely with the Assembly's subject committees.

6. We did not want the Committee's remit to be restricted to the executive responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Wales, since they would be few and largely of little political interest. We did not think it right that the Committee should seek to inquire into (or second guess) Assembly policy, but we did not want our role to be restricted too tightly. We recommended that the Committee should have a wide­ranging Welsh Affairs brief, perhaps including monitoring how the moneys allocated by Parliament are spent, examining matters within the responsibility of the Assembly in the course of scrutinising legislation made at Westminster, and possibly matters within the responsibility of other Government departments. In that case, it would no longer be a select committee related to a government department, but a cross-cutting committee more like the Environmental Audit Committee.

7. The Procedure Committee's Report presented its recommendations as the first stage of an evolutionary approach, which may need to be adapted in the light of experience. It set out as general principles that the House should respect the fact of devolution and try not to interfere with devolved matters, and that there should be as few procedural barriers to co­operation between legislatures as possible. It recommended that there should continue to be Select Committees for Scotland and Wales; that they should be concerned with the role and responsibilities of the relevant Secretary of State and "on occasion" the policy of UK Departments affecting Scotland and Wales. It suggested that, to avoid uncertainty about their remit, they should not be appointed under Standing Order No. 152 (in other words they should not be strictly departmentally­related).[14]

8. On 25 October 1999 our terms of reference, as set out in Standing Order No. 152, were amended to reflect the devolution changes, though not in exactly the way recommended by the Procedure Committee. The Committee continues to be a "select committee related to a government department" appointed under Standing Order No. 152, but it is now appointed "to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Welsh Office (Office of the Secretary of State for Wales (including relations with the National Assembly for Wales))".[15]

9. We have taken a flexible approach to the interpretation of the new terms of reference. The primary functions of the Wales Office include promoting the interests of Wales in policy formulation by the UK Government, promoting UK Government policies in Wales, consulting the National Assembly on the Government's legislative programme and steering primary legislation through Parliament.[16] We believe that this gives us a broad remit to examine the impact of UK Government policy in Wales, as well as more technical issues such as the mechanics of the devolution settlement and the calculation of the National Assembly's budget.

10. Our main inquiries during the present Session have been into European Structural Funds, the impact of the Transport Bill in Wales and social exclusion in Wales.[17] All these inquiries have involved an examination of the impact of UK Government policies in Wales, as well as some matters which are the responsibility of the National Assembly.

11. Our relationship with the National Assembly has been good. We have held regular meetings with the Panel of Committee Chairs to discuss matters of mutual interest. We have taken evidence from officials from the National Assembly on four occasions and held other informal meetings with them. We have very much appreciated the spirit of co-operation with which they have approached these meetings and we are grateful to the Presiding Officer for allowing us to use facilities in the Assembly buildings.

Follow-up of Reports and Government Responses

12. We have not thought it appropriate to ask the National Assembly for details of progress on implementing our recommendations in Reports prior to Devolution. It is still too soon to follow up further developments relating to the Reports we have made since devolution since we have only recently received the Government's responses (see below).

13. We are grateful to the Ministers in the National Assembly for providing us with responses to recommendations which fall within their responsibilities. The principal task of this Committee is to scrutinize the work of the Secretary of State and, although this includes the impact of UK Government policies in Wales and the operation of the devolution settlement itself, the National Assembly, its Ministers and Committees are not subject to formal scrutiny by this Committee or by the United Kingdom Parliament.

14. We have published seven Government responses this Session, as appendices to special reports. Only two of those were responses to reports published in this Session and one response covered two reports from the 1998-99 Session.[18] All but one of the Government responses which we received during this Session arrived after the conventional two-month deadline.[19] In one case, eight months elapsed between the publication of our Report and the receipt of the Government response.[20] We recognise that the co-ordination of a response from both the Government (and sometimes from several departments) and the National Assembly is inevitably more time-consuming than a single government department producing a response. We accept that some delays have been inevitable during the first months of devolution, but we hope to see a reduction in the time taken for government responses to reach us during the next Session of Parliament.

15. We have taken note of the Liaison Committee's recommendation that if a department continues to submit late replies without giving a good reason the committee concerned should, at the time of publication of a report, arrange for the responsible Minister to appear before them a little more than two months later. We have not yet adopted this practice but we will give further consideration, during the next Session, of whether to do so.[21] However, we are not persuaded that it would be appropriate to do so in cases where the delay in providing a response was solely due to a delay on the part of the National Assembly for Wales.

Scrutiny of UK policy relating to Wales


16. Our First Report this Session, European Structural Funds, focused on an issue of major importance to Wales.[22] During 1998 and early 1999, it became increasingly apparent that West Wales and the Valleys might qualify for Objective 1 status in the European Structural Funding round which was to run from 2000 to 2006, and thus become eligible for a significantly higher level of European funding. In October 1998, the then Secretary of State for Wales set up a European Task Force to advise him in the negotiations, to co­ordinate the preparation of a development strategy and related documents, and to mobilise a partnership of the key bodies involved in social and economic development in Wales. Concerned to ensure that everything possible was being done to prepare for the opportunities ahead, we took evidence from the Task Force on 16 March 1999.

17. Responsibility for social and economic development, and for the Structural Funds strategy, passed to the Assembly at devolution. However, as we are discovering in many other areas, there is no clear dividing line between devolved and non­devolved responsibilities. In this case, there was considerable concern that Wales would not be able to benefit fully from the European funds available because of funding constraints imposed by the UK Government. Our inquiry focused on the UK funding aspects of the issue, although our witnesses included Members and officials from the National Assembly.

18. Several of our recommendations were accepted by the Government or the National Assembly for Wales. In particular, the Government and the Assembly, jointly, agreed to publish a simple but authoritative guide to public expenditure in Wales, setting out in simple terms how both UK and European funding operate in Wales.[23] This document, Funding the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly: A Statement of Funding Policy, was published in July 2000.[24]


19. Our major inquiry since devolution has been into Social Exclusion in Wales. A Report will be published on 15 January 2001.[25] The scope of the inquiry and the range of issues involved necessitated a lengthy programme of oral evidence, informal meetings and visits. We received written evidence from some 80 organisations and individuals, and held nine sessions of oral evidence, four of them in Wales. We had informal briefing meetings with representatives of the UK Government and the National Assembly. We held 11 days of visits in all parts of Wales, from Anglesey to Monmouthshire, from Swansea to Wrexham. We held two academic seminars, in Bangor and in Swansea, a seminar with ethnic minority representatives in Cardiff, and a meeting with young people in Machynlleth. In addition, we visited the Republic of Ireland in March 2000, and the United States of America (Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Gary, Indiana) in June 2000.

20. It was during this inquiry that we encountered most acutely the difficulty of separating devolved and non-devolved matters. Responsibility for tackling social exclusion crosses the devolution divide, and appeared to us to be a key area in which co­operation between the UK Government and the National Assembly for Wales would be crucial. The National Assembly has responsibility for housing, health, transport, education and training and local government in Wales. But responsibility for social security benefits, for taxation, for the Employment Service, for the regulation of financial services, for the management of the Post Office and for the fight against crime all rest with the UK Government. We did not set out to scrutinise what was being done by the Assembly which, as we have already noted (paragraph 13), would have been neither appropriate nor useful. We focused primarily on those areas which remained largely the responsibility of UK Government, and on financial exclusion and on poverty, in particular. Nonetheless, some of the evidence we received, and much of what we were told on visits, related to matters which were the responsibility of the National Assembly, and in some areas Assembly and UK responsibilities were very closely intertwined.

Legislative Scrutiny—Second Report: The Transport Bill and its Impact on Wales

21. Following the Queen's Speech in 1999, we wrote to Members of the National Assembly for Wales inviting comments on the Government's proposed legislative programme to see whether there were any concerns which we might usefully raise with Her Majesty's Government. It was obvious from the replies which we received that the item of legislation which was of greatest interest to the Assembly was the Transport Bill,[26] so we decided to conduct a very short inquiry into the Bill as it affected Wales. Since the Bill was already in standing committee when we began our inquiry, we decided—unusually, and in the interests of speed—not to take oral evidence but to base our inquiry solely on the written submissions we received.[27]

22. The tight timetable for the inquiry was largely fortuitous, and we do not believe that there was anything which could have been done differently to avoid it. Assembly Members identified as their main priority a Bill which the Government had placed early in its legislative schedule, both things being to some extent a consequence of the controversial nature of some of the Bill's provisions. Despite being one of the first bills to be referred to a standing committee it was one of the last to receive Royal Assent.

23. Our Report concentrated on four areas of interest to the Assembly: Local Transport Plans, charging for road use and workplace parking, railways, and Passenger Transport Authorities. In response to our recommendations, the Government brought forward amendments to make individual road-charging and workplace parking levy schemes subject to the approval of the National Assembly; to give the National Assembly the right to determine the use of revenues from road­charging and workplace parking, subject to Treasury consent; to place a formal duty on the Strategic Rail Authority to consult the National Assembly about matters within its remit which affect Wales; to require that in metropolitan areas local transport plans should be produced jointly by the Passenger Transport Authority and metropolitan district councils; and to remove a requirement originally contained in the Bill that the payment of service grants to bus operators by the Assembly should be subject to Treasury approval.[28]

24. aWe believe that this was a useful exercise and has helped in part to define the Committee's role post-devolution. Unlike the position in Scotland, where a large measure of responsibility for primary legislation has been devolved, much of the primary legislation passed at Westminster affects Wales directly and we believe that we can play a useful role by taking up Assembly Members' concerns about matters which fall within the responsibility of the UK Parliament. We are repeating the exercise in the 2000-01 Session, and a letter was sent to all AMs shortly after the Queen's Speech on 6 December 2000 inviting them to suggest areas of possible pre-legislative scrutiny. We hope that, in the light of our recent experience, it will prove possible to begin the process of scrutinising earlier and, perhaps, to carry out a more exhaustive inquiry than was possible with the Transport Bill.

Scrutiny of the Wales Office

25. Although we have not wished to confine ourselves to scrutiny of the Secretary of State's rather limited executive role, we have continued to scrutinize the core work of the Wales Office, including its administration, expenditure plans, Annual Report and Service Delivery Agreement, and the implications of Resource Accounting and Budgeting.

26. Since devolution, we have taken evidence from the Secretary of State and officials on the work of the Wales Office on three occasions. On 26 October 1999, we took evidence on the role of the Office of the Secretary of State post-devolution.[29] On 27 June 2000 we took evidence on the first year's work of the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales[30] and on 21 November 2000 we took evidence on the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review and other departmental matters, including the Department's Service Delivery Agreement.[31]

27. The Department has been generally helpful, although there have on a few occasions been unexplained delays in providing written evidence. The Government's memorandum to our current inquiry, Wales in the World,[32] arrived on 9 November 2000 despite our having requested it, before the Summer recess, by 18 October; however, it is worth noting that the memorandum was extremely lengthy and contained contributions from four Government departments and numerous public bodies. On 24 October 2000, we requested a memorandum on how Welsh interests are taken into account in the drafting of primary legislation, to be used as a basis for some questions to the Secretary of State at the evidence session on 21 November. It has not yet been received, although we understand that it is being prepared.

28. There have also been a few gaps in the routine information which the Department provides to the Committee. For example, we were not notified that the simple and authoritative guide to UK and European funding in Wales which we recommended in our report on Structural Funds had been published until we asked Wales Office officials about it during an evidence session.[33] We accept that these delays, omissions and oversights are due to the fact that the Wales Office is considerably smaller than its predecessor Department and that they, like us, are still finding their feet after devolution. The Wales Office's three policy divisions employ between them only about 20 staff and we acknowledge that a request for information from the Committee is more likely to impinge significantly on one or two individual officials than might be the case in a larger department.[34] Nonetheless, accountability to Parliament is a vital part of the work of every government department and we hope to see matters improve over the next Session. This is something to which we will be returning in our next annual report on the Committee's activity.

Liaison with the National Assembly

29. We have held regular informal meetings, since devolution, with the Assembly's Panel of Committee Chairs. These meetings have provided an opportunity for us to discuss our inquiries with Assembly Members and for them to offer suggestions on possible witnesses and lines of inquiry, to give feedback on our reports and to discuss areas of possible overlap. We have also had discussions on committee practice, procedure and working methods. It is our intention to continue to hold such meetings quarterly, at the National Assembly building.

30. Organising informal joint activity with Assembly Subject Committees has proved to be difficult, though we should stress that this is not as a result of any reluctance to engage in such activity on either side. Meetings have proved difficult to organise because of the different timetables operating in Cardiff and Westminster—the most convenient day for members of the Welsh Affairs Committee to attend meetings in Cardiff is Monday, en route from their constituencies to Westminster, but since the Assembly does not meet on Mondays, most AMs use Mondays for constituency business. Individual AMs, including Assembly Ministers, have joined us on visits and at seminars. We are keen to explore over the next year ways in which we might work more closely, where appropriate, with Committees of the National Assembly and with individual Assembly Members.

31. The National Assembly has been willing to submit evidence to our inquiries and the First Minister, the Minster for Economic Development and the Chair of the Economic Development Committee have all appeared before us as witnesses, as have several Assembly officials. Although it is not our role to scrutinise the work of the National Assembly, it would be very difficult for us to work effectively without their co-operation.

Use of Welsh at Westminster

32. On several occasions we have taken evidence in Wales in the Welsh language. During our inquiry into Social Exclusion in Wales, we decided to hold an informal meeting with socially-excluded young people from Wales—young carers, unemployed people, disabled people and those who had been in contact with the police and criminal justice system. We had intended to hold the meeting at Westminster, partly so that we could include a tour of the Palace for the participants.

33. Given the nature of the event, we were concerned that the participants should feel as comfortable as possible and be able to speak openly about their personal experiences. We felt very strongly that this meant that they should have the facility to speak to us in Welsh, if they preferred to do so.

34. We discovered that we would not be able to provide Welsh-English translation if we held the meeting in Westminster since the rule that Welsh could only be used for committee proceedings in Wales applied, mutatis mutandis, to informal meetings of this kind. We therefore decided to hold the meeting in Wales, at Celtica in Machynlleth. Following the meeting, the Committee directed the Chairman to write to the Chairman of the Procedure Committee to ask if they would review this rule. The Procedure Committee agreed to look at this matter, and we are grateful to them for doing so at a time when they were busy with a number of other pressing matters, including an urgent inquiry into the rules governing the election of the Speaker.[35]

35. The Procedure Committee published its Report, Use of the Welsh Language by Select Committee Witnesses, on 18 December.[36] The Report recommends "that the House should approve the use of Welsh by select committee witnesses at Westminster, subject to the same conditions as those previously approved by the House in relation to proceedings in Wales".[37] We welcome the Procedure Committee's recommendation and we look forward to the House being given an early opportunity to approve it. The change which the Procedure Committee has recommended is both modest and narrow in its scope. There are many other areas in which the use of the Welsh language by the Committee might be extended. These include the use of Welsh in formal publications—such as Reports and Minutes of Evidence—and in informal publications, principally press notices. The Welsh Language Act 1993 does not apply to the House of Commons,[38] but it does apply to the majority of organisations which we deal with and they accordingly operate Welsh language schemes which are designed to give effect to the principle that in the conduct of public business in Wales the English and Welsh languages should be treated on the basis of equality.[39] Even those organisations which do not have a statutory duty to do so usually publish reports and other documents in both languages. The Committee's use only of English in its publications, and its use of Welsh in only certain, quite restricted circumstances during its meetings must appear to be anomalous to many in Wales. The anomaly has been highlighted by the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales which is fully bilingual, where Members and witnesses may speak freely in whichever language they prefer and which releases all its publications in both languages.

36. We will give further consideration to these issues during the next Session of Parliament. We recognise that any change to current practice during the Committee's formal proceedings or publications would be a matter for the House.

8  First Report from the Liaison Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC 300, Shifting the Balance, paras. 51-55. Back
9  See paragraphs 12-15. Back
10  pp. xii-xix. Back
11  The areas in which functions were transferred were: agriculture, forestry, fisheries and food; ancient monuments and historic buildings; culture (including museums, galleries and libraries); economic development; Education and training; the environment; health and health services; highways; housing; industry; local government; social services; sport and recreation; tourism; town and country planning; transport; water and flood defence; and the Welsh language. Full details are set out in the Transfer of Functions (National Assembly for Wales) Order 1999. Back
12  Fourth Report from the Procedure Committee, Session 1998-99, HC 185, The Procedural Consequences of DevolutionBack
13  Ibid, pp. 71-85. Back
14  Ibid, para. 21. Back
15  The Standing Order is inaccurate since the Welsh Office in fact ceased to exist at devolution. The Office of the Secretary of State for Wales is known as the Wales Office. Back
16  Departmental Report by the Wales Office (Office of the Secretary of State for Wales), Cm 4620, April 2000, p. 1. Back
17  See paragraphs 16 to 24. Back
18  First Special Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC 116, Government and National Assembly for Wales Responses to the Fourth and Fifth Reports of the Committee (Session 1998-99) Health Issues in Wales and Paediatric Cardiac Services in WalesBack
19  Limon and McKay (eds.), Erskine May's Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 22nd Edition (London, 1997), p. 672. Back
20  We published our Sixth Report of Session 1998­99, HC 340, Denbighshire County Council's Funding Legacy, on 27 July 1999. The Government's response was received on 29 March 2000 and published as our Third Special Report of Session 1999-2000, HC 426. Back
21  First Report from the Liaison Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC 300, Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive, para. 45. Back
22  First Report of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC 46, European Structural FundsBack
23  Fourth Special Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC 470, Responses from the Government and the National Assembly for Wales to the First Report of the Committee (Session 1999-2000) European Structural Funds, p. iv. Back
24  It is available on the World Wide Web at­ (28 November 2000). Back
25  Third Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC 365, Social Exclusion in WalesBack
26  [Now the Transport Act 2000 (c. 38).] Back
27  Second Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC 287, The Transport Bill and its Impact on WalesBack
28  Fifth Special Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC 497, Responses of the Government and the National Assembly for Wales to the Second Report of the Committee (Session 1999-2000) The Transport Bill and its Impact on WalesBack
29  HC (1998-99) 854. Back
30  HC (1999-2000) 627. Back
31  HC (1999-2000) 995. Back
32  The inquiry was begun late in the present Session and we expect to include details of it in our next annual report. Back
33  See paragraph 18. Back
34  Wales Office (Office of the Secretary of State for Wales) Departmental Report 2000, Cm 4620, April 2000, Figure 2. Back
35  Procedure Committee Press Notice No. 13 of Session 1999-2000, dated 31 October 2000. Back
36  First Report from the Procedure Committee, HC 47, Session 2000-01. Back
37  Ibid, para. 6. Back
38  1993 c. 38. The public bodies to which it does apply are listed in section 6(1) of the Act. Back
39  Welsh Language Act 1993, section 5. Back

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