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Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 368:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 369 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 370:

    Page 42, line 9, after (" 10(5)") insert (", (Alternative arrangements)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Elton: Some of us would like to know whether there is to be a dinner break; and, if so, when.

Clause 69, as amended, agreed to.

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Clauses 70 and 71 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Minor and Consequential Amendments]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 371:

    Page 50, line 28, leave out ("52") and insert (" 52(3A)(a)(i) or (ii)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Brougham and Vaux: There is too much noise as my noble friend the Deputy Chairman of Committees is putting the Questions. I should like to point out to the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip that this is not the first time that this has happened. I wish the noble Lord the Chief Whip could do something about the noise when noble Lords leave the Chamber, both after Question Time and Divisions. The situation is getting very serious.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 372:

    Page 50, line 33, at end insert--

("Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7)

. In section 30 of the Local Government Act 1974 (reports on investigation by Local Commissioner)--
(a) in subsection (3), the words "except where subsection (3A) below applies" are omitted,
(b) subsection (3A) is omitted.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 375. These amendments deal with the alignment of the Local Government Act legislation in relation to the ombudsman. I do not believe them to be controversial and at this time of night I hope that they can be taken without extremely lengthy debate. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 373 to 374A:

    Page 50, line 34, at end insert--

(".--(1) Section 5 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 (designation and reports of monitoring officer) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1), before "the officer so" there is inserted "subject to subsection (1A) below".
(3) After that subsection there is inserted--
"(1A) The officer designated under subsection (1) above by a relevant authority to which this subsection applies may not be that authority's head of paid service.
(1B) Subsection (1A) above applies to the following relevant authorities in England and Wales--
(a) a county council,
(b) a county borough council,
(c) a district council,
(d) a London borough council,
(e) the Greater London Authority,

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(f) the Common Council of the City of London in its capacity as a local authority or police authority, and
(g) the Council of the Isles of Scilly."
(4) In subsection (8), in paragraph (a) of the definition of "relevant authority", for "(j)" there is substituted "(k)".
. Sections 31 and 32(1) of that Act (National Code of Local Government Conduct) are omitted.").

    Page 50, line 35, leave out ("the Local Government and Housing Act 1989") and insert ("that Act").

    Page 50, line 42, column 2, after ("tribunal") insert ("or interim case tribunal").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Repeals]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 375 and 376:

    Page 51, line 8, at end insert--

    ("1974 c. 7.Local GovernmentAct1974.In section 30, in subsection (3), "except where subsection (3A) below applies" and subsection (3A).")

    Page 51, line 13, column 3, after ("Sections") insert ("31, 32(1) and").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 72 [Commencement]:

[Amendments Nos. 377 to 379 not moved.]

Clause 72 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order 2000

9.8 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton : My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

This order corrects a number of omissions and deficiencies in the first order that your Lordships debated last year. It does not depart from the principle that the Assembly should assume the functions of the Secretary of State for Wales; indeed it fulfils that principle. The order mostly transfers functions to the Assembly which were inadvertently left out of the first order. The remaining provisions transfer functions which should not have gone to the Assembly back to the UK Government.

I shall cover some of the key points in the order now. If noble Lords have particular queries, I shall seek to deal with those in closing the debate. The order transfers to the Assembly many more functions than it transfers back to Ministers. Some of these, such as those contained in regulations implementing the common agricultural policy, are straightforwardly for the Assembly. It should have these functions as part of its overall responsibility for agriculture in Wales. Others came too late for the first order, for instance,

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the functions in the Tax Credits Act 1999 of approving childcare providers in respect of which families can claim a tax credit. The order rightly transfers all these functions to the Assembly.

The order also transfers a small number of functions back to Ministers from the Assembly. In each case they deal with matters which were never the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Wales and thus ought not to be for the Assembly. Perhaps the most important example relates to the Mental Health Act 1983. The first transfer order inadvertently transferred to the Assembly my right honourable friend the Home Secretary's powers in the Mental Health Act 1983 to authorise the detention of criminals and remand prisoners in secure hospitals. The Assembly has no expertise in this area and since the transfer the Home Office has been exercising these functions on its behalf under an agency agreement. The order restores the correct position by transferring the functions back to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

I hope that the examples that I have chosen serve to illustrate the kind of technical changes this order seeks to make. As I say, I shall endeavour to deal with any further queries during the debate or in closing it. This order should not be contentious. The Assembly has already unanimously agreed to the draft and I urge your Lordships to do the same.

Moved, that the draft order laid before the House on 20th January be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, it is always salutary for the Government to admit the error of their ways, and that is what this order amounts to. I am glad that the noble Baroness has come to this "confession box" that is Parliament to talk about the errors and omissions that have now been corrected.

I am bound to say that we suspected that the original order would contain some errors and omissions which are now corrected in the present draft order. I have listened carefully to the Minister and have read the speech of Mr Paul Murphy, the Secretary of State for Wales, to the 5th Standing Committee on delegated legislation on 31st January at col. 3 of Hansard for the other place. Having said that the first order has been found to contain mistakes, he went on to say that,

    "the errors in the first order have not caused any significant disruption to public services or the business of government here"--

presumably, that is in Whitehall,

    "or in Cardiff. Where necessary, I or my colleagues have entered into agency agreements with the Assembly to discharge functions that were inadvertently transferred or to allow the Assembly to discharge functions that were inadvertently not transferred. The order formalises that position".

That paragraph is quite revealing in that it shows just how easy it is for the Government to circumvent the normal procedures laid down in legislation. I would hope that the Government would take immediate steps in those circumstances to inform Parliament of the alternative action that they are taking; that is, the agency arrangements.

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I do not want to belabour the point but the danger is obvious--namely, that some future government, or some future Secretary of State with less integrity than Mr Murphy, might seek to avoid the controversial Transfer of Functions Order by means of an agency agreement. I sincerely hope that the Government will give careful consideration to this issue and let us know the outcome in due course.

Technical though this order appears to be, it deals with matters of considerable importance. It gives the Assembly full control over common agricultural policy matters in Wales, including payments under the beef special premium scheme. Bearing in mind the parlous state of Welsh agriculture and the fact that average net farm incomes have gone down by some 25 per cent this year on last, we may well be justified in debating that particular part of the order. It also has a bearing on the Assembly's powers to ban trials of genetically modified crops in Wales and gives the Assembly power to act independently of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That is a highly controversial area.

Other matters covered relate to child care providers and their approval so that families can claim tax credit. There is also the vexed subject of water supply on the borders. I am glad to see that the position is clarified. We certainly welcome that.

All those subjects and others could be debated at length. We may do so at some future date, but probably not this evening. We have that right, affirmed on our behalf by the memorandum of understanding issued by the Lord Chancellor last year.

I am intrigued by another point made by the Secretary of State to the Standing Committee on delegated legislation, where he said in col. 4 of Hansard that other functions transferred, one way or the other, under the Tax Credit Act 1999,

    "deal with the taxation and benefit systems and are properly matters for my Ministerial colleagues".

In other words, he could not speak about those matters. Can the Minister, who answers here for the Government as a whole, tell us a little more about those matters under the Tax Credit Act 1999. I was not aware that the Assembly could be involved in tax matters, but it clearly is, tangentially at least.

The National Assembly, which dealt with this order briefly and formally under a severe time restraint, approved the order in a matter of minutes. That may be admirable celerity, but it means that your Lordships would be justified in pausing a while as we bandy these powers about within the Government. Your Lordships would be quite entitled to do so, although I personally refrain from delving too deeply into the specific areas referred to in the order.

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