HC Deb 22 July 1998 vol 316 cc1129-44

Lords amendment: No. 33, in page 13, line 25, at end insert— ("( ) Schedule (Transfer etc. of functions: further provisions) (which makes further provision about the transfer etc. of functions by Order in Council under this section) has effect.")

Mr. Win Griffiths

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 34 to 36, 45, 54, 151, 157, 158, 161 to 163, 168 and 170.

Mr. Griffiths

The amendments clarify what functions the Assembly may be given in England in respect of the sea and in respect of cross-border bodies—that is, bodies whose activities relate to Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), signalled on Report on 25 March the intention to table in another place amendments relating to clause 23. He undertook that any such amendments would not enable the transfer order to give the Assembly more functions in England than was possible under clause 23, and that they would maintain the mechanisms that are in the Bill in respect of the Assembly's functions in England. We have kept to that undertaking.

The principal amendments are No. 34, which deletes clause 23; No. 170, which reproduces many of its provisions in a new schedule; and No. 157, which defines "Wales" as including the territorial sea adjacent to Wales. I propose to concentrate my remarks on the significant changes made by those amendments.

Paragraph 3 of the new schedule limits the range of functions that the Assembly can be given in parts of England that adjoin Wales. Previously, the Bill had allowed potentially any function to be given to the Assembly in respect of a cross-border area; however, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made clear on Report, we intend to transfer such functions to the Assembly only in respect of rivers and other water-related matters. The term "rivers" encompasses the functions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State currently exercises in respect of flood defence and navigation on rivers. The amendment also makes it clear that the Assembly can be given functions only in parts of England that adjoin Wales, and only if the Assembly is given the equivalent functions for the whole or part of Wales. That constitutes a significant narrowing compared to the approach in clause 23(6)(c) and I hope that the House will agree that the clarification is welcome.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I want to get an assurance from him. He has got to paragraph 3, but is going to explain paragraph 2 of the schedule?

Mr. Griffiths

I hope that I shall cover that. Perhaps my hon. Friend will remind me of it, if it appears that I am not going to do as he asks.

I am sure that the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) will find the amendment particularly helpful in demolishing, once and for all, the suggestion that the Assembly would have responsibility for schools in parts of Herefordshire. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary had already dealt with that point on Report on 25 March—Hansard column 645, if the hon. Gentleman wants to check—but the amendment puts the matter beyond any doubt.

Amendment No. 157 provides that: 'Wales' includes the sea adjacent to Wales out as far as the seaward boundary of the territorial sea, which extends 12 nautical miles from the coast. That definition of Wales will apply for all the purposes of the Bill. One effect is that the Assembly may be given ministerial functions only in respect of the territorial sea.

Two other provisions flow from that definition of Wales. First, amendment No. 158 provides an order-making power to determine any boundary between the parts of the sea that areto be treated as adjacent to Wales and those that are not. Amendment No. 151 provides for such an order to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. That power is necessary in the case of the Dee and Severn estuaries and the Bristol channel, where the coast of Wales lies less than 24 nautical miles from the coast of England.

Secondly, paragraph 4 of the new schedule, which is inserted by amendment No. 170, provides that the transfer order may require a Minister of the Crown to consult the Assembly about certain functions essentially to do with the disposal and abandonment of oil and gas installations in the sea adjacent to the territorial sea—that is, beyond the 12-mile limit. There is a similar order-making power to define the boundaries of "Welsh controlled waters" for the purposes of that paragraph.

Paragraph 3 makes it clear that an order under clause 22 may give the Assembly functions in respect of a range of cross-border bodies as diverse as the Environment Agency, Audit Commission, Intervention Board and the North West and North Wales sea fisheries committee, to give just a few examples. The previous definition in clause 23(6)(d) would not have allowed the Assembly to inherit many of the functions that my right hon. Friend currently exercises, and the amendment corrects that oversight.

In the light of the further consideration that we have given to the Assembly's functions, it has become apparent that there are a limited number of functions that it will exercise in Wales but whose principal effect may be felt in England. The effect could take the form of a serious adverse impact on water resources, the water supply or the quality of water in England, and relates to matters such as abstractions from, and discharges into, rivers that flow across the border. We believe that, in recognition of the interests of people living in England who may be affected by the Assembly's decisions in Wales, there should be a limited override power allowing the Secretary of State to intervene and to take certain decisions in place of the Assembly.

4.15 pm
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)

Why does the Minister think that the Secretary of State is likely to behave more responsibly than the Assembly?

Mr. Griffiths

It is not an issue of responsibility, because I am sure that the Assembly, the Secretary of State for Wales and other Secretaries of State with responsibilities in England whose actions might affect Wales will behave very responsibly. It is a cross-border issue involving consultation at an English level. In the cases that I have described, it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to have some responsibility in this matter.

Mr. Wigley

In order to ensure that we understand him correctly, will the Minister spell out his intentions in respect of these changes? Is he really saying that we will give the Secretary of State—whose political colour may be different from that of the Government of the Assembly—a veto over the Assembly when it comes to decisions about abstracting water from rivers in Wales in order to supply the industrial needs of cities in England? Is that what the Government are offering in the amendment? Has the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions turned over Welsh Office Ministers to that extent?

Mr. Griffiths

The issue has absolutely nothing to do with the right hon. Gentleman's question. It is a matter of approaching the matter sensibly.

The Environment Agency could also have some input. The Assembly will have to consider issues on the Welsh side of the border, and the Secretary of State will consider those on the English side. For example, the Environment Agency would have something to say if a decision had adverse effects on the Welsh or English sides of the border. There can be no question of any action taken by the Secretary of State in relation to England having a detrimental effect on the Welsh side of the border. It is a question of balancing these matters, and that is provided for in paragraph 6 of the new schedule. The override power can apply to functions in parts of two named Acts only, and, in due course, the transfer orders will set out our proposals for the precise areas where the override power will be available.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to the right hon. Gentleman about a number of those issues, and I am sure that he will want to consider that correspondence. Certain matters relating to abstraction—to which the right hon. Gentleman referred specifically—will not be covered by this provision; responsibility will remain with Welsh bodies. The right hon. Gentleman should look at the legislation. Abstraction is dealt with under part II of the Water Resources Act 1991, and is excluded from the override provisions. I give him an absolute assurance on that point.

On the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), paragraph 2 of the new schedule is already covered by clause 23(6)(a). It is not new. The purpose is to allow the Assembly to be given responsibility for any function that relates to the Welsh language and culture, whether inside or outside Wales—for example, the power to make grants to education authorities for Welsh language teaching under the Education Act 1996. We propose that the Assembly should have that power for Wales and England.

Irrespective of the override power, as a matter of administrative law the Assembly will have to take account of the wider impact of its decisions across a range of environmental functions, including any impact that may be felt in England.

I have just been reminded that part II of the Water Resources Act was included in the override power, although it says explicitly—this is where my confusion arose—that applications will not be a matter for Ministers, but will be dealt with my the Environment Agency. Ministers would participate in the process only if an application were rejected and was subject to an appeal.

I hope that, with all those matters taken into consideration, the House will be able to agree to the amendment.

Mr. Dafis

Before I deal with the amendment, I should like to say a word about amendment No. 157, which defines the maritime boundary of Wales. Will the Minister comment on the implications of that definition and on the Assembly's powers vis-a-vis the effects of pollution arising from oil and gas exploration and extraction both inside and beyond the area defined as being within Welsh territorial waters? Does he agree that, despite its limited powers in that area, the Assembly will need to develop a comprehensive energy strategy for Wales, and that it will have a lively interest in oil and gas exploration in the seas off Wales? It may prefer alternative developments, such as the large-scale offshore wind technology advocated by Greenpeace.

The Department of Trade and Industry, which licenses oil and gas exploration and exploitation, will have to listen seriously to the Assembly's opinion and have regard to its views about an appropriate energy strategy for Wales and its concerns about the environment.

Mr. Rogers

The hon. Gentleman just referred to Welsh territorial waters. The Bill talks about territorial waters "adjacent to Wales"—in other words, British territorial waters. Is he suggesting that the Assembly should be responsible for all the acts relating to those territorial waters?

Mr. Dafis

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has derived some kind of pleasure from picking up on a small point of definition. The people of Wales regard the seas off the Welsh coasts as being a part of Wales that impinges on their welfare and interests. As I understand it, the amendment is about defining where Wales comes to an end in the sea. [Laughter.] Indeed. I hope that the Minister will address the issues that I have raised on energy and the development of energy policy.

In respect of Lords amendment No. 170, the concern is that the Assembly would be constrained in its ability to ensure the implementation of what might be described as a sustainable water strategy for Wales. Surely it will need to consider that because water is important for environmental policy and vital for economic development policy, both of which come within a sustainable development policy.

Wales is richly endowed with invaluable water resources. I do not need to tell hon. Members that water is becoming increasingly important in the United Kingdom and globally. We know that there is an impending significant, and perhaps serious, water shortage in certain parts of the United Kingdom arising from the increasing use of water in development and in agriculture as well as in industry. Demand and consumption are rising, and there is the whole question of climate change.

I emphasise that thought is currently being given to the large-scale transfer of water resources from various parts of the United Kingdom to areas that will suffer water shortages. That certainly includes Wales, so new reservoirs and impounding water will be on the agenda within the next 10 to 15 years. The availability of water is also relevant to the location of economic activity, and to where it is appropriate to locate certain industries and to grow certain agricultural crops. Wales should be able to benefit from its plentiful supply of water and, rather than exporting water as a raw material, value would be added to water in Wales.

We need to get the matter clear now and hear the Minister's view: would the Assembly have to approve any transfer of water, which there might have to be in certain circumstances? Surely the Assembly would have to approve such a transfer. It simply would not be acceptable for the Secretary of State to be able to override it on the grounds in Lords amendment No. 170 and especially paragraph 6(1) of the new schedule.

The Minister referred to the Secretary of State's letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) on this matter. The Secretary of State said: The compulsory purchase and compulsory works powers needed to build a new reservoir are in part VI of the Water Industries Act 1991 and the override power of the Secretary of State therefore would not permit intervention. However, the amendment refers not to the Water Industries Act 1991, but to the Water Resources Act 1991, part VII of which applies to compulsory purchase in respect of the laying of pipes. That is relevant to reservoirs and water transfers, and I should like to hear what the Minister has to say about it.

There seems to be confusion between the two 1991 Acts. Part II of the Water Resources Act 1991 concerns abstraction licences, although I do not know whether subsequent legislation and amendment means that the provisions have been shifted to other parts of that Act. The hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) shakes his head, which is a great comfort to me—a great discomfort, I should say. We need satisfactory clarification of these matters. If we do not receive it, we shall be obliged to divide the House.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)

Let me take up some of the points made by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis). One of his simpler points involved Lords amendment No. 157, and its definition of Wales as including the sea…as far as the…boundary of the territorial sea". We welcome that definition, but it would not allow the Assembly to influence decisions on oil explorations more than 12 miles offshore.

We all know of the grid in the Irish sea where there are possibilities of drilling—and, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, opportunities for pollution, which we would be unable to prevent. The Assembly could debate such an issue under the general provisions of the Bill, but it could not have a formal say in regard to, for example, a planning application for oil exploration just 13 miles off the Welsh coast. That is worrying, and I should like to know how the Government propose to deal with it.

Paragraph 4 of the new schedule proposed in Lords amendment No. 170 provides for the Assembly to be consulted about the abandonment of oil and gas installations—a very topical subject—but not about new explorations. Many members of the Assembly would not consider that right.

4.30 pm

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the new schedule is the provision in paragraph 6 that allows the Secretary of State to overrule the Assembly on matters of water supply and quality if the exercise of a function in that regard might have a "serious adverse impact" in England. We consider that far too wide-ranging. It would allow the Secretary of State to go against the Assembly's opinion and to allow, for example, water extraction from Welsh rivers for use in England.

There is clearly a need for effective water management between England and Wales, and there may be a need for the transfer of water from Wales to some parts of England that have less water, but we think it essential for that to take place with the permission of the Assembly, rather than at the will of the Secretary of State.

As a constituency Member, I am particularly interested in that aspect. The River Wye and the River Usk flow through my constituency, and there is a huge issue of compensatory flow at times of water shortage. Moreover, Welsh Water is putting many more boreholes in both river valleys so that water can be extracted for public consumption. The problem is that that lowers the river levels, and has a grave ecological effect on the rivers. If we are to be asked for more abstraction for England without the Assembly's being able to have an impact on decisions, we shall be in considerable trouble.

The question has arisen in the past of the supply of water from the Elan valley, and the agreement that was struck between Welsh Water and Severn Trent plc for the supply of water to the midlands. That was achieved, but it was controversial at the time. I have in my house plans made 100 years ago—which I have discussed with a neighbour—for a water grid to supply southern England, which is now being talked about again. The plans are very sophisticated, even by today's standards. They allow for the damming of the River Irfon, just above Builth Wells, for piped water to go into Llangors lake, near where I live, for the level of the lake to be raised considerably and for water to flow down the Usk and into the Thames system down to Staines. It is all there on paper, and I am sure that it could be resuscitated.

It would be a disgrace if the Welsh Assembly could not influence such activity, but it could happen within the next 10 years. We must have safeguards, enabling the Assembly to influence water abstraction from Wales for use elsewhere. I feel very strongly about the matter.

Mr. Rogers

What aspect would the Assembly want to influence—the engineering side, the projects side or just the costs side?

Mr. Livsey

I do not think that the House would want me to go into a treatise on construction. Matters of principle must be considered, such as the issue of a way-leave for pipes that may cross land but from which no one in Wales would benefit.

We welcome the fact that the Assembly has a role in the development of the Welsh language and culture within and outside Wales. During the referendum campaign, I discovered that there are 400,000 Welsh speakers in England and 500,000 in Wales. That is a fascinating statistic. The Assembly should provide an excellent opportunity for the Welsh language and culture to be given appropriate priority, and I am sure that they will flourish in the future.

The other provisions of the new schedule, especially those that provide clarification, are welcome. However, the possibility of the Secretary of State overruling the Assembly on water issues is a very serious matter.

Mr. Rowlands

This is an important and substantial debate. It is a genuine attempt to limit and narrow the issues that were raised in earlier debates. Nevertheless, it has raised other issues, such the problem of water which was mentioned by the previous two speakers. I Want to draw attention to the potential confusion that could arise, and the potential for friction between the Assembly and Government Departments. It is in the common interest of everyone who wants devolution to work to deal with the potential areas of friction and dispute in these clauses.

The report of the debates on these amendments in the other place on 2 June are to be found at columns 225 and 231–36 of the House of Lords Hansard. Those debates show the wide-ranging nature of the provisions in the schedule, despite the Minister's attempts to limit them. The schedule contains wide and sweeping powers.

The new schedule refers to transfers of functions. We have had a continuing debate on one aspect of this issue, about which we are still no clearer. In the other place, Lord Williams of Mostyn said that functions relating to animal health and food safety, including those under the Food Safety Act 1990, would be transferred to the Assembly. Therefore, the regulations that were used to ban beef on the bone will be a function of the Assembly.

Lord Williams referred to a joint responsibility with the Minister of Agriculture. I have asked this question many times, and I am still waiting for an answer. What will happen if there is a dispute between the Assembly and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? Who will have the final say? Will the Minister of Agriculture have the power under the 1990 Act on an issue such as meat on the bone to override the strong wishes expressed by the Assembly, or will the Assembly's view prevail? The Bill does not contain a disputes procedure.

Before we let the provision through, we should be clear in our minds about who will have the final say if there is joint responsibility; otherwise, there will be considerable friction. Let us take the vivid example of exercising power under meat on the bone regulations. If the Assembly decided not to implement the ban, but MAFF wanted to apply the order, whose view would finally prevail if it was a joint responsibility? That is an extremely basic proposition, but it will test the model that we are trying to establish.

Amendment No. 170 relates to cross-border arrangements. Opposition Members put their finger on the provisions in paragraph 6 of the new schedule, which provide that "the Secretary of State"—not the Secretary of State for Wales—or the relevant Minister will have overriding power. However, we are still in the dark. Paragraph 7(b) of the proposed new schedule states that the function may be exercised by the Assembly only with the agreement of, or after consultation with, a Minister of the Crown. There is a big difference between consultation and agreement. Consultation implies that one party has the right to override the other.

It is difficult to work out the issues that are covered by paragraph 7. Some orders might be for agreement and some could be subject to consultation. We should not rubber stamp such provisions. We should be given vivid illustrations and examples of the areas that would be subject to agreement and those that would be for consultation. Unless we are given those, we may be creating headaches for Ministers or for the Assembly. We must clarify cross-border issues and areas for which the Bill provides for joint responsibility. We must know who will have the final say and how disputes are to be settled. Without that information, there will be a recipe for potential conflict, and none of us wants that.

Lord Williams of Mostyn spoke about what he called water issues. His speech shows that the schedule also covers matters such as rent rebate subsidy and its impact on social security benefits. Lord Williams of Mostyn's explanation is contained in column 233 of Hansard and shows the consultation that has to take place with Ministers, especially the Secretary of State for Social Security, because of the ripple effect, if, for example, the Assembly grants a generous rent rebate subsidy and is willing to pay for it. What is the Government's position on rent subsidies? I do not remember thinking in Committee that the Assembly would have rent subsidy powers, but such powers are logical. They are lodged with local government and must be Assembly responsibilities of one sort or another. Lord Williams of Mostyn said: In the longer term, we will consider providing for a separate rent rebate subsidy payable by a UK Minister similar to the current arrangements in Scotland. I apologise for my ignorance, but I was not aware that our rent rebate subsidy system was different from the one in Scotland. As a result, there will be complications if the Assembly proceeds to exercise its duty, responsibility or power to be more generous, or less generous, on rent rebate subsidies. Lord Williams of Mostyn also observed: However, such changes will need to be considered in the context of the Government's comprehensive spending review. This may reach conclusions that would entail amending the relevant provisions of the 1989 Act for both England and Wales. We would want to avoid cutting across the conclusions of that review by making changes to the 1989 Act only in respect of Wales. For that reason we are not making such amendments now."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 June 1998; Vol.590, c.234.] We have now had the comprehensive spending review, so perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can tell us what consequential amendments need to be made to the rent subsidy arrangements. That is an integral part of the issues that arise from the new schedule.

We all want the system to work. I read with great interest something that came through the post over the last day or so. It was Mr. Peter Hennessy's lecture to the Lloyds TSB forum. This is what he said about devolution—it is pertinent and rather well put: The edifice of devolution is very largely constructed on the harmony model. But that desirable state of affairs cannot be guaranteed. Far from it. If the harmony model survives, I can see that many of the issues and concerns that we are scratching at in our debate on the schedule may prove to be modest or minor. However, if the harmony model breaks down, the legislation must be robust enough to cope with that. I am not convinced that the complex and difficult wording of the schedule establishes a sufficiently robust model to deal with important demarcation disputes, possible boundary disputes and potential areas of conflict between the Assembly and the Government.

4.45 pm
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

I am pleased to be called to speak in this important debate on Lords amendment No. 170. As hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise, the powers of the Assembly will be curtailed in relation to powers of the Secretary of State—the Secretary of State will have some overriding powers—so it is right that we test some of the issues that have been aired by hon. Members.

I apologise to the Minister for not being here for his first few sentences, but I listened carefully to the remainder of his speech and I did not hear him referring to paragraph 5 and European matters. He will recall that on a number of occasions in Committee I asked questions about these issues. When he replies, will he deal with some of the points that arise from paragraph 5?

Paragraph 5 deals with two issues. The first is ensuring that any treaty obligations for the United Kingdom pertain in all parts of the UK, so in a devolved system we understand the need for sub-paragraph (a). The main issue relates to sub-paragraph (b), which refers to the powers that both the Assembly and the Secretary of State will have in implementing statutory instruments that flow from European directives. Who will have responsibility for passing the statutory instruments and who will have the ultimate sanction?

The list of statutory instruments covered by sub-paragraph (b) contain a number of important ones for Wales. I draw the Minister's attention to two areas where the Assembly might wish to differ from regulations in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. An example might be the hill livestock compensatory allowances. The Assembly may or may not want to enhance the payments to farmers. For the sake of argument, let us assume that they want to keep the amount currently paid to farmers, but want to distribute it in a different way. Let us assume that the Assembly wants to target the allowances differently, to ensure that farmers who really need them get them. Under sub-paragraph (b), the Assembly would be prevented from doing so unless the same provisions applied in other parts of the United Kingdom. That seems to be an unnecessary restriction.

The Minister will know that one of hon. Members' concerns about the dairy quota is how little quota is available for young farmers entering the industry. What if the Assembly wants to operate a siphon system to ensure that part of the quota is set aside for young farmers? Although such a system has been considered by many Select Committees, the Conservative Government always refused to accept one. If the Assembly wanted to go down that road, paragraph 5 would prevent it from doing so.

We are debating issues not of money but of principle. We are debating issues of how resources might be distributed in Wales differently from the way in which they are distributed in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Will the Assembly be prevented by the provision from such activities? [Interruption.] What if the Welsh Assembly wants to innovate in matters covered by statutory instruments on equal pay or air quality standards? What if the Welsh Assembly wants to do different things—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. General conversations are breaking out throughout the Chamber. Hon. Members must listen to the hon. Member who is addressing the House.

Mr. Jones

I am grateful for your intervention, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My question—I am sure that the Minister is aware of the point—is, what ability will the Assembly have to think afresh and to think through new ideas? Will the Assembly have simply to consider what is happening elsewhere? Will the Secretary of State simply override it?

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) put his finger on the question—who will have the final say? That is the important question. I hope that the Minister will assure us that, on the issues I have mentioned, the Assembly will have the final say.

Mr. Rogers

On many of those issues, neither the Assembly nor this place will have the final say. Many of the cross-border issues that the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) mentioned, such as pollution, are covered by European legislation. European legislation will increasingly cover those issues. As for the Welsh Assembly being able to think afresh about those issues, it just will not happen.

I should like to return to the territorial waters issue. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) said that I made a rather trivial point. The point was not trivial but most significant. Although the Assembly will have a say on oil exploration, mineral development and Celtic sea pollution, those matters are subject to international treaties signed by the United Kingdom Government. The Welsh Assembly will have to operate within those parameters. Unfortunately—this is where I have great sympathy for the three Plaid Cymru Members in the Chamber—the Assembly will not have legislative and tax-raising powers or be able to negotiate as has been suggested.

I do not think that we should create the impression that the Assembly will be an all-singing, all-dancing body that can do all those things. In the foreseeable future, under the terms of this Bill, it will not be able to do so.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)

It would be churlish of me to begin my speech without congratulating Ministers on the splendour of their yellow flowers.

Mr. Rogers


Mr. Letwin

Daffodils. Indeed.

I take pleasure—I think that that is how it was described—in dealing with a small point of definition. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who made many excellent points in Committee, drew the Minister's attention to paragraph 3(2) of the new schedule in Lords amendment No. 170. In that sub-paragraph, a "cross-border body" is so defined that it means the whole of England, save one part—let us imagine, for example, Dorset. Therefore, Dorset would adjoin Wales if it were the whole of England, save one part.

We are told that the saving grace is sub-paragraph (3), in which the transfer of powers over the whole of England, bar Dorset, would be limited to the transfer of powers over water resources in the whole of England, bar Dorset. A further saving grace, I suppose, is provided by paragraph 6, whereby the Minister—if he feels that a consequence of having transferred to the Assembly power over water resources of the whole of England, bar Dorset, is that that power is being used wrongly—can intervene and overrule the Assembly. I cannot think of a way in which the Government could conceivably have concocted a greater chance of dispute between Ministers and the Welsh Assembly in respect of water, but it is not my purpose to tease the Government or to dwell on the matter at length. However, I should like the Minister to guarantee that, despite the latitude defined in paragraph 3(2), the Government have no intention of applying it, and any transfer of functions over water which occurs to Wales will be, in the ordinary expectation of the term, a cross-border function and not an abuse engendered by the drafting of the provision. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister put that on the record and set the matter to rest.

Much was said in Committee about paragraph 5, which continues to make it perfectly clear that, so long as the Minister believes that he is implementing a European Community directive, he can overrule the Assembly. It is left to the Assembly to go to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to argue that the Minister has misinterpreted his own action as an implementation of a directive and that it is in fact something else. I should be very grateful if the Minister could point out—although I very much doubt whether he will—any way in which it will fail to be a cause of continuing friction as EC directive after EC directive rains down on us and Ministers seek to implement them over the Welsh Assembly.

Mr. Wigley

Perhaps I might start by responding briefly to the points raised by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) about the significance to the economy and the environment of Wales of developments that may be out to sea. An oil rig off the coast of Wales can have a significant bearing on the environment and possibly the economic prospects of the area. If it is within the 12-mile limit, the Assembly will have something to say about it, but if it is outside that limit, it may not. A difference of half a mile one way or another makes very little difference to the impact on the environment or the land. We need clarification of the role of the Assembly concerning developments beyond that limit.

I do not need to impress on Ministers the significance of drowning the valleys and extracting water from Wales. The way in which the Liverpool corporation took the Tryweryn valley, kicked out the residents of Capel Celyn and created a reservoir to provide water for industry on Merseyside without any recompense is probably one reason why three of the four hon. Members representing Gwynedd are from Plaid Cymru. The significance of that for the Assembly is very great indeed.

One of the many reasons for having a National Assembly for Wales is to ensure that there is a body to safeguard the land of Wales so that such action—which was contrary to the united view of Welsh Members of Parliament across party borders as they then were—can never again be taken. If the interpretation of the rules could allow the Secretary of State—perhaps of a different political colour—to intervene and overrule the National Assembly for Wales on the development of reservoirs, on augmenting existing reservoirs or on extracting water from rivers, as happens with the River Dee at the moment, that is very serious.

Paragraph 6 of the new schedule proposed by Lords amendment No. 170 seems quite clear. It states: Where it appears to the Secretary of State that the exercise of a relevant transferred environmental function…might have a serious adverse impact on…water resources…water supply…in England, he may intervene". Sub-paragraph (2) continues: that function shall not in that case be exercisable by the Assembly. In other words, the Assembly will not have that function.

Sub-paragraph (3) refers to part II of the Water Resources Act 1991, which states at section 19: It shall be the duty of the Authority to take…such action as it may from time to time consider…with the directions of the Secretary of State…for the purpose…of conserving, redistributing or otherwise augmenting water resources in England and Wales. Section 20(2) provides that such arrangements may make provision, by virtue of subsection (1)(a) above, with respect to the construction or installation of any reservoirs, apparatus or other works. If the Lords amendment goes through, the powers of the Assembly will be undermined. I want a lot of persuasion from the Minister that the Assembly will not lose vital powers that we hoped it would exercise.

5 pm

Mr. Win Griffiths

We have had a long and interesting debate. I shall try to sum up the significant issues. The National Assembly for Wales will be consulted about issues such as oil rigs, whether they are in the 12-mile limit or not. The Assembly will be able to exercise additional powers inside the 12-mile limit, but it will be consulted for oil rigs or gas installations on either side of the limit.

On the joint exercise of a power, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), if the Welsh Assembly does not agree with what the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food wants to do in England, it does not have to implement the proposal in Wales, so there is no problem. The issues of joint powers will be covered in the transfer orders, which will be available in the autumn. They can be considered in detail when they are debated early in the new year. If my hon. Friend or any other hon. Member wants to put any thoughts to us on transfer orders, we shall be pleased to consider them.

Water is an important issue. Part VI of the Water Industry Act 1991, which deals with water undertakers' powers to make compulsory purchase orders, is separate from the Water Resources Act 1991, which is mentioned in paragraph 6 of the new schedule. The National Assembly will decide about reservoirs and similar matters. Part VII of the Water Resources Act 1991 is about laying water pipes. The compulsory purchase power for reservoirs will lie with the National Assembly.

Mr. Wigley

I am sorry to press the issue, but I am referring to part II, not part VII. Part II makes it clear that people can augment the size of reservoirs. That can have a serious effect on the amount of water flowing in rivers, the amount of fishing and other issues. Will the National Assembly have control over that, or will there be override powers?

Mr. Griffiths

My information is that the power on issues relating to compulsory purchase of land for the provision of further reservoirs will lie with the National Assembly for Wales. Nobody will be able to create a reservoir in any part of Wales without obtaining permission. The issue that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to concerns the Environment Agency, which does not have the funds to build reservoirs, so there can be no question of a repetition of the Tryweryn situation, because the National Assembly for Wales will have the necessary powers.

The issue raised by the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) on the extent of transfers under paragraph 3 relates only to genuine cases of cross-border areas, covering parts of Cheshire and Herefordshire that adjoin Wales. No other part of England would be covered. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

I thank all hon. Members for contributing to this very interesting debate. I reassure them again that, under the National Assembly for Wales, the Tryweryn situation certainly could not arise. Any other issues of concern can be dealt with when we debate matters surrounding the transfer orders.

Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 266, Noes 46.

Division No. 343] [5.4 pm
Ainger, Nick Cousins, Jim
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cox, Tom
Alexander, Douglas Cranston, Ross
Allen, Graham Crausby, David
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Cummings, John
Ashton, Joe Cunliffe, Lawrence
Atherton, Ms Candy Dalyell, Tam
Austin, John Darvill, Keith
Barron, Kevin Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bayley, Hugh Davidson, Ian
Begg, Miss Anne Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Bennett, Andrew F Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Benton, Joe Dawson, Hilton
Bermingham, Gerald Denham, John
Berry, Roger Dobbin, Jim
Blackman, Liz Dowd, Jim
Blears, Ms Hazel Drew, David
Blizzard, Bob Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Boateng, Paul Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Borrow, David Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Edwards, Huw
Bradshaw, Ben Ellman, Mrs Louise
Brinton, Mrs Helen Ennis, Jeff
Browne, Desmond Fatchett, Derek
Buck, Ms Karen Fisher, Mark
Butler, Mrs Christine Fitzpatrick, Jim
Byers, Stephen Fitzsimons, Lorna
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Flint, Caroline
Campbell-Savours, Dale Follett, Barbara
Canavan, Dennis Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Cann, Jamie Fyfe, Maria
Caplin, Ivor Gapes, Mike
Caton, Martin Gardiner, Barry
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Clapham, Michael Gerrard, Neil
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Godman, Dr Norman A
Godsiff, Roger
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Goggins, Paul
Clelland, David Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Coaker, Vernon Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cohen, Harry Gunnell, John
Colman, Tony Hain, Peter
Connarty, Michael Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Cooper, Yvette Hanson, David
Corbett, Robin Healey, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen Moran, Ms Margaret
Heppell, John Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hesford, Stephen Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hill, Keith Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Hinchliffe, David Mudie, George
Hodge, Ms Margaret Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hood, Jimmy Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hopkins, Kelvin Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Howells, Dr Kim O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Hoyle, Lindsay O'Hara, Eddie
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Olner, Bill
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) O'Neill, Martin
Hurst, Alan Organ, Mrs Diana
Hutton, John Osborne, Ms Sandra
Iddon, Dr Brian Palmer, Dr Nick
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Pendry, Tom
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Perham, Ms Linda
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Pickthall, Colin
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pond, Chris
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Pope, Greg
Jowell, Ms Tessa Powell, Sir Raymond
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Keeble, Ms Sally Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Purchase, Ken
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Quin, Ms Joyce
Kemp, Fraser Quinn, Lawrie
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Radice, Giles
Khabra, Piara S Rapson, Syd
Kidney, David Raynsford, Nick
Kilfoyle, Peter Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kingham, Ms Tess Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Laxton, Bob Rogers, Allan
Lepper, David Rooker, Jeff
Levitt, Tom Rooney, Terry
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Rowlands, Ted
Liddell, Mrs Helen Ruane, Chris
Livingstone, Ken Ruddock, Ms Joan
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Ryan, Ms Joan
Lock, David Sarwar, Mohammad
Love, Andrew Savidge, Malcolm
McAvoy, Thomas Sawford, Phil
McCabe, Steve Sedgemore, Brian
McCafferty, Ms Chris Sheerman, Barry
McDonagh, Siobhain Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Macdonald, Calum Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McIsaac, Shona Singh, Marsha
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Skinner, Dennis
Mackinlay, Andrew Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McNamara, Kevin Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McNulty, Tony Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona Smith, John (Glamorgan)
McWalter, Tony Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Spellar, John
Mallaber, Judy Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Marek, Dr John Steinberg, Gerry
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Stevenson, George
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Stinchcombe, Paul
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Martlew, Eric Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Maxton, John Stringer, Graham
Meale, Alan Stuart, Ms Gisela
Michael, Alun Sutcliffe, Gerry
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Temple-Morris, Peter
Milburn, Alan Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Miller, Andrew Tipping, Paddy
Mitchell, Austin Touhig, Don
Moonie, Dr Lewis Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Winnick, David
Vis, Dr Rudi Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Ward, Ms Claire Wise, Audrey
Wareing, Robert N Woolas, Phil
Watts, David Worthington, Tony
White, Brian Wray, James
Whitehead, Dr Alan Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W) Tellers for the Ayes:
Mr. John McFall and
Mr. David Jamieson.
Allan, Richard Livsey, Richard
Baker, Norman Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Ballard, Jackie Moore, Michael
Beggs, Roy Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Beith, Rt Hon A J Oaten, Mark
Brake, Tom Paisley, Rev Ian
Brand, Dr Peter Rendel, David
Breed, Colin Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Burnett, John Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Burstow, Paul Sanders, Adrian
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Cotter, Brian Stunell, Andrew
Dafis, Cynog Swinney, John
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Donaldson, Jeffrey Thompson, William
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Tonge, Dr Jenny
George, Andrew (St Ives) Tyler, Paul
Gorrie, Donald Welsh, Andrew
Hancock, Mike Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Harris, Dr Evan Willis, Phil
Harvey, Nick
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Tellers for the Noes:
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye) Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones and
Kirkwood, Archy Mr. Lembit Öpik.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment agreed to.

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