Considered in Grand Committee
For the convenience of the Committee, I shall speak also to the National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Exceptions to Matters) Order. For brevity, I shall refer to them respectively as the carers order and the exceptions order.
I will say at the outset how much we welcome the broad agreement that exists on conferring on the National Assembly for Wales the powers set out in the draft carers order, and for making the sensible, technical changes set out in the draft exceptions order. The content of the orders was previously set out in a single proposed order that was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a committee of the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay, by this House’s Constitution Committee and by the Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place. The Government are grateful to these committees for the scrutiny that they undertook.
Following comments made by this House’s Constitution Committee, the Government and the Welsh Assembly Government decided to separate the previously single order, which covered both carers and the technical changes being made to exceptions, into the two draft orders before us today. These orders, taken together, differ little in content from their single, unified predecessor. The National Assembly for Wales approved them both on 23 June this year.
I shall deal first with the draft order on carers. This order forms part of the legislative programme set out by the First Minister of the Welsh Assembly Government, the right honourable Rhodri Morgan AM, on 15 July last year. It inserts a single matter—matter 15.9—into field 15 of Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006. Field 15 covers the area of social welfare. The competence conferred by this order will enable the National Assembly to legislate to support the provision of care by carers and to promote their well-being. Many noble Lords have taken a keen interest in this subject, and I am sure that we would all acknowledge the vital role that carers undertake not only in Wales but across the United Kingdom.
The Welsh Assembly Government wish to bring forward legislation—an Assembly measure—to strengthen support for carers, not as an add-on but as something that goes to the heart of sustainable health and social care services in Wales. They believe that better ways need to be found to identify carers, for example, including young carers, and for the NHS in Wales to work more effectively with carers as partners in the provision of care.
The Committee may be aware that yesterday the First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, announced the third year of the Welsh Assembly Government’s legislative programme. It includes a proposal to bring forward an Assembly measure using the powers conferred through this LCO, subject to its successful passage in this House and the other place. I am pleased to say that the Welsh Affairs Committee and the Committee of the Welsh Assembly, which each scrutinised the proposed order, supported the principles and policy that underpin the approach taken towards carers, and recommended that only technical and definitional changes should be made to the content and scope of the order. The Welsh Ministers have also made some minor drafting changes to the earlier order.
The draft order also includes a minor technical change to matter 15.1, which deals with domiciliary care. The matter enables the Welsh Assembly to legislate on the charging for social services that are covered by a direct payments arrangement. The change is needed as the Health and Social Care Act 2008 amended the relevant legislation on direct payments to include a wider range of payment recipients in situations in which an individual lacks the capacity to agree to and manage a direct payments arrangement themselves. This change to the Assembly’s legislative competence therefore reflects the broadening of Welsh Ministers’ executive competence that was brought about by the 2008 Act, and is further explained at paragraph 7.14 of the accompanying Explanatory Memorandum.
The National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Exceptions to Matters) Order 2009 makes a technical change to the way in which exceptions apply to matters in Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006 by making any exceptions to the legislative competence set out in Part 2 of the schedule apply to all matters in that schedule. There will still be occasions when an exception is included in the text of the matter and is thus matter-specific.
Exceptions are currently listed against specific matters in tables at the end of each field in Schedule 5. The onus is to ensure that each matter has all the relevant exceptions applied to it when it is inserted into Schedule 5, which runs the risk that an exception might not be applied to a matter when it is relevant to it. The change will make Schedule 5 clearer and easier to understand by ensuring that exceptions apply in all cases where they are relevant. To put it another way, the onus will be to disapply an exception if it should not be applied to a matter. This is a sensible change that further safeguards both UK government and Welsh Assembly government interests. Exceptions usually apply to areas of policy that are not devolved. Applying these exceptions to all matters in Schedule 5 means that the Government no longer need to decide whether each exception should apply to a new matter.
This Government are firmly committed to devolving legislative competence to the National Assembly, thereby enabling the Welsh Assembly Government to fulfil their commitments to the people of Wales. That commitment is demonstrated once again by the draft orders before us today. It shows that the process of conferring competence on the Assembly by means of Orders in Council—or legislative competence orders, as they are otherwise known—is working well and is being developed and improved.
I commend these orders to the Committee, and I beg to move.
Before I respond to the Minister, I congratulate him on joining the Wales Office and welcome him to it. I hope that he will have a happy and enjoyable time there, and I assure him that all the usual suspects from this House who take part in Welsh affairs are assembled in the Moses Room. I hope he will appreciate the value of their attendance on many occasions. They all have considerably more experience than I have. Having gone that far, however, I will say a few things about the orders in the same order in which the Minister took them.
The first time I read the Explanatory Note on the National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Exceptions to Matters) Order 2009, I wondered where I was. It made absolutely no sense to me at all. I read both the order and the Explanatory Note several times and finally found my way through it, but I congratulate the Minister and his officials on simplifying it for us all. Although we are dealing with them as one, the Government separated one order into two pieces, which makes it much easier to understand and much clearer.
As the Minister has said, the order will amend the Government of Wales Act 2006 by inserting a new matter, matter 15.9, into field 15. The new matter would give the Assembly Government legislative competence to support the provision of care by carers and to promote the well-being of carers, and I join the Minister in wishing all carers well and thanking them for their great work in looking after those of us who need carers and are less able.
The report of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, which conducted pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposed order, points out, as indeed is pointed out in the Explanatory Memorandum, that Wales has a higher proportion of carers than any region of England or Scotland, together with the highest proportion of people suffering from long-term illness, permanent sickness and disability among the economically inactive population. It is worth noting here that under the present crisis the economy of Wales is probably very close to being the worst, if not the worst, in the United Kingdom. That of north-east Scotland may be a little worse but, for the population, Wales is in a poor way, and I am sure that as time goes on its carers will be badly needed.
The Welsh Assembly Government already have a significant level of devolved secondary competence in respect of social welfare. It might be said, therefore, that the proposed order is a logical extension of the existing devolved competence. However, I feel it appropriate to draw attention to the criticism contained in the Select Committee’s report that greater use could have been made of existing powers already vested in the Assembly Government. This is one of the matters that we are concerned about: the Assembly is gaining competence but we are not always happy that it makes best use of it. For example, the Assembly Government have issued no guidance under the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004, whereas in England such guidance was issued within 12 months of the engagement of that legislation.
The Assembly Government should not be seeking primary competence where existing secondary competence has not been utilised. Indeed, the Select Committee criticised the Assembly Government for their failure to make full use of their existing power in that regard. The Select Committee did, however, point out that the Government did not act on their commitment to introduce secondary legislation providing for duties to be placed on the National Health Service to provide for the needs of carers. It is regrettable that this was not done, and I notice that it is the intention of the Assembly Government to introduce such provisions consequent upon the making of the legislative competence order.
Some matters arise on which I would appreciate clarification. First, any Assembly measures passed after the making of the order will potentially result in additional obligations being placed on local authorities. Can the Minister say whether, from his discussions with the Assembly Government, it is intended that those local authorities will be compensated by way of increased financial support for the cost of complying with those duties?
Secondly, the Select Committee drew attention to the cross-border implications of any legislation that may flow from the making of the legislative competence order. It is not impossible—indeed, it is highly likely, especially in the case of north-east Wales—that the carers and the cared-for may live on different sides of the border. What discussions has the Minister had with his colleagues in the Welsh Assembly and the Secretary of State for Health as to how these cross-border issues will be dealt with when measures are brought forward? Subject to what I have just said, I have no further comments to make on this order.
I turn to the National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Exceptions to Matters) Order, which I found more complicated to work through. This is really a tidying-up order and is, I believe, a very sound move and one that I welcome. It tidies up what is in fact a very messy way of maintaining exceptions to devolved matters where legislative competence for a matter is transferred to the Assembly but that matter would otherwise include a function which was not exercisable by Welsh Ministers and therefore could not be devolved back to the Assembly.
When the Assembly was given legislative competence with respect to vulnerable children, a specific exclusion had to be made to cover the use of motor vehicles, road traffic offences and various other non-devolved areas, which resulted in a table consisting of 25 repetitive lines. The proposed order would create a general exception for non-devolved highways and transport and social welfare functions. This is a positive step, although it was not envisaged at the time of the passage of the Bill that the legislative competence order process would be utilised in this manner. Nevertheless, it has the effect of making the schedule not only look different, but it reads better without changing the substance of the powers devolved. To that extent, it is a good proposal and we welcome it.
Perhaps I may take this opportunity to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, to the Front Bench. I know that from time to time he has enjoyed himself very much at the Millennium Stadium, and I hope that that will continue to be the case.
I turn first to the legislative competence order on social welfare. Did I hear the Minister correctly when he said that the First Minister actually dealt with this order on 15 July “last year”? It is now 15 July 2009, so the process has taken a whole year. I should say to the Committee that I am not a fan of the process and stated that clearly during the Government of Wales Bill in 2006. I said that we would face administrative problems as a result. The time that has been taken accounts for some of the delay that was mentioned earlier by the noble Lord who spoke for the Official Opposition.
The provision of care for carers which is set out in this order is extremely important. As has already been said, carers need care, and warm tributes have already been paid to them for the work that they do. However, their well-being is affected by their responsibilities, and the provision set out in this LCO to provide social care services for helpers is important, particularly in relation to non-residential care services. The 11 exceptions, including the Children’s Commissioner and child benefit, are welcome, while the provision that,
“any person may secure social care services on their behalf”,
is also welcome. Account appears to have been taken of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008. The Welsh Assembly Government can give guidance to local authorities and indeed carry out inspections and make regulations, but it has been noted that there are still gaps in service provision which, it is hoped, this legislation will put right.
The importance of identifying carers, particularly young carers, has been set out. I came across many young carers and the difficulties they face when I was a Member of the other place, so the provision of correct information is important. Cross-border co-operation is absolutely vital, as is the synergy between the National Health Service and social care provision in local authorities. When, for example, carers have to go from Llandrindod to Hereford, a distance of 40 miles, to accompany someone in their care, it is a whole-day operation. Because of my former direct involvement in Powys, I want to point something out. The border between Wales and England is 132 miles long, therefore even longer than the border between Scotland and England. As there is no district general hospital in Powys, people have to go to one in Oswestry, Shrewsbury, Hereford, Newport, Cardiff, Abergavenny, Swansea, Carmarthen, Neath or Aberystwyth. That is the situation in the most sparsely populated county south of the Highland line in Scotland. It is unacceptable in terms of service provision, but, of course, social services cross the border. Indeed, in places like Presteigne, English people living on the English side of the border utilise Welsh social provision as well; those parts of Herefordshire and Shropshire are very remote in England. We have to be careful about these aspects.
The Welsh Affairs Committee’s report on cross-border provision for health services pointed out—I shall not read from it—that there are totally different funding principles at stake between England and Wales, which caused both confusion and difficulties with the delivery of service. I point that out only as a principle, because I could talk about that sort of thing for a very long time.
The exceptions to the matters that the LCO will look at have already been covered thoroughly. That is a logical provision that addresses the limitations to Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006. It may be controversial in terms of the logicality of the legislation because it includes restrictions as well, but the main point is that it is a technical amendment, and it is welcome because it makes clear what the provisions are and what specifically defines the agreement between the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government about where responsibilities and legislative compentency lie. In that respect particularly, I welcome the latter LCO.
I welcome the other LCO regarding social welfare. It needs a lot of work and application by both the Assembly and the UK Government to make matters better.
I am a member of the Constitution Committee and will therefore confine my remarks entirely to those matters that engaged the committee when the original draft order first arose.
The orders were of some considerable constitutional significance. First, in a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, our chairman, we asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether there was a compelling case for remodelling the way in which exceptions were going to be reported in Schedule 5. My noble friend used the word “technical” on numerous occasions in his opening remarks. I remind him of our observation on that very word in paragraph 17 of our report:
“We do not regard the proposed new method as being merely ‘technical’. The Government of Wales Act 2006 is, in effect, a written constitution for the governance of Wales. There is an onus to explain with care and to justify why changes to this constitutional code are necessary and desirable”.
So it is not just a technical matter.
The second concern that the committee had about the original draft order was whether it was constitutionally acceptable that a change could be made to the 2006 Act by a legislative competence order rather than by amending the primary Act. That is what we are doing in the second order; we are amending the 2006 Act. It is therefore not a minor technical matter—it is something on which we need to constitutionally satisfy ourselves that we can use this competence order to amend the Act. That is a serious and important point to clarify.
As the committee repeatedly reminds those who read the report, the 2006 Act is a written constitution and to amend it is therefore a serious issue. Having said that, after a number of exchanges with our wonderful legal adviser, Mr Le Sueur—who, sadly, has retired today after three and a half years in the committee—we satisfied ourselves that it was acceptable that Section 95 of the 2006 Act could be amended by a competence order in the way that was being proposed.
We noticed one point in the original order that was obvious even to a layman like me—I did not need a legal adviser to worry about the contents. Articles 1 and 2 were fine; they dealt with social welfare. Suddenly, however, we found in paragraph 3 of the original order, which deals with social care, a reference to:
“Regulation of the use of motor vehicles on roads, their construction and equipment and conditions under which they may be so used … Road traffic offences … Harbours, docks, piers and boatslips”.
All those were rolled into an order that seemed to be concerned exclusively with social welfare. It is that which led the committee perhaps to dig in its heels and recommend that the Government—I am grateful they have accepted it—should not, in this case or the future, roll these things together. A social welfare order of this kind should not include a lot of exceptions that are totally unrelated.
I also draw my noble friend’s attention to the conclusions in our report. First, we express great satisfaction at the result of the exchanges and the fact that we now have two orders: the exceptions order, which amends the Schedule 5 arrangements; and the serious matters in the social welfare order, a subject which I will not develop but to which other noble Lords have spoken.
I also ask my noble friend to think about our recommendation in paragraph 15 of the report. It states:
“In future, LCOs should avoid rolling up specific provision on a subject and ‘exceptions to matters’ on a completely unrelated subject”.
In other words, we never want a repeat of that kind of original draft social order. The paragraph continues:
“We are concerned that ‘omnibus LCOs’, covering a disparate range of subjects, are less easily scrutinised by Parliament, the National Assembly, and the public”.
I hope that my noble friend will be able to offer us an assurance that the lessons from the evolution of this social welfare draft order, and the constitutional implications which arose from it, have been well and truly learnt; that in future we will have the very kind of things that we have got today—an order which deals specifically with social welfare; and that if you want to amend the exceptions, you should bring forward a separate order so that both can be scrutinised properly, sensibly and without the kind of confusion that arose in the original draft order. The Constitution Committee supports these orders but would welcome an assurance that in future we will have consistency and clarity in the way that such orders are brought forward.
I, too, welcome the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, to his new office and to this gathering in particular. We are very grateful for the very detailed thought and work that has gone into the preparation of these orders relating to the legislative competence of the Assembly. I intend to comment briefly on the form and content of the orders, and I begin by affirming that special care must be taken with carers because the legislative regimes that deal with care arrangements, especially charges, differ in different countries within the United Kingdom. Of course, carers are becoming increasingly important to us as the population becomes more elderly and in greater need of care and carers.
They are particularly important to us in Wales because, as the 2001 census revealed, we have a higher proportion of carers than any English region.
As my noble friend Lord Glentoran pointed out, 11.7 per cent of the population—341,000 people—are carers, for the very good reason that we have a higher proportion of people with limiting long-term illness, chronic sickness and disability, as explained in paragraph 7 of the Explanatory Memorandum. I therefore understand the Welsh Assembly Government’s anxiety to have legislative competence in this field to support regular carers in the ways described in the Explanatory Note to the social welfare order.
Such is the legislative competence conferred that any cross-border issues that arise can, as I understand it, be amicably resolved by close liaison between the relevant authorities. Yesterday the Government published their Green Paper, Shaping the Future of Care Together. I hope that that togetherness embraces the National Assembly and that they will take account of the contents of the Green Paper before and as they legislate.
I am also glad to welcome the exceptions to matters order and to commend our own Constitution Committee, of which the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, is a distinguished member, for separating the order into two and for his clarification. I am not quite sure that I fully understand it, but I am sure that with further study and consideration I shall probably get my head round it. One should also commend Carwyn Jones, the Consul General, who has put his name to the Explanatory Memorandum on the second order.
The order brings precisely the order required to an area in which chaos was threatening. The table of exceptions has been replaced by a list, and it is clear that,
“a provision of an Assembly Measure is not within competence if it falls within any of the exceptions listed in that paragraph”.
This avoids specifying exceptions, as I understand it, to every change to Schedule 5 following a legislative competence order. Quite a number of these orders come our way these days.
There are extensive differences between Schedule 5 in 2009 and the schedule as it appeared after the passage of the Act in 2006. A number of fields in the schedule have been amplified by the addition of specific matters, and the time is fast approaching when there will have to be some consolidation to clarify the areas in which the National Assembly has legislative competence. It would be interesting to know what Assembly measures have sprung from those competences. Ideally, a document should be produced in the course of, or at least at the end of, each Assembly’s four-year term that consolidates the legislative competences that have been achieved up to that date. I certainly hope that the National Assembly and its Government will consider that suggestion.
I, too, warmly congratulate the Minister on his appointment and, so far as this body can, I am sure that we will confer on him honorary Welsh citizenship.
I, too, very much welcome the orders, both generally and specifically. Generally, one tends to welcome all such legislation because it is part of a process that Part 3 was intended to allow to run, and to run regularly.
Secondly, every piece of such legislation, quite apart from its own individual merits, tends to strengthen the foundation for legislative possibilities that the Welsh Assembly has. It assists in building up a cadre of people who are well qualified in this field, and it is only by the greater and more constant evolution of this process that one will bring about that result. In addition, I think one can say that not only is Part 3 intended to transfer, bit by bit, authority to Wales to legislate in the same way as Acts of Parliament allow that to be done from time to time but it also forms what might be regarded as a pathway or bridge to Part 4. If we are ever to have a referendum—I very much hope that we will and that it will be carried, although I know that that is not of necessity the view of everyone in this Committee—then it is imperative that Part 3 will have been exploited to the fullest possible extent. Nothing will give Wales a better picture of what Part 4 could mean than the full exploitation of Part 3.
Having made those obvious points, I turn to the first of the two orders—the one relating to social welfare. I welcome it. It is very necessary that the greatest attention is paid to this situation. The problems in Wales are not basically different from those in other parts of the United Kingdom but they affect Wales much more harshly and with more impact. The point has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, and other noble Lords that Wales scores very highly in many of the categories of disadvantage in this area. Indeed, we have a much greater dependence on carers. It is proper to remind ourselves that 70 per cent of all carers in the United Kingdom perform an unpaid service. The community is massively in their debt. Of course, this situation will develop much more acutely over the next few years. There are more disintegrated families and more dispersed families, and there are the very welcome tendencies against institutionalisation—I hope that I have said that right; it is one of the most difficult words in the English language to pronounce. In addition, there is greater longevity—something in which someone of my age has an interest. If we put all those matters together, along with many others, it is clear that the need for carers will increase very sharply over the years.
Wales has a much higher rate of people suffering from long-term sickness and disabilities. Another feature is the age profile of the community. The age profile in Wales is very different from that in England and is getting more and more pronounced in relation to those over the age of 65, particularly in the rural areas. I declare an interest here. For my sins, I am the chairman of a working group reporting to the Welsh Assembly on rural health. One piece of evidence that we found had great impact was the fact that over the next 23 years an increase of at least 30 per cent is anticipated in the proportion of people in Wales over the age of 65. That trend is present in England but in Wales it is far more pronounced and is extremely germane to the issues raised today. That deals with the first order, which I greatly welcome, as does everyone else in this Committee.
Turning to the second order, I congratulate—I was going to say “my noble friend”; indeed, we are friends—the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, on his assiduity in spotting what I think was a fundamental flaw and one that unhappily cost 12 months’ progress of this draft order. The noble Lord is absolutely right to say that amending Schedule 5 is not a sin because every LCO that we pass makes amendments, but amending the main timbers of the 2006 Act is a serious matter. I congratulate him on being a constitutional eagle on this matter by discovering a weakness and very properly pointing to it.
On the exact way in which the mechanism operates, I am with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, on this. Although I have been a lawyer of one sort or another for a long time, I found it difficult to understand the order, certainly on first reading it. It made me think of that story about a person standing on the quayside in Hong Kong seeing a huge packing case which has printed on it the words, “The bottom of this case is labelled ‘Top Uppermost’ in order to avoid confusion”. Indeed, the more I read the order, the more confused I became, but I think I understand it by now, and I warmly welcome both orders.
One should remind oneself that these orders do not in themselves create new laws. They peg out an area of jurisdiction on which—to use the idiom of a field—the Welsh Assembly can build something worthwhile. Too little building is taking place at the moment and I hope that it will speed up in the near future.
I congratulate my noble friend on his position in the Government and I thank him for his exemplary introduction of the orders. Surely no one would want to halt them. They are the progeny of the Westminster process and the Assembly in Wales has all the competence necessary to do good work with them. They will and should go through today, because certainly our carers in Wales do magnificent work.
Are these orders also pointers to the future governance of our country? I think that they are, and perhaps they are fingerposts on the Westminster parliamentary lanes that may point to more, not less, devolved government. The Assembly in Wales has acquitted itself very well since its inception, and the handover from Whitehall to Cardiff was almost seamless, which was a bureaucratic miracle. It is a considerable achievement in modern governance. I took part as a Minister in the 1979 referendum, and in the subsequent referendum held in the 1990s, which helps one gain an overview and insight into the context of Wales’s governance.
These orders conjure up a consideration of where the Government of Wales are travelling to, as does the now traditional opening, post the Wales general election, of the newly elected Assembly in Cardiff Bay by Her Majesty the Queen. To see Her Majesty, her consort, her heir and the Duchess of Cornwall seated in a line facing the Assembly Members in the graceful Assembly Chamber also concentrates the mind. The conclusion in any consideration of this is that the Assembly has certainly arrived.
These orders concentrate the mind on our governance in the principality, and they have convinced me that in the future there will be more, not less, devolved government in Wales. My guess is that via Calman, Scotland will gain more powers and that Wales will, at the very least, gain some of the powers Scotland will gain, or powers which Scotland already has. I think that there is a report outstanding about governance in Wales which may be published.
The orders prompt me to predict that in next year’s general election, if it is next year, each of the major parties will have proposals in their manifestos for more devolved powers for Wales. Modest though they are, these orders are harbingers of change. I think that the national party leaders will be proposing more than legislative competence orders.
The context of these orders is that the Welsh Assembly is very much a body that is up and running. It is confident, and clearly it is organising and lobbying for considerably more authority than it has now. This context includes an astounding development in British governance; in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff the nationalist parties are very much in power, or are sharing power, most positively with others.
I believe that soon after these two orders are well and truly used, the pre-election political manoeuvres will ensure proposals for more significant devolved measures. Where that will leave the position of our excellent Welsh Members of Parliament and the post of Secretary of State for Wales we do not yet know, but surely that is a subject for later debate. It is sufficient to say now that today we are heading towards a decisive moment in the constitutional history of the Celtic nations.
When I saw the Committee assembling for the debate today, I confess that I felt a little daunted. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, may refer to your Lordships as “the usual suspects”; I prefer to look at the Committee and realise that we have the cream of the Welsh political establishment in the Room and that my first foray into this field is likely to be a somewhat uncertain one. I am grateful, though, for the warm welcome that every speaker has extended to me. I think that I shall come to love LCOs in due course, but I was as mystified by a first reading of the brief and the order, as were many of your Lordships.
It has been a fascinating and informative debate, and I have been heartened by the contributions that have been made to it for two reasons. First, there is a broad consensus, cutting across party lines, in favour of conferring competence on the National Assembly in respect of carers, as set out in the draft carers LCO, and for making the technical change to exceptions in Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act, as set out in the exceptions LCO.
Secondly, there is a great deal of knowledge and appreciation in this House, particularly among Members of the Committee here today, of the Welsh devolution settlement in general and the mechanisms of the Government of Wales Act in particular. That knowledge helps to ensure that the process of devolving legislative powers to the National Assembly for Wales runs smoothly, and it has certainly helped me today in enhancing my own previously sketchy knowledge; I now have a rather greater understanding of the devolution settlement as it applies to Wales.
I shall respond to a number of the questions that were put to me during the debate. The noble Lords, Lord Glentoran, Lord Roberts of Conwy and Lord Elystan-Morgan, referred to the need for special treatment for carers in Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred to the fact that Wales has a higher proportion of carers than any region in England. It also has the highest proportion of people with limiting long-term illness and a level of permanent sickness and disability in the economically inactive population between 16 and 74 than any region in England. Those figures alone suggest that a different approach is needed in tackling the intensity of these issues in Wales.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked about compensation for public bodies and local authorities. The extent to which we decide to provide local authorities and the National Health Service with additional resources is a consideration for when the measure is developed. There is a track record which I hope will go some way to reassuring him. For example, we fully reimburse local authorities for changes that were made to the fairer charging guidance on non-residential social care in 2007.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, also asked about cross-border issues. The Assembly could legislate in relation to public authorities in Wales, but not in England, and it could legislate to support carers living in England but caring for someone who lives in Wales. It could also legislate to support carers who live in Wales but care for someone living in England. I understand that the Welsh Assembly Government intend to develop a protocol on cross-border services for carers, so this is essentially a matter for them. I also understand that a cross-border health service protocol is already successfully in operation.
The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, returned to a theme that I know he has pursued before in these debates, because I read what he said in the debate on 19 June on the red meat order. He believes that the whole LCO process is much too slow and he would like it to go much faster; he expressed similar sentiments on that occasion as well. I do not think that he is being entirely fair. The process of conferring legislative competence on the National Assembly through LCOs and framework powers in UK Bills has so far delivered law-making powers in some 39 areas of policy. I agree with him that the start was a fairly slow one but, to begin with, it is inevitable that this process will take time. As more LCOs come forward—others are being proposed now on which we shall deliberate in the autumn—the process is picking up. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, who looks forward to the day when more and more competences are transferred to the Welsh Assembly Government and the Welsh Assembly.
My noble friend Lord Rowlands chided me and the Government for having the temerity to describe the exceptions order as technical. I apologise to him for that. I did not mean that the order is technical; I meant to imply that the subject matter is pretty technical. I am delighted that a tribute, entirely deserved, has been paid to him for his work on the Constitution Committee, and to the other members of the committee. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, described him as a constitutional eagle, a badge which I think he will wish to wear in future. Section 95 of the Government of Wales Act states that a LCO can also amend that enactment itself. This matter was discussed with the legal adviser to the committee and the legal adviser was satisfied with the vires to make this particular LCO. However, I can certainly give him the assurance that the Government will give careful attention to all recommendations made as a result of pre-legislative scrutiny. We are always mindful of the need to avoid omnibus orders. He made a good point and it is one which we certainly take on board.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, asked what measures have sprung from the consolidation of matters at the end of each term. The answer is that the vulnerable children LCO has given rise to both the children and families measure and to the education measure currently being considered by the Assembly. Consideration of matters is, of course, an issue not for us in this House but for the Welsh Assembly Government.
I would like finally to say how much I agreed with what the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, and my noble friend Lord Jones said about the process in which we are engaged. The phrase used by my noble friend Lord Jones about these being pointers to the future government of Wales is very good. As I indicated at the beginning of my closing remarks, these are important stepping stones towards the implementation of the devolution settlement.
I am not able to answer the question about the future of Welsh Members of Parliament, nor of the Secretary of State, and I suspect that my noble friend did not expect me to.
My noble friend is right. This is almost certainly a debate for the next Parliament.
Finally, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, that one virtue of the process on which we have embarked is that we are building up a cadre of experts, in Cardiff and the Wales Office, which will be of lasting benefit as we proceed towards more devolutionary measures.
I hope that I have responded to the points made in our short debate. If I have missed anything, I know that my attention will be drawn to it and I will be happy to write to noble Lords. I commend the order to the Grand Committee.
Motion agreed to.