On 15 May the Legislative Consent Memorandum in relation to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (the Withdrawal Bill) was debated and approved by the Assembly in Plenary. The Bill passed Third Reading in the House of Lords the following day and will return to the Commons on Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13 June for consideration of changes made by the Lords.
Around 200 changes (PDF, 258KB) were made to the Bill during Lords Report and Third Reading Stages, including 15 changes made as a result of UK Government defeats. Some of the major non-Government changes made to the Bill by the Lords include amendments providing for:
- UK Ministers to make a statement outlining the steps taken during Article 50 negotiations to enable the UK to continue participating in a customs union with the EU;
- retained EU law relating to employment, equality, health and safety, consumer and environmental rights to only be amended or repealed by primary legislation after Brexit;
- most of the EU charter of fundamental rights to remain part of domestic law after Brexit;
- UK Ministers to only pass regulations under the Bill when necessary as opposed to when they consider appropriate;
- parliamentary approval of a mandate for negotiations about the future relationship with the EU;
- Parliament to be given a “meaningful vote” on the outcome of the Withdrawal Agreement;
- continuation of the Good Friday Agreement and the prevention of new border arrangements;
- continued participation in the European Economic Area; and
- parliamentary committees to sift regulations made under specified clauses of the Bill and for their decision whether regulations should be subject to the negative or affirmative procedure to be binding on Ministers.
In addition to the above, during Lords Report Stage, a number of UK Government amendments were made without division to the devolution clauses of the Bill, after the UK and Welsh Governments reached agreement on changes to clause 11 (now clause 15). The amended clause gives the devolved legislatures the freedom to legislate on any areas within their powers, as opposed to placing a blanket restriction on legislative competence as was previously provided for under the Bill. However, the amendment gives powers to UK Ministers to make regulations imposing restrictions in devolved areas whilst UK common frameworks are being developed. For further information about the agreed amendments, see our previous blogpost.
Return to the Commons
With regards to changes made to the Bill as a result of UK Government defeats, the amendments (PDF, 186KB) tabled ahead of this week’s debate indicate that the UK Government’s current intention is to accept one, adjust one, replace three and reject nine. The amendments to be rejected include the ones listed above with the exception of the “meaningful vote” amendment which the Government intends to replace and also the amendment providing for continuation of North-South cooperation and the prevention of new border arrangements in Northern Ireland which it intends to accept following adjustment.
With regards to the “meaningful vote” amendment, the amendments tabled indicate that the UK Government intends to replace the power given to the UK Parliament to issue a legally binding direction regarding Article 50 negotiations if the House of Commons decides not to approve the withdrawal agreement with a duty on UK Ministers to set out how the Government proposes to proceed in relation to the negotiations.
In addition to Government changes to Lords amendments, Plaid Cymru and the SNP have tabled devolution amendments proposing to change clause 15 (previously clause 11), as amended by the Lords, by removing the power to impose restrictions on the legislative competence of the devolved legislatures. This is identical to the amendment drafted by the Welsh and Scottish Governments during Commons Committee Stage of the Bill.
At this stage in the legislation process, the Commons will not consider the whole Bill, only the changes made by the Lords. The Bill will then return to the House of Lords for consideration of changes made by the Commons to their amendments. Both Houses of the UK Parliament will have to agree on the final text of the Bill for it to proceed to Royal Assent. This process is known as “ping pong.”
Of particular interest to the Assembly will be the fate of Lord Lisvane’s amendment, which makes the decision of the parliamentary sifting committee binding on UK Ministers. A very similar recommendation was unanimously endorsed by the Assembly on 7 March following CLAC’s report on the Scrutiny of regulations made under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (PDF, 660KB). However the Bill as currently amended does not apply this change to the sifting committee procedures in the Assembly. The amendments tabled indicate that the UK Government intends to reject this change. Following the initial failure of the governments of the UK to come to an agreement on the Withdrawal Bill, the Welsh Government passed the Law Derived from the EU (Wales) Bill which was later referred to the Supreme Court (more details here). After agreement was reached on the Bill and the LCM approved by the Assembly, the Secretary of State for Wales wrote to the Llywydd confirming that the reference had been withdrawn and that he did not intend to use his power to prevent the Bill from being submitted for Royal Assent. As a result, the Bill received Royal Assent on 6 June and the Welsh Ministers will now be able to repeal the Act.
Article by Manon George, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
Image from Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under Creative Commons.