In the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday 11 May, the UK Government outlined its plans for legislation and policy for the next parliamentary year.
Under the legislative consent convention, the UK Parliament doesn’t normally legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the Senedd. The Senedd could be asked for its consent to a number of the planned bills, including bills on the environment, professional qualifications and animal welfare.
There will also be new legislation that applies in Wales but is outside devolved competence, including on subsidy control (rules on government payments to business), UK elections, the courts, immigration and communications.
Now that the UK has left the EU, most EU legislation has been retained in domestic law. The speech outlined the UK Government’s plans to make changes to this body of retained EU law.
A Subsidy Control Bill will replace EU rules on government payments to business. The EU state aid regime sets out rules on these payments to business and gives the European Commission the power to approve the subsidies. The UK Government is now proposing a new regime.
During the Brexit negotiations, the Welsh Government argued that subsidy control (or state aid) was devolved. The UK Government disagreed. It decided to reserve subsidy control explicitly in the UK Internal Market Act 2020, without the consent of the Senedd and Welsh Government. The UK Government held a consultation on subsidy control in the spring. The Act requires the UK Government to share its draft response to the consultation with the devolved governments and consider their views.
A Professional Qualifications Bill will set out a new framework for recognising professional qualifications from different countries, now that mutual recognition of qualifications between the UK and the EU has formally ended. Under the UK Internal Market Act 2020, professional qualifications approved in one part of the UK will automatically be valid in all other parts of the UK (with some exceptions). The new Bill will apply across the UK and the Senedd’s consent will be sought.
A Procurement Bill will replace EU-derived rules on how the public sector buys services from the private sector. It will apply primarily in England, and across the UK for reserved functions. The UK Government says it is ‘in discussion’ with the Welsh Government about some provisions in the planned Bill. The Welsh Government hasn’t set out plans to replace EU rules on devolved procurement in Wales at this stage. To manage regulatory divergence between different parts of the UK outside the EU’s regulatory framework, the governments have agreed a provisional common framework on procurement. This sets out how the governments will decide whether to follow the same rules or diverge.
The Environment Bill will be carried over from the last session, after stalling during the pandemic. Now that the UK has left the EU, the European Commission no longer oversees and monitors the implementation of environmental law - creating an environmental ‘governance gap’. The EU’s core environmental principles also no longer apply. The Bill establishes domestic environmental principles for England and sets up a new environmental governance body, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). The OEP would apply to England and for reserved matters in Wales. The last Welsh Government consulted on environmental principles for Wales in 2019 and said it planned to introduce a Welsh Bill in the next Senedd. The UK Environment Bill also makes provision for Wales on waste, air quality, water, nature and biodiversity, and conservation.
The Fifth Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee considered the Bill and recommended Senedd consent. However, it also made recommendations for change, saying that the Bill should be amended to enable the OEP to cooperate with any future Welsh environmental governance body. The Senedd will need to consider how the Bill changes as it completes its passage through the House of Commons and moves to the Lords.
The speech outlined plans for three new bills on animal welfare. Animal welfare is devolved. Some of the proposed new measures may apply in Wales. The Welsh Government consulted jointly with the UK Government on ending exports of live animals for slaughter earlier this year, while the Welsh Labour party said in its manifesto that it would develop ‘a national model for regulation of animal welfare’.
The UK Government has also consulted for England on stopping defining gene-edited agricultural plant and animal products as “genetically modified”, if they could have been produced using traditional breeding techniques. RSPCA Cymru has raised concerns that the market access principles in the UK Internal Market Act could allow gene-edited products to be sold in Wales. This is likely to depend on how any legislation is designed.
A Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill will aim to restrict the charging of ground rents on residential leases. This will apply in England and Wales. Legislative consent will not be sought on the ground that the law of property is reserved. The Welsh Government also indicated in its recent consultation on building safety that it was seeking to use the Building Safety Bill to take forward some of its own proposals for reform.
The Armed Forces Bill will be carried over from the last session. This renews the legal basis for the armed forces and puts parts of the Armed Forces Covenant in law. The Senedd will be asked to consent to clause 8, which would require public bodies with responsibility for housing, healthcare and education to have regard to the Armed Forces Covenant.
The Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill will also be carried over. This aims to set up a new research funding agency. Parts of the Bill will require Senedd consent, but the agency itself will be reserved. A planned bill on social care reform was absent from the speech, though the UK Government said it would bring forward proposals. The First Minister has said he would prefer social care reform to be taken forward UK-wide, because reform in Wales would depend on changes to UK welfare policy. The Welsh Labour party said in its manifesto that it would consult on changes to social care for Wales if the UK Government didn’t bring forward a scheme by the next general election. Also absent was an Employment Bill on workers’ rights announced in the 2019 Queen’s Speech.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill sets out wide-ranging changes on policing and justice in England and Wales. Although mostly reserved, parts fall within devolved competence. The Welsh Government set out concerns about the Bill in March, in the wake of widespread protests. It argued that new powers for the UK Government to enforce a serious violence duty could impinge on devolved authorities; proposals on unauthorised encampments could undermine Gypsy and Traveller rights; and the restrictions on noise from protests weren’t consistent with the Welsh Government’s approach to noise pollution. The Welsh Government said it would expect a vote on legislative consent early in the new Senedd.
The UK Government has also committed to ban conversion therapy for LGBT people, but said it would consult before bringing forward legislation. It’s likely that aspects of banning conversion therapy would be within devolved competence. The Welsh Labour manifesto made a commitment to ban ‘all aspects of LGBTQ+ conversion therapy that are in our powers’.
Immigration legislation will make changes to the process for seeking asylum, aiming to limit access to asylum for people who have travelled through ‘safe’ countries and penalise asylum seekers who enter the UK without permission. A draft Victims Bill is intended to set rights in the new Victims Code in law. This legislation is unlikely to include substantial provision within devolved competence.
A Judicial Review Bill will change how decisions of public bodies can be challenged in the courts. The UK Government says the Bill will implement the recommendations of the Independent Review of Administrative Law, on allowing the courts to suspend orders quashing decisions by public bodies and stopping certain decisions of the Upper Tribunal from being reviewed by the High Court (known as Cart). The Government has also consulted on more wide-ranging – and controversial - changes. It’s not clear if these proposals will be taken forward as well.
Judicial review is reserved, so changes would apply in England and Wales, including to challenges made to the decisions of public bodies in Wales. . In 2019, the Thomas Commission on Justice in Wales recommended that Welsh tribunals should be used for dispute resolution relating to future Welsh legislation. The next Senedd will need to consider if it wants to take this recommendation forward.
An Electoral Integrity Bill will make changes to electoral law for UK general elections and local elections in England, including requiring voter ID in polling stations. The UK Government has said that it is ‘engaging with’ the Welsh Government on ‘applying certain provisions to devolved elections’. A Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill will aim to restore the Prime Minister’s power to ask the monarch for Parliament to be dissolved for a general election, without needing a vote in Parliament. This will not change how Senedd elections are called.
The speech also outlined other proposals for new laws to apply in Wales that are likely to fall outside devolved competence for the most part, including to:
- improve online safety, product security and telecommunications infrastructure, and telecoms security;
- use more unclaimed ‘dormant assets’ for charity and implement Law Commission recommendations on changes to charities law; and
- make changes to public service pensions, the judicial retirement age and National Insurance relief.
Bills on health and care, post-16 education and skills, planning and freedom of speech in higher education are expected to apply primarily in England.
You can read more about the policy and legislation set out in the Queen’s Speech in the UK Government’s background briefing. The Welsh Government is likely to bring forward legislative consent memorandums for bills within devolved competence in due course.
Article by Lucy Valsamidis, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament