The UK Government outlined its legislative plans for the next parliamentary session in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday 10 May.
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 public procurement, online safety, and certain aspects of new legislation on mental health.
There’ll also be new legislation that applies in Wales but is outside devolved competence, including a Public Order Bill to create new offences around public protest, and a bill to reform the railway system.
A Procurement Bill will replace EU-derived rules on procurement in the public sector. This bill was first announced in the 2021 Queen’s Speech, but wasn’t introduced during the 2021-22 session.
The Welsh Government has said that while it will use the UK legislation to “reform the basic processes underpinning procurement”, it intends to bring forward its own Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill to shape the future of procurement in Wales. Divergence between the four UK nations will be managed by the common framework on public procurement.
It’s unclear how this will impact Wales. Other bills included in the speech will revoke retained EU law in specific areas, including a Financial Services and Markets Bill and a Data Reform Bill, which will replace the current GDPR regime.
An Energy Security Bill will establish a new Future Systems Operator body responsible for planning UK electricity and gas infrastructure. The Welsh Government has outlined its own strategy around strengthening environmental protections.
A Transport Bill will give the new public body, Great British Railways (GBR), statutory powers, replacing Network Rail. It’s uncertain how this will impact Wales.
The rail system is a reserved area but the Welsh Government has executive powers to procure and manage the Welsh rail franchise. The UK Government has said there’ll be a “joint working agreement” between GBR and Transport for Wales, but there’s no indication of further devolution of powers to Wales.
The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill has been carried over from the previous parliamentary session. The bill aims to protect the welfare of certain kept animals, and also tackles puppy smuggling and livestock worrying. The Welsh Government has recommended consent to the bill, subject to final negotiations with the UK Government.
While new legislation on the leasehold housing market was expected, no new bill is included in the speech. A bill was expected to enact Law Commission recommendations on leaseholder enfranchisement and commonhold as an alternative to leasehold.
The Welsh Government has said it will work with the UK Government to deliver leasehold reform. Proposals included in the speech around renting and social housing reform are likely to apply to England only, with the Welsh Government taking forward its own measures.
A Mental Health Bill will replace the Mental Health Act 1983. Health policy is devolved, and many of the changes in the new UK bill are already in force in Wales under the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010. However, the sections of mental health legislation that overlap with the criminal justice system could apply in Wales, as justice is reserved to the UK Government.
A Public Order Bill will introduce new offences for protesters, including “locking on” to objects and buildings, and “interfering” with key national infrastructure. These new offences will carry sentences of up to 12 months in prison, as well as unlimited fines.
These measures were originally included in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which passed its UK parliamentary stages on 28 April 2022. The UK Government was defeated on the measures in the House of Lords, and they didn’t make it back into that bill.
While the criminal justice system is reserved, the Senedd voted to withhold consent from measures within the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill relating to imposing conditions on public protest.
The Online Safety Bill will be carried over from the 2021-22 UK parliamentary session. The bill introduces a new regulatory regime for providers of internet services and search engines. The Welsh Government recommends consent to a small number of the bill’s provisions around education and childcare providers that will be exempt from regulation.
A Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill will strengthen the Digital Markets Unit within the Competition and Markets Authority. It will introduce consumer protection around subscription services and online reviews, as well as measures to tackle monopolies in the digital sector.
A Media Bill will update the public service remit of S4C to include digital and online services. It will remove the current geographical broadcasting restrictions so that S4C can offer its content on a range of new platforms. The bill will also include measures to privatise Channel 4. While broadcasting is not devolved, it’s possible that the legislative consent process will be used for certain clauses within this bill.
A new Bill of Rights will replace the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), the UK legislation that enshrines the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law.
While the HRA applies to both Wales and England, ECHR rights are also incorporated into the Government of Wales Act 2006. It’s unclear how the new Bill of Rights will interact with current Welsh legislation. The Welsh Government has expressed concern about the bill, and has described the HRA as ”fundamental” to the devolution settlement. Research commissioned by the Welsh Government recommended that it introduce its own primary legislation to give effect to international human rights in Welsh law.
A Conversion Therapy Bill will ban conversion therapy for under 18s, and for those over 18 who “do not consent and who are coerced or forced to undergo conversion therapy practices.” The Welsh Government is implementing its own measures against the practice, including signing a memorandum of understanding with the Coalition Against Conversion Therapy. It’s unclear how the UK bill will interact with Welsh Government action.
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:
- Financial services legislation that will introduce reforms in the insurance industry, along with other measures including protecting consumer access to cash and establishing the UK Infrastructure Bank on a statutory footing;
- An Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill will follow on from the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act, which was fast-tracked through the UK Parliament in March 2022 as a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; and
- A National Security Bill that will reform Official Secrets Act legislation.
Several bills were introduced on 11 May 2022. The timeline for other bills remains unclear. Legislative consent motions for relevant bills will be laid after the implications for devolved areas becomes clearer. These will then be considered by the Senedd.
Article by Philip Lewis, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament