The UK Government set out its plans for legislation in the coming parliamentary year in the Queen’s Speech on 19 December - including more than 30 Bills that will apply to Wales. Some relate to the UK’s exit from the EU; others will relate to new policy, mostly in reserved areas such as justice. The Assembly will need to consider what impact these Bills could have on Wales and give its consent to any that affects devolved powers.
What are the Brexit Bills to which the Assembly will need to consider granting consent?
The Queen’s Speech sets out plans for a number of Bills to enable UK and devolved governments to put in place new laws and policies as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU. Many of these replace Bills that fell at the end of the 2017-19 Parliament: it is not yet clear how similar the new versions will be. Five are likely to include substantial provisions within Welsh devolved competence: the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill, the Trade Bill and the Environment Bill. The Assembly will need to consider whether it will grant consent to these Bills.
The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons on 9 January. This is a Bill to implement the Withdrawal Agreement between the EU and UK. The Welsh Government has said it will not recommend that the Assembly grant consent to the Bill and explained why in a legislative consent memorandum. The Scottish Parliament has refused consent to the Bill. You can find out more about the Bill and what it means for Wales from our overview.
The Agriculture Bill is primarily a Bill to enable the UK Government to prepare a replacement for the common agricultural policy in England. At the Welsh Government’s request, the 2017-19 Agriculture Bill would have extended powers to Welsh Ministers to do this in Wales too. The First Minister has said that he hopes the new Bill will do the same.
The Fisheries Bill will provide powers to the UK Government and devolved governments to manage fisheries outside the Common Fisheries Policy - the EU’s rules on managing fish stocks sustainably. The 2017-19 Bill would have extended the competence of the Assembly and of Welsh Ministers over fisheries policy. The Welsh Government did not recommend that the Assembly grant consent to the 2017-19 Fisheries Bill before it fell.
When the UK leaves the EU it will no longer be a party to the EU’s trade deals with third countries. The UK is negotiating the roll-over of some provisions of the EU’s trade deals with third countries into agreements with the UK. The Trade Bill will provide ministers with powers to implement rolled-over deals. The 2017-19 version of the Bill would have provided some of these powers to Welsh ministers: it is likely that the new Bill will do the same. The Assembly granted consent to the last Parliament’s Trade Bill.
The Environment Bill will establish new environmental governance structures to replace EU environmental oversight. It will mainly cover England, but around half its provisions will apply to Wales. The Welsh Government has completed a consultation on how to replace EU environmental oversight in Wales, identifying where it could bring in new legislation of its own. The UK Government introduced an Environment Bill in October 2019, before Parliament was dissolved for the General Election. At the time, the Welsh Government said that this Bill was focused on England and ‘not […] designed to address governance at a UK-wide level’ and that it was ‘willing to engage with the other administrations on how to address any gaps at a UK-wide level’. The UK Government provided a list of provisions in the version of the Bill introduced in October that it believed would require the Assembly’s consent.
The Welsh Government is also considering what Brexit legislation of its own to introduce. Speaking to the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee on 6 January, the First Minister said: ‘I don't expect that we will have Welsh-only legislation in those areas on the statute book by the time this Assembly term ends, but I would expect that there will be significant preparation for that that would allow the incoming Assembly in 2021 to embark on that agenda.’
The rest of the Government’s Brexit Bills are unlikely to include major provisions within the Assembly’s competence – but they will still apply in Wales. These are the Immigration Bill, the Private International Law Bill and financial services legislation.
Which other Bills will apply to Wales?
The other Bills that will apply to Wales will mostly cover reserved matters. Among them are several justice and policing Bills. For example, the Sentencing Bill is intended to increase the time that serious violent and sexual offenders spend in prison and foreign national offenders legislation to increase penalties on foreign national offenders who return to the UK in breach of a deportation order. Other plans include telecommunications legislation to accelerate the delivery of gigabit-capable broadband; railways legislation to make railway strikes illegal unless a minimum service agreement is reached; and an Employment Bill to protect workers’ rights after the UK leaves the EU.
A few of these Bills may include provisions within the Assembly’s competence and require the Assembly’s legislative consent. One important example could be the Animal Welfare Bill: in 2017 the UK Government said it believed the then draft Bill included provisions on animal cruelty within the Assembly’s legislative competence and that it intended to seek consent.
The Assembly is expected to vote on a legislative consent motion on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill by the end of January. Over the coming year, the Assembly will need to consider how it responds to the new Bills as they are introduced and pass through Parliament – and, where they affect devolved powers, to decide whether to grant consent.
Article by Lucy Valsamidis, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales