At the end of the fifth Senedd, the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee is outlining its concerns at the extent to which the UK Parliament and UK Government have been legislating in devolved areas.
The UK’s departure from the European Union and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified this issue. The Committee is calling for the next Welsh Government to make sure that legislation about Wales which is within the legislative competence of the Senedd is made in Wales by the Senedd and Welsh Ministers.
The UK’s exit from the EU has also brought about changes to the constitution of the UK without the consent of the devolved parliaments. The Senedd refused consent to both the EU Withdrawal Agreement Act 2019 and the UK Internal Market Act 2020 and it was not given sufficient time to consider consent for the EU Future Relationship Act 2020.
As a result, the Committee is concerned about the Sewel Convention which has been in operation since the creation of devolution in 1999, and states that the UK parliament “will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without consent”.
The Committee believes it is critical that all parties find a shared understanding on the application of the Sewel Convention and one to which all governments and parliaments in the UK can agree. The Committee believes that failure to reach an understanding, or to reform the Sewel Convention, will render it obsolete and of little value, while at the same time building unnecessary friction between the governments of the UK.
Over the past year the Senedd, through its Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, has been responsible for scrutinising decisions on justice. This follows a recommendation by the Commission on Justice in Wales (the Thomas Commission) that the Senedd take a greater role in scrutiny of the justice system. Although much of the system is reserved by the UK Government, the Welsh Government has significant justice responsibilities.
The Wales Governance Centre’s 2019 report, Public Spending on the justice system for Wales, found that around 38% of spending on justice in Wales is funded by the Welsh Government or local authorities. However, despite this significant spending, the Welsh Government does not regularly report on its work on justice policy.
To reflect the Welsh Government’s responsibilities over justice and to increase transparency, the Committee believes that the next Welsh Government should report annually to the Senedd on its work on justice matters.
The Committee is also calling for the Welsh Government’s justice responsibilities to be clearly identified and brought under the responsibility of a single Minister.
Mick Antoniw MS, Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee said:
“It’s been a turbulent few years for the constitutional arrangements of the UK. Brexit and COVID-19 have seriously tested how devolution operates. There are clear lessons to be learned from the last five year Senedd term on how legislation is made in devolved areas, how governments work together within the UK and the importance of parliaments holding governments to account.
“We believe that legislation about Wales, within the competence of the Senedd, should be made in Wales by the Senedd and Welsh Ministers.
“With justice becoming more of an issue for the Welsh Government and a significant area of expenditure, we believe it’s only right that the Senedd holds the Welsh Government to account on this. Ministers should report annually on justice and there should be one minister in the next Welsh Government with responsibility for justice.
“As devolution approaches its 25th anniversary, further challenges are likely to arise for the UK and its nations. There may be a need for Members of the Senedd to have a conversation with citizens in Wales about the constitutional future of our country. The next Senedd and the Committee responsible for constitutional issues will be well-placed to contribute significantly to that process.”