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Retained EU Law Bill risks giving too much power to Ministers and bypassing the Senedd

Published 23/02/2023   |   Last Updated 23/02/2023   |   Reading Time minutes

A Senedd Committee has outlined serious concerns about the UK Government's Retained EU Law Bill and the impact it could have on the certainty and quality of law affecting Wales.

The Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee has laid out concerns on how the Bill concentrates too much power in the hands of government Ministers, bypassing the role of parliaments, including the Senedd.

The Committee is also calling for the Welsh Government to fully explain the impact of implementing the Bill, should it be passed, on how it will deliver other important legislation for Wales.

Huw Irranca-Davies MS, Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee said:

“The impact of the UK Government’s Retained EU Law Bill cannot be underestimated. With an estimated 4,000 pieces of legislation on a wide range of important areas affected, proper consideration to the task at hand must be given by the Senedd and UK Parliament.

“On behalf of the people of Wales, the job of the Senedd is to hold government to account. This Bill, if it becomes law, will concentrate too much power  in the hands of UK and Welsh government ministers, without proper scrutiny from the Senedd. 

“We have seen no evidence that government ministers need extremely broad powers to deal with retained EU law without proper oversight by parliamentary democracy.

“For us to have good law in Wales on essential areas such as the environment and agriculture, we must have proper oversight and time to consider legislation – not a rush just to meet, for what is to most of us, an unnecessary deadline. These are important matters for the people of Wales and they must be considered carefully to ensure we do not lose important protections that benefit all of us.

“We’re calling on the Welsh Government to give us a clear idea of what implementing the retained EU law Bill would mean for Government and Senedd time.”

Retained EU Law

Following the UK’s exit from the EU, EU law was converted to domestic law by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. This law became known as ‘Retained EU Law’.

EU laws have stayed in place with the aim of avoiding gaps in important areas like product standards, animal welfare and employment law.

Now the UK Government considers that there is no longer a place for EU law concepts on the UK statute book and is trying to remove or reform these laws with the UK Government’s Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.

Because many of the laws are in subject areas devolved to Wales, such as agriculture and the environment, the Senedd’s consent must be sought on the Retained EU Law Bill passing through the UK Parliament. This means ‘Legislative Consent Memoranda’ must be considered by the Senedd and a motion voted on by Members of the Senedd.

Unnecessary Ministerial Powers

The Senedd’s role is to hold the Welsh Government to account, and the Committee is expressing serious concerns that the Bill hinders this and gives too much power to government ministers.

The Committee is warning that the Bill does not sufficiently acknowledge the role of the legislature in a parliamentary democracy and the Bill enables an unacceptable power imbalance between government and parliament. The Committee supports calls to remove from the Bill unlimited and unnecessary Ministerial powers.

Impact on the work of the Welsh Government and Senedd

The First Minister told the Senedd’s Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister that capacity would need to be diverted from elsewhere in the Welsh Government to cope with the Bill.

The Bill includes a ‘sunset clause’ on retained EU law, meaning that laws will be removed after 31 December 2023, unless they are saved or reformed. The timetable for the Bill, caused by this sunset date means that the Senedd is likely to be confronted with an unprecedented workload in the autumn of 2023 – meaning other important work could be affected.

The Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to clarify and set out a frank assessment about the resource and capacity implications for the Welsh Government of implementing the Bill and set out what, if any, other activity will need to be delayed to deliver on the tasks it will need to complete by the end of 2023.