Senedd’s Legislation Committee concerned about UK Trade Bill and warns of serious consequences for Welsh democracy

Published 30/07/2020   |   Last Updated 01/12/2020   |   Reading Time minutes

​It is not clear how the Welsh Government has ensured that the interests of Welsh citizens, Welsh businesses, and Welsh democracy are taken account of in the UK Government Trade Bill, says the Senedd’s Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee. 

The Committee has today issued a critical report which highlights flaws in the Welsh Government’s approach to the UK Trade Bill, which is needed as a result of the UK’s departure from the EU. 

The report is available in full here

The Committee cautions that the Welsh Government has left too much to the UK Government’s discretion, while not securing enough requirements for robust Senedd scrutiny of the broad powers to make regulations that affect Wales.

The Committee has raised concerns about the breadth of the regulation-making powers in the UK Bill, and said it expected Welsh Ministers to ensure that they are not excessive in order to safeguard Welsh democracy. 

The Committee is also concerned that the Bill allows UK Ministers to make regulations that amend the Government of Wales Act 2006 and is not convinced by the Minister’s reassurance that the UK Government is “not minded to exercise these powers”. 

The Chair of the Senedd’s Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, Mick Antoniw MS, says: “Throughout our scrutiny of the 2017-19 version of the Trade Bill, we raised concerns about the scope of the regulation-making powers in the Bill, particularly that that Bill allowed UK Ministers to make regulations that amend the Government of Wales Act 2006. 

“Despite our repeated concerns we are alarmed that the Minister said that she has not made any representations to the UK Government about this power, which remains in the current Bill. As a Committee we have constantly emphasised that it is important to consider what can be achieved using a particular legislative provision, and not what a government of the time says it will do with a power.

“We have, yet again, had to remind governments of the constitutional principle that the legislative competence of the Senedd should not be modified by regulations made by the UK Ministers.” 

Potentially long-term implications for key sectors, including agriculture, fisheries, health and manufacturing

Mick Antoniw MS also highlighted the Committee’s concerns with the use of non-binding agreements between governments in place of legislation, saying: 

“The Bill, once enacted, will have significant and potentially long-term implications for key sectors in Wales, including agriculture, fisheries, health and manufacturing. We acknowledge that the negotiation of UK-wide trade agreements remains a power reserved to the UK Government. However, the Welsh Government will be responsible for implementing those trade agreements in devolved areas in Wales, and we do not believe that non-binding intergovernmental agreements are an effective way to safeguard Welsh interests. In our view, this is a high risk and flawed approach”.  

In terms of other Brexit Bill Welsh Government Legislative Consent Memorandums (LCMs), in the past three months the Committee has also reported on the LCM and Supplementary LCM No 2 for the Agriculture Bill, the LCM for the Fisheries Bill, and the LCM for the Environment Bill. All reports are published online here.  

In this report, on the LCM for the Trade Bill, the Committee make a total of 9 Recommendations including: 

Recommendation 7 - The Minister should seek an amendment to the Bill to secure a requirement on the UK Government to obtain the Senedd’s consent before it makes regulations under clause 2(7).

Recommendation 8 - The Minister should seek urgent discussions with the UK Government regarding the commitments made on the operation of the TRA, specifically as regards consulting the Welsh Government on the TRA’s recommendations, and seek changes to the agreed commitments so that they properly reflect the Welsh Government’s status as the Government in Wales, and not as a department of the UK Government.

The report will now be considered by Welsh Government. 

Read the Committee's full report here