Senedd roundup: Welsh Government prepares legal action over ‘power grab’ bill

Jeremy Miles AM. Picture: National Assembly

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

Counsel General Jeremy Miles has informed the UK Government it could face legal action if it passes the controversial UK Internal Market Bill.

New amendments to the bill were introduced yesterday to placate the UK’s three devolved administrations, all of whom oppose the legislation but Mr Miles said the bill, which he had previously described as “an attack on democracy” still allows UK Ministers “to undermine the right of the Senedd to make laws and policies which reflect the priorities of the people they serve.”

Last week the Senedd voted to withhold consent from the Internal Market Bill which would have allowed Westminster to overrule Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland after the country’s EU transition period ends on December 31.

 

‘Undermined’

In a written statement today, Mr Miles said: “The Welsh Government is determined to do everything we can to protect the Senedd in the face of the outrageous attack on its legislative competence made by the UK Government through the UK Internal Market Bill, to which the Senedd has rightly refused consent.

“The Bill will today complete the process of Commons Consideration of Lords Amendments. If the Bill is enacted in its present form, this would leave the ambit of the devolution settlement in Wales uncertain and undermined.

“Regulation-making powers in the Bill would open the Government of Wales Act 2006 (GoWA) to very wide substantive future amendment, and the powers of the Senedd and Welsh Government to serious diminution, at the hands of the UK Government.

“The provisions in the Bill are also so wide and deep in operation that they risk constraining the legislative space for the Senedd in areas which are currently devolved.

“We have therefore today formally notified the UK Government that should the UK Parliament enact the Bill in its present form, I intend to take immediate action to seek a declaration from the Administrative Court that the ambit of constitutional legislation cannot lawfully be cut down in this way and that the ensuing Act cannot be interpreted so as to have that effect.”

The Welsh Government has asked for a response from the UK Government within 14 days.

Picture: rhonddawildlifediary (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Council services hit by Covid staff shortages

Rhondda Cynon Taf council has announced that some non-essential services could be suspended as “a significant number” of staff self-isolate or are affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The council said that as a consequence it would redirect resources to support frontline and key services and was also preparing to increase Test, Trace, Protect capacity to respond to the rise in cases.

RCT has recorded 1,412 new cases of COVID-19 over the last seven days and the weekly infection rate of 585.3 per 100,000 people is the seventh highest in Wales.

Labour council leader Andrew Morgan described the situation as “serious” and blamed people not following rules for the increase in cases.

“We are facing a serious situation, the significant growth in cases locally has resulted in a substantial number of council staff being required to self-isolate and therefore being unable to undertake their role,” he told BBC Wales.

“The suspension of services in the coming days should serve as a wake-up call to everyone – to follow the rules and reduce their social contacts.

“Unfortunately, some residents are choosing to not live their lives within the boundaries set by the current restrictions.

“As a result, this virulent disease is widespread throughout our communities, and we have some of the highest virus rates in the UK.”

Photo Reno Beranger from Pixabay

Report highlight exploitation of looked-after children by County Lines drugs gangs

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for North Wales, Mark Isherwood MS, has called for an urgent statement from the government following publication of a new report that has highlighted the exploitation of looked-after children in north Wales by County Lines drugs gangs

The report County Lines and Looked After Children, which was published by crime and justice specialists Crest Advisory earlier this month, has revealed that looked-after children in the north are not being safeguarded in the way that they should be and a growing number are placed in care settings which do not protect them from criminal exploitation

Using police data and stakeholder interviews in north Wales and Merseyside, the report concludes:

  • Almost all known ‘county lines’ activity in North Wales originates in Merseyside
  • The lines travel into north Wales in two ways: firstly, into Flintshire and Wrexham local authorities; and secondly, to coastal towns including Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, Abergele, Llandudno, and Bangor
  • Although looked-after children are taken into local authority care to improve their welfare, they are overrepresented in child criminal County Lines exploitation and are therefore far from being effectively safeguarded
  • Children placed in residential care homes and unregulated settings are at a higher risk of going missing, with 31 percent of missing incidents in north Wales in the last two years reported from care
  • Although looked after children are disproportionately represented in county lines networks, they are not being systematically identified by police or local authorities

Mr Isherwood said: “I think this is an urgent matter, a pressing matter, and one that must not be overlooked because of Covid, and I call for an urgent Statement accordingly.”

Responding to Mr Isherwood’s appeal, Trefnydd Rebecca Evans said: “I know that Mark Isherwood will be taking this issue up with North Wales Police, but I will ask the Minister with responsibility for social services to also provide him with an update on what social services can do to ensure that looked-after children in their care are kept as safe as possible and are educated about the dangers of county lines and protected from individuals who would seek to exploit them.”

Picture by Tiocfaidh (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Welsh Government hopes a post-Brexit deal can be reached as talks continue

What was once the most important issue facing Wales, seemingly debated every other week, has now been reduced to a minor item on the Senedd’s plenary schedule.

With no breakthrough yet in talks aiming to secure a long-term deal with the EU ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period in two weeks’ time, the Senedd was updated – as well as they could be given the uncertainty – on the Welsh Government’s position.

  • Welsh Government “would take any deal over a No Deal” as crucial Brexit talks continue.
  • Arguments continue over whether the Welsh Government are attempting to frustrate the Brexit process.
  • Stockpiling of medical devices and consumables continues behind the scenes.

Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath), said a deal – however thin – was the least-worst outcome. The UK Government has to accept that any trade deal requires limits on sovereignty, while the EU needs to show similar flexibility.

Plans for a “No Deal” are in place and work on that continues. The priorities in the event of a “No Deal” include preventing disruption to the supply of critical goods (medical devices and consumables are being stockpiled), supporting businesses through the process of losing access to the single market and preparing the public and public services for that eventuality.

Although Brexit has already happened – and there was little the Welsh Government could do to affect the outcome – Shadow Brexit Minister, Darren Millar MS (Con, Clwyd West), still believed the Welsh Government were trying to frustrate the Brexit process. It was disappointed to hear the Welsh Government is prepared to accept any deal when it’s impossible to get a good deal unless you’re willing to walk away.

Darren Millar contested that the “oven-ready deal” often spoken about refers to the Withdrawal Agreement at the start of the year, not a final UK-EU deal.

Dr Dai Lloyd MS (Plaid, South Wales West) asked several questions relating to medical supplies. Some medicines were impossible to stockpile because of their short shelf life. The Counsel General confirmed that the UK Government are responsible for medicine imports and that if there are any problems at the border from January, then short shelf life and urgent items will be airlifted in.

In response to questions from other members, the Counsel General called for clarity to be given to businesses so they can prepare for the red tape which will come with customs and possible tariffs.

Sheep grazing. Picture Nation.Cymru

Agriculture white paper gives food for thought

The questions without notice to the Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), focused on the recently-published agriculture white paper.

While welcoming some aspects, Llyr Gruffydd MS (Plaid, North Wales) was disappointed that there wasn’t much different from previous consultation documents.

He noted that the language of the report didn’t provide any certainty on how the proposals would directly impact rural communities, while a lot of the work will become effectively redundant at the end of the Brexit transition period when everything changes again. Did the Minister do her homework?

The Minister stressed the need to get this right rather than rush it; a final report wasn’t expected on the white paper before autumn 2021. There was no rush either as there are temporary powers included in the UK Agriculture Bill. A Welsh Agriculture Bill would be tabled sometime during the Sixth Senedd.

Shadow Environment Minister, Janet Finch-Saunders MS (Con, Aberconwy), said the white paper falls short of the ambitions Welsh farmers deserve. She paraphrased what Llyr Gruffydd said by adding that it wasn’t clear if the previous consultations added weight to the white paper and didn’t do much to acknowledge the time and effort farmers made to respond to the consultation.

She was astounded that “employment” was only mentioned three times, undervaluing the contribution farmers make to the rural economy. There was also too much focus on enforcement and regulation, which could potentially restrict the competitiveness of Welsh farming.

The Minister believes the future Agriculture Bill is a massive opportunity to have a tailored agricultural policy for Wales. It would put sustainable food production front and centre; presently, farmers aren’t rewarded for environmental stewardship when they will play a key role in tackling climate change.

She accepted that there were voices supporting measures similar to the status quo, but the future Bill would bring regulations together into one law and introduce proportionate enforcement measures instead of the current “big leap” to criminal prosecution for minor breaches.

Public consultation launched on the government’s Strategy for an Ageing Society

Julie Morgan MS, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, has announced the launch of a three-month public consultation on the government’s Strategy for an Ageing Society.

This consultation was originally due to launch in March 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic struck and as a consequence some sections have been updated to reflect policy changes in response to Covid-19.

The deputy minister said: “I am proud that this strategy adopts a rights-based approach that promotes equality and social justice and places older people’s voices at the core of Welsh Government policy making.

“The United Nations Principles for Older Persons have informed the development of this document and will guide its implementation. By rejecting ageism and age discrimination, we aim to create a more equal society that enables people of all ages to fulfil their potential no matter what their background or circumstances.”

Following the consultation period, the government says it will we will work with stakeholders to publish an action plan that will guide its implementation.

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