The Westminster government is using the process of Legislative Consent Motions to roll back the devolution settlement
Rhys ab Owen MS, Liz Saville Roberts MP
Like a trojan horse the Westminster government is using the process of Legislative Consent Motions to roll back the devolution settlement and stop Wales legislating in devolved areas in the future.
In Mark Drakeford’s speech at the UK Labour’s party conference last week he highlighted the importance of retaining power in order to make a difference in communities. Yet when it comes to motions before the Senedd the Labour Welsh Government has been happy to concede power to the Conservative party at Westminster.
The Welsh Government agrees legislative consent motions allowing the Conservative Westminster Government to pass legislation on a devolved issue over which the Senedd has regular legislative authority – the latest area was the environment last Tuesday. At least this week they rejected a consent motion when it came to another devolved area education.
This is what the First Minister said in Brighton: “Everything Labour has achieved in Wales…..has been achieved in the teeth of one of the most awful UK governments we have ever seen. Incompetent to its core and automatically hostile to anyone who does not share its visceral reactionary instincts at home or abroad.”
Awful, incompetent, hostile and reactionary. Yet good enough last week in the eyes of the Welsh Government and Labour MSs to pass legislation in a crucial area for the wellbeing of the people of Wales, now and in the future.
Powers over our environment, devolved for over 20 years, handed back to Boris Johnson’s “awful”, “incompetent”, “hostile” and “reactionary” government.
It is a constitutional principle, that the Senedd should legislate in areas devolved. Areas like the climate crisis and the environment are far too important to leave to Boris Johnson’s government to legislate on.
There is very little information in the memoranda of the Legislative Competence Orders why this occurs. In future we need clear principles why the Welsh Government feels they can allow legislation to pass. A lack of time and capacity is not good enough.
If we allow Westminster to legislate this results in laws solely in the English language, without proper scrutiny by the Senedd. Laws that will not be as accessible to the people of Wales, and it would limit our powers to legislate in this area for the future.
The question has to be asked why after a decade of having full legislative powers, are we asking a Government in Westminster that has such a terrible environmental record to do this on our behalf?
It is not just about the environment. This was the first Legislative Consent Motion of many that to be discussed in this Senedd in areas such as education, health and housing.
The Professional Qualifications Bill discussed in the Senedd this week gives the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor powers to make regulation that amends Senedd Acts.
There are also powers in the bill that could modify the Government of Wales Act 2006. As the Senedd’s cross-party Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee highlighted it is a basic constitutional principle that Senedd’s legislative competence should not be amended by regulations made by UK Ministers.
We are glad that other parties in the Senedd agreed with the arguments put forward by Plaid Cymru on Tuesday and refused consent for the motion.
The Westminster Government is undermining our devolution settlement. If you look at the numbers in the fourth Senedd, there were eight Westminster Bills that required consent; now, in the sixth Senedd, already there are 14 Bills.
It is happening. It is no coincidence, it is a plan by the Conservative Government to withdraw powers from this Senedd quietly but consistently and like the Trojans the Welsh Government are in danger of falling into a Boris Johnson trap.
Plaid Cymru’s message to those in Westminster is simple – hands off our Senedd and our powers.