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First Minister welcomes ‘significant’ Supreme Court ruling

The First Minister has welcomed a “significant” Supreme Court ruling that an Assembly Bill to underpin the development of the Welsh agricultural sector and to protect low paid agricultural workers is lawful.

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The First Minister has welcomed a “significant” Supreme Court ruling that an Assembly Bill to underpin the development of the Welsh agricultural sector and to protect low paid agricultural workers is lawful.

But Carwyn Jones has also warned that the whole basis of Welsh law-making still needs to be overhauled in order to ensure the future stability of devolution.

The UK Government’s Attorney General used his powers to refer the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill to the Supreme Court arguing that it was not within the scope of the Assembly’s powers.

A panel of the most senior judges in the UK has concluded unanimously that it is lawful, the second such judgment on an Assembly Bill in under two years.

The First Minister said while he strongly welcomed the broader interpretation of Welsh legislative powers in the judgment, a more fundamental move from conferred to reserved powers was the only way that such disputes could be avoided in the future.

The First Minister said:
“This is a significant judgment of the Supreme Court which goes some way to clarifying the complexities of the current devolution settlement. It is the second unanimous judgment in our favour, and a clear vindication of the way our relatively new Welsh law-making powers are being interpreted by the Welsh Government.

“In practice, it means that the lowest paid agricultural workers in Wales will now have a degree of protection that they would not otherwise have had, following the UK Government’s unilateral decision to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales.

“But we cannot continue to have Bill after Bill passed by our democratically-elected Assembly, then referred to the Supreme Court, with all the time, cost and uncertainty that involves.

“The Silk Commission recommended that we move from the current unsatisfactory system of conferred powers to a reserved powers arrangement, as is the case in Scotland. Despite today’s victory, this is urgently needed as part of a package of measures to ensure a stable long term devolution settlement.”

The Bill, when given Royal Assent, will preserve a system that already supports professional development and growth within the agriculture sector and rewards skills and experience and contributes to the sustainability of the agricultural sector in Wales.

It will allow the Welsh Ministers to create an Agricultural Advisory Panel, to make future Wages Orders and to promote skills development and career progression within the agricultural sector.

The Bill will shortly be submitted to Her Majesty the Queen for Royal Assent and is expected to become an Act later this month.

Following Royal Assent of the Bill, the Welsh Government will launch a 12 week formal public consultation on the proposed constitution and functions of the Agricultural Advisory Panel.

The Welsh Government’s Counsel General, Theodore Huckle QC, argued the Welsh Government’s case at the Supreme Court, against the UK Government Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC.

Responding to the judgement, Mr Huckle said,
“This is a powerful judgment of Lord Reed and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, with whom the other Justices agreed. I am very pleased that the Court has held, consistently with my submissions that it is to the words of the Government of Wales Act 2006 that we must look to ascertain whether an Assembly Bill is within competence.

“The Court has made it very clear that provided a Bill fairly and realistically satisfies the tests set out, it does not matter whether in principle it might also be capable of being classified as relating to something which has not been specifically devolved. The judgment brings some welcome clarity to a complex devolution settlement. I would like to thank the Welsh Government’s legal team again for their excellent work for me on this case.”

 

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