Alun Davies, Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.
When I came into office last year I was asked by the UK Government for my consent to the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) under the provisions of the Public Bodies Act. I have previously issued statements about the importance I place upon the functions of the AWB and do not intend to go over these in detail in this statement. The AWB’s role in offering a simple and fair resolution of salary and working conditions and to promote upskilling within the agricultural sector is widely recognised by farming representatives in Wales. DEFRA’s own figures suggest that 12,500 workers in Wales would be affected by its abolition.
Therefore I expressed to the UK government my wish to retain the functions of the AWB in Wales and requested that this should be done in a simple way that met both the Welsh and UK governments’ policy agendas by making provision under a Public Bodies Act order which could both abolish the AWB in relation to England and enable different arrangements to be made for Wales. The UK Government continued to turn down this request and furthermore launched a public consultation across England and Wales on its intention to abolish the Board without proper prior notification to the Welsh Government and without using the Welsh language in any of its consultation documentation.
The UK Government has not been willing to enter serious negotiations. Over the past 18 months I have met no fewer than eight UK Ministers in an effort to find a resolution to this matter. This is highly unsatisfactory. At my most recent meetings, in the last two months, the UK Government agreed to further discussions. It was therefore extremely disappointing to discover late on December 19 that, without any further notification or correspondence, amendments had been laid in the House of Lords to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill to bring forward provisions to abolish the AWB in England and Wales. This circumvents the provisions requiring National Assembly consent in Section 9 of the Public Bodies Act and undermines confidence that the UK Government is serious about its respect agenda towards the Welsh Government. In turn, it deprives the Welsh Government of the opportunity to consult the National Assembly as we would have wished to do.
I have asked by officials to work urgently on this matter and I will make a further statement following the Christmas recess.