Lesley Griffiths MS Minister for Rural Affairs, North Wales and Trefnydd
During the pre-election period, the UK Parliament passed and Royal Assent was granted to the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act. The Act applies to Wales and makes provision which is within the competence of the Senedd, but it passed without the consent of the Senedd. The purpose of this Statement is to set out how that came to pass.
The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill was first introduced in early 2020 as a Private Members’ Bill in the House of Commons. However, it did not progress through any of its legislative stages until 2021. In accordance with Standing Orders around UK Private Members’ Bills, the Welsh Government laid a legislative consent memorandum on 17 February 2021.
Members will be aware we would generally seek to provide the Senedd with an opportunity to debate and vote upon a Legislative Consent Motion prior to the last amending stage in the second House of Parliament, in this case after Lords Reports Stage but before Lords Third Reading. However, at the point when the Senedd went into recess, there was nothing to indicate the Bill was likely to progress to Royal Assent within that recess period. There are good reasons why debates on Legislative Consent Motions generally do not take place until late in a Bill’s passage, as otherwise there is a risk there will be further changes to the Bill subsequent to the Senedd granting consent. Indeed, most Private Members’ Bills in the UK Parliament do not make it to the statute book.
In this instance, the Welsh Government was advised only after the Senedd had gone into recess that the remaining stages of the Bill would be timetabled in the final weeks of the parliamentary session. Therefore, the Bill would likely pass before the new Senedd was constituted. The drafting of the Bill also ensured that when passed, it would come into force automatically two months after Royal Assent.
It was not viable at this point for the Senedd to be recalled simply for the purpose of considering a Legislative Consent Motion for this Bill.
In correspondence with UK Government Ministers, I put forward more than one approach which might have at least met the spirit of the Sewel Convention.
In response, I was advised, in effect, that no changes could be made to the timings of the Bill’s remaining legislative stages or of the start and end of the session. Whilst we accept any such changes were not straightforward, we do believe a UK Government which placed an appropriately high value on the fundamental importance of respecting the devolution settlement could have avoided these circumstances coming to pass.
The Welsh Government supported the policy intention behind the Act and advised the Senedd we supported the Act applying in Wales. However, the timetable which was set for the Act’s passage did not allow for the Senedd to conduct its constitutional role of considering whether to consent to the legislation applying in Wales. It also deprived the UK Parliament of the opportunity to consider the views of the democratically elected legislature in Wales. Given the earlier decisions to proceed with the Withdrawal Agreement Act and the Internal Market Act in the absence of consent from the Senedd, this is a deeply disturbing trend, and I have written to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to this effect.
In that letter, I have set out we appreciate the circumstances of this Act were very different to the two aforementioned pieces of legislation and it was not the UK Government’s prior intention to legislate without consent. However, the UK Government is ultimately responsible for agreeing the parliamentary timetable, including the timing of the start and end of parliamentary sessions.
Finally (on this Act), UK Government Ministers suggested in their letter the Senedd would have time to consider the Act after Royal Assent and before it comes into force. This is of course, not a meaningful substitute for consideration of the Bill prior to Royal Assent, given that if the Senedd were to vote against the Bill, it would not be possible to prevent the Bill coming into force. It also fails to recognise that part of the purpose of the Sewel Convention is to facilitate dialogue between the legislatures of the United Kingdom, and its constituent nations, which was recognised by the Supreme Court in Miller as fundamentally important to the UK’s constitutional settlement.
Even before the three Acts discussed in this letter were passed, the Welsh Government had reached the view the present untrammelled discretion available to override the intention of the Sewel Convention was not sustainable. This was made clear in our 2019 publication “Reforming the Union”. Unfortunately, we have been amply proved right by the actions of this UK Government. We will shortly be updating that publication, to give a sense of the scale of change which is needed to the governance of our Union.