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‘Lack of clarity’ in Wales Bill

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screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-09-41-16A REPORT on the Wales Bill, published by the House of Lords Constitution Committee, has stated that the lack of clarity over the demarcation of powers between the UK Parliament and Welsh Assembly not only risks future litigation, but the need for further legislation to clarify the settlement.

The report welcomes the move from a ‘conferred powers’ model (where the Welsh Assembly can only legislate on matters specifically devolved to it) to a ‘reserved powers’ model (where Welsh Assembly can legislate on any subject not explicitly ‘reserved’ by the UK Parliament). The reserved powers model offers a relatively clear and simple division of powers, as well as allowing the Welsh Assembly ‘constitutional space to legislate’. However, the Committee say that the way the Wales Bill implements the reserved powers model undermines these key advantages.

The complexity of the settlement set out in the Wales Bill, in which numerous legal tests interact with hundreds of matters reserved to the UK Government and Parliament, risks the courts being asked to make decisions about whether the National Assembly for Wales has the power to make laws in certain areas. The Committee contrasts this with the simpler settlement set out in the Scotland Act 1998, where the subjects reserved to Westminster are relatively limited, ensuring greater clarity about the devolution of powers.

The Committee also point out that in some areas, the list of reserved matters is so extensive, and the number of legal tests that must be met for the Assembly to use its powers are so vague, that the switch to a reserved powers model is likely to actually result in a return of power from the Welsh Assembly to Westminster.

The Committee call on the Government to explain whether the Wales Bill is actually intended to reduce the legislative competence of the Welsh Assembly in some areas and, if not, what steps they plan to take to ensure that the competence of the Assembly is not inadvertently reduced.

The Committee notes, for example, that absolute restrictions on the Assembly’s ability to modify criminal law in relation to sexual offences may affect its ability to exercise its legislative competence in relation to the protection and well-being of children and young adults.

The Committee notes that there is ‘no evidence of a clear rationale’ for the powers devolved by the Wales Bill and calls on the Government to explain the principles which underpin the devolution proposals set out in the Bill.

The Committee points out that in its recent report, The Union and Devolution, it recommended that further devolution should be managed in a coherent way based on sound principles and clarity about the purpose of the proposed devolution. It says the Government has failed to provide a clear rationale for the scope of powers devolved by the Wales Bill.

Lord Lang of Monkton, Chairman of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, said: “My Committee have taken a long and serious look at devolution within the UK in the last year and we bring that experience with us in examining the Wales Bill.

“We welcome the Wales Bill’s move from a ‘conferred powers’ to a ‘reserved powers’ model of devolution. However, the list of reservations is so extensive, and the legal tests that govern the Assembly’s powers so complex and vague, that it could be a recipe for confusion and legal uncertainty. The outcome is likely to be increased litigation as the courts are asked to decide exactly where the boundaries of the Assembly’s authority lies.

“We are disappointed that there is no clear explanation from the Government as to the rationale for the scope of the powers being devolved under the Wales Bill. As we noted in our report, The Union and Devolution, devolution must take place on the basis of appropriate principles to ensure that the devolution settlements evolve in a coherent way, rather than in a reactive, ad hoc manner.

“The Bill also risks, in some areas, actually reducing the powers of the Welsh Assembly. We have asked the Government whether that was their intention, and if not, how they intend to avoid unintentionally diminishing the Assembly’s powers.

“The Wales Bill starts Committee Stage in the House of Lords next week. This is the first stage where amendments can be made and debated and where the detail of the Bill is examined closely. I hope our report will be helpful to the House in informing that debate.”

This week, the Director of the Welsh Governance Centre, Professor Richard Wyn Jones, also raised concerns that the Wales Bill was being ‘rammed through Parliament’, and suggested that it could be blocked by the Welsh Government. Speaking to the BBC, he said: “It is genuinely hard to find people who aren’t directly involved on the UK government side with a good word to say about this legislation, certainly in terms of the detail,” he said.

“What was striking, we did have a consensus, an all-party consensus, in terms of moving to a reserved powers model.

“What’s particularly depressing is, in the enactments of that good intention, we’ve reached a stage where everybody who is looking at this in a relatively dispassionate way is pointing to some fundamental problems.

“I don’t think that anybody is going into this wanting it to fail, in terms of the critics. This is the only piece of legislation on the table, there is a sense the status quo is unsatisfactory and so people want this to work.

“There have been lots of constructive suggestions for change from the Welsh Government, from the National Assembly presiding office, and yet the legislation is being rammed through Parliament with, so far, only very small changes being conceded.”

However, the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies, described the ‘landmark’ legislation as offering ‘greater clarity and accountability than ever before in the devolved era’.

“Labour had 13 years in power to address concerns over where power resides and made no meaningful attempt to establish a lasting settlement. Whereas Conservatives have delivered a significant breakthrough, demonstrating our party’s commitment to devolution and the place of Wales as a full partner in the UK,” he added after the MPs gave the Bill an unopposed third reading in September.

“We now have an opportunity to move on from constitutional affairs, and the Welsh Government must now make best use of the tools at its disposal and deliver for Welsh communities; creating jobs, developing the Welsh economy and improving our public services.”

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Chancellors economic update includes VAT cut for hospitality sector, and customer discounts

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The Chancellor had set out his coronavirus recovery package today.

Rishi Sunak set out the measures in his summer economic update in the House of Commons on Wednesday (Jun 8), as he faces pressure to assist those who are most vulnerable to the financial crisis.

The Chancellor said he will cut VAT from 20% to 5% for food if people eat out to help those businesses which he said had been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The chancellor announced discount to encourage people to eat out in August.

He says restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels as well as other attractions will be able to claim the money back within five days. It had been reported he was considering giving all UK adults a £500 voucher to spent with companies hit by coronavirus, but the Chancellor has decided not to go ahead with that proposal.

Instead Sunak announced a discount worth up to £10 per head for eating out in August. He said his final measure has never been tried in this country. It is an “eat out to help out scheme”, offering customers as discount worth up to £10 per head when they eat out from Monday to Wednesday in August.

Speaking in the Commons today, he said: “Our plan has clear goals, to protect, support and retain jobs.”

Regards furlough scheme, he said it must wind down, adding: “flexibly and gradually supporting people through to October” but that he is introducing a bonus for employers who bring staff back from furlough.

Employers who bring someone back from furlough and employ them through to January, paying them a minimum of £520 a month, will receive a £1,000 bonus.

He says that “in total we have provided £49bn to support public services since the pandemic began”.

He added: “No nationalist can ignore that this help has only been possible because we are a United Kingdom.”

Mr Sunak says the UK economy has already shrunk by 25% – the same amount it grew in the previous 18 years.

He also announced:

A £2bn kickstart scheme paying employers to take on unemployed 16 to 24 year olds for a minimum of 25 hours a week – he says the Treasury will pay those wages for six months plus a sum for overheads. He says there is no cap. This will apply in England and Wales.

VAT on food from restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels will be cut until January 12 from 20% to 5%
Funding for apprenticeships and traineeships in England, there will be a separate announcement for Wales.

£1bn for the DWP to support millions of people back to work through Job Centres. A £2bn green homes grant in England to cover two thirds of the cost, up to £5,000, for energy efficient home improvements. Again the Welsh Government will have their own proposals on this given time.

A temporary cut to stamp duty in England and Northern Ireland.

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Politics

Next stage of the rollout by Open Reach

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Local member of the Welsh Parliament Lee Waters has welcomed news that Open Reach is bringing super-fast fiber broadband to new parts of the Llanelli constituency.

The next stage of the rollout by Open Reach will bring full fibre to the premises broadband to thousands of homes over the course of the next few years. Provision of super-fast broadband has been a priority of Welsh Government, and the new roll out will increase provision across Wales and Carmarthenshire. The provision of broadband is the responsibility of the Westminster Government, but the Welsh Labour Government have stepped in to fill gaps in the network in Wales that commercial providers have left behind.

Lee Waters MS said:

“I’m really pleased that super-fast fibre broadband is being rolled out to more homes in the area.

“Burry Port, Llanedi, Cross Hands, Hendy, Llannon, Pembrey and Tumble will all start having full fibre installed later this year. This stage of the roll-out is being fully funded by OpenReach.

“This is on top of the investment made by the Welsh Government to get 95% of households connected to fast broadband.

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Community

AM seeks assurances for Llanelli car industry

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Mid and West AM Helen Mary Jones has asked for assurances in the Senedd from the Welsh Government about the future of automotive industry in Llanelli.

Car production in the UK fell to its lowest level in almost a decade last week. It was revealed output fell 14 per cent to 1.3 million, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Production shutdowns in anticipation of Brexit is one of the factors impacting on the decrease in output.

Shadow Minister for Economy, Tackling poverty and Transport for Plaid Cymru, Helen Mary Jones AM said:

“It is just over a year since the Schaeffler automotive factory in Llanelli announced that it would be closing with the loss of 220 jobs. These were good-quality jobs, jobs that could sustain families productively. There are real concerns in the sector about the access to markets. I asked the Brexit Minister about further discussions the Welsh Government could have with the UK Government to try and ensure that we do have a voice around the table when negotiations are being made.

“This is especially important with regard to both the new trade deal that we’ll hopefully have with the European Union and any other free trade deals, to ensure that there are no unintended consequences.  For example, allowing access to markets for vehicles and vehicle parts from outside Wales that might have a negative effect on the supply chain that companies have put a lot of effort into building up over many years.”

The automotive sector in Wales is comprised of about 150 firms, mainly component manufacturers, employing over 18,000 workers adding £3 billion to the Welsh economy.

Brexit Minister Jeremy Miles AM said:

“We are in regular dialogue with companies in the sector, with the Welsh Automotive Forum, and with national sector bodies regarding the potential impact of Brexit. Having an ongoing and frictionless trading relationship with the EU is very important for the automotive sector, and indeed for other sectors.”

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