Senedd and Welsh Government agree to improve scrutiny of UK-level discussions

(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales)

Yesterday, AMs discussed an agreement between the Welsh Government and the Senedd on their ongoing relationship with each other (pdf).

“Unique agreement”

Chair of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd), said the agreement was “unique” and a new way to improve transparency and scrutiny in light of the turbulence caused by Brexit.

“The relationship that exists between Governments in the UK is going to change if we leave the European Union. It will be vital, therefore, that Assembly committees and the National Assembly are able to scrutinise how governments are working together for the benefit of our citizens across the policy spectrum and with regard to the establishment of common policy frameworks.”
– Chair of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Mick Antoniw AM

One of the key parts of the new agreement is for the Senedd and its committees to be properly updated on inter-governmental relations and mechanisms (like the UK’s Joint Ministerial Committee).

Committees will now receive advanced notice of issues to be discussed at key inter-governmental meetings (except in exceptional circumstances). They’ll also receive a summary of the discussions and the Welsh Government will prepare an annual report on intergovernmental relations.

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) said that while some inter-governmental acts – such as changing the name of organisations from EU ones to UK ones as a result of Brexit – are not particularly controversial, any incidence where the UK is allowed to legislate on Wales’ behalf should make AMs “sit up and take notice”.

“….subject to the expected safeguards to protect confidentiality or engagement at short notice, it is entirely right that this Assembly recommended….a protocol between ourselves and Welsh Government by which Welsh Government informs us in due time of inter-governmental meetings. That allows committees of this Assembly to call in Ministers in advance of those meetings to help inform them of this Assembly’s preferred position on the subject in question before they attend such an inter-governmental meeting.”
-Suzy Davies AM

“Natural tension”

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) said Brexit has caused a “natural tension”, particularly over the potential loss of powers from Wales, but also the Welsh Government taking powers away from the Senedd.

David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) told the chamber it was important for AMs to understand precisely what the Brexit regulations mean in practice, as it often results in UK Ministers being handed power to make decisions in devolved areas at the same time as giving concurrent powers to Welsh Ministers.

“When we do Leave (the EU) the whole structure within the UK is going to change. We need that recognition that the discussions our Government will have with the Westminster Government are going to be crucial for the policies here in Wales. We have frameworks we know that will be in place in agriculture. There may well be other frameworks in place, and we want to have our say and our influence as an Assembly on what’s being said in those discussions.”
– David Rees AM

“Systems were creaking before Brexit”

Replying on behalf of the government, International Relations and Welsh Language Minister, Eluned Morgan (Lab, Mid & West Wales) said that while devolution is an integral part of the UK constitution, Brexit will place new challenges on it.

“We have to remember and consider that the systems in place were already creaking long before the vote to leave the EU. There’s no way for them to sustain the additional pressure that the Brexit process has placed upon them.”
– International Relations and Welsh Language Minister, Eluned Morgan

While the whole process of change has been slow, the Minister said Whitehall departments were now more willing to engage with the devolved administrations “in a meaningful way”. She warned AMs to be realistic though; we can’t expect, for example, a veto on international agreements like in some federal states, but we should expect a seat at the table when those agreements are being drafted.

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