The Devolution Settlement

2. Questions to the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution – in the Senedd at on 13 September 2023.

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Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour

(Translated)

8. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the possible impact of a change of UK Government on the devolution settlement? OQ59891

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour 3:11, 13 September 2023

Well, I hope that any new UK Government would pursue a different path and that they would support the devolution settlement and collaborative inter-governmental working, instead of undermining the constitution and the union of the United Kingdom. 

Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour

I'm grateful to the Counsel General for that response. What has become clear in recent months, over the summer, is that there is a clear assumption in all quarters across the United Kingdom that we are heading towards a change of UK Government at the next general election. I think it's clear to everybody that there is no way that the Conservative Government is going to be re-elected. Now, whilst this will be welcomed in certainly most parts of this Chamber, it is also an opportunity for us to prepare and to refresh our constitutional policy for the new United Kingdom Government and for the Welsh Government to make a very clear statement of what its priorities will be for the new United Kingdom Government. And any incoming Labour Government of the United Kingdom will require, I think, a very clear statement of constitutional policy so that we can collectively support the incoming Labour Government and to ensure that this place, as you say, has the respect it deserves from the basis of its mandate.

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour 3:12, 13 September 2023

Well, thank you for that comment. You make good points, and you made specific reference, I think, to the report that was commissioned by Sir Keir Starmer. It was his report, the Gordon Brown report; it was a report that he wanted. It is one that has been accepted and has significant consequence. We also have our own independent commission that will be reporting at the end of this year, which will also no doubt deal with a number of those particular points. 

What is very clear is that there are different perceptions as to how inter-governmental relations are actually working. There is no doubt in my view that one of the consequences of the Energy Bill going through in the way it has, without legislative consent from Wales, is that it is basically yet another breach—significant breach—of Sewel. But a further breach because it goes beyond arguing that the changes are a consequence of leaving the EU or constitutional issues, this is just a matter where the UK Government has turned around and said, 'Well, we don't agree. We're going to do it anyway.'

And we talk about Sewel, but we should also be talking about the fact that the Sewel convention is in statute. It is there in legislation, and there are significant consequences I think to continual breaches of constitutional relations. None of this is really mentioned in the UK Government's report on inter-governmental relations. Their annual report is a bit like a brochure inviting you to join the British Airways executive lounge. In fact, it says at the end, on legislative consent mechanisms,

'a total of 18 legislative consent motions...across 13 pieces of legislation, were passed by the devolved legislatures on the advice of the devolved administrations.'

Welsh Government has published its own inter-institutional relations report on the agreement between the Welsh Government and on the inter-governmental relations. I'll just read one part of that, which I think summarises it:

'There have been areas in which constructive joint work and dialogue has been possible with the UK Government, for example in relation to aspects of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in relation to Ukraine.'

'However, the UK government’s attempts to undermine the devolution settlement and its continued disrespect for the Welsh Government and the Senedd during much of this period has impaired intergovernmental working and damaged the union of the United Kingdom.'

What I would hope with an incoming Government is that there will be an opportunity to refresh and put on a secure footing the constitutional convention to give it some status legally, so that it cannot be overridden at whim, which is what's happening at the moment, and that there will be also further developments in terms of the broader constitutional relationship between us. It's one that has to be respected and seen as being important to the future of the UK. At the moment, the fact that it is not being fully respected, I think, in the long term, is something that eats away at the unity that exists between the four nations of the UK.