A majority of people think the National Assembly for Wales should be given increased powers, according to a new opinion poll carried out for the Silk Commission which is looking at the Assembly's responsibilities.
Plaid Cymru has said that if the Supreme Court strikes down the Assembly's new law on farm workers's wages, Westminster must pass a new Government of Wales Act to devolve the necessary powers.
Given that the purpose of the Bill was to protect Welsh agricultural workers after the UK Government scrapped that protection, it is disappointing that the Attorney General has referred the Bill to the Supreme Court. This comes on the same day as the Silk Commission poll findings that once again show that the people of Wales trust the National Assembly more than they trust Westminster and want to see significantly more powers transferred to Wales.
Plaid Cymru hopes that these important safeguards for agricultural workers are found to be within the National Assembly’s powers.
– Plaid Cymru Agriculture spokesperson Llyr Gruffydd AM
Meanwhile the UK Government has defended the Attorney General's decision to refer the legislation to the Court, arguing that it is a necessary procedure under the devolution settlement.
All legislation passed by the National Assembly for Wales is examined to ensure it is within their competence. Upon examination of the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill, the Attorney General considers that it raises important questions about the breadth of the National Assembly for Wales’ legislative competence and that the Supreme Court is the right forum for resolving those questions. The UK Government is committed to continuing to do all it can to ensure that the current devolution arrangements work effectively.
– UK Government Spokesperson
But the Shadow Welsh Secretary, Owen Smith, has claimed that today's action is part of a pattern of behaviour by the Welsh Secretary, David Jones. He added that a previous challenge to the Assembly's Byelaws Bill cost £150,000 before the judges ruled last year in the Welsh Government's favour.
After the last attempt, David Jones said he’d learnt lessons about the boundaries of devolution but once again he is questioning the Assembly’s authority.
David Jones and Dominic Grieve voted to scrap the Agricultural Wages Board in England and now they’re trying to block a Bill that will protect the wages and conditions of 13,000 farm workers in Wales. But what’s really at stake is Tory acceptance of the devolution settlement and respect for the Welsh Assembly.
The Tories are revealing their antipathy to devolution and their determination to block Labour measures to make Wales a fairer place.
A law rushed through the Assembly last month will be challenged in the Supreme Court. The Agriculture Sector (Wales) Bill replaces the system for setting farm workers' pay and conditions in England and Wales, which the UK Government said was no longer needed.
The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, has asked the Court to decide if the Bill is about agriculture, which is devolved to the Assembly, or employment rights, which are reserved to Westminster. The Welsh Government now cannot send the Bill for Royal Assent until -and unless- it wins in court.
The Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill was passed by the National Assembly in July. The Bill will encourage new entrants into the agricultural industry and will help the sector to enhance and retain important skills in order to ensure the future prosperity of the sector.
The Attorney General in the UK Government has decided to refer the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill to the Supreme Court as he is unconvinced that it is within competence of the National Assembly. The Welsh Government disagrees and we continue to maintain that the Bill is within the legislative competence of the Assembly.
– Welsh Government spokesperson
The Court will make its ruling later this year. The UK Government "intends to seek to continue" the old agricultural wages system in Wales until the Supreme Court decides the matter. The Conservatives, who opposed the Bill, say the Welsh Government has brought the court case upon itself.
The Welsh Labour Government was warned numerous times that they may not have the power to interfere in agricultural wages, so this referral to the Supreme Court is not a surprise. Labour Ministers rushed this bill through the Assembly using the emergency procedure to prevent proper engagement with and scrutiny by Assembly Members, farming unions and the agricultural industry, resulting in sloppy legislation and doubts over competence.
A cynic would think Labour Ministers wanted this Bill to end up in the Supreme Court as most of what they do is motivated by identifying differences between themselves and the UK Government. Labour Ministers should ditch their childish party political motives and start acting like a government by taking measured and considered steps to improve conditions for people in Wales.
– Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs Antoinette Sandbach AM
Paul Silk, who chairs the Commission on Devolution in Wales, described the poll results as a 'real insight' but said he's aware of opposing views and urged as many people as possible to express those views before 27th December, the deadline for evidence.
These results ... provide a real insight into the public’s views on the current powers of the National Assembly for Wales. The results are generally consistent with trends identified in other surveys, but whilst they show a continued growth in support for the National Assembly as an institution and for it to have further powers, we need to mindful that the people of Wales have differing views.
We still want to hear as many views as possible, whatever they may be - we are still firmly in listening mode. We are taking evidence up until 27 September so please get involved, share your views and help us shape Wales’s future.
– Paul Silk, Chair of the Commission on Devolution in Wales
Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards has welcomed the Silk Commission opinion poll finding, saying that they provide a 'clear road map' for further devolution of power to the Assembly.
The research shows that the people of Wales have far more faith in the National Assembly than the UK parliament and that an overwhelming majority want to see further powers devolved to Wales.
The results mirror the historic referendum victory of 2011.
A clear majority support the devolution of energy policy, policing and broadcasting. This provides a clear road map of the powers that should be devolved to Wales.
All of these were in Plaid Cymru's submission to the Silk Commission as we continue to lead the debate on the political future of our country. The London parties are way behind the curve of public opinion in Wales. The UK government should bring forward a new Government of Wales Act during this parliament to enact the findings of its own Silk Commission.
A Welsh Labour spokesperson has responded to the poll carried out for the Silk Commission on devolution in Wales:
This poll is a welcome endorsement of Welsh devolution and highlights public support for taking the Silk recommendations forward. Hopefully this will prove to be a catalyst for the Tories and Lib Dems, who have continued to drag their feet on Silk, showing utter contempt for the people of Wales.
Whilst support for the devolution of further powers to the National Assembly for Wales continues to grow, support for independence remains stagnant at a paltry 9%. Many people in Plaid and beyond will be questioning their relevance.
Most people backed the Assembly retaining the powers it has in six key areas: tourism, agriculture, housing, roads, education and health. But a significant minority want to see responsibility for health and education returned to London.
20% said education should be the responsibility of the UK Parliament and Government and 27% said the NHS should be administered from London. The survey points out that these are two areas which received most media coverage.
The poll for the Silk Commission also finds that people living here in Wales are more likely to trust the Assembly to act in the best interests of Wales than they are the UK Parliament. These are the results for the Assembly:
29% - Trust it a great deal
50% - Trust it to some extent
13% - Don't trust it that much
7% - Don't trust it at all
In contrast, just 37% of respondents said they trusted the UK Parliament to act in the best interests of Wales. These are the results: