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'Sloppy' law bad for farming say Tories

The Conservatives have said the Welsh law on farm workers' wages, which has survived a challenge in the Supreme Court, is sloppy legislation, which caused doubts about whether it was valid and months of uncertainty for farmers.

Welsh Conservatives continue to believe that the Agricultural Wages Board is all about jobs for the boys on another quango. It is out-dated, complicated, and scrapping it puts farmers on an equal footing with other Welsh employers.

– Antoinette Sandbach, Conservative AM for North Wales

Plaid Cymru argued that the Supreme Court case shows the need for an improved devolution settlement. The party also claimed that the Welsh Government should have been more ambitious when it asked the Assembly to pass the legislation.

Plaid Cymru has always welcomed the establishment of a Welsh Agricultural Wages Board. More than 14,000 agricultural workers could be affected by this decision.

I want to see a new board with a much broader remit so that it can play a role in driving forward skills and training, and promoting careers in the agriculture industry.

Plaid Cymru attempted to amend the bill in order to outlaw the use of zero-hour contracts in the sector, but the Labour Welsh Government voted against stating that it would risk having the legislation challenged in the Supreme Court. This happened anyway.

– Llyr Gruffydd AM, Plaid Cymru communities and food spokesperson

Judges hand Welsh Government farming victory

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Welsh Assembly was entitled to pass a law regulating agricultural workers' wages and conditions of employment. The Welsh Government introduced the legislation after Westminster scrapped a system that covered both England and Wales.

The Attorney General referred the bill to the Supreme Court. He argued that the legislation was primarily to do with employment, which is not devolved, rather than agriculture, for which the Assembly is responsible. The bill could not be sent for Royal Assent unless the Welsh Government won.

The judges said that "agriculture" doesn't just mean cultivation or rearing livestock but refers to the entire agricultural industry in all its aspects. All five judges ruled that the bill can be "aptly" classified as relating to agriculture and found in favour of the Welsh Government.

This is not however a case in which the court has to turn to a dictionary in order to find out the meaning of an unfamiliar word. It is clear to us that agriculture cannot be intended to refer solely to the cultivation of the soil or the rearing of livestock, but should be understood in a broader sense as designating the industry or economic activity of agriculture in all its aspects, including the business and other constituent elements of that industry.

– SUPREME COURT JUDGEment

Our interpretation of the law was right. It's very good news for Welsh farm workers; they will now be protected. If we had a clearer devolution settlement these things wouldn't happen. The only people who benefit are lawyers. It's a quite an interesting judgment, it makes it clear that we are able to pass laws even when they touch on areas not in our power.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

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Decision to be made on Welsh farm workers' wages

The Bill has been referred up to the Supreme Court. Credit: ITV News

A decision will be made by the Supreme Court later today on whether to give the Welsh Government the power to set wages for farm workers.

A Bill had originally been passed by the Assembly last year, allowing the Welsh Government to set minimum wages and benefits for agriculture workers.

However, Royal Assent of the Bill has been delayed after the Attorney General referred it to the Supreme Court, arguing that it was a law regarding employment issues and not agriculture.

North Wales farmland damaged by flood water

Many farms in north Wales have been affected by the flooding. Credit: NFU Cymru

Farmers in north Wales are clearing up after the recent bad weather and rising flood waters.

Many farmers have been left with waterlogged fields which could take months to recover.

The damage has also had an impact on the amount of money the farmers can make from the land after significant areas have been affected by flooding and the debris left behind.

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Court asked if Assembly has exceeded its powers

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

Your views: more local produce in supermarkets?

Farmer Gareth Wyn Jones made the call via Twitter

We asked you whether you'd support more local produce in stores... and we've had a great response on our Facebook page!

Tosh John says "it's about time... i refuse to buy food that's been flown half way around the world".

Steven Williams thinks it'll be "brilliant for both the farming industry and the economy".

But Karen Anderson says "a local aisle is all well and good , but will we have to pay extra for the privilege?"

Iain Thomas Sullivan isn't so worried. He reckons: "Excellent idea, supporting local producers, boosting local economy and raising awareness to locals and visitors/tourists of what's in the area".

How to get in touch:

Email - wales@itv.com

Tweet us - @ITVWales

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