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Friday, July 12, 2013

Legislate in haste, repent at leisure

My private member's Bill on park homes came back to the Assembly on Wednesday for ts final stages, but instead of allowing it to proceed to Royal Consent I agreed with the Government lawyers that we needed a further report stage to tidy up a few outstanding issues.

Amongst these were a modern definition of family. The Bill as it currently stands had used the one in the 1960 Bill:

A person is a member of another’s family within the meaning of this Part if the person is the other’s spouse, civil partner, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece, treating
(a) any relationship by marriage or civil partnership as a relationship by blood, any relationship of the half blood as a relationship of the whole blood and the stepchild of any person as the person’s child, and
(b) an illegitimate person as the legitimate child of the person’s mother and reputed father, or if they live together as husband and wife or as if they were civil partners

which was dated to say the least. We are still working on a new definition but the point was that in the absense of a revising chamber we wanted to get the legislation right.

Contrast this with the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill, which has been introduced as emergency legislation to be dealt with in three weeks and purports to re-establish Agricultural Wages Boards. However, already we are discovering that this is not necessarily the case. In addition the Government themselves are having to introduce substantial amendments.

As one Plaid Cymru AM points out the Bill does not retain an independent body to set agricultural wages in Wales as currently exists and which are in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland:

He said that unlike the existing Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales, and the similar boards in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the proposal for Wales handed the power solely to the Welsh Minister.

He also warned that a lack of scrutiny for an emergency bill would lead to poor legislation that would not stand the test of time.

“The Minister tells us he wants to protect the status quo in Wales yet his legislation proposes to do the opposite,” said Mr Gruffydd.

“The current arrangement is that the AWB can decide on wages without reference to the Minister. However the proposal as it stands is that it is the Minister who will make that decision in Wales.

“Despite including the setting up of an Agricultural Advisory Panel for Wales the legislation makes no reference to its role or responsibilities, or requires the Minister to take its advice. This in no way represents the status quo.

“The agriculture sector is hugely important to Wales and a Welsh Agriculture Wages Board should be a strong and independent body that can protect and promote the industry’s interests without political interference.

“Flawed legislation can lead to unintended consequences and it is concerning that the Welsh Government is intent on rushing this important piece of work. I would much prefer that any emergency legislation focuses on securing the current rights of agricultural workers in Wales.

Whatever the merits of the issue there is no excuse for by-passing effective scrutiny when introducing legislation unless there is a real national emergency. Agricultural Wages Boards do not fall into that category in my view, especially when Welsh Ministers have known of their potential abolition for nearly a year.

The danger is that we will get poor legislation that gives disproportionate powers to Ministers and will have to be revisited in due course. That is no way for a legislature to act least of all one as young as the Welsh Assembly that is still trying to find its feet in this area of work.
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