|Adam Price AC||Yn dirprwyo ar ran Steffan Lewis|
|Substitute for Steffan Lewis|
|David Melding AC|
|David Rees AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Joyce Watson AC|
|Mark Reckless AC|
|Michelle Brown AC|
|Vikki Howells AC|
|Dr Robert Parry||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Mark Drakeford AC||Prif Weinidog Cymru|
|First Minister of Wales|
|Piers Bisson||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Claire Fiddes||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Elisabeth Jones||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Gareth David Thomas||Ymchwilydd|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of Interest|
|2. Sesiwn graffu gyda Phrif Weinidog Cymru||2. Scrutiny session with the First Minister of Wales|
|3. Papurau i’w nodi||3. Papers to note|
|4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod||4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:01.
The meeting began at 14:01.
Good afternoon. Can I welcome Members to this afternoon's meeting of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee? Can I also welcome viewers who may be watching us on Twitter this afternoon?
Can I remind Members that the meeting is bilingual? If you require simultaneous translation from Welsh to English, that's available via the headsets on channel 1. If you require amplification, then that's available on the headsets via channel 0. Can I please remind everyone to turn their mobile phones off or to silent, or any other equipment that may interfere with broadcasting?
There are no scheduled fire alarms, so, if one does take place, please follow the directions of the ushers to a safe place.
We have received apologies afternoon from Steffan Lewis and Jane Hutt, and we welcome Adam Price as a substitute for Steffan Lewis this afternoon. Following Jane Hutt's appointment to Government, I would like to put on record our thanks to Jane for her commitment to the committee. She was definitely a very active and keen member of the committee, ensuring that the agendas of equality and rights were continually at the forefront of the committee's work.
Can I move on to this afternoon's evidence session and can I welcome the First Minister to this afternoon's session? Before I ask you to introduce your officials with you, First Minister, can I congratulate you on your appointment as First Minister? You're in this committee in a different role now, but obviously you're fully aware of the way we work as you've been here on many occasions in your previous post. Will you introduce your officials for the record?
Thank you, Chair, and thank you for your letter in advance of the meeting as well. With me this afternoon is Piers Bisson, who heads the Welsh Government's official effort in relation to Brexit, and Rob Parry, who has particular responsibilities within the Brexit team that I hope will be of assistance to the committee this afternoon.
Thank you for that and we will therefore move on. We've got questions in various areas. Obviously, the first one is the negotiations. Perhaps you'd like to set out your priorities now in relation to how those negotiations have been going and how you've restructured your Government to address some of the issues that have arisen.
Thank you, Chair. Well, in terms of priorities, my overriding priority remains to do everything we can to persuade the UK Government to strike a deal that would be in line with the prospectus that we set out jointly with Plaid Cymru in our document published in January 2017, 'Securing Wales' Future', because we think that that is a form of leaving the European Union that we could support, and we think indeed that it's a form of exiting the European Union that could command support on the floor of the House of Commons. So, we have not given up on the possibility of such a deal being struck. Mrs May continues to say that she is in negotiations with the European Union. We have offered her a form of leaving the European Union that we would be able to support and that we think could be supported more widely, and we will continue to press the case for that.
But, inevitably, as the weeks seep by, and without an agreement—without one confirmed in the House of Commons—the risk of leaving the European Union without a deal looms larger. I've said many times in front of this committee what a catastrophic outcome for Wales that would be and repeat that again today, but inevitably we are having to do more to prepare for that contingency. So, my second priority is to do everything we can within the Welsh Government so that if we were to be in that deeply regrettable position, we would have done whatever we could to prepare for it, working with partners, of course, across Wales in order to do so.
As far as structuring the Government is concerned, then, when I was forming a Cabinet just before Christmas, Brexit was the dominant consideration in my mind. I was keen to leave in post Cabinet colleagues who were already steeped in the preparation that I have just described. So, obviously, there are very significant preparations in the field of health, and I was keen that Vaughan—Vaughan Gething—should be able to continue with those. The impact of Brexit on rural Wales has been very extensively rehearsed and Lesley has been a very important player in the UK-wide discussions of those matters, and I was keen that she should be able to see those things through. The same is true as well in relation to Ken—Ken Skates—and the wider economy, and strengthening that by making Jeremy Miles a Minister in the Welsh Government with specific and denoted responsibilities for Brexit negotiations. And, looking beyond Brexit, whatever form Brexit takes, the need to sustain Wales's reputation in the world, our profile, our ability to make sure that, outside the European Union, Wales continues to be well known and a positive partner with others, I was very pleased to be able to ask Eluned Morgan to take on a new ministerial responsibility to deliver just that.
Thank you for that. We've often raised questions as to whether there should be a Minister for Brexit, as you know, in this committee, and Wales in the future and Wales in the world is an area we will continue to look at. We'll come back to those points, perhaps, a little bit later. In that sense, can you confirm as to who will replace Rebecca Evans in the ministerial forum?
Okay. Thank you for that clarification. First Minister, the situation is that, clearly, we know what's happening in London at the moment—well, chaos, to be blunt—but, as you said, there was a deal, and there's a future relationship agenda. Can you clarify as to what aspects of the deal you're unhappy with and what aspects of the future relationship you're unhappy with? Because, particularly as the EU have said, the deal is non-negotiable; it is as it is, so it's only, really, the future relationship that we have with the EU that's under discussion.
Well, Chair, albeit that the European Union have indeed said that the deal is the deal, the Prime Minister does continue to talk to colleagues in Europe about the deal itself. So, you know, some of the time we are told that this is the very final word—nothing in it at all can be changed—the next day, we are told that discussions are happening to refine aspects of the deal document as well. But as I said when we debated this on the floor of the Assembly prior to Christmas, our major reservations are about the future relationship. The deal document is not sufficient. It does not, for example, meet what we would want to see in relation to dynamic alignment between rights that people in the European Union will enjoy in the future and rights that we think that people in Wales ought to enjoy. It just promises that the current arrangements will be sustained. We don't think that is good enough. But our major reservations are about the political declaration—its paucity. Two years to get to where we got to: a brief document largely full of bromides. We say that that document ought to have grasped the prospectus that we set out in the 'Securing Wales' Future' foreward. It ought to have committed to proper membership of a customs union, it ought to have committed to regulatory alignment for goods and services, not the artificial distinction between the two that the political declaration continues to suggest, and the political declaration ought to have said far more in relation to migration, and it certainly ought not to have said what the UK Government has subsequently published in relation to migration: a set of proposals that we do not regard as supportable at all. So, our deepest disappointment is with the future declaration, we have reservations about the withdrawal agreement, and they come as a package deal. You can't say that because we're happy with one bit, we're happy with everything; you've got to be happy with the whole thing. And I set out those reservations in front of the Assembly before Christmas and they were largely reflected in the motion that the Assembly passed as well.
Obviously, the definitions that you've just given are being used, but we often talk about the word 'compromise' and that's been used an awful lot in recent weeks—how we can compromise in the negotiations. Is there a situation in which the Welsh Government will come to a compromise on what it really wants and what it may be able to benefit from in the future declaration?
Well, Chair, can I just say in general that, had the UK Government approached the negotiations in the spirit that you've suggested, then I think we might be in a different position than we are today, but, far from approaching this as a negotiation, the Prime Minister began by setting out her famous red lines, around which there was to be no negotiation. Her approach to the discussion was to set out a series of things over which she would not negotiate rather than conducting the discussions on the basis that it is about compromise and finding common ground and finding a way forward that people can sign up to. And I'm afraid, if I look back over the two years, I think, very largely, we end up where we are because of that flawed strategy that was adopted by the UK Government from the very beginning and from which they have had to retreat time after time after time. Had they made a virtue of the things that they now propose and used that as a building block to create consensus and compromise, I think we could be in a different position.
If the UK Government makes further moves in the direction of the prospectus that we have set out, then, of course, if we ended up in a position where we had a future economic relationship that protected jobs, that protected the Welsh economy through frictionless trade, through a customs union, through an approach to migration in which we were able to continue to recruit the people who are vital to the future of Welsh businesses and Welsh public services, then we would reassess our position in relation to such a deal.
Thank you. You've had a JMC plenary since your appointment. Clearly, that would have been scheduled post meaningful vote if a meaningful vote had taken place. We now know that the meaningful vote will take place next week. Have you therefore had a chance to make sure that the Prime Minister understands the position of Welsh Government before the meaningful vote, and have you got a session ready for another JMC plenary after the meaningful vote next week?
I had an opportunity to discuss matters over the telephone with the Prime Minister in advance of the JMC plenary, and the plenary discussion of the JMC was a proper opportunity for Wales, Scotland and, at official level, for Northern Ireland to make sure that our perspective on the deal—. I relied heavily on the motion that was passed here in the Assembly—not simply the Welsh Government's point of view, but the point of view that the Assembly itself had expressed—to make sure that the Prime Minister was in no doubt of our position. I've always said, Chair, that the Welsh Government will take every opportunity that comes our way to put that case in front of the UK Government wherever it happens and however ritualistic it sometimes appears these occasions provide. On this occasion, the Prime Minister repeated the mantras that she had repeated many times and in many interviews prior to Christmas. I don't think I heard anything from her that I hadn't already heard her say publicly in other forums, and I probably don’t imagine that she heard a great deal that she wouldn't already have been able to have found out about the positions of Wales and Scotland. But it was a meeting of some duration and made sure that that opportunity was properly taken to put all those views in front of the Prime Minister.
There'll be more opportunities, I've no doubt. There is the JMC(EN) planned for this month to take place in Cardiff, for example, where there'll be further opportunities the other side of a meaningful vote to make sure that all views can be expressed and debated.
Just a final point on this: you've been involved in JMC(EN) for quite a while now. The JMC plenary is the next, obviously, issue. Do you see them actually responding positively to the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly's position on this?
Well, I've always said that the JMC(EN) has improved over the period. It is a better forum now than it was when it began. It is patchy. On some issues I think I could genuinely say we have had the sort of opportunity we would look for to be able to influence the thinking and the decision making of the UK Government. What I've always said to UK Ministers is: just be clear with us about what your ambitions for this forum are. If what it is is a chance for us to turn up and be heard, then we will take that opportunity and we will prepare for it in that sort of way. If your ambition is that it lives up to the terms of reference that were set for it, that it is not just a place where we turn up to be heard, but is a place where we turn up jointly to determine the negotiating position that the UK Government will take with the European Union, then we will prepare for it in a different sort of way.
The truth is that, quite a lot of the time, we turn up and we say our say and it's difficult to feel confident that we're making much of an impact. But it isn't like that all the time. So, we've had some, I think, much better discussions about any withdrawal agreement Bill that might follow—votes on the floor of the House of Commons, where we saw the White Paper well in advance, where we were able to make sure that it properly reflected devolution circumstances, where the discussions with the Minister in charge of that Bill have been, I feel, much more engaged in terms of making sure that opportunities, for example, for the legislature to consider any legislative consent motions are properly in the thinking of UK Ministers as they make their plans.
So, it's better than it was. In some places, it's actually now, I think, discharging the remit it originally had. In other places, it falls short of that still.
First Minister, are you requiring changes in the withdrawal agreement or just in the political declaration? Can I clarify?
No, Chair. The withdrawal agreement is not satisfactory to the Welsh Government, nor was it satisfactory to the National Assembly for Wales when a vote was held here in the Assembly. It falls short of what we would require in a number of ways, and I've given you an example of that this afternoon. What I was trying to distinguish is the detailed things that we would want to put right in the withdrawal agreement from the much larger deficits that we see in the political declaration.
And if they were not put right would you want to see Labour MPs continue to vote down that withdrawal agreement, such that we leave with no deal on 29 March?
Well, I think the Labour leadership in the House of Commons through Keir Starmer has been clear that his analysis of the withdrawal agreement is that it does not meet the six tests that he set out for an agreement, and on that basis I do not see Labour Members of Parliament voting in favour of Mrs May's deal.
The provisions in the withdrawal agreement around state aid and competition policy—what changes would you like to see on those?
I probably would need to think about the detail of that aspect of the withdrawal agreement. I'm very happy to do that and let the committee have a note of our views on that. I don't want to offer you a detailed answer without being precise on the specifics for you.
And have you had any discussions with the leader of the Labour Party about the approach that the opposition will be taking in Parliament?
I have had a meeting since becoming First Minister with the leader of the Labour Party and the parliamentary Labour Party's approach to Brexit did indeed form part of that discussion.
Barry Gardiner, as the shadow international trade Secretary, he said that he would want the UK, as a non-member state, both to have influence on the negotiation posture of the European Union in trade deals if we're to be part of a customs union, but also, I think, to ensure, as I would support, that third markets would be open on an equal basis to UK exporters as they would to EU exporters, and that doesn't currently happen for Turkey. Is that the same vision that you have when you talk of wanting proper membership of a customs union?
Yes, that's a close reflection of our thinking as well, Chair. I think, you know—. To a certain extent, all of these things are matters on which the very specific detail will continue to be worked on depending on the nature of whatever deal we get. But the sorts of views that have been expressed about the type of relationship that that would imply are not far at all from our own thinking.
And why is it that you insist on proper membership of the customs union, but talk instead, about the single market, of unfettered access or, on occasion, participation as opposed to membership? Why draw what you described, and the Government, as an artificial distinction between the goods and services regime?
Well, these are semantic discussions, but I'm happy to have them, because there is a reality that lies behind them. We talk about membership of 'a' customs union, not 'the' customs union. So, it's always seemed to me that you can only be a member of the customs union and the single market if you are a member of the European Union.
Well, I think that that would be a distinction, but there is the single market that the European Union has. It is in customs union arrangements with third countries. But that's the—. That's why I use 'a' and 'the', and that's why I talk about full participation in the single market rather than membership of it because, unless you're a member of the European Union itself, you cannot be a member of the single market or a member of its customs union. You can be a member of a customs union, you can continue to have participation—
Surely that's the fullest—[Inaudible.]—members of the single market.
Well, the Norway model and the Norway plus model are amongst the ones that have been rehearsed partly in the document that we first established, and the then First Minister visited Norway in order to make sure that he was able to see at first hand what the arrangements there were and what the pluses and the minuses of them are. And they do not fit exactly—you cannot transpose that directly into Welsh circumstance in relation to agriculture, for example. But Norway plus—then that's another series of possibilities that members of the Conservative Party and members of the Labour Party have rehearsed as part of a very wide repertoire of ways in which this matter could be finally resolved.
And finally from me, in that context, do you support continued freedom of movement?
I support fair movement of people as described in the document on fair movement of people that the Welsh Government published last year.
Ie, jest ar y pwynt ynglŷn â gwahaniaethau semantig. Onid yw e'n wir—? Gwnaethoch chi gyfeirio at y cynnig a gafodd ei basio cyn y Nadolig gan y Cynulliad, ond roedd y cynnig yna, wedi'i wella ac wedi'i gefnogi gan y Llywodraeth, yn sôn am aelodaeth o 'yr' undeb tollau ac 'y' farchnad sengl. A ydych chi nawr yn dweud—? [Torri ar draws.] Wel, rydw i'n eithaf sicr o hynny, oherwydd mai ein gwelliant ni oedd wedi gwella'r cynnig i'r cyfeiriad yna. A ydych chi'n dweud nawr nad ydy'r ieithwedd honno, er ei fod e wedi cael ei basio gan y Cynulliad, gyda chefnogaeth y Llywodraeth, yn adlewyrchu gwir bolisi'r Llywodraeth?
Yes, just on the point about the semantic differences. Isn't it true—? You referred to the motion that was passed by the Assembly before Christmas, but that motion was amended and supported by the Government, and that talked about membership of 'the' customs union and 'the' single market. Are you now saying that—? [Interruption.] Well, I'm quite sure of that, because it was our amendment that did amend the motion in that direction. So, are you saying now that that language, even though it was passed by the Assembly, and with the support of the Government, doesn't reflect the true policy of the Government?
Wel, well i mi gael copi o beth oedd o flaen y Cynulliad o fy mlaen i cyn ateb y cwestiwn, achos nid wyf i cweit yn siŵr a ydw i'n cofio'r geiriau yn yr un lle. So, os gallwn ni ffeindio copi, rydw i'n hapus i drio ateb y cwestiwn, ond nid wyf eisiau gwneud e heb ei weld e o fy mlaen i.
Well, I'd better have a copy of what was before the Assembly before answering that question, because I'm not quite sure whether I remember the words in the same place. So, perhaps if we can find a copy, I'm happy to try and answer that question, but I don't want to do so without seeing it.
Tra ein bod ni’n trafod, efallai gallai’r clercod ein helpu ni i’r cyfeiriad yna. Roeddech chi wedi sôn am y drafodaeth gawsoch chi gyda’r Prif Weinidog. Elfen newydd—ac nid oes llawer, efallai, newydd wedi cael ei ddweud gan y naill ochr neu’r llall, ond un elfen newydd yn y cynnig hwnnw rydw i newydd gyfeirio ato fe oedd yr angen i ymestyn erthygl 50. A gawsoch chi gyfle i wneud yr achos hwnnw i’r Prif Weinidog yn eich cyfarfod chi?
Perhaps the clerks can help us in that regard. You talked about the discussion that you had with the Prime Minister. A new element—and there's not much new that's being said on either side, but one new element in that motion that I just referred to was the need to extend article 50. Did you have an opportunity to make that case to the Prime Minister in your meeting?
Chair, both approaches to article 50, as I recall, were raised during that meeting: both the possibility of exploring with the European Union directly an extension of article 50. But, of course, the fact that, by the time we met, the European Court had ruled that it was possible for an unilateral withdrawal of article 50 by the member state that moved it in the first place was known by that meeting, and that too was rehearsed at the meeting. I don't recall the Prime Minister making a substantive response on either point. She focused in the meeting on advocating the merits, as she saw them, of the deal that she had done and her case for persuading devolved administrations, as well as Members of the House of Commons, to support that deal, rather than being drawn into ways in which failure to land that deal might be resolved. But those possibilities were certainly mentioned.
A jest i fod yn glir—a diolch am yr ateb hwnnw—a ydych chi fel Prif Weinidog ac ar ran Llywodraeth Cymru wedi cael cyfle i wneud yr achos eich hunan dros ddefnyddio pa bynnag un o’r mecanweithiau yna o ran ymestyn erthygl 50? A ydych chi wedi trosglwyddo’r neges yna eich hunan?
Just to be clear—and thanks for that answer—have you as the First Minister and on behalf of the Welsh Government had an opportunity to make the case yourself for using whichever mechanism in terms of extending article 50? Have you conveyed that message yourself?
I ddweud y gwir, Cadeirydd, nid wyf cweit yn cofio. Y ffordd mae’r JMC yn rhedeg yw, ambell waith rydw i’n dechrau, ambell waith mae Prif Weinidog yr Alban yn dechrau. Os yw hi wedi gwneud y pwynt yn barod, rydw i jest yn cyfeirio’n fyr ato. Nid ydw i’n mynd ar ôl yr un tir, ac mae hi’n gwneud yr un peth. Os ydw i wedi esbonio pethau’n llawn, mae hi jest yn cyfeirio’n fyr ato fe a chanolbwyntio ar rywbeth arall.
To tell the truth, Chair, I don't quite remember. The way the JMC runs is, sometimes I start, sometimes the Scottish First Minister starts. If she has made the point already, I just refer briefly to that. I don't go after the same issues, and she does the same. If I have explained things fully, she just refers briefly to it and concentrates on something else.
Ond rydych chi’n derbyn y rhesymeg dros ymestyn erthygl 50.
But you accept the rationale for extending article 50.
Ac er bod—. Mae yn wir bod mainc flaen y Blaid Lafur yn San Steffan—nad ydynt eto wedi dod i’r pwynt o gefnogi ymestyn erthygl 50. Felly, mae yna ychydig bach o ddŵr coch clir, os caf i ei roi e fel yna, rhyngoch chi yn hynny o beth, Prif Weinidog.
And although—. It is true that the Labour frontbench in Westminster—they haven't yet come to the point of supporting extending article 50. So, there is some clear red water, if I can put it like that, between you on that point, First Minister.
Well, just to be clear, Chair, what I'm saying is that I have seen and understand and so rehearsed at the JMC the possibilities for an extension to article 50 of both sorts, should that be necessary. And, the way the Welsh Government has talked about this, we don't rule out having recourse to those things if there was an opportunity there to do a better deal. The previous First Minister reported on a number of occasions his conversation with Michel Barnier on that matter, when Barnier's reply to Carwyn Jones was that he, Michel Barnier, believed that, if an extension to article 50 had something substantive to discuss, then he didn't believe that European Union members would be opposed to that course of action, but that there would have to be something substantive.
Jest yn olaf, os caf fi, Cadeirydd, heddiw, mae nifer o Aelodau Seneddol, Aelodau Cynulliad ac Aelodau Seneddol Ewropeaidd wedi ysgrifennu atoch chi, gan gynnwys aelodau o’ch plaid eich hun, i alw arnoch chi i fod yn glir ac yn ddi-flewyn ar dafod wrth wneud yr achos dros yr hyn a elwir yn 'bleidlais y bobl'. Sut ydych chi’n ymateb i’r alwad honno?
Finally, if I may, Chair, today, a number of MPs, Assembly Members and Members of the European Parliament have written to you, including members of your own party, to call on you to be clear in making the case for what's called 'the people's vote'. How do you respond to that call?
Wel, rydw i’n rhoi'r un ymateb rydw i wedi’i roi dros y misoedd diwethaf, a beth rydw i’n ei wneud, rydw i jest yn cefnogi'r ymateb a oedd yng nghynhadledd y Blaid Lafur yn Lerpwl nôl ym mis Medi.
I will give you the same response as I've given over the last few months, and what I'm doing is, I'm just supporting the response given at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool back in September.
So, the position that I take is this: first of all, Mrs May should do a deal that we could support; she should do a deal that could be supported by the House of Commons. She remains in discussion, she says, with the European Union. Let her do a deal of the sort that we have described and then we will be able to support it and there will be no need for any further resolution. If she fails to do a deal and if the House of Commons fails to support it, then a different resolution will have to be found. And that can be found through a general election. The House of Commons is deadlocked; that's what you would expect in any other constitutional set of circumstances of that sort. If the House of Commons is deadlocked and a general election is denied, then I do not see any alternative at the moment, other than to go back to the public and ask them to determine the matter. So, it remains on the table as a real possibility, but it is not the only possibility.
There are people who would argue that it is, but for me, it remains a possibility amongst others, and that we should—. First of all, let's keep the pressure up to do a deal of the sort that we have said we would like to see done.
I think this is speculation of a sort that gets us not very far, to be honest. Things are so febrile, they are so impossible to predict what will happen in the House of Commons. We could debate, 'Is this more likely than that? Is that more likely?' I don't think anybody can have a decisive enough grasp of those possibilities to think that that is the matter that is really worth detaining us. Both possibilities are there. I've always believed that a general election is the constitutionally proper answer, but I understand that a general election can be denied, and if it is, then, personally, I don't see an alternative other than to go back to the people and to ask them to decide.
Referring back to Adam Price's earlier question, just to clarify, I've checked the record and the Government's motion was participation in the EU single market and a customs union. The amended motion referred to UK membership of the European single market and customs union. So, it was affecting 'the' in both.
Okay. Thank you. I think I really would need to see it.
First Minister, how would Westminster legislate for a second referendum without Government providing parliamentary time and a money motion?
That's a question for Westminster. It's not for yourself, First Minister, to be fair, because it is a Westminster legislation issue.
I think what the Member is pointing to, though, fairly, is that sometimes a 'people's vote', as it's called, is advocated without some of the detail issues of how that could be brought about being thoroughly rehearsed. There are practical issues that would have to be resolved, of the sort that have just been described; of the sort that would have to be resolved with the Electoral Commission in relation to any question that was asked in a referendum. So, it's a fair point, I think, to make that while this may be the way in which it has to be resolved, there will be a complicated set of issues that will still need to be navigated in order to make that happen.
The chaos in Westminster under Mrs May's leadership makes it increasingly likely that we do have to prepare for a 'no deal' scenario, and I know that you've stated the Welsh Government will further intensify its preparations for a 'no deal' scenario. Could you set out what specific actions the Welsh Government has taken, to date, on that?
Thank you, Chair. Well, first of all, just to agree with the proposition of the question that, as the weeks go by, so the risk of a 'no deal' becomes greater. That's why we've had to step up the preparations that we have had. I held a meeting of the new Cabinet immediately before Christmas in order to make sure that every Cabinet member was able to report on the preparations that are going on in their portfolio area against the day of a 'no deal'.
Now, we go about it in a number of different ways. One of the important ways is by working with the UK Government, because we cannot prepare for a 'no deal' Brexit by ourselves. Many of the responsibilities do not lie in the hands of Welsh Government or other Welsh authorities. So, a lot of what we do has been engaging with the UK Government over the summer, for example, in the preparation of the technical notices that you'll have seen—106 of those, many of them with implications for us in Wales. So, a lot of what we do involves working with the UK Government. A lot of what we do involves working with Welsh organisations beyond the Welsh Government, with local government, with port authorities and so on. And a lot of what we do involves working closely with the National Assembly as the legislature, because part of preparing for a 'no deal' will be to get the statute book into a state that will withstand the impact of that.
In a practical sense, you'll have seen the £50 million EU transition fund that we have, and we've made a series of allocations from that, and some of those are to help in the event of a 'no deal', and I've held back some money because I think that, if there is no deal then we will need to use that money in a different way to help, for example, in the ports context.
And then we have civil contingency preparation, because in the immediate aftermath of no deal, if it were on a crash-out basis, in which we have caused the maximum offence to those with whom we have been partners over 40 years, then there may be impacts of a practical nature at Holyhead in relation to the port, for example, in relation to the supply of medicines and so on. So, inside the Welsh Government, we are making those contingencies using machinery that is well understood and that has been used for previous things like pandemic flu and flooding and so on to make sure that we are able to do whatever we are able to do to address any immediate and emergency impacts of leaving the European Union without a deal being in place.
Clearly, there is no ideal way to prepare for a 'no deal' scenario, because it would be so catastrophic, but with regard to the workings of the different Governments within the UK, are you confident that there's sufficient collaboration there to enable the Welsh Government to plan effectively—as effectively as possible?
Well, we have always said as a Welsh Government that you cannot prepare for no deal as though it were just one other point on a continuum, as though, so long as you have a good enough plan, everything will be all right. A 'no deal' Brexit is beyond the capacity of any plan simply to mitigate every impact that it will produce. I would say that relations with the UK Government on the whole are better on this than they have been. As usual, there are parts of Whitehall that understand devolution a lot better than others. I would say that discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, for example, are pretty good, and you're generally talking to people who are used to dealing with devolution and who understand the different responsibilities that are at stake. Not every Whitehall department is as good as that, and sometimes there are still delays in us receiving information in order to make the preparations of the sort that we would like.
I would say that the chair of the JMC on European negotiations, David Lidington, the de facto deputy Prime Minister, has been genuinely helpful in this regard. He has said repeatedly to us and to Scotland that, if we come across any examples where we feel the UK machinery is not giving us the things that we need, we are to let him know and he will intervene personally to make sure that that happens, and I think there have been a couple of examples where he has done just that. Now, good inter-governmental machinery should not have to rely on very senior individuals having to get involved to sort out blockages, but I think the offer was genuinely made, and where we've needed to use it, he has responded in that way.
Could I—? Sorry. If it's possible, just to expand on that slightly in terms of some of the contact at official level. So, in particular, after sustained pressure through JMC(EN) and in other fora, then, in the summer, we saw the creation at senior official level of a group that comprises the Cabinet Office in Whitehall, plus DExEU, plus Welsh Government, plus Scottish Government and Northern Ireland civil service. That's met fairly regularly since the summer, and that's been quite useful in being able to bring emphasis to where we wanted to see more information from different Whitehall departments. Information has then accelerated somewhat, so, whereas we haven't seen everything at the point at which we would like it, we do at least then have a channel to be able to press for more, and we found a receptiveness, I think, there to be able to help us unlock where we've encountered specific barriers. So, there has been a period in the last few months where we've seen a step up. We do want that to continue further; that's really important. This is one of the single biggest issues facing us in terms of preparedness, the level of engagement that we can have and the way in which Whitehall departments open up and really involve us in some of the UK-wide work. But there has been a step forward. That does need to move further, but that, hopefully, gives you a little bit more flavour about how, underneath the ministerial level of engagement, we've been trying to make progress on that.
Thank you. And, First Minister, if the UK Parliament votes against the withdrawal agreement, what might the Welsh Government need to do to respond to that?
Well, we'll respond in a number of ways. Directly here in the Assembly, I will be discussing with my Cabinet colleagues later today the possibility that if there is no agreement in the House of Commons next week, that we would withdraw all Government business from the Plenary programme for the following Tuesday, 22 January, and instead, come forward with a series of statements from Cabinet Members, setting out what preparation there has been for no deal in their own portfolio areas. So, a statement from the health Minister on preparations in the health field; a statement from the rural affairs Minister about preparation in relation to rural Wales, and so on. Because if we are in the position that Vikki Howells has just outlined, I think it would be very important for us to signal directly on the floor of the Assembly, and therefore to people in Wales, all the things that are being done to prepare for that eventuality. We will be stepping up our contact with organisations in Wales who we rely on for this purpose.
I am attending the partnership council with local authorities on Thursday of this week. Vaughan Gething has a meeting of his health Brexit group on Thursday of this week. I will be speaking at a conference on Friday of this week in north Wales, which is on Brexit and Brexit issues for north Wales specifically. There is a meeting of the European advisory group planned for 17 January, so we will be stepping up our engagement with the wider public realm in Wales on a no-Brexit basis, and we will be stepping up our engagement with the UK Government in relation to no deal as well. Lesley Griffiths is in London next week for a meeting with her counterparts in Scotland and at the UK level. There is a meeting planned for January that Kirsty Williams will host here in the Assembly, of Ministers across the United Kingdom with the responsibility for higher education. I indicated earlier that the plan is to have the JMC(EN) in Cardiff before the end of this month. So, on all the fronts that we are able to, we will be stepping up our visible and public response to the threat of a 'no deal'.
Of course, I'm really pleased to hear that, because one of the areas that will be of concern in Mid and West Wales, as well as North Wales, will be ports. And we've seen what can be described, I suppose, if I quoted the Conservative Member for the area, as a farce this morning in a run in terms of 100 lorries going in situ instead of the thousands that could be held up at ports; we don't want to see that sort of scenario happening in mid Wales. So, I'm really pleased to hear what you've said, and whilst I was going to ask for details, you've outlined now that the details would be coming forward in that situation next week.
Thank you, Joyce, for that. Chair, what we now know from the technical notices is that, in the event of no deal, the UK Government will unilaterally abandon any controls at the border for incoming traffic. So, in Pembroke Dock, Fishguard and up in Holyhead, the delays will not be as a result of checks of traffic from the Republic or from the north of Ireland coming into the United Kingdom. The problem will be checks on the island of Ireland and in the Republic, of course, where the EU is saying that, if we leave without a deal, there will have to be checks of traffic from a third country entering the European Union, and the risk is that that will create a backlog so that lorries that are destined for the Republic will not be able to leave Wales because there is nowhere for them to go in the Republic because it is backed up with all the traffic that's already there going through those checks.
There has been a specific Welsh ports and airports border planning group that has involved the UK Government, ourselves, the port authorities, local authorities with, I think, some input from the UK haulage association and so on—the professional bodies. The information that I have at the moment is that, in south-west Wales, the assessment is that there are probably contingency arrangements that can be made within the curtilage of those ports themselves; there is space that can be used if we were to be in that position. Holyhead is not in that position, though, and so there are, at a civil contingency level, discussions going on at Holyhead about what alternative arrangements could be made. You'll understand, I know, that they are commercially confidential because they involve having to make use of land that is not in the ownership of the port, but I do want to assure the committee that those discussions are being actively pursued.
Can I confirm whether you're aware of whether non-disclosure agreements are involved in those discussions? Because when we had them before the committee before Christmas, the issue of non-disclosure agreements was raised and it was worrying to think that things might be happening but they weren't able to talk about them and discuss them.
I'll ask Piers to just make sure I've got this right, but my understanding is that the UK Government did require non-disclosure agreements from other participants in those meetings, but there is no non-disclosure agreement as far as the Welsh Government is concerned. I'll just check if I remember that correctly.
Yes. And, more recently, I believe—and there have been signals—that the UK Government is not looking to continue the full gamut of NDAs with all the external partners as more information has come into the public domain. So, I feel I have seen something but I can't describe that in detail.
Thank you, Chair. What conversations have you had with suppliers such as pharmaceutical companies about continued supply to the NHS of medicine? Obviously, they're in the business of producing medicines and exporting them and they're going to be exporting them across the world, so, they're going to have a very, very good insight about the practical realities of this. Have you had any direct conversations with those pharmaceutical companies?
Chair, this is an area in which the UK Government is leading on behalf of the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland, so it's the Department of Health and Social Care that has been having the direct face-to-face discussions with pharmaceutical companies and others about supplies of medicines. My understanding is that their thinking has moved on from where it was originally explained. The original explanation, you will remember, was that they were going to ask pharmaceutical companies to secure a six-week supply, a sort of emergency supply, of medicines against the day that it would be difficult to import what we need immediately after a 'no deal' Brexit. Now I understand that the plan is to have a sort of ongoing six-week buffer, so, not a one-off set of six-week supplies that would then be exhausted, but to keep up a constant six-week buffer because it's unlikely that some of these things will be resolved just in six weeks.
Now, the assurances that we have from the department of health, and I think the advice that we have from the chief pharmaceutical officer here and others, is that those discussions are going reasonably well, that we don't anticipate there being shortages of medicines immediately after a 'no deal' Brexit, and that the co-operation from the pharmaceutical companies has been secured as a result of the discussions, and as a result of the warehousing and the refrigeration capacity and so on that the department of health has had to invest in.
Thank you for that answer. I find this a bit strange, because the NHS is obviously a devolved matter. Welsh Government—you're in control of the NHS. You're responsible for how the NHS operates and, therefore, whether the NHS gets the supplies it needs. Why haven't you had those direct conversations with the companies that the Welsh NHS is so reliant on? Why are you leaving it to the UK Government? I don't understand that.
Okay. Well, I think it is just normal in these sorts of circumstances. So, when there was a pandemic flu outbreak, probably nearly 10 years ago now, in that emergency set of circumstances, that is exactly how these things were navigated then as well. It was the UK Government that purchased all the additional supplies of Tamiflu and other prophylactic medicines that were required at the time. The medicines that are needed in England are the same medicines that are needed in Scotland and the same medicines that are needed in Wales. We have all agreed that the sensible course of action is to have one voice that represents us all in making sure that we all have access to the medicines that will be needed in a 'no deal' set of circumstances. I think it's just pragmatic and sensible, and we get probably a better result from having a single voice doing the negotiations than pharmaceutical companies having to carry out three or four different sets of negotiations over what is essentially the same set of supplies.
Okay, thank you for that answer, First Minister. Can you outline the work that the Welsh Government's intending to do in the event of no deal, particularly your assessment of the cost that any actions are going to incur? It might incur no cost, but what's your assessment? And how have you come to that assessment?
Thank you. Well, there are some different sorts of costs, as the Member will understand. There are the costs directly to the Welsh Government in terms of preparing for Brexit, and since I was last in front of this committee, Chair—I think you asked me last time whether we had, at that point, got a figure from the UK Government of the consequential that comes to Wales from the additional staff that are being recruited in Whitehall for that purpose. We had £21 million in this financial year. We learnt shortly before Christmas that we will have £31 million as a consequential in the coming financial year, so it is helpful to have that figure secured. We were planning on the basis that the £21 million we had this year would be broadly the same next year, so we've actually got a little bit more than we were anticipating, and we will be thinking about how we can use that additional money. But that's for our own internal preparation purposes.
There is a much bigger question of the sort that Michelle Brown referred to, which is: how do we deal with the costs of port preparations, food preparations, those sorts of preparations? At the moment, the Treasury is not prepared to provide any specific figures for us for that. They have set aside a contingency fund for those costs across Whitehall, and they have said to us that we will also be able to make bids to the contingency fund that they have set aside for the additional costs that are created here in Wales. It is a small comfort, but a small one only, because the sorts of costs that we might find ourselves having to deal with would not be of a Barnett nature—Barnett won't measure up to this challenge—and a fund for which there are no rules, and where the Treasury will be the decision maker. It's good to know it's there, but it's only of very limited comfort to us in thinking of how we will be able to afford the things we may have to pay for.
Okay, thank you for that answer. It's been stated that the Welsh Government would be recruiting 198 extra staff to support Brexit work. What will those staff be doing, and how many of them are in post right now?
The bulk of them, Chair, will be in the environment field, because without the European Union being there, we become directly responsible for a new, significant range of responsibilities in the portfolio of Lesley Griffiths, my colleague. So, the largest number of those additional staff will be used to make sure that we are able to discharge those responsibilities effectively. We will be looking to recruit some additional legal capacity in order to make sure that all the statutory instruments and the legislative load that comes in front of the Assembly—that we are able to discharge that in a timely fashion. And then there will be smaller numbers of staff in other parts of the organisation as well.
I should've said, Chair, that in my previous capacity as the finance Minister, I felt only able to agree to those posts being recruited on a time-limited basis, because the money to pay for them is only guaranteed for this year and next year. We anticipate there will be money in the third year, but that's all caught up in the comprehensive spending review, and we've got no guarantees there would be. So, these are not permanent new posts in the Welsh Government; they are time-limited posts for the period for which we have funding, and for the period in which the Brexit impact will be most felt.
In terms of the numbers, from memory. Chair, there are 25 people who were heads of branch, as it's called. So, these are relatively senior people already in the Welsh Government, who today have moved from the posts that they have been occupying to date to take up Brexit responsibilities. So, if you're recruiting people for a time-limited period, you're inevitably bringing people in from outside, but you also need some people who understand the way the Welsh Government work and know how to get decisions through the system, and so on.
So, we are redeploying 25 relatively senior people from existing duties into Brexit duties, and backfilling those from within the main civil service. I think about 32 or so job offers were made just before Christmas. There's another 40 or so that will be made this week, and if you add them all up together, about 100 of the 200 or so posts are in that position, and then there'll be 100 further to recruit later on during the spring.
Thank you for that answer. Are you content that you have sufficient resources to carry out your Brexit-related work, including planning for no deal?
I think we're stretched. I think that's the truth. We're stretched financially, and we're stretched in terms of hands on deck as well. The Welsh Government has lost significant numbers of posts over the last five years during the period of austerity. I think I'm right that about 1,000 fewer people work for the Welsh Government today than did about five years ago. And as somebody who's taken part, as I know all Members here have, in debates on the floor of the Assembly, I know the impact of austerity on our ability to fund the health service and local government and all the things that we already do. So, on both scores—on both finding the money to cope with the Brexit impact, and finding the people to deal with it as well—undoubtedly, we are having to pull the elastic even tighter.
The money that the UK Government has provided to allow us to recruit new staff is welcome and will help. The Treasury—the word 'guarantee' is quite the wrong one, so I may think of the right word. The Treasury indication that there is a reserve set aside to help with Brexit expenditure is good to know, but these are genuinely not easy things to resolve within the very tight envelopes that the Welsh Government operates, both financially, and in terms of members of staff with the necessary expertise. But within all of that, I think we are doing the very best we can, and redeploying resources, financially and in terms of individuals, to do the most urgent things that we have to do, and there is nothing more urgent than Brexit.
But the thing is, First Minister, is that it just strikes me that earlier on we were discussing your assessment of the costs of a 'no deal' Brexit, and now you're saying you don't have sufficient resources. How can you say that you've got insufficient resources to deal with a 'no deal' when you've not actually made an assessment of how much preparations for that 'no deal' Brexit will cost?
I understand the point that the Member is making. We don't yet have, and will not have for some time, a final bill for everything that we will have to do to prepare for a 'no deal' Brexit, and it's difficult to be precise with the committee about how we can meet that bill without knowing what the final quantum of it will be. I understand that point. I think what I can say is that, even on what we know now, even on what we know we are having to do already, our ability to fund the Brexit impact on Wales will be stretching for us as a Government, and not just financially, as I say, but in terms of having the people we need to be able to discharge these important jobs.
I'm conscious of the time, First Minister, and we've got a long way still to go, so I'm trying to make sure that colleagues pick up the questions as much as possible.
I'm going to move on to legislation, in one sense, and I'll try and be as succinct as possible. As has been mentioned many times today, time is getting short, and it's very critical that we get a lot of legislation undertaken. Are you confident that we can get enough and sufficient legislation completed in time, particularly when we're talking about agricultural Bills, fisheries Bills? We've passed those over to the UK Government, but we haven't brought ours forward yet.
Well, Chair, there's immediate legislative business that we have to attend to. I'm not in a position to guarantee that we will be able to do absolutely everything, because we are, to a large extent, in the hands of the UK Government putting their statutory instruments through the UK Parliament, because a number of the SIs we need to bring forward to the floor of the Assembly are amendments to amendments that the UK Government will be making. I can give you the most up-to-date figures. I think the last time I was in front of the committee, I think I said that we were anticipating some 50 SIs coming on to the floor of the Assembly, and we've consolidated a small number of those. We're probably now looking at more like about 43 SIs—seven of those were laid for first sifting before Christmas. The Trefnydd has written to the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee this week about a further eight to be laid in total this week and next week. So, I think we are confident that we will be able to bring all those forward to the floor of the Assembly in the time that is needed, provided that the UK Government is able to sustain the timetable to which they are working as well. There is then, as you know, a larger number of SIs, around 140, where we will be relying on the UK Government to make legislation that will apply in Wales, where those are of a technical nature and have no policy issues at stake.
So, on that side, I think, tight as it is, and demanding as it is—and it's going to take up a lot of time of Assembly Members over the coming weeks—we think we are on track. In the short run, we've secured amendments to the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill to protect the position here in Wales. Those give us temporary powers for Welsh Ministers to do what is necessary. We want to have permanent sets of arrangements. That certainly means we will be bringing an agriculture Bill before the Assembly, of our own, but we will have the legislative tools we need in the interim, through the UK Agriculture Bill, to do all the things that Welsh Ministers will need to be able to do over the immediate future.
Is there any specific legislation that's required, if there is a 'no deal', that will have to be completed by 29 March?
I don't believe that there is any specific primary legislation that needs to come before the Assembly, although we'll keep that under review. But there is—as I've just explained, and as you know—a large volume of secondary legislation that is already planned, and will be coming in front of the Assembly over the coming weeks.
Well, as you say, there's been a large volume of it already coming through, under Standing Order 30C. One of which, when you start looking at it, gives Welsh Ministers quite substantial powers in some areas, but also, sometimes, you see that, when it's amended, it changes 'European Union' to 'the UK Government', effectively, and so when you're reporting back, instead of reporting to the European Union, you report to the Secretary of State. So, in a sense, it's giving a lot of powers—you're reporting now to the Secretary of State in the UK. Have you got the capacity to ensure that all those SIs are thoroughly analysed, to ensure that we're not giving any powers—through, perhaps, some of them slipping through—back to the UK Government?
Well, I definitely recognise the difficulty, and it's one that we are alert to. I explained, in answering Michelle Brown's question, that, at an official level, we are stretched, because the people who are working on the SIs that will come in front of the Assembly are very often the same people who are having to assure ourselves that the SIs that are going through the UK Parliament are consistent with what is needed here in Wales. So, you know, people are very busy, and are working very long hours, to make sure that we don't inadvertently end up in a position that we would not wish to be in. There are checks and balances in our system, of course. All the individual SI work comes through an official co-ordinating group, who look to see exactly the sorts of questions that the Chair is raising, and we have, at ministerial level, a single person through whom all of these things go as well. So, while individual Ministers are signing off SIs in their own areas, they also all get reported through the Counsel General, to make sure that there is a single view across everything from the Welsh Government's ministerial point of view as well. Can we be utterly confident that nothing can fall through the cracks of all of this? I wouldn't want to give you an absolute guarantee of that sort, but I do want to say that the issue that you have pointed to is one that we recognise, and that we are constructing our approach to this in a way to try and make sure that nothing inadvertently is agreed that we would be unhappy to have seen agreed later on.
And just finally on this point from me, as you may be aware, the Llywydd wrote to the previous First Minister outlining her concerns over the role of the Assembly in legislating in Brexit. I'm not sure whether the previous First Minister responded, or whether you'll be responding, and, if so, if it's yourself, when will you be responding?
The previous First Minister wasn't able to respond, so I will. I hope to do that very shortly. The letter that I have seen drafted does its best to provide reassurance to the Llywydd—who I know is speaking on behalf of Chairs of committees—that the way we are trying to go about this, which has to meet the extraordinary set of circumstances in which we all find ourselves, that, within that, we remain committed as a Welsh Government to providing the greatest possible practical opportunities for scrutiny of those legislative actions, which have a material rather than a simply technical impact, and that we are very keen to continue to work with Chairs of committees, and with the Llywydd, to make sure that, when there is anything of significance at stake, there are scrutiny arrangements that the National Assembly can operate, to make sure that Members have a chance to review those decisions, and decide whether or not they are satisfied with them.
Given that the Sewel convention was ignored when the Scottish Parliament's decision to refuse consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 was ignored, have you sought assurances from the UK Government that the legislative consent decisions of this Parliament and the Scottish Parliament will be respected in relation to the withdrawal agreement Bill?
Yes. Chair, the JMC(EN) has regularly rehearsed what happened in relation to the Sewel convention in the Scottish case and UK Ministers have repeatedly said that they recognise the need to seek the consent of the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament in relation to aspects of any withdrawal agreement Bill, and that they would expect to seek those consents in line with the Sewel convention.
On the wider question of constitutional blowback from Brexit, the Counsel General, in a statement just before Christmas, said this about the Scottish Supreme Court case:
'Had we not secured the Intergovernmental Agreement, our Bill too would have been before the Supreme Court alongside the Scottish Bill and in all likelihood subject to the same result'.
So, my question, First Minister, is on that phrase 'in all likelihood', because my interpretation of it is that it means possibly but not certainly. Would you accept that that is what it means?
I think what the Counsel General is pointing to is that the issues at stake in our Bill and the Scottish Bill were similar, but the ways the Bills were constructed were very different. So, whereas you can draw conclusions from the judgment on the Scottish Bill and try and suggest what the consequences for our Bill would have been had it been in front of the Supreme Court, you can't be 100 per cent sure they would be the same because the Bills were constructed in that different way.
Wouldn't it be better to have tested that, then, in the Supreme Court if there was a possibly that it could have been ruled in competence? Wouldn't that have been preferable?
Well, the reason why we didn't do that is the one that we've rehearsed previously, Chair. The position the Scottish Government is now in is that it has no Bill of its own and it has no inter-governmental agreement with the UK Government either, whereas we took the decision, having secured an inter-governmental agreement that delivered what we sought to see delivered in respect of the Bill that was in front of UK Parliament at that time, that we have an inter-governmental agreement that we can rely on and puts us now in a stronger position than we would have been in. Because if we had not agreed—if we had insisted on our Bill going forward to the Supreme Court, we would not have had an inter-governmental agreement and we would be in a far weaker position today, had our Bill gone to the Supreme Court and been treated in the way that the Scottish Bill has been treated.
Finally, you said in your opening remarks that you would always take every opportunity to put the Welsh case on Brexit before the UK Government. Would you comment, then, on the story that the BBC ran about a rescheduled bilateral meeting that they allege you turned down in order to attend a victory celebration? Perhaps you'd like to set the record straight.
I'll thank Adam Price for the chance to do that. I had already had an opportunity to speak to the Prime Minister by telephone in advance of the JMC and had made various representations on matters relating to Wales then. I had spent all that afternoon face to face with the Prime Minister on this very topic. As Downing Street made clear, it was the Prime Minister's diary that had to be amended that afternoon so that the meeting that was planned for earlier in the day wasn't able to take place.
The BBC story, I would say, was a piece of nonsense, really.
Before I ask Mark a question—clearly, I don't want to expend a lot of time on the BBC's story, but on the question of the Supreme Court ruling, to me, I have concerns, which you quite rightly pointed out, that our Bill would not be effective now. If it hadn't gone to the Supreme Court, it would have been effective, because the time we would have had it, I assume, because it wouldn't have been overridden by a UK Government Bill. Has the gap in between going to the Supreme Court and a UK Bill being passed caused a problem and set a precedent where we may pass legislation, we'll refer it to the Supreme Court, and whilst we're in abeyance the UK Government takes its own legislation through?
Well, that is exactly what happened in this case, because, as you know, the Supreme Court said that on the day that it was passed, the Scottish Bill was largely within competence, and the reason that it's not competent now is because the UK Government had subsequently passed a Bill that has rendered it outside competence. It's not for me to speak for the UK Government, Chair, is it? But let me just say what I think they would say: they would say that Brexit has created an extraordinary set of circumstances where responses that would not normally be the way business would be conducted have had to be taken. I think they would say to you that you shouldn't—
But trying to draw too many hard and fast precedents from it would not be the way they would seek.
So, speaking for the Welsh Government, you would not expect a similar exercise being undertaken in future legislation.
No, I certainly would not expect that course of action to be a routine action of the UK Government, but I think, to be fair, they make it clear that they don't think that either.
We move on now to common frameworks, David—sorry, Mark—I'll come back to you.
Quickly, First Minister, did you turn down an invitation for a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister the evening after the JMC?
I was not able to accept the rearranged time that the Prime Minister was able to offer, because I already had other things that I was doing at that time, and the Prime Minister entirely understood that, as she said to me at the very end of the meeting when we had a brief conversation about rearranging it when she explained that her diary had had to alter, not mine.
Thank you, Chair. I wonder where we are with common frameworks. First of all, would I be right in thinking that progress has been somewhat limited just by the whole issue of the withdrawal agreement and the process up to 29 March? Or is that not the case and, in fact, that considerable advances have been made in how we fashion common frameworks?
Well, Chair, common frameworks are one of the areas where genuine progress has been made, but I think that David is also right that events have interfered with some of the plans that were in place to make sure that those frameworks were being taken forward, because we were due to have a JMC(EN) in December that didn't happen because of those events and was, to an extent, overtaken by the JMC plenary. The December meeting was meant to receive a report on four areas where frameworks were closest to being concluded. My understanding is that the JMC planned for the second half of January will now receive a report on all 24 areas in which frameworks are being delivered. So, at official level, the conversations have continued, and my understanding is that the fruitful way in which those discussions were being carried out and which led the UK Government to conclude back in November that it saw no prospect now of needing to freeze powers that were coming back to Wales from the European level—. The discussions have continued in the same spirit and with the same results. There will be more to report now at the JMC in January, but we weren't able to do the work that we had planned in December.
The hope was that we would have been able to have signed off as a JMC the work in the four areas for discussion with stakeholders, and David Lidington has always been supportive of the point of view that I have expressed, partly because of remarks made at this committee that there was widespread stakeholder interest in these frameworks and that we needed to have discussions beyond just the Governments themselves. I made that point at an early JMC; David Lidington agreed with it pretty much immediately. So, the idea was to sign the four off in December as sufficiently developed for stakeholder involvement and then for there to be a final sign-off of them at the JMC(EN) once the stakeholder engagement had happened. So, there's been a delay in some of that for the reason that David Melding suggested. But I think that will mean that there will just be more work to get through in January rather than that there's been a big hold-up in the programme as a whole.
And then there's the stakeholder involvement—what will be the legislative involvement?
Well, as you know, Chair, I think one of the positive things about the discussions is that it is demonstrating that the need for legislative underpinning of these frameworks—
So, there will be some legislative underpinning of some frameworks that will still be required, albeit that that is now, I think, significantly smaller in scale than was originally expected. Most of it will be by memorandums of understanding and so on. What I have said in front of the committee before and am happy to say again is that, once there is agreement on material at the JMC(EN), we will report it as a Government to the legislature. Robert will help me now if I am confusing two things, but I think we are in the process of agreeing with the Llywydd some mechanisms by which that can be done, not on an ad-hoc basis, but with a sort of plan behind it, so that the legislature can be confident that it will have these things reported to it and in ways in which the Ministers who will be responsible for the different frameworks will be able to be questioned and views from the legislature passed back to them.
Because there will be significant policy implications even if there's no requirement in terms of primary legislation or significant secondary legislation. Now, over the whole 24 areas where there may be frameworks, no doubt the attention the legislature will want to give to these matters will vary, but some of them are going to be huge, aren't they—environmental policy and any sort of common institutions there or the approach to direct payments in agriculture.
I agree with that, Chair. Just to say, the principle is the one that I've expressed before—that the Government is committed to making sure that, where those agreements are being concluded, they are reported in a timely way to the legislature and in ways that give the legislature proper opportunities to scrutinise the agreements that are being made.
Would I be right in inferring that the way the negotiations around the common frameworks progressed, which I think caused quite a lot of anxiety a year ago when perhaps all this was first thought about in any great sort of depth—but it seems to me that you are fairly sanguine about the way things have gone on; that it has been an inter-governmental exercise, made mostly at the official level, I suspect—but is that fair for me to say?
I think that is fair. Chair, without wanting to sound like I'm over-claiming things, what I would say is that this is exactly the proposition that we made to UK Government Ministers in the very beginning—that if we got round the table together and looked for an agreement, that we would come to the table always reasonably, always looking for ways in which we could discharge because we recognise that these are things where the UK works better when we've got commonly agreed ways of doing things. My experience is that the Scottish Government has come to the table in exactly the same spirit. There was never any need for the complicated mechanisms that the original Bill had in place to freeze things, as though somehow we weren't to be trusted to come to an agreement, because when we've had a go at doing it together, what we've demonstrated is that we can.
It is throwing up a series of wider issues, however, that we need to continue to work on, which are governance arrangements, for example, and dispute-resolution mechanisms, because if you're coming to an agreement of this sort, all Governments who are signing up to them need to have the confidence of knowing that if six months down the line another party to the agreement appeared to be interpreting it in a way that you didn't think you had signed up to, there is a proper way that that can be signalled and resolved. So, these are themes that are emerging right across every one of the 24 areas, and there is further work to be done there too.
It brings me nicely into the whole issue of inter-governmental relations—
Before we go into that, Joyce wanted a question on the common frameworks. First Minister, I'm conscious of the time, and we've got two lots of questions. We're not going to get through them all, but would you be able to stay for an extra five, 10 minutes, just to get through one of the sections?
The question that I was particularly keen on is the common framework for agriculture, because under no deal, agriculture has to carry on immediately and food security and security of markets are critical all round. So, are you satisfied that that will be able to happen and that those frameworks are in place?
Well, thanks to Joyce Watson for that question, because she's right to point to agriculture as one of the core tests of that whole framework arrangement. Because if we couldn't have addressed agriculture and environmental issues through it, then we wouldn't have had the positive response that I've been able to give to David Melding. I think it's been one of the successful test-beds of the discussion process in which it has quickly become apparent that although there was one word, 'agriculture,' on the box and it looked like a very big box, most of the things inside the box turned out not to need legislative arrangements at all. They were things that we were very quickly able to resolve in those official-level discussions as common sense and common currency between the administrations. So, I said, I think, in an earlier answer that DEFRA is one of the UK departments that we feel has got the best understanding of devolution. It's had one of the most active inter-ministerial groups involving Ministers from Scotland and Wales, and the UK Government as well. There are always opportunities for these things to go astray, but so far, I think we could say with some confidence that the work that's gone on on frameworks under agriculture has been amongst the most fruitful.
I just wonder how working through the common frameworks has informed the review of the JMC process that is now proceeding, and I just wonder if that's been remitted to officials now. Is that because some of the issues have, in practice, been resolved, but you might want to look at ways to formalise them? Or am I being rather optimistic that we're going to see a more robust fixed system for inter-governmental relations in the future?
I don't think I could go as far quite as that. So, there was a second item at the JMC plenary after Brexit. It was a brief-ish item towards the end, which is the report on the work that had been done since that work was commissioned by the JMC(P) back in March of last year. I had to express my disappointment at the paper that was in front of the JMC—it was thin, to be the most generous, really. I found it very difficult to find anything in it that could not have been written in March. But I was assured by Welsh Government officials that, behind the scenes, a lot of work has gone on that wasn't reflected in the paper.
Different administrations had taken responsibility for different strands in the work that was commissioned. Welsh Government is leading at official level on an agreement of a set of principles to underpin future inter-governmental machinery. The Northern Ireland Executive is leading in relation to dispute-resolution mechanisms, for example.
I think, for me, the jury's out a bit. What I'm being told by my officials is that there's more substance and that more progress has been made than was apparent in December, but I said at that meeting that we needed a meeting of the JMC plenary early enough in this year to make sure that that work is properly reported and that we can see whether we can be confident that, out of all of this, new, more effective inter-governmental relationships, inter-governmental arrangements, can be put in place, because the one thing that everybody is agreed on, and I know this committee has said it in reports that you have published, is that the current inter-governmental arrangements simply are not robust enough to—[Inaudible.]—to Brexit.
I'm sure we'll need to return—probably the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee will as well—. This is an important area, but time is running away, although it is a matter, I think, of great importance to the evolution of the British constitution post-Brexit.
Can I just clarify—? I think Jane Hutt now has responsibility for inter-governmental relations. Is that right? And how does this fit into Jeremy Miles's responsibilities, and, indeed, Eluned Morgan's? We seem to have three key players there in relation to matters wider than Welsh domestic policy, as it were.
Not to take too much of your time, Chair, but one of the ways in which I was keen to construct the Government differently to the way that it has been in the past is that, by and large, as you will see, what I have described are departments that have a Minister and a Deputy Minister within them. I've tried to move away from the way in which we rather rigidly, previously, ascribed responsibilities—some to the Minister and some to the Deputy Minister. It's one of the relatively rare places where I have felt that the Westminster model has been preferable to our own, where there is more flexibility, and a Minister is able to say, 'Well, for the next six months I really need to concentrate on these issues, so I'm going to ask my No. 2 to focus on other things', and, when those things are done, you can have a different cut of responsibilities. So, there is no sort of—. I don't think it is fair to say, 'Oh, here's the list of the First Minister's responsibilities, and there's a Deputy Minister in the First Minister's office and she's doing this, this and this.' It's more fluid than that; I will continue to take a very direct interest in those matters. You're right: we will share some things. So, Eluned will be focusing on some of the relationships that are to do with international trade and with the profile of Wales abroad and so on. But the broad suite of things that Carwyn took such a strong interest in, in terms of inter-governmental machinery and so on, I intend to take a direct interest in myself.
I think we're pressed for time. Just very briefly, on the shared prosperity fund, do you share my frustration that we still—? We're waiting for the public consultation. We still have an enormous lack of detail in terms of the UK Government's proposition in this regard, in terms of the shared prosperity fund.
The shared prosperity fund—I'm sorry, I missed the very beginning. No, of course, I feel enormously frustrated about it. It is one of the things that I raised with the Prime Minister in my very first phone call to her, that this is an area that matters enormously to Wales. We keep being told that the consultation paper is imminent. We're given various dates. It doesn't appear. It's very hard to find out in Whitehall who is responsible for this document. I've raised it repeatedly with the Deputy Prime Minister, with the Secretary of State for Wales, all of whom I met on that same day.
Here is a quarrel that the UK Government does not need to have. We have put a very straightforward proposition, which we think that they should accept. It is supported by the Scottish Government as well. It was supported by the all-party parliamentary group when they reported on this matter shortly before Christmas. It was supported by the Federation of Small Businesses when they reported on it shortly before Christmas. Why is such a rigmarole being constructed around something? I always say to UK Government Ministers, 'You've got enough problems on your hands. Let us take this one away from you. Solve it this way—you needn't worry about it anymore and we'll be happy.' But we've not quite reached that nirvana yet.
Thank you, First Minister. Can I thank you for the additional time you gave this afternoon as well? Clearly, we have further questions, but I think we can leave some of them to our session with the new Minister for international relations when she comes before this committee.
As you know, First Minister, you will receive a copy of the transcript for any factual inaccuracies—please, if you do see any, let us know as soon as possible so that we can get them corrected. As I said, thank you for your time.
Members, we'll move on to the next item on the agenda, which is papers to note. We have one paper to note, which is the report from the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee in relation to the legislative consent motion on the UK Agriculture Bill. I'm sure this will come before the Assembly for discussion, but are Members content to note this at this point in time?
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
The next item on the agenda, therefore, is to move into private session, and therefore, under Standing Order 17.42(vi), are Members content to move into private session for the remainder of this meeting? We are. Therefore, we now move into private session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:35.
The public part of the meeting ended at 15:35.