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28 September 2015
Case Digest: Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill - Reference by the Attorney General for England and Wales  UKSC 43
Whether, on the proper construction of section 108 and schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill 2013 was within the legislative competance of the National Assembly of Wales
Judgment was handed down by Lords Reed and Thomas, with whom the other Justices agreed, in the case of Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill - Reference by the Attorney General for England and Wales  UKSC 43 on 9th July 2014.
The reference was brought by the Attorney-General for England and Wales under section 112(1) of the Government of Wales Act 2006 (GWA), on the question of whether the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill 2013 is within the legislative competance of the National Assembly for Wales.
The Bill was passed on 17th July 2013, following a long series of discussions and law-making on the devolutionary powers of the Assembly. The proposed Act was, first and foremost, to establish a scheme for regulating agricultural wages in Wales. Up until this point this area had been under the auspices of the Agricultural Wages Act 1948, through its body the Agricultural Advisory Panel for Wales.
With the abolition of this Panel through the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, the Welsh government sought to retain the regime. A Bill was therefore drafted to implement this policy. The Assembly contended it had this power per section 108 of and schedule 7 to the GWA.
The wording, meaning and scope of such to be attributed to schedule 7 was disputed. The Attorney-General submitted that any interpretation of this provision had to be against the legislation previously passed on the regulation of agricultural wages and the devolution settlements in the United Kingdom. They considered that the Bill related to employment and industrial relations. The Counsel General contested that the Bill did in fact relate to agriculture.
- The meaning of the word "agriculture"
- Whether the Bill relates to agriculture
- Whether the Bill relates to non-devolved subjects
- Whether the Bill relates to agriculture if it also related to other subjects neither devolved nor an exception
Considering the reference, Lords Reed and Thomas, with whom the others concurred, considered the proper interpretation of the GWA in line with the principles created by Lord Hope in Local Government Byelaws (Wales) Bill 2012 - Reference by the Attorney General for England and Wales,  UKSC 53.
In short these require any determination of competance to be in line with section 108 and schedule 7, that the Bill is interpreted as any other statute and that regard can be had to Parliament's definitions of prohibited and permitted areas of legislative activity where assistance is needed to understand the meaning of words.
In their judgment the Lords recognised the long-standing existence of the regime, since its introduction under the Corn Production Act 1917 and consolidation by the 1948 Act. In paragraphs 19-29 the Lords laid out the three stages of devolution. The Attorney General and Counsel General had submitted that the fact that this power was not transferred within the first or second phases of devolution should have weighed heavily against the intention to transfer it under phase three. This was dismissed. The judges considered that "each of the successsive phases of Welsh devolution significantly increased the legislative competance of the Assembly".
The Lords concluded that the first issue to be addressed was the meaning of "agriculture" under paragaph 1 to the schedule, as a transferred power, within its legislative competance. Without a definition being included in the GWA, recourse was had to the dictionary for deciding what Parliament meant by the word. They concluded that its meaning must be interpreted more broadly than simple dictionary prescriptions so as to include all of the industrial and economic activities implicit in agricutlure.
Next, the Justices considered whether the Bill "related to" agriculture, with reference to section 108(7). Referring to the consultation process that led to the Bill, it could be inferred that the regulation of agricultural wages was its purpose. It established an Agricultural Advisory Panel for Wales with the functions of promoting careers, preparing wages orders prior to submission to Ministers, and advising Ministers on agricultural matters. The purpose and effect of the Bill was to establish a statutory regime for regulating agricultural wages and other conditions of employment.
On the third issue the Lords said that while employment and industrial relations are not specified as exceptions in the schedule, or elsewhere in the Act, the fact that certain aspects of employment were specficially regarded as exceptions indicates that there was no intention to create a general limitation on competance.
As to the fourth issue, the Lords did not accept the approach of the Attorney General that the real purpose and objective effect of the Bill related to industrial relations and employment, as opposed to agriculture. While the Bill undoubtedly related to agriculture, as a devolved subject, it could also be found to relate to a non-devolved subject.
There was no general exception on the Assembly's legislative competance, within agricultural matters, in respect of employment or the remuneration of employees.
Uninamously held that the creation of the Bill was within the legislative competancy of the Assembly.
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