Wales politics

'Direct threat' to trade union bill to relax strike curbs

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Media captionA fairly direct threat to overturn any law we pass on strikes, says Mark Drakeford

Ministers have said the UK government may try to overturn their proposed law to scrap rules that make it harder to call strikes in Welsh public services.

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford told AMs it would be a "democratic outrage" to try and block a Welsh bill to repeal parts of the 2016 Trade Union Act.

He said he took a letter from a cabinet officer to be a "direct threat".

The Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said he was surprised Welsh ministers were seeking to strengthen trade unions.

The letter, from Ben Gummer, said the Wales Act confirms industrial relations as a UK matter.

Welsh Labour argues the UK government should not impose restrictions on union activity in Wales in devolved services, such as the NHS and schools.

Giving evidence to the constitutional and legislative affairs committee, Mr Drakeford read out some of the correspondence from Mr Gummer.

He said a letter stated "the Wales Bill will clarify that industrial relations are a reserved matter and the UK government will act at the earliest possibility opportunity following commencement of the Wales Act to ensure the legislation protects our public services".

Mr Drakeford told the committee: "You could read that as a fairly direct threat to bring forward legislation to overturn any legislation passed by the National Assembly.

"I'm not conceding for a minute today that Mr Gummer's understanding of competence post the Wales Bill would allow him to do what he says he is going to do.

Image caption Mark Drakeford hopes the UK government will "reconsider the course of action" set out in the letter

"In my personal view, it would be a democratic outrage if this National Assembly were to express its view so clearly as to the way we wish public services in Wales to be organised," Mr Drakeford said.

"I think what they're saying is that they will pass a Westminster Bill to overturn the Bill that will be passed in this National Assembly.

"That fight may come, but I would hope that when Westminster ministers had had an opportunity to reflect on the democratic processes that we will have undergone here - and the view of the National Assembly, if that's what it is - they will want to reconsider the course of action that they've set out in this letter."

In her written evidence to the committee, Presiding Officer Elin Jones said she believed the assembly had the right to pass a law overturning the restrictions for devolved services in Wales.

But she said her decision was a "finely balanced one".

'Power-grab'

Asked about that observation, Mr Drakeford said: "It's either within competence or it's not and the Bill is within competence.

"That's what the Llywydd concludes and that's what I conclude as well."

Plaid Cymru AM Dai Lloyd, who sits on the committee, said the revelation meant his party had been "vindicated" in its warning that the Wales Act represents a "claw-back" and a "potential Westminster poer-grab".

The Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns, said: "The Wales Act 2017, supported by Welsh Government ministers, puts beyond doubt that this policy area is not devolved.

"I am surprised that the Welsh Government is aiming to strengthen the hand of trade unions.

"The UK government has always maintained that industrial relations are a reserved matter, and we will act at the earliest opportunity, following commencement of the Wales Act, to ensure the legislation protects the interest of taxpayers and our public services in Wales."

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