Monday, January 21, 2008

Tories making the best of it.

Regular readers will be aware of my opinion that the most appropriate constitution for the government of Wales (starting from the unsatisfactory place that we are now, that is) would be the granting of law making powers to the National Assembly, in those subject areas that are already devolved. As the current discussions about the power to ban 'smacking' in Wales demonstrates, there are separate arguments to be had about the scope of the subject areas. Some are moved to comment on my posts, registering their disagreement, and dismissing my views as being 'non-Tory'. Usually these comments don't go into much detail, but I've always thought the gist of it to be that, along with some Conservative AMs, I have in some way 'sold out'. If anything, the criticism has become more aggressive since I lost my position as an AM - and became a Parliamentary candidate, but did not change my mind on this constitutional issue.

In summery, I believe the devolutionary settlement to have been unclear, unstable, and a recipe for conflict between Wales and Westminster since the First Government of Wales Act was implemented in 1999. I believe that the Second Government of Wales Act that came into effect last May has made the position worse. I accept that returning to the pre 1999 position by abolition of the Assembly altogether would be an entirely logical response - but I just do not believe it is a realistic possibility. Thus far, this post is preamble.

So now to come to the point of it. Since the current GOWA passed into law, I have argued that the National Assembly should do everything possible to instill confidence into the process of transferring powers as it is legislated for in this complex Act - by reassuring MPs about what measures might be introduced if and when the power is so transferred (via Legislative Competence Orders). To date, there seems to have been an unhelpfully dismissive attitude (almost contemptuous in at one case) by Assembly Government Ministers. I was hugely impressed today when I read an extract from Hansard which notes an entirely different, positive attitude by an AM, and a Conservative AM at that. It reads as follows.

'Hywel Francis: I would like to end by paying tribute to two Assembly Members. The best example of what I call Owenite co-operation on harmony has come from the Conservative Assembly Member for Cardiff North, Jonathon Morgan. In bringing forward his proposed order on mental health in Wales as a back bencher, he has built cross-party support in the Assembly, gained Welsh Assembly Government support, held productive informal meetings with me, as Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee,and with my committee staff, and built new political and governmental links in Westminster. I think it is a model to be followed.'

Now this is the way to do it. I thought this proposed LCO did have the potential to lead to constitutional 'turbulence'. Its just a question of respect, being grown up, and a commitment to making the best of an unsatisfactory process. Lets hope that this sort of cooperative approach spreads. It would certainly reduce my worries about conflict bwtween Cardiff Bay and Westminster.


Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Y not look at how another country with years of experience of holding together many states in a union does it. Wales is now run by a WAG that is borderline incompetent, a WAG responsible for a decline in education of its young and a WAG that fails to improve the Welsh economy - OECD figures pretty much sum it up, 8 years of WAG and Wales is going backwards and what's more seems to be unable to change direction. I can't be alone thinking Wales is at tipping point - that drastic action is required to turn the tables back in the right direction. But WAG doesn't seem to realize that Wales is now akin to a large slowly sinking ship. There does not seem to be the urgency or wherewithal to redesign the under-decks to get things moving again. Look at how WAG operated over the Christmas period, departments shut down for two whole weeks, I am aware of at least one senior WAG administrator that actually put into her auto-email message that she would not be looking at her emails from around mid December to around Jan-04, 2008 and seemed proud of the fact! The head of the department provided a whole range of reasons why no one was available - if this was a private company the customers would go elsewhere. WAG is not doing what it should do - LEAD WALES to greater things, instead it is turning into an unmitigated disaster - mainly because it doesn't listen to common sense arguments and believes wrongly that the way it does things is the only right way, well, objective independent OECD and VAG stats say differently.

Valleys Mam said...

did you not see Rhodri M on the Politics show, his take on this was quite and eye opener. Betsan Powys expands on this.
I think the model that Jonathan Morgan has adopted is excellent,rather than just giving in to Big Brother in London

DaiTwp said...

You touch on the issue or the areas of competence in your post without really going further into them. Since you seem to believe that the tidiest way forward (given abolition isn't on the cards) would be to grant full law making powers, what is your opinion on the resosibility for police and the criminal justice system. all the heads of the police forces in Wales recently remarked that if/when the Assembly gains legislative powers it would be only a matter of time before the need for this area of competence to be devolved also. As it would be impractiacal to have the Assembly creating more and more different laws to England without a seperate policing and justice system. I don't want to confuse the arguement of whether people want primary powers or not but it would seem to me that primary powers would inevitably followed by criminal justice competency.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Y re-invent the wheel?

It's inevitable that there would be a Welsh regional Police force subject to laws from a more devolved WAG (along with the equivalent in England, NI and Scotland) and a Federal like Police force that operates in all regions of the UK ... much like in a certain other country with 50 states in its union. State and Federal legislatures - so the "UK PM" should be separately elected by the people - the House of Lords should be filled with elected Senators.

daitwp said...

dr. cw
I take your point, but what your suggesting goes a fair bit further to the powers presently being preposed for the referendum.
The trouble being party politics and misplaced "emotions" (for want of a beter expression) will shape the next settlement for Wales (to be put to the people) not common sense. My main fear is that we'll end up with another from of compromise which will again have to be amended further down the line.
The US model which you refer to (in which the states can also vary their own taxes also - but that's another can of worms) has plenty going for it, but would be a radical change to the staus quo and there's no way that is going to happen.

Anonymous said...

Labour is buggering up our constitution. Conservatives should want to repair the damage. But you and Bourne and the rest of them want to hand Wales over to the separatists.

Glyn Davies said...

Daitwp - I don't accept the inevitability of responsibility for the police or criminal justice being devolved - though decisions to do so may occur at some stage in the future.
The only competences that will be devolved are within the 'fields' designated in Shedule 5 of the GOWA. The disagreement over a ban on 'smacking' is an argument about which field the matter falls within.
My view has always been that law making powers should be granted within the list of fields in Shedule 5 only. Whether this list should be extended to include other 'fields' and responsibilities is a seperate matter. In my opinion, much of the hostility to law making powers arises from confusion between these seperate issues.

VM - I do not subscribe to 'giving in' - but I do think it is sensible to be as open as possible with MPs, even if the GOWA does not require it, and any assurances given about future intentions cannot be binding on future Assembly decisions.

Christopher - there is a case for devolving police powers (to join other emergency services which are devolved) but the case would have to be made and MPs would need to have agreed that it is the best way to proceed. I would not be willing to support such a call at present, even though I accept that I couls well be persuaded by a full consideration.

Glyn Davies said...

anon - disappointing comment. I agree with you that Labour has acted in a cavalier way in respect of our constitution. But I also assert that my aim (and that of others, David Melding in particular over many years) is to repair the damage and remove the potential for conflict.

Your comment would be much easier to engage with if you outlined your views on the way forward - starting from where we are, rather than where you would like us to be. Perhaps you favour abolition - or another GOWA. Just tell us, so that I and others can debate the issue with you.

Anonymous said...

Really don't want to debate, Glyn. You HAVE sold out and have fallen for this devolution rubbish hook line and sinker. What I want is to ensure that proper Tories get to parliament, which I am afraid rules you out.

Glyn Davies said...

anon - this response does not surprise me at all.
What I've found is that most people who have disagreed with me are actually in favour of abolition, which is an entirely logical and understandable position to take. I, personally would have left it as an option in any referendum on law making powers, but the party decided to remove it - at a higher level than any pay grade I ever achieved. I have respect for the abolitionist argument - even though I think it is unrealistic, and is becoming more so by the day. What I find unacceptable is the current position, which I see as dangerously divisive - and likely to be the most 'seperatist' option of all. This has been my opinion since the referendum on 18th September 1997.
But then, its so much easier to just dismiss someone as having 'sold out', than to engage in debate.

daitwp said...

The reponse from anon pretty well sums up attitudes when it comes to the devolution arguement. Very few argue their case on purely logical grounds, but border on almost completely emotive view points. Calling Glyn a sell out (becuause he accepts that devolution is here to stay and therefore wants to find the settlement that would work best - something David Cameron has said if not also saying that law making powers would be the best option) and openly refusing to debate is completely non-sensical. If you believe passionatly that the Assembly should be abolished you need to persuade others that this is a realistic option and not stick your fingers in your ears shouting how you remember when Britain ruled the waves.
What has dogged the devolution debate in Wales in particular is that it has constantly had to comprimise between two opposing forces with the end result being a complete fudge - the origional act and the 2006 revision being perfect examples.

Anonymous said...

it would have been better if the bloody assembly had never been born and the best thing to do with it is abolish it