Monday, February 18, 2008

New power for the Assembly.

All 60 Assembly Members, of all parties, (at least I think so) want to pass into law new measures to ensure people suffering mental illness have the right to be assessed earlier than at present, and have improved access to independent advocacy during treatment. They do not believe that the current UK law is good enough. At present the power to pass such a measure lies with the UK Parliament. Today, Conservative Assembly Member, Jonathon Morgan submitted a proposal to transfer this power to the National Assembly. This is the first proposal for a Legislative Competence Order put forward by an individual backbench AM.

This is a big deal, with major financial implications. To deliver the services covered by this LCO would cost a significant amount of money - from a fixed budget. Its also a big deal because of the principle involved in transferring an important power from Westminster to Cardiff Bay. While I'm strongly in favour of the proposed changes in mental health services, I'm expressing no opinion in this post on the principle of transferring this law making power to the Assembly. Whenever I've pointed out that this is what will be happening under the current Government of Wales Act, and on a regular basis, I find very negative comments about the statement of fact on my blog. Perhaps when this transfer of law making powers to the Assembly has happened on dozens of occasions, there may be a call for the public to be invited to express their opinion on it!

Today, when interviewed, Jonathon said that ideally, the Assembly should have primary powers to pass new laws in this devolved area, without the necessity to ask for it to be transferred first. Once the power is transferred of course, the Assembly will then be free to pass other laws in this field. He then added, that since the Assembly does not have such powers at present, the Assembly must use these current convoluted arrangements instead. I repeat that all AMs from all parties agree with him. But I wonder what my readers think of this!


Oscar said...

Most members of the Arsembly have more than a vested interest in mental health,that I am sure of!

MH said...

Three comments:

1. It wouldn't seem from your link to the BBC story that all parties want it. But I'm happy to take your word that they do. Yet even so, do they want it enough to pay for it? That would be a question of budget priorities.

2. Irrespective of this, it is primarily a health issue, and therefore it should be a devolved matter - for the sake of consistency and a "joined up" service, if nothing else. An eLCO is not about vetting each piece of proposed legislation, but about transferring the responsibility for making legislation in this field. Therefore the answer is obvious in principle: transfer legislative responsibility and let the Assembly make its own decisions bearing in mind that its decisions will have cost implications which will have to be met from the budget. As I understand it, getting an eLCO does not OBLIGE the Welsh Government to actually enact any law ... it just gives them the power to do so.

3. But again (coming full circle) it's a question of priorities ... but now of time and effort rather than money. The eLCO process is long, convoluted and tricky. Westminster certainly doesn't seem much inclined to pass these through "on the nod". So why waste time and effort on something to keep up your sleeve for later? The Welsh Government should (and will) put their effort into their main priorities ... the priorities in the One Wales agreement. I fear that Jonathon Morgan might have to wait.

... or at least wait until enough eLCOs have gone through to make granting them a formality.

... or at least until everyone realizes that the eLCO process is a rigmarole, and we vote to transfer lawmaking power directly to the Senedd. Not necessarily out of principle, but simply to avoid all the red tape and administrative waste!

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Since we are on the subject of politics ... something that I just read and mutated: “The problem with the Lib-Dems is that many of the existing Lib-Dem MPs like Lembit Opik are not fit-for-purpose in more ways than their basic condition. For example they do not have ramps for common-sense access, and are an obstacle to delivering anything sensible in the 21st Century. In many cases the most sensible solution is to find them play areas.

PS Special thanks to Peter Black's website for providing the raw material.

Anonymous said...

As the mental health service in Wales is underdeveloped compared with the situation in England, the attention of the Assembly should be focused on closing the deficit rather that tinkering with the legislation.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree with the comment brought to our attention by Dr Wood more! They are not called the Libido-dems for nothing. What is it about this bunch of buffoons that anyone could ever take them seriously? Perish the thought that they could ever hold the balance of power........Can you imagine Lembit Opik being in a position of actual decision making?! He's already a disaster for Montgomeryshire and Wales, a disaster as regards the reputation of MPs, and a car crash in slow-mo. In fact his only success is in boosting your campaign, Glyn! On a more serious note, you have to wonder how much house-keeping exists as regards this anarchic third party in Westminster.

Glyn Davies said...

oscar - unkind or observant?

mh - 1) As far as I know, all AMs supported this proposal unanimously when Jonathon presented it to the Assembly - and he has been complimented on his approach by the Welsh Affairs Committee as well. Your reference to money will be highly relevent when AMs are discussing what to do with the law making ability in the future - assuming its successful pasage through the system.

2) We agree about this. Not everyone realises that the LCO is about transferring the power, rather than specifically to do with what is currently proposed.

3)Don't entirely agree here in that I think that this LCO will go through the process smoothly. You then drift into logic, which doesn't always prevail. It looks as if it will be several years until a referendum is held about moving to the position you seem to favour.

Christopher - I've decided to leave negative comments about the Lib Dems to comments - so I've nothing to add.

Anon 1- Fair point, but it seems thst the AMs don't agree, in that they are all keen on this LCO.

anon 2 - ditto christopher. Much more of this and I'll have to start being nice to them, in the interesrts of balance.

MH said...

Thanks, Glyn.

If Jonathan's eLCO does go through smoothly, I certainly won't be complaining. I'm simply more concerned about it not upsetting the progress of other eLCO's.

As to your point about the referendum, I think that the reason for the current play-for-time commission is primarily because Labour are divided 50-50 between what most of its AMs want and what most of its MPs want. Everything will depend on the next UK general election. If it becomes obvious (or even likely) that the Tories will win it, the Labour MPs will come round very quickly in favour of a Parliament. The spectre of Redwood will scare them into it.

It's simple power. At present Labour can control what the Assembly can do by means of their majority in Westminster. As soon as they think that they might lose it, they will want powers shifted wholesale to the Senedd, so that some "son of Redwood" doesn't have the same control over them. I'd put money on a referendum happening before 2011. The ONLY thing that would stop it would be a Labour victory at the next UK general election.


However, in a bizarre way, I don't think the referendum is all important. The issue is not whether we call it an Assembly or a Parliament - it is about the transfer of law making powers from Westminster to Cardiff. If we got a Parliament on the Scottish model, its devolved powers would be defined in some sort of list, as in Scotland. But the eLCO system has the POTENTIAL to give the Welsh Assembly full law making powers in virtually any area. Tecnically we could get an eLCO that gave the Assembly law making powers on the whole tax and benefits system in Wales ... and as a result end up with more fiscal autonomy than the Scottish Parliament has at present.

Of course I'm not saying this is likely ... but it is possible. We could end up with a de-facto Parliament without having a referendum at all.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn> understood. Meanwhile, on the Welsh Lib-Dem affront ...

WELSH Liberal Democrat leader Mike German has finally emerged from his version of President Bush’s “staying in the background” to announce that “Voters won’t go back to Labour” (WM, Feb 19, 2008).

However, the Lib-Dems have problems all of their own making with many existing Lib-Dem MPs like Lembit Opik who are not fit-for-purpose in more ways than one. With the antics of Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik one has to wonder if the Lib-Dems have ramps for common-sense access, and if they are capable of delivering anything sensible in the 21st Century. In many cases the most sensible solution is to find them play areas away from the public.

Take the Lib-Dem controlled Cardiff Council which is riding rough shod over the wishes of ordinary local in Llanrumney who are treated by the Lib-Dems as idiots not worthy of anything but contempt and derision, whereas the middle class residents of Cardiff North get what they want, when they want it and by what ever method the Lib-Dems come up with to get them what they want.

The silly antics of Lembit Opik and the invisibility cloak of Mike German can mean only one thing, “Voters won’t go back to the Lib-Dem Party”.

Glyn Davies said...

mh - I respond again because you are rare in that you are both willing to engage and understand the reality of the current constitutional position - which seems to be an uncommon position.

In Jonathon's LCO's favour is the way he has carefully prepared the ground, both at Westminster and Cardiff Bay.

I'm not convinced that Labour MPs will come round as easily as that. They will see law making powers as a threat to their number - or 'Bonkers' as Paul Murphy put it. They would hope for a Conservative Secretary of State who did not connect with the Welsh people. I do not think there will be a referendum until 2012, unless the St David's Day announcement that I anticipate is being planned, gives some real momentum to the Convention.

I accept your point about the potential of LCOs. I've commented on it several times on this blog. In effect, it is the transfer of law making power - without a referendum. I do find the attitude of some who oppose a referendum, (where they could vote No) preferring a system where power is being transferred without them having a vote at all to be odd. But there you go.

landsker said...

Thanks for posting on the subject of mental health.
It is an issue that affects nearly every household in Wales, from minor depression, to schizophrenia, from autism to aspergers.
It should not be the basis for cheap jokes.
Over half the prisoners in British jails are said, not so much to be criminals, but to be suffering from a mental illness.
What ever the outcome of the process in the assembly, one hopes that there will be more focus in the field of assesmment and indeed of prevention and treatment.
Many sufferers are loathe to approach their doctors, fearing stigmatisation or even loss of their job.
Knowing that they can access unbiased and trained professionals, is nothing less than the standard expected by those suffering from the more visible and traditional "illnesses".

Glyn Davies said...

landsker - we agree about this. I'm taking much more interest in the issue at present, because of my involvement with a private company which delivers care for the elderly and mentally ill, amongst other services.

I was also intersted in your comment about prisoners. For the first time in my life, I recently spent some time in a prison, and I still remember talking to a man in his 30s perhaps who had a mental age of 7 perhaps, who was in prison for arson. It seemed to me utterly ridiculous that this man should have been in prison. The issue you raise here is an important one.

The only concern I have about the way in which the new power will be used is that it may prove to be too expensive unless the Assembly has extra money to deliver it.