Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Is the GOWA working

Been down to Cardiff Bay today, and called in at my old stamping ground in the Sennedd. Leads me to reflect on how the devolution process is working out under the 2006 Act. My new focus on Westminster leaves less room for the sort of reflection I used to indulge in quite often. One benefit of this is that it leads to less abuse from devo-sceptics. But the whole devolution issue does remain of great interest to me.

There were two fundamental changes in the constitutional position from May 2007. Firstly, the separation of the 'Executive' from the 'Legislature' - the end of the status of the National Assembly for Wales as a 'corporate body'. This seems to be working OK.

The second change was the granting of law making powers to the Assembly by a complex system of Legislative Competence Orders. Regular readers of this blog will know that I consider this system to be "a constitutional crisis waiting to happen" - and leads to a lack of accountability, because so few people understand it. But we're now 14 months into the new system. So lets examine the experience.

At the Assembly end, the AMs have been busy. Twelve or thirteen LCOs have been announced. No big surprise there. But what about the next steps. I'm told that only three LCOs have been submitted to Westminster, and two of those have been significantly changed to establish agreement between officials at both ends of the M4. Just one has progressed through the system and been given Royal Assent.

I'm not sure what ambitions the architects of the 2006 Act had in mind, but I feel sure it was significantly greater than this. It stimulates reflection on what impact this power transfer system will have on moving to the part of the Act which provides for a referendum on full law making powers in all devolved areas. We know that the Labour-Plaid Coalition is built on this happening in 2010 - while I believe that this 'promise' is being quietly shunted into the long grass. I've no doubt that some will see the slow progress as strengthening the case for a Yes vote (and I do think the proposed LCO which would transfer powers to suspend the 'right-to-buy' was designed to promote dissension). Others may feel that the air of negativity than the lack of progress creates will give succour to the No vote. Personally, I subscribe to the latter view, which is why I always advocated a series of highly uncontentious LCO proposals in the early stages, to establish the system as an accepted part of the constitution. Reflection over. I wonder whether others will join in.


Anonymous said...

thank you glyn for explaining the position in an understandable way. it looks like the new powers are not working. how many of the assembly members understand whats happening, or not happening more like.

Glyn Davies said...

anon - kind comment. You will have to ask the AMs to answer that.

Anonymous said...

I agree all the way Glyn... Lord Meirioeth of Kardifbay has got it wrong again. More time in the Duck and Wistle of Dolgellau and less in the wine bars of Bute could show them that we need a Scots style Parliament now.

Glyn Davies said...

anon - but will the Welsh people vote for it. Your guess is as good as mine.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that the architects of the Act had any significant ambitions for the transfer of powers. The Act was an exercise in tokenism, tossing a bone to the yapping terriers in Cardiff, while retaining proper powers in London.

Just take a look at the legislative competence orders that have gone through so far - unbelievably trivial and not likely to make any significant difference. And the ones coming though in future are going to get snarled up in the system; I bet no more than 4 or so per annum will be passed - fewer still when the Tories get in, pray God.

No, the whole thing is a con trick and the Assembly members were too silly to see it. What real power there is in Cardiff now rests with the Welsh ministers. And the big powers remain in London

Glyn Davies said...

anon - You make some fair points. The architects of the Act are widely thought to be Peter Hain and Dafydd Elis Thomas, who I don't think would have wanted to con anyone.

So far only one LCO has completed its passage, and you are right that there is a danger that none will be hugely significant, mainly because of the attitude of Whitehall civil servants. Personally, I do not think the system would work less well under a Conservative Government - because it would be illogical. But we will have to wait and see.

I agree with your final paragraph to a large extent. But again personally, I can see no sense in creating a hugely complex, expensive, Government in Cardiff, and not allocating power between Westminster and Cardiff in a way that makes the investment that has and is being made worthwhile.