Saturday, March 14, 2009

A debate for the anoraks.

I'm not sure what to make of Lord Livesey of Talgarth's intervention in the transfer of housing powers from the UK Parliament to the National Assembly for Wales. My first sense is that his action is constitutionally 'sound' but 'silly' in practice. Better begin with some context.

When the 2006 Government of Wales Act came into effect in May '07, a process of transferring power from Westminster to Cardiff also came into being. It was horribly complex, and I've always considered it to be a recipe for constitutional conflict between the UK and Welsh Parliaments. I lost my position as an Assembly Member at the same time the new Act became effective. From my new position as an interested observer, I advocated that the first 15/20 proposals for power transfer should be about relatively uncontentious matters - enabling the new system to 'bed in', and trust to be developed between politicians at both ends of the M4. And then Plaid Cymru, with monumental stupidity (in my view) proposed that the power to abolish the right-to-buy be transferred (even though there was no intention whatsoever to introduce such a measure. This blog immediately condemned the proposal as crass and destined to create trouble, and suggested that the creation of dispute might have been the intention. Totally nuts.

What happened was that the Secretary of Wales decided to support the transfer of powers over housing from Westminster to the Assembly - except that his office would retain a 'veto' over any proposal to abolish the right-to-buy. This 'veto' was an added complexity to an already complex process which only political anoraks have the slightest interest in. The reality was that this 'veto' made very little practical difference, because there's no desire by anyone to use the power. The problem arises from it being a significant precedent. My hope was that Assembly politicians would have learned their lesson, and that this precedent would slink quietly into a corner and wither away. But no. The Liberal Democrats have decided that in the midst of the financial maelstrom that has engulfed our world, we need to indulge in a constitutional row over a devolution principle. I've no idea what path this dispute is going to take, except that it's likely to be circular.


Anonymous said...

Can't wait for Jeff Jones comment on this one - with the Libs running Bridgend Council again being very much on the cards again.

You try very hard Glyn to get us interested in this silly system which is a great way of getting a YES vote that evening Plaid types can campaign for.

I saw the old Western Mail again in our local Nantyffyllon news agent - saying that the Tories and Plaid are to make big gains in Wales - any views Glyn?

The prediction is a Brecon and Radnor Tory win but a Lib hold in your area!! some mistake I think

Stonemason. said...

I am afraid your words of wisdom will be lost on the current incumbents of Cardiff Bay.

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - I do try hard to generate interest in this issue - because its for real. Its the way we are governed. I don't like it, but its a fact. Hope you noticed that I didn't mention Legislative Competence Order once. People tell me the words actually mean 'scroll down immediately'. I do suspect that Plaid thought that by creating a public dispute would assist a Yes vote in a referendum. I completely disagree with this view. Combined with the pubic promotion of independence again last week, I expect support for full law making powers to fall.

There has been a lot of coverage this week of predictions by Electoral Calculus. They may be completely right, but they do not take any account of local factors. It would take a swing of around 12% for the Conservatives to win Montg - and less than half that to win B and R.

Stonemason - They were certainly lost when this LCO was proposed. Too late now. What intersts me is whether the Lib Dems have just made a bad situation worse.

Welsh Ramblings said...

Good attempt to hide the Tory divisions on this issue Glyn.

The reality is that this subject is impossible for the Tories, and you in particular, to cope with.

By choosing to oppose this LCO at both the Assembly and Westminster you've shown your true colours. You would put your belief in the privatisation of the housing stock ahead of strengthening Welsh democracy.

You claim to be pro-devolutionist Glyn, yet you opposed this bid for powers. You can't be a half-devolutionist. This constitutional tussle has proved one thing: the Tories are fundamentally the same anti-devolution party they always have been.

Draig said...

Sounds a little conspiratorial to me Glyn. If Plaid are actively trying to engineer some kind of case for lawmaking powers why are they not standing up and making a more active case for them now?

Plaid could really run rings around Labour on this issue if they were clever about it, but with the exception of Bethan Jenkins I don't see anyone else in the Assembly Plaid group taking a strong stand on this issue...

DaiTwp said...

"What intersts me is whether the Lib Dems have just made a bad situation worse."

Surely all Lord Livesy has done if flag up something he believes is put side the remit of the Wales act 2006. Whether you agree with abolishing the right to by or not - it was totally within the 2006 act to request the power to do so and if the WAG wasn'r so weak they would never have agreed to this new precedent where the Secetary of State get to veto certain policies. You say yourself that this is another complication to an already drawn out process. Thus any move to prevent this from happenening should be welcomed. Whereas from what you seem to be saying, you seem to be happier just brushing the whole thing under the carpet.
Maybe the WAG should have sent LCOs which were'nt at all controversial to begin with but it is within the 2006 act to request any power which lies within the 20 devolved fields and they were always going to push the boundries. You can say it's not politically sound (or clever) to do so but ultimatly they have the right to request those powers whther you like it or not.
It seems it has come down to the Lords to actually stand up for the rights of the Assembly according to the 2006 act, even thought the WAG is too weak to do so. I don't think you should be questioning that!

Glyn Davies said...

WR - You do seem to be obsessed by Conservatives. What we have is a proposal first put forward by a Plaid Deputy Mnister, approved by a Plaid/Labour Coalition Government, attracting concern from a Labour dominated Welsh Affairs Committee, and finally subject to a 'veto' by a Labour Secretary of State (over an aspect of housing that there was no intention to include in a measure anyway) - and all you want to do is talk about the Conservatives!!

Draig - Perhaps I'm being unduly suspicious, but my immediate reaction when the proposal to include abolition of right-to-buy in a housing LCO was that it would completely undermine the development of trust that is needed between Westminster and Cardiff Bay if this complex process is to succeed - a suspicion much strengthened by the pre-pared comments that were being made by Plaid politicians at the time. I immediately suggested that it was intended to demonstrate that the current process is unworkable. I, too have been surprised that Plaid have made no more than token support for a referendum - preferring to let the whole thing drift. I have no idea why they have been so afraid of standing up to be counted in any meaningful way.

Daitwp - I accept that the AMs were entirely within their rights to put forward a proposal that the power to abolosh 'right-to-buy' should be transferred to the National Assembly. It was just tactically stupid. It was predictable that Westminster politicians would be discomforted by this. I fully accept that 'boundaries' should be tested, but it would have been so much better over the Welsh Language LCO, which personally I think the public will see as rightly a power for the Assembly.

I agree with Richard Livesey, in principle, but he has (at the very least) delayed the transfer of power over housing. He will also have entrenched attitudes about the process which will not help the development of effective system of processing LCOs.

What I'm questioning is not the principle of Lord Livesey's action, but whether is will prove to be helpful. I wonder what Plaid Ministers think of it.

Stonemason. said...

Does it really matter how long it takes to generate a piece of legislation, better to take 10 years and have good legislation rather than rush headlong into bad legislation.

Peter Black said...

I take it that you heard Dafydd Elis-Thomas's support for Richard Livsey's position on the Politics Show today, Glyn?

Glyn Davies said...

Stonemason - As I've said I do not disagree with the principle of Lord Livesey's action. I also concede that it may indeed be right.

Peter - I did indeed hear Dafydd Els important contribution on the Politics Show today. I think it is worth a seperate post tomorrow, if I have time. I will be very interested to know what Ieuan Wyn Jones thinks as well. Must admit that my views on this are not yet set in concrete.

Anonymous said...

Well with DLTs support the war is won! Just needs him to turn up at the Lords at some point..i understand that there is more chance of that great bird the little tern being seen on the banks of old father thames than the great man of merioneth.

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - Woops there goes another rubber tree plant.