Monday, March 16, 2009

Is it ever right to sweep problems under the carpet/

The Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales is also a member of the House of Lords. He informs us that he is considering leaving his prestigious office in Cardiff Bay, and travel down the M4 in order to vote against the transfer of law making powers over housing from the UK Government to the National Assembly. How can this be I hear you gasp. Well he judges that it may be preferable that the power (in the form of a Legislative Competence Order) be not transferred, rather than be transferred in a way which might be doubtful in law. This is important stuff. The issue revolves around a decision by Paul Murphy, the Secretary of State for Wales to retain a 'veto' for his office over one part of the transferred powers. And there is no reference to this constitutional 'innovation' in the 2006 Government of Wales Act.

So we now have a full scale constitutional shambles - which was entirely predictable (and was predicted by this blog) as soon as the Assembly's Deputy Housing Minister decided to include the power to abolish the right-to-buy in her proposals. It mattered not that she reassured us that the Coalition Government had no intention of including this power in a new law (Assembly Measure). Fools I said at the time, and fools I meant. But what is done is done, and we are where we are. We need to move - forwards (or perhaps backwards!) To date I've taken the same view as the two Governments, in Westminster and Cardiff. I always thought that the 'veto' is unwise (and that it would have been better to redraft the LCO). I do not want to see the UK Government and the National Assembly for Wales 'going to law' to settle a dispute. This is potentially disastrous. I preferred to 'brush this issue under the carpet' as a previous commenter so dismissively described my approach - and hope that the 'veto' was not seen as a precedent. And that's what was happening - until Lord Livesey (with or without the knowledge of Lord Elis Thomas?) tabled a motion that the House of Lords refuse to approve the transfer of law making powers over housing to the Assembly because of it. The blue paper was lit.

What happens now I do not know. Both the Governments at Westminster and Cardiff Bay are likely to push on with their plans to transfer the housing powers. But what on earth will their Lordships do if the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly, a former leader and President of one of the Coalition partners no less, leaves his post for the expressed purpose of encouraging them to vote down the legislation. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when politicians start playing games with the constitution. For what its worth, if I had been adorned with ermine myself, I would spend the next few days in discussion with constitutional lawyers deciding whether I should support Lord Livesey's motion. But sometimes I do think, some things are best left under the carpet.


James D said...

Blame the deputy minister or blame the committee, they're both just doing what the GOWA allows them to. It's just not a practical or democratic way of running Wales. I am far from being a fan of the reinventing-the-wheel school of devolution (I'd far rather do the tried-and-tested Statute of Westminster with retrocessions, as happened in Newfoundland), but we need something better than this.

Glyn Davies said...

James - You are quite right in a legal sense. But its a complete dog's breakfast, and it will lead to serious conflict without some common sense being applied.

Jeff Jones said...

I know that in my part of the world thousands are waiting anxiously to see how it will pan out. The issue dominates every conversation. On a more serious note all of this constitutional nonsense detracts from any discussion on whether or not the measure will achieve anything. In many ways it is a classic example of a measure to deal with an issue where the horse has clearly bolted. Thatcher's decision to introduce the right to buy was so popular that in many areas the best former council houses are now all in private hands. It might have been economically a stupid policy because local authorities were left with the debt for the money that had been raised to build the council house in the first place and of course they couldn't reinvest the capital receipts in new housing. It was,however, a no brainer for the council tenant who gained a property at a discount. Unfortuinately it harmed social housing in the UK. Many councils decided to put housing stock maintenance on the back burner. Out of a budget of £17 million Ogwr BC spent £9 million on leisure. As a result Bridgend CBC inherited a council housing estate with a backlog of repairs running of nearly £26 million. As the new Leader of Bridgend in 1995 I was ashamed of the conditions that tenants were expected to live in.Hence the decsion to becoem the first authority in Wales to stock transfer.Most Welsh authorities even with stock transfer will find it really difficult to reach the WHQS by 2012. The real issue is not giving local authorities the right to suspend the right to buy. What is required is to increase the number of houses being built both in the public as well as the private sector. The really interesting ideas to achieve this are being discussed not in Cardiff Bay but in Margaret Beckett's department in Whitehall.

Blodyn said...

Lord Livsey not Livesey.