Sunday, November 01, 2015

Another Wales Bill - early thoughts.

A draft Wales Bill has been published. They're like trains on the underground. One fades from view around Constitution Corner. Then another one comes along. Constitutional matters are very much a minority interest, but they do interest me. Makes me bit of a geek I suppose. But I am fortunate that we have had so many of these Wales Bills coming along!! 

So what is this Bill about. Not that much actually. Most significant change is move from a 'conferred powers' model of devolution to a 'reserved powers' model. At present, all matters devolved are listed with all else reserved to the UK Govt. In future, everything is devolved except those matters listed as reserved. Ever since talking this issue through with an Assembly official, Adrian Crompton (around yr 2000) I've backed this change. Blame Adrian, a top man. However, I always thought this change would be difficult. Inevitably, the list of 'reserved powers' will be extensive. Clarity is essential. Everything not intended to be devolved must be listed to limit uncertainty and money flowing into the rapacious pockets of barristers in the Supreme Court. The problem to be covered is that Welsh Gov't's power to pass laws could have an effect on England. Such laws will require 'Crown consent'. The Welsh First Minister seems not to like this, and revers to this process as an "English veto". He refers to the Wales Bill as 'an old banger'. Seems not very keen on it.

Another issue of dispute is the need to establish a Welsh legal jurisdiction. Understanding this is a nightmare for anyone not well versed in law. There is now being created a body of Welsh law, which in theory should operate within a Welsh jurisdiction. But is it really worthwhile creating such an entity, alongside an England and Wales jurisdiction for what will be a very small body of law for many years to come. Surely legal brains will find a way through this one! Or not!!

The Bill extends power over more matters to Wales - like how to run itself (number of Assembly Members, votes at 16, calling itself a parliament). It also transfers power over energy, which really sticks in my craw, since we know the Welsh Govt has a vindictive determination to desecrate the mid Wales landscape with hundreds of turbines and pylons. This is one reason I'm not at all certain I'm going to vote for the Bill. Controversially, it does not include power over policing. 

There is one matter where I consider the Bill to be an abysmal failure as it stands. It does not ensure 'financial accountability' is vested in Welsh Government by devolving responsibility to levy significant proportion of income tax. In truth, I've never considered the Welsh devolution model to be genuinely democratic. Voters are invited at elections to consider just one side of the ledger - how money is going to be spent, without consideration of how it's going to be raised. Delivers a Welsh Govt which claims credit for all that is looked on with favour by the electorate, and blames the UK Govt for not sufficiently funding all that is frowned by the voters, including mistakes and poor performance. In reality, the Welsh Govt budget has never been more than a 'spending plan' and itself no more than having the status of an elected quango. 

Actually, the Wales Bill does devolve responsibility for levying a significant proportion of income tax -  except that it also requires a referendum be held before it can be introduced. We can predict that any referendum debate will completely ignore the 'financial accountability' principle. It's no more that a 'blocking mechanism'. Holding a referendum will make Wales a laughing stock. Referendumitis is a Welsh disease. The UK Govt should amend the Wales Bill, devolving responsibility for 50% of income tax and scrap the referendum. In 1997, Wales voted for devolution, despite my advice that she shouldn't. Let's try to make it work. 

Daresay I've included some debatable opinions here. It is my first draft of comment on a draft bill. A few meetings this coming week which may instigate a second draft!


Anne Wareham said...

Making sense.

Joe Bidwell said...

Do we really want the South Wales Assembly to have tax raising powers?, presumably this will give them greater latitude to subsidize more factories in south Wales which promise masses of jobs if the Government will give them a nice new factory and large handouts but very soon disappear leaving us to pick up the debts. It is very noteworthy that all these schemes are built in south Wales, the only thing offered to mid Wales is turbines