Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Another Wales Bill born this day.

Today, the Secretary of State for Wales published yet another Wales Bill. Alun Cairns is a confident, enthusiastic politician, and is telling us that this one will deliver a much clearer, stronger and more durable devolution settlement. Well, best of luck with that. At least he didn't say he was creating a Parliament to last 1000 yrs! Anyway, I'm committed to helping Alun achieve his place in history. Though perhaps he went a bit far comparing it with something Lloyd George would have done!!

We really have to get stuck into this Bill immediately. Published today, Second Reading on Tuesday and at least one day going through the detail at committee stage (on the floor of the House because it's a constitutional issue) before summer recess. I think the Secretary of State must think he's driving for Maclaren.

What are the big changes proposed in this Bill. My view (which is not necessarily right). Firstly, changing the basis of the devolution settlement to one based on 'reserved powers' rather than 'conferred powers'. This means everything is devolved except a list of policy areas which are not (reserved to Westminster), rather than that nothing is devolved except a list of policy areas conferred on the Assembly. I have long supported this change, which is far more significant than it appears.

The second major change is to devolve responsibility for levying a significant proportion of income tax in Wales to the Welsh Government. Again, I'm a longstanding supporter of this change. There are opponents, including some of my closest colleagues. They quite like the idea of a referendum to block it. I think we've had quite enough of Tory division/referendum talk for a while thank you very much!! Some Labour politicians do not want to be fiscally accountable through the tax system. Prefer to stay comfortable, blaming Westminster for every unpopular policy. Some Conservative colleagues, rather pessimistically in my view, believe that Labour will always be in control in Wales, and it makes no sense to give those instinctively high tax Labourites the chance to put our taxes up. Personally, disagree totally with this approach. The only rational tax change that would make sense in Wales would be to reduce the higher rate. Ask any economist.

There's a great deal more as well. No doubt there will be more from me as this Bill goes through Parliament. I'm quite keen on the constitutional stuff - like the Assembly becoming officially the Welsh Parliament. Never quite understood why they just didn't do it anyway. I suppose AMs would become MWPs. They would be able to change the electoral system (which they should), retain current constituency boundaries while the Westminster Gov't is tearing historical constituencies like Montgomeryshire to shreds, and increase the number of AMs (MWPs) to 80 (which would not be popular). It would all be a matter for them.

One issue that seems to causing a bit of angst is Justice Impact Assessment. This means that for any new law introduced, an assessment should carried into impact on legal jurisdictions. Seems entirely proper and sensible to me. The JIA would be carried out by the Welsh Gov't, so can't see why anyone should oppose this. Bit of a misunderstanding perhaps? 

I'm not so happy about some things - particularly devolving powers over energy to the Welsh Gov't. So many of the current AMs are total philistines as far as the rural landscapes are concerned. They just want to destroy the Rural Wales we know (and some of us love) with hideous turbines and pylons. Of course control over subsidies will not be devolved, though I think I've seen some worrying 'weasel words' in the Bill about being a consultee on subsidy scemes. That one to know more about. And I've not mentioned legal jurisdiction, policing etc. 

Lots there to keep Welsh MPs and AMs occupied for a few weeks. And we start the process for real on Tuesday.

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