Adam Price’s Blog

The Blog of Adam Price AS/MP, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Adam Price MP / AS - Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

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14th October 2008

Devolution lite

The House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee has just published its long awaited report (OK, maybe I need to get out more) on “The proposed draft National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Housing) Order 2008″.  The Welsh Government is seeking the power to revoke tenants’ automatic right to buy council properties in order to protect and enhance the stock of social housing, particularly in areas of high housing need.  The WAC has opined that the proposed LCO is too broad and, bizarrely, that it should include an explicit clause setting out what the Welsh Government cannot do:  a kind of devolution-denied clause.  The Committee goes on to say that the LCO should specify that the right could only be temporarily revoked on an application by a local authority, subject to a specific time limit and subject to regular review, in areas where there is extreme housing pressure (I am sure that the lawyers would have a field day on the inclusion of that last particular phrase).

The Welsh Affairs Committee is, of course, to use the language of its own terms of reference for this inquiry, acting beyond “the spirit and the scope of the devolution settlement”.  The pre-legislative role of Parliament is not set out in the Government of Wales Act 2006. But let’s remind ourselves what the accompanying White Paper actually said:

“The consideration (of draft Orders) could be informed by understanding the use the Assembly might propose to make of these powers in the immediate future.  However, as the power would be a general and continuing one for that particular policy area, this would only serve as an example of what could be done; the issue for the Committee and for each House would be the appropriateness in general of delegating legislative authority to the Assembly in the particular policy area specified in the draft Order in Council”

In other words it is not the role of the Welsh Affairs Committee or for Parliament in seeking to amend an LCO restrictively to attempt to draft an Assembly Measure by proxy.  That is for the Assembly (that’s why it’s called devolution).  Parliament’s role is simply to decide whether procedure has been followed, whether there are any wider constitutional implications and whether it is content to devolve an area of legislative competence (in this case the right to buy) to the Assembly.

It is particularly outrageous that the Welsh Affairs Committee should recommend that “the proposed Order should not proceed” unless its demands are met.

This is to be expected from the Tories on the Committee (the two Davids and an ex-officio Englishman).  It’s also hardly surprising from Wales’ answer to  Erich Honecker, Alun Michael (deposed by a popular uprising, in case you were wondering).  But to see Albert Owen, Sian James, and Hywel Francis and Nia Griffith, all of whom I like and respect, lining up behind the politics of the Westminster veto fills me with a certain kind of despair.

Is this about the bruised egos of a Welsh parliamentary party in the twilight of its days seeing power slipping away as the tide of devolution sweeps inexorably westward.  Goodness only knows.  But we can expect a lot more of this “parliamentary cretinism” (to use a phrase of Lenin’s that Hywel Francis will surely know) over the next year.  If anyone needs proof of why the present system doesn’t work then read the patronising tone of this report.

“The full scope of the power to be transferred under a proposed Order, rather than just the current policy intention, should be clearly expressed in the Explanatory Memorandum.  Proposed Orders should be drafted so as to transfer only those powers which are required and for which a clear purpose has been established”

What kind of democracy are we that a committee of our compatriots (and the odd token Englishman) can sit in another country’s capital and deign to deny our elected Government the right to decide on our future as a nation?  Why don’t you let the Committee know your feelings and send them a message on [email protected].  Please be polite.

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