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Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Devolution or not?

Peter Hain launches a pre-emptive strike on the outcome of the Richard Commission, set up by the previous Partnership Government to look at the powers of the Welsh Assembly. He says that the Scottish model is not the "be all and end all" of the devolution process, nor is it a "panacea for all problems." He has said that he "will not back change for change's sake" and that he is not willing to countenance anything that alters the number of MPs." It has to remain at 40, he says, and "I am not touching with a barge pole the Scottish nightmare of reductions in numbers of MPs." Well that is fairly clear, a DeGaullean "Non", if ever I heard one. So much for open debate. It goes to show that when the going gets tough and the MPs are really pissed off with the Assembly then the Secretary of State will side with them everytime. The machine politician has reared up again. It has been said that Mr. Hain is in favour of devolution. If that is the case he would embrace Richard with open arms and accept that in any transfer of Primary Law making powers along the lines of the Scottish Parliament then there will inevitably be a reduction in the number of MPs. He is not adverse to suggesting changes in the electoral system for the Assembly, which will benefit Labour however. His ideal seems to be to a settlement that keeps the backward looking Welsh Labour Party on board regardless of the interests of Wales.

He is right on two points. Firstly, he is right to point out that any changes will take years to implement and may not come about in full until a third, or possibly a fourth, Assembly Term gets underway. Secondly, he is right to say that extra powers alone will not solve all of Wales' problems. We can do a lot more with Primary Law-making powers but we will need the resources to implement the reforms we want. The Welsh budget is already groaning loudly under the strain of the pressures it is being put under. The Welsh Labour Government are struggling to find the money they need to get the Health Service under control and are hitting Local Government and Education to pay for their policies in this regard. Studies have indicated that the population-based Barnett formula could be leaving us with as much as £300-£800 million less than we need each year to deal with the problems we have. A reform of this formula to take account of needs is essential if we are to take full advantage of Full Parliament-status, and is necessary whether we get the powers or not. There is no point asking Mr. Hain where he stands on this issue. He is opposed to reform there as well.

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