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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Begging bowls in Westminster

Yesterday's Queen speech underlined precisely why it is that Wales needs to have the same primary law making powers enjoyed by Scotland. Government spin tells us that their legislative programme over the next 18 months will see a Commissioner for Older People created and more powers over transport devolved to the Assembly, as well as giving Cardiff Bay the power to ban smoking in public places. All of these are very welcome.

However, the reality is that all of these measures have been hard-fought for and may not take the form that we in the Assembly need to do the job. That is because we have to fight for priority with English bills and are dependent on "UK considerations" for what clauses and measures finally end up in each Bill.

Two Bills illustrate this phenomena. On smoking in public places, the UK Government agenda is to ban the weed in establishments selling food. The Assembly is seeking a complete ban on all enclosed public places where people work on health and safety grounds. We may get the powers to do this, we may not. That has still to be seen. But why must we bow to the English agenda when we have our own here in Wales?

The second Bill, which highlights differences is the one that will 'enhance' Assembly powers. It now appears likely that this will just allow us to fast-track Welsh legislation at Westminster rather than hand-over primary law-making powers to the Assembly. If that is the case then it is a massive retreat from even the untenable position previously taken by Rhodri Morgan. It effectively shelves the Richard Commission proposals and leaves us dependent on Westminster and the English agenda to deliver change and improvement to Wales.

That might be just tenable whilst Westminster and Cardiff are ruled by the same party, but the moment that one or the other changes hands then we will be in a whole different ball game. Labour has demonstrated in just one day that they cannot be trusted with the future of the devolution project.
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