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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

There will be trouble ahead

The Presiding Officer commemorates his 60th birthday today with an interview with the Western Mail in which he calls on the Westminster Government to ease the transfer of powers to Cardiff Bay by allowing Orders in Council to go through on the nod.

Rather predictably, Peter Hain is in no mood to roll over and play ball. His response indicates that requests for additional powers could meet concerted resistance from MPs and only grudging support from the Government:

Secretary of State Peter Hain's Wales Office last night repeated its official line in response to Lord Elis-Thomas's comments. A spokesman said, 'The Government of Wales Act grants the Assembly much greater power to determine the detail of devolved laws for Wales. Parliament will continue to decide the principle of giving new powers to the Assembly, in line with the settlement that the people of Wales voted for in 1997.

'We anticipate that MPs will conduct detailed scrutiny of proposals for new powers, just as they do now. In particular, they will play an active role in examining the broad principles and the scope of the powers. It will not just be a question of Parliament rubber-stamping requests from the Assembly.'

If the elections on May 3rd result in a different party running the Assembly to that in power in Westminster then this sort of attitude could well lead to an early clash of wills and a minor constitutional crisis. At that stage the rather fragile compromise Peter Hain and Rhodri Morgan put together in the Government of Wales Act so as to keep Labour MPs happy, may unravel. The Act gives Hain all the powers of a Viceroy. He could well end up using them.
One anticipates rather closer scrutiny by English MPs of powers relating to burger vans in Wales than of EU regulations relating to, say, children in cars.

- Frank Little
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