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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rent-a-quote strikes again

Plaid Cymru's Adam Price is a politician of substance, who has made a remarkable and valuable contribution to Welsh politics, however he is in danger of becoming just another rent-a-quote politician as his latest pronouncement illustrates.

Mr. Price has called for the scrapping of the Wales Office and for its budget to be given to the Welsh Government instead so as to be spent on front line services. Putting aside the fact that Peter Hain's total budget would not even make a dent in the £280m that we appear to have lost from the block grant due to a 'technicality', Adam does seem to be overlooking some basic constitutional issues in his suggestion.

He asks: “What precisely is the role of the Wales Office now? The Secretary of State for Wales, who heads it, used to hold most power in Welsh politics, but that is no longer the case.

“We had a transitional period for a while, where the power was shared between the Secretary of State and the First Minister, but there has now been a pivotal change, and the centre of power now clearly resides in Wales with the First Minister and other Ministers of the Assembly Government.

“We have a part-time Secretary of State in Peter Hain who is clearly far more preoccupied with his other role as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

“Power has also shifted in the Labour Party, and there’s no doubt where the shots are now called. It’s also clear that relations between Peter Hain and Rhodri Morgan are at another low ebb. This dates from Peter Hain’s remarks before the Assembly election ruling out Plaid as a possible coalition partner. It was a classic error – it wasn’t a call for him to make, and he turned out to be wrong.

“In the past it has been argued that the Wales Office represents Wales’ interests at the Cabinet table. I think that has always been exaggerated, but it is certainly no longer the case. Today the Wales Office is acting as a brake on the Assembly Government’s ambitions, doing the bidding of Whitehall departments in seeking to restrict the legislative powers passed to Cardiff Bay.

“The Assembly Government is quite capable of having a direct relationship with Whitehall departments, and there should be more direct engagement between Welsh Ministers and their counterparts in Westminster. If the UK Government wants a little outpost in Whitehall to ‘spin’ its relationship with the Assembly, it should not take the money from the Welsh block grant, but pay for it itself.”

Mr. Price is absolutely right in most of this of course but the one function he has missed, which is currently exercised by Peter Hain, is Viceroy of Wales. The Secretary of State for Wales has a legal responsibility, set down in the Government of Wales Act 2006 to orchestrate the Legislative Competence Order process by which the Assembly acquires new primary law-making powers. Until this mechanism is dismantled we are stuck with the office and its associated costs.

It is also right that whilst we remain a part of the United Kingdom our interests need to be represented around the Cabinet table and vice versa. I am not prepared to break that link even if Adam Price is.
Peter Hain does a fine, even enthusiastic, job of representing Westminster's interests in Welsh politics - but can you name a single policy where he has changed Westminster thought to be more favourable to Wales?

While England/Britain remains in charge of Wales, our representation around the Cabinet table needs to be directly accountable to the Assembly Government, not the other way round.
You claim he is a rent a quote...followed by the statement "Mr. Price is absolutely right in most of this of course but the one function he has missed"

so the fact is he is making a thought provoking (at least in your case a blog provoking) statement that is in fact for the most part correct!

On the issue itself i fully agree. The Welsh office is of no use. The power should be transferred to the First Minister instead of the office being used to continually attempt to stamp down on the assembly.
You are right over this, Peter. I blogged on some of Mr Prices recent comments a few days ago. What I am consistantly amazed by is the media's refusal to take him to task over some of his sillier outbursts.
Anon, my comment was actually that the part of the article I quoted was largely right. The actual thrust of Adam Price's argument may be thought provoking but it is also headline seeking and not supported by the facts.
Puhlease, a headline-grabbing politician... whatever next?
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