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Friday, November 09, 2007

Janus-faced Tories

The schizophrenia of the Welsh Tories was on full display earlier this week as the Assembly's first Legislative Competence Order reached the Welsh Affairs Select Committee for debate.

The Order on additional learning needs will enable the Assembly to legislate so as to implement the three reports of the Education Lifelong Learning and Skills Committee on Additional Education Needs, drawn up over the four years of the last Assembly. It will need to be voted on by both Houses of Parliament before the power to pass laws in that area is given to the Assembly Government.

Tory MPs however were far from satisfied with this prospect. They said that the whole process was flawed as only the principle of devolving the power – rather than what laws may emerge at the end of the process – was under discussion.

David Jones, the Tory MP for Clwyd West, said afterwards, “I find the approach that we cannot second-guess the reasons that Welsh Assembly Ministers are asking for additional powers to be completely unsatisfactory. As additional powers are being sought, we should know what they are being sought for.”

Such a view of course is contrary to the whole rationale of devolution, that the Welsh Assembly should be free to decide its own course on appropriate matters without outside interference. It was almost as if the Tories want to reverse the devolution process. In fairness of course, the procedure contained in Government of Wales Act 2006 does invite this sort of reaction from devo-sceptics, simply because that is the way Labour designed the process.

In stark contrast to David Jones' view, the Welsh Conservative Leader, Nick Bourne, wrote on his blog yesterday that the Welsh Conservative Assembly Group are in favour of further devolution:

My own view, shared by the Group, is twofold:-

1. In many areas we need full powers to be able to work effectively, and we are hampered at the moment in not having those powers.

2. We should not swim against the tide of history. There is support for full legislative powers, and given that we have devolution we have to make sure that it works effectively for a strong Wales within a strong Britain. We need to work with the grain.

A similar position is taken by candidates in some of our target seats for Westminster.

In the light of this the question that has to be asked is who is the true face of the Conservative Party in Wales? Is it Nick Bourne or David Jones? Until the Tories resolve that issue then they will continue to attract scepticism as to how genuine their damoscene conversion to the cause of devolution really is.
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