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Monday, July 28, 2008

Pre-emptive strike

Rumours that a Government reshuffle may lead to the abolition of the Wales Office has provoked a pre-emptive strike by both Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives this morning.

The suggestion is that the Wales Office could be merged into a new “super-department” for the UK’s nations and regions as part of a cabinet reshuffle in the autumn. The departments for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would be integrated into one single Department for Nations, Regions and Local Government, with the Wales Office and the post of Welsh Secretary ceasing to exist.

Both Plaid and the Tories are arguing that because the Assembly does not have full legislative powers then there is still a need for a “strong voice” representing Wales at the cabinet table. I suppose you could argue equally that there is a need for the UK Government to be represented in Wales but does that have to be done through a dedicated Cabinet member?

What is interesting about the Conservatives' stance in particular is that not so long ago they organised their shadow spokespeople precisely along the lines being suggested for Gordon Brown's reshuffle. They had no shadow Secretary of State for Wales and even now that post is not filled by an MP representing a Welsh Constituency.

Labour too have experimented with a part-time Secretary of State for Wales, which was working fine until the incumbent bit off more than he could chew by standing for his party's deputy leadership.

I was quite intriqued by Elfyn Llwyd's comment that if we were to create a Secretary of State for the Nations, Regions and Local Government then "it would slow down the democratic process and hinder the work being done on LCOs [legislative competence orders]." He does not explain how, nor can I see such an outcome. Indeed is it possible to make that process any slower than it is now?

Presumably, under a re-organised Cabinet structure there would still be a Minister of State for Wales, possibly two. The UK Government would also retain a dedicated team of civil servants who would concentrate on Welsh matters and legislation. For all practical purposes I cannot see how anything would change.

The big question mark is over status. Would a combined post mean that Wales was less important in UK terms? I do not see how anybody could draw that conclusion. Wales has its own National Assembly, it has a privileged place in the drawing up of UK legislation due to the fact that it often gets its own clauses passing on powers to the Assembly or Welsh Government Ministers, and it continues to have its own Select Committee and Grand Committee. Furthermore. any Cabinet Minister for the Nations and Regions would retain a specific brief for Wales.

It seems to me that the creation of a composite post is long overdue and will in fact assist the devolution process. Instead of having a Wales Office in competition with the Welsh Assembly Government for status and power, we will have a practical arrangement designed to facilitate devolution. It will offer a more coherent overview of the reform of the Barnett formula and who knows, a reshuffle might even speed up the LCO process.
You know it's nearly August when this story is running again, reheated from Sunday red-tops and Scottish papers weeks ago. One of these days it may actually turn out to be true......
Its a step forward on the path for devolution for Wales.
I feel the tories who may get into Westminster next time will want a tory secretary of state for wales rather than a composite minister.
I feel this minister will not block the developing process of the Assembly as much as the current situation.
surely it's conservatives' and not conservative's ?
Yes, now corrected. Thanks
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