.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Friday, January 01, 2010

More Plaid Cymru nonsense

Plaid Cymru AM, Nerys Evans leaps into action in this morning's Western Mail with a load of old nonsense that belies her intelligence.

In many ways her view that allowing Welsh MPs to serve as Government ministers in Whitehall with responsibility for England-only affairs is “unaccountable, undemocratic and unfair” is a natural position for a separatist, but her justification for this position demonstrates a surprising ignorance of the constitutional settlement we are working with.

Nerys believes that the three Ministers she cites are examples of an outdated system that is yet to catch up with devolution. In reality though devolution has yet to catch up with the world that she believes she is inhabiting.

The fact is that we have an asymetric devolution system in which Wales does not have full responsibility for many areas that appear to be devolved and under the terms of the Government of Wales Act 2006 is unlikely to do so. Kevin Brennan may be Minister for further education, skills, apprenticeships and consumer affairs for example but many aspects of his work are cross-border. The same applies to Ian Lucas, (parliamentary under-secretary of state in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) and Ogmore MP Huw Irranca-Davies (minister for marine and natural environment at the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs).

Secondly, the idea of accountability Nerys advocates is a peculiar one that does not fit with reality. Just because somebody is a Minister does not mean that they cease to represent their constituents on the whole range of UK government responsibilities. Equally, they act as Ministers through the mechanism of collective responsibility. They are accountable not just to their own constituents for their decisions but to the whole country. Because they represent the government then if people do not like what they do then they vote out the administration not the individual Minister. But then Plaid Cymru have never fully grasped the meaning of collective responsibility in a government context.

Thirdly, having experience of representing a constituency in a devolved country can actually bring benefits to the government, enabling a better understanding of policy differences and responsibilities and enabling them to consider new ideas, already tried out in different governments. The 40 Welsh MPs serve in the UK Parliament therefore they should be able to also serve in the UK Government. Where is the problem with that?

Finally, I am astonished that Nerys fails to pinpoint the real democratic deficit at the heart of the UK Government, Ministers such as Mandelson and Adonis who are not just unelected but are not members of the elected chamber and thus cannot be properly held to account for their decisions. Their position reflects the great unfinished business of constitutional reform, the creation of an elected second chamber. Together with voting reform maybe that is something we need to concentrate on achieving in the new decade.
The argument set out in the press release is totally flawed. It’s very poorly researched. Had the Plaid press officer made a bit more effort, then they’d probably realise their argument could be torn to pieces, pretty much like this:

Ian Lucas is a junior minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. His responsibilities, by and large, are not devolved (see portfolio here – http://www.bis.gov.uk/ministers/ian-lucas), as he is responsible for policies such as general Business policy, Companies House, the Insolvency Service (including companies investigations), and export control. He’s also the Minister responsible for regulatory reform.

Kevin Brennan – his portfolio is a little more complex. He’s a Minister in DCSF (Ed Balls’ department) and Lord Mandelson’s DBIS. His main responsibility is Skills policy, but he’s also the Minister for Consumer Affairs – responsible for competition policy, and consumer affairs issues. These policy areas are not devolved either.

Huw Irranca Davies, the Minister for Marine and Natural Environment at DEFRA, was the Minister responsible for taking the Marine environment and Marine Bill through Parliament. That bill was, from what I remember, a UK-wide bill, or at the very least an England and Wales bill. A lot of his work, on Fisheries for instance, involves negotiating at an EU level for the UK as a whole.

The press release goes on to say “Since the formation of the Welsh Assembly in 1999 many decisions regarding policy areas such as health, education and rural affairs in Wales have been made by Ministers of the Welsh Assembly Government. Any decisions on these areas made in Westminster affect England only.”

“The Plaid AM for Mid and West Wales was referring to Welsh Labour MPs Kevin Brennan, Huw Irranca-Davies and Ian Lucas who collectively have cabinet responsibility over education, rural affairs and skills all of which are areas that have been devolved to Wales, meaning that any decisions made on these in Westminster will affect only those living in England.”

That’s not actually strictly correct.

Firstly, they are not Cabinet Ministers, so they do not have ” cabinet responsibility over education, rural affairs and skills”. That is a shocking and very basic error.

Secondly, there are areas within Health, Education and Rural Affairs policy that are not devolved to the Assembly. For instance, The pay and conditions of teachers in Wales is an example of a policy in Education not devolved to the Assembly. The ban on hunting with Dogs is a policy in Rural Affairs that is not devolved to the Assembly.

Try again, Plaid!
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?