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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

No need for knee jerk response

As we wait the outcome of the high court case to determine the legality of the Welsh Government's badger cull proposals, I am becoming increasingly concerned by the reaction of anti-cull campaigners to the forthcoming referendum on full law-making powers for the Assembly.

At the public meeting I attended in Pembrokeshire last month the assertion by one participant that if the Welsh Assembly cannot exercise the powers it currently has in a responsible way then why should he support the proposition that they have more, was met with overwhelming approval. Since then e-mail circulars from some individuals have made a similar point.

A recent message asserted that it is time to question the value of the Assembly to Wales and reported that the author had joined the say no in the referendum group. That is of course his right, however I would argue that it is a false analysis that suggests that just because you believe that a government has taken a wrong course then it should be denied the tools it needs to do a much-needed job.

The fact is that the badger cull is being implemented under existing secondary powers. In my view that is poor and badly-thought through legislation that deserves all the criticism that is being directed at it. However, just because a Minister takes a bad decision does not mean that we should throw the baby out with the bath water.

We live in a democracy where, in theory at least we elect politicians to govern on our behalf and have the right to chuck them out if they do not do what we want. We do not abandon democracy because we are not getting our way. If the Westminster Government introduces a cull in England will the same people be calling for the abolition of Parliament? No, they will be campaigning for a change of view. That is the approach here and it is the right approach in England too.

The Welsh Assembly exists is doing a valuable job in opening up our democracy, improving accountability and transparency and developing a distinctive agenda suited to our communities. It will get things wrong and has done. It will take us up legislative cul-de-sacs but at the end of the day it is our Parliament and has as its main concern our welfare and that of the whole of Wales.

It needs the tools to do the job it has been elected for so that it can deliver appropriate benefits for all of Wales. That means that it must have the full law-making powers envisaged for it by the 2006 Government of Wales Act.

It is for this reason that it would be a mistake to take out our anger at the Welsh Government on the institution itself and on the future of our fledgling democracy. This is a Ministerial decision and the appropriate response is to use all legal means at our disposal to overturn it not to undermine the democratic institution she serves in.
You have obviously missed the point Peter Black AM. The majority of people in Wales don't want the butcher of an innocent creature, namely the badger. Because people like you don't listen to us the people support the view of no to a referendum even if its only to annoy people like you. Just think of the state of our country at present, high petrol prices, people quite happy getting dole money while the hard working pay for it all including bailing out the banks and the like all because of money and greed just like the farmers.
Thanks Matthew, I am one of the AMs who is listening to you and are opposed to the cull of badgers. All of the issues you raise are UK Parliament and European Parliament matters. The point I was trying to make is that you cannot judge and institution on its members. If you are not content with those serving in it then you change them. That is the basis of our democracy. The standard of MPs is slightly higher than that of AMs but not much and the same problems arise. However, if Wales is to develop as a democracy and people like yourself given a greater say over your own affairs then the Assembly needs to have those powers, which we can access now but only through a complex, time-consuming and very expensive process.
I have as I always do read your blog and take seriously all you write especially on the rare occasions that we disagree. I have had emails tonight supporting my views and over the past week alone meet people very disillusioned by the WA.

Sadly I am not alone

1. In thinking that the WA is an unnecessary extra tier of government. that we could do without.

2. The standard of debate in the chamber is of a low standard and Questions put forward by AMs are frequently not answered. AMs frequently treat fellow AMs with contempt.

3. Many of us do question whether many AMs have the mental ability to sift through facts and come to a logical conclusion. I know that my confidence in most AMs is almost non existent.

4. I know that sweeping changes are being made in Higher Education and more changes are being made in Health. These changes could be good and necessary but I never see any change in any system that benefits my life or the lives of others..

5.We have WA Advisers for Children, Older People and now science.

The first WA Children's Adviser did virtually nothing and made me very irate until I learnt that he had terminal cancer.

The WA Older People Adviser I only know of from a meaningless gobbledegook letter from her printed in the SWEcho. I can't see how at 70 that she is enhancing my life.

The new WA Science Adviser has been notable for his silence.

If you can prove their worth in money terms to the people of Wales I'd be delighted to learn.

6. At 70, 5 years is a hell of a long time to get rid of an incompetent AM.

Thanks for your time Peter and I will direct people to your blog a little later on this evening.

Might I suggest that the democratic process could be enhanced if Carwyn Jones the1st Minister had a word with Iuean Wyn Jones and together they had a word with Glossop and Jones and suggested that they move from cull to vaccinate that should placate all parties at no extra cost and make for a more united Wales. The current stance is damaging, especially to the credibility of the WA and badly timed leading up to a referendum.
I have met a few AMs recently to discuss the folly of the cull. Most are good people but are they good enough?
Quite a few I have contacted do not even reply including several Ministers.
I see a future with Wales an independant country in Europe however its worth remembering that WA is a 10 year old child, the institution needs to mature.
Although opposed to the cull, I tend to agree with Peter. The issues that Matthew raises aren't the responsibility of the Assembly. It would be a mistake to judge the entire Assembly on this one issue. Think about the benefits such as free prescriptions, subsidised student fees etc, that the Assembly has created for residents of Wales. Even Elin Jones and the Rural Affairs Ministry have developed some excellent policy initiatives, such as Woodlands for Wales, Glastir etc. If the quality of AMs and of the debate in Senedd is deficient, surely it is partly the responsibility of citizens to become more engaged in the political process?
3 years of misery so far over the badger cull issue has left me with no inclination to support devolution. It isn't only the Minister responsible but also the attitudes of AMs, MPs and others that I have written to or approached. I am of the opinion that if you are from the wrong side of the tracks, ie not born in the area, not welsh speaking, then your opinions are not quite as important as those from the indigenous community, no matter how many years resident, no matter what DNA. Who will benefit from devolution will it be for all of us, or will it be an emphasis on more and more divisive issues. I'm sure that all rural areas probably have similar divisions in other parts of the UK, a changing population, people coming from other parts of the UK and even the world and a resistance to change.

I'm worried that the WAG will not deliver for all of us and devolution will want to return to some imagined golden age when everyone spoke welsh and nobody left their village.

Another thing about tax raising powers, is who will be paying if taxes rise? Does Wales have enough financial independence to go down this route? Enough businesses, enough income without help from the rest of the UK, or the EU? How can a country be independent when other taxpayers from England are still contributing to its upkeep?
The referendum does not involve tax varying powers, which are not on the agenda nor does it involve independence. The quality of elected representatives is universal and, as you illustrate yourself, not confined to Wales or the Assembly. The additional powers will enable us to develop a more distinctive Welsh agenda within a more open, transparent and accountable forum. The issues you are raising apply now to Parliament as they do to the Assembly. It is not whether powers should be exercised but who by and even with a no vote the Assembly will acquire and use law making powers. The difference is that it will take longer and cost us a lot more - millions of pounds more.
As someone from a Welsh family who was raised in London (so I sound English) but has lived in Wales for the last 13 years, I have been quite shocked by the level of anti-English racism displayed by some Welsh people, which is as blatant and unpleasant as anything the NF or BNP come up with, yet appears to be tolerated by authorities here in a way that would be unthinkable elsewhere. So I sympathise with Jane's view and her concerns. But I still think it's up to us all to effect change via the democratic process and that decentralisation of decision making is in principle a good idea, although I also appreciate the concept of wider jurisdiction over universal human rights and environmental issues.
Sorry, I can't agree with Peter Black here, its precisely the WA fault that the decision to cull badgers has been taken. You say it is a ministerial mistake, but that minister responsible was democratically chosen to represnt the WA.

It is a democratic choice to say no at the referendum and its a choice I will be exercising. I voted yes to the original devolution, because I'm proud of my heritage and saw a future with Wales as an independent state but I've become so disillusioned with the Labour/Plaid coalition that I do not trust them to make any decisions on other things of importance. They have got the decision to cull badgers and subsequent handling so badly wrong, how could they possibly be entrusted with any other important decisions?
So if the UK Government institutes a cull should Parliament have its powers curtailed and if so in favour of who?
Peter Is the referendum about new powers or about existing powers not having to be confirmed by Westminster?
The latter. The powers are already there in the 2006 Act but we need to ask for them before we can use them.
So was there a referendum on the 2006 Act? Was I asleep and missed it? OR is it another cynical ploy to avoid the will of the people.Electors are going to be very puzzled when asked to vote on powers that WAG already have.
The 2006 Act allowed the Assembly to pass primary legislation in 22 areas of policy subject to them seeking an order from Parliament to gain the competence to do so. These Legislative Competence Orders have been used since 2007 to acquire the power to pass laws in a number of areas including Mental Health, Housing, the Environment and to install smoke detectors in all new properties to name but a few. Once they have passed the Assembly then needs to legislate by way of a measure to actually use the powers.

The problem has been that this piecemeal approach has led to Parliament blocking or amending Assembly bids. The Housing powers took three years to acquire for example and they have not yet received royal assent.

It is also an expensive and tortuous way of doing things. The LCOs are scrutinised in the Assembly and Westminster over a period of six months and more before they are agreed at a cost of most probably millions of pounds. At the end of this process no law has been passed. That then has to go through a separate scrutiny process.

The referendum therefore is about abolishing the LCO process and enabling the Assembly to pass these laws without the expense and 18 month plus delay of asking Parliament's permission first.
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