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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Secretary of State for Wales is wrong

Claims by the Secretary of State for Wales that the current devolution settlement does not need major changes are misguided and could help to entrench an unsatisfactory system in place where the courts become the final arbiter of laws rather than the electorate.

The different treatment given to Scotland and Wales by successive Westminster governments has led to uncertainty and practical and legal difficulties that has prevented Assembly Members properly fulfilling their democratic mandate.

Whatever system of devolution that is in place will create grey areas, however there is no doubt in my mind that the Scottish system is more stable, has fewer challenges on legislation from the UK Government, and provides greater clarity for everybody as to who can do what and why.

The Secretary of State for Wales’ argument that because “England and Wales are one entity, legally and politically” then no further reform is necessary is disingenuous. It is an argument that was used to oppose devolution in the first place and ignores the way that the two countries have evolved over the last 14 years.

The fact is that England and Wales are politically and legally distinct and will continue to grow more so as devolution gathers pace. If David Jones is concerned about the implications of a reserved powers model as we have in Scotland, then he should be arguing for the appropriate powers to be reserved to Westminster, not seeking to freeze progress at a point where demarcation is still unclear and Assembly members are having to constantly push at the boundaries to see how far they will stretch. That is a lawyers paradise and it should not be the role of a legislature to act in a way that unnecessarily enriches lawyers any more than they are at present.

A reserved powers model as in Scotland, will provide greater clarity about what powers we have and what we cannot do. It will help to establish a more stable relationship between Cardiff Bay and Whitehall, reducing the numbers of disputes and enabling AMs to be more creative and responsive to the demands put upon us by voters.

It will put us on a level playing field with Northern Ireland and Scotland and make it more likely that we can develop mature inter-governmental relationships. It will also form the basis for a properly federal United Kingdom in which power is exercised at the appropriate level and people have greater ownership of their governments.
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