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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

When stubbornness is in the public interest

Putting to one side for a moment the claim by the Secretary of State for Wales that Carwyn Jones has effectively abandoned the Union in arguing for changes to the draft Wales Bill, statements by Wales Office Ministers today have underlined the chasm that exists between them and the Assembly on the future of devolution.

The Western Mail reports that Stephen Crabb has launched an attack on the “new consensus” he claims has taken root in Cardiff Bay, suggesting that AMs are demanding the “unfettered” freedom to make laws that will have an impact outside Wales. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The paper says that the Welsh Secretary used his opening speech at the Welsh Grand Committee to launch a full-throttle attack on the “buffers of stubbornness” he claims he faces:

He said there was a view in Cardiff that a Supreme Court ruling has “effectively redrawn the devolution boundary way beyond what parliament intended for the Welsh devolution settlement and in fact way beyond in some respects the Scottish devolution settlement.”

Underscoring his opposition to this view, he said: “Now, that was never the intention of parliament when Labour ministers drafted the existing devolution settlement and nor is it the position of this Government.

"We believe it is the role of elected politicians to draw the devolution boundary – it isn’t the role of courts and the judges to decide on whether the devolution boundary is.”

Mr. Crabb faces two problems with this approach. The first is that it has always been the role of the courts to interpret legislation. If the ruling on the Agricultural Workers Act was contrary to the intention of Ministers then presumably the Government could have produced statements by them made during the passage of the last Government of Wales Act to back that up. The fact they did not suggests that Mr. Crabb's judgement is retrospective and that the Supreme Court's decision was in order.

If this is the case then the logical conclusion is that the draft Government of Wales Bill really is seeking to claw back powers and responsibilities currently held by the Welsh Assembly.

Secondly, Mr. Crabb's exasperation at the stubbornness of AMs is misplaced. This is not a party political matter. There is a cross-party consensus in the Assembly which includes the Welsh Conservatives. If we are being stubborn, then it because we all genuinely believe that the bill as currently drafted does not represent Wales' best interests.

Instead of setting his face against change, Mr. Crabb should work with us to get this right so we can all go on to concentrate on really important matters like the economy, education, health and housing.
So you are now prepared to admit that you and your colleagues have not been concentrating upon matters of health and education in Wales over the last sixteen years.

Well, the results speak for themselves. We live in shameful times here in Wales.

Perhaps Mr Crabb is wise to treat the Assembly with caution if the accumulation of further powers appears to be its sole aim.
No I am saying that the constitutional issues and the lack of powers are a major obstacle to us doing the job properly. The Welsh Government, of which I am not a part has let down schools, our health service and our economy but that is a failing of governance not of misplaced priority.
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