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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Is this the last chance saloon for Welsh devolution?

The Western Mail reports the comments of former AM and now Welsh Office Minister, Lord Nick Bourne that the package of powers that the UK Government plans to devolve to the National Assembly in the latest Wales Bill could be the “last major piece of legislation on Wales for a long time".

He is, of course urging the Welsh Assembly to pass an order giving its consent to the Bill and has suggested that if there were a snap General Election then the Bill might be lost altogether:

Mr Bourne reckons it will be “no time soon” before there is another item of Welsh legislation on this scale and hopes that its passage will allow a new focus on issues affecting daily life in Wales.

He said: “The overriding thing about this is this a settlement that Wales, I think, will want to live with... Here we are, close to 20 years on from the first referendum.

“It’s time now to settle down and say, ‘Look, we need to move forward and focus on the big issues.’”

There is no reason to suppose that Nick Bourne is wrong about this. We will now have had four Wales Bills over a period of 19 years as both UK and Welsh Governments seek to get the settlement right. It really is time AMs concentrated on bread and butter matters and stopped obsessing about the constitution.

However, if this is to be the last Wales Bill for some time then it is also incumbent on the UK Government to get it right. As a previous Western Mail article reported, the Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee believes that the current Bill could “roll back” the existing devolution settlement. This indicates that the Assembly's consent for this Bill will not be so easily obtained.

If this really is the last chance saloon for constitutional change then both parties need to get together and make sure the Bill is the right one for Wales. We can't find ourselves in the situation again of parties campaigning for yet another Bill once this has been passed when there is so much more to do around the Welsh economy, education system and health service, not to mention Brexit.
I'd agree maybe with Bourne had Silk been implemented. But the Tory Wales Bill is so bitzy, spiteful and a legal minefield (for people) / goldmine (for lawyers) then I doubt this will be a lasting settlement.

I guess, were Labour or a coalition of some sort to get back into Westminster then the call from Welsh Labour MPs will be more powerful than it has been in the last two general elections and we'll see something closer to Silk.

If the Tories win the next election then I think they'll try and take even more powers away from the Assembly.

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