Monday, 14 December 2015

Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee report on the draft Wales Bill

I would normally consider writing a summary and appraisal of a new publication such as the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee's report on the draft Wales Bill for Pedryn Drycin, but on this occasion I will decline. The report is relatively short and is written in accessible language, its clarifications on matters of fact and interpretation are precise and accurate, and its arguments are made succinctly and cogently. It suffices, on this occasion, to strongly recommend that Pedryn Drycin's small but hard-core readership read the original report and come to their own conclusions.

My opinion, for what it's worth, is that its analysis is broadly consistent with everything that I have written here over the last few months and its recommendations to the Secretary of State for Wales can be quickly endorsed by all reasonably-minded Welsh democrats: that is, 'start over again, or remove all the mischievous, undemocratic bits'. Further, and taking due account of its measured and diplomatic language, it is still a damning indictment of the process, the draft legislation and the UK Government's underlying motivations.

[The Committee's chairman, David Melding, has also written a short article on Click on Wales today, 'Back to the drawing board for the draft Wales Bill?', explaining the broad findings and recommendations of the report]

I will, however, make particular reference to one section of the report:

"164. It has been suggested that the purpose of the draft Bill is to overturn the decisions of the Supreme Court in relation to the existing settlement and conferred powers model. While that may be the approach from a Whitehall perspective and within Parliament’s prerogative, if that is the intention it should be expressly stated in the interests of openness and transparency."

Whilst it would do my ego no end of good to think that the report's authors avidly read, and are referring specifically to Pedryn Drycin, when they say, "It has been suggested", I rather suspect they are reflecting more widespread grumblings and malcontent in Cardiff Bay. But I am gratified, nonetheless, to see a central pillar of my argument over the last few months find its way into the report: that is, if it is the UK Government's intent to overturn the Supreme Court's decisions and roll-back the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales, "it should be expressly stated in the interests of openness and transparency". That is the very least we can expect from a supposedly democratic government, one would have thought.

It is a matter of regret to me, however, that the committee did not go on to 'note' that the Conservative Party made no General Election manifesto commitment whatsoever to take such action, that the Conservative Party has no majority electoral mandate at any level in Wales, that such action would run contrary to the will of the people of Wales as expressed in the 2011 referendum, and that whilst being within Parliament's prerogative, would represent one of the grossest abuses of Whitehall power in the history of 'democratic' UK politics...

Then again, perhaps 'undiplomatic' language of this sort will become more commonplace in the corridors of Welsh power if Stephen Crabb declines the committee's recommendations and persists on his lone charge into historical infamy over the next few months?