The Wales Bill suffers from two fatal flaws: it’s a piece of legislation that has been both poorly conceived and badly drafted.
They combine to fatal effect to outline a system of devolution that would not only be as cumbersome as its predecessors, but in some important ways would be even more restrictive and frustrating.
The Bill is based on what the UK government has rather grandiosely titled the ‘St David’s Day Agreement’.
This was the end result of a lowest common denominator process in which each of the political parties was allowed to wield a veto on the individual recommendations of the Silk Commission; doing so without any need to explain (privately let alone publicly) their behaviour.
Those who continue to oppose devolution like to claim that the Westminster parliament is far more effective at scrutinising legislation than the National Assembly for Wales.
Whilst the ‘big guns’ blast on the banks of the Thames, on the shores of Cardiff Bay it’s Billy Connolly’s ‘wee pretendy parliament’.
Naturally enough, Welsh parliamentarians at Westminster are particularly partial to this particular saw.
Now the Assembly has its problems. But, really, it takes a particular kind of chutzpah to argue the case that Westminster is somehow a more effective legislature than the National Assembly for Wales when we recall the complete pig’s ear that the former has made of the legislation that underpins the latter.
It’s doubtful that it was ever possible to produce a sensible, stable devolution dispensation on such weak foundations as those provided by the St David’s Day Agreement. But without doubt, its deficiencies have been further magnified by the grudging, negative attitudes on display across Whitehall during the drafting process. Attitudes that a weak, marginalised Wales Office has been quite unable to challenge.
In drawing up the list of those issues that will be reserved to London, Whitehall departments have seized the opportunity to reserve every power they might conceivably ever ‘need’ in relation to Wales.
Matters have been listed because Whitehall civil servants seem to believe that Welsh politicians can’t be trusted to deal with them responsibly.
Others have seemingly been added to the list because Whitehall regrets letting go of them when powers were devolved to Scotland.
Whitehall has even availed itself of the opportunity to reverse the losses that it suffered at the hands of Welsh Government in the Supreme Court. Not only has the attitude been negative and grudging; it’s been patronising and vindictive too.
The efforts of Welsh Labour MPs during the Commons debates can only be described as pathetic. Unwilling to engage with the deep structural flaws of the Bill (for reasons to which we will return), they concentrated their intentions instead on relative minor, peripheral issues.It is embarrassing that those of us who seek much more than this Dog Breakfast may need the support of a body many of us would like to replaced
Predictably, they also availed themselves of the opportunity to return to the alleged constitutional outrage of the government’s plans to reduce the number of Welsh MPs; an issue that clearly exercises some far more than the prospects of yet another inadequate Welsh devolution dispensation.
“The Bill risks, in some areas, actually reducing the powers of the Assembly.
“We have asked the Government whether that was their intention, and if not, how they intend to avoid unintentionally diminishing the Assembly’s powers.”
“The list of reservations is so extensive, and the legal tests that govern the Assembly’s powers so complex and vague, that it could be a recipe for confusion and legal uncertainty.
“The outcome is likely to be increased litigation as the courts are asked to decide exactly where the boundaries of the Assembly’s authority lies.
“We are disappointed that there is no clear explanation from the Government as to the rationale for the scope of the powers being devolved under the Wales Bill.
“As we noted in our report The Union and devolution, devolution must take place on the basis of appropriate principles to ensure that the devolution settlements evolve in a coherent way, rather than in a reactive, ad hoc manner.”
Personally, I feel that the current Bill will not be changed by the Lords ,or at any other stage that meets the concerns raised.
That is why I believe that it will be necessary for the Welsh Assembly to refuse to consent to the Bill.
Plaid should indicate that they will Press for a refusal, and call on the other Parties in the Assembly to do announce they are also prepared to do so.
I believe this will not be a case of "Cutting of ones nose o suit ones face" but making a stand against legislative bullying.
As i have said we need Parity with Scotland not more Devo Dipyn Bach and its time the Labour Party in Wales in particular told us whether they support this idea, or do they have further ambition for Wales beyond having what cannot even be called a ‘wee pretendy parliament’.