In the midst of Brexit, it can be easy to forget that the Wales Bill is still making its way through the House of Commons.
Welsh Secretary (Alun Cairns) has progressed this legislation quickly and it’s due for its Report Stage on 12th September. After its Third Reading, it will bounce over to the House of Lords. Expect Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Dwyfor Meirionnydd)(PC) and Baroness Eluned Morgan (Mid & West Wales)(Lab) to have their say, since they still sit in Parliament’s Second Chamber as well as the Assembly. Lord Elis-Thomas has already indicated he will be very vocal on this, during an Assembly debate on the Wales Bill: “I’m going to set a challenge for our colleagues beyond Paddington station to use the time between this debate today, which is the first full public debate on this particular Bill, and the Third Reading in the House of Lords […] to amend this Bill sufficiently so that it can be full constitutional legislation to change the circumstances of Wales.”
In July, there was the House of Commons Committee Stage before Parliament broke for recess. Interestingly, Liz Saville Roberts MP (Dwyfor Meirionnydd)(PC) was the one to put forward an amendment on a separate Welsh legal jurisdiction drafted “word for word” by the Welsh Government. Jonathan Edwards MP (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr)(PC) was quick to point out that it says something “about the authority of Carwyn Jones among his colleagues here in London” that UK Labour did not support the amendment. Instead, Shadow Welsh Secretary Paul Flynn MP (Newport West)(Lab) defended Labour’s stance that an amendment should require the single jurisdiction to be kept “under review” as a “practical conclusion” and compromise, given that the UK Government has firmly rejected it in principle. But even this was dismissed.
Alun Cairns insists that his working group on Justice in Wales is looking at how the growing body of Welsh law can be improved, but this isn’t an issue that’s going to go away. The group is due to report in the autumn, probably when the Bill is in the House of Lords, so their recommendations could still influence the Bill. It’s unlikely the House of Lords will let this pass in its current form, particularly given that the UK Government does not have a majority there.
Plaid Cymru also attempted to transfer powers on elections in a way that mirrors Scotland, so the National Assembly for Wales would have the power to set elections’ conduct and timings, rather than the Presiding Officer. Alun Cairns agreed to consider this further.
Although Welsh Labour and UK Labour don’t seem to agree on everything, Paul Flynn did attempt to remove the need for Justice Impact Assessments, arguing that they go “against the whole thrust of the Bill, which is to sweep away micromanagement of the Assembly and to give it full responsibility for its own procedures.”
He also argued for responsibility over the sale and supply of alcohol and for fiscal arrangements to include a long-term commitment to a funding floor, putting forward the Welsh Government’s arguments, but they were both defeated.
Coming up, Liz Saville-Roberts indicated she would repeat attempts for a ‘distinct’ rather than ‘separate’ legal jurisdiction for Wales. It would be a good time for Labour and Plaid Cymru to agree on some of these; perhaps the MPs in Westminster could learn a thing or two from the ‘Compact to Move Wales Forward’ that Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru have in the Assembly.
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Photo credit: Pete Birkinshaw // Flickr
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