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A white wash up?

Betsan Powys | 18:56 UK time, Tuesday, 6 April 2010

So we're about to enter "wash-up" - that strange period where legislation is rushed through parliament in anticipation of everything and everyone in it being thrown onto campaigning ... rushed through as long as both main parties can agree on it.

What if they don't?

Take the Housing LCO as a case in point. It's in jeopardy. No major news there, you might say. In fact I could have started virtually any post over the last three or so with that phrase, simply tweaking "possible/serious/terminal" as appropriate. But this time the warning comes from the Welsh Secretary Peter Hain and it's aimed at the Tories, who are refusing to allow the Order through the wash up cycle.

"They are set to block this in its entirety" thunders Mr Hain. "Wales cannot afford the same old right wing Tories to get into power again with their anti-devolution, anti-Welsh policies."

Mr Hain may have a finely developed grasp of politics in laying the probable failure of this LCO at the Tories door. His grasp of recent history, however, would appear to have gone somewhat awry.

The Housing LCO was first announced by the minority Labour Assembly Government in June 2007. It was passed on to the Labour-run Wales Office and despite being considered by and Assembly committee, essentially disappeared into the Labour-controlled Whitehall machine until May 2008.

It emerged to fierce scrutiny from the Labour-majority Welsh Affairs Select Committee, whose guiding hand - the Labour chairman - issued a report for the committee where it said that the LCO should not be taken forward unless the clause relating to powers over the right to buy was severely limited.

There was then a lengthy period of negotiation between the Labour Secretary of State and the Labour-led Assembly Government, after which a compromise emerged by January 2009 (in which Plaid Cymru had more than a passing involvement, to be fair). That compromise was savaged by Parliament's Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and had to be withdrawn in ignominy but not before a Labour Counsel General (one C. Jones - heard of him?) had assured the Assembly that the JCSI had no idea what they were talking about.

There then followed another prolonged period of negotiation between the two administrations at each end of the M4, one Labour, one Labour-led. After that Mark II emerged and was rushed through the Assembly, just in time to make it into the parliamentary wash-up. Phew.

Throughout this entire period, it should be remembered, Labour has been able to command a healthy majority in both the Assembly and the Commons.

So you can see exactly how Mr Hain can say that the Housing LCO is in jeopardy in April 2010 because "the Tories have not changed and do not care" and they are refusing to rush it through.

The Tories are a bit like the teenager who's arrived late at a house party that's got out of hand. The place has been comprehensively trashed already but the other kids decide they'll all pin it on the late comer and hope for the best.

By the same token they haven't helped themselves. Their decision to vote in favour of full powers over housing in a referendum trigger vote but against the LCO seemed bizarre to many and now looks even more like political cover for their colleagues in Westminster.

But there too, things aren't exactly tickety boo. David Jones says that they will only allow the LCO through if two clauses, relating to the right to buy and gypsy sites are removed. The LCO has already been passed by the Assembly and it could reasonably be expected that a prominent Welsh parliamentarian - and a man renowned for missing very little in the detail - would know that an Order passed in Cardiff Bay can't have so much as a comma's difference from one passed by Parliament, let alone whole clauses missing.

What's also interesting is that the social housing sector in Wales seem to have taken Mr Hain's lead. They've written to Cheryl Gillan, the shadow Welsh Secretary urging the Tories not to block "what we consider to be the most important piece of housing legislation since devolution". (

UPDATE: I'm told the letter from the national housing associations was sent on March 24th so that its authors didn't 'take Mr Hain's lead'. Fair enough.)

Is it me, or are we seeing a rewriting of history in front of our eyes? What you might call a white wash-up?


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