Devolution: the sober reality


Is there a so-called drinking culture in Cardiff Bay?

A straw poll of party figures who cross my path this morning says that no, there isn't. A snapshot of comments: "You just can't compare the Assembly with Parliament," "this is a very small bubble in which politicians could put themselves in a vulnerable position," "there's no more, no less drinking here than most people come across in their professional lives."

For what it's worth, I tend to agree.

Is there now a perception that there's a drinking culture in Cardiff Bay? Yes, "an unwelcome perception." Again, I tend to agree.

We learn, by the way, that Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies drinks only water and orange at receptions - "call me boring" - and thinks forsaking family friendly hours would keep some of his colleagues out of trouble. His tongue may have been in his cheek but only maybe.

And there you go. I tend to think there's little more I can add.

So back to my favourite subject and a sober one it is: the "unsustainability", as Carwyn Jones has it, of the constitutional status quo.

Yesterday I blogged about the deal struck between Alex Salmond and David Cameron. But it's looking increasingly clear that, putting Edinburgh completely to one side for a moment, that the constitutional status quo between Wales and Westminster is becoming, to use the First Minister's word, "unsustainable".

Having sat in the Supreme Court last week and listened to the Welsh Government's Byelaws Bill be pushed and pulled this way by the finest legal minds in the country, it was clear that there are all sorts of difficulties buried within the devolution settlement - some now emerging, others buried but ready to explode.

That case remains to be resolved but hardly had "all rise" been called as the arguments over byelaws drew to a close that it was disclosed that another piece of Welsh legislation may well find itself making its way to the Supreme Court - this time the Official Languages Bill. It remains to be seen whether this will happen but I don't think it would meet with the warmest welcome from their Lordships should it come before them.

Today we've had yet more constitutional wrangling, this time over the fate of the Agricultural Wages Board, which has the power to set pay and conditions for low paid farm workers in England and Wales, and which Westminster is looking to abolish. My colleague David Cornock has outlined the issues here but, much like byelaws, the upcoming wrangle over the AWB is largely down to the drafting of the devolution settlement itself.

The Welsh Government has powers over the field of agriculture (pardon the farming pun) as part of the devolution settlement and has signalled its intent to legislation to bring some form of AWB back in Wales. Aha, says Westminster but the AWB is not about agriculture per se but about wage policy - which isn't devolved. So, according to them, any legislation would fall on stony ground.

And then there's organ donation - seen as the flagship legislation of the Fourth Assembly. Again, the Welsh Government is adamant it can push ahead with legislation in this field - namely health, and has already published draft legislation. If the Bill is passed by the Assembly, the hints coming from the Wales Office were that it might end up in the Supreme Court on the grounds that introducing an opting out system of donation goes far wider than health into human rights and even habeus corpus - which is certainly not devolved.

Would the Attorney General really, really want to be seen to be referring the first three bills created from scratch in Wales to the Supreme Court? Surely that's not a 100% record he'd covet. Surely it's clear too to everyone involved how the Welsh Government would grab that particular stick and beat the UK Government with it at every turn.

What's remarkable is how quickly all this has come to a head in a number of different areas. What it perhaps illustrates are the cracks in the devolution settlement which may not have been evident to those drafting it but which have begun to appear as soon as it is tested in anger.

Plaid Cymru say enough is enough and that it's time for a wholesale look at the devolution setup.

Their former leader Ieuan Wyn Jones says, "A new Government of Wales Act which enshrines the reserved powers model into law is the best way forward. We will be looking at this more closely over the coming weeks and will offer a detailed proposal in our evidence to the Silk Commission when it looks at powers later this year. A new Government of Wales Act would strengthen democracy and would bring an end to the expensive and time-consuming legal wrangling that is currently taking place."

This is far from the kind of seismic constitutional change being contemplated in Scotland but taken together with Carwyn Jones' "unsustainable" view of the current settlement it appears that the Supreme Court case is starting to crystallise opinion, in Cardiff Bay at least, that at least some change is needed.

Of course, a new Government of Wales Act is entirely within the gift of the Westminster government and Parliament. Next month we'll get Part One of the Silk Commission review of financial powers but Part Two, dealing with the devolution settlement is still well over a year away. And even then a new Act is a far from foregone conclusion.

In the meantime, let's wait and see just how busy those Supreme Court judges will be.

Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    DJohn I have only got one MP, Mr Hain. What do you mean. After 2014 their Deck of Cards will be collapsing around them. You don't need a crystal ball to see that. With the SoS Tweeting about spending his life whole on a train. What exactly are we paying him and his office for. We obviously don't need them. So they are obviously trying to make it look as if they are

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.


    Did that actually just happen? Did Mabion Glyndwr actually just say that depression causes for drink driving?!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    MabionGlyndwr @ 38.

    If you temper your language you may well be published. I would suggest that you are the champion at having posts removed. Does this not tell you something?

    If the lady in question needs help, then it is available. Naturally she should step down today as she leaves her constituents unrepresented. Her coming conviction as a drunk driver will render her unsuitable to be an AM.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Re: Cythraul - 34

    'Good government is no substitute for self-government'.


  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    #40 'Eventually England will concede that a new, equal, relationship amongst the nations is the only way forward.'
    If you want equality, choose independence, then do what you can afford.
    Within a Federation, a nation of 3M is never going to have equality with a nation of 60M. You can have equality of voters or equality of nations; but not both.

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    In Scotland, good to hear that the 'status quo is unsustainable' - though CJ wants Scots to reject independence. But were there a 'no' majority in 2014, Westminster would have to give more powers to Scotland: & whether it did or didn't, either case boosts the SNP. Keep chipping away! Eventually England will concede that a new, equal, relationship amongst the nations is the only way forward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    #38 Cont..
    The Court of Human Rights is unlikely to rip up the Code Napoleon to please Westminster. Governments can interfere with the testator's wishes. So, with no HR issues, the organ donation bill is, and always was, a Health matter and therefore devolved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    #33'"What about the question of Human Rights for the corpse, well the Bill does ride roughshod over the last will and testament of the deceased" Exact quote. Previous effort for brevity: no distortion intended.
    The corpse has no human rights. Under British law, there is no 'property' in a corpse.
    French law has defied the 'right' of a testator to dispose of his estate as he wishes for 200 years

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    My post (28) was removed because I factually pointed out to poster (17) how MP’s have been found out to be corrupt,perjured in court, fought drunk in Westminster and they moronically call for a Anti Devo reprisal. Yes, an AM was caught drink driving and been punished but if it’s found out that her illness caused her actions she should be helped rather than using if for their crass Anti agenda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    27: Your so-called finest UK legal minds were responsible for us invading Iraq. Who moderates them? You critises the WG's experience but in 1920 the UK under Winston Churchill’s was responsible for gassing the Kurds years before Sadam. Lessons not learned again after the 3rd time of invading? What you are failing to see is that the Organ opt out law is a just law, helping patients & is legal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    @ message 30

    I find it most unusual that BBC Wales is removing your links to Hansard record of proceedings in Parliament. Surely the official verbatim report of what was said in our Parliament cannot be in breach of any BBC rules.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.


    If there truly is such a thing as Welsh 'nationalism', it's the inevitable result of the exploitation of our country and it's resources, people included, and the intentional marginalisation and degrading of our language and culture by those who have amassed power in London, England.

    Wasn't Gandhi an Indian 'nationalist', who felt it was time the British left his country to Indian rule?

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    #32, Boxer, if you are going to quote another comment, try quoting exactly as it is written, in this case ...

    "What about the question of Human Rights for the corpse, well the Bill does ride roughshod over the last will and testament of the deceased"

    I have a living will, no resuscitation, politicians will say "keep him alive for harvesting", there is no excuse for poor legislation ....

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    #19 The human rights bill ' Bill does ride roughshod over the last will and testament of the deceased,'

    So?? The French, one of the founders of the EEC, have -for the last 200 years, run their law under the Code Napoleon. Testators are heavily restricted as to who they can, or cannot, leave their money to. The chances of getting a Human Rights objection to the organ donation bill are nil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    work is the curse of the drinking classes!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    To BBC moderators: You have again removed a legit comment where I have highlighted historical parallels of 1958 Wales to today’s situation Was it the fact that Lord Raglan stated in the House of Lords that BBC Wales is in control of Welsh nationalists at the time? See:

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I thought politicians were supposed to be representative? Our AMs (and MPs!) are representing the Welsh. On that basis you'd expect a small minority to be off their faces by 10 o' clock! Seriously, if I want to read mindlessly negative, sanctimonious twaddle about OUR Assembly I always know where to come.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    " pushed and pulled this way by the finest legal minds in the country".... ie the UK. The problem is that Wales doesn't have experience of these issues - so is on a steep learning curve and needs the moderating influence of experience to understand what it's doing. The organ donation health v human rights is a clear example of this in action.


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