Devolution, 'deferential' media and old men in politics

 

The new law that will give the Welsh government new tax and borrowing powers cleared another hurdle in the House of Lords last night.

As is traditional, the Wales Bill was given an unopposed second reading and will now (well, after the Scottish referendum) be scrutinised in detail by peers during its committee stage.

Yesterday's debate featured some familiar faces making familiar arguments. Whenever two or three Welsh politicians are gathered together, the Barnett formula gets a mention - and last night was no exception. Labour argues that the formula leaves Wales under-funded so it will be interesting to see what its manifesto says about how it plans to tackle this.

Almost every peer who spoke complained that the National Assembly for Wales has too few members, although no political party likely to form a Westminster government has yet to commit itself to an increase in the number of professional politicians in Wales.

Labour's Lord Howarth of Newport warned that Mayor of London Boris Johnson also wants control of stamp duty, which raises £2bn in the city - 10 times the amount raised in Wales.

He added: "That raises the question of how long we can expect London to be willing to subsidise Wales on the scale that it does at the moment. Londoners may want to see Wales raising some of its own money."

Liberal Democrat Lord Thomas of Gresford complained: "The press and media in Wales allow a dominant Labour government to get away with it. Take the desire and the ability of the press in Westminster to tear ministers limb from limb on a daily basis - for example the spat between Theresa May and Michael Gove over extremism in schools - and compare it with the deferential approach of the Welsh media over the very recent abject dismissal of Alun Davies for gross misconduct.

"One wonders whether the politicians and the Welsh media are too closely aligned and too ready to exchange roles."

Former Welsh Tory leader Lord Bourne shared memories of the Silk commission's tour of Scotland: "In Scotland [Plaid Cymru's] Eurfyl ap Gwilym was mistaken for the Conservative representative because he was far to the right of me on many economic policies when we met the trade unions."

Crossbencher Lord Elystan-Morgan staked a claim for the National Assembly for Wales to be called the senedd, attributing the original idea to Lord Morris, Labour secretary of state for Wales in the 1970s (Tony Blair even floated the idea in the 1990s).

Lord Thomas of Gresford intervened to point out that he had drafted a 1967 Bill for Lord Hooson that featured the word. Lord Elystan-Morgan shared the etymology of the word which, he said, may have embarrassing connotations: "It comes from the Latin word 'senex', meaning an old man. The same stem s in the word 'senile' - and also in the word 'senior'.

"But - and I speak with some fervour and commitment in this matter - there is a great deal to be said for old men in politics."

Crossbencher Lord Rowe-Beddoe referred to the Scottish referendum as not so much an elephant in the room as an entire zoo and the most significant contribution in my judgement was the suggestion by Wales Office Minister Lady Randerson that the UK government was open to looking again at the income tax package for Wales in the light of further changes to the Scottish devolution settlement. I had not previously heard a UK government minister say that, even if she did add several arguments in favour of the "lock-step" limit to varying income tax powers.

If you are still looking for some light summer holiday reading, you can read the debate here. I will be working away from Westminster for the next few weeks (mostly on Good Evening Wales) so this page may not be updated. The House of Commons returns in early September.

Thank you for reading this page and for your comments (well, most of them!). Have a wonderful summer.

 
David Cornock Article written by David Cornock David Cornock Parliamentary correspondent, Wales

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