Wales politics

Wales devolution: Attacks on Wales Bill 'just plain wrong'

Stephen Crabb

Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb has hit back at his critics over plans to rewrite the devolution settlement.

He told MPs much of the criticism of UK ministers' draft Wales Bill was "ill-informed or just plain wrong".

But First Minister Carwyn Jones said Mr Crabb wanted a "political row to hide his embarrassment" over criticism of the proposals.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Nia Griffith said Labour would not back the "badly flawed" bill without radical changes.

She told BBC Radio Wales' Good Morning Wales programme: "As the bill stands at the moment, we cannot back it as it would mean turning the clock back, meaning that some of the things the assembly has done to date would not be possible and it would end up in the courts time, after time, after time."

The new laws would give Welsh ministers more power in some areas, let the assembly call itself a parliament and decide its own election rules.

It would also scrap the requirement to hold a referendum before Wales gets some control over income tax powers.

The bill aims to set out more clearly which powers are reserved to Westminster, but opposition politicians and academics say it could lead to a reversal of devolution and give UK ministers a "veto" over Welsh decisions.

Defending his plans, Mr Crabb told a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee on Wednesday: "There is no 'English veto' and there is no 'roll-back' - the bill actually strikes the right balance."

The Welsh secretary conceded there were "elements of the bill" that would need to change, but warned that "when the first minister keeps moving the goalposts and shifting his own position it makes negotiation very difficult".

He accused Mr Jones of being "in the same camp" as Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood "arguing for a devolution settlement that undermines the role and legitimacy of UK government".

Suggesting he fears Mr Jones has "given up on the Union", the Welsh secretary added: "It is absurd for Welsh government to be arguing for a devolution framework which not only gives them free rein in devolved areas but also total freedom to block and interfere in decisions by UK ministers."

'Throwing stones'

Responding, Mr Jones said Mr Crabb "wants to have a political row to hide his embarrassment over the recent criticism of his draft Wales Bill" but he was going to "disappoint him".

"He knows our views. He knows the views of the entire National Assembly for Wales, including the Conservative group, who by his own logic are now in favour of independence.

"He knows the views of every constitutional expert who has looked at the draft bill."

The first minister urged Mr Crabb to stop "throwing stones and buckle down to the hard task of actually fulfilling the promise his prime minister made to the people of Wales" on Welsh devolution.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord German told the BBC's Wales Report programme the principle of the draft bill was "absolutely right", but UK ministers had a "job to do to make sure the legislation is clearer".

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