MPs take stock as Wales Bill heads to the Lords

David Cameron and Nick Clegg
Image caption Remember them? Former Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg launch the 'St David's Day agreement' on devolution in February 2015

MPs and Westminster hacks are now wondering how they will fill the void in their lives left by the Wales Bill completing its passage through the House of Commons.

For the MPs in Wales, the threat to scrap a quarter of them is concentrating minds. Montgomeryshire MP Glyn Davies, now a parliamentary aide at the Wales Office, was so upset by the proposed demise of his constituency as a single entity that he blogged about it at 3:30am.

But before their lordships get their teeth into the Wales Bill, we should perhaps reflect on what we learned from the most recent debates in the Commons.

As Glyn Davies himself remarked, there was a good deal of consensus during the report stage and third reading. Labour and Plaid Cymru put tribal loyalties aside to call (unsuccessfully) for air passenger duty to be devolved to Wales.

'Assurance'

Plaid Cymru, who had highlighted the absence of the Wales & the Borders rail franchise from the Bill, accepted an assurance from the UK government that its devolution would happen through secondary legislation.

As is traditional, Plaid cut and paste amendments from the Welsh Government's alternative Wales Bill and challenged Labour MPs to vote for them, most notably on the issue of distinct legal jurisdictions.

As is also sometimes traditional, Labour decided not to support the policy advocated recently by its ministers in Wales. Shadow Welsh Secretary Paul Flynn explained: "Although we are flattered that Plaid Cymru have chosen to use the words of the Welsh Government's policy as it was a few weeks ago, that policy has matured.

"In the present circumstances - very much influenced by what the Wales Governance Centre has said - it would be foolish to go ahead with it at this moment. It is premature."

'Ambition'

Is is right? Has Welsh Government policy changed? Apparently so. A Welsh Government source tells me that although it still thinks its alternative bill would be the best chance of securing a lasting settlement, it has altered its approach "to reflect the reality facing us".

The source added: "It is absolutely clear that the UK government has no intention to match our level of ambition on jurisdiction, so we have instead focused our discussions on keeping this question under review - and we expect the amended Bill to reflect that approach."

Plaid Cymru's parliamentary leader, Hywel Williams, said the Bill was a missed opportunity to put an end to the "constant tinkering with the devolution settlement".

He said: "It was meant to deliver a lasting settlement for the people of Wales, but Westminster has once again insisted on giving Wales an inferior settlement, entrenching Wales' status as a second class nation, and the result is a Bill that is already out of date.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Mark Williams (whose party signed up to the "St David's Day agreement") thinks the Wales Bill has improved during its journey, but says it is far from perfect. He said: "For something which was meant to provide a lasting settlement for Wales, it has failed to tackle issues such as youth justice, rail franchising, and the need for a distinct legal Welsh jurisdiction as more laws are made here in Wales."

Some of those issues will be re-opened when the Bill starts its journey through the House of Lords later this year. In the meantime, the Hansard report of Monday's debates is now available for your perusal.