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Archive for the ‘Cheryl Gillan MP’ Category

Now that the Welsh election and the powers referendum are behind us, thoughts are turning to what change is next for Wales.

Top of the list (for some) will be the much-anticipated ‘Calman-style process.’

Much-anticipated, that is, by  UK Government ministers ,  Conservatives and Liberal Democrat AMs but not much-anticipated by those in Labour and Plaid.

The coalition agreement between the Conservatives and Lib Dems states,

Depending on the outcome of the forthcoming referendum, we will establish a process similar to the Calman Commission for the Welsh Assembly.

It’s one of three specific promises to do with Welsh devolution in the coalition agreement, the other two being to introduce a referendum and to take forward the controversial bid for housing powers.

Back in March I said that there wasn’t much detail about what it would entail and there still isn’t. But here’s what I know:

1. It’s being driven by the UK Government.

A source close to the Welsh government told me: ‘We never asked for it, we were never consulted on it, we’ve never seen any detail about it.’

I understand though that it’ll be one of the first items on the agenda when the Secretary of State meets the First Minister shortly.

The Welsh Secretary is also due to meet the Treasury in coming weeks.

2. It will focus on ‘financial accountability’ and not funding reform.

A Labour source said ‘The important thing for us is fair funding for Wales. That’s the first stepping stone.’ Plaid figures have said much the same thing in the past.

But the wording in the UK coalition agreement is

We recognise the concerns expressed by the Holtham Commission on the system of devolution funding. However, at this time, the priority must be to reduce the deficit and therefore any change to the system must await the stabilisation of the public finances.

And nothing has changed since. Although not ruling it out, government sources are pouring cold water on the idea that reform of the Barnett formula will be included in this review.

‘There are things that can be done around Barnett,’ is what I’ve been told.

3. ‘Financial accountability’ hasn’t been defined yet.

The Calman commission is being used by the UK Government to change the way Scotland is funded, reducing its block grant and giving the Scottish government more responsibility for the tax raised in Scotland to plug the gap.

It’s not yet clear what it could mean for Wales. Gerry Holtham, who’s led an in-depth Commission into Welsh public finances has some interesting thoughts here as does Plaid’s economic adviser Eurfyl ap Gwilym.

4. It’s unlikely to consider any other devolution of powers.

The Government has said that any further transfer of power, such as criminal justice or the Crown Estates, is not a good idea so soon after a referendum which has introduced direct lawmaking power to Cardiff Bay.

5. It may not be a Commission.

Before the election, Carwyn Jones said that he felt a full Commission wasn’t needed because of the amount of work already done in this area by Gerry Holtham.

Although a decision on what form this process takes hasn’t yet been made, I gather the Wales Office feels similarly and recognises that a lot of evidence has already been gathered.

It’s also not been decided yet how long it will take.

6. No-one’s been chosen to lead it yet.

I gather possible names have been discussed informally but no more than that. Sources within Whitehall say it should be someone who understands devolution, finance and who understands Wales.

Anyone have Gerry Holtham’s number?

7. There will be a row over it.

It’s interesting that the original Calman commission was imposed on the SNP Scottish Government by Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems.

Political dividing lines on the Welsh Calman have already been drawn. Labour and Plaid (even if they’re not in government together) will portray it as an imposition particularly without  The Conservatives and the Lib Dems will see it as an opportunity for further devolution.

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As we count down to next month’s referendum on changing the Assembly’s powers, we wanted to get a bit of context about the powers that Cardiff Bay already has and how they might change if there’s a yes vote on March 3rd.

Of course, Wales isn’t the only devolved part of the UK so I’ve been on a whistle-stop tour of the two other big devolved institutions: Scotland’s Parliament and Northern Ireland’s Assembly.

Both have come to devolution by different means and for different historical reasons, but its worthwhile looking at the powers they wield as we plan to make our decision.

It was interesting to talk to the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond as well as Northern Ireland’s First Minister and deputy First Minister, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness to get their perspectives on devolution.

Alex Salmond said to me,

It’s very seldom in history that when a country gets the ability to have even a small bit of self-determination, very seldom it’s turned down. Wise nations tend not to turn it down and Wales is a wise nation.

In Northern Ireland, they’re playing the long game and making a go of devolution despite overwhelming odds being stacked against it.

Even so, it’s remarkable how optimistic both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are about their experiences.

You can see the pictures I took here and here and you can see the film of my travels in tonight’s programme. There’ll be a flavour of them too in Wales Tonight at 6pm.

Back home, the two coalition parties in Cardiff Bay seem to be going through a rocky patch.

It centres on anonymous attacks by Labour figures on the Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones. He’s come out fighting, so does this mean the end of the One Wales coalition is in sight?

In one way it is, because there’s not much time between now and the Assembly election. Can we expect to see more of this?

Talking of tricky and tense relations, I’ve been interviewing the Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan, at a time when relations between Westminster and Cardiff Bay seem more strained than ever.

The latest spat is over the Assembly’s refusal to co-operate with the UK Government’s plans to set up scrutiny panels for proposed elected police commissioners.

It may seem a bit obscure, but there are those who think the unprecedented move by AMs should make ministers in London think again about their plans.

I asked Cheryl Gillan about that and, on a lighter note, about what she thinks of Meryl Streep’s portrayal of an earlier leading female Conservative politician, Margaret Thatcher.

Not only will you find out that, but you will also find out who Mrs Gillan would like to play her in a film of her life. You’ll never guess so you’ll have to watch.

My guests are Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black, UKIP’s David J. Rowlands and the journalist Felicity Waters.

Join us for Sharp End at 1035pm, ITV1 Wales.

 

 

 

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The Lords and the UK government may have reached a compromise agreement on the bill that will usher in a new voting system but Welsh MPs are still angry about the other part of the bill which will redraw Westminster constituencies.

Apart from their concerns about the loss of ten Welsh MPs, one of their big complaints is that they were denies their chance of a debate in the Commons.

They may still get their day though if an unlikely alliance succeeds today.

Labour’s former Welsh Secretary, Paul Murphy and Plaid Cymru’s Elfyn Llwyd are joining forces to petition the Backbench business committee for a Welsh day debate.

More specifically, they’ll be asking the committee’s chair, Natasha Engel, for a debate on the planned boundary changes which should give Welsh MPs from all parties chance to vent their spleen.

Incidentally this is the first time since 1944, apparently, that a Welsh day debate hasn’t been planned.

That’s because it used to be part of government business in the commons but is now part of 35 days of parliamentary time given to backbenchers to divide up as they wish.

UPDATE 1210

As another side issue, I’ve been given conflicting views of the Secretary of State’s role in trying to secure a Welsh day debate.

Cheryl Gillan has written to Natasha Engel ‘flagging it up’, in order to underline its importance, but with the acknowledgement that it’s no longer the government’s role to schedule this debate.

But one Labour MP I spoke to interpreted that act differently, saying it showed a ‘naive’ understanding of how the Backbench business committee works.

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Thanks to Plaid Cymru for reminding us that there’s just one hundred days until the Assembly Election.

The party marked this milestone with two unveilings, both  aimed at positioning Plaid as a modern, technology-savvy party. The first was a shiny new website, the second a pledge that a future government involving Plaid would make Information Technology a core subject in schools.

Politics first and then some geekery for a Tuesday afternoon.

If, as is extremely likely, the next Assembly government is another coalition, whatever any of the four parties pledge over the next few months has to come with a health warning that they may or may not be dropped as part of coalition agreement.

So, I asked, what’s the status of this pledge: absolute commitment, negotiable or droppable?

The answer, from Plaid, is that it will form part of the manifesto which in turn is a plan for government should Plaid win an overall majority.

But some manifesto promises are more equal than others and one of the main tasks over the next few months is to try to establish which pledges from each of the parties are non-negotiable.

A side issue is a question of terminology. At today’s press launch, the term ‘Welsh General Election’ was the favoured description of the vote in May. I wonder what terms the other parties will use?

I promised a bit of geekery. To highlight the techie credentials of today’s launch, there were a number of sleek laptops, smartphones and iPads in evidence.

I’m slightly jealous of iPad owners so asked the AM hosting the launch – rural affairs minister Elin Jones – about her Christmas present. She revealed how much she loves it (iPad owners tend to) and uses it for news, music and games.

She was less impressed when I told her she shares her enthusiasm with the Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan.

When I met Mrs Gillan recently, she’d also been proudly displaying her Christmas present and, yes, I was jealous.

I can also reveal that as well as using their hi-tech devices for serious purposes (emails, news, documents), both of these senior politicians admit to having played the ridiculously popular Angry Birds game.

 

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It’s a Sharp End day today so a lot of my time and attention is being taken up with that, but there are a couple of strands to pick up on briefly.

Electrification of the London to Swansea rail line.

* The Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones has been at Swansea railway station today stating as clearly as possible how important the Assembly Government sees electrification.  It’s a move clearly designed to put pressure on the Department for Transport to make the decision to electrify the line all the way to Swansea.

Countering the view that it wouldn’t make a massive amount of difference other than simply shortening journey times, Mr Jones said:

Electrification of the rail line all the way from London through to Swansea is essential to Wales. It is not simply just about shortening journey times. Electrification is an issue of vital strategic importance – it would boost Wales’ economy, help achieve our ambitions for the environment and benefit perceptions of us as a nation.

* Meanwhile according to a Whitehall source, the Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan has held high-level talks about electrification with the Prime Minister and Deputy Minister. She’s said to have told David Cameron and Nick Clegg in ‘no uncertain terms’ how important the project is to Wales.

* The Department for Transport says the final decision is still yet to be made. The prediction is though that it will ‘go right down to the wire.’

My colleague Esyllt Carr will have more on this story in Wales Tonight at 6pm ITV1 Wales.

Powers Referendum

We’re in uncharted territory with this now. Last night’s decision by the No campaigners, True Wales, not to seek the status of official No campaign has completely changed the dynamics of the pre-campaign.

The Electoral Commission’s rules mean that if there’s no official lead No campaign, there can’t be an official lead Yes campaign either. That’s the scenario we’re left with now.

But there’s a complication. The blogger Miserable Old Fart had applied to be the official No campaign in order to make the point that he doesn’t think what’s on offer in the referendum goes far enough. It’s highly unlikely that he could be designated as the lead campaign but the Electoral Commission is obliged to give his application due consideration.

It means we won’t get a final answer until some time next week.

In the meantime the Commission has published a list of registered groups who are permitted to take part in the campaign. So far they are Yes For Wales, Tomorrow’s Wales, Unison, Plaid Cymru and the Monster Raving Loony party’s Mark Beech (who’s the sole registered No group so far).

True Wales and Welsh Labour’s Yes campaign are expected to join that list.

Sharp End

In tonight’s programme we’ll look at what’s going on – or not going on – in the referendum campaign. Esyllt Carr reports on what effect the Westminster coalition is having on the Lib Dems and the Conservatives here in Wales. And I talk to Dafydd Wigley as he prepares to clad himself in ermine and join the House of Lords.

My guests are the former Labour MP for Pontypridd, Kim Howells; the Liberal Democrat MP for Cardiff Central, Jenny Willott and the Western Mail’s Senedd Correspondent, Matt Withers.

Join me for Sharp End, 1035pm ITV1 Wales.


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The row over the Assembly Government’s bid for powers over organ donation has taken another twist today.

Following what happened yesterday, the Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan, was interviewed about the row at length on Radio Wales this morning.

During that interview, Ms Gillan, was asked about her own backing of legislation on presumed consent in parliament some years ago. She denied that she’d introduced any such bill.

But after journalists, politicians and researchers took to Google to check their facts, Ms Gillan has now issued an apology, saying

Unfortunately I made a mistake in the radio interview and now recall that I did introduce a Private Member’s Bill in name only alongside several other eight years ago in my role as an Opposition Whip. This bill was objected to by the then Labour Government and was never debated.

That hasn’t stopped opponents weighing in though. Plaid Cymru AM Dai Lloyd said,

When you do not know your own views on an issue as important as this then it is difficult to expect to try and dictate to others how they should move forward.

And Labour’s Shadow Wales Office minister, Owen Smith MP, said,

We knew that Cheryl Gillan was out of touch with Wales, now it seems she’s out of touch with reality. It is difficult now to trust that the Minister has a full grasp on this sensitive issue, given that she doesn’t even appear to know her own record on the subject.

Meanwhile the war of words continues.  A Wales Office source expressed disappointment that the Assembly Government was ‘taking an agressive approach.’

And on the other side of the debate, passions remain equally inflamed.  Dai Lloyd said,

It is time the Secretary of State and the Westminster government put aside playing politics with such a vitally important issue.”

Interestingly ‘playing politics’ is exactly what the Secretary of State is accusing politicians in Cardiff Bay of doing.

For further developments, watch this space and Sharp End tonight at 1035pm ITV1 Wales.

UPDATE 1300: Peter Black AM has blogged on the row here. This is his take on the row over the timing of the legal advice.

However, the fuss seems to be over the timing of the UK Government’s response. It is a storm in a teacup. The fact is that this bid has come very late in the day. Not only was it submitted to the Wales Office as late as August but AMs themselves are going to have less than two weeks to take evidence on it and examine the order. That is the real scandal, the way that proper scrutiny is being curtailed in the Assembly because the elections are so close.

Listening to Cheryl Gillan on Radio Wales this morning the last minute e-mail that was sent by the Attorney General outlining concerns came as a result of a request from the Welsh Government for information the day before. They should be praising him for responding so quickly, not a known feature of Government law officers, not attacking him for saying what he thinks.

UPDATE 13:05 Plaid Cymru’s former chair, John Dixon, isn’t sure this row is as helpful to the powers referendum Yes campaigners as they make think. And he identifies in this dispute the germs of what  could prove to be a longer-term source of tension over where the boundaries of Assembly powers lie.

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I haven’t heard such angry words exchanged between the governments in London and Cardiff, although I’m sure they use much stronger language in private.

The words used in Cardiff Bay: ‘Disrespect’, ‘lack of courtesy’, ‘they’re trying to stop Wales discussing this.’

The words from Westminster: ‘Utter rubbish’, ‘reprehensible’, ‘playing politics.’

Let me try to piece together how we got here.

On Monday, as I reported here, the Assembly Government published its last bid for powers (known as a Legislative Competence Order or LCO) which was for the power to make laws on organ donation.

The aim of it is to introduce an opt-out system that presumes patients will donate their organs after death rather than the current opt-in system. I won’t go into the rights and wrongs of the idea. Suffice it to say that it’s sensitive to say the least.

It’s also important to note that there’s  a question about whether or not the power CAN be devolved to Wales; a question which boils down to whether or not organ donation lies within the field of health (which is devolved) or human rights (which isn’t).

Also on Monday, the Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan, met the First Minister Carwyn Jones and his Deputy, Ieuan Wyn Jones. I gather the LCO was discussed, but what was said is a matter of dispute.

That same day, Cheryl Gillan put the LCO forward for scrutiny by parliament. Today marked the start of the corresponding scrutiny process in the Assembly.

The Health Minister, Edwina Hart, came to the Assembly chamber today to make a statement on the bid.

She surprised AMs by saying that she’d had an email from the Wales Office setting out the Attorney General’s concerns, but that she only received it at 2.16pm – she said this just after 3pm.

A government source has since said that she didn’t receive the email until she was actually in the chamber and, if Assembly business had been running to time, it would have arrived in her inbox while she was delivering her statement.

The source said ‘this is a disrespect agenda’, before going on to claim that the UK Government is ‘trying to stop Wales discussing it. They’re trying to block it.’

The minister herself was said to be ‘very disappointed by the lack of courtesy.’

In the chamber, Plaid Cymru AM Dai Lloyd echoed that when he said,

I’m perplexed … perplexed and not a little angry actually, as it seems that such a London misgiving could be applied to any LCO whatsoever.

And the former First Minister Rhodri Morgan added,

It seems to imply that one arm or part of the Westminster government doesn’t know what the other arm is doing, and one arm does want to get on with the job as though this were a normal request and another arm is saying ‘ooh, hang on a minute here, you may be into non-devolved territories.’

The Wales Office insists this LCO has been handled in exactly the same way as any other; if anything it’s gone through more quickly to parliamentary scrutiny.

And ‘Reprehensible’, was the response of a Wales Office source to the accusations from Cardiff Bay.  ‘Some people are playing politics here and that’s regrettable.’

What about the very late timing of the email? ‘A smokescreen. They were made aware of the issues.’

Why weren’t these concerns raised at the Monday meeting? ‘The issues were discussed with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.’

Is Westminster trying to block the LCO? ‘How can putting the LCO forward for parliamentary scrutiny be blocking it?’

Now, as you know, there’s a referendum on March 3rd which could spell the end of this current system of bidding for powers via LCOs and, as Dai Lloyd’s comments show, critics of that system will argue that this spat shows why that system needs changing.

So has the row been engineered by the Assembly Government? Did ministers deliberately table this sensitive bid  close to a referendum and election?

‘Nonsense,’ was the response of the government source.

Something tells me the strong words won’t stop there.

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