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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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Sharp End is back after its Christmas break to cast its beady eye over Welsh politics once again. It’s raining outside in Cardiff Bay so we’re all very glad to be warm and dry inside our Assembly office.

What do we have for you tonight? Well the political year has begun with a blazing row between the Assembly Government and the Wales Office over the bid for powers on organ donation. You can read my summary of the row so far here. I can tell you the argument’s not showing any signs of abating – on the contrary it appears to be escalating – and that’s not even taking into account the sensitivity of the idea behind the bid itself.

The chair of the Sports Council for Wales, Laura McAllister, tells us why she doesn’t think sport will become a political football (sorry) and how there are difficult choices to be made now that spending on sport is being cut.

We can’t ignore the looming referendum on strengthening the Assembly’s powers. Lynn Courtney plays her cards right and looks at what it’s all about.

And there’s every chance we’ll have more to talk about too with my guests Cathy Owens, former Assembly government adviser now project director for Amnesty in Wales; Conservative AM Jonathan Morgan and Plaid Cymru AM Dai Lloyd.

Join us at 1035 pm ITV1 Wales.

 

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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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There may or not be a new way of making laws for the Assembly following the referendum in March, but the current system is still on course to deliver a major change.

As you know, the Assembly must request permission from Parliament to make laws under the much-criticised LCO (Legislative Competence Order) system.

Well today, the last LCO from the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition government has been laid and it could usher in significant change when it comes to organ donation.

Assuming the LCO bid jumps through all its hoops, it could mean people here in Wales would have to opt-out from being organ donors  rather than opting in as they do now.

We’ll get more details when the minister makes a statement tomorrow (Tuesday) but for now here are two immediate responses.

Plaid Cymru AM Dai Lloyd, who was behind the original proposals, said today was a proud day for him and that he believed the change would ‘lead to a great number of lives being saved in Wales.’

He added,

We know from studies and first hand experience that there are a lot of people who would like to be organ donors but who are not registered to do so.  Moving to an opt-out system will ensure that the number of people who donate increases and a number of lives are no longer needlessly lost.

The other reaction comes from Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan. She said,

I am pleased to have been able to put this LCO forward for pre-legislative scrutiny. It is important that this vital and sensitive matter is examined thoroughly both at Westminster and in the Assembly.


There’s a political dimension to this which could come to the fore during the impending referendum campaign.

Dai Lloyd is of course an advocate of much greater powers for Cardiff Bay and he’s pointing to presumed consent as a sign of the sort of difference that devolution can make.

But those who are opposed to devolving further powers could also seize on what is likely to be a significant change delivered under the unloved system.



 

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