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Posts Tagged ‘Parliament’

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know my sob story about spending the best part of an hour of my train journey home from London last night, writing a long blogpost about yesterday’s exceptionally busy Welsh day in Westminster, only to have the WordPress app on my iphone crash and I lost it all.

I know, I know: I should have pressed save a few times along the way. In the time-honoured words used after every review into every failing: Lessons Have Been Learned. Probably.

Anyway, because you’ll never know otherwise, I can now claim it to be a lost classic. It would have had everything: pathos, romance, danger, action, betrayal.

Actually, it would have told you about the meeting of First Ministers and their Deputies at the Joint Ministerial Committee (tense); Welsh Questions (tense, angry); Prime Minister’s Questions (high-minded for a change, MPs restless, congratulations and laughter for Elfyn Llwyd’s elevation to the Privy Council); debates on alcohol pricing and the future of coastguards and the semi-snubbing of Paul Murphy and Elfyn Llwyd’s bid for a Welsh-day debate on plans to cut the number of MPs (on the shelf).

You’ll just have to take my word for it: a classic lost to posterity like the supposed missing bits of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Only about Welsh politics.

Luckily, my fellow political journalists David Williamson of the Western Mail and David Cornock of the BBC have recorded their versions of yesterday’s events so that you can get the details from them.

They’re both very good accounts, but obviously not as good as my lost blogpost would have been.

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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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Last night the House of Lords held a vote which could mean that next year’s referendum on voting reform for Westminster elections might not take place on the same day as the Assembly election after all. Details here, here and here. The upshot is the legislation now allows the AV vote to be held any time up to next October. Of course there’s every chance the UK government will be able to overturn the Lords ruling when the legislation returns to the commons. But Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards for one is hoping that it sends an important message. He said

“The Governments of the devolved legislatures have requested a change of date in the interest of democracy – and now the Upper House have supported those calls.

“The UK Government should now urgently re-think its plans and come forward with alternative proposals and a different date for the AV referendum so that the bill can move forward with a greater degree of political consensus when it returns to the House of Commons.”

UPDATE 11.33 7/12/10 I’ve just asked the First Minister for his response to last night’s vote. He said “Our view has always been that it’s better to have the AV referendum on a different date to our elections. That view hasn’t changed.”

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MPs arriving at this morning’s meeting of the Welsh Grand committee were met with a frosty reception – from the room itself.

In fact it was so cold that one of my pens stopped working.

But that didn’t stop the MPs trying to generate their own heat.  This was better natured than the last time they met, but still bad-tempered. Some of the loud mutterings I picked up from the Labour benches were “waffle”, “central office rubbish” and a lot of variations on “disgraceful.”

Amidst the exchanges, there were some details to seize hold of. On funding reform and it’s link to a referendum the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Justine Greening, told MPs what Danny Alexander told AMs last week that “the priority for us is to sort out the deficit.”

Unlike Mr Alexander though she said that “We’ll be looking to see what happens in Wales (i.e the powers referendum) and on that basis taking it forward.”

Well that got them leaping to their feet: was this an admission that funding reform IS after all linked to the referendum outcome?

No, said Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan, it’s a reiteration of the coalition commitment to a “Calman-style process” after a referendum.

On the controversial delay to electrification of the railway line from London to South Wales, Mrs Gillan said she remains “fully supportive” of the idea, but more work needs to be done on producing a full business case.

That will come as a surprise, by the way, to Assembly Govt politicians who believe that the business case was already developed by the Whitehall department responsible.

Just time to mention a few of the lighter moments.

The pantomime moment came when Mrs Gillan said “I’m not some kind of viceroy.”

“Oh yes you are,” said serial heckler Chris Ruane MP.

She had her revenge on him later by telling him, when he wanted to intervene, ‘Just sit down.’

And Peter Hain used the hitherto unpoliticised songs of Ken Dodd to predict the UK government’s trajectory. 

The link is tenuous: Ken Dodd’s first big hit was ‘Happiness’; the UK government is said to be planning to measure happiness.

Mr Hain noted that Ken Dodd’s subsequent hits were “Tears” and then “Hearbreak.”

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At Welsh Labour’s special policy conference which was held at the weekend, the party launched its own Yes campaign for next year’s powers referendum. One of the main messages used to win over doubters within Labour was that the UK government would only look at reforming the way Wales is funded – the notorious Barnett formula – once a Yes vote had been secured.

But using that tactic has become a lot more difficult today after the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, effectively ruled out any change to the formula even after the referendum.

Questioned repeatedly on this by AMs on the Finance Committee, Mr Alexander said ‘At a time when our most pressing priority is to sort out the deficit, this is not the time to start opening up debate on reform of the Barnett formula.’

What, asked Plaid’s Janet Ryder, even if there’s a Yes vote? Once again the reply was that all of (the UK government’s ) attention had to be devoted to the problem of getting the public finances under control, not opening up discussion on a funding formula.

Some of the committee members noted that Mr Alexander is a Scot representing a marginal Scottish constituency and that any change would hit funding to Scotland.

But the Chief Secretary stuck to his insistence that getting out of the deficit came first.

A few other snippets. Plaid’s Chris Franks claimed that all the big spending projects seemed to start or end in London. In response Danny Alexander listed other projects outside of London, but which were all in England.

‘You’ll mention Wales in a minute,’ Chris Franks interrupted.

And get ready to hear a lot about End of Year Flexibility. It’s a technical bit of financial jargon but former finance minister Andrew Davies knows a thing or two about that. He struck home a fair few times, accusing the Treasury of seizing for itself money that had been voted by parliament to go to Wales.

Tense and heated in some parts then, but when I grabbed a word with Danny Alexander on his departure he still said he’d found it a ‘positive discussion.’

 

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I know you’ve been on tenterhooks to find out what the Welsh Affairs Select Committee has said since I trailed its report last night.  MPs on the committee have been working out what extra powers the Assembly has gained since 2006 when the last big change to the constitutional set-up came in the Government of Wales Act. They think fellow MPs should know exactly what powers they’re offering to give away to Cardiff Bay.

Their answer? A lot. In fact, whilst steadfastly refusing to make a judgement on the merits or otherwise of a Yes vote, the committee says that the end result of the referendum process could mean “significantly enlarging the legislative competence of the National Assembly.”

All of this is by way of an overture to a big week in Parliament for the referendum. MPs vote on the various technical orders making a referendum possible tomorrow and Wednesday. The Lords do the same on Thursday. And if both houses say yes, then the last person to have their say-so is the Queen who’s expected to make her decision in the next Privy council meeting which is thought to take place mid-December.

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You may wish to familiarise yourself with Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 although I’m sure it’s already burned in your memory. Just in case it isn’t though, let me remind you: this is the bit of the Act that sets out exactly what the Assembly is responsible for. It defines the boundaries between Cardiff Bay and Westminster. The UK Government reckons it needs updating before next year’s referendum so that Parliament knows which powers it’s handing over. So does the Welsh Affairs Select Committee which is publishing it’s report today (Monday). It’s not going to set your world on fire, but it is an important part of the sizeable change we’ll be asked to endorse or deny in just a few months’ time. I’ll update you when it’s published.

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