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Posts Tagged ‘Welsh Secretary’

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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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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It’s worth keeping an eye on an announcement expected later by the UK Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond about plans for a new high speed rail line from London to Birmingham.

Although the project is one that would create a new line in England, today’s announcement is likely to affect Welsh politics in two ways.

Firstly, it’s one of the big projects put forward by the previous Labour government which the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has been reviewing.

Another is the planned electrification of the line from Swansea to Paddington – the very line I’m on as I write this. (That’s my excuse for any spelling or typing errors.)

A decision on that is not expected until the new year and the government’s opponents fear it’s about to be shelved or reduced in scope so that, say, only part of the line is electrified.

On the other hand the government says it’s all still to play for although the costs have to be looked at more closely.

You can see that the expected decision to go ahead with the London to Birmingham scheme will only highlight the uncertainty over the London to Swansea plan, something that Labour and Plaid Cymru will continue to draw attention to.

But the other impact to watch for is on the Welsh Secretary herself.

Her Buckinghamshire constituency is one of a series of Conservative areas through which the new line would be laid.

She has said that she would vote against her government if it sticks to the current proposed route. As a cabinet minister that would mean she would have to resign.

The Transport Secretary says he’s listened to and acted on the concerns of colleagues like Mrs Gillan. We should find out later if he’s done enough to win her over.

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