Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Wales Bill passes the Commons

Although most on the opposition benches felt that the Wales Bill was only the continuation of a process, not the end point, they were agreed that it was a vast improvement on the previous draft. Accordingly, it passed the Third Reading stage in the Commons yesterday and one does not anticipate much trouble in the Lords.

During the Second Reading debate, Labour's Nia Griffith had made a case for allowing a public sector body to bid for the Wales and Border rail franchise, as is possible in Scotland. She pointed out that there was a precedent for a not-for-profit company based in Wales serving customers in England in the form of Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water. However, the opposition amendment was defeated on a whipped vote. Several other attempts to remove reserved powers from the Westminster government also failed.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Mark Williams concluded his Third Reading speech:

The Bill has taken into account many of the concerns that were raised during the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Welsh Affairs Committee. It is a far sight better than what we had previously, and I commend the Government for listening. As the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) has said, however, we must not be misled into believing that the Bill provides the answer to all of Wales’s governance questions, because clearly it does not. It leaves open many questions, not least the problems of jurisdiction and the growing divergence between English and Welsh law, along with the issues of devolving policing and of youth justice.

Let me repeat what I said earlier about the issue of a separate or distinct legal jurisdiction. I do not favour and never have favoured a separate one, but the current system will sooner or later require substantial reform to cope with the growing divergence of English and Welsh law. There is an inevitability about that; the Government need to be mindful of it. They are partly mindful of it, as seen through their creation of the joint working group. That is a step in the right direction, too, but I suspect that we will return to these issues in the years to come. The Bill does not go far enough, but it is a step in the right direction.

I believe that the Bill will have a positive impact on the governance of Wales. It will provide greater accountability, greater clarity and a greater say over Welsh affairs to the people of Wales. I have said this before, but there was a party political broadcast in 1951, conducted by the then deputy leader of the Liberal party, Lady Megan Lloyd George. It was a UK broadcast, but she ended up saying “Home Rule for Wales” in Welsh: “Hunanlywodraeth i Gymru”. Many people in Wales understood what that meant. Many people had the aspiration. We are not yet there. I am not going to dismiss this Bill as a missed opportunity, but there are still many opportunities to be taken advantage of if Wales is to achieve home rule in the future.

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