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February 22, 2009

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Paul Flynn

Many thanks Sarah and welcome to the blog.

Very happy to know you have enjoyed it. Best wishes.

Sarah

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Sarah

http://www.lyricsdigs.com

MH

I like your site, but I think you're rather missing the constitutional principle, Adam.

It is one thing to argue whether one committee or another should have a certain role, but the idea Paul Flynn was trying to float was that the current arrangement should be changed. It is quite clear to me WHY he is floating it: If Labour lose the next election the WASC, which reflects the overall composition of the Commons, will have a Tory majority. If a committee of 40 Welsh MPs (I'll call it the WGC, but the name doesn't matter) take on that role, it will almost certainly have a Labour majority.

The idea is to change the rules so that Labour retains control irrespective of the result of the next Westminster election. It's not about principle, it's about power.

I would argue that changing the main committee that deals with LCOs would be pointless anyway. Committees have considerable influence, but ultimately it is not for any committee to do anything other than make recommendations to Parliament. It is Parliament that eventually gets to vote through any request for an LCO although, given the nature of the GoWA 2006, the SoS for Wales can effectively veto it by refusing to lay an LCO request before Parliament in the first place.

If the Tories win the next election, the SoSW will be a Tory ... no matter how few MPs the Tories might have in Wales, or how many Labour have. With a majority in the Commons, the Tories can and will vote down any recommendation that a WGC might make if they disagree with it. So what on earth is the point of setting up two competing groups in Westminster? The WASC (like nearly all committees) is deliberately designed to reflect the composition of the Commons precisely in order to avoid such pointlessness.

Paul Flynn

If case you have difficulty in locating Adam Higgitt's splendid site (the link to worked for me)Here are his fascinating comments:-

#8: The Welsh Parliamentary Party “could be re-exhumed to approve the Elcos”
23 February 2009 by Adam Higgitt

The claim

Paul Flynn MP again supplies the claim upon which this post is based, arguing in his most recent blog that:

The Welsh Parliamentary Party has a 150 years of history. They were last summoned to take a decision when William Hague was Secretary of State for Wales. The party approved of the use of Welsh in meetings in Wales of the Welsh Grand Committee. It could be re-exhumed to approve the Elcos.

Flynn’s claims are made in the context of an argument against the Welsh Affairs Select Committee being used as the primary Parliamentary body to scruntinise Legislative Competence Orders (LCOS, or Elcos) emanating from the Assembly. That, in turn, is part of a wider debate about Westminster’s role which has been discussed here already.

Two points then arise from the claim: does the Welsh Parliamentary Party have the history ascbribed to it, and could it be used in the way suggested?

The evidence

A loose Welsh grouping existed prior the General Election of 1886, and indeed had formal posts. But was not until 1888 that moves were made to create a “Welsh Parliamentary Party”, complete with party whips. The creation of the Welsh Party was at once an attempt to emulate some and avoid other elements of Irish nationalism and the Irish Party.1 This was a time of great confidence within Welsh Liberalism about what could be achieved through concerted action, as well as a period in which the Liberal grip on Welsh politics was all but unassailable. Yet, even in this first flush, the new caucus lacked either the coherence of a new party, or a a clear sense of direction.2 Indeed, such disagreements about home rule foreshadowed the imminent collapse of Cymu Fydd in 1896.

Nevertheless, for the brief period up to that traumatic episode and for a few years afterward, the Welsh Parliamentary Party affected to function as a recognisable unit, albeit it one that failed to grasp the opportunities that appeared to be on offer3 following the 1892 General Election when Welsh members theoretically held the balance of power. By 1906, that was no longer the case and the moment had long since passed. From here the party petered out, but did not quite die out. Indeed, with the passing of the Liberal hegemony it became something more like Flynn’s evocation; a very occasional cross-party forum capable of embodying the sentiment of Welsh members.4 One would struggle most earnestly to identify anything of note achieved by it from any point beyond 1907.

But that is not really the point, for the question is whether it is a vehicle capable of taking on the role of scrutinising the Assembly’s requests for legislative competence. The Western Mail’s Tomos Livingstone makes a germane observation here, namely that there is little practical difference between the Welsh Parliamentary Party and the Flynn’s other nominee body, the Welsh Grand Committee; both comprise all 40 MPs, neither has a role.5 This may be excessive textual exegesis on my part, but I detect in Paul Flynn’s proposal a definite bias towards resurrecting the Party over convening the Committee. That is understandable; mention of the Welsh Party evokes the great Welsh radical demand for home rule , even if it also evokes an era of political hegemony that finally appears to be drawing to a close. The poor old Welsh Grand Committe, by contrast, has only ever been seen as the weakest of sops to devolutionists and enjoys no folkore whatsoever. Nonetheless. we are talking about the same 40 politicians.

However designated, here is no reason why they cannot do the job as well as the currentl smaller cohort, as well as removing the anomaly of certain Welsh MPs being excluded, while an English MP carries out the scrutiny. I suspect there are objections for the precedent it might set in respect of English lawmaking.6 But there is another objection to be filed under “the law of unintended consequences”. If the anxiety is that the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, with a challengeable mandate, is transforming itself into the Assembly’s second chamber, then surely a formal committee of all Welsh MPs would do exactly that with a vengence?

The conclusion: Defended

The Welsh Parliamentary Party, however constituted, could easily be used to carry out the Westminster scrutiny role currently being performed by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. But it is uncertain this would remove the grievance that Westminster’s scrutiny of the Assemby’s requests for legislative competence should be relatively perfunctory. Indeed, if the more detailed grievance is that there should be not be a de facto second or revising chamber then this seems like a very bad move. If the Welsh Affairs Select Committee is guilty of arrogating authority, a body of all Welsh MPs would surely regard itself as every bit the equal of the Assembly’s 60 Members, a situation which would lead to more, not less scrutiny and revision.

The conundrum about the strength of mandate is one we see in the endless debate about Lords reform. If the mandate is too weak the chamber has no authority to recommend real changes, and hence does not serve its purpose. If it is too strong, it becomes unclear who is really in charge. This is the Welsh mirror of that debate, and in that sense alone the debate about a revising element already seems settled. One appears to exist; Paul Flynn’s question revolves around what authority to grant it.

Postscript:

Paul Flynn’’s article also contains the claim that “in 1950 only 5 Welsh MPs backed the call for devolution”. This is true. however, the endorsement in question was specifically for the cross-party Parliament for Wales campaign, a movement that arguably did much to set back support for devolution within the Welsh PLP and induced opposition from the likes of Jim Griffiths, W H Mainwaring and D R Grenfell. The party’s trenchantly centralist Welsh Regional Organiser Cliff Prothero went to quite extraordinary lengths to suppress support for the campaign, so much so that even Nye Bevan felt compelled to intervene on behalf of the pro-devolutionist MPs. It would not be true to say, as has been noted on this site before, that only five MPs in 1950 supported devolution.

***

1 K O Morgan cites Stuart Rendel, the Welsh Parliamentary Party’s first Chairman, arguing only months before assuming that post that Liberal acceptance of Welsh disestablishment made further independent Welsh action unnecessary. He takes this as evidence that Rendel’s move to instill greater organisation in the Welsh party was motivated by a desire to head off some of the more separatist calls coming from within Cymru Fydd at the time (Morgan, K O, Rebirth of a Nation, (1980), OUP)

2 ibid.

3 The party made three demands of Gladstone in 1892: an inquiry into Welsh land, disestablishment and a University Charter. On the first they got a Commission but no action, the second would not achieve legislative basis for another 22 years. Only the last was an unqualified success, and it was by far the least controversial. See Morgan, K O, Wales in British Politics 1868-1922 (1963), UWP

4. in July 1943, with Conservative Arthur Evans in the chair, together with Liberal Megan Lloyd George and Labour’s Nye Bevan as deputies, a deputation under it aegis petitioned Churchill to create a Secretary of State for Wales. (Morgan, K O, op cit 1980)

5 The relationship is in fact even more compelling, for the former begat the latter. In 1907, when the first iteration of the party had ceased to be an agitator of Welsh-specific legislation, it successfully lobbied for the creation of a Welsh standing committee, which in 1960 was reborn as the Welsh Grand Committee.

6 A committee comprised only of Welsh MPs with any sort of legislative role - even one of scrutiny - would surely invite the question as to why Labour opposes Conservative plans to reform Parliament along the lines proposed by Malcolm Rifkind for England, but support something very similar for Wales.

Adam Higgitt

Hello Paul

I've commented on this post on my site.

Paul Flynn

MH. most of the points you are making are fair ones, although in these days of volatile political moods anything is possible. The possibility of a Tory Government may well drive many voters back into voting Labour.

I do not want a referendum that might be lost. That will set us back a generation. I am sufficiently optimistic that Wales's affection for the Assembly will grow.


MH

PF, If I didn't know you better I might accuse you of wanting to "endlessly tinker with constitutional arrangements". You wouldn't want to play into David Cameron's hands, would you? He might even call that "boring".

The simple fact is that you can't have it BOTH ways. The Welsh Affairs Select Committee represents the overall composition of the Commons. That means that when Labour lose the next election, it will have even more Tories on it. You can't change the rules your OWN party set up just because you look set to lose power.

On top of that we'll be stuck with a Tory SoS for Wales ... probably the one who represents the good voters of Chesham and Amersham.

You and your fellow Labour MPs have got a single, stark choice to make. Either you support a Yes vote in a referendum, in which case your AM colleagues will have a fighting chance of getting Labour's manifesto commitments to Wales through in the Assembly. Or you do nothing and let a new Tory Government in Westminster veto every single attempt the Welsh Government might make to pass any legislation necessary to implement those policies.

The AWC will report in late 2009. You will be in power until May 2010. That gives you a 5 month window of opportunity to get your party's act together and get the referendum legislation through before you loose power in Westminster.

Please don't gamble with your one chance. If you bottle it, you won't get another for long time ... for Wales will be left to the tender mercies of the Tories for the next five, ten or fifteen years.

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