Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Welsh Referendum (Part 1) - What's it all about?

This is an article that I was asked to contribute for Liberal Democrat Voice and which was published on the site here yesterday.

It's the first time that I've been asked to write specifically for LDV and I'll be following it up with a second post on this referendum in a few weeks time.

I'm pleased to do so to highlight the Welsh liberal context on LDV to my fellow liberal cousins across the UK and beyond!

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There's much talk about the House of Lords on-going 'go-slow' with the legislation for the AV referendum. The latest obstacle thrown up being the 40% voting turnout threshold. Meanwhile, the 'Yes 2 AV' campaign continues with its ground campaign in readiness for the expected d-day of May 5th.

But here in Wales of course, we have another referendum on our mind - the referendum on further powers to the Welsh Assemby in Cardiff Bay.

Referendum Day - March 3rd!
The referendum was promised by the 'One Wales' Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition government within the 4 year life-scale of the current government. With only two months of that government to run to we finally get to have our say on the future of Welsh legislative powers. The 'Yes for Wales' campaign was officially launched in January as I blogged about here at the time.

At present the Welsh Assembly is able to pass primary legislation (called Assembly Measures) in the 20 Policy Fields for which it is responsible such as health, education and agricultural matters. However, it must first have the power to do so conferred upon it by the Westminster Parliament. Once the power to legislate in certain matters has been conferred, the Assembly has that power permanently.

The LCO (Legislative Competence Orders) process which currently exists to deal with this situation and which Labour brought into being with the 2006 Government of Wales Act, is protracted, bureaucratic and long-winded.

As an example, it has taken three years for the Assembly to get powers transferred from Westminster to reform the organ donation system to give a lifeline to people waiting for a new kidney. Even though the policy is widely supported in Wales the Assembly is still waiting for permission to act.

Why's it taken so long? Because this is the current drawn-out mechanism that it and other measures have had to go through...

• Internal discussion on the terms of a draft Order with the Wales Office and Whitehall
• Draft LCO published
• Pre-legislative scrutiny by committee at the Assembly
• Pre-legislative scrutiny at Westminster, usually by the Welsh Affairs Committee in the Houses of Commons and the Constitution Committee in the Lords. Each committee prepares a report and can propose amendments to the draft LCO, as can the Secretary of State if s/he wishes
• The Welsh Government considers the various responses, and prepares a formal LCO
• The proposed LCO is considered by the Welsh Assembly
• If approved by the Assembly, it is then considered at Westminster. It may be considered again by the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee, and will also be scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
• Both Houses of Parliament approve the LCO, or not. If approved, it then receives Royal approval.

Fallen asleep yet? Because it's this kind of 'cap in hand' government that this referendum hopes to do away with.

As First Minister Carwyn Jones said on Tuesday last week:

"The Assembly's present lawmaking system is like Warren Gatland having to send a letter to Martin Johnson asking if he can put Shane Williams in the Welsh team, and then having to send 14 individual letters for the other players as well".

So why do the Welsh Lib Dems Say 'Yes'?
The Welsh Liberal Democrats, ably led by Kirsty Williams, are supporting and campaigning for a positive result because it has been the long and proud tradition of Welsh radical liberals since the age of Lloyd George to support a full devolutionary settlement for Wales.

As a UK-wide party, we believe in federalism - a strong Wales playing its full role in a strong and united British framework. This doesn't mean independence for Wales - it if did, I wouldn't be supporting it and neither would Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Liberal Democrats! It means greater autonomy for Wales to deal with its day-to-day issues in the same way as we would wish local councils to deal with matters that are relevant to our communities at the ground level.

So we're busy campaigning for a 'Yes' vote in two referendums this spring! I will report back on the progress of this particular campaign in a few weeks time.


  1. This makes it somewhat clearer after last night's programme which left me as confused as before.

    What mechanism will scrutinise the proposed legislation as a ruling party should be able to get anything through.

    We dont have a 2nd Chamber which in the UK does a sterling job generally, in looking at legislation from the lower Chamber.

    How will the scrutiny be undertaken to ensure its good legislation?

  2. A good piece which clearly highlights the sense of a yes vote. unfortunately i suspect most voters are ignorant of the process you have outlined and will place their vote based on this ignorance