David Jones’ negative, patronising stance on Assembly

But Secretary of State accepts two referendums have cemented devolution as part of the landscape says John Osmond

Secretary of State for Wales David Jones has an open mind about the Silk Commission’s forthcoming recommendations on our constitutional future. At least that is what he said in his lecture on Wales in the Continuing Union (here) to the Wales Governance Centre in Cardiff Bay earlier this week. As he put it, “I am open-minded on how we will take things forward in light of the Silk II report next year”.

Yet on every substantive issue Silk II is considering that David Jones addressed, he came out as decidedly against. His most important pre-emptive strike was to reject out-of-hand the notion that the National Assembly should move from its present ‘conferred’ powers structure to a ‘reserved’ powers model on Scottish and Northern Irish lines.

National Assembly supports Reserved Powers Model

In yesterday’s debate  in the Senedd AMs voted in favour of the motion supporting a reserved powers model for Wales by voting 43 in favour, 6 against and 2 abstentions. A full voting record can be found here. Those AMs that did vote against the motion didn’t even contribute to the debate, and those who didn’t vote were either not present or were substituted due to absences.

Yet in taking this position he simply ignored the growing consensus across the political spectrum in favour of reserved powers. As Emyr Lewis persuasively argued on this site yesterday, reserved powers will bring “greater clarity, less friction between Cardiff and London, and respect for the Assembly as a democratic body”.

This is probably the most important change that Silk is likely to recommend and there is no doubt that it will bring substantial benefits. Not least, it will stop the Wales Office seeing its role as rigorously policing the boundaries of the National Assembly’s legislative competence. As Emyr Lewis also pointed out yesterday, the UK Government has never seen fit to spend time and money challenging Scottish or Northern Irish legislation. Yet the Wales Office took the first piece of Welsh primary legislation to the Supreme Court last autumn and for its pains was humiliated.

David Jones also announced he was against a distinctive Welsh jurisdiction which, again, both Scotland and Northern Ireland enjoy. He was also against the devolution of Welsh broadcasting. Responding to a questioner at the end of his speech he said:

“Broadcasting should be exercised at the UK level. Within a small country like Wales it is too easy for broadcasting to become politicised. I’m not sure either that the Welsh Government would have the resources to fund it adequately.”

The first point was simply patronising, as was much of the tone of his speech. On the second, if broadcasting were devolved, and particularly in the first instance control of S4C, then like any other devolved function, the appropriate budget would have to be devolved as well. Has David Jones read the submission to the Silk Commission made by the Welsh Conservative Group in the National Assembly? I suggest he takes a look at it. If he does so he will see it is far more nuanced on all these points. For instance on the question of broadcasting they say:

“Key political decisions in relation to broadcasting in Wales continue to be made at a UK level by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. However, public service broadcasters have an obligation to meet certain requirements in relation to output, much of which relates to competencies which are already devolved (such as the Welsh language, education and the economy). The Group feels this provides an anomaly which the Commission might address as part of this Review.

“It is the Group’s belief that broadcasters should be accountable to the Assembly for their work in these devolved areas. To this end, we are supportive of a mechanism for joint accountability to both the Assembly and the UK Parliament. The principle of joint responsibility is in existence already in relation to cross-border issues, so the Group deems this a practical approach.

“The Group is mindful of the strength of arguments which exist against devolving broadcasting. We feel our suggestion addresses an anomaly regarding accountability, whilst building a body of evidence, based on practical experience, which can inform the debate on whether further devolution of broadcasting is valuable.”

We have to assume that David Jones disagrees with all of this. In his speech he said the Welsh Government should “spend a little less time agonising over more powers”. Yet immediately he went on to say: “I am absolutely clear that I’m not opposed to further devolution to Wales”. In its evidence to Silk the Welsh Government said it wanted the following:

  • Reserved powers on the Scottish model
  • Limited tax and borrowing powers
  • Creation of Welsh legal jurisdiction
  • Control of policing and criminal justice
  • Increased powers over major energy projects
  • Competence for water extended to Welsh boundaries
  • Full control of public transport – including rail franchise

Because of the UK Government’s delayed response to Silk Part 1 we don’t yet know whether David Jones will go along with limited tax and borrowing powers, which on the face of it he should support but wouldn’t go into in his speech. But he is obviously opposed to all the rest. So what does he mean when he says he is “not opposed to further devolution to Wales”?

Not a lot, it seems. The truth is that David Jones would prefer it if devolution had never happened. In the audience last Tuesday evening was former Welsh Conservative Party chairman Eric Howells. He made a blustering intervention about how devolution was pointless, only supported by a minority, and to boot was a threat to the union. “We’ll have Home Rule next,” he said. “That’s what they’re after. It will break up the union”.

David Jones clearly empathised, but responded, “We are where we are. You will say it never should have happened. But two referendums have cemented devolution as part of the landscape.”

What can we say about David Jones except that he is where he is?

John Osmond is editor of ClickonWales

26 thoughts on “David Jones’ negative, patronising stance on Assembly

  1. likening the 2 referendums to cement is an interesting choice of words! One with a 50.3% to 49.7% result (stricter margin of error would have forced a recount in most other countries) and one with a 33% turnout…. if that’s ‘cementing’ then I would suggest it is a particularly wet mix!

  2. Mr Jones, to his credit, appears to be that increasing rarity in the current Conservative Party, a sincere Unionist. While it is expected that Assembly-believers call him ‘negative,’ others see him as a positive development. Alas, he comes on the scene 15 years too late. Although the low turnout at the last referendum suggests the Assembly is not deeply embedded in the affections of the Welsh people, it is still a political fact of life, and, in accordance with basic political dynamics, will seek increase its power and probably succeed? So what is a Unionist to do in these unhappy circumstances? One strategy might be to cut short the process of devolution short by forcing a straight choice between independence and a restored Union, but the present leadership of his own Party would not want such instability on its watch. A more subtle strategy would be to let the Assembly wither on the vine by bypassing it as much as possible. Ironically, the European principle of subsidiarity offers him the perfect tool. If Wales can opt out of aspects of UK law and policy, then surely constituent areas of Wales, even individuals where practical, should be allowed to opt out of aspects of Welsh law. At the same time, there are a number of administrative measures by which central government could spend its own money directly in Wales, rather than funnelling it through the Assembly. So the legal form of an Assembly would remain, to satisfy national sentiment, but its ability to do damage would be limited.

  3. The post of Secretary of State for Wales serves no useful purpose. This man has only obstructed and meddled in the affairs of the democratically elected government of Wales.
    Even the Tory ultra right in the shape of Peter Bone MP, see no point to his office and wanted to abolish it in their altenative Queens Speech.

  4. I would agree with JWR’s categorisation of David Jones as a unionist, but I’m not sure which part of his speech earlier this week could be accurately described as “sincere”. He constantly obfuscates his belief in an ‘England & Wales’ unitary state with shallow and baseless platitudes towards Silk.

    If by ‘sincere’ you mean his beliefs rather than his words, well his theology is his own prerogative, but he is Sec. of State for Wales and it is what he says as the representative of the UK Government that matters. Currently, we are to understand that the UK Government’s only suggestions for change to the devolution settlement are that teachers pay could be set in Wales, that rail franchises might be decided by the Welsh Government, and that in the future all Acts of the Welsh Assembly would need approval by the Ministry of Justice in London! On paper, this is their position, and David Jones said nothing on Monday to correct this, in fact as John Osmond’s article points out, quite the opposite…

    Is this the position of a UK Government which includes Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander? A coalition of parties that includes Kirsty Williams and Peter Black? A Conservative parliamentary party that includes Glyn Davies and Guto Bebb? Is this the position of a Conservative Assembly Group which includes Paul Davies and Darren Millar who spoke passionately in the debate on reserved powers yesterday? Is this the position of David Melding who’s book on a federal future for the union is available online on this site? Is this the position of the Conservative Assembly Group and their leader Andrew R. T. Davies who’s own submission to Silk included a range of reforms to the settlement?

    Just exactly who does David Jones speak for? David Davies? Nigel Farage?

    If it’s for his own ‘sincere’ unitary state beliefs, fair enough, but what confidence can Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who believe in a correctly configured decentralised state have in his ability to represent their position?

    If he is speaking for the UK Government, the coalition and the Conservative Party, perhaps some of those named above would like to offer the people of Wales their reasoned assessment of the stability and effectiveness of the current arrangements? Their justification, if you like, for not changing anything at all? And whilst they are at it, perhaps they could give the people of Wales a justification for setting up Silk in the first place at great public expense (not to mention the expense that all private-sector and third-sector contributors of evidence have gone to) knowing full well you don’t intend to act on its recommendations or that you’ll try to spike the results in advance?

  5. Excellent comment by Phil Davies, which outlines the massive risks in allowing the constitutional debate to be settled outside of Wales. There is a problem within Unionism in my opinion. Unionists are quick to proclaim their Unionism, which is their right. However, that term can cover such a wide range of meanings, that it doesn’t actually mean that much. David Jones wants things to stay exactly as they are now, and David Melding (for example) wants substantial change. Yet they’re not only both Unionists but are both members of the same political party. I think some Unionists are using that term as cover for not wanting to improve the union or change Wales’ place within it. Their chance to make amends will be in delivering a robust response to Silk part 1 that actually reflects Welsh public opinion and leads to greater self-government for Wales.

  6. ‘ “We’ll have Home Rule next,” he said. “That’s what they’re after. It will break up the union”. ‘.

    If it does, it does. So what? Fair, equitable just, and democratic government is far more important than any “union”.

    Like many on the English right, these days, David Jones seems prepared to play fast and loose with the good operation of democracy. He seems happy to overlook the fact that his position is archaic and odious to most people in Wales who now seek democratic government from an elected National Assembly and have no time for a crown appointee to be the unelected monarch’s surrogate.

    Delaying and procrastinating over other people’s freedom has wrought so much bloodshed across the world, even coming home to England, in the past, but yet again the English ruling class hopes that by dithering, the impulse for freedom will somehow just dissipate.

  7. “………..that actually reflects Welsh public opinion and leads to greater self-government for Wales.”

    Isn’t that rather presumptuous? Greater self government is a broad term that may not encompass the desires of a majority of the Welsh public. Haven’t we all been conned once with that little “tidying up exercise” that was never going to be only the next step towards an Independent Wales? Let’s just cut to the chase and have a vote on independence and then we can get on with real government for the people of Wales.

  8. It is clear that David Jones is some sort of one man band off on a tangent against further devolution. As many above have pointed out, most progressive, realistic Conservatives support devolution and wish it to develop within a UK framework. His comments are his own. I believe it is also true that the people of Wales and a leading political consensus want more devolution, within the UK, as well. The second referendum had a low turnout. But so did the London Assembly. Who’s calling for that to be abolished? The interested minority who care carried the day- that’s what democracy is like. If that many were against a Welsh law making devolved settlement they would have voted No. As it turned out, Yes won the day and apathy was obvious. Apathy is not the same as a No vote. As much as they are not perfect, as long as they are done properly quantitative research such as surveys or polls can give a fairly good idea of what the public mood is. Currently David Jones is no where near where the Welsh people (the people he is meant to represent) are on this. There is general support for the Assembly, some fiscal powers and further competence.

    It boils down to this salient point- David Jones is meant to represent Wales at the UK Cabinet, not represent the UK Cabinet in Wales. He is abusing his position through using it to peddle an ultra-unionist viewpoint, thus intentionally holding back devolution. This is illustrated by the farce of their unfinished response to the first Silk report on tax and borrowing powers, which we still have not seen (not that it will be much to rave about, I’m sure).

  9. @Jon Jones- why should we ”cut to the chase”? An in/out referendum on the union, with the other option being no more devolution at all, would suit your bunch just fine. Due to the fact that the Welsh people, or at least most of them, are not convinced by the Independence debate, there would be a vote to stop devolution. That would be unfair and not democratic, as federalism or at least devolution within the UK is what people seem to want.

  10. I would consider myself a unionist who favours retaining the United Kingdom. But people like David Jones need to get into the 21st century. We’re not going back to pre-1997, but need to seriously look at securing the union in the wake of the Scottish referendum next year. If you are a true unionist then you would believe that all four nations of the UK need to be treated equally and behave respectfully to each other. One could argue that David Jones is actually fuelling the fire of separatism.

    Its not just parity with Scotland that Wales needs. We need parity with Northern Ireland and to some extent England as well. I’ve heard people argue that Wales has lesser powers because it is historically united with England. Yet despite Welsh people being opposed to independence they would never consider themselves to be English. Northern Ireland has its own legal system, and has been in existence for less than a century. If historical reasons are your argument then does that also mean that Northern Ireland should merge with the Republic? It is also absurd and perhaps insulting that former IRA members can legislate in the NI Assembly on policing and criminal justice and so on, yet our elected politicians in Wales cannot! I wonder if some fellow unionists in NI would agree?

    Before the last election the Tories promised a resolution to the West Lothian Question, and campaigned for this on the grounds of ‘fairness’. Don’t get we wrong. I’m all in favour of addressing this issue. They established the McKay commission which is suggesting limiting Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh MPs on voting on English only legislation. In Scotland they have actually allowed the SNP to legislate on letting 16-17 year olds to vote in next years referendum, as well promising more powers to the Scottish Parliament if there is a no vote. And this is from a Conservative and Unionist government!!

    Yet when it comes to Wales they will put their foot down and say no. Double standards!! Why is this? Could it be that Scottish nationalism and Irish republicanism are strong enough to require appeasement, whereas Welsh nationalism is too weak? If Welsh nationalism is so weak then how can separatism even be possible? UKIP advocate the abolition of the Welsh Assembly yet appear to back an English Parliament and more powers to the Scottish one albeit within the UK, according to Farage when he was in Edinburgh.

    People who oppose devolution are entitled to their views, but they should be oppose it on a UK level and not just in Wales.

    We need to be thinking long term about the future of the union and not just for the convenience of the next 20 years. The UK needs to be evolve into a Federal Structure with all nations sharing parity with each other. The tories and UKIP want fairness for England, I want fairness for Wales! Welsh nationalism will not be weak forever.

  11. @Rob Carter- very good points, and you raise some interesting questions. Wales is known as Englands’ last colony for a reason and I feel that due to increased Scottish devolution and even the wholly possible notion of independence will create a knee jerk reaction where Welsh devolution will be jettisoned, at least further devolution any way. This is unacceptable and shows the disdain Westminster has for Wales. Welsh nationalism (I am a Plaid member) will not remain in its current level of popularity and will only grow the more the idea of federalism is kicked into the long grass.

  12. The fact that the AMs were even debating this reserved powers nonsense, when the economy and public services in Wales are in free-fall, confirms their abject contempt for the people they were elected to serve.

    As for John Osmond’s somewhat snide comment above:

    “Those AMs that did vote against the motion didn’t even contribute to the debate..”

    all I can say is well done to those 6 AMs who refused to legitimise this scandal by taking any active part in it beyond voting against it.

  13. Messrs Jones and Howells are looking increasingly anachronistic. Does Northern Ireland ‘deserve’ a better devolution settlement than Wales? They most certainly give that impression and so ‘reward’ violence (by both Unionists and Nationalists there) while disdaining the constitutionalist and democratic approach that had happily prevailed in Wales. Their oppositional stance is, if anything, going to spur further devolution, as people here are getting increasingly fed up with Westminster’s patronising dismissals of Wales’ legitimate aspirations. Indeed, it is mildly amusing to see the ultramontaine British Nationalists / Unionists from Euro-Sceptic Conservatives to UKIP now making an ever more compelling case for Welsh independence within Europe.

  14. I was there,and in my very humble and inadequate opinion (to some) wish to state the following:-1 Mr. David Jones MP (SoS for Wales) spoke very well,and fully explained his position to the current devolution settlement,and possible changes in the future.2. The SoS clearly wished that there was greater devolution in Wales from Cardiff Bay,however clearly that fell on deaf ears. 3. Various people asked questions of Mr. Jones,including Sir, Eric Howells who spoke in a perfectly plain,but impashioned manner as to the current situation,and his analysis was entirely correct and proper..Clearly I’m not sophisticated,but it didn’t sound like’blustering’ to myself ,or others sitting around.4.There can be no doubt that there is a small minority who will badger/taunt any body,or person until they get their way in separating us from the UK,however the vast majority do not wish that at all.5.As long as we have a democracy then people are entitled to express their opinions within legal boundaries,however listening to some fanatics in Wales I’m not sure how long freedom would last if they ever got total power.

  15. I heard that at the final public consultation of the Silk Commission in Swansea this week, members of the public who attended supported a move to reserved powers unanimously, not even one abstention.

  16. HM
    “however listening to some fanatics in Wales I’m not sure how long freedom would last if they ever got total power. “.
    You have no reason whatsoever for the above remark other than your own rancour. Keep your gratuitous rudeness to yourself and try to remember there are adults on this blog.

  17. It wouldn’t be so bad if DJ had a coherent view of what he wanted the devolution settlement to be but there is no sign of that. It’s not only extensions of the Assembly’s powers he opposes; he’s against things that almost everyone else agrees would tidy up the devolution settlement. On some things even the Welsh Assembly and the UK Treasury apparently agree but DJ still wants to block.. He won’t survive the next Westminster reshuffle.

  18. reading this blog extensively can make you lose your grip on reality. A hand few like to give the impression that Wales is on the cusp of some sort of nationalist uprising. We’ve heard it all before of course, lastly of note was after Leanne Wood’s appointment. However the reality is that Plaid Cymru receive less votes (in general, assembly and euro elections) than even the dreaded conservative party! I mean honestly… less votes than the conservatives… in Wales?! How do you nationalists get out of bed in the morning knowing that? That’s akin to being less popular than the Republicans in 1960’s San Francisco… but even they polled second place!

  19. @Belowlansker- this article is about further devolution, not the electoral fortunes of one party. Given the fact that Labour, the Lib Dems and some Welsh Tories support further devolution and a move to reserved powers, explain how it’s all doom and gloom for Nationalists ?

  20. I also don’t think that David Jones doesn’t represent anyone in particular, other than his own views. But I do think that he’s using (or abusing) his position as SoS for Wales as an opportunity to voice opinions that would not get much of a hearing otherwise. It is possible that he sees himself as a bulwark against further political development eroding the power of Westminster. But it again points up the contradiction of having a democratically elected Government in Wales having to negotiate with an appointed SoS representing a minority view here. The real question why on earth do we still persist with having an SoS at all.

  21. “I also don’t think” should read “I also think”

    “The real question why” should read “The real question is why”

  22. This doesn’t sound to promising:


    “But does there come a point at which devolving policy levers in the form of specific tax powers instead turns into handing one part of the UK what could be seen as an unfair competitive advantage over another?

    This is why the suggestions – and they’re only suggestions – coming out of Westminster is that Air Passenger Duty on long haul flights won’t be transferred to Cardiff. Stamp duty is one that’s in the balance also apparently. Both transport and housing are devolved, and on issues like building regulations and buying Cardiff Airport, for example, the Welsh Government’s carving out a very different approach from England.”

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