Legislating by Consensus

Daran Hill says the parties of the Welsh Assembly could come together to pass backbench legislation.

The Welsh Government is now in place. We have an administration which is 95% Labour, 5% Liberal Democrat. But we also have a commitment from the First Minister to govern in a more open way, reaching out to others and recognising that Labour does not have a monopoly of good ideas.

So how open is the government to such ideas? After all, even with a moratorium on legislating for 100 days from the Welsh Government, it is not just the prerogative of the administration to bring legislation forward.

You don’t need to be in government to propose and pass legislation, you just need a majority of Assembly Members. The others could all work together to propose and enact Bills. Indeed, we may find one of the stand out points of this Assembly is the greater passage of Committee and backbencher legislation.

And there is common ground. Because of the nature of lobbying in Wales, several parties have taken up the suggestions for legislation that seem to have come from interest groups and have gained general acceptance. Here are some suggestions of five areas where those outside the Labour Party can take the initiative and propose Bills that could potentially have the support of a majority on the floor of the Assembly.

 Single Transferable Vote in Local Government: UKIP and Plaid Cymru all have a clear commitment to introducing a proportional form of representation to local government elections in Wales. All they need to do is get the Conservatives on board and this is something Kirsty Williams might find hard to reject too, whatever her new government colleagues might think…

 Animal Welfare: Every party had things to say on legislating on animal welfare in their manifestos. The Welsh Conservatives pledged to end the use of wild animals in circuses, to update legislation on selling animals and to propose a Wildlife Bill as “a single, accessible Assembly Bill to aid enforcement.” There is a huge overlap in what Plaid Cymru wants too, as they are committed to banning use of wild animals in circuses, and legislating to regulate the use of snares within a new Wildlife Act. UKIP has an extensive series of commitments on animal welfare including a consolidation of wildlife legislation (including the banning of free running snares), improved regulation of sanctuaries, and tightening breeding regulations. Aligned to the Liberal Democrat favourability to a ban on wild animals in circuses then Labour’s commitment that there should be “a review of the current wide ranging animal welfare legislation to inform our next steps”, as well as having previously committed to look at outlawing the use of wild animals in circuses, then maybe a cleverly framed Bill covering both wildlife and animal welfare from within the structures of the Assembly could stand a very good chance of passing without a single vote being cast against.

Autism:  Plaid Cymru is pledged to “introduce legislation that protects and promotes the rights of autistic people in Wales, their families and carers,” which is broadly the same commitment being advocated by the Conservatives. UKIP doesn’t specify legislation but does talk about an “‘autism curriculum’, which captures not only children’s learning requirements but also seeks to address social, emotional and communication needs.” There is surely the capacity here to work together to produce a relatively focused piece of legislation which would carry majority support in the Senedd.

Landscape and Environment: The Conservatives are pledged to “legislate to reinstate higher statutory protection for internationally agreed definitions of landscape, biodiversity and ecosystems” which aligns with the UKIP commitment to “introduce a ‘presumption in favour of conservation’ into planning legislation” alongside strengthening Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The general thrust of Plaid’s approach is not incongruent from these themes, though it has a particular emphasis on energy sources and outlawing fracking, and is particularly seeking “enshrine a fast-track route for community-owned energy schemes, with a presumption in favour of development.” Again, could the 30 members outside the government work together here?

Commissioners and Ombudsman: There is significant agreement on strengthening and changing the nature and powers of those overseeing different aspects of public services in Wales. The Liberal Democrats at the election wanted to “introduce a Commissioners Bill to transfer responsibility for Commissioners from Welsh Government to the National Assembly to ensure accountability and transparency of appointment, and recognise the title of a Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Wales” and will presumably be lobbying for this within government. This direct accountability to the Assembly is also a policy for Plaid Cymru. The synergy goes even further: both the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru are committed to supporting “a new Public Service Ombudsman Act to give ‘own initiative powers’ when dealing with public service complaints and systematic failures, and a new Complaints Standards Authority to drive improved responsiveness to citizens’ concerns across the public sector.” On top of this, the Welsh Conservatives agree that commissioner and ombudsman appointments should be made by the National Assembly rather than the Welsh Government, for fixed, non-renewable terms. All of which is probably likely to be better received by the new, improved Listening Labour….

Daran Hill is MD of Positif.

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