Further powers for the assembly now is a mistake

Chris Davies MP expresses his concerns over the Wales Bill.

I am grateful to have the opportunity of writing for the Institute of Welsh Affairs. Not just because, as proud Welshman, I get to show my nationalistic pride, but also because the Institute has frequently campaigned for the cultural, social, political and economic well-being of Wales – something I too wish to use my time in the House of Commons to echo.

The Wales Bill, brought before the House recently, aims to devolve further powers to the Welsh Assembly. Powers over issues such as tax, ports and transport are all aiming to be devolved, and I wanted to support it, I really did. Reading through the Conservative Party Manifesto, on which I was elected, I believed we would be bringing forward a Wales Bill that would settle devolution once and for all and make us a stronger nation overall. A stronger nation playing its part in a United Kingdom.

But I, like other MPs was to be disappointed. There were many issues I had with the Bill but I shall restrain myself and cover only a couple of them here. Mainly, the timing of the Bill and the abolition of a referendum on tax raising powers.

The timing of the Wales Bill could not have been worse. We have just had an Assembly election that returned a ‘no overall majority’ vote, which to my mind is hardly a ringing endorsement of the competence of the Welsh Assembly Government. Further, our economy is just chugging back into life but faces uncertainty through the fallout of the recent EU referendum. So not the best timing.

To devolve further powers now to the Assembly is, in my view, a mistake. We need to devolve powers at a time when the Welsh Assembly is strong and capable of handling new powers in order that they can make the best of them. After all, we currently have (essentially) the same Assembly government who have presided over failing education standards, consistently missed health targets, and who reduced the agriculture budget and left the rural welsh voice silenced around the Cabinet table. This is the same Assembly government who paid around £50,000 for a wind turbine for the Assembly buildings that created £5 worth of electricity a year before being switched off. The same Assembly Government who has presided over one incompetence after another.

Giving this Assembly more powers, at a time in which they cannot responsibly use the powers they have, to me is like hiring the same cowboy builder, who built you an unstable house, to come and build you an extension. It is piling more Jenga bricks on top of a wobbly tower to try and make it more stable. It just doesn’t work.

Another section of the Bill that, for me, does not work is the removal of the need for a referendum on tax raising powers. The former colonies demanded “no taxation without representation” and I looked to echo this sentiment in my speech on this Bill in the House.

The Manifesto I stood on, and the pledge I made to many of my constituents, was that the Welsh Assembly would not get tax raising powers if the Welsh people did not want them to. The way we were to find out if the Welsh people want the Assembly to have tax raising powers was through a nationwide referendum. It was in black and white on page 70 of our Manifesto, but reading through the Wales Bill it had been erased.

A referendum would give the Welsh people the chance to have their say over how they would like to be governed. In a democracy as strong as ours, this is a fundamental right that the people of Wales deserve as giving the Assembly tax raising powers is a fundamental shift towards separate Government from Westminster. It is therefore only right that the Welsh people are given the chance to decide if that is something they want. We have seen the rise of nationalism in Scotland and the troubles in Northern Ireland and so it is only right and proper that the people have the opportunity to have their say on the issues that affect them.

I know that the country may be tiring of Referendums, I know I am, but my view is that a referendum on tax raising powers is a fundamental pillar of democracy that the Welsh devolution settlement should be built upon. We are not a colony, nor will we ever be, so I shall propose a similar edict to our colonial forefathers – no taxation without consultation.

Since the Welsh Assembly was first established in 1997, we are yet to have a devolution settlement to settle devolution once and for all. We first had the Government of Wales Act 1998, then the Government of Wales Act 2006 and now the Wales Bill of 2016, it seems never ending. It is time to have a final settlement for Wales that doesn’t end in a comma, but a full stop.

I believe in a strong Wales, playing its part in a United Kingdom. At a time when our Welsh economy is just grunting back into life, with businesses starting to create jobs and increase investment, and a time of political fallout from the Assembly elections and the recent EU referendum, we need a final settlement that looks to create that strong Wales. I am not convinced that this is that settlement.

Chris Davies MP is the MP for Brecon and Radnorshire.

10 thoughts on “Further powers for the assembly now is a mistake

  1. It is good to see that there is some sanity and honesty left in the Conservative Party. Those of us who – sometimes reluctantly – voted Conservative in 2015 did so not because we love the current Conservative Party but because we did not want to see socialists in power and consequent high taxes.

    It is therefore incomprehensible, even insulting, to most Conservative voters in Wales that a nominally Conservative government is giving more powers to an organisation that will, almost inevitably, be run by socialists.

    To give them tax powers is especially foolish, like putting an alcoholic in charge of a bar.

    The great lesson of the EU Referendum is that the political Establishment needs to listen to the people. In particular, the main parties need to listen to their bases – to look after their friends, not their sworn enemies.

  2. I entirely agree with Chris Davies M.P further devolution is totally wrong.All it will do is to make a greater divide between law in England & Wales. Like Chris I am proud to be Welsh ( I can prove I am descended from Owain Glyndwr ) and proud to be British. However more powers will simply play to the wishes of Plaid Cymru. I believe that we should continue to play our full part in British Politics .

  3. The arguments seem to be “short sell,” which is perhaps in keeping with the mood of the times. Nor does it differentiate between the performance of the assembly as a multi-party entity with powers to establish laws and oversee policies and programs, and that of the government in power, whose job it is to implement the laws, policies and programs. A narrow and restrictive perspective on the progressive governance of Wales.

  4. If you wait for the right time in life to do anything you will never do anything, seize the moment and the moment is now right for the WAG to have the power it needs to make Wales stronger in the coming storm. Without the measures the WAG put in place following the 2008 crash Wales would now be so fall down the UK economic table we would be out of sight. That honour now goes to Cornwall and the North East. Yes our education standards are below England but they were below England before the Assembly and on par with the education standards in England outside the rich South East. Yes our health system has problems, but no more than England, Ireland or Scotland. Should England wait until it’s sorted out it’s health care system before it does anything, remember England’s NHS system is in a worse case than Wales, so will Brexiters say don’t sign Article 50 util England gets its NHS sorted out, no.

    Yes we are a small country, but so are most of the US states and each individual US state has a lot more power than Mess-Minster will ever give to Wales.

    “Do not wait: the time will never be ‘just right’. Start where you stand, and work whatever tools you may have at your command and better tools will be found as you go along.” Napoleon Hill

  5. Where do you start with this? Basically Chris Davies is saying as long as Labour is in power no more powers should be given to the Welsh Assembly – that’s a frightening insight into the view of how the UK constitution should work from within the Conservative Party. Before the EU referendum we were constantly told, by Leavers like Chris that Brexit would lead to greater democracy in the UK. Well that appears to be another of their lies, easily discarded days after the referendum. We see confirmation that those on the side of Brexit see it as a way of further centralising power in the hands of a Conservative run Westminster. Bizarrely, he worries about £50,000 on a wind turbine by the Assembly when his Brexit has led (in just days) to a plunging pound, share prices falling, property funds suspended, university research projects on hold, a spike in race hate crimes….

    As for seeing the Wales Bill as imperilling the United Kingdom, to say the least it’s a bit rich of Chris who supported the Leave campaign, who knowingly supporting a cause, which has set Scotland on the road to independence and emboldened the cause of Irish unity.

  6. Assembly government who paid around £50,000 for a wind turbine

    From an MP in a Tory government that spent £250 million on an airport that could not be used, that spent £90 million on IT equipment that wouldn’t work. That has wasted £34 BILLION of our taxes. That has no record of how it spends £2.5 BILLION each year on public policy research. If you are looking for sheer incompetence take a good look around you at your fellow MPs next time you are in the House of Commons

  7. I find it hilarious at a time when the UK Government and its opposition have dumped us into the largest self inflicted economic crisis and social division for a century with no contingency planning either way, A Chancellor asleep at the wheel, A Prime Minister resigning immediately, An Opposition at war with itself, A Chilcot report that damns the Westminster government and its Mandarins for lying, incompetence and again failed planning, that this Conservative MP has the GALL to say that the Welsh Government and its Senedd has not the capability, intelligence or integrity to accept more devolution. I am no fan of the current administration in Cardiff but they do a more stable job than Sant Steffan.

  8. I shudder at the thought of running a referendum on something else at the moment. We’ve seen how devisive these things can be. If you put the word Tax on a referendum form then a vast number of people will instinctively vote No, whatever the question. It’s time our paid-up politicians, who have the time to debate and read in depth about these things did their jobs, without abdicating responsibility every time. It’s also strange that the Conservatives in Westminster who supposedly despise notions of a nanny state, find it so hard to release their controls of everything that happens here in Wales.

  9. Before the recent referendum on eu membership leave supporters were telling us lots of powers would be ‘repatriated to wales from brussels’ if we left the eu – yet now we have a prominent leave advocate in wales (chris davies) telling us that the welsh assembly shouldnt actually get any further powers of any kind! Looks like another promise from the leave europe campaign they had no intention of keeping (like the ‘350 million a week for the nhs’).

  10. Blaming the institution for the failings of the Welsh Labour administration, actually lets Welsh Labour off the hook. Following recent events in Scotland & now the Brexit vote, if we maintain the status quo any longer than there won’t be much of a Britain left to maintain. The only way we have any chance of saving the United Kingdom is too make it a federal state. The sooner politicians realise this the better.

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