Monday, 15 February 2010

Golwg COLUMN: The reason for a referendum

Law making is not child's play. It's a complex and should be a thorough process. As ignorance of the law is not a defence in the courts. There is, therefore, a responsibility on our legislators to be both thorough and open when legislating. Well, that's the principle. Certainly no one can suggest that the current system of legislating in Wales is hasty. Not by a long way.
There's no simplicity about it. Currently there is no right to legislate without the principle being discussed not only in the national Assembly but also in the Palace of Westminster in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons. That is before any measure[law] is proposed.
Not only is the process complicated but allows plenty of scope for mischief. And that's exactly what has happened to the housing LCO.
The Welsh Assembly Government has sought the power to legislate in this field for almost four years. The Welsh Select Committee rejected the first attempt and WAG had to re-start the process with a redrafted LCO.
Now the second attempt has run into difficulties. The three Conservative members on the Welsh Affairs committee voted against giving the Welsh Assembly the right to legislate in this field. Their objection was ideological. They were opposed to giving powers to the Assembly over three area. Firstly, the wanted to stop the Assembly interfering in anyway with the tenants right to buy social housing. Secondly, preventing any law making that effects the issue of Gypsy and Traveller sites. And finally, preventing the Assembly taking any measures to tax second and holiday homes.
Its easy to see why the 'old' Conservative party would object to these ideas. But wasn't David Cameron's project to change and modernise his party from the old Unionism to embrace devolution? How then are the Conservatives in Westminster allowed to undermine the Conservatives in the Assembly who supported the LCO?
As we are nearing the General election this LCO if it's to move ahead will be part of the 'washing up' process. This is the process of ensuring that legislation is passed before Parliament closes shop for the election, but there has to be a consensus between the Parties in Westminster on all the legislation passed in this way. Time will tell whether Cameron will back his colleagues in Westminster or the Assembly on this issue. I'll put money that Westminster will  be the winner.
All this goes to show that the current system does not work. We have to change things if we are to have a law making system that ordinary people understand. That is why there is a need for a referendum.
If something does not work it has to be repaired as soon as possible. Welsh law is to important to leave to the petty little games of Westminster.
Since writing this piece for Golwg, I gather that the Dept. Of Communities and Local Government which has responsibility for housing matters in England are not unhappy with the role the three Tories have played in sabotaging this LCO. If true, it underlines the case for Welsh legislation to be made in Wales and underlines again the importance of an early referendum.

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