Friday 23 September 2011

Legislation and delivery

The comments made by Sir Emyr Jones Parry on the Welsh Government’s legislative programme have been extensively reported.  And it’s no surprise that some critics of the current government have been quick to seize upon the comments as justification for their stance.
It’s hard to disagree with the suggestion that integrated cycle paths may not be the most relevant response to the economic problems being faced by Wales.  And it’s equally hard to disagree with the suggestion that the Welsh Government’s legislative programme shows a certain lack of imagination and willingness to use the new powers devolved to the Assembly.
But reality, as always, is rather more complex than that.
I don’t know to whom in the four parties Sir Emyr spoke during the referendum campaign about how they would use the new powers, but I may have been involved in responding to the question on behalf of one of them, when giving evidence to the Convention.  (And, thinking back to what we said, probably not the party which gave him half an answer!)  It was a point that he was very keen to raise during the Convention’s hearings.  It was – and is – a valid question to ask at one level, but it wasn’t – and still isn’t – that easy to answer.
Even with the new powers, the situation in Wales remains one where specific powers are devolved under a multiplicity of different Acts and Orders, and no-one really knows exactly what the Assembly can and can’t do until a specific proposal is put forward and examined in detail by the lawyers.  It’s quite different from the situation in Scotland, where everything is devolved unless otherwise stated, and it makes it quite difficult to put forward a detailed legislative programme without a lot of legal work in advance.
Plus, from my point of view in trying to respond to his question, the new settlement wasn’t what I really wanted anyway.  It would have been much easier for me to say how I would use the powers of an independent Wales; what can be done within the current system is necessarily a compromise for those of us who want to see Wales as a member state of the EU.
At another level, it’s also a very one-sided question – it suggests that those who wanted powers devolved had to say how they would use those powers, but those who felt that the powers should stay where they were had no need to provide a similar justification for their opinion.  As I recall, Sir Emyr suggested that it was arrogant of us to ask for more powers without providing such justification.  But the argument for where powers should sit is not – certainly from a nationalist viewpoint – predicated on how they will be used.
Returning to the substance of Sir Emyr’s criticism, I’ve commented before that I thought that all of the manifestos for this year’s Assembly election were lacking in imagination, but in the case of new legislation, that would inevitably be the case for any party trying to put forward a legislative programme which was entirely achievable within the current settlement.
The more important question is the extent to which we judge a government on its legislative programme compared to the extent to which we judge it on its delivery performance.  Governments exist to do rather more than pass new laws – there’s far too much of a tendency to respond to any situation with a proposal for a new law.  It shows the sort of macho responsiveness so beloved of politicians, but often more can be done – and more quickly – by using existing legislation creatively and imaginatively.
Assuming that one can adduce a government’s priorities, and then judge that government, purely by considering its legislative programme doesn’t seem to be a sensible approach to me.  In the field of economics, delivery is more important than new laws at this stage. 
And it is on delivery rather than on legislation which we should judge the current Government.  Judging them on the content of their legislative performance may well give them a very negative score, but it is letting them off the hook on the far more important issue, which is their poor performance in delivery.

1 comment:

Spirit of BME said...

It`s no great mystery why HMG in Wales is doing nothing – he has had orders from Boycie Miliband in London to lie doggo in case they actually do something that “Spliff” Cameron can beat him over the head with in Westminster ,as he did with Welsh NHS cuts several times.
So, poor old Carwyn “Nipper” Jones has to sit on his hands and collect the pay check each month. - Nice one.