Tuesday 18 December 2018

Policy and process

After being appointed as Transport Minister last week, Llanelli AM Lee Waters said that he had agreed that it would be ‘inappropriate’ for him to have any say over the decision on the M4 relief road because he had taken such a strong position on the proposal in the past.  This is the second time that I have heard a Welsh Transport Minister referring to the decision on the M4 as being some sort of quasi-judicial process in which having a strong opinion one way of the other disqualified the individual from taking a decision.  This time, having an opinion means that the minister can’t take the decision; last time – under the One Wales government – the minister argued that as he was responsible ultimately for taking the decision, he couldn’t have an opinion at all.  It was nonsense then, and it’s nonsense now – it’s a case of confusing policy with process.
What is true is that if a government has a policy of building a large infrastructure project such as the M4 then there is a formal legal process which must be followed in which all the relevant parties have an opportunity to present their case and an expectation that all their evidence will be considered carefully and impartially before a final decision on the precise location or route and on any conditions or caveats is taken.  That part of the process is certainly quasi-judicial and being seen to have pre-judged the issue will potentially be prejudicial to due process.  But the policy – whether to build or not – is independent of that process; the process concerns only the proper and lawful implementation of policy.  Policy – to build or not – is quite properly the prerogative of the politicians, not the judges or planning inspectors.  And policy can be changed by political decision at any time.
So, what we have here is, in effect, a politician who is responsible for making policy, and who clearly believes that the policy currently being pursued by his government is the wrong one, excusing himself from having any input into what is probably the most important single policy decision in his portfolio and hiding behind a legal process in order to do so.  It could be, of course, that the First Minister takes a different view on the policy (as far as I’m aware, he has yet to express a view), and the real reason for the Transport Minister being excluded from this policy decision is that the First Minister doesn’t want the policy changed.  It’s a legitimate position to take but hiding behind public enquiries and planning inspectors in the hope that they will provide some sort of cover for politicians to avoid accepting their responsibilities is just a cop out.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

The explanation for the Lee Waters stance is very simple.You get this in Welsh County Councils all the time, and it applies in the Bubble as well.
The lawyers give the (correct) legal advice that a Minister who is to decide cannot indicate views in advance because this might indicate a closed mind ie prejudice. Precisely because in law is it a quasi-judicial process. It is an odd law of course, and does not seem to bother many Secretaries of State in London. But it is the law.
The interesting part is what use the politician/decision maker does with the advice. It is a mixture of
1. They are afraid of it, and over-defer to the lawyers, and
2. It gives the perfect excuse to be non-accountable until its a fait accompli!