Last week, we reported on the public consultation recently launched by the Welsh Government, as part of the Constitutional Commission to determine Wales’ future.
We also highlighted how greater devolved powers, in the event of a Labour Government in Westminster, is no guarantee. As pointed out on Yes Cymru’s website, when Welsh MPs have been given the opportunity to vote for greater powers for Wales, they have consistently refused to do so.
In our column on the Devolution of Justice to Wales, we pointed out how Labour MPs in Wales voted down a proposal that would have devolved policing and criminal justice powers to Wales. As a result, Wales (unlike Scotland) is now bound by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which places restrictions on the right to protest, particularly where they are deemed to be a “nuisance” (which can be a highly subjective standard).
For those not happy with the status quo but hoping that a Labour Government in Westminster will grant Wales more devolved powers, we should think again.
This week, we will focus on the current devolution settlement in Wales and demonstrate how it is increasingly at risk of being undermined by a UK Government which increasingly seems to view UK politics through a Westminster lens.
Last week, it was reported that the UK Government “intends to legislate to remove the Trade Union (Wales) Act 2017 through primary legislation… to ensure trade union legislation applies equally across Great Britain”.
This move was said to have been made without any consultation with the Welsh Government, and in another development during the same week, it was announced that the UK-based Department of Education Multiply Project would be expanded into Wales. This decision came despite Education being a devolved area in Wales under the current Devolution Settlement, and once again, involved no consultation with the Welsh Government on the issue.
These instances seem to be part of an on-going pattern of attempts to undermine devolution in Wales, and to effectively ignore the will of Welsh voters who have twice confirmed their support for devolution in public referenda.
Furthermore, polls in Wales also appear to show strong support for devolution, particularly among young people.
However, as reported by the Edinburgh-based Centre on Constitutional Change, the Internal Market Bill “suggests a significant recentralisation of power. It reserves competence over state aid/subsidies to the Westminster parliament. It gives the UK Government new spending powers in devolved areas. These could potentially be used to bypass the devolved governments and fund organisations directly to support UK-wide priorities and ‘promote the UK’s shared values’.”
We have already seen the impact of these measures, with the UK Government often bypassing Welsh Government on key issues, such as funding. However, efforts to abolish rights-based legislation such as the Wales Trade Union Act, should give even some of the most hardened devo-sceptics cause for concern. And it appears, employment rights are not the only rights at stake.
The right to protest is under great scrutiny, and in the wake of efforts to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, the UK Government’s proposed new “Bill of Rights” has been described as an attempt to “dilute the rights of the people of Wales and of the UK”.
The threat to devolution could not be starker. While Welsh Government have pledged to “resist” these changes, we need our Government to mount a far more robust defence of devolution and to start to recognise that independence is the most effective way to safeguard our laws and rights.
This is an article written by Maria Pritchard of Yes Milford Haven and published in the Pembrokeshire Herald newspaper on 08.07.2022