Accommodating the Housing LCO

News is breaking about the Tories voting against the revised Housing ELO both from Betsan Powys, Gareth Hughes and Vaughan Roderick.

Betsan and Vaughan have pointed out some of the blatant discrepancies in the position taken by Tory AMs. However those don't really matter too much, except as an embarrassment to them ... and another reason not to vote for them. There isn't any need for a two-thirds majority on this matter, so the vote in the Assembly will be passed irrespective of what Tory AMs do.

The problem is in Westminster ... and it's a slightly different problem. The Welsh Affairs Select Committee has eleven members in total, reflecting the composition of the Commons. It has six Labour MPs, three Tories (one from England, because the Tories don't have enough MPs in Wales that are up to the job ... one of them has to keep a very low profile for obvious reasons) one LibDem MP and one Plaid MP. In fact the Plaid MP shouldn't really be there because, even though Plaid have the same number of Welsh MPs as the Tories, all that counts is the overall number of MPs in the Commons. Hywel Williams is only on it because it would be too politically embarrassing for the other parties to deny Plaid a place.

But anyway, the votes of those three Tory MPs wouldn't be enough to defeat the LCO request in the WASC either, so the LCO would go through by 8-3 in the normal course of events. However we are approaching a general election, which means that there isn't time to get every piece of legislation through. So what happens is that the parties do a deal with each other to let some items of business through without forcing time consuming debates or votes on the issue ... a process known as "washing up".

Now we don't know for sure whether this LCO will be included in the washing up or not. It's just one part of the horse trading. But the signs do not look at all good. However this is a constitutional rather than a policy issue and as such it should not be a matter for a few Tory MPs alone, but a matter for the Tory party leadership to decide.

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David Cameron has made a big deal about "not standing in the way" of a request for a referendum on primary lawmaking powers. However, as I have warned on a number of occasions, passively "not standing in the way" is very different from saying that he will give us in Wales the right to decide. Doesn't this show in the clearest possible way that principle will always get thrown to one side if the Tories disagree with any aspect of what is being proposed?

If he wants to show that he is really in favour of us in Wales being able to decide things that affect only Wales for ourselves, he can still include this revised Housing LCO in the washing up. If he won't, it will be yet another example of him wanting to give people the impression of being in favour of downward devolution, while in fact doing absolutely nothing about it.

All mouth and no trousers.

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13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you analysis but the majority of Welsh Tory voters don't care about what goes on in the Assembly and openly say that Tory AM's don't represent their views so its difficult to see any lasting damage.

Where today's events should gain traction is among pro devolution voters in highlighting what lies in store for law making in Wales under a Tory Government it will be even slower and more cumbersome than under Labour, its another reason to vote in the General Election for pro devolution parties.

As for Betsan and Vaughan's comments they may not seem significant to you but they prove the splits in the Conservative Party position on devolution are widening and why Cheryl Gillan and Nick Bourne are trying so hard to hide them, they avoided an own goal over the more powers vote only to come unstuck over the Housing LCO today, this has consequences for the upcoming referendum with the Labour Party also likely to be split down the middle.

Adam Higgitt said...

"we don't know for sure whether this LCO will be included in the washing up or not. It's just one part of the horse trading. But the signs do not look at all good."

What signs are those?

p.s it's "wash up", not "washing up".

MH said...

Strange thinking, Anon. If the majority of Welsh Tory voters disagree with their AMs, then they're highly unlikely to vote for them in the 2011 election. That sounds good to me. In fact I'm looking forward to it.

... and even stranger that you should misconstrue what I said about the discrepancies, and think I was talking about those that pointed them out instead.

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But the serious point is that the Labour Party was split down the middle over the referendum, but now aren't. There are one or two mavericks but, as I've said before, the party as a whole has realized that it must support primary lawmaking powers because it is the only way to make sure that the next SoSW does not have the same power over the Assembly as their own SoSWs have been able to exercise until now, since—for the next year or so—CJ is likely to be the most senior politician that they'll have left in any position of power in the UK.

They just have to make sure that the most prominent of those mavericks, Peter Hain, actually gets the Referendum Order through before the general election.

MH said...

Adam, don't be so uptight. Just use some Fairy Liquid and relax a little ;-)

I'm sure others would be interested to know that you've been back to this page eight times in the last couple of hours to see if I want to argue with you. Let's save our arguments for the things that matter.

Adam Higgitt said...

That was because I forgot to tick the box notifying me of new comments.

But to return to my question: what are the signs that you detect that the LCO will not be included in the wash up?

MH said...

Adam, I'm not sure that you're being serious. Don't you understand the process?

The items of legislation that get through the washing up process need to be agreed with the Tories. If they don't agree, they can simply let normal parliamentary procedures apply and the legislation will fail for lack of time, even though the government would have enough votes to get it through in the normal course of events.

The only way that Labour could ensure it got through would be to prioritize this LCO by giving it parliamentary time ahead of other things ... but if they did that, it wouldn't be part of the wash up.

Now perhaps they will do that. It is possible that the Wales Office could bundle up all outstanding Welsh issues, including the Referendum Order, and try and get them through in one batch before the election. They could then rely on the Tories not wanting to kick up a fuss, because if they did it would be construed as the Tories being against the Referendum .... something they have said they will not stand in the way of. The Tory leadership would have to weigh up whether the public's perception of them saying one thing but doing something else would count against them in the election ... and the other parties, of course, would make damn sure that it did.

In other words, the small things would get carried along with the big thing: the Referendum Order itself. Now a clever business manager in the Whips Office might well have thought of that already ... but if they haven't, perhaps they now will.

Adam Higgitt said...

An LCO is a Statutory Instrument, not a Bill. As such, if it has not been laid by the time the PM seeks a dissolution (e.g it is still in its current pre-legislative scrutiny phase, or has only just emerged from that phase) it will not be able to form any part of the wash-up horse trading. If it has, and depending on where it is, it still won't.

The progress or otherwise of the LCO is therefore unlikely to rest with the Conservatives, or depend upon their consent. You are haranguing the wrong side.

MH said...

Adam, Now you're flapping. You're talking a mix of irrelevance and nonsense.

Yes, of course an LCO is not a Bill. So what? Like any other piece of legislation progressing through parliament, it is subject to whatever deals the parties want to do. There are no "rules" of the sort you describe ... one way or the other.

Now there are conventions regarding secondary legislation, but those conventions can be changed. In fact if you were up to speed on this you would know that Peter Hain has specifically said that he does want to include LCOs in the washing up process.

So the situation is exactly as I described. The Tories are signaling that they are not content to let it through as part of the wash up ... but they may yet change their minds at leadership level. I hope they do. But if they won't, the choice for Labour is either to devote enough parliamentary time to get it through now, or take the risk of it falling. Time is limited, so it becomes a question of priorities.

Your idea that I am "haranguing the wrong side" shows you really haven't grasped the points I was making. I'll criticize the Tories when they are inconsistent but, as I said, the inconsistency of their AMs in voting against the draft LCO is only a gesture. Your own party will deserve far more severe criticism if this LCO, or the draft Referendum Order, fails to get through. You have the numbers to get it though irrespective of what the Tories do or don't do.

What is happening is that the Tories are denying your party the "easy option" of putting it through as part of the washing up process, thus forcing you (if you want to see it go through, that is) to devote precious parliamentary time to get it through in the normal way ... but at the expense of other things.

What I fear is that Peter Hain is more preoccupied with playing games with the Tories than getting LCOs and the Referendum Order through ... that he doesn't mind them failing so long as he can shift the blame for that onto the Tories (or worse, that he doesn't want them to go through, but wants it to be seen as the Tories' fault). It's a game that won't work. If either fail it will be because Labour has not used its time properly.

Adam Higgitt said...

MH

The discussion was about the Housing LCO, not all LCOs.

The Housing LCO is just entering the pre-legislative scrutiny phase. It can, of course, get through in time (after all, we do not know when a dissolution will be sought) and I'm not sure where you got the idea of "rules" from - I neither mentioned nor implied any such thing.

But - and here I'd like you to pay particular attention since I'm having to repeat myself - if it has not been laid by the time the PM goes to the Palace, it will fall - regardless of Peter Hain's intentions. If you wish to know why, I suggest you appraise yourself more fully of Parliamentary procedure. You could do with doing so anyway, by the looks of things.

If on the other hand it has been laid, there is a good chance that it may not even form part of the wash-up. This depends on what stage it is in. Finally, there is a chance it becomes part of the wash-up.

So no, the situation is not as you describe. The option to include this particular LCO in the wash-up probably won't rest in David Cameron's as you clearly state that it does.

MH said...

Adam, I suspect you just don't know when to stop digging.

Rules? Read the "will not be able" and "it still won't" in the first paragraph of your earlier post.

Now of course if it has not even been laid it must fail. That is a truism. But your point was that it would still fail even if it had been laid. That was wrong. Indeed you later say "there is a chance" it could be in the wash up. You can't have it both ways.

What Peter Hain said in the link I gave seems to show that it is you who hasn't understood. Or are you trying to say that Peter Hain has got it wrong? If so, I think the onus must be on you to show us where you get this idea from ... and, in so doing, show him where he got it wrong.

Or perhaps you are saying that Peter Hain was being deliberately misleading by saying something that he knew to be wrong. In fact, there might be some point in him doing that. Perhaps his game is to say:

"Yes I did say that, and I know that because of what I said others, including my own colleagues, may have been left with the impression that we had more time to get LCOs and Referendum Order through than was actually the case. But I'm just a Secretary of State who happens to have made a genuinely honest mistake. So even though no one could possibly doubt that I wanted these to pass more than anyone, I'm afaid we left it too late and that they won't. Sorry."

So Adam, you'd do us all a great service if you could show Peter Hain where he was wrong. Give us the relevant information so that we can see. Or do you just want to play silly games in which you claim you know all about the system, but Peter Hain and I don't? Put up or shut up.

Adam Higgitt said...

You insist on offering a running commentary on how you think this discussion is going, peppered with emboldened text. I'm not quite sure what you're trying to achieve, but you're coming over to me as more than a little petulant and insecure.

It also appears that the sum total of your understanding is derived from a necessarily truncated account in the Western Mail of how things are likely to play out. Since that article was written six weeks ago, before the Housing LCO even resurfaced (which, to reiterate, is that one your article is about and which I am talking about - not all other LCOs) and makes no reference to the Housing LCO I'm unclear quite what you think it establishes.

Parliament expires in the first week of May, and Tomos Livingstone's piece appeared in early January. Since it is now very late February, nearly half the possible time to get legislation through (assuming no Easter recess) has elapsed. Trying to bind the Secretary of State to a commitment he gave about LCOs at the Parliament end of things in early Jan in late Feb may strike you as a clever way to try and prove your point, but I'm afraid it does not wash. It would be like me promising a customer a lunchtime that I could fit them a new tyre by the time I closed my workshop, and then you turning up at half past four and expecting me to be able to honour the same commitment. Sorry, but no. LCOs that enter the Parliament side of things much after a certain point are only partly in the control of government business managers timetable-wise, as you must surely understand.

The reason is very straightforward, and I'm surprised you haven't noticed it given the fate of the last Housing LCO. The JCSI typically insists on a delay of around two weeks between and SI being laid, and it reporting on it. Given the few number of weeks remaining this is vital, and is why I have been suggesting that the government could not simply lay the order at wash-up and get it through on a truncated timetable. So, that is why it is important to understand that it can't form part of the wash-up if not laid, something your original piece was wholly ignorant of.

Second, if it has been laid but has already passed through one house, esp. the Commons, it may be simply voted through by the other without wash-up negotiations. That is why I said "depending on where it is, it still won't".

You now say that my point was to suggest that the Housing LCO will fall come what may. This is not true. My point all along has been to establish that the likelihood is that the fate of this particularly piece of legislation is not to rest in David Cameron's hands as your challenge to him states that it does. The very great likelihood, one way or the other, is that this LCO will not form part of the wash-up. It's not impossible, just unlikely.

MH said...

Adam, I asked you to put up or shut up, but all you've done is produce a pile of waffle.

Simply go back to what you wrote at 19:59 yesterday. At that point you introduced irrelevance (what difference does it make whether an LCO is a Bill or an SI?) and nonsense (that, because of being an LCO, it could not be part of the washing up process whether it had or had not been laid).

But when I pointed that out, you couldn't take it.

Instead, you have wandered off at all sorts of tangents, bringing up things that nobody questions. You have misrepresented what I said in order to attack that misrepresentation rather than what I actually said. You then repeat points I've already made as if they were your idea rather than what I actually said.

But, having dealt with you on several occasions now, I've come to learn that this is the way you react when backed into a corner.

Adam Higgitt said...

Clearly, we've now reached that point in your debating playbook when you resort to simply pretending not to listen. As such, there is no point me continuing this conversation with you.

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