Still playing politics with the Housing LCO

The pre-election antics of Peter Hain would be amusing if they were not so pathetic, or if the issue wasn't so important to Wales.

Although it doesn't give me much satisfaction, what I said about the Housing LCO in this post in February has proved to be accurate. Following the vote in the Assembly, Peter Hain had little choice but to lay the LCO before Parliament. But since then, the Labour Government has done nothing to prioritize it in order to get it through Parliament in the normal course of business, therefore it now looks inevitable that it will be included in the wash up negotiations, as reported by Tomos Livingstone in today's Western Mail:

     Which party will blink first over new housing powers?

As I said back in February, the Tories had sent the strongest signal that they would not agree to pass the LCO and David Jones simply repeated that position again yesterday ... although he did hold out the compromise that the Tories would allow the LCO through as part of the washing up process if the clauses on the right to buy and traveller sites were removed. It goes without saying that I disagree with the Tories' policy position on these two issues, but they have been quite consistent in their opposition. The problem has been that Labour were so pig-headed that they chose to ignore those warning signs.

And so now we get to the stand-off.

Peter Hain wants to portray the situation as one in which the Tories are being two-faced. But, as is so often true, that description fits himself and his government much better. For if, as he claims

"This is an absolutely critical piece of legislation to tackle homelessness and to deal with the housing shortage, to make sure the key housing problems in Wales are comprehensively tackled. It's backed by all the principal housing organisations in Wales."

... then why has he and his government spent the past two years obstructing it? He's just trying to be cute. If Labour wanted the LCO to be passed, Labour would have used the majority they have in Westminster to vote it through. So the only logical conclusion is that Peter Hain does not want it to be passed. But rather than stand up and oppose it in an honest and straightforward way, he prefers to twist things in order to try and make it appear as if the Tories are the ones to blame instead.


I don't quite know how things will pan out in the next few weeks. The wash up is a period of horse trading between, as Alex Salmond put it this week, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. It is possible that the Tories will let the LCO through as it stands but, if they do that, it will be because they get their way on another matter that they consider to be of greater importance to them than anything to do with Wales. That would of course be great for us, and it would be exquisite to see Peter Hain and Wayne David saying through gritted teeth that this is what they wanted all along. Who knows, if David Cameron were really smart, he could spin it as an example of the Tories respecting Wales so much that he over-rode the wishes of his three MPs in Wales in favour of the democratic wishes of the majority of people in Wales.

However I think it more likely that Peter Hain will concede the two clauses in order to allow the LCO through in some form. After all, if the LCO is dumped now, it will simply come before the new Secretary of State for Wales after the election ... and will just go round the same roundabout once or twice more. Despite what Peter Hain says now, his track record clearly shows that he doesn't want the Assembly to have the power to suspend the right to buy, so if he concedes that to the Tories now he ends up with exactly what he always wanted. But with the added luxury of being able to point a finger of blame at the Tories ... which, given his inability to see anything except through the lens of Labour-vs-Tory tribalism, probably matters more to him and his career than anything to do with what is right for Wales.

Unfortunately for him, this election offers Wales a greater choice of options than Labour's Tweedle Dumb and the Tories' Tweedle Twee.

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Anonymous said...

And many people still don't believe there's a colonial relationship between Westminster and Wales.

Constitutional crisis anyone?

Adam Higgitt said...

I really don't wish to have another argument about this, but there are a couple of points about the passage of this legislation that you may find helpful in your analysis.

You ask why the government hasn't prioritised the SI in question. I understand that it has been with the JCSI for several weeks (I took a note of the dates it was submitted and approved but don't have them to hand). Clearly, the convention of submitting such instruments to the committee makes a lot of sense, and they often find examples of defective drafting and wording that make the instrument not intra vires. As I suggested before, the length the committee takes to scrutinise the instrument is out of the government's hands, so it wouldn't be right to say that the fact that the SI hasn't been laid is exclusively a failure of executive prioritisation.

Second, my understanding is that the SI won't fall if Parliament dissolves. For that reason, it is unlikely that it would even need to form part of wash-up, if and when that comes. It can simply be re-laid when the new Parliament is appointed, and won't even need to go through the JSCI this time. Of course, a new government may not choose do so.

Anyway, as I say, not meant to provoke a row.


MH said...

Happy Easter, Adam. No row necessary. Time seems to have proved what I said last time to be right.

To save having to tax your memory, this page has the relevant information, and the JCSI had no adverse comments in their report of 17 March. So it took two weeks. Compared with two years, that's hardly very significant. So I agree, it isn't exclusively a failure of executive prioritization. Shall we settle on only 98% ? ... perhaps it would be too much to expect this Labour government to have taken such things into account when they set their priorities.

As for your "second", you appear to be providing another example of making the same point that I had already made as if I had not made it. But your conclusion is flawed. Read the story again: Hain and Wayne are clearly going to put it on the table as part of the wash up negotiations ... even if it is only as a gesture in order to try and shift the blame onto the Tories if it fails to get through.


PS. On a separate subject and given your position at Ofcom, perhaps you might be able to shed some light on a comment made in this thread on the subject of a future Welsh Channel 3 franchise in 2012.

Adam Higgitt said...


Some confusion here. The point I was attempting to clarify was your assertion that the LCO could be "dumped" now, or would have to go "round the same roundabout once or twice more". It won't. Once laid, it remains laid throughout dissolution. A new administration would have to withdraw it. Obviously, this differs from the point you had already made.

And if you also want to maintain that the government has had two years in which to pass this instrument, I can do nothing but point you to the chronology you have yourself described. The instrument appears to have been processed in a way consistent with other such items of legislation.

On the other issue, you should look at Ofcom's PSB Review of 21 January 2009. Paragraphs 8.36 to 8.42 should help answer your question.

Clearly, I do not speak here as an employee of Ofcom, but the prescription of simply imposing programming obligations the licensee without heed to the costs and benefits it derives from holding that licence is one you should perhaps revise. The remainder of the chapter of the report is informative, as is the next chapter.

MH said...

Sorry for any confusion, Adam. I admit that "dumped" isn't the most precise language. I meant that it would only be dumped as far as parliament was concerned. I think what you've just said is slightly wrong, but not enough to matter much. Each parliament starts afresh. So if the LCO falls before the election it would have to be re-laid by the SoSW. A new SoSW might consider that the previous SoSW had discharged his responsibility of office by laying it, so that a new formal request had to be made by the Assembly to the SoSW (though the LCO would not have to go through any of its Assembly stages again) which s/he would then decide whether to lay or refuse to lay.

It doesn't matter much because laying is only one step in the process. The LCO would still have to be passed by parliament, and a new Conservative government clearly wouldn't pass it in its current form. It would have to be reworked into a form that the Tories would allow. The irony is that if they used the same delaying tactics as Labour have used, we will have already voted Yes in the referendum before even half Labour's two years had elapsed.


I certainly agree that the current Labour Government in Westminster has delayed a number of LCOs, rather than just this one. But if two wrongs don't make a right, neither do a dozen. My point remains: if the Housing LCO is as important as Peter Hain now says it is, then Labour could and should have used their majority to get it through in the normal course of parliamentary business.


Thanks for the Ofcom answer. For others following the discussion, the page with the relevant links is here. Perhaps this is a discussion best held on another thread but you, Adam, haven't read what I wrote carefully enough. I certainly do think we need to take into account the costs and benefits of holding a licence. It is a question of the relative weight we put on various factors. I would only note that ITV repeatedly said they were unable to afford to provide local news services in the long term (and I see this as the major factor in leading Ofcom to conclude that a new local news model was needed) ... but that ITV now seem to have changed their minds. To me, that is clear evidence that ITV could afford to provide local news if they reordered their priorities. And of course we have the example of UTV being able to do this in NI, and do it well.

Adam Higgitt said...

Each parliament starts afresh. So if the LCO falls before the election it would have to be re-laid by the SoSW.

I understood differently. But let's check.

I certainly agree that the current Labour Government in Westminster has delayed a number of LCOs, rather than just this one. But if two wrongs don't make a right

LCOs are only a tiny proportion of all SIs. Have a look at the passage of some others: it might shed a different light on the "delay" theory.

I see this as the major factor in leading Ofcom to conclude that a new local news model was needed

You should definitely read Ofcom's PSB Review and the relevant supporting documents - it'll disabuse you of such a misconception!

It will also help to highlight the very different circumstances around the NI licence.


Unknown said...

I notice that there was no shortage of Parliamentary time found for the 'Hunting with dogs' act! In fact - doesn't it hold the record in that respect?

And yet, lack of parliamentary time is usually the reason given for delaying, or even burying, requests from the Sennedd.

As ANON implies - we might be better off with a Governor General, than a secretary of state like Peter Hain.

MH said...

"Might" is a vague word, Adam. Looking at SIs equally "might not" shed a different light on anything ... and it "might" be irrelevant anyway ;-) I think you're trying to throw in irrelevancies to obscure the argument.

As for Ofcom's PSB review, I can only marvel at your unique way of looking at it. It's very clear that the holder of the Channel 3 licences wanted to move away from some of their PSB obligations in order to follow a more commercial model because advertizing revenues were shrinking, and that the Ofcom review concurred with that. The main casualty of that shift would be local news programming, hence the need to find an alternative model.

If you disagree with that, please make your case, though it might be better done on the relevant thread. However I suspect that you have no reason to disagree with what I said at all ... but you can't let go of a bone.

Adam Higgitt said...


Slightly disappointed that you've resorted to the time-worn MH tactic of offering your interpretation of my motives as a substitute for addressing the points I've made. It really does you no credit at all, nor does it advance the argument.

To reiterate the SI point - look at the passage of other such items. When you do, and if you do it with an open mind, my prediction is that you will not be able to credibly conclude that the government has delayed the process of this instrument.

On ITV regional news, the notion that Ofcom drew its conclusions about the future viability of the service based in major part on the views of one stakeholder alone (albeit ITV plc itself) is a misconception, and the PSB Review and its supporting documents show why in very, very clear terms. Read those documents, then we can discuss it if you wish.

MH said...

Don't be silly, Adam. You're not making any points, you've just disagreed with me without bothering to construct any sort of argument. If or when you do, we can have a discussion.

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