House of Lords back plan to protect Senedd from any future 'power grabs'

The House of Lords has backed a proposed new law aimed at preventing any change to the Welsh Parliament’s powers without the overwhelming support of Senedd members.

It would means two thirds of MSs would have to agree to any change. It will now moved to the House of Commons, where it will be discussed and voted on by MPs.

Former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Wigley is sponsoring the bill to which will put new legal safeguards in place.

Known formally as the Government of Wales (Devolved Powers) Bill,it would prevent any change or reduction in the Welsh Parliament's powers without the support of a 'super-majority' of two-thirds of Senedd members.

It's a response to criticism of the UK Government's approach to devolution in recent years, often described by opponents as a "power grab" but by Conservatives as a determination not to "devolve and forget" as they believe has happened in the preceding decades.

As a result of Britain’s departure from the European Union, powers and funding have been redirected.

Some of the powers which had been in devolved areas such as health and education were returned centrally to Whitehall rather than to the devolved governments despite opposition from many in Wales and Scotland.

At the same time EU funding which has seen billions of pounds given to Wales has been replaced by  a UK equivalent scheme known as the Shared Prosperity Fund.

The UK Government says projects paid for under the SPF and other funding streams such as the Levelling Up Fund represent "true devolution" by involving local councils and communities rather than leaving decision-making to the Welsh Government.

What's certainly true is that the changes have allowed the UK Government to take decisions and commit funding in areas which have previously been considered entirely the responsibility of the Welsh Government.

It's this approach and an increasing willingness to override consent votes in Cardiff Bay and Holyrood that has led political opponents to accuse the Conservatives of wanting to "ride roughshod" over the devolution settlement.

Lord Dafydd Wigley is a former leader of Plaid Cymru

That's the context for Lord Wigley's bill which could change the law to prevent any change or reduction in the Welsh Parliament's powers without the support of a 'super-majority' of two-thirds of Senedd members.

He says it would still allow for powers to be pooled on a UK-wide basis in the event of an emergency such as a pandemic.

But he said that it would formalise relationships of respect between governments.

“The aim of the Bill is to provide a greater stability than has existed over the past few years, particularly since the Brexit vote, which has led to the legislative powers of Wales Senedd being undermined by actions of the UK government.

"This has on several occasions been against the wishes of the Welsh Government; and at times, in what has appeared to be in conflict with the legislative framework within which the Senedd conducts its business.

He added that, twenty-five years since the referendum which created what was then known as the Welsh Assembly, "Devolution is here to stay; and therefore it is incumbent on us – both in Westminster and in Cardiff Bay, to make it work; and to do that requires a stability and a transparency of its powers.”

It's unlikely, but not impossible, that the bill will be accepted by the UK Government when it goes to the Commons because it's a private member's bill.

But it will be debated and ministers will have to decide whether or not to adopt it or block it.