The third element of the coalition agreement relates to the powers of the Welsh Assembly. At present we can only pass laws piecemeal. An order passing legislative competence in a specified area of policy is requested by the Assembly, scrutinised by us and by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee and then passed in Cardiff Bay and in both houses of Parliament before receiving royal assent.
It is a long and expensive process not to mention frustrating. The Housing order for example took three years to be approved. The referendum, which is now scheduled to be held in the spring, will propose to do away with that process and enable the Assembly to legislate without seeking permission from Parliament each time within the 22 areas of public policy specified by the Government of Wales Act 2006. It will not create a Parliament nor will the Welsh Assembly have the same powers as Scotland but it will give us the tools to do the job.
One of the other controversies in Wales at the moment is the timing of the referendum on the alternative vote. This is now due to take place on the same day as the Assembly elections, and less than two months after our own referendum on whether Wales can pass its own primary legislation.
I am not one of those who believe that people cannot cope with more than one ballot paper at a time, though there are many here who do think that is the case. I am comfortable therefore with this decision. The downside is that although the referendum turnout may well be higher in Wales there will not be much campaigning on the subject here nor will there be much, if any, cross party cooperation. We will all be too busy tearing strips off each other in an effort to maximise our vote. I am sure though that Nick Clegg thought of that.
We do not feel it is appropriate to have the Welsh Assembly powers referendum on the same day as the AV vote and the Assembly election. We believe that it is important that when people go and vote they know the shape of the new Assembly, what powers it has and are able to judge the parties manifestos accordingly. Thus there needs to be a decision on full law-making powers in advance of the elections.
Finally, I want to say a word on the campaign itself. Despite, Labour crowing that the difficult decisions the coalition government are having to take will impact on our vote, we remain optimistic that we can build on a successful general election campaign and finally add to the six Assembly members we currently have.
That does not mean that we will retain the existing group. Jenny Randerson is standing down and is being replaced as the candidate in Cardiff Central by the excellent Nigel Howells. Mike German has of course, already gone to the House of Lords and has been replaced by Veronica German. And Mick Bates is also standing down, and despite the setback in Montgomeryshire in May, we are confident the personal factors that did for Lembit will not apply and that Wyn Williams will succeed in holding the seat for the Liberal Democrats.
There is also a very good chance that John Davies will take Ceredigion from Plaid Cymru’s Rural Affairs Minister, Elin Jones, by building on the 8,000 majority secured by Mark Williams in the General Election. In addition we secured outstanding results in Swansea West, Newport East, Wrexham, Pontypridd and Merthyr Tydfil in May, all of which could produce an upset in our favour next year.
The message is clear. Here in Wales we are resolute and we are growing in strength. Our membership is up and our spirits are high. We believe that we can capitalise on our successes in Government in Westminster to make a difference here as well.
Peter Black AM
Welsh Liberal Democrat Housing and Finance Spokesperson