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Wales@Westminster weblog

It's Wales@Westminster weblog, BBC Wales' Parliamentary correspondent David Cornock's diary on political life. It's a two-way process though, so add your comments too.

Monday, 18 October

Devolution creeps sheepishly ahead
posted by David | 0930 BST |

Whenever two or three members of the Welsh chattering classes are gathered together, the conversation inevitably turns to the future of the National Assembly.

Phrases such as "13.2 plus" or "Richard Commission" are bandied about over the sun-dried tomatoes on ciabatta.

Yet behind the scenes, with minimal fanfare, the assembly is about to acquire substantial new powers that could be vital if there is another outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

The last one cost the taxpayer 102m in Wales. More than a million animals were slaughtered. An official report highlighted blurred lines of communication between Cardiff Bay and Westminster.

That prompted the assembly government to ask for new powers over animal health - and the UK government to agree to the demand.

An obscure item on the current House of Commons order paper confirms the transfer is imminent. What it means is that the assembly would be able to take its own policy decisions in any future outbreak. For example, it could vaccinate sheep or cattle even if the UK government disagreed.

It's another important stage in what might be called devolution by stealth - the gradual handover of powers in areas such as the fire service or student finance. Powers transferred without massive rows, expensive committees or endless turgid debates.

It does mean different policies on each side of the border, although one assembly official said "GB policy" would prevail. I hope sheep on the farms that straddle Offa's Dyke can read.

Your comments:

Doesn't this just highlight the very inconsistency of the devolution settlement in Wales and further underline Ron Davies' point about devolution being more a process than an event? A shame then that Rhodri Morgan buckled spectacularly in his attempt to lead his party into accepting the recommendations of the independent Richard Commission. Labour's willingness to put the party before the people of Wales is a situation they may well live to regret should the unthinkable happen and the Tories regain power at Westminster!
Gavin, Cardiff, Wales

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