Monday, 28 January 2008

Murphy's Lore

Refreshed by a first weekend off in three, I've been browsing through the thoughts of the new Secretary of State for Wales, the better to understand Paul Murphy's politics.

He delivered his most recent speech on Welsh affairs during the Welsh Grand Committee last month.

There are some interesting views on the propensity of (some) politicians to obsess on constitutional issues - and a warning or two about proposed legislation on both housing and the Welsh language. He also believes orders to allow the Welsh Assembly to legislate should not simply be rubber-stamped in Westminster.

Here are a few random quotes:

"I have been trying to work out whether or not I am a devo-sceptic and I have come to the conclusion that I am not. In 1978, I was a devo-opponent, and in 1997 I voted for devolution. My constituents agreed with me in 1978, but they did not agree with me in 1997, because they voted against a Welsh Assembly on both occasions. However, I would rather describe myself as a devo-realist, in the sense that what is here is here. I am not all that keen on a coalition in Cardiff, but we are where we are, and we have to work in the current political climate for the benefit of the people whom we represent, whether we are Members of Parliament, Assembly Members or members of local authorities."

"I repeat the point that I have made in previous meetings that any clamour for constitutional change passes by my constituents. I have received two letters about the constitutional arrangements in Wales in the past year, both of which opposed them, but that is all that I have had. No one rings me up, e-mails me, writes to me or stops me in the street about that issue, but they do so regarding the issues that I have just mentioned, which are the services that we are all pledged to improve."

"We must take great care that we do not become a little bit too obsessed with identity and nationhood. I do not have to look in the mirror every quarter of an hour to remind myself that I am a Welshman-I am, and I am proud of it. At the same time, however, I know that what my constituents expect of me is an improvement in their lives. I believe that the arrangement that we have got, whereby our Assembly deals with certain issues in Cardiff and we share responsibility with it here in Parliament, is a good arrangement for improving our constituents' lives."

"I do not believe for one second that we should be rubber-stamping LCOs or legislation for devolution, because we would not be doing our job as Members of this Parliament. We must scrutinise such matters properly for the purpose of correctness, certainly, but also to establish whether we think that there is a case to be made for the particular powers, whatever they might be, to be devolved to the National Assembly."

"I think that, overwhelmingly, most LCOs, when they come here, will be passed without too much fuss. However, there may be occasions when things are a bit more controversial, and I will cite two LCOs as examples. I think that the LCO that deals with the ending of the sale of council houses will produce controversy. For the past two decades in Wales, the fact that houses have been sold by local authorities has meant that people in Wales, by becoming home owners, have improved their lot."

"The other issue, of course, is the Welsh language, responsibility for which is shared between those of us in Westminster, where it is a reserve power, and Members of the Welsh Assembly, who have a great interest in the importance of the Welsh language. Historically, the issue has been enormously controversial, and it has to be handled sensitively. Many hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies would be deeply troubled if an extension to the Welsh Language Act 1993 disadvantaged private companies, for example. We cannot afford for companies not to come to Wales because of potentially prohibitive Welsh language legislation We cannot afford to lose companies in Wales that might use the excuse of Welsh language provisions to leave our Welsh people."

You can read more of his thoughts here.

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