MORE people in Wales may turn towards independence if Westminster continues to override the Senedd’s powers, ministers in the House of Lords have been warned.
The warning from crossbench peer Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd came as peers debated legislation aimed at giving Members of the Senedd (MSs) a veto over any attempts by Westminster to claw back devolved powers.
MSs would need to vote by at least a two-thirds majority in favour of returning powers to central Government under plans in the Government of Wales (Devolved Powers) Bill, sponsored by Plaid Cymru peer Lord Wigley.
Former lord chief justice of England and Wales Lord Thomas said he would support the private member’s bill, as he believed the “whittling away of powers” in recent years was unacceptable.
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He added: “I do so because it is clear that the younger generation in increasing numbers, indeed some of the older generation, are looking to the independence of Wales as a way out of this.
“I deeply regret that is happening, but cast your mind back to what has happened in Scotland and we must not allow the same to happen in Wales.”
Plaid Cymru peer Lord Wigley had earlier told the Lords: “The bill’s purpose is to rebalance the relationship between Westminster and Wales’ Senedd by formalising a process which should be respected if for any reason there is a need to modify the devolved powers within which the Senedd operates.
“This goes to the heart of the devolution settlement. A failure to understand this is more likely than any other single factor to undermine the Union in its present form,” he later said.
Lord Wigley said that devolution was well established and popular in Wales but cited recent examples of the UK Government seeking to override Cardiff.
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This included the UK Internal Market Act, which centralises controls over commerce, and was challenged by the Welsh Government in a judicial review.
He also cited reports that the Government intends to repeal Trade Union (Wales) Act, in order to revise UK law on striking workers in light of recent industrial action.
Lord Wigley added: “During the Tory leadership campaign recently we heard Liz Truss announce that she would take steps to construct the M4 relief road at Newport despite not having the legislative power to do so.”
Labour former Wales secretary Lord Murphy of Torfaen added that the current convention underpinning which powers were devolved to Wales was “failing” and said refusals of the Senedd to agree laws passed by the UK Parliament which tread into devolved powers were being “ignored”.
Government whip Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist said ministers would not support the bill, adding the Government had “no plans to withdraw or amend the Senedd’s powers”.
She added: “The Government is firmly committed to devolution. Over the past decade we have delivered two Wales acts and these were important moments for devolution, and confirms our position that devolution is here to stay.”
Lady Bloomfield said that the new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had sought to “reset” the relationship with both the Welsh and Scottish governments by calling their first ministers when he came to office.
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Former prime minister Liz Truss called neither Mark Drakeford nor Nicola Sturgeon during her short term of office.
Lady Bloomfield went on: “We will continue to work constructively with the Welsh Government to ensure that Wales enjoys the maximum possible benefit from our legislative programme and will of course seek the consent of the Senedd when necessary.”
The bill will now undergo further scrutiny by peers.