Tony Blair’s government wanted Assembly to be ‘subordinate’, says former minister
Tony Blair’s government wanted the National Assembly to be “subordinate in every possible way”, according to a former Welsh Government minister.
Alun Davies was responding to recently released letters which discussed what titles the leaders of the institution, which is now known as the Senedd, or Welsh Parliament, should be given.
He said the UK Government didn’t want the Assembly to be “perceived as a Parliament in any way”.
It was argued by Downing Street officials and UK Government ministers that leading figures in the Assembly should not be given the title of Minister, unlike members of the Scottish Government.
This was so that they would not be confused with “Ministers of the Crown”.
The first leader of the Assembly, Alun Michael, who was later replaced by Rhodri Morgan, was originally given the title of First Secretary instead of First Minister.
Alun Davies said: “The impression given in this correspondence is that the UK Govt wanted to ensure that the new National Assembly was subordinate in every possible way and that it must not be perceived as a Parliament in any way. We’ve travelled a great distance in 20 years.”
A letter from Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, to the Secretary of State for Wales, Ron Davies, on 13 November 1997, said: “I was asked, following yesterday’s DSVVR discussion, to write to you with proposals for the titles to be given in the Government of Wales Bill to the leading members of the Assembly.
“I understand that, unlike the case of members of the Scottish Executive, it will not be acceptable to colleagues for these leading figures to be called Ministers.
“In these circumstances my suggestion is that the person elected by the Assembly to lead it should be called the Assembly First Secretary, its subject committees should be called Assembly Secretaries.
“I believe that this terminology would both make clear that these people’s responsibilities relate exclusively to the Assembly’s work without fear of confusion with Ministers of the Crown, yet also give them a proper status as important figures in our devolution policy.
“You will appreciate the presentational importance of the latter consideration, given that comparisons will inevitably be made with the use of the term ‘Minister in the Scottish Bill.
“I hope, therefore, that colleagues will feel able to agree to this.”
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The “presentational importance” of independence should be clear enough for these colonialist clowns.
It just shows that it does not matter which party is in charge in Westminster – they are all the same. Total control with as little power outside as possible. It is why the country is so unequal. It is why we need independence.
Blair’s attitude to devolution was clear when he wanted to impose Alun Michael as First Minister – even though Rhodri Morgan was the choice in the Assembly chamber. Blair and New Labour were a bunch of control freaks who never understood the purpose of devolution in devolving powers. Like so many in his party, he saw this as a sop to Wales because it constantly rewards them at the polls and not as a means of decentralizing power. This attitude to devolution has meant that Labour is unlikely to gain power again because, in Scotland, Blair is as discredited there… Read more »
I remember feeling like it was just going to be a glorified country council, it would appear that’s exactly what Blair had in mind.
No …. REALLY?! ….. Well I never!
We have certainly come a long way since then. It was very frustrating at the start of devolution. Much opposition came from within the Labour party as well as the Tories (remember Llew Smith, Don Touhig, Paul Murphy et al.). There was the legacy of Neil Kinock’s 1979 opposition to contend with too as well as general public indifference. E.g. in North Wales, where I live, very few were speaking about and lauding our new ‘Assembly’ in the 90s. I remember being so frustrated. Now Labour, renamed in Wales as Welsh Labour and proudly patriotic, are pushing for further devolution… Read more »
The result of the 1997 referendum was extremely close (and almost 80% opposed devolution in 1979). Support for the Assembly/Senedd has grown in the last 24 years, but back then it seems there was still a great deal of scepticism even about the limited devolution on offer. Would a more radical, Scottish-style, devolution proposal have won more support at the polls, or been defeated leaving Wales with no devolution at all? Was Blair really out of step with the mood of the Welsh majority in 1997?
He was certainly out of step with one of the central tenets of Welsh devolution – namely their right to choose their own Assembly leader. In case you don’t remember, Blair tried to replace the chosen leader, Rhodri Morgan, with Alun Michael. That was not in the spirit of devolution and had disastrous consequences on demonstrating how Blair’s obsession with control backfired. The same thing happened by the way when he tried to impose his own choice of Mayor of London, Frank Dobson against Ken Livingstone. Blair did a great deal of long-term damage to Labour’s credibility today.
Interfering with the Mayor of London also backfired on Blair as they got Ken and not Frank.
My recall of the 1997 referendum was that the ‘more pro independence’ people I knew were all voting to reject devolution as it wasn’t enough. So the No vote consisted of the rejecters and the ‘extreme’ nationalists. As such I think a ‘more radical, Scottish-style’ devolution would have had more support. I can certainly remember thinking ‘If I vote No then the anti independence lot will use my No vote to strengthen their argument against any future Welsh independence powers.’
I think events show that this was indeed the case. Your very question, in fact, shows this was the case!
I suspect the problem lay in Wales rather than Whitehall. Labour in Wales were lukewarm about devolution and the weak county-council style assembly they devised was the only form of institution they’d accept. Its structure and nomenclature reflected its intended subordinate position. But the arguments about names don’t hold water. Scotland had minsters who were not (and are not) “ministers of the Crown” though the FM is appointed “by the Crown” (as in Wales since 2006). And NI had a Prime Minister from 1922-1972 without any confusion with the UK PM.
Perhaps ‘Sir’ Tony Blair just thought he could create a Welsh Labour reserve of MPs that would guarantee to prop up a Labour government for the forseeable future. I think Welsh Labour was meant to be the equivalent of the Gurkhas or some other colonial regiment that could be called upon to aid the Empire in times of need. English Labour always needed its Scots and Welsh MPs to be of any use. Scotland has now rendered English Labour impotent. As long as Wales is governed by Westminster, Welsh Labour is, to all intents and purposes, also impotent. Though, to… Read more »
I get the impression that Blair was setting up Welsh devolution to fail. So glad we disappointed him.
That’s exactly what it is, a spineless talking shop. Sure we saw some spine during covid, but sadly with Drakeford and Co it will sleep back into being a poodle again.