The Westminster Government is hoping to steamroll devolution – and our human rights along with it
Rhys ab Owen, Senedd Member for South Wales Central
The UK Government has recently presented its proposals for the removal of the Human Rights Act in exchange for a so-called Bill of Rights. Not only does this aim to limit the rights of the Welsh people to hold their governments accountable, but also goes against the very ideals that devolution was founded on.
My parliamentary colleague Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts today called on Dominic Raab in the House of Commons to enshrine the right for Wales and Scotland to decide their own futures in the bill. He of course refused.
The Welsh government has always aimed to abide by the rules of the European Convention on Human Rights, and yet still the Westminster government insists that we should not be bound to hold governments, whether that be the Welsh Government or the UK government, to account for its actions.
By stepping on convention rights that are enshrined in the very fabric of devolution, Westminster makes its position very clear: devolution was an error, and it is their intention to rectify it. Of course, this power grab is nothing new, we saw this a few years ago during the passing of the Internal Market Act, which allowed UK Ministers to break international law and went against the consent of both Welsh and Scottish parliaments.
Immediately on Monday night when I heard that the Conservative Westminster Government intended to scrap the Trade Union Wales Act 2017 I tabled a topical question to ask the Welsh Government about the steps Welsh Ministers are taking to protect the Welsh devolution settlement.
I was pleased to secure a question today in the Senedd. We can see this move as a continuation of a Conservative crackdown on trade unions and other such forms of protest.
The General Secretary of TUC Cymru, Shavanah Taj, said that “The UK Government seems determined to attack both workers’ rights and devolution in one go.” And she’s correct, the purpose of this revocation of legislation that the democratically elected body of Wales has voted for is to undermine the rights of working people, and to undermine the powers that they voted for in 2011.
It is a two-prong attack on the voices of the Welsh people, both in the workplace and in the legislature.
Does Unionism give an answer?
That begs the question, where is the unionist answer to this steamrolling of devolution? Unionists seem to have brushed aside this issue, with the Westminster Conservatives resorting to a form of muscular unionism and flag-waving to try and enforce their will.
But surely it should be the will of the Welsh people that matters most in regards to devolution, not the elites up in Westminster? Even the Labour Party, the ruling party of Welsh devolution, seems to have ignored this glaring inconsistency with the constitution.
Is Welsh Labour’s “soft nationalism” enough to fight back against the fresh wave of attacks against Welsh democracy? It seems as though the Welsh government is sleepwalking toward human rights violations by not standing up against Westminster in their proposals to prevent courts from removing legislation which violates the rights of the Welsh people, a principle that any democratic body should hold dear.
As the UK Government shows time and time again that it doesn’t care about the rights of its citizens, including the right to protest and the right to strike, we need to stand up to their bullying.
In the wake of the rewriting of the ministerial rulebook after Partygate, the Welsh Government should be taking steps to ensure that it does not allow Westminster to rewrite the rulebook on human rights, and that we in Wales are able to hold onto our commitment to following the principles of the ECHR. The replacement of these values should make us all too aware that devolution, and the democratic accountability that comes along with it, can just as easily be replaced by the Tories in Westminster.
A rights-based solution
This is one reason why I decided to put forward a proposal for a Welsh Human Rights Act.
My bill would: “…give effect to international human rights in Welsh law through a Human Rights (Wales) Act to make select international human rights part of Welsh law so that they are binding on Welsh Ministers and public authorities in the exercise of devolved functions and may be enforced by a court or tribunal.”
The would protect the human rights of all citizens living in Wales and keep us in step with the rest of Europe. It would secure our human rights as a cornerstone of devolution and Welsh democracy – in spite of any authoritarian policy decisions out of Westminster.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.