There was an interesting development in Wales last week, when the National Assembly voted against giving its legislative consent under the Sewel convention to the Westminster legislation creating Police and Crime Panels. These are part of the proposals for elected police commissioners that are the centrepiece of the Coalition government’s Police Reform and Social Responsibility bill.
This is the first time a Westminster bill has been denied legislative consent under the Sewel convention – this has never happened to any bill affecting Scotland. The reason is partly to do with party politics – while Conservative and Lib Dem AMs supported the UK bill, it was opposed by Labour and Plaid Cymru. It’s also to do with what looks like legislative laziness, as the Police and Crime Panels are constituted as local authority committees (the bulk of their members will be councillors, but they’re not constitutionally part of any local authority).
Having got into this jam, the initial indications are that Home Office intends simply to insist that Westminster, as the sovereign parliament, has power to enact the legislation despite the National Assembly’s views. As I’ve explained in a detailed post on Devolution Matters available HERE, that would be a grave mistake. It would seriously upset the constitutional relationship between the devolved legislatures and UK Parliament, and risk a very messy legislative situation. Moreover, with the Scotland bill under consideration at both Westminster and Holyrood, it would raise the stakes relating to that as well.