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A shock to the system; Wales feels our collars!

The Welsh Assembly's criminalisation of electric dog collars should be welcomed
Tony Curzon Price
Tony Curzon Price
24 March 2010

The Welsh Assembly's criminalisation of electric dog collars should be welcomed. And not for the benefit of our pets – the collars might be just fine for all I know. Nor for the nannyism, which is always unwelcome. But for the example of what devolution has done to the political process. In case you didn't catch the item, anyone using an electric-shock collar on a dog or cat in Wales can face up to 6 months in prison. (But not if used on humans, we presume: Humphreys, Hitchens-like, was about to try the collar on himself, egged on by Sarah Montague. Even if he had been broadcasting from Cardiff, that would have been OK.)

The woman from the kennel club said something like: "We are very pleased that the Welsh assembly went further than we had been lobbying them to ..." She went on to say that Westminster was now also researching the question for possible national legislation.

Why do I like this so much? Here is a pressure group making change happen in one locality, making national headlines with that decision and getting the issue on the agenda nationally. This is one of the undisputable benefits of decentralisation: we feel real affinity for what happens in Cardiff. If it works or does not work there, it could work here. We pay attention to it in a way we don't pay attention to legislation in France.

The electric dog-collar case lets us imagine what a properly devolved politics might look like. Take the other bit of nannyism from this morning's news: the recommendation that smoking be banned in cars, car parks and even open parks "where children play", because of the risk to children's health. It feels both absurd and intrusive. How will it be policed, by special children's smoke wardens paid by results? By in-car CCTV and smoke alarms? The Welsh decision bans something from being used outright and like it or not seems clear and straightforward.

But the devolution point also comes in. The proposal to ban smaking where children might be found would feel a lot less threatening if it applied only in some locality that was unusually tolerant of nannyism. Then we could watch and possibly learn from it in terms of costs and consequences. And as we discover today how Chancellor Darling plans to make a start on plugging the holes in the public finances, we can meditiate on what a pity it is that we can't try out 10 different ways of rebalancing the tax system.

Hang the parliament for a hope of real devolution, I'd say.

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