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CLEAR AND STABLE POWERS FOR WALES, COMMISSION RECOMMENDS

, Published 3 March 2014

Silk Commission launch

A clear and stable devolution settlement will better serve the people of Wales, according to the Commission on Devolution in Wales, which today published its report on the powers of the National Assembly for Wales.

The Commission’s report ‘Empowerment and Responsibility:  Legislative Powers to Strengthen Wales’ makes 61 recommendations, which would lead to a clear, well-founded devolution settlement for Wales.   The report proposes a realistic, phased timetable for implementation over ten years, including a Wales Bill in the next Parliament.

Following a year-long review of the powers of the National Assembly for Wales, the Commission found that the current settlement was overly complex; that there was a need for Governments and institutions to work together better; and that there was broad support for further devolved powers.

Based on the principles of accountability, clarity, coherence, collaboration, efficiency, equity, stability and subsidiarity, the Commission’s report has four key strands: to clarify the settlement; to make powers more coherent and exercised at the right level; to enhance scrutiny and accountability; and to improve the way devolution works.

The Commission recommends moving from the current conferred powers model of devolution to a reserved powers model.  A reserved powers model, which sets out the powers which are not devolved rather than the powers that are, would clarify responsibilities and allow more effective, confident governance.  It would also bring Wales into line with the other devolved administrations of the United Kingdom.

The Commission considered whether the National Assembly has the powers it ought to have.   While the report proposes no reduction in the existing powers of the Assembly and no change in the majority of powers currently held by Westminster, it recommends the devolution of further powers in a number of areas, including:

  • devolving most aspects of policing ensuring effective cooperation continues;
  • a phased approach to the devolution of the justice system, devolving the youth justice system immediately with a feasibility study for the devolution of prisons and probation to follow;
  • completion and implementation of a review of other aspects of the justice system by 2025;
  • increasing the threshold for devolved consents for all energy generation from 50MW to 350MW;
  • aligning the devolved competence for water to the national boundary, recognising the need for further consideration of the practical implications;
  • devolving powers in relation to ports, rail, bus and taxi regulation, speed and drink drive limits;
  • strengthening the Welsh dimension of BBC governance within the UK Trust framework and transferring the direct government funding of S4C from the UK Government to the Welsh Government; and
  • specific recommendations on a range of other subjects such as the devolution of teachers pay.

The Commission also makes a number of recommendations to promote more effective scrutiny and performance within the National Assembly, including:

  • short term improvements, such as greater flexibility on the number and size of committees, increased numbers of research staff and better use of Assembly Members’ time; and
  • more backbench Members of the National Assembly.

To improve the way devolution works, the Commission recommends more effective relations between legislatures and Governments.  As far as Governments are concerned, the Commission recommends a Welsh Intergovernmental Committee which would oversee the Welsh devolution settlement.  It would play an important role in taking forward the move to a reserved powers model; considering proposals for changes to devolved responsibility raised in the future; resolving disagreements without invoking the full dispute resolution process; monitoring EU developments impacting Wales; and resolving cross-border issues.  The Commission recommends a number of ways in which the National Assembly and the Houses of Parliament can work more efficiently together.

The report also recommends:

  • improvements for public sector capacity;
  • greater transparency and better access to clear and comparable data across the United Kingdom; and
  • the sharing of best practice across the United Kingdom.

 

The full report and its Executive Summary can be downloaded from the Commission’s website.

The Commission’s Chair Paul Silk said:  “Our Terms of Reference tasked us with coming up with recommendations that would enable the United Kingdom Parliament and National Assembly for Wales to better serve the people of Wales.  We have consulted widely throughout our work and considered all the evidence presented to us.  We are grateful to everyone who engaged with us throughout our work – the views we heard have been invaluable in helping us produce this evidence-based report which we believe will command a wide degree of support.

“At a time when constitutional issues are high on the agenda in the United Kingdom, we have agreed recommendations that will provide a stable and well-founded devolution settlement fit for the future. It will give Wales a lasting settlement that allow political decisions to be made in a democratic and accountable manner.

“Through a phased ten-year programme of reform, it will create a stronger Welsh democracy and bring Wales more in line with the other devolved countries of the UK.  We are therefore delighted to present our unanimously agreed report to the UK Government for implementation.”

 

Notes

The Commission on Devolution in Wales was set up by the Secretary of State for Wales in October 2011.  Its remit was divided into two parts.

The Commission published its first report ‘Empowerment and Responsibility:  Financial powers to Strengthen Wales’ in November 2012, which made 33 recommendations on taxation and borrowing powers for the National Assembly.  Of the thirty one recommendations for the UK Government to consider, thirty were accepted in full or in part.  These are now being taken forward through the Draft Wales Bill.

For Part II of its remit, the Commission were tasked:
“To review the powers of the National Assembly for Wales in light of experience and to recommend modifications to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the United Kingdom Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales to better serve the people of Wales”.

The Commission were excluded from considering the structure of the National Assembly for Wales, including issues relating to the election of Assembly Members.