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A new constitutional settlement for Wales: matters affecting Wales should be decided in Wales 

The Welsh Government’s vision for Wales’ long term constitutional future within a devolved United Kingdom has been unveiled by the First Minister, Carwyn Jones.
Monday 18 February 2013

In a submission to the UK Government’s Commission on Devolution in Wales (The Silk Commission), the First Minister is calling for Welsh devolution to be enhanced and restructured through a new Government of Wales Act in order to strengthen accountability, and reduce the scope for conflict between the Welsh and UK Governments.

The new settlement would replace the present “conferral model” of devolution,  whereby powers are devolved to Wales on specific matters, with a “Reserved powers” model,  where specific areas of responsibility such as constitutional affairs, defence, foreign affairs, social security and macro-economic policy would be “reserved” to the UK Parliament, with remaining matters devolved to Wales.

The First Minister said none of the Welsh Government’s or National Assembly’s existing powers should be ‘repatriated’ to Westminster.

The Welsh Government is calling for legislative devolution to be extended in the following areas, in order to increase democratic accountability and ensure decision making that responds to the particular needs of Wales.  

  • Policing, community safety and crime prevention, including Anti-Social Behaviour Orders - in order to strengthen joint working with devolved services and reduce offending;
  • Water – to fill gaps in the current settlement so that the Assembly has legislative competence in relation to all water matters, and to align competence with the England and Wales geographical boundary;
  • Vulnerable adults and children - to clarify and extend competence including in relation to taking children into care, fostering and adoption (public child law);
  • Road safety and powers to improve public transport – including powers over speed and drink driving limits, bus and taxi regulation;
  • Ports -  to ensure that we maximise the economic development potential of Welsh ports;
  • Licensing of alcohol and late night entertainment – in order to promote public health and community safety;
  • Administrative Justice in relation to devolved areas, including arrangements for complaints and redress;
  • The administration of elections in Wales - including Elections to the National Assembly for Wales and local authorities;
  • Taxation – powers consistent with the Silk 1 recommendations to enable the Assembly to legislate on devolved taxes.

The Welsh Government believes these responsibilities should be devolved to the Assembly by 2020/21, as part of a wider reform of the UK Constitution following the Scottish independence referendum.

The Welsh Government is exploring the scope for extending the devolution settlement in relation to rail services and infrastructure, ahead of this timetable.

It is also calling for the devolution to Wales, of executive responsibilities in the following areas, to take effect from times agreed between the Welsh and UK Governments:

  • The consenting of large scale energy generation (except nuclear power) and related energy infrastructure – to enable locally sensitive decision making and consistency with other planning powers which are already devolved;
  • The youth justice system – in order to promote innovative approaches to prevent young people from offending, and join up with already devolved children’s services;
  • Minister of the Crown functions within the Assembly’s devolved legislative competence. These should in future be discharged by the Welsh Ministers;
  • Responsibilities for the appointment of the Welsh member of the BBC Trust, and also the Chair and members of the S4C Authority, to ensure that Welsh interests are represented in these crucial institutions;
  • Civil contingencies – to confirm the Welsh Ministers’ current de facto leadership and co-ordination role in civil emergencies and clarify accountability;
  • Certain marine matters, where powers currently exercisable only in relation to the Welsh inshore area should be extended to encompass the Welsh offshore area.

Longer term, the criminal justice system should be devolved, including the courts, prisons and probation, so that the Welsh Government can respond to the particular challenges of crime in Wales, including working with already devolved services to promote prevention and rehabilitation.  The new Government of Wales Act should provide for this, so that it can be implemented on an agreed basis at some future time without the need for further primary legislation.

The establishment of a separate Welsh legal jurisdiction would follow from the full executive and legislative devolution to Wales of criminal justice and the administration of justice functions. The Welsh Government is calling for early steps to prepare the foundations for transition to a separate legal jurisdiction in the future. This includes:

  • The appointment of a Welsh member of the Supreme Court;
  • A stronger Welsh identity in the Higher Courts of England and Wales, including new Welsh offices for the Court of Appeal and the High Court;
  • The acceptance of the principle that the legal business of people in Wales should be administered and dealt with in Wales wherever possible
  • Maintaining the requirement in primary legislation for at least one member of the Judicial Appointments Commission “to have special knowledge of Wales”.

All transfers of responsibilities from the UK Government to the Welsh Government would need to be accompanied by full budget transfers, subject to independent scrutiny.

In the Welsh Government’s view, there should be no need for a further referendum before these proposals are given effect. The outcome of the referendum held in March 2011 confirmed the electorate’s support for the National Assembly as an institution with extensive legislative authority for Wales.

Carwyn Jones said:

“As Wales’ First Minister, I am firmly committed to seeking a long term constitutional settlement for Wales within a devolved United Kingdom. We think it is important to achieve a settlement that is both simpler and clearer than the present arrangements, and one which enables decisions affecting Wales to be taken in Wales. Our submission to the Silk Commission sets out a clear path for this. Achieving such a settlement could only strengthen the Union and Wales’s place within it.

“Where we make proposals for enhanced powers for Wales, we do so with a clear purpose – to enable the devolved institutions to improve the quality of life of people in Wales. I believe key decisions over policing, energy, public transport and community safety should be taken in Wales, for Wales, by those of us directly elected by the people of Wales and accountable to them.”

 

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