Landmark report on devolution in Wales reflects public mood on a referendum
Compiled by the Chair and his 16-strong Executive Committee, the 130 page report is a robust analysis of the formal and informal evidence gathered as part of its public consultation on further law-making powers for the National Assembly for Wales.
The All Wales Convention has concluded that proposals to transfer powers from Westminster to the National Assembly for Wales all at once offers substantial advantage over the current arrangements, where powers are transferred step by step with the approval of the UK Parliament. Transferring powers all at once would offer greater efficiency, permit a more strategic approach to the drafting of the legislation, provide greater clarity and be more consistent with the rule of law and democratic tradition.
The all at once option would only come into effect if there were a ‘yes’ vote in a referendum. The All Wales Convention believes, based on the extensive evidence it has gathered, that a ‘yes’ vote in a referendum is obtainable. However, the result could be influenced by a number of factors which affect how people will vote on the day. These include leadership of any referendum campaigns, instinct and gut reaction, perceptions of nationality, knowledge of what is proposed and understanding of any language used.
The report also makes practical recommendations, which are relevant now and would still be relevant if powers were transferred all at once to the National Assembly for Wales. These recommendations include creating a ‘one stop shop’ where lawyers and members of the public can access an up to date record of the law that applies in Wales, reducing the bureaucratic load on local authorities, and a more sustained effort with regards to scrutiny of laws that apply in Wales. The Convention believes that scrutiny, as the bedrock of any democratic process, merits particular attention.
Sir Emyr Jones Parry, said,
“The question at the heart of the debate was complex and it soon became clear that it wasn’t well understood at all. It was important that people were aware of what was on the table - we were not talking about the scale of law-making powers afforded to Scotland. The National Assembly for Wales would, in the event of a successful referendum, only be entitled to increased powers across the 20 defined areas of Welsh life set out in the Government of Wales Act 2006.
“Our report reflects the wide range of opinions on devolution heard whilst traveling the length and breadth of the country. This is one of the most wide-ranging and exhaustive public consultations of its kind and the people of Wales have spoken. Through the use of innovative and imaginative techniques we have been able to engage with the public in such a way as to draw clear and concise conclusions from the rich evidence base gathered.
“What we found was that the current arrangements for giving the National Assembly for Wales law-making powers through Legislative Competence Orders or LCOs were seen as cumbersome and slow. The parallel route for giving the National Assembly powers through framework provisions in UK Parliamentary Bills was seen to be problematic. Although potentially quicker than the LCO route, this process was seen as being subject to less scrutiny than LCOs, and most importantly not scrutinised by the National Assembly at all.
“Having the powers all at once offers distinct advantages, and can only be obtained through a ‘yes’ vote in a referendum. If that happened, it would give particular legitimacy to the National Assembly for Wales.
“Judging by the anticipation surrounding its contents, the report’s conclusions will create debate within the corridors of power, both here in Cardiff and in Westminster. I hope there will be a wide-ranging debate across Wales. If a referendum is to go ahead before the May 2011 National Assembly elections, a decision should be taken on whether to call a referendum ideally no later than June 2010.
“While devolution is accepted by most as a part of everyday life, the All Wales Convention is all too aware of the need for an informed electorate for democracy to really work. If there is to be a referendum, the people of Wales need to be fully informed about the options on the table, and their consequences.
“It has been a long road travelled, but our work is now done. Decisions on how to proceed are now for the politicians. We trust that our recommendations to the Welsh Assembly Government will be considered seriously, not just by Government but by the people of Wales.”