‘Ask the Convention’ Speech, National Eisteddfod 2009.
On that day, I was joined by two fellow members of the executive committee – Nick Bennett and Aled Edwards – as we answered questions from the Eisteddfod audience on what the All Wales Convention was all about.
One of the questions we were asked on that day in Cardiff, was how wide would the debate be, and how would the Welsh public be engaged?
Well, we said at the time that we would give everyone in Wales the opportunity to give us their views, and I think we have done the job.
Communicating with the people of Wales and listening to their views has been at the heart of our work.
We have approached this in several different ways – as there is no one easy way to communicate with the people of Wales, with its diverse communities and challenging geography. It might be small, but it isn’t that easy to get across it! (although I have managed to do that without a sat nav…)
The All Wales Convention journey has taken us right across Wales, with a series of 23 public events across the country, at least one in every county. We have spoken to almost 2000 people at these events alone.
On top of this, we have held [number] formal evidence gathering sessions, invited formal written evidence, set up an interactive website through which people are submitting their views, and can still do so until 21 August. We have also set up a Facebook group, worked with young people and with various partners and interest groups, and engaged with the media in Wales – television, newspapers, radio and papurau bro - to get our messages out.
Sometimes, I am amazed at how much we have been able to do in a year.
The last year has given me, and I am sure all the members of the executive committee, a unique and fascinating insight into the views of people across Wales.
It has been an illuminating journey for all of us.
We started with what must have turned out to be the most widely publicised Indian take away in history. We learned a lot from that event in Port Talbot – about some of the opinions we were likely to hear along the way, and how people wanted to express them.
We tried to be innovative along the way – we were keen to speak to people from all backgrounds and in different settings and contexts. So, we joined people in their dance classes, gave them a manicure and joined people as they went shopping – all to find out what they thought of the National Assembly and how they felt about it getting further law making powers.
I and other members of the Convention have racked up the miles travelling around Wales meeting individuals and organisations to hear their evidence.
I’ve shared a hotel with the ghost of Robin Drwg at Maesmawr Hall in Newtown – he had no views to offer on the Assembly. I don’t think he knew me, which has been my experience in some other places too. I’m now well used to being called Emyr Parry Jones, as one South American informed me once everyone knows that this is how it should be, rather than Jones Parry. A new one on me however was the other day on a visit to Media Wales, when I was rechristened Emma Jones Parry.
We’ve heard from a range of individuals and organisations from the farming unions to the police forces of Wales, to local newspaper editors, to the First Minister, to Mrs Jones in Llanrug and Mrs Jones in Bonymaen..
We’ve taken time to listen to the views of young people along the way. It is often said that young people are not interested in politics or current affairs. Well I’ve seen and heard some great examples that go a long way to counter that – the Urdd Eisteddfod public speaking competition stands out, along with my visits to a number of schools in different corners of the country.
So now, where have we got to?
Well, we have over 400 pieces of written evidence [check number with Elin], evidence from [number – check] face to face sessions, evidence from our public events and online forms, and we are carefully sifting through it all to make sure we capture and analyse all the evidence that we have received.
We will also shortly have the final results of our comprehensive social research programme available to us.
We have heard arguments in favour and against both sides of the argument. We will outline all these arguments in our report, and draw on them to formulate our final conclusions about the Assembly’s powers and people’s views on them.
So, what have we heard?
Well, in support of more powers, some people find it demeaning to have to go “cap in hand” each time they want to have powers to make changes in Wales. If devolution has happened, why can’t the Assembly get on with making laws rather than having to spend time and money just getting the right to make laws. If Scotland can, why not Wales?
People have also said that they find the current system complicated, opaque and time consuming – it would be much easier to understand if the Assembly had powers to make laws in the same areas where the Assembly Government can act. It would also permit a more strategic, comprehensive approach to law-making.
On the other hand, we have heard views in support of sticking with the current system of getting powers step by step. One of these is that the current system gives the Assembly the chance to get used, gradually, to working as a law-making body, and to gain experience and expertise over a number of years.. The Westminster dimension also provides useful additional scrutiny.
Linked to this is the argument that the current system needs time to bed down before considering moving on to a new system – many believe the current system is starting to get more productive and efficient, and it needs to be given a chance to work. Law-making in Westminster is itself complex and time consuming.
We are due to report in November, and we will weigh up what we have heard of the pros and cons of both the current system and giving more powers to the Assembly all at once.
The people of Wales are positive about devolution. But in looking at more powers for the Assembly, they will be influenced by the Assembly and Assembly Government’s track record. Many have also asked what additional legislative powers would be used for. For others, the track record is less relevant – the Assembly needs to be given the tools for the job.
We are looking at how the Assembly acquires powers at the moment, and how this compares with giving the Assembly law-making powers in all the devolved policy areas all at once. What can we say about the impact of giving the Assembly law-making powers all at once – are there lots of ideas about how to use those powers? And do the Assembly Government, Assembly and civil society in Wales have the necessary capacity and skills?
We will analyse the provision for a referendum, and the factors which would influence voters. We have done some substantial polling, and those results will be available in September. This may help us to identify how the economic recession and political scandal impact on the willingness to support enhanced powers.
We will also cover how devolution works within the context of the UK – bearing in mind how devolution is different in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. And we won’t forget the European and international dimension, either.
Much work has been done. We are now analysing the input. The committee will be meeting several times in September to consider our conclusion and prepare our final report.
I can promise you that we will report fairly and accurately people’s views on more powers for the Assembly. A decision on the referendum is not for the Convention. Ministers will have our report, which will be a quarry of arguments and views. It will then be for the politicians to decide how to proceed.