The main conclusions and recommendations in the All Wales Convention report published yesterday are summarised here.
The status quo
- The report confirms the findings of other research that support for devolution has grown significantly since the 1997 referendum. The convention’s own polling found that 72 per cent favoured some form of devolution. Support for either independence (8 per cent) or no devolution at all (14 per cent) has continued to fall since 1997.
- The positive benefits of devolution are not fully appreciated, and knowledge of individual tailored policies was largely lacking. The report says ‘a deficit of effective communications across Wales exacerbated the difficulty in understanding devolution’.
- Complexity is an impediment to understanding. “The distinction between the roles of the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government was frequently misunderstood, partly because of the use of the adjective ‘Assembly’ before Government”.
- On the LCO process, the report cites highly critical evidence from many bodies, and says this dominated the evidence received. In particular, it says the ‘third sector’ criticised what they saw as “the cumbersome, somewhat opaque, sometimes lengthy, inaccessible nature of the process”. But it also notes that the Welsh Assembly Government is now more engaged with Whitehall, that more effort have been made to address the disadvantages of the system and that ‘scrutiny in Westminster and the National Assembly has sharpened up legislative intentions.
- It urges “proportionate scrutiny which recognises both the importance of Government of Wales Act 2006 and separate electoral mandates. It is also necessary, it says, “for Whitehall to be better informed and more positive and accepting of the provisions of the Act”.
- More powers have been granted by way of Acts of parliament – framework bills – than by Legislative Competence Orders (LCOs). It says “this is undesirable”. The report notes that when powers are transferred by Acts of Parliament the National Assembly has no scrutiny role, and that these powers are often transferred direct to Ministers rather than to the Assembly itself. “There is, therefore, a lack of consistency in the amount of scrutiny given to proposals for Measure-making powers, and in the case of framework provisions in UK Bills there is no recognition of the democratic mandate of the National Assembly for Wales”.
- The report says that “because it is strikingly difficult to access accurately the detailed law which applies in Wales, we recommend the creation of a single accessible record of all law applicable in Wales, which would provide authoritative and comprehensive detail”.
- The Convention is convinced that wider powers for the Assembly, as set out in Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, “offers substantial advantage over the present arrangements in Part 3”.
- Part 4 powers, it says, would “offer greater efficiency, permit a strategic approach to the drafting of the legislation, provide greater clarity, be more consistent with the rule of law and democratic tradition, and reflect the emerging maturity of the National Assembly for Wales”.
- The report puts forward two main arguments for moving to Part 4 powers. First, “good law should be above all clear and accessible, and adopted by a comprehensible process, with the division of powers understood and known”. Second, “today’s policy-making needs to be holistic and strategic. Legislation needs to cover complex and diverse issues to be effective”.
- The reports says “we make no apology for emphasising the rule of law. This requires that the process of adopting laws should be transparent, comprehensible, acceptable, implementable and accessible to all concerned”.
- For the civil service, it says that the extra adaptation necessary to implement Part 4 should be manageable, and that the overall impact of the change would be “financially neutral”.
- The Convention’s social research found that 47 per cent said they would vote yes in a referendum on further powers for the Assembly, while 37 per cent said they would vote no. Positive support was highest among 16-34 year olds, people in lower social groups, and people who identified themselves as Welsh. The Convention concluded that “a yes vote is obtainable, but is not a certain outcome”.
- If a referendum is to be held “in good time before the Assembly elections in 2011, then a decision should be taken by June 2010”.
- Despite what the Convention perceives as the advantages of moving to Part 4 powers, it acknowledges that “it is not easy to assess how these arguments would resonate with the public. The evidence leads us to believe that there would be more support for a ‘yes’ vote when the extent of Welsh devolution is compared unfavourably to that in Scotland, and when attention is drawn to the need to repeatedly seek Westminster’s permission, before powers can be drawn down”.
- “Cost, revenue from the UK government, apprehension at sudden change, and the alleged calibre of AMs were important factors for those indicating that they would vote ‘no’ in a referendum. On the other hand, comparison with Scotland, cap in hand to London, and the maturity of the National Assembly for Wales were strong factors which lead people towards a likely ‘yes’ vote”.