Alternatives set forward for new Devolution Bill.

Dame Rosemary Butler outlines why she believes the Wales Bill needs to be amended in order to deliver for the people of Wales.

The people of Wales deserve a clear, workable and durable constitutional settlement which will enable their elected politicians, in future, to deliver on their hopes and aspirations.

And let me be clear from the outset, I am committed to working with the Secretary of State for Wales to achieve this aim. There is much in this draft Wales Bill that I welcome, considering the powers that it devolves to the Assembly to finally manage its own internal affairs.

However, as it currently stands, I believe that the draft Wales Bill needs further work in order to deliver the sustainable settlement Wales needs.

To that end, and rather than merely criticising the proposals, I have taken the step of putting forward proposals of my own, in a constructive attempt to move discussions forward.

Today, I appear before the Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee and House of Commons Welsh Affairs Select Committee, where I will outline three alternative drafts for some of the restrictions that the draft Bill places on the Assembly’s ability to legislate.

The alternative drafts have been worked up by a former parliamentary drafter, and internationally-recognised expert on legislative drafting, Daniel Greenberg, in conjunction with the Assembly’s own lawyers.

I make no secret of the fact that none of the options achieve my true aim: a devolution settlement for Wales, and indeed a constitutional settlement for the United Kingdom, based on the principle of subsidiarity – the principle that the centre should do only those things that cannot be done effectively at devolved level. I recognise that, regrettably, there is not enough time for this aim to be achieved in the process leading up to the current Wales Bill

Instead, these alternative drafts are intended to rationalise and simplify the proposed new tests for Assembly legislative competence – and thus to make the settlement clearer, more workable and more durable.

In addition, the first option openly aims to recover some of the legislative ability that I believe the Assembly will lose under the proposals as currently drafted – particularly the ability to use the civil and criminal law as legislative tools to make substantive provisions, on matters like housing and social welfare, effective in practice.

I believe these alternatives could make a real difference to the workability of the Welsh devolution settlement – and that’s got to be a good thing, not least because it saves public resources.

The alternative proposals would also remove some of the additional requirements for UK Government consents (the so-called English veto on Welsh laws) introduced by the draft Bill, while keeping others. I believe this is a reasonable way forward. I recognise that UK Government Departments have some anxieties around the Assembly’s ability to affect its budget by imposing new duties on them or their sponsored public bodies. I’ve tried to go some way towards allaying those anxieties. But there has to be fairness and parity of respect; the UK Parliament can impose duties on bodies funded by the Welsh Government at any time, on reserved matters, without any need for Assembly consent.

All the proposed alternatives, which I will outline in my evidence, simplify the competence tests in the draft Bill by reducing the number of restrictions. The current draft includes several double-headed tests. All the alternatives reduce each of these to a single test. Most crucially this would protect the Assembly’s current powers to use ordinary civil and criminal law as part of the legislative toolbox.

In a more radical option I also propose simplifying the whole model by simply removing one of the tests for competence in legislating in terms of the reserved model. In total, my proposals would reduce the number of tests back to current levels.

My aim is, and has always been, to be a critical friend to the Secretary of State in ensuring that we end up with a bill that delivers a clear, workable and durable constitutional settlement for the people of Wales.

There has been a lot of noise about the bill in its current form. I have said publically that I believe the current draft would amount to a backwards step for the National Assembly and would not deliver the lasting constitutional settlement for Wales, and the UK as a whole.

That said, I believe that a workable solution is achievable and I am pleased to offer, with the support of a recognised expert in Daniel Greenberg, a positive and constructive contribution to that aim.

I look forward to seeing the response to the amendments I will set out to both the Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee and the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Select Committee.

Dame Rosemary Butler is the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales.

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