Back to the drawing board for the draft Wales Bill?

David Melding explains the findings of an Assembly committee inquiry into the draft Wales Bill.

The Secretary of State’s decision to publish a draft Wales Bill (‘draft Bill’) in October for a period of pre-legislative scrutiny was very welcome, offering an opportunity for those not involved in its preparation to comment in advance of the Bill’s formal introduction.

Apart from welcoming certain provisions of the Bill, for example in relation to elections and the internal organisation of the Assembly, reactions to some of the detail of the draft Bill were not positive. It has failed to sustain the consensus that largely surrounded the St David’s Day process.

This is principally because of the roll-back of the Assembly’s legislative competence proposed in the draft Bill. Many of the written submissions we received sought to explain how the Assembly’s legislative competence was being reduced. This included detailed responses from Assembly committees who looked at specific reservations affecting their policy areas.

Our report did not attempt to tinker at the margins of the draft Bill. Instead, and having regard to the principles of subsidiarity, clarity, simplicity and workability that we felt should underpin the settlement, we sought to suggest changes that would deliver the Secretary of State’s aims of a stronger, clearer and fairer devolution settlement for Wales that will stand the test of time.

One approach we suggested was to pause proceedings and use the evidence gathered in scrutinising the draft Bill to prepare a consolidating Bill in close collaboration with key players: the Assembly, Welsh Government, legal practitioners, civic society and the UK Parliament.

Alternatively, should the UK Government proceed with the current timetable, we said that the draft Bill needs to be amended so that the Bill introduced in the UK Parliament contains the following:

  • the removal of the necessity test or its replacement by a test based on appropriateness;

  • a system for requiring Minister of the Crown consents that reflects the model in the Scotland Act 1998;

  • a significant reduction in the number and extent of specific reservations and restrictions;

  • a distinct jurisdiction in which Welsh Acts extend only to Wales;

  • a system in which Welsh Acts modify England and Wales law as appropriate for reasonable enforcement;

  • a clear commitment that a bilingual consolidation be carried out during the current Parliament.

We are heartened by the messages of support we have received for our report, which will now be debated in the Assembly on January 13.

We believe that the changes we propose are essential to enabling a mature, effective and accountable legislature that, through the same Bill, is also to acquire some income tax powers.

Indeed, it would seem a somewhat contradictory approach to provide the Assembly with some responsibility over income tax without the need for a referendum, while imposing so many reservations and restrictions in certain policy areas. Allowing the UK Government, an executive which is unaccountable to the Assembly, to have a veto in certain policy areas that are already devolved not only adds to the contradiction, but is clearly contrary to established constitutional principles.

We note and welcome therefore the Secretary of State’s comment that the draft Bill could change significantly. We also welcome his comments that he wants to work constructively together to get the draft Bill right.  He should aim high and introduce a Bill that clearly bears the stamp “made in Wales”. This requires the return to the consensus that appeared earlier in the process and it offers the prize of an enduring constitutional settlement for Wales.

That is why we believe, whichever approach he chooses to tackle the difficult task he faces, that he should set up a Constitutional Working Group involving key players to produce the lasting, durable constitutional settlement for Wales that its citizens deserve.

The Wales Bill to be introduced into the UK Parliament next year will be of fundamental constitutional importance. However, it will also determine the Assembly’s ability to legislative effectively and efficiently in policy areas such as health and education, areas that, as the Secretary of State rightly identifies, are of considerable concern to people in Wales.

That is why the need for a lasting settlement is paramount so that the Welsh Government and Assembly can move forward and deliver on these important issues. The last thing the Assembly needs is a fourth government of Wales Act so complex and impenetrable that it hinders the delivery of laws aimed at improving the quality of the lives of the people of Wales.

David Melding AM is Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee at the National Assembly for Wales. The Committee's full report into the draft Wales Bill can be found here:

12 thoughts on “Back to the drawing board for the draft Wales Bill?

  1. David says many things but other than crying out for more powers I find nothing of substance to justify his position, but do take an exception that he is demanding “A clear commitment that a bilingual consolidation be carried out during the current Parliament”.

    Welsh language imposition never had any public consent, simply imposed either by Westminster or the Assembly and it’s becoming evident that this policy is not working.

    Wales is not a bilingual ‘nation’ under any definition and English language is the first language of Wales therefore the Welsh Government must respect majority, their language and their culture.

    Making Welsh speakers ‘More Equal’ is Orwellian, undemocratic and a disastrous policy that can not be sustained without doing more damage to Welsh Education: NHS and the Welsh Economy.

    Long overdue to put the ‘Welsh bilingualism’ to test and ask Welsh people via referendum for their linguistic preferences!

  2. Me thinks Mr Melding is desperate to remain chair of the constitutional and legislative affairs committee at the National Assembly for Wales.

    As for matters bilingual I too have some concerns. But equally I have some concerns over the ever growing number of folk that live in Wales but steadfastly refuse to regard themselves as Welsh.

    Made in Wales, perhaps. Made in Wales by the Welsh, not unlikely.

  3. On the contrary J. Protic, David Melding has provided us with a concise summary of a complex situation in the negotiation of a key element of law affecting the governance and government of Wales that provides for a key statement on bilingualism. Check the experience with the French language in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, and you may be surprised at the nuances and practicalities that need to be taken into consideration.

  4. @ Jacques Protic

    It was a Westminster Government that imposed an English-only rule on a largely Welsh-speaking population to facilitate economic gain for themselves. Welsh-speakers have inalienable rights which do not depend on the majority of the population for their existence. In fact, majorities have a responsibility to ensure that their decisions do not impact on minorities in a discriminatory way. With power comes responsibility. You do not have a veto on the existence of others or their language. The fact that you seek such a veto shows just how anti-democratic your position is.

    People express their linguistic preferences every day of their lives by speaking the language of their choice. Unfortunately for Welsh-speakers, that choice is available but limited, far more limited than the choices available to the English-speaking citizen in Wales.

  5. David Melding once again brings clarity to a thoroughly confused situation. The draft Wales Bill has all the hallmarks of civil servants throwing something together in order to meet a deadline. Once again, Westminster demonstrates its contempt for Wales by not even bothering to draft a bill that is remotely consistent with constitutional principles or law. But then again a coherent constitution was never Westminster’s strong point.

  6. The test, I think, is how well the Assembly speaks on behalf of all who are Welsh (please note Ms. Protic) as it is where the nation is ‘assembled’ – the answer is in the question, so to speak. This principle holds irresepective of the powers that it has, its relationship with other governing structures, or even the will of the Government to act.

    As a consequence it has a right to an opinion on all issues, and where it feels that it is being ignored, sidelined or is impotent then there is a legitimate cause for discussion as to how that voice may be heard and how action might be pursued.

    The Assembly Committee have seen this principle and sought to make a complicated situation clearer and more workable to that end, and whilst cutting out the dead legislative wood will help, it is the question of confidence that still prevails. Not populism, but a clear connection between what we want / need and our ability to get it. Simple as.

  7. @Protic – What has the Draft Wales Bill got to do with Welsh language planning? I take my hat off to your superhuman ability to get a rant in about the native language of this country on any story imaginable, however.

  8. i took bilingual consolidation in this context to simply mean that the Bill’s provisions be the same when it is expressed in the two languages. I don’t think anyone would want a Bill and its translation to say different things. The Bill does not address at all the language policy of the Welsh government. Whatever question he looks at, Mr Protic always sees only one issue.

  9. Not surprised by hostile reaction from those few insisting to have an ownership of Wales through a language and a culture that at best can only be equated as Tribal and other than being a cultural language of the few has little relevance in modern Wales.

    Equating Welsh language with any of the MFL’s is simply a folly and delusional – Consider recent Maori take on the Welsh language compulsion covered by New Zealand TV: – In my view compelling children to learn or even like Welsh is wrong and ORWELLIAN

    Finally, my stance has nothing to do with any hatred or disrespect for the Welsh language and its culture but my position and perseverance is to expose shear folly of Socially Engineering Wales into a ‘bilingual world’ that can never be achieved and I’m saying this for the sake of our children who are used as guinea pigs to this aim and in the process most of them get damaged in academic terms for rest of their lives.

    Listen to the kids who see Welsh language as useless and is one of the most disliked subjects (Never used by most kids outside the confines of a classroom)!

  10. @J Protic

    If compelling children to learn a subject is Orwellian, then you are presumably against the compulsory teaching of mathematics. If compelling children to learn a language is Orwellian, then you are presumably against the compulsory teaching of English. Or does your hatred of the Welsh language lead you target only that subject?

    And what you call social engineering is known more generally as education. You seem incapable of distinguishing the two.

    You claim that most of those who are bilingually educated ‘get damaged’ in academic terms for the rest of their lives. Where is your evidence for that?

  11. “Consider recent Maori take on the Welsh language compulsion covered by New Zealand TV”
    Diolch. That was an interesting link. It was also overwhelmingly positive about the compulsory teaching of Welsh. To be honest I’m surprised that you would so readily reference something that undermines your opinion.

  12. The IWA comments policy makes clear that discussions need to stay on topic. We have let this one develop but it is now way off topic. Further comments not relevant to the thrust of the argument will not be approved. And before charges of censorship are again raised, this has nothing to do with free speech – the debate is getting boring

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