Presiding Officer’s statement in response to publication of the Wales Bill
20 March 2014
I welcome the introduction of the Wales Bill.
Importantly, the UK Government has altered the Bill, recognising the need to give the Assembly the power to change its budgetary procedures. This is a power which I and others called for during scrutiny of the draft Bill. Such changes will be vital, because when the Welsh Government gains tax varying and borrowing powers, the Assembly will need to scrutinise how public funds are raised, as well as how they are spent. I am pleased that the UK Government has responded to this issue, but will need to consider the new clauses in detail to see whether they give the Assembly the appropriate powers.
I still believe that further alterations to the Bill should be considered during its passage through the Houses of Parliament. For example, the Bill could - and should - address anomalies in the Government of Wales Act 2006, to better reflect the Assembly’s position as a mature parliamentary body. It would now be more appropriate for the Assembly to have the right to call itself a Parliament – a point recognised by the Silk Commission in its recent report. It is also an opportunity to review certain out-dated responsibilities which the Secretary of State still retains in relation to the Assembly.
Finally, the Bill heightens the need to address the size of the Assembly. Crucially, my call for increasing the number of Members is not about lightening Members’ workloads. It is about making the Assembly an even stronger force for democratic scrutiny. When Government Ministers put forward new policies, laws or expenditure, it is vital that Members have the time, expertise and knowledge to challenge those proposals robustly. More Members will mean Ministers being better held to account and better outcomes for the people of Wales.
Dame Rosemary Butler AM
Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales