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New Wales Bill will not deliver a lasting settlement, says National Assembly Committee

06/10/2016

​The Wales Bill currently making its way through the UK Parliament is over-complicated, bureaucratic and will not deliver a lasting settlement, according to a National Assembly for Wales Committee.

The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee also concludes that it does not deliver greater parity with Scotland and Northern Ireland in terms of powers and responsibilities, and in fact introduces the possibility of rolling back the existing devolution settlement.

The Committee believes that the UK Government has missed a golden opportunity to deliver a law with the consensus of all sides, including the Welsh Government and National Assembly, even after pausing the process at the pre-legislative stage following considerable criticism.

The Committee was pleased to see the Wales Bill include:

  • the move to a reserved powers model, which would mean powers other than those explicitly retained by the UK Parliament coming to Wales;
  • a declaration about the permanence of the Assembly and the Welsh Government; and
  • the granting of competence in relation to National Assembly elections and the electoral system.

But it is the complexity and lack of clarity that calls into question the durability of the settlement. The failure to provide a distinct or separate jurisdiction for Wales compounds the complexity and durability and, the Committee concludes, will lead to pressure for change.

The Bill also adds extra red tape at a time the UK Government itself is advocating efficiency.

The Committee was disappointed to learn that, even though the list of reserved powers is shorter, in many cases powers have simply been lumped into one category. An example being architects, auditors and health professionals. Previously each was listed on its own, but in the new Bill all three are still included under one reservation.

“It is disappointing to see that the UK Government has not taken on many of the worthy and important recommendations made by many people and organisations, including the predecessor to this Committee,” said Huw Irranca-Davies AM, Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee.

“While we accept that some changes are for the better, Wales is still left with a complicated law that threatens to roll back our existing powers and that fails to give greater parity with other devolved nations.

“The extra red tape which comes with this Bill, at a time when the UK Government advocates cutting bureaucracy, means it may not be long before we are all back around the table trying to thrash out a new, lasting constitutional settlement for Wales. Something this law was promised to be.”

The Committee is also critical of the speed at which the Bill was taken through the House of Commons, meaning the House of Lords has ‘an added burden of responsibility for effective scrutiny before this Bill can be passed as fit for purpose.’

Members have called on the UK Government to adopt a new approach to constitutional law involving devolved legislatures. One that will involve:

  • intergovernmental working on policy development and drafting of a Bill;
  • all relevant Assembly and UK Parliamentary committees considering the constitutional Bills either collectively or in joint sessions; and
  • as appropriate, Ministers of the Crown, the Secretary of State and the First Minister to appear in public before all relevant parliamentary committees.

Mr Irranca-Davies said:

“At a time when the UK is defining its relationship with Europe following the EU referendum, it should also be defining the relationship among its own member nations.

“We believe that it would be far more sensible but also essential if there was an agreed means of co-operating between two parliamentary bodies—between the National Assembly and its committees and Parliament and its two Houses and its committees.

“We recommend the development of new ways of working together as a matter of urgency, ideally before other major constitutional legislation is brought forward, and our committee stands ready to contribute to this work.”

The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee will present its findings to the House of Lords Constitution Committee on Wednesday 12 October in London.

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