Incorporate the Silk Commission

Proposal:

To incorporate Part 2 of the recommendations of the Commission on Devolution in Wales (also known as the “Silk Commission”) into the constitution, specifically to increase the size of the National Assembly for Wales, to devolve further responsibilities to it, and to change the legislative framework which governs its powers to a Scottish Parliament-style model of reserved powers.

The Commission on Devolution in Wales was set up in 2011 following the successful referendum to expand the National Assembly for Wales’s powers earlier that year. It was chaired by Paul Silk, a former clerk to the National Assembly.

The terms of reference for the commission were:

  • To review the case for the devolution of fiscal powers to the National Assembly for Wales and to recommend a package of powers that would improve the financial accountability of the Assembly, which are consistent with the United Kingdom’s fiscal objectives and are likely to have a wide degree of support.
  • To review the powers of the National Assembly for Wales in the light of experience and to recommend modifications to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the United Kingdom Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales to better serve the people of Wales.

The commission produced a set of proposals in response to the first criteria in November 2012. It proposed a significant increase in fiscal responsibility and tax raising powers. This report formed the basis of the Wales Act 2014.

A report focusing on the second criteria was published in March 2014. It made a total of 61 recommendations including:

  • An increase in the number of Assembly Members at the National Assembly to deal with an “overstretched” legislature which “causes problems for effective governance”. It was hinted that there should be “at least” 80 Members (20 more than present) as called for by the Richard Commission report published in 2004.
  • Devolution of responsibility for a wide range of public policy, including energy, water, transport, road safety, policing and youth justice.
  • A Scottish-style “reserved powers” model for the constitution. A list of policy areas should be reserved to UK jurisdiction, with everything else considered devolved. This is the reverse of the current system where a list of issues is devolved and everything else is considered reserved to the UK.

The second part has proven to be more controversial than the first, especially with regard to the proposal to increase the number of assembly members. The UK government have accepted the principle of reserved powers but have asserted that the number of assembly members is a matter for the assembly itself. The decision has been formally postponed until after the 2015 general election by the coalition government in Westminster. Labour have yet to confirm whether or not they will be backing the proposals.

Clearly, a written constitution for the UK would have to deal with the powers and composition of the National Assembly for Wales. I propose that a reserved powers system would be more elegant than the piecemeal framework which defines the Assembly’s powers in UK law. And with two independent commissions established recommending increasing the size of the Assembly, I believe it makes sense for the constitution to accept those proposals.

See also:

 

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edited on Mar 18, 2015 by James Graham

Harry Blain Apr 11, 2015

  • A Scottish-style “reserved powers” model for the constitution. A list of policy areas should be reserved to UK jurisdiction, with everything else considered devolved. This is the reverse of the current system where a list of issues is devolved and everything else is considered reserved to the UK.

This, in particular, could stand out as a key issue across the board. Maybe we can extend this principle to regional devolution as well? https://constitutionuk.com/category/2851#/post/100424

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