6 March 2014
Publication of the second report of the Commission on Devolution in Wales, the “Silk Commission”
On Monday the Silk Commission published its second report on devolution in Wales. The report focuses on the legislative powers of the Assembly and makes 61 recommendations for implementation over a ten year timescale. An earlier report in 2012 dealt with the further devolution of financial powers.
In a key recommendation the report advocates that Wales moves to a “reserved powers” model, in which powers reserved to the UK Government are listed, with all others being devolved. Currently the powers that are devolved are set out under 20 headings in Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006. The Commission states that such a model would provide greater clarity about what is and is not devolved and would be consistent with the devolved arrangements in other parts of the UK.
The Commission’s report discusses justice and policing issues and recommends devolution of responsibility for the police service to Wales. A phased approach to devolution of the justice system should be undertaken, beginning with youth justice in view of its links to local government and other devolved functions. Following this the Commission recommends a feasibility study of the devolution of prisons and probation. In the longer term a review of the devolution of other aspects of the justice system should be completed and implemented by 2025.
The report says understanding of the law in Wales would be aided by easier reference of law reform projects to the Law Commission by Welsh Ministers and by the publication of a consolidated body of Welsh primary and secondary legislation.
The Commission recommends devolution of further transport powers on rail, ports, bus and taxi regulation and speed and drink drive limits to create simpler and more coherent arrangements and better integrated transport in Wales. It proposes that the Welsh Government be given a greater role in the appointment of cross border rail franchise operators.
In terms of natural resource management the Commission recommends the devolution of all energy planning consents below 350MW, a significant increase on the current limit of 50MW. Other recommendations include devolution of responsibility for sewerage and for issuing marine licences in Welsh offshore waters.
The report does not recommend the devolution of responsibility for broadcasting to Wales. However, it believes a devolved governance body for the BBC should be created to provide oversight and scrutiny of BBC outputs in Wales. Responsibility for the direct government funding for S4C should be transferred from the UK Government to the Welsh Government.
The report calls for better and more transparent engagement between the Welsh and UK Governments and recommends the establishment of a Welsh Intergovernmental Committee comprising Welsh and UK Government Ministers. The Committee would be responsible for addressing issues around the devolution settlement, including disputes and proposals for reform, and for monitoring and influencing EU impacts on Wales. The Commission suggests that the Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee and the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee would have a role in scrutinising the work of the Welsh Intergovernmental Committee.
The Commission expresses a hope that the National Audit Office and the Wales Audit Office will wish to conduct a joint audit of intergovernmental relations and it believes that a statutory Code of Practice for intergovernmental relations should be provided for in a new Government of Wales Act.
The Commission concludes that the Assembly is too small to fulfil its role adequately and that the number of AMs should be increased and, although it does not recommend a figure, it notes that most analysis suggests a need for at least 80 Members. In the short term it recommends that a range of options be considered for increasing the capacity of the Assembly.
In terms of health and social security the Commission does not propose changes to the current arrangements but makes recommendations to improve cross border health delivery.
Other recommendations deal with the Welsh language, building regulations, civil contingencies, elections, equal opportunities, family welfare, Higher Education and science, teachers’ pay and the appointment of Lords Lieutenant.