Why is this important?
"… a constitutional settlement should be also aspirational. And I think what we fail to see is a clear ambition and aspiration for the constitutional status of Wales and for how Wales will be constitutionally repositioned within the UK… I think constitutions send messages about what kind of politics you are conducting in a country, what kind of society you want to live in, what kind of aspirations you have for your future generations." - Dr Diana Stirbu, London Metropolitan University
The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee is a group of four Assembly Members from across Wales. Their job is to try and make sure that any laws or policies in relation to our constitution are in the best interests of Wales and its people.
The Committee first looked at the Bill in October 2015 when it was introduced in its draft form. This draft Wales Bill received widespread criticism. Many people with direct experience of working with the existing law that gave Wales its devolution settlement made constructive suggestions to improve the proposed legislation and expressed a willingness to work with the UK Government for the benefit of the people of Wales.
But even after a number of changes were made to the Bill from the draft, the Committee’s overall assessment is that it is a complex and inaccessible piece of constitutional law that will not deliver the lasting, durable settlement that people in Wales had expected.
What are the problems?
The Committee felt that there were a number of key issues the Bill failed to deliver:
- 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 Wales’ existing powers;
- 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 following the considerable criticism;
- 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;
- The Committee was 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.’, and
- A 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.
“...I think the legal system needs to adapt itself to that new reality, a reality that is growing as the body of law that applies only in Wales and the body of law that applies only in England increase in size.” - Professor Thomas Glyn Watkin, Emeritus Professor of Law
What positive change does this Bill bring?
Although the complexity and lack of clarity calls into questions the durability of the settlement, 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.
Chair’s closing remarks
“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.
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.
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.”