The UK Government today released their draft Wales Bill, continuing the process of the Silk Commission through to the St David’s Day declaration.
It is clear that these proposals – in particular how powers are delineated between Westminster and Cardiff Bay – will require strong scrutiny. But good consultation – taking in the views of the key players, as well as civil society in Wales – will help to make sure that there is a devolved settlement finally worthy of the name.
However, in terms of our work – such as our joint report with the Wales Governance Centre, ‘Size Matters’, and our call for Votes at 16 – there is clear progress in the bill’s proposals in allowing the Assembly the powers to decide on these key democratic issues for itself.
The draft bill provides for the devolution of power over ‘all elements of Assembly elections’. The bill also devolves responsibility to the Assembly to run its own affairs. Some areas are defined as ‘protected subject-matters’ that require a two-thirds majority of all seats in the Assembly. These include:
- the franchise for Assembly elections [e.g. Votes at 16];
- the electoral system for Assembly elections [e.g. switching to the Single Transferable Vote];
- the number of constituencies and regions or other such areas and the numbers of members to be returned in each constituency or region or other such areas [E.g. the size of the Assembly];
- changing the name of the Assembly [e.g. to the Welsh Parliament]
It is right that the Bill ensures that changes to the ‘rules of the game’ should require a two-thirds majority to ensure there is a real cross-party consensus, and that parties have to work together on this.
All in all, we’re delighted that the UK Government has revealed its plans to devolve power over Welsh elections to the Assembly. Important reforms like giving 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote and introducing a fair voting system, coupled with ideas like on-line registration and better promotion of elections could help breathe new life into Welsh politics. We’re pleased to see the AMs gain new powers over the timing of elections and the overall size of the Assembly. These extra powers allow for a stronger Assembly that’s better able to question and challenge the decisions Welsh ministers make.
It is now important that all parties work together on the Wales Bill. The work that has already been done to build cross-party consensus around these issues should not be wasted, and that we are able to move to ensure the best governance possible for Wales.