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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 March, 2004, 06:38 GMT 07:38 UK
Richard report calls for law-making powers
Rhodri Morgan and Lord Richard of Ammanford
Rhodri Morgan was handed the report on Wednesday
BBC Wales understands that a major report into devolution in Wales is to recommend far-reaching changes to the devolution settlement.

The Richard report, to be published on Wednesday, has called for the institution to be given law-making powers in devolved areas such as health and education by 2011.

It also wants to increase the number of AMs from 60 to 80 because of the extra responsibilities which would come with additional powers.

It seems the report has gone much further than political observers had expected, and will recommend that a process of change should begin without delay.

Barrister Robert Buckland, who campaigned against an assembly for Wales in 1999, said on Wednesday that he would be "happy" if the assembly was given more primary powers.

"I welcome the inquiry," he said, "and I gave evidence to it myself, and I just hope we get far more of a balance in the constitution as a result of it - as long as Westminster still has a say.
I'd like this report to be turned into something permanent
Mari James

"I don't think the people of Wales want a mirror image of the Scottish Parliament," he added.

The report is the work of an independent commission led by the Labour peer Lord Richard of Ammanford which has been investigating the future powers and electoral arrangements of the current Welsh assembly.

There is no guarantee that all or some of the report's recommendations will be implemented, and the process would take several years.

Elections would be carried out by the single transferable vote system of proportional representation, with between four and six AMs per constituency.

Welsh assembly
Twenty extra AMs could sit in the assembly
That suggests anything between 13 and 20 constituencies for the assembly, as opposed to the 40 which elect MPs to Westminster and presently elect two-thirds of the AMs to Cardiff Bay.

The Labour MP for Wrexham Ian Lucas is opposed to the assembly receiving full law-making powers without a referendum.

He said he would like to see a system which encourages back bench AMs and MPs "to work together."

"It's a very important way of integrating the system of government for Wales," he said.

I do think the present voting system has been totally discredited so there has to be a change to the system
Brian Gibbons

Labour AM for Aberavon, Brian Gibbons, said that if primary powers were devolved to the assembly a referendum would not be needed.

"I don't think the average person in the street would see a difference with the present set up we have and what we would have if the assembly had primary legislative powers.

"I do think the present voting system has been totally discredited so there has to be a change to the system.

It would be up to the Boundary Commission to decide the shape of the new constituencies.

Lord Richard is expected to accept criticism of the current closed party list system for selecting AMs for the regional lists.

The report is said to hint that tax-raising powers may be desirable, without endorsing them.

It also calls for the assembly to use its current powers fully and more effectively, and says ministers should continue to devolve powers from Westminster.

It is understood the report says giving the assembly more powers would not necessarily demand a referendum but that the final decision on such a matter should be left to the UK Parliament.

Richard Commission members
Lord Richard of Ammanford
Eira Davies, publishing manager
Tom Jones, farmer
Dr Laura McAllister, lecturer
Peter Price, ex-MEP
Ted Rowlands, ex-Merthyr MP
Vivienne Sugar, consultant
Huw Thomas, company director
Sir Michael Wheeler-Booth, ex-Parliamentary official
Paul Valerio, ex-Swansea Lord Mayor
It also recommends that the assembly government - the executive arm of the body - should be made more distinct from the rest of the assembly - the legislature.

Mari James, the former Vice-chair of the Yes for Wales Campaign, said she would like the report to be turned into something "permanent."

"It's very useful to have a review of the process as we go along," she said.

"How to reform and progress any part of the democratic process is always a dilemma. I'd like this report to be turned into something permanent so the system is constantly under review."

The report is likely to surprise many by setting out a clear timetable for any changes, beginning next year with a new draft Government of Wales Bill, immediately after a UK general election.

The bill would then be introduced to parliament in 2007, the same year as the next assembly elections, and receive Royal Assent in 2008, triggering constituency reviews by the Boundary Commission.

The 2011 assembly elections would see the new system being put in place.

However, whether these recommendations are accepted will rest largely with the Labour Party, the UK government and parliament itself.

It appears that there is not much support under Labour for a change to the voting system under STV.

The party is holding a special conference to discuss the recommendations in September, which means the timescale for getting any firm pledges into the 2005 general election manifesto will be very tight.

A special extended edition of the BBC2 Wales programme am.pm will be broadcast on Wednesday, 31 March from 1035 BST with live coverage of the Richard report and political reaction from Wales and Westminster.


SEE ALSO:
Wait ends for devolution report
29 Mar 04  |  Wales
Assembly powers change warning
13 Jan 04  |  Wales
'Weak' assembly harming Wales
24 Nov 03  |  Wales
Review seeks assembly opinions
15 Jan 03  |  Wales


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