Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Tuesday, 13 January 2009

All Wales Convention Q & A

Sir Emyr Jones Parry
Sir Emyr Jones Parry's convention is due to report back at the end of 2009

What is the All Wales Convention?

The convention was a commitment by Labour and Plaid Cymru in the coalition government they created after the 2007 assembly election. It was written into their programme of government, One Wales, setting out plans for four years.

Why should we care about it?

It sounds dry, but it is about whether more should be decided by politicians in Cardiff or in London. Decisions that can affect daily life in all sorts of ways. It will also cost public money to run (for more, see below).

So what will the convention do?

Two broad roles: it's meant to prepare the ground for a possible referendum on full law-making powers for the assembly on or before the next assembly election in 2011 by gauging public opinion. In other words, should Wales have a more powerful assembly, more like the Scottish Parliament? Its other key aim is to explain the present system of powers available to the assembly.

How will it "gauge public opinion"?

Its "executive committee", which is running the convention, is seeking opinions in public meetings and events around Wales. Discussions could take place at mother and toddler groups, shopping centres, bars or clubs, for example, to try to reach as many people as possible. Evidence is also being taken from individuals and organisations in more formal sessions and in written form. And there is the chance to post comments on the convention's website.

Welsh assembly debating chamber
Agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development
Ancient monuments and historic buildings
Economic development
Education and training
Fire and rescue
Highways and transport
Local government
Public administration
Social services
Sport and recreation
Water and flood defence
Welsh language

What is the political set-up at the moment, and why does it have to be explained?

It's quite complicated. Laws going through the UK parliament are sometimes adapted to apply differently in Wales - the UK government discusses any possible changes with Welsh assembly government ministers. The assembly has also recently gained powers to pass some laws - or measures - itself. These are in the fields already devolved to Wales, such as health and education.

Why do they need more powers?

Because AMs can pass measures in only a limited number of areas without getting permission from parliament - "legislative competence" to use the jargon. This is on a case-by-case basis. As well as one of these competence orders, new subjects can still also be added by tacking them on to a parliamentary act. All clear? Maybe not, but then for those who want more powers clearly devolved to Wales that is exactly the point. Supporters of the current system say it is no more complicated than the way laws are made at Westminster and the new process in Cardiff Bay is working well and will improve over time. The bottom line is that the assembly can only pass laws on certain subjects. These subjects can only be added gradually, if the UK parliament agrees.

So what is the situation now? What does this phrase full law-making powers really mean?

It would mean the assembly could pass laws in the full range of devolved policy areas without the say-so of parliament, along similar lines to Scotland. In Edinburgh they also have tax-varying powers, something that isn't on the table here.

If a lot is expected from the convention, who is going to run it all?

The convention is the consultation process. It's being organised by the executive committee of 16 people and is meant to be scrupulously balanced. There were nominations from the four main political parties - Labour, Plaid Cymru, Conservative and Liberal Democrat - people put forward by eight organisations: Wales TUC, CBI, Young Farmers, Wales Council for Voluntary Action, Funky Dragon - which encourages youth involvement in politics - Faith Forum, Welsh Local Government Association and Wales Women's National Coalition. There are also four members of the public on the committee who responded to advertisements. But there are no AMs or MPs.

And the chairman?

Sir Emyr Jones Parry, Britain's former ambassador to the United Nations, who called it an opportunity to "give something back to the communities that bred me."

Any controversy about his appointment?

First Minister Rhodri Morgan and Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones
Rhodri Morgan and Ieuan Wyn Jones's Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition led to the All Wales Convention
It was broadly welcomed by party leaders, but not by everyone. Islwyn Labour MP Don Touhig said the job should have gone to someone with better knowledge of Wales, implying that Sir Emyr would need satellite navigation. But Sir Emyr, who has lived in six Welsh towns, has stressed how well he knows Wales and he would compete in a rally around Wales with anyone who doubted it!

Any complaints about the convention itself?

Among the fiercest critics is Monmouth Conservative MP and former AM David Davies. "I think it is absolutely disgraceful that taxpayers' money is going to be spent on drumming up support for a Yes vote in the planned referendum, " he said.

And is the convention a campaign for more powers?

No, say its supporters, who insist it is neutral and has been created to see what people in Wales think of the idea of more powers.

How much will the convention cost?

The total budget is 1.5m.

Is there any sign of how people might vote?

In an ICM/BBC poll in February 2008, 49% said they wanted the assembly to become a full law-making parliament, with 42 per cent against, and 9% don't knows. But it's just a snapshot so far.

Is there any precedent for this convention?

No-one has found one yet. There was a constitutional convention set up in Scotland in the late 1980s - but that was more a way to campaign for devolution and is credited with paving the way for the Scottish parliament

The timescale?

A report from the convention is expected to be ready by the end of 2009. Politicians will then decide whether to hold a referendum. That decision would have to be passed by two-thirds of AMs and a simple majority in parliament. Under the One Wales agreement any referendum has to be "at or before the end of the assembly term" in May 2011. But an awful lot will happen before then.

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