Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

More powers for Wales says report

The Pierhead building and the Senedd in Cardiff Bay
There have been fierce arguments over whether or not the Welsh assembly should have more powers for most of its first decade in existence

The assembly in Wales should be given full law-making powers in devolved areas through a referendum, a key report has found.

The All Wales Convention, established by the assembly government, said a 'yes' vote in favour of boosting powers was obtainable but not guaranteed.

Opinion polling for the convention indicated 47% of people would vote 'yes' in a referendum and 37% 'no'.

Ministers are committed to holding a poll, if it is winnable, by May 2011.

Establishing the convention was central to the coalition deal which formed the Labour-Plaid Cymru Welsh Assembly Government in the summer of 2007.

The issue of how Wales is governed matters, says Sir Emyr Jones Parry, chairman of the covention

Its role was to gauge the level of public support for the Welsh assembly gaining full law-making power and to provide the basis for ministers to decide whether or not to trigger a referendum.

The 130-page report, compiled by chairman Sir Emyr Jones Parry and a 16-member executive committee, said a "great fog" surrounded the public understanding of the current system, where powers are transferred on a step-by-step basis from Westminster to Cardiff Bay.

The document suggests the assembly should decide on whether or not to hold another referendum by June 2010 - to allow the poll to be held before the next assembly election.

'Legitimacy'

The convention unequivocally agreed that the transfer of full powers was preferable to the current system.

Sir Emyr said: "What we found was that the current arrangements for giving the assembly law-making powers... were seen as cumbersome and slow.

What is the National Assembly for Wales?
It is made up of 60 elected Assembly Members (AMs), who represent a specific area of Wales as a member of a political party or as an independent member
The Welsh Assembly Government is composed of up to 14 AMs
AMs meet when the assembly is in session, to discuss issues of importance to Wales and its people; they pose questions to assembly government ministers, carry out debates on government policies and committee reports and examine Welsh laws
The assembly is able to make laws for Wales - called Measures - in certain policy areas, including agriculture, education, the environment, health, transport, housing, local government, sport and the Welsh language
However, the assembly still has to ask MPs for permission to legislate in some areas
Source: National Assembly for Wales

"Having the powers all at once offers distinct advantages and can only be obtained through a 'yes' vote in a referendum.

"If that happened, it would give particular legitimacy to the National Assembly for Wales."

Receiving the report from Sir Emyr, outgoing First Minister and Labour leader Rhodri Morgan said he would make a full statement on it next week.

He described the report as being "a little bit short of saying (there was) an open and shut case - just move ahead straight away" with holding a referendum.

"It shows that in certain circumstances the appetite is there and the level of understanding is there... to have a referendum which can be won," Mr Morgan said.

"But it is not guaranteed we would win, the reasons for that are explored in the document," he added.

Deputy First Minister and Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones said the document contained "a recommendation which has this caveat about no guarantee (of a 'yes' vote being achieved)".

"We've always said you wouldn't want to go into a referendum if you thought you were going to lose it," he said.

"There is advice here also that if you are going to conduct a successful referendum then the nature of the campaign and the nature of the question you ask is important - how you present the arguments.

"And we as politicians will now have to consider...whether in presenting those arguments (for a referendum) we enhance the case," Mr Jones added.

The convention concluded the current 60-member assembly could handle the additional workload of making its own laws but did not rule out increasing the number of members in future.

It also decided that giving the assembly full law-making powers would be broadly neutral in cost terms.

The convention process cost £1.3m and received evidence from over 3,000 organisations and individuals across Wales.

Plaid AM Helen Mary Jones said the report demonstrated "the people of Wales are ready for change" and she "looked forward" to discussions on when the referendum should take place.

"As a nation, there is recognition that this is not about power for power's sake but about giving our Welsh government the proper tools it needs to do the job at hand," she said.

Rhodri Morgan, Sir Emyr Jones Parry and Ieuan Wyn Jones at the Senedd
Sir Emyr Jones Parry presented the convention report on Wednesday

Under the Government of Wales Act 2006, two-thirds of assembly members need to vote in favour of holding a referendum.

That request must then go to Westminster, where the Secretary of State for Wales decides whether to approve or deny the referendum.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain, who devised the current system by which the assembly obtains powers gradually, has argued it is "already delivering those comprehensive law-making powers from Westminster at an ever-increasing pace".

In a letter to Sir Emyr in October 2008, whilst not a minister, Mr Hain said he would "regard it personally as showing bad faith to Parliament" if a referendum were to be held before or during 2011.

"Nor do I believe Parliament would agree to trigger such a referendum (before that time)," he wrote.

Mr Hain had previous given MPs assurances there was "no case" for a referendum during the current assembly term.

'Devastating critique'

It is unlikely the process of calling a referendum could be completed before the next general election, expected in late spring 2010.

The three Welsh Labour leadership contenders - Carwyn Jones, Edwina Hart and Huw Lewis - have also said the poll should not take place before then.

Earlier this month, Conservative leader David Cameron said he would not block a request for a referendum if he was prime minister.

We note from the convention's research the strong support for devolution here in Wales
Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne

Welcoming the convention's report, Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne said he was "not at all surprised" it had "identified the failings of the current system and seen advantages in moving to full powers".

"We also note from the convention's research the strong support for devolution here in Wales," he said.

"We will be studying the results in great detail and reading with interest the views and thoughts of the electorate right across Wales," Mr Bourne added.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said: "The report itself provides a devastating critique of the existing, half-baked settlement, confirming my belief that a referendum will allow Wales to choose a better, proper settlement, fit for the purpose of truly devolved Welsh government."

But Mr Bourne's fellow Conservative AM Jonathan Morgan was a dissenting voice on the convention's work.

He said it had "not been a good use of public money" and had "not told us anything that we didn't already know" on the assembly powers question and whether or not there should be a referendum.

Mr Morgan, who is in favour of further devolution, said: "I don't think this has been thorough enough and I don't think this has been sufficient in dealing with the question of what the public think about the assembly and, for the money we spent, we could have commissioned a whole host of opinion polls which would have reached a greater number of people than the convention did."



SEE ALSO
Is a powers referendum unstoppable?
17 Nov 09 |  Wales politics
'Most want' more powers for Wales
27 Oct 09 |  Wales politics

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