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Great Britain was one of the most centralised countries in the World until 1999 when we had the creation of an Assembly in Wales and Northern Ireland plus a Parliament in Scotland. However, as is well known, whereas the issues that are within the Assembly’s legislative competence are specified, the Scottish Parliament can legislate on any issue so long as it is not listed as a reserved matter. In addition, Scottish Ministers also have executive powers in relation to a number of different competencies. The Northern Ireland Assembly has a similar arrangement to Scotland, except that reserved matters can be devolved by the Secretary of State on passage of a resolution by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Additional legislative powers relating to policing and justice matters were devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 12 April 2010.
The first thing that we need in Wales is for the legislative framework to be set out as it is in Northern Ireland and Scotland, so that we have matters not devolved set out, rather than those that are devolved i.e. the “reserved powers” model. This is very similar to the model for in other parts of Europe e.g. Germany and Italy. More importantly this would mean that there should be no problem over whether an issue was wholly in the competence of the National Assembly Wales. This viewpoint has been supported by both the First Minister and Ieuan Wyn Jones, the former Plaid Cymru leader. This change should not need a further referendum because it would not be materially changing the current settlement but instead clarify what is devolved and what is not.
Whilst areas such as policing, for consistency, should be devolved, asking for further devolution at a time of expenditure cuts would only pass further problems on to the Welsh Government. However, when the economic conditions are stable then further devolution (giving Wales the same legislative powers as Scotland) should be undertaken. I would prefer the Northern Ireland model where items that may be devolved at a future date are listed and I would support a lock so that it would need at least two-thirds of Assembly Members to vote for a competency to become devolved. The first items that I believe should be put in this “future devolved” list are police, law and home affairs, including most aspects of criminal and civil law, the prosecution system and the courts, and firearms.
Whilst I am sure many will disagree with the rather short list above, I believe we can obtain consensus on creating both a “reserved matters” model and the creation of a list of competencies that can be devolved to Wales.
Mike Hedges, AM