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The new National Assembly and its tasks Presentation for seminar on ‘The National Assembly for Wales as a legislature – then, now, the future’ Cardiff,

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Presentation on theme: "The new National Assembly and its tasks Presentation for seminar on ‘The National Assembly for Wales as a legislature – then, now, the future’ Cardiff,"— Presentation transcript:

1 The new National Assembly and its tasks Presentation for seminar on ‘The National Assembly for Wales as a legislature – then, now, the future’ Cardiff, 22 September 2011 Alan Trench (University of Edinburgh and the Constitution Unit, UCL; Author, ‘Devolution Matters’ blog)

2 Four models of ‘devolution’ ‘Local administration of distributive functions’ (e.g. health, education, housing, planning) – according to patterns and policy set elsewhere. Grant funding ‘Self government of matters of local concern’ – so determining not just how functions are provided but what sorts of services there should be. Grant funding, perhaps with limited tax powers ‘Domestic autonomy’ – deciding what government in a particular area looks like: what services there should be, how they are organised and funded, and how law is enforced. Implies tax-raising powers, a major role in economic development, and control over much policing and justice ‘Full autonomy’ – complete autonomy over matters other than foreign relations, defence, macro-economy (currency). Cf ‘devolution max’. (from Trench ‘Devolution Plus’ in Scottish Affairs summer 2009, no. 68 )

3 Wales and the four models Started out in 1999 somewhere as model 1. Quickly evolved to somewhere between models 2 and 3 in aspiration, and to a degree in delivery. Institutional framework took a long time to catch up, though largely now has. However, Welsh devolution is and always has been executive- centric, and based on a dominant government rather than a strong legislature Scotland is pretty much in the same place, despite formal differences (devolution of policing, courts, the legal system) The Scotland bill, if enacted in its present form, would push Scotland more emphatically into model 3, but not by a huge distance from where it is now

4 The impact of the referendum The referendum signals clearly that Wales wants to assume wide- ranging control of much ‘domestic’ policy; to be free to determine what sort of health system, education, planning or cultural policies there should be in Wales It also wants ‘adequate’ funding, meaning (in Welsh Govt’s view) an unconditional block grant calculated on basis of relative need, plus some small taxes There are strong arguments for greater fiscal autonomy, at least along the lines recommended by the Holtham Commission There are structural problems with using the Barnett formula as the basis for funding this level of devolved autonomy (because of the way the system of consequentials ties devolved spending to that on ‘comparable functions’ in England)

5 The impact of the referendum II There are however significant legal restrictions on what the Assembly can do, beyond the limits of the principle that the Assembly’s powers relate only to health, education and other subjects listed in Schedule 7 From the ‘defined powers’ model And from the need to secure Secretary of State’s consent for legislative provisions affecting functions of UK ministers, or UK public bodies

6 The external environment facing the National Assembly Scottish constitutional debates: Scotland bill – enacted by autumn 2012, or not Referendum on Scottish independence ‘Devolution max’? UK spending restraint and Coalition’s reshaping of the state Welfare benefits and the universal credit Reshaping of the health service: range of services, outside providers, and even perhaps insurance or co-pays Higher education: increasing tuition fees, near-abolition of teaching grant for humanities and social sciences, visa limits and overseas students The West Lothian commission and possible ‘English votes for English laws’ Financial issues for Wales and the ‘Ap Calman’ commission The future of the European Union and the Euro One certainty: the UK that we knew in will not return, under any circumstances.

7 So... Wales wants to undertake a much more far-reaching sort of devolution to what was offered in That changes the role of the National Assembly. The National Assembly needs to operate in an increasingly complex world, and to find its own solutions to what it wants. But it will also need to respond to this rapidly changing wider world. If it does not seek to become master of its own destiny, it will be simply the subject of choices made by others. That calls for a wider role for a more assertive National Assembly than we have seen up to now.

8 What sort of a National Assembly is that? One capable of more effective scrutiny of government One that serves as forum for debate about both policy matters, and wider issues of Wales’s future And takes charge of devolved powers – that ensures that decisions relating to devolved matters (or what might be devolved) are determined in the legislature, not by executives As well as making Welsh legislation – even if there isn’t actually much of that And dealing with issues relating to individual constituents

9 What does the National Assembly need to be able to do that? Willingness routinely to challenge the Government Tendency to avoid this up to now – supporting own party (especially with the ‘One Wales’ coalition), or the wider ‘project’ Misplaced – part of showing how modern Welsh democracy works Focus on policy: Needs a vigorous and robust committee system. Does the system of subject committees plus legislation committees get in the way? Committee support? Electoral system Ban on dual candidacy means that parties can’t count on getting their strongest candidates into it And experienced members may be lost as well With re-drawing of Westminster constituency boundaries and reduction in number of MPs, co-terminosity will be lost, with problems for party organisation Both an opportunity to revisit size and electoral system used

10 What does the National Assembly need to be able to do that? II Number of members: 60 is very few Even with a small front bench, there are only 47 members available for committee work (including the deputy PO and party leaders) That of course creates the pressures that make the subject/legislation Cttee system hard to avoid, as AMs’ time is such a scarce commodity By comparison with other similar legislatures, the National Assembly is small

11 The size of the National Assembly: parallels from abroad TerritoryPopulation (millions) Number of elected legislators Number of resi- dents per legislator Wales ,000 Scotland ,310 Schleswig-Holstein ,474 Rheinland-Pfalz ,604 Brandenburg ,409 Saxony ,061 Flemish Parliament (Flanders = 118)50,000 Castile & Leon ,120 Galicia ,333

12 In conclusion... The referendum result doesn’t put an end to questions about Wales’s constitutional development. It’s the start of a new chapter, not the end of a story. The referendum result doesn’t put an end to questions about Wales’s constitutional development. It’s the start of a new chapter, not the end of a story. That new chapter is less about whether functions like health or education should be devolved or how much, but rather about the infrastructure that surrounds that (finance, organisation of executive and legislative branches) That new chapter is less about whether functions like health or education should be devolved or how much, but rather about the infrastructure that surrounds that (finance, organisation of executive and legislative branches) Wales will also be affected by the UK’s rapidly changing constitution, even if it tries to stand where it is. These are not debates that Wales can opt out of. Wales will also be affected by the UK’s rapidly changing constitution, even if it tries to stand where it is. These are not debates that Wales can opt out of. The National Assembly could serve as the key forum for the debates that need to happen and the decisions that need to be made The National Assembly could serve as the key forum for the debates that need to happen and the decisions that need to be made As well as embrace the challenges that arise from its new role after the referendum, and the changes the referendum has wrought As well as embrace the challenges that arise from its new role after the referendum, and the changes the referendum has wrought But it will need to change in order to do that, both in how it works and what AMs do But it will need to change in order to do that, both in how it works and what AMs do And in its institutional structure and organisation. And in its institutional structure and organisation.

13 Read more on the ‘Devolution Matters’ blog


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