Ash Bebbington explores Carwyn Jones’ proposals for further Welsh devolution
The Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones has submitted a number of proposals which could bring more devolved powers to the Welsh Assembly, including policing, elections and roads.
The proposals have been put forward to the Silk Commission following a report in November recommending that the Welsh government should be allowed to raise its own taxes. Jones said that “decisions that affect Wales should be taken in Wales” and the reforms will allow the Welsh government to improve the quality of life for Welsh citizens.
Carwyn Jones placed most emphasis on policing powers, which would include the courts, prisons, probation and the creation of a separate Welsh legal jurisdiction. He also called for the appointment of a Welsh member of the Supreme Court, which would increase the presence of Wales in the Higher Courts of the UK.
The criminal justice system is the only mainstream public service that Wales has no power over, a situation that Mr Jones says is becoming “increasingly hard to justify”. The newly elected South Wales police commissioner Alun Michael has supported Jones’ proposals, he said: “Policing, community safety and reduction of offending are integrally bound up with other areas of public policy”, over which the Welsh government already has powers.
The Silk Commission was established in 2011 to re-evaluate the powers of the Welsh Assembly, and produced a report in November 2012 proposing a series of new financial powers be devolved to Cardiff Bay. A further report on devolved powers is expected in 2014, and Carwyn Jones’ recent comments appear to be an attempt to influence the outcome of the report.
The proposal for Wales to also have control over Assembly and local elections has been supported by the Electoral Reform Society who have called for swift action to be taken. Its director Stephen Brooks has recommended that the UK and Welsh governments move quickly to implement such changes.
Brooks said that the methods of electing Assembly members and local councillors are matters that ‘only concern Wales’ and that a move towards reform should be made before 2015. He also highlighted the fact that Wales is the only country in the world other than Ukraine that doesn’t allow prospective political candidates to run for both local and regional elections, and that this is a matter that needs addressing.
The First Minister stressed that no referendum would be required for the proposals, and that no powers would be returned to Westminster. If passed, however, the proposals would need to be backed up by budget transfers from the UK Treasury.
Plaid Cymru support the proposals made by Mr Jones, but believe that they do not go far enough, calling for further powers to be devolved to Cardiff. A spokesperson for the party called the First Minister’s approach “slow lane” and said that it would “leave the major levels of power at Westminster”. They went on to say that “the question is not of which powers should be transferred to Wales, but when they should be transferred”.
The proposals are a ‘vision’ for the long-term and, if agreed upon by the Silk Commission, will come into practice by 2021. However, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Kirsty Williams has speculated that the proposals may not have the full backing of the Labour party. She also lamented the fact that the First Minister failed to call for such changes when his party were in power in Westminster, which infers that partisan conflict may damage the chances of such propositions being green-lighted by the UK Government.
Williams also noted that Labour had criticised many of the propositions put forward in the Richard Commission of 2004, despite the fact that many of Jones’ proposals mirror the ones in that commission. She says that if Labour had listened back in 2004, then ‘we would be much further along the journey of having a proper parliament for Wales
Despite the Lib Dems’ criticisms, it is worth noting that Carwyn Jones is the most senior Labour politician in the UK, and his opinions therefore hold a great deal of weight within the party.
His ideas will certainly be taken seriously in Westminster, especially if the Labour party return to power at the next general election. In addition, the Respect Agenda, set up by Tony Blair to help give power back to local communities ensures that David Cameron must at least take Mr Jones’ views into account.
The proposals would give Wales a greater range of powers that brings the Assembly more in line with the Scottish Parliament, which currently has more influence over Scottish affairs than the Welsh Assembly does over those in Wales. Politicians in Wales have long complained that the Scottish Parliament has more powers than the Welsh Assembly, so hopefully these measures could address this iniquity.