Pause to Wales Bill not only makes constitutional sense but is good politics too

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The announcement by the Secretary of State for Wales that the legislative process for the Wales Bill will be paused not only makes constitutional sense but, say Huw Pritchard and Lleu Williams, it’s good politics. The decision followed numerous critical reports, including a joint report by the Wales Governance Centre and the Constitution Unit.

The Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb, has promised to make ‘significant changes’ to the draft Wales Bill, a promise that has been warmly welcomed by many commentators.

Most notably, the Secretary of State promised to ‘pause’ the legislative process of the draft bill as the Wales Office undertakes these significant changes. This announcement follows reports by the Wales Governance Centre and the Constitution Unit, the Welsh Affairs Select Committee and the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee in Cardiff Bay which all raised concerns about the draft legislation.

The changes announced by the Secretary of State will:

  • Remove the necessity test, so that the National Assembly can change the law without the need to apply this test
  • Reduce the size of the reservation list in the Draft Wales Bill
  • Remove the general restriction on the National Assembly modifying a Minister of the Crown function in devolved areas

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Not meeting the challenge: the failings of the draft Wales Bill

The draft Wales bill is far from the fair, clear and lasting devolution settlement Wales seeks, writes Alan Trench. Drawing on a joint Constitution Unit and Wales Governance Centre report, he explains that the ‘necessity test’ and the not thought-through ‘reserved powers’ approach would make it particularly difficult for the Welsh Assembly to legislate on concerned matters, and also undermine the respect due to an elected legislature.

When the draft Wales Bill was published in October 2015, it was described by Stephen Crabb, the Secretary of State for Wales as delivering on the UK Government’s commitment ‘to create a stronger, clearer and fairer devolution settlement for Wales’. This is badly needed; the history of Welsh devolution since 1998 has been one of short-term solutions that have needed to be revised or replaced within a few years. Hopes were high that the present round of constitutional debate – triggered by the appointment of the Commission on Devolution in Wales chaired by Sir Paul Silk in 2011 – would mark a departure from that established pattern.

Sadly, a close analysis of the draft bill shows those hopes to have foundered. A joint project hosted by The Constitution Unit and the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University has been looking at the draft bill in detail, and published its report Challenge and Opportunity: The Draft Wales Bill 2015 yesterday.  Our group has been chaired by Alan Cogbill, former Director of the Wales Office in Whitehall, and had Professor Rick Rawlings from UCL as rapporteur.  Other members have included Sir Paul Silk and Sir Stephen Laws (formerly First Parliamentary Counsel), academic and practising lawyers from Cardiff, as well as myself. This work follows an earlier joint CU/WGC report published in September 2015, entitled Delivering A Reserved Powers Model of Devolution for Wales (available here as a PDF, and summarised here). Our examination of the draft bill has found it to be flawed in many respects.

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