How the Welsh Government wants to reform the UK

(Title Image: Welsh Government; Crown Copyright)

I don’t usually post on Mondays at Senedd Home, but it looks like it’s going to be a busy week so I wanted to deal with this first.

The Welsh Government recently published its proposals for a “Remain and Reform” platform concerning the EU. In the last few days, they turned attention to the constitutional reform of the UK in light of both Brexit and growing support for Welsh independence.

The publication of the report has been overshadowed somewhat by the latest social media spat between Labour and Plaid Cymru over the First Minister’s assertion that Plaid are anti-English.

Plaid isn’t anti-English but they love nothing more than a bit of righteous indignation. Given that this came days after a conference where Plaid Cymru put a £20billion “reparations” package from the UK front and centre of their policy platform, it makes it 1-1 in the silly statements sweepstakes.

Reforming our Union (pdf– Cymraeg; pdf – English)

General Principles

The report says the UK needs to be reframed as a voluntary multi-national union whose member states “share and redistribute resources and risks amongst themselves to advance their common interests”. As the Union is voluntary, it must be open for its nations to choose to leave it via a referendum (albeit with time-limits between independence/Irish reunification referendums).

The principle of “parliamentary sovereignty” – the idea that the UK Parliament can do whatever it likes – needs to end, with formal recognition of devolution as a permanent feature of the UK Constitution. The devolution settlement should be based on what powers are agreed to be retained by the UK Government and UK Parliament, not which powers should be devolved to Wales, Scotland etc.

Legislatures

Each legislature/parliament in the UK should be responsible for determining their membership, internal organisation and electoral systems – though the report suggests the running costs of all of the legislatures should be financed from the UK budget, not devolved budgets (as currently).

Relations between the legislatures of the UK should be based “on mutual respect”, with the UK Parliament’s ability to legislate on devolved issues restricted to a formal constitutional principle that they should never do so without the expressed consent of the devolved legislatures.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would continue to elect MPs to the House of Commons, but the House of Lords should be reformed to take “full account” of the UK’s multi-national nature – though the Welsh Government stops short of calling for equal representation of the four nations.

Governments

Like the legislatures, relations between governments should be based on co-operation and mutual respect as a “partnership of equals”, proposing that UK Government ministers should no longer be able to challenge, oversee or review the decisions of ministers in devolved administrations relating to devolved powers.

Also, the report recommends the creation of a decision-making UK Council of Ministers and an independent method of dispute resolution between governments. The devolved governments should also have a formal say in international issues which directly affect devolved responsibilities – such as new trade agreements – as well as a formal say in the establishment of new pan-UK public bodies or executive agencies.

The Welsh Government doesn’t support the creation of a Welsh Civil Service and all civil servants should continue to be bound by a single UK code – though this could change over time.

Finance

Funding should be based on relative need so that spending power is shared fairly across different administrations. The UK Government should no longer be able to decide for themselves to allocate any extra funding to any part of the UK outside of this arrangement.

The devolved administrations should be funded by a mix of UK Government block grants, devolved taxes and capital borrowing. However, any decision taken by one government which has financial implications on other governments should be addressed by the government making the decision.

All financial arrangements should be overseen by a public agency equally accountable to all four administrations.

The Judicial System

Criminal justice (policing, prisons, courts) should be separate responsibilities for all four administrations, with the UK Supreme Court retaining its position as the ultimate court of appeal for the UK, with membership from all parts of the UK (at least one of whom should be from Wales).

Constitutional Reform

Any further reforms to the UK’s Constitution should be developed with the whole UK in mind and undertaken by a constitutional convention – which the Welsh Government and the devolved administrations should have a seat on. There should be further debate on the need for a written/codified UK Constitution – but the report is non-committal.

With the summary out of the way, there’ll be a more detailed look/critique later today.

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