‘Significant problems with the way Wales is currently governed’ says Independent Constitutional Commission
An independent commission looking at Wales’ constitutional future has published an interim report saying that there are “significant problems with the way Wales is currently governed” within the UK.
The Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, Co-chaired by Professor Laura McAllister and Dr Rowan Williams, has gathered evidence on how Wales is currently governed from over 2,000 Welsh citizens, expert groups and community-led organisations.
The Commission’s intermid report highlights that the United Kingdom is virtually unique in not having a written constitution. The Commission details that an “unwritten constitution” takes for granted the “sovereignty” of Westminster, which adds significant constraints to people of Wales and their elected representatives to determine how they should be governed.
Professor Laura McAllister, co-chair of the Commission, said: “The Union has been allowed to function without fixed checks and balances on power, and this has never been more evident than in the last three years with a UK Government that has a large majority and has been less willing to share power with other institutions.
“Our exploratory work over the last year has given us a sharp reminder that the lack of written constitution does not guarantee stability for Wales nor good governance.
“More than ever, it is clear that the challenges with the way Wales is governed can only be addressed by acknowledging the inter-dependence with wider constitutional issues in the UK. We’re very realistic that two of three constitutional routes we’ve outlined in this report are only achievable with a written constitution.”
In its report, the Commission argues that the ‘status quo’ is not a viable option for providing stability and prosperity for Wales.
The report goes on to conclude that there are three feasible and alternative constitutional routes for how Wales could be run that could improve the lives of the citizens of Wales. These are:
- Strengthen and secure the current devolution settlement.
- A federal approach with a new UK constitution which creates equality between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
- Independence, where Wales would become a sovereign country, eligible to apply for full membership of international organisations, such as the UN?
The Commission believes that the current devolution process which began after the 1997 referendum has been a major step forward for Welsh democracy. But its interim report identifies significant pressure on the current ‘settlement’, citing an ‘imbalance of power’ for Welsh people in the ability to influence things that affect them.
The report lays out ten significant pressure points for devolution. The ‘vulnerability’ of the devolution settlement and the supremacy of the Westminster parliament in making decisions about the future of Welsh democracy are stated as critical issues. The persistent weakness of the Welsh economy is also listed as a fundamental issue which, relative to the UK, continues to underperform.
Co-chair of the Commission, Rt. Revd. and Rt. Hon. Dr Rowan Williams said: “Despite investment, the Welsh economy still lags, which indicates there is a structural problem that needs to be addressed.
“It tells us that the Welsh economy isn’t doing well under the status quo. But what, if any, constitutional options would enable Wales to become more prosperous and improve the lives of people in Wales? This is something we have to continue to explore.”
Through the Commission’s online consultation, Dweud eich Dweud: Have your Say, over 2000 responses were gathered that gave early insight into citizens’ perspectives on how Wales is currently run.
The most popular constitutional preference was independence, favoured by 55% (1096) of the 2000+ respondents to the online consultation.
While this is significant, the Commission has acknowledged that this may be due to pro-independence groups encouraging their supporters to respond.
Rowan Williams continued: “We knew the online consultation was likely to generate responses from people who have already formed their opinion, and as such, we received strong views from either end of the political spectrum.
“In that context it’s not surprising that independence came through strongly. So as a Commission, we can use this to form a picture of who hasn’t engaged with our work yet.
“Whatever your thoughts on the conclusions of the interim report, there is still time to have your say and shape how Wales could be governed in the future.”
Co-chaired by Professor Laura McAllister and Dr Rowan Williams, the group of 11 Commission members covers a spectrum of backgrounds, expertise and political views.
The group was brought together by the Welsh Government in October 2021 but works independently from it.
The interim report comes just as day after the Labour party published its own report on the UK’s constitutional future.
That report made little mention of specific proposals for Wales but referred to the upcoming report commissioned by the Welsh government.
“In Wales, our proposals strengthen self-government for a new era, but we are mindful that the Welsh Government has set up an independent Commission to make recommendations on constitutional issues,” it said.
“We know that we can rely on the Welsh Labour Government to publish its Plan for Wales that employs to the full the powers of the Senedd and, at the same time, maximises the benefits from co-operation across the United Kingdom.”
The UK Labour report, led by Gordon Brown, did however suggest some changes to Wales’ devolution settlement including:
- Welsh devolution should be constitutionally protected from meddling by the UK Government by giving a new Senate of the Nations and Regions – replacing the House of Lords – a role in protecting it.
- New powers should be made available to the Senedd and Welsh Governments, including embarking upon new powers over youth justice and the probation service.
- The Welsh Senedd’s members should, if desired, enjoy the same privileges and protections as Members of Parliament in relation to statements made in their proceedings.
- Enhanced access to economic resources for Wales: the British Regional Investment Bank should maximise support for innovation and investment in Wales, in conjunction with the Welsh Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.
Mark Drakeford welcomed the UK Labour report, saying that it put forward “important ideas”.
“The union of the United Kingdom is under greater threat now than at any other time in its long history as a result of the actions – and neglect – of successive UK Conservative Governments,” he said.
“I want to thank Gordon Brown for all the work he has put into this timely, comprehensive report and set of recommendations for the future of the UK. I am very grateful for the engagement we have had during the development of this report.
“Labour is the party of devolution and this report shows that only Labour is thinking urgently about the future of the United Kingdom. This report puts forward important ideas about how power can be devolved and shared throughout the country to create a stronger union and a stronger United Kingdom.
“I look forward to seeing these recommendations realised as soon as we have a Labour UK Government.”
Jo Stevens, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales meanwhile promised a widespread consultation.
“I’d like to thank First Minister Mark Drakeford, former First Minister Carwyn Jones and Baron Murphy of Torfaen for their work on Gordon Brown’s Commission that has resulted in the report and recommendations published today,” she said.
“As Keir Starmer has said, we will now consult widely on the recommendations as they form part of our wider plan to build an economy in which growth is created by and for everyone everywhere.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.