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Counsel General for Wales calls for significant changes to devolution settlement

This press release was published under the 2011 - 2016 Welsh government

The Counsel General for Wales has called for significant changes to the devolution settlement, saying the current model of narrow and limited powers lacks coherence and suffers from anachronistic constraints, leading to confusion over responsibilities.
Monday 30 November 2015

Delivering the annual Sir William Dale Lecture at the University of London, Theodore Huckle QC said that the uneven distribution of powers devolved to different parts of the UK often reflected administrative decisions taken as far back as the 1960s, and it was time for the proposed Wales Bill to set new foundations for the entire system. This should include creating a separate Welsh legal jurisdiction.

As Counsel General, Mr Huckle is the Welsh Government’s chief legal adviser, and although not a Minister, is a member of the Government, attends Cabinet and answers questions in the National Assembly.

His lecture follows the publication of the UK Government’s draft Wales Bill last month, which the Welsh Government believes would exacerbate, rather than solve, a number of the deep seated weaknesses in the current devolution settlement.  Three Welsh laws have been challenged at the Supreme Court since 2011 due to uncertainty over the extent of the National Assembly’s current powers.

Mr Huckle said in his lecture,

“The differences in the settlements are such that devolution in the UK is often described as being ‘asymmetric’.

“But to my mind the appropriate description here is not just of asymmetry but of an anomaly as to the political and legal position of Wales.

“The draft Wales Bill does nothing to address the anomaly, in fact at times it reinforces and worsens it. We already have a case of uneven distribution of powers devolved, and what is now proposed involves further vetoes and constraints, confusion over who is responsible for what, and restrictions even on using legal mechanisms such as civil and criminal law apparently because of the lack of a separate legal jurisdiction.

“So it is not surprising that Welsh devolution is considered by many to be problematic and confusing.”

The Counsel General said that many Welsh laws covering devolved areas also had an impact on non-devolved areas, which given the Assembly’s current limited competence, created greater potential for clashes and conflict than the Scottish settlement, for example. He added that the need frequently to obtain UK Ministers’ consent when legislating within devolved areas, was unjustified and is also a cause of complexity and instability.

He said

“The Ministerial veto held by Whitehall which requires the National Assembly to seek consent even when legislating within the devolved areas must be brought to an end.

“This undermines the Welsh legislature’s powers, undermines accountability and creates the potential for ongoing conflict.”

Mr Huckle called for a more stable settlement for the long term, both for Wales and the UK as a whole, and for the devolution of sufficient powers to deliver an effective system of government for the people of Wales. The principle of subsidiarity should form the basis for deciding what powers should be devolved.

He said:

“Further powers are required to make the system more coherent and to enable our institutions to do their work effectively.”



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First Minister 30 November 2015 Constitution Mid Wales North Wales South East Wales South West Wales

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