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Monday, March 29, 2004

Richard Commission

The Richard Commission was set up by the Partnership Government at the instigation of the Welsh Liberal Democrats to look at the powers of the Welsh Assembly. It is due to report at long last on Wednesday morning and already there is feverish political activity being generated in anticipation of the event. One paper this morning suggested that it was going to recommend a gradual transfer of primary law making powers to Wales starting with Health and Education. It is apparently also going to suggest an 80 member Assembly elected by STV. Both ideas are welcome though I would prefer the transfer of powers to be all encompassing immediately.

It does not look like the Wales Labour Party share my cautious welcome for these proposals. It has been suggested that they do not want elections by STV but would prefer instead to dispense with all list AMs and adopt a straightforward first past the post method of election. So much for pluralism. Such a system would entrench an unrepresentative Labour majority in the Assembly whilst also leaving the North and West Wales out on a limb. A return to Labour tribalism in this form will finish off the Welsh Assembly and the fledgling devolution project.

There is also talk that any changes in the powers or the method of electing the Assembly will require a new referendum. Why? It was always made clear that devolution is a process. The process of acquiring new responsibilities or becoming more representative is a natural evolution for the Assembly That should not require a fresh mandate, especially if enacted after a General Election. I am prepared to concede a second referendum on tax varying powers but that is a different matter. The urgency on funding, as I have said before in this forum is a reform of the Barnett formula that determines how much money the Assembly gets from Westminster to spend. Without that reform then the scope to do radically different things with the extra powers is much limited.

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