Tomorrow I will be posting my contribution to the review of Conservative Party policy regarding the future of devolution being undertaken by Lord Roberts of Conwy. The review was announced by David Cameron at the Conservative Spring Conference held at Llandudno. An interim report is due out in the early summer. My response will be as follows,
This letter is my response to the invitation from David Cameron to contribute to our Party's review of our policy in respect of devolution to Wales. By way of context, I should begin by noting my opposition to the devolution proposed for Wales before the 1997 referendum. However, as did many other Conservatives, I immediately accepted that the National Assembly was here to stay after the Yes vote. I also formed the opinion that the new Assembly would not be worthwhile without the granting to it of primary powers in those subject areas which have been devolved. I do not think that the Scottish model, where all is devolved unless specifically and statutorily listed as not, should be considered for Wales at this early stage in the devolution process. I accept that the current constitutional arrangement does already allow for the gradual transfer of law making powers to the Assembly. However, it is through an unwieldy and complex process which I believe to be constitutionally unstable, and a long-term threat to the relationship between the Westminster Government and the National Assembly. I am strongly of the opinion that we should seek to move as quickly as practically possible to a referendum which tests the opinion of Welsh voters on the vesting of primary powers in the National Assembly.
I accept that not all of our colleagues share my approach, and I am keen that we should seek a policy position that both I and those of us who take other opinions can agree on, again as far as practically possible. I believe that all of us would be supportive of a commitment to hold a referendum to settle the matter, and would respect each other's opinions, where they might differ. The main point at issue is timing. I anticipate that some Conservatives would be likely to prefer that primary powers continue to be transferred to the National Assembly gradually through the passage of Legislative Competence Orders, but the commitment to hold a referendum by the Party would demonstrate our positive willingness to consider a proper law making National Assembly for Wales.
Perhaps the most contentious aspect of a referendum is when it should be held. We know that the Assembly's Coalition Government is signed up to a referendum before or on the date of the next Assembly election in May 2011. I neither believe this will or should take place. I also foresee some political turbulence within the Assembly when the decision not to hold a referendum before the next Assembly election is finally taken. My main reason for opposing an early election is that I am not sufficiently confident that it would be won. In my opinion, we should commit to holding a referendum on the transfer of law making powers on all devolved matters to the National Assembly during the first term of a Conservative Government. This translates into 'before 2015 at the latest' and probably two or three years earlier than that. This timescale would also allow a reasonable period of time to assess how the current process of transferring power by Legislative Competence Order is working.
Best wishes, Glyn