Thursday, October 13, 2011

The 'Silk' Commission.

Biggest event of the week for me was on Tuesday when it was announced that Paul Silk is to chair the commission that takes forward the Calman-like process in Wales. Bit disappointed that I didn't have any invites to do interviews on the issue on Tuesday, especially in Welsh, but there you go. You win some and you lose some. Put a lot of effort into preparation - actually not that much because the devolution process is a bit of an obsession.

Paul Silk is a good man, with great experience of the Welsh Assembly and the UK Parliament. Luckily I know him quite well - and almost all of the other Commission members as well. Seen some silly comments from commentators who really should know better - trying to 'leak' things early, and appear informed without getting their facts right. Lets summarise what the Commission has been set up to do, briefly,

First task will be to consider how the Welsh Assembly could become 'financially accountable'. At present its just a spending body, with no responsibility for raising any of its own money. Seems to me that we must be talking some form of tax raising powers - which would involve part of what is currently a UK tax product becoming the responsibility of the Assembly. Again, seems to me that there would be commensurate reduction in the 'block grant' to balance it. Its not a way of just increasing the Assembly's budget - as some would perhaps like. It may be that changes to the formula which decides the size of the block grant will also be considered, but not by the Silk Commission. Every effort will be made to report on this part of its work by next year.

Once this 'first stage' work has been completed, the Commission will move on to consideration of Assembly powers. The people of Wales decided on the current powers in a referendum in March, but devolution is a process, and it seems right to me that there should be an independent assessment of how its going by 2013 - which is the Silk Commission's target date.

There is quite a bit of other constitutional stuff going on as well - outside the Commission. There's the discussion on the Barnett Formula. There will need to be some discussion on Assembly constituencies and method of election, following changes for Westminster elections.. There is talk of doing something about the West Lothian Question as well. Its a damn good job I'm interested in these constitutional issues. Life as a Welsh MP would be quite dull if I wasn't.

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