The ‘ap Calman’, or Silk, Commission announced

The Wales Office has now formally announced the members of the ‘ap Calman’ commission.  The chair is indeed to be Paul Silk, and the political-party nominees are also as leaked earlier (see HERE).  The novelty comes in the two independent nominees.   They are Dyfrig John CBE, chairman of the Principality Building Society, and Professor Noel Lloyd CBE, formerly vice-chancellor of Aberystwyth University.  John was formerly a banker, and was chief executive of HSBC.  As the Principality’s deputy chairman is Eurfyl ap Gwilym, the Plaid Cymru nominee to the Commission, the society appears to be giving a large degree of support to the commission.  Noel Lloyd’s background is as a mathematician as well as university administrator.  While the Commission therefore abounds in financial and quantitative experience, it is much more lacking when it comes to constitutional issues or the interplay between financial and constitutional ones.

The Wales Office news release is here, and there’s news coverage from BBC News here and an analysis by Toby Mason here.

The Commission’s terms of reference (which can be found here) are perhaps more interesting than its composition .  These have been the subject of a huge amount of bargaining between the Welsh and UK Governments, between the Lib Dems and Conservatives, and between the other parties and Plaid Cymru.  What has emerged bears little relationship to the Calman remit as used in Scotland.  It is

Part I: financial accountability

To review the case for the devolution of fiscal powers to the National Assembly for Wales and to recommend a package of powers that would improve the financial accountability of the Assembly, which are consistent with the United Kingdom’s fiscal objectives and are likely to have a wide degree of support.

Part II: powers of the National Assembly for Wales

To review the powers of the National Assembly for Wales in the light of experience and to recommend modifications to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the United Kingdom Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales to better serve the people of Wales.

The Commission will work in two stages; the first will consider financial issues, the second constitutional ones.  But the first will emphatically not look at issues related to the block grant and ‘fair funding’, or borrowing powers.  The Welsh Government has succeeded in its policy of pursuing these through intergovernmental channels, though there are strong reasons to doubt whether that is the best strategy (see also an earlier post HERE).

When it comes to constitutional issues, the Commission is even more hampered. The idea that these issues can be treated as wholly separate from financial questions is questionable, and considering these after the financial ones (not before) risks making recommendations about financial arrangements that would be left looking rather odd if the Commission were to recommend extensive further devolution.  But the remit here is essentially limited to looking at the case for devolving further functions – not the whole range of ‘constitutional’ issues that Calman did in Scotland.  The composition and electoral arrangements for the National Assembly are expressly excluded, though these are in fact the most weighty and pressing constitutional issues the legislative National Assembly faces.

This narrow remit may suit the governments in London and Cardiff, especially as the timescales mean that little immediate pressure is going to be put on either government as a result.  (The Commission’s report on part I of its remit is due by the autumn of 2012, and on part II in 2013.)   The Welsh Labour government may well think that it has ‘won’ by neutering the terms of reference or kicking difficult issues for them into the long grass.  It also means the UK Government can tick another item off the list of things to do from the formation of the Coalition in 2010.  Indeed, Danny Alexander has described the creation of the Commission (not its report) as ‘the fulfilment of an important commitment to the people of Wales that we made in our Coalition Agreement’.  But that narrow remit also means that the Commission will have little scope to take on the wider task of considering Wales’s relations with the other parts of the UK at a time when the constitutional debate is moving rapidly.

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Filed under Calman Commission/Scotland bill, Conservatives, Devolution finance, Intergovernmental relations, Labour, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, Wales, Whitehall

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