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Introduction

The questions considered in this report are vital to Wales’ future. Whether people support independence, devolution, or any other constitutional form, it is vital to discuss the options openly and constructively. Without informed discussion, the popular debate will become ever more reactive and polarised.

Commission objectives

The commission had 2 broad objectives:

  1. to consider and develop options for fundamental reform of the constitutional structures of the United Kingdom, in which Wales remains an integral part
  2. to consider and develop all progressive principal options to strengthen Welsh democracy and deliver improvements for the people of Wales.

We are grateful for this opportunity to contribute to creating a more informed and mature debate, based on strong evidence and expert analysis. Some of us on the commission are politically aligned and some are not. We have brought the diversity of our own perspectives to the work and have sought to keep an open mind and to carefully analyse the evidence presented to us. Through our cross-party inquiry, Wales has shown the way towards a constructive, evidence-based debate.

The views of citizens

Our first task was to hold a 'national conversation’ with the citizens of Wales about how they see the future of their nation. This has been a challenging task, especially in the current political climate where citizens often feel removed from those who govern them. We have sought to engage citizens where they are, while also inviting them to come to us. We complemented this engagement work with representative quantitative and qualitative data on citizens’ perspectives.

This engagement and research gave us valuable insights into how citizens view government and their relationship with their elected representatives. It revealed their aspirations for the way their country is run now and could be run in the future, and highlighted the shortcomings of Welsh democracy from the citizens’ perspective.

Chapter 2 describes the national conversation and chapter 3 considers the health of democracy in Wales.

One of the strongest messages was that many citizens feel they have no influence on the actions of government. Despite the growing maturity of Wales’ democratic institutions, devolution does not yet enjoy citizens’ full confidence, and we recommend action to tackle this.

Recommendations to strengthen Welsh democracy

1. Democratic innovation

The Welsh Government should strengthen the capacity for democratic innovation and inclusive community engagement in Wales. This should draw on an expert advisory panel, and should be designed in partnership with the Senedd, local government and other partners. New strategies for civic education should be a priority for this work, which should be subject to regular review by the Senedd.

2. Constitutional principles

Drawing on this expertise, the Welsh Government should lead a project to engage citizens in drafting a statement of constitutional and governance principles for Wales.

3. Senedd reform

We recommend that the planned review of the Senedd reforms should be resourced to ensure a robust and evidence-based analysis of the impact of the changes, including from the perspective of the voter and of democratic accountability.

Protecting devolution

Chapters 4 and 5 consider the state of relations between the Welsh and UK governments and the pressures at the boundaries of devolved powers.

Since the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, the Westminster Parliament and UK government have overridden the conventions designed to protect devolution several times. The current settlement cannot be taken for granted and is at risk of gradual attrition if steps are not taken to secure it. ‘No change’ should be an option for citizens, but without urgent action there will be no viable settlement to protect.

Our recommendations to protect devolution are set out below. They are designed to reinforce inter-governmental relations, give weight to the Sewel convention, and extend the devolved powers to improve accountability and service delivery. These changes are needed urgently to make devolution a viable option for the long term.

Recommendations to protect devolution

4. Inter-governmental relations

The Welsh Government should propose to the governments of the UK, Scotland and Northern Ireland that the Westminster Parliament should legislate for inter-governmental mechanisms so as to secure a duty of co-operation and parity of esteem between the governments of the UK.

5. Sewel convention

The Welsh Government should press the UK government to present legislation to the Westminster Parliament to specify that the consent of the devolved institutions is required for any change to the devolved powers, except when required for reasons to be agreed between them, such as: international obligations, defence, national security, or macroeconomic policy.

6. Financial management

The UK government should remove constraints on Welsh Government budget management, except where there are macro-economic implications.

7. Broadcasting

The Welsh and UK governments should agree mechanisms for a stronger voice for Wales on broadcasting policy, scrutiny and accountability, and robust work should continue on potential routes to devolution.

8. Energy

The Welsh and UK governments should establish an expert group to advise urgently on how the devolution settlement and inter-governmental engagement in relation to energy could be reformed to prepare for rapid technical innovation in energy generation and distribution, to ensure that Wales can maximise its contribution to net zero and to the local generation of renewable energy. The remit of the group should include advising on the options for the devolution of the Crown Estate, which should become the responsibility of the devolved government of Wales, as it is in Scotland.

9. Justice and policing

The UK government should agree to the legislative and executive devolution of responsibility for justice and policing to the Senedd and Welsh Government, on a timescale for achieving the devolution of all parts of the justice system to be agreed by the 2 governments, starting with policing, probation and youth justice, with necessary funding secured, and provision for shared governance where needed for effective operations.

10. Rail services

10. The UK government should agree to the full devolution of responsibility for rail services and infrastructure to Wales, with fair funding and shared governance on cross-border services.

The external context

Constitutional change for Wales cannot be considered in isolation from developments in the rest of the UK. Public opinion does not exist in a vacuum. Citizens respond to the circumstances they find themselves in, and when those circumstances change, so does their assessment of what is best for Wales. By planning ahead, our citizens and politicians will have the opportunity to engage constructively with external changes and their potential impact on Wales.

In chapter 6 we summarise citizens’ views on the constitutional options and consider the implications of changes in the composition of the UK, such as Scottish independence, the re-unification of Ireland, radical constitutional change in Westminster or a change in the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Options for the future governance of Wales

In our interim report published in December 2022, we identified 3 viable options for the future:

  1. enhanced devolution (this option was referred to as ‘entrenched devolution’ in the interim report, but in our conversations with citizens we learnt that this term did not carry much meaning for them)
  2. a federal structure
  3. an independent Wales.

In chapter 7 we set out definitions of the options and our assessment of each against the criteria in our analysis framework. We applied the framework equally to each option in a neutral and objective way.

Our conclusion is that each option is viable, each offers strengths and weaknesses, risks and opportunities. We make no recommendation as to which is best for Wales, because choosing between the options depends on:

  • the relative weighting given to each of the criteria
  • the level of risk and uncertainty people are prepared to accept in reaching for the opportunities each option presents.

This is not a judgement that the commission can make. Choosing between the criteria and evaluating risk is a choice to be made by political parties and individual citizens.

Our aspiration is that there should be a constructive debate focused on what is best for Wales, based on the best evidence and analysis available, so that the people of Wales can make an informed and thoughtful choice.