So, it’s officially RIP to Calman Cymru and long live the Silk Commission.
Paul Silk, who was Clerk of the National Assembly soon after it was set up, has today been unveiled as the chair of the UK Government’s Commission on Devolution in Wales.
Here’s the Wales Office release announcing his appointment and the make-up of the Commission; the page also has links to the Written Ministerial Statement containing the details and the terms of reference under which the Commission will operate.
The Silk Commission will look firstly at which financial powers (in other words responsibility for taxes) could be devolved to Wales with the aim of improving ‘accountability’ (in other words, making the Welsh Government responsible for raising the money its spends.)
Then it’ll take a closer look at the Assembly’s wider powers. The aim of this second part is set out as being
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.
In this part of its work, the Commission is being encouraged to look at everything which the UK and Welsh Governments do in Wales to decide which level of government should continue to do it in the future.
Now here’s where there was something of a surprise, because as she explained this bit of the Commission’s task, the Secretary of State said it was being accompanied by what she said would be ‘effectively a moratorium’ on requests for powers.
In other words, she’s telling the Welsh Government that, for the duration of the Silk Commission, it can no longer call for significant power to be devolved.
As examples she cited recent demands for the devolution of powers on broadcasting and planning decisions on energy projects.
She added that while there will be areas that will need ‘tidying up’ in the years to come, the ‘constant flow’ of requests must stop. No government can operate on that basis, she said.
A Conservative MP with close links to the govt was more explicit, telling me that too often such requests for powers seem to be politically motivated and aimed at distracting attention from Welsh ministers’ own failings.
I sought clarification from a Whitehall source who told me that the stance doesn’t mean saying ‘no’ to more powers ever, just that calls for devolution of major areas, such as the recently rebuffed one to transfer decision-making on big energy projects, would be met with the same answer; not a blanket ‘no’ but a blanket ‘wait.’
It also doesn’t affect the steady transfer of power in England and Wales bills known as ‘framework’ powers.
The Welsh Government has decided not to respond officially or privately to what is effectively an order to shut up over the next couple of years.
And the view in Plaid Cymru is one of pragmatism: that the Welsh Government’s devolution calls since last May have been neither heartfelt nor effective and the chance for a ‘third party’ decision on devolving big chunks of responsibility is the main reason for ‘playing ball’ with the Commission.
And that’s echoed in almost identical language by the Welsh Liberal Democrats who say that the second stage of the commission could bring about the transfer of some serious powers which is why all parties are ‘playing ball’ with the Commission.