MPs told devolution blueprint could last a generation
Welcome back. MPs have returned from their Easter break - and so have I. It's good news for those of you suffering withdrawal symptoms after the completion of the Silk commission's work.
Its chair, Paul Silk, and two members, Noel Lloyd and Helen Molyneux, have been giving evidence on their latest report to MPs on the Welsh affairs select committee in a session (unusually) broadcast live on BBC Parliament. (Who can doubt the value of the licence fee, eh?).
The MPs wanted to know how long Paul Silk thought the settlement proposed in his second report ("Silk 2")would endure. Committee chair David Davies asked: "How long would this settlement be good for? Is it permanently, a decade or so, a couple of years, six months or just a few weeks like it seemed to me happened last time round. How long before we have you back for Silk 3, pleasure as it is?"
Mr Silk appeared to blush at the prospect of a sequel to the sequel. "You'll never have me back for Silk 3 is the answer to that. I've done my bit now." He explained that it was difficult for the commission to say its work would last "forever", partly as one member was a Plaid Cymru member.
But he added: "We do hope that what we recommend, if it is implemented, will lead to stability for a generation - 25 years."
Labour MP Jessica Morden asked how Mr Silk responded to people "who expressed their weariness with the time spend on process and structures and powers". Mr Silk hoped there would be more concentration on outcomes.
Helen Molyneux said opinion poll evidence suggested there were areas where people thought the Welsh government or assembly had responsibility where it didn't - and vice versa. As many as 43 per cent thought policing was already devolved. She added: "There is a very low level of understanding about where power lies and from a responsibility and holding people to account point of view it is vital that the settlement is more understandable."
Mr Silk said even the Law Commission was unclear about whether taxi regulation is devolved to Wales or not which suggested there clearly was a problem about clarity. The commission believes a "reserved powers" model would help make things clearer.
Swansea West MP Geraint Davies was worried about the devolution of speed limits and drink-driving limits possibly leading to a Texas Western-style police chase across the border. Paul Silk said the commission was persuaded on this by the UK government's argument that it was appropriate to devolve these areas to Scotland.
Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards thought Silk 2 would be superseded by the result of the Scottish referendum and the end of what he called "the British state".
Helen Molyneux told him: "There is certainly no appetite for independence in Wales at the moment."
The commission thought current arrangements for the governance of the BBC in Wales were inadequate. Paul Silk said he was disappointed that the BBC had declined to give evidence. "They refused to see us. They said the trustee who did come to see us, the Welsh trustee, would represent the views of the BBC."
The commission favours a larger National Assembly for Wales than the current 60-member model. Mr Silk said the report gave "a broad hint" that the number of AMs should be "at least 80 and less than 100 is the right sort of figure" because the level of scrutiny given to the Welsh government "is not as good as it could be".
He wasn't persuaded by Geraint Davies's suggestion that AMs sit for the same hours as Westminster. Mr Silk argued that the commission's proposals would be more "palatable" politically if there were a cut in the number of Welsh MPs or councillors.
He said the commission's recommendation that the size of the assembly be increased "stands irrespective of a reduction here or in the number of councillors in Wales". The session lasted a little more than an hour and a half before the MPs departed to contemplate a quarter of a century without more legislation on the Welsh constitution.