Wales politics

Wales Bill needs significant changes, Stephen Crabb says

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Media captionWe need a few more months to get the bill right, says Stephen Crabb

Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb has promised "significant changes" to his plans for further devolution, after MPs called for a re-think.

It follows claims that the draft Wales Bill was confusing, and would leave Welsh ministers with fewer powers.

The bill will be delayed until summer to allow time for changes, Mr Crabb said.

But First Minister Carwyn Jones called it an "avoidable delay to clear up an avoidable mess".

Mr Crabb said he would shorten the list of powers kept back by Westminster, cut red tape over new laws, and better reflect Wales in the legal system.

The new legislation is supposed to settle constitutional wrangling by making clear which powers were to be devolved and which not.

It includes areas such as energy, transport and elections.

'Pause needed'

But Welsh ministers have criticised the draft Wales Bill, saying some aspects of it would see them with fewer powers.

A report by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, published on Sunday, called for a "pause" in the process.

The MPs said a proposed list of powers that are not devolved needed a re-think, with Whitehall departments forced to give a clearer reason why some issues should not be handed over to Cardiff Bay.

Responding to the report on Monday, Mr Crabb said: "It's become clear to me that there are some areas of the bill where we need to make significant and substantial changes."

He said he would scrap the so-called "necessity test" which Welsh ministers would have had to consider before passing any laws.

The Welsh secretary said he would also limit the need for them to check permission with the UK government before passing certain laws - what Mr Jones had described as an "English veto".

It was "never the intention of this bill to increase constitutional red tape", Mr Crabb said.

A working group will also be set up to look at whether distinct arrangements are needed for Welsh law, without setting up a separate legal system to that shared with England.

The final version of the bill - due in February - will not be published until May at the earliest.

Monmouth MP David Davies, who chairs the Welsh Affairs Committee, welcomed the minister's response and decision to delay the bill as a "responsible step".

"He must use this additional time to reflect on the aspects of the draft bill that have caused controversy and come up with workable solutions," Mr Davies said.

'Repair damage'

First Minister Carwyn Jones said: "Let's be clear, this is an avoidable delay to clear up an avoidable mess.

"The UK Government need to get into the habit of treating Wales and the National Assembly for Wales with proper respect.

"We now have the opportunity, if the will is truly there, to repair the damage done by a flawed process and produce a genuinely meaningful piece of legislation."

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood welcomed the removal of the necessity test and the plans to shorten the list of reserved powers, but was disappointed Mr Crabb "still refuses to acknowledge the need for Wales to have its own legal jurisdiction".

She claimed "inaction and lack of ambition by governments at both ends of the M4 have resulted in a flawed piece of legislation".

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said: "A pause in this process is the right decision."

She said the draft bill "was seriously flawed and not in any fit state to move forward".

Assembly presiding officer Dame Rosemary Butler said a delay was right for the assembly and the UK government "to forge together a lasting constitutional settlement for Wales".

She urged UK ministers to use the time "constructively" to deliver "a clear, workable settlement that does not roll back on the powers already devolved to Wales".

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