A major deal on Welsh devolution has been hailed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg as a “landmark” step towards home rule within the UK – but the proposals were immediately dismissed by Welsh politicians as “third-rate”.
The Welsh government will be guaranteed minimum funding under the terms of the agreement, while decisions on fracking, energy projects and control of Welsh Assembly elections will also be made locally rather than in Westminster.
The agreement also “paves the way” for a referendum on whether Wales should be given tax-raising powers, the Prime Minister said. “To me that is responsible devolution, that is real devolution and I think that is vital for Wales and for the United Kingdom,” he said.
Mr Cameron said he was a “double yes man” on the issue of the referendum, believing both that it should go ahead and that the Welsh people would be right to grant the Assembly powers to raise its own funds. “This St David’s Day agreement represents one of the biggest transfers of power in the history of Welsh devolution,” he added.
Under the terms of the 60-page Government paper, which was produced in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum, the Welsh Assembly would eventually be able to pass laws in any area apart from those “reserved” by Westminster, such as policing and justice. It could also see the voting age in Assembly elections reduced to 16.
Welsh politicians would be given responsibility for marine licensing and conservation, port development, bus and taxi regulation, the setting of speed limits and local government elections. The Assembly itself would also be formally recognised as a permanent institution, enshrined in legislation, and be given the power to change its name.
However, the proposals were met with scepticism by Welsh politicians and business leaders. Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru, said the plans were “third-rate” devolution and fell “well short of the powers that can help us strengthen our communities”. The Government paper went “nowhere near getting the funding settlement that Wales is owed after decades of disadvantage”, she added.
First Minister Carwyn Jones said the negotiation process had been “rushed and unsatisfactory” and accused Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg of not treating Wales with the same respect afforded to Scotland, while Emma Watkins, the director of business group CBI Wales, also accused the Coalition of trying to accomplish “devolution by deadline”, warning that many of the proposed changes would have a profound effect on Welsh firms.Reuse content