Conservative lawyers back more powers for Wales

Yesterday's bearpit is almost deserted. As I write, there are probably more MPs in Rochester and Strood than in the House of Commons.

On a slow news day at Westminster (apart from the NHS England plan) there has been little to disturb the bulletin editors, unless you count the Westminster Dog of the Year show. Tory Chief Whip Michael Gove's dog claimed second prize but his absence from the Commons prompted questions from Cardiff West Labour MP Kevin Brennan.

Today's less frantic atmosphere has given me time to catch up on a few administrative tasks and a little light reading. In the fall-out from the Scottish referendum, I confess I missed an interesting contribution to the debate over the UK's future from the Society of Conservative Lawyers, whose chairman is the former Secretary of State for Wales Lord (David) Hunt. You can read the society's working party report on "Our Quasi-federal United Kingdom".

Some of the contributors - David Melding, Alan Trench - will be familiar to students of the devolution industry. Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve is involved. The report highlights what the authors see as the weaknesses of the current devolution settlement - inconsistency, unfairness to England and the failure to match spending power with tax-raising responsibility - and put forward its own solutions.

This chiefly involves Westminster passing what they call "the Statute of Union" which would begin "It is hereby declared that the United Kingdom is a quasi-federal, voluntary union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."

It will include the complete devolution of personal income tax to Holyrood "including competence to set both bands and rates".

If you're wondering where this is leading, the report adds: "The statute should contain a complete redrafting of the devolution settlement for Wales on the basis of conferring on the Welsh Assembly full territorial competence subject only to the reservation to the UK Parliament of defined competences. In designating the boundary of competences between the UK level and the Welsh level, the recommendations of Silk II should be implemented, including the devolution of policing to Wales."

The peers are probably pushing at an open door on the question of "reserved powers" since Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb announced his conversion to the idea. His predecessor-but-several Lord Hunt is particularly keen on the idea of a clearer legal settlement and has been promoting the idea in speeches around Wales.

What about England? The report supports the version of "English votes for English laws" put forward by the McKay commission, including the creation of an English grand committee.

One other suggestion caught my eye: "There should be an annual UK Summit, attended by teams representing the UK government, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the English grand committee. The venue should rotate between London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. It should be chaired by the Prime Minister, and opened by the Queen."

Plenty of food for thought there. You can read the final report here. I'm taking some leave during school half-term next week, but I'll be back on November 3 to test you on the report.

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