The Commission on Devolution in Wales (often referred to as 'the Silk Commission', after its chair, Paul Silk KBC) was established as a result of a commitment made in the UK Government’s Coalition Agreement.
The Commission was launched on 11 October 2011, with the support of the Welsh Government and the three opposition parties in the National Assembly for Wales. It was asked to consider how the scope of devolution might be changed to better serve the people of Wales.
Paul Silk was appointed by the Secretary of State for Wales to chair the Commission. Two members independent of the political parties were appointed (and later a third was appointed). In addition, each of the political parties in the National Assembly nominated a member to the Commission.
The Commission’s remit
The Commission’s remit was divided into two parts. Its terms of reference for Part I were:
To review the case for the devolution of fiscal powers to the National Assembly for Wales and to recommend a package of powers that would improve the financial accountability of the Assembly, which are consistent with the United Kingdom’s fiscal objectives and are likely to have a wide degree of support.
Its terms of reference for Part II were:
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.
Part I: Empowerment and Responsibility: Financial Powers to Strengthen Wales
In November 2011, the Commission issued a call for evidence in relation to Part I of its remit to key interest groups, representative bodies and individuals. In total, it received 78 written submissions in addition to oral evidence.
The Commission published its Part I report entitled ‘Empowerment and Responsibility: Financial Powers to Strengthen Wales’ in November 2012. It made 33 recommendations.
These included recommendations in relation to the funding arrangements for the Welsh Government and devolution of certain taxes. The Commission recommended that a new Wales Bill should be introduced to devolve tax and borrowing powers.
The UK Government published its response to the Part I report in November 2013. As a result, a number of the Commission’s recommendations have been implemented in the form of the Wales Act 2014. In particular, taxes relating to land transactions and landfill will be devolved to the National Assembly and, subject to a referendum, the National Assembly will have powers to resolve to set Welsh rates of income tax.
Part II: Empowerment and Responsibility: Legislative Powers to Strengthen Wales
Following publication of its first report, the Commission issued its call for evidence in relation to Part II of its remit, a review of the non-financial and wider powers of the National Assembly for Wales, in November 2012.
The Commission consequently published its Part II report, ‘Empowerment and Responsibility: Legislative Powers to Strengthen Wales’ in March 2014. This made 61 recommendations. As well as numerous subject specific recommendations for future reform, these included a recommendation that the existing conferred powers model of the Welsh devolution settlement be replaced by a reserved powers model.
The Welsh Government published its response to this report, ‘Devolution, Democracy and Delivery: powers to achieve our aspirations for Wales’ on 1 July 2014. In this, it set out its case for broader powers on the reserved model.
The St David's Day Agreement
In 'Powers for a purpose - Towards a Lasting Devolution Settlement for Wales' (the so-called St David's Day Agreement) the UK's Coalition Government set out a series of proposals in response to the Commission's second report. They include adopting a reserved powers model of devolution in Wales, the devolution of more powers to Wales and a commitment relating to maintaining funding for Wales above a certain level (funding floor).
The political parties set out their plans in relation to the second report and the future devolution in Wales in their party manifestos published in advance of the UK General Election in May 2015.