On 3 March 2011 the voters of Wales will be given an opportunity to decide, in a referendum, whether the National Assembly for Wales should assume primary law-making powers under Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006.
If there is an affirmative vote in the referendum, the Fourth Assembly, due to be elected on 5 May 2011, will have powers far greater than those enjoyed by the First Assembly in 1999.
Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act would be at the heart of the new constitutional settlement if the referendum vote is affirmative. It would define the boundaries of the devolution settlement between Wales and the UK. Prior to the referendum, the Government has proposed amendments to Schedule 7 in the draft Order: the National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Amendment of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006) Order 2010, laid before Parliament on 21 October 2010.
The Welsh Affairs Committee believes that it is essential that the House is clear about what it is agreeing to in approving the draft Order. In this short Report we outline the context in which the Order is being put forward, the nature of the amendments proposed, and the extent of the legislative competences which the National Assembly would enjoy if it came into effect. We conclude that the effect would be a significant widening of the powers of the Assembly. However, this should not be interpreted as a judgment by the Committee on the merits or otherwise of a "Yes" vote. While there would remain a few ambiguities and loose ends in the definition of the Assembly's powers under Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act, the Committee sees no impediment to the House approving it.
We note that the nature of the Welsh devolution settlement is quite different from those relating to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Schedule 7, in the form it would have after this draft Order was approved, is unlikely to be the last word on the shape and nature of the constitutional arrangements for Wales. We have sought and received assurances that Parliament and the Welsh Affairs Committee will be properly involved in the examination of any future changes to the constitutional arrangements for Wales.
If the referendum vote is affirmative, then the Government has promised a wider review of the Welsh devolution settlement, a "Calman process" for Wales. The Welsh Affairs Committee will maintain a close oversight of this process.