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Democracy in Wales still denied by Westminster, says commission

22 January 2024

Church in Wales

The Cross of Wales, a new processional cross presented by the King as a centenary gift to the Church in Wales, which will be officially presented to the Church on Thursday. The Cross, which carried at the head the Coronation procession in Westminster Abbey on 6 May, includes a relic of the True Cross, given to the King by the Pope to mark the Coronation

The Cross of Wales, a new processional cross presented by the King as a centenary gift to the Church in Wales, which will be officially presented to t...

THE Bishops of the Church in Wales have commended the report of the Independent Commission on the country’s constitutional future as “a major contribution to the discussion about the future of our nation”.

The cross-party commission, co-chaired by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams and Professor Laura McAllister, has, in its own words, “grappled with critical questions about the way Wales is governed, the health of its democracy and how to engage citizens from all parts of our country . . . so that in the future they may have a real sense of agency and influence in the decision-making of our nation”.

The report describes Wales as on the front foot at an uncertain time for politics. It identifies creating a more robustly democratic culture as “absolutely critical if we are to overcome the disengagement and cynicism that puts our democracy at risk”. It suggests that the relationship between the UK and devolved governments has “fallen far short of the cooperation that citizens expect”, and calls for urgent steps to strengthen its legal and procedural pillars.

The commission, which brought out an interim report in 2022, describes the current political climate as one in which most citizens feel removed from those who govern them, and feel they have no influence on government actions.

It takes a detailed look at the state of relations between the Welsh and UK governments, and notes that, since the 2016 referendum on the UK membership of the EU, the Westminster Parliament and UK Government have overridden the Sewel convention, designed to protect devolution (Comment, 14 April 2023) on numerous occasions.

The commission’s report contains recommendations on aspects of life including justice and policing, energy generation and distribution, and rail services, where it calls on the UK Government to devolve responsibility for rail services and infrastructure, with “fair funding and shared governance on cross-border services”.

It acknowledges that constitutional change for Wales cannot be considered in isolation from development in the rest of the UK, but declares its aspirations for “a constructive debate focused on what is best for Wales, based on the best evidence and analysis available, so that the people of Wales can make an informed and thoughtful choice.

“Our first focus has been on the citizens of Wales and how their lives can be improved by more coherent and sustainable governments. . . People care deeply about how their country is run and want it to work efficiently in their best interests.”

It suggests three options: enhanced devolution, which would increase the powers controlled by the Welsh Government; a federal UK, where each nation was treated on an equal basis; and independence for Wales. It calls for the Sewel convention to become legally binding.

The Bishops express their hope that, as the debate goes forward, “all sides will recognise that different views can be sincerely held in good faith, and that all of Welsh society must strive to identify the common values and the shared vision which make for a healthy, prosperous, caring, and inclusive society.

“The Church in Wales is active in every community across the country, and we know from our experiences and from clergy and church members across Wales that we share a deep commitment to the welfare of our neighbours in our communities and the wider society in which we play a part.

“Wales faces many challenges, but it will face them all the more confidently if we build a strong consensus about the kind of society we want, and if we achieve a shared and respectful understanding in which people of all backgrounds and beliefs can contribute to the common good.

“For the Church in Wales, our Christian faith inspires us to support this work both with practical action and in prayer and we will continue to play our full part in the future developments of our society.”

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