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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Government withdraws Housing LCO

News is reaching us that the Government has withdrawn the Housing Legislative Competence Order from consideration in the House of Commons. The Order hit trouble last week when a joint Parliamentary Committee ruled that the Secretary of State's veto on the abolition of the right to buy was possibly illegal. The Assembly's Presiding Officer added to the Government's troubles by suggesting that he might vote against the LCO in the Lords for this reason.

A further announcement is expected from the Government on this issue today but it seems that they have four options:

1. Tough it out, let the House of Lords have their say and then reconsider what to do;
2. Amend the order by taking the veto clause out of it and letting it proceed as originally envisaged;
3. Withdraw the Order altogether; or
4. Ask the Courts to rule on the legality of the LCO before taking it back to Parliament.

Personally, I welcome the fact that the Government is having second thoughts. The veto clause they have inserted into this LCO is potentially illegal, sets a dangerous precedent and shows that they are prepared to play fast and loose with the constitution.

If the LCO is debated in the House of Lords first, then peers will have the opportunity to discuss the verdict of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, however I would much prefer the veto to be removed so that the legislation can proceed as originally intended by the Welsh Government.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats do not want to lose the opportunity to transfer powers on the right to buy to the Assembly but we will not back. The Government of Wales Act is already difficult enough without unnecessary complications. We will not allow the constitution to be undermined by these shenanigans. The implications for other more controversial LCOs such as the one on the Welsh Language are too serious to let this pass in its current form.
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