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Monday, April 06, 2009

Whose facts?

Under the headline, 'Comment is free, but facts are scared', former First Secretary and the ex-Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Michael argues in the letters page of this morning's Western Mail that 'passing powers to the Welsh Assembly through Legislative Competence Orders is a Welsh success story'.

Alun has long subscribed to the view that if you repeat a story often enough then people are more likely to believe it. Unfortunately, as with the 1999 Assembly Elections, which he spearheaded for Labour, he is often proved wrong.

The problem with the assertions in Mr. Michael's letter is not the claim that the Welsh Affairs Select Committee is engaging in effective scrutiny, it clearly is, but that the system of drawing down powers via an expensive and time-consuming Legislative Competence Order process is fit for purpose in the first place.

Alun's semantics cannot hide the fact that he is arguing in favour of the process rather than the outcomes. Scrutiny is most effective when it holds Ministers to account on their promises so that public services are improved.

The Legislative Competence Process is a hot-air factory without any meaningful product. Yes, the Assembly gets some more powers but in the process we have engaged in dozens of meetings and discussions, consultations and negotiations that can take up to two years and at the end of it no new law had been made. The creation of new legislation is stage two of an interminable process.

It is for that reason that we need a 'yes' vote in a referendum. Such a plebiscite will not give the Assembly new powers. Its practical effect will be to dismantle the clumsy Legislative Competence Order apparatus and allow the Assembly to utilise the powers that it already has under the Government of Wales Act 2006 without having to go on bended knee to the likes of Alun Michael.

Mr. Michael's letter is the best advertisement yet for why the referendum needs to come sooner rather than later so that we can remove the interference of MPs and let the Assembly get on with what it was elected for - improving the lives of people living and working in Wales.
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