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Friday, June 26, 2009

Tugging on my heart strings

MPs on the Welsh Affairs Select Committee have complained that the Legislative Competence Order which seeks to devolve more powers over the environment to the Assembly is so complicated, that they are struggling to understand it:

Wales Office Minister Wayne David conceded the LCO was “quite laborious to read”, but added that complexity did not entirely explain the delay.

“It’s the most complicated LCO that has come forward so far, and a great deal of negotiation has taken place across a whole range of different departments,” he told MPs on the Welsh Affairs Select Committee.

“It also has to be said that this was one of the first LCOs put forward by the Welsh Assembly Government, and, unlike now, there was no attempt to get the support of government departments.”

The LCO contains a long list of exceptions to the proposed powers for the Assembly, and even contains some “carve-outs” – exceptions to the exceptions.

Alun Michael, the former Assembly First Secretary and MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, asked the Wales Office to “provide something that’s much simpler for us poor mortals to understand”, while Ynys Mon MP Albert Owen queried why the order did not use simple terms such as “recycling”.

My heart bleeds but actually, this is quite serious. Not because the complex negotiations that led to the current document has left politicians on both sides of the Severn Bridge struggling to properly scrutinise it but because it underlines serious flaws in the current settlement.

It has taken two years to get the LCO to this stage and yet we are still some way off devolving the powers contained in it (which include a tax on plastic bags) to the Welsh Assembly and we have not yet even had the chance to make any actual laws yet. The original idea of devolving general areas of policy within which the Assembly can work to legislate has long gone by the board.

We are now embroiled in putting together what can only be described as a series of agreements or treaties between competing interests that enables MPs and Ministers in particular to virtually dictate in detail what we can and cannot legislate on. That is not devolution, it is control freakery run rampant.

I feel like I am repeating myself but this is important. The present system of legislative competence orders is not fit for purpose. It is time consuming, it is expensive and it is debilitating.

The referendum when it comes (and it cannot come too soon) is not about giving extra powers to the Assembly, it is about dismantling this bureaucratic nightmare and letting us get on with our job by utilising the full range of responsibilities contained in Part Four of the Government of Wales Act 2006 in accordance with the will of the voters who put us there. Now that would be devolution.
Given that the implementation of Part 4 of GOWA 2006 requires a referendum that has not yet taken place, it seems rather premature for you to say that it is the will of the voters for you to exercise the powers contained within it.
Obviously I was not clear. What I meant to say was that we need a yes vote in order to deliver manifesto commitments which have been tested in front of the electorate and which have their support. The current situation prevents us doing that.
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