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Monday, July 13, 2009

In which I defend the Welsh Affairs Select Committee

The attack on the Welsh Affairs Select Committee from Plaid Cymru AM and former Heritage Minister, Rhodri Glyn Thomas in this morning's Western Mail is bizarre. Not least because in the 12 months he was a Minister he failed to publish himself a single draft of the order to transfer powers on the Welsh Language to the National Assembly.

I am normally the first to criticise MPs over their attitude to Legislative Competence Orders and indeed I am already on record as stating that their approach to the Welsh Language LCO is unusual and unworkable. However, to attack MPs personally for applying pre-legislative scrutiny to an order when that is the role assigned to them by the Government of Wales Act is unfair and difficult to justify.

By all means criticise the process, it is lengthy, unworkable and expensive, and it is also fair game to attack MPs when they cross the line as they did on the Affordable Housing LCO, but in this instance the Welsh Affairs Select Committee raised some legitimate points that need to be considered. What is more their view reflected that of the Assembly's own Legislation Committee.

The fact is that the Welsh Government brought this on themselves by producing an LCO on the Welsh Language packed with contradictions and inconsistencies. Instead of just seeking to transfer law-making powers over the Welsh Language to Wales as Rhodri Glyn Thomas suggests they should have done the Government sought to draft a document that met the objections of all sides and in doing so succeeded in satisfying no-one. It was not so much a legal order as a series of caveats.

An order like that was inevitably going to be criticised as failing to achieve its objectives and that is what happened, on both sides of the Severn Bridge.

If MPs are trying to hamper the LCO process then the Welsh Government is assisting them in that endeavour. WAG are drafting applications for powers as if they were the measures they will generate. The Welsh Government are also rolling over and playing possum far too often. The case of the Housing LCO when a Plaid Cymru advisor actually offered the Secretary of State for Wales a veto is a case in point and undermines Rhodri Glyn Thomas' view that it is just Westminster that is undermining the process.

The Welsh Government are focussing LCOs too narrowly and trying to anticipate all objections when a better use of the powers would to adopt a broad brush approach to law-making functions. They might say that this would lead to delays but surely we are getting those already. It is difficult to see how either the Housing or the Welsh Language LCOs could have been delayed further by more principled drafting of them in the first instance.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas may have some legitimate concerns about the way that the Welsh Affairs Select Committee has dealt with the Welsh Language LCO but lashing out like this achieves nothing. In fact if I did not know better I would suggest that he is actually trying to distract attention from the inadequacies of the Labour-Plaid Cymru One Wales Government and the way that they have mishandled this LCO from the beginning.
Perhaps a Competency Order requiring compency in WAG would be a good start!
"I would suggest that he is actually trying to distract attention from the inadequacies of the Labour-Plaid Cymru One Wales Government and the way that they have mishandled this LCO from the beginning."

Nothing new there. Just look at the rash of Plaid blog posts in recent days trying to defend Ieuan Wyn Jones's lamentable record in Government. He's been destroyed over his transport plans by all parties, Chris Franks can't even face going to Finance Committee any more, he's so embarrassed. And Whinge just looks foolish trying to claim credit for React, a scheme that had been running for a number of years already. As for Proact - its a scheme borrowed from successful examples in England and Europe and replicated in Wales under pressure from trade unions and individual AMs like Kirsty Williams.
Peter, thanks for the "spirited defence".

I've blogged on this, too, and have come to similar conclusions:


One small point: pre-legislative scrutiny is not a role assigned to the committee by the Government of Wales Act. The Act is silent in this respect.

I'm far from convinced that the select committee is the right vehicle for carrying out scrutiny and I believe that the procedure should be looked at again.
Fair point David. I think there are issues with pre-legislative scrutiny that need addressing.
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