Sunday, 20 January 2008

The product and the process

One of the most important moves of the Labour-Plaid Cymru government was the establishment of the all-Wales Convention. The Convention will explore the case for further powers for the Assembly, was a key One Wales commitment and will test the strength of the coalition. The test will be how quickly Labour (Welsh and UK) can respond to Plaid Cymru's efforts to push full steam ahead towards a Welsh Parliament.

The Convention deals with proposed future powers. The Assembly has two important processes already, Legislative Competence Orders and Measures. For the unfamiliar, a Measure should be explained first. It is an Assembly law and can make 'any provision that could be made by Act of Parliament' (according to the new arrangements since the last Assembly election.) But there are three conditions to this. Firstly, and most naturally, it must relate only to Wales. Secondly, it must fall under an Assembly 'Field' of legislative competence, something like 'economic development' or 'health and social care'. Thirdly, it must relate to specific 'Matter' within one of these Fields. An LCO is more simple to define. It is the process of adding Matters to the Fields. In other words, it is Westminster's permission to legislate and represents a widening of Assembly powers within a Field.

Crucially, it is only permission to legislate and so the Assembly will still have to form Measures afterwards to make Assembly laws. We should find it concerning that there is only one Measure currently being processed, the NHS Redress Act. At the same time, there are five LCOS – on learning needs, environmental protection, vulnerable children, domiciliary care and affordable housing. Put far more simply, and in light of the Convention, the Assembly seems more concerned with widening its powers with no clue (sorry, one clue) about what to do with the powers!


Peter Black 20 January 2008 at 11:10  

There is of course the consideration that until we get the extension of powers we cannot pass measures. There are surprisingly few areas available to pass measures on at the moment.

Miss Wagstaff 20 January 2008 at 14:04  

Welcome, Dotcommentator!

An excellent topical post that brings us back to what this Third Assembly is all about, and one of the few areas that it will be judged on over the next three and a half years.

If the Assembly can't make a success (within means) of this, then the general public will have little confidence in the institution gaining more powers.

Dotcommentator 20 January 2008 at 14:39  

I accept that there are relatively few Matters at the moment compared to how things will probably be around 2011 but there is still quite a bit of room to manoeuvre, e.g. local government and education.

Another issue following from this is whether the Assembly has the capacity (i.e. sufficient AMs) to create, scrutinise and pass legislation while performing all the other Assembly chamber, committee and other duties. I'm sure you'd have a better idea of that that I would, Peter.

Daran 20 January 2008 at 16:54  

"There are surprisingly few areas available to pass measures on at the moment."

But the list is certainly growing. There are now, I think, 18 Matters under Education and Training.

To give credit to Peter and the Lib Dems, they are the only group in the Assembly to consistently use the backbench mechanism to propose an Assembly Measure. Any Member who is not in the Welsh Assembly Government or either Presiding Officer or Deputy Presiding Officer may decide to bring forward an Assembly Measure. That gives, I think, 44 possible AMs to bring a Measure forward. To date, however, Assembly Members not been over flowing with ideas – 8 concepts for Measures were presented in June 2007 (6 Lib Dems, 2 Labour); 5 in October (all Lib Dems), and 12 in December (4 Lib Dems, 8 Plaid).

Another important point to remember is that all the Matters so far added to Schedule 5 of the Government of Wales Act (the means by which the Assembly gains Matters over which to legislate) have come about through Westminster legislation, not LCOs. Also known as “Framework Legislation”, the passage of UK Bills into Acts can transfer the legislative powers over specific areas direct to the National Assembly. Examples of this approach have been the NHS Redress Act 2006, and the Education and Inspections Act 2006.

In the current UK legislative programme a further 3 Bills promise more framework powers, so it's important to remember this route to empowerment alongside the LCO process.

Pier Pressure 21 January 2008 at 11:11  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pier Pressure 21 January 2008 at 11:12  

Daran - we will have to judge them on quality rather than quantity.

Haven't looked into it and I'm not knocking the Lib Dems, but we shouldn't rule out parties trying to get ahead on numbers only, rather than proposing well thought out Measures.

Senedd Whip 21 January 2008 at 11:21  

The LCO for every new home in Wales to be fitted with sprinklers seemed like an opportunistic one to start the ball rolling with.

Ann Jones won an assembly ballot to be the first individual AM to introduce a Legislative Competence Order (LCO). This led the way for AMs attempting to bring in legislation that is close to their heart or former career, rather than fully workng out the financial implications of such legislation.

Miss Wagstaff 21 January 2008 at 11:39  

What concerns me is if the Assembly mainly uses its powers to become 'the first' to do something, rather than for the right reason.

We've seen it in other areas such as the two Commissioners. Not that I'm dead-set against it in certain cases, however, it does seem that we're competing with other parts of the UK to become 'the first' to do something in a particular area.

The Assembly Government has already achieved this in certain areas - prescription charges - which we all know was a gimick (see separate post).

Anonymous 21 January 2008 at 15:49  

Senedd Whip/Dotcommentator/Miss Wagstaff. you are all the same person so why bother creating these alter egos. Its quite childish. Your blog makes some very good points so its no need for the cheep gimmicks!

Miss Wagstaff 21 January 2008 at 16:35  

Anon 15:49 Are you saying that 'Pierhead Pressure' isn't the same person as the others?

Please include him/her or they'll feel left out.

Anonymous 21 January 2008 at 20:24  

Anonymous who mentioned Senedd Whip/Dotcommentator/Miss Wagstaff. Why on earth would someone pretend to be 3 people? Stick to the topic.

Anonymous 22 January 2008 at 10:37  

"test the strength of the coalition"

It's my guess that the coalition will have to last atleast two years for Plaid to get any amount of respect for being in government.

Jonty 23 January 2008 at 11:27  

There are some excellent comments on Glyn Davies' blog about the way Jonathan Morgan AM has tacked his Measure. Compliments from a Labour MP Chair on the way he has gone about it.

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