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Not like that. Like this!

Betsan Powys | 14:58 UK time, Tuesday, 7 July 2009

andy2.jpgYesterday it was Matt.

Today I'm reminded of Andy Capp and his wife Florrie and those annuals my brother used to get in his Christmas stocking, year in, year out. There was always a Chocolate Orange and for me, the Twinkle annual until I argued Father Christmas should give in and let me have the Jackie annual instead. Big brother stuck with Andy Capp throughout and so it became my favourite too.

One Andy moment has stuck with me. He's sitting on a bench, a beer in his hand, watching Florrie mowing the lawn in the midday sun. "Oh you shouldn't be mowing the lawn like that love" he says. Wow. A new, politically correct Andy? No. "You should be doing it like this. Get yer back into it!" or words to that effect.

Why did it spring to mind? Some chauvinistic commuter who tutted at the way I was lugging my laptop and shoulder bag on the train to Paddington? No, it's thanks to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee and their report on the Welsh Language Legislative Competence Order.

In essence the upshot of the report is this: in principle? Yes, we agree that in future it's logical and appropriate that legislation with regard to the language ought to be made and put to work in Wales, where it's spoken - or as they put it "located in its social context". In other words they agree that the powers ought to be transferred to the Assembly Government, in principle.

Ah but principle must be turned into practice and there, the problems begin or as Andy would put it, "you shouldn't be doing it like that!"

The LCO as it stands lists the types of companies and bodies that would be affected by future measures, or laws. It states too that organisations who get more than £200,000 of public money would have to comply with future regulation with regard to the language.

Wrong call, says the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. At best you'll end up with anomalies, at worst you'll end up in court. You need clarity. You need drafting with a clearly defined scope.

So how do you do that?

"We suggest that a more sophisticated and appropriate way of dealing with the issues of definition would be for this Order to contain clear principles against which the Assembly Measures can be tested. One way to achieve this would be for the Welsh Assembly Government to insert in this draft Order tests that have to be met by any Measure subsequent to this LCO, rather than trying to insert definitions themselves in the text. These might include a test of reasonableness, a test of proportionality, and a consideration of the cost to demonstrate that the application of any Measure to particular
bodies or organisations will, in the long term, provide a cost-effective benefit to the public
in terms of the use of the Welsh language".

I get the idea but I'm not sure what that would mean in reality. I'm not sure the Welsh Assembly Government does either. You can certainly create future measures with principles in mind - principles like reasonableness, proportionality and so on - but can you transfer powers simply based on those principles?

The £200,000 threshold, says the Committee in its most damning passage, seems to have been chosen "more or less at random" and why include utilities and telecommunication companies in the scope of the LCO but leave out banks or insurance
services? They know the answer but know too it's not the sort of answer that can be included in the wording of an LCO. That's the political compromise struck between the Wales Office and the former Secretary of State.

What now? If there's substantial redrafting required - and it's hard to see how that will be avoided - the LCO will have to come back before both scrutiny committees in the Assembly and in Westminster. They'll have to get a move on, just like Flo. The job must done and dusted before a General Election remember.

But bear this in mind: Andy Capp wanted the lawn mowed. He wasn't out to stop Flo. He wanted the job done and he wanted it done properly. Put like that, the Welsh Affairs Select Committee might not mind the comparison after all. Not so sure about the Assembly Government.


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