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Twisting pipelines

Betsan Powys | 12:07 UK time, Tuesday, 14 July 2009

This afternoon we find out - though not with any particular fanfare - what the government's legislative plans are for the coming year. You'd have thought by now that the Presiding Officer would have come up with an idea along the lines of nailing to the doors of the chamber the list of Legislative Competence Orders that will soon be sent on their way through the long, legislative pipeline.

(By the way I'm just thinking of the spectacle here, not making any comparisons with Luther's "95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" ... just before you start).

No, the doors survive intact. The government will simply spell out in the chamber which areas of legislative responsibility it's seeking and spell out at the same time what its priorities are.

Meanwhile in London the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, whose members have played their own part in scrutinising what pops out of the pipeline at the other end of the M4, seems intent on reviewing their own role in the process. We know because the Chair, Hywel Francis, has told us clearly that this is the plan:

"My Committee's scrutiny of proposed Orders has been focused, thorough, and always with the intention to provide constructive contributions to the wider process.

It is within this spirit that my Committee plans to undertake a short review of our role in the LCO process".

Members of the committee are having an informal and private chat with the Counsel General and Leader of the House Carwyn Jones today to "discuss aspects of the scrutiny process and the role of the Welsh Affairs Committee".

Their most recent contribution has still got Ministers scratching their heads.

The report on the Welsh language LCO kicked off in exactly the way they'd expected. There was a recommendation to tighten the wording here, aim for more clarity in the scope there. So far, so as per the LCO process we've come to know, if not always love.

And then came the googlie. Ah yes, we're all into cricket in Cardiff now. Suddenly a delivery from Westminster that had looked familiar had turned into something quite unexpected that moved away from the bats waiting in Cardiff.

The committee seemed to say that in an effort to be comprehensive and legally water-tight the experts who'd toiled over the LCO had written themselves into a corner. They may have tried to cross every t and dot every i but there would inevitably be challenges in the courts from companies and bodies questioning why they - or their sector - were included in legislation in future but others were not.

Instead, they said, the Assembly Government should think in terms of broader principles. Having asked for more clarity in scope the recommendation was to move away from detailed lists and go back to basics.

It's not hard to get your committee united, all sides in the debate on board, muttered one senior source in Westminster, when your recommendations face both ways.

And hang on a minute, say emminent lawyers who've spent a decade or two getting to grips with legislation on the language. Broad principles and words like "reasonableness" and "proportionality" have 'legal challenge' written all over them. Try another few words for size: wrong call.

Whatever your views of this particular LCO and the right way forward, the Welsh Affairs Select Committee's role is now centre stage and there is an irony worth raising here.

We come to the end of the year with the very MPs who were so determined that bids for legislative responsibility were properly drafted and tied down tightly that they were accused by the Presiding Officer of "acting contrary to the spirit of devolution" ... now seemingly pointing the Assembly Government in the direction of broad principle.

A twist in the pipeline?


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