Tomorrow, the National Assembly Coalition Government is going to inform us of the content of the Welsh Language Legislative Competence Order. The media have already had copies. I expect most of my visitors will read no further. Constitutional issues are a minority interest. But Lord Elis Thomas, the Assembly's Presiding Officer is very excited about it. His excitement revolves around whatever new measure (new law) the Assembly Government might introduce later this year. But first, the Legislative Competence Order has to complete its passage through the bizarre process prescribed by the 2006 Government of Wales Act. This is the constitutional process by which power is passed to the Assembly to enable the creation of the new measure that is causing Dafydd El so much excitement. Lets consider this.
To go back the beginning. When the 2006 Act was passed, AMs and MPs looked upon this new creature from different perspectives. I believe we were sold different stories. At the time, my perspective was that of an Assembly Member. I believed that the Act envisaged proposals for the transfer of power to the National Assembly (LCOs) being considered by both Houses of Parliament only to ensure that the proposal fell wholly within a devolved field. If it did, there would be no discussion about what it might be used for. I accepted there was scope for disagreement arising from differing interpretations. For example, is a ban on smacking an education issue, or a law and order issue? This is how the House of Lords saw things as well. But not the MPs. They want to know what the Assembly Government might do with the new power, and to make a judgement about whether or not they approve.
I've seen much criticism of MPs for their approach. Matt Withers has really gone to town in today's Wales on Sunday, and called for the abolition of the Welsh Affairs Committee. I do not agree with Matt about this. I cannot know it, but I strongly suspect that MPs were reassured that they would have the right to debate the content of LCOs during the passage of the Bill - even if its not written into the Act. From the MPs perspective, they are only doing their job - the job they were told that they would be required to do. I've always described the position as a recipe for conflict - a constitutional crisis waiting to happen. My concern about this issue is a major part of the reason that I want to become an MP myself. And we've had one 'disagreement' already, relating to a housing LCO. I did not agree with the way it was resolved - which involved a reserved power being retained by the Secretary of State, granting an involvement in the measure creating process which no-one had envisaged. I thought that the LCO should have been rewritten, rather than the principle of a reserved power concede - but its too late now. The precedent has been set.
I'm looking forwards to reading the LCO, and learning what powers the National Assembly is asking for. And I'm looking forwards to the discussions on it in the Welsh Affairs Committee as well. Lets hope it can be sorted without any recourse to more reserved powers. Even more, I hope that the people of Wales don't become contemptuous of politicians arguing over incomprehensible policy details about imposing additional costs and responsibilities, while Welsh jobs and businesses are going down the pan.