Whitehall delays hamper new Welsh Assembly powers, say MPs

15 January 2010

The process for new powers to be passed from Westminster to the National Assembly for Wales is working but continues to be hampered by long and unaccountable delays in negotiations between Whitehall and the Assembly, concludes the Welsh Affairs Committee

In a report published today, the Committee says many aspects of the Legislative Competence Order (LCO) process – the mechanism for the Assembly to bring forward proposals to extend its lawmaking powers – are now working well. Parties involved have overcome early challenges and have adapted to make the new system work.

However, procedural problems persist, most notably the lack of transparency in the Whitehall clearance process, and the Committee says it will take a more proactive approach in this area to ensure a speedier resolution of issues.

Key findings of the Committee:

  • LCOs must be more user-friendly and contain 'what it says on the tin': a more straightforward approach to drafting proposed Orders and Explanatory Memoranda is required
  • The Wales Office should report to the Committee monthly on the progress of all LCOs within Whitehall. Where the Committee is dissatisfied, relevant ministers will be called before the Committee to identify outstanding issues
  • Joint working with Assembly Committees has been highly productive. Informal meetings with Assembly Committee members have generally been a more practical option for scrutiny than formal joint meetings
  • LCOs should be referred to the Welsh Grand Committee only when there are matters of general public concern or controversy or specific areas of concern amongst MPs

The Chairman of the Committee, Dr Hywel Francis MP, said:

"After more than two years in operation, the LCO process is an effective system for the transfer of powers to Wales. However, we remain concerned about proposed Orders disappearing into the black hole of Whitehall and we intend to create a more formal reporting system to deal with this issue.

"The Committee’s work has become a vital link in the legislative chain and one result of our contribution is the much improved drafting of Orders.

"We are particularly pleased with the way in which we have worked increasingly and more effectively with our Assembly colleagues.

"We will continue to build on the progress made during the last two years to ensure openness, transparency and good governance in the legislative process."

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