Deputy Presiding Officer's Speech to the Conference on ‘New Legislative Powers in Wales’ 2007

Published 13/11/2007   |   Last Updated 14/07/2014

Deputy Presiding Officer's Speech to the Conference on ‘New Legislative Powers in Wales’ 2007

Thank you the kind invitation to speak to you today about the Government of Wales Act (2006) and the new legislative powers it gives the National Assembly for Wales.   I would like to congratulate the organisers for putting together such a stimulating programme.  

Today you will be discussing the powers granted to the Assembly under the Act and assessing the implications for the business sector.   This is an excellent opportunity to explore how you can contribute to the formation of new legislation and to the work of the Assembly itself in scrutinising Government. The Act ensures that the principles of open-ness and transparency that characterise the building next door – the Senedd – are also enshrined in the new law making processes and general functions of the Welsh Assembly Government. This Act has changed the Assembly from a corporate body into two separate entities, the Government of Wales and the Assembly, with the necessary powers to create a transparent and effective democracy.   

First amongst the principles underlying the new Assembly is the full accountability of Government Ministers to the Assembly and ultimately to the Welsh public. New conventions and procedures have been created to achieve this. The most clearly laid down provisions are the financial ones in Part 5 of the Act, including the fundamental principle that Ministers must request Assembly authorisation to use resources. The Welsh Government draws down funds from the Welsh Consolidated Fund with the approval of the Auditor General for Wales.

The second major principle is that the National Assembly is able to pass its own laws. The creation of the Orders in Council process which lead to ‘Measures’ – the equivalent of primary legislation – is the most significant part of the Act. Already we have had the Government announce 6 draft Legislative Competence Order and 3 Measures. One Measure, the NHS Redress Measure, and three Legislative Competence Orders - on Additional Learning, Environmental Protection and Vulnerable Children – are already in their committee stages, and are being scrutinised at the moment.    

Interestingly, it is not only the government that can put forward proposals for Measures and Legislative Competence Orders. An individual Assembly member can take part in a ballot, which is being held every two months or so, and gives the opportunity for Members to present their own legislative Orders or Measures. It also creates the opportunity for anyone to submit draft legislation through individual Assembly Members. Three pieces of legislation are already being taken forward through the ballot system -  Ann Jones, the Member for the Vale of Clwyd, has put forward an LCO relating to the compulsory installation of sprinklers in the home; the Member for Cardiff North, Jonathan Morgan, has put forward a proposal to legislate in order to reform mental health policy and provision; we have a proposal for Measures for government legislation regarding school meals. Yesterday a proposal for review procedures for school closures was debated in Plenary but was turned down. The Assembly’s Committees will also be entitled to put forward proposals for legislation. Indeed the first Government piece of legislation, on special needs, came originally from a scrutiny committee report on the subject earlier this year.    

The quality and effectiveness of these new powers will depend on in depth scrutiny of any legislative proposals, which will include an assessment of the financial and social benefits with a post-legislative review of outcomes and consequences. Success will depend on the clarity of drafting and provision of full public information of what powers will be enacted. All this means that the Assembly’s work load will increase substantially if we are to ensure there is sufficient scrutiny of the proposed new laws.

As I mentioned, we already have five different Measures or draft Legislative Orders in Council in their committee stages.The Government will be announcing additional Measures and Legislative Competence Orders in the next few weeks, and given the present rate of legislation coming through the route of the ballot  there could be twelve…fifteen who knows…new pieces of legislation that will be taken through the Assembly by the end of the year. This is, as you can imagine, a huge undertaking for the National Assembly; it is a major challenge for its Members, its staff, and to an institution that hitherto has not created primary legislation. We will be reviewing our arrangements for managing this work at the end of November. If any of you have views as to the effectiveness of our scrutiny system, please contact the Presiding Office to express your views.

A fundamental part of the changes is the Assembly’s role in scrutinising Government and holding it to account.

The new committees have an enhanced role, similar to select committees at Westminster, in examining the real impact of services on the ground.   Ministers are no longer members of committees but required to attend when requested. All Assembly committees have access to the Wales Audit Office which, I am sure, will be an invaluable resource for them to draw on. It is essential that the best audit philosophy and practice will imbue the work of the Committees.

In May a Finance Committee was established, as a cornerstone of our scrutiny, to consider Government’s spending plans and delivery.  This is one of a number of committees that is charged with scrutiny. The other main scrutiny committees cover:

  • Enterprise and Life Long Learning;

  • Health, Wellbeing and Local Government;

  • Sustainability, including climate change, energy, rural affairs and agriculture, environment, planning, and;

  • Communities including Housing, Social Inclusion, Culture, Arts and Sport.

These committees have been established following recommendations by Sir Jeremy Beecham in his report ‘Making the Connections’. As well as scrutinising Government they will scrutinise and call to account our public institutions from the perspective of the citizen and consumer, rather than from the perspective of the provider.

Lastly, I draw your attention to an exciting innovation and that is the new Petitions procedure. A minimum of ten names is needed to support a petition that once presented has to be considered and responded to by the Assembly. At the moment I believe there are 20 petitions in the pipeline so it shows that the idea has caught the imagination of the public. Many of them are about local issues such as a change in the name of a school in the Rhondda Cynon Taff and the restoration of the Swansea-Mumbles railway and the reopening of Carno Station. But there are some which would be of general interest throughout Wales, such as a call for the ban on plastic bags and a review of NHS dental charges

I urge you as businesses and as voluntary organisations to get involved in scrutinising legislation - both at the initial stage when the legislation is being framed and in the ongoing scrutiny of the legislation as it goes through its various stages in the Assembly.  I am sure you will have your own concerns and views about new legislation and its impact and relevance. You will also have a view about Welsh Assembly Government policy and I hope you will be an important resource for our committees in judging the impact of policy.

It is in the spirit of open-ness and transparency that I invite you to express your honest views about the Assembly and the Assembly Government’s proposed legislation and to assess its impact on the business sector in particular.I hope you have a very interesting day and I thank you for the opportunity of addressing you on behalf of the National Assembly for Wales.