Couldn’t give an LCO

Lee Waters says the commitment that civil society would be given a real chance to influence National Assembly legislation was a hollow promise:

An “open, responsive, effective” system, that’s how the Assembly’s petitions system was sold by the Presiding Officer at its inception. Welsh civil society was urged to come forward with new ideas on how AMs could use their new powers. The call went out for embryonic LCOs (Legislative Competence Orders) to come flooding into the Senedd.

When an MP succeeds in the ballot for Private Members Bills, we were told, backbenchers are showered with pleas from campaigners to take forward ready-made Bills. Now was the time for Welsh organisations to step up to the plate.

In October 2007 the green transport charity Sustrans did just that. It put forward a legislative bid for the Assembly to gain the power to create a network of traffic-free routes across Wales. Not only that, it assembled an impressive coalition of civil society organisations in support, not just environmental groups but seemingly unlikely allies like BT, Royal Mail and the BMA. On the steps of the Senedd Dafydd Elis-Thomas accepted the petition from a postman and we were on our way to discovering a new delivery route.

Quiet deliberately Sustrans set about forging an alliance that could not be easily dismissed. Age Concern, the NUT and the RSPB added their names to a list of respected NGOs which supported a practical proposal to help cut carbon emissions and address the growing obesity epidemic at the same time.

But a lesson quickly learned was that it is no good conducting a text book campaign to influence a law making procedure that is far from a text book.

By early summer 2008 the Sustrans proposal had reached the Enterprise Committee and for the first time they agreed to take forward an LCO in their own name.

The autumn brought a round of pre-legislative scrutiny and the evidence piled in. Even Richard Brunstrom and the Children’s Commissioner added their support to the proposals to force Councils to treat pedestrians, disabled people and cyclists with the same priority as they accord to cars. It we are serious about climate change then new thinking is needed.

Though Committees are able to sponsor LCOs Ministers found they had already allocated a fifth of their legislative time to backbenchers and any more initiatives would threaten to overwhelm the goodwill of the new system. “Taking forward this LCO would divert resources away from taking forward the Assembly Government’s legislative programme,” Ieuan Wyn Jones told the committee.

The draft LCO is effectively dead. The Committee have put it on hold hoping to win the Assembly Government round and may even decide to put it forward to the full Assembly to vote on as a point of principle.

However, without Government backing it is going nowhere. Far from being an “open, responsive, effective” system it would seem that our new law-making mechanisms are entirely dominated by Ministers.

Doubts have been expressed about whether AMs have ideas for new legislation.

But why should anyone come forward with any further proposals for extras powers to be passed down to the Assembly before the next election when the Government have said there is no more capacity? And why should any organisation invest the time and resources in developing proposals that have very little chance of success?

Lee Waters is national director of Sustrans Cymru, an organisation campaigning for 'sustainable transport'.

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