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Hain optimistic 'shortcomings' in the system to devolve powers being fixed.

Byline: Tomos Livingstone

PETER HAIN yesterday played down the idea that UK Government Ministers could regularly be hauled before Welsh MPs to explain delays in devolution.

The Welsh Affairs Select Committee has expressed concern that too many requests for extra powers from the Assembly Government are being lost in the "black hole" of Whitehall.

The Committee, which scrutinises the requests, has suggested calling Ministers and civil servants to answer questions when there are hold-ups. But Welsh Secretary Mr Hain, right, said he and other Wales Office Ministers would provide updates themselves in a bid to bring greater clarity to the process.

The Welsh Affairs Committee has regularly clashed with Whitehall over devolution, accusing the Ministry of Justice of failing to consult Welsh Ministers on jobs losses and other departments of a lack of joined-up thinking.

The developments come against the backdrop of a proposed referendum on the Assembly's powers, with a Yes vote cutting MPs out of the Welsh legislation process altogether.

First Minister Carwyn Jones suggested yesterday a Yes vote would deliver a "cheaper" way of making laws.

Mr Hain, in a letter to the committee, said the Assembly Government had seen additional powers granted in 58 areas since the 2006 Government of Wales Act, many via the Legislative Competence Order (LCO) process.

But critics say the LCO system is too slow, citing the devolution of environmental policy, held up for nearly two years, and the move to allow the Assembly to install fire sprinklers in new homes as examples of slow progress.

Mr Hain said there had been "early teething troubles in the new process, problems which have been largely overcome".

He added: "I also agree [a] more formal reporting system would be complemented by regular formal dialogue between Wales Office Ministers and Committee members.

"This would help to better inform the Committee about progress on LCOs and identify any issues impeding progress.

"I would expect these improvements to address the shortcomings your Committee identified... and for it not to be necessary for the Committee to call Ministers and officials from Whitehall departments to explain any delays in the process."

He said officials at either end of the M4 had worked hard to strip LCOs of the jargon that made many of the early orders difficult to understand.

Allowing other select committees to scrutinise LCOs - an idea put forward by the Committee, which says it is over-burdened - would be "a matter for the next parliament", Mr Hain said.

A wider report from the Committee looking at Wales' entire relationship with Whitehall is due to be published before Easter.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 20, 2010
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