Assembly Climate Change Powers Row Looms

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Byline: By Martin Shipton Western Mail

A major constitutional row could be on the horizon as the UK Government seeks to limit the National Assembly's powers to combat climate change, we can reveal today.

The Western Mail has been told that one of the Assembly Government's first lawmaking proposals under new arrangements brought in since May's election is threatened with a Whitehall veto.

Officials in Cardiff Bay have been told by their counterparts in London that a plan to give the Assembly Government wide- ranging powers to protect the environment and crack down on pollution is unacceptable in its present form.

Last night the behind-the- scenes row was seen as a highly significant test of the new devolution settlement, both in constitutional and policy terms. Environmental groups and Plaid Cymru in Westminster said the Assembly should stand firm against any Whitehall demand to water down the existing proposal.

Under the new arrangements brought in by last year's Government of Wales Act, the Assembly can seek permission from Westminster to make laws in defined areas. Both Houses of Parliament have to pass a Legislative Competence Order (LCO) defining the area in which the Assembly can make new laws. In practice, discussions take place between officials in Cardiff Bay and Whitehall before the Commons and Lords discuss a proposal. The Secretary of State for Wales can also block draft LCOs before they are put before the Commons and Lords.

The LCO at the centre of the current dispute was announced in June by Jane Davidson, the Minister for Sustainability and Rural Development.

She told the Assembly, "The powers conferred by this LCO will enable the Assembly to pass Measures (Welsh laws) that could have a direct and positive impact on our ability to combat the threat of climate change.

"The people of Wales are more engaged in environmental issues than ever before, and when you ask people on the street what environmental issues matter to them most, they often mention local issues such as litter and graffiti as these are the highly visible nuisances that they are faced with every single day that can have a significant negative impact on their quality of life."

Ms Davidson said the LCO aimed to address a major cross-cutting issue, with environmental problems being linked to a fear of crime, as well as inhibiting job creation and tourism. Cabinet colleague Carwyn Jones has mooted the idea of banning supermarkets from giving out plastic bags.

But an Assembly source told us, "Whitehall thinks the terms of the LCO as currently drafted are too broad and should be narrowed. It could be that they don't want to set a precedent by giving the Assembly wide powers to make its own laws. There could also be policy considerations, with Whitehall not wanting Wales to go further than England in cracking down on pollution. …