Activity? Yes...behind the scenes

Image copyright bbc
Image caption The TARDIS has appeared in the Senedd

With his tongue planted in his cheek earlier this week my colleague Vaughan Roderick wondered out loud whether the sudden appearance of the Tardis in the Senedd was a sign that the government's legislative programme was bigger on the inside than on the outside?

And while most of the flak has been flying in the Welsh Government's direction over its alleged lack of a policy programme, the criticism of inertia has also been levelled at the Assembly itself, which sat for the first time on May 11 and has so far managed to constitute just two committees - Petitions and Subordinate Legislation.

Committees have been described as the "engine room" of Assembly scrutiny and for weeks now, the cross-party Business Committee has been locked in discussions about their future structure.

At issue is whether there should be fewer, larger committees than previously, covering wider areas, which should allow AMs to develop greater expertise in those fields, examining legislation as well as scrutinising Ministers on their work.

At long last this is close to being decided I gather - but one significant outstanding issue is whether there will be a Finance Committee to scrutinise the government's budget and spending. Disgruntled sources suggest the government is going "hell for leather" to prevent one being formed. If this is true, and there's good reason to believe that it is, then it would be a significant development.

Ministers in the last administration made no secret of their irritation with the committee. Time and again, it sent proposed legislation back with "must do better" scrawled on the bottom. Members were bitterly critical of several proposed measures, including those on waste, education and skills and the Welsh language, saying costs had not been adequately estimated.

The committee also put forward a number of reports critical of the presentation and content of a number of the government's annual budgets during the previous Assembly terms.

It's easy to see why the government would like to see its finance scrutiny functions split between different committees - divide and rule, perhaps. It's less clear why the opposition parties might agree to this. It's their Assembly too, remember. Having a Finance Committee isn't a statutory requirement under the Government of Wales Act.

Speaking of tactics, Plaid Cymru made much, yesterday evening, of the response to their opposition debate calling on the government to produce a detailed programme. The government supported it. A cave-in, boomed Plaid's press release. "Plaid motion forces government to produce programme" read the headline. Here was a U-turn.

Perhaps the opposition parties should curb their excitement. This isn't a glorious new dawn of cross-party cooperation. This isn't proof of any kind that Labour really are kicking tribalism into touch.

No, Labour are canny enough to know that they're going to start losing Wednesday afternoon opposition motions fairly quickly, as some of their backbenchers (or even ministers) miss meetings. So their early tactic is to belittle these debates by voting for them, in order to illustrate now how non-binding they are before they start to lose them. Smart tactics ... at least until the opposition parties start ratcheting up the wording of the motions they put forward.

If Labour had ordered their AMs to vote for the Plaid motion, though, there could be some early signs of lack of discipline; five Labour AMs still voted against it. It's possible that whip or no whip, they just couldn't bring themselves to vote with their estranged partners.