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Choppy waters

Betsan Powys | 10:53 UK time, Tuesday, 11 November 2008

It's a case of luck of the draw as far lobby briefings go.

In a week where very little is rocking the One Wales boat, the Minister whose turn it is to talk to us lobby journalists gets to talk about the issues they want to discuss, get to field questions on subjects they know about and want to hammer home.

And then there's this week. The waters are choppy and Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones wished out loud it had been someone else's turn to man the boat.

As a Plaid Minister did Elin Jones share Adam Price MP's very public concern that the dispute over the future of the Affordable Housing LCO presented the coalition government with "a potential constitutional crisis?"

She didn't. Straight face, straight bat.

Did she think he was exaggerating any potential threat to the coalition and if so, why?

Her answer was that she didn't perhaps, share his view but that didn't mean that she thought he, speaking as a Plaid politician, was wrong. She too, she reminded us, is a Plaid politician but she's also a Government Minister and in that capacity, staunchly held the line until the bitter end that this is not a political matter. It is, she insisted, a matter of government process and one that's being negotiated as we speak.

Does the Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, want a constitutional crisis? I doubt it. If I'm right would a man with his long experience in avoiding such a crisis allow one to happen? Not if he can help it.

But that's not to say things won't get choppier and nastier.

One member of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee has already written to expert researchers at the House of Commons Library asking for an official definition of the role of the Llywydd. That's not because there's a constitutional Christmas quiz coming up at his local. It is, of course, a none-too-subtle shot across the bows of Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas whose involvement in the row has raised the ire of some MPs on the Welsh Select and re-opened some old wounds.

One thought: does the process allow the Assembly Government to put the Affordable Housing LCO, as it is, to a vote of the whole Assembly? Yes, it does and Elin Jones seemed to have mulled that one over already.

If that happens and if it gets - as the maths dictate it should - the backing of the Assembly as a whole, it would be an LCO stamped even more clearly with 'the will of the Assembly'.

And if that happens, how prepared would the Secretary of State be then to refuse to lay it before both Houses of Parliament?

[Just noticed that I omitted to type the word 'it' in that last sentence, which conjured up a rather unusual course of action for Paul Murphy ...]


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