BBC BLOGS - Betsan's Blog
« Previous | Main | Next »

Holding one's nose

Betsan Powys | 11:12 UK time, Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Rhodri Morgan gives good metaphor - from ducks to sprints to noses, his evidence to the All Wales Convention last week was packed full of 'em, including his thoughts on "the art of holding one's nose".

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister were asked by Convention Executive member Rob Humphreys - former President of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, head of the Open University in Wales and one of the sharpest tools in the Welsh political box - whether the Welsh Affairs Select Committee weren't doing rather a good job. Their interpretation of their remit might be wrong, might be right he said but their modus operandi was working and wasn't that just as well given the "scrutiny deficit" that exists in the present system of transferring powers to Wales?

Sir Emyr jumped in. That was the view they'd heard from some he said but others believed equally strongly that Committee members should confine their thoughts to vires - whether the transfer of powers is legal or not.

We know that opinions vary. Let me give you a few I've heard recently.

At the weekend the Culture MInister, Alun Ffred Jones, told S4C viewers that he thinks the current system of transferring powers is slow but is working ok with regard to the Welsh language LCO.

I recently met a senior lawyer and constitutional expert who's of the view that the Welsh Affairs Select Committee "macerates" bids for power put in front of them. He believes the present system has been a retrograde step for Welsh devolution, that too much power now lies in the hands of too few in Westminster.

It was recently made abundantly clear to a dinner table-full of journalists by possibly the best source of all on these issues that MPs regard bids for power as laws. Like it or not, you can't expect them to regard bids for power that will eventually have an impact on their constituents as anything else.

Alun Michael, a member of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee and former First Secretary of course, firmly believes the system is a success story.

The Presiding Officer, Dafydd Elis-Thomas accuses the Committee of going against the spirit of devolution.

So back to the evidence session and Sir Emyr Jones Parry's question: "Where are we in that spectrum?" he asked. Where indeed.

Ieuan Wyn Jones went first. Committee members, he said, stray into the kind of territory where they're guided by whether they think the Assembly - or Assembly Government - are right to do what they're doing, not whether it is appropriate that they do it. "We need more clarity on that".

Rhodri Morgan went for a more colourful turn of phrase but seemed, in essence, to agree that the balance isn't yet right. When you describe the process of transferring powers, he says, people wonder "What is this strange animal? What the hell is it? It's abhorrent!" But the process is starting to work better and would work better still if the Welsh Affairs Select Committee honed their skills in the ancient "art of holding one's nose".

I gather they're about to be put to the test. The Committee tentatively inquired last week
whether the Presiding Officer might meet them informally to talk things through. This meeting, I hasten to add, was not to take place down a dark alley either but in daylight and with a view to ironing out some creases before they get too stubborn. They certainly hoped it would be seen as a good move.

I understand, however, that the office of the Presiding Officer has said no thank you. He is the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales and would take up any formal offer of a meeting but informal? Why, said one government source, should he?

At this point you might come to one of many conclusions but here are three to be getting on with:

You'll condemn him and accuse him of being determined to make trouble at a time when jaw-jaw - on any terms - would be a better bet than war-war;

You'll applaud him for reminding his Westminster colleagues that the Assembly is a institution they still haven't quite 'got' and deserves more respect;

You'll wonder whether that evening class in "The Art of holding one's nose" has room enough to accommodate everyone.


or register to comment.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.