Indelible marks and legal brains


A bill to reform local government byelaws exceeded the Welsh assembly's powers, the Supreme Court has heard.

UPDATE Wednesday 1600

I hope their lordships are enjoying their role in pinning down the parameters of devolution.

BBC Wales understands that the Wales Office is now questioning whether the Official Languages (Wales) Bill - that makes Welsh and English the official languages of the Assembly - goes beyond its legislative competence. They've asked the Attorney General to take a look at the bill before it receives Royal Assent. The suggestion is that under the Government of Wales Act 2006 the Assembly can legislate in relation to the Welsh language but not in relation to English.

The Assembly Commission say that any reference to the English language is incidental to the provision that the Bill makes in relation to the Welsh Language and so "in light of these factors the Assembly Commission has concluded that the right course of action is that the Bill should proceed as originally intended."

The Bill was passed just last week on what Rosemary Butler called a "historic day in the history of devolution and of Wales."

If this does end up in the Supreme Court, you start to wonder whether Groundhog Day would be more appropriate.


I'm taking a bit of a punt here but if I had to guess, I'd say that Lord Carnwath has never been to a tattoo parlour in Swansea.

I say that partly because - and here's another punt - I don't think that in Swansea they're called 'tattoo clinics' at all and because in all honesty, he just doesn't look like a man who'd have his wife's name written indelibly on his forearm.

Niether, come to that, do any of the other four judges who are sitting today in the Supreme Court. Their questions, howwever, are needle sharp. These are the men who'll decide whether the very first Bill passed by the Assembly, a significant moment in the story of devolution as the Presiding Officer, Rosemary Butler said at the time, is lawful or not.

The Attorney General and the UK Government argue that it is unalwful. A Bill whose purpose it is to cut Welsh Ministers out of the process by which local councils make bye-laws to deal with things like tattoo parlours, swimming baths and mortuaries has encroached, they argue, on the powers of the Welsh Secretary. Welsh ministers are welcome to abandon their own powers to intervene, they aruge but not those of a minister in the UK Government. The Welsh Government are confident the Bill as it stands is entirely lawful.

This is, to put it bluntly, surreal. I'm sitting in the rich surroundng of the Supreme Court in Westminster, with its oil paintings, intricate carvings and the four nations' emblems woven into the carpet. Amidst all of that I'm listening to the equally intricate arguments being constructed by the top legal minds in the country as they debate whether powers that are held 'concurrently' are the same as powers that are held 'jointly' and if not, do they also differ from powers that are 'incidental.'

But I'm also listening to Lord Carnwath struggling out loud to understand what one earth the Secretary of State for Wales' role would be in reality, if Swansea Council were to change the bye-laws with regard to tattoo parlours. No matter what the bare legal analysis, he ventured to suggest, isn't this really all about a political settlement and just how far devolution has come in practice?

Lord Hope picked up the theme. Whatever the complexities of the clauses, sections and sub-sections, 'the nub of the issue' he argued, was what the Bill was meant to achieve and whether it achieves that, or not.

Rarified surroundings aside, this is a fight neither side wants to lose.

The Welsh Government doesn't want to be seen to have messed up the drafting of its very first attempt at making a Welsh law from scratch. That would be both embarrassing and humiliating. But then neither does the UK Government want to be seen in the highest court in the land to have tried - just that little bit too hard - to slap down the first Welsh law.

Either way, you suspect a small but indelible mark will be left - on the respect agenda.

Tattoos tackled at Supreme court

Byelaws bill 'goes beyond powers'

Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Looks like everyone else has gone to bed.
    Must be bored: I miss Mab.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    #141 ' Lord Carnwaths' observation "... isn't this really all about a political settlement and just how far devolution has come in practice? "
    Is the Supreme Court really going to ignore statutes passed by Parliament and just see what is happening in practice ??
    Well, gives you a good defence for driving using a mobile phone: Lord C says 'how many drivers do this in practice ??'

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    #143 'Well Boxer there was me thinking they were B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot (2nd/24th) with just a few Welshmen in it'
    That's funny. The official site of the SWB (24th / 41st) says
    'A large number of young men from Wales served in the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879.'

    As I said, when they do well they're Welsh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    #142 I wasn't arguing that the Welsh language was responsible for high unemployment. I was arguing that the high unemployment, and the perception that Welsh-speaking might get you a job - especially in teaching, were responsible for the 'popularity ' of bilingual education.
    'Learn Welsh and join the Taffia'.
    BTW The parents choose, not the kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Of course they want it to go. A Tory led Government in London and a Labour led Government in Cardiff. Two different ideologies. Lets get rid of the London Government who lost millions on the rail fiasco but we can't do that. If the Cardiff Senedd makes a mistake lets get rid of it completely. Nations need to evolve and mature

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Well Boxer there was me thinking they were B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot (2nd/24th) with just a few Welshmen in it. How can you say that you can only get a job in Wales if you speak Welsh. There must be a lot of English speaking unemployed in Wales then. Especially as you tell us English speakers are in the vast majority and Welsh speakers a minority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Ratcatching is now privatised as is the Leisure Industry in Monmouth. So a little bit over the top again!!! Lack of Employment in Wales is nothing to do with Language its over reliance on Public Sector Jobs. At some stage you'll have to look at other reasons other than the language for high unemployment,

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    The real meat in BP's offering above relates to Lord Carnwaths' observation where he suggested in para 6 ...

    "... isn't this really all about a political settlement and just how far devolution has come in practice?

    I would add ...

    "... and just how far Westminster wishes devolution to go !"

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    #132 ' Billingually schools are bursting at the seams in many traditionally English speaking areas.
    I am afraid that this reflects the lack of employment opportunities through Wales, and the perception that you can't get a job in the public sector, even as a ratcatcher in Monmouth or - famously - as a swimmingbath attendant in Milford Haven unless you can claim to be bilingual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Hyperthotical my dear Watson. If you speak the language then you would be able to speak to the doctor or the mechanic. Are you now attacking the fluency of Welsh Speakers, the cost or just being pedantic again. You just can't hack it that people want to speak Welsh . Welsh billingual schools are on the increase and its eating away at you that anyone should dare speak a language other than English

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    We have had various figures produced for the percentage of people herewith who can speak Welsh 'fluently.
    So, how many ' Welshspeakers ' in the Census could:
    a) Describe their child's symptoms over the phone to a doctor
    b) Describe what was wrong with their car to the man in the garage without using Pigeon (or Valleys creole) ?
    Rather few, I think but maybe you have data ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Billingual of course. Thats what human rights is about. Then the waiter can serve in either language.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    It now seems that the Tory run Wales Office doesn't believe that English is a language of Wales. Scandalous! That really IS scandalous.

    Re 127


    I think you have odd ideas... That's three full stops, by the way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    #132 ' Billingually schools are bursting at the seams in many traditionally English speaking areas.That's real Human Rights.'

    So you would presumably support the idea that all schools in Snowdonia, a traditional Welsh speaking area, should be bilingual rather than monoglot Welsh, to promote real Human Rights.
    If not, why not ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Agreed Boxer as were many Scots and Irish for an English Government but you fight for your pals not governments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    #128 'the English Government is now discovering with its Empire legacy e.g.Kenya'
    Isn't it odd that when Empire troops are being brave in Africa (Rorkes Drift) they are 'Our brave Welsh Boys'. When they were being brutal (Kenya, allegedly) suddenly they have no home and it's the ENGLISH Government's forces. Funny no-one used the phrase about the South Wales Borderers (as they later became).

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Boxer the Horse as you may have guessed is from a time when the Sun never set on the Empire and History teachers use to tell you how colonisation improved the indiginous peoples lives and made them better people. The language must be popular as Billingually schools are bursting at the seams in many traditionally English speaking areas.That's real Human Rights

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.


    Language is certainly about communication, but if you think it has nothing to do with human rights as well you're utterly deluded (I refer you to the United Nations). You or anyone else who shares your myopic perspective and seeks to restrict the human rights of Welsh speaking people in Wales will now discover that to their cost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    If its in English and Welsh or English and Irish what is the problem?? Don't quite follow?

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    #128 'Does that mean if any citizen of the World must have their licence in English?'

    I think that it means that a citizen of the World who wants to go to the good old USof A had better have his documents translated into English.
    Go to the old Hapsberg empire and it's German. South America it's Spanish or Portugese. Your Amerindian dialect won't cut it in Rio, however indigenous.


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