Magna carta, feudal devolution and Lord Elis-Thomas


Your starter for 10. What does clause 56 of Magna Carta say?

You may confer - or check the British Library website. Its translation tells us that clause 56 says: "If we have deprived or dispossessed any Welshmen of lands, liberties, or anything else in England or in Wales, without the lawful judgement of their equals, these are at once to be returned to them.

"A dispute on this point shall be determined in the Marches by the judgement of equals. English law shall apply to holdings of land in England, Welsh law to those in Wales, and the law of the Marches to those in the Marches. The Welsh shall treat us and ours in the same way."

The clause was a concession obtained from the king and proof, suggests Lord Elis-Thomas, that a form of devolution existed centuries ago. "There was always devolution," said the former presiding officer of the National Assembly for Wales. "We called it different things at different times."

He added: "The principality of Wales was created as a form of feudal devolution."

Lord Elis-Thomas was giving a lecture in Speaker's House at Westminster on "parliamentary arrangements in Wales", part of a series organised by Speaker John Bercow.

The former Plaid Cymru leader's choice of language and terminology won't have been appreciated by every member of the party he used to lead. "I'm a Welsh nationalist - capital W lower case n," he told last night's audience.

There was criticism for "revisionist nationalists" and an insistence that "there was never a project for Welsh independence". There was praise for the monarchy which won't have gone down well - or surprised - his party leader. The Queen, he said, has "a fine understanding of devolution born of her experience in the Commonwealth and her deep love of Scotland".

The history lesson took in Lord Elis-Thomas's role in the departure of Alun Michael from the first secretary's (as it then was) role in the assembly - "a constitutional crisis in which as the independent presiding officer I played no part". He paused, as if to remove the tongue from his cheek: "I played no active part".

There were reminiscences of the "battle of the housing LCO" and a hope for more change ahead: "We have to have 80 members [20 more than at present] elected by single transferable vote and we have to have fewer Welsh MPs, fewer councillors and a lot fewer peers."

As a fan of coalitions, he said he hoped the Westminster one would endure until the general election. "It is important for the United Kingdom to have experience of coalition," he said. "They might learn something from the rest of the civilised world."

John Bercow said Lord Elis-Thomas had spent "a magisterial, almost imperial 12 years" in the presiding officer's chair. Their styles differed - Mr Bercow likes to see ministers put on the spot by allowing urgent questions from MPs; Lord Elis-Thomas thought 15 minutes in the assembly insufficient for proper scrutiny.

The Dwyfor Meirionnydd AM took questions after the lecture, Mr Bercow judging him "quite capable of chairing his own question time".

Lord Elis-Thomas did share a trick of the presiding officer's trade with the speaker, who often criticises MPs and ministers for lengthy questions and answers.

"When I was doing it in Cardiff I would switch people off," he said, referring to the individual microphones.

"It would come in handy here," said Mr Bercow, ruefully.

The lecture will be shown on BBC Parliament this Saturday at 9pm.

David Cornock Article written by David Cornock David Cornock Parliamentary correspondent, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The BBC are so obviously the biggest stirrers around.
    Friday has come again without much excitement so what better way for the 'moderators' to spend it than to seize a (unimportant) story which would provoke much reaction as a HYS topic - a Welsh/English one.
    I would suggest that no-one rises to the bait!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    #9 "It wasn't devolution, since Wales wasn't governed by England;"
    Would you care to check on how much of the geographical region now known as Wales was governed by the English in say 1300.
    Given most of Pembrokeshire, much of Glamorgan, the Marcher lordships, and incursion westward of the Dee, the English king undoubtedly had more land than any single Welsh prince.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    It is great to see DET back @ Westminster fighting for the real issues that effect the people of Wales and the young unemployed of Meirionnydd / Dwyfor

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    The (English) Principality of Wales was created so the king could rule his Welsh lands as a separate domain; just a transfer of power from the Princes of Wales to Crown servants, bypassing the English Parliament. So neither Parliament nor the King gave any power to Wales; is that devolution.
    It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that George Thomas would have been proud of the ex-Nationalist!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    It wasn't devolution, since Wales wasn't governed by England; the Welsh princes owed fealty to the King of England, but were otherwise independent. Magna Carta just gave the Welsh similar protection from the English king as the English were getting - in practice, Welsh law was only applied when it was in English interests!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Don't rely on Google and your English bias History lessons. Research chaps before you form an opinion

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    "when a foreign thug nation is attacking you"
    I think that you will find that most attacking was done by Welsh mercenaries in English pay, or by 'fellow' Welsh princes, often the brothers of those attacked. It is quite instructive to follow how Llew the Last put his 'nation' together. He would have been a very effective 'family' head in New York.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    One can only wonder why his Lordship didn't put the time and effort into some research that might help to lift his impoverished constituency off the very bottom of the heap in the here and now?

    If history has a benefit it should be to learn from the mistakes of the past - Welsh nationalist politicians seem to have learned what may be called an approximation to zero!

    And still it's a safe seat!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Using Google to evidence Welsh History is not a good basis for an argument any good researcher will tell you that. Being taught the Victories and memorising dates of Empire is a crude and poor method of research and gives a poor balanced viewpoint

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    ... if Lord Elis-Thomas believes that a form of devolution existed centuries ago he needs help in his dotage. It was fealty, nothing less.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    2: If you think a Mafioso style money racket which England used in the 13th century by saying pay us or well invade is acceptable sir you are depraved. You pay to save a family or in this case nation from harm especially when a foreign thug nation is attacking you try to stop it or prevent further chaos. You know like how the English collapsed under Viking/Norman pressure easily where we didn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    "The principality of Wales was created as a form of feudal devolution."" Lord E.T.
    How does this square with "I agree with Ellis Thomas that Wales has been a separate governing country "?
    Lewellyn the Last paid fealty to the English Crown, so - so much for separate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I agree with Ellis Thomas that Wales has been a separate governing country and Devolution is a normal state. I find it Ironic the passage in the Norman French inspired Maga Carter that reads" English law shall apply to holdings of land in England, Welsh law to those in Wales" basically you respect our laws and well yours." Yeah right and all that went out of the window in 1282/1535. Maga Ioco.



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