Magna carta, feudal devolution and Lord Elis-Thomas
- 12 June 2013
- From the section Wales politics
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.