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Choosing your words carefully

Betsan Powys | 12:01 UK time, Wednesday, 18 May 2011

It was Mrs Stafford Williams, my English teacher in Ysgol Tryfan, who taught me never to mis-use the word 'literally'. She'd peer at me quizzically, read back the offending sentence, emphasise the word 'literally' and turn "Really?" into a three-syllabled slap on the wrist. Thank you Mrs Williams.

The Liberal Democrats might be wishing they had thought twice before using the word "technically" quite so swiftly yesterday. Their two new AMs who'd been "technically disqualified" for being members of organisations that, by law, AMs cannot be members of would be back in the fold by the end of today, they said. Aled Roberts and John Dixon had resigned from the Valuation Tribual for Wales and the Care Council for Wales.

A Lib Dem spokesperson said: "This issue will be resolved with a resolution of the assembly, which is likely to be passed with cross-party support."

The Plaid Cymru group sounds pretty forgiving. It was a genuine mistake seems to be the Plaid line. There's little appetite, apparently, to make a big deal of this.

But the Labour group? It's members are taking it much more seriously. They met this morning and argue it's not just a rule breach. Aled Roberts and John Dixon have broken the law after all and so Labour sources are suggesting their members would expect both members to face considerable suspensions if they were reinstated as AMs. Note that "if".

The Conservatives are still 'considering their position'.

This is a small building and you might not be surprised to hear that one of my colleagues has just seen Kirsty Williams heading up to the fifith floor to talk to the Labour leader Carwyn Jones - just one item on the agenda. Her colleague, Peter Black, has certainly just been telling AMPM viewers that this has been "embarrassing" and there will have to be "a period of contrition" before the matter is sorted out. No "technical" revolving door after all then.

He's right. It appears that the motion to reinstate the two Liberal Democrat members this afternoon has just been withdrawn.

Do you know what, Mrs Williams? There are days when the Cardiff Bay bubble feels as though it just might burst over something that to voters up and down the country must appear baffling and frankly, rather divorced from real life.

But the law - quite literally - is the law. That's now dawning on Mr Roberts and Mr Dixon.


  • Comment number 1.

    Lib Dems, do not worry too much, they were both elected from the lists, and if thrown out, you can nominat their replacements. How about Mr Opic and Mr Kennedy? unless others have better sugestions.

  • Comment number 2.

    The GOWA 2006 (Sec 18) seems to be clear that the return of a disqualified person is "void". I have no legal expertise so maybe the words mean something else, but this is a terrible start for the new Assembly. After the poor choice of Auditor General last time around (not a WAG thing), a clean start was essential but we now see the institution's own legal provisions being flouted. What an awful start for Rosemary Butler (all eyes must be on her handling of this scandal). Did she swear these people in?

  • Comment number 3.

    For once it's a blessing that the "National" press are ignoring us. How shambolic and embarassing! Should Swansea City progress and Dave Jones of Cardiff resign then hopefully the Welsh press will ignore this fiasco too. More amunition for those who disagree with devolution.

  • Comment number 4.

    I really don't understand how the Assembly can reinstate the two AMs and the decision of the Labour Group to perhaps seek further advice is obviously the correct one. Given that they failed to resign their positions before the election then I assume that they were not technically eligible to be elected in the first place. If that is the case then the obvious solution is for whoever was second on the Liberal Democrat regional list to be apppointed in their place. Perhaps when we have a Counsel General appointed that person might be able to give an opinion on the issue. It would also be interesting if someone decided to seek a JR on any Assembly attempt to reinstate individuals who were clearly at the time of the election disqualified to stand as candidates. I was always brought up to believe that ignorance of the law wasn't a defence but perhaps some judge might decide differently.

  • Comment number 5.

    What is it with LibDems and the law? First we have the Westminster duo of Laws and Huhne, now we have these two. The first two are being investigated by plod so maybe the other two should be as well.

  • Comment number 6.

    LibDem’s !!
    The only thing that surprises me is that people still vote for them.

  • Comment number 7.

    Interestingly the Assembly's own website still has a copy of the old rules, which would not have led to this situation.

  • Comment number 8.

    They have to be replaced by the next people on their respective lists. Any other action would be an outright fudge and bring the rules of the Assembly into disrepute. I can hear the comments now, "Looking after their own", "They do what they like down there", Etc, Etc, Etc.

  • Comment number 9.

    I think this is a bit rich given that the Constitutional Affairs Committee published such strong reservations back in November 2010 -

    It all looks like further evidence the Assembly shouldn't be let loose to run a whelk stall...

  • Comment number 10.

    If these Lib/dems have really, literally or technically broken the rules then they should be replaced. Otherwise what is the point of the WAG having rules?

    Equally interesting is that Plaid appear to be supporting Dixon and Roberts. My question is why? Bring back Elis-Thomas, a real stickler for the rules!

  • Comment number 11.

    These guys will be re-instated.
    They may have broken the rules but if it's Assembly members deciding they will not want the Assembly to become particularly punitive. Especially to other Assembly Members. Little discrepancies will come under scrutiny and if not punished, this one will be cast up.
    Am's are a club after all, whatever the party. It's just not in the interests of Assembly members to punish other members because of 'mistakes' or 'afterthoughts'.
    The other parties will make some sterling attempts however, to show the public that 'rules are rules' or the letter of the law must be upheld . But will make sure that these guys are OK.

  • Comment number 12.

    Re 9

    'It all looks like further evidence the Assembly shouldn't be let loose to run a whelk stall...'

    Brilliant, one of the unionist parties are guilty of a cock-up and Brtish nationalists like dispozest blame the Assembly! You really couldn't make it up!

  • Comment number 13.

    If AMs want to provide ammunition for anti NAW sentiment they'll re-instate these guys. Of course, none of this poor crop has any concept of the need to recruit support - maybe a 42% turnout should offer a hint, though it needs a shove. In the meantime the Lib Dems prove again that those who do vote get what they deserve.

  • Comment number 14.

    This is a major constitutional issue, if you create a precedent allowing Assembly election rules to be broken, there are no rules.

    The electorate would expect the rules to be followed, after all, if we see a notice that says "You are prevented by law from smoking in these premises", a transgressor can expect to be prosecuted.

  • Comment number 15.


    Your comment have some credibilty if Plaid were not supporting the Lib/Dems.

    Still why let the facts get in the way of a good old rant?

  • Comment number 16.

    To me this looks like a technical breach of the law, not a major thing - and caused by an oversight. On the scale of things its not corrupt electoral practice or fraud in any sense. My instincts are that if its within the powers of the National Assembly to disregard this and provided they have resigned their other positions I would be more than happy for these two Liberal Democrats to be reinstated. Not to do so it just vindictive. I would also revisit the rules, requiring people who hold positions incompatible with membership of the National Assembly to resign those positions within 28 days of election. Rather like we enabled peers to renounce their peerage within a set time, enabling them to remain in the Commons (in the days when we had hereditary peers automatically in the Lords).

    Its an embarrassment for the Liberal Democrats, but I don't think the National Assembly as an institution is in anyway to blame. Likewise the Presiding Officer, she does not officiate over the taking of the oath anyway.

  • Comment number 17.

    Lyn, you really take the biscuit at times, there has been a breach of the rules relating to Assembly elections, the rules are enshrined in the law, two people broke the rules, they should be set aside and two others put in their place, very simple. To do otherwise is to hold the electorate in contempt.

    If the rules are burdensome or oppressive, and may cause hardship, there is a case for change, but not retrospective, that makes an ass of the law. In this case, when regarding the positions held, I find it hard to believe both persons were not aware of the rules, it would be difficult to convince the electorate the Liberal Democrats do not enquire of eligibility prior to or during selection..

  • Comment number 18.

    As the Romans said: Dura lex sed lex. It's a hard law, but it's the law.

  • Comment number 19.


    Or as Max Boyce would say;

    Duw, it's a hard law, but it's the law.

  • Comment number 20.

    What baffles me is how on earth could these two be standing for what is meant to be a full time and salaried post without somebody in their party going through a tick list of potential conflicts and so on. The Lib Dems must be in utter disarray to have allowed this to happen.

    For Community Councillors under the rules passed in 2000, the presumption lies firmly with declaring and disclosing. When I was keen / naive enough to become the Mayor of my local town, I even provided my Tesco Club card number.

  • Comment number 21.

    Lyn #16

    Agree common sense should rule - this was a silly mistake.

    The party organisation was at fault not the candidates, rules should have been made clear to list members who after all do little personal election organisation, unlike constituency candidates who are individually responsible.

    However - I don't know who rewrote the rules, but it was a botched job.
    The time to resign positions incompatible with membership of the assembly is after being elected, and there has to be a period of grace!.

    There is however a warning to the Assembly with its new powers - make sure you get it right - scrutiny is also about, will it work, and are there unforeseen traps.

  • Comment number 22.

    This is not the Assembly's problem. It's an internal matter between the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the two individuals concerned. Did they break the law? If so, the law says that they can not be Assembly members. Kirsty Williams must deal with it quickly. By trying to involve the Assembly Kirsty is dodging a difficult decision. Kirsty knows there's just one answer - they must go.

  • Comment number 23.

    Lyn #16

    Agree common sense should rule - this was a silly mistake.

    The party organisation was at fault not the candidates, rules should have been made clear to list members who after all do little personal election organisation, unlike constituency candidates who are individually responsible.

    However - I don't know who rewrote the rules, but it was certainly a botched job.
    It is nonsense that a candidate has to resign all unacceptable positions before being elected.

    There is however a warning to the Assembly with its new powers - make sure you get it right - scrutiny is also about will it work and are there unforeseen traps.

  • Comment number 24.

    Winston Roddick's comment rules out re-instatement categorically, and from such a source this can hardly be ignored. Presumably the Labour Group had access to similar advice, and that is why they held back. That should be the end of the discussion as far as the two Liberal Democrats are concerned.

    There is a case for changing the law, however. There are constant complaints about the quality of AMs. The NAW won't recruit good people with senior experience in the public sector if they have to resign their posts just to stand for election. A 28 day deadline for resignation after election seems reasonable.

  • Comment number 25.

    This law applies to 60 people at any one time. If those same 60 people choose/attempt to by pass the law it would render it valueless and suggest that:

    1. The Assembly is not capable of passing its own law, even one that is so simple; 2. The Assembly considers itself to be above the law; and,
    2. The Assembly is self-serving when it ought to be serving the electorate.

    I hate to say it, but both appear to smack of the truth, let's hope that this is where they take a principled stance.

  • Comment number 26.

    ... you wrote "common sense should rule" West Wales, do we want our law so transient in nature that it might be bent in a different direction as our politicians deem appropriate for a particular day ?

    Best to have good law applied in an even manner, without favour.

  • Comment number 27.

    I would suggest that the reason for the disqualification regulation is to stop a conflict of interest. Like West Wales and I have suggested a reasonable course of action, as existed with peers inheriting titles who were members of the Commons, a grace period where they can resign from the disqualifying organisation, thus removing the possible conflict of interest.

    Yes I think maybe a fine or a period where they can't draw their salary would be an appropriate punishment and the current law gives the National Assembly the power to reverse the disqualification. If its there then its meant to be used. Not a case of creating new laws or over turning laws, the power exists.

  • Comment number 28.

    They broke the rules; they have to go. Even if it was an honest mistake, there doesn't seem to be any room for maneouvre.

    It's no big deal for the LibDems; they'll just have to put up with having the next people down the respective lists.

    Why is everyone making such a fuss about this? The course is clear. Hopefully it will teach these two now-former AMs to be a bit more careful about abiding by the rules in the future.

  • Comment number 29.

    I think it was Mr Bumble that said "The law is an ass....". This law certainly seems to be:

    If these two gentlemen have broken the law, then at what point did they break the law?

    1. When signing their nomination papers
    2. When they were actually elected - i.e. at the point when the returning officer made the announcement
    3. When they took the oath.

    If it's deemed that it was when signing their nomination papers, does that mean that all 261 people who stood as list candidates needed to resign from various public bodies and positions even though they has no chance of being elected? This would plainly be ludicrous, especially considering that the type of people who stand for public office are the ones who are more likely to be active in this respect.

    If the law was broken at the point of Announcement, does that mean that candidates have to keep an eye on how they're doing in the count, and if it looks like they're going to be elected then they need to resign by phone / text at 4 o'clock in the morning, hoping that the message gets through before the Returning officer says the 'magic words'? Also bonkers.

    So that leaves us with the point at which they took the oath. Surely this can only be the point at which the law was broken. That means that the election result stands, but that their oath-taking was null and void.

    If taking the oath while disqualified was breaking the law, then so be it. It was obviously a (serious) oversight and they should face whatever sanction deemed appropriate. The result of the election though should not be in doubt, and therefore they should simply re-take the oath after resigning from the offending organisations.

    Any other conclusion implies that all 261 list candidates should check their cupboards for skeletons...

    If UKIP wants John Dixon and Aled Roberts prosecuted for signing their nomination papers wrongly, then shouldn't all the other candidates also be investigated?

  • Comment number 30.

    21.At 10:23 19th May 2011, West-Wales wrote:

    "The time to resign positions incompatible with membership of the assembly is after being elected, and there has to be a period of grace!."

    I think you will find that if you wish to stand for County Council and you are employed by that County Council, you have to resign your position BEFORE you stand for election.
    Some Councils have an understanding that you will be re-employed if you fail to be elected, nevertheless, you have to resign.

  • Comment number 31.

    Glyndo, I know that, but I think there again there should be the same rule as West Wales and I have suggested. You can stand and to remove any conflict of interest you resign from the body that would cause the conflict within 28 days. A good point was made about not reducing the pool of capable candidates for office.

    Lets not lose sight of what this is about, the law, from Westminster says that you can't stand, but then gives the National Assembly the power to wave that. If they did not intend the power to be used why include it?

    Secondly who is hurt by this? I would say that having resigned from the respective bodies that the incompatibility no longer exists. Common sense says this is a storm in a tea cup, with not a bit of political bias thrown in for good measure. I am not a Liberal Democrat or a fan of theirs but really I think we are going to far if they are kicked out of the National Assembly.

  • Comment number 32.

    at 16:23 19th May 2011, Lyn David Thomas wrote:

    Glyndo, .....Secondly who is hurt by this? I would say that having resigned from the respective bodies that the incompatibility no longer exists.”

    I agree the problem has gone away, but it was there to begin with. You ask who is hurt by this? I think, if they are accepted in, the answer will be the Assembly. It is now our law making organisation, it must not be seen to hold the law in low esteem.

  • Comment number 33.

    John #26

    You said;
    "do we want our law so transient in nature that it might be bent in a different direction as our politicians deem appropriate for a particular day ?"

    That gave me pause for thought;
    My first thought "Law's transient in nature" Of course not - however it is important that laws, which after all structure and protect our society, are fair and enforced equitably but also with compassion and common sense.

    Your final line;
    "Best to have good law applied in an even manner, without favour."
    Well this is bad law, and, it seems to me, being applied for political advantage.
    These candidates had no intention to profit or deceive.

    I wonder how many of the several hundred candidates also failed to resign from all prohibited organisations before the election, are we looking at charging a whole raft of unsuccessful AM candidates, lets investigate them all!!!!

    If as Lyn says; "the National Assembly has the power to wave it" well let them do that.
    Lyn also asks "who is hurt by this" - turn it round - if they are excluded it is us the electorate who are disadvantaged.
    Firstly we have lost the two candidates who their party consider best suited to represent their electorate.
    Secondly the voters who elected them will have lost the candidates of their choice.

    Now I support the rule of Law - we have too many bad laws, and our legislators are drunk on legislating - whether appropriate, needed or not - it seems every passing fancy needs legislating for, and most of these "nice to have" laws are bad laws inadequately scrutinised and poorly drafted.

    Its time to pause and consider whether making our devolved services work, sorting out our economy, or getting parents into work isn't more important, than making bad law which get in the way of people lives.

    Better to make one good law than 10 bad ones.

  • Comment number 34.

    I agree West Wales, I have a "but", "but the law is the law as it currently stands", do we write law to set it aside when it becomes inconvenient, or do we use the current circumstances to re-draft the legislation for the future.

    With regard to the two individuals, they must go as the electoral rules were broken, our Assembly politicians might redraw the rules as a Roberts-Dixon Law in recognition of their sacrifices.

    With regard to the law, there is no doubt in my mind that a man or woman should not be forced from employment when seeking to represent us politically, the law needs revisiting in this case.

    I agree with your sentiment "our legislators are drunk on legislating" and particularly your last sentence "Better to make one good law than 10 bad ones."

  • Comment number 35.

    John I don't think there is much between us on this, the existing law has a remedy, the National Assembly can set aside the disqualification, as provided for in this law. That provision exists and it exists for a purpose. I absolutely agree this law needs revisiting - it seems to me anti democratic to require anyone to surrender their job prior to standing for elected office. I would suggest that the new information that has come forward gives us a good reason to ask the National Assembly to remove the disqualification from these AMs (and you know I am not asking this from a party point of view).

    Further I agree with you and West Wales better to make one good law than 10 bad ones.


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