Language LCO ... Nowhere near good enough

This is a busy weekend, the election results are exciting, not to say astounding. I can't wait for the Sunday night finale. But in all this (and thanks to Vaughan Roderick for the reminder) the Assembly's Committee Report on the Welsh Language LCO was published today.

     Press release on National Assembly website
     Full Report

It's a long document, so I wouldn't blame anyone for not reading it all the way through. I've only skimmed it. The best way in is probably the summary of recommendations on pages 2-4.

In essence it says that the LCO doesn't go anywhere near far enough and suggests that, in effect, the Assembly should have powers to legislate on virtually everything to do with Welsh without restriction.

We therefore recommend that the Welsh Government replaces Matter 20.1 as follows:

Promoting or facilitating the use of the Welsh language; and the treatment of the Welsh and English languages on the basis of equality.

This matter does not include the use of the Welsh language in the courts.

The use of Welsh in courts is a specific exclusion in Schedule 7 of the GoWA 2006. Therefore it is legally impossible to transfer legislative responsibility for this to the Assembly by means of an LCO. However in practice, the only serious outstanding issue is bilingual juries, as mentioned here.

The committee has a fallback position: that if the current draft LCO is not rewritten so radically, it should be strengthened to include:

• all organizations that receive public money on the basis of the service they provide
• all energy services
• all public transport and associated facilities
• all large providers of financial services to the public
• and to enshrine the freedom of people to use Welsh or English

The main sector that strikes me as missing is large supermarkets and retail chains.

This report has been prepared by a committee with members from all parties in the Assembly. Therefore the big question to be asked is why the draft LCO was so watered-down. One answer is that it also has to receive the approval of both Houses at Westminster ... but the indications are that they also want the LCO to be more wide-ranging.

So who does that leave? Only the man in the middle, who was of course:


No draft LCO can be published unless it has been agreed with the Secretary of State for Wales and his officials in the Wales Office first. He has an absolute veto. If he doesn't like what's in it, he can simply refuse to lay the draft LCO before Parliament.

Paul Murphy appears to have pursued his own narrow agenda on this language LCO ... misreading the political mood of both the Assembly and Parliament. Perhaps this is the main reason why he was sacked from the Cabinet today. If not, the coincidence has a delicious poetic justice.

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DaiTwp said...

Do you know what happens from here regrding the LCO? Is it dropped, redrafted and resubmitted? Or can the present one be strengthened so the whole process doesn't have to start again?

I find it rediculous that one man in the middle can have so much influence over what goes into an LCO. There has been much made of the Welsh Select Affairs Comittee medling with the LCOs but nothing has really been reported about Murphy's individual influence.

If it is true that Murphy has in effect demanded a watered down LCO in order for him to even pass it on to Westminster, it's an absolute discrace and an abuse of his position.

MH said...

Let's first wait to see what the Welsh Affairs Select Committee in Westminster says in their report, Dai. But the signs are that they too want to see a strengthened LCO. If they do, then the only possible explanation is that it was watered-down at the insistence of the Secretary of State and his officials at the Wales Office.

As for redrafting the LCO, the Assembly Committee has already done it. If the WASC concurs, there is no reason for any delay. The LCO only transfers legislative competence. The precise wording of any Measure (the equivalent of an Act) will still have to go through the various stages in the Assembly.

But on the more general point, yes, the GoWA 2006 gives the SoSW enormous power. That's not so bad when the same party is in power in both Cardiff and Westminster, but it will make things very awkward when two different parties are in power.

MH said...

I've just read Leanne Wood's blog. She also says that the reason for the watered down draft LCO was probably because of compomises made at the insistence of the Wales Office.

She hopes that the change of SoSW will result in a new attitude in the Wales Office ... and I hope she's right.

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