The word ‘parliament’ derives from the French, ‘parler’; so there is a sense in which ‘talking shop’ is a reasonable alternative description. For reasons which escape me, there seems to be a general belief that an Assembly of the people is somehow a less important establishment, or has less status, than a talking shop. But the idea that it isn’t a proper legislature unless it’s called a parliament strikes me as being a strange one, placing rather more emphasis on the name than on the function or activity.
‘Assemblée Nationale’ is good enough for France, for example, and worldwide, the title ‘Assembly’, in one form or another, seems to be more prevalent than the use of the term ‘parliament’, as this list indicates. It’s true that many former possessions of the British empire do still use the term ’parliament’, but being a former possession of a specific empire doesn’t seem to me a particularly good reason for choosing one word over another.
There is also, I think, a degree of correlation between the source of sovereignty in a country and the name of its legislature; monarchies, where power stems from god through the monarch, tend to prefer the talking shop word, whilst republics, in which power (in theory at least) stems from the people, tend to prefer the concept of an assembly of the people.
So, given a choice between calling our legislature an Assembly or a Parliament, I have a preference for retaining the former rather than aping Westminster. Sadly, aping Westminster is what our politicians seem to prefer in most things.
Having said that, it’s not an issue of great importance to me – what matters more is what it does. And in that context, the critique by Daran Hill earlier this week seems relevant. We have a legislative body which isn’t actually doing very much by way of legislating. Now, I’m not a fan of passing laws for the sake of it, but in this case I agree with Daran that there does seem to be a lack of ambition for Wales, when there is so much to be done.
And that brings me to my real criticism of the consultation announced yesterday on changing the name of the Assembly. Whether the AMs spend a lot of time debating this, or whether they spend very little time debating it, as the Presiding Officer suggests, the very fact of launching a consultation on a change of name succeeds in giving the impression that this issue is important to them – and more important, at that, than all the potential legislation that they’re not considering.Whether that impression is fair or not isn’t the point; it’s the conclusion that many will inevitably draw. If the difference was one of great import, it might be worth taking a considered decision to risk a negative response from the public at large, but it really is just a name. I find it hard to think of a better way of highlighting the disconnect between the real world and our elected representatives than getting involved in this sort of diversionary activity.