Tuesday 24 February 2009

Not just waiting for the dust to settle

I've spent some time over the last couple of days trying to explain the decision which the party took on student fees last Saturday. 'Manfully', said Glyn Davies, quite kindly (I think!); 'pathetic' was the rather less kind verdict of one of the pseudonymous comments on Politics Cymru. Trying to explain the party's decision whilst also recognising the difficult position in which our ministers find themselves isn’t the most straightforward of tasks, and there's a danger that it sounds like, to use Peter Black's regular phrase when he refers to Plaid, having our cake and eating it.

As a long-time opponent of tuition fees, I was neither surprised nor unhappy with the decision which the National Council took, and on that note, I think I've said enough about the specific issue of tuition fees - for the time being, at least.

There is a more general issue to emerge, however. One of the questions which I've been repeatedly asked over the past three days is how Plaid can stay in government when the government's policy on an issue is so different from the party's policy. That's actually quite an easy question for me to answer – but it's not the best question to be asking.

Since we know that no coalition government will ever agree with Plaid policies on everything, and since we are certainly not going to change party policy to match that of the government every time a Labour minister makes a statement, then it seems to me that it is inevitable that there will be occasions where party policy and government policy clash. In that sense I'm quite relaxed about the fact that there will be differences - since the alternative is never to do a coalition deal with anyone.

It's hard to explain in a country where coalition government is historically so unusual, but it's simply not as black and white an issue as some try to paint it. And, for what it's worth, this isn't just a problem for Plaid – although we're the party which is facing it at the moment. If coalition government is going to be the norm in Wales - and most of us believe that it is - then parties are going to repeatedly face this sort of issue.

So, the right question is not 'How can you stay in government when they do something contrary to your party's policies?', but more 'How do you decide which issues are important enough to threaten the agreement which you have reached?'.

Ideological purists (and of course, opposition parties desperate to bring about a split between Plaid and Labour) will see any disagreement as a reason for withdrawal; the most enthusiastic supporters of the coalition agreement will be the most reluctant. But most of us lie somewhere in the middle – accepting the possibility that some compromises will be a step too far, but accepting also that compromise is the nature of coalition, and that we have to give as well as take.

The current economic backdrop doesn't help – people facing major economic problems are unlikely to thank any party which brings down a government if a particular issue is perceived to be other than crucial to them, particularly if that government – like the One Wales government – is perceived to be doing quite well in its response to the economic crisis.

I honestly don't know exactly where the line should be drawn, but I think I have a feel for the sort of questions which any party faced with this sort of problem should be asking itself.

How different is the government's policy from that of the party?
How core is this area of policy to the party's principles and beliefs?
How easy would it be to reverse the policy if we were in government in enough strength to do so?
How far is the policy out of line with the coalition agreement signed at the start of the term of office?

How well is the coalition working in general in a whole host of other areas?

I do not intend at this stage to pass any judgement on where the issue of tuition fees sits against this sort of question; I'm just drawing attention to the fact that there is a more general question which needs to be faced.

That question is considerably more complicated and sophisticated than the simplistic way in which it has been posed to date – but I suppose a more complex argument doesn't quite make for the good confrontational arguments to which political discourse is so often reduced.

Saturday 21 February 2009

Rebellious subs

A few days ago, I suggested that on his visit to Carmarthen, the Tory leader 'bought a bun'. Thanks to the fearlessly detailed reporting of the Carmarthen Journal, I can now reveal that statement to have been incorrect. In fact, Cameron bought:

- An Owain Glyndŵr sub, with the words "It's got to be that one, hasn't it?". (I haven't a clue what the contents of such a delicacy might be. I'll have to check when I'm in town next week. But given his remarks on further powers for the National Assembly, I have to wonder whether he knows quite what Glyndŵr was famous for).

- Some Welsh cakes.

- Two Cornish pasties, one of which he donated to the Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, who was accompanying him on his walkabout.

Just thought that I ought to set the record straight.

Update 24th Feb: An Owain Glyndŵr sub contains Welsh cheese, red onion, ham, and Welsh chutney. For completeness.

Thursday 19 February 2009

DIY is best

There's no arguing about the fact that Wales has a lower GVA per head than the UK average. Nor about the fact that this is a very long-standing problem. But whose fault is it?

During his flying visit to Wales, Cameron attempted to pin the blame on Rhodri Morgan and Gordon Brown – presumably hoping that voters have short memories. In reality, insofar as Morgan and Brown are guilty on this score, it is of failing to improve on the legacy left to them by the Tories, rather than creating it. (WelshPoliticalHistory comes to a similar conclusion, although it's disputed in some of the comments. In the narrow context of an utterly hypocritical accusation by Cameron, I agree with his conclusion). In fairness to the Tories – did I really just say that? – they in their turn were guilty primarily of failing to improve on their legacy from the previous Labour government. And so, apparently, ad infinitum…

That doesn't mean that I don't consider Morgan and Brown to have been a failure; merely that the accusation was disingenuous at best, given its source. Cameron is wrong to hurl the accusation at Labour without taking at least equal responsibility for his own party's past actions.

The problem of Wales' comparatively low GVA is a serious and deep-seated issue. It would be easy at this point to revert to the simplistic traditional position that it's not which party is in government which is the problem, but that London government in general fails Wales. I happen to think that that is true, but it isn't the whole story.

It is actually extremely difficult for any government to ensure that GVA per head is consistent across its territory. The very nature of the word 'average' requires that some areas are below it and some above it. There are differences between the different parts of Wales as well. Attention is currently focussed on the differences between Wales and England, but I am certain that in an independent Wales, the differences between Cardiff and Ynys Môn would be receiving a similar level of attention. It isn't just a problem for 'London government'.

Governments setting economic policy make choices. Maximising GVA per head in the economy as a whole isn't necessarily inimical to sharing growth and prosperity; neither are they automatically the same thing. But the belief that the 'free market' is the best way of achieving the former (a belief which is now common to both the Tories and Labour) will almost inevitably lead to 'regional' variations. The question is – how do we respond to that?

The least helpful – and least honest – response is to start accusing the least well-off areas of being somehow responsible for their own failure, of being dependent on handouts from the centre, and of whinging. It's unhelpful, yet it seems to underlie the attitude of a number of unionist politicians, who seem for some perverse reason to be almost pleased that - as a result of their economic policies - 'Wales is too poor to be independent'. Even more bizarrely, the only remedy they offer is more of the same.

A more honest unionist response would be to say something like, "Our aim is to maximise the prosperity of the UK as a whole. We believe that the policies which we are following are the right ones to do that. We recognise that this might well mean that some parts of the UK are relatively less well-off than others, but we will do what we can to redistribute wealth so that all citizens benefit from the prosperity which is being created."

It's a better line than complaining about having to give out 'handouts' to the poorer areas, an approach which serves not only to increase the likelihood of a dependency culture, but also to build resentment amongst both the givers and the receivers of the alleged largesse. The problem is that, to be credible, such a line needs to be backed up by precisely the sort of pro-active regional policy which has been progressively dismantled by Labour and Tory governments alike.

The other response, of course, is to argue that the best way of reducing the disparity in GVA between Wales and England is to have an economic policy focussed specifically on the needs of Wales – and that means maximising the economic powers of the National Assembly and/or Independence.

Nobody will be in the least surprised that I favour the latter viewpoint. I have zero faith that anything which Cameron would do in government would have any more impact than the efforts of previous governments – especially given his stress on cutting the public sector. Focus on, and ownership of, our own problems always seems to me to be preferable to expecting someone else to do something.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Ritual game

There is a ritual game played every winter when councils, police authorities and the like bemoan the settlement which they have received from central government. They always talk in dire terms about the cuts that they will have to make to services - and always illustrate the point by using a high profile aspect of their activities as part of the game. However generous the settlement, it will never be enough, and the rules of the game require an annual complaint to be made.

In that context, my first reaction to the suggestion by the Chief Constable of South Wales that her force will cease to police the M4 was to assume that it was just part of the usual ritual.

I don't know whether her assessment of the state of finances of her force is right or wrong. I do know from local government experience that the finances of such a large organisation are always much more complex than is immediately apparent, and that when the game is lost (as it invariably is), the relevant treasurer (with, of course, the appropriate warnings and caveats) manages to produce a balanced budget which somehow avoids the doomsday scenarios which were inevitable just a few weeks earlier. Still, it all helps to justify the level of tax rise being proposed, and the Chief Constable's statement was made as part of an attempt to justify a 9.8% rise in tax, after all.

But on further thought, this is a bit more than the usual game. This isn't just drawing attention to high profile services and saying that services will be threatened by a lack of cash. This is a public servant threatening publicly to cease performing statutory duties in an attempt to extract more money from the government. That's outside the usual rules of the game – and it oversteps the mark.

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Which message?

The leader of the Repeal the Hunting Act Party visited Carmarthen briefly yesterday. He came, he bought a bun, and he departed. He'd obviously been well-briefed by his party's local candidate to talk about anything other than his candidate's main objective.

The problem is that he seems to be less well-briefed on what to say about anything else. In an article in the Guardian today, he managed to say that "I am a confirmed localist, committed to turning Britain's pyramid of power on its head". But not when he visits Wales, apparently, since he seems to have ruled out any further transfer of powers to this corner of the empire if he ever gets into government.

He also maintained the line that the recession and collapse of the financial markets are all the fault of the government, and nothing at all to do with the short-sellers and gamblers who provide a substantial part of his party's UK finances, and almost the whole of the local constituency's funding.

No, it's nothing at all to do with his rich friends and their gambling and speculating. It's all the fault of Labour that Wales' GDP per head lags so far behind that of England after 10 years of Labour rule. Presumably it was also the government's fault that Wales suffered in the same way between 1979 and 1997 when his lot were making the decisions? Or maybe someone from Conservative HQ will make a quick visit to Wikipedia to change the facts and show that Wales was really well-off after 18 years of Tory rule...

Monday 16 February 2009

It's his fault, or hers, or theirs, or...

Proposals by Carmarthenshire County Council to re-organise secondary education in the Dinefwr/ Gwendraeth area of the county are something of a hot potato currently. The Council have produced 8 options for the 5 schools concerned, and held a series of consultation meetings to discuss them. The Plaid group on the county council have responded by holding their own series of meetings in the affected areas, which I have chaired. They were extremely well-attended, and a wide range of views have been expressed.

What I still don't fully understand, however, is why the Council have produced the particular range of options when alternative approaches could have been considered – or why they are pushing the change through at such a breakneck speed. At its simplest, the public are being given two very different stories.

The Council's Executive Board and senior officers are insistent that they are doing what 'the Assembly' (there's a complete lack of understanding about the distinction between the Assembly and the Assembly Government, but that's another question) has told them to do, in a series of documents which have been published. But when asked a question by Nerys Evans AM, the Minister replied that the detail of such proposals is entirely a matter for the county council. Can both of these stories possibly be correct?

What is entirely unclear at present is what advice and direction is being given to the Council (and presumably to other county councils across Wales) in meetings between council officials and WAG officials. What we do know for certain is that WAG officials sat as members of the county council's working group which drew up the proposals. On that basis, I can quite understand why the Council might feel that they have at least the tacit agreement – and maybe even the guidance and direction – of WAG for what they are proposing.

At a full Council meeting last Wednesday, the Chief Executive reported to councillors that he had been at a meeting with WAG officials the previous day. I didn't note his precise words, but the gist of what I heard him telling councillors was that WAG officials said that the process was being driven by the Minister, that the plans produced by Carmarthenshire were an example of what they wanted to see, that they hoped that similar plans would be produced by other councils across Wales, and that they hoped that Carmarthenshire would be an early implementer.

Most alarming to me was the suggestion that WAG officials had stated that there would be extra money available for the first councils to produce their plans – and nothing for the slowest. I am significantly underwhelmed by the suggestion that any government would allocate funds for investment in an area as important as education in response to rushed plans on a 'first come first served' basis rather than on a rational analysis and prioritisation of need.

I have absolutely no reason to doubt the word of the Chief Executive. I believe that he was honestly relaying to councillors what he understood that he was being told in his meeting with WAG officials. But I simply cannot understand why there is such a difference between what the Minister says in the Assembly and what her officials are apparently telling councils. I cannot help but wonder whether she even knows what is being said in her name. A state of blissful ignorance on the part of the Minister is about the only explanation that allows me to reconcile the different stories.

The one thing of which I am absolutely certain is that there is a serious democratic deficit here. AMs are being told that there's no point lobbying or questioning the Minister, because the detail is entirely a matter for the council. At the same time, councillors are being told that there's no point trying to change what the council is proposing because they are simply complying with the wishes of the Minister.

These statements simply cannot both be correct - but in the meantime, whoever is to blame, the Council and WAG are rushing ahead with a set of proposals which are in direct contradiction to the language policies of both bodies. And our democratically elected representatives seem powerless to stop the steamroller.

Saturday 14 February 2009

Shooting the messenger

I suppose nobody knows, yet, what the whole truth is in the case of the story about Paul Moore. He claims to have been warning HBOS bosses that they were taking too much risk with their lending – and that he was sacked as a result.

It appears that he was then replaced by someone with, putting the best possible gloss on it, significantly less expertise and experience in the field of risk management. One can only presume that the replacement then gave his bosses the answer that they wanted to hear, rather than one which they did not want.

It's an astonishing example of shooting the messenger – and of the way in which the herd mentality took control at the top level of our banks. 'Everyone else was making these investments, so they must be OK, and we must do it too' – even when clear evidence to the contrary was presented to them.

Very few people have been sacked (or resigned) over this debacle – and there is increasing evidence that those heads which did roll are simply being re-employed by their former competitors or as 'consultants'. Those still in post want to receive their bonuses anyway – rewards for failure. Does anyone really believe that any lessons have been learned?

Friday 13 February 2009

Not merely 'forgotten'.

Reading today's news coverage about the new Courts IT system, one might think that delivering IT systems late and over budget is somehow a unique public sector problem. Twenty odd years in IT, a large part of that as a project manager, taught me that it simply isn't so - but the private sector is better at keeping its disasters quiet.

I remember one of my bosses telling me one day that "All IT projects always over-run by 30% - even when you've allowed for that in the initial estimate". It was sound advice.

There are a number of reasons why projects over-run. None of them is unique to the public sector, but some of them are more prone to happen in that sector. Over-optimism about what can be achieved in a given timescale is one obvious reason. Others include a lack of precision about the requirements, and trying to be too ambitious.

The tendering process is a major issue – and this is one to which the public sector is particularly prone. Awarding contracts on the basis of the lowest price actually encourages suppliers to 'bid low', usually in the belief that they can use 'contract variations' to blame the customer for any delays and over-runs – and such variations are often depended on as the main source of profit for the supplier.

Once it becomes obvious that a project is going to be late, and after the recriminations have been dealt with, someone has to decide what to do about the problem. One very common response is to say that the implementation date must be met at all costs in order not to lose face, and the favourite trick at that point is to start talking about a 'phased' implementation. This enables all concerned to say that they have met the date – it's just that they've only delivered half of what they said they'd deliver.

To achieve this, they sit down and start deciding what is the absolute minimum functionality with which they can still go live, and everything else gets stripped out, so as to concentrate effort on the essentials. And that, for me, highlights the worst aspect of this little fiasco.

It isn't simply the case that Whitehall 'forgot' about the need to issue bilingual documents in Wales – it's much worse. According to the report, the people concerned sat down and consciously and deliberately decided that bilingual functionality could be omitted in order to adhere to the planned date.

Despite it being a statutory requirement to provide a bilingual service, these people decided that they could afford to ignore it. Can anyone imagine any other statutory requirement which would be treated in such a cavalier fashion?

The Courts service is far from being the only public body to behave in this way. About three or four years ago, Companies House introduced a new service, allowing companies to file their returns on line. They introduced a financial incentive for companies to do so – half price filing. But the service was available only in English – so effectively, those of us who had been filing our returns in Welsh and wished to continue to do so were penalised for continuing to use Welsh. Only £15, but nevertheless, this was a direct financial incentive to small companies to switch to an English only service.

In August, 2005, the Welsh version was promised by January 2006. Then by 31st March 2007. It still wasn't available - two or three full years after the English service was launched - in June 2008. As far as I know, it's still not there now, but I guess that I'll find out when I try to file my next return.

For all the legislation apparently bestowing 'rights' to use the language, the reality lags a long way behind where UK bodies are concerned.

Monday 9 February 2009

Bankers and Bonuses

About 25 years ago, I attended a briefing session about the then government's plans to privatise the organisation for which I worked, or rather on the opportunity to buy shares on special terms. The person doing the presentation had explained it all, including the role of the merchant bankers involved.

When it came to questions, a bluff plain-speaking engineer who originally hailed from London prefaced his remarks with the comment that he'd always thought that merchant, as an abbreviation for merchant banker, was cockney rhyming slang. He wasn't being complimentary, of course.

In those days, before the Tories had deregulated financial services, merchant banking was kept very much separate from retail banking, largely so that retail banking was not exposed to the higher level of risk which merchant bankers were able to take. It was a wise and sensible separation. Had it still been in place today, I suspect that the government could have allowed some of the risk-takers in the merchant banks to bring their businesses tumbling down - and the retail banks on the high street would have needed no consequential bail out.

One of the other differences between merchant banks and retail banks was that there was a culture of high levels of performance bonuses in the merchant sector, but this was uncommon, to say the least, in the retail sector. That's another distinction which has been blurred, and now it seems that the bankers (I suppose I'd better not call them merchants) who have done so much to destroy the banking system expect to receive their bonuses anyway.

Now, it may well be that there are a lot of people, at all levels, working in some divisions of the companies who actually have performed well, and their divisions have met their targets. But there can be no justification for paying large bonuses to the people who made the reckless gambles and lost.

It's interesting that the best justification that some have come up with for paying the bonuses is that these people are experts in their field, and are easily able to go and use their skills in other financial centres if they don't get the rewards they want here. Am I alone in wondering whether them taking their 'skill' and 'expertise' elsewhere might not be an entirely bad thing?

Friday 6 February 2009

Biting the hand that you want to feed you

I was truly amazed at the comments by Rhys Williams, the Labour candidate for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, in this month's edition of Barn.

I'll come to what he actually said in a moment, but I can't simply ignore the politics of it. For a candidate to say that he 'hates', as a group, two thirds of the people whose votes he is seeking reads like a political suicide note. If any Plaid candidate made that sort of comment about the people (s)he was seeking to represent, I'd be initiating serious discussions about changing the candidate. And I cannot imagine that any serious candidate for a serious party would get away with such comments if they were based on race, creed, or colour.

As I said on Dragon's Eye last night, my own experience is completely different from that portrayed by Rhys. What I see is not the language being used by Welsh-speakers to exclude others so much as Welsh-speakers excluding the language in order to include those who cannot understand it.

Time after time, I see meetings and events conducted wholly or mostly in English - even when there is a translator present - often simply in order to make everyone feel fully part of the proceedings (or perhaps they just don't trust my translation?). I see people - community leaders amongst them - who speak excellent Welsh in conversation before and after the meeting or event turning to English for the duration if there is anyone present who does not understand Welsh.

Not everyone does this of course – there are some who do use Welsh when there is a translator present. That's why there is a translator present - to enable those who don't understand Welsh to hear everything that's said. Perhaps that's what he doesn't like - but what's wrong with it? It's fascinating that anyone should see translation as a means of excluding people, when the intention is exactly the opposite.

If that is really what he believes, it tells us more about Rhys than about 'Welsh-speakers in rural Wales'. The only way to overcome that sort of 'exclusion' is to assume that Welsh is OK for the hearth and social settings – and between consenting adults in private - but English is essential for the more serious stuff.

Right at the end of last night's discussion, he made what I took to be his crunch point, when he said that the difference between us was that I had "accepted the package" that comes with living in rural West Wales – the implication being that he has not. Worse, the group which he 'hates' have not all rushed to embrace his own form of Welsh identity. I wonder whether the core issue here is that he himself is less than completely confident or comfortable with his identity, and somehow wants to blame those who have a different sort of Welsh identity.

Labour politicians are an increasingly endangered species around these parts – it looks as though at least one of them is doing his very best to ensure that they become extinct.

Thursday 5 February 2009

Universal Service Obligations

Some months ago, I supported the idea that the Universal Service Obligation (USO) on BT should be extended from being simply an obligation to provide a basic telephone service to incorporate a broad band service as well. I had quite a debate with one of my anonymous readers as to whether it was fair and reasonable to put such an obligation on BT, or whether this was an issue where the market should provide the basic service, with public subsidy filling the gaps. (S)he made some very good points, but I was not convinced.

I was pleased last week when the government came down very firmly on the side of the argument that broadband access is now a basic service, and are planning to extend the USO so that every home in the UK has at least a 2Mb service by 2012. The timescale is a bit lengthy for my liking, given the rate at which broadband has become the 'norm', but it's a significant step forward.

The response by the Tories was interesting, to say the least. Their main objection seemed to be that the proposed requirement was not onerous enough. For the party which normally objects to any attempt to place obligations or regulations (always dismissed as 'red tape') on business, it was an unusual response. They argued that 2Mb was simply not good enough when the average speed available these days is more like 3.6Mb.

For once, I agree to some extent with the basic point which the Tories ar making (or, perhaps, for once, they are agreeing with me?). My colleague, Adam Price said much the same as they did, drawing attention to Obama's commitment to a 5Mb service for rural America. The problem, I feel, is that the technology, and what is considered 'normal', is moving faster than any legislative process. If we are talking solely about what the USO should be today, then a requirement to provide a basic 2Mb service might well be the right level at which to set things.

But the government are talking about 2012 - for how long would 2Mb minimum still look like the right answer? By the time any USO is imposed, things will have moved further on again, and the result may well be that we are imposing only an obligation to implement obsolete technology.

Perhaps what we really need is a more flexible approach to setting the USO – one that does not need new legislation every time we need to change it. Having to revise the law every time we wish to improve the USO simply means that the minimum will always lag way behind the average or norm.

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Protecting us from ourselves?

I suppose it was inevitable that some people would get themselves very worked up about the publication of the long-awaited LCO on the Welsh language. But it really does seem to me to be premature. We do need a proper debate about what any legislation should say, and I'm confident that there'll be adequate opportunity for people to have their say at that point.

But at this stage, all that's actually being proposed is that the power to make certain laws concerning the Welsh language (not all laws, only some of them) should be transferred from London to Cardiff. The time to debate the detail will be when Measures are tabled in the Assembly.

Of course, there are those (such as most of the Conservative Party, and a not inconsiderable proportion of the Labour Party) who oppose any transfer of power to the National Assembly. I suspect most of them are still opposed to its existence. For them, the sub-text of the debate has little to do with the actual content of the LCO, and everything to do with an attempt to turn back the clock. Nothing anyone says will win them over to support of the LCO.

But surely if there is one issue, one single subject, which is of primary concern to Wales and only to Wales, it is the Welsh language. A body elected by and answerable to the people of Wales is the logical place to deal with all issues concerning the native language of Wales. Why on earth should we have to go to a legislature elsewhere to ask them to make such laws?

To listen to some of the opponents, one might almost believe that we need to be protected from ourselves – that the only way to ensure that legislation is appropriate is to ask English MPs to make the decision for us. Surely the 60 members of the National Assembly have a better grasp of the situation here, and of what will or will not be acceptable?

Some of the rather rabid responses in some of the English media serve only to show how little understanding there is in that country of the linguistic situation in Wales. And I've seen some of that from personal experience. I once spent a couple of years working in Birmingham, and I remember a discussion I had with an otherwise intelligent and educated senior manager of a large company (all names deleted to protect the guilty) about the position of Welsh in Wales.

He genuinely believed that the status of Welsh was akin to the status of Latin - a dead language, spoken by no-one, but trotted out for show on ceremonial occasions such as eisteddfodau. (When you come across that sort of attitude, it's easy to see how people can believe the urban myth about the people in the pub who switch to Welsh when an Englishman pauses outside the door). The idea that people actually spoke the language to each other on a day to day basis – let alone raised their children to speak it as a first language – was an absolute revelation to him.

Some of the responses from politicians and the media in England suggest to me that there are many people still living in such a blissful state of unawareness. Sometimes, I think that nationalists should do more to understand why they believe what they believe, rather than simply condemning them – and that means understanding what it is to be a monoglot in a monoglot culture which uses the most dominant language in the world. Understanding that viewpoint in English people will help us also to understand the same viewpoint when we hear elements of it from some of our own fellow-citizens here in Wales.

Having grown up in an English-speaking household in an English-speaking part of Wales, I like to think that I can understand at least some of the roots of that attitude. Until I was in my teens, Welsh was a subject I learned in school, and I knew no-one who could speak it other than a few teachers. Then I discovered that the next-door neighbour could, and the lady up the street, and a whole host of other people in the same village. It was like finding a whole different world - on my doorstep. It's less of a secret language these days, and much more obvious; but for many of my generation, our attitudes were formed in a different age, and changing deeply-ingrained attitudes is not an easy thing to do.

So, promotion of the language isn't simply a matter of passing legislation to establish rights, important though that is. It's also about persuading people to use the language, and persuading those who see it as a threat that they are wrong. When the Assembly Government gets the powers it is seeking, and starts to draw up legislation, I very much hope that they will take on board the need to persuade as well as to safeguard rights.

Does the LCO go far enough? Well, as someone who believes that decisions on all aspects of the language as well as on a whole series of other issues should be made here in Wales, then of course, I'd have liked to see it having the widest possible scope. (That doesn't mean that any Measures should use the whole scope, any more than any Act of Parliament in Westminster ever uses the whole scope of what they could legislate for. We need a better understanding of the difference between a Measure and an LCO - or better still, transfer all the powers and get rid of the almost unworkable LCO system). But in terms of practical politics, I think the Assembly Government have pitched this at about the right point for now.

I hope that the MPs in Westminster will recognise that point and make a speedy decision so that the Assembly can get on with the important part of the discussion.