FIRST Minister Rhodri Morgan has been accused of breaking Assembly rules by appointing Carwyn Jones to the twin roles of Counsel General and Leader of the House.
Mr Jones – tipped as a successor to the Labour leader – has taken up the dual position, which includes the responsibilities of Minister for Assembly Business.
However, the Government of Wales Act forbids the Counsel General from being appointed to any other ministerial office.
Mr Jones was Minister for Education, Culture and the Welsh Language in the minority Labour administration formed after the May election. But last month the Bridgend-raised barrister was appointed Counsel General when Labour and Plaid Cymru sealed the coalition deal and his portfolio was divided between the parties.
Labour’s Jane Hutt took education while Plaid’s Rhodri Glyn Thomas gained the culture and Welsh language responsibilities.
Mr Jones remained in the cabinet with the official title “Counsel General and Leader of the House, also Minister for Assembly Business and Communications”.
The leaders of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the National Assembly condemned the appointment.
Mike German of the Lib-Dems said, “It’s perfectly clear to anyone reading the Act that if Carwyn Jones is Counsel General, he cannot also be Leader of the House. And if he is Leader of the House, he cannot be Counsel General.
“I will be writing to Jack Straw, the UK Minister responsible for Constitutional Affairs to clarify this situation. We cannot have a government which ignores the very Act which created it.”
He added, “We have ministers in order to provide accountability. If Carwyn is in charge of Assembly business, then he needs to be accountable, and he should be a minister. But if he is a minister, he cannot be Counsel General.
“We’ve grown used to muddled thinking under Rhodri Morgan – it seems the new government is taking it to a new level.”
An Assembly Government spokesman said, “It is perfectly clear to anyone who understands the Act that this is not a muddle. The position is perfectly consistent with the Government of Wales Act 2006.
“A note issued by the Presiding Officer makes it clear that Carwyn Jones has been designated to exercise the functions of the Counsel General. He will also take on responsibility for Government Business in the Assembly with the title of ‘Leader of the House’.
“The Act does not prohibit the Counsel General carrying out the functions of the Leader of the House. As the duties relating to the Leader of the House do not involve the exercise of statutory functions, there is no legal reason why the Counsel General may not carry out those duties.”
But Nick Bourne, Conservative Assembly leader said, “The Government of Wales Act 2006 is very clear on this issue, stating that anybody holding the office of a Welsh minister may not be appointed as the Counsel General. Carwyn Jones holds a ministerial position, and as such, may not hold the position of Counsel General.
“Carwyn’s dual role will inevitably lead to problems with the conflict of interest which his positions will entail. In his role of Counsel General, he has the responsibility for issuing legal advice to ministers in cases where two or more ministers disagree on legal questions. However, in his role as Minister for Assembly Business, he has responsibility for all cross-cutting briefs, and, in any case where there is a dispute between ministers regarding the legality of an issue, he will presumably be involved in any dispute in his capacity as Minister for Assembly Business.
“As such, the legal advice he gives in his role as Counsel General could not be considered impartial.”
Mr Bourne added, “His position is untenable, and he needs to give up one of these roles if the Welsh Assembly Government is to perform its role in a constitutionally acceptable manner.”