Friday, November 30, 2007

Bloody L(co)

:: Peter Hain says Parliament cannot be treated as an obstacle to devolution. But Carwyn Jones says MPs cannot ask questions about Assembly measures. So it's up to Lord Elis-Thomas to explain that Parliament cannot be treated as an obstacle to devolution and MPs cannot ask questions about Assembly measures.

:: David Cameron has been meeting George Bush to re-establish the close ties between their Conservative and Republican parties. Interesting then that on his facebook page, Tory AM Jonathan Morgan declares his support for Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. Perhaps this is because he thinks the eventual Republican nominee will find Senator Obama easier to beat than Hilary Clinton.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Going round in circulars

I'm not the only person who is frustrated by jargon, it seems.

During plenary, shadow health minister Jonathan Morgan poked fun at an NHS document called: "The all-Wales protocol for non-emergency patient transport eligibility criteria and the introduction of regional contact centres to manage the booking of patient transport in Wales." (You can read it here).

In her response, Health Minister Edwina Hart said: "It seems to be the trouble with the health service circulars, about the nature of the titles of them. I think once you've read the title you then don't go into the detail of circulars. That perhaps might explain why the health service doesn't always deliver according to instruction on policy then. So this might be a useful example for me in that particular area."

Top marks to the minister. Or nearly top marks. I'm deducting a point because she used the phrase "across the peace/piece/piste" in the Senedd this afternoon. Still, nine out of 10 ain't bad.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain is in the Senedd today. AMs have a 105-minute debate on the Queen's Speech - Gordon Brown's legislative plans for this parliamentary year. Plenary has had a statement on forthcoming Welsh Assembly Government legislation, but not an amendable debate. It has had an amendable debate on the One Wales coalition deal, but that's a four-year programme. Some imbalance here?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

You say goodbye, I say Elco

I said some unkind things about the LCO procedure last week. Today, Counsel General Carwyn Jones came to the Cabinet's weekly press briefing to defend the LCO. He attacked "mischievous" Tory MPs for trying to "reverse" devolution.
LCOs are put forward by the Assembly's ministers, committees or private members to request that law-making powers in devolved fields are transferred to Cardiff Bay. For example, today's LCO from the Assembly Government on home care will allow the Assembly to legislate in that field ... for ever. Mr Jones's complaint was that some MPs were asking what specific legislation will flow from these LCOs.
That is impossible to answer beyond a certain point. No minister can say what measures the Assembly will pass 20 years hence. But when Welsh ministers ask for further powers to be transferred, is it not predictable that MPs will ask: "What do you want to do with these powers?"
It boils down to a pretty simple dichotomy: The Assembly wants all the power it can get, but not everyone thinks this is a good idea.

Learn something new

Those who criticise the apparently flawed Learner Travel Measure neglect its biggest drawback: it's name. What's wrong with School Transport Measure? Perhaps that was deemed inaccurate because the measure extends beyond schools to other places of learning. I guess the Assemblese word "learner" is accurate because it applies to school pupils and college students alike - provided they actually learn something.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Conventional wisdom

Certain stock phrases have emerged which journalists are deploying to describe the work of the All-Wales Convention. We write that it will "do the groundwork" for a law-making Assembly, or that it will "clear the way" for a referendum in 2011.
The truth is, there is no accurate way to describe the convention's work because no-one really knows what its work will be.
Sir Emyr Jones Parry this week said he would produce a report by the end of 2009. He could not, however, tell us what he will be writing about because his terms of reference have not been set. Everyone in the Bay seems content that he is the man for the job, even if they don't know what his job is.
Labour AM Alun Davies says in today's Western Mail that the convention must seek consensus on what sort of Assembly Wales wants, not merely identify whether there is consent for the institution envisioned in the 2006 Government of Wales Act.
This is quite a neat way of summing up the convention's primary political function - to tie the One Wales coalition together. There are those who want it to slow down the devolution project and there are those who want it to act as a surrogate Yes campaign. But at some point it will have to address the narrowly-defined question of "Can a referendum be won in 2011".
Rhodri Morgan says that what voters tell pollsters outside Marks and Spencer on a Saturday afternoon is not the same as what they do in the privacy of the polling booth. Sir Emyr, he says, must find out why this is so.
I await with interest to see if Sir Emyr can find a hitherto unknown way of measuring public opinion that will give a foolproof answer to the question of "Can a referendum be won in 2011".

Friday, November 23, 2007

Ola Elco

After the referendum, who will mourn the passing of the Legislative Competence Order? Or LCO, pronounced “Elco”, which sounds like the nickname of a Brazilian footballer.
Unfortunately, the ungainly Elco is nowhere near as graceful or as pleasurable to behold as a Brazilian footballer in full flight. In sporting terms, it is much more reminiscent of the hapless lock-forward who, isolated in his own 22, panics on finding himself in possession of the ball and unaccountably decides to kick it. Sadly he concedes a regrettable opposition line-out with a perpendicular left-foot slice that sends the ball squirting off into a crowd of exasperated home fans.

The most important meal of the day

There is some fascinating research reported in today's Western Mail. It says the free primary school breakfast scheme might have nutritional benefits, but does not improve educational attainment.
Ministers have repeatedly said that children work harder, behave better and concentrate for longer with a decent breakfast inside them. This is undoubtedly true.
So why does the scheme not affect education? Another finding suggests those same children were eating breakfast at home anyway. The study found "areas where pupils had previously had breakfast at home were more likely to take-up the free breakfast scheme".
I wonder if it is the case that the only kind of parent who will pressurise a school and local council into participating in the free breakfast scheme is the kind of parent who will make sure his or her child eats breakfast anyway.
Primary school breakfast clubs are great. Lots of schools have told me so. But am I wrong to suspect that a child who does not get fed in the morning at home is unlikely to have someone who will write to the school governors on their behalf asking for free breakfasts to be provided?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Whose coat is this jacket?

I'm told a member of the Cabinet lost his coat at a lobbyists' shindig in Cardiff Bay on Tuesday night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Interest in how many Labour AMs have signed up to a statement of opinion on disabled children, laid by Lynne Neagle. According to the Assembly's website, Islwyn AM Irene James has not signed. Perhaps because no one has signed her statement congratulating Joe Calzaghe.

Monday, November 19, 2007

I've just seen my favourite report title of the year. Soon to be released by Funky Dragon, the youth assembly, is a piece of research called: "Why Do Ages Go Up Not Down?"

Welsh Lib Dem supremo Mike German today told us at his weekly press briefing that there are three cashpoints in his village, and the only one which is free to use is the machine at the local post office which he "opened". By "opened" I assume he meant cutting a ceremonial ribbon with some scissors, not opening it up with a crow bar.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

:: I can't make up my mind about the free prescriptions policy. A friend of mine was prescribed free Strepsils and free paracetamol when he saw the doctor about a sore throat last week. By his own admission, he could easily afford to buy these himself.
Furthermore, the definition of a prescription seems vague. If doctors can prescribe Vaseline, then what can't they prescribe? I asked two recently-qualified doctors this question and they did not know the answer. Were I to spend too long in the Assembly's dining facilities, would my GP be able to prescribe me a free gym membership?

:: You may know that the Assembly has abandoned paper towels as a lavatorial eco-experiment.
A notice by the hand dryers (which run on "green electricity") from AM Lorraine Barrett, the "Assembly Commissioner for the Sustainable Assembly", says the convenience of a paper towel must be foregone if the Assembly is to be an "exemplar in sustainability". Although using a hand dryer may take longer, "what's 30 seconds when time is running out for our planet?", she asks.
Fair enough. But this all means that when I spilt my coffee yesterday I had to try and mop it up with a highly unsatisfactory fistful of toilet paper. And what is one to do when the hand dryer stops working in the fourth-floor gents, as it did for a short time this week? Perhaps pop down to the Senedd, where paper towels are still dispensed in the toilets opposite the debating chamber. The impeccably green Senedd building apparently has no hand dryers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Why the tie?

Conservative AMs Alun Cairns, Jonathan Morgan, Darren Millar, Brynle Williams and David Melding are all wearing matching red ties in the Senedd today. Why, I ask?
"Well, it appears that Brown has gone blue in his fashion colours. There was a red space!" replied Mr Cairns by email.
I thought modern Tories weren't supposed to wear ties.

Dim byd

A source says Presiding Officer Lord Elis-Thomas "takes a dim view" of the fact that there will be no Cabinet statement in the Senedd on council funding. Local Government Minister Brian Gibbons can expect a thorough grilling when he appears before AMs this afternoon.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What's the matter?

During a debate on fuel poverty, Conservative AM Darren Millar just told the Assembly that his party does not waste time on the floor of the Senedd on "matters that have nothing to do with this institution". Evidently the EU treaty is not one of those matters that has nothing to do with the Assembly because the Conservatives sponsored a Senedd debate on it in September.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Isn't it obvious?

I'm always unsettled by the word "obviously". People too often use it in relation to things which are not at all obvious.

For example, Finance Minister Andrew Davies said this in the Senedd chamber today while answering questions about the Assembly's budget:

"Our complaint with the Treasury was that obviously they were using the baseline reduction in terms of calculating the percentage increase into the spending review consequentials that would arise from that."

Of course. It's obvious.

Nothing about the Assembly's budget is obvious, as others have commented. My favourite aspect of it is the fact that responsibility for match funding has gone from the Economy Minister - Mr Davies's old job - to the Finance Minister. So Mr Davies used to be in charge of this big spending responsibility in his old job, and now he's in charge of it in his new job.

This decision - enabling him to be associated with favourable press coverage in local papers every time match funding is used to build a new bridge - was taken by the Labour-only administration before the election. Obviously.