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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Re-learning devolution

It appears that the rigours of a General Election campaign has caused a number of MPs and journalists to forget which institutions make which decisions under the devolution settlement.

On Monday the Western Mail carried an article exploring the possibility of Wales losing European funding for its most deprived communities. The article speculated that Rhodri Morgan will face the same fate as his predecessor, a no confidence motion tabled and passed by the opposition parties. Although the Tory Assembly leader was quoted, the journalist concerned chose to seek comment from the Plaid Cymru Parliamentary Leader, Elfyn Llwyd and Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, Lembit Opik, instead of asking those in the Assembly who will actually be casting the crucial vote, if it comes.

Elfyn Llwyd told the Western Mail that he was "sure" that his Assembly colleague would be thinking about a no-confidence vote. Obviously, he had not asked. Lembit Opik went further. he said that it is "quite possible" a vote of confidence could be called. Alun Michael lost his job for failing to deliver on Objective One. Rhodri Morgan hasn't done any better. Rhodri must recognise he is on borrowed time. He is no longer the master of his own destiny." I can confirm that Lembit certainly did not check with us before he made those comments.

Yesterday, the Western Mail was at it again. Amidst further speculation about a no-confidence motion they again quoted Elfyn Llwyd, speaking on behalf of his party's AMs. This time he was more unequivocal: 'Mr Llwyd said yesterday European aid was such a 'fundamentally important issue' it could lead to a no-confidence motion in Mr Morgan's leadership.'

And now, today we have a further article, this time on the dilemma facing parents, who, wanting to treat their children to a holiday either here or abroad face a Hobson's choice between paying through the nose, or risking grades by taking them out of school during term time. Education and School holidays are a devolved issue but the journalist concerned once again chooses to ignore this and looks to Westminster for comment. Ribble Valley Tory MP, Nigel Evans, who does not even represent a Welsh constituency is quoted along with Lembit Opik, again.

Lembit musters all the authority at his command as Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and of the second largest Welsh Parliamentary Party to make policy on the hoof, apparently never once stopping to think that it might be a good idea to consult with his party's Assembly Members, whose job it is to actually speak and vote on this issue.

Lembit's proposed solution of staggering school holidays is certainly an interesting suggestion but I have my doubts about whether it would reduce the price of peak time holidays. There is already some variation across Wales on the start and finish times for school holidays and I am not sure what room there is for further manoeuvre short of operating a four term school year.

Ironically, the solution to this problem may lie in a non-devolved responsibility, namely more effective regulation of the holiday industry to prevent excessive profiteering during school holidays. However, as this remains a matter for the UK Parliament it would not be appropriate for me to propose it without first consulting with my MP colleagues. Perhaps they would like to adopt a similar discipline.
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