Nobody's Poodle

In an attempt to counter the rumours circulating at both ends of the M4 about Conservative differences over devolution, Nick Bourne's office cut short the bank holiday weekend to issue a press release. In it he said that as leader of the Conservative Group in the Assembly he continued to enjoy a close working relationship with Cheryl Gillan, the Secretary of State for Chesham and Wales.


The photographic evidence clearly shows that I'm not a poodle, he claimed.

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Canton Schools ... The flaws in the decision

Having looked at the facts and figures connected with the Cardiff Schools reorganization programme in Canton in the previous post, I now want to look in detail at the decision letter itself, which is here:

     Decision Letter
     Statement of Information

I believe that although the decision letter makes a good number of valid points, it also contains a number of fundamental flaws, and that these constitute grounds for reversing the decision, by judicial review if not by agreement beforehand. There are three main issues:

1. The basic reason for the proposal has been misunderstood

The most obvious flaw in the decision is right at the beginning:

The First Minister also considered that, while the standard of provision would improve for the Welsh medium sector, it would not improve for the English medium sector, especially in the short term (up to 6 years) particularly compared with current provision in terms of resources and space.

This is true, but the point is not relevant. The current situation is that WM provision is overcrowded and there is not enough space for those children whose parents want it. In contrast each of the EM schools, and Lansdowne in particular, has a large amount of surplus space. Any redistribution of pupils between schools is by definition going to improve the space standards for those currently in WM education, and reduce the space enjoyed by those in EM education. However this does not put EM pupils at a disadvantage because they currently have more space than they should have, while those in WM education have less space than they should. The aim is to more equitably distribute the available space.

2. Is space required for 575 children?

The most prominent reason given for the negative decision was that up to 575 EM pupils would have to be accommodated on site currently shared by Radnor and Treganna for up to six years, and that the building would not be large enough for this.

The First Minister noted that whilst the total capacity of the buildings at Radnor Road is large enough to provide for 420 pupils in the longer term, the current buildings would need adaptation to accommodate a larger number than that (potentially, according to information provided by the local authority, up to 575) as in the short term a large number of the existing pupils at Lansdowne would be transferred to Radnor.

I find it hard to work out how this figure was calculated, and indeed at one point in the Decision Letter the figure mentioned goes up to 600. There are 320 children at Lansdowne and 217 at Radnor, a total of 537. Roughly a seventh (i.e. 77) of these children will move on to secondary school if the proposal is implemented in September, meaning that a maximum of only 460 would need to make the move. There would of course be a fresh intake, but there is no reason why this shouldn't be smaller than usual.

At present only 205 out of 320 children in Lansdowne, and 138 out of 217 children in Radnor are within the Lansdowne and Radnor catchment areas ... 343 out of 537 or only 64%. This would mean that if the admission number for the enlarged Radnor were reduced to 50 it would be enough to cover all local children, but it would have to accept fewer applications from outside the local area than the two schools have done up to now. This would mean that the maximum number of children at the new EM school would be 510 to begin with, reducing by about 27 each year because the number leaving will be that much greater than the intake.

The capacity of the two schools is 457. So the "problem" is only 53 places—at maximum—and even this would cease to be a problem after two years. Therefore in talking about 575 children and a six year transition period the Decision Letter has exaggerated the problem by a factor of more than two. In my opinion this is sufficient in itself to seek a review of the decision.


But there is another factor to take into account. Not all parents of children at Lansdowne will want to transfer their children to the new Radnor. Faced with closure it is highly likely that the parents of at least some of the 32 children from the Kitchener catchment, the 17 from Herbert Thompson, the 14 from Ninian Park and the 30 from other catchments will choose not to go to the new Radnor. Also, for those living in the western side of Lansdowne's catchment area, Millbank or Herbert Thompson may well be closer and more convenient than Radnor. It's hard to put together precise figures because individual parents will balance continuity of education against convenience, but it is entirely possible that the number will be more than 53.

However, even if it isn't, we should bear in mind that Treganna is over capacity by 24. Although this is far from ideal, it illustrates that schools can operate with numbers over their official capacity for a short period. However, if this same number was distributed over a school with an official capacity of 457 instead of 169, it would be much more acceptable than it is for Treganna alone at present ... and of course it would only be temporary.


Another factor is that the move does not have to be made in just one stage anyway. Lansdowne has two separate buildings, originally a Junior and Infants block. To begin with, the numbers at the new WM school would be 193 from Treganna and just under 50 from Tan yr Eos. In addition the new admission number would be 60, which would add about 15 more, making a total of about 265.

These 265 should be able to fit in the old Junior block, which would mean that one or two EM year groups could use the old Infants Block for one or two years. Indeed this was proposed by Cardiff:

The First Minister is aware that the local authority has suggested that in order to avoid perceived overcrowding on the Radnor site arising from the presence of up to 600 pupils the transfer of pupils from Lansdowne could be staged and that part of the Lansdowne site could be retained for the use of English medium pupils until such time that the number on roll at Radnor reduces to 420.

The First Minister recognises that many schools operate split site arrangements and that these can work well. He does not view such arrangements as ideal, and believes that it is preferable that they are not created in order to implement a proposal unless it is for a very limited period. The local authority's suggestion could, the First Minister believes, lead to the creation of either a split site school for up to 6 years, or a school site that accommodates substantially more pupils than it should for that length of time.

What has happened is that the FM has repeated his misunderstanding of the figures (and added another 25 for no apparent reason) and concluded that 6 years is too much. However he does accept that this arrangement can work for a more limited period. I have shown that it would not be necessary for longer than two years at most and would therefore be acceptable under the criteria that the FM said were allowable.

The situation is not dissimilar to Tan yr Eos, which will have acted as an overflow for Treganna for three years. If it's reasonable to have done one as a temporary arrangement, then it must be equally reasonable to do it the other way round.

I would reiterate that if enough parents of children currently at Lansdowne decide to send them to schools other than Radnor, then there should be no need for any temporary split. But if they don't choose to do that, then a split arrangement is one way of handling the transition without going above Radnor's capacity.

3. The size of the Radnor/Treganna site

Several times in the Decision Letter the FM says that the Radnor/Treganna site is large enough for 420 place EM school that Cardiff proposes, for example:

The total capacity of the buildings at Radnor Road is large enough to provide for 420 pupils in the longer term


[The FM] has reviewed the local authority's most recent (2009) pupil projections and compared them with the numbers on roll at January 2010, and is satisfied that between them, the remaining English medium schools in Canton, providing 420 places each, would have sufficient capacity to meet the demand for places generated from within Canton itself. The First Minister notes that this would probably mean fewer pupils from outside of Canton would have been able to gain a place at schools in the Canton area than is currently the case, but notes that this was a declared objective of the local authority in bringing forward the proposal and is line with the principle of 'local schools for local children'.

This is a clear acknowledgement that the principle of "four into three", which I detailed in the previous post, works.

However in contradiction of what he acknowledges he also says:

The First Minister was concerned to note that when compared with Building Bulletin guidance, the site at Radnor overall is around 17% smaller than would be recommended for a school of 420 primary aged pupils with a nursery. The outdoor space available is also considerably less than would be expected for a new or refurbished school for this number of pupils. Therefore in terms of access to suitable outdoor and play space, the First Minister believes that the pupils at the expanded Radnor school would be under provided for in that respect, as are the pupils currently attending the 2 schools based on the site.

This is another reason given for refusal that is not relevant, and one which does not even hold up to detailed scrutiny anyway. In the first instance the FM recognizes that such guidance is not statutory, and therefore cannot be a ground for refusal.

This guidance is intended for new and substantially refurbished building projects rather than existing buildings. Many older school buildings do not meet these standards, not just in terms of space, but in terms of disability access, insulation standards and the like. If these guidelines were applied to all school buildings, we would probably need to close half of them and build new ones ... only for them to be inadequate in forty years time as well.

But the more substantial point is that such guidelines cannot be applied as simplistically as the FM has applied them in making his decision. He is only considering numbers of pupils against the overall site area. But this ratio is only a guideline since, for example, a two storey school would have a smaller footprint and therefore could have more play space than a single storey school on a larger site would have. Another very obvious misapplication of the principle is that the difference in the overall size of the Lansdowne and Radnor/Treganna sites is meaningless because the whole of the front strip of land at Lansdowne is taken up with parking for 15 or more vehicles. So this part of the decision is based on a "justification" that doesn't stand up to even the most elementary scrutiny, and as such provides a third reason why the decision can be challenged.

It should also be noted that Cardiff do not agree with the FM's conclusions anyway. Their response to that point is:

The Authority has developed the proposals by reference to the Building Bulletins and is therefore confident that the proposed school of 420 places plus nursery will be suitably provided for as will the needs of the Foundation Phase.


Reading through the Decision Letter it will be clear that the First Minister agrees with the majority of Cardiff's reasoning, and has dismissed most of the points of objection raised in the consultation period. He is generally satisfied that the procedures have been properly followed.

If the minister does not approve a proposal he must do so on reasonable grounds. In order to mount a challenge to reverse a wrong decision it will be necessary to show those points at which the decision was flawed, either because of the misapplication of a principle, or because of demonstrably false assumptions. I have therefore concentrated on the three matters which I believe have directly resulted in a flawed decision.

However all political parties except Labour are of the clear opinion that this is primarily a political decision, and that the reasons given for refusal are simply an attempt to justify that political decision. The political consequences of this decision could be severe. At the very least, it is a sign of bad faith and lack of trust between the partners in the One Wales Coalition, since decisions of this importance should at least have been discussed at the Cabinet table rather than "sprung" on Labour's partners in that coalition without warning. Such bad faith could easily result in Plaid Cymru leaving the One Wales coalition. I therefore suspect that the matter will be resolved at a political rather than judicial level.


My personal view is that the decision seems, between the lines, to hold out the suggestion that although Radnor has a larger building with more capacity, the size of the site is seen as the bigger problem; and that therefore to keep Lansdowne as an EM school and to close Radnor to allow Treganna full use of the site they now share with Radnor is a better option.

However that cannot be done without a due process of consultation, and therefore is a non-starter because it can't solve the problem in time. If I was being cynical I would say that even if it is being tacitly "offered" as a solution it might just be in order to delay the process by another few years. This would not be the first time that Labour has adopted the posture of being "for" something ... just as long as it can kick the actual implementation of the policy into the long grass for an indefinite period.


I think Cardiff's proposal might well not be the best it could have come up with, just as I think it could have done better with the Whitchurch proposal. But there is a principle at stake: namely that they have been elected, and it is therefore up to them to decide the proposal which they think is the best way of achieving the objective of increasing the number of WM places in response to demand. I think their reasons are a properly considered and reasonable solution to the problem, even though I might have solved it in a different way if it were up to me.

For that reason, I think we should not hold out hopes for a "different" solution, and in particular I think the idea of just building a new school is a cop out. Any problem can be "solved" by throwing money at it, but how does a new school solve the problem of 8,000 surplus spaces in EM schools? The school buildings in question are all in fairly good condition. The point to be grasped is that EM schools must be turned into WM schools in order to meet the ever-increasing parental demand for WM education instead of EM education. If existing WM schools are enlarged or new ones opened, EM schools have to be closed. I don't care if it's Lansdowne or Radnor in this instance, but it has to be one of the four EM schools in Canton. Cardiff has chosen Lansdowne for closure, and the Welsh Government has no good reason to reject that proposal.

Please note that in order to keep the discussion in one place I have disallowed comments in all but the first post on this subject, which is here.

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Canton Schools ... The row

This is a translation of a post on Vaughan Roderick's blog this evening which deserves a wider audience:

Things are hotting up

For once, I'm not going to apologize for being parochial in the row about schools in west Cardiff.

I've been busy today with "Dau o'r Bae" and the fuss over Alan Cairn's seat in the Assembly, but this is a summary of what's been happening today regarding the schools row. You can judge whether it has national implications!

1. I received a press statement from the Conservative Group in the Assembly and one from Dafydd Wigley this afternoon fiercely attacking Carwyn Jones' decision. Dafydd Wigley very rarely releases personal press statements. Perhaps this has something to do with the next development.

2. Plaid Cymru's National Executive Committee will meet tomorrow in Raeadr. The Plaid Cymru group on Cardiff Council has called for this meeting to consider ending the coalition with Labour.

3. I understand that Cardiff Council chiefs are planning to seek a judicial review of the decision and are close to securing the support of the Welsh Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Education in their case.

4. At just after seven tonight, way beyond normal working hours of the Assembly Government released a statement describing the situation of Welsh-medium education in west Cardiff as unacceptable and unsustainable. Government officials have been ordered to urgently work with the council to solve the problem.

That statement will be "exhibit one" in the judicial review, I suppose!

As I said, you can judge for yourselves whether this is just a local row.

The Tory statement, reported on Welsh Icons is:

Welsh Conservatives have raised concerns about the Assembly Government’s decision to reject plans to reorganise schools in west Cardiff. Commenting on the matter, Shadow Education Minister Paul Davies AM said:

"The Assembly Government's decision on the proposed reorganisation by Cardiff Council is deeply concerning. The process has been drawn out in an exasperating manner by the Assembly Government, and now leaves further questions and uncertainty over the future of schools in this area.

"The Assembly Government's actions in this case set a worrying precedent that brings in to question the ability of local authorities to make similar decisions in the future.

"The decision certainly appears to be political rather than professional and based on the interests of what is considered to be best for pupils by the local education authority.

"I would urge both the First Minister and the Education Minister to bring a statement to the Assembly Chamber fully justifying the Assembly Government’s actions on the situation as a matter of urgency."

I can't find either the statement by Dafydd Wigley or the Welsh Government as yet.

Please note that in order to keep the discussion in one place I have disallowed comments in all but the first post on this subject, which is here.

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Canton Schools ... The facts and figures

The history of Cardiff Council's school reorganization programme as it affects schools in and around Canton is complicated. I have my opinions about it, of course, but I want to start by trying to explain the situation as clearly and neutrally as I can, using official figures which are not disputed. These figures are:

     School Capacities (from the Asset Management Plan, 2008)
     School Rolls by Catchment Area (from PLASC, 2009)


The map above shows the location of the primary schools in the area. There are three Welsh-medium schools: Pwll Coch, Treganna, and a small overflow class called Tan yr Eos in the grounds of Ninian Park, but administratively part of Treganna. All the remaining schools are English-medium.

Pwll Coch is a was originally built as a one form entry school in 1999, but an extension was built to make it into a 2FE school which is now full. Treganna has 193 children in a building which only has capacity for 169. The demand for places is far in excess of the space available and so Tan yr Eos was set up on a temporary basis on the site of Ninian Park School. It currently has 26 children and would need more space to expand if it is to have an intake of children next year.

In Canton itself there are four EM schools: Lansdowne, Radnor, Kitchener and Severn, excluding St Mary's RC school. The number of pupils and capacity of these four schools are:

Lansdowne ... 320 ... 420 (100 surplus places)
Radnor ... 217 ... 288 (71 surplus places)
Kitchener ... 367 ... 420 (53 surplus places)
Severn I & J ... 370 ... 163 + 226 = 389 ... (19 surplus places)

Total ... 1274 ... 1517 (243 surplus places)

In essence, the idea behind the proposals has been to try and fit the pupils from these four schools into three so that WM provision can expand without the need for any new buildings. The proposal just rejected by the First Minister was for Lansdowne to become a WM school, and for the building used by Treganna to be used for an enlarged Radnor Primary. The EM capacity in Canton would therefore be:

Radnor & Treganna ... 288 + 169 = 457
Kitchener ... 420
Severn I & J ... 163 + 226 = 389

Total capacity ... 1266

This is almost exactly the same as the number of children in the four EM schools. But if we remember that there are currently 193 children in Treganna, 24 above capacity, the overall situation for these three schools would be very slightly less crowded than the current situation in Treganna. In other words four into three does fit ... but only just.


Although the figures above show that four into three just fits, it is far too tight for any degree of comfort. But there are two additional factors to take into account:

•  First, there is a very large amount of movement over catchment area boundaries all over Cardiff. So the table below shows the number of children in each school ... the number from each school's own catchment area ... the number of children from the four Canton catchment areas combined ... and then the number of children who live outside Canton altogether:

Lansdowne ... 320 ... 195 ... 242 (78 outside Canton)
Radnor ... 217 ... 70 ... 182 (35 outside Canton)
Kitchener ... 367 ... 248 ... 306 (58 outside Canton)
Severn I & J ... 370 ... 155 ... 291 (79 outside Canton)

Total ... 1274 ... 668 ... 1021 (250 outside Canton)

If a school has got surplus spaces, then it is of course right that they should accept children from outside the local area whose parents would like them to go there. But if there is no space, schools must and do give preference to those who live in the catchment area. It is not as if the schools surrounding Canton are themselves full; for example Millbank has 57 surplus spaces, Herbert Thompson has 221 surplus spaces and Ninian Park has 54 surplus spaces. Only Llandaff could be described as anywhere near full with only 13 surplus spaces.

The purpose of going into this degree of detail is to show that, beyond any doubt, if Lansdowne becomes a WM school, there is easily enough space in the three remaining EM schools for every child in Canton who wants a place ... and still room for at least two hundred children from outside Canton as well.

•  The second factor is not so easy to quantify because Cardiff has not done a comprehensive survey of whether parents want their children to receive a Welsh or English medium education. However, when such surveys have been conducted elsewhere in the more Anglicized parts of Wales they show that, in addition to those who will let their children travel any distance to get a WM education, there is another 10% or so who would choose a WM education for their children if there were space available in a school close to them.

That means that the parents of maybe 100 or so children in Canton who would otherwise send them to an EM school, would send them to a WM school in Canton if there was one which had sufficient space.


Rather than risk death by numbers, I'll conclude this post here and look at the decision letter itself in the next post. Also, in order to avoid having duplicate discussions on the same subject in more than one place, I am closing the comment facility for this post. But please feel free to join the discussion that has already been started here.

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Not suitable for a two form entry school?

When Leighton Andrews said that he felt unable to make the decision on the future of Lansdowne, Radnor and Treganna schools in Cardiff and passed the decision to the First Minister instead, it was a clear sign that the decision would be controversial. The proposal has today been refused.


There has been a whole host of options put forward over several years, but the current proposal was to move the Welsh-medium Treganna into the premises of English-medium Lansdowne (which has more space than they need) and to make the current site shared by Radnor and Treganna (shown above, Radnor on the left) into a larger EM school that would be able to house the pupils displaced from Lansdowne, since Radnor also has surplus space.

The maths for that didn't quite work, except when you took into account the number of children that attend Lansdowne and Radnor from outside their catchment areas, and the number of surplus spaces in the other two EM schools in Canton. Taking those factors into account, the maths did work.

The picture below shows Lansdowne in the top left corner and Radnor/Treganna in the bottom right. The two sites are only a few hundred metres apart, so no child would be particularly inconvenienced because of travel distance.


As I write this, the decision document has not yet been published on the Welsh Government's website. But from this report on Golwg360, the core of the decision seems to be that the two buildings of an enlarged Radnor school (i.e the existing EM school and the current premises of Treganna on the same site) would "not be suitable" for a two form entry school. That seems strange to me. What I can say is that the numbers add up. Taken from Cardiff's Asset Management Plan 2008, the capacity of Radnor is 288 and of Treganna 169 = 457. Even allowing for Treganna's overcrowding, there are still more than the 420 places required for a 2FE school.

But perhaps the combined site is unsuitable for another reason. If this is the case, I can only say that if the combined Radnor/Treganna premises are deemed to be unsuitable for two form entry English-medium school, I am 100% sure that the teachers, parents and governors of Treganna would jump at the chance of using the combined site for a two form entry Welsh-medium school. Those wanting an expansion of Welsh-medium education have become well used to having to make do with the cast-offs and hand-me-downs left when English-medium schools have moved out of unsuitable buildings.

Update - 16:45

The decision letter and a statement of relevant information has now been published on the Welsh Government website:

     Decision Letter
     Statement of Information

I've read the letter and am amazed by the decision. It appears to make several assumptions that are severely flawed, and it does indeed give one of the reasons for refusal as being that the combined Radnor/Treganna site is too small for a 420 pupil school. The tone of the letter is frankly condescending and the First Minister washes his hands of any responsibility to even suggest a solution, saying it is entirely up to Cardiff to sort the problem out urgently. Kafka couldn't have written a more contrived plot.

I'll write more later.

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Scotland 8, Wales 1

There's a piece on Golwg360 today that I thought I'd highlight for those who rely on English-language media:

In essence Cheryl Gillan has been appointed to only one cabinet committee, the Home Affairs Committee, but her Scottish counterpart Danny Alexander has been appointed to a total of eight committees.

Peter Hain said that this means Wales has no voice on the committees that matter most to Wales, particularly the Legislation Committee and Business Committee, which deal with Assembly requests for transfer of powers to Cardiff.


Details of the membership of the ten cabinet committees are in this document issued by the Cabinet Office.

As we can see, Scottish Secretary Danny Alexander attends most of these committees "in his role providing Ministerial support to the Deputy Prime Minister in the Cabinet Office" but nonetheless he is there ... not just as a voice, but as a pair of ears and eyes to make sure that Scotland's interests (or at least his perception of Scotland's interests) are not ignored. This might be one explanation for why Scotland has continued to receive favourable financial treatment (for example the release of the fossil fuel levy, worth £185m to Scotland) that will go some way to offset the cuts announced this week; while at the same time the ConDem coalition has announced it intends to do absolutely nothing to redress the £300m shortfall in Wales' funding identified by the Holtham Commission.

This complete lack of knowledge about Wales' position was highlighted again yesterday when Paymaster General Francis Maude confused the Holtham Commission with the All Wales Convention, as reported here.


Such ignorance is perhaps understandable. To most politicians in Westminster Wales is a small, far away part of the UK which they can't really be expected to have much knowledge about. But that is why Tory and LibDem MPs from Wales need to be up on their feet, kicking up a fuss that their own leaders will not be able to ignore. What else are they there for, if not to represent Wales' interests?

But not one of them is doing that. They all seem to be much too busy passing down the message about how "caring" their leaders are being as they impose the cuts.

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When it is right, and wrong, for polls to clash

When the ConDem coalition announced its preferred date for the next Westminster election to coincide with the elections for our Assembly and the Scottish Parliament in May 2015, most people put it down to an oversight. But because Nick Clegg has now announced that the ConDems' preferred date for the referendum on AV is to be on the very same day as these same elections in May 2011, I would be surprised if anyone could see either clash as anything other than deliberate.

What drives it is simple. Compared with Plaid and the SNP, the LibDems in particular do very much worse in Assembly and Scottish Parliament elections than they do for UK-wide votes.

Welsh Assembly

2007 Constituency ...Plaid 22.4% ... LibDem 14.8% (7.6% behind)
2007 List ... Plaid 21.0% ... LibDem 11.7% (9.3% behind)
2003 Constituency ... Plaid 21.2% ... LibDem 14.1% (7.2% behind)
2003 List ... Plaid 19.7% ... LibDem 11.8% (7.9% behind)

UK Parliament

2010 ... Plaid 11.3% ... LibDem 20.1% (8.8% in front)
2005 ... Plaid 12.6% ... LibDem 18.4% (5.8% in front)

Scottish Parliament

2007 Constituency ... SNP 32.9% ... LibDem 16.2% (16.7% behind)
2007 List ... SNP 31.0% ... LibDem 11.3% (19.7% behind)
2003 Constituency ... SNP 23.8% ... LibDem 15.3% (8.5% behind)
2003 List ... SNP 20.9% ... LibDem 11.8% (9.1% behind)

UK Parliament

2010 ... SNP 19.9% ... LibDem 18.9% (1.0% behind)
2005 ... SNP 17.6% ... LibDem 22.6% (4.0% in front)

In Westminster elections the LibDems are comfortably ahead of Plaid and more or less level with the SNP. But in elections for Cardiff Bay and Holyrood they get several percentage points lower and are well behind both Plaid and the SNP.


Things are slightly different with respect to the Tories, because their absolute share of the vote remains more or less the same in elections to Cardiff Bay, Holyrood and Westminster. But the differential between them and the two nationalist parties in elections to the Assembly and Scottish Parliament is still significant:

Welsh Assembly

2007 Constituency ...Plaid 22.4% ... Con 22.4% (level)
2007 List ... Plaid 21.0% ... Con 21.4% (0.4% in front)
2003 Constituency ... Plaid 21.2% ... Con 20.0% (1.2% behind)
2003 List ... Plaid 19.7% ... Con 19.1% (0.6% behind)

UK Parliament

2010 ... Plaid 11.3% ... Con 26.1% (14.8% in front)
2005 ... Plaid 12.6% ... Con 21.4% (8.8% in front)

Scottish Parliament

2007 Constituency ... SNP 32.9% ... Con 16.6% (16.3% behind)
2007 List ... SNP 31.0% ... 13.9% (17.1% behind)
2003 Constituency ... SNP 23.8% ... Con 16.6% (7.2% behind)
2003 List ... SNP 20.9% ... Con 15.5% (5.4% behind)

UK Parliament

2010 ... SNP 19.9% ... Con 16.7% (3.2% behind)
2005 ... SNP 17.6% ... Con 15.8% (1.8% behind)

These figures show that there is a very significant political advantage to be gained—mostly by the LibDems, but also by the Conservatives—by holding UK-wide votes on the same day as elections to the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament.

•  Both parties know that holding Holyrood and Westminster elections on the same day in 2015 will make it more difficult for voters to distinguish between national and UK issues.

•  They know that people will tend to vote for just one party on both ballot papers, rather than vote for different parties on each ballot paper.

•  And they know that UK issues will dominate the media discussion, meaning that they will benefit at the expense of Plaid and the SNP rather than the other way round.


The issue is not exactly the same with the AV referendum and 2011 Holyrood elections being held on the same day, but is nonetheless similar. Again, the LibDems will be the main beneficiaries. The UK media will tend to focus on their views in the public debate on the AV referendum because they are the main protagonists for electoral reform on the English stage. This exposure will give them an advantage in the Assembly and Scottish Parliament elections.


I want to make it clear that I am not against holding the principle of holding different polls on the same day. The issue at stake here is that public discussion and debates about a vote that affects the whole of the UK is, without any doubt, going to drown out any parallel discussion of Welsh and Scottish issues.

So personally, I am not opposed to holding the referendum on primary lawmaking powers on the same day as the Assembly elections, because both issues only affect Wales. However, for the sake of democracy I must respect the fact that others in other political parties have been adamantly opposed to holding the referendum on primary lawmaking powers on the same day as the Assembly election in 2011. These include the Tories and the LibDems in the Assembly at the time the request for the referendum was made in February (although it remains to be seen whether they will now change their minds because of their alliance at Westminster) and Peter Hain (although it is sometimes unclear whether and when he is speaking just on his own behalf, for Labour in Westminster or for Labour as a whole).


From a purely pragmatic point of view I believe holding our referendum on the same day as the Assembly elections will help ensure a Yes vote, for exactly the same reasons as I gave above: the candidates of three parties in the Assembly elections (Plaid, the LibDems and Labour) will all be campaigning for a Yes vote in the referendum, and it is very likely that most Tory candidates for the Assembly elections will be campaigning for a Yes as well. Very few people will vote for a candidate or party on one set of ballot papers, but then vote against the very position which that candidate or party has advocated on the other ballot paper.

Equally, even though most Tory MPs and maybe a third of Labour MPs are against the Assembly getting primary lawmaking powers, their opinions will tend to be sidelined because the focus will be on electing AMs rather than MPs. If they raise their voices to contradict candidates from their own parties who are standing for election, they will simply lessen the chances of them being elected.

So yes, from a purely pragmatic point of view I would be all in favour of holding our referendum on the same day as Assembly elections. It would improve turnout, and it would cost less ... both of which are good things. But the principle of respect means that it is the wrong thing to do if other parties are so strongly against it.

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Cymdeithas Ddysgedig Cymru

In the day-to-day turmoil of politics I've probably not given enough attention to the main purpose of Syniadau. In order to operate as an independent country Wales will need a framework of fundamental structures and institutions; not just political but extending to every facet of society. I want to highlight the need for us to set up these structures, and celebrate each step we take towards building a Wales that is fit to take its place alongside the other countries of Europe and the world.

So the establishment today of a Learned Society for Wales is something to be welcomed not just as something that is good in and of itself, but as another step towards the goal of an independent Wales.

It has been set up with a small grant from the University of Wales and Professor Sir John Cadogan, its first President and one of about sixty Founding Fellows, had this to say about it:

There has long been concern that Wales is alone in not recognising, and providing a focus for, scholarship, learning and research through a national academy of arts and sciences, unlike most countries.

We have the knowledge and the ability in Wales, but until now, there has been no single society able to bring this expertise together. This is our role and now is the opportunity to make a difference. In addition to world class champions in specific fields working in Wales, such as stem cell research, we need also to take advantage of the expertise of Welsh born scholars wherever they are in the world to benefit the country as a whole. This must embrace the arts and social studies as well as science and engineering.

Our aim is to celebrate, recognise, safeguard, protect and encourage excellence in every one of the scholarly disciplines and in the professions, industry and commerce, the arts and public service in Wales. The establishment of The Learned Society of Wales, while long awaited, is certainly a milestone in the history of Wales and a vote of confidence in the ability and future of our nation’s academic potential.

University of Wales, 25 March 2010

We can read more background information by clicking the link above, and he also gave this radio interview this morning:


Now it has to be said that this is a modest beginning, and that the new Learned Society doesn't have any official function. In comparison, the Royal Society in London receives about £45m grant-in-aid from the UK government, most of which it distributes for research. The Scottish equivalent, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, is supported by the Scottish Government and distributes about £2m though with a wider remit than just science.

In both England and Scotland, the Royal Societies are just one part of complicated funding for research and Wales has its own mechanisms for this, so I'm definitely not saying that our Learned Society should exist merely in order to do a similar thing. First and foremost it should be a focus and showcase for the wealth of academic talent and excellence that Wales has produced and has to offer the world ... and help to foster more and better in future. But the comparison perhaps gives us a glimpse of what the Learned Society of Wales might grow to become and the importance of the role it might play in Wales' future.

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Three months too late

I've said before on this blog that Carwyn Jones isn't exactly quick on his feet. So it brought a smile to my face to see the sudden spurt of commitment a referendum in October this year, and even a suggestion for how to word the question. If only he had done it three months ago.

As for the date, it goes without saying that he has left things until it was too late for his interjection to have any effect. But the wording of the question is relevant, and so it's worth looking at in a little more detail.

As it happens I read the version in Welsh first on Vaughan Roderick's blog.

Ar hyn o bryd mae'r Cynulliad yn cael deddfu ar rai pethau, ond nid ar bethau eraill, sy'n effeithio ar bobl Cymru yn unig.

Mae Senedd y Deyrnas Unedig wedi penderfynu y dylai'r Cynulliad gael deddfu ar bopeth sy'n ymwneud â meysydd sydd wedi'u datganoli i Gymru. Ond dim ond os bydd pleidleiswyr yng Nghymru yn cefnogi hynny mewn refferendwm y gall hynny ddigwydd.

Mae'r meysydd sydd wedi'u datganoli yn cynnwys iechyd a gwasanaethau cymdeithasol, tai, addysg a llywodraeth leol. Ni fyddai modd i'r deddfau ymwneud â nawdd cymdeithasol, amddiffyn a materion tramor.

Ydych chi am i'r Cynulliad gael y pwer yn awr i ddeddfu ar yr holl feysydd sydd wedi'u datganoli i Gymru?


I shook my head in disbelief. But as I was halfway through writing about it, Betsan Powys posted the English version ... which was rather different.

What is wrong with the Welsh version is in this sentence: "Mae Senedd y Deyrnas Unedig wedi penderfynu y dylai'r Cynulliad gael deddfu ar bopeth sy'n ymwneud â meysydd sydd wedi'u datganoli i Gymru." The highlighted part translates as, "be able to legislate on everything in the areas which have been devolved to Wales".

This is wrong. There are twenty subject areas devolved to Wales, but even after a Yes vote the Assembly will not get the power to legislate "on everything in the areas devolved to Wales" ... it will only get powers to legislate on some matters in areas that are devolved to Wales. There is a whole tranche of exceptions, and exceptions to those exceptions, as set out in Schedule 7 of the GoWA 2006.

With that in mind, let's now look at the English version:

At the moment the Assembly can make laws about some, but not all, things which only affect people in Wales.

Parliament has decided that the Assembly should be able to pass its own laws for Wales on all devolved subjects. But this can only happen if voters in Wales support this in a referendum.

The devolved subjects include health and social services, housing, education and local government. The laws could not be about social security, defence or foreign affairs.

Do you want the Assembly to have the power now to pass laws on all the subjects which are devolved to Wales?


Although it conveys the same impression, it is much cleverer because it does not use the word "everything". It is true that the Assembly will will be able to pass its own laws on all devolved subjects ... but not on everything to do with those devolved subjects.

I could make a point about the standard of Welsh translation, even though I think it would be more pertinent to ask why the question wasn't thought of in Welsh and English at the same time. Whoever was responsible for the Welsh version clearly didn't understand the political issue well enough ... but then no-one in Carwyn Jones' office picked it up before it was released, either.

Now of course it could be re-translated, but even that would be to miss the main point: namely that we shouldn't need to rely on "clever" wording. The question should be straightforward and neutral enough not to need clever wording.


In any situation of this sort, one of the best indicators of how fair the wording actually is will be to look at the reactions of those on the other side of the argument. True Wales have hardly shown any great understanding of the issues involved so far, but they still need to be listened to because they are the closest thing there is to a No campaign. In this story in the Western Mail on Friday, Rachel Banner made these points:

Rachel Banner, a spokeswoman for the True Wales group that opposes further powers for the Assembly, said: "I think there are a number of problems with this proposed question. I would certainly phrase the first sentence slightly differently – it needs to be more specific. The reference to 'things which only affect people in Wales' raises further questions in itself.

"The second sentence is, I believe, factually wrong. Parliament has not decided that the Assembly 'should' be able to pass its own laws for Wales – there is no moral imperative.

Parliament’s position [in the Government of Wales Act 2006] is that the people of Wales should decide whether they want more powers or not in a referendum.

Ms Banner also thought the list of areas for which the Assembly has responsibility should be more complete, and that if there is to be any question of transferring further powers to the Assembly, over the criminal justice system, for example, that should be reflected in the question.

I'll deal with her second point first because there's not much in it. The "should" is modified by the "but only if" in the following sentence. There is no doubt that Parliament wants the Assembly to have primary lawmaking powers if we vote for it in a referendum ... otherwise they wouldn't have passed the Act.

But I have to say that I do agree with her main point that the question is not specific enough. She says that she wants the list of areas for which the Assembly will have legislative responsibility to be "more complete".

Well, we can help her out with that one. As I said, in Schedule 7 we have a complete, definitive list of the areas for which the Assembly will have legislative responsibility if we vote Yes in the referendum. That's why I have argued for some time, see here, that it must be part of the question.


I can see the point of what Carwyn Jones is trying to do all too well. It is an attempt to simplify the issue so that it can be more easily understood by more people. That's a good intention, but one which I think is likely to have unintended consequences. If we phrase the question in a wide, open-ended way using generalities such as "laws about things which only affect people in Wales" we make it all the more likely that the issue will get confused.

As just one example of this, Ms Banner has brought the criminal justice system into the equation. True Wales has brought up similar red herrings in the past about the number of AMs or this being a vote about independence. Of course they are free to go off on any tangent they like, but why make it easy for them to keep doing this by coming up with a wording based on the general description of "laws about things which only affect people in Wales"? That description does apply to the criminal justice system in Wales, and the same description could equally well describe the welfare and benefits system in Wales too ... but neither of them will be changed by this referendum.

So it isn't enough to say, "the laws could not be about social security, defence or foreign affairs" because these are only some examples of what is outside the scope of Schedule 7. Why pick these to put in the official question but not others? The list has to be referred to in its entirety.


The mistake is to think that the form of the question will in some way determine what we get if we vote Yes. But what we will get if we vote Yes is already defined by the GoWA 2006, irrespective of the precise wording of the question.

Now of course not many people will read Schedule 7, but that's not the point. The point is that it is there for people to read if they want to, in whatever degree of detail they want to go into. Sometimes there is no alternative but to refer to the precise details of what is in question. In that respect "Schedule 7" should be no more difficult for people in Wales to understand than "Proposition 16" to the people of California or the "28th Amendment" to the people of Ireland. It is unreasonable to expect a few short sentences in the preamble to describe or explain the detail of what it contains.


In today's Western Mail the story about the timing of the referendum still rumbles on, but I'd like to highlight one part of it which might be misleading:

Last week First Minister Carwyn Jones sent a draft referendum question to Ms Gillan, whose legal responsibility it is to approve it after consulting the commission.

If the Assembly had been more proactive earlier this year, they could have passed a motion on both the wording of the question and the date of the referendum. But they chose only to make an open-ended request for a referendum, leaving it entirely up to the Secretary of State for Wales to draft the question and set dates for the poll and the official referendum period leading up to it.

Peter Hain didn't do either while he had the chance to, so that task now falls to Cheryl Gillan. It is now entirely up to her to set the question and the timetable. Carwyn Jones' suggestion is only a suggestion. I would advise her to cut out the unnecessary verbage and make it much more precise. It needs to be simple and unambiguous.

She is in a very tricky legal situation because Section 104.4(a) of the PPERA requires the SoS to consult with the Electoral Commission before the draft Referendum Order is laid. And (b) requires the SoS to also lay "a report stating any views as to the intelligibility of that question" "at the time when any such draft is laid".

This can be done before the 120 day deadline expires on 17 June, for the EC has said:

There is no mandatory obligation for there to be a 10-week consultation period, although we have expressed our view that such a period is desirable. But if we were asked to produce a report within a week, we would do so.

But there are no prizes for guessing what that report will say. In essence it will say that the EC has no views on the intelligibility of the question as yet, because it has not had the time to carry out its usual procedure for testing it. However it would still, technically, be a report, and as such it would enable Ms Gillan to lay the Referendum Order.

It is important that she does lay it because the only other alternative is to refuse to do so ... and the political consequences of that refusal would be enormous. This is the trap that Peter Hain has set for her.


My advice to her would be to take her best shot at a question that seems fair to her (and if she needs a suggestion from me, it's here) and set the date for March. This gives everybody a bit of breathing space.

Whatever question she sets, we can guarantee that she will get criticism from all sides for it. So if she's wise, she will ask the EC to carry out its usual procedures and follow the advice they give her in ten weeks' time. If they have no adverse comments, all well and good. But if they are not happy and suggest a better question, the draft Referendum Order can be withdrawn and replaced with an amended version. It's not the ideal way to do it, but I trust she will see that it is much better for her to do it this way than to refuse to lay the Referendum Order.

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Ignoring Wales



   Madoc Batcup is an independent financial
   consultant and director of Wales in London

On the 21st May 2010 Radio 4's Any Questions? [here on iPlayer] hosted by Jonathan Dimbleby came to Gowerton to make their broadcast. You might have been forgiven for thinking that Gowerton was in Chesham and Amersham, the constituency of the new Secretary of State for Wales, for all the Welsh content that it had. None of the panellists came from Wales and none of the questions were in respect of Wales. Indeed, Wales was considered so denuded of anybody of sufficient ability to answer the questions that Grant Shapps, the housing minister with a pilot’s licence, was asked to fly himself to Swansea airport (presumably at licence payers' expense) to make up the numbers on the panel.

In addition we had the interesting spectacle of one of the questioners saying that although he had been "given a question to ask" he wanted to ask one of his own, thereby begging a number of questions as to the criteria used to select the questions in the first place.

At a time when there may be a referendum on additional powers for the Welsh Assembly later on this year, when there has been an announcement that the unfair Barnett funding formula for Wales will remain in place, and when there are now different parties/coalitions in power in Wales and in Westminster for the first time, there was no lack of potential questions with a Welsh dimension relevant to the UK as a whole. Indeed the fact that Wales has had a coalition government for three years might have been the subject of a question in terms of what Westminster could learn from the Welsh experience.


Of course this is not an isolated incident. The television programme Question Time hosted by the other half of the Dimbleby combo, David, was broadcast from Cardiff on the 25th February. Although on that occasion two of the panellists were Welsh MPs, no questions in respect of Wales were asked, although two that related almost exclusively to England (including one on the English football team) were.

More than a decade after devolution it is extraordinary that in the very programmes have pretensions to be less metropolitan in their approach by travelling around the UK, the BBC continues to flagrantly breach its own interpretation of its obligations of a public sector broadcaster.

In the BBC's Programme Response to Devolution published in December 1998, the BBC stated that:

In the past the BBC has sometimes appeared insensitive to political, administrative, cultural and linguistic differences across the UK, giving the impression of a London-based organisation dismissive of the more geographically distant parts of the UK. There have been errors of judgement and, on occasions, of accuracy.

As a priority, the BBC is now embarking on an extensive series of measures to educate journalists, programme makers and managers, alerting them to the differences across the UK ... they will include:

•  Regular monitoring of programmes for sensitivity to differences between the nations.

These measures are important not only to enable the BBC to provide accurate and well judged news for its audiences in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but also to allow it to offer all viewers and listeners a true sense of the diversity within the UK.

Clearly the Any Questions programme from Gowerton failed to "offer all viewers and listeners a true sense of the diversity within the UK".

Clause 4(d) of the BBC Charter, states:

The Public Purposes of the BBC are as follows:

... (d) representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities.

Under the Agreement between the BBC and the UK government, signed at the time of the renewal of the BBC's Charter in July 2006, the BBC undertook a number of commitments in respect of this Charter Principle, for example:

In developing (and reviewing) the purpose remit for representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities, the Trust must, amongst other things, seek to ensure that the BBC —

... (b) promotes awareness of different cultures and alternative viewpoints, through content that reflects the lives of different people and different communities within the UK.

Under the Public Purpose Remit "Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities" published by the BBC Trust in 2007, the BBC undertakes to "represent the different nations, regions and communities to the rest of the UK" and also to "cater for the different nations, regions and communities of the UK."

It is clear therefore that the BBC has committed itself to ensuring that the interests of the different parts of the UK are reflected in its output, and that the rest of the UK is able to be informed about the differences of distinct regions and nations of the UK.

In addition the BBC Trustees commissioned a report on this very issue which was published in 2008, entitled "The BBC Trust Impartiality Report: BBC Network News And Current Affairs Coverage of the Four UK Nations", popularly known as the King Report, after its author. This incorporated research done by Cardiff University.

The report noted inter alia that:

Notwithstanding examples of good practice, however, and supported by findings from the Cardiff research, the review highlights concern that BBC network news and current affairs programmes taken as a whole are not reporting the changing UK with the range and precision that might reasonably be expected given the high standards the BBC itself aspires to. There are specific concerns as to accuracy and clarity of reporting, the balance of coverage, and missed opportunities of drawing on the rich variety of the UK and communicating it to multiple audiences.

As examples, political coverage is seen as unduly focused on Westminster in volume and style; there is seen to be a general bias in favour of stories about England or telling stories from an England perspective; and there is evidence that several stories in the nations which may have been significant to the UK were not taken up by the network. Overall, Professor King concludes that the BBC has not responded adequately and appropriately to the UK’s changing political, social, economic and cultural architecture. In the closing sections of his report, he offers a range of suggestions and issues for consideration in resolving the concerns he has highlighted.

In its concluding comments on the report the BBC Trust stated:

However, we are concerned at Professor King’s assessment that the BBC is not reporting the changing UK with the range that might be expected, given the fact that audiences have expressed a desire to learn more about other parts of the UK in the BBC’s coverage. This echoes a wider concern expressed to the Trust that audiences see the BBC as too preoccupied with the interests and experiences of London, and that those who live elsewhere in the UK do not see their lives adequately reflected on the BBC. It is not acceptable that a BBC funded by licence fee payers across the whole country should not address the interests of them all in fair measure.

We are also concerned at the finding by Professor King that there is insufficient precision and clarity in the BBC's network coverage. The BBC's output must meet the high standards expected by the licence fee payer. It is essential that accurate information about political developments in the four nations is reflected in network news and current affairs so that the authority of the voice of the BBC is maintained, and the audience has confidence in that voice. To achieve full accuracy, the audience needs to be made aware by clear labelling which facts are applicable to which nations of the UK.

Some two years after the King Report the BBC is still failing to comply with the recommendations of the BBC Trust and nearly 12 years after its document "Programme Response to Devolution" it is still failing "to offer all viewers and listeners a true sense of the diversity within the UK".

Part of the problem may lie in the way the BBC measures its compliance of its public service obligation. Under its Operating Remit of 2007 it states that, "the Trust will use a system of quantitative measures." It is not so much the validity of the complaint as the quantity of complaints that is measured it would seem. I would therefore suggest that anyone who feels that the current situation is unsatisfactory after a period of twelve years of broken commitments should complain to where Sir Michael Lyons confirms that "your complaint is important to us."

The attitude of the Any Questions? programme in respect of Wales is, I think, emblematic of a more fundamental metropolitan mindset in the BBC; reflected for example in their approach to the last general election and the broadcasting of the leadership debates. The lavish salary structures of BBC executives and the inability of the BBC Trust to ensure the BBC provides an understanding of the devolution settlement across the UK raises serious questions as to whether the BBC is sufficiently accountable. As the new UK government starts to take the knife to the civil service the question is how, and by whom, will the BBC, privileged as it is to impose an annual flat tax on television usage, be taken to task to ensure it honours its commitments?

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Raising False Hopes

I was disappointed to read this news release on Plaid's website yesterday:

     October Referendum is only dependent on political will

While I fully shared the hope that we could hold the referendum on 28 October 2010, that timetable is all but impossible now.

It could be held then if the Electoral Commission changed their stance on requiring two weeks' notice and then eight weeks' work to properly test the question. But when I spoke to them in March, they said they had a statutory obligation to do this, and that even the work done by the All Wales Convention—who themselves used focus groups and the like to evaluate the understandability of the term "full lawmaking powers"—did not relieve them of that responsibility.

The ten week minimum Referendum Period required by the PPERA is another fixed constraint. Between the two there is only a very small window at the end of July and beginning of August in which the Referendum Order can be passed, as I explained in detail here.


Dai Lloyd said in the news release that all that was required is for the Privy Council to delay its meeting scheduled for July. But that is only one small part of the equation. The Referendum Order needs to be passed—with its final wording, date and specified Referendum Period—by both the Commons and the Lords, and also by the Senedd. All three would have to reconvene during their respective summer recesses in order to pass it before it went to the Privy Council.

That requires very much more "political will" than anybody can reasonably expect them to have.


At present were are witnessing a rather sordid display of mudthrowing by Peter Hain about a date that is now all but impossible to achieve. I would urge senior figures in Plaid not to get involved in this.

All that matters is that we get the referendum before or at the same time as Assembly election next year. We should be concentrating on what date can best serve the interests of democracy. To me, the one important thing is to do what we can to get a high turnout: that means definitely not holding the referendum in winter, and preferably doing it when the evenings are light.

My fear is that by holding out the unreasonable expectation that we can still get a referendum in October, we might be landed with one as close as possible to that as can be achieved, i.e. somewhere in the middle of winter. Bear in mind that it is the Secretary of State who controls the process. It is by no means clear whether she wants to see a Yes result, and the majority of Welsh Tory MPs will probably be campaigning for a No. The last thing we want is to be landed with a date that is likely to reduce the turnout and therefore make a No vote more likely. We need to step back and take a clearer view.


I think we should with one voice stand out for the referendum to be held on 31 March 2011—the first light Thursday—and for the Assembly elections to be put back to 2 June, which is easily possible under the provisions of the GoWA 2006. It won't be the end of the world if the referendum is held on 3 or 10 March 2011, but I think the prize of a high turnout, for the sake of democratic participation rather than any particular result, is worth aiming for.

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Meanwhile, down on another farm

By a strange irony, at least one of those who has been most vociferously opposed to the badger cull in Wales has been equally vociferous of his support for the new ConDem coalition between his party and the Tories in Westminster.

I'm sure that when Peter Black read this in their full agreement yesterday, it might not have raised his eyebrows:

•  As part of a package of measures, we will introduce a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine tuberculosis.

The Coalition: our programme for government

But exactly what form of control the ConDem coalition had in mind has now become clearer. This is what Jim Paice, the new farm minister, had to say in this morning's Farmer's Weekly:

Minister confirms badger cull to combat bovine TB

DEFRA farm minister Jim Paice has confirmed that badgers will be culled to combat bovine tuberculosis in cattle. A targeted cull of badgers will take place once the right “hot spot” locations have been identified.

Mr Paice made the pledge during a visit to the Devon County Show on Thursday (20 May).

"Down here in the south west, in Devon, clearly bovine TB is a major problem. The coalition agreement quite clearly says that we will carry out a scientifically-led targeted cull of badgers in hot spot areas," Mr Paice told show visitors.

A DEFRA spokeswoman added, "The coalition has committed itself to badger control in areas of high incidence. The coalition includes culling in a package of measures. The package will include the vaccination option. The pilot in Wales will be informative about the implementation and rollout of a cull. The fact that a cull is about to start in Pembrokeshire is an interesting opportunity for us to see how a cull can be achieved. We will all learn from the way Wales embarks upon it."

Farmers Weekly, 20 May 2010

Those who are opposed to any element of culling to control bTB are, of course, just as entitled to their views as those who believe otherwise. But they will no longer be able to point to England and say that Wales has gone off on a tangent. Quite the contrary. Elin Jones took the hard decisions and has been able to justify them in the face of all the criticism and legal action that has been thrown at her.

Now England has decided to follow her lead.

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A Bad Decision

In the recent explosion of comments about the referendum and the decision to ensure that Wales continues to be unfairly funded, one piece of news has not been given the condemnation it deserves.

The Review Panel appointed by the Assembly Commission to look at translation of Assembly proceedings has recommended that translations from English to Welsh should be stopped. Their report is here:


There are a number of positive things to be said about the report. Firstly, that in this digital era, the most authoritative record of proceedings in both plenary and the various committee rooms is the audio-visual record. is a very welcome resource, and one that I use frequently, though I have to say that the parallel offering by the BBC's Democracy Live service is often easier to use.

Secondly, I was pleased to learn that Y Cofnod had never been published in paper form; it has only ever been made available on-line. This is a good reflection of the Assembly making good use of technology, as are things like voice recognition software (although this was introduced primarily to avoid RSI rather than to provide an easy way of producing a transcript of what was said). But the report highlights that things have developed in recent years and this could be improved further.

Third, the report is right to recognize that not many people are all that interested in what goes on in the Assembly (and that is no doubt equally true for legislatures elsewhere) and that it would be a very good idea to make what happens even more transparent and accessible. In that regard, the idea of a "Cofnod y Werin" that puts a mass of disparate information together in a more user-friendly way is also very welcome.


But despite a whole series of good recommendations on things that can hardly be contentious, the main problem is that the report has recommended that there should be no translation of what is said in plenary or committee from English to Welsh.

I see this as a major problem. From reading the summaries, the report talks of the Review Panel comparing what happens in other bilingual legislatures. The wording is such as to suggest that their recommendations are in line with what happens elsewhere, but reading the detail shows that the recommendation not to translate both ways is in fact contrary to what happens elsewhere. Full bilingual records are produced in each of these four countries: Ireland, Canada, Catalunya and Euskadi. At one end of the scale, very little of the work of the Oireachtas is in Irish, but everything is still translated into Irish. At the other end of the scale, nearly everything said in the Generalitat de Catalunya is in Catalan, but is still translated into Castilian. Our own situation in Wales is probably closest to Euskadi where Euskara is spoken by 25.7% of the population (665,800 out of 2,589,600) and accounts for about 20% of contributions in their parliament.

If these countries make a point of producing full bilingual records of their proceedings, why should we in Wales backtrack on doing the same thing?


The main argument the Review Panel seems to use is that because the audio-visual record is the "true" record, it is not so necessary to produce text versions (which they argue are not so accurate because they do not include intonation and body language) and that by nature a translation can only ever be an interpretation of what was said rather than an exact record. Well, there's nothing to disagree with in that ... except that it's missing the point.

I have on many occasions caught up with a debate in plenary or evidence session in the early hours of the morning on or Democracy Live. But it's a horribly drawn out way of doing it. I need a special reason to spend two hours watching a debate when it only takes me twenty minutes to read it. Reading the text version is always going to be the quickest and easiest way to find out what was said, and only in rare cases do people need to turn to the video as a primary source. Getting information easily requires a text version—you can't search a video or audio clip for a particular word or phrase—but presenting that information to others is often better done with the video or audio clip. As someone who tries to make good use of video and audio on this blog, I can say with some confidence that the Review Panel's reasoning is flawed, even though it might be well intentioned.

But think. What the Review Panel is proposing is that there should be a text record in English of everything said—whether said in English or Welsh—but not the equivalent for Welsh. So if someone tells me that, say, rail improvements were mentioned last Tuesday in a debate that was not about primarily about rail it would obviously be out of the question to spend two hours watching the video version of the debate to find it. However, as things are at present, I would open Y Cofnod on-line and could easily search in Welsh for "reil", "reilffyrdd" or "tren" and within two or three attempts and in less than thirty seconds find what was said and who said it. I could do that search in English with "rail", "railways" or "train" just as easily. Either way, it would show in either the left hand column or the right. But if what was said in English is not translated into Welsh it would become completely pointless to do that search in Welsh. It would show if it was said in Welsh, but not if it was said in English. The effect of making the change now proposed will be to make it only practical to do searches in English. That makes a mockery of the Assembly's aim of making what it does equally accessible in both Welsh and English.


So in my opinion the Review Panel's recommendation is a regressive, backward step that will make it all but impossible to access the record of proceedings in Welsh. The idea that this is a decision driven by cost is laughable. Dafydd Elis-Thomas has made this one of his personal hobby horses for the past ten years ... even in times when money was being spent liberally. It seems clear to me that money is just being used a pretext because of the present financial situation, but that the prime motivation behind the repeated calls for this change is ideological.

When the suggestion to stop translating from English to Welsh was brought up again last year it attracted fierce criticism from some quarters. This Review Panel was set up in response to that. However I found one part of its terms of reference particularly disturbing:

It was also agreed that any changes recommended by the review to arrangements for the translation of plenary proceedings, would be implemented and, more broadly, that the recommendations from the independent review will provide the basis for public consultation on how the National Assembly’s Welsh language scheme should be revised.

If that is what was agreed, it would appear that those who agreed to it have in effect bound themselves to accept what the report recommends. With hindsight, that must now look like a rather silly thing to have done. Perhaps that explains why there has been so little outcry at the central recommendation, except from outside groups like Bwrdd yr Iaith and Cymdeithas.

But all is not lost. It is for our elected AMs to decide how they want the Assembly to operate, not the Assembly Commission. The Commission is a servant, not a master.

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Fair Funding for Wales? Forget it!

I've just been reading the full ConDem coalition agreement, but had to stop when I read this:

•  We recognise the concerns expressed by the Holtham Commission on the system of devolution funding. However, at this time, the priority must be to reduce the deficit and therefore any change to the system must await the stabilisation of the public finances.

The Coalition: our programme for government

Which is likely to take a very, very long time. The first part of the Holtham Report was an excellent piece of work which exposed the extent to which Wales has been systematically underfunded. It led to all parties having no choice but to recognize that the current funding mechanism was unfit for purpose and needed to be changed, and that it was particularly unfair on Wales.

Well, it's very easy to say you want it changed before an election ... but then find an excuse to do absolutely nothing to change it when you get into power.

It's a shameful decision for which both parties now in power in Westminster will pay dearly in the polls ... and Labour too, for they had the opportunity to change it when they were in power, but refused to do so.

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Incremental Change

I had to smile when I noticed this sentence from Nick Clegg as he announced his plans to shake up democracy in the UK:

Incremental change will not do. It is time for a wholesale, big bang approach to political reform.

Nick Clegg pledges biggest political reforms since 1832 - BBC, 19 May 2010

Immediately above the quote on the BBC webpage is a box that highlights the proposed reforms. The first item is:

• Partially elected House of Lords

I can only guess that his sudden rise to power has resulted in a rush of blood to the head. Is he really saying that a partially elected House of Lords is "wholesale change"? Is he going to be satisfied with that as an end in itself, and give up on the idea of a fully elected second chamber?

The same has been true of his party's stance on reform of the voting system to the Commons. As I reported in this post, it is now clear that the LibDems either did not put STV on the negotiating table at all, or that they withdrew it at an early stage of their negotiations with the Tories. This enabled the Tories to call them back to the table offering them exactly what they had asked for. They couldn't then have asked for STV. In short, they had been comprehensively out-manoeuvred.


Those of us who want to see reform of our political system have more sense than to expect that we will get everything in one "big bang". Change comes more slowly than that, and it usually has to come in small incremental steps.

A partially elected second chamber at Westminster is not an end in itself. It is merely a small step towards a fully elected chamber. But even a fully elected second chamber is not enough without defining what the role of the second chamber should be. Electing a second chamber will give that second chamber as much democratic legitimacy, and as much of a democratic mandate as the Commons. Therefore it might well reassert its right to block the will of the Commons.

Neither is a referendum on the Alternative Vote an end in itself. A fair electoral system requires a degree of proportionality, therefore for the rest of us who want to see fair elections, it can only be a small step in the right direction. But the danger is that people will vote against it in a referendum precisely because it doesn't go far enough.


In short, incremental change will do ... provided we do not lose sight of what we eventually want to achieve.

If Nick Clegg and his party start believing their own hype about how they are now delivering the biggest reforms since 1832, they will be continue to be out-manoeuvred, and eventually swallowed up, by parties which do want to make sure as little as possible changes. Parties that will do all they can to make sure that if the pressure for change gets too great for them to hold out against it, any change should be as little as possible and held back for as long as possible.

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Cheryl Gillan's attitude

I've just downloaded Cheryl Gillan's interview with Bethan Rhys Roberts on yesterday's Good Morning Wales. I did it because of this story in today's Western Mail about her attitude to holding the Westminster and Senedd elections on the same date in 2015. This is the relevant extract:


I wrote about the clash in this post last week, and it has been raised by a number of other people too, so Cheryl Gillan can really have no excuse for not having thought about it.

Her attitude was that she saw no particular problem in holding these two elections on the same day. She rejected any suggestion that there was a problem by saying:

Well I'm awfully sorry, but I think you can hold two elections on one day.

And she repeated almost exactly the same words later, in fact she emphatically said she didn't foresee the election being moved to avoid the clash. This should ring some very loud alarm bells, for the effect will be to drown out any discussion of Welsh issues because the media will concentrate on Westminster issues. Hywel Williams put it well:

Running these two elections at the same time, with the UK election dominating the media to the detriment of the Assembly election, would prove hugely unfair and confusing to the electorate in Wales.

It would be an injustice to voters in Wales if their coverage was dominated by UK and many England-only issues, while pushing so many important devolved issues to the sidelines.

The most important factor when deciding timetables for such important elections must be the interest of voters. I'm sure that the Electoral Commission would have concerns about how this would impact on voters too.

And of course the same is just as true for Scotland.


I was impressed with the way that Bethan Rhys Roberts handled the interview. She was able to press for an answer on a number of issues that Cheryl Gillan was clearly uncomfortable about and wanted to avoid. The interview showed that she had very little to say after her limited supply of stock answers had been played out.


One thing that stood out for me was how willing Gillan was to shift between "I am Welsh, you know" and "That's got nothing to do with me, it's up to the people of Wales to decide."

For example, why should she be so keen on the St Tathan development, telling us that she supported it completely, not least because it would benefit, in her words, "our economy in Wales" but on the subject of the referendum on primary lawmaking powers say that she had no particular view and wouldn't campaign one way or the other because it wasn't something for her, but something for the people of Wales to decide?

Not quite hypocrisy, but certainly a very large dose of double standards.

She can't have it both ways. It is appropriate for a "governor general" to remain constitutionally neutral, and not express political views. But if s/he does that, s/he can hardly then start expressing political views on some subjects but not others. It shows that the Tories' view on how to govern Wales has not changed. This is now the sixth Secretary of State we have had imposed on us by a Tory prime minister in Westminster: we have had Peter Thomas in the seventies under Heath; Peter Walker under Thatcher; David Hunt, John Redwood and William Hague under Major; and now Cheryl Gillan under Cameron. Not a single one of them elected by anybody in Wales. Nicholas Edwards was the only exception.

Not so long ago, one of the Tory catchphrases was that it was the job of politicians to represent people in either Westminster or Cardiff Bay, not for them to represent the government in Westminster or Cardiff Bay to the people. Yet this is exactly what the Tories have done. I don't wish Cheryl Gillan any ill on a personal level, but her appointment was a mistake and she needs to be replaced.

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Nothing to do with Wales, but I couldn't help but be impressed with the prototype design for a new double decker London bus.

I don't particularly share Boris Johnson's irrational hatred for bendy buses, because they actually serve their main purpose well: namely that the three sets of doors allowed people to get on and off faster to speed up journey times. Cardiff didn't quite learn that lesson when they used the same bus, but with only two set of doors.


But when the winning design (above) for a new Routemaster was announced last year, I was disappointed because it was just a pastiche of the original (which, to be frank, is what Boris Johnson said he was looking for) with most of its faults. Yes, the problem of disabled/pushchair access had been addressed, but it couldn't be operated by the driver alone, and the front wheels were too far forward for a set of front doors anyway.


But as the video shows, this prototype has addressed those faults. With three sets of doors and two staircases it should be almost as good at allowing people to get on and off quickly as a bendy bus. It's a bit quirky, but that's something I quite like about it.

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Updating the Referendum Timetable

On this page of the BBC website the new Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan, has been reported as saying:

I was shocked when I opened the first items on my desk to find that the question on the referendum had not been progressed at all.

She really has no reason to be shocked. If she had been following events she would have already known that Peter Hain had done nothing and did not intend to do anything about the Referendum Order. In March, the Western Mail mistakenly reported that he had consulted the Electoral Commission about the wording of the question; but I checked that with them and found that it wasn't true, as I reported in this post.

Of course his department could and should have put a question (or perhaps even a set of alternatives) to the Electoral Commission for comment, not least because they need two weeks notice followed by eight weeks to properly test and evaluate the wording. So if the BBC has reported him accurately, this statement is a very obvious lie:

[Hain] said all necessary work to prepare for a referendum "was carried out immediately under my express instructions".

But let's forget the silly game playing and concentrate on what now needs to be done.


The issue isn't at all complicated, and Cheryl Gillan can easily deal with the referendum request in the month or so she has left before she has to make a decision on whether to lay a draft RO before Parliament or not. She only needs to do three things:

•  Propose the wording of the question – which may subsequently be modified following comment from the Electoral Commission before the final Referendum Order is passed

•  Set the official referendum period – which cannot be less than ten weeks

•  Set the date for the poll

The Wording of the Question

The question itself is not difficult. The GoWA 2006 doesn't give us any options about which areas the Assembly will get primary lawmaking powers in, nor does it give us the opportunity for additional options such as abolition of the Assembly. The choice is simply between the status quo and primary lawmaking powers in the areas listed in Schedule 7 of the Act.

The question should be straightforward, precise and neutral ... and I would only repeat the suggestion I made earlier for the reasons I set out here:

Do you agree with the following proposition?

The National Assembly for Wales should have primary law-making powers in the areas devolved to it, as listed in Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006

YES, I agree
NO, I do not agree

A ydych yn cytuno â'r cynnig canlynol?

Dylai fod gan Gynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru pwerau deddfu cynradd yn y meysydd sy'n cael eu datganoli iddo, fel a restrir yn Atodlen 7 o Ddeddf Llywodraeth Cymru 2006

YDW, dw i yn cytuno
NAC YDW, dw i ddim yn cytuno

I'm not "precious" about the wording, and I'm happy for others to improve on it. In essence all that matters right now is that Cheryl Gillan proposes a form of words to be put into the draft Referendum Order. The wording can be always be modified as the RO progresses, in just the same way as happens with LCOs.

As I noted above, the Electoral Commission has not yet been put on notice that a question is due to be put to them, and the evaluation process will take eight weeks in addition to that two week notice period. So even if Cheryl Gillam puts things in motion next week, they will not be able to respond before the end of July.

The Referendum Period

The PPERA 2000 sets out that there must be a minimum period of ten weeks prior to a referendum. It has three elements:

•  In the first 28 day period all groups that intend to spend money on campaigning one way or the other can apply to the Electoral Commission to become "permitted participants" and will become subject to the rules, in particular the spending rules, set out in the PPERA. There will be many of these, including political parties and other groups. Any of these groups may also apply to be the "designated organization" for the Yes or No campaigns in this period.

•  The EC will then have 14 days to consider their applications and may, if appropriate, appoint a "designated organization" for each side. They may also—but are not required to—give these two organizations an equal amount of money. It is important to note that the decision about money will only be made at that time, so the subject does not need to be addressed in the Referendum Order.

•  After this 14 day period there must be a minimum of 28 days before the actual referendum is held. However this period could be longer and in my opinion it should be.

The Date of the Referendum

I had wanted the date of the poll to be 28 October, i.e. just before the clocks go back on 31 October, because dark evenings will have a negative effect on turnout. But counting back ten weeks from that date, the Referendum Period would have to begin on 19 August at the latest. The Electoral Commission will not have given its opinion on the wording of the question until the end of July. That would leave a three week window for the RO to be finalized and passed. In itself that would be very tight, but because both Parliament and the Assembly will be in recess in late July and August it is for all practical purposes impossible to get that date now.

With October ruled out, the next alternative would be to hold the referendum in early March—either 3 March or 10 March—because nobody would want a referendum held in winter. I would not object to this, however the clocks go forward on the last Sunday of March, and lighter evenings will help to increase the turnout. So because 31 March 2011 is the first "light" Thursday, this is the date I would now prefer to see chosen. Campaigning and canvassing in March will be a lot better than doing it in February.

However if this is done, the Assembly elections due for 5 May should be (this is allowed for in the GoWA 2006) delayed by four weeks and held on 2 June 2011. This would leave an interval of nine weeks, which seems to be an ideal interval since there is a lot to be said for letting the referendum campaign lead on into the Assembly election campaign, in order to focus public attention on both, and increase participation.

So I would recommend that the Referendum Period starts in the first week of January 2011, in order that the "designated organization" for each side and amount of money allocated to them can be finalized in mid-February. This would allow about ten weeks of campaigning before the poll itself, which I think is ample.


In conclusion, Cheryl Gillan might have reason to be concerned at whether the Wales Office could process the request for a referendum in the month or so that is left of the 120 day statutory period if it were a complicated matter. But it really isn't that complicated, so she has no excuse not to do it. These three things are the only things that need to be decided at this stage.

It might be worth noting that because of the recent election the first session of Parliament—due to begin with the Queen's Speech on 25 May—will be longer than a year and run through to Autumn 2011. This means that the RO will not "fall" by being laid just before the summer recess, as might usually be the case. But the chances are that after it is laid in mid-June, nothing much will happen to it before the summer recess, because the Electoral Commission will not have given its opinion on the wording of the question until then. I would expect it to be taken up in earnest in October 2010, and complete what is surely going to be an uncontentious passage before being approved in Council in November or early December.

Having now lost the opportunity of holding the referendum in October 2010, there will be no particular need to rush things in Parliament in order to hold the referendum in March 2011 ... provided that Cheryl Gillan lays the draft RO before Parliament next month. But if it is not laid then, everything will have to go back to square one with a new vote in the Senedd and a new request by the First Minister.

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