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Rare sightings

Betsan Powys | 14:17 UK time, Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Which story from Wales on the BBC online site was the most read throughout the UK yesterday?

This one. Over a million people clicked on the story of the man who squeezed 13 people into his Volvo and found himself with a conviction for dangerous driving.

It's unlikely that the equally rare sight these days of 10 men squeezed around the Joint Ministerial Committee table will galvanise quite so much clicking but you can't blame a girl for trying to sell a story.

The JMC - a body made up of representatives from the UK government and the devolved administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - last met 6 years ago. Despite Jane Davidson appearing to suggest yesterday that it hadn't met for so long because diaries are always difficult to co-ordinate, I think we can safely say it lay dormant while Labour Ministers used other more convenient channels of communication but it's now been given the kiss of life - or been kicked back into life - by the SNP's Alex Salmond and the Plaid/Sinn Fein deputies in Cardiff and Stormont.

Overseeing the passengers as they fight their way to the best seats in the JMC as I write is Welsh Secretary, Paul Murphy; in the chair - or should that be driving seat - that big fan of devolution, Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

The Scottish First Minister comes armed with a demand for more help for consumers and industry in Scotland to combat the effects of high fuel prices. He'd rather just keep Scottish oil revenue in Scotland of course and abolish the Scotland Office but give him time. This is meeting number one of the 'rejuvenated' JMC.

Rhodri Morgan wants to talk about renewable energy and coastline policy. Now 'energy' could always lead to questions about devolving the right to grant consent for power stations with a generating capacity of greater than 50 MW of course but will there be fireworks from Welsh Ministers? No.

Yet it's worth noting what a Labour and a Plaid backbencher had to say about the JMC over the past few days. I'd be surprised if either chose their words without ... some consideration of what the boss thinks.

Plaid's Alun Ffred Jones talked in terms of the JMC as a forum for Welsh Ministers 'to seek redress for injustices':

"There is huge scope in this sort of forum to grapple with some of the contentious issues of the day and work towards solutions which can be mutually beneficial ... What is needed however is a partnership of equals which would provide an even stronger basis on which we can work together for the good of our respective countries."

And from Labour's Lesley Griffiths: "The UK and devolution within the UK, is a moving 'feast' and I am anxious to see the rules and structures that define the current relationships, are kept right up to date and relevant for today. Also, for the JMC to be truly reinvigorated, I believe it is essential that the rules that govern the process, reflect what is presently happening in all the nations ... I fully agree and accept that the formal mechanism of the JMC should not used as a substitute for good working relations between the London and Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh. However, periodically disputes will undoubtedly arise that have to be addressed, so it is just 'good-housekeeping' to have contemporary arrangements and rules in place for when those moments occur".

'Considering disputes between the administrations' is already part of the JMC's remit.

And it looks as though the Scottish and Welsh contingent might just take that particular vehicle for a test-drive.


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