LABOUR'S key election promise of a free breakfast for every primary school child can't be delivered lawfully, opposition parties claimed yesterday.
Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives made the claim after the Assembly Government confirmed to the Western Mail it had received advice over what legal powers it had to run the scheme - but refused to say what the advice was.
We had asked for "all information relating to the consideration of whether the free breakfast initiative could be made compulsory so far as the participation of primary schools is concerned".
A letter from a senior official in the Assembly's education division confirmed Education Minister Jane Davidson had received legal advice over the matter and that further advice had been provided to an official by the Office of the Counsel General.
The letter says officials "volunteered a submission in May 2004 which examined the details of the manifesto commitment to provide free breakfasts, in particular as regards legal powers".
After considering the submission, the Minister decided to make the scheme optional.
Details of the legal advice have not been released to us because the Assembly Government claims it is professionally privileged. The Assembly Government is withholding the submission by officials on the basis that background information relating to the formulation of policy does not have to be disclosed. The Western Mail will be appealing.
Tory education spokesman David Davies said, "Their cynical election promise is falling apart before our eyes. It is disgraceful that they are not prepared to publish details of the legal advice they have been given. In view of the manifesto commitment, this is a serious matter of public interest.
"The Minister should apologise to the people of Wales, admit that the promise can't be delivered, scrap the scheme and spend the money on delivering education."
Plaid Cymru's Shadow Education Minister Janet Ryder said, "Here is more evidence that this was no more than an election gimmick. They should be open and publish the legal advice. I am convinced they were told they could not make schools take part."
Clive Thomas, director of the school governors' body Governors Wales, said, "I believe there is a very good theoretical reason for this policy in terms of studies done on the impact having a breakfast can have on pupils' motivation and ability to concentrate.
"It's clear that the Assembly Government wants schools to participate, but I believe governors have the right to decide whether their schools should take part. There are all sorts of practical reasons relating to staffing and facilities that may make it very difficult for some schools to participate."
We asked the Assembly Government outright whether it had been advised that it would not be lawful to make the scheme compulsory on schools. A spokeswoman did not answer the question, but said, "The Assembly Government has not sought to make the scheme compulsory because that is not the manifesto pledge. The pledge was to provide the opportunity and funding - and that pledge is being met."