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Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Sinking majorities

The unfortunate illness of Carl Sergeant, the Labour Assembly Member for Flintshire, meant that Labour were facing some difficult times today. Their majority of 30 to 29 disapeared into a 29-29 tie. These voting figures of course depend on who is chairing Plenary. Whilst the Presiding Officer is in the chair his deputy, John Marek is able to speak and vote in the chamber. If John Marek chairs then normally the Presiding Officer takes no further part and Labour's majority rises to 30-28. It was arranged therefore that Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas take the chair for the two crucial debates of the day. The first of these was the Business Statement. The opposition parties were keen to force a debate on the report on children's services under Cardiff County Council. These have been slated in a recent report but all the Health Minister offered in terms of scrutiny was an urgent question. There has been no opportunity to debate the report despite the perceived risks to children in Cardiff. When it came to a vote on the Business Statement there was a 29-29 tie and the Presiding Officer cast his vote against so that there could be further discussion. The opposition forced the debate that they wanted.

The second debate was on the Government's response to the review by Derek Wanless of the Welsh National Service. This report recommended a radically different approach to the management of the health service. However, the opposition parties are deeply disapointed at what they see as the inadequate response of the minister to the report's proposals. Today's debate was an opportunity to express our anger and the lack of a government majority offered a further chance to give the administration a bloody nose on the issue as well. The vote was predictable. All contested amendments ended in a 29-29 tie with the Presiding Officer casting his vote against according to the guidance. When it came to the final motion there was a tie again and so as to facilitate further debate the chair used his vote to defeat this as well. Another shocking lesson for Labour of the reality of ruling with a wafer thin manufactured majority. Never mind, I am sure they will be able to breath more easily the next time an opposition AM gets pregnant or something.

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