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Thursday, November 18, 2004

A question of context

No doubt I will be accused of being mean-spirited in using this quotation from Mark Isherwood in yesterday's Plenary but I do feel that if we fail to keep things in proportion then we do a disservice to those we represent.

During the debate on the Children Commissioner's report Mark raised a very disturbing and valid case of a family in his constituency who are living in difficult conditions. Efforts are clearly being made to resolve their case but the proposals so far are not satisfactory to the family or to Mark.

In January, and again in May, I referred to the plight of the Finegan family, who live near me in Flintshire, and who have given me permission to use their name today. Their children are being raised in substandard and sub-human conditions since the county council enforced a demolition order against the house next door. Their health and wellbeing is poor, and it is only the intervention of the children’s commissioner that has given this family hope. However, the council is still ducking, diving and delaying over its proposal that two children should share a bedroom that is too small for a standard single bed because of the weakness of the commissioner’s powers when they come up against determined opposition.

In this context the use of the phrase "sub-standard" may be acceptable but "sub-human"? If living next door to a condemned house in Flintshire is sub-human then how do we describe the awful conditions endured by the people of Darfur in Sudan?

Meanwhile, Conservative AM and would-be-MP for Monmouthshire, David Davies, was on form:

David Davies: I agree with that last comment about the way in which Peter Clarke has represented the cause of young people in Wales. I give this report a qualified welcome, because I have not always agreed with everything that Peter Clarke has said, for example, his views on discipline and on whether there are any circumstances under which it is acceptable to smack children. It is interesting that this report contains so much about bullying, which is an issue in good schools as well as bad.

Christine Chapman: Will you give way?

David Davies: I will give way, but I will just finish my point. I like to give way to Labour Party Members, and I respect those who are able to make interventions. Some children who are bullies might benefit from the sort of discipline that the children’s commissioner sometimes tries to prevent.

Christine Chapman: Do you agree that there is a possibility—and I believe that research has been done on this—that bullying stems from children being beaten at home?

David Davies: I am not aware of that research, but I should think that that is likely. However, without a doubt—and I have seen this work effectively—the threat of physical action will stop children from bullying. Members may shake their heads, but I remember being punched in the face on one occasion by an older boy when waiting to get a glass of water when I first went to Bassaleg Comprehensive School, and the teacher went up to the person concerned, shook him three times and told him that he ever did that again, he would, and I quote, ‘bloody well kick you through the wall backwards’. I assure you that never did it again. Therefore, it was brutal but rather effective. Had that teacher been found doing that, he would have been disciplined and kicked out of his job, but he was a good teacher, and people did not mess around in his classes.

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