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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Business as usual

Jane Hutt, the new Business Minister in the National Assembly previously spent five and a half years as Health Minister going through fire and brimstone in seeking to defend her record. Dealing with the weekly Business Statement therefore should be easy for her. As usual she was helped yesterday by the Labour Assembly Member for Alyn and Deeside, Carl Sargeant, who is always willing to oblige with a diversion when one is needed:

Carl Sargeant: As always, this side of the Chamber will support the business statement, as it allows excellent opportunity for debate. Provided that you can find time, we would like to discuss immigration policy that impacts upon Wales, following the racist comments made by the Conservative Party at Westminster.

The Presiding Officer: Order. I do not believe that the Business Minister has any responsibility for the Conservative Party.

Carl Sargeant: Thank you for your guidance.

We could perhaps draw a line under the free school breakfast debate that the opposition parties want, as we want free breakfasts, as does the electorate. It was included in our manifesto.

Perhaps we could find time to discuss the aerospace industry in Wales, following a comment by Jeremy Clarkson in The Times last weekend, where he claimed that one is better off going on a Boeing. I hope that Jeremy Clarkson never steps foot in an Airbus or in Wales again after having made such sarcastic comments.

Nick Bourne: Point of order. I hope that the Member could be encouraged, perhaps on your ruling, to withdraw the term ‘racist’. It seems to me that there was an outrageous suggestion that it was a racist policy, and I hope that, on reflection, he will withdraw that.

The Presiding Officer: Order. My view would be that if an individual was referred to as racist, I would certainly ask that that be withdrawn. I understood Carl Sargeant to refer to policies. It is not unusual to talk of institutional racism or of policies that induce racism. I would distinguish between making such a comment about an individual, which would be out of order in my view, and making a description of a policy. I understood Carl Sargeant to refer not to an individual but to policies.

David Davies: Further to this point of order, I have no wish to suggest that you may have misheard, Presiding Officer—

Presiding Officer: Order. I would not go down that route, if I were you.

David Davies: I heard him refer to the leader of the Conservative Party, and I wonder whether we could ask him to clarify his comments. The last people described as racist by the Commission for Racial Equality were those in the Cardiff Labour Party.

Carl Sargeant: Further to this point of order, I will clarify the situation. I said Tory party policies, and did not refer to any individual.

It does seem to me that Nick Bourne and David Davies are in denial on the racist nature of the Conservative Party's policy on immigration. However, the opportunity had been created for Jane Hutt to slink away and avoid any further scrutiny. That, though, is not her style. Instead she responded to each point in her customary detail and gave an exposition on Government health policy that might perhaps have been better left to the new Minister. She just cannot let go, a point made with telling effect by David Melding:

David Melding: Point of order. Now that we have the unique situation in the Government of having a health Minister emeritus, will you rule on when we should put our health questions to the Business Minister, and when we should put them to our acolyte, the current Minister, Dr Pangloss?

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