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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Tanks and gun-slinging landowners

The smell of cordite was in the air in yesterday's Plenary as AMs squared up for the forthcoming electoral battle. For some Assembly Members however, the tension was just too much:

Eleanor Burnham: We all know that it is a complex scenario; I cannot get my head around it. Even getting a new television is an achievement for most of us. What is the Welsh Assembly Government doing to ensure that we have the coverage that we need? I attended an S4C public meeting the other night, where—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. We do not want to hear what meeting you attended last night; we want a question.

Eleanor Burnham: In a nutshell, Deputy Presiding Officer, it was a very relevant point, which I will take up with you another time—[Assembly Members: ‘Oh.’]

Welsh Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson, Kirsty Williams, was very clear about the direction she was going in. She challenged stand-in First Minister, Sue Essex (Rhodri was in Basra looking for daffodils - sorry, talking to Welsh troops on St. David's Day), to say who it is that determines Welsh health policy:

Kirsty Williams: Many older people are depressed at the prospect of having to wait many years for NHS treatment. That was no doubt recognised by Peter Hain who briefed journalists today on his intention to make a major announcement about health policy prior to the general election. Can you confirm that health policy remains a devolved matter and that Brian Gibbons retains the confidence of Welsh Labour Members of Parliament? If so, will you instruct Mr Hain to take his tank off your lawn?

Clearly, Basra was not the only place boasting UK Government tanks that day. However, the biggest spat of the session came over legislation relating to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

When it comes to issues of countryside access and landowning there are some members who adopt a strictly class-based approach. Conservative AM Glyn Davies certainly does:

Glyn Davies: Since the beginning of the passage of this Act, I have been fundamentally opposed to it. I have condemned the Act many times in the Chamber as one of the most appalling bits of legislation that I have seen passed. I have not changed my view—it is a confiscatory Act by a Government acting in the most bullying fashion, and undermines the principle of private ownership, which is a fundamental principle upon which civil society is based. As is the case in many other areas, the current Labour Governments in Westminster and here have no idea about what is needed.

Labour member, Carl Sargeant, never shies away from dropping a grenade into a meeting and seeing what happens. Yesterday, he did just that and set off a feud that ran throughout the debate:

Carl Sargeant: Will you join me in welcoming the commencement of this Act, and do you agree that media training should also extend to landowners to ensure that they do not go out gun-slinging against walkers as they walk across the beautiful landscape of Wales?

One Conservative AM was determined to have the last word on this and in doing so took the debate down to new levels:

David Davies: I raise this point of order under Standing Order No. 7.7 (v), which deals with abusive and inflammatory language. There is a long-standing convention in the Chamber that minorities of all sorts are protected from the sort of language that we just heard, which was inflammatory, abusive, and made wide, stereotyping generalisations. The minority concerned in this instance was an economic minority. However, if it is in order for an economic minority to be tarred with such a violent soubriquet, will it also be in order for other minorities, perhaps religious, cultural or ethnic minorities, to be tarred as gun-slingers, bomb-throwers, suicide bombers, plane hijackers or other similarly violent terms? Can you rule that all minorities are subject to protection in the Chamber?

David Davies as the protector of minorities? Somehow, it does not sound right!
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