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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Career before principle

Despite a slow start the debate on Top-up Fees yesterday turned into an absorbing spectacle. By far the highlight was the speech by Blaenau Gwent Independent AM, Peter Law. All the bitterness and frustrations of the last year or so spilled out and were repaid in kind by Labour AMs seeking to intervene. Peter's treatment of Huw Lewis, who he accused of putting "career before principles" was especially vehement.

I have reproduced below the entire exchange so as to illustrate my point:

Peter Law: This is a disgrace as far as the Labour Party is concerned. We are having this debate because, in 2001, the Labour Party reneged on a promise. I do not know whether I should be surprised about that because Tony Blair has privatised the education system, and his vicar in Wales, Rhodri Morgan, is in the same category because he has not stood up and said that we will not have top-up fees. That is the mistake. Where is the principle from the Labour movement in allowing people to have the right to free education? That is the disgrace here.

Huw Lewis and Lynne Neagle rose—

Peter Law: Here it comes. This is going to be good.

The Presiding Officer: Order. Are you giving way?

Peter Law: Yes, I am giving way to Huw Lewis.

Huw Lewis: Let us talk about principles, Peter. You and I share the dubious distinction of having in our constituencies the lowest number of young people who are participating in higher education. Eight out of 10 of our constituents do not access higher education. For them, higher education is a privilege; it is not a right that they can access. That is the key issue in HE today. You are asking your constituents to finance a massive bung for the middle classes by underwriting HE.

Peter Law: I want a universal right of free education, which you ought to be supporting, as a one-time socialist; however, as someone who has always put his career before his principles, I understand why you are saying this today. You might like to tell the people of Merthyr why you spent £70 million on a debating chamber next door, when these young people are trying to get life chances. That is the difference between our principles. That is the point. You have to get your priorities right, if you believe in opportunities for these young people. We do not want to load them down with another £9,000 of debt; we want to enrich the whole nation—

Lynne Neagle rose—

The Presiding Officer: Order. I do not think that Peter Law is giving way.

Peter Law: Free education for these people will enrich our nation. Today, it is as simple as this—in the time that I have left—First Minister: you must get up and make a definitive statement that there will not be any top-up fees in Wales. Nothing less will do and that is what the people expect. That is what we must do for these young people who are our future.

Lynne Neagle, Denise Idris Jones and Irene James rose—

Peter Law: I cannot give way because I think that I have run out of time.

The Presiding Officer: Order. You have 30 seconds of injury time.

Peter Law: I will therefore give way to you, Denise; I would never say ‘no’ to you, you were always very nice.

Denise Idris Jones: I am grateful, Peter, that you would never say ‘no’ to me. I think that we have the same views and we have been sponsored by the same union, so I have always worked alongside you. I had hoped that you would also work alongside me.

As a member of the council of the University of Wales, Bangor, I know how worried my vice chancellor is about this matter and the future of Bangor university. Other people here are university council members; how do they think that their universities are going to finance themselves in order to compete?

Peter Law: That was a question for me and thank you, Denise, but if you are in Government, you take the liabilities with the assets. You have to wake up because you can run, but you cannot hide. If you cannot find the money—and there is a big block of money here—you get your priorities right, or you go up to London and speak to your great mentor and say, ‘We need more money down here’. That is what being in Government is all about. I do not need to give you these lessons because you know this better than I do. It is all about putting principles before careers; do not forget that.
Perhaps the same should apply to the Lib Dems, “power before principle”, as you were all to ready to jump into bed with the Tories and those so called “independents” (most of whom most certainly belong to the “Tory” school of thought, but wouldn’t publicly admit it, but with one notable exception, THE monster raving loony of Mawr) to form a coalition on Swasnea Council!
But the coalition in Swansea was formed around a policy programme and as such the principles came first!
Oh, please! What aspects of policy could the Lib Dems possibly share with the Conservatives?? And for anyone to want to go into coalition with the monster raving loony from Mawr is totally bizarre!

I thought it was quite peculiar that you’ve given the “local regeneration” cabinet portfolio to a Tory, given her that so that she can sort out the mess the previous Tory government made of urban regeneration I take it?

I was also quite puzzled by the lack of a Children’s commissioner or a cabinet member with specific responsibility for children? I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure it’s a statutory obligation on local authorities to have a cabinet member with responsibility for children, and head of children’s services??

And as we’ve been talking about student finance, do you think it’s acceptable that as a home-based student, that I’m forced to pay £1.80 (it’s gone up twice under your administration) a day by the council to park my car?? In the last 2 years, I’ve spent over £500 on parking fees alone! What are you going to do about this??
Actually, we had concern for the future of Swansea in common and in particular, cleaning it up, dealing with the problems left to us over schools, re-opening the Leisure Centre, sorting out the City Centre and getting community safety right.

This thread is now off-topic and I do not intend to allow it to continue for much longer. If you have individual issues you wish me to take up on your behalf then please continue by e-mail. Thanks
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