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Friday, December 02, 2005

Another day another filibuster

On Wednesday Assembly Members had another opportunity to debate their favourite subject, the Welsh railway network. What is more they were able to talk on the subject at length as the opposition were one short of the number of votes they needed to get their amendments through and so conducted a filibuster to enable Peter Law to get there in time to vote.

The subject of this momentous debate was a delegation of functions under the Railways Act 2005 to the First Minister. The combined might of the opposition parties did not want to delegate all of the functions to Rhodri Morgan, instead they wanted to keep some of them for the Assembly as a whole. We wanted, for example, to have the final say over who represents Wales on the Rail Passengers' Council, we wanted to be consulted on franchise agreements and we wanted to be able to debate the Rail Passengers' Council's annual report rather than let it fester away in the dark recesses of the Minister's office. There was more but you can always read the record for yourself to get the detail.

Within minutes of the Minister getting to his feet the word went out that we needed to spin out the debate. The Tories had forgotten to get David Davies in from his constituency and Peter Law was not yet in the Assembly. Indeed it took so long for Peter Law to arrive that we concluded that he must have been using the train. As Plaid Cymru AM, Janet Davies said, "my experience of the railways, since we have been in the Assembly, is that nothing has ever happened with them quickly. Railways and the word ‘quickly’ seem to be a contradiction in terms."

The ins and outs of the debate amounted to the usual knocking copy with John Marek at one point even launching into an attack on cronyism:

"no doubt, the First Minister would appoint some Labour crony—not him personally, but the Labour system; I will not attack the First Minister personally. For example, if any of you have £250,000 and give it to Mr Blair as a donation to the Labour Party, you can confidently expect a seat in the House of Lords within the next year. You only have to look at the lists to see that that is so. For lesser sums, knighthoods are available. [Assembly Members: ‘How much?’] I would be straying from the rather narrow range of this motion, were I to answer that.

I do not trust this Labour administration to appoint a person who will speak for Wales and for the Assembly, unless we can have a motion and confirm our confidence in that person. I would be happy for the First Minister to table a motion, after the various interviews had been held."

However, it took Eleanor Burnham to bring us back to the nub of the debate, a passion for travelling (sorry, railways) enjoyed by Assembly Members and politicians:

Eleanor Burnham: I am sure that most of you know that I am passionate about trains and their improvement, particularly the north-south connection, which, in my humble opinion, is a democratic right in a devolved nation such as Wales. Given that, we need a robust Minister for transport, not someone wishy-washy who does not stand up to the Welsh...

Glyn Davies: Will you take an intervention?

Eleanor Burnham: I have hardly got going, but okay.

Glyn Davies: Would Eleanor Burnham agree that, as well as the north-south road, the east-west road is equally important?

Eleanor Burnham: Yes, and I was going to come on to that in my short speech. The Minister needs to show a little bit more of a ‘can do’ mentality. Perhaps he should have read the article on motivation in The Western Mail, by a woman from America; he should discuss it with her. We need to stand up for the railways. We are in a sorry state at the moment, and if some of you had come up with me last week—I was up and down like a yo-yo to north Wales, which I adore doing because there is a wonderful view out of the window—you would have seen that the state of the rolling stock is appalling. I will return to the motion in hand.

At this point everybody wanted to share in Eleanor's passions. It was the Leader of the Plaid Cymru group who got in first however:

Ieuan Wyn Jones: I know your passion about railways, which is shared by me on many occasions as we make this journey. [Laughter.] I said ‘passion about railways’. Does the Member recall the number of times on that journey that we have had to stand outside Crewe station for quarter of an hour while the Virgin train from London arrives and we miss our connection to north Wales? Is that not a disgrace?

Eleanor Burnham: Yes, it is. It is more akin to being in India, although its rail service is probably far superior to ours.

The comparison to India was a curious one. It immediately begged the question as to whether Eleanor actually travels on the roof of the train as some do in that sub-continent. However, by that time Peter Law had arrived and the debate was brought to conclusion. This question will have to wait for another day.
I see the Tory party debate next week is calling for the Assembly to create a “Committee on Rail Infrastructure and Improved Passenger Services”

I’d suggest a much more interesting name - the Marples and Beaching redress committee – so that the Tories are made to realise it was them who made a mess of the railways in Wales during the 1960’s in the first place.
it seems like it was the day for labour filibusting (yes im sure my way is the correct spelling)

since a labour MP was doing the same http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4492688.stm

more comment on my blog ... because i cant be bothered to repeat myself.
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