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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A socialist solution

It is often the case that question time in the Assembly fails to fulfill its functions because members insist on making speeches rather than asking questions. As a result we are often treated to long, sometimes-tedious discourses, read out by a member from a closely typed script. There is also a tendency for members to bring casework to the chamber but, instead of using it to illustrate a point they read out the letter they should have written to the Minister in the first place.

This happened yesterday with firstly, an essay by Lisa Francis on the experiences of a constituent from Aberystwyth who was holidaying in Gwynedd and then, an overlong question from Rosemary Butler. In the end the Presiding Officer suggested a solution:

The Presiding Officer: Order. This seems to be catching. I would like a question.

Rosemary Butler: I am trying to be concise.

The Presiding Officer: May I suggest that you ask the question and then e-mail the First Minister with the rest of the evidence?

By far the most interesting discussion of yesterday's session however, was the contribution of Environment Minister, Carwyn Jones, on the nature of farming. He started off by responding to the suggestion by Mick Bates that he was seeking to move from headboy in the chamber to headmaster:

To deal with Mick Bates’s supposition, I assure you, Llywydd, that I am not after your job as headmaster of this place. That was an evil comment that he made, and I certainly disagree with it. I seem to remember a great deal of grandstanding here by Mick Bates a fortnight ago; he seemed to give the impression that, somehow, he was the voice of calm and reason while everything raged about him. That was far from being the case, as he played to his own little gallery. He talks about socialism, but we are talking about an industry that is about as close to socialism as you can get, in many ways, because it is an economy that is subsidised, and needs state aid in order to survive. I do not disagree with that at the moment, and that has been accepted for a number of years across Europe. The farmers of Wales should be grateful that there is a socialist aspect to farming policy.

David Melding: I am grateful for that stunning insight, which had escaped most of us. Will you please tell your colleague, Huw Lewis, that he must support this form of mechanism in support of the rural economy from now on?

Carwyn Jones: Socialism must always be revised if it is to be relevant, which many of us in the Chamber believe in order for it to be relevant for the future. That is true of farming, as it is of any other part of the economy.

The Presiding Officer: Order. We are entering into philosophical fields that are not our major issues, however enjoyable they may be.

Alas, as philosophical discussions go it was a good debating point but hardly a coherent analysis of European agricultural policy, which has been largely dictated by National self-interest and back-room deals for many decades.
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