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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Last orders

The weekly Business statement is an opportunity for a member of each party to stand up and reel off a list of issues that they want to see come before us over the next three weeks. Since the Government lost its majority they have been quite good in acceding to these demands but occasionally the opposition will force a vote anyway just to remind Labour who is really in charge. When the Business statement is voted down then the Business Minister is obliged to come back with a new one, often taking account of the objections that led to the vote in the first place.

Yesterday was one of those occasions when there was no challenge. This was more through chance than judgement as the Tories were keen to get on their feet and have a go at the Government. Unfortunately for them they did not have the support of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru this time and they could not muster the ten members needed to force a vote because Alun Cairns had not got back from a funeral in time.

The issue that was animating the Tories so much was the timetable of committee meetings for next term. After two years of arguing about the three week gap between subject committee meetings imposed by Labour a compromise has been reached. From January these committee meetings will return to fortnightly meetings. The quid quo pro however is that timetabled additional meetings on Thursdays will be abandoned and the membership of the committees will be reduced from ten members to eight.

The effect of these changes is that in reality the number of hours the committees are timetabled to meet will be slightly up and that the present arrangement whereas there are two Plaid Cymru members and two Conservative members on each Committee will also change. Instead each Committee will contain two of one party and one of the other. This means that some opposition members will lose coveted committee places.

The problem facing business managers was how they would decide which Committee has two Conservatives on it and which will have two Plaid Cymru members. Fortunately, the Tories made things easy for them by being as difficult as possible and refusing to engage in the process. As a result the Government gave Plaid Cymru choice and naturally they chose the most prestigious committees to maximise their representation. One of the consequences of this is that the Health Committee, which is chaired by Tory AM, David Melding, will no longer have amongst its membership the Tory health spokesperson, Jonathan Morgan. No wonder they were unhappy.

Because of the Tories self-inflicted inactivity the Business statement passed without incident until that was Labour's Carl Sergeant got to his feet. He ran through a list of issues he wanted the Government to look at mostly of a self-congratulatory nature. However, tucked in there was a demand that Plenary debate the ability of regional members to take part in its proceedings:

Carl Sargeant: Minister, will you consider allocating some time to discuss economic performance in Wales? I bring this to your attention because of the Wales Fast Growth 50 businesses, particularly Edwards Homes Ltd in my constituency, at Connah’s Quay, which came fourth in Wales and first in the north Wales region.

I would also welcome a discussion, as would my colleague, David Melding, on the electoral arrangements of this establishment, following the suggestion about regional Members and their ability to take part in the Chamber. I would welcome a debate on that.

As Carl did not comment further on this we were unable to get to the bottom of this latest development in the Labour backbencher's obsession with list AMs, a category created by a Labour Government. However it is clear that a number of the Labour group have concluded that disenfranchising us is the best way to recreate a Labour majority.

At least one member of the opposition has taken this to heart as later that evening, as I was coming out of the members' tearoom, I found a notice pinned to the first floor noticeboard containing a very heartfelt piece of verse about the matter. I emphasise that the authorship of this unique contribution to the debate has nothing to do with me, however I will not embarrass the person I suspect of writing it by naming him or her here. Needless to say there is one AM who spends a large amount of time in Plenary writing doggerel and that person must be favourite. It is entitled Sargeant Carl's Orders:

Democracy is Dictatorship
Say Sargeant Carl's orders
Notions of fair representation
Must end at our borders

Minorities rule, or else
When they are Labour
All others emasculated
By their despotic sabre

The regionally elected
Must be selected out
And silenced in debate
By the dogmatically devout

I am sure you will all recognise the style. There is definitely a bit of 'four legs good, two legs better' about it.
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