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Melding: Labour is destroying the Welsh Assembly's reputation

Welsh Conservatives condemn move to cut committee meetings.

"It is time that the Labour Party took stock of the damage that it has done to the Assembly's reputation.

In limiting the amount of committee work being carried out, it has reduced the effectiveness of this national body.

That cannot be a cause of solace or pleasure to anyone—if it is, please stand up and I will take an intervention from you.

It has also led to the most miserable breakdown in relations, which is embarrassing for both sides.

People who watch proceedings think that we cannot even run our business because parties that try to work for the public good of Wales cannot agree on a basic framework.

That is primarily down to the current Business Minister, and to whomever put it into her head that we should move to a three-week cycle. That was a stupid move, which has caused great damage.

The best action to take is to move back to start arranging business more effectively and not pull debates at the last moment.

I will spell out the situation that we face in the Health and Social Services Committee.

Three-and-a-half hour sessions are the norm and I must work hard, with the co-operation of other Members, to expedite certain items on the agenda in most meetings, with few exceptions, so that we can get through the business.

We do not spend the necessary amount of time on many items. During the autumn session, which is usually the longest, the Health and Social Services Committee is due to meet three times, which is once a month, given that we sit from late September to mid December.

Does anyone in the Labour Party think that that is adequate in a national assembly? One of you stand up and defend your current policy.

It is incredible that you seriously believe that a committee that deals with health and social services, covering around 40 per cent of the public services expenditure in Wales for which we are responsible, can scrutinise, help to develop policy and deal with secondary legislation in three meetings.

If we were on a two-weekly cycle, we would have six meetings during the autumn term. You are depriving the people of Wales of half the committee meetings that we could be holding.

The Richard commission made some pertinent observations on our sitting times and how committees work.

The table showing the number of hours that we sat during the 1999 to 2003 Assembly, compared with the Scottish Parliament, shows that the Scottish Parliament sat for half as much time again.

Its Members did 50 per cent more work on average than we did as National Assembly Members. We must reflect hard on that when we seek to develop the Assembly, and work properly and hard for the people of Wales.

Members of the House of Commons Select Committee on Health met with us yesterday. It is fair to say—and I will try to use measured language—that they were aghast that we met so infrequently.

They asked us to justify that. Most of us sat dumb and looked to our Labour colleagues. There was a faint whisper—you had to listen hard to pick up the argument—that it allowed us to prepare for meetings more thoroughly.

With only three meetings being held a term, an average of one a month, you ought to be able to do a fair amount of preparation.

The Assembly is in danger of becoming merely an advisory council. We have a strong Executive—a full Government in effect—without any primary legislative powers.

Because the Government is knobbling the scrutiny role, it is reducing the rights of opposition parties.

The First Minister is now looking at the clock: if your Business Minister could actually organise business effectively, we would not be here at 5.55pm.

Rather than pointing to the clock, you should listen to some of these arguments. It is a disgrace.

Your party won a victory—no-one doubts that—with 37 per cent of the vote. However, 63 per cent of the vote was won by opposition parties. You have deprived us of our main mode of controlling and scrutinising the Executive.

It is a limited mode, as we do not have power of initiation or of intense control. This is what you have taken away. It is a disgrace, and you have served the people of Wales ill."

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