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Politics

A question of Conservative questions

In the depths of August, here’s a curious case of misunderstanding which at first sight looks like an early sign of unease amongst Welsh Conservatives in the Assembly at their new leader Andrew RT Davies.

Last week, each of the group’s members received an email with what appeared to be a league table of sorts, listing members by the number of written questions they’d asked.

The email said,

Dear all,

Andrew has asked us to circulate details of the number of questions answered in each month, broken down by the AM who asked the question.

There was no other explanation which led some to wonder if the purpose was to pit member against member in a competition to ask more questions.

This, for example is the list for June:

  • Andrew RT Davies: 27
  • Mohammad Asghar: 2
  • Angela Burns: 42
  • Byron Davies: 0
  • Paul Davies: 22
  • Suzy Davies: 1
  • Janet Finch-Saunders: 2
  • Russell George: 3
  • William Graham: 0
  • Mark Isherwood: 3
  • David Melding: 0
  • Darren Millar: 48
  • Nick Ramsay: 2
  • Antoinette Sandbach: 18

Senior members Mark Isherwood and William Graham responded, doubting the value of comparisons based on written questions as opposed to using the Members’ Research Service.

William Graham wrote,

Only too happy to comply with Andrews request but I do agree with Mark I(sherwood) that questions put to MRS have vastly better replies and will answer follow up queries. I enclose 2 typical replies from Carl as an indication of the standard of some of the replies we all receive from Ministers.

The Carl referred to is Transport and Local Government minister Carl Sargeant and Mr Graham attached two examples of his replies, both of which drew the same answer. This is one:

William Graham (South Wales East): Will the Minister outline the response by the emergency services to the fire in the Brynglas tunnels. (WAQ57819)

 Carl Sargeant: I will write to you and a copy of the letter will be placed on the internet.

In fact far from an attempt to rank Welsh Conservatives, I’m told the information was being used for a different kind of league table – one contrasting the activity of Conservatives with the other parties, particularly Labour.

The party published its findings last week, noting that

In the past month 161 questions have been answered by Welsh Ministers:

117 Welsh Conservatives
32 Lib Dems
10 Plaid Cymru
2 Labour

Andrew RT Davies said,

Labour AMs seem to think they are exempt from holding Welsh Ministers to account.

Voters who lent their support to Labour in the recent Assembly elections will be very disappointed to learn that their new AMs are content to be voting fodder rather than the hardworking representatives people deserve.

The Labour leader promised that his AMs would be working hard and playing a full part in Assembly proceedings, but it seems his colleagues are rather more workshy.

Unlike the House of Commons, where there are hundreds of backbench MPs, we only have a small number of non-government Assembly Members, whose role it is to scrutinise the Welsh Labour Government’s spending of public money.

And far from being annoyed at being listed as having asked no written questions himself, William Graham told me he’s fully behind what he says is ‘a super’ idea:

I was simply pointing out that Mark (Isherwood) and I – the older hands – prefer getting information from the Members’ Research Service: it’s more cogent than many ministers’ replies.

What I was cross about were the responses from Carl (Sargeant), particularly about the Brynglas Tunnels. It’s not right.

Ironically, Mr Graham’s tally looks like it’ll be going up anyway. He said,

I was so cross with those responses from Carl that I’ll be framing many more questions to him from now on.

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About Adrian Masters

By day, Political Editor at ITV Wales. By night, obsessed with music and books.

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