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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 October, 2004, 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK
Wales: First Minister's Questions (05/10/04)

NHS dental provision in north Wales
  • Brynie Williams (North Wales, Conservative) suggested the service was going backwards.
    The first minister reeled off the increase in provision across Wales and pointed out that four of the 10 new practices opening across the country were in the north.

  • Janet Ryder (North Wales Plaid Cymru) wanted to know what relief there would be for those people in Holyhead who, after recent closures, were left without NHS cover.
    The first minister repeated that services were expanding under the Welsh Dental Initiative, which he described as one of the best in the UK.
    The government's policy to promote the Welsh language
  • Alun Ffred Jones (Caernarfon, Plaid Cymru) asked for the government's main priorities in reaching Welsh language speaking targets.
    The first minister accepted the importance of encouraging Welsh language and referred to the government's 'Iaith Pawb' action plan.

  • John Griffiths (Newport East, Labour Co-op) focused on additional promotion where the language is not commonly spoken.
    The first minister recognised the importance of encouraging the language in all areas.

  • Lisa Francis (Mid & West Wales, Conservative) questioned the delivery of materials for the Iaith Pawb programme.
    The first minister was unaware there had been delivery problems, but said he would look into it.

  • Jenny Randerson (Cardiff Central, Liberal Democrat) spoke of the importance of teaching more courses in the Welsh language.
    The first minister recognised the importance of educating in Welsh and that there were insufficient teaching materials in Welsh in vocational subjects.

    Access to education in rural areas
  • Kirsty Williams (Brecon & Radnorshire, Liberal Democrat)spoke of planned school closures by Powys County Council.
    The first minister said a decision was expected soon.

  • Mark Isherwood (North Wales, Conservative) wondered when the national government was going to stop blaming local authorities for schools' closures.
    The first minister said that ministers only had a responsibility to consider objections to school closures and half of the average three schools closed each year did so unopposed.

  • Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynes Mon, Plaid Cymru) raised the matter of funding cuts to schools and was concerned about the pressure on existing sixth forms and the provision of medium-level education.
    The first minister said funding decisions would be made fairly based on inconvenience and age.

  • Brian Gibbons (Aberavon, Labour) referred to similar problems with cuts in primary school funding.
    The first minister said there were variations according to different provisions in different areas. He maintained the importance of adhering to the agreed principle of moving away from competition between sixth forms and colleges.

    The National Botanic Garden of Wales
  • Eleanor Burnham (North Wales, Liberal Democrat) urged the first minister to ensure the Botanic Garden should be more than a visitor centre and become a global education centre on a par with Kew Gardens.
    The first minister explained the remit of the Botanic Garden had never been to be the equivalent of Kew, since that would have been a government based initiative and as such would not have been eligible for Millennium Commission funding.

  • Rhodri Glyn Thomas (Camarthen East & Dinefwr) called for praise for the current trustees and Alan Hayward in particular for realising the garden in the first place and steering it through its financial crisis.
    The first minister thanked the incumbent trustees for their hard work but said it was often necessary to change people involved in a project as the project evolved.

  • Nick Bourne (Mid & West Wales, Conservative) advised that there was some continuity in the garden's trustees' board and praised the leadership of Alan Hayward.
    The first minister said that there had been some continuity during this transitional year and the garden was returning to good shape. He explained it was the trust who were responsible for appointing the board of trustees not him.

    Green transport policies
  • Mick Bates (Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat) suggested that the Assembly's cars and shuttle bus be run on clean fuel to take the lead in reducing Wales' rising carbon emissions.
    The first minister said the ministerial car was as environmentally-friendly as possible but he was unsure about the shuttle bus.

  • Christine Chapman (Cynon Valley, Labour) asked for improvements in the cycle tracks in her constituency.
    The first minister pointed out Wales could never be like Holland with its bicycle-friendly, low terrain. He thought the route identified was a difficult one for most but he would look into getting it repaired.

  • David Melding (South Wales Central, Conservative) offered his thought on organising a 'walking bus' as a safe way of enabling pupils to get to school on foot, together.
    The first minister said that the amount of traffic made these traditional schemes more difficult, but new ideas like the Safe Routes to School were aimed at getting children to walk to school.

    Openness and accountability in local government
  • Michael German (South Wales East, Liberal Democrat) questioned why local authorities had to have assembly approval for changes in their management structure, if they were supposed to have more decision-making devolved to them.
    The first minister wanted more specific information in writing.

  • Leighton Andrews (Rhondda, Labour) called for sharing best practice in local government, such as one of his borough councils holding open cabinet meetings in various locations.
    The first minister commended the council's initiative.

  • Leanne Wood (South Wales Central, Plaid Cymru) asked how the first minister could ensure that accurate minutes of council meetings were taken, to uphold the public interest.
    The first minister dismissed the point as relating to the last election.

    Merging quangos
  • Owen John Thomas (South Wales Central, Plaid Cymru) was concerned about organisations like the Welsh Development Agency and the Arts Council of Wales coming under more political control in attempt to fade out quangos.
    The first minister said they were still considering the viability of each quango on a case by case basis.

  • Christine Gwyther (Camarthen West & South Pembrokeshire, Labour) assured the first minister that she would not be seeking to undermine him on the issue of quangos.
    The first minister regretted that some parties found it hard to make decisions on policies.

  • Nick Bourne (Mid & West Wales, Liberal Democrat) reiterated concerns about politicising the arts.
    The first minister found it naive that they thought politicians had previously had no influence over arts funding and repeated that no decisions had yet been taken.

  • Rosemary Butler (Newport West, Labour) questioned the individual consideration of quangos' future management and asked for timescales.
    The first minister said consultations were underway and decisions would be made by the end of November.

  • Michael German (South Wales East, Liberal Democrat) called for a clear set of criteria for determining the future of quanqos, not least to be sensitive to staff concerns.
    The first minister exclaimed that the matter had nothing to do with jobs and that Mr German was "trying to stir up fears".

    When the chamber is sitting you can see First Minister's Questions in full on BBC Parliament from 1500 GMT on Saturdays.



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