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Sunday, November 14, 1999 Published at 11:19 GMT

UK: Wales

The Week in the Assembly

The budget, beef, health and racism were discussed in the Assembly

Yet another little piece of history was made in the National Assembly this week. For the first time, Wales's near-8bn budget was debated in detail here, writes BBC Wales's Nick Horton.

Finance Secretary Edwina Hart told Assembly Members that there was more money for the health service, schools and transport.

Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Wigley asked why there was no mention of European Objective One funding. He was worried that the Treasury wouldn't provide the extra money needed to secure 1.2bn for West Wales and the Valleys.

But he said he was ready to back the Welsh Labour administration in its struggle to get the cash.

Conservative Glyn Davies argued that it was a budget made in Downing Street with more spin than substance and irrelevant spending proposals.

Beef question

The vexed question of beef on the bone also returned.

Agriculture and rural affairs committee chairman Ieuan Wyn Jones said its members would look at the latest evidence before the end of this month.

But the Plaid Cymru AM disagreed with Glyn Davies's suggestion that Wales should ban French beef. Mr Jones said marketing Welsh meat better, and branding it as such, would encourage France and other European countries to begin importing our beef.

Mr Davies also wanted the beef on the bone ban lifted immediately. That followed a letter from the UK's leading BSE expert, Prof Roy Anderson. Glyn Davies said the letter made clear there was no reason not to drop the ban now.

Welsh health needs

But First Secretary Alun Michael suspected that was an over-simplification. He also said the Assembly was already supporting new marketing ideas for Welsh meat.

Health could be one of the crucial issues for the Labour Government at both UK and Wales levels this winter. But as AMs debated a Labour motion on the contribution of the 1999 Health Act in Wales, clear political differences between the parties were emphasised.

Health Secretary Jane Hutt said policy in Wales was now substantially different, compared with under the Tories. GP fundholders have been replaced by local health groups, and that and the new Act bodes well, she said.

Conservative David Melding lamented the end of fundholding. He also called for a nurse to sit on each local health group.

Plaid health spokesman Dr Dai Lloyd welcomed the passing of fundholding, but believed the Act didn't respond adequately to Welsh health needs.

Lib Dem Kirsty Williams was concerned that private medical care shouldn't escape the provisions of the Act.

The opposition inflicted a technical defeat on Labour by voting through three amendments to Labour's health motion.

Although it will make little practical difference, its effect was another warning to the administration.

Complacency on race issues

The Assembly also turned its attention to racism and sexism. The Commission for Racial Equality gave a presentation to the equal opportunities committee, and said there had been years of deep-seated complacency on race issues in Wales.

The claim that there were no racial problems in Wales couldn't be further from the truth, according to the commission.

It was agreed that each Assembly committee should produce clear proposals to stop racism.

Meanwhile, the standards committee decided to investigate the relationship between membership of public bodies and the men-only Cardiff and County Club.

Many of the most influential men meet at the club, in Cardiff city centre. Labour AM Val Feld said the Assembly should consider whether a conflict of interest could develop.

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