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Six of the best from the Chief Whip

Betsan Powys
Former political editor, Wales


Back from Anglesey - the mother of Wales, and in the past at least, the naughty child of Welsh local government. I admit I was going to make that metaphor work hard in today's blog entry, weave in naughty steps, slap downs and so on. But you may be relieved to know that there's no need.

The metaphor is strangely apt, but the story that's got AMs hot under the collar is quite different. And yes, you'll argue the GDP figures are much more significant - but you'll read about those elsewhere. You won't read about this.

Changes in the composition of Assembly committees rarely merit much of a mention on this blog or anywhere else - but not so what's just taken place on the Children and Young People Committee. The Chief Whip Janice Gregory has summarily removed three Labour members, including its chair Christine Chapman, from the committee at extremely short notice.

A motion in plenary yesterday afternoon replaced Christine Chapman, Julie Morgan and Jenny Rathbone with Ann Jones, David Rees and Keith Davies as members of the committee, including Ann Jones as the new chair, moved over from the chair of the Communities Committee, which, in a swift swap, is now chaired by Christine Chapman.

The changes took place with immediate effect. This morning, the committee is starting a day of evidence taking on the long and complex Social Services Bill, including evidence from the Children's Commissioner.

The committee started in a hastily scheduled private session. When the microphones were switched on, Ms Jones asked committee members to "bear with her" as she'd only found out late yesterday afternoon she was chairing the meeting at all.

Opposition sources say the whole operation is a pig's ear - emphasising that there are now three new members of the committee coming to the scrutiny of this troubled Bill cold.

Why then?

The pressure group Children Are Unbeatable are among several groups who are pushing for the Social Services Bill to be amended in order to make it a legislative vehicle for a ban on smacking children.

Last week, during the Health committee's scrutiny of the Bill, Plaid Cymru's Lindsay Whittle said he would move amendments to write a ban on to the face of the Bill. He was urged against his by the Deputy Minister Gwenda Thomas during her evidence. (I've corrected this paragraph, by the way, to get my committees straight.)

In 2011 Julie Morgan and Christine Chapman co-sponsored a motion in the Assembly calling for a smacking ban. Another sponsor was Lindsay Whittle.

Were the Government worried that the three Labour members would side with Mr Whittle rather than Mrs.Thomas when their committee comes to lay amendments? That's what the opposition parties think and its difficult to think of another explanation for a wholesale change of personnel at such short notice. We've had a quick chat in this office and reckon it's the first time we've seen it happen.

With the three Labour votes, the smacking ban amendment would have been carried by the committee, which would have left the Welsh Government being forced to re-amend it at stage three in full plenary to remove it.

The question is this: if the Government gives a Bill to an Assembly committee to scrutinise and amend, and they decide they want to amend it in a way that the Government doesn't like, is it really democratic simply to change the members of the committee instead?