Lee Waters MS the Deputy Minister for Climate Change has been criticised for using the term ‘hysterical’ to describe legitimate questions from female Welsh Conservative MS, Natasha Asghar at the Plenary of November 23rd.
Mr Waters used the term following a number of questions from Natasha Asghar and suggestions that the Welsh Government were ‘anti-driver’ during questions regarding Labour’s transport plans.
Natasha Asghar MS had said that the Welsh Labour Government’s controversial plans to roll out 20 mph speed limits across Wales, which she said will cost upwards of £32 million will lead to slower and more unreliable bus journeys. The MS said that the Deputy Minister’s comment that Cardiff bus had a remarkably narrow-sighted view was the reverse and that is was Lee Waters who was narrow sighted, pushing ahead with the 20 mph plan whilst ignoring legitimate concerns, especially in light of a new report showing that cutting speeds to 20 mph does not actually, in fact, improve road safety.
Lee Waters MS responded by saying: “I understand the concerns, and we’re working with them on it, and we’re working to understand better some of the problems they’re having. We know one of the major problems that bus companies have is reliability and congestion. The evidence we have so far is that a 20 mph speed limit will produce smoother traffic flows. Most of the delays are at junctions, and people speeding up and slowing down to get to the next set of traffic lights as quickly as they can is a considerable cause of local air pollution, as well as using fuel, and, of course, being a danger on the roads. So, if we’re able to smooth the traffic flows, that should help bus companies.
“Where there are problems, we’re very keen to look at road space reallocations. The creation of bus lanes and bus priority measures is a different way of achieving efficiencies for the buses without, as she suggests, having a speed limit that we know increases the chance of being killed if you are hit by a car—some five times greater at 30 than 20.
Referring to a TV interview with the Sharp End the Deputy Minister had participated in Natasha Asghar MS said: “You were asked if the people of Wales should expect to see more 50 mph speed limit zones—just like the ineffective ones already placed along the M4 at Newport, where I live—pop up across the road network. You replied, and I quote, ‘Yes.’ The 50 mph cameras in Newport, Deputy Minister, simply haven’t worked. Heavy congestion still plagues that stretch of road every single day. I fail to see why on earth you’d even consider installing cameras elsewhere across the country when they do nothing to ease congestion and do everything to make motorists’ lives a misery. Deputy Minister, is it not true that the imposition of unrealistic speed limits has less to do with cutting pollution and everything to do with forcing motorists off our inadequate roads to cover up your failure to provide Wales with an effective and efficient road network?”
Mr Waters continued with an element of sarcasm in his reply by saying: “Well, I do enjoy the post-match analysis of my interviews; it’s always very good to get feedback, and, again, from tabloid newspaper editors. Perhaps she should be a tabloid tv critic as well; there are certainly other avenues open to her should she not decide her future is in politics, which would be a great shame.
Addressing the question Mr Waters said: “The provision of 50 mph speed limits, as the Member knows, were, in many cases, court ordered because they were breaching air quality targets, and, far from her saying have proven ineffective, the reverse is true, as she well knows. They have proven effective in bringing down the pollution levels, as well as contributing to smoother flow of traffic. So, I’m afraid she is wrong with her facts, wrong with her analysis and wrong in her diagnosis of the motivation behind them.”
Natasha Asghar MS told Lee Waters that despite his call for a career change she was quite happy where she was. She said: “I plan on staying here for a very long time because someone needs to hold you to account.” Mr Waters replied; “I wish you would.”
Natasha Asghar then suggested that the Welsh Labour Government was ‘anti-driver’. She said: “People across the country are struggling to make ends meet with the rising cost-of-living pressures, whilst at the same time you are drawing up plans to squeeze even more cash out of them. Deputy Minister, will you finally stop punishing drivers at every available opportunity and go back to the drawing board and rethink your 50 mph and road charge plans?”
Mr Waters replied: “Well, I can only assume that Natasha Asghar’s researchers have the week off, but, clearly, she got a lot out of this week’s Sharp End, which I’m sure they’ll be very pleased about.
Addressing the question he said that the issue of road charging is simply a reflection of the fact that petrol tax will disappear as people stop driving petrol cars.
Mr Waters then said: “It’s her party’s Government in the UK who has set a legal deadline to stop selling petrol cars, which I strongly support. That means, by definition, the Treasury’s reliance on fuel duty to fund large parts of public services will have to be reassessed because people won’t be buying petrol. So, some of form of road user charging is inevitable, and is, in fact, being actively worked on by her Government in London. So, whenever she comes up with hysterical labels to throw at me, she really needs to think beyond the soundbite to what she’s saying, because this is something all Governments are doing, because, simply, the rules are changing. What we have said in our transport strategy is that we favour a benefits and charges approach, just as is being considered in Cardiff, where we do look at charging in some circumstances, but the money from that is used to pay for improved public transport and alternatives to the car. I think people would be willing to pay a charge, and certainly the polling would support that, if they felt they were given real, good quality alternatives to driving. That’s what we’re working on, and we’re doing it carefully. But the idea of sticking to the current system simply will not fly.”
Presiding Officer Elin Jones said there was a long history of the term “being used by men to demean women”.
She said it was an “inappropriate word” to use to describe any contribution by any woman in the Senedd.
Ms Jones said the deputy transport minister may have used the term “naively” but “I don’t expect to hear it again”.
Lee Waters was contacted for comment.
Mr Waters took to twitter to make a comment.