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Sunday, May 29, 2005

The nuclear option

My absence in Brussels meant that I have not been able to comment on Wednesday's Plenary debates until now. The session was dominated by the debate on the report of the committee to investigate smoking in public places, of which I was a member.

However, the most interesting part of that discussion was the insight offered by Leighton Andrews into the mindset of the average Labour backbencher. Leighton moved an amendment to the report in which he sought further work on the economic impact of a ban. This is not something he would usually be allowed to do as he made clear:

It is also an opportunity for us to consider our responsibility as, in this context, a legislative body. It is a useful opportunity to test the readiness of the Assembly to take legislative responsibility. Too often, our debates sound like party conference debates; we do not get into the subtleties of issues. Our system of devolution gives great powers, through orders, for Government to offer proposals on a take it or leave it basis. The opposition can oppose, but backbenchers on the Government side are too often faced with a nuclear option, which, unsurprisingly, we are loth to take.

Here, because we have an issue that is not whipped, there is a real opportunity for us all to engage in the detail of the issue.

Like Leighton I am part of a political party and find that this can constrain my freedom of action. It is a quid pro quo for the influence that you gain and the opportunity to do things for our constituents as a result. However, sometimes the system can restrict real debate and that is to be regretted.
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