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Friday, October 05, 2012

Labour Assembly Member seeks to stifle debate

On Wednesday the Assembly Plenary was scheduled to debate a Conservative motion on neo-natal services. This had been prompted by the health service reconfiguration that is underway across Wales. However, one Labour member at least thought that we should not be discussing the issue at all, whilst the Government side took umbrage and refused to vote on it. There was a clear attempt to stifle debate as is evident from this point of order:

Mick Antoniw: I wish to raise a point of order on a matter of principle regarding an item of business on today‘s agenda, namely item 6, which is the Conservative motion, which deals with matters relating to NHS configuration. It is a matter on which it is important that there is a ruling and some clarity from you, Presiding Officer.

The point is that the Welsh Government has initiated a consultation and engagement process that is, effectively, a quasi-judicial process. Recommendations will come back to Government, which will again be acting in a quasi-judicial role. It seems to me that there is a serious issue that, when we have that process under way, we have motions that are, in effect, prejudging that process. Paragraph 3.12 of the Assembly‘s principles and practice for the tabling and laying of Assembly business states that the Presiding Officer has an overriding discretion to refuse to accept a motion if it brings into question the proper conduct of Assembly business. It seems to me that this motion raises the question of whether interfering with a quasi-judicial process brings into question the proper conduct of Assembly business. Under those circumstances, will you consider using your overriding discretion, or, alternatively, give a ruling on the matter?

The Presiding Officer: Thank you for the point of order, and for giving me prior notice of your intention to raise it. We had a conversation earlier, but you obviously needed further clarification.

The Welsh Government is accountable to the National Assembly, and Members can table motions relating to any aspect of the Government‘s work. To prevent them from doing so would be contrary to the basic principle of parliamentary accountability. The motion, if passed, will not be binding on Ministers when it comes to them taking the decision in question, and I see no grounds on which to constrain the right of Members to express their views on the matter in question.

My ruling therefore is that the motion does not bring into question the proper conduct of business, and there are no grounds whatsoever to rule it out of order. In doing so, I am acting entirely in accordance with our Standing Orders and with established parliamentary practice here and elsewhere.

As Mick Antoniw sat down an e-mail arrived from his office inviting all Assembly Members to a meeting to discuss civil liberties, freedom of expression and the right to protest.

Clearly, the concept of irony is not fully understood on the Labour benches.
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