Weekly questions to the First Minister should be revamped and other Assembly proceedings reviewed and refreshed to significantly boost public engagement and restore faith in the system.
That’s the call from the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, who wants a ‘refresh’ of current procedure following the loss of trust that followed the recent sacking of a Labour minister.
Amongst the changes suggested by Andrew RT Davies is an annual attendance at the Welsh Affairs Select Committee by the First Minister. Similar regular evidence sessions already take place with the Secretary of State for Wales.
Scrutiny of the First Minister within the Assembly should also be overhauled, said Mr Davies.
Currently, weekly sessions of 45 minutes are held at the start of plenary on Tuesday afternoons. Consideration should be given to a period of topical questions and the potential for a time-change. Holding ‘FMQs’ later in the day would give more viewers the chance to watch if they wish, either online or via continued live TV broadcast. A later topical session could also be better used by popular evening news programmes.
Mr Davies has highlighted the recent sacking of Alun Davies as a symptom of wider problems regarding Welsh Government transparency and accountability. The former natural resources minister was shown the door following his attempts to gain private information about the financial interests of a number of Assembly Members.
Just a week earlier he had been kept in post despite breaking the ministerial code.
His departure has also left serious questions to answer over portfolio responsibilities within the Labour government and a clear gap in rural affairs scrutiny within the Assembly. This crucial area now rests with the so-called ‘Minister for Almost Everything’ (Economy, Science, Transport, Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food), who will be orally questioned on all these issues just once a month.
With rural affairs and agriculture demoted to a junior position, Welsh Conservatives have called for a specific oral question session within the Assembly chamber focusing on this area alone.
Welsh Conservative Leader, Andrew RT Davies AM, said:
“Recent Labour scandals have left public trust in Welsh democracy battered.
“Transparency and scrutiny are questionable at best and it’s about time we had a properly considered overhaul of proceedings. A technical refresh could boost public engagement and restore that much-needed faith.
“I want to see a revamp of the processes behind scrutiny of the First Minister.
“Changing the time of weekly questions to the leader of the Welsh Government and allowing time for topical questioning gives Wales better opportunity to properly engage.
“The Assembly must capture the public’s imagination. That means radical thinking and allowing the potential for more people to get involved at times that better suit them.
“Regular scrutiny of the First Minister by the Welsh Affairs committee should also be a key pledge if Labour ministers are serious about transparency.”
“Much has changed since the National Assembly last undertook a root and branch review of its proceedings. It’s time for a commitment to revamp and refresh – with the interests of Wales top of the agenda.”