Fifth Assembly focus must be on ‘bridging the democratic deficit’
In a keynote speech to the Gorwel Think Tank on Thursday Evening, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives – Andrew RT Davies – will unveil a radical programme of reforms to improve public engagement and accessibility with the National Assembly for Wales.
The speech will focus on efforts to tackle voter apathy; in particular amongst young people in Wales.
Focusing on youth engagement, Mr Davies will announce plans to cut Ministerial pay by 10%, with all additional funds used to support youth engagement in Wales.
Mr Davies will also renew calls for a full procedural review of the way the Assembly operates: considering a range of measures to improve the way the institution functions during the Fifth Assembly term – including extending plenary sitting hours and introducing topical questions.
Meanwhile, the Welsh Conservative leader will also announce plans for a Welsh Localism & Citizenship Bill; which will seek to end the democratic deficit which exists in local communities across Wales; empower people with more power to control their own destiny, and enhance trust in the political appointments process.
A Welsh Localism and Citizenship Bill would introduce Community Rights to Bid and Buy, providing the opportunity for local groups to take over the ownership and running of key services.
It would also include new rules on senior pay; restoring public confidence in the system; extend the remit of local Councils – bringing more power to local areas; make all Commissioners accountable to the National Assembly, not the Welsh Government and clarify the use of referenda; cementing their role in the decision-making process.
Extracts of the speech are below:
“Thousands of people will have turned 18 in recent months, and have the chance to vote for the first time in May's election – but won't do so. That should trouble all of us.
“This isn't through lack of interest, or desire […] and we know, when asked, that 79% of young people say they want to learn more about politics and the voting system.
“That is why it was such a travesty when the Welsh Government cut funding to support a National Children and Young People’s Assembly.
“Wales should embrace organisations that encourage children and young people to get involved in the decision-making process; and to support them in understanding their rights and responsibilities.
“And denying young people that opportunity to learn; to influence and to develop is all the harder, when – indeed – Assembly Members are set to benefit from a pay rise of their own.
“That’s why […] a Welsh Conservative Government would cut Ministerial pay by 10% across the board and plough every penny of that funding into giving young people a voice – reviving support for a National Children and Young People’s Assembly for Wales.”
A “Part-Time Parliament”
“Many commentators reach lazily for tried and tested arguments and call for more AMs here; but that’s not going to improve engagement with the public. We need better politics — not more politicians.
“At times, the Assembly gives the impression of being a ‘part time parliament’ – and if that’s how the public views it too, then it’s easy to understand why they’re disinclined to engage with what goes on here.
“I’ve lost count of the number of occasions on which Welsh Government business has been wrapped up on a Tuesday by 5 o’clock.
“Labour only have one slot to fill each week and yet they’ve struggled throughout this five-year term — but that’s what happens when you’ve run out of ideas after 17 years in power.”
Andrew will also touch on the need for ‘topical questions’ to address the controversy around Urgent Questions. He will say:
“Here in the Assembly the only channel for posing ‘urgent questions’ has been at the discretion of the Presiding Officer; with no explanation provided for those questions not deemed ‘urgent enough’ — and no clear guidelines for what constitutes an ‘urgent’ matter.
“During the Fourth Assembly we have seen urgent questions rejected on the M4 Relief Rd; on the RIFW scandal; and on reports that KPMG valued Cardiff Airport at less than half the price that Labour went on to pay for it…
“And yet the Presiding Officer has accepted an ‘urgent’ Assembly question on cuts in funding for the Brecon Jazz Festival.
“Indeed, more than three-quarters of all of the urgent questions submitted during the Fourth Assembly have been rejected, causing huge frustration to AMs in every opposition party.
“And yet we could do away with the constant controversy around these decisions by taking the decision out of the Presiding Officer’s hands and introducing a 15 minute session for Topical Questions at the start of each ministerial session in the Senedd.
“It works perfectly well at Stormont, where question sessions are often more dynamic and engaging, so why not try it here?
A Localism & Citizenship Bill
Announcing plans for a Welsh Localism & Citizenship Bill, Andrew RT Davies AM will say:
“For too long, the Welsh Government has failed to empower local communities. If devolution is a process; then local communities across Wales have been waiting a very long time.
“Nothing can inspire an individual more to become an active participant in their local area, or community, than empowering them. Trusting them. Accepting they know best.
“A Welsh Conservative Government would introduce a Welsh Localism Bill … devoted to bringing both transparency and local people to the heart of local decision-making; and making democracy more accessible to the people it represents.
The event, entitled, ‘What a future Welsh Parliament Should Look Like,’ is being hosted by Gorwel and takes place on Thursday 4th February 2016 at 7.00 pm, Conference Room 21, Ty Hywel, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff Bay.