Wales politics

People not tuning into 'dull' Senedd debates, AM says

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Media captionSteffan Lewis says voting by roll call rather than electronically could liven things up

People are not following the assembly because they find its debates dull, a newly-elected Plaid Cymru AM has said.

Steffan Lewis claimed the Senedd chamber resembled an "open-plan office" more than the seat of Wales' democracy.

"People are interested when we give them something to be interested in," he said in an essay suggesting how proceedings could be shaken up.

Presiding Officer Elin Jones agreed there was a "job of work" to make the assembly more relevant and topical.

Mr Lewis, writing for the Institute for Welsh Affairs blog Click on Wales, said a criticism he had heard many times was that the assembly is "boring".

"People don't follow what's happening because every time they tune in, they find the proceedings too dull to watch," he said.

"I know polls tell us people don't like the ya-boo of the [House of] Commons, but deep down I suspect most actually find it entertaining at least."

Apart from First Minister's Question Time and the "odd debate", the Senedd chamber "often resembles more of an open-plan office area rather than the seat of our national democracy", Mr Lewis said.

Image caption Carwyn Jones after the deadlock over his appointment to the post of first minister was broken

"The first few months of this assembly term have, in fact, been more exciting than in the past," said the Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales East, newly elected in May.

"The EU referendum alone provided plenty of opportunity for passion from both sides of the debate," he said.

He said when the assembly has provided "drama", such as with the election of the first minister, "the public viewing gallery in the Senedd ran out of tickets".

"I think there is an onus on political groups to be more creative with the topics they choose for debates in the Senedd that might liven things up by providing passionate exchanges on more timely and topical issues," he said.

Other changes he suggests include more votes by roll call - currently AMs vote electronically except for the selection of the first minister - and allowing AMs to ask any question without having to give prior notice of a topic.

Mr Lewis said he had asked the assembly's IT department to take his computer out of the chamber "to remove the temptation for me to use a particularly boring dull proceeding as an opportunity to catch up on emails".

He was told this was not possible as the "'aesthetic nature' of the chamber would be compromised", agreeing to a "halfway house" of switching off his monitor.

He said he was not in favour of a "blanket ban" on computers in the chamber.

Presiding Officer Elin Jones said: "I also want ministers scrutinised more thoroughly and frequently on the issues that matter most to the public."

Image caption Jayne Bryant says the assembly should not be about 'headline grabbing'

Another new AM, Labour's Jayne Bryant from Newport West, said: "Politics is not meant to be exciting.

"It's meant to make a difference to people's lives and the communities they live in.

"It's about listening and speaking to people and organisations in your constituency, not headline grabbing."

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