Wales politics

Ministers criticised for not enough Senedd debates

AMs in the Senedd
Image caption Is the government holding enough debates in the Senedd?

The Welsh Government has been criticised for reading out "spurious" statements in the Senedd and not holding enough debates.

Plaid Cymru's Rhun ap Iorwerth said AMs are not being given the opportunity "to get under the skin" of government business.

The government said it was the quality, not format, of scrutiny that mattered.

AMs discuss issues in the Senedd chamber in sessions known as plenary held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Government business dominates Tuesday plenary sessions, while debates held by the opposition take place on Wednesday.

Ministers can use their Tuesday time to make announcements - known as statements - which AMs can ask questions about but cannot vote on what is discussed. In debates, they can.

Image caption Rhun ap Iorwerth says there has been a pattern of government "reading out statement after statement"

Mr ap Iorwerth, Plaid AM for Ynys Mon, said: "We've seen a pattern in this term of government reading out statement after statement, some of them very important, but some of them rather spurious.

"What that means is there is very little opportunity to debate issues."

He suggested that announcements tabled on the Welsh Government's tourism initiative, the 2017 Year of Legends, and exotic animal disease could have been dealt with without a statement being read out.

Meanwhile, proposals for the merger of the commercial functions of Cadw and National Museums Wales were dealt with in a statement, despite Plaid calls for a debate.

Mr ap Iorwerth said the landlord registration scheme, Rent Smart Wales, should have also been dealt with through a debate.

'Late finishing'

He suggested that without debates - where a vote is held and AMs can intervene - the "government is able to duck some tricky issues".

Mr ap Iorwerth said the matter had been raised in the Labour/Plaid liaison committees, set up earlier this year as part of the deal between the parties to return Carwyn Jones to the position of first minister.

He was confident that the Labour leader of the house, Jane Hutt, had taken his concerns on board.

"I've got no problem with late finishing, that's fine," added Mr ap Iorwerth.

"But to have late finishes because we have seven statements, one after another, that's not good use of assembly time.

"It doesn't give assembly members the opportunity to really get under the skin of some government business in the way that we could and hopefully we will now."

Figures shown to the BBC by a source suggest a majority of four recent plenary days of government time was taken up by ministers' statements.

At four recent Tuesday sessions - 11 and 18 October, and 1 and 8 November - 64.9% of government time was spent on statements, amounting to 837 minutes.

In comparison, on 14 and 21 October in 2014, and 4 and 11 November 2014, 41.8% of government time was spent on statements, a total of 422 minutes.

Image caption Valerie Livingston said some of the things the government was reading out in the Senedd could have been given to AMs in written form

Valerie Livingston, director of Newsdirect Wales which monitors the Senedd, said: "Certainly there do seem to be more Welsh Government statements now."

She said some could be dealt with in written form rather than in the chamber, and she said there had been examples of the Welsh Government announcing things to the media "that probably should have been announced to AMs first".

But Ms Livingston said the opposition's time is "not always used very effectively".

She suggested the opposition "need to be more focused on what they are tabling debates on" instead of tabling "quite general motions on business or health care, or the environment".

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "In an oral statement, a minister answers each point raised by individual AMs as they arise, rather than responding in general terms to points raised during a debate.

"Therefore, a statement allows for more engagement and challenge between AMs and ministers than would be the case during a debate.

"During the last two business questions to the Leader of the House, AMs have asked the Welsh Government to bring forward 23 statements, but only one debate."

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