The Electoral Reform Society in Wales have called for the Senedd to trial remote voting and video-links for Assembly Members, after it was announced that just 12 AMs would be scrutinising the Coronavirus Bill today.
These 12 Members will also be the only ones voting on whether to give the UK Government legislative consent for the Bill.
“Today the Senedd must debate and scrutinise the 300+ page Covid-19 emergency powers bill and ultimately decide whether to give consent to the Bill,” Electoral Reform Society Cymru Director, Jess Blair, said.
“This comes at a critical time for the nation and it is only right that Parliaments across the UK are able to discuss these vital issues.
“The last two weeks have demonstrated that the current pandemic has the possibility of impacting on parliamentary scrutiny. Quite rightly, in accordance with social distancing and social isolation restrictions, numbers in the Senedd today are being limited.
“The common-sense solution is that AMs who are locked out should be able to contribute to the debate and vote remotely. Otherwise, voters across Wales will go unrepresented on this crucial legislation.”
As it stands, just 12 members will be able to be present to debate the legislation – six members from Welsh Government and six members of the opposition (three from the Conservatives, twp from Plaid Cymru and one from the Brexit Party).
The weekly opportunity to ask questions of the First Minister has also been suspended.
“The Senedd must find a way to adapt to working in this crisis in a more modern and dynamic way, ensuring that an already small parliament isn’t limited in it’s ability to represent the people of Wales, and scrutinise developments as they emerge over this period,” Jess Blair said.
“At times like this, the need for accountability increases, not decreases, as life-changing decisions are made for all of Wales.
“With Welsh MPs now limited in their ability to travel to London and take part in Westminster Parliamentary sessions, proper representation in the Senedd is now even more important.
“We urge the Senedd Commission to implement virtual plenary meetings and remote voting as a matter of urgency, as well as fully rolling out the use of digital Committee sessions and evidence gathering.
“The Senedd should look to the EU Parliament’s recent rollout of remote voting to see how this could be done in practice.
“Organisations across Wales and the UK are having to adapt to working in this unique environment. The Senedd can lead by example on this, and demonstrate that it is an agile and modern Parliament.”