Debate on a Member’s Legislative Proposal
Plenary 6th December 201715:57:47
Motion NDM6596 David Melding
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Notes a proposal for a Bill to increase citizen participation in policy making in Wales.
2. Notes that the purpose of this Bill would be to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public services.
Gareth Bennett AM
Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)
Spoken Contribution – 15:57:47
Watch this contribution on Senedd TV
Thanks to David Melding for today’s Member’s legislative proposal. I’m intrigued by these ideas of increasing citizen participation. Of course, the aim is laudable, but I’m not sure how easily it will be achieved in practical terms. In short, I’m not certain that this scheme, innovative though it is, is actually a workable one.
The difference between us in this Chamber and the general public is that we are, believe it or not, professional politicians. I know that seems far-fetched at times, when we’re all shouting across the Chamber at one another, but we are actually the professionals. That is, we are paid to be here most weeks. We sit on committees, we listen to evidence, we have paid staff to help us to research things. Now, that isn’t to say that we have any innate ability to do politics any better than the general public, but we do this job week in, week out, within a structure that does allow us a certain amount of expertise—I stress, ‘a certain amount’.
The problem with engaging the general public with the democratic process is that many people are not that interested in politics. Others are interested in politics up to a point, but only in relatively small doses. The idea of actually participating in organised debates, in committee scrutiny and so on, may not be that attractive, even to the semi-engaged section of the electorate who actually follow politics a little bit. Of course, we can give it a go, these are interesting ideas, but I do bridle a bit at the element of compulsion, at the idea of people being called up for citizen service, and I wonder if that prospect might turn many, even of the semi-engaged people, completely against politics.
Perhaps we need to consult some available statistics to note the enthusiasm of the Welsh public for the Assembly. Turnout in Assembly elections: about 45 per cent. That is a statistic that is widely known and readily accessible. There are other figures we could examine. For instance, what are the average viewing figures for BBC Wales’s coverage of FMQs? What are the relevant figures for Senedd.tv in its broadcasts of Chamber business and Assembly committees? I think these broadcasts are a valuable public service, but I fear the take-up among the public of Wales is probably fairly low. When I look up at the gallery here and in the committee rooms, most of the time they’re almost empty.
Some people do get engaged from time to time, usually when their local areas are perceived to be under some kind of threat. At these moments, campaigns begin and petitions get under way, and this is all good stuff; we are all for local campaigns in UKIP. Indeed, for some time our policy has been to allow legally binding local referenda on major planning issues affecting a particular area. This is where political engagement may effectively be nurtured, in demonstrating that legislators will take account of the wishes of the local residents. But the idea of the citizenry forming a separate Chamber in an enlarged Assembly—I must confess, I find the notion a little far-fetched and I fear that, far from enthusing more people, it may actually backfire and turn more people against politics.
So, although I think these are very interesting ideas, I think we have to be very careful in how we go forward in trying to apply them in a practical way. So, I think we need to tread carefully here.