The suspension of all face-to-face events at the National Assembly for Wales is to be extended, and the Senedd and Pierhead buildings will stay closed to the public, until at least 31 May.
The Assembly Commission – the group of AMs who provide the property, staff and services for the institution – announced the extension to the suspension period as the restrictions in response to the Coronavirus outbreak remain in place. Public engagement had initially been postponed until 26 April, and the new date of 31 May will also be under review in accordance with latest advice from Public Health Wales.
The Assembly Commission and the Welsh Youth Parliament are exploring ways of continuing to connect with the public using digital communication and video-conferencing platforms.
On Wednesday, 8 April, the Assembly will meet in Plenary using the video conferencing platform Zoom for the second time. The meeting will start at 1.30pm and will be broadcast live on Senedd.tv
Following the success of the first virtual Plenary meeting, held on Wednesday 1 April, this week’s session will expand the use of the platform to include more Members. A maximum of 28 Members will participate with representation for each party group as follows: 12 Members can attend on behalf of Welsh Labour/Welsh Government, 6 for Welsh Conservatives, 4 Plaid Cymru and 2 Brexit Party. Party groups will decide on their attendance and Members who do not belong to a group are all entitled to attend.
This week, Members will also be called to vote. This will be done using weighted voting by roll call where a representative of each party group will cast votes on behalf of all members of the group.
The Plenary agenda includes statements about Coronavirus by the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, and Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM. The agenda also allows for other time-critical business to take place including Stage 1 consideration of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill – which would lower the voting age to 16 years old in local government elections from 2021.
It has also been agreed that the Assembly is to be in recess from Thursday 9 April to Tuesday 21 April. No Plenary meeting will be scheduled for next week.
On 17 March it was announced that all non-time-critical business was to be suspended in order to prioritise issues relating to the response to Coronavirus. The Assembly’s Business Committee has met weekly – via video conferencing since movements were restricted - to review the forward work programme and explore how technology can be used to allow scrutiny and debate to continue.
Since last week’s first virtual plenary meeting, the Assembly has received enquiries from Parliaments around the world seeking information on how to do it.