Memorandum from the Clerk to the National
Assembly for Wales
1. Many of the rules on admissibility of
questions at the National Assembly for Wales have parallels in
the House of Commons, though the fields of responsibility of Assembly
Ministers are obviously more narrow.
2. The principal distinguishing feature
of our Table Office is that it conducts much of its business electronically.
The Assembly is committed to using modern information and communications
technology (ICT) to the fullest extent. All Members and their
support staff, along with all Assembly civil servants, are connected
to the Assembly's ICT system (OSIRIS) and through this to the
Internet and to the Assembly's Intranet.
3. Since its establishment, the Assembly's
have made specific provision for electronic tabling of questions
and motions. In addition, all questions (and answers), motions,
amendments and laid documents are published electronically (on
both the Intranet and Internet) after tabling. The Internet and
Intranet are the primary means of publication for all Assembly
business including the Assembly's agenda and record of proceedings.
4. The system has operated smoothly for
two and a half years without any significant problems.
5. Questions may be tabled in English or
Welsh using a form provided on the Intranet or from the Table
Office. Members can table questions in person or by post or can
e-mail the form to the Table Office. E-mails are addressed to
a specific Table Office e-mail address, which is accessible to
all Table Office staff to assist speedy processing.
6. Members can authorise a member of their
staff or another Member to table questions on their behalf. The
nominated person is then able to table questions either electronically
or in writing. The Table Office maintains a list of those who
have been authorised to table questions.
7. Assembly Members or their authorised
support staff must advise the Table Office, either in person,
by telephone or by e-mail, of the decision to withdraw a question
or convert it for written answer.
8. Motions and amendments to motions can
also be tabled electronically in much the same way as questions.
The majority of motions which come before the Assembly in plenary
come from the Cabinet and so, in addition to Members and their
support staff, Assembly civil servants working in direct support
of the Assembly Cabinet are also authorised to table motions and
amendments on behalf of Ministers.
9. The Assembly's ICT system provides password
access to the individual Member, support staff or civil servant's
e-mail "account". The password is personal to each individual
and the system automatically prompts regular changes. Members
are responsible for all material which is sent from their personal
computers and are responsible for ensuring that their password
is secure. The same rules apply to Members' support staff and
to Assembly civil servants.
10. As each OSIRIS user has a unique e-mail
identifier, which can only be used after personal password access
to the system, staff in the Table Office can readily identify
the sender of each e-mail received. If they have any doubt about
the authorship of a question, Table Office staff will check with
the Member or support worker concerned by telephone or in person.
11. Thus far, there have been no instances
of false authorship. That is not to say that the system is 100
per cent secure or foolproof. However, there is no reason to suppose
that it is any less secure than a purely paper based system. For
example, in the House of Commons it used to be the practice that
Members signed stocks of blank forms so that their staff were
able to table more easily on their behalf. As all e-mails can
be tracked by the OSIRIS system and as there are a range of other
security measures built-in, our electronic system offers a greater
degree of protection than a paper-based system.
12. Among the principal advantages of electronic
Electronic tabling helps speed the
processing of questions and motions by cutting down on text input,
providing immediate access to questions by all Table Office staff
and allowing questions to be forwarded instantaneously to other
staff for processing (for instance for translation into or from
the Welsh language).
All questions and motions are available
on the intranet/internet at all times and can be marked as withdrawn
or transferred as soon as possible after notification.
The timings attached to e-mails provide
a record of discussions with Members (for example, about the orderliness
and need to redraft a question). These discussions can take place
throughout the day.
Members do not need to wait in the
Table Office while decisions are made on whether a question or
motion is in order.
Members and their support staff can
table from their constituency offices if they wish. (All constituency
offices are linked to the OSIRIS system).
Members also have dial-up access
to the OSIRIS system and can table from any location where they
have access to a telephone line using laptops.
13. Electronic tabling is popular with many
Members who find it convenient and flexible; most Members have
tabled in this way at some point. As the system is permissive,
other Members can use more traditional methods if they prefer.
14. There are no real disadvantages that
have emerged so far. The only problem has been on those occasions
when there has been a breakdown in the OSIRIS system. Such occasions
have been relatively rare and, in any event, the paper-based system
continues to be available during these times.
15. Electronic tabling in the National Assembly
can be considered a success. There are a number of reasons for
this. There was a clean slate to work on. As a new institution
the Assembly did not have long-standing procedures and there was
a readiness among Members to accept modern ways of working. In
addition, the Members were new and came from a variety of backgrounds
and for the most part had no preconceptions about how business
would be conducted.
16. There was also a general consensus that
the Assembly should be a leader in using modern media and that
this would help to create an open, inclusive and participative
democracy in Wales. In practical terms, the fact that all Members
and their support staff share a common (and pre-existing) ICT
system with the civil service staff of the Assembly has removed
many of the worries that might have existed about security and
17. My experience at Westminster makes me
well aware that it would be more difficult to introduce an electronic
system in an environment where ICT is not standard across the
House. But if that obstacle were overcome, the tabling of questions
electronically would, in my judgement, bring advantages for Members,
their staff, the staff of the House and the civil service.
3 Standing Order 33. Back