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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Learning to love the colour grey

Assembly Members are slowly getting used to the new chamber but it may take many weeks before they finally settle in. The one issue we all have are the acoustics - not that they are bad but that they are too good. The slightest whisper can be clearly heard the other side of the room, conversations in the inner corridor behind members can also be picked up, whilst hecklers within the chamber itself become disembodied voices booming all around us.

The complaint that I hear everywhere is about the cameras. Every time a new speaker gets up they rattle around the upper edge of the chamber so as to get the best shot. These cameras are mounted on a rail and set back below the lower edge of the public gallery. When they move they do so like the hare at a greyhound track and make a not dissimilar whirring noise. It is very distracting. Somebody needs to oil them for future meetings.

The ambient temperature of the chamber is also too low for many of us, whilst the footbridge between the Senedd and Crickhowell House and the associated corridors maintain a constant arctic winter. David Cornock has already written on his blog that because members sit at desks, rather than on benches, there is no chance for Westminster-style "doughnutting" where politicians crowd into shot to be seen nodding vigorously in agreement with colleagues. This is actually not true. Not only is the presence of other members behind you crucial when speaking but their absence can make a speaker look very lonely indeed.

I saw televised pictures on a number of occasions today in which a member was speaking, apparently alone in the chamber. Due to the wide camera angle all the seats in front, behind and at the side of him were visible. Even though there were at least 20 other members in the chamber at the time, the fact that none of them were seated adjacent to him made him look like 'Billy-no-mates'. Now that is bad publicity and it is something that the Business Managers are going to have to address by getting members to stay in the chamber more often.

The one good thing about the new building is the view across 'Cardiff Bay' from the reception area and from the public cafe area on the top floor. This cafe has proved very popular for visitors, AMs and staff alike and so far seems to be doing a roaring trade. What patrons do not know however is that the very nice cakes are between 50p and £1 cheaper in the exclusive Members Tearoom behind the Siambr. That is something that cannot be allowed to continue.

Of course once we had got going the Plenary fell into its usual pattern. The First Minister in particular seemed to be enjoying himself at his new portable, transparent plastic lectern. So much so in fact that he tried to trigger another Liberal Democrat leadership contest in one of his replies to Mike German:

The First Minister: ........It is very important to say that we will carry out the same exercise, and, if need be, we will go back to the Treasury, but there is no case for doing so at the moment. I would have thought that you would follow-up the comments of your Liberal Democrat colleague or rival—or whatever Kirsty is these days—and refer to the east Wales issue. That is the number one priority—getting everything ready for a flying start on 1 January, and sorting out the amount of money that we can get into east Wales.

Unfortunately for him his own gaffes of the week before kept coming back to haunt him:

Elin Jones: Those people from Ceredigion who were in the audience for the Question Time programme last Thursday were keen to hear your views on the war in Iraq. Have you now had an opportunity to consider the issue?

The First Minister: I believe that this goes to the heart of the devolution settlement under which we work. I am not going to say that I have better ideas than Tony Blair in relation to his duties, and, likewise, he does not try to second-guess what I do here in relation to my duties—


The Presiding Officer: Order. I do not believe that the war in Iraq arises from a question on Communities First in Ceredigion.

Still he gave as good as he got:

Leanne Wood: I will not ask you the obvious international disaster question; you had enough of a disaster with that one last week in Aberystwyth. Welsh members of the disasters emergency committee are currently discussing the setting up of a disasters emergency committee Cymru which, I understand, your Government has supported. What practical measures can you take to support those people in Wales and their families who are affected by international disasters and what can you do to ensure that skilled professional workers are freed-up to work in those countries where disasters take place?

The First Minister: I notice that you did not respond to the point that John Griffiths made earlier about your views on free speech and the British National Party. Perhaps you would like to tell him what your views are and whether you still hold the views that you expressed last week.

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