When I look back at my time as a Member of the Senedd, one of the most important and valuable aspects of the job was the work on Senedd committees, writes Nick Ramsay.
As the Sixth Senedd convenes and in the wake of a global pandemic, the work of subject committees will be more important than ever before.
In my time, I’ve been very privileged to represent the Welsh Conservatives on some really hefty committees. I’ve sat on the Business Committee, which coordinates the Senedd’s operations and timetables its business and that gave me a real insight into the machinery of the Senedd as an institution.
Perhaps more high profile was my work in chairing the Enterprise and Business Committee in the Fourth Assembly and the Public Accounts Committee in the Fifth Assembly. On those committees, I was able to lead the scrutiny of Government on several vital issues – such as International Connectivity, the M4 relief road and Influencing the Modernisation of EU Procurement Policy.
Sexy? Perhaps not. But they were important inquiries nonetheless. Senedd committees allow for high level strategic research and scrutiny to take place. Ministers and officials make themselves to Members to be questioned and Members have the opportunity to really hone in on specifics and dig for further information and evidence.
That work was crucial in underpinning my scrutiny as the Welsh Conservative Finance spokesperson too. Whilst Ministers have officials and a civil service to help them prepare for Plenary, more often than not, all I had was a small team of staff and so sitting on committees gave me a great opportunity to research, learn and find information for myself.
I’m probably the only person who will go on record and say that sitting on the Senedd’s Finance Committee was an absolute joy – but it really was. Learning about tax devolution, understanding Government budgets and deciphering how those figures impact people’s lives was fascinating and powerful. In fact, I undertook a county-wide tour of Community Councils in Monmouthshire to pass on the knowledge I’d gained on tax devolution to better inform local communities in my constituency and people were often surprised or unaware that these major changes were even taking place.
I also made some great friends on those Committees. I really valued the insight of other Members such as Mike Hedges and Eluned Parrott. I learnt a great deal from them and I’d like to think we even had a little bit of fun along the way. There was this one time I was stuck in a hall in Robeston Wathon whilst on a Committee trip in the Third Assembly… though perhaps that’s a story for another day…
In all seriousness though, the committee work of the Senedd is the jewel in our Parliament’s crown. The work done by the Children, Young People and Education Committee on mental health and their ground-breaking Mind over Matter report in the Fifth Assembly is a great example. It’s a hard-hitting, thoroughly insightful piece of work. Crucially, it’s via committees that you’ll find constructive and engaging opposition, holding the Government of the day to account.
As the new committee structures are decided, I hope all Members take advantage and really dig deep via the Committees they sit on. Committees give opposition and backbench Members an opportunity to ask questions, probe Government policy and genuinely influence policy for the better – and if you’re as lucky as I’ve been, you’ll learn an awful lot and pick up some really good friends along the way.
Nick Ramsay was the Member of the Senedd for Monmouthshire (2007 – 2021).