The report that Legislative Assembly standing committee meetings are to be live-streamed was both encouraging and alarming.
It is encouraging because the Legislative Assembly is actually the pivotal element in our system of democratic government – it is the only part on the whole structure that is directly elected by the people. So, any action to make its work more visible is commendable.
However, the proposal to hold the committee meetings on the floor of the legislature (to make use of the recording equipment already installed there) is rather alarming.
Because of its primacy in our system of parliamentary democracy the Assembly enjoys certain privileges and protections. There are norms concerning who may enter onto the floor of the Assembly (even the monarch traditionally is not permitted into the chamber), members must follow rules for “parliamentary language” and they enjoy protection from charges of libel when speaking within the chamber. All these are designed to enhance the prestige of the chamber and anything that compromises that dignity is to be avoided.
So it is a cause for concern to read in The Guardian that at these committee meetings “MLAs will sit at their desks, which will be repositioned to allow for a similar feel for committee meetings. Invited witnesses will also be at desks on the chamber floor …”.
This is very like having the parish council (another worthy committee) conduct its meetings around the altar in the sanctuary. They may be able to do it – but they really shouldn’t!