Dame Rosemary Butler
Presiding Officer 2011-2016
Elected to represent Newport West in the first National Assembly for Wales elections in May 1999, Dame Rosemary Butler was elected as Presiding Officer by fellow Assembly members on 11 May 2011. Dame Rosemary stood down as an Assembly Member at the 2016 Assembly elections.
Changes to Assembly Business
Dame Rosemary initiated and drove a number of alterations to the practices of the Fourth Assembly ensuring greater scrutiny of the Welsh Government. Effective scrutiny is an essential part of any democratic culture so taking a fresh look at how the National Assembly for Wales could open up opportunities to invigorate its practices and procedures was very important to her.
Changes that were made during the Fourth Assembly included:
- shorter tabling deadlines for oral questions in order to increase the topicality and variety of backbenchers' scrutiny of Ministers;
- the introduction of Individual Member debates with cross-party motions;
- dedicated time for 'Leaders' Questions', which has given an opportunity for party leaders to scrutinise the First Minister in depth on topics of their choice without having to give notice in advance; and
- 'Spokespeople's Questions' allowing party spokespeople to ask three questions of Ministers, again without notice.
These changes have provided the opportunity for greater topicality in the Chamber and in-depth questioning of the Government.
Women in Public Life campaign
Following a decline in the number of female Assembly Members elected in 2011, Dame Rosemary launched a campaign to increase the number of women in Welsh Public Life, with the aim of encouraging more women to put themselves forward for election and therefore securing a more representative democracy in Wales.
Based on an analysis of the statistics provided by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in their 'Who Runs Wales' Report, the campaign focused on examining the barriers, real and perceived, stopping women from applying for positions in public life, and providing them with practical solutions to overcome those barriers.
Following a fact-finding tour of Wales in 2012, culminating in a national conference, it became clear, from what women across Wales were saying, that in order to get more women into decision making positions, a multi-stranded approach was required.
Dame Rosemary established the Assembly Women in Democracy Caucus. Chaired by the Presiding Officer, the Caucus was made up of one representative from each of the Assembly's four political parties to ensure that informed decisions and positive steps could be taken towards a fair representation of women within Welsh democracy. The Caucus published its Report in March 2015.
Dame Rosemary hosted a series of lectures featuring inspirational female role models from traditionally male dominated sectors, amongst them were Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand; human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti; broadcaster, Janet Street Porter; leading scientist Baroness Susan Greenfield; economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett; and former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Each brought something different to the table and enthused many women to get involved.
Visit the Assembly's Youtube channel to view the Women in Public Life lecture series.
In January 2014, Dame Rosemary launched the Women in Public Life Development Scheme. The scheme provided mentoring, shadowing and training opportunities for a number of women from all parts of Wales for a period of 18 months. During and immediately after completing the scheme, 85% of participants applied for a position in public life with 31% applying for more than one position. To date, over half have been successful – with some actually gaining more than one position.
Dame Rosemary also worked with Women Making a Difference to create an online portal, which provided the latest information on vacancies and opportunities in public life in Wales, blog posts on topical subjects, monthly profiles of inspirational women and role models, and information about the Women in Public Life Development scheme.
In March 2016 the campaign came to an end but the portal's content will remain available until summer 2016. Women Making a Difference will re-launch their website before September 2016 which will aim to independently further the work of the campaign.
During the Fourth Assembly Dame Rosemary pledged to work towards addressing the "Democratic Deficit". The term "Democratic Deficit" refers to how large numbers of people in Wales consume news and current affairs from UK broadcasters, newspapers and media organisations which often ignore the different public policy landscape in Wales compared to England. To that end she sought to build partnerships with the media at a UK, Wales and Hyperlocal level, as well as with academia and other media organisations. The primary aim was to encourage more coverage of the work of the National Assembly to Welsh audiences and to ensure that the issue remains at the top of the political agenda.
This work included:
- Engaging senior figures from the UK media, including the Director General of the BBC, who now appear before the Assembly's Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee on a regular basis to undergo scrutiny in relation to the BBC's provision for its Welsh audiences, at both a Wales and network level;
- Hosting high-level media seminars to highlight the issue with panellists including Kevin Maguire, Associate Editor of the Daily Mirror; Peter Knowles, head of BBC Parliament; and Peter Riddell, Director of the Institute of Government and former Deputy Editor of the Times;
- Developing partnerships with the emerging hyperlocal sector by arranging "News days" in both South and North Wales to work with hyperlocals to encourage more coverage of the Assembly's work;
- Developing partnerships with Universities, including Cardiff University's Centre for Community Journalism and Glyndŵr University to increase hyperlocal engagement;
- Working with academic partners, together with unions, the media and other journalistic organisations, to develop opportunities for journalists at all levels to learn more about the Assembly's work; and
- Continuing to provide a strong Welsh voice in the BBC Charter review process, including submissions to Assembly and House of Commons Committee inquiries on the issue.
In July 2014, Dame Rosemary and all four Party Leaders signed the Children and Young People Engagement Charter. This underpinned the Assembly's commitment to increasing engagement with young people in Wales by providing a platform for voices to be heard and valued at the heart of Welsh democracy, enabling young people to contribute to the future shape of Wales and Welsh democracy.
The development of the Assembly's work around youth engagement has been built upon the already strong foundations of the education service, and was informed by the views of nearly 3,000 young people, gathered in 2013. More than 10,000 young people have been directly involved in the work of Assembly committees during the Fourth Assembly, and over 10,000 11-25-year-olds took part in the Vote@16 consultation which is the biggest ever response to an Assembly consultation. 53% of young people indicated they wanted to lower the voting age to 16 and the Presiding Officer has played a key role in communicating this message to both the UK and Welsh Governments ahead of the Assembly elections in May 2016 and the introduction of the Wales Bill.