Some Senedd members return for first 'hybrid' session of Welsh Parliament

The chamber is marked out for social distancing. Chairs are reserved for specific members.
Senedd chamber marked out for social distancing Credit: ITV News

Some members of the Welsh Parliament will return to the Senedd chamber for the first time in three months today when the first 'hybrid' session is held.

Twenty members, including the First Minister and party leaders, will be present in Cardiff Bay for the session while the remaining forty members will take part via video conferencing.

They will also be using a new form of electronic voting with an app that has been especially developed for the Senedd.

Elin Jones, who chairs proceedings as Llywydd or Presiding Officer, will do so from the chamber for the first time since March.

Elin Jones will be chairing proceedings in the chamber for the first time since March Credit: ITV News

The Senedd building has been closed to members, staff and the public since March but has been meeting virtually using Zoom video conferencing.

There have been calls from some politicians for it to return more quickly, pointing out that all other UK parliaments are holding mixed meetings.

Elin Jones has said that she supported moving to a hybrid form but that it had to be done safely.

A huge amount of preparation has gone into making the Senedd chamber and its buildings ready to accept more people.

In the chamber two metre spaces have been measured out on the curved desks at which members sit. Their photos have been attached to individual chairs to ensure that only they sit on them.

Forty of those chairs are being removed, leaving only those belonging to the twenty members chosen to be physically present. The remaining members will take part using Zoom and their contributions will be seen on video screens already in the chamber.

The Llwydd's chair and desk has been separated from those belonging to clerks who support her during the sessions.

Rehearsals have been carried out this week to test out both the communications and the new voting system. It is using a bespoke app developed exclusively for use in the Senedd and is seen as crucial to making the hybrid system work. During lockdown a system of weighted voting according to party group size has been used.

In normal times up to a thousand people work in the Senedd buildings. Less than a tenth of those, including officials and staff are expected to return today.

The buildings have been transformed. One way systems are in operation throughout and only one person at a time will be allowed in any lifts. Signs and hand sanitiser stations have been introduced in all areas.

The Senedd canteen prepared for social distancing Credit: ITV News

The Senedd canteen which is in the Ty Hywel office block building has been stripped back to cater for a strictly limited number of people.

Normally the most bustling part of the estate, anyone using it today will only be allowed to sit alone at a table. Once they've left the table and chair will be thoroughly cleaned and the chair tilted to show the work has been done.

A sign of the extraordinary steps taken to enable even this very limited return.