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Siambr, Senedd
Picture: Senedd Cymru

A Senedd committee has published a report, advocating a new electoral system, more members, and measures to improve diversity.

Calling for legislation to be introduced soon after next May’s election, the Committee on Senedd Electoral Reform recommends:

  • increasing the number of Members of the Senedd from 60 to 80-90 due to constraints on members’ time as well as increasing responsibilities over tax and primary law-making powers
  • introducing the single-transferable vote (STV) proportional representation electoral system and multi-member constituencies, with all members elected via the same route
  • improving diversity through childcare and caring support, an access to elected office fund for disabled people, inclusion strategies for political parties, and work to explore job sharing elected roles

The committee also urges the Welsh Government to examine whether a pro-rata increase in the limit on the number of Welsh ministers and deputy ministers should accompany an increase in the Senedd’s capacity.

Today’s recommendations follow a 2017 report – by the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform, chaired by Laura McAllister – which came to many of the same conclusions.

Prof McAllister, pictured below, welcomed the latest report, saying the need for more capacity to scrutinise the government and other agencies has been further highlighted by the pandemic and the UK’s exit from the EU.

Arguing that effective scrutiny will pay for itself, she said: “Equal mandates, voter choice and diversity should be at the heart of a new electoral system.

“The public profile and credibility of the Senedd, as well as its effectiveness would be enhanced by ‘baking in’ diversity to its enlargement and reform.”

Laura McAllister
Picture: Senedd Cymru

The McAllister report led to the Senedd and Elections Act 2020, which extended the right to vote in Senedd elections to 16- and 17-year-olds and renamed the National Assembly as Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament.

However, the more contentious reforms – increasing the size of the legislature and changing its electoral system – were pushed back until after the next election by the Senedd Commission due to a lack of cross-party support.

The Committee on Senedd Electoral Reform only includes members from Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru after the Welsh Conservatives refused to take part and the Brexit Party’s David Rowlands quit over claims of bias.

Labour’s Dawn Bowden pointed out that the Senedd looks radically different today compared to when it was established 20 years ago, with expanded powers and responsibilities.

The committee chair, pictured below, warned: “Unless legislation is brought forward to reform the Senedd, we risk failing to ensure that our legislature can continue to deliver effectively for the people of Wales; that the scrutiny of policy, legislation, spending and taxation is informed by the perspectives and experiences of people from diverse communities and backgrounds; and that our electoral arrangements empower and engage voters.”

Picture: NHS Confederation

Next year’s election will be key – not only to the direction of the next government but also to the future of many of the proposed Senedd reforms, which will require a ‘super-majority’ of two-thirds support from members.

Debates surrounding the Senedd’s size and capacity are far from new. Sixteen years ago, for example, the Richard Commission, recommended a similar increase in membership to 80.

However, a swing in parliamentary arithmetic towards Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems next May could finally make the long-awaited reforms a reality and pave the way for a very different looking election five years later in 2026.

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