AS the Senedd approaches the last few months before the 2021 election, a report today is recommending wide-ranging reforms to its structure, including more Members, a new electoral system and measures to improve diversity.
The report from the Committee on Senedd Electoral Reform is laying out a series of recommendations to ‘strengthen our democracy in Wales’.
The recommended reforms follow the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020, which extends the right to vote in Senedd elections to 16 and 17-year olds, becoming law earlier this year. In May 2020 the legislature also formally became Senedd Cymru/the Welsh Parliament, reflecting its place within the UK’s constitutional landscape and offering greater clarity on its role and responsibilities.
Last year the Senedd decided that more Members were needed, but that further work was required to consider how that could be achieved. The Senedd Electoral Reform Committee was created to examine the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform, and to consider how many Members the Senedd needs and how Members should be elected, and to look at the diversity of the Senedd.
The Committee’s role was to report on these key constitutional issues and help ensure that the Senedd functions well on behalf of the people of Wales. It has done so today, but the COVID-19 outbreak has inevitably had an impact on the Committee’s work as Senedd members and Committees have been focusing their efforts on scrutinising the Welsh Government’s efforts to tackle the virus.
The Committee is recommending that legislation should be introduced soon after the 2021 election to increase the size of the Senedd to between 80 and 90 Members (from the current 60) with effect from the 2026 election. This supports recommendations made in 2017 by the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform.
Among the reasons outlined by the Committee for supporting an increase in size are the time constraints many witnesses to the inquiry confirmed are faced by Members as they serve the increasing responsibilities of the Senedd. Since the National Assembly was established in 1999 the institution has changed, putting more pressure on its 60 Members. It now has primary law-making powers and power over some tax rates. Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, it’s likely the Senedd will have even more responsibilities.
The Committee is also recommending that legislation should be introduced after the 2021 election for Members of the Senedd to be elected by 2026 using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) electoral system, a proportional voting system designed to achieve or closely approach proportional representation through voters ranking candidates.
STV was the clearly-preferred option for many of those who responded to the Committee’s consultation with stakeholders highlighting the potential reduction in ‘wasted’ votes or the need for tactical voting and the retention of a clear constituency link between voters and their representatives (often mentioned as a key advantage of the First Past the Post electoral system).
The Committee believes that scrutiny, representation and decision-making are better when undertaken from a variety of different perspectives, and when a range of lived experiences can be brought directly to bear. It also believes that legislatures should be inclusive spaces in which the people and communities they serve can see themselves reflected.
The Committee wants everybody in Wales to be able to feel that they could stand for election without facing disproportionate barriers as a result of their own intersectional identity.
The increased awareness of structural racism and discrimination following the Black Lives Matter protests and the significant changes to ways of working adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that radical progress can be made when there is a clear driver and a common purpose. The Committee believes that now is the time to channel that momentum and willingness to innovate into ensuring that everyone in Wales feels able to engage with and participate in our democratic processes and institutions.
The Committee has outlined a series of recommendations for positive action to improve the diversity of the Senedd by overcoming structural inequalities and barriers.