On Wednesday 7 February the Assembly will discuss a motion on Consultation on Assembly Reform in Plenary. The motion has been laid on behalf of the Assembly Commission by the Llywydd, Elin Jones AM. It states:
- Notes the report of the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform.
- Approves the Assembly Commission’s decision to consult on the Panel’s proposals and other electoral, franchise and internal reforms made possible by the Wales Act 2017
UKIP have also tabled a motion which states: To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
- Notes the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform's report entitled 'A Parliament that works for Wales'.
- Believes that: a) currently, there should be no increase in the number of the Assembly's elected members; and b) the electorate must demonstrate their consent to any future increase in the number of elected members by way of a referendum.
Wales Act 2017
The Wales Act 2017, amends the Government of Wales Act 2006, to confer competence on the Assembly over a range of its internal, organisational and operational arrangements. These include issues such as the rules on disqualification from membership of the Assembly, electoral administration, and the power to change its name. The Assembly Commission has looked at a range of issues relating to how the Assembly may use these new powers to reform which the Llywydd addressed in a statement in June 2017.
The Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform
The Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform was appointed by the Llywydd and Assembly Commission in February 2017, and tasked with:
- making recommendations on the number of Members the Assembly needs;
- the system by which they should be elected,
- and the minimum voting age for Assembly elections.
It was asked to report by autumn 2017, and to make recommendations which could be implemented in time for the Assembly election in 2021. It was chaired by Professor Laura McAllister of Cardiff University. Its report, A Parliament that works for Wales, was published in December 2017.
Key recommendations included:
- The size of the Assembly should be increased to at least 80 Members, and preferably closer to 90 Members, to ensure that the parliament elected in 2021 has sufficient capacity to fulfil its policy, legislative and financial scrutiny responsibilities, and that Members can also undertake their representative, campaigning, political and other roles.
- The Remuneration Board and Assembly Commission should consider how the total staffing support, services and financial resources provided to Members can be altered in the case of a larger Assembly, so that the cost of implementing the recommendations is kept to an absolute minimum.
- The Assembly must exercise restraint in the way it makes use of any increase in the size of the institution—for example in relation to the number and size of committees, the appointment of office holders, and the maximum size of the Welsh Government—in order to ensure that the potential benefits for the quality and quantity of scrutiny are realised and additional costs are kept to an absolute minimum.
- The Assembly should be elected by Single Transferable Vote with effect from 2021 subject to its recommendations on legislative interventions to support and encourage diversity of representation being implemented. If, however, these recommendations are not implemented, the Assembly should be elected on the basis of a Flexible List electoral system with effect from 2021.
- The multimember Assembly constituencies upon which a Single Transferable Vote or Flexible List system are based should return no fewer than four and ideally no more than six Members.
- An Assembly of 89 or 90 Members should be elected on the basis of 20 Assembly constituencies
- A gender quota should be integrated within the electoral system put in place for 2021. If this does not happen the Report proposes that political parties be expected to take steps to ensure their candidate selection processes support and encourage the election of a gender-balanced parliament for Wales. This should include voluntary adoption by parties of the quotas.
- Candidates should be enabled to stand for election on the basis of transparent job sharing arrangements.
- The minimum voting age for Assembly elections should be reduced to 16 with effect from the 2021 election. This should be accompanied by appropriate political and citizenship education and public awareness-raising.
- The Llywydd issued a statement on 12 December 2017 in which she said:
The Panel’s report makes a compelling case for reform of the size of the Assembly to be made in time for the 2021 election, if this institution is to fulfil its scrutiny and representative functions on behalf of the people of Wales in these challenging political, economic and constitutional times.
I am clear that fundamental constitutional issues of this nature cannot be separated from the political realities of representative democracy in Wales. To deliver change, we need to build wide political consensus within this institution and outside. To this end, I have been working closely with all political parties represented in the Assembly and am grateful to them all for having engaged so positively and constructively. The Political Reference Group, which I chair, has been acting as a sounding board for the Expert Panel. Its advisory role will continue but this next phase of reform must also include much wider engagement, with all Assembly Members, with civic and political society and, above all, with the people of Wales. To that end, the Commission and I have agreed that, in early 2018, we will consult widely on how the Panel’s recommendations and the wider programme of reform should be taken forward
Article by Alys Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service