On 10 October the National Assembly for Wales in Plenary will discuss an Assembly Commission motion to approve its decision to introduce the Welsh Parliament and Elections (Wales) Bill.
The Commission’s decision to introduce this legislation follows a Written Statement from the Llywydd in July 2018. Many of the proposals are based on recommendations made by the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform, and were subject to consultation earlier this year. A full Consultation Report has been published, as well as a summary report.
On 2 October 2018 the Llywydd, as Chair of the Assembly Commission (“the Commission”), issued a Written Statement in which she explained that the Bill would:
- change the name of the National Assembly,
- lower the voting age for Assembly elections to 16
- amend the law relating to disqualification arrangements, and to make other changes to the Assembly’s electoral and internal arrangements.
The Commission’s intention is that these changes should be implemented by 2021.
The proposed Bill
The proposed Bill will deal with four main elements:
- Changing the name of the Assembly to Senedd Cymru/ Welsh Parliament
The Llywydd’s statement said that “Changing the name will ensure the name of the institution reflects its constitutional position and help to improve public understanding of the role and responsibilities of the legislature”.
It is intended that the name change to take legal effect in May 2020 to ensure that the public are familiar with the new name in advance of the next Assembly election in 2021.
In addition to changing the institution’s name there will be associated changes, for example the suffix which appears after Members’ names. This is a matter which is still under consideration by the Commission.
- Votes at 16 with effect from the 2021 Assembly election
The Commission is working with the Welsh Government and electoral partners to put in place the required arrangements for the extension of the franchise to include 16 and 17 year olds in the 2021 Assembly Election.
- To clarify and reform the legislative framework relating to disqualification from being an Assembly Member
The Commission intends to implement recommendations for legislative change made by the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee of the Fourth Assembly. These changes would provide clarity for potential candidates about their eligibility to stand for election and, by adjusting the point at which most disqualifications take effect. This would enable more people to stand without having to first resign their jobs, with such resignations only required if they are elected.
The reforms would also clarify the disqualification of lord lieutenants and high sheriffs and, in order to avoid conflicts of interest, would disqualify members of the House of Lords unless they take a formal leave of absence from Westminster.
The new disqualification arrangements would take effect in time for the next Assembly election.
- Changing the Assembly’s electoral and internal arrangements
Provisions would ensure that if the Law Commission makes recommendations to rationalise the current laws relating to elections, such recommendations as may be considered desirable in Wales can be implemented for Assembly and local authority elections in Wales.
The deadline for the first meeting of the Assembly after an election would be extended from seven to fourteen days, in line with the arrangements in the Scottish Parliament.
Should the National Assembly for Wales decide that the Commission should introduce the Welsh Parliament and Elections (Wales) Bill, it would be subject to the Assembly's full legislative scrutiny processes and would require a super-majority at its final legislative stage, meaning that at least 40 Members would need to vote in favour of the Bill. The Llywydd said:
I will ask the Business Committee to consider an approach to legislative scrutiny which would allow all Members, and the wider Welsh public, to engage fully in the debate around the Bill’s principles and its provisions and implications.
The Wider Package of Reform
In her Written Statement the Llywydd explained that the proposed Bill is part of “a package of reforms under consideration to make the National Assembly a more effective, accessible and diverse legislature”. She continued:
Each element of this package requires a broad degree of support among Members if it is to be introduced. On some aspects, further work is needed for this to be achieved. For example, Members and political parties are still considering the future size of the Assembly, how Members should be elected, and how diversity could be increased. If an agreement is reached on a way forward, the Commission’s intention is that these elements will form the second phase of the reform programme during this Assembly term.
In the meantime, following lengthy discussions with key stakeholders and two public consultations, the Llywydd explained that the Commission is satisfied that there is sufficient support to proceed with the Bill.
The debate is about the Commission seeking “leave to introduce” the Bill from Members. If it wins the support of the Assembly, the Commission intends to introduce the Bill in early 2019 to allow the implementation of the first phase of Assembly reform before the 2021 election.
Article by Alys Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service