The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill was published on Tuesday 12 February 2019. It is an Assembly Commission Bill and the Member in Charge of the Bill is the Llywydd. The purpose of the Bill is to rename the National Assembly to Senedd and deliver reforms to the Assembly’s electoral and operational arrangements including lowering the minimum voting age to 16.
It is anticipated that this is the first part of a two-phase approach to Assembly reform that is being done by the Assembly Commission on behalf of the Assembly.
The main provisions of the Bill are based on recommendations made by the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform, and were subject to consultation in 2018. A full consultation report was published, as well as a summary report.
Key provisions of the Bill
Below is a summary of the Bill’s main elements:
Changing the name of the Assembly to Senedd
The Bill changes the name of the Assembly to Senedd.
In July 2016, the Assembly debated whether it should change its name. It agreed that the name of the Assembly should reflect its constitutional status as a national parliament. The Assembly Commission ran a public consultation on this issue from 8 December 2016 to 3 March 2017. The consultation showed that 61 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the Assembly should change its name.
On 12 November 2018, the Llywydd wrote to all Assembly Members to explain that the name change introduced in the Bill will be the monolingual name “Senedd”.
On 13 February the Llywydd made a statement in Plenary on the Bill saying:
The Bill contains a clause noting that the Senedd may also be referred to as 'Welsh Parliament', reflecting the opinion of many that the Bill needed an English explanatory term to reinforce the change in the institution’s status.
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. They are to be called Members of the Senedd or Aelodau’r Senedd. Other provisions change the name of related bodies, for example, the Assembly Commission will be known as the Senedd Commission.
Votes at 16 with effect from the 2021 Assembly election
The Bill makes provision for the extension of the franchise to include 16 and 17 year olds to vote in Assembly elections on or after 5 April 2021. At present only voters over 18 can vote in Assembly elections.
The Bill makes other changes with respect to this: around the electoral register, so that Registration Officers are alerted to when a voter turns 18; the canvass of young people and the protection of their information.
Disqualification from being an Assembly Member
The Bill implements recommendations for legislative change in relation to the rules around disqualification of members made by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee of the Fourth Assembly.
This part of the Bill distinguishes between circumstances that disqualify someone to be a candidate for the Senedd and offices that disqualify someone from membership of the Senedd but not to be a candidate. The latter are those that could give rise to a conflict of interest with membership of the Senedd, but where the conflicting office can be resigned before taking the oath, or making the affirmation of allegiance.
The Bill disqualifies Members of the House of Lords from being Members of the Senedd although there are exceptions from disqualification for those members of the House of Lords on leave of absence from the Lords.
The new disqualification arrangements would take effect in time for the next Assembly election.
Duty to consider reform of oversight of the reform of the Electoral Commission
The Bill places a duty on the Senedd to consider the financial and oversight arrangements for the work of the Electoral Commission in relation to devolved elections and devolved referendums. The Bill also places a duty on the Electoral Commission to respond to any recommendations relevant to it by laying a report before the Senedd.
Changing the Assembly’s electoral and internal arrangements
The electoral law reform project was undertaken by the Law Commission for England and Wales. Its scope extends to electoral administration law, offences and legal challenges. An interim report was published in February 2016. The purpose of the recommendations was to simplify the administrative arrangements relating to elections and to standardise those arrangements across the four parts of the UK.
The Bill amends the Government of Wales Act 2006 to enable Welsh Ministers to make regulations to give effect to changes to electoral law recommended by the Law Commission. Welsh Ministers will be able to make provision about local government elections in addition to elections to the Senedd.
The Bill also changes the deadline for the first meeting of the Senedd after an election would be extended from seven to fourteen days, in line with the arrangements in the Scottish Parliament.
The Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee will consider and report on the general principles of the Bill by 28 June 2019. The Bill will then be referred to the Committee of the Whole Assembly for consideration of Stage 2 proceedings which the Business Committee has agreed should be completed by 11 October 2019. The Bill will also be scrutinised by the Finance Committee.
Article by Alys Thomas, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales