It is expected that the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill will receive Royal Assent this week.
- changes the name of the Assembly to “Senedd Cymru” in Welsh and “Welsh Parliament” in English, and makes consequential changes to relevant names, titles and descriptors;
- enables 16 and 17 year olds and also foreign nationals to vote in Assembly elections and makes associated changes to electoral registration arrangements;
- makes the Electoral Commission accountable to the Assembly for the work that it does in relation to devolved Welsh elections and referendums;
- changes the rules on disqualification from being an Assembly Member;
- extends the deadline for the first meeting of the Assembly after an election; and
- clarifies the Assembly Commission’s powers to charge for goods and services.
Bill passes final stage
The Assembly voted to pass the final text of the Bill (PDF, 233KB) on 27 November 2019 by 41 to 19 votes.
A super-majority was required for the Bill to pass, meaning that 40 Members had to vote in favour of it. This is because the Bill relates to protected subject-matters (PDF, 80KB) as defined by the Government of Wales Act 2006 (i.e. the name of the Assembly and who can vote in Assembly elections).
The Bill then went into the four week period during which the Counsel General or the Attorney General could refer the question on whether the Bill, or any provision of the Bill, was within the Assembly’s legislative competence to the Supreme Court for decision.
The Counsel General wrote (PDF, 32KB) to the Assembly’s Deputy Presiding Officer on 3 December stating that none of the Bill’s provisions are, in his view, outside legislative competence.
The Secretary of State for Wales also confirmed (PDF, 234KB) in a letter dated 20 December that he would not be using his power under section 114 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 to prevent the Bill from being submitted for Royal Assent.
Key changes made at Stage 3
Stage 3 consideration of the Bill took place in Plenary on 13 November. Read our previous blog article to see how the Bill was amended at Stage 2.
Amendments to the Bill agreed at Stage 3, included a number of amendments tabled by Carwyn Jones AM to replace references to “Senedd Cymru” in various parts of the Bill with references to the “Senedd”, to give effect to his policy objective of making the “Senedd” the working title of the Assembly. Members will be known as “Members of the Senedd” in English, as opposed to “Members of Senedd Cymru” or “Members of the Welsh Parliament”.
Amendments were also made to the part of the Bill relating to rules around disqualification from being an Assembly Member. During Stage 2 the Bill was amended to disqualify Members of non-UK legislatures from standing for election. As a consequence, Members of the other UK legislatures (the Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly and European Parliament) would be allowed to stand for election to the Assembly and to serve in the Assembly as well as the other legislature if elected.
At Stage 3, the Bill was amended to allow these Members to stand for election to the Assembly but not to serve. As a result they will be treated in the same way as members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, who are allowed to stand for election but would have to give up their membership of the other legislature in order to be an Assembly Member.
Coming into force
The provisions relating to renaming the Assembly will come into force on 6 May 2020. Therefore, from that date onwards the Assembly will be known as “Senedd Cymru” or “Welsh Parliament”.
The provisions extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds and foreign nationals will come into force when the Bill receives Royal Assent but will only have effect for Assembly elections held on or after 5 April 2021. 16 and 17 year olds and qualifying foreign nationals will be able to begin registering to vote in Assembly elections held on or after this date from 11 June 2020.
Similarly, the changes to the law on disqualification from being an Assembly Member will also come into force this week but will only have effect for elections held on or after 5 April 2021.
The powers relating to oversight of the Electoral Commission will come into force on a day stipulated by Welsh Ministers in a statutory instrument. The Bill provides that the scrutiny of the Electoral Commission will be undertaken by an Assembly Committee called the “Llywydd’s Committee”.
Second Phase of Electoral Reform
It was initially anticipated that there would be a second Bill to make provision for increasing the size of the Assembly and make consequential reforms to the electoral system based on the recommendations made in the report of the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform. However, on 10 June, the Llywydd wrote to all Assembly Members informing them that the Assembly Commission had decided that it was not possible to legislate on the second phase of electoral reform in the current Assembly. Instead, a new Assembly Committee was established on 18 September to look at the recommendations of the Expert Panel.
Article by Manon George, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales