Senedd reform – the story so far

Published 22/11/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

The Senedd established a Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform on 6 October 2021. The Committee is tasked with making recommendations by 31 May 2022 for policy instructions to inform a Welsh Government Bill on Senedd reform.

Background

Work on Senedd reform has been ongoing for a number of years. In 2017, the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform (“Expert Panel”) made recommendations about the size of the Senedd and how members should be elected. Its recommendations were subsequently considered by the Committee on Senedd Electoral Reform (“CSER”), which reported in September 2020.

The Special Purpose Committee will now consider the conclusions previously reached by CSER as part of its remit. This article outlines CSER’s findings and looks back at the work already done on Senedd reform to date.

This Research Briefing also contains a more comprehensive summary of the reports and recommendations of the Expert Panel and CSER. It also looks in detail at the Single Transferable Vote (STV) electoral system, which was recommended by CSER as its preferred system to elect Members of the Senedd from the 2026 elections.

Senedd Reform: What’s already happened?

Expert Panel

The Senedd gained new powers to legislate on its size and electoral arrangements under the Wales Act 2017. In anticipation of these powers, the Expert Panel was established in February 2017 to make recommendations about what the size of the Assembly should be and how Members should be elected.

The Expert Panel recommended that the number of Members should be increased to at least 80 and that they should be elected by STV if its recommendations encouraging diversity were implemented.

STV is a form of ‘proportional representation’ in which the distribution of seats closely corresponds with the proportion of the total votes cast for each party.

Following the Expert Panel’s report, the Senedd Commission concluded in June 2019 that while it was “confident that the case in favour of increasing the number of Assembly Members has been made”, there was not yet political consensus on the electoral system.

Committee on Senedd Electoral Reform

The Senedd agreed to conduct further cross-party work to examine the recommendations of the Expert Panel. The Committee on Senedd Electoral Reform was subsequently established and reported in September 2020.

The Committee recommended that legislation should be introduced early in the Sixth Senedd to increase the size of the Senedd to between 80 and 90 Members with effect from the 2026 election. It also recommended that Legislation should be introduced early in the Sixth Senedd to provide that Members of the Senedd are elected by STV with effect from the 2026 election.

The Committee was not entirely cross-party as the Conservative Party did not put forward a Member. Elements of its work were also impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and a Senedd Member leaving the committee in June 2020. As a result, the Committee’s report acknowledges that it was not in a position to explore certain matters in detail, such as boundary review arrangements for Senedd elections. It also acknowledges that the Committee was unable to reach firm conclusions on the detailed design of an STV system for Senedd elections or the use of diversity quotas.

Sixth Senedd

Following the Senedd elections in 2021, the First minister said that Senedd reform was a matter for the Senedd itself to take forward, rather than the Welsh Government.

The Counsel General later suggested that while policy proposals for reform should emanate from the Senedd, Welsh Government resources could then be used implement the proposals.

The Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform was established on 6 October 2021 tasked with making recommendations for policy instructions for a Welsh Government Bill on Senedd reform.

At its first meeting on 3 November, the Special Purpose Committee agreed to structure its work around three broad phases:

  • Identifying areas where there is common ground between the policy positions of political parties on Senedd reform, or the potential to establish common ground;
  • Gathering further information as necessary in relation to those areas of common ground to assist the Committee develop policy instructions; and
  • Developing recommendations for policy instructions.

Article by Gruffydd Owen, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament