Expansion of the Senedd requires public consent

Robin Hunter Clarke argues a referendum should be held before Wales has more Assembly Members.

In light of the report published by the National Assembly for Wales’ Expert Panel I wish to set out why I do not believe we should expand the institution.

I have these past few months sat on the Political Reference Group, representing my party. It was set up by the Presiding Officer to feed into the expert panel’s work – in order to provide some political context to its deliberations.

Leaving such a task solely to academic experts would have resulted in a conclusion wholly indigestible to political parties – so the group has been useful feeding into the work of the panel.

We are told the main reason for the expansion is that our 60 Assembly Members are overworked. It is true that many members do work incredibly hard, and so they should. It is what they are paid to do after all.

Speaking from personal experience I can say that my group arguably has had to work the hardest over the past 18 months. It is tough covering all the committees, with just 5 members. Our Leader, Neil Hamilton for example is the only party leader to sit on a single committee (and he sits on three).

Yet, my party will not be calling for more politicians and a larger Assembly, even though arguably we are the most stretched. Why? Because we accept that’s the job and we get on with it! We also recognise there is no appetite for this out there with the public – the people we represent.

If indeed it is the political consensus to seriously consider this proposal put to us – then we should not take this decision “in-house”. This must be a decision for the Welsh people themselves, and if the Cardiff Bay establishment are confident the public will support this then they must win the argument in a national referendum.

It will of course be the Welsh tax payer who has to foot the bill for a decision that will cost many millions – they should therefore at the very least be consulted.

I do not entirely disagree that there will be a capacity issue, as the Assembly takes on more responsibility. But let’s use the existing politicians we have in Wales before consenting to further spending on ‘politics’, and politicians.

We have for example 40 MPs in Wales who could be used in the Assembly to assist with committee work. With more and more areas devolved to the Welsh Government, they should find themselves with less to do in Westminster. There has even been a proposal that we could use some of the 2000 County Councillors in Wales to assist in the work we do here.

The current electoral system on the existing boundaries also does not give the establishment the amount of members they desire. If they use the existing system is allows them to very easily elect 80 members, by simply increasing the number of Regional Members from 20 to 40.

The expert panel therefore is pushing for complete electoral reform. Their preferred system is Single Transferable Vote, which would abolish the existing system entirely, and create new constituencies on existing Local Authority Boundaries. This would allow the Assembly to expand to over 90 members, and in future to whatever number they wanted by using a specific formula.

Along with this, one of the more ludicrous proposals by the expert panel is to enshrine in legislation that 50% of a party’s candidates must be female. Yes, gender balance is important, and I am all in favour of seeing more women in politics, and young people for that matter. I was elected as a Councillor at the age of 18, and have always tried to be an advocate for young people getting more involved in politics. To legislate to make it illegal if a party doesn’t comply is a step too far in my opinion. We should leave this up to the political party, and allow the electorate to judge. Otherwise, where would it end?

UKIP therefore will be I suspect the only party against this report and proposal. We often find ourselves on the side of the people, and we won’t let the cosy cartel get away with this without a fight.

If we allow the Assembly to expand without the public’s consent it will create a very dangerous precedent indeed.

If we don’t stand against this now, in a few years time they’ll inevitably be a further expansion, and next they’ll probably be wanting a second chamber (you heard it here first). This is why we shall be calling for a National Referendum to take place on this issue, and we hope subsequently the public will support us in rejecting this proposal from the Cardiff Bay establishment.

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