A coalition of leading organisations in Wales has welcomed new legislation set to reform the Senedd. ERS Cymru, the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) and WEN Wales have said that the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill is an important step forward for Welsh democracy and that it will correct the longstanding inequality where Wales has been left as the only parliament within the UK too small to carry out its workload.
The Bill, laid by the Welsh Government today, will see the Senedd expanded to 96 representatives to ensure that it has enough members to properly scrutinise now more than £20 billion of spending and public services delivered in Wales every year.
However, the coalition is today also urging the Government to rethink its plans to move to a voting system that does not allow electors to vote for a named candidate. The Bill proposes moving Senedd elections from the Additional Member System (AMS) to a closed list system of proportional representation. Under a closed list system, voters vote for a party rather than a named candidate.
While the proposal of moving to a more proportional voting system is welcome, campaigners have argued that it is important to maintain a clear link between voters and their elected representatives.
Jess Blair, Director of ERS Cymru, said:
“This is a significant day for Welsh democracy. It has been clear since the early days of devolution that 60 members is too small a number to run a national parliament. Since the Welsh Parliament was first created nearly a quarter of a century ago its powers and responsibilities have expanded exponentially, yet the Senedd has remained smaller than many local councils across Wales. It would not have been acceptable in any other part of the UK to have a parliament smaller than nearly half of local authorities in the country – this reform is long overdue.
“This has left Wales in the unacceptable position of having to run what is in effect a part-time parliament as it has not had enough members to fully scrutinise vital legislation and significant decisions about how public services are run. This Bill will merely bring the Welsh Senedd into line with the Northern Ireland Assembly when it comes to representatives, and it will still be significantly smaller than the Scottish Parliament.
“However, we do have concerns about the proposed voting system to elect these additional members. A closed list system will remove the chance for voters to be able to back individual candidates. It remains disappointing that the government has chosen not to implement the Single Transferable Vote system, which was recommended by experts and a Senedd committee. This would maintain a direct link between voters and candidates as well as making the Senedd more proportional. We would urge the Welsh Government to at the very least move to a more open or flexible list system where voters can vote for named candidates.”
Auriol Miller, Director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, said:
“The IWA join ERS Cymru in welcoming the much needed Senedd reform proposals presented to the Senedd today. With an already significant increase in the responsibilities of the Senedd, it’s vital that the capacity of the Senedd is substantially increased, to better reflect the powers and responsibilities it now holds. The people of Wales deserve better representation, better lawmaking and more effective scrutiny of those laws.
However, whilst the reforms are a welcome step to strengthening Wales’ democracy, they fall short of the fully Single Transferable Vote system we would prefer. The loss of the direct link between voter and candidate inherent in the closed list system goes against our current political culture. The electoral process risks being weakened by being less transparent and less trusted by the electorate who put their vote and their trust in a specific named candidate. A closed list system makes this more opaque to an electorate already not yet fully engaged with Senedd elections and is counter productive. This is also at a time when we need to encourage more people and more diverse candidates to stand to represent their communities. We regard the closed list system as a backward step and we hope to see this reformed as the proposals work their way through the Senedd.”
Evelyn James, Diverse5050 Campaign Manager at the Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales, said:
“On behalf of the entire Diverse5050 Coalition, we wholeheartedly welcome the proposed expansion of the Senedd. It will increase the Senedd’s capacity to properly scrutinise legislation and policy, which can ultimately translate into better frontline public services and better value for money for the people in Wales.”
“It is crucial that these proposals go hand in hand with measures to improve diverse and equal representation. People from all communities in Wales have a right to a seat at the decision-making table. Yet women remain underrepresented and it has taken over 20 years for the first ethnic minority woman to be elected into the Senedd. We also know that diversity leads to better decision-making, so this is a unique opportunity to bring in a fresh breath of air from candidates with different perspectives.”
“However, we are concerned about the proposed closed list voting system. It removes people’s choice to vote for the candidate they think best represents their concerns and we hope that this will be reconsidered as the bill moves through the Senedd.”