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The Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill

Dr Georgina Bensted
Dr Georgina Bensted

Yesterday, the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill was published. This is the Welsh Government’s response to increases in Wales’s legislative powers made by the Silk Commission in 2014 and the subsequent 2017 Expert Panel on Assembly Reform. It is intended that this Bill will increase the effective scrutiny of the Senedd as more powers are devolved to Wales.

In particular, the Wales Act 2017 devolved more powers to the Senedd in relation to its size and electoral arrangements. The Senedd set up the Expert Panel which made several recommendations, including increasing the number of Senedd Members from 60 to at least 80.

In 2020, the Senedd passed the first tranche of the Expert Panel’s recommendations in the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020, including lowering the voting age, so this Bill will be seen as the second response to the Panel’s recommendations and subsequent work on Senedd reform.

Main Points

The Bill’s main provisions will increase the size of the Senedd to 96 Members by establishing 16 constituencies, with 6 Members for each constituency. It will also increase the number of Welsh Government Ministers to 17, with a further power to increase to potentially 18 or 19 through secondary legislation. There will also be more Deputy Presiding Officers to oversee Senedd business, with a maximum of two.

Once the Bill passes, candidates to Senedd elections will have to be resident in Wales, alongside elected Members of the Senedd. A mechanism for considering the possibility of job-sharing of offices relating to the Senedd will also be created for the Seventh Senedd.

The Senedd’s electoral system will change. Members will be elected through a closed proportional list system (meaning that lists of candidates can only be submitted by registered parties who will determine the order of the candidates), with a new formula to translate votes into seats. Gender quotas will be discussed in a separate legislative instrument.

The Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales will be repurposed and renamed “Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru” with functions necessary to establish new Senedd constituencies and undertake ongoing reviews of boundaries. The period between Senedd elections will also return to four years.  

Over an eight-year appraisal period, there will be ongoing costs of between £100.4 million and £120.3 million.

Political reception

The Bill is expected to pass through the Senedd as one of the main focuses of the Labour-Plaid Cymru Co-operation Agreement was to support plans to increase the size of the Senedd.

Though the shift in voting system and changes to constituency boundaries makes it difficult to accurately predict the changes in the political composition of Senedd at the next election in 2026, it is likely the result will be similar in proportionality to the current result. With all things remaining equal, Labour will likely retain a dominant position, but cannot be guaranteed a majority. Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives would likely remain with the same proportion of seats.

Some have speculated that the system does not help smaller parties. Currently, parties like the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Reform UK would need to secure between 6 and 10% in a region to win a seat. This threshold may increase to 10 to 12%, reducing opportunities for smaller parties to win seats in 2026.

Generally, it means that we will likely see a continuation of multi-party government, where formal or informal agreements have allowed relatively stable administrations without overall majorities since 1999.

The Welsh Conservatives are expected to oppose the Bill based on cost, which has been their argument since Senedd reform was first discussed and more Members were proposed.

The Bill will require a two-thirds majority in the Senedd to pass, and unless there is an unexpected change, it will do so with the support of Labour and Plaid Cymru Members.

For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.

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