The Senedd looks very different to when it was first conceived in 1999. Ongoing devolution has meant more powers are held in Cardiff Bay – including primary law-making powers and tax-varying powers that create a much more complex budget – yet we still operate with the same number of members despite this increasing workload.
The purpose of a Parliament is to scrutinise and hold a government to account, and the power of a Welsh government is almost unrecognisable from the first years of devolution. But who holds that government to account? Who scrutinises legislation that can cover anything from the NHS right through to schools or even landfills?
The answer is that just over 40 people do that job.
Despite the political landscape changing fundamentally over the last two decades, the Senedd has remained at a total of 60 members. If you exclude members of the government, party leaders, and the Llywydd and her deputy, that leaves 41 backbenchers to do the day to day job of scrutinising policy changes that affect over 3 million people in Wales.
By any measure this isn’t sufficient. Scotland has 129 MSPs sitting in Holyrood, while Stormont is back up and running with 90 MLAs.
In the Senedd 17 of the 41 Members who sit on Committees, a vital scrutiny function of any parliament, sit on three or more.
In 2017, an Expert Panel, chaired by Professor Laura McAllister, concluded that the Senedd needs around 80-90 members to do its job properly.
Alongside an increase in Members, the Expert Panel also discussed how the new larger Senedd should be elected, opting for a preferred option of a Single Transferable Vote electoral system (STV) with an integrated gender quota.
We have long been supportive of STV as a voting system for the Senedd. Firstly, it delivers a much higher level of proportionality but also ensures an equal mandate for all members. The current Additional Member System (AMS) delivers two types of members, which has led to some tension in recent years. Finally, STV’s ability to include a gender quota to ensure equal representation in the Senedd is a vital step to promote and safeguard diversity in an institution that has previously been a world leader in this area.
Despite these excellent recommendations, nearly three years on very little has changed. The report of the Expert Panel made a number of important recommendations to strengthen the Senedd but to date only the recommendation to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds has been enacted. We have major concerns about the cherry-picking nature of how the report’s recommendations have been delivered so far.
The Committee on Senedd Reform’s September 2020 report echoed many of the Expert Panel’s recommendations, confirming that we still have a long way to go to ensure the Welsh Parliament delivers for the people of Wales.
We believe it is vital that the recommendation to increase the capacity of the Senedd, increasing its membership to up to 90 members, alongside the introduction of an STV voting system with an integrated gender quota, is implemented imminently.
Manifesto ask 1: Full implementation of the Expert Panel recommendations to increase the number of Members of the Senedd to around 90, alongside the implementation of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) with an integrated gender quota. This should happen early in the term of the next Senedd
Read the full report