Size Matters when it comes to the National Assembly for Wales

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 16th October 2013

How many politicians does it take to scrutinise a government? As it turns out, you need more than there are currently representing Welsh voters in Cardiff Bay. That’s why we are calling for an increase in the number of Assembly Members (AMs) from the current 60 to a more effective 100.

Our new report, Size Matters (produced jointly with the UK’s Changing Union project), represents the first systematic, evidence-based investigation of the size of the National Assembly for Wales. It argues that the current number of AMs in the National Assembly is insufficient to allow for proper scrutiny of the Welsh Government and its legislative programme.

The present size of the Assembly means that there are just over 40 AMs available to scrutinise the Welsh Government. This number is extremely low in comparison with other legislatures with similar responsibilities. Evidence also shows that AMs are currently badly overstretched and struggle to effectively scrutinise a powerful and well-resourced Welsh Government.

Since the publication of the Richard Commission report in 2004, which recommended the expansion of the National Assembly to 80 members once it was given proper law-making powers, it has been recognised that a growth in the power and responsibilities of the Welsh legislature should be accompanied by an increase in the number of legislators. But, like 60, 80 is itself an arbitrary number that has no clear intellectual or comparative basis. Based on a rigorous international, comparative analysis of legislatures, we recommend that the National Assembly should be expanded to 100 members.

A 100-member National Assembly would cost the taxpayer around £10.1m a year. But that is a drop in the ocean compared to the Assembly’s budget of nearly £15bn. The Assembly is able to pass laws on health, education and transport, and there is a proposal on the table to give it power over income tax.  The danger is that without a larger Assembly, laws on subjects like organ donations and smacking, and decisions on how much tax we should pay, will be rushed.

At a time when the House of Lords is approaching 1,000 members, and with the number of Welsh councillors likely to be reduced (Wales currently has more councillors per head than Scotland), it is time for a mature debate about the balance of Welsh political representation at UK, Welsh and local levels.

Read the full report

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