We gave evidence to MSs on a new Bill to reform the Senedd – here’s what we said

Author:
Jessica Blair, ERS Cymru Director

Posted on the 10th November 2023

In September a new piece of legislation was introduced into the Senedd, which looks set to change how the Welsh Parliament looks and works. The Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill, if passed, will see the Senedd increase to 96 members, all of whom will be elected via a closed list PR system. The Senedd’s boundaries will also change with 16 constituencies each electing six members.

This week we were invited to give evidence to the Reform Bill Committee, which is scrutinising the legislation. This was a chance for politicians to hear our views on the Bill, and for us to raise concerns or praise changes. We have also published our written evidence outlining in more detail our views. 

The Senedd needs more members

The Committee had many questions regarding the new voting system chosen. We have long advocated for an increase in the size of the Senedd, and in 2013 published our report, Size Matters. With the Senedd increasing in size it is right that the system used to elect these 96 members is looked at, but we have concerns around the closed list system chosen. 

Closed list systems see voters backing pre-chosen party lists and having no say in the individual candidates elected. This lack of voter choice is a major concern for us. How will voters be able to reward individual candidates they think will do a good job or vote out existing members they don’t think are performing?

Many countries have much more flexible or open lists, where voters can either vote for an individual or a party, or can entirely select individual candidates. There are also examples of countries moving away from closed lists. Sweden abandoned closed lists and moved to a flexible list system in the 1998 national elections but have reviewed that change since then and lowered the threshold an individual candidate needs to meet to be elected. 

We very much hope that the committee will look at how the proposed closed list system can be made more flexible within this legislation. 

We made the case for the Single Transferable Vote

Both a panel of experts back in 2017 and a subsequent Senedd committee recommended that the Senedd should be elected via the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system and we remain disappointed that these recommendations were not brought forward in the legislation. 

STV is our preferred system, and we hope this can be addressed after the 2026 election. The legislation itself bakes in a review mechanism, which commits to reviewing areas such as the proportionality of the closed list system and the experience of closed lists. We believe this would be a good opportunity to look at the failings of closed lists and bring in the much more effective system of STV. Alongside this review we also called for voters’ experiences and voices to be recognised as part of this process. 

Constituency boundaries should be based on Welsh population

Another area we raised concerns around were the boundaries chosen for the election. Those boundaries have been based upon a pairing of the new 32 Westminster constituencies. These constituencies were developed using incomplete electoral registers. During our evidence session, we called for Senedd constituencies to be based upon population and recognise that the Senedd has an entirely different franchise with 16 and 17 year olds and resident foreign nationals able to vote. 

These are huge shifts in our democracy but it is also important to see these changes in the round. Just a couple of weeks after the Senedd Cymru Bill was introduced a bill to reform elections in Wales was also put forward. The Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill will make another series of changes to the way democracy in Wales works, allowing for pilots on automatic voter registration and creating a new voter information platform. We are also expecting a bill on gender quotas before the end of the year. 

While these are three separate pieces of legislation, for voters they amount to a collective raft of changes to the way things work in Wales. That was our key message to the committee, that communicating these changes and bringing voters along with them is going to be vital. We feel that with some changes to the legislation there could be a real strengthening of Welsh democracy, but that will only happen if voters feel informed and confident ahead of the next Senedd elections in 2026. 

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