Why the Senedd needs more members

Author:
Jessica Blair, ERS Cymru Director

Posted on the 13th March 2022

With just 60 elected members, Wales’ Parliament has long been under-resourced. But that problem has grown as Wales acquired more responsibilities – without the representatives needed to properly scrutinise legislation. 

Changes to the size of the Welsh Parliament / Senedd Cymru were first mooted officially nearly 20 years ago, with the publication of the Richard Commission report in 2004. The then-Assembly had far fewer powers – but even then it recognised that Welsh voters were going under-represented, and Wales’ scrutineers were facing burnout. 

Since then, the issue has been part of a wider conversation about how to reform the Senedd, with an Expert Panel in 2017 recommending 80-90 members, elected through the Single Transferable Vote, with strong diversity measures in place. A Senedd Committee in 2020 concurred with the Expert Panel, calling for an increased capacity for the Senedd, further improving its electoral system, and boosting diversity to reflect Wales.

At the Senedd elections in 2021 three of the four parties returned to the Senedd included manifesto commitments around these changes. Since then reform seems likelier than ever. In November, Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru announced The Co-operation Agreement, an extensive three-year deal covering a huge range of policies where there were common aims or interests. This included the biggest commitment on Senedd reform to date, stating:

“Working together we will…support plans to reform the Senedd, based on 80 to 100 Members; a voting system, which is as proportional – or more – than the current one and have gender quotas in law. We will support the work of the Senedd Special Purpose Committee and introduce a Senedd reform Bill 12 to 18 months after it reports.”

That Senedd Special Purpose Committee is due to report by 31st May this year making policy instructions for the Welsh Government to legislate. 

A strong case for change

There are so many reasons that reform is desperately needed. The size of the Senedd has been the same since its inception in 1999, but the reality is that devolution has fundamentally changed. We’ve got additional powers now, including those around legislation and taxation. With just 60 members, when you take out government ministers, party leaders and the Llywydd (Presiding Officer), you’re left with just over 40 people to juggle all the scrutiny that’s required.

So this is about investing in scrutiny that will ensure that the Senedd better delivers for people across Wales. The excellent Professor Laura McAllister has said previously that ‘good scrutiny pays for itself’. Indeed, back in 2020 Wales’ Auditor General said “Good scrutiny means good legislation, and good legislation pays for itself…a 0.17% annual saving, or improvement in value, in Welsh Government spending (£17.5bn), would pay for 30 extra members.” A stronger Senedd would mean our public services, such as our hospitals, can work more effectively. 

We cannot continue with a Senedd that doesn’t have the capacity to tackle the challenges we face. To change this we need political parties to work together and deliver on their commitments to reform the Senedd by the next elections in 2026.

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