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FAQs: Assembly Reform

Here are the most popular FAQs on Assembly reform and the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill.

 

 

The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill was passed by Assembly Members on 27 November 2019.

The Bill:

  • changes the Assembly’s name and the title of its Members;
  • makes changes to the Assembly’s electoral franchise, including lowering the minimum voting age to 16 and giving the vote to qualifying foreign citizens;
  • changes the law on disqualification from membership of the Assembly; and makes other changes to the Assembly’s electoral and interal arrangements.

It is anticipated the Bill will receive Royal Assent in January 2020. On receiving Royal Assent the Bill will become law, with the Bill setting out when its different parts take effect (for example, the name of the Assembly will not change until 6 May 2020).

Information about the Assembly’s consideration of the Bill can be found here.

 
 

 

Changing the Name of the Assembly

 

Why does the Assembly’s name need to change?

 

Today's Assembly is a very different institution to the one established in 1999. Then, it had no primary law-making powers and was not formally separated from the Welsh Government.  Now, it has responsibility for making laws and holding the Welsh Government to account in some of the areas which have the greatest impact on people's lives.

In July 2016, Assembly Members agreed unanimously that the name of the Assembly should reflect its constitutional status as a national parliament. Assembly Members debated what the new name should be, as part of their consideration of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill. The Bill was passed by the Assembly on 27 November 2019 and is anticipated to become law in January 2020.

The Bill provides that, on 6 May 2020, the Assembly will be formally established as a parliament and will be named 'Senedd Cymru’ or ‘Welsh Parliament'. This is exactly 12 months from the scheduled date of the May 2021 Assembly election.

 

Is there public support for changing the name of the Assembly?

 

 

A consultation on changing the name of the National Assembly for Wales ran from 8 December 2016 to 3 March 2017. In total, 2,821 survey responses were received. The key findings were:

  • 60 per cent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement 'the role of the Assembly is well understood';
  • 61 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the Assembly should change its name.

 

What will be the new name of the Assembly?

 

On 6 May 2020, the Assembly will become a parliament and will change its name to 'Senedd Cymru’ or ‘Welsh Parliament'.

This will reflect the Assembly’s constitutional status as a national parliament for Wales.

What will be the new title for Assembly Members?

 

From 6 May 2020, Assembly Members will be known as ‘Aelodau o’r Senedd’ or ‘Members of the Senedd’. 

When will the name change?

The legal name will change on 6 May 2020. This is exactly 12 months from the scheduled date of the May 2021 Assembly election, allowing time for people to become familiar with the new name prior to that election.

The Assembly’s own signage, website, stationery will display the new name from 6 May 2020. Whilst other organisations are encouraged to refer to the correct name from this date, it is expected that these changes will be made gradually over time.


 
 

 

Votes at 16

 

Why does the Senedd and Elections Bill lower the voting age to 16?

 

Engaging young people effectively in the work of the Assembly is an important priority for the Assembly Commission. The Commission believes that empowering and inspiring young people to vote at 16 is a powerful statement from the Assembly that we value their views and gives them a voice in the future of our nation. It builds on the work we have done to establish the first Welsh Youth Parliament.

The proposal to lower the voting age was recommended by the independent Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform. The results of the Assembly Commission’s consultation showed that 59% of people responding to the relevant question agreed that the voting age should be lowered to 16.

 

Where else can people vote at 16?

The minimum voting age is 16 in Scotland, Austria, Malta, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. 16 and 17 year olds were able to vote in the Scottish independence referendum and can vote from 16 in local elections in Scotland and in Scottish Parliament elections.

How many 16 and 17 years olds in Wales would be eligible to vote?

Around 70,000.

When will 16 and 17 year olds be able to register to vote for the Assembly’s 2021 election?

16 and 17 year olds will be able to register to vote in the 2021 Assembly elections from 1st June 2020.

In order to be able to vote, you have to be on the electoral register. You can get on the electoral register online or by using a paper form. If you need help to register to vote, you can contact your local Electoral Registration Office.

In which elections will 16 and 17 year olds be allowed to vote?

The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill gives 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote in Assembly elections from 2021 onwards. The Welsh Government has introduced a Bill which proposes to allow 16 and 17 year olds also to vote in local government elections in Wales from 2022 i.e. the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill. This is currently under consideration by Assembly Members.

Why aren’t 16 and 17 year olds being given the right to vote in other elections, such as Westminster or Police and Crime Commissioner elections?

 

The National Assembly has the power to legislate on the voting age for Assembly and local elections in Wales only. Power over the minimum voting age for Westminster elections, UK referendums and Police and Crime Commissioner elections is reserved to the UK Parliament.

 

Won’t it confuse voters if the voting age is different for different elections?

The minimum voting age for elections in Scotland is different for Scottish Parliament elections and Westminster elections. In 2016, 16 and 17 year olds were able to vote in the Scottish Parliament elections. In 2017, 16 and 17 year olds were able to vote in Scottish local government elections but not in the UK general election. The reports from the Electoral Commission on those elections do not suggest there was significant voter confusion.

Are 16-year-olds mature enough to vote?

 

The Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform considered whether 16 year olds have the political knowledge, maturity and independence of thought to vote. Research by the Electoral Commission found that in the 2017 local elections in Scotland, 16 and 17 year olds found it easier than 18 to 24 year olds to access information on how to cast their votes, and were less likely to find it difficult to complete their ballot paper. 

On balance, the Expert Panel concluded that a reduction in the minimum voting age to 16 with effect from 2021 could be a powerful way to raise political awareness and participation among young people.

The Expert Panel was clear that if the voting age is lowered to 16 that this should be accompanied by appropriate political and citizenship education. What information and support will be given to 16 and 17 year olds in order to prepare them for voting?

 

In order to ensure young people are encouraged and supported to exercise their right to vote the lowering of the voting age is being accompanied by appropriate political and citizenship education and public awareness-raising. The Assembly Commission is working with younger people, and those who work with young people, to co-produce resources created for their specific needs. It is also working with a range of partners, including the Electoral Commission, local authorities and the Welsh Government, to co-ordinate our education and awareness-raising activities.

 

 
 

 

Franchise

 

Your consultation asked about whether all legal residents in Wales should be able to vote in Assembly elections. Will the Bill give all legal residents the vote? What about EU citizens post-Brexit?

 

At the moment, EU citizens and Commonwealth citizens can vote in Assembly elections. The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill will not change this. Commonwealth and EU citizens who are resident in Wales and who have registered to vote will still be able to vote in Assembly elections. While the details of the Brexit deal in relation to voting rights for EU citizens are not yet clear, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 preserves the entitlement of EU citizens to vote in Assembly and local government elections after the UK exits the EU. The Assembly Commission is therefore satisfied that no further action is needed at this time to protect EU citizens’ right to vote in Assembly elections.

The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill was amended during the passage of the Bill to allow qualifying foreign citizens to vote in Assembly elections from 2021 onwards. This will allow citizens who have- or who are treated as having- leave to remain in the UK to be able to vote in Assembly elections (providing that they are not unable to vote for another reason: such as being under 16, or living outside Wales).

The Welsh Government has introduced the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill which proposes to allow qualifying foreign citizens also to vote in local government elections in Wales from 2022 onwards.

 

 
 

 

Disqualification

 

Why change the rules about who can’t be an Assembly Member?

 

Not everyone is eligible to be an Assembly Member. Some people are not eligible to be an Assembly Member or to stand for election to the Assembly due to posts or offices they hold (e.g. posts or offices that may pose a conflict of interest with being an Assembly Member), or due to aspects of their personal circumstances (e.g. being imprisoned for a period of more than one year).

Previously, all disqualifications prohibited a person from standing for election to the Assembly. When nominated, candidates had to declare that they were not disqualified from being Assembly Members. If they were disqualified, they could not stand for election. This meant that persons holding disqualifying posts or offices had to give up their employment in order to stand for election to the Assembly.

The Assembly Commission want to enable and encourage more people to stand for election. To achieve this aim, the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill will change the law so that most disqualifications prohibit a person from taking up a seat in the Assembly but not from standing for election. This will allow more people to stand for election and give up their disqualifying post or office only if they are elected.

The Bill also makes the rules on disqualification clearer by setting out in one piece of law all disqualifications from standing for election to the Assembly.

The changes to the law on disqualification made by the Bill are based on recommendations made by the Fourth Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee in their report on disqualification.

 

Why does the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill disqualify Members of the House of Lords from being Assembly Members?

 

Members of the House of Lords will be disqualified from serving in the Assembly unless they have applied for leave of absence from the House of Lords. Members of the House of Lords are allowed to take leave of absence from the House of Lords, for example in order to serve as Supreme Court Judges. (A person cannot be a member of the House of Lords and a Supreme Court Judge at the same time).

This change to the law on disqualification is based on recommendations made by the Fourth Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. Their report on disqualification stated:

“We are satisfied that there is potentially a conflict of interest in having the ability to serve two legislatures that scrutinise primary and secondary legislation that potentially could cover the same policy area.”

 

Why does the Bill disqualify local authority councillors from being Assembly Members?

 

 

 

As originally drafted, the Bill did not disqualify local authority councillors from membership of the Assembly. However the Welsh Government proposed amendments to the Bill to disqualify such councillors from serving in the Assembly, on the basis that holding both roles simultaneously is inappropriate. Assembly Members voted in favour of the Welsh Government’s amendments. Local authority councillors will be allowed to stand for election to the Assembly. If a councillor is successful in an Assembly election, they will have to give up their membership of the local authority in order to serve in the Assembly.


Why does the Bill disqualify MSPs, MLAs and MEPs from being Assembly Members?

 

Following amendments, the Bill provides that Members of the Scottish Parliament, Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Members of the European Parliament can stand for election to the Senedd, but- if elected- would then have to relinquish membership of their other legislature to serve in the Assembly.


 
 

 

Financing and accountability of the Electoral Commission

 

Why does the Bill make changes to the financial and oversight arrangements of the Electoral Commission?

 

The Assembly Commission considers that as the Assembly takes responsibility for devolved elections, the Assembly should also become responsible for the financial and oversight arrangements for the regulation of devolved elections and referendums.

The view of the Electoral Commission is that it should be financed by and be accountable to the Assembly for its work in relation to devolved elections, rather than the UK Parliament.

The Bill therefore provides for the Electoral Commission to be financed by the Assembly for its work in relation to devolved Welsh elections and referendums, and to become accountable to the Assembly for such work. The date on which this change will take place will be set out by the Welsh Ministers in secondary legislation.

 

 
 

 

Size of the Assembly

 

What has happened to the Expert Panel’s recommendations that the size of the Assembly should be increased by 2021?

 

On 10 July 2019 the Assembly agreed that an increase in the number of Assembly Members is needed and that further cross-party work should be undertaken to take this forward. However, there is not yet consensus on the voting system that should be used to elect that larger institution, or on measures which could encourage the election of a more diverse legislature.

The Assembly subsequently agreed on 18 September 2019 to establish the Committee on Assembly Electoral Reform. The Committee's role is to examine the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform. It will be well-placed to ensure that consideration of the Assembly's size and electoral arrangements is taken forward in a transparent, cross-party way. The Committee met for the first time on 21 October 2019 and will report on its findings in due course.

 
 

 

Process

 

Why is this a priority now given other pressing issues and funding pressures?

 

There are many competing priorities and challenges for Wales. The National Assembly's job is to represent the interests of Wales and its people, make Welsh laws and hold the Welsh Government to account. With so many issues to consider, it is right that we ensure our parliament is as effective, accessible and diverse as possible and able to act on the issues that matter to the people of Wales.

 

Who did you consult on the proposed reforms? How could people take part?

 

The Assembly Commission made considerable efforts to make the consultation process as accessible as possible through its Creating a Parliament for Wales consultation. In addition to a formal consultation document, it published Easy Read consultation materials, and an accessible microsite with online surveys to help people respond on all of the issues or just those of most interest to them.

As well as online promotion and more traditional publicity, the Commission held a series of public meetings across Wales which allowed for constructive debate and challenge. The Commission is grateful to all those who participated and those who helped host the meetings. In addition, the Assembly's outreach team also engaged directly with over 400 children and young people.

In total, over 3,200 submissions were received to the consultation, from all areas of Wales, including 37 submissions from organisations.

The Commission also consulted separately about proposed changes to the name of the Assembly. 

 

 

What happens next?

 

The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill was passed by the Assembly on 27 November 2019, by a majority of 41 to 19 of votes.

It is anticipated the Bill will receive Royal Assent in January 2020. At this point it will become law.

However not all of the Bill’s provisions will take effect immediately. For example, the name change will take effect from 6 May 2020 and 16 and 17 year olds will not be allowed to register to vote until 1 June 2020.

Work will be undertaken to implement the Bill in time for the 2021 elections. For example, signage on the Assembly’s estate will be changed to reflect the new name and the Assembly Commission will work with the Welsh Government and other partners to ensure 16 and 17 year olds are given all the information and support they need in order to exercise their right to vote in Assembly elections.

As with all legislation, the Bill has been  subject to the Assembly's legislative scrutiny processes. You can go to the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill webpage for more information about this process.

 

 


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