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FAQs: Assembly Reform

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

 

 

The Assembly Commission has proposed a new law, called the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill. If passed by the Assembly, the Bill will lower the voting age, change the name of the Assembly and make other changes.

Here are the answers to the most popular FAQs.

 
 

 

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 are now considering what the new name should be, as part of their consideration of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill.

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 for Assembly Members?

The Bill proposed that Members will be known as Aelodau’r Senedd/Members of the Senedd.

Amongst other amendments, an amendment to rename Assembly Members as “Members of Senedd Cymru” was rejected during stage 2.

However, the content of other successful amendments resulted in inconsistencies in the name by which Assembly Members are referred to in the Bill. It is anticipated that these inconsistencies will be addressed at the next amending stage.

What is the proposed name?

The Bill as amended at stage 2 will change the name of the Assembly to 'Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament'.

The change of name of the Assembly is intended to reflect its constitutional status as a national parliament.

 
 

 

Votes at 16

 

Why is the Senedd and Elections Bill proposing to 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. In addition, the Welsh Government has said that it will legislate to reduce the voting age for local government elections in Wales from 2022.

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

Around 70,000.

Shouldn’t you consider votes at 16 for Westminster, Assembly and local authority elections at the same time?

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.

The Welsh Government intends to lower the minimum voting age to 16 for the next local authority elections in 2022.

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 the 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. How will you approach this?

The Expert Panel recommended that a reduction in the minimum voting age to 16 should be accompanied by political and citizenship education but it was also clear that the change should be made for 2021.

In order to ensure young people are encouraged and supported to exercise their right to vote, votes at 16 would have to be accompanied by appropriate political and citizenship education and public awareness-raising. The Assembly Commission is working with the Welsh Government and other partners to determine how best to meet this need.

 
 

 

Franchise

 

Your consultation asked about whether prisoners should be able to vote in Assembly elections. Will the Bill give prisoners the vote?

No. The Bill does not contain any provisions in respect of prisoner voting.

The National Assembly for Wales Commission consulted on a package of proposals for Assembly reform in spring 2018, including whether prisoner voting should be considered for Assembly elections. The consultation found that 49 per cent of respondents were in favour of prisoners being able to vote in an Assembly election in some circumstances.

Following the consultation, the Commission invited the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee to examine the issues. The Committee published its report in June 2019.

The Welsh Government and Assembly Commission published their responses. The Llywydd and the relevant Minister contributed to a debate in the Assembly in September 2019.

The Government indicated that it does not intend to include prisoner voting in the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill. Instead it will seek an appropriate legislative vehicle to enable prisoners and young people in custody from Wales to vote in Assembly elections in 2026. 

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 Assembly has voted to amend the Bill to enable qualifying foreign citizen to also be able to vote in Assembly elections. 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).

 

 
 

 

Disqualification

 

Why do you need to change the rules about who can’t be an Assembly Member?

Not everyone is eligible to be an Assembly Member. The Government of Wales Act 2006 and other legislation prohibit certain persons from being an Assembly Member (this includes, for example, MPs, judges, civil servants, Assembly officials).

Currently, all disqualifications prohibit a person from standing for election to the Assembly. When nominated, candidates must declare that they are not disqualified from being Assembly Members. If they are aware that they are disqualified, they cannot stand for election. This means that persons holding disqualifying posts or offices may have to give up their employment in order to stand for election to the Assembly.

The Assembly Commission wants to enable and encourage more people to stand for election. To achieve this aim, the Assembly Commission intends to 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 would allow more people to stand for election and give up their disqualifying post or office only if they are elected.

The changes would also make the rules on disqualification clearer by setting them all out in one piece of law.

This proposal and others relating to disqualification are based on recommendations made by the Fourth Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee in their report on disqualification.

The proposals formed part of the ‘Creating a Parliament for Wales’ consultation. 34 per cent of responses to a question on disqualification agreed that the Committee’s recommendations should be implemented by legislation. Only 13 per cent disagreed, with the remainder expressing no opinion.

Why are you proposing to disqualify Members of the House of Lords from being Assembly Members?

All of the Assembly Commission’s proposals relating to disqualification are based on recommendations made by the Fourth Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee in their report on disqualification which 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.”

The Commission’s proposal is to disqualify members of the House of Lords 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 proposal formed part of the ‘Creating a Parliament for Wales’ consultation. 34 per cent of those who responded to a question on disqualification agreed that the Committee’s recommendations should be implemented by legislation. Only 13 per cent disagreed, with the remainder expressing no opinion.

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. The Bill was then amended at stage 2 to include provisions proposed by the Welsh Government to disqualify such councillors from serving in the Assembly.

The Welsh Government’s amendments were proposed following its consultation on local government electoral reform which found that 82% of respondents agreed that it should not be permissible to serve both as an Assembly Member and councillor at the same time.

 
 

 

Financing and accountability of the Electoral Commission

 

Why are you legislating in relation 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 consider changing the financial and oversight arrangements for devolved elections.

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, as amended at Stage 2, 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.

Why didn’t you consult on the proposals relating to the Financing and Accountability of the Electoral Commission?

The proposals around the financing and accountability did not form part of the consultation. However, the proposals were made in a response to that consultation by the Electoral Commission.

These provisions will be subject to the usual scrutiny and consultation as part of the Assembly’s normal legislative process.

 
 

 

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 and 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.

 
 

 

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.

The consultation results indicate public support for introducing votes at 16 and changing the name of the Assembly.

The Llywydd hopes that the Bill will spark interesting and meaningful debate about our democracy and political engagement in Wales.

The provision to lower the voting age to 16 will engage young people in particular in the democratic process. The proposal to change the Assembly’s name to Senedd will better reflect the institution’s status as a parliament.

After twenty years, and at a critical time for our nation, this is an opportunity to renew our democracy and ensure that Wales’s national parliament enables Members to do their best for their constituents today and for future generations.

The costs of the legislative proposals are set out in the Regulatory Impact Assessment accompanying the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill. The Assembly and its committees will consider these costs as part of the scrutiny of the proposals.

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

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

A full consultation report for both consultations is available on the Assembly website.

 

What happens next?

The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill was introduced in February 2019.

As with all legislation, the Bill is subject to the Assembly's legislative scrutiny processes.

The first stage of the scrutiny of the Bill was led by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. The Finance Committee also scrutinised the cost of the Bill. The Assembly agreed the general principles of the Bill on 10 July 2019. The Bill has completed Stage 2 of the legislative process during which the Bill was considered line by line and Members were able to propose changes. The next stage will be Stage 3, during which further amendments can be considered.

The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill will require a “super-majority” at its final legislative stage; this means that at least 40 out of 60 Members will need to vote in favour of the Bill.

This timetable will allow changes to be implemented in time for the 2021 elections.

 


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