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Assembly Reform programme frequently asked questions


Where else can people vote at 16?

In Scotland, Austria, Malta, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, the minimum voting age is 16. 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.

Why are you proposing changes to the minimum voting age?

The results of the Assembly Commission’s Creating a Parliament for Wales consultation indicate public support for this proposal. 

59% of 1,530 responses to a question about what the minimum voting age should be for National Assembly elections stated that it should be 16, compared with 39% who said it should be 18 years of age. 

The Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform concluded that reducing the minimum voting age to 16 for Assembly elections would be “a powerful way to raise political awareness and participation among young people”. 

It is the Welsh Government’s intention to lower the minimum voting age to 16 for the next local authority elections in 2022. The Assembly Commission’s view is that in order to ensure the highest level of participation possible, this should be implemented for the elections to Wales’ national parliament in the first instance. This reflects the Expert Panel’s conclusion that it is “desirable that if the franchise is to be extended in Wales, it should first take effect at the higher salience Assembly election” in 2021.

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

The results of the Assembly Commission’s Creating a Parliament for Wales consultation indicate public support for the same people to be able to vote in Assembly elections and local elections in Wales. 

The Welsh Government intends to lower the minimum voting age to 16 for the next local authority elections in 2022. The Assembly Commission’s view is that in order to ensure the highest level of participation possible, this should be implemented for the elections to Wales’ national parliament in the first instance. This reflects the Expert Panel’s conclusion that it is “desirable that if the franchise is to be extended in Wales, it should first take effect at the higher salience Assembly election” in 2021.

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 also considered the ages at which young people take on different rights and responsibilities. It concluded that in reality, there is no single age at which a young person takes on all of the rights and responsibilities of an adult citizen. 

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 intends to work with the Welsh Government and other partners to determine how best to meet this need.

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. 

The Welsh Government intends to lower the minimum voting age to 16 for the next local authority elections in 2022. The Assembly Commission’s view is that in order to ensure the highest level of participation possible, this should be implemented for the elections to Wales’ national parliament in the first instance. This reflects the Expert Panel’s conclusion that it is “desirable that if the franchise is to be extended in Wales, it should first take effect at the higher salience Assembly election” in 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 intends to work with the Welsh Government and other partners to determine how best to meet this need.

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. The Assembly Commission consulted the public between 8 December 2016 and 3 March 2017. The consultation showed that 61% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the Assembly should change its name. The name that respondents felt best described the institution's role and responsibility was: Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru.

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: 

  • 60of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that the role of the Assembly is well understood; 
  • 61of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the Assembly should change its name; 
  • The most popular choice of name was: Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru (73%). 
  • The most popular choice of title for Members was: Member of the Welsh Parliament/Aelod o Senedd Cymru (30 per cent).

What will be the new name for Assembly Members?

In addition to changing the institution’s name there will be associated changes, for example the suffix which appears after Members’ names. This is a matter which is still under consideration by the Assembly Commission.

How much will changing the name cost?

The Assembly Commission will plan the change so as to minimise the cost. There will not be any change to the Assembly’s logo. 

The Regulatory Impact Assessment which accompanies the introduction of the Bill will include an assessment of the costs, both for the Assembly itself (such as signs on the Assembly estate), and other persons and organisations affected (for example, in relation to replacing road signs).

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

The Llywydd is confident from conversations to date and the response to the public consultation that there is sufficient support for the proposal to increase the number of Assembly Members. 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. 

Decisions on electing more Members cannot be made without also deciding how they are to be elected. Discussions on these issues are continuing. In the meantime, the introduction of the Welsh Parliament and Elections (Wales) Bill in early 2019 will allow the change to the Assembly’s name, the reduction of the minimum voting age for Assembly elections to 16, and the reform of the disqualification arrangements to be implemented for 2021.

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

The National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Ministers acquired responsibility for Assembly and local government elections in Wales very recently, via the Wales Act 2017. The Welsh Government has consulted on a package of proposals for electoral reform for local government elections and is exploring the options for extending the rights of prisoners to vote in local government elections. The National Assembly for Wales Commission consulted on a package of proposals for reform of the Assembly’s electoral and internal arrangements in spring 2018, including whether either the UK Government’s or Welsh Government’s proposals for prisoner voting should also apply to Assembly elections. Following the consultation the Llywydd announced that further consideration of the democratic and human rights issues relating to prisoner voting was required, and that the Commission intended to invite the Assembly’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee to consider holding an inquiry to examine the issue of whether prisoners from Wales should be allowed to vote in elections to the National Assembly.

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 Welsh Parliament 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 exit day. 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 Commission’s Creating a Parliament for Wales consultation asked whether all legal residents in Wales should be allowed to vote in Assembly elections, irrespective of their nationality or citizenship. Of the 1,480 responses to this question, 66% (980) felt that all legal residents in Wales should be allowed to vote in Assembly elections, irrespective of their nationality or citizenship. 

These are complex matters, engaging fundamental constitutional principles about what it means to be a citizen, as well requiring detailed consideration of the administrative arrangements required to give effect to any such reform. On that basis, the Assembly Commission has decided not to extend the franchise to all legal residents. 

 The Welsh Government has previously indicated that it is also considering whether the right to vote in local elections should be extended to all legal residents in Wales, regardless of their citizenship or nationality, with effect from 2022. The Commission will watch with interest the development of the Welsh Government’s proposals.

Your consultation asked about whether the Electoral Commission’s recommendations on the treatment of electoral campaigning costs relating to translation and individuals’ disabilities. Will these issues be dealt with in the Bill?

The Assembly Commission consulted on the Electoral Commission’s recommendations that certain costs should be exempted from political parties’ and candidates’ electoral spending limits. 

The Commission’s consultation found that there was significant support for the Electoral Commission’s recommendations to be implemented. 

Powers to implement these recommendations were recently transferred to Welsh Ministers in the Welsh Ministers (Transfer of Functions) Order 2018. The Commission is therefore exploring with the Welsh Government whether Ministers might address these issues via secondary legislation. Such an approach would allow these issues to be addressed alongside other matters of electoral regulation.

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 a person holding a disqualifying post or office 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 most 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.” 

On this basis the Committee recommended that “the UK Government prohibits the practice of standing as an Assembly Member and a Member of the House of Lords, but that such a prohibition should not be applied to anyone who is currently serving as a member of both institutions.” 

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). 

The disqualification of Members of the House of Lords would not take effect until the next Assembly election. This would ensure that anyone who is currently serving as a member of both the Assembly and House of Lords is not affected by the change during this Assembly. 

This proposal formed part of the ‘Creating a Parliament for Wales’ consultation. 34% 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 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. 

Decisions on spending on public services are made by the Welsh Government. The National Assembly’s job is to hold the Government to account on how it spends its budget of around £16 billion. The view of the Silk Commission was that: 

“Good scrutiny means good legislation, and good legislation pays for itself”. 

The costs of the legislative proposals will be set out in the Regulatory Impact Assessment accompanying any Bill. The Assembly and its committees will consider these costs as part of their scrutiny of the proposals.

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

The Commission made considerable efforts to make that consultation process as accessible as possible. 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.

Are you confident that you have political agreement amongst all parties for the proposals in the Welsh Parliament and Elections (Wales) Bill?

The Commission is confident that there is a broad political consensus in favour of all of the proposals in the Bill, including votes at 16, the change of the Assembly’s name, and the reform of the disqualification arrangements. On 10 October 2018 Assembly Members agreed by 44 votes to 1 with 3 abstentions to allow the Assembly Commission to introduce the Welsh Parliament and Elections (Wales) Bill.

The Bill will be subject to the Assembly's legislative scrutiny processes. As part of the process, the Bill will require a “super-majority” at its final legislative stage. This means that at least 40 Members will need to vote in favour of the Bill.

Why is the Assembly Commission leading on this legislation?

The Wales Act 2017 gives the Assembly the power to make decisions in relation to the institution’s size, name and how Members are elected. 

The Welsh Parliament and Elections (Wales) Bill will require a “super-majority” at its final legislative stage; This means that at least 40 Members will need to vote in favour of the Bill. It is important therefore that this work progresses with cross-party support. The Commission announced in November 2016 that it would explore these matters. 

In February 2018 the Assembly voted in favour of the Commission’s decision to consult on the recommendations of the Expert Panel’s report on Assembly Electoral Reform, “A Parliament that Works for Wales”. 

The Llywydd and Commission initiated this work with the support of all party Leaders in the Assembly. Throughout the process, the Commission has engaged with all the parties represented in the Assembly.

On 10 October Assembly Members agreed by 44 votes to 1 with 3 abstentions to allow the Assembly Commission to introduce the Welsh Parliament and Elections (Wales) Bill.

What happens next?

The Assembly Commission will introduce legislation in early 2019. This will allow the implementation of the first phase of Assembly reform before the 2021 election.

Legislation would be subject to the Assembly's legislative scrutiny processes. 

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


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