The National Assembly for Wales Commission has announced plans to take forward key elements of its programme to reform Wales’ parliament. The plans were announced in a written statement to the Assembly from the Llywydd and outline a two phase approach.
In the first, the Commission intends to legislate to lower the minimum voting age for Assembly elections to 16 and change the name of the Assembly to Welsh Parliament / Senedd Cymru to better reflect its constitutional status. Proposals will also include changes to the rules on disqualification from being an Assembly Member, and to bring about other organisational reforms.
The second phase will focus on the question of the increase in size of the Assembly and the related decision on which voting system should be used to elect Assembly Members. The Commission has committed to allowing more time for discussions with political parties to take place over the coming months on these matters. These discussions will allow a decision to be taken as to whether the Commission will be able to legislate on these matters before 2021.
The Commission’s decisions on Assembly Reform have been announced alongside the publication of a summary of the key findings of the Commission’s public consultation, Creating a Parliament for Wales. The consultation, which closed on 6 April 2018, asked people in Wales to share their views on a range of proposals, including the recommendations of the independent Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform.
The Panel, chaired by Professor Laura McAllister CBE, recommended in December 2017 that 16 and 17-year-olds should be given the right to vote in Assembly elections.
More than 3,200 consultation responses were received and respondents could choose to answer all questions, or just those of most interest to them.
Of the 1,530 who responded to the voting age question, 59 per cent agreed it should be lowered to 16 years old.
“Empowering young people to vote at 16 is a powerful statement from the Assembly that we value their views,” said Elin Jones AM, Llywydd of the National Assembly for Wales.
"Votes at 16 will have to be accompanied by appropriate political and citizenship education and public awareness-raising to ensure young people are encouraged and supported to exercise their right to vote.”
”We will work with Welsh Government and other partners, including our own Youth Parliament to support this need.”
The Commission intends to legislate to change the minimum voting age in time for the next election in 2021 and to change the name to Welsh Parliament a year ahead of the elections.
The Expert Panel also made recommendations about the number of Assembly Members there should be, and how they should be elected.
The Commission’s public consultation found that of those who responded to the relevant questions:
Elin Jones AM said:
“It is to the credit of the political parties that they have given the time and space to work through some of these important issues and to present ideas on how these matters can be taken forward and win the support of at least a two thirds majority of Members of the National Assembly.
“With the ever-increasing pressure and additional responsibilities of this parliament, it is my view that we need to take action as soon as possible. The only alternative is to accept that our Welsh parliament will face almost another decade of being underpowered.
“As the Chair of the Expert Panel concludes in the report, the Assembly cannot continue as it is without risking its ability to deliver for the people and communities it serves.”
“We now have the opportunity to make our parliament a more effective, accessible and diverse legislature; to forge the national parliament that the people of Wales deserve to champion their interests and hold the Welsh Government to account.”
The Expert Panel also recommended letting people stand for election on the basis of job sharing. The majority of responses in the public consultation came down against this suggestion, with 52 per cent of responses to the relevant question saying no.
On balance, the Commission came to the same conclusion. Whilst accepting there are a number of factors which make this an attractive idea, there is insufficient support for this proposal at the moment. There is also doubt over whether the Assembly has the legislative competence to make all the changes needed to implement the policy, specifically to allow a job sharing Member to become a Minister or a Cabinet Secretary.
Read the full report:
Consultation on Creating a Parliament for Wales: Summary of the main findings (PDF, 1.4MB)