Education is key to the successful implementation of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill
Education needs to be a critical part of implementing the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill should it become law, according to a National Assembly committee.
The Senedd and Elections Bill intends to, among other things, lower the voting age for National Assembly elections to 16 and change the name of the National Assembly for Wales.
In agreeing with the general principles of the Bill, the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee is concerned at the apparent lack of an action plan for adequate awareness-raising and education around lowering the voting age.
The Committee concluded that the Assembly Commission and the Welsh Government had been insufficiently clear about such a plan and highlighted that, if 16 and 17 year olds are to vote in the 2021 Assembly election, the available time to implement an education programme is challenging.
The Committee also felt that work in preparing for the 2021 election represents an important opportunity to improve political and citizenship education generally and for all age groups.
The Committee sought the views of young people, and members of the Welsh Youth Parliament were among those who contributed their thoughts. In an online discussion, the Committee was told:
“Lowering the voting age would ensure that young people get a say in their future. Although I strongly believe that doing so would be beneficial, schools would have to teach non-biased politics so that young people can make a choice and consider all outcomes.”
Mick Antoniw AM, Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee said:
“We are convinced of the need for adequate awareness-raising and education for the proper implementation of the Bill. However, we are concerned at the apparent lack of a coherent action plan.
“While there was an acknowledgement that everyone is working together to a broadly understood objective, we are unclear as to who is leading on this work in readiness for the 2021 Assembly election.”
The Committee has called for more clarity on the capacity of the current curriculum to absorb the changes needed to deliver political and citizenship education.
As for the name of the institution, while noting the range of views that have been provided in evidence, the Committee concluded that the choice of name must be a decision taken by the National Assembly as a whole and has not, therefore, come to a view on a preferred name.
A further area of concern for the Committee surrounds section 27 of the Bill relating to the Electoral Commission and its accountability to the National Assembly.
Rather than include how these new arrangements would work in the Bill when it was introduced, the intention is to cover this issue by tabling amendments at Stage 2 of the Assembly’s law-making process. The Committee believes this approach has the hallmarks of rushing the making of law, without any compelling reasons.
The Committee has recommended that section 27 be removed from the Bill and has suggested that it could be included in the Welsh Government’s anticipated local government Bill, which may cover arrangements for local elections.
This, the Committee believes, would allow for full scrutiny of those provisions earlier in the law-making process, allowing engagement with stakeholders on the detail of the provisions and not just the policy intent.
The Committee makes 19 recommendations in its report, including:
- All Bills relating to significant constitutional issues should be published in draft and, accordingly, time should be built into the legislative process to enable this to happen;
- The Minister for Education should issue a written statement explaining how citizenship and political education will be delivered in time for the 2021 National Assembly election;
- The Llywydd should issue a written statement detailing the funding being provided by each body contributing to awareness-raising and education in readiness for the 2021 National Assembly election.
The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill was introduced after the National Assembly was given powers over its own elections under the Wales Act 2017.
In November 2017, the independent Expert Panel on Electoral Reform, led by Professor Laura McAllister, recommended the voting franchise be extended in Wales to include 16 and 17 year olds, as it is in Scotland. The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill would not lower the voting age for local elections or UK general elections.
Read the full report:
Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill: Stage 1 Report (PDF, 1 MB)