Senedd Expansion a ‘Pivotal Moment’ for Devolution That Will Improve Accountability in Cardiff Bay

Wednesday May 8th, 2024

A coalition of leading democracy and civil organisations in Wales has hailed the passing of legislation to expand the Senedd as a ‘pivotal moment’ for Welsh devolution and democracy.

ERS Cymru, the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) and the Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales welcomed the passing of the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill as a vital step to undoing the longstanding inequality where Wales has been left as the only parliament within the UK too small to carry out its growing workload.

The Bill will see the Senedd expand from 60 representatives to 96. This will help ensure that the Welsh Parliament has enough members to properly oversee the more than £23 billion of public spending on services in Wales every year and is also able to hold the Welsh Government to account. 

The legislation will also see the Senedd’s electoral system change from the Additional Member System (AMS) to a closed list system of proportional representation, under which voters vote for a party rather than a named candidate.

Victoria Vasey, Director of WEN Wales, said:  

“Today marks a historic moment on a journey towards a more effective parliament for the people of Wales. The evidence is clear that a bigger Senedd is better equipped to properly scrutinise policy and legislation, which can lead to better decisions for all of us. 

“While the passing of this legislation is a milestone, capacity isn’t everything. An effective parliament is one that represents its population, where women have an equal say and all protected characteristics and marginalised communities come together to make decision on the future of their country. 

“We therefore welcome this legislation as part of a package of Senedd reform proposals, including legislation to encourage the election of a gender-balanced Senedd which is currently passing through the Senedd. 

“We remain concerned about the closed list system, which will increase the power of political parties vs voter choice. We ask that this is kept under review and urge all political parties to do their bit towards making the most of the opportunity to promote equal and diverse representation in an expanded Senedd.” 

Jess Blair, Director of ERS Cymru, said: 

“This a pivotal moment in the story of Welsh devolution. Twenty-five years after the first elections to the Senedd, this Bill rights a historical inequality by finally bringing the Welsh parliament into line with the other devolved assemblies in the UK. Before this, Wales had a parliament less than half the size of Scotland’s, which was also the same size or smaller than nearly half of Welsh councils. [2] 

“The original 60-member assembly was designed for a time when the Welsh parliament had no powers to make legislation or raise taxes. Today the Senedd oversees over £23bn in Welsh Government spending and passes legislation that affects key services such as health, education, and transport.  

“The additional Senedd Members are badly needed to ensure that every decision the Welsh Government takes – decisions that affect every person in Wales – is properly looked at. This is an investment in better accountability so that problems are spotted earlier, and public money is spent more efficiently. 

“However, whilst we are delighted to see the Senedd has reached this vital milestone, we remain concerned about the closed list voting system. It is imperative that parties review and reform this voting system after the next election to one that gives more choice to voters.” 

Joe Rossiter, Co-Director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, said: 

“Today marks the next chapter in the ever-evolving story of devolution in Wales. 

“As powers and responsibilities of the Senedd have grown over the past twenty-five years, it is vital that the Senedd’s capacity and capability continue to meet these shifting needs. The passing of the Bill today is an acknowledgement of the need to create a fit-for-purpose Senedd, which matches its growing list of responsibilities. 

“Whilst today is a moment to celebrate progress made, the case for further reform remains. The closed list voting system established in the Bill, whilst more proportionate than first-past-the-post, doesn’t go far enough to create a Senedd which reflects votes. 

“The passing of the Bill today is a step towards a more democratic Wales, but it is far from the last step on that journey.”