By Dewi Morris | Political Editor
The Senedd currently has 60 members, one for each constituency and four for each of the five electoral regions in Wales.
The recommendations made by the Senedd’s committee for Electoral Reform, and backed by an expert panel, argue the Senedd needs between 80 to 90 members to effectively represent Wales and scrutinise the Welsh Government.
In 2017, an impartial Expert Panel on Assembly Reform was established to give advice on reforms for three matters; the minimum voting age for Senedd elections, a suitable electoral system for the Senedd, and the number of members the Senedd needs to fully represent Wales.
On voting age, the panel suggested reducing the minimum voting age in Wales for Senedd elections to 16. This has been adopted, and 16 and 17 year olds will now be able to vote for the first time in next May’s Senedd election.
The committee on Senedd Electoral Reform, which includes members of Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru, was established in September last year, to examine the recommendations of the 2017 expert panel.
However, the committee has been boycotted by the Welsh Conservatives and the Brexit Party. The Conservatives declined to join, while Brexit Party member David Rowlands left the committee after a row with the committee’s leader, Dawn Bowden.
Ms Bowden says she was “very frustrated” that there could not be a cross-part approach to Senedd reforms.
The committee has also recommended other reforms such as ensuring a broadly equal number of male and female politicians are elected to the Senedd, and introducing a Single Transferable Vote (STV) electoral system. It is claimed this would “give voters more choice, maintain clear links between Members and constituencies, and produce more proportional electoral outcomes.”
In regards to increasing the number of Senedd members, in a summary report, the committee argued:
“We believe that investing in our democracy will be cost effective by improving governance and representation, enhancing scrutiny and oversight of the Welsh Government, and leading to more effective policy, more efficient spending and better legislation.”
The estimated costs of 20 new Senedd members would be around £9m a year, while the cost for 30 new members would be around £12m.
To put this into perspective, the maintenance cost of the House of Lords and its estates was £26.4m in the year 2018-19.
Ms Bowden announced:
“A larger Senedd would be cost-effective, as members would be better able to hold the Welsh government to account for its spending and decisions, and pass better legislation, as well as helping people across Wales with their problems.
“It’s not about ‘can we afford to do this?’, it’s ‘can we not afford to do this?'”
Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru welcomed the proposal, claiming: “At a time when devolution is under direct assault from Westminster we need now more than ever before a strengthened Senedd.” He also added: “Our parliament is too small and that represents a big danger to the health of our democracy.”
The Conservatives and Brexit Party strongly oppose increasing the number of MSs. Paul Davies, Welsh Conservative leader claims “there is no appetite for an increase in the number of politicians.” While the Brexit Party claim the report has “no legitimacy.”
The initial 2017 report by the expert panel was headed by Professor Laura McAllister, who stated: “Democracy does cost money, but good scrutiny pays for itself and it can be seen by citizens and communities across Wales.”
The 2017 report agrees with a 2015 Assembly Commission which concluded: “With only 60 members, the National Assembly is underpowered and overstretched”.
The decision on whether or not to introduce more MSs will not take place until after 2021, since Welsh Labour have said they would not back reform plans without first putting them in their manifesto and presenting them to voters.
Any changes would need to be agreed upon by 40 members (two thirds of the Senedd). It seems these decisions would rely on the result of the next Senedd election in May.twitter Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.