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Legal battle looms over Senedd gender balance Bill

11 Mar 2024 6 minute read
Elin Jones, Y Llywydd | Presiding Officer, AS | MS
by Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament

Martin Shipton

The Welsh Government is heading for a legal battle over its Senedd reform package after a women’s rights group said it would go to court over plans to allow transgender women without a medical certificate to identify as women.

In an unprecedented move since the then National Assembly was established in 1999, the government said it was introducing a Bill aimed at creating a gender-balanced Senedd despite a formal statement made by Presiding Officer Elin Jones saying she did not believe that could be done within the terms of the devolution settlement.

The Senedd Cymru (Electoral Candidate Lists) Bill aims to make the Senedd more effective by being more representative of Wales.

The Bill delivers on recommendations made by the Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform, which were subsequently endorsed by a majority of Senedd Members in June 2022 and reflects the Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru.

If the Bill becomes law, political parties putting forward more than one candidate in a constituency at a Senedd election will need to ensure women make up at least half of the list.

To help ensure this increase translates into a more balanced Senedd, parties would also need to place women at the top of at least half of their constituency candidate lists.

Under-represented

Women are currently an under-represented majority in the Senedd – they make up 51% of the population of Wales but just 43% of Members of the Senedd.

Wales was the first country in the world to achieve equal representation of men and women in what was then the National Assembly in 2003 but since then the proportion of women represented in the Senedd has fallen.

In the 2021 Senedd election, less than a third (31%) of the 470 candidates put forward by political parties in Wales were women and of the 60 seats in the Senedd, 26 (43%) are held by women.

Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip Jane Hutt, said: “Twenty years ago Wales made history when 50% of members elected to the then National Assembly were women, but that number has since fallen.

“This Bill aims to achieve a gender balanced Senedd. Having a Senedd which better reflects the make-up of Wales is good for politics, good for representation and good for policy making.”

Leader of Plaid Cymru, Rhun ap Iorwerth, said: “We want to create a more effective Senedd that truly represents Wales and that means ensuring more women standing for election and taking seats in the chamber.

“The reforms being put forward are a leap forward in strengthening democracy in Wales so that the Senedd reflects our modern nation.”

Gender quotas

A study by the European Institute for Gender Equality in 2021, found 11 EU Member States with legislative gender quotas increased the share of women in their parliaments almost three times faster than countries without quotas.

In Ireland, there was a 40% increase in the number of women elected to the Irish parliament in 2016, after statutory quotas were introduced.

But Ms Jones issued a formal notice saying that in her view, the provisions of the Bill “would not be within the legislative competence of the Senedd”.

She said the Bill “relates to the reserved matters of equal opportunities” and “modifies the law on reserved matters, namely the Equality Act 2010”.

Self-identify

Another element of the Bill has angered members of the gender critical Women’s Rights Network Cymru (WRNC): a provision that individual candidates will be able to self-identify as the gender of their choice.

Cathy Larkman from WRNC said: “The Welsh Government is displaying its obsession with gender ideology at all costs. Sadly, we are not surprised by their shocking intransigence on this.

“This Bill is meant to address female political representation, but once again the Government is using it as a lever to push through the first formal steps towards self-ID in Wales. Their arrogance and lack of consideration for women is deeply concerning, as is their willingness to spend huge sums of public money to force this through.

“Men are not women, and they can never become one either. There should be no provision for men to self-identify as women on electoral lists. It is absurd to entertain this and is insulting to women too.

“The Welsh Government knows it doesn’t have the legislative competence to do this, as they have been advised of this by their own advisers, and by the Llywydd (Presiding Officer). They have also seen how similar attempts played out disastrously in Scotland.

“The last time they attempted to introduce this Bill, it failed spectacularly. If they attempt to force this through regardless, this unprecedented move will be met with full scale legal resistance.

“The direction of travel from UK Labour and Sir Keir Starmer has been towards recognising the importance of women’s single-sex spaces and services and ensuring that the party moves away from self-ID due to its implications for women’s rights — and women’s votes.

“Welsh Labour seem to be determined to damage that progress and expose the ideological extremism that they are captive to. With a potential general election looming, this will surely be a huge embarrassment”.

Diverse

However, Wales TUC General Secretary Shavanah Taj said: “We welcome the publication of the Senedd Cymru (Electoral Candidate Lists) Bill today [Monday 11 March 2024]. We share Welsh Government’s ambition for a more diverse Senedd, and know that many Senedd members and other organisations are equally committed to this too.

“Politics – just like all other aspects of public life – should reflect the communities it serves. We are proud that trade union activists have gone on to take up leading roles in politics and other aspects of civil society. We have developed programmes for women, Black activists, and younger workers so that they are well-placed to become the working class leaders that Wales needs.

“This legislation will ensure that there are measures in place to counter the harmful effects of structural inequalities, racism and other forms of discrimination that candidates from under-represented groups face. We hope that it gains gross-party support and results in the more representative Senedd our country deserves.”


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Gwyn Hopkins
Gwyn Hopkins
30 days ago

It’s extremely rare that I agree with the Tories but on this issue I agree with them that prospective election candidates should always be selected strictly on merit. Those that believe otherwise are obviously of the view that the people of Wales are unworthy of having prospective candidates who have been selected by how worthy they are for the position. Incidentally, I wouldn’t object to all Senedd members being female if they had been chosen on merit.

Richard E
Richard E
30 days ago
Reply to  Gwyn Hopkins

Gwyn with all his experience of elected gvt and the “ hanes “ of our journey is right.

Owain Glyndŵr
Owain Glyndŵr
29 days ago
Reply to  Gwyn Hopkins

The problem is that your assertion assumes that we already do judge solely on merit. I don’t believe that’s the case. Humans are flawed, we make mistakes. I assert that people in positions of authority judge based on their preferences more than merit. Blind tests with regard to employment have proven this to be the case. Most people in authority in Cymru, and the wider UK, are Caucasian men, and for that matter middle class Caucasian men. They tend to prefer people who look, sound and act like them. The evidence backs my position. Prove me wrong?

Last edited 29 days ago by Owain Glyndŵr
Rob
Rob
30 days ago

I support expanding the Senedd, and believe that Wales should be fully devolved. But this particular Bill is a complete waste of time. It is just going to spark further division. There is no such thin as positive discrimination – its still discrimination. We should be able to elect our candidates who best represents our views and their ability to do the job. I couldn’t care less if they were male or female.

Last edited 30 days ago by Rob
Glen
Glen
30 days ago

If the Bill becomes law, political parties putting forward more than one candidate in a constituency at a Senedd election will need to ensure women make up at least half of the list.

So 2 women would be okay but not 2 men (unless one or both wears a frock).

Is this their idea of equality?

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
30 days ago

If Margate can have a Crab Museum then Y Bermo should have a Lobster Lyceum…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
29 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

The Night of the Crabs; Guy N. Smith classic !

The ‘Jaws’ of Barmouth Bay/Bae Abermaw…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
29 days ago

India to enforce migrant law that excludes Muslims…

but not the Welsh…

for a year at least…

don’t talk of equality or gender balance…

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
29 days ago

I despair. We have a health service in crisis (tried getting a GP appointment lately, or a visit to the dentist?), an education system that does anything but educate an economy worthy of a fourth world country. and a people lacking opportunity. Meanwhile in fantasy bay, having established a carved up Stalinist voting system, attention now turns to the burning issue of discrimination. It’s not a new voting system we need or a gender balanced Senedd, but members committed to resolving our nation’s problems and building a new and exciting nation. But they are far too busy in their fairy… Read more »

hdavies15
hdavies15
29 days ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

That seems to be the preferred “direction of travel” yet when you speak to the general public they shrug their shoulders with indifference or grunt their despair at the things politicians do in our name. To overturn this direction the mass of non voting electorate has to be motivated to go to the booth or get a postal vote and make their choices. If it all goes the way of those who drive these new ideas then so be it as they will have some sort of mandate. Better still convince the huge number of non participating souls that a… Read more »

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
29 days ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Absolutely!

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