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Senedd gender quota plan withdrawn following legal advice to Presiding Officer

09 Dec 2023 5 minute read
Elin Jones, Y Llywydd | Presiding Officer, AS | MS by Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament

Martin Shipton

A Bill intended to create a gender-balanced Senedd was withdrawn abruptly because the Presiding Officer had received legal advice that it would exceed what was permitted under Wales’ devolution settlement, we have been told.

In September the Welsh Government introduced a piece of legislation called the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill, which contains the major part of the Senedd reform package agreed with Plaid Cymru.

It will see the number of Senedd Members increased from 60 to 96, the electoral system changed to one that is wholly proportional and the length of a Senedd term will revert from five years to four.

One important element of Senedd reform was, however, omitted from the Bill – changing the voting system so that men and women would achieve equal representation.

Legal challenge

It was decided by the Welsh Government to separate this proposal from the rest of the reform package. Our understanding was that there were doubts about whether legislating for a gender-balanced Senedd could be susceptible to legal challenge.

At the time it was said that a second Bill, covering gender balance, would be published before the end of 2023.

In October the Women’s Rights Network had leaked to it a draft of this second Bill, a particularly controversial part of which made it clear that transgender women without a medical certificate would be able to stand as candidates for the Senedd.

Election officials would be forbidden from questioning such candidates about their declaration of gender identity. While the proposal was welcomed by trans rights activists, it was condemned by some feminist groups, who saw it as encroaching on women’s rights.

The second Bill – called the Senedd Cymru (Electoral Candidate Lists) Bill – was due to be published on December 4, and journalists were invited to attend a technical briefing about it on November 30. But on November 29 the briefing was abruptly cancelled and journalists were told that the Bill was not being published on December 4 after all.

A full explanation was not provided, but the Welsh Government said the Bill was still being worked on. In line with Wales’ devolution settlement, The Senedd’s Presiding Officer – known also by the Welsh title Llywydd – must publish a statement indicating whether or not he or she considers that the Senedd has the power to pass a Bill.

The current Llywydd is Elin Jones, the Plaid Cymru MS for Ceredigion. A well-placed political source told Nation.Cymru: “My understanding is that the Llywydd received legal advice that the Bill as drafted was not within the legislative competence of the Senedd. It is certainly highly unusual for a Bill to be withdrawn so close to its announced publication date. They say they are still working on it, but frankly I can’t see it coming back.”

We asked the Senedd Commission whether it was the case that the Llywydd had said she would not make a statement to the effect that the Bill was within the legislative competence of the Senedd.

The response we got did not answer the question. Instead a spokesperson for the Llywydd said: “The standard process for legislation requires the Llywydd to make a statement on whether Senedd Bills are within the legislative competence of the Senedd. The Llywydd’s statement will be published upon the introduction of a Bill.”

We put the same question to the Welsh Government and were told by a spokesman: “We aren’t adding anything to our earlier statement – which was we are doing further work on the Bill.”

Wales has a reserved powers model of devolution, under which it can legislate in any policy area except those specifically reserved to Westminster. Among the areas in the reserved powers list which may be of relevance to the gender-balanced Senedd proposal are “equal opportunities” and “gender recognition”.

Retreating from its commitment to legislate for a gender-balanced Senedd would be a major blow for the Welsh Government. The proposal was one of the recommendations of an expert panel chaired by Professor Laura McAllister of Cardiff University. It is widely supported in Welsh civil society as a way of enshrining gender equality at the Senedd in law.

Gender balance

A statement on the Senedd’s website dating from May 2022 states: “Wales has always had a great track record for gender equality in its parliament. In 2003, the Senedd became the first legislature in the world to achieve a perfect gender balance, with 30 men and 30 women representing the people of Wales.

“While this has dropped in recent elections, Wales continues to maintain a high proportion of elected women. The Senedd’s Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform is recommending the introduction of a gender quota, which would give a guaranteed balance. If agreed, the Senedd would become the first parliament in the UK to do so.”

Equally, trans rights activists believe that allowing transwomen to identify as female in Senedd elections would be a major step forward in their campaign for equality of treatment.


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Gareth Westacott
Gareth Westacott
2 months ago

Good news! A wise decision.

Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
2 months ago

It’s one of those things that is well-intentioned but could have perverse effect, because people might say that someone got on a list, because they were the right gender rather than any other reason, which could undermine their legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate.

Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
2 months ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

That’s a lot of downvotes. I suspect I’ve somehow managed to offend both sides of this debate. If not I’ll make it clear if there were to be gender quotas, trans people should be able to use their gender of identification. There, offended the anti-trans end of this as well. I’m not opposing efforts to encourage gender balance, I think it is a worthy aim, but just pointing out a possible concern. Its a slightly different situation from where you’re trying to recruit for an appointed role, from a democratically elected role where the arbiter of it is the electorate… Read more »

Richard E
Richard E
2 months ago

This will be the main topic on my bus home from work tonught ….the chief talking point for my fellow passingers.

Another Richard
Another Richard
2 months ago

“It is widely supported in Welsh civil society as a way of enshrining gender equality at the Senedd in law.” I’d be interested to see the evidence of this as it comes as news to me. I suspect the only people who strongly support it are those whose jobs require them to express fashionable opinions. Incidentally if “gender equality” = “sex equality” we already have it in law. Also “gender identity” is not defined in law and attempting to legislate for it is bound to cause endless expensive difficulties. The Senedd should perhaps focus on real issues, such as Wales’s… Read more »

hdavies15
hdavies15
2 months ago

… or our almost non existent economy. We can’t go on kidding ourselves that state funded social initiatives suffices. … or our disjointed public services whose funding could be enhanced by better planning of the funds allocated to Wales instead of ploughing so much into pet projects.

I know that London is an even bigger waster on vanity and pet projects but there is no obligation on Cardiff to mimic them, is there ?

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
2 months ago

Gender identity IS enshrined in law. But its opponents are trying to winkle it out so that it can declare open season on transgender folks.
Nonetheless the withdrawal of this bill HARMS.
Women. So thank you all the gender warriors but can you PLEASE stop claiming you are “defending” women. Because you are bloody not!

Another Richard
Another Richard
2 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

No it isn’t. Sex is one of the protected characteristics as are sexual orientation and gender reassignment. “Gender identity” is not. Please try and get your facts straight – and present evidence where you think other people are wrong.
I see there’s been a lot of enthusiastic down-voting, by the way, without proper engagement with the arguments people are making. I hope the moderators will take note.

Max Wallis
Max Wallis
2 months ago

It’s false that gender self-ID is widely supported by the Welsh public. This attempt to sneak it in for Senedd elections has rightly faltered. Welsh women are now on the ball, bolstered by the legal success in the Scottish supreme Court

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
2 months ago
Reply to  Max Wallis

Really? YouGov polls suggest a majority DO.
And this has eff all to do with this bill. Your obsession with what’s in women’s knickers has harmed actual women, with the repealing of this bill. So yeah. Thanks for that!

Richard Burton
Richard Burton
2 months ago

Content of politician’s character and actions are what matters. Not their gender.

Kass
Kass
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard Burton

Doesn’t seem to stop people from voting in *ss-wipes like Johnson

Steffan ap Huw
Steffan ap Huw
2 months ago
Reply to  Kass

No, but putting the problems of FPTP voting aside, the people get whom they choose, and hence whom they deserve.

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard Burton

Says the man. When most politicians are men. When most party members men tend to select candidates who are men.
If the character and actions of politicians are more important than their gender, why is the system rigged to favour men?

Steffan ap Huw
Steffan ap Huw
2 months ago

Merit should be the only criterion. Should we legislate for a representative proportion of tall and short MSs? Or maybe an even split based on favourite colour? How about based on takeaway preference on a Friday night? Shoehorning in anyone based upon anything other than number of votes is abhorrent policy.

I refuse to vote for any party that promotes such. That takes PC and Lab off my radar for the present.

Last edited 2 months ago by Steffan ap Huw
Sarah Good
Sarah Good
2 months ago

Hoorah! So no redress for women because the gender warriors threatened y Senedd would be overrun by all the transgender women (of whom there are precisely no candidates. This is how equality dies. Another 100 years of old white men getting a leg up.

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
2 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

It is very interesting that the gender who most benefit from the current skewed electoral system are most celebrating the withdrawal of a policy that would have instantly levelled the playing field. And the only actual woman in the comments is getting downvoted for pointing this out. You claimed this was “protecting us something something transgender”, yet you now celebrate the denial of a level playing field to us. You celebrate actively harming our ability to compete in a fair environment. I’ll bet that you lie to yourselves that you are “good people” “protecting women and girls”. You are not.… Read more »

Elen Wade
Elen Wade
2 months ago

A highly commendable intervention. Members of the reality based community will be delighted.

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