Single Transferable Vote call as Senedd committee backs expansion to 96 members
Two of the members of a Senedd reform committee that has this morning backed the expansion of the Welsh parliament to 96 members have called for the use of the Single Transferable Vote voting system instead.
Today’s report from the Senedd’s Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform endorses a plan set out last month by First Minister Mark Drakeford and Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price for a closed proportional list system using the D’Hondt formula.
Two members of the committee, Plaid Cymru’s Sian Gwenllian and Liberal Democrat Jane Dodds, said that they agreed with expanding the Senedd but called for the use of the STV voting system.
Of Sian Gwenllian, the report says that she “favoured the introduction of STV as the Senedd’s new electoral system”.
“However, in the spirit of achieving the supermajority required to deliver Senedd reform, including the transformative measure of an expanded and more proportional Senedd in time for the 2026 Senedd election, she considered that a proportional list system would also have acceptable merits in a way that the current MMP system – incorporating as it did a substantial element of first past the post – did not.”
Jan Dodds said that while she backed expansion she also “differed from the majority of members on some issues” including the voting system.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the Single Transferrable Vote remains the best potential voting system, as set out by the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform chaired by Laura McAllister in 2017,” she said.
“A Senedd elected by STV would be fairer, less complicated, more proportional, and gives voters more choice. I do not believe that a compelling case has been made for moving away from the earlier recommendations.”
The Senedd committee report also backed turning the 32 new Westminster constituencies into 16 Senedd election constituencies, a move Jane Dodds also said that she opposed.
“Likewise constituencies based around local authorities would have provided a stable, simpler and more recognisable system of boundaries than one based on pairings of new unfamiliar constituencies, made for Westminster,” she said.
She added: “I would also like to state that it was disappointing to see Labour and Plaid Cymru chose to pre-empt the Committee’s report by announcing its proposals before our work was complete.”
Welsh Tories have called for the expansion plan to be put to a referendum, with party leader Andrew RT Davies calling it a “waste of both time and money”.
The Welsh Conservatives have long opposed the plans, claiming the move could cost taxpayers up to £100 million over the next five years.
The report estimated the additional 30 MSs would cost around £12 million per year.
Welsh Conservative Darren Millar is listed as a having been a member on the report but quit after Mark Drakeford and Adam Price made their recommendations, saying he disagreed with expanding the Senedd.
“Wales needs more doctors, dentists, nurses and teachers, not more politicians in Cardiff Bay,” he said.
Leader Andrew RT Davies said: “What are Labour doing to tackle cost-of-living pressures? Bloating the size of the Senedd at the taxpayer’s expense. That’s money that could be spent helping to alleviate the pressures household budgets are under.
“Even if you agree with more politicians, it can’t be right that Labour and Plaid are dictating the constituencies where people cast their votes. It reeks of pork barrel politics for electoral gain.”
The Senedd Committee strongly recommended that changes are in place for the 2026 Senedd elections and has set out a clear timetable to achieve this, with the expectation that the Welsh Government will introduce a reform Bill next year.
The Chair of the Senedd’s Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform, Huw Irranca-Davies MS, said: “Our report sets out a plan for a strengthened Parliament which will provide a stronger voice for the people of Wales.
“Today’s Senedd is very different to the institution that was established over 20 years ago. Its powers have increased to meet the ambitions of our modern and proud nation. It can now make laws and set Welsh taxes, issues which affect the lives of every single person in Wales.
“With greater powers must come greater accountability. We need a parliament that can effectively scrutinise the decisions taken by the Welsh Government, on behalf of the public it serves. The current system doesn’t allow that to be done as well as it should be.
“We believe reform is essential, and it is achievable by 2026.”
Despite increased responsibilities, the current Senedd remains smaller than its other devolved counterparts, with the Scottish Parliament having 129 Members and the Northern Ireland Assembly having 90. The Senedd currently has 60 Members.
Huw Irranca-Davies added: “The changes we are recommending will be a positive step to making our Parliament better reflective of Wales’s communities. By leading the way on gender quotas, it will mean women – a majority group in Wales – will have certainty of fair representation, which can only lead to better and fairer outcomes for us all.
“This would further the Senedd’s journey to being better reflective of the experiences, needs and hopes of the population it serves, helping people to feel more included and heard in the democratic process.”
According to the Committee’s recommendations, the road to reform should continue with a Welsh Government Bill to be introduced next year. It is estimated this could receive Royal Assent by May 2024, in time to begin a boundary review, with the aim for this to be completed by April 2025.
A motion for a plenary debate on the Committee’s report has been tabled for 8 June 2022.
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