Conservatives can’t credibly support expanding the House of Lords while opposing more members in the Senedd
Ifan Morgan Jones
Today a Senedd committee published its suggestions for reforming the Senedd, including up to 30 new members and a switch to a fairer voting system.
Most of the main political parties welcomed the changes but there was one discordant note from the direction of the Welsh Conservatives.
In the words of leader Paul Davies, there was “no public appetite for an increase in the number of politicians”.
Politically the Welsh Conservatives believe it makes sense to oppose the expansion of the Senedd as part of their pitch to voters in 2021.
Under pressure from the Brexit Party and Abolish the Assembly, they’re running as the party of reducing the cost of the Senedd. Opposing any kind of expansion fits into that.
But it’s also hypocritical given that they’re the same party overseeing a rapid expansion of the already extremely hyper-inflated House of Lords.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now creating 36 new peers, taking the size of the second chamber to over 800 members.
They include his own brother, Jo Johnson, the Russian-born newspaper owner Evgeny Lebedev, and the Brexit-supporting former cricketer Ian Botham.
Those who rail against the cost of the Senedd cannot credibly ignore the fact that the House of Lords is much, much bigger and costs much, much more.
The entire running cost of the House of Lords in 2018 was just a single decimal point short of £100m, according to the Institute for Government.
33 completely inactive peers picked up £462,510 in tax-free expenses – claiming an average of £746 per vote.
This is a hugely wasteful institution and yet many of those who claim to be shocked and appalled by the cost of the Senedd – whose entire yearly costs are almost half those of the HoL – are generally completely schtum about our ermine cloaked and undemocratic second chamber.
This shows up that attacks on the cost of the Senedd for what they really are – either displeasure at the political character of the Senedd, or annoyance that Wales has any kind of political institution that is autonomous of Westminster at all.
Personally, I’m fairly agnostic on creating more MS. Perhaps just giving them a slightly larger budget to hire support staff to take more rote work off their hands might be cheaper and do the same job.
But if Senedd Members say they’re overworked I’m happy to take their word for it. We live in a representative democracy after all, and we vote them in to take these kinds of decisions.
One has to admit that the Senedd is pretty tiny compared with other parliaments not just around the world but in the UK.
The Scottish Parliament has 129 members and even the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is similar to Wales in terms of its powers, has 90.
But it is, I believe, the change to the much fairer Single Transferable Vote system that is the real prize among the mooted reforms. It would do away with the list system and FPTP constituencies and would make the Senedd much more responsive to the will of the people.
But whether they decide to expand or not or change the electoral system or not, what I would like to see is the Senedd just make a decision and crack on with things.
There is a long list of things the Senedd could do to bolster devolution but even the timid reforms suggested today, discussed for over a decade, are going to take another six years to implement.
The speed at which Westminster seems to be unravelling devolution compared with the glacial speed at which the Senedd brings about any common-sense change is quite startling.
The problem I suspect is that a lot of politicians in the Senedd are pretty happy with the institutional status quo and don’t see any point in spending much time and effort on it.
Well, the status quo has now been blown out of the water. They now need act quickly to reform the Senedd in order to make the public more aware of and supportive of the institution, and make it work more effectively – and quickly – for the people of Wales.
Or they could lose the lot.
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