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Opinion

Does the Senedd really need 36 more politicians?

08 Oct 2023 5 minute read
The Senedd in Cardiff Bay.

Emily Price

The Welsh Government has announced plans for a major overhaul of the Senedd, how it makes laws, how it’s scrutinised and how it represents the people of Wales.

The new reform package will expand the the number of politicians in the Senedd by a third with 96 members elected using closed proportional lists with seats allocated to parties using the D’Hondt formula.

But does the Senedd really need more politicians? To answer this, let’s take a look at what Wales’ parliament actually does.

As with most parliaments, there are two core functions of the Senedd – it scrutinises government and it legislates.

In order for these functions to be carried out effectively, there needs to be an appropriate number of politicians.

In the Welsh parliament, the politicians are know as Members of the Senedd and there are currently 60 of them.

MSs have a number of responsibilities. They participate in debates, examine proposed laws and take part in committees that focus on areas such as health or education.

Compromise

But with all the cabinet and official appointments, the Senedd only has around 42 backbenchers available to both scrutinise the government and legislate.

On top of that, most Members also have a local office in their constituency or region, and employ staff to help them with enquiries from their constituents

This number of MSs cannot fill all the committee seats and develop the specialist knowledge they need to deliver a properly functioning parliament in Wales.

A good example of this is the controversial 20mph default speed limit which never actually went to a committee because there wasn’t sufficient space and time for it to be properly scrutinised.

If an MS is on a committee that deals with a lot of legislation then they have less time to scrutinise government.

In short, there’s too few people, spread far too thinly to be able to do the intricate job of running a country.

The result is that committees in the Senedd end up being faced with a choice – either legislating or scrutinising – whereas in Westminster and Scotland, they can do both.

The Welsh Conservatives have voiced strong opposition to the prospect of 36 more politicians in Cardiff Bay. In fact some have even started recording how much time is spent in the chamber every week as if it proves more bums on seats isn’t necessary.

But it’s pretty ridiculous to suggest that the working day of an MS begins and ends on the floor of the Senedd chamber.

It can be fairly argued that the Labour Party in the Senedd is under more political pressure and as the party in government they naturally have a larger number of constituents to serve.

As the opposition in Wales, the Welsh Conservatives do not have any of the responsibilities of government and in many ways they have the luxury of making big speeches without being culpable for anything.

One of the reasons the Welsh Tories are so vehemently opposed to an extra 36 politicians in Cardiff Bay is the cost.

The Welsh Government has said increasing the number of MSs from 60 to 96 will cost around £14.5m to £17.5m in a typical year with a set up cost of around £8m.

This figure includes MSs, Ministers, staff and other associated costs for the Senedd Commission, Welsh Government, and Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales.

Budget

So is there any justification for this amount of money being spent on Senedd reform?

If you look at the number as a percentage, it’s only around 0.07% of the £24bn total annual Welsh budget.

Less than 1% – for all that extra time and work being ploughed into scrutiny and legislating.

Wales deserves a proper parliamentary democracy with the right number of politicians in the Senedd carrying out their roles fully and without compromise.

At present only the bare minimum can be carried out due to a lack of coherence in the Senedd’s framework.

The reality is, a fully functioning parliament should have been established back when the Senedd began 25 years ago when the UK Government first established the Welsh Assembly and set up all the structures in advance.

The new Senedd reforms and extra politicians will hopefully rectify the previous mistakes made by Westminster enabling Wales to have a stronger and fairer democracy.

When I began my research for this column, I reached out to MSs to ask them about their working day.

Opposed

One MS told me they feel stretched too thinly as they race from committees to their constituency and then back to the chamber to vote.

They said by the time they get home, they’re back on their laptop replying to constituents or attending events as part of their role. They said that sometimes they don’t finish work until around midnight.

I also reached out to a Welsh Conservative MS who has heavily opposed the plans for extra politicians.

I asked them for a chat about what exactly MSs do in the Senedd and how long they take doing it so I could layout whether there’s justification for more politicians.

The Tory MS did not reply. Were they too busy to fit me in because they were overloaded with work? Or were they just afraid of scrutiny?

On Monday, I received an email from another Tory MS apologising for not sending me an appropriate statement for a story I had been covering – they were clearly snowed under with work.

Also this week, another Tory MS called me sounding out of breath having rushed back to their office from a visit to update me on a story. They apologised for the wait and explained how much work they had on.

Although the Tories disagree with plans for more politicians in the Senedd, they are clearly working to capacity for a parliament stretched beyond its limits in a country that truly deserves more.


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Lyn Thomas
Lyn Thomas
6 months ago

Even before the Senedd got more powers the Richards Commission reported on the need to increase the number of members (at the time in the first Assembly) to 80. It has always been too small to do the job.

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
6 months ago
Reply to  Lyn Thomas

I believe that Y Senedd as it stands is under resourced. I think more members are required to function efficiently as democracy demands. Further members would be required to operate as the government of an independent Cymru, taking full ownership of all its lawmaking.
This is why the Tories oppose any increase.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
6 months ago

The Tories point to cost. I point to them not wanting Y Senedd to work. Wales has around double the population of Northern Ireland but the assembly there has about 30 more MLAs than we have MSs. I never hear Tories anywhere complaining about too many MLAs in Stormont so it’s just about screwing Wales over.

Owain Morgan
Owain Morgan
6 months ago
Reply to  Fi yn unig

I don’t know why this issue isn’t brought up more. As with this and so many other issues context changes the nature of the debate. While most people don’t wish to engage in the “culture wars” with the hard right, the establishment of facts either puts them back in their box or at least demonstrates that their assertions have basis in fact. Stating that fact to Tories proves that their assertion that “we don’t need more politicians in Cardiff Bay” is not only wrong, but is founded in a Senedd hating position.

Riki
Riki
6 months ago
Reply to  Fi yn unig

That’s because their ultimate goal has always been to completely take over this island. The Senedd was purposely designed to fail so that they could claim the Welsh (British) were too incompetent to run their own affairs. Unfortunately for Wales, this is more times than not highly successful. This works effectively because all the narratives given to the Britons of Wales are from those who are doing the damage to them. For example – I made a comment recently on Sky News about why Welsh youngsters are leaving Wales and how it’s a direct cause of economic warfare carried out… Read more »

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
6 months ago
Reply to  Riki

Mmm … you know this ‘free speech’ phenomenon? It actually means free speech for some. I’ve long maintained that free speech depends entirely on what it is you have to say. Ok, you may not be picked up and thrown in a cell BUT your speech WILL be shut down. Thank heavens for NC.

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
6 months ago
Reply to  Fi yn unig

Yes overzealous comment content moderators are everywhere. Without exception.
It’s why I rarely bother with social media. I’m really only here because the platform formerly known as Twitter has become a pestilential troll swamp, an embarrassing manifestation of its thin skinned billionaire owner’s obscene descent into hateful insanity. Decent people on the mess that used to be Twitter are now just regarded as prey. It’s just The Purge online.
When a site starts purging comments written politely, it’s time to leave.

Owain Morgan
Owain Morgan
6 months ago

Considering you need 12 or 13 MSs on a select committee to effectively scrutinise one of the six Government departments and it’s proposed legislation, this means you need a minimum of 72 members to do that job alone. That’s before you consider Cabinet and junior ministers, Presiding officer and deputy, and party leaders and business managers. With three party groups that’s 93. However, predictions are already suggesting there will be at least one more group of four MSs and possibly more. Therefore 96 is bare bones and if, as I suspect, with further devolution of powers to English cities and… Read more »

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
6 months ago

I’m for more members of the Senedd but ultimately it isn’t just about how many MSs there are but how much power they have. Ideally we should have 90 members with full law making powers, ie through independence. That will be the only way the parliament will serve the people of Wales properly and address the poverty and inequality we have.

Lyn Thomas
Lyn Thomas
6 months ago

60 members were chosen as a quick and dirty solution to electing the first Assembly, not wanting to have a boundary commission create specific Welsh constituencies and to ensure that there was an “elemement” (but not too much) of proportionality 40 were to be elected from the existing parliamentary constituencies by first past the post, and the rest by PR from the 5 European Parliamentary constituencies. It was a compromise, more from the Euro constituencies would have made it more proportional – which was resisted by Labour. Previous suggestions for a Welsh Parliament or Assembly were much larger…. A private… Read more »

Gareth
Gareth
6 months ago

There is a certain type within Cymru, they are so anti devolution, that no matter how many independant commissions, research based facts, or people just wanting a functioning democracy, they always come up with excuses. So we here ” cost is to high its £18 million” and the ” we cant afford it, its £30 million” when it is about Cymru, but when it is Westminster , £22 billion to refurbish the house of parliament, £37 billion on failed covid app, £ 100 billion on HS2, doesn’t even merit a single comment from them. Hypocrisy comes to mind, but there… Read more »

Leighton Evans
Leighton Evans
6 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

What about the £half a trillion on furlough? Was that a Westminster waste of money too?

Glyntwin
Glyntwin
6 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

To anyone who says that the £18 million per year cost is too high, I’d say, give us the £5 billion from HS2. If you do the maths, at £18m per year, that will pay for those extra MS’s for the next 277 years!

Glen
Glen
6 months ago

Easy to increase the quantity of SM’s, but how do you increase the quality?

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
6 months ago
Reply to  Glen

By reducing the Tory presence by 16 for a start but then expansion might produce an as yet unknown further number of these unacceptable blockers of progress for Cymru so whatever that number becomes, it will be reducing the number by that. I don’t see the difference between shredding every ballot cast for the Tories in Wales and Wales rejecting Tories for a quarter of a millennia and being made to have them (mostly).

Benjamin
Benjamin
6 months ago

More Senedd members will clearly benefit Tories long-term by offering a wider selection of political voices, which is Cymru’s case new political voices only mean voices that are not the current centre left social democratic order.

Owain Morgan
Owain Morgan
6 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin

Centre left social democratic order 🙄 Centre left is Socialist, not social democratic. Left of centre is social democratic. Honestly, I have to ask, are you right wing by any chance?

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
6 months ago
Reply to  Owain Morgan

At least Benjamin didn’t include the ludicrous ‘Marxist facsist’ that so many proto-fascists seem to include in their spittle-flecked enunciations against the left.

If Benjamin’s last name is Angwin*, they claim to be a ‘liberal’. Liberals are even less popular in Wales than Tories, and the reasons for that go back to the early 20th century when Welsh voters realised that they’d been gaslight for a very long time and that Liberal just means someone like a Tory, but not quite as nasty.

*Many apologies if I’m wrong.

Last edited 6 months ago by Padi Phillips
Owain Morgan
Owain Morgan
6 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Point taken in your first paragraph. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve been barated in other comment threads here for refusing to join in an attack thread on Liberals. I reject the idea that Liberals are less nasty Tories as much as reject the right wing American contrary argument that Liberalism is exclusively left wing. Both arguments are spurious and designed to maintain the false narrative that there is only left or right wing politics. These narratives like the FPTP voting system are attempts to force voters into an artificial decision therefore removing people’s freedom of choice.… Read more »

Paul
Paul
6 months ago

Northern Ireland Assembly 90MLAs
Scotland 124MSPs
Wales was 60 because we had the least powerful devolution settlement. Increasing it to 96 after the 2011 referendum gave it more powers.
Westminster cancelled a reduction to 600MPs after, and because of the extra work to do with, Brexit.
Lords are 800 strong with 30-40 added more than once a year.

If the Tories want to save money on politicians they should reduce the number in Westminster. MPs have so little work they can maintain second and third jobs.

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
6 months ago

What a brilliant article.

Dr Andrew Potts
Dr Andrew Potts
6 months ago

Hopefully the increase will make for improved debate, better policy making and increased scrutiny, which will all require good quality candidates.

SundanceKid
SundanceKid
6 months ago

I wouldn’t normally say that we need more politicians, especially during a cost-of-living crisis, but yes, we need more MSs in the Senedd.

Devolution in Wales is under threat, such as I have never seen, since its’ inception.

If we are to defend our constitutional powers, and beyond, we do need more MSs to scrutinise the length and breadth of work needed to keep the country functioning.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago
Reply to  SundanceKid

With Wales losing eight MPs at Westminster, and with only 60 MS in the Senedd, our voice is diminishing fast. Those so-called Wales Labour & Tory MPs in London care only for England it seems not the country their supposedly represent. And the only true Welsh party that stands up for Wales in London are Plaid Cymru but with only four MPs are drowned out by a sea of Anglocentrism. So I’d rather have a loud voice from Wales than a Westminster whimper. See, for a Welsh oak to grow strong it must have a firm foundation. Let that foundation… Read more »

Llyn
Llyn
6 months ago

I totally agree with all the points above, but do not think it is politically astute to add 36 more Senedd members at the moment. This is a far from popular move. And yes it does matter what the votets think.

Gareth
Gareth
6 months ago
Reply to  Llyn

When is it, or will it be a good time to do this. We have had among other excuses, ” we have a covid pandemic” “not now with Brexit ” ” its election year” ” we have a cost of living crisis” ” we must fight climate change” or whatever else . These will be used by opponents when it suits them. When will it be right. Sometimes we have to bite the bullet.

Owain Morgan
Owain Morgan
6 months ago
Reply to  Llyn

We couldn’t form a select committee to properly scrutinise the 20MPH roads bill and flag up the legitimate concerns with it because we don’t have enough MSs for an effective Legislature. As long as the Senedd isn’t effective the haters can attack it. We need to bite the bullet now and increase the number of MSs.

Phil
Phil
6 months ago
Reply to  Owain Morgan

If it wasn’t properly scrutinised then it should not have become law.

Owain Morgan
Owain Morgan
6 months ago
Reply to  Phil

You’re right and nor should any of the laws coming out of Westminster since Blair’s Government introduced the guillotine motion in the House of Coommons. That’s before we talk about guillotine motions in committee. Bills and the scrutiny of them have become a joke in England and Cymru.

Nutk1ns
Nutk1ns
6 months ago
Reply to  Owain Morgan

You fail to mention all the atrocities occurring now are a result of Blair’s Iraq war

Rob
Rob
6 months ago
Reply to  Phil

An expanded Senedd increases the likelihood that the law will be brought up again with the possibility of it being repealed.

Alun Gerrard
Alun Gerrard
6 months ago
Reply to  Owain Morgan

Who are the haters ? Are these the people who complained about the cancellation of all the approved road works and a new bridge over the Straits? Or are they the people who disliked the money that was wasted in such a cancellation? People like you scare me as you do not allow comments or input.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago
Reply to  Llyn

With due respect. The decision to increase the capacity of the Senedd from 60 to 96 did go out for public consultation, was debated in the Senedd, voted on, passed by a majority, then received royal ascent, before becoming Welsh Law. It was part of a bill that also returned Wales parliamentary status after a 600 yr hiatus. Anyway, it’s happening and will be in place for the 2026 Senedd election. And don’t forget. Boris Johnson’s Conservative government continued with Brexit negotiations during the height of the pandemic even though thousands were dying daily of Covid. This differed to the… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Y Cymro
Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago

Yes it should. Wales is the only legislature in Britain that’s not only underfunded but undermanned too. Anyway, this should not even be an issue? People must understand . Democracy costs money and it should never be done on the cheap. Note: Northern Ireland”s Assembly initially had 108 MLAs but was reduced to 90 in 2016. And even with the reduction still has more members than Wales at the moment, a country twice the size with nearly three times the population . The Scottish parliament has had since the establishment of devolution in 1997 129 MSPs where Wales has struggled… Read more »

Phil
Phil
6 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Northern Ireland’s Assembly hasn’t been operational for a few years, has it?

Gareth
Gareth
6 months ago
Reply to  Phil

Would Brexit have something to do with that. Or the recent terrorist attacks on the Ulster constabulary.

Last edited 6 months ago by Gareth
Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago
Reply to  Phil

Stop being bloody pedantic! What are issues regarding power sharing in Northern Ireland between the DUP and Sin Fein got to do with the increased capacity of the Senedd?. The information I provided is factual and shows the democratic deficit between Wales and the other home nations seats of power. This is the very reason why our Senedd Cymru needs more members & civil servants due to increased powers and responsibility so those politicians making decisions that affect all our lives can function and be scrutinised properly by opposition parties and committees. With that Said. The next time you post… Read more »

Adrian Meagher
Adrian Meagher
6 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Wales is not twice the size with nearly three times the population of Northern Ireland. Wales is 21 ksqkm, NI 15 ksqkm. Wales has 3.15 M population, NI has 1.9 M.

Richard E
Richard E
6 months ago

The Senedd numbers are right.

The voting system is and use of
party lists is NOT going to give us
free thinkers but party hacks.

Gareth
Gareth
6 months ago
Reply to  Richard E

Following independant reviews, saying the Senedd numbers are wrong, can you please give reasons why you think they are right. The Senedd special purposes committee on Senedd reform , endorsed by a Senedd majority, says it recommends increase of members, including all member must reside in Cymru, which cant be bad. Do countrys like France Germany or the USA have elected officials who live abroad? .

Richard E
Richard E
6 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

G I meant the proposed increase is right .

Neil Anderson
Neil Anderson
6 months ago
Reply to  Richard E

I firmly agree that the move to 96 members is appropriate at this point.

Post-independence, probably 150 in a lower chamber, and 30 – 50 in an upper chamber would be more realistic.

However, using closed proportional lists with seats allocated to parties using the D’Hondt formula is a poor choice of election methodology. A lower chamber requires STV, nothing less.

One might have thought that in this one-party state, there might be have been a strong rejection of party rule. Not sure that more members elected that way will want to change that!

Could we ever?

TomTom82
TomTom82
6 months ago

We do not need more useless politicians. The cost is a burden we cannot justify. What would 36 additional scroungers achieve? Lower the speed limit to 15mph?

Rob
Rob
6 months ago
Reply to  TomTom82

More Senedd Members elected via PR would mean more opposition to Welsh Labour. This increases the likelihood that the new 20mph law will continue to be challenged or even repealed in the future.

TomTom82
TomTom82
6 months ago
Reply to  Rob

I’d like to believe that. Trouble is, labour’s PR would probably increase as well. Or plaid. Either way, Wales is doomed to be labour’s proving ground for ridiculous policies that nobody asked for while administrations like Betsi Cadwaladr go to the dogs.

Jeff
Jeff
6 months ago

Maybe if the Cons had more in they might have spotted the actual wording the Labour manifesto and spotted the 20mph bit. Of course they need to get elected or are they worried its a no hoper.

Annibendod
Annibendod
6 months ago

Fair comment but an article that might do more good if published elsewhere. Elements of preaching to the converted here. I won’t add much more as contributors have already laid out the main supporting points for this expansion, save to add my support for four realisable goals in the short term that we must press for when, as seems likely, the next Labour UK Government is elected: An end to the primacy of the House of Commons. Each nation’s parliament to be sovereign on domestic matters. Establish an elected Council of the Isles in which matters concerning all our nations… Read more »

NOT Grayham Jones
NOT Grayham Jones
6 months ago

Reading the accounts of the poor hard pressed SM’s being “so over worked” made my heart bleed. But then i thought about the hard pressed over worked Drs and Nurses who are under the direct control of The Senedd and began wondering why the numbers of Drs and Nurses are not being increased and IF the Welsh public would prefer more Nurses etc rather than more Mark Drakefords or Andrews heaven forbid.

CapM
CapM
6 months ago

Maybe if you outlined why in your opinion the current number of Senedd Members is sufficient we could have a discussion about the pros and cons of increasing the number of SMs or not.

The financial fig leaf of -but what about the cost – barely conceals the anti devolution, regardless of cost, however small, sentiment lying beneath.

Annibendod
Annibendod
6 months ago
Reply to  CapM

Always the way with these sorts. Their starting position is an anti-Cymraeg prejudice. They construct their arguments on that basis, attempting to be plausible and then it’s just confirmation bias all the way. If you do engage, start pulling at the strings of their bigotry. They soon become hostile and loose the capacity of rational debate. Always best to bring it out into the open – lance the boil so to speak.

Richard E
Richard E
6 months ago

Bring back the much loved and missed Grayham Jones ✔️

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