Does Wales need more Senedd members?
Mike Hedges – MS for Swansea East
Do we need more Senedd members is the question currently being asked and whilst the answer from the abolish the Senedd campaign is that one member is one is one too many, I urge those with a more positive view of the Senedd to take part in the debate on the size and electoral system.
On the number of Members, in the 1990s, the initial proposal was 80 Members, but that was overturned for the 60 Members we have today. Scotland has 129 seats for an electorate of 4,245,000 giving one Member for every 32,900 electors.
Northern Ireland has 90 Members for an electorate of 1.3 million giving one Member for every 15,260 electors. Wales currently has 60 Members for an electorate of 2,348,000, giving 39,140 electors per Member. Wales has a higher elector to member ratio than Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Moving to 96 Members would produce 24,464 electors per Member, which is approximately midway between Scotland and Northern Ireland.
There are many councils in Wales with more members than the Senedd including Swansea, Rhondda Cynon Taff, and Carmarthenshire who all have more than sixty members.
We currently have small committees, I serve on the Finance Committee, we have four Members if one is taken ill, one held up in traffic, the meeting becomes inquorate. Anybody who travels along the M4 will be aware of just how easy it is to get held up in traffic for several hours.
How do you pay for these additional Members? If you have more Members, then the commissioners, such as the children’s commissioner and the older persons’ commissioner, will need less staff to scrutinise the Welsh government.
Wales has also lost its four members of the European parliament and following the boundary review, at the next election Wales will lose eight members of parliament, therefore, they would need smaller budgets.
The current closed list system proposed would mean that voters would only be able to choose between parties and groupings, rather than choose individual candidates.
The committee that David Rees chaired regarding Senedd reform heard evidence from experts that this would reduce the choice available to voters and risk voter dissatisfaction and reduce turnout. The committee were also united in their concerns about the impact of the voting system being put forward by the Welsh Government on the level of the voter’s ability to choose who represents them.
Getting the electoral system right is fundamental to the health of democracy in Wales, and I agree with the committee on their significant reservations about the closed list system.
With the bill having completed its first stage then we need further consultation on the electoral system. In democracy, gerrymandering is the political manipulation of electoral boundaries with the intent of creating an undue advantage for a party.
We do things differently in Wales. Where other parties bring in electoral systems so that they can win a majority, Labour in Wales brings in one to make it difficult to win a majority.
We now have suggested an electoral system where the new Senedd constituencies will be a paired combination of the thirty-two seats set out for Westminster each electing six members from a closed list system where candidates will be ranked by political party.
Six members elected for each of sixteen constituencies created by merging two parliamentary constituencies gives ninety-six members. Many people, including me, were concerned about the size of the parliamentary constituency of Brecon, Radnor and Cwmtawe, stretching from Knighton and Presteigne on the English border to Lower Brynamman and Gwaen-Cae-Gurwen on the border with Carmarthenshire.
To create a six-Member constituency would involve Brecon, Radnor and Cwmtawe either going northwards with Montgomery and Glyndŵr, westwards with Ceredigion and Preseli, or with Carmarthenshire; southwards produces a choice of Monmouthshire, Neath and Swansea East, Blaenau Gwent and Rhymney or Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare.
Whichever way of creating a six-Member constituency is used the constituency would be very large and involve communities with very little in common.
Whilst this is the most extreme example, there will be many others outside the cities that will also be covering very large areas. We could elect 96 Members using the parliamentary constituencies, with three from each, elected via D’Hondt or STV.
The advantage of that is that these constituencies will have already had a general election for voters to get used to the new seats, and, whilst some will be large, they will be much smaller than any of the joint seats.
This is why I am asking for thirty-two three-Member constituencies, where the Senedd and Westminster Parliament have the same boundaries.
I support the principle of more Senedd members, if only so that we can have at least one extra Member on the Finance Committee so that we do not end up with a situation where we are dependent on the M4 not having a serious accident.
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