“WE need more politicians” is hardly a rallying call for most voters but the issue of the size of the Senedd is back on the agenda this week.

Let’s look at the facts; the Senedd has 60 members. That compares with 90 (at one time it had 108) in the Northern Ireland Assembly and 129 in the Scottish Parliament.

This means that Northern Ireland, with 1.9 million people, has 50 per cent more members in its Assembly than Wales with 3.15 million people. If you increased the size of our Senedd proportionately it would have over 140 members. I don’t think anybody would seriously advocate that.

Scotland has 5.5 million people and if the Senedd had a proportionate number of members compared to Scotland then it would have over 90 members.

The people of Wales are underrepresented in their own parliament, but does this really make a difference? My answer is a resounding “yes”. There are councils with smaller populations that are larger.

When I left government, I spent two years on the backbenches. I soon noticed that our committees were small and overstretched. All you needed was one member not doing their job properly and there was huge pressure on everybody else.

I sat on two committees every week (amongst many other tasks I should add!) In Westminster it would be assumed that you were being punished if you were in that position, yet that’s the norm in the Senedd.

In addition, MSs are resourced far less generously that MPs at Westminster. They can employ fewer staff and, even stranger, aren’t able to access the same level of resource to run an office as their Westminster colleagues even though the workload is exactly the same.

Before anybody thinks this is just more money for politicians it’s worth saying that none of this goes to MSs personally; it goes straight towards paying staff, rent and other office expenses.

The Senedd has smaller committees and fewer, more poorly resourced members. This has two major effects: Firstly, it makes it more difficult to hold government to account. Governments need proper scrutiny; it’s an important part of the democratic process. If governments aren’t properly scrutinised then they are not being challenged as they should. Good government needs good scrutiny. You sharpen up your act in government if you know that the oversight over you is good.


Secondly it means that it’s difficult for backbenchers to specialise. In Westminster there’s a long tradition of backbench MPs becoming experts on particular issues and they are able to raise the level of awareness of those issues amongst colleagues by doing so. That’s difficult in the Senedd where you are running just to stand still.

For me, there is a need to increase numbers to strengthen democracy. There’s no magic figure but usually 80-90 members are usually mentioned. The real difficulty is deciding how those extra members are elected.

Parties tend to defend the system that is most advantageous to them. For years in Welsh Labour there was a real dislike for the Senedd’s electoral system.

Regional members weren’t seen as the equal of constituency members. We would often be reminded rightly by our own regional members that they didn’t see it that way and they were right. For other parties, a more proportionate system is favoured, because of course it would give them more members.

I’ve never been a huge fan of members being elected under different systems. I still hear regional members from other parties saying that they’re not seen as equals by the public and while we have those two different systems that will continue to be a perception.

In 2003 I wrote a pamphlet for the Institute of Welsh affairs called the ‘The Future of Welsh Labour’. It called for a revenue raising, law-making parliament. I think it was seen as wildly radical at the time but now I’m glad to say most what was in it has happened, with one exception.

I suggested an 80-member Parliament elected from 40 dual member constituencies. It’s undoubtedly less proportional but we know from council election results that people will often vote for candidates from different parties.

In my own council ward in Bridgend, we have one Conservative and one Labour member, both elected at the same time. There’s no guarantee that people will simply elect a straight slate from one party.

There are of course many other models that deserve consideration but this does a least have the advantage of everybody being elected in the same way.

Of course, you could elect everybody through one of many methods of proportional representation, but I have to say I prefer having that link to a particular constituency rather than all members representing regions or even elected across the whole of Wales.

Finally, there’s that question of public acceptability. People instinctively don’t want more politicians and it’s a brave move even to suggest it if you’re a sitting politician.

But if we want a properly functioning democracy, we have to accept that we need enough Senedd Members to act as a check and balance against government. Despite the hard work of so many members, we don’t have that with our current system.

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