A PROPOSAL to increase the size of the Senedd from 60 to 96 members has been given a boost as it has won the backing of a committee that has been examining the issue. 

While the possibility of a further 36 elected members has generated the most publicity the reforms are more wide ranging with a change to the voting system and the possibility of becoming the first Parliament, in the UK, to introduce a gender quota. 

It was revealed a fortnight ago that those were favoured options of the Welsh Labour Government and Plaid Cymru as first minister Mark Drakeford and Plaid leader Adam Price published their join proposals made to the Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform. 

The committee, which included the Llywydd Elin Jones, has also recommended the same suggestions in its report. 

READ MORE: Dramatic proposals for Senedd reform include increasing number of MSs to 96

The committee’s backing may seem, politically at least, as a dotting of the ‘i’s and crossing of the ‘t’s on what may seem like a done deal within the (soon to be expanded) Siamber. 

The support of Labour and Plaid mean the ‘super majority’ required to pass reform through the Senedd should be in place, though had the committee proposed significantly alternative versions of an expanded Senedd, to a parliament receptive to expansion, it may have meant a more contentious debate ahead. 

So far the only dissenting voices, of the elected parties, are the Conservatives. The party was against expansion and “more politicians” and its member on the committee, Darren Millar, quit when Drakeford and Price published their proposal, claiming it sought to steal the initiative from the committee's evidence gathering approach. 

The other point of possible contention had been the proposal to use closed proportional lists to elect all 96 Senedd Members with people voting for parties, rather than individual candidates. 

Seats would then be allocated using the D’Hondt System, the system currently used for the 20 regional list members, that currently represent wider areas, such as Mid and West Wales, rather than the single constituencies that are elected via the first past the post system. 

The Liberal Democrats had voiced concern over this, preferring the more proportional Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, and calling out Plaid Cymru for backing down on its support for the system. 

However the party’s only MS, Jane Dodds, is a member of the committee which has backed the closed list system and D’Hondt which favours larger parties. 

There would also be a likely 12 per cent of the vote threshold to get elected which is another barrier to smaller parties. 

The committee wants to see these changes in place for the next Senedd elections, which will take place in 2026. 

It has actually produced 31 recommendations, some of which relate to the organisation such as empowering the Boundary Commission to review constituencies, and whether an expanded Senedd should mean a larger committee, of MSs, which oversee its work. 

The Conservatives have called for the expansion plan to be put to a referendum, with Senedd 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.

The referendum call echoes that made by Welsh Secretary Simon Hart, in the House of Commons, last week but that appears to overlook that Labour, Plaid and the Liberal Democrats, which won 44, of the 60 seats, and 65 per cent of the vote between them in 2021, all supported expansion in some form. 

The demand for a referendum also ignores that the UK Conservative government has made, or is making, significant electoral reforms, including reducing the number of Welsh MPs from 40 to 32 and introducing voter ID, without seeking approval through a public vote. 

Senedd reform is also in part driven by the reduction of MPs as 40 Senedd Members are currently elected from Westminster constituencies that are to be merged or abolished, putting an impetus on the Senedd to draw up new constituencies. 

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The committee has, as had Drakeford and Price, proposed using the final 32 UK Parliamentary constituencies proposed by the Boundary Commission for Wales  and pairing them to create 16 new multi-member constituencies. 

It also wants a full boundary review to be instigated in this Senedd term, with its recommendations to take effect from the 2031 Senedd election. 

On a gender quota, which would see candidates elected from a list and paired by gender to ensure a balance, the committee chair, Labour’s, Huw Irranca-Davies said: “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.” 

While the committee has recommended the Senedd should be elected with integrated statutory gender quotas it also wants a committee to look at the possibilities of and implications of legislative diversity quotas for characteristics other than gender. 

It also wants cross party consideration of allowing job sharing candidates to be elected as Senedd Members, meaning more than one person could be elected and hold the role of a Senedd Member. 

Another of the committee’s recommendations for further consideration is the possibility of whether the Welsh Government itself should increase in size. The cabinet, including the first minister and deputy ministers, currently consists of 14 members. 

But the report says this will need to be balanced against the need for greater scrutiny of the government, one of the issues increasing the number of Senedd Members is supposed to address.  

It says any increase in the size of the Welsh Government should be considered by the government and the Senedd business committee, on a cross-party basis, and inform the legislation to expand to 96 members. 

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The committee on reform is separate to the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, established by the Welsh Government, and chaired by Professor Laura McAllister and Dr Rowan Williams.

That is considering the constitutional future of the UK, in which Wales remains an "integral part", and "all progressive principal options" to strengthen Welsh democracy.

A reform bill could be introduced as early as next year with the aim for it to receive Royal Assent by May 2024, after which a boundary review would take place with the aim for it to be completed by April 2025, prior to the 2026 Senedd elections.

A debate on the committee's findings is set to take place on June 8.

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