Why is the Senedd & Elections Bill needed?
The Bill is the first of a two-part programme of Senedd reform after powers over local and Senedd elections were devolved in the Wales Act 2017. The second part – which is yet to be agreed on – will deal with the size of the Senedd and the electoral system.
The Senedd’s official name is, of course, the National Assembly for Wales. A public consultation found just under 60% of respondents didn’t believe the name “National Assembly” properly reflects the institution’s role. 59% of people also supported lowering the voting age in local and Senedd elections to 16.
The Lowdown: 3 Key Proposals in the Senedd & Elections Bill
1. The National Assembly for Wales will be renamed “Senedd”
The monolingual name “Senedd” has been chosen because a slim majority of people who responded to the public consultation (and a majority of AMs) favour it over other options. Despite the re-branding, “Welsh Parliament” will be included alongside it as an English language explainer and will be used on official documents, signs etc.
Following the rebranding, AMs will be known as Members of the Senedd (MS) or Aelod o’r Senedd (AS) in Welsh.
There’ll also be a number of consequential changes. Acts of the Assembly will be known as Acts of the Senedd, the Assembly Commission (which provides services for AMs) will be renamed the Senedd Commission etc.
2. The voting age for local government and Senedd elections will be lowered to 16
People will be able to register to vote in local council and Senedd elections at the age of 16 – though you’ll still need to be 18 years or older to stand as a candidate. This is in line with reforms in Scotland and the Isle of Man.
Additional measures are included in the Bill to protect the personal information of under-16s, with possible criminal penalties for non-compliance. Armed service personnel will also be able to register as an overseas voter and EU and Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK will be able to stand in local and Senedd elections.
The Senedd will be able to fund the Electoral Commission’s work on local and devolved elections and the Electoral Commission will become directly accountable to the Senedd for its work in that area as well.
The Bill also says that the first meeting of the Senedd after an election will need to take place within fourteen days, not seven days. This will give political parties more time to reflect on the election, negotiate with other parties (where applicable) and provides a longer period for new Members of the Senedd to become acquainted with their role.
3. Members of the House of Lords will have to take a leave of absence before taking their Senedd seat
Under the Bill, people elected to the Senedd who are also peers will have to request a leave of absence from the House of Lords before taking up their Senedd seat. If they don’t do this within eight days of being elected to the Senedd, they’ll be disqualified.
The Bill also lists a specific number of positions by which membership would disqualify someone from being a Member of the Senedd including, but not limited to, the Older People, Future Generations, Children’s and Welsh Language commissioners, Electoral Commission staff, Lord Lieutenants and High Sheriffs, judges, Public Services Ombudsman etc.
There’s no proposed ban on Members of the Senedd being a local councillor at the same time.
How much will the Senedd & Elections Bill cost?
In each case, this covers the prefered options.
The name change is expected to directly cost the Assembly Commission just under £295,000.
Over a five year period, the cost of lowering the voting age is expected to be £2.4million, with the vast bulk of that going on awareness raising and updating electoral registers.
Changes to disqualification criteria are not expected to have any real costs or savings, while the oversight duties relating to the Electoral Commission would be absorbed by the Senedd’s committee inquiry budgets.