(Title Image: Elliot Brown via Flickr)
Constitutional Affairs Committee
Stage 1 Report: Senedd & Elections Bill (pdf)
Published: 28th June 2019
1. The Senedd should back the general principles of the Bill, but there were concerns over timings and the lack of a draft version
The key recommendation from the Committee is that the Senedd should back the general principles of the law when it goes before them for debate on July 10th. There were, however, questions as to whether the Bill was both too limited, as well as too wide-ranging.
As the Bill requires a supermajority (two-thirds of AMs to vote in favour) to pass, more extensive reforms – such as increasing the size of the Senedd – were dealt with separately (and ultimately dropped).
Despite close working between the Assembly Commission and Welsh Government, the Welsh Government maintains its own plans to introduce legislation to reduce the voting age to 16 for council elections; any future law there could result in technical changes being made to this Bill within months of it passing.
There was criticism that the Bill wasn’t introduced as a draft first of all, but there was a seeming determination on the part of the Assembly Commission to ensure 16 and 17-year-olds are able to vote in 2021. However, the Electoral Commission said they needed around six months of preparation before the electoral canvass in 2020, meaning the Bill really needs to pass by the end of 2019.
Nonetheless, the Committee recommended any future constitutional laws be introduced in a draft form first.
2. The Committee has no preference on a name change and it should be left to AMs
One of the headline proposals in the Bill is to change the official name of the National Assembly to “Senedd” with “Welsh Parliament” used unofficially. The monolingual name “Senedd” had more support amongst AMs as a whole and as the Bill requires a supermajority, the Llywydd decided it was the right approach.
The Welsh Government, however, believed the wording of the Bill may add to confusion by referring to the Assembly, Senedd and Welsh Parliament; they propose amending it so it’s unambiguously “Senedd” and removing all references to an “Assembly” in the Government of Wales Act 2006 – though there were questions over whether they had the power to do this.
The Committee didn’t have a view on what name should be used and believed it should be left to the Senedd as a whole to decide.
3. Lowering the voting age to 16 “might increase turnout in future elections”
Prof. Roger Awan-Scully told the Committee that there was evidence that when people don’t vote in the first election they’re eligible to vote in, they’re less likely to vote in future elections. Also, the Electoral Reform Society said evidence from Scottish local elections was that turnout amongst 16-17-year-olds was higher than 18-24-year-olds – which possibly bodes well for future turnouts.
The Welsh Government also plans to amend the Bill to extend voting rights to foreign nationals resident in Wales – though there were no firm plans yet to change eligibility for prisoners.
The Committee concluded that the Assembly Commission and Welsh Government weren’t clear on how they intend to educate 16-17-year-olds ahead of the 2021 Welsh General Election. They were “surprised” work on this didn’t start around the time the Bill was introduced (a stakeholder group has since been established) and called for a number of written commitments and timetables from the Commission and Education Minister.