The twentieth anniversary of the first elections to the Welsh Assembly passed earlier this month, on 6 May. One day later, the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee held its fifth evidence session regarding the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill. Laura McAllister believes that the bill contains much needed reforms, arguing here for its proposed lowering of the voting age for Assembly elections to 16.
It seems to me to be a fundamental democratic and constitutional principle that an elected parliament or assembly should be able to determine its own system of election and its own franchise. I spent all of 2017 chairing an Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform having been appointed by the Assembly’s Presiding Officer to make recommendations on the number of Members the Assembly needs, the system by which they should be elected, and the minimum voting age for Assembly elections. We were asked to make recommendations which, provided the required political consensus could be achieved, might be implemented in time for the next Assembly election in 2021. I was fortunate to be joined on the Expert Panel by a stellar line-up of practitioners and academics themselves immersed in parliamentary structures, franchise matters, effective scrutiny, different electoral systems and gender representation. We reported in December 2017, with one of our recommendations being that the franchise should be extended to include young people aged 16 and 17 for the next Assembly elections.
The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill is currently at stage one of the Welsh legislative process. Amongst other things, it proposes to legislate on votes at 16, bringing Wales in line with Scotland where 16- year olds vote in local and national elections since 2015 (they were also able to vote in the 2014 independence referendum). There are other important elements to the bill. Part 2 proposes a name change to rename the Assembly as the ‘Senedd’ (or Welsh Parliament in English). Some rather technical matters have been raised about how this change is instituted through changes to the Government of Wales Act 2006, alongside concerns over a bilingual (or otherwise) title and the risk of potential legal challenge. Nevertheless, I’d argue that this is a logical and timely move that reflects the move to a reserved powers model of devolution, alongside the accrual of new powers and competences (including over its electoral system) and several important new tax powers meaning the institution is now responsible for one fifth of its fiscal income. The name change might also assist better understanding of the different roles of the Assembly/Parliament (the legislature) and the Welsh Government (the executive), which remains an area of confusion in Wales.Continue reading →
The announcement by the Secretary of State for Wales that the legislative process for the Wales Bill will be paused not only makes constitutional sense but, say Huw Pritchard and Lleu Williams, it’s good politics. The decision followed numerous critical reports, including a joint report by the Wales Governance Centre and the Constitution Unit.
The Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb, has promised to make ‘significant changes’ to the draft Wales Bill, a promise that has been warmly welcomed by many commentators.
The draft Wales bill is far from the fair, clear and lasting devolution settlement Wales seeks, writes Alan Trench. Drawing on a joint Constitution Unit and Wales Governance Centre report, he explains that the ‘necessity test’ and the not thought-through ‘reserved powers’ approach would make it particularly difficult for the Welsh Assembly to legislate on concerned matters, and also undermine the respect due to an elected legislature.
When the draft Wales Bill was published in October 2015, it was described by Stephen Crabb, the Secretary of State for Wales as delivering on the UK Government’s commitment ‘to create a stronger, clearer and fairer devolution settlement for Wales’. This is badly needed; the history of Welsh devolution since 1998 has been one of short-term solutions that have needed to be revised or replaced within a few years. Hopes were high that the present round of constitutional debate – triggered by the appointment of the Commission on Devolution in Wales chaired by Sir Paul Silk in 2011 – would mark a departure from that established pattern.
Sadly, a close analysis of the draft bill shows those hopes to have foundered. A joint project hosted by The Constitution Unit and the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University has been looking at the draft bill in detail, and published its report Challenge and Opportunity: The Draft Wales Bill 2015yesterday. Our group has been chaired by Alan Cogbill, former Director of the Wales Office in Whitehall, and had Professor Rick Rawlings from UCL as rapporteur. Other members have included Sir Paul Silk and Sir Stephen Laws (formerly First Parliamentary Counsel), academic and practising lawyers from Cardiff, as well as myself. This work follows an earlier joint CU/WGC report published in September 2015, entitled Delivering A Reserved Powers Model of Devolution for Wales (available here as a PDF, and summarised here). Our examination of the draft bill has found it to be flawed in many respects.