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