14 July 2016
Article by Mark Norton, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
At the beginning of the Fifth Assembly, the Business Committee (a cross party committee which is responsible for the organisation of Assembly Business) proposed allowing all Assembly Members to elect the new chairs of the Assembly Committees. This is in line with recommendations of the Chairs’ Forum in the Fourth Assembly on the role and independence of Committee Chairs.
A similar change had been made at Westminster in June 2010 following the recommendation of the Committee of Reform of the House of Commons. The structure for electing chairs changed to allow all members of the House of Commons to vote by secret ballot using the additional voting system.
The Northern Irish Assembly had already used a similar system in electing both its Committee Chairs and Deputy Chairs using the d’Hondt voting system which is outlined in the Northern Ireland Act 1998. This system is statutory due to the parliament seeking to balance the representation from all parties and communities. A review by the Northern Irish Assembly and Executive Review Committee concluded the d’Hondt system had given the Northern Irish Assembly Committee Structure “an important scrutiny role which is missing in more traditional Government – Opposition models.” The Scottish Parliament has yet to make any changes to its selection of Committee Chairs which are distributed depending on party strength then the respective committees elect their chair.
In 2011 the House of Commons Procedures Committee, reviewing the change in the process, found that the change to the process had “given greater transparency, democracy and self-assertiveness on part of backbenchers and had also worked well in practice.” Another review by the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in 2013 concluded that the reform had given the committees “greater legitimacy, and had strengthened their credibility and authority.” They further suggested that the elections for Chairs for the Public Bill Committees should also be reformed.
Following agreement in the Business Committee to proceed with election of Chairs it published a paper (PDF 383 KB) which outlined the new procedures and the necessary changes to standing orders. Under this new procedure, the Business Committee would table an un-amendable motion proposing the political group to which the chair of each committee must belong. In tabling the motion, the Business Committee must have regard for political balance of chairs between groups. This motion will need to be agreed for each committee before chairs can be elected. The motion to allocate chairs to groups has to have 2/3 majority support.
Candidates for Committee chairs are nominated by a member of their own group. Given the small size of the Assembly, there is no requirement for a candidate to be seconded by another member other than for groups larger than 20 Members.
If more than two candidates are nominated, voting is by ranking candidates in order of preference 1,2,3 etc. Where no candidate secures over half the first preference votes cast, the candidate who has received the smallest number of first preference votes is excluded and their second preferences re-distributed. This process continues until one candidate has received over half the votes cast.
The new Llywydd, Elin Jones AM welcomed the reform and commented that the reform was in line with her pledge when she was elected as Llywydd that she would safeguard the interests of Assembly Members and treat all members as equal. She went on to applaud the Business Committee’s decision to uphold the principle of democracy and in making sure that the “people of Wales get the democracy they demand and deserve.”
The distribution of the Chairs between parties was agreed between the party groups, before being approved by a resolution of the Assembly. The Welsh Labour Party were given six committees, Plaid Cymru three, the Welsh Conservatives were given two committees and UKIP Wales one. The Assembly agreed to the new structure for electing chairs on 28 June and nominations for Chairs opened in Plenary on the same day. The vote to select members who were contesting Chairs took place on 29 June by secret ballot between midday and 3pm. The remaining Chairs were not contested and the Llywydd confirmed their election on 28 June. The contested results were announced at the end of business at 5pm on 29 June.
The complete list of elected chairs is as follows:
- Lynne Neagle AM: Children, Young People and Education Committee
- Russell George AM: Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee
- John Griffiths AM: Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee
- Dai Lloyd AM: Health, Social Care and Sport Committee
- Nick Ramsey AM: Public Accounts Committee.
- Mark Reckless AM: Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee
- Bethan Jenkins AM: Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee
- David Rees AM: Reserve Policy and Legislation Committee (since renamed External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee)
- Huw Irranca-Davies AM: Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee
- Mike Hedges AM: Petitions Committee
- Jayne Bryant AM: Standards of Conduct Committee
- Simon Thomas AM: Finance Committee
Unlike the other Committees, it was agreed by the Assembly to not change the selection structure for the Scrutiny of The First Minister Committee which is chaired by Dirprwy Lywydd Ann Jones AM.
Section 29 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 states that membership of each committee of the Assembly must reflect (so far as is reasonably practicable) the balance of the political groups to which the Assembly members belong. If a proposal for the composition of a particular committee is not supported by two-thirds of the Assembly in a vote, then the d’Hondt formula will be used to determine the membership of that Committee.
On 5 July during the session to approve the membership of the new 8-member policy and legislation committees Mark Reckless AM announced the UKIP Group’s intention to vote against the motions establishing the committees. He said:
“We intend to vote today against the establishment of the policy and legislative committees on the basis agreed by the other business managers. The reason we do this is that equality, 4:4, does not constitute party balance.”
Simon Thomas AM responded by claiming the system was fair in order to give each party group a representative on each committee and pointed out that the current structure gave an advantage to the UKIP group which it would not have had under d’Hondt.
The motions to agree membership of committees were passed by 47 votes to in favour and 5 against.