Estimated reading time: 4 Minutes
11 November 2019
Stage 3 consideration of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill, an Assembly Commission Bill, will take place in Plenary on Wednesday 13 November 2019.
The Bill as introduced provided for changing the name of the Assembly, lowering the voting age for Assembly elections to 16 and making other changes to the Assembly’s electoral and internal arrangements. Senedd Research published a Bill Summary in July 2019.
Key changes made to the Bill at Stage 2
Changing the Assembly’s name
The Bill as introduced provided that the Assembly’s name should be changed to the monolingual name “Senedd”. During Stage 2 proceedings, Members voted in favour of Carwyn Jones AM’s amendment proposing the bilingual names “Senedd Cymru” or “Welsh Parliament” instead of “Senedd”.
Further amendments were made at Stage 2 to the names, titles and descriptors associated with the Assembly. Some of these amendments have led to inconsistencies in the Bill. Part 2 of the Bill provides that Members are to be known as “Aelodau’r Senedd” or “Members of the Senedd”, but another agreed amendment provides for the title “Members of Senedd Cymru”. This means that there are two different English titles for Assembly Members in the Bill as amended.
Extending the franchise
The Bill originally made changes to electoral law to enable 16 and 17 year olds to vote in Assembly elections. Amendments tabled by the Welsh Government were agreed to also enable qualifying foreign citizens to vote in Assembly elections. According to the revised Explanatory Memorandum (PDF 251KB):
A qualifying foreign citizen is someone who is not an Irish, Commonwealth or EU citizen (on the basis that such persons are already enfranchised) and who is a person who either does not need the permission of the immigration authorities to enter and remain in the United Kingdom (commonly referred to as “leave to enter or remain”) or who does need such permission and it has been granted.
Giving qualifying foreign citizens the right to vote in Assembly elections is consistent with the Welsh Government’s proposals for extending the franchise for local government elections.
Scrutinising the Electoral Commission
The Bill originally placed a duty on the Assembly to consider whether the Electoral Commission should be financed by the Assembly for its work in relation to devolved Welsh elections and referendums and become accountable to the Assembly for that work. However, the Bill did not specify how this should be carried out. Instead, it provided that the Assembly could make provision to this effect within its Standing Orders.
During an evidence session with the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee on 11 March, the Llywydd said that it was her working assumption that this section of the Bill would be amended at Stage 2 “to give greater clarity on the accountability and oversight arrangements for the Electoral Commission”.
Ahead of Stage 2, the Llywydd and the Counsel General reached an agreement and tabled amendments in relation to the details of how the Electoral Commission should be financed and to which Assembly body it should be accountable.
The tabled amendments, agreed by Members, provide that an Assembly Committee, chaired by the Presiding Officer or Deputy Presiding Officer, will scrutinise the Electoral Commission.
Disqualifications from standing and being a Member
The Bill originally made changes to the rules around disqualification from being an Assembly Member. These included distinguishing between:
- circumstances that disqualify someone from standing from elections to the Assembly; and
- offices that disqualify someone from membership of the Assembly but not to be a candidate.
For example, the Bill originally disqualified members of any other legislature from standing for election, except for members of the House of Commons and House of Lords who can stand for election but cannot serve in the other legislature if elected.
During Stage 2, a number of amendments to this part of the Bill were made. These included:
- disqualifying local authority members from serving in the Assembly but not from standing, meaning that they would have to stand down as local authority members if elected;
- reversing the provisions in the original Bill by allowing civil servants, members of the armed forces, members of the police and Assembly Commission staff to stand in an Assembly election;
- allowing foreign citizens to stand for election to the Assembly; and
- allowing members of the Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly and European Parliament to stand for election to the Assembly and also allowing them to serve in the Assembly and the other legislature at the same time. Members of the House of Commons and House of Lords on the other hand would have to stand down if elected to the Assembly.
Law Commission recommendations
The Bill originally amended the Government of Wales Act 2006 to enable Welsh Ministers to make regulations to give effect to changes to electoral law recommended by the Law Commission for England and Wales.
The Constitutional and Legislative affairs Committee in its Stage 1 report (PDF 1MB) on the Bill recommended that the Bill should be amended to remove this provision after hearing concerns from witnesses about the breadth of this power and warnings against using subordinate legislation to implement significant policy changes.
The Llywydd tabled amendments to this effect during Stage 2 which were agreed.
The next step for the Bill
Stage 3 gives the Assembly a further chance to make amendments to the Bill. A list of amendments tabled by Members can be found on the Bill’s page.
The Assembly will then be asked on 27 November to vote on whether to pass the final text of the Bill. Under the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Bill will require a ‘super-majority’ 40 Members to vote in favour before it can become law because it relates to protected subject-matters (i.e. the name of the Assembly and who can vote in Assembly elections).
Article by Manon George, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales