Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee

22/11/2023

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Carolyn Thomas
Jayne Bryant
Joel James
John Griffiths Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Luke Fletcher
Sam Rowlands

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Andrew Parkhurst Arweinydd Grŵp Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Welsh Local Government Association Liberal Democrat Group Leader
Catherine Uphill Rheolwr, y Comisiwn Etholiadol
Manager, Electoral Commission
Clare Sim Pennaeth Cymorth Aelodau, Cymdeithas y Gweinyddwyr Etholiadol
Head of Member Support, Association of Electoral Administrators
Colin Everett Cadeirydd, Bwrdd Cydlynu Etholiadol Cymru
Chair, Wales Electoral Coordination Board
Huw David Llywydd Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru ac Arweinydd Cyngor Bwrdeistef Sirol Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr
Welsh Local Government Association Presiding Officer and Leader of Bridgend County Borough Council
Llinos Medi Arweinydd Grŵp Plaid Cymru Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru ac Arweinydd Cyngor Sir Ynys Môn
Welsh Local Government Association Plaid Cymru Group Leader and Leader of Isle of Anglesey County Council

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Angharad Era Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Ben Harris Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Catherine Hunt Clerc
Clerk
Osian Bowyer Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Philip Lewis Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Rachael Davies Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Stephen Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:01.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:01.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Okay. Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. The first item on the agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. This meeting is being held in a hybrid format. Aside from the adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in that way, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and the Record of Proceedings will the published as usual. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation is available. Are there any declarations of interest? No.

2. Papurau i’w nodi
2. Papers to note

We will move on, then, to item 2, which is papers to note. We have several before us today. The first is a letter from the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee to the Minister for Climate Change regarding the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016. Paper 2 is a letter from the Chair of the Finance Committee in relation to the draft budget. Paper 3 is a letter from the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution in relation to the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill, which, of course, we will be conducting evidence sessions in relation to later today in this meeting. Paper 4 is a letter from the Building Communities Trust in relation to community assets. Paper 5 is a letter from the Chair of the Reform Bill Committee in relation to the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill again. Paper 6 is a letter from the Equality and Human Rights Commission in relation to their report, 'Equality and Human Rights Monitor: Is Wales Fairer? 2023'. Paper 7 is a letter from the Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip in relation to housing Ukrainian refugees. Paper 8 is a letter and update from the Minister for Finance and Local Government in relation to community assets. Are Members content to note those papers? Yes. Thank you very much. We may well consider the letters in relation to the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill when we consider the evidence that we receive today, later on in this meeting.

3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod ar gyfer eitemau 4 a 7
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from items 4 and 7 of the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod ar gyfer eitemau 4 a 7, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 4 and 7 of the meeting, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 3, then, is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the following items of this meeting: items 4 and 7. Is committee content to do so? I see that you are. We will, then, move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 09:04.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 09:04.

09:15

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 09:15.

The committee reconvened in public at 09:15.

5. Y Bil Etholiadau a Chyrff Etholedig (Cymru): Sesiwn dystiolaeth 4
5. Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill: Evidence Session 4

Committee returns to public session for item 5 on our agenda today, which is our fourth evidence session on the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill. I'm very pleased to welcome witnesses from the Welsh Local Government Association, joining us virtually. Perhaps you could introduce yourselves for the record, please, perhaps starting with Huw, then Llinos and then Andrew.

Bore da. Good morning. Huw David, leader of Bridgend County Borough Council, and here as the presiding officer for the WLGA.

Bore da. Llinos Medi, arweinydd Cyngor Sir Ynys Môn, ac yma yn cynrychioli grŵp Plaid Cymru yn y WLGA.

Good morning. Llinos Medi, leader of Anglesey County Council, here representing the Plaid Cymru group in the WLGA.

Bore da, pawb. Andrew Parkhurst, group leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the WLGA.

Okay. Bore da, and thank you all very much for joining committee this morning. Perhaps I might begin with a few questions, before we turn to other committee members. Firstly, with regard to general principles of the proposed legislation, could you share with committee your general thoughts on the Bill as a whole? Who would like to begin?

I'm happy to begin, Chair, just to say that, obviously, we welcome the Bill. It builds on the Senedd having legislative competence for Senedd and Welsh local government elections, which, of course, we support. We've got a track record of improving and reforming the electoral process together with Welsh Government and other partners, including the Electoral Commission, so there's much to be welcomed and supported in the Bill, and many of the proposed reforms have been developed through extensive engagement between Welsh Government, local authorities and electoral administrators.

Okay. Diolch yn fawr, Huw. Would either Llinos or Andrew like to add anything? Llinos.

Dwi'n meddwl bod Huw wedi cyfro fo i gyd yn fanna. Dŷn ni wedi cael y trafodaethau pan oedden ni'n trafod y Papur Gwyn flwyddyn diwethaf, hefyd, felly dŷn ni wedi rhoi tipyn o amser i fynd i mewn iddo fo fel WLGA. Diolch.

No, I think Huw's covered it all there. We had these discussions when we were discussing the White Paper last year, so we have given this some time as the WLGA. Thank you.

Diolch yn fawr, Llinos. Andrew, are you content with what's been said or did you want to add anything?

Yes, thank you, Chair. Just to add that there's a large measure of agreement amongst all the groups in the WLGA on the proposals. There's only a small minor area of slight variance in connection with independent scrutiny of chief executives' pay, but, otherwise, we are pretty much of common mind.

Okay. I'm not sure if we—. Andrew, do you want to just flesh out that area of variance, as you describe it, and your view on that?

Yes, of course, Chair. I'm conscious and my group is conscious that in previous years there have been situations where there have been severe pressures on council tax budgets and consequent increases in council tax. At the same time, there has been a perception that chief executive pay in some quarters has got out of kilter. Really, for that reason, and also to try and ensure a degree of consistency where that is appropriate, it seems reasonable to have a second pair of eyes or independent scrutiny to ensure that what is being proposed for chief executives is realistic and appropriate.

Okay. Thanks, Andrew. We'll come back to those matters later on. Okay, at this stage, let me continue with some questions on the electoral management board and your thoughts on how having a statutory electoral management board would impact on local government, what it would mean for local government in Wales.

Chair, I'm happy to come in if that's—

09:20

—okay with you. Again, we're supportive of the establishment of a statutory board for a number of reasons, not least because, whilst we have a set of arrangements currently, they're operated on a voluntary basis with no funding to help co-ordinate the planning and management of elections in Wales, and we think it's critical that there is that planning and management of elections in Wales, particularly as we now see the differences across the UK, and having this function on a statutory footing with appropriate resources to support electoral administration professionals will provide much more resilience and build on that strong collaborative working that's already taken place. So, we are supportive.

Okay, Huw. Thank you for that. Anything to add from either Llinos or Andrew?

No, no further comments.

No, okay. In terms of that electoral management board, then, are you content that the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru is the best body to host that electoral management board? Would you have any concerns that the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru is sponsored by Welsh Government? Would that have any implications for independence, in your view?

I think—

Sori, Huw. Ydy'n iawn i fi fynd?

Sorry, do you mind if go, Huw?

Dwi'n meddwl ei bod hi'n anodd gweld corff arall sydd efo'r gallu i gynnal y gweithgaredd yna a hefyd yr economy of scale efo'r ffaith eu bod nhw yn ei wneud o ac yn cael consistency ac yn y blaen a sicrhau hynny, felly mae'n anodd iawn gweld pa ffordd arall fuasai’n gallu cyflawni hynny yn gywir ac yn effeithiol.

I think it's difficult to see another body that would have the capacity to conduct that activity and also the economy of scale also in order to achieve consistency and to secure that consistency, so it's difficult to see another body that could deliver that properly and effectively.

Okay. Again, any of you want to add anything to that?

Only just to add that, as a general principle, we are always keen that we don't see the creation of more stand-alone bodies, because obviously that comes at a cost, so, by the functions being potentially transferred to the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales, then, obviously, that will avoid some of the costs that come with creating a new stand-alone body, some of the additional costs, and, as Councillor Medi has outlined, it's difficult for us to think of another body that would be suitable to hold those functions, and I think the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales has certainly demonstrated its operational independence, if that is the concern. Thanks, Chair.

Okay, thank you for that, and we will move on then to Sam Rowlands. Sam.

Thanks, Chair. Morning, all. I appreciate you joining us this morning. I hope you're doing well. I just wanted to ask some questions around the electoral registration without application, so the auto-enrolment element of the Bill, and perhaps you'll be able to share your views on provisions in the Bill around the electoral registration without application and on the Welsh Government's approach to piloting these reforms. I'm keen to hear how you see it from your perspective in local authorities, and also the work of your monitoring officers or electoral returns officers as well.

Chair, I'm happy to begin, if that's okay.

Thanks, Chair. So, obviously there's an association. Just as I know all Members of the Senedd are keen on this, we all want to see greater participation, don't we, in the democratic process in Wales, so anything that increases the level of registration and then participation in elections is an initiative that we would certainly be supportive of. And also we are supportive of the principle of piloting initiatives and reforms because we can learn lessons, can't we, from those pilots, and, when we then need to scale it up for Wales, we can make sure that that's a better system that we're introducing. Thanks, Chair.

09:25

Yes. Thanks, Chair. I appreciate the comments. Just in regard to potential, I guess, confusion, because there are likely, if this goes ahead, to be two different registration systems for those devolved elections, such as for yourselves, local authorities, and for us here in the Senedd, and then the second set of elections with police and crime commissioners and UK general elections. Some have observed that there could be confusion where the voters think they're registered for one set of elections or another set of elections. Do you think that's a fair concern that people might have and how that potentially impacts you in local government with your elections?

Mae yna bryder ynglŷn â'r gwahaniaethau sydd yn bodoli, ond hefyd efallai fod yna gyfle; gan fod Cymru bellach yn caniatáu i rai ifengach bleidleisio, rydyn ni'n medru cael gafael arnyn nhw yn gynt yn yr ysgolion a ballu hefyd. Felly, mae yna ddwy ochr i hyn: mae yna gyfleon ac mae yna heriau. Ond hefyd mae’r broses o bleidleisio yng Nghymru yn gymaint hwylusach, heb orfod dangos ID ac yn y blaen hefyd, felly, efo amser, cawn ni weld pa effaith bydd y ddau fformat gwahanol yn ei gael ar y niferoedd sy’n pleidleisio a pha mor accessible fydd hynny i'r cyhoedd i'w ddefnyddio. Felly, mae yna bryder, ond dwi'n llwyr gredu yn ein timau ni o fewn yr awdurdodau. Mi fyddwn ni'n cyfathrebu’r gwahaniaethau yna ac, yn amlwg, mae’r timau ar y diwrnod hefyd yn cyfathrebu'r gwahaniaethau. So, rydyn ni mewn cyswllt rheolaidd, ac mae cynfas rheolaidd yn mynd allan ac yn y blaen. Felly, mi ydyn ni'n cyfathrebu trwy'r adeg, efo'r gwahaniaethau yma hefyd yn cael sylw yn y wasg, felly, amser a ddengys ydy o. Ond efallai fod angen dilyn ffordd Cymru er mwyn inni drio cynyddu’r nifer sydd yn pleidleisio. Diolch.

There is concern about the differences that do exist, but perhaps there is an opportunity too; as Wales does now allow younger people to vote, we can get hold of them earlier in schools too. So, there are two sides to this: there are opportunities and challenges. But also the voting process in Wales is so much more convenient, with not having to show ID and so on, so, with time, we will see what impact the two different formats will have on the numbers actually voting and how accessible that will be to the public. So, there is concern, yes, but I have full confidence in our teams within the local authorities. We will be able to communicate those differences and, clearly, the teams on the day do communicate the differences also. So, we are in regular contact, and we have the regular canvass and so on. So, we do communicate constantly, and these differences are also addressed in the media, so, time will tell. But perhaps we need to follow the Welsh way in order to increase the numbers voting. Thank you.

Yes, thanks, Chair. Just perhaps to expand on that a little further, one of the areas within the Bill seeks to allow people to not be auto-enrolled for all sorts of different reasons and there is a 45-day window in which they can do that. Now, it looks like that will be the responsibility of electoral returning officers or monitoring officers within your local authorities. I don't know if they've raised any concerns with you directly as to how that may be handled. Is that something you've had feedback on or is there anything that you'd like to share on those points?

Mae yna bryder capasiti wedi bod ac mae yna bryder ynglŷn â'r heriau. Dyna pam mae'r WLGA wastad wedi dweud bod unrhyw newidiadau angen eu hariannu’n ychwanegol er mwyn inni gefnogi’r gwaith ychwanegol sydd yn dod efo fo. Felly, do, mae o wedi’i godi fel pryder, ac, fel dwi'n ei ddweud, wrth inni fynd drwy’r broses, mi fyddwn ni'n gorfod amlygu'r heriau a sut rydym ni'n lliniaru hynny, ond rydym ni fel awdurdodau lleol ac etholiadau wedi arfer efo newidiadau ac yn cynnal y newidiadau yna ac yn eu cynnal nhw yn y ffyrdd cywir. Felly, dyna ydy'r gwir ac mae rhai awdurdodau, o ran capasiti, yn mynd i'w ffeindio hi'n anoddach na rhai eraill hefyd.

There is a concern about capacity and there is a concern about certain challenges. That's why the WLGA has said that any changes need to be properly funded for us to support the additional work. So, yes, it's been raised as a concern, and, as I say, as we go through the process, we will have to identify the challenges and how we mitigate them, but we, as local authorities and election organisations, are used to changes and implement those changes in a proper way. So, that's the reality of the situation and some authorities, in terms of capacity, will have more difficulty than others.

Okay, Sam, you're content. Okay, thank you. We will move to Joel James. Joel.

Thank you, Chair, and thanks ever so much for coming in this morning. I just wanted to ask a couple of questions on piloting electoral powers. Obviously, back in 2022, there was a series of pilots looking at flexible voting. I was just keen to get your thoughts on that. What were your initial assessments of that? Did you see that as a success? But then, also, what other pilots would you like to be seen to be done? From speaking with other evidence sessions, they talked about differences in terms of the different types of voting they would like to see piloted and I was just wondering what your thoughts were.

09:30

Yes, I'm happy to begin, if that's okay, Chair. Certainly, as I indicated earlier, I'm very supportive of the principle of pilots. I think they're an opportunity to test possible reform, and certainly the pilots were administrated very smoothly, the pilots that took place in 2022. And I know there was an evaluation of those pilots, and I think that that's important. And I think we have to consider further initiatives and ways to encourage greater turnout in elections. So, I welcome those powers, Chair. 

Thanks for that. Are there any specific pilots you'd like to see piloted, for want of a better word?

We'd be interested to obviously see what proposals you and others come up with. Certainly, the pilots that have taken place to try to encourage greater participation by younger people are important, because I think we'd all recognise that participation by younger people in the democratic process is not as high as we would like it to be, and it's important that we develop that pattern of participation early on in people's lives. Thanks, Chair. 

Okay. Perfect. You mentioned there that you are quite supportive of pilots. Obviously, this Bill will allow the Welsh Government to compel local authorities to run pilots. Are you supportive of that provision? And the other thing I'd like to know is: do local authorities have the capacity to do pilots, because one of the concerns raised by the Association of Electoral Administrators is that there's a high turnover of election services managers, and there's been quite a new intake of returning officers and electoral returning officers? So, that—what's the word I'm looking for—experience isn't there in order to, as you said, smoothly run pilots. I was just wondering what your views are on that. 

Mae'r sefyllfa capasiti yn creu pryder i awdurdodau. Dyna pam ein bod ni fel WLGA wedi dweud ein bod ni'n gefnogol iawn i'r pilots yma pan fyddan nhw wedyn yn cael eu datblygu ac efallai eu gwasgaru ar draws y wlad, ond bod angen cyllido'r rheini, achos dydy o ddim yn deg i un ardal bod ar ei hôl hi oherwydd y diffyg capasiti yna. Felly, mae hwnnw, a dwi'n meddwl ei fod o'n llinyn arian yn ein hymateb ni drwy'r adeg, bod yn rhaid inni fedru ariannu'r newidiadau yma fel ein bod ni'n gallu bod yn y sefyllfa lle dydych chi ddim yn cael ymatebion yn dweud bod gennym ni bryder am gapasiti, bod gennym ni bryder ynglŷn â throsiant staff, achos dyna dŷn ni yn ei adnabod, ac mae hi'n llinell ofalus i'w cherdded. Ond heb inni gymryd y pilots ymlaen a heb inni weld y newidiadau yna, dydyn ni ddim yn cynyddu'r cysylltiad â'r niferoedd sy'n pleidleisio. Felly, mae'n rhaid inni wneud hyn yn ofalus, ond mae'n rhaid inni hefyd beidio â chael gorfodaeth ar ardaloedd i wneud pethau, achos mae'n bwysig iawn bod y returning officer yna efo'r hawl i wneud y penderfyniadau achos eu bod nhw'n adnabod yr ardal ac yn adnabod yr heriau maen nhw'n eu hwynebu. Y peth diwethaf dŷn ni eisiau ydy gweld methiant yn y broses hefyd. 

The capacity issue is a cause of concern for local authorities, and that's why we as the WLGA have said that we are very supportive of these pilots, as they are developed and rolled out across the country, but there may be a need to fund those, because it's not fair for any area to fall behind because of that lack of capacity. So, I think that's a golden thread throughout our response, that we do have to be able to fund these changes properly so that we are in a position where you don't get responses saying that you do have those capacity concerns and concerns about staff turnover, because that's what we are identifying. And this is a difficult path to tread, but without taking the pilots forward and without seeing those changes, we can't increase engagement with the numbers who vote. So, we do have to do this carefully, but we must also not actually force areas to do things, because it's very important that the returning officer has the ability to make the decision because they know their area and know the challenges that they face. The last thing we want to see is a failure in this process. 

Does that mean that—? Sorry, Andrew. Go on. Andrew.

Yes, sorry, Chair, to interrupt. I was just going to say that I think compelling returning officers to undertake pilots when it's not within, perhaps, their capacity to do so is problematical. I think there should be a large degree of agreement by the returning officers to participate, rather than being forced. I'd also like to pick up on the point which Councillor David made about young people needing to increase engagement with the electoral process; that's absolutely correct and I fully support that, but I'd go further to say that there are, you know, large sectors of society where the engagement in the electoral process, particularly with the Senedd elections, is not that high. So, if one is considering pilots to increase engagement, I would widen it to those areas where there is particularly low engagement at the moment. Thank you.

09:35

Just to be clear in terms of the powers to compel, is it something that you would prefer not to be in the legislation, or not?

Yes, we'd prefer it not to be in the legislation. We would want pilots to be—. For pilots to be successful, we would want there to be that discretion and that capacity for authorities to participate. Otherwise, the risk is those pilots won't be successful.

Good morning. I just want to ask you for some information regarding the voter information platform and your views. So, in your written evidence, you question whether there is actually a need for a platform for the uploading of candidate statements, and that you believe it's more effectively done by political parties themselves. So, can you explain why you have these concerns?

Fe wnaf i gychwyn. Mae yna bryder ynglŷn â hyn oherwydd dŷn ni wedi gweld y modd mae'r candidates yn rhannu gwybodaeth bellach ar social media ac yn y blaen, ac yn targedu ac yn cyrraedd cynulleidfa ehangach yn y blynyddoedd diweddar yma, ac mae rhoi'r wybodaeth i fyny a bod yn gyfrifol am roi hwnna i fyny fel awdurdod a'i wir effaith o—a hefyd gorfod bod yn ofalus ynglŷn â pheidio dangos unrhyw ffafriaeth wleidyddol—yn her i unrhyw gorff fel hyn. Felly, dyna ydy'r her dŷn ni'n ei wynebu a dydyn ni ddim yn gweld pa werth ychwanegol mae o'n mynd i roi oherwydd ein bod ni'n gweld rŵan fod y candidates eu hunain yn gallu ymgysylltu llawer gwell efo'r etholwyr nag ydy'r broses yna o'i roi o ar y wefan. Ac mae o'n broses reit lafurus hefyd er mwyn sicrhau bod y wybodaeth sy'n cael ei rhoi i fyny yn gwbl gywir a bod y prosesau'n iawn, ac mae yna bosibilrwydd yna—mae yna rhyw room for error posib yna hefyd, a dŷn ni ddim yn siŵr iawn pa werth ychwanegol y buasai o'n ei roi i'r broses.

I'll start. There is concern about this issue because we have seen the way the candidates share information now on social media and so on and target and reach a broader audience, as has been the case in recent years, and providing that information and being responsible as an authority for providing information and its true impact—and also being careful about not showing any political bias—is also a challenge. So, that is the challenge that we face in this area and we don't see what additional value it will add, because we do now see that the candidates themselves can engage far more effectively with electors than that process of putting it on the website would do. And it is quite a burdensome process, in ensuring that the information provided is entirely accurate and that all the processes are being followed, and there is some room for error there, too, and we don't really know what additional value it would provide to the process.

Yes, I think so, Chair. I don't think any of us would want the job of the editorial control of such a platform. I think that would be very difficult to manage, Chair.

Who do you think could be responsible for it, then, otherwise? You know, the—. Where do you think it could be placed should it happen? I remember, when I've been campaigning, that people say, 'Not more leaflets', you know—'Another tree gone.' And they seem to come more fast as the election day arrives. As a former postie, as well, I used to get told that. And people will say, 'Is there anywhere we can just look to find the information of people we can vote for altogether?' So, I think that's where it's come from, really. I'm just asking, you know, where you think this could lie. And just somewhere so that candidate statements can be found by the electorate. Just pushing a little bit more on that, if that's okay.

Dwi'n meddwl—os ydy hi'n iawn i fi ateb hynny—beth sydd angen ei ofyn, y cwestiwn ydy: beth dŷn ni eisiau ei gyflawni o gynnig hyn? Dwi'n meddwl bod y pwyntiau dŷch chi'n eu gwneud yn ddilys, ond os ydy'r bobl efo wir ddiddordeb maen nhw'n ffeindio'r wybodaeth beth bynnag, oherwydd mae cyfryngau cymdeithasol wedi mynd mor accessible ac mae ymgeiswyr wedi mynd yn andros o accessible. Dwi'n meddwl y peth pwysicaf i ni ydy codi ymwybyddiaeth bod yna etholiad ymlaen a bod angen iddyn nhw fod wedi cofrestru a'u bod nhw'n barod i bleidleisio ac yn y blaen, a hyrwyddo yr elfen o fynd allan i bleidleisio yn ddemocrataidd ddylen ni fod yn ei wneud, a dylai'r ymgeiswyr, wedyn, eu hunain sicrhau—. Achos mae yna bryder yn y fan yma ynglŷn â beth dŷn ni'n ei greu wrth inni ei wneud o. Fel roedd y Cynghorydd Huw David yn ei ddweud, mae yna bryder ynglŷn â sicrhau cywirdeb ac ansawdd yr hyn sy'n cael ei roi ar blatfform a phwy sy'n cario'r cyfrifoldeb am y cynnwys yna, achos efallai fod yna gynnwys y buasai rhywun ddim eisiau ei roi ar hwnna, felly mae'n rhaid inni fod yn ofalus iawn yn y fan yma o ran cynnwys hefyd. Dwi'n meddwl y cwestiwn creiddiol i hwnna ydy: beth ydy'r gwahaniaeth a beth ydy'r gap dŷn ni'n ei adnabod er mwyn bod ei angen o?

If it's okay for me to respond to that, I think that the question we need to ask is: what are we trying to deliver by proposing this? I think that the points you make are valid, but if people are truly interested they will find the information, because social media are now so accessible and candidates have become very accessible as a result. I think the most important thing for us is to raise awareness of the fact that there is an election taking place and that they need to have been registered and they need to be ready to vote, and to promote that element of democracy and the importance of voting, and then the candidates themselves should ensure publicity. Because there is concern here about what we are actually creating. As Councillor Huw David said, there is concern about ensuring accuracy and quality in terms of what's placed on the platform and who carries the responsibility for that content, because there may be content that one wouldn't perhaps want to see included, so we do have to be extremely careful in this area in terms of content too. I think that the fundamental question there is: what's the difference and what gap have we identified to justify the need for this?

09:40

Just another question: do you think it's more concerning as well for you because of, possibly, the numbers at different levels of government? So, if you have elections for town and community councils, there's a lot there, isn't there—a lot of candidates to vote for. County council or Senedd elections are all very different, I suppose, in the amount of numbers, and Members of Parliament. So, is that a consideration as well—just the amount, the numbers of candidates?

Absolutely, because we're talking about, aren't we, in most local authorities in Wales—? Just at a county borough level, we're talking about hundreds and hundreds of candidates aren't we? That's a lot of literature, isn't it, and a lot of content?

Sometimes that detail of what happens locally on the ground sometimes might get a little bit missed, so I just wanted to ease that out of you. Okay, thank you.

Is there an issue, do you think, in terms of independent candidates? We talk about the political parties and what they're able to do in terms of reaching voters and getting their policies across and so on. Obviously, if you're an independent without that organisation behind you, would this—? It's difficult for you to speak for independents, I know, but do you think there's an issue there in terms of this levelling of the playing field a little for independent candidates, or do you not see that?

Dwi ddim yn gweld yr her, gan fod y rhai annibynnol hefyd yn defnyddio cyfryngau cymdeithasol yn yr un modd, ac efallai i ni ar lefel lleol mae adnabyddiaeth o'r ymgeiswyr yn bersonol yn y mwyafrif o'r ardaloedd hefyd yn golygu bod yr adnabyddiaeth yn bodoli, sydd efallai yn well ar lefel lleol i ni ar gynghorau sir a chynghorau tref a chymuned. Ac fel dwi'n dweud, mae'r gallu i ddefnyddio'r cyfryngau cymdeithasol a pha mor fforddiadwy ydy rhoi adverts ar y cyfryngau cymdeithasol yna, a'i roi o a'i dargedu fo i postcode ac yn y blaen, yn golygu, os rywbeth, ei fod o'n hollol targeted i bawb sydd ar y cyfryngau cymdeithasol yn yr ardal yna, ac mae hwnna'n well ymgysylltiad nag unrhyw fodd fuasai unrhyw blatfform buasem ni'n ei roi i fyny, achos mae'r cyhoedd yn ei gael o heb ofyn amdano fo bron, yn y modd yna. Byddai'r cyhoedd yn mynd i orfod mynd i chwilio am blatfform sy'n cael ei gynnig yn y fan yma.

I don't really see the challenge, because independents also use social media in the same way, and perhaps for us at a local level, personal knowledge of candidates in the majority of areas also means that there is that recognition and that is perhaps more effective at a local level on town and community councils and local authorities. And as I say, the ability to use social media and how affordable placing adverts on social media is, and to target it at a particular postcode and so on, does mean that it is entirely targeted for everyone using social media in that area, and that is more effective engagement than any platform that we could provide, because the public receive it without asking for it, in a way. The public would have to search out a platform that would be provided for them.

Okay. Diolch yn fawr, Llinos. Okay, we'll move on to Jayne Bryant. Jayne.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Bore da, pawb. We really appreciate you coming to give evidence this morning. I'm going to just ask a few questions around accessibility and diversity. And thank you for your paper as well. You've talked this morning around capacity as well and concerns around capacity, but obviously we all know how important it is to make sure disabled people are not disadvantaged when voting in both Senedd and local government elections. What are the challenges, which I'm sure will include that capacity—? What are the challenges faced by returning officers in taking all possible steps to make sure disabled people aren't disadvantaged?

09:45

I'm happy to start, Chair, if that's okay with you. I think we'll all be familiar, as elected representatives, with some of the challenges that we face in many of our polling stations. They're rooted in our communities, aren't they, most of our polling stations. Like most buildings in our communities, they can quite often be old and have those challenges around accessibility—steps, narrow doorways, no lift or ramp available. Consequently, improving polling stations can mean having to improve buildings, and that does come at a cost. Of course, sometimes, it's about providing aids and equipment at polling stations as well. So, it's thinking about the cost and value of some of those improvements. Of course, I would say that, quite often, improvements to polling stations can also be permanent improvements to community facilities and buildings that are used all year round. 

Thank you, Huw. Does anybody—Andrew or Llinos—want to add anything?

I was just going to add that there are substantial costs involved in improving the accessibility, as Councillor David has mentioned, and just to reiterate an earlier point that any changes should be fully funded. 

Dwi ddim ond eisiau ychwanegu bod ardaloedd gwledig yn gweld her yn hynny, oherwydd cyn lleied o adeiladau cymunedol sydd, a'r heriau mynediad iddyn nhw. Felly, rydyn ni wedi ei gweld hi'n anodd iawn mewn rhai ardaloedd i allu cynnig y mynediad yna, ac efallai wedi gorfod peidio agor polling station yn yr ardal yna, oherwydd ein bod ni wedi methu â'i wneud o'n addas ac accessible i bawb. Felly, mae hwnna yn her. 

Hefyd, rydyn ni'n ffodus iawn bod y bleidlais bost ar gael. Mae'n rhywbeth rydyn ni eisiau ei hyrwyddo hefyd, er mwyn sicrhau nad oes neb yn teimlo eu bod nhw ddim yn gallu pleidleisio, a bod ffordd i ni hwyluso hynny gymaint ag y gallwn ni, a chynyddu hynna, er mwyn sicrhau bod pawb yn cael y cyfle i bleidleisio. 

I just wanted to add that rural areas do have a particular challenge here, because there are so few community buildings available, and access issues for those buildings. So, we have found it difficult in some areas to provide that access, and we have, perhaps, not been able to open a polling station in that area, because we haven't been able to make it appropriate and accessible to all. So, that is, most certainly, a challenge. 

We're very fortunate that the postal vote is available. It's something we want to promote, to ensure that nobody feels that they're unable to vote, and that we facilitate that as much as we can, in order to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to cast their vote. 

Thank you. We know that section 26 of the Bill removes the requirement to set out the wording of the local government candidates survey in regulations. What are your views on that?

Thanks, Chair, I'll come in here, if that's okay, and thanks for the question. We agree with the proposals. We welcome that greater flexibility, so that we can add to some of those questions. Of course, there'll be a set of core questions for candidates across Wales, so that will help with the consistency of data, to explore trends over time, and identify ways that we can try and improve what we do. Thanks, Chair. 

Thanks, Huw. Anything to add from Llinos or Andrew? No. Jayne, are you—

I think that's an important point around that consistency of data. I notice in the paper there was a suggestion around perhaps allowing flexibility to allow more local questions in that candidate survey. I don't know if you want to say a little bit more about that. 

Yes, but still having that, as you identified, Jayne—. Sorry, am I all right to call you Jayne, as a Member of the Senedd?

That consistency of the core questions will provide the core data that is so important to identify those trends, but having those flexible additional questions, I think, can be helpful as well.

09:50

Thanks, Chair. Clearly, within the Bill, there are provisions to abolish the independent remuneration panel, the panel that we'll keep an eye on every year. It's looking to transfer the majority of its functions to the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru. I'm just interested if you have any views on that proposal within the Bill.

As you've described, the functions will be transferred. So, that all-important function about assessing and identifying and making recommendations will still be made independently of local government. I think that's the important point and the important principle that I think we'd all be supportive of—that those recommendations are not made by elected members but by a body independent of the local authority.

Thanks for that. Do you think it's clear who's deciding what when it comes to these matters? I've scribbled down that we've got the democracy and boundary commission, which, as you say, the functions of the independent remuneration panel will be moved into. There's the electoral management board as well. Do you think it's getting a bit messy? Or are you quite comfortable with what's been proposed within this Bill to try and tidy things up?

I think that there are a set of arrangements that, in one sense, we will be improving. So, we've already got, in effect, the equivalent, for example, to the electoral management board, but it's putting that on a statutory footing. I'm sure the people that need to understand it will understand it. I'm not expecting the people of Wales to take a huge interest in some of the more complex arrangements around who administers and who manages the process of administering elections. But I do think that it's a fair point that we will need to be clear to those stakeholders that need to understand the process that changes are being proposed and what that will mean for those important stakeholders.

I think that's a fair point about the people of Wales perhaps not having this as their top priority when it comes to elections in the near future or in the distant future. I just have a concern sometimes that who's pulling what levers to decide what happens where can sometimes be a bit blurry. But, yes, fair point.

And the final point here is that the Welsh Government has stated it will not transfer the power to decide the remuneration of a chief executive to the commission. I just wonder what your views are on that. 

I think Andrew expressed some views earlier. Andrew, do want to perhaps just elaborate a little more?

Yes, thank you, Chair. As I mentioned earlier, the concern is that, particularly at a time when budgets are under pressure and council tax rises are causing concern for residents, there is a danger that chief executive pay could get out of kilter, or have a perception that it's out of kilter, with, perhaps, inappropriate inconsistency around different local authorities. We have seen that happen in the past, where there have been well-publicised instances where there's been almost outrage at the levels of pay. So, having an independent pair of eyes review this, I feel, is important. It's not that I or my group oppose the abolition of the independent remuneration panel and transferring of powers—that's not the point; the point is to retain an element of independent scrutiny.

And just finally, Chair, I have at this point to give my apologies because I have a prior council meeting that I have to attend, so if you might indulge me to leave, I'd be grateful, but I am in agreement with the remaining items on this agenda, so I would be fully supportive of the comments my colleagues make. Thank you.

09:55

Okay, Andrew, that's fine. Thank you very much. Thanks for your evidence today. Joel. 

Thank you, Chair. Thanks ever so much for those questions there. I just want to ask a quick question. Obviously, I used to be a councillor myself, and I just wanted to get your idea around perception in the sense of what your perceptions are around the effectiveness of the independent remuneration panel compared with the local boundary commission that we have at the moment for Wales. Because obviously, remuneration has always been a contentious issue, but I always felt the independent remuneration panel was fair in its recommendations. But then sometimes, when we looked at boundary recommendations, I would think to myself, 'Well, I don't think they make sense.' How do you think public reaction would be then as well? When we talk about councillor remuneration, we say, 'Well, it's the independent remuneration panel. We've got no say in it', but, as you all know, being politicians yourselves, people always question boundary commission rules. They say, 'How independent are they?' Do you think that people might think there's a loss of impartiality, maybe, even though there probably won't be, but perception-wise? Thank you.

Thanks, Joel. Would either Huw or Llinos like to offer a view? Llinos.

Gwnaf i gychwyn. Dwi'n meddwl bod y perception yna'n ddiddorol, achos dwi'n meddwl efallai fod yna lot o bobl allan yn fanna ddim hyd yn oed yn meddwl bod yr independent remuneration panel yn independent ar adegau achos yr ymdeimlad sydd am eu swyddogaeth nhw. Felly, dwi'n meddwl ei bod hi'n bwysig gwneud hynna. Dwi'n meddwl beth sy'n bwysig ydy craffu bod y trosglwyddiad o gyfrifoldebau yn cadw i'r un ffurf ac i'r un fformat ac yn cadw i'r un drefn, sydd yn golygu wedyn fod hynna'n rhoi hyder i ni, y rhai sy'n cael eu heffeithio, bod y broses dal yn deg a dal yn digwydd yn annibynnol ac yn digwydd yn y ffordd fwyaf teg posib yn fanna. Felly, dwi'n meddwl, dim ots beth fuasem ni'n gwneud yn y maes yma, mae'n anodd iawn o ran perception, a dyna pam bod rhaid i bawb, aelodau etholedig, beth bynnag ydy eu plaid nhw, neu dim plaid, gadw at y ffaith bod hwn yn annibynnol, a pheidio creu'r amheuaeth hyll yna o fewn cymdeithas, onid e? A dyna pam mae'n bwysig ein bod ni'n cadw golwg ar y broses a sut mae'n mynd rhagddi. Ond mae'n rhaid i'r trosglwyddiad o gyfrifoldebau jest ddigwydd yn seamless, fel bod y broses yr un fath, dim ond ei fod o o dan faner wahanol, mewn ffordd.

If I could start, I think that perception is interesting, because I think there may be a lot of people out there who don't even think that the independent remuneration panel is independent at times because of the feelings around their function. So, I think it's important. I think what's important is that we scrutinise that that transfer of responsibilities keeps the same format and keeps the same system, which will mean that we can have confidence, those of us who are affected, that the process is still fair and is still independent and happens in the fairest way possible. I think whatever we do in this area, it's very difficult in terms of perception, and that's why everyone, certainly elected members, whatever their party, or if they have no party, must adhere to the fact that this is independent, and not create that ugly suspicion within society of a lack of impartiality. And that's why it's important that we keep an eye on the process of its development. But the transfer of responsibility has to happen seamlessly so that the process is the same, just under another banner, in a way.

Just a final point on this matter of the independent remuneration panel functions moving into the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru. As Members of the Senedd, we have a remuneration board that determines similar sorts of things to what happens currently for you with the independent remuneration panel. There's no proposal for the remuneration board to move within this Bill. It seems quite happy to be a separate function altogether. Do you think it's a bit unusual that the Bill seeks to change things for local government, but doesn't seek to change things for us as Senedd Members, or are you not really too bothered about a view on that?

It's not something that I've considered. I think we'd have to give some thought to that. I think the important thing for us is the perception of the independence of the recommendation and the decision. And I believe one of the most effective ways we can demonstrate that to the public is if we change the current system, where, even though, effectively, it's decided independently, there still has to be a report to full council, and it goes into the chamber. I think, for a member of the public, the fact that a vote is taken on the recommendations, even if it's to note it, possibly diminishes the perception of it being independent. And I think a step that could be helpful is if the decision is completely taken out of the hands of Members and it's made independently—a decision is made and the authorities advised of that decision. I think that would be the most effective way of strengthening that perception, because perception is important, of the independence of the setting of pay, and I think that's the case across the board. That would be my personal view, anyway. Thank you, Chair.

10:00

Yes. I can see Llinos nodding in agreement as well. Okay.

Huw, thank you for prompting me regarding that. I remember that annually, and there would be discussions on who would actually take the remuneration, who wouldn't, who would give it to charity, and it just didn't seem fair for those who really needed that money. And it might put people off standing as well, because, sometimes, to become a councillor, they can't work as well, because they want to do it full time, and it's important to them.

The other issue that was often raised about carers allowance. So, councillors can claim for carers allowance as well as travel, you know, subsistence. But they might be reluctant to do so, because it's published and they're claiming that money. But it's really important to have that carers allowance for some people to be able to stand as well from different backgrounds. So, just your thoughts on that. Those are my thoughts, I'm sorry, I'm putting on you, but is that something that you come across as well as leaders?

I absolutely do, and I couldn't agree more with your point. I think, speaking to the question that we had earlier about how do we improve diversity, we know we've got a job of work to do in local government, just as we do at a national level, about improving diversity. We will not improve diversity unless we take some of the politics out of remuneration. Because we know that the people who are affected most by this are those groups that are most under-represented in local government, those people with caring responsibilities, women, younger people, people on lower incomes, people with families. And so, if we don't get that right, we're not going to make the progress that we need to make in terms of improving diversity in local government and at all levels.

Ie. Diolch. Dwi eisiau ymateb i hwnna ar lefel bersonol. Roeddwn i'n fam sengl 35 mlwydd oed yn dod yn arweinydd, a dau o blant oedd yn 10 ac yn saith oed, ac mi oeddwn i angen cefnogaeth gofal yn aruthrol er mwyn cyflawni fy swydd. Mi oeddwn i hefyd yn bryderus iawn am yr her roeddwn i'n mynd i'w chael a'r sgrwtini roeddwn i'n mynd i'w gael o ran fy mod i'n 'claim-io' amdano fo, ac roeddwn i'n teimlo yn ofnadwy o conflicted. Ond buaswn i fyth yn gallu cyflawni fy swyddogaeth heb y gefnogaeth gofal yna tu allan i oriau gwaith, achos pan ydych chi yn y swydd yma, rydych chi allan gyda'r nosau, ar ôl gyda'r nosau, ac mae o'n heriol. Dwi wedi gwthio a gwthio ar yr elfen ofal nid yn unig i bobl ifanc, ond i bobl hŷn sydd yn dal efo cymaint i'w gynnig i ni fel awdurdodau, ond yn ei ffeindio hi'n amhosib oherwydd bod ganddyn nhw ŵr neu wraig adref y maen nhw angen gofalu amdanyn nhw, a dwi wedi gwthio hynny.

Ond mae'r craffu yna ar unrhyw fath o claims—. Ac mae'r un mileage yn rhywbeth dwi wedi stryglo i wneud fy hun, oherwydd fy mod i ddim eisiau'r chwyddwydr hyll yna arnaf i. Ond dwi wedi gwneud cam mawr â fi fy hun wrth wneud hynny, a beth dwi wedi'i wneud ydy ei wneud e'n anoddach i'r person sy'n dod ar fy ôl i i gael beth maen nhw i fod i'w gael hefyd. Felly, mae'n wirioneddol angen ystyried sut ydym ni'n craffu. Yn amlwg, mae yna strwythurau yn eu lle er mwyn gwneud yn siŵr nad oes neb yn camddefnyddio'r gefnogaeth sydd ar gael, ond beth rydyn ni yn ei wneud ydy gwneud cam mawr â democratiaeth achos ein bod ni ddim yn medru rhoi'r cyfleon i bawb fod yn aelod etholedig oherwydd eu rhesymau personol nhw. A dydw i ddim eisiau dweud bod gen i gyfraniad mwy na neb arall, ond dwi'n meddwl bod y cyfraniadau gan yr unigolion sy'n wynebu'r heriau yna yn gyfraniadau sy'n cyfoethogi penderfyniadau ar lefel leol.

Yes. Thank you. I would like to respond to that at a personal level. I was a 35-year-old single mother when I became leader, and I had two children of 10 and seven, and I needed care support to deliver my role. I was also extremely concerned about the challenge that I would face and the scrutiny that I would face regarding the fact that I was claiming for that support, and I did feel extremely conflicted. But I could never have delivered my function without that care support outside of working hours, because when you are in this role, you're out in the evenings, late at night, and it's extremely challenging. I have pushed and pushed this care element not only for younger people, but also for older people who have so much to offer us as local authorities, but find it impossible because they have a husband or a wife at home that they need to care for, so I have been pushing for that.

But that scrutiny of any kind of claim—. And mileage is something that I've struggled with claiming myself, because I don't want that ugly spotlight on me. But I've actually done myself wrong in doing that, and what I have done is to make it more difficult for my successor to claim what they are entitled to too. So, we truly need to consider how we scrutinise this area. Clearly, there are structures in place to ensure that nobody is abusing the support that is available, but what we are doing is doing a great harm to democracy because we are not able to provide opportunities for everyone to become elected members because of their personal circumstances. And not that I'm saying that I have a greater contribution to make than anyone else, but I do think that the contributions that individuals facing those challenges can make are contributions that enrich and enhance decisions at a local level.

10:05

Okay. Thank you very much, Llinos. Thank you, Huw. Thank you, Carolyn. We'll move on to Luke. Luke Fletcher.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. If I could just touch on resettlement payments. Of course, there are provisions within the Bill that will allow for resettlement payments for members of local authorities. I'd be interested just in your views around those resettlement payments, and perhaps as well what impact they might have on diversity of representation within local authorities. I'm not sure who wants to start on this one.

Ydy hi'n iawn i fi gychwyn, os gwelwch yn dda?

Is it okay for me to start, please?

Dwi wedi dweud yn barod beth ydy fy sefyllfa bersonol i. Roedd etholiad 2022 yn un o'r penderfyniadau anoddaf, a heb gefnogaeth fy mam, fuaswn i ddim wedi sefyll, oherwydd roedd gen i morgaets a biliau a dau o blant roeddwn i'n gwbl gyfrifol amdanyn nhw ar fy mhen fy hun i fod yn edrych ar eu hôl. Ac roeddwn i'n cymryd anferth o risg, o fod yn sefyllfa'r arweinydd i efallai hyd yn oed peidio â chael fy ethol. Ac mae'r gwahaniaeth o'r top i'r gwaelod yn fanna yn aruthrol. Ac mi oeddwn i'n ffodus, yn eistedd i lawr efo cefnogaeth deuluol, ond mi wnes i wirioneddol ystyried peidio sefyll yn yr etholiad 2022 yna.

A dydy o ddim yn hawdd iawn i ni. Yr unig ffordd y medrwn ni roi sicrwydd ydy ein bod ni'n cael pobl mewn oed pensiwn i sefyll, ac eto, mae hwnna'n gwanhau democratiaeth, mae o'n gwanhau'r penderfyniadau rydyn ni'n eu gwneud, mae o'n gwanhau'r ffordd rydyn ni'n gweithredu fel awdurdodau lleol achos ein bod ni ddim yn gwybod beth sy'n wirioneddol effeithio ar boblogaeth yn ei chyfanrwydd. A dyna pam rydyn ni yna, wedi'n hethol i'w wneud. Ac mae o'n fy mhryderu i, achos dwi'n un o'r rhain sydd wedi hyrwyddo cymaint o bobl ifancach i ddod ymlaen i fod yn gynghorwyr, a dwi hefyd wedi trio rhoi rhai yn fy nghabinet. Ond dwi wedi gofyn iddyn nhw gadw eu swyddi achos fy mod i'n bryderus iddyn nhw fod mewn sefyllfa lle mae nhw'n dal efo plant yn ddibynnol arnyn nhw ac y byddan nhw efallai'n colli etholiad a bydd yna ddim sicrwydd ariannol. Ac mae'r risg y mae'n nhw'n ei gymryd er mwyn bod yn aelod etholedig dros eu hardal yn risg enfawr. Wrth i ni gynyddu nifer y bobl ifanc, mae'n rhaid i ni feddwl mewn ffordd wahanol am sut ydyn ni'n rhoi'r sicrwydd yna. Oherwydd, iddyn nhw, mae ganddyn nhw bobl yn ddibynnol ar eu cyflog nhw, ac mae o'n newid. Ac mi fues i'n ddigartref am gyfnod; dydyn ni ddim eisiau rhoi neb mewn sefyllfa fel yna oherwydd bod ganddyn nhw'r awch i wneud yn well dros eu cymuned. Rydyn ni eisiau trio eu hyrwyddo nhw i wneud hynna, ac i'w diogelu nhw os ydy hynna ddim yn gweithio allan iddyn nhw hefyd.

I've already pointed out what my personal situation is. The election in 2022 was one of the most difficult decisions, and without my mother's support, I wouldn't have been able to stand, because I had a mortgage and bills and two children that I was entirely responsible for on my own in terms of caring for them. And I took a huge risk, from being in the position of leader to perhaps not even being elected. And the difference from the top to the bottom there is huge. And I was fortunate to be able to sit down with family support, but I really considered not standing in the 2022 election.

And it isn't easy for us. The only way we can provide certainty is that we get people of pension age to stand, and again that weakens democracy, it weakens the decisions that we make, and it weakens our operation as local authorities because we don't know what is truly impacting the population as a whole. And that's why we're there, what we're elected to do. And it is a great concern for me, because I am one of these people who has encouraged so many young people to come forward to become councillors, and I've also tried to put some of them in my cabinet. But I've asked them to keep their jobs, because I am concerned that they may find themselves in a situation where they still have dependants and that they might lose an election and they wouldn't have any financial security. And the risk that they take to become an elected member for their own area is a huge risk. And as we increase the number of young people, we do have to think in a different way, in terms of how we provide that certainty. Because, for them, they have dependants who are reliant on their salaries, and things change. And I was homeless for a period; we don't want to put anyone in that situation because they have that desire to do better for their community. We want to encourage them to do that, and to safeguard them if that doesn't work out for them too.

I think Councillor Medi has described the challenges very well. And it is a real risk, and we certainly have seen it in the last elections, haven't we, where there were some uncontested elections. And I think that is because the people who are interested, particularly people who are working, who have careers, we're asking them potentially, particularly when we want them to step up to a position of senior responsibility, or even just being a backbencher, we're asking them to make sacrifices in terms of their career, aren't we, in terms of career progression, and possibly giving up work. And that comes at a significant cost. And there will be lots of people in a similar position to Councillor Medi, who will decide that they can't take that risk, and therefore, the risk is that we don't make those strides that we need to make in terms of diversity. Because we want anyone who wants to represent their communities to be able to stand and represent their communities. Finance shouldn't be a barrier to that. We need to eliminate some of those barriers. It's accepted as a principle and I support it as a principle. It's the right principle for Members of the Senedd and Members of the UK Parliament, and I think that same principle should apply to elected representatives at a local government level as well. Thanks, Chair.

10:10

Dyna yw'r pwynt, yntefe? Rŷm ni wastad yn sôn am yr egwyddor o gael mwy o bobl yn cymryd rhan yn y broses o ddemocratiaeth, ond os na fyddwn ni'n gallu sicrhau bod ganddyn nhw wedyn rhywfaint o ddiogelwch o ran swyddi, yn y pen draw yr unig bobl sy'n mynd i roi eu henwau ymlaen yw'r bobl sy'n gallu fforddio cymryd y risg. So, os nad ydym ni'n cymryd y camau yma, mae popeth rŷm ni'n ddweud o ran diversity yn mynd i fod yn eithaf gwag. 

I think that's the point, isn't it? We're always talking about the principle of encouraging more people to participate in the democratic process, but unless we can ensure that they do then have some safety net in terms of their employment, ultimately the only people who will come forward are those people who can afford to take that risk. So, if we don't take these steps, then everything that we say in terms of diversity is going to be empty rhetoric. 

If I could move to disqualification regimes as well, separate to resettlement payments, I'd be interested in your views on bringing the disqualification regime for town and community councils in line with the existing regime for members of principal councils. I don't know, Huw, if you would want to start on this one.

I would certainly welcome that. I think we all aspire to those high standards, the highest of standards in public life. And I think those standards should, of course, apply to our town and community councils too, and I say that as a long-standing member of a community council. The high standards are applicable across every level of elected representative government in Wales. 

Quite. Llinos, did you want to add anything on that point? 

Ie, dwi'n gefnogol fel cynghorydd cymuned fy hun hefyd. Dwi'n meddwl ei fod o'n bwysig iawn ein bod ni'n gosod hynny achos ni ydy'r wyneb yna sydd yn creu'r hyn rydym ni'n ddymuno. Felly, mae o'n bwysig iawn bod y safonau yna'n cael eu cadw ar yr holl haenau. A hefyd, mae cadw at y safonau yn ein helpu ni o ran cynyddu mewnbwn hefyd, achos os ydy'r amgylchiadau yna'n gywir, mi fydd yna fwy o bobl eisiau bod yn gynghorwyr cymuned, achos dydy unrhyw amgylchiadau sydd ddim yn gywir ddim yn amgylchiadau neis i neb weithredu ynddyn nhw, nac ydynt? 

Yes, as a community councillor myself, I'm supportive. I think it's very important that we do put that in place because we are that public face that creates what we wish to see. So, it's very important that those standards are maintained at all levels. And also, adhering to standards does help us in terms of increasing input, because if the circumstances are right then more people will want to be community councillors, because any circumstances that aren't pleasant aren't circumstances that are fit for anyone to operate within, are they?

Moving to a separate point then around the grace period that's afforded to councillors who are then elected Members of the Senedd, would you support removing that grace period? And I'm thinking in particular here around the impact that that requirement to resign immediately following election might then have on the local authority itself, in the sense of the need then for a by-election and some of the implications that might have. Are there any particular thoughts on that point? Huw, shall we put you on the spot here? 

Thanks. [Laughter.] Thanks, Luke. Yes, I think there is that potential risk. I think the principle of Members of the Senedd and councillors being incredibly busy and being able to focus on one role is an important principle that we're supportive of. I suppose I would say that, for example, if a councillor was elected to the Senedd just a few months before, for example, general local elections, there's possibly a scenario there, isn't there, where you would want that by-election not to take place, but simply hold it when the local elections are due to take place anyway. But generally, we are supportive of the principle.

10:15

I think you touched on the implications that I was thinking of, where you might have that general local authority election happening literally a month or two after that election—potentially, probably, a by-election a councillor might take part in, to become a Member of the Senedd. There would of course be financial implications, because you'd have run that by-election and then rerun the whole thing again a couple of months down the line. How do you think that we might be able to guard against that, then, in the legislation?

I think, perhaps, that that potentially could be tweaked to reflect that circumstance, because I think that is a particular circumstance. Because, again, I'm just reflecting on the response we sometimes get on the doorstep, particularly when we've had a series of referenda and general elections and local elections, and Senedd elections in Wales. I think sometimes voters will say, 'Well, not another election.' And by-elections don't always attract the greatest of turnouts, do they, so I think trying to avoid by-elections where there are local elections due to take place very soon afterwards is a scenario that could be considered as that exception to the principle.

Diolch. Oni bai bod Llinos eisiau dod nôl mewn, na'i 'hand-o' nôl i chi, Gadeirydd.

Thank you. Unless Llinos wants to come back in, I will hand back to you, Chair.

Jest ambell i beth. Dwi'n meddwl eich bod chi'n cyfarfod efo'r swyddogion mewn munud, a dwi'n meddwl bod hwnna'n gwestiwn i'w ofyn—sut mae posib rhoi rhywbeth yn y Ddeddf sy'n ein diogelu ni rhag bod yn y sefyllfa yna—achos nhw ydy'r bobl sydd efo'r manylder. Mi fuaswn i'n cynnig hynny. Ac mae angen i ni fod yn ofalus hefyd ynglŷn â gadael ardal heb lais democrataidd yn fan yma, onid oes. Felly, ydyn, rydyn ni'n cytuno efo'r egwyddor, ond dydyn ni ddim eisiau gadael ardal heb lais, achos dydyn ni ddim yn ymwybodol o rywbeth fuasai efallai yn argyfwng yn yr ardal yna, ac y byddan nhw angen llais democratiaeth leol, a bod y cyfnod at etholiad yn hir. Felly, efallai fod yna gyfle yn fan yna i chi fel pwyllgor i ofyn a oes yna ffordd o eirio hwn sy'n diogelu democratiaeth mewn ardaloedd sy'n wynebu hyn, achos dydyn ni ddim isio gwanhau llais pobl leol oherwydd yr amgylchiadau yna. Diolch.

Just a few things. I think that you're going to be speaking to the officers in a moment, and I think that that's a question to ask—how we can place something in the Act that would safeguard us from being in that position—because they are the people with the detail. I would raise that. And we need to be careful also about leaving any area without a democratic voice here, don't we. So, yes, we agree with the principle, but we don't want to leave any area without a voice, because we can't anticipate some kind of crisis in that area that means that they need that democratic voice, but that the period to election is too long. So, there may be an opportunity there for you as a committee to ask whether there is any way of wording this so that democracy in localities that are facing this issue would be safeguarded, because we don't want to weaken the voice of local people as a result of those circumstances. Thank you.

Efallai fod pwynt yn fanna, felly, o ran rhoi rhywfaint o ddisgresiwn i swyddogion yn y cyngor i wneud y penderfyniad.

Perhaps there's a point there, then, in terms of providing some discretion for council officers to make the decision.

Ar yr amod mai diogelu'r etholwyr ydyn ni. Dyna dwi'n meddwl sy'n bwysig, mai ar yr amod yna y byddai hynny—diogelu'r etholwyr yn yr ardaloedd yna i sicrhau bod ganddyn nhw lais democrataidd yn y cyfnod trosiannol yna, mi fuaswn i'n dweud.

On condition that we are safeguarding constituents. I think that that is what's important, that it's on that condition—that we are safeguarding constituents in those areas to ensure that they have a democratic voice in that transition period, I would say.

Grêt. Diolch yn fawr, Gadeirydd.

Great. Thank you, Chair.

Diolch, Luke. Diolch, Llinos, a diolch, Huw.

Thank you, Luke. And thanks also to Llinos and Huw.

Thank you very much for joining us and giving evidence this morning. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in the usual way. Diolch yn fawr.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thanks very much for inviting us.

Diolch.

Thank you.

Chair, can I just highlight for the record that I'm a community councillor?

Absolutely, yes. Thank you very much, Joel. We'll make sure that's in the record. Okay. Committee will break briefly, then, and hopefully we will resume at 10:35.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:18 a 10:35.

The meeting adjourned between 10:18 and 10:35.

10:35
6. Y Bil Etholiadau a Chyrff Etholedig (Cymru): Sesiwn dystiolaeth 5
6. Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill: Evidence session 5

Okay. Welcome back, everyone. We've reached item 6 today, which is our fifth evidence session with regard to the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill, and I'm very pleased to welcome our witnesses joining us here in person: Colin Everett, who's chair of the Wales Electoral Coordination Board, and Catherine Uphill, manager of the Electoral Commission. And joining us virtually is Clare Sim, who is head of member support at the Association of Electoral Administrators. So, welcome to you all very much. Thanks for coming in to give evidence to committee today. Just an initial question from me, then, on general principles, and very generally, could you share with committee your general reflections on the Bill, really?

Bore da, pawb. Bore da, Chair. Thank you for the invitation. If I may say, I'm also speaking for SOLACE, which is the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers. As you know, returning officers are generally chief executives, so they share the same evidence. 

So, perhaps if I could go first. On general principles, we welcome modernisation. We welcome anything that helps consolidate and make sense of what is very complex, fragmented law for elections. There are some positive steps towards digitisation that we can see, and there are some things we particularly welcome, like promoting registration rates and some of the boundary review provisions, where we've learnt from experience. And I think we'd like to say at the outset that it's been a hugely collaborative process with civil servants, and not only are we well versed in the Bill, we're very supportive of and comfortable with most parts, although there will be some areas to talk about. And, of course, there are some areas in here that help avoid divergence between UK and Welsh elections. This will be a constant theme in all the evidence—the risk for voter confusion and administrator error, because the systems are just going like this in some areas. Cath. 

The Electoral Commission welcomes the Bill. It delivers on several positive changes that we've been calling for for a number of years. So, establishing an electoral management board for Wales is something that we've recommended, taking steps to modernise the electoral registration process, and reducing aspects of divergence between reserved, as Colin just mentioned. There is no doubt that these reforms, alongside the other reforms—the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill and the expected gender quotas legislation—as well as the ongoing work that administrators and electoral registration officers in terms of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021, do present a significant challenge, especially for electoral administrators on the ground who'll be delivering these changes. And we know from our conversations with electoral administrators that some concerns have been raised about the pace and scale of electoral reform. We continue to mention this to the Welsh Government, who are listening, but we would say the reforms are ultimately deliverable as long as they are accompanied by sufficient resources and introduced in sufficient time. And also, the new EMB, the electoral management board, will play an essential role in supporting and co-ordinating this reform.

Okay, Catherine. Thanks very much. Clare, did you want to give a view for the association? 

To repeat mainly what Colin and Cath have said, we do, obviously, welcome aspects of that Bill, and a lot of the things that are included in it are included in our post-election reports that we've called for as well. But it's always weighed up against that divergence issue—that, while we welcome the principle of automatic registration, abolishing the open register and things such as that, limitations exist where it's only introduced for the local government register and not the parliamentary register, which then leads to complications for administrators, but, as well, there's elector confusion, as Colin has already outlined as well. So, while we welcome that, it's constantly then weighing up what are the risks of that divergence process—does it introduce more complication, or does it actually lead to a more robust system, going forward, as well?

Okay, Clare. Thanks very much. We'll come on to various matters as we bring in other committee members and, firstly, Luke Fletcher. 

Diolch, Gadeirydd. If I could start with electoral management boards, first off, do you think that the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru is the appropriate body to host the new electoral management boards? I suppose the point I'm getting at here is: do you foresee it as a problem that the commission itself is a Welsh Government sponsored body, and would you potentially then see any conflicts around the independence of the board?

If I may, Chair, I’ve been the chair of the board since it was set up in 2016-17. I’ve worked closely with Cath and Clare throughout, so we’re very well-versed in this. As we’ve said in the written evidence, it’s the best place to put it with the choice that we have, and we don’t have any questions of principle placing it there. I’m sure you would support the view—as the WLGA leaders said in the first session—that we want to reduce governance and the complexity of the number of bodies in Wales, and there’s a coherence around boundaries, democracy and elections that could work. So, it’s not a problem in principle.

We have, though, set out a few areas where we do expect the transition to work well, and we talk about three principles. Inclusivity—as, now, it involves all the practitioners, who know what they’re doing. It’s collective—we work as one. And it has a degree of independence. So, in practical terms, we would expect the board within the commission to have a high degree of delegation and freedom to think and act, and we’ve given some specifics in here. I’ve got confidence, working with the chair and the chief executive of the commission, that we will make this happen well, so I don’t see a barrier to doing it. But we would expect there to be, probably, a formal memorandum that gives it those things like independence.

There is some anxiety amongst practitioners that it could disappear into a body and not have sufficient expertise. I think we can resolve all those things well, and I think it’s a very workable model. Otherwise, we’d have to create an entirely new body, which I think, on cost and governance, wouldn’t be justifiable.

10:40

So, I suppose one important element of that proposed board would be the membership of that board. 

Definitely, and you'll see, in our evidence, we’ve just shared with you some of the things we’ve been saying in private around transition, and I’d like to think, if the Bill becomes the Act, and then the conduct Order is quite light on detail, we’ll then have the space to make this work well. We’ve got a superb collaborative track record in delivering elections and electoral registration, almost without fail in Wales. The Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales are actually picking up a strong legacy, but quite a high performance to take on, and they’re very, very aware of that. But I’m confident with the plans in the background. 

If I could just stick with you for a moment, Colin, in terms of, then, the membership of the proposed board, how does that compare with the current co-ordination board?

At the moment, there's a limited provision in the draft Bill with space then to build it, and that's why I'm saying I think the legislation on membership needs to be minimal so that we can then craft a membership that works. We would highly recommend something like the current, because it’s inclusive and collective. The high risk is with elections, probably more than most professional areas I’m familiar with. It is so complex and detailed and you have to have colleagues like Clare—practitioners versed in the detail—to stop it going wrong. When elections go wrong, it’s normally a small mistake that compounds, so it has got to be a board that’s very practical and expert, and you can see a proposal being that the chair of the board within the commission would have to have experience of elections as a protection, which is a really good idea.

Yes, the Wales Electoral Coordination Board has played a really important role since it was set up in 2017, and we'd like to see this continue with the electoral management board. We do understand the rationale behind the EMB being set up as part of the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru, particularly given the costs involved in establishing an entirely new public body, which wouldn't be feasible at the moment. But, in our opinion, it's essential that the EMB remains independent of both Welsh Government and the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru to ensure there's confidence in the democratic process, and that's retained. So, the Bill does include some provisions to enable this, as Colin has already mentioned, but we think, probably, the Welsh Government should take every opportunity in legislation, guidance and communication with the public to demonstrate that this is separate, and it'll be separate from the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru as well. 

I think our concerns are more to do, as Colin's already touched on, with making sure that the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru has that secretariat support for it, going forward, and has the expertise and knowledge, as Colin has said, to be able to formulate that programme of work that the WECB has carried out for the last few years. But it's having that practical administrator expertise in electoral law that we're most concerned about, because we think that's fundamental. Compare it to the EMB in Scotland, where you've got the secretary there who is a highly qualified, experienced administrator who's able to direct where the work is needed and what the areas of concern are. It can be overcome. There can be positions created within that that can help to overcome that, but it's just making sure that that expertise is there. And not just in Wales as well. They need to have a wider knowledge of, obviously, everything that goes on in terms of reserved polls as well, because everything cuts across with the divergence issues as well. And while we welcome the fact that there's a stipulation that the chair has to have that returning officer experience, we're also concerned that, due to the volume of change in the last few years, they've got up-to-date, practical experience of the challenges and issues that people are experiencing on a day-to-day basis at our own level and at administrator level, to be able to make sure that the issues that are being discussed, and the directions that are potentially being issued, are relevant for everybody as well. 

10:45

Thank you for that, Clare. Sticking with the proposed direction-making powers that the board will have, how do you think those powers could be used? I don't know who would like to—.

One of the significant differences with it being on a statutory footing is the board can issue directions. It's a very complex area, elections law, where you have a returning officer who's entirely accountable for the delivery of their local or regional election. If they're then directed to do something in a certain way, it can't be in a way that conflicts with their roles and duties. This is what happens in Scotland, and we've done it in Wales so far on a voluntary basis.

A simple direction might be about timing. We might all agree to count at a certain time—quite practical things. But you wouldn't want, probably, an inconsistency across Wales. You would want common practice. There's having the power to do it, but we would always want to do it by consensus, because everybody thought it was the best option, wherever possible. But, of course, the board could have the powers then to hold budgets and do extra things, because it's now a legal entity to support the whole elections process. And there may be a couple of examples that come up later.

Although the statutory footing is important, I would see it behaving and delivering exactly what it's done for the last six, seven years, but with now formal, statutory recognition. 

I'd like to come back to the statutory element in just a moment. I'm just wondering if there are any concerns about some of those directions that the board might take interfering with independence of returning officers and electoral registration officers. 

Some returning officers have raised that question. I wouldn't want to fail to—particularly with the SOLACE role—raise that. We've referenced, though, that directions should be sparingly used. They cannot conflict with the right of a returning officer to do a certain thing where they choose, and they should be as far as possible by consensus. I don't think there have been any major controversies in Scotland, where they've had this for a while. Because we've got the police and crime commissioner elections and a general election at some point, probably towards the end of next year on current planning, we're already thinking how do we co-ordinate those decision-making things on a voluntary basis. So, we're already doing it in practice, so that it works and everybody can see a consistency across Wales. So, sparingly used and by consensus wherever possible. 

Again, I'm sticking with you here, Colin. Apologies if you feel like I'm picking on you at the moment. 

That's all right. That's okay.

We're talking about that movement from the non-statutory footing of the current co-ordination board to what is proposed in this Bill, namely moving the management board to a legal footing. It would be interesting to hear some of your reflections on that, how we get there, and what that will mean. 

We're in discussion now on transition. The voluntary board that will become the statutory board will meet a week Friday and we've got the chair and the chief executive of the democracy and boundary commission joining us talking about transition. We're meeting privately.

In the regulatory impact assessment you'll see there are things about building capacity within the commission. Clare is offering a training programme to some of the existing staff in the team, so they become more knowledgeable in the areas that she's mentioned. So, at the moment there's quite a long plan and a lot of goodwill on the basis that we wouldn't want it to transition until the end of the first quarter of 2025, because if a parliamentary election has to take place by or including January 2025, the last thing we want is a transition of the board during election planning. So, you can see we've got quite a long-term plan, still close to a year and a half to work on. 

I suppose how the Senedd, in whatever capacity, might hold the democracy and boundary commission to account once this is established, to check that these things have been done correctly and that the board is functioning well and has a degree of independence, will be something for you as Senedd Members. 

If only they could tell us when that general election was going to happen. That might make your life a bit easier then.

10:50

I'm probably not allowed to share betting tips, Chair. That would be a breach of the code of conduct, I'd imagine.

I wasn't expecting anything on that one. I don't know if Catherine or Clare want to add anything before I hand back to the Chair.

I'd probably say something similar. We're happy that discussions are ongoing with the democracy and boundary commission. I've been involved, as well, similar to Colin, in the WECB since it started, providing the secretariat, and I wouldn't want to see the good work of the WECB being diluted as it becomes the statutory board, so it's important that the transition is managed effectively and I really am encouraged by the conversations that have taken place so far.

Just to add to what has been said, we've had really constructive conversations with the chief executive of the democracy and boundary commission as well, and we're very encouraged that they're aware of what the potential issues could be and are very open to making sure that they address those and make sure that they've got the appropriate resources and support they need from the Welsh Government to make it an effective board going forward. 

Chair, if I may say, the Bill in front of us today is an example where, as a board—. Civil servants working on it with some ministerial direction have become immersed in our board. Because our job is to say, 'Is it legal?', 'Will it work?', 'Can we implement it within resources or within the resources that you can add?' And we've worked so well. So, we don't say whether we like ideas or not on the face of it; it's our professional role to ask, 'Can we make it work as intended?' And it's a really good example of where a collaborative approach can produce legislation. Whatever political debate that you have, you can have confidence that we can make it work in practice, because none of us wants democracy to fail.

It's very good to hear that, Colin, it really is. Because obviously, whenever we're considering legislation, we're always mindful of that law of unintended consequences and the difficulties that that can produce. Working with the on-the-ground experience, that you really know how you can make something work, or how you can set out potential problems and difficulties, I think is absolutely invaluable. So, it's very good to hear that, particularly in an area of responsibility that's so important and significant for an elected body. Thank you very much. Sam.

Thanks, Chair. I want to come on to questions around electoral registration without application. But perhaps just before I do, on the back of Luke's questions on the electoral management board and the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru, we know that, within the Bill, there is provision to abolish the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales and transfer those functions to the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru. I'd perhaps be interested in your view on that, and then, whether you have a view on the fact that the remuneration board for us here in the Senedd isn't being considered within these deliberations at the moment. It seems to be fine to do something with the independent remuneration panel, but the remuneration board for Senedd Members isn't being considered. Do you have a view on that, at all?

Chair, is it okay if we use first-name terms?

Thank you, Sam. It's really good to see you again. It's not something that's in the remit of our board, because we deal with elections and electoral registration, but if you asked me for a view as a long-standing public servant, again, it follows that trying to reduce the complexity and cost of governance. It's a question for you about whether there's an inconsistency between local government and the Senedd. What I would say is, building on the leaders—and this is as an experienced retired chief executive—from the last session, I think the days in which contentious chief executive pay in local government will happen have gone, because of the accountabilities that Councillor Huw David mentioned—published pay policies, the interest of auditors and because everybody learned from difficult experience about probity in salary awards. So, I think the landscape has changed, but probably beyond that, it's not something we should comment on today, because it's not in our remit.

That's fair. I understand that. I guess it's a similar position, Clare and Catherine, for you. 

Yes. I've got no view on this aspect.

All right. No problem. Thank you. So, on the electoral registration without application, perhaps we could hear, first of all, your views on the provision around this within the Bill.

We thought, Chair, that perhaps Clare could go first, given that she works so closely with the electoral registration officers who do this on the ground.

In terms of registration without application, there are concerns, obviously, in relation to people who are vulnerable, who don't wish to be on the register, such as anonymous electors, which is the reason some may not have registered, potentially coming on to that register. But we appreciate the Bill has tried to address that with the 45-day window for people to make that objection to them being added to the register. 

In terms of the principle of automatic registration, we've always been in favour of that as an association. As I said, though, at the start, I think our biggest concern with the process that's being suggested is that because it only applies to the local government register and doesn't apply to the parliamentary register, which would have to be legislated for by the UK Government, you have this potential issue where you have a system that's already in existence for the parliamentary register, as it is for the local government register at the moment, where electoral registration officers, if they become aware of somebody who should be registered, need to send out an invitation to register within 28 days, they then need to send two reminders, they need to make a personal visit, there's also the potential then to issue a requirement to register and even a civil penalty. If you're automatically registering people for the local register, it's that communication issue of making them aware that they're only registered for the Senedd and local government elections in Wales, but also the fact that you're then sending correspondence almost at the same time, saying, 'I've got to now register you for this', and how you get that communication and don't bring elector confusion and potential disenfranchisement for other polls, which is one of our biggest concerns.

I think we're already starting to see that with the Elections Act at the moment, where online applications to vote have gone live for reserved polls, and I know people who've got a by-election in Wales at the moment are finding that people are using that thinking they've now got a postal vote for the local government by-election. So, that messaging already exists, and that communication and confusion already does, and this would just be another element of that, again, in reverse, though, where people would be registered for a devolved poll, but would be potentially disenfranchised as a result for the reserved poll. I think that is one of our biggest concerns. We're very much supportive of it if it was a joint, collaborative decision in terms of UK Government and Welsh Government both legislating for it, but we've just got concerns and issues over the potential elector confusion, as well as the difficulties for administrators in operating that dual process.

We are also very conscious of when legislation issues a local government register and a parliamentary register. In terms of how they're held in the software systems, it is very much as one register. So, again, there might be some technical implications as well there that need to be addressed to make sure that that's working as it should. But I can hand over to Cath or Colin, because I'm sure they've got further reflections and concerns too.

10:55

From the commission's perspective, we welcome some form of automatic registration, and we think there's an urgent need to reform electoral registration in the UK. We recently published research that indicated that there were 400,000 people in Wales who are either not correctly registered or have inaccuracies in their local government register entries. Perhaps they've moved house and that hasn't been reflected in the register. That is a group, obviously, that we want to capture. We know that there's a correlation between demographics and completeness, so the young and those more likely to move home are less likely to be registered. We want things to be done to address that. So, we continue to recommend to all Governments across the UK to explore this. As Clare said, it's important that it's done on a UK basis, but we welcome what's being done in Wales.

There are challenges and things to consider. The data is something that perhaps we'll go on to in a later point, but the data needs to be robust. There's the issue of equivalent changes to the parliamentary register and ensuring voters understand which elections they're being registered for. You'll probably find that most voters wouldn't know that there were two registers, so that's a challenge, and then, obviously, there are the risks with automatically registering for somebody who may want to register to vote anonymously. So, I'd reinforce that, as well.

Chair, we all want to do this. It's going to be really complex, on so many levels, and we do have already a working group of practitioners working with civil servants on how might we do this or pilot it. I know we're talking about pilots generally a little bit later. I think this is one of those ones that if we do do it, if we could be so bold as to encourage the Senedd and Welsh Government together to really push the UK Government to do something similar, because, at the moment, when we have divergence, we've got practice for the parliamentary and the PCC elections over here, and then devolved for local government and Senedd over here, and we are really concerned about voter confusion, voter fatigue.

I think Clare has put in the AEA evidence that there is a risk that, if we do automatic registration for devolved, then parliamentary and PCC voters might inadvertently think it applies for them, and what will happen, when a parliamentary election is called or is due, there’ll be a massive rush in checking the late registrations that could make the system’s administration collapse. That happens anyway; it could be more so. So, having two systems is not really workable, for the voter first—they’re more important—and, as second, for the administrators. You’ll see in our evidence that we’re as frustrated as you at registration rates. Cath and I were saying, on the last survey—which is a little out of date, we’re finishing the canvasses now in the current term—registration of the new, younger franchise was as low as 50 per cent. Well, if we were using data like council tax, benefits, and particularly young people’s schools data here, we have safe, controlled ways of local authorities of capturing and registering, with all the protections that have been described, so it is quite doable with resourcing. But, to repeat the point, we are really concerned about voter confusion.

If we could say, one thing that we get quite annoyed about sometimes, if I can be blunt, is that, when there’s a discussion about registration, it’s always down to us. Well, as I put in our evidence, unless we make an administrative mistake, there are only three reasons why people don’t register: they don’t know how—they’re not aware—they’re not interested, and, in some cases, they evade registration. The amount of work we have to do to chase the minority—. That’s not meant as an excuse, it’s just to say that the truth is that the small failure rate—other than the young persons' franchise, which is still growing in understanding and popularity—is largely down to those things. We can only do so much. So, automatic registration could turn that on its head, provided people have a right to appeal or—. We’re very worried about vulnerable people, who have a reason not to be disclosed on a register, having due protection. So, I'm trying to introduce some, not quite human rights, but some more legal, accessibility complexities. It’s not just all about systems and data and capacity. There’s more to it than that.

11:00

Could I add another point as well, if that’s okay? We think it’s probably something Welsh Government should be careful not to oversell, automatic registration, because you still need to encourage people that there’s a need to participate, because, obviously, if they’re not registered for one, they’d still need to participate by completing an invitation to register for the other. So, yes, saying it’s automatic registration per se is probably a bit risky.

Yes. Thanks, Chair, and thanks for those responses, and I think, on Colin’s latter point about reasons why people may not register, there’s also a responsibility on us as politicians to make it interesting for them to want to register and to want to come out to vote. So, there are responsibilities in all sorts of places to encourage people to vote, aren’t there?

Just a couple of points, then, from those responses, first of all. I think, right at the start of the contribution from Clare, there was a mention of the 45-day window. I’d be interested to understand your thoughts around that as a proposal. Is 45 days a reasonable timescale for people who may want to register anonymously or not at all? And then, where does the liability—? Are you comfortable in terms of any liability issues, from an administrative point of view, if that goes wrong for those who want to remain anonymous, and for often very good reasons why they’d want to be anonymous, quite sensitive reasons at times. And then—. Let’s go for that one there first, and I’ll come back with another question, if that’s okay.

In terms of the 45 days, it’s difficult to put a number on something, and you’d expect that, if somebody’s got issues, the fact that they’d have 45 days to inform the electoral registration officer of their concerns would be a sufficient period of time, but I think we’ve still got concerns that, because we’re talking about vulnerable people who are in challenging circumstances, maybe no period of time is actually suitable in that respect, that they’ve got other issues, other priorities, other concerns beyond responding to correspondence saying they’re going to be automatically registered. So, I think it would be useful if that could actually be piloted to work out if it was sufficient or not as part of the potential pilot schemes that are being addressed at the moment by Welsh Government.

I think, in terms of the liability aspect, if the legislation is there to protect the electoral registration officer that, if they’ve sent out that correspondence and they haven’t had a reply, they are therefore obligated to automatically register that person, I don’t think there would be any liability there, but I think, from a sort of humanity side, we’ve had it previously where you’ve got people who want to register but don’t want their name appearing even as an anonymous elector, have got concerns about appearing on any sort of formal or official documentation in any way, shape or form. It's trying to make sure that you're not putting somebody who is already in a very vulnerable position into an even more difficult position, going forward, as well.

So, it doesn't feel like a very strong answer, I appreciate that, but I think it's just a bit of an unknown quantity, given that nobody has massive numbers of anonymous electors, generally speaking, in most local authority areas in Wales. So, we don't know how big an issue that is—is it that people who aren’t registered because of that reason should then get picked up through this channel, which would then lead to a bigger issue there, or are the numbers sufficient as to who are anonymous electors currently? So, again, it should be sufficient because it feels like a relatively long period of time for somebody to inform the electoral registration officer. It’s just the concerns, though, that you’ve got electors who are vulnerable and you do not want them to appear on the register at any point if that is not their wish.

11:05

And perhaps I could expand on that point a little further as well. My understanding also is that there isn't currently set out a frequency as to how often someone would have to register their desire not to be automatically registered on the electoral register. So, I believe it's being considered as within each electoral cycle or perhaps once every five years. I wonder if you had a view as to how often that should be, for people to register a desire not to be on the register automatically.

Are we talking about the open register, so opting out of the open register?

So, for people to be auto-enrolled onto the electoral register, my understanding is that that process—if I were to register myself anonymously, that would be reviewed at a certain frequency. I'm wondering if you have a view as to how often that frequency should be.

If someone registered anonymously, which, I guess, in this case, would be if they had notified the electoral registration officer as a result of having correspondence that they'd be automatically registered, they would then have to fill in an anonymous elector declaration and application form and the requirement for that currently is for them to re-apply every 12 months to renew that declaration, with reminders being sent out nine to 10 months after they'd been initially registered. So, I think that would continue to be the precedent that would be appropriate, going forward, because they already exist for the parliamentary register as well. 

Yes, that's great, thank you. And, I guess, to your previous point, we don't know how many people who are currently not registered would be undertaking that process and I guess there's a potential administrative burden there—is that something you're concerned about?

Potentially, yes. It's an unknown quantity and, as I said, the number of anonymous electors in Wales is very low, so there could, potentially—as a result of sending out these letters automatically registering people, there could potentially be large numbers of anonymous electors. It's quite a difficult process to register anonymously as well, which could be challenging for them to complete too.

I think, Chair, if I can follow up Sam's question, there is a high probability that a proportion of the people who evade—and that's not the right word, but—evade, for good reason, registration currently, is for that very reason that they want to remain anonymous and they're vulnerable and they haven't got confidence in the system, so automatic registration would unearth potential voters who we would have to protect. Removing the open register, though, would at least give a degree of protection, because that won't be accessible in the same way, even if somebody who should be classed as vulnerable was named on the register, there's still limited access to that data, so there's a degree of a backstop there.

On the open register then, so, you believe, Colin, that the open register should be removed for Welsh elections—is that right?

Yes. I'd question why it was ever an open register in the first place, because, of course, it will be accessible and available to candidates and parties for appropriate election purposes. If it's for the purposes of registration and voting and participation, why would it be public? Other records that we hold around a person's identity and their residence, as councils, aren't open to the public, like council tax registers—only for specific, prescribed purposes.

Okay, thank you. And is that a view shared by Catherine and Clare?

Yes. We've long recommended that the open register should be for electoral purposes only and a limited range of security and crime prevention purposes as well.

And we also agree that the open register should be abolished, but, again, I think it's just a point about that limitation, that it would only be people who are only on the local government register that would benefit from that happening. If you're on the parliamentary register, again, it's that communication issue of making sure that they're still opting out on the parliamentary register to stop their data unintentionally finding itself to third parties who buy that register as it currently is. So, again, we're very supportive of it, but we'd really welcome that the UK Government follow your lead in that respect so that everybody no longer has to worry about their data being forwarded on. 

11:10

Okay. Thank you. I think you've probably answered a couple of the questions I had lined up and I'm a bit conscious of time, Chair, so I'm happy to pause there and perhaps if I need to come back with any, I can do later on. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Yes, just to follow up, just, firstly, on the automatic registration, just around—. We're talking about vulnerable people as well, and I was just wondering about that added dimension of people who have English as a second language and might not understand the process, because that's another group of people who we should be aware of and be conscious of. Is that something that's on your radar at the moment?

Yes. The commission provides information and resources in various languages, so that could assist. But, yes, it's definitely something that we'd need to think about. We've also done work with partner organisations in the past around anonymous registration. We've worked, for example, with Women's Aid to make them aware of the process so that they can tell their users and clients how it works and to keep an eye out for these kinds of letters, I suppose, it would be in the future, the invitation to register. So, we'd grow that, really, if this was introduced.

Okay. Brilliant. Thank you. The other point was that you've touched on your real concern around voter confusion; I really do understand that. But how—? I don't know, you've said a couple of things, but how do you think the Welsh Government could help to mitigate that, or what could they do? What do you think could be done?

We keep using this term—it sounds like a nice term—'divergence'. Voting and registration can be confusing for people generally, but when we get a divergence in practice—. If we think now about the police and crime commissioner elections in May, you have to produce photo ID, and you can only vote if you're registered and you're 18 on the day or before, which is a complete turnaround to what young people and other people have had in recent devolved elections, and that's before we get to automatic registration. We rely on many organisations, the commission particularly, for public information. I imagine that common sense will prevail and people will get to a default that they'll get used to taking photo ID to any election in case, but it is all about publicity and information, because why should people remember that one election is different to another and are they entitled to vote or not? We can't do enough on information. Of course, we send out all the formal information, such as poll cards, things you'll be very familiar with, with that data, but, again, it's the classical problem: people who are interested read it; people who are not don't. So, we do have some really big complexities. Cath, you're probably best to say what the commission can do even more of, given that we have all of these media campaigns that run between us. 

Yes. We, obviously, prior to elections, run a public awareness campaign, which tells people how to register and highlights the dates by which they need to do that. We'd continue that. Yes, that's something that we do. We also explain to people how to vote at elections with the material that we produce. And obviously, we're doing more and more with social media as well, prior to elections. And even now, to try and explain the divergence, you'll see tweets and things popping up on Instagram as well, I'm sure, trying to explain to people how things will be working in future to address this issue of divergence.

And also a big focused campaign. So, you'll remember when we moved—which we all welcomed—to the franchise of voting from 16, with, then, Senedd and local government elections next up, which were both, obviously, devolved elections, the Welsh Government very supportively funded youth engagement officers with each council. We worked really hard with schools, colleges, young people, young persons' representative groups, school councils, you name it, to really get interest and awareness. But that was easier, in a way, because there was a target age group. We knew who we were dealing with. This is more dispersed, because it can affect any voter now, who could get confused. And that's something we're going to have to live with while we've got change and divergence. 

I think the one thing we would say, though, is that what we're concerned about, with what we're seeing now with online apps and votes with reserved polls and then picking up the fact that people aren't then actually filling in a paper application for devolved, is the need for resourcing and funding for local authorities to be able to target those people who have misunderstood. So, before you come to scheduled Senedd elections, in that instance, you'd expect there to be funding to be able to address the fact that you are going to have electors who only have a postal vote for reserved polls, for the parliamentary and PCC elections. So, in the same way that, if this was brought in, you might have people only registered for those polls, you'd expect there to be a targeted write-out to anybody who hasn't registered for parliamentary prior to those polls to give them the ability not to be disenfranchised. So, while, obviously, we welcome the work by the Electoral Commission of that wider campaign, I think to reduce that confusion and prevent disenfranchisement, it needs to have funding and resource for local authorities to be able to target people who have misunderstood, to kind of address that before a major poll to stop disenfranchisement.

11:15

Without making it sound like a Pandora's box—you probably know what we've got now—there's a different system for registering for a postal vote for reserved and non-reserved, and some people believe that by doing one, they've done both. And we will get logjams of demand when an election comes up where they're not entitled because they'll become suddenly aware, and it will put a massive administrative burden—. It doesn't matter just what amount of resources you throw at it, the timescales are so tight to turn them around.

Like you say, it's not an individual's fault that they filled in one form, they should think that, actually, that is—. They can also have a postal vote for elections, unless they—

It's an understandable thing people would assume, yes.

Yes, absolutely. I can understand that. What data do you think the Welsh Government could use in its pilots of electoral registration without applications?

So, data is currently used in terms of the annual canvass. Administrators do a data match as part of that process and they're using local data—. There's a national data-matching process, but there's also a local data-matching process. So, current systems—they'd be using council tax records, schools admissions data. The key thing is that it needs to be robust, accurate and up to date, I would say; but those are the local ones. There may be scope for data such as health board data to be used, but I think this would need to be looked at in a pilot and investigated further. The commission has been doing some feasibility studies about registration, and that explores how national data sets could be used as well. So, that's the kind of data that's coming through from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and His Majesty's Passport Office, but whether the electoral registration officers would have access to that is another issue.

Because whatever law was passed, we'd still be subject to all of the normal data protection substantive legislation, which is a safeguard. But from experience, I would say, if you're data matching within the gift of a council, where you're trying to identify a person and an address, council tax, benefits and possibly school-age data, you're not really sharing particularly sensitive data, because it's name and residency, but that's more controlled to make sure you follow all the law and practice without the risk of an accidental breach. Although we have good—. In Wales we have this thing called the Wales accord on the sharing of personal information on data sharing. The moment you start sharing with partner organisations, inevitably you increase the risk of error or data breakdown, and the last thing any of us would want is that a really well-thought-through scheme crashed with public confidence early on because of an accidental data breach or some intervention. So, that is something we'd need to really test really robustly and pilot.

Thank you, Jayne. Could I just ask, in terms of the open register and its removal, do you think that might/should happen in advance of this legislation and the coming about of automatic registration?

I suppose, Chair—. As a principle, we could do it any time, it's not dependent on the other thing. But I think as Clare has said, it's not just the administration of it. If both registers, the reserved and non-reserved, are very, very accurate, the one still remains open for public access alongside the one that remains closed, so a lot of that data is accessible anyway, and that's our concern. We've half achieved it for Wales and we would argue very strongly, if the principle is a shared one, why it's not a UK-Welsh agreement, because if the argument is robust, it's robust for both Governments. And I'm not sure if it's something that's been debated seriously at a UK level, appreciating there's a long pipeline for legislation to be passed, but it might be an observation that you might want to raise, because we know there are a lot of good ministerial understandings and accords across both Governments, just the legislation doesn't actually conform. We're going ahead here in Wales.

Sure. Would you see it as problematic in any way in practical terms, if a UK Government decided to deal with some of these potential confusion issues in Wales, that for UK elections in Wales, there would be that same register produced by automatic registration—you know, just for general elections in Wales rather than in all of the UK? Would that present practical problems, do you think, or is that doable?

11:20

My experience is that UK Government sees it as one set of elections consistently across devolved countries—where they apply wouldn't change, because they see it as a home nations election.

Yes, so you'd have to either have that change for all of the UK, for general elections, or probably nothing, then, as far as Wales—

And, Chair, you know, there have been long-standing calls from many people for quite a root-and-branch review of quite a lot of electoral law practice but in one piece. There was a big commission a handful of years ago that said legislative provision for elections is one of the most complex, because it's scattered over generations of Acts and devolved and non-devolved—. I think if there was some goodwill, there would be a lot of alignment on a lot of these things, because the last thing we want to do is to have voter confusion.