Y Pwyllgor Biliau Diwygio

Reform Bill Committee

13/12/2023

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Darren Millar
David Rees Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Heledd Fychan
Sarah Murphy

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Anna Hind Uwch-gyfreithiwr, Gwasanaethau Cyfreithiol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Senior Lawyer, Legal Services, Welsh Government
Jane Dodds Aelod o’r Senedd dros Ganolbarth a Gorllewin Cymru
Member of the Senedd for Mid and West Wales
Mick Antoniw Cwnsler Cyffredinol a Gweinidog y Cyfansoddiad
Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution
Tom Jackson Rheolwr y Bil, Llywodraeth Cymru
Bill Manager, Welsh Government
Will Whiteley Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Diwygio’r Senedd, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Senedd Reform, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Aled Evans Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Catherine Roberts Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Georgina Owen Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Helen Finlayson Clerc
Clerk
Josh Hayman Ymchwilydd
Researcher

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 09:35.

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

The meeting began at 09:35.

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

Good morning. Can I welcome Members and the public to this morning's evidence session for the Reform Bill Committee? Before we go into our business today, can I first of all remind Members that the broadcast is live on Senedd.tv, and that a transcript of the proceedings will be published in the usual way? We also operate in a bilingual manner, and, if you require simultaneous translation from Welsh to English, that's available on the headsets, on channel 1. If you require amplification, that's available on the headsets via channel 2. There are no scheduled fire alarms today, so, if one does take place, please follow the directions of the ushers to a safe location. And finally, if there is any mobile phone on the desk, like mine, can you please ensure it's on 'silent', so that it doesn't interfere with the broadcasting or our business of the day? 

2. Bil Senedd Cymru (Aelodau ac Etholiadau): Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda’r Gweinidog
2. Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill: Ministerial evidence session

We move on to item 2, and, before we start, Sarah Murphy, unfortunately, is stuck in traffic on the M4. She is scheduled to arrive, so she'll be a little bit late, but she is on her way.

Can we go on to item 2 on the business, which is our evidence session with the Minister in charge of the Bill? Can I welcome Mick Antoniw, who is the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution? For the record, can you please identify the members of your team, please?

I'll ask them to identify themselves.

Good morning. I'm Tom Jackson, and I'm the Bill manager for the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill.

Good morning. Will Whiteley, deputy director for Senedd reform in the Welsh Government.

Good morning. I'm Anna Hind. I'm the lawyer for the Senedd reform team.

Thank you for that, and welcome back—I think we've met you all in the first session. We go straight into questions, if that's okay. We are in a slightly different order than we would have been normally, but I'll lead off with Darren.

Thank you. Minister, good morning to you. Can you tell us what the Welsh Government's view is on how you're paying attention to public views on this Bill?

Well, there has been extensive discussion of these reforms, through a whole variety of commissions. There is, more broadly, engagement with stakeholders in terms of the reforms and the implications those will have. And there's obviously considerable scrutiny that's taken place in respect of this committee and other committees within this Senedd, as well as, over the past months, quite a number of questions during the Senedd process on matters relating to Senedd reform.

But you think—hopefully, I would expect you to think—that such significant changes should have widespread public support. But the fact of the matter is that, in terms of the responses we've received as a committee, in terms of the evidence we've received from academics, it would appear that the public are not persuaded of the need for these changes, and, in particular, such a significant increase in the number of Members of the Senedd. So, why is the Welsh Government wanting to continue to pursue such an unpopular policy?

Well, it's not the Government that wants to pursue this particular reform—this is a reform that comes from the Senedd itself. My role as Counsel General and the Minister responsible for taking this Bill forward is to convert into legislation the recommendations from the special purpose committee. You then, I think, have to look back to the special purpose committee and all the committees before that, and all the debate and discussion, the engagement, over that, all of which have then been converted, effectively, into manifesto commitments et cetera, which have led to the legislation being constructed.

Yes, and of course we all know what led to the conclusions of the Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform—that was the instructions they were given by the First Minister and former leader of Plaid Cymru.

Nevertheless, if I can turn very quickly to the issue of boundary reviews, there has been some concern expressed regarding the timetable for boundary reviews. We've obviously taken evidence from the various commissioners. And with the timetable that's currently there, it looks like there's no margin at all for slippage. Are you concerned that that timetable may be insufficient for the necessary changes to take place in terms of the coupling of constituencies prior to the 2026 elections?

09:40

I think you're right to be concerned in terms of the tight timetable, and, in fact, there is very little room for slippage. The main reason for that is I'm absolutely determined that we are fully compliant with the Gould convention, which requires everything to be in place six months prior to the elections themselves for 2026. I think that's very important, plus any changes, reforms, in the electoral system, but also in terms of the conduct Order that will set out how the election is actually to be run. It's also very important that the process of the pairing of constituencies and the changes that need to take place there all take place. 

It is shorter than would normally be the case, basically because we have to work back from the Gould convention, I think, to ensure that everything is in place along that particular way. So, I've worked with officials, and I know officials have been working very, very thoroughly with, effectively, stakeholders and so on to ensure that there is a timetable that enables all that to be put in place. But you're right—it is a very tight timetable. Things have to happen within that particular process, but I'm confident that we can achieve that. 

And in terms of the operation of the reviews that need to take place, obviously we're not just talking about a simple boundary review, are we? We're also talking about the significant changes to the electoral system, which add further complexities to the mix. How prepared do you think people are for being able to tackle such an enormous task in the timescales that we currently have? 

In terms of the administration of the elections, the organisation of the elections, I'm very confident. I've been very impressed by the expertise in place. And also the restructure in terms of the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales, but also the establishment of the electoral management board, which, of course, takes place in terms of other legislation that's taking place. What I am very confident—. I've attended numerous meetings with stakeholders where we've discussed, where I've been questioned, where we've talked through all the arrangements that are necessary for all this to happen, and I'm very confident that the expertise and the structure are there, and will be there to enable all of that to happen.

The big issue around it all, of course, is that, you're right, with anything that is of a substantial change such as this, there are communication issues that really do have to be addressed. So, consequent engagement with the Electoral Commission and so on has been really, really important, and also with the existing electoral registration officers, electoral participants and stakeholders as time has gone on. So, I'm satisfied that it is there and that it can all be achieved, and that there are major challenges, but that those are in hand. I don't know if there's anything you want to add to that, Will. 

I think I'd only say we're well engaged with the electoral community on this and maintaining that engagement throughout. The intention is to maintain that right through to the election in May 2026. There are obviously some elements of the proposed new system that are familiar to the electoral community. One of the key points, as you've highlighted, is the pairing of constituencies. They will obviously know that once the final report is published by the democracy and boundary commission before 1 April 2025. There's obviously time for Welsh Ministers to implement that, but obviously the Bill proposes that's automatically done, so there wouldn't be any change to that following the final report on 1 April, so more than a year ahead of the election. 

And as you pointed out, there will be a truncated review, effectively, for the first coupling of constituencies for the 2026 elections, but thereafter things will be, obviously, much more significant, potentially, in terms of change, and it will include a provision for the laying of regulations within a six-month period after the boundary commission has, effectively, done its work. Why does it need to take six months? Is there any particular rationale for that? Is that normal?

So, I think a comparable timetable is the UK Government's implementation of the parliamentary boundary review, and that's a four-month period. More time is allowed following the review to take place after the 2026 election, and for the regular reviews that will take place thereafter, partly because, as you say, I think the outcome of that review after 2026 is likely to be more significant than, obviously, the pairing exercise for 2026. There is also a need, obviously, for Welsh Ministers to legislate or provide that Order bilingually, and there is additional time built into the system to allow for that.

09:45

So, why do you need an extra two months over and above the four months elsewhere?

Well, I think it is to allow for that process internally to take place.

But they're pretty significant changes, aren't they, when there are boundary changes taking place across the UK in terms of UK Parliament elections? So why do you need six months as opposed to four? You haven't given me a reasonable—

I think just to ensure that there's adequate time to deal with all the issues that arise from it. I'm sure, if we can do it more quickly, that we will happily do so.

Counsel General, can I also just come in? 

Also, just one obvious difference for the Member to be aware of is that clearly the legislation that provides for that will need to be bilingual, so there's some additional time for the bilingual element.

So, it's going to take two months to translate it, is it?

I think it does provide some additional time—

—for that purpose.

So, if I can turn, then, to this issue of the 10 per cent electoral quota margin that is built into the Bill, obviously we know that the quota margin is 5 per cent for the UK Parliament elections, and that's on a constituency size of around 75,000. A 10 per cent margin would give about a 15,000 margin for there to be the ability to redraw the boundaries, shifting communities in and out, which is obviously very significant. Can you, again, try to justify why you need a 10 per cent—? If they're able to do it at the moment with a 5 per cent margin, why do we need a 10 per cent margin, allowing for up to 15,000 electors to be shifted to one line of a boundary or another? 

You'd expect the margin to go down the bigger a constituency is, you see.

Well, I think you have to look ahead to potential change, demographic change, franchise change and so on. The current 5 per cent that exists with parliamentary boundaries—well, those are the boundaries that we're using for the purpose of the 2026 elections. For 2030 it's a question, I think, of just allowing that bit of flexibility in there to ensure that, where changes need to be, where there are impacts in terms of communities et cetera, that gives the boundary commission the flexibility to ensure that there is, I think, as fair a capacity to embrace change, movements in population, growth of population and so on, across the board. 

So, you think it's fair that one constituency might have 135,000 people who are electors in it, versus another with 165,000? Because that's the sort of margin we're talking about. 

Well, the intention isn't to create constituencies of different sizes, but to allow the flexibility in terms of changes that need to take place within a constituency because of changes occurring within the population, within demography. 

But you accept that that could be the peculiar result; an unintended consequence could be a constituency that has 30,000 more electors than the one it's next door to.

I don't think there will be, because I think the criteria that the democracy and boundary commission have don't allow for that level of change to take place other than within the criteria that have already been set. Did you want to—?

I think I would echo what you said, Counsel General, that, obviously, the quota is set, but there are the other constituency rules that are applied that the democracy and boundary commission would weigh up.

So, why not reduce the quota, then, if you've got all these other rules to abide by? Because, effectively, that's a licence to allow for a 30,000 difference between two constituencies. 

No, because I think what you're then doing is tying the hands of the democracy and boundary commission from actually doing its function and what the various criteria are set when it comes to trying to create the paired constituencies for future elections. It is there. It'll be—. Of course, there will be a review after the 2026 elections in any event, but this is, basically, just one that allows, I think, a maximum of continuity between constituencies, but also recognises that there may well be changes. There may be changes in terms of franchise. We have a slightly different franchise. There is other legislation, as you know, going through that may provide for automatic registration. We don't know what the impact might be of that in terms of the number of people on the registers and where they are, and so on. And it seems to me that it is reasonable within the criteria that are being set for the democracy and boundary commission to give them that flexibility. 

09:50

Well, they've had their flexibility of 5 per cent to manage the job on smaller constituencies, which is more difficult. So, people, I think, will find it odd. I mean, of course, the one thing that does stand out to me is that that sort of margin would be sufficient to continue to have Ynys Môn and whatever it's coupled with to have a much lower electoral base. 

Well, Ynys Môn isn't—. It was in this process, it has always been treated as a special case both at the parliamentary elections and within these as well, but of course it will be paired as well. But the broader criteria will still apply.

Ten per cent is, really, just to give that additional flexibility, certainly for the first time when there is a review of boundaries after the 2026 election. The 2026 elections are tied to a process that was conducted in respect of the parliamentary boundaries after the reduction in the number of Members of Parliament. This will enable us to basically explore, really, our own boundaries for the 2030 elections, and in order to do that, the flexibility seems to me to be a reasonable criteria. 

Can I just ask one further question then on that matter? You've talked about futureproofing, and you've mentioned yourself, now, the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill that's going through, which will provide automatic registration if it's successful. And you said you haven't got the implication as to what impact that will have. I'm surprised at you not having an understanding of what the possible implications of automatic registration are and how that might affect this number in future reviews, because it could, clearly, have a major impact and even change the number of constituencies as a consequence of electoral members.

Well, obviously, it won't have any impact in terms of the Westminster parliamentary boundaries. We know that the Electoral Commission has told us that there are 400,000 people who should be on the register who aren't on the register. Of course, the other legislation we're talking about will introduce a system of automatic registration. We don't know what the full outcome of that will be, and also the full outcome as to what variants there may be in terms of being able to get automatic registration in place. The flexibility that's built within the system, I think, at least allows the commission to take account of the new data that comes in and the register that there may be after 2026.

But if you talk about even 50 per cent of that figure you've just quoted, that's a 200,000 increase in the electorate, which would have a major impact. So, is that 10 per cent, actually, trying to avoid excessive changes being required, which you're anticipating if those numbers come in?

Well, it depends. It may result in change, it may not. It depends on the criteria, but the criteria that we've set just gives them the flexibility to take that into account.

Okay. And moving on, therefore, and to the democracy and boundary commission, and to Sarah. 

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you all for being here this morning. Yes, so I'm going to ask some questions now about Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru.

So, section 13 of the Bill amends the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013 to increase the maximum number of members of the commission from five to nine to, as it says, recognise the 'increase in the expected workload'. Maybe, unsurprisingly, representatives of the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales certainly gave us the impression that they intend to use the full cohort available to them immediately. However, when we received evidence from Boundaries Scotland, they actually said that it's less about having the most commissioners, and being top-heavy, than it is about having the really good, well-resourced secretariat support.

So, in light of this, do you think that it is still appropriate to be able to offer the commission to make the decision to have that full cohort from the start, or do you think there should be more put in there to say that there needs to be—they need to make that decision based on evidence of that increased workload, and also the resources that go along with it?

Well, if you take the existing numbers, so the numbers you say would increase—the commission would increase—from five to nine, if you take the additional responsibilities that there are and workload that there is, even nine comes below the combination of the remuneration panel, whose work gets incorporated in there, and the existing commission. So, in actual fact, the totality is actually less. But you do make a very valid point and that is, of course, that it's not just the commissioners, it is also the importance of the secretariat and the ongoing work, skills and expertise that are engaged within that. And those are obviously matters for the commission, because, of course, it will be independent of Government and parliamentary process, in that sense.

09:55

Thank you very much. And then, also, moving on to the aspect of it that it is a public appointment to be on the commission, again, we've heard from the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales that it is very much in accordance with the governance code for public appointments, but it has been suggested that maybe there should be extra safeguards against undue Government influence and that they should be put in place. So, I suppose one aspect of this, which we did put to our Llywydd, is that it should be similar to when we have the appointments for other commissioners' roles. So, we're all on other different committees and when we have other commissioners appointed, they tend to then come before the committee and are scrutinised and then given a seal of approval, I suppose, or not. The Llywydd said that she felt that that was up to the Welsh Government, really, to decide on whether that would be adopted. So, what are your thoughts on that?

The first thing is that the commission, the importance of its independence is important. The importance of the public appointments process is really important and there is a code of practice—I think a very robust process in respect of public appointments. And, of course, there is a commissioner to oversee the code for public appointments. So, it seems to me that that is, ultimately, the most important part of the process that takes place. Beyond that, in terms of scrutiny, I'm aware that, of course, for some public appointments, there is a sort of pre-appointment scrutiny process that takes place. I'd be interested in what your views are on that. There isn't anything in the legislation in terms of doing that, and I would have thought, probably, in any event, with public appointments, you'd want at least some sort of consistency across Government if that were to be something that wanted to be entertained as something that has to happen. But, certainly, if the committee has views on that, I'd be very, very interested in those, and how it might operate and the potential benefits from it as well.

Wonderful. Thank you very much. I'm going to move on now to asking about the electoral management board, because whilst it's primarily a matter for the Local Government and Housing Committee, who are scrutinising the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill, we've also considered whether it is appropriate for the electoral management board for Wales to sit within Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru. So, we have actually had—. Our witnesses have been quite divided on this, but we did hear from Dame Elan Closs Stephens of the Electoral Commission, and she said that she thought it may be—. She said,

'Personally, and I may be out of order in saying this, but I think the two bodies have very, very different remits, and I think it might lead to confusion for them to be embedded one in the other.'

She said that her preference, personally, would be for them to stand alone. Can I get your views on those comments?

I mean, listen, there are valid views as to how you would form that and, of course, one of the considerations are, 'Do we create two statutory bodies or do we create one statutory body?' I think at the stage we're at, having the one statutory body but with the electoral management board being within that, with very clearly defined statutory functions. So, the electoral management board would be independent within it. Of course there are some overlaps, but it seems to me that the devil of the detail is in what the statute provides for the very specific functions that they have. So, I think the option we've gone down is that the cost, the expense, the bureaucracy of creating two statutory bodies is outweighed by, actually, a single body, but where there are very clearly defined roles within them.

Yes. Thank you. To give balance, that was also some of the evidence that we heard from Colin Everett, Wales Electoral Coordination Board. He actually said that he was quite relaxed about whether or not it is, but he pointed out that if it was separate, it would be a new body, with a new budget and there are lots of those things, then, to consider. But, has there been a contingency put in place, in case that was a recommendation that came from our committee, to ensure that we have the two and that they are separate?

10:00

Look, if there was a recommendation from the committee, because I've always said all along that this is a Senedd Bill, then consideration will have to be given to that. I think it would have to be a very, very strong recommendation that was very backed up by a real evidential basis that this would definitely be a better structure to create the two statutory bodies. I think there would be real issues now in terms of timescale, in terms of making major structural changes and so on.

What I do think, though, is that, because we have built into statute a review process that will take place after 2026, and because there will be a report under the 2013—I'm sure an official will correct me if I'm wrong, the local government regulations—that there would have to be a review of how it has all operated and so on. There would have to be a report under the 2013 regulations to the Senedd, and I'm sure that debate will take place at some stage in the future, the same in Scotland. I know in Scotland that they have given consideration and reviewed their own structure. In fact, they've made changes to their structure as they've gone along.

What we have is something that works, that is more cost-effective than the alternative that you're suggesting. I don't see any major advantages, et cetera, but, again, there will be a learning curve, and when there is a review at a later stage, if there was clear evidence that there was a need to separate them, then that would be something, I think, for a future Senedd to consider.

Thank you, but just to clarify, I'm not suggesting, just giving the views that have come through.

And that brings me to my final question, then: do you see the review part of this as the main option for the accountability of the commission to the Senedd, as well, or how do you actually see that relationship working?

The commission has a number of functions. Some of them are clearly ones that engage Welsh Government Ministers, others are in terms of the broader accountability, in terms of how it is functioning, how it has operated and the broader work that it has done. As I said, under the 2013 Act, there has to be an annual report and that will provide the basis for a debate within the Senedd itself. I think that is probably the major accountability area, and it's an important one; important because, if you go that much further than that, you begin to impinge upon the independence of the commission and all the things you want it to be able to do to enable it to administer, to run, to review boundaries and then the electoral management board functions itself, which must be robust and independent of any political interference, if I can put it that way.

But on that last point, this goes back to the question from Sarah Murphy on the pre-appointment hearings that you stated you'd be interested to hear our views on, and other processes already in place. Pre-appointment hearings take place for some positions that the Government appoints. Is there any intention to ensure that becomes the norm, rather than working our way towards it, because you highlighted the accountability agenda and we don't want political interference? But that's more focused on Government political interference as well. So, how do we ensure that there is no Government political interference? Because the decisions of this body will be automatically implemented and, therefore, there'll be no discussion within the Senedd. Once they make their recommendations, it's automaticity, it's going to come in. So, I think what we want to try and ensure is total independence, without any influence from either Government or political parties. How do you strengthen the accountability to the Senedd, which is more focused upon that than through the Government?

I think the accountability to the Senedd, ultimately, comes to the reporting under the 2013 regulations of the work that it has actually done. The fact that there is, under this statute and, indeed, the other electoral reform statute that's coming through—all provide for reforms. Ultimately, the matter is there in the hands, then, of the Senedd itself. If the Senedd is of the view in the next session that there are changes that need to take place or things that they're unhappy with, then that is within their ambit in terms of either legislating or making recommendations that there should be legislation. So, I think, basically, the review is the most effective way of that taking place.

In terms of the pre-appointment scrutiny, personally I like the idea of pre-appointment scrutiny. It’s not something that's within the statute, it’s not something that is formally in place, and it’s something that is developed and takes place, and that’s why, if the committee is going to recommend that direction, that’s something I think we would be very interested in giving consideration to. Don’t forget, pre-appointment scrutiny can also be a form of political interference as well, so it’s a question as to how it operates and what its purpose is—the scope and the framework within which it actually takes place as well.

10:05

But if the Senedd, in undertaking that review and looking at the annual reports, decided it wanted to take action, it would have to bring forward legislation. There are no regulations in place that will allow it to take this. This Bill does not allow them to make those changes. The Senedd would have to actually introduce legislation itself.

Listen, I think if the Senedd were to make suggestions that there were things that it was deeply unhappy with in terms of how the system had been operating, those would have to be taken into account. It depends what they are, what the format would be, what the mechanism would be, whether it’s through primary legislation or whether there were other means of things being done, but the views of this committee and the views of whatever would come from the Senedd would obviously be of massive importance. I take the ownership of these systems as being ultimately within the Senedd itself. These are not things that I think should be owned by and dictated top-downwards from Government itself. This is part of our constitutional structure.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Os caf i edrych yn benodol—. Fel rydych chi'n gwybod, mae rôl Comisiynydd y Gymraeg yn cael ei henwi ar wyneb y Bil mewn perthynas ag adolygiadau o ffiniau etholaethau'r Senedd ac, yn ei thystiolaeth i’r pwyllgor, mi alwodd Comisiynydd y Gymraeg am gryfhau’r gofyniad hwn i ymgynghori â’i swyddfa a’i wneud o'n ofyniad statudol i ddilyn ei hargymhellion ar orgraff enwau etholaethau. Mi wnaeth hi sôn ynglŷn â'r arbenigedd sydd ganddyn nhw a fyddai'n wahanol efallai i’r Comisiwn Democratiaeth a Ffiniau Cymru o ran yr arbenigedd penodol hwn o ran y Gymraeg. Ydych chi wedi rhoi ystyriaeth o ran, felly, a ddylid cryfhau’r gofyniad yma fel bod arbenigedd swyddfa Comisiynydd y Gymraeg yn ofyniad yn hytrach na bod angen ymgynghori â nhw, fel sy'n cael ei awgrymu ar y funud?

If I could look specifically—. As you know, the role of the Welsh Language Commissioner is on the face of the Bill in relation to boundary reviews and, in her evidence to the committee, the Welsh Language Commissioner called for this requirement to be strengthened, to consult with her office and to make it a statutory requirement to follow her recommendations on the orthography of constituency names. She mentioned the expertise that they have within the body, which would be different to that of the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru in relation to the Welsh language. So, have you given any consideration as to whether that requirement should be strengthened so that the expertise of the Welsh Language Commissioner’s office could be taken advantage of and that it would be a requirement rather than simply a need to consult, as is currently suggested?

Well, I think the statutory requirement is a need to engage with and take account of, et cetera. I suppose there are two aspects to this. There’s obviously one that relates to the other Bill that’s coming. This is in relation to names and the possibility, for example, of a single name for constituencies, and so on, which is something I think is extremely sensible. Should it be strengthened further? I’d be interested in what the committee thinks on that. I think the provisions that are there are fairly strong, in any event—that trust and goodwill and engagement that is there. I don’t see it as something where the commission and the Welsh Language Commissioner are working at contrary purposes, and that’s certainly never been the case in the past.

On the legislative side, it is pretty robust as it is, as far as I can see, but is there anything you want to add?

I would say that the reason it’s set out in the way it is is that it’s a consultation with the Welsh Language Commissioner specifically on the orthography and the names, but the actual function of naming them as well as creating the constituencies is that of the boundary commission, and again it comes down to their independence and the views that they take in considering those. But that’s the way that that’s been set up.

Dwi'n deall hynny, ac, yn amlwg, o ran y dystiolaeth, mi oedd hi'n glir bod yna gydweithio agos. Dwi'n meddwl mai un o’r pethau roedd Comisiynydd y Gymraeg yn mynegi oedd mai nhw sydd efo'r arbenigedd hwnnw ac y bydden nhw'n hoffi ei weld o'n fwy o ofyniad statudol yn hytrach nag ymgynghorol. Felly, roedden nhw’n cydnabod bod yna gydweithio agos a da, ond nad oedd y gofyniad statudol yna. Ac, yr un peth, o ran pob etholaeth yn cael enwau uniaith Gymraeg yn unig, pe bai'n ofynnol yn hytrach na'n rhywbeth fyddai'n gallu argymell, ydy hwnna'n ystyriaeth y byddech chi'n ei rhoi, i'w wneud o'n ofynnol o fewn y Bil mai enwau uniaith Gymraeg fyddai, neu byddai gennych chi risg y byddai yna un enw ar rai ac enwau dwyieithog ar etholaethau eraill?

I do understand that, and clearly, in terms of the evidence, it was clear that there was close collaboration. I think one of the things that the Welsh Language Commissioner expressed was that it's they who hold that expertise and that they would like to see it as more of a statutory requirement rather than a requirement to consult. So, they did recognise that there was good, close collaboration, but that the statutory requirement wasn’t on the face of the Bill. Similarly, in terms of having monolingual names for constituencies, if it were a requirement rather than simply something that could be recommended, would you consider making it a requirement within the Bill that there should be monolingual Welsh names, because otherwise there's the risk, of course, that you might have one name for some constituencies and bilingual names for others?

10:10

Well, I think that the danger is that when you give the functions and the responsibilities to the commission in terms of the boundaries and so on, when it's their specific function, but then say to them, 'Well, it doesn't matter what your function is, because if, say, the commissioner says, "I think you should do this", you have to follow it'. I think these things are double-edged swords—if you try to impose one set of responsibilities on a body that has similar responsibilities. I think that these are things that work out by means of goodwill and proper engagement. And I think that there is a logic and a common purpose. You've obviously taken evidence on this, and my understanding of the evidence is that it is a recognised constructive collaboration. 

I lived for a few years in Barry. I always wondered why—and, of course, then it was the Barry constituency—and I always thought it was strange that you had a bilingual Barry—Barry with a 'y' and Barri with an 'i'. There is a logic there to creating a single and using the Welsh single one that everyone understands. I would be disinclined to want to see something that basically takes away part of the independence and responsibility of the commission, but I think it is absolutely right that it has the obligation to engage constructively. 

And, again, if there were things that were controversial or where there were disagreements, these are matters for a subsequent review to see how it actually works. I think everyone is working with common purpose on this. I think that's been the case in the past, and I think that'll be the case for the future as well.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Mi oedd eich sylwadau chi'n gadarnhaol o ran y syniad, fel rydych chi'n dweud, o enw Cymraeg, felly. Ydych chi'n meddwl y dylem ni fod yn diwygio'r Bil fel mai dim ond enwau Cymraeg etholaethau a fyddai'n dderbyniol yn y ddwy iaith—hynny ydy, fyddai yna ddim posibilrwydd o gael enw uniaith Saesneg o gwbl? Oes gennych chi farn ar hynny?

Thank you very much. Your comments were positive in terms of this concept of having monolingual Welsh names. Do you think that we should amend the Bill so that only Welsh names would be acceptable in both languages—that there wouldn't be the possibility of having a monolingual English name for a constituency? Do you have a view on that?

Well, I don't think you can have a view on that until you actually know what the names actually are. And we have to, I think, give respect to the commission and to the advice and to the engagement that they have as to the choice they make, and I think there has to be a logic to it and a recognition that there have to be names that people may well be familiar with and accept within the constituencies that are established. So, again, I think it just comes back to the answer that I gave in the last question. I think if you try to overdefine it, it can be counterproductive. Where there is a common objective of, 'I think we would like to see more monolingual Welsh names', there may be good reasons why that wouldn't be appropriate or that now is not the right time to do it, or whatever. The answer is that I don't really know on that, other than I think that the way the statute is set out in terms of that engagement process enables that to happen, but to happen in a way that is co-operative. And that seems to me to be the way forward. Any views?

Only to say that I think, as the CG said, the way that the Bill is currently constructed, it does place an onus on it—if there is a monolingual name that is acceptable, then that should be used. So, the outcome, we think, would be effectively the same, whether you place that as a default, but, obviously, as the CG said, there may be good reasons to deviate from it versus actually ending up with a monolingual name, if that's acceptable, in both languages.

So, with that caveat, if it's acceptable in both languages, because, currently, you could read that a monolingual English name could be in place. 

No, I think the intention is that it would be acceptable in both languages.

But of course, there is a history of this—it has happened. I remember the Llanelli constituency, which started off as 'Llanelly' with a 'y' and became accepted in its proper format of 'Llanelli' as it is now. I think, to be honest, there is a common purpose there between them. I think, with all things to do with the promotion of language, it is about carrying people, taking people with you and doing things co-operatively as well. And I think that's been the success with Welsh language changes over the past decades.

Can I move on? I want to ask a question. The number of Welsh Government Ministers in the Bill—. I accept, before you start, that it's a maximum figure, but it's increasing from 12 at the moment to 17, with the proviso of increasing to 19 if the Senedd votes to do so. So, let's take this 17 increase first. Why do you need an extra five Ministers, in line with where we are now, because that's what's in the Bill? I accept it's a maximum, but it does give the ability to actually have an extra five Ministers. So, what's the thinking behind the extra five, which is roughly a 40 per cent increase?

10:15

Well, firstly, it's a recommendation that has come from the special purpose committee that there should be that increase, and that increase has been recognised, and I think there's been considerable evidence of the need to do so. I think—

You say that it was on the recommendation of the committee, and I accept that—

I accept what you say about it being a recommendation of the committee, but what analysis have you done, in bringing this Bill forward, to say whether that number's appropriate?

Well, the analysis comes from the examination of the actual distribution of responsibilities that have been acquired by the Senedd over the years. And I think you need only look at the particular ministerial responsibilities that there are now, in particular in areas of climate change, in the area of transport, and so on, many of which overlap to the extent that you have at the moment, for example, almost half of the legislative programme that's under way at the moment in one ministerial and deputy ministerial responsibility.

And I think there are clear advantages that, if you are increasing the size of the Senedd to 96 and there will certainly be a change in the nature of committees—for example, the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, which is really three committees that have been combined because of the size of the Senedd—and on the basis that things like that change, there is certainly going to be a need for greater ministerial accountability and accessibility within that. There are areas where we're anticipating for futureproofing in terms of additional responsibilities that there may well be, and we were looking at issues around justice and so on. And that will give capacity yet further if it is considered necessary to do so. So, I think it speaks for itself just in terms of the way the Senedd has changed, and I think there is a logic to that. If you're increasing the size, the number of Members, et cetera, you also need the ministerial capacity to be able to service that. 

Currently, I think the ministerial component of the Senedd is 23.3 per cent; if it's increased to 17, it becomes 19.8 per cent. If it were to be increased further to 19, that would make it 21.9 per cent, all of which are a smaller proportion of the size of the Senedd than exists at the moment.

It sounds very much as if, from what you've just said, that you expect it not just to be a maximum but to fill those numbers anyway. But, don't comment upon that. That's my comment. Do you want to ask the question on the extras?

Ie. Un o'r pethau rydyn ni wedi clywed yn y dystiolaeth ydy'r natur—pe bai cynnydd i 18 neu 19, bod natur anghildroadwy i'r pŵer yma. Ydych chi'n credu y dylai bod yna fecanwaith er mwyn gallu lleihau hefyd? A derbyn, efallai, oherwydd clymbleidio, y byddai angen y cynnydd, ydych chi'n meddwl bod angen hefyd system sydd yn gallu lleihau'r niferoedd yn lle ei fod o jest yn aros yn barhaol unwaith mae hynny wedi ei wneud?

Yes. One of the things that we've heard in evidence is, if there were to be an increase to 18 or 19 Ministers, that this power is irreversible. Do you think that there should be a mechanism to reduce the number, too? Whilst you may need the increase for coalition, do you think that you also need a system that could reduce the number of Ministers, rather than it remaining permanent once that initial change is made?

Personally, no, I don't think that that should be something that should happen. I think the role of the legislation and I think the views of the Senedd on this is, firstly, acceptance that there is a need to increase, there is a justification for having that capacity to increase straight off to 17. That doesn't mean that whoever is the First Minister is going to have to do that, that it's obligatory, and of course it'll be up to any First Minister to explain what it is they're doing and what the ministerial structure should actually be. 

I think it is also the case that, for the Senedd, what the Bill does is to say we also recognise that, for futureproofing, there might be a need to actually go further, but the maximum would be an additional two persons, which would take it to 19, and that would take it to a maximum of just over 21 per cent, or just under 22 per cent of the pro rata of the totality of the Senedd itself. That further 2 per cent increase, there is obviously provision that that would have to be something by affirmative resolution, so if the Senedd didn't agree, then that wouldn't actually happen. But I think what is happening is that it's about the Senedd recognising that these are things that are potentially necessary for good governance and you're empowering that to actually happen, but with certain caveats, and the caveat is an affirmative vote in the Senedd.

I think the issue of whether there should be a reduction is something that doesn't—. I think that then begins to hold a Government hostage to fortune in terms of internal politics and so on, in terms of what the mechanisms might be for a First Minister who's basically saying, 'We need these number of Ministers in order to do this particular function', and how that would actually be reduced. I don't think that is the best way forward; I think the way forward is to give the empowerment for it to happen and then for Government and the First Minister to actually justify the ministerial structure within those frameworks that have been set.

10:20

I'm going to give you a possible scenario that worries me. Under this current proposal, a majority of one would be required, and if a First Minister was in consultations with another party to form a coalition, part of that bargaining could be, 'Oh, we'll increase the number of Ministers.' So, it's not really a requirement of function or need, it's more a requirement of political gain rather than anything else. So, should this Bill actually be more focused on, therefore, 'If you want to do this, at least a two-thirds majority should be sought in any increase', so that that rules out that type of possibility, or should we be also looking at the need to actually give you the power to introduce legislation, maybe primary legislation, where justification has to be put forward as to why that increase is required?

Well, taking the last point, I think justification comes in any event in having to have that affirmative vote in the Senedd. The question whether it's two thirds or 50 per cent in order to achieve that—I think the two thirds comes on the decision by the Senedd to say that we recognise that this is a process that should need to happen et cetera, and that were there to be a further increase from the 17 to 19, as long as it's a justifiable case, it is reasonable that that should be by simple majority. In terms of the—

But on that point, Counsel General, the two thirds is in this Senedd—

A simple majority would be in a Senedd of 96. So, it is a different agenda and a different position.

No, I accept that. And the position with regard to the issue of coalitions, I think that is part of the capacity to actually form stable Governments. In this Senedd there has never been one party that's had an absolute majority in it—I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong on that—so, there's always been a dependency on partnerships, co-operations, agreements of one form or another. And if this were to facilitate that to give stability to Government, then I think that is a very positive outcome.

You seem to be bringing a completely different argument to the table now. I mean, you were suggesting earlier that the reason for this increase was if the Senedd were to be endowed with significant extra powers, then there might be a need to increase the number of Ministers; now you're saying it might be necessary in order to have a stable Government with a coalition.

Well, I think the main function is actually the additional responsibilities that are there and the ability to do that—

Because it's just one realism of politics within this Senedd, where no party has ever had or is likely to have an overall majority, that it might form part of those sort of arrangements. If that were to happen—and this is not the primary reason for it to happen—but if it were to happen and it were to create stability in Government, well, that isn't an adverse factor, is it?

Well, I would have expected you to set that out in your explanatory memorandum as to part of the rationale for putting this into the Bill, but, of course, you didn't, did you?

10:25

Can I just come back on that? I think the core reason is actually the responsibility, the growth of existing responsibilities and the potential for future responsibilities. Those are the purposes to it. In terms of how politics might operate in the future and so on, might there be other elements? Well, I'm speculating that that might happen. It may well never happen, but it is not the core purpose of the need to increase the ministerial capacity. The purpose is to actually accommodate the additional responsibilities and to ensure that there is more effective governance and engagement and accessibility and accountability of ministerial work.

Because, frankly, if one of the factors and reasons and part of the rationale for having this additional facility for an additional two is to enable coalitions to take place so that we can have stable coalitions in the future, then surely this ought to be something that is subject to a vote in every Senedd, not just once and for all.

I think you just have to look at the practicalities of what might happen. You might have, for example—. Let's take, for example, the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee and what is being said in terms of a Government that's dependent on a partnership is that that is not working without having a very specific Minister for each of those particular functions. That might be an area of engagement and so on within that. That is just a different way of recognising that there are additional responsibilities and what is important is how Government actually is capable of engaging and being held to account by the Senedd. But I'll just come back to the first point: the clear purpose and the clear reason for increasing the number of Senedd Members is because the current number of 60 does not have the capacity to, I think, do all the things that are needed to ensure proper governance, and I think that naturally reflects into the size of the Government itself, in order to ensure that there is good governance at Government level as well.

I want to move on, because I'm conscious of time and we've still got quite a bit of areas to go through. We'll go on to residential requirements. Darren, can you take that?

Yes. We've heard a lot of evidence that supports the view that people who are elected to the Senedd, making laws about Wales, should reside in Wales. Many of our witnesses expressed their support for that policy and the provisions in the Bill in relation to that. But there was some concern about the use of the local government register in order to demonstrate residency in Wales. We noted comments in relation to, for example, people who may be on an electoral register because they have a second home in Wales, and there were concerns about whether that may be inappropriate in terms of the sort of test that the Welsh Government was wanting to introduce. What consideration has the Welsh Government given to those sorts of things, and the potential for that to be circumventing the rules that all of us, I think, aspire to?

You raise an important point about it being an important part of the consideration of the residency issue. You start off with the common principle that people who are elected to the Senedd, you want them to be resident within Wales and you want them to be accountable to the laws of Wales that are passed by the Senedd—that direct vested interest within Wales and residency. One of the difficulties is that the more you try to define it and the more you try and create a system that says, 'Well, what about if this happens, or what if that happens? Maybe it's the second homes thing. What about if someone moves away for a short period of time and then comes back, or goes away, or has just gone et cetera, or the moment they're elected they then move over somewhere else and so on'—the more you try to create a system that allows for every single potential contingency, the more difficult and the more complicated it gets. I think the position we came to was that the most logical way, in terms of clarity, in terms of simplicity, is that if you're on the register, then you're qualified, and if you're not on the register, you are disqualified. That's really the approach that's been taken. And you're right, no system is absolutely perfect. It's almost like tax, isn't it? You think you've set a framework for tax to be paid, and someone finds a loophole, or something. I think the objective of the use of the register is that it creates as few loopholes as possible. It has the clarity and simplicity. There may be issues that arise that are not perfect et cetera, but it seems to me to be the best way forward, at a time when you want to keep an understanding of what are quite major changes as simple as possible. Anything you want to add on—?

10:30

I suppose only that it's not the mere fact of a second home that would allow you to be appointed as a Senedd Member, or a candidate; you'd have to have that second home and be on the electoral register in Wales. So, you would have to have proven to a registration officer that you had sufficient residency in that second home to be on the register. 

But many people, of course, whose main homes are in England, are on the electoral registers in Wales at their second home. So, you accept that those people ought to be eligible to be candidates for elections at the Senedd, do you, Minister?

Well, if they're on the register, then, they will be. 

You seem to be satisfied with that. I don't think—[Inaudible.]—who is satisfied with that. 

Well, what I'm satisfied with is, if someone's on the electoral register and they're entitled to vote within Wales, then it seems logical that if you are entitled to vote, you're entitled to actually be a candidate. It seems to me that that's about the simplest way you can approach this.  

Can I just ask about the way in which this is tested? So, we heard from the Electoral Commission, and from others, about the fact that, at the moment, it's a simple candidate declaration, effectively, that is submitted. There's no requirement on electoral registration officers to actually check the voracity of the data that's provided by a candidate; the onus is on the candidate to make an appropriate declaration. They said that that would be a significant shift in responsibility from the candidate to EROs in each constituency. What's your view in response to that suggestion?

This is an interesting area, isn't it, that you would want to look at a system where the candidates—they make a declaration, and maybe you would want them to define what their electoral registration code was for that. And, of course, it would be the case that if that was a false declaration, well that person would—if it wasn't spotted and did go through et cetera—that person would then be disqualified when it came to taking up the seat, because they would not have been qualified to stand in the first place. That's obviously something that you don't want to happen, so, I suppose, on the mechanism for ensuring that the declaration is robust, I'm sure it will be the case that, within the system that we have, when those declarations take place, there's more than one person, other than the electoral registration officer who is actually checking that that is the case. Apart from that—

I think the intention is that this will be built into the existing nomination system, whereby returning officers do take at face value what candidates say. There will need to be a mechanism, as the Counsel General was saying. That's one option. I think the chair of the Wales Electoral Coordination Board made a similar suggestion that that's a way in which it could be given effect in the nomination papers. There are processes, as part of the nomination window, where certain people are able to check what people have made, but, again, I think the returning officer would take that information, as they do other information within the nomination papers, at face value, and then, obviously, there are ways in which that can be challenged as well, either for candidates or for Members, as required. 

And, of course, mistakes can happen with electoral rolls. We know that the Welsh Government wanted to introduce a system of automatic voter registration, and they've not been without problems in other parts of the world where they've been introduced. At the moment, the Bill would, effectively, make anybody who doesn't appear on an official register, without a grace period—they would cease to be eligible to be Members of the Senedd, and, effectively, would be disqualified, potentially midterm, even if they qualified at the time that their candidature was approved. What do you say to concerns that were raised about that, and whether there ought to be grace periods built in to overcome it?

Yes, certainly, this is an area that is still something that needs to be looked at very carefully as to how it is going to work. If, for example, there were to be a mistake—I'm not aware of there being any evidence of this happening, certainly to any recognisable extent, where people are accidentally removed from the register, for example, as you say—I'm sure, if there's something like that that would occur, that can be built in, that if it's—you know, you are on the register. If, purely by mistake or by some administrative error or whatever, you're not on it, that obviously should not be something that would disqualify you from being able to be a candidate.

The issue of grace periods—of course, once you go into the issue of grace periods, that begins to accommodate all sorts of things. It depends on what you mean by a grace period. Grace periods for people for how long you've been off the register and so on if someone has chosen to move away, but suddenly a vacancy occurs et cetera, I think that is something that is very, very different. I'm generally not in favour of grace periods, because I think, when people are standing for what is an extremely important representative position within our parliamentary democracy, people know what they're doing. When they're on the register, they know they're qualified; they know if they're not qualified. One of the reasons for keeping it as simple as possible—you're either on or you're off; you know that if you go off that register that you cease to be qualified. So, looking at creating sort of get-out-of-jail cards, to take the Monopoly game example, I think begins to create all sorts of other problems in terms of how you actually define what a grace period is, what the motivation is, what the extent of it is and so on.

10:35

But you accept that mistakes can happen with registration, and, if a mistake happens, a register is published and someone who's an existing, sitting Member of the Senedd isn't on that register, they would be immediately disqualified. Do you think that's acceptable, even if a mistake has happened?

No. I think where there is a mistake that has occurred and it's a governmental mistake or an administrative mistake, then that is something that shouldn't disqualify someone; that's surely something that needs to be considered in terms of how the system will actually operate. It would not be right for—you know, an official has made an error and someone has been accidentally taken off it et cetera. So, there needs to be checks and balances on that, but that's not something that should happen. If it's purely—

So, there'll need to be an amendment to the Bill, won't there, in order to accommodate that?

Well, I think it's—. I suppose it would be in terms of how the registration system actually operates and how that is accommodated. Is there anything you can add on that, Anna or Will?

Well, I can probably give the committee some assurance. So, I think the risk of an administrative error happening is very low, because there are very limited circumstances in which an electoral registration officer can actually remove someone from the register, and an example of that is where they have confirmation that that individual is dead. There are other sort of very limited examples, but, in all other scenarios, there is a requirement for the electoral registration officer to undertake a review, and, as part of all of those reviews, they have to seek to make contact.

But, for clarification, the risk is low, but there's a risk.

Especially with automatic registration starting, yes? I mean that, I think, is a—

Ie. Yr hyn roeddwn i eisiau mynd ar ei ôl oedd y syniad eich bod chi'n dweud y byddai rhywun, y munud bydden nhw'n symud o Gymru—fod yna'r syniad yma wedyn o ran fod yn rhaid i chi aros yng Nghymru rhag ofn bod lle yn dod. Yn eich ymateb i ni yn y llythyr, roeddech chi'n diystyru'r cyfnod gras hyd yn oed mewn amgylchiadau rydyn ni, yn anffodus, wedi gweld yn y gorffennol—Aelodau'n marw, pobl, yn annisgwyl iawn, yn dod yn Aelodau o'r Senedd. Ydych chi'n meddwl ei fod o'n deg i roi'r disgwyliad yna fod yn rhaid iddyn nhw aros yng Nghymru? Oherwydd mae o'n senario eithaf cyffredin, onid ydy, fod rhywun, efallai—. Mae yna nifer fawr o bobl sydd efallai'n ymgeisyddion rydyn ni'n gwybod wedi mynd i weithio i San Steffan am gyfnod a chefnogi gwaith Aelod Seneddol, er enghraifft. Ydych chi ddim yn meddwl bod angen edrych ar hynny fel dydyn ni ddim yn colli pobl yn llwyr, a rhoi rhyw fath o gyfnod gras mewn sefyllfa o'r fath?

Yes. What I wanted to pursue was this idea that, once they move from Wales—that there is this concept that you have to remain in Wales in case a place were to become vacant. Now, in your response to us in your letter, you actually rejected the grace period, even in circumstances that we have seen in the past—people passing away, and people very unexpectedly becoming Members of the Senedd. Do you think it's fair to place that expectation that those people would have to remain in Wales? Because it is quite a common scenario that—. There are many people who are candidates who have gone to work in Westminster for a period, supporting the work of an MP, for example. Don't you think that that needs to be looked at so that we don't lose people entirely, and have some sort of grace period in such a scenario?

Well, I think people make their choices, don't they, in terms of whether they're going to be a representative or whether they're not going to be a representative. You can move away, out of Wales, and still remain on the register. That isn't—. There are people who do that all the time. I mean, students, for example, are people who are on a register where they live, and that means their home address, but they may be de facto living somewhere else and so on, and I'm sure that there are many others, whether it's for work, whether it's temporary or work for periods of time and so on. But it does seem to me that if the criteria is that you need to be on the register et cetera, then what is the grace period? I mean, you know, if someone—. In the example you give of someone who's working at Westminster, well, if they've not been living within Wales and not been on the register for, say, three years or four years, does that mean automatically they should be? Or you then start saying, 'Well, maybe it should only be a certain period of time', but, once you start trying to define that more, it becomes more and more complicated. So, I think people understand, if they are potentially going to stand for an elected position, that the requirement is that you are on the register within Wales and that's what defines whether you can or whether you can't actually be a candidate.

10:40

I can understand it at the point of being a candidate, but I do feel—. You have no idea, during that four-year term we're talking about, what your circumstances will be. Do you not think it could limit people? Because there's no certainty that they'd be elected at all during that time. Do you not think there's some kind of mechanism? Because we're not actually talking four years of not living somewhere; someone could have moved but then there's an election and they want to have a say in the area that they're currently living in, but it doesn't mean that they're not fully committed to being in the Senedd. I worry in particular about younger people who are perhaps starting their careers, and we want greater diversity.

I think the problem is if you make that analogy and you make that analogy for, say, taking the Westminster example, that analogy then extends to just about every other circumstance where, for some reason, someone has taken up a position somewhere else. What happens if someone goes to work abroad for a period of time? I think the more complicated you make it, the more difficult it becomes, and I think also it's about putting the responsibility on individuals in terms of the residency requirement. If people take up a position elsewhere, they know exactly what they're doing and where they stand in respect of that. As I say, there are mechanisms whereby people can remain on a register in terms of what their permanent home is as opposed to what their temporary home is. I think the register is probably the most effective way of achieving that. I mean, I obviously give consideration to any views that come from the Senedd on that. I find it difficult, and I know we've looked at this very closely; the more you try to provide options, additional options and so on, the more difficult and the more complicated it becomes, and it becomes almost impossible to legislate for.

I'll bring Sarah in and then I'll come back to other questions as well. Sarah.

Thank you. Yes, I just wanted to clarify, I suppose, because are you saying that you advocate for people to move away but then remain on the electoral register for Wales? Because I think the issue with that would be, for example, that being on the electoral register in the home that you're currently living in, where obviously you pay your utility bills and you'd be registered with your local GP—if you're not then on the electoral register for that address, that will impact your credit score, for example. When I was younger, I did go and live in London. Most of it was just because that was where I could get a job with the skills and the experience that I had at the time. It's very tough living away and things, and I would have needed to have put myself on the electoral register for where I was living. But if I was given a grace period of a month to—. If I was told, 'Oh, you're going to be able to now stand in the Senedd', I would have been able to move back in a month, and I considered myself to still be a Welsh citizen even though I was living in London. As Heledd said as well, oftentimes you could be working for a Welsh MP up in Westminster but your heart and your work and everything you're doing is for a community in Wales, even though that's not your address at that time. So, do you think there is more wiggle room here, I suppose, in terms of if we were to recommend that you have a grace period of a month to return to Wales to be able to take up the seat that you technically have been elected for?

I think there's a great difficulty when you talk about wiggle room within legislation, because legislation needs to be clear—

No, my wiggle room was with your perspective on this. Are you willing to—? Not wiggle room, but what I would suggest, having looked at the evidence, is a month's grace period. That's what Heledd also referred to.

The question is, then, if you do that, then do you provide that month's grace period to just about anybody, anyone who has ever lived in Wales et cetera, in whatever part of the world they're in, or whatever? I think, you know—. Listen, I'm more than happy that if the committee has further recommendations that it would want to make within that that were capable of being translated practically and simply into legislation, then that's something that would be worth giving consideration to. I suppose all I'm saying at this stage is that, when you start trying to do that, it becomes more and more complex, and I can tell you that, when we started looking at all the different criteria for how you might define 'residency' and so on, the list, the pages, became longer and longer and longer, almost to the extent of the last thing you would actually want, almost a total lack of clarity and uncertainty, and then legal challenge and so on as to whether you could, whether you couldn't, whether you et cetera, who it would apply to, who it didn't apply to and so on. Do you—

10:45

Sorry, just to clarify, what I'm asking about, and I believe Heledd was asking about as well, is about people who have been, technically—. Well, they've been selected, and they have been technically elected as well. So, it's about whether or not they then are able to have that grace period to move back into Wales if they—

The question, I think, to focus on is that there are two separations here. First of all, the candidates' agenda, which is separate, because we're focusing very much on those who are on the lists in elections, who have met those criteria at that point in time, who are remaining on the list— because that's the way it's working—but during that next period in which the Senedd sits will be asked to come in, because of circumstances, and may have moved out, simply. So, the question that really comes is: the grace period for someone who has already been on the list, already been, therefore, a candidate and under those criteria, but, because of opportunities, may have gone to work elsewhere, but now will be the next person on the list and required to come in. 

So, you say they are still on the list, but they're now, because they are no longer on the electoral register and so on—. Well, look, I'd be certainly more than happy to look at any recommendations from the committee on that and how that might work. I think that's different to—. Because grace periods have been talked about in all sorts of contexts and so on. If something was very defined like that, it's certainly something that we can look at, isn't it, and—

So, it's much more focused on a situation of, when a vacancy arises, the next person off the list comes in—that's the current system—but that next person, literally, because of opportunities, may have actually found work elsewhere. And we want the grace period, because, unless they're on that list at that point in time, they won't even be offered that opportunity. 

That is a—. Sorry, and I do apologise, I was looking at the broader situation too much rather than the focused one. So, it would be someone who has actually already been selected as being a candidate et cetera, they would naturally be next in line et cetera. Listen, that's something I'm more than happy to take away and look at, if you make that recommendation, and I think it's something we will look at, in any event, to see how something like that might happen. I understand the point that you're making on that. None of these things we want to do are to be exclusive. We want to be as inclusive as possible, but we also want to be fair to the totality of people that are on the register and a system that actually works with simplicity and clarity. But thank you for those comments. 

So, thank you, and thank you for your time this morning—very grateful. I'm just going to ask about empty seats—

—seddi gwag, os mae hynny'n iawn. Felly, dwi am ofyn yn Gymraeg. Roedden ni'n clywed tystiolaeth wahanol ynglŷn â sut dŷn ni'n llenwi seddi gwag. Beth ydy'ch barn chi? Sut allwn ni sicrhau bod seddi gwag yn cael eu llenwi?

—I want to look at vacancies, if I may. I will ask my question in Welsh. We heard conflicting evidence as to how we should fill vacancies. So, what's your view? How can we ensure that vacancies are filled?

It is—. When we move towards the system that we're talking about, which is a single closed list system, as opposed to the dual system that we have at the moment, with first-past-the-post constituencies and then a top-up, a third, closed list as well, moving all the way into a single system, a single closed list system, also, of course, makes a great difficulty. You have the issues, don't you, of an electoral system that is about representation, but, of course, the system builds into it proportionality. So, the difficulty comes with what happens if—. One, I think it is—. Certainly, past experience has been that it has been a very remote occurrence that there has been a vacancy and they've always been filled by people that are already on the list. I think that's certainly been my experience over the last 12 or 13 years. I suppose the position is, isn't it, what happens, for example, with an independent candidate that's elected, if that person, for some reason, has to resign through illness or whatever and is not there, and how do you fill those? Well, at the moment, I think the system is that the mechanism doesn't actually provide for that. I don't think that can actually happen. I don't think there is capacity for by-elections in those remote circumstances where that might occur.

I know there's been a lot of thought that's been given to the different ways of doing it. In those circumstances, could you have, for example, special provision for a by-election to fill it? Those are possibilities. Those are things that can be thought about. My thinking on it, of course, though, is that what you begin to do then is to sacrifice the issue of proportionality that takes place in representation. So, it's a difficult one, but it's a product, really, of a change in the system. So, I'm certainly interested in any views on this, and it is something that has been given a lot of thought to. I've not really worked a way around it yet, but I'd be interested in what the thoughts of the committee are on this.

10:50

Diolch yn fawr. Mae yna wedi bod digwyddiadau yn y Senedd pan mae seddi wedi bod yn wag a, fel dwi'n deall, mae'r un nesaf ar y rhestr yn dod i fyny. Rydych chi'n sôn am y system yn y rhestr gaeedig. Am hynny rydych chi'n sôn. Dwi eisiau symud ymlaen, os ydy hynny'n iawn. Ydy o'n iawn i ddweud eich bod chi'n agored i edrych ar syniadau y pwyllgor? Ydy hynny'n iawn? Dwi jest yn cadarnhau eich bod chi'n agored i edrych ar argymhellion o'r pwyllgor ar, efallai, syniadau i lenwi seddi gwag.

Thank you very much. There have been occasions in the Senedd when there have been vacancies and, as I understand it, the next on the list steps up then. You're talking about the closed list. That's what you're addressing in your answer. I do want to move on, if I may. Is it right to say that you are open to looking at other ideas and ideas that the committee may have? Am I right in assuming that? I'm just confirming that you're open to looking at our ideas and recommendations in relation to filling vacancies.

Well, listen, I'm interested in all recommendations that will come from this committee. I do it within the context, of course, that part of my obligation is in respect of fulfilling and translating into legislation the recommendations from the special purpose committee. But beyond that, obviously, whatever the committee recommends and considers and is interested in are things I want to give serious consideration to as well.

On the vacancy side, of course, where a vacancy occurs and is from someone who's on the list, where there is a list and there are list persons to fill that place, that is straightforward and that's not really been an issue. I suppose the examples that are given are: what happens if, for some reason, there's no-one left on the list to actually fulfil that? That would be, probably, something that is extremely remote to happen, but is a remote possibility. Or, more importantly, what would happen if there was an independent candidate that was elected? Of course, that person wouldn't be part of any list—there would be no-one to actually fulfil that place. The proposals, as they are at the moment, would basically—. That would be a vacancy that cannot be filled.

I know that there has been thought given to maybe there could be a by-election. Maybe a by-election could take place, for example, on a first-past-the-post system. Well, all that is possible. Of course, what it would do then is change the nature of the proportional representation system and the way in which people appear here and can have, obviously, significant impacts. It's probably something that benefits the larger parties within that system and so on. So, I think, for the moment, certainly my thinking is that what we've devised with an increase and with the remoteness of these possibilities, they are something that could remotely occur, but that's just one of the things that you have to accept as a consequence within the changes that are made.

But can I highlight, just for comment, any by-election can change the balance of a Parliament? So, you talked about the proportion. Any by-election can change the balance of a Parliament.

Can I move on to the system of voting? Thank you. Okay. There are many things that we're looking at, but just to move on to the voting system. I think it's fair to say that to this committee, in terms of the witnesses that we've heard from, there has been no evidence to support the closed list system, and we've heard from a number of people. I'll just give you a couple of quotes:

'Closed lists promote conservatism and conformism, risking a race to the bottom.'

That was Laura McAllister, in a lecture, recently, at Cardiff University. And another quote:

'I have to say that my own personal view is that one of the things that would actually improve people's belief that they can change things and that their vote matters would be the actual voting system, proportional representation, but that's a debate for another time.'

And that's what you said. And I know you are a really strong advocate of systems and looking at how we can have involve and have better representation, so could you outline to the committee what are the democratic benefits of the closed list system?

10:55

Well, I think the first thing is it's the extension of a system that we already have in place, so there is an understanding as to how it works. The second thing—and with D'Hondt—is that it is proportional, so it brings about a much fairer representation of politics within Wales. Thirdly, I'd say perhaps it gets rid of the first-past-the-post system, which I think is the biggest contributor to, I suppose, the demise in politics, in my view, on the basis that you can get elected to a constituency on one third of the votes of a constituency; you can even form a Government on the basis of a minority of votes. So, I think that is something that is very, very positive. I'd say also, in terms of the first-past-the-post system, that what it also does is it effectively consolidates all the focus of policy on a middle third, excluding the remaining two thirds, and I think it's probably partly a reason why so many people think that their vote doesn't actually count.

The closed list system also enables us to, I think, have elected representatives on a clear common manifesto. It also potentially facilitates the establishment of gender balance by political parties within that system. Also, by moving to a single system, it also get rid of the situation we have now, where, for many people, their second vote is largely irrelevant and doesn't count. So, no systems are absolutely perfect; all of them have pros and cons. I think this is a better system. I suppose one of the keys to it, of course, is—and, again, it was one of the requirements from the special purpose committee—it has the capacity to attract a two-thirds majority to enable it to actually be passed. Whether, in its format, it is the exact system that would be maintained and adopted for future elections, well, that would obviously depend on the outcome of the statutory review that would take place after the 2026 elections, as to how this has all worked. So, there are ups and downs in terms of the system, but I think it is better than the system we have at the moment. So, I think it is progress and it is progress that has the capacity to have a two-thirds majority.

Now, I have to say, to all those comments, as far as I'm concerned I've taken the recommendations that have come, converted them into legislation, so these are just some of the thoughts I have as to the nature of the system; others may have differing views. Can I say, in terms of the comments—I read with interest and great respect the comments that some have made, such as Professor Laura McAllister—that I disagree? I disagree. When you have a system that actually improves on the existing system, that is an advance forward. I know comment has been made, for example, that it puts a lot of power into the hands of political parties and so on, but I'm not sure that is something that's any different from what happens at the moment in every constituency election that takes place. But—

May I cut across you, because we are into our last half an hour? And I'm going to ask the questions in English now, so just to make it quicker.

That's fine. So, we've never heard evidence of the current system being maintained, and this is not what this committee is about, so let's dispense with that. We've heard no evidence in favour of the closed list system. We've heard evidence that we should be considering a flexible open list system. So, could you tell us why you're not adopting that, please?

11:00

Well, because the recommendation from the special purpose committee, which was passed with a two-thirds majority, is to go for the systems contained within the legislation.

So, you will have heard—and, obviously, we've had a letter from the First Minister, and I believe that was written with the leadership of Plaid Cymru as well—you will have heard that the special purpose committee was presented with a fait accompli. Can I ask you: were you part of that meeting between Mark Drakeford and Adam Price, where that agreement was reached?

So, you, as the Minister who is responsible, were not part of the position that the special purpose committee was placed in, which was that we were faced with a total deal, and that was what we had to accept. So, you weren't part of that.

Well, what I understand is that, in order for legislation to get through, it's necessary for it to have a two-thirds majority, otherwise nothing gets through. And part of that co-operation agreement was that this was something that would achieve a two-thirds majority, and it would produce a system that now I've incorporated into the draft of the legislation.

I don't know if my colleague Darren Millar would like to come in, who was also part of that special purpose committee—

Well, if Darren indicates, I'll probably call him in, but it's for me to decide. So, you, by all means, ask your question.

So, looking at the gender reform Bill, and we're staying still with the closed list system—we understand that the gender quotas Bill is not going to go ahead, or, particularly, not going to go ahead in the imminent future—how do closed lists help gender balance and diversity?

Well, firstly, just in terms of the gender quotas Bill, that is another ministerial responsibility. So, any issues around that will be determined by that particular Minister.

Minister, I just want to hold on that. I accept that point, that it will be another Minister in charge, but as the legal officer for the Government, you will definitely have an input into that Bill.

No. My input into—. I mean, I'm involved generally in all the legal aspects in terms of legislation, but my input in terms of, for example, the gender quotas Bill kicks in, in terms of competence, once that legislation is passed. So, once the legislation passes, it is only at that stage that the issue of competence becomes an issue for me to consider as to whether to take that forward. I always do look in the round in terms of the competence issue, but, ultimately, it's a matter for the Minister taking that Bill forward, et cetera.

So, just for my clarification: you're not involved in the competence agenda until that Bill has been passed.

No, absolutely. Under the Government of Wales Act 2006, my job at that stage kicks in, and, as a law officer, I then have to give consideration to it as to whether or not it should be referred to the Supreme Court or not.

That just helps us to clarify our position if the Bill comes before us. Thank you.

Yes, certainly. Sorry, I'm trying to remember now what the last point you raised was.

It was about how the closed list system—I'm going to stay with this for a bit, I'm afraid—how the closed list system promotes diversity and gender representation.

Well, because, by being able to select, say, six, for a party to be able to have up to six people elected, or a list that would be of eight people, it can guarantee within that the gender balance and the placement of people within that, to ensure that there is a gender balanced outcome. A flexible list system undermines that.

But without the gender balance quota Bill, which we understand—and I hear what you're saying about not being responsible for it—without that, then it places no expectation on political parties who are there to decide who the candidates are and the list that they're going to—. It actually requires no expectation that they will actually include any women, or anybody of any diversity at all.

No, it means the onus is on the political parties to do that, but having that system enables them to ensure that the outcome is more likely to be balanced.

I'm still a little bit unclear about the benefits, the democratic benefits, of a closed list system. Dispense with first-past-the-post—we're not entertaining that at all. What are, given what we've said about gender diversity and other requirements, the benefits, the democratic, accountable open benefits to the electorate—not to the political parties—of having a closed list system? 

11:05

Well, what they end up with is a Senedd that is proportionally more representative of the votes that are cast. 

Yes. So, you were just starting to list the benefits. If you can continue, and then I'll come in. 

Okay. So, your argument is a closed system will give you a more proportionate Senedd, even though the threshold over which any party will have to get in terms of share of the votes in each constituency will be around 12 per cent, versus the current 7 per cent with the existing regions. 

Well, firstly, overall, having a single system, which is the closed list system, for the whole of the electorate means that the whole of the Senedd will be far more representative of the number of votes cast. I think I'm probably taking that that's accepted. The question is then, beyond that, the issues around balance within that system as well, which is the point I've just answered there. But the point you asked on threshold, I'm not quite sure how those thresholds are actually calculated and how they actually work out. Because so much is dependent, under the existing system, to try and extrapolate that over the fact that it doesn't take account of, really, the constituency make-up of voting and so on—. But can I just defer to—? Who's best placed to, on that part of the analysis—? You're talking about someone who only just scraped in maths at O-level. 

Only to, I think, make the point that the CG was alluding to, which is I think that the 6.5 per cent that you're referring to takes the regional lists in isolation, but, of course, they are calculated with reference to the first-past-the-post seats that are won by 40 Members of the Senedd. So, the 6.5 per cent sort of treats that in isolation, and therefore I think we would consider it isn't directly comparable with a system that, as a whole, is proportionally representative. 

But you accept that smaller parties have a lower threshold over which to get over in terms of being able to get elected to the current Senedd than they will in the future Senedd. I mean, it's a mathematical fact, isn't it? 

Well, the effective threshold I think would be around 20 per cent, I think, of the new system. But, as you say, I think that 12 per cent is probably the more likely outcome. But, as I said, I think it's difficult to compare a mixed Member system with a single system that's entirely proportionally representative. 

And if I can just go back to this issue of closed lists versus open lists, the benefits of an open or a flexible list we are told by the experts is that people, of course, can vote for a person of their choice, which gives some direct accountability then of that person to the electorate that they are expected to represent while they're a Member of the Senedd. The closed list system effectively makes them accountable to only their political party members, does it not? So, how is that going to deliver better politics for Wales and a better democracy for Wales, where at the moment people have with the first-past-the-post system—for all its imperfections—at least some direct accountability? Couldn't you maintain that element of the benefit of the first-past-the-post system in the new system by enabling a flexible list approach? 

I'm not sure in practice that that is actually what happens. I've stood as a constituency candidate and been elected as a constituency candidate for three elections now, and I actually don't really recognise that situation occurring. I've seen very, very effective and very popular candidates, who, at the end of the day, when the turn of the election turns against them, it has made very, very little difference whatsoever. The fact is that all the names of the candidates will be on the ballot paper. They're voting for a party and for a manifesto on that. That's what the system does achieve. But what it does mean is that the numbers of those that get elected will be proportionate.

So, as I say, there are ups and downs, depending upon preferences and it depends on how you interpret the systems. I think the view I take—. Well, I'll just revert back to the first thing, which is that, first of all, I'm implementing the recommendations that have come through. In terms of, 'Do I think that the system that is being recommended is much better than the existing system?' The answer is I do think that, and I think that can be justified. There'll be others with other perspectives who think a slightly different system or an open list system or a single transferrable vote system or others are better systems. The reality of getting constitutional change through, though, is, in order to do that, there has to be a two-thirds majority, and the proposals that are there, that are within the statute, have that capability. 

11:10

But given the evidence that we've received, all of which suggests that closed list systems are bad and that where they have been in place across Europe they've been ditched, because they're bad, in favour of an approach towards a flexible list system—even where candidates are ranked by parties before, there's then an opportunity for people to have their view on that ranking system and change the order—don't you accept that one way of overcoming the resistance to the change and the assertion that there is less direct democratic accountability is by simply adopting a flexible list approach?

Well, firstly, that is not a choice for me to make. It's an issue to put to others that have been involved in that special purpose committee and so on.

Wait a second, if it's okay. I was on that special purpose committee. That special purpose committee was going in a very different direction and was going to make very different conclusions than the ones it was told to write by the First Minister and the former leader of Plaid Cymru. So, let's forget this veil of protection that you seem to try to hang in front of yourselves as a Government at the moment by simply saying, 'We're going to implement the recommendations of the special purpose committee.' Because you've gone beyond that anyway in actually what you've presented to us, in terms of the Bill. So, you could go beyond it and introduce a better Bill, which accepts the views of people around Wales and the experts who've given us their views that the closed list system is a retrograde step and that there are alternatives to it that you could introduce in terms of being able to ensure that there is some direct accountability of Members of the Senedd to the public that they serve, and not just direct accountability to the parties that select those candidates and rank them. Because what you're going to get is a Senedd that is more extreme, in my view. I've been a Member of the Senedd for many years. I have to take into account the views of all my constituents in order to get elected on a first-past-the-post basis. If I were in a closed list system I wouldn't have to do that. If I were in a flexible list system, I would still have to listen to the views of my constituents and represent them as best I could. So, it's simple, isn't it? Adopt a change in terms of the list system, make it flexible, and that makes it more palatable to more people.

Well, that's your narrative. I think your narrative is wrong, because what I see across the board, firstly, is that the system contained within the legislation is considered to be a better system than is there at the moment. Where there is argument over it is whether the system could be made better than it is at the moment, and my understanding of the position is that, in order to get a system through that is better, we need a two-thirds majority. So, that two-thirds majority exists to create a better system, but there are views around that actually that say that there could be—

Just one final question, if I may. So, other than the First Minister and the former leader of Plaid Cymru, who else—who else—can you name that thinks that a closed system is better than a flexible list system?

Well, I presume all the people, the two thirds of the people, who voted in favour of the recommendations that went through the Senedd.

We are not going further on this point, but I've heard what the Counsel General said, and you've heard the questions raised to you, and the committee may well have a view on it in its report. I hope that, based upon your earlier comments that you take a keen interest in what we say, that will therefore be reflected as we move ahead. 

I want to move on, because I'm very conscious of time, and we've got little time, and we haven't yet discussed a couple of points, and I want to talk about the operation of the Act and the review of the operation of the Act, if we can. And I know, in relation to the operation of the Act, Heledd asked that question specifically on the operation, and I want to come back then to the review of the Act, which you've already possibly mentioned. Heledd.

11:15

Un o'r pethau roeddwn i eisiau mynd ar ei ôl oedd yn eich tystiolaeth—roeddech chi wedi ymateb yn eich llythyr i ni o ran y paratoadau mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn eu gwneud i weithio gyda phartneriaid i godi ymwybyddiaeth a dealltwriaeth y cyhoedd o'r trefniadau etholiadol newydd. Mi oeddech chi'n nodi nifer o bobl sydd efo cyfrifoldeb gwahanol yn hynny, ond ydych chi wedi ystyried pwy ddylai arwain ar y gwaith yma? Mae peth o'r dystiolaeth rydyn ni wedi'i chlywed yn awgrymu bod yna amwysedd ar y funud gan fod yna gyfrifoldeb ar gymaint o bobl amrywiol. Felly, ydych chi wedi ystyried a oes angen gwneud hynny'n fwy eglur yn y Bil hwn er mwyn sicrhau ein bod ni'n cael yr ymgysylltiad hwnnw, sef, wrth gwrs, holl bwynt y Bil—ein bod ni eisiau mwy o gyfranogiad gan bobl Cymru yn ein Senedd? Ydych chi'n derbyn, efallai, fod yna amwysedd o ran pwy sy'n arwain ar hyn, ac ydych chi wedi rhoi ystyriaeth i roi un corff i arwain ar gydlynu hyn i gyd?

One of the things that I wanted to pursue was that in your evidence you responded in terms of the preparations that the Welsh Government is making in working in partnership to raise awareness and public understanding of the new electoral arrangements. You noted a number of people who have particular responsibilities in that area, but have you considered who should lead on that work? Some of the evidence we've heard suggests that there is some ambiguity at the moment because there is responsibility placed on so many different bodies or individuals. So, have you considered whether that needs to be clarified within the Bill in order to ensure that we do get that engagement that we all want, because that's the whole point of the Bill, that we want more participation from the people of Wales in our Senedd? Do you accept, perhaps, that there is this ambiguity in terms of who leads on this, and have you given any consideration to having one lead body in co-ordinating all of this?

Well, I think the one lead body will, actually, be the electoral management board that is being established—that will be the function. But also, there is, obviously, a very relevant interest and engagement with the Electoral Commission itself. Maybe, in terms of the work that's ongoing with stakeholders—. 

Certainly, Counsel General. So, we have a delivery board that's been established that's enabled us to engage with all of those key actors that will play a role in that. And I think the communication aspect that, I think, you're all referring to in raising awareness is something that we've begun to discuss. So, that board involves the Senedd Commission, the Electoral Commission as well as local electoral administrators. So, I think it's something that is actively under consideration from a practical perspective, looking to ensure—. I think the committee heard from the Electoral Commission itself around the desire to avoid duplication and to maximise the impacts. I think, as the Counsel General referenced, there is provision in the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill around the information platform that the Welsh Ministers will also provide as well under those provisions. So, I think it's just trying to work that through on a practical basis. Whether there's a requirement, a need, to provide for that in the Bill, obviously, is a matter for the committee to consider. 

If I may just add—on that, as well, I've attended a number of meetings directly, one only the other week with the Electoral Commission, the full Electoral Commission, where everyone is alert to this—I think everyone's supportive of the broader changes, but—in terms of recognising what the challenges are to actually making change, and to the fact that there are systems that are clearly different that we'll experience from the general election that will be taking place probably later this year and what will happen in 2026. I've also been very, very engaged with the existing electoral board—the voluntary board that exists—in order to engage with them. That consists of all the people involved in the administration of elections, and, of course, the creation of the electoral management board, I think, will basically consolidate that work. 

Diolch. Looking at the response that you had given us via letter, you hadn't referenced the electoral management board, so I think having that clarity makes it much clearer for us. Diolch. 

I want to go on to a couple of points on the review of the operation of the Bill, and then I'll come back to Jane, who's got a couple of questions to continue asking you.

The Llywydd has indicated that the timescales within the Bill are very tight, particularly for the review, for the committee being established to review it and report within 12 months. Now, we know, even in this Senedd, it took three months before committees even got going, and, therefore, the ability to actually undertake its work, the ability of experts to do the analysis of the results and interpretation of that analysis and then the ability of the committee to review all that and come up with conclusions in 12 months is a bit tight. Are you therefore minded to look at the Bill to change that so that a committee of the Senedd, when established, can actually have sufficient time, not necessarily imposed upon it, but time to do the job properly, to do that review, and also with an appropriateness to ensure that any actions can be enacted upon?

11:20

Yes, well, look, I think the important point about the reviews and the reason why it is framed in a particular way—the six-month and 12-month et cetera—is because I want to make sure that those things happen and they happen very early on. And, of course, you're talking about a Senedd that will have greater capacity; there'll be more Senedd Members and so on, so the capacity should be that much greater for the consideration of committee work and so on. I think the danger to extending that is that it means that it doesn't kick off as early as it really needs to do. Of course, once it has kicked off and once it has reported, what it reports on and how extensive that report is and what the Senedd chooses to actually do, is really going to be completely a matter for the Senedd. So, even if it reports in 12 months and makes a certain number of points et cetera, that doesn't mean that the review of the legislation or consideration doesn't carry on or go any further. So, I don't think the 12 months is actually a sort of limit, but it's something that actually makes sure that there is a report there if something happens. But how much further the Senedd wants to go is going to be up to the Senedd.

Yes. So, why put it in if it's up to the Senedd? Why place this requirement on the Senedd? I mean, surely it's better just to leave it to get on with it in its own time.

Well, I think because it makes sure that it does happen and it does happen early. And I think that's really—. In my view, that's effectively what it does do: it ensures that it is there and that it will happen and it will happen early on and that it will consider one or two things et cetera, but will be able to consider whatever it wants to do, because that's within the general powers of the Senedd itself.

Therefore, if you wanted to extend it, the legislation could say, 'No later than 18 months', which, according to the Llywydd's concern, is the time to get something established, to get the analysis and to do the work. That seems—. An additional timescale doesn’t seem to be a problem here.

Well, I think it's a question of judgment, isn't it? Bearing in mind that we're moving to four-year terms as well, so you're looking at 2030, it is a process that needs to happen relatively early on. To what extent it concludes the review or is capable of concluding that, that will be a matter for the Senedd itself. But it is within the hands of the Senedd to determine that and to determine to go on further. So, it doesn't close down the debate in any way, but it does make sure that there is something of substance for the Senedd to be able to consider. How comprehensive that is, we wait to see, but that will be there before the Senedd and will be discussed early on. Is there anything else on that?

Only that the motion must propose that the committee reports within 12 months. Obviously, that motion is capable of amendment by Members, so there is scope to move it, obviously taking into account all the things that the Minister has just said, in terms of the timing, but that is still within the gift of the Senedd.

Okay. Well, I'm just thinking, because we've heard earlier answers to the practicalities of things and all of a sudden, we're talking about a practicality, and then the response comes back as, 'Oh, it's a judgment decision.' We're just looking at the practicalities of being able to do something within a time limit and now you've just mentioned that the Senedd can put a motion to change that. So, in that case, why put it in?

All power lies with the Senedd, but it does make sure that the motion is tabled and that it is there on the agenda and the Members will have ownership of where it goes from there.