Y Pwyllgor Biliau Diwygio

Reform Bill Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

David Rees Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Heledd Fychan
James Evans Yn dirprwyo ar ran Darren Millar
Substitute for Darren Millar
Sarah Murphy

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Catherine Uphill Rheolwr, Comisiwn Etholiadol Cymru
Manager, Electoral Commission Wales
Clare Sim Pennaeth Cyngor Aelodau, Cymdeithas y Gweinyddwyr Etholiadol
Head of Member Support, Association of Electoral Administrators
Colin Everett Cadeirydd, Bwrdd Cydlynu Etholiadol Cymru
Chair, Wales Electoral Co-ordination Board
Jane Dodds Aelod o’r Senedd dros Ganolbarth a Gorllewin Cymru
Member of the Senedd for Mid and West Wales

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Catherine Roberts Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Claire Thomas Ymchwilydd
Gareth Howells Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Georgina Owen Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Helen Finlayson Clerc
Josh Hayman Ymchwilydd

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 09:30.

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

The meeting began at 09:30.

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 meeting of the committee, where we will continue our scrutiny of the Senedd Cymru (Electoral Candidate Lists) Bill? Before we move on to our evidence session, just a few housekeeping items. We've received apologies from Darren Millar, and can I welcome James Evans, who's acting as substitute for Darren this morning? There are no other apologies from the Members. 

Just to remind everyone, there is a broadcast live on Senedd.tv of the meeting, and a transcript of the proceedings will be published in the usual way. We do operate bilingually, and the headsets are available for simultaneous translation from Welsh to English, and interpretation should be available for those who are using the hybrid approach and Zooming in. If you require sound amplification, that's available via the headsets on channel 2. There is no scheduled fire alarm to take place today, so, if one does go off, please follow the directions of the ushers to a safe location. Also, finally, if you have mobile phones or other electronic equipment, can you make sure that they're on silent so they do not interfere with the meeting? 

2. Bil Senedd Cymru (Rhestrau Ymgeiswyr Etholiadol): Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda gweinyddwyr etholiadol
2. Senedd Cymru (Electoral Candidate Lists) Bill: Evidence session with electoral administrators

We move on to item 2 on the agenda, which is the evidence session with the electoral administrators. Can I welcome Colin Everett, chair of the Wales Electoral Co-ordination Board, Clare Sim, who is member support and advice manager [correction: head of member support] for the Association of Electoral Administrators, and Catherine Uphill, manager of Electoral Commission Wales, to this morning's session? We will move straight into questions, if that's okay with yourselves, and I'll start off with a nice simple one. Did you have any role in the Bill's development at all? And I'm going through what I see in the list on my screen, which is Colin, Catherine and then Clare, okay. Colin.

Morning, Chair. Thank you for the invitation. It's good to see yourself and all the Members again. We had an extensive role in the thinking and the development of the Bill, specifically in the development of the nominations process and how the constituency returning officers would work. Welsh Government set up an official-level task and finish group. Myself and Clare were very involved, alongside other administrators, and we gave a very detailed set of professional views, and the Bill largely reflects the advice that we had given. Again, it was a good example of joint working, given our practical experience of this type of administration.

Yes. So, we've got a constructive working relationship with Welsh Government, and they've kept us informed throughout the process of drafting the Bill. We also sit on the Senedd reform delivery board, which is the Welsh Government group that brings together stakeholders from across the electoral community to talk about electoral reforms, and we facilitated a session between Welsh Government and political parties to discuss the proposals via our Senedd political parties panel. The proposed system is as we expected it to be. It's high level at the moment, and more detail will be set out in secondary legislation, hopefully.

Clare, do you want to add anything to what Colin said?

Yes, just to add to what Colin said, heavily involved in terms of that implementation and making sure that current practices also ride across into the implementation of this Bill. I'm very conscious, as Catherine just mentioned, that a lot of the practical application is not going to come out until the subordinate legislation is there, and there are still things to work through on that aspect, which I'm sure we'll come on to later this morning. But heavily involved to make sure that the structure that is in the current Bill works in principle based on current practices as well. 

Okay. Thank you all. Did that role involve consideration of costs that might be associated with the Bill?


Yes, Chair, it did. The regulatory impact assessment, which is part of the memorandum behind the Bill, does reflect the cost heads—there are only two that we can see that affect us. I think, if I may, if I make one point on the cost accuracy, and Clare will probably make a point on systems reform, we have made the case—it's a miniscule cost in the scheme of things—that the national nominations compliance officer, the NNCO, would require a deputy, at a small standby cost, should they be ill or indisposed over that key weekend post polling day. It's miniscule, but it does need to be recorded; we would expect it to be added. I know Clare has a further point.

Yes, in the regulatory impact assessment, it says that the cost in terms of the change that will be required to election management systems linked to the Bill would be picked up by local authorities, whereas, generally, the principle's been, where something is a new burden on a local authority due to a change in legislation, that burden's normally picked up by Welsh Government, or the current precedent with UK Government with the Elections Act 2022, when new burdens funding has been provided for any change. So, we'd like to think that any changes that are going to impact local authorities due to the implementation of this Bill will be picked up by Welsh Government.

And it's a small cost quoted, Chair, but it's the principle more than the cost that's quoted, which, of course, could grow over time, depending on complexity. 

So, the RIA, basically, places a burden at the moment on local authorities, and, as you say, it's more of a precedent than anything else.

Yes, Chair. The civil servants' track record of working with the suppliers to amend the systems so that they work with the new legislation, and funding it, has been first class to date. I'm not sure if that's an oversight in the RIA, but it's something that could be easily corrected at low cost to Welsh Government.

Okay. That's interesting. Thank you for that. And are those costs pretty accurate, as far as you can see?

The one for the national officer is, with the addition of a deputy, which would be a small addition. I think, Clare, we would say, wouldn't we, on the cost of adjusting systems, you can never be precise at this stage with technical complexities. It's probably a reasonable estimate at this stage, but could go upwards over time.

And clearly, as you've said already, and we probably will come back to it, the detail in secondary legislation will be an important factor in looking at how that works. 

Correct, Chair.

Okay. Just finally from me—[Interruption.] Oh, Catherine.

I was just going to add about the costs to the Electoral Commission. We expect the additional costs to be relatively minor, as long as all the legislation is delivered early enough for us to make the required changes to our guidance. Because, obviously, guidance is part of our day-to-day responsibilities and functions, and we would incorporate this in the way that we do other changes to legislation.

I think we'll be coming on to that, the implementation of the Bill, shortly. So, thank you for that. The final one from me, as I said, was the Senedd political parties panel's role in all of this, and the areas covered during the engagement. Could you just expand on that for me, Catherine, please? 

We co-ordinate the Senedd political parties panel, and we facilitated connections between Welsh Government and the parties thorough that panel. They've been invited to the meetings. Colin, as chair of the WECB, has also attended those meetings. So, there have been discussions about the electoral reforms throughout the last year, really.

Can I ask, then, are there any political parties that are not on that panel, and, if there are, how have they been engaged with?

The representatives from the parties are the ones where there are two or more sitting Members in the Senedd. So, the parties that are representative are the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Labour. In terms of engagement with other parties, that's something I'd have to come back to you on. I'm not quite sure what connections we've had, or information that's been provided by Welsh Government to those parties. 

Well, if you can come back to us in writing, that would be very helpful for us. And I think Jane will be very happy to see her numbers have doubled automatically. [Laughter.]

We'll move on now to some questions on implementation, and I'll move over to Sarah.

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you, all, for being here this morning. It would be helpful, just if you can, to expand a little bit on what you've already said, and outline your respective roles in the implementation of the Bill, and also any areas of concern that you have with the intended implementation of the Bill's provisions.


And we'll go again—I'm only going like this because of the way you are on my screen—Colin, Catherine and Clare.

I'm sure Catherine and Clare, Chair, will comment on how we prepare the professional network to be ready through guidance and training. But if we jump perhaps to the next set of elections themselves, and what the role for administrations would be in implementation specifically, really, this is all around the constituency returning officers and the way they handle nominations. The ask of them at that level will not be complex. We're very experienced at dealing with different nominations of different types, including lists from previous regional Senedd elections. So, we don't see it as being a particular challenge.

What we have said throughout is that we expect the primacy of existing law to stand in the way we handle nominations, such as we take things at face value, for example, when papers are presented. So, that shouldn't be a challenge to us. We've also made it clear that we wouldn't expect the role of the constituency returning officer to be fundamentally different to any other election, other than the nominations presented to them have a different structure. So, in all the advice that we're giving, we are quite relaxed about the role of the CRO, as we call them. We might want to talk a little later, Chair, about the NNCO role, which we designed, which is significant to look at the horizontal not the vertical presentation, to check that it's compliant across the piste in Wales.

We do have several specific concerns about the election timetable and possibly one or two gaps in what's presented thus far, noting that they will probably be picked up in the conduct Order. You might like us to pick those up shortly, but if I just give that general introduction, I know Clare and Catherine with their expertise and roles can probably say a lot on how we prepare training and give guidance, so that everybody is prepared. Because our concern actually is the risk is greater here for the political parties in being able to co-ordinate a complex set of nominations across Wales. The risks to the administrators are much lower, relatively.

From the commission's perspective, in terms of implementation, we think the Bill is achievable. We provide support to electoral administrators. We provide support and guidance to ensure that they're supported to implement the necessary changes, that political parties and candidates understand any changes to the rules and can comply with them, and so that voters understand how to cast their vote in any system. So, our focus will be on preparing the necessary guidance. Obviously, having the legislation in place in sufficient time is something that we've often mentioned in these evidence sessions. We recommend that the legislation should be in place at least six months in advance to enable us to prepare the guidance, so that it can be absorbed as well, which is really important, and understood by those people who have to implement it.

Can I ask one question on this? You said guidance and the legislation has to be within six months, is that the legislation of this Bill or is that the conduct Order?

No, that would be secondary as well. So, yes, the conduct Order. We anticipate that will be May 2025, in which case our guidance would be drafted for the autumn in that year as well, ahead of the 2026 elections.

Thank you, I just wanted clarification of the timescales there. And Clare.

Just to add to what Cath said, I think the key thing about implementation is to have enough time to be able to implement things properly. For the electoral administrators that we represent, obviously, we're conscious that we want them to have Electoral Commission guidance, because when we deliver training we want to ensure that there's consistency between what's been said in guidance to what's being delivered in training. So, it's imperative that the secondary legislation is in place by 30 September 2025, because that's six months before the timetable starts for the Senedd elections.

I think it's also important, on this point as well, on the implementation for constituency returning officers and administrations, the change is relatively minor compared to the other changes that they're potentially contending with for that 2026 election. It's the impact on political parties and giving them sufficient time to organise themselves and understand those changes as well, including, as you've already referenced, Chair, the smaller parties as well, who maybe haven't been engaged with as thoroughly yet, to make sure that they're aware of those conditions, to minimise any complications when it comes to submitting nominations, and that you haven't got issues with the vertical and horizontal checks, which is going to cause—if that understanding's not there, the issues are going to arise at that point. So, it's just making sure that there's sufficient time for all parties to have complete understanding of what is required, to have those links with the constituency returning officers and making sure that everyone's fully aware of what is intended well in advance, to minimise any consequences arising on the deadline for nominations.


Thank you very much. So, obviously, what we're hearing is that one of the major concerns is getting it done on time, but are you all confident that it can be done in time for the 2026 Senedd election, and is there any additional time or resources that you think would be required to implement the Bill's provisions?

If I could go first, Chair. Yes, based on the current planning timescale for the enactment of the Bill and Cath's comment about May 2025, that would give us good time to prepare everybody for it, because it's not a particularly complex process if everybody understands it and is briefed and ready, whether it's political parties or administrators.

Yes. We think that it's doable, but we would request that there is regular dialogue with Welsh Government. It's important that we work closely with them and have initial sight of policy intention and draft legislation as well, because that helps our understanding of the impact of the legislation and helps us to draft guidance. So, yes, we have a really good relationship with Welsh Government and I'm sure that that will continue and we'll see information as necessary.

I think, just to add to that as well, we haven't got any concerns, necessarily, in relation to this, but I think it's just an overarching point, given the number of changes that have been introduced for the Senedd elections in 2026—the different boundaries, a new electoral-type system, these changes, conduct Order changes in relation to automatic registration that might be piloted, postal ballot paper tracking—there is a lot of change coming ahead of 2026, and it's just making sure that administrators and political parties have sufficient time, not just for this in isolation, but it's a lot with everything else that's changing ahead of 2026 as well.

Thank you. My last question is looking specifically, then, as you mentioned, at some of those tasks. So, the Bill's statement of policy intent says that up to three days will be an appropriate length of additional time in the electoral timetable to undertake sufficiently the necessary compliance checks and potential reordering of lists. Do you feel that this is going to be a sufficient amount of time, and what impact will the additional three days have on your other activities that you need to undertake?

If I may, Chair, this is one of the—. Thank you for the question; it's really pertinent. This is one of the areas of concern around timing. So, it's not process, it's having enough time to do the process well. In discussion with Welsh Government officials, we have agreed that three days following the close of nominations is sufficient for us to do the task, even if there are complexities where the NNCO would have to intervene because one or more parties is not compliant with the new law on horizontal presentation.

But the case that we have made, and you will all understand this well as politicians who have to stand in these elections, is that the whole election timetable itself, from the notice of election onwards, is incredibly tight for all of us. And in incorporating the three days, we have made the case that the whole election timetable should itself be extended by at least three days, preferably more, partly because of this complexity and partly because of the complexity of elections generally. We do understand that most people would see the common sense in that, but that does cause the constitutional questions around the date of dissolution of Parliament, and so on. We do understand that. But given that we're only in 2024 and we're two years away, we think all that is capable of being planned. So, we would very much welcome your support, before we get to the conduct Order, for a fuller review of the election timetable and then the impact that would have on Senedd closure of business.

Yes. Just to add to that, we've called, since 2021, for the election timetable to be looked at for all elections across the UK, due to the increasing risk of the dependency on having a 25-day working timetable, where you've got complexity in terms of what you're introducing legislatively, but also reliance on Royal Mail and an increasingly smaller number of printers who can print ballot papers, and having from, sort of, 19 working days before, the only point that you can do that is increasingly complex. Adding in this additional burden, then, as well, is just creating that tightening of that timetable and increasing the risk to the delivery of the election. So, I think having a look at increasing the timetable to at least an additional three days, but using the precedents that exist—the Scottish parliamentary timetable is between 35 and 28 working days, the Greater London Authority elections at the moment are a 30 working-day timetable—looking at how they operate and seeing how they can translate to mitigate the risk that this will bring to the delivery of the election would be imperative.


Chair, just specifically on the question of three days, it's what we're calling the compliance period, and in the memorandum there's a fairly good, succinct summary of how this would work. But in simple terms, the constituency returning officers would make detail of their local vertical nominations known to this NNCO, the national nominations compliance officer, who would then have three days. The three days would allow, should there be a problem, should one or more parties not be compliant, and that will take some work, as described—. There's a lot of thinking behind the detail, which we need not go into today, but should be in the conduct Order, but that three-day period is essential in case there's a problem—we hope there wouldn't be one—to address.

Thank you very much. That's incredibly helpful. Thank you, Chair.

Dwi am siarad yn Gymraeg. Felly, mae hynny'n bwysig iawn, onid ydy, yr amserlen, fel dŷch chi wedi awgrymu. Cadeirydd, ydy e'n bosib, efallai, ein bod ni'n cael, os dŷch chi'n fodlon, ryw lythyr i ni i gyd fel pwyllgor yn amlinellu yn union beth fydd yn well gyda'r amserlen, plis? Ydy hynny'n bosib? Achos mae'n swnio'n bwysig, bwysig iawn ein bod ni yn cymryd hyn i fyny, ac mae gennych chi esiampl yn yr Alban, er enghraifft. Felly ydy hynny'n bosibl, Cadeirydd, os gwelwch chi'n dda, a hefyd i chi, Colin, dŷch chi'n arwain ar hynny? Diolch yn fawr iawn.

I'm going to speak Welsh. So, this is very important, isn't it, the timetable, as you've suggested. Chair, is it possible that we could have, if you're willing, a letter for us as a committee outlining exactly what would be preferable with the timetable? Is that possible? Because it sounds very, very important that we do take up this issue, and you have an example in Scotland, for example. So, is that possible, Chair, and also, Colin, as you lead on that? Thank you very much.

It is possible, and I'm sure it's a question as to whether the witnesses are able to do so as well.

Of course, Chair, if I may, and I appreciate your colleagues raising this. It is a critical point. Welsh Government officials are fully sighted and understand the point. I don't think anybody would argue against it, but we recognise the constitutional impact it would have on dissolution. Of course, we can provide a detailed letter that sets this out.

Also, I just wonder, as you talk about timetabling, you talked very, very much about the secondary legislation required. The timetable for the Bill we have been given and is published is, basically, looking to seek Royal Assent by the end of November. As you just highlighted, there is secondary legislation, and there'll be a review of the conduct Order and everything. Catherine talked about May. Is that five months, basically, realistic, or are we expecting that process to take a little bit longer, because, again, that adds to your timetable?

We can only go by what we've been told by Welsh Government, and we understand that the conduct Order will be consulted on in the autumn this year. So, we'll have sight of it then. Like I say, it's just through conversations we've had with the Welsh Government that we understand it'll be around May that it'll be made, but that would be doable for us, as long as we keep in touch and have early sight of the draft conduct Order.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Mae fy nghwestiwn i i'r Comisiwn Etholiadol i ddechrau. Dŷch chi eisoes wedi sôn ynglŷn â pheth o'r gwaith dŷch chi wedi bod yn gwneud efo gweinyddwyr etholiadol a phleidiau gwleidyddol, ond pa ganllawiau pellach dŷch chi'n credu fydd angen i chi eu rhoi ar gyfer, hefyd, ymgeiswyr i'w cefnogi i gydymffurfio â darpariaethau'r Bil?

Thank you very much. My question is to the Electoral Commission. You've already mentioned some of the work that you've been doing with electoral administrators and political parties, but what further guidance do you think you'll need to issue for candidates as well to support them to comply with the Bill's provisions?

That's a really important part. Obviously, it'll be setting out the requirements as written in the conduct Order. We can't say what the guidance will be until we see the detail, really, in that secondary legislation, but, like with all our guidance, it's designed so that candidates and parties have a good idea of what's required, basically.

Diolch. Dwi'n gwybod, fel ymgeisydd yn y gorffennol, am yr hyfforddiant dŷch chi'n darparu ac ati, ond yn amlwg bydd yna fwy o ymgeisyddion nag ydyn ni wedi eu gweld erioed o'r blaen, felly bydd lot fawr o waith, byddwn i’n credu, o ran sesiynau o’r fath.

Thank you. I know, as a candidate in the past, of the training that you provide, but, certainly, there will be more candidates than we've ever seen before, so there will be a lot of work that will need to be done in terms of those sessions.


Yes. We provide written guidance, obviously, as on our website, but we play an important role in providing sessions to candidates and parties, for example at party conferences, where we’ll explain and provide information ahead of elections. That would be part of our programme leading up to the Senedd elections as well, so we’d be writing the guidance, issuing it and explaining it as well through any sessions or individual meetings that would be necessary.

If I may briefly, thanks, Heledd. Just to extend Catherine’s answer, not for the Electoral Commission itself, but we see the role of party agents being more important than ever in this, both locally and nationally, and, Chair, there’s a reference, of course, to the role of a national party agent in being responsible for managing the horizontal arrangements, and it’s going to be critical that parties have a single, named responsible national agent who the NNCO could work with, should there be a problem over the weekend post nomination. So, streamlining of roles, role clarity and preparation of agents at national and local levels are more important than ever.

That’s really helpful. Thank you.

Os caf i fynd ymlaen jest i sôn ynglŷn â’r rôl hefyd fydd yna o ran codi ymwybyddiaeth y cyhoedd a’u dealltwriaeth nhw o ddarpariaethau’r Bil, allwch chi amlinellu’r rôl fydd gan y Comisiwn Etholiadol i ddechrau? Efallai fydd eraill eisiau dod i mewn hefyd.

If I could just move on to talk about the role in terms of raising public awareness and their understanding of the Bill's provisions, could you outline the role the Electoral Commission will have initially? Maybe others will want to come in as well.

Yes, so our role is to ensure that voters are registered to vote and that they know how to cast their vote. So, we don’t have a responsibility for explaining the system as such. For example, for the Senedd election, we’ll produce a leaflet that is sent to all households. It explains the elections and how they work, but the focus will be on the ballot paper and how that is filled in. So, we would be doing the same for any changes to the system for the Senedd elections in 2026.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi ddim yn siŵr os oes unrhyw un arall eisiau dod i mewn. Na. A gaf i ofyn, felly—

Thank you very much. I'm not sure whether anybody else wants to come in. No. Could I ask you—?

Heledd, sorry could I add, just very briefly, returning officers of course do work on local awareness, because we would expect probably more questions at polling stations now about how the closed list works and why it’s different, and, of course, presiding officers can only say so much and there’s only so much time, particularly if they’ve got queues? So, we do put out local information on public awareness, but, as Catherine says, it’s just how to vote—that people understand the voting system, not to go beyond it and justify it. It’s just so people know what to expect with their postal vote or with their vote in person.

Diolch, Colin. Wedyn, yn amlwg, mi fydd angen hyfforddiant ychwanegol, mi fyddwn i’n cymryd, felly, fel swyddogion canlyniadau a swyddogion cydymffurfiaeth, er mwyn cyflawni’r swyddogaethau a nodir yn y Bil. Mi fyddwn i’n credu bod hynny’n mynd i gymryd bach o amser hefyd, felly. Ie. Grêt. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Mae o jest yn rhywbeth i ni fod yn ymwybodol ohono fo.

Thank you, Colin. Evidently, there will be a need for additional training, I would assume, with returning officers and NNCOs, in order to discharge the functions set out in the Bill. I would think that that will take some time as well. Yes. Thank you. That's just something we need to be aware of.

And just on the purpose of guidance, if I’m right, on this particular Bill, the focus of the guidance will be on the constituency returning officers and the NNCO, because this is more about making sure that the candidates lists are appropriate and meeting the guidance, rather than the public’s agenda on this.

Yes, Chair. Without repeating the point, it’s our job to inform the public on the voting system and how to cast their vote legitimately. But I think, Heledd, just to say, of course, when, at a national level, template nomination packs are produced, those in themselves have guidance around them, and of course we will have the addition of gender disclosure for candidates, so there would be guidance around that too for political parties specifically.

Yes, Colin. Correct.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Mae’r sesiwn nesaf ar orfodi a chydymffurfio. Rydych chi wedi ateb rhai o’r cwestiynau yn barod, ond gaf i jest ofyn a oes gennych chi bryderon ychwanegol dydych ddim wedi sôn amdanyn nhw ynghylch y broses gydymffurfio a nodir yn y Bil, os gwelwch yn dda?

Thank you very much. The next section of questions is on enforcement and compliance. You've answered some of the questions already, but could I just ask if you have any additional concerns that you haven't already mentioned in terms of the compliance process outlined in the Bill, please?


I think, Chair, if I could go first, at this stage, no. Once we get to the conduct Order, if that works through in the way that we would expect, I think, Jane, the answer would still be, 'No, we're comfortable'. This is why I mentioned at the beginning that the principle is that returning officers shouldn't have any extended role beyond the normal things they would expect under primary legislation. So, what I mean by that is that they accept or reject nominations presented to them based on whether they're compliant with the legislation and they're complete. It's only those two things: are they compliant, are they complete? So, has the gender disclosure form, for example, been completed? Is the vertical list compliant, in the sense of sequencing that's required? Provided those things are present, the CRO's role—the constituency returning officer—is to accept them on face value. So, knowing the system well and being prepared, if political parties and independent candidates bring compliant and complete papers at a local level, we have no problem at all, we do our job at a local level.

We then, of course, jump to the NNCO—the national nominations compliance officer—and the summary is very good in the memorandum to the Bill on what they would do, and that's really where enforcement and compliance falls at a national level for the horizontal presentation. So, if all the CROs have signed off nominations correctly, it all then passes upwards—that one role—and what's in the memorandum describes that. Whereas, if somebody isn't compliant, they either have the option as a party to nominate one or more constituencies where the local CRO would then be directed to reshuffle, if I could put it that way, the existing nominated candidates to be compliant, or if the party wasn't able or couldn't do that, then the NNCO has reserve powers to randomly select and then instruct the CRO.

So, you can see why this NNCO role is rather significant, because it's not something we've ever had before. Normally, nominations stand or fall at the local level, without somebody else appropriately interfering where there is a compliance issue. So, we think this is all very workable with good preparation and timing and the sort of things we've discussed already, yes.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. A, Catherine, oes gennych chi—?

Thank you very much. And, Catherine, do you have—?

Yes, our view as well would be that the precedent should be maintained—about face value being the precedent. The onus should very much be on the candidate, we think, to ensure that they are providing accurate information, which is the case now with the nomination forms. It was reassuring, last week, to hear the Minister talking about the role of the RO and it not being one where they'll be required to investigate the accuracy of the information provided.

Diolch yn fawr. Clare.

Thank you very much. Clare.

If I could answer that as well, obviously, face value is a key concept, but I think there are some other things in terms of compliance where, in the current legislation, there would be potential issues in terms of the withdrawals process. So, we currently have a withdrawals process where a candidate can withdraw before the close of nominations, or the nominating officer can withdraw a party list, and what we're concerned about is that it's unprecedented in the sense that a candidate could withdraw their nomination and, at the moment, that would have no impact. But, if it were a woman candidate who was to withdraw, you've suddenly got a valid nomination that would then become invalidated, and obviously, there's a risk of that, potentially, being abused by people, as well, to almost invalidate a whole party list. So, that needs to be looked at in terms of the compliance aspect as well—that it's putting constituency returning officers in a very unique position, while, currently, you accept a nomination and nothing will change to the nature of that nomination to invalidate it, but, suddenly, you've got somebody who's withdrawn a nomination and the impact of that needs to be looked at to see how that would be addressed in practice as well.

Exactly, and if I could add, Clare, that of course, in current electoral law, which you would know well, there's a provision for withdrawals to be made at a late stage, up until the close of nominations, but the complexity here is how, if that happened for good reason, that might affect the vertical lists and what would have to be done. It could be within an hour of the closing date—it's quite complex. That's a practicality we need to think through within the existing legal framework.

Can I come in on that point, Jane, if you don't mind? It's an interesting point, actually. Who would be able to withdraw? If the list is presented by a party, can an individual on that list, under this legislation, withdraw, or is it the party that has to resubmit a new list?

It's currently both. So, the individual candidate can withdraw from that list and the nominating officer for the political party can withdraw the whole list in that respect. Why I think it needs to be looked at is, if you've got an individual candidate withdrawing, there's the impact that that potentially has then, with the changes, and what position it puts the constituency returning officer in as well.


Ie. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Diddorol iawn. Dydyn ni ddim wedi meddwl am hynny i fyny fan hyn. Jest cwestiwn arbenigol, i ddweud y gwir, ynglŷn â'r national nominations compliance officer. A'r cwestiwn yw: ydych chi'n meddwl ei fod e'n bosib y gallai ddelio â—? Na, sori. Amlinellu a yw'n briodol i'r drosedd o dorri dyletswydd swyddogol fod yn berthnasol i'r swyddog yma, y national nominations compliance officer. Felly, oes gennych chi farn ar hynny, os gwelwch yn dda?

Yes. Thank you very much. It's very interesting. It's something I haven't really thought about up until now. Just a question that's a bit more specialised perhaps in terms of the national nominations compliance officer. The question is whether you believe it's possible—. No, sorry. It's to outline whether it's appropriate that the offence of breach of official duty should apply to the national nominations compliance officer. So, do you have any view on that, please?

Thank you, Jane. I think this—. The purpose of the role and how it would function in practice has been clearly set out. If I think I understand your question, one of the things I've been raising behind the scenes with officials, which will need further work, is actually to whom they're accountable for reporting. Because if, over that weekend, they have to confirm to all the political parties, 'I can now confirm you're all compliant, and the nominations will be published as presented', or, in scenario B, there's an issue, they do need to report and be held to account for their performance. And that is an unanswered question at the moment, where that would sit. So, one option I'd advance, which needs consideration, is it could be the Chief Executive and Clerk of the National Assembly for Wales, for example, because that is the organisation that we're accounting to. It does need some thought. And I think, if I understand your question, how well they perform and are they compliant would be built into what you've asked.

What we're thinking at the moment is that, because there will be 16 combined constituencies, there will be six local returning officers, who, although of course involved in the election, won't be asked to step up to that bigger role. So, arguably, we've got six senior colleagues in Wales who might have the time and capacity for one of them, and then one as a deputy, to be appointed for that group for that particular purpose. They would be expert, known and credible, and they're also accountable because they've got a formal returning officer duty that could be extended. So, those sort of things are in the thinking, but this all needs to be worked through in some detail before we get to the conduct Order. I hope I've answered your question, if I've understood it.

Mi wnaf i ddweud o yn Saesneg; efallai mai fy Nghymraeg i yw hi.

I'll say it in English, because perhaps it's my Welsh that's caused a problem.

It's whether it's an offence of breach of official duty and should that apply to the national nominations compliance officer? So, do you think that that is appropriate, that the offence of breach of official duty should apply? And maybe you haven't got an opinion on it and maybe you don't want to say, and that's absolutely fine. It is a very specialist kind of question.

Okay. I'm not sure I can answer it without understanding a little more, but we would expect performance standards to be set and there to be an accountability reporting framework to somebody else for the discharge of their duties, yes.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. I don't know if Catherine and Clare—

Yes. I could just add on the performance standards aspect. We've had early discussions with Welsh Government about how the current returning officer performance standards, which the commission is responsible for and are laid before the Senedd, how these might be extended to cover the NNCO role, and we'll be happy to discuss this aspect further. Nothing has been confirmed or decided yet.

I'll add to what Catherine said as well. I think until we know more about the actual full nature and functions of the national nominations compliance officer when it's set out in secondary legislation, to understand exactly what the expectations are on them in terms of how that role operates—. But if they are acting in a similar function to a returning officer, and a returning officer is always subject to a breach of official duty, then it would seem reasonable that that would be exactly the same for the national nominations compliance officer, because they're acting in that same sort of capacity as well. But it just needs to be fleshed out first in that subordinate legislation and then that determination could be made at that point then as well.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Cadeirydd.

Thank you very much, Chair.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I'm going to go a bit further on compliance and enforcement. I'm interested in—. What do you think the potential might be for someone to make a false gender statement on a nomination form, and what sort of consequences would there be then for constituency returning officers challenging someone on their gender statement? For example, I could turn up at county hall in Llandrindod Wells, go and see my constituency returning officer and say, 'I'm now going to identify as a women for these purposes of getting back in.' That constituency returning officer would know very well I'm not a woman, but they'd have to take it at face value, because the Bill allows for self-identification. It also doesn't include for anybody who is non-binary as well. But also could it put them in a difficult situation as well, if I don't want to declare on that form whether I'm a man or a woman because of my privacy, and, under article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 we do have a right to privacy as well, so is there a risk there, of the Bill, that it could be in contravention of article 8 of the human rights Act, and a difficulty then for constituency returning officers having to put these forms in?


Thanks, James. That's a very big, challenging question. We are not lawyers. We can't advise you on the Human Rights Act and privacy and individual rights. What we will say is that, when the new nomination pack is concluded and whatever form is provided for gender disclosure, it will be a requirement for a candidate to complete everything that's required of them in the nomination pack or their candidature is not valid at the point of presentation. So, that's no different to any other form that we—

But do you think that that local authority, then, who's taken that nomination, could be challenged, then, under article 8 of the Human Rights Act if I don't want to disclose, because I have a right to privacy, that that could potentially be an issue for returning officers, who've got to put these forms in, that they could be in breach of the Human Rights Act?

I would say—and this isn't a legal answer, this is an experienced returning officer answer—I would say 'no', we would not be at risk and we would be indemnified. Because it's the responsibility of the candidate to present true and fair information. It's our job—. We can give whatever private advice somebody might ask around electoral law, but it's our job to receive nomination papers at face value and process them accordingly. So, if there were, for example, an election petition later on, we would see the RO as having acted properly and being indemnified.

As to the question, James, about even if somebody believes that somebody might be presenting untrue information, the face value test still applies. This is why the responsibility sits with political parties and with candidates. And we can only go so far to protect the integrity of the system.

I'd like to thank you for that, because that's a concern I have, about integrity of elections. But I want to come on to that now, actually. In what circumstances do you feel that an election petition could be launched at a Senedd election due to measures set out in this Bill?

I'm not sure. That's something, really, that goes beyond our roles, Catherine. Probably the Electoral Commission has the greatest experience in petitions themselves.

Well, yes, we don't play a role in the actual petition process in any way. We provide guidance on how a petition can be made or submitted after the election. It's in our guidance. But this is something we're considering, having only just recently seen the wording in the Bill, and we can provide, perhaps, more on this in our written evidence.

Just to add as well, I think we just have concerns. Obviously, when you introduce something new, it's impossible to predict as to will that lead to having petitions. But if there are instances where people have tested the system, potentially, or deliberately made false statements, then it could give rise to petitions—not based on the conduct of a constituency returning officer, who has done their job properly, but, obviously, if something is not in accordance with the law, based on a candidate making a false statement, that would be grounds for a petition, potentially. I think there's just concern over the impact. And, as Colin said, constituency returning officers would be fully indemnified for that as part of their role, but it's just that concern, when you introduce something new, would there be increasing challenge and a rise in the number of petition cases based on that. But, again, it's for political parties to ensure that implementation at that point is clear to candidates and to minimise the risk on that point. But, when you introduce anything new, there's always, obviously, an increased risk that that could be an unintended consequence.

And also, James, of course, sometimes people do make complaints direct to the police around the time of nominations for elections and afterwards about all sorts of things, and we have seen them in the past about whether somebody has truly and fairly completed their nomination papers. We have talked to the principal police single point of contact—the SPOC, as they call them—for elections in Wales, and they fully accept and endorse that the role of the CRO is to accept papers at face value in the way that we've described. And they would only respond to complaints, and, of course, post election, the elections petitions route has a process set out in law, on whatever grounds it's made. 


Can I ask a question, then, of Catherine? You said you give guidance on petitions. Who does that guidance go to, out of curiosity? 

It's included in our candidates and agents guidance. It just gives the information on where to submit a petition and the number of days after the election. It's basic, practical guidance, really. 

My final question, Cadeirydd. Do you think—? Do you have concerns, then, about the enforceability of the gender quotas as a result of the statement not being part of the corrupt practice offence?

Sorry, could you repeat that question, please?

Do you have concerns about the enforceability, then, of the gender quotas as a result of the statement not being part of the corrupt practice offence?

I don't think I've got a view on that. It's probably not something for the Electoral Commission. 

We'll probably come back to others who may be able to answer questions on enforceability. 

I just want to say I feel very sorry for you, because I think there'll be quite a lot of legal challenges coming forward with this legislation when it's put forward. 

I think, Chair, if I may, I fully understand James's question. You'll appreciate they're not ones where we're fully qualified to give—

But, hopefully, our answers about how the system nominations and the NNCO role can and should work, and can work safely within the bounds of the roles that we have—. Hopefully, we've given you assurance today that that is workable. 

Can I just ask one question of you on that? There are other areas of false statements that are considered to be part of the corrupt practice offence, and the gender statement isn't one. Is that a surprise to you, or not?

I don't have expertise in that area. Catherine, are you able to answer from the commission? Not the surprise, but just about its inclusion or not?

No, I think this is something, like I said, that we'll be responding on in written evidence. I think it's something we're considering. 

That's fine. We'll look forward to your written evidence on that section. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi am jest edrych ar ddata, os gwelwch yn dda, a diogelu data. A dwi am jest ofyn un cwestiwn, efo dwy ran, os yw hynny'n iawn. Yn gyntaf, ydych chi'n meddwl bod y trefniadau sydd yn eu lle ar gyfer y swyddogion canlyniadau yn ddigonol i reoli unrhyw effeithiau diogelu data? A hefyd, a allaf i godi, os gwelwch yn dda, dal a  rhannu data yn narpariaethau'r Bil, os gwelwch yn dda?

Thank you very much. I just want to look a bit at data protection. And I'd like to ask one question, in two parts, if I may. First of all, do you think that the necessary arrangements are in place to manage any data protection impacts that may arise? And can I also bring up the point of data sharing in terms of the Bill's provisions, please?

In summary, I would say—thank you, Jane, for the questions—from a CRO point of view, if we looked at the current provisions for the rights to inspect nomination paper packs, if we're talking specifically about somebody's gender disclosure form, we would expect the existing provisions to apply for the new nomination packs, and those to be restricted to the current people. So, that would mean there's no greater risk than currently of any breach or somebody inappropriately sharing that information. And then, of course, when it comes to data sharing, the only thing the CRO would be doing that's different to the norm is sharing in advance information on nomination lists to the NNCO. Well, those lists are eventually published anyway when they're signed off as being acceptable, following closure of nominations. So, all we're doing is furnishing that national officer with basic information for them to look at the horizontal compliance. So, basically, the information is only circulating within professionals, and available for inspection by the people who can currently inspect. Beyond that, we can't see any issues whatsoever, because we're sharing with very few people for legitimate purposes. But I know, Clare, you had an issue about this. I don't know if you want to expand on my answer from an administrative point of view. 

I think it's just the inspection. It's just making sure that that is covered off in the secondary legislation and, when amendments are made to the conduct Order, that there's—. There's a particular provision at the moment that limits the home address form, because of the sensitivities around people who want to suppress their home address, that only other candidates standing, their agents and the national nomination officers can inspect those forms. So, we'd like to see the same being applied to the gender statements, due to the sensitive nature of that information, but still allowing transparency for those standing in an election to be able to make petitions if needs be, based on that information as well, which is currently the case with the home address. 

And then, of course, what is disclosed on the ballot paper itself will be the subject of the conduct Order, but we wouldn't expect to see information that compromises anybody's privacy, as is standard practice for elections. 


I'd just add that we publish data protection guidance for electoral registration officers and returning officers and, of course, we'd look at that to see if it needed any amendment in light of the Bill. I also noticed that the Welsh Government's data protection impact assessment suggests that the inspection of gender declaration forms will be looked at in secondary legislation. So, yes, as we said, we don't have a clear understanding of this at the moment, and we'd expect to see it in the secondary.

You see, Jane, what we said about the principles, if we work within the bounds of existing legislation and very well established practice, as far as we can, then we should be taking out risks accordingly, and this is a really good example you've raised.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Felly, fel dwi'n deall, ar y pwynt yma dŷn ni ynddo, dŷch chi ddim yn meddwl bod angen polisïau newydd neu eraill ar ben beth sydd gennych chi rŵan.

Thank you very much. So, as I understand it, at this point where we are, you don't believe that we need new policies or different policies on top of what's available at the moment.

I think, generally, we would say 'no', provided we follow the established practice we've set out around nominations and inspection.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gadeirydd. 

Thank you very much, Chair.

Thank you. I'm just going to ask around if any Members have any additional questions. They're all shaking their heads. So, can I thank you all for your contribution today, then? As you know, you'll receive a copy of the transcript, so if there are any factual inaccuracies, please let us know. We very much look forward to the written evidence that you've indicated you'll provide us with, and can I also thank you for the short notice with which you've been able to attend, because I know the Bill was only laid last week? But, fortunately, I think some of you have been involved in the development of it, so that's helped us a little bit. So, thank you, once again, for your time this morning.

Diolch yn fawr, Chair. Thank you very much for receiving us. 

3. Papurau i'w nodi
3. Papers to note

And for Members, then, we're going to item 3 on the agenda, and that's the papers to note. There's one paper, which is a letter from the Llywydd regarding the Senedd Cymru (Electoral Candidate Lists) Bill. You've all got that now. I know many Members actually had that beforehand because it was part of the Business Committee. Okay. So, we have that. 

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i wahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of the meeting


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

And now, under item 4, a motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting. Are Members content to do so? Yes, I see that they are, so we'll now move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:22.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:22.