Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Carolyn Thomas
Jayne Bryant
Joel James
John Griffiths Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Peredur Owen Griffiths Yn dirprwyo ar ran Luke Fletcher
Substitute for Luke Fletcher
Sam Rowlands

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Gareth McMahon Uwch Gyfreithiwr y Llywodraeth, Gwasanaethau Cyfreithiol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Senior Government Lawyer, Legal Services, Welsh Government
Michael Kay Uwch Swyddog Cyfrifol y Bil a Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Is-adran Etholiadau, Llywodraeth Cymru
Senior Responsible Officer for the Bill and Deputy Director, Elections Division, Welsh Government
Mick Antoniw Cwnsler Cyffredinol a Gweinidog y Cyfansoddiad
Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

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

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

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

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

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

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

The meeting began at 09:30.

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

Okay. May I welcome everyone to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee? We've received apologies from Luke Fletcher, and Peredur Owen Griffiths is attending as a substitute. Welcome, Peredur. The meeting is being held in a hybrid format and, aside from the adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in that way, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. The public items of the meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation is available. Are there any declarations of interest? No. 

2. Bil Etholiadau a Chyrff Etholedig (Cymru): Tystiolaeth gan y Cwnsler Cyffredinol a Gweinidog y Cyfansoddiad
2. Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill: Evidence from the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution

We will move on, then, to item 2 on our agenda today, Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill, and our evidence session with the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution and his officials. Would you like to introduce yourself and your officials—I've just introduced you, really, Minister, but your officials for the record?

I'll ask them to introduce themselves. 

Thank you. Good morning. I'm Michael Kay, deputy director for elections. 

Good morning. I'm Gareth McMahon, I'm the senior Government lawyer in the Welsh Government. 

Okay. Thank you, all. We will move to questions then. And perhaps I might begin with some questions around the human rights aspects implications of the proposed legislation. Could I ask you, then, Counsel General, what analysis you've undertaken with regard to the human rights impacts of the Bill? The explanatory memorandum is silent, isn't it, and the committee would like to know whether you've made that analysis, and, if so, when it will be published and in what form.

Well, my consideration of competence, which I have a duty to, not only as the Member tabling the Bill and taking the Bill through the Senedd, but also in terms, I suppose, of my role as Counsel General as well, is to ensure that the Bill is within competence. In order to be within competence, it has to be compliant with convention rights, and, in particular, the human rights convention. I have given consideration to it. I don't consider that there are any particular issues there. It does engage the human rights convention, but, where it does so, it is appropriate and proportionate in terms of the way it deals with it, and I don't consider that there are any issues on that that in any way challenge the competence of this legislation. 

With regard to the provisions restricting third party controlled expenditure in section 36, have you considered that part of the proposed legislation in relation to article 10 of the European convention on human rights?

I have specifically looked. It does engage article 10. Article 10 is, really, the provision in respect of freedom of expression, freedom to communicate and so on. But it is, of course, a qualified right, so, basically, as long as I can establish that it's necessary and proportionate to do so. And those are the considerations I've given to that. In my view, it is fully compliant with that, and that, again, doesn't create any issue, in my view, in respect of competence. 

I think it's also fair to say, isn't it, that, of course, the matter has been considered by the Llywydd as well in respect of competence, again with a similar position taken. 

Okay. Thank you for that, Counsel General. A further matter on human rights implications, or possible human rights implications, before we move on to other questions, and that is section 3 of the Bill, requiring each electoral registration officer in Wales to add eligible electors to the local government register where that electoral registration officer is satisfied that the person is entitled to register. Again, is that a provision that has given you particular pause for thought with regard to the human rights aspects?

Well, I've given consideration to that, and I think it is fully compliant and compatible with the convention rights. You'll be aware that within that provision the automatic addition of people to the electoral register does have within this particular Bill mechanisms for people who wish to be on the register but wish to be anonymous within it, but also there is provision whereby a notice will be given to everyone who is added to the register, and, after, if they decide they do not wish to be part of it, they will not be automatically added to the register, but of course they will then go back into the existing legislation in terms of the current paper system that we're all familiar with in terms of the obligations to provide details. But, for the purpose of this legislation, I'm satisfied that it is compliant, and the provisions there, I think, we've specifically put in in order to ensure that, within this new situation, this new legislation, this new way of having an automatic register, there are the maximum protections.


Okay, thank you for that, Counsel General. We'll move on then to Carolyn Thomas. Carolyn.

Just some questions regarding the electoral management board. How will the functions the electoral management board carry out—? How will the functions that it will carry out differ from the voluntary Wales Electoral Coordination Board?

At the moment, what we do have is a voluntary arrangement of electoral registration officers [correction: regional returning officers] who come together to work collectively, and of course it has been for some time a consideration that this really needed to be put on a statutory basis, and that's what the legislation actually does. So, really, it is creating now a proper statutory framework for the management of elections. I think, bearing in mind the responsibilities we have now since the 2017 Wales Act, that makes this, I think, a sensible way forward. It does, to some extent, replicate the way this has been developed within Scotland as well for the same purpose.

Okay, thank you. How will it be accountable to the Senedd?

Well, I think the accountability—. There are two things we need to be very careful about. Firstly, that there is not political interference in the way in which elections are managed and the way boards operate, but clearly there has to be an overall accountability or scrutiny of the work of that. So, we create the statutory framework within which the electoral management board actually operates. It becomes part of the new commission that is being established. That commission will report to the Senedd, produce an annual report. That is a report that will then be scrutinised by the Members of the Senedd, and then obviously there may well be issues—issues that might arise within that scrutiny process become a matter for engagement. But, of course, the independence of the management of elections and the work of the commission will be within the framework that's set out by statute.

Okay. Earlier, you referred to Scotland. The Electoral Management Board for Scotland states that it seeks to operate

'by consensus rather than formal direction, wherever possible.'

The electoral management board established by this Bill—will it operate in a similar way to that in Scotland?

I hope it will. There will be engagement, of course, with stakeholders and so on, but I think the intention is—. And the only real way that these things can work, I think, most effectively, is by developing a modus of consensus and so on. I might perhaps go over to Michael just in terms of that—how the Scottish board has actually operated and the lessons perhaps learned from that.

Sure. We've been working closely with our colleagues in Scotland to understand how the electoral management board there has worked in practice. There have been quite a lot of lessons that we've picked up in the design, and some of our thinking has also been in parallel with them, as they've been thinking about the next steps for the electoral management board. Yes, they do operate by consensus, but they sometimes do offer directions. That was particularly helpful in the coronavirus situation, for example. I think we'd be expecting it to operate in a similar way, but it would be for this new body, that's independent of Government, to work out its own detailed ways of working. But certainly the indication we have is that it would be looking to operate by consensus.

Carolyn, just before you continue, Peredur would like to come in at this point.

Slightly circling back a little bit to the scrutiny element, the Electoral Commission is currently scrutinised by the Llywydd's Committee when it comes here, and I think that's named in legislation, I believe. Is that your intention with this, to have a named route into scrutiny, our would it be up to the Senedd to decide?


I think the report will go to the Senedd, so it will be a report that is tabled in Senedd for debate within the Senedd as a whole. I don't know whether that's the practice elsewhere et cetera, but that would be where Members have the direct ability to assess how it is operating, what it is doing, to scrutinise that particular work and then what lessons and issues emerge from that debate.

And just, really, what will happen to the Wales Electoral Coordination Board's, the voluntary one's, functions around reserved elections? And what will happen to it once the electoral management board is established? Will it fold? Will it stop functioning?

Well, of course, the electoral management board will, of course, take the responsibility in respect of the functions set out within the Bill for Welsh elections. But, of course, this legislation is only in respect of Welsh elections. Reserved elections, that is UK Westminster parliamentary elections and the police and crime commissioner elections—they, obviously, continue separately. So, its functions will not continue for that purpose.

Just to follow-up from Peredur's question, your response to the question around where it would be scrutinised was that it would go to the Senedd and be tabled in the Senedd. So, just to be really clear on that, you're saying then, therefore, it's up to the Senedd as to where further scrutiny may need to take place, within which committee it may be most appropriate? Is that right?

What you're saying, therefore, is that it will be down to the Senedd to decide which committee would be most appropriate to scrutinise the report coming from this body.

Well, ultimately, it is. The commission will produce a report. We'd expect the report to actually go to the Senedd for debate, but how the Senedd chooses to manage its own business is, obviously, a matter for the Senedd itself.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning. Bore da. It's the Welsh Government's intention to hold pilots on registration without application prior to this being introduced, but this is not required by the Bill. Can you just outline why this isn't the case?

Well, the starting point is just to say that there is no intention to have pilots other than in respect of the automatic registration matters. This is before the 2026. But, really, I think the basis for the introduction of pilots will be dealt with by statutory instrument, by secondary legislation, and again that will be something that will have to be voted on, tabled by the Senedd itself. Is there anything to add to that? No.

Okay, thank you. What data would the electoral registration officer use to verify an elector's identity in the process of registration without application?

Well, I'll go to the officials in a moment on this, because it's very much work in progress. But it's basically looking at where there are specific Welsh sources of data that can be utilised—those data sources that are within the jurisdiction of Wales—to provide the basis for that. Michael, do you want to—?

Sure. So, electoral registration officers have already got quite a lot of power in relation to the data they can access for purposes of validating applications to be on the electoral register. What we're proposing is that they can add people to the electoral register by using pretty much the same data sources they'd already be using to validate for those purposes. Clear examples are things like council tax. Schools data would be particularly relevant in this instance, given the under-registration of younger people in particular. But those are examples. We've got a good work stream in place with colleagues from local government to design what these pilots would look like, because I think the point of what data is available that is complete and reliable enough to compile an electoral register is very important. So, it's a really key aspect of the work that we're doing on the pilots that we're co-designing with local government colleagues.

Brilliant, thank you. And as part of provisions, the Government said it intends to remove the open register for Welsh elections, but that doesn’t appear on the face of the Bill. Can you just clarify why that isn't included, and what are the timescales for its removal? 

Basically, the powers to do so come from the legislation itself. Once the legislation is passed and has Royal Assent, then it's to be achieved by secondary legislation.


I think it's important to note that there are effectively going to be two different types of register, firstly, because we already have a different register in respect of 16 plus. There are two particular parts of Welsh legislation that have created changes, but from 16 plus is already on the register, and, of course, qualifying foreign citizens who are entitled to vote are within our register, and, of course, the changes that emerge as a result of the automatic registration and so on.

The open register for UK parliamentary elections is something that will actually continue. That is a separate matter; we do not have any jurisdiction and no intention to have any regard to that. But in terms of our register for the Welsh elections, there is a necessity, I think, to provide a greater protection in respect of the 16-plus voters. So, that will be different; it will be a closed register. There will be access to it for those who have a specific legal entitlement to access it, to access that particular data.

It's quite interesting when you start looking at this, going back. The House of Lords looked at this I think around about—I'm trying to remember rightly—2011 [correction: 2013], and actually felt that the open register served no useful purpose, no significant purpose, and also that there were issues that it raised with regard to privacy. So, as far as ours is concerned, we'll be laying a statutory instrument that will change the nature in respect of the Welsh register. So, it'll be closed register. But the open register will, for parliamentary elections, obviously be a matter for the jurisdiction of the Electoral Commission and the UK Parliament.

Jayne, just before you continue, I think Peredur would like to come in again.

With regard to the secondary legislation that will be introduced as it comes along, what procedures would be used for that? Would it be the negative procedure or the affirmative or superaffirmative? What do you envisage happening with those?

It would be tabled, I think, for a vote in the Senedd. Is that right, Michael? Have I got that right?

I'm not sure about the exact procedure. Gareth is—

The power in question that I think the Government will be using is section 53 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. I believe that is an affirmative procedure, but I'd just need to confirm that to be absolutely certain.

My recollection in terms of discussions on this is that it would be an affirmative vote, so the—

So, it wouldn't come into force unless there was a positive vote for it.

You just mentioned the two registers in terms of the devolved and the reserved elections. How would the Welsh Government support electoral registration officers with this added complexity?

I think it's going to be about engagement and communication, isn't it—engagement with stakeholders, the clarity of understanding of the fact that there are those particular differences. There is clearly a divergence. It's not just a one-way divergence, incidentally, because of the UK Government's Elections Act 2022. So, there are those changes in terms of the direction as to how we see the modernisation of the electoral system actually taking place. It's got to be one that's based on the engagement with the stakeholders, et cetera.

Could I just ask, Jayne, before you continue, have you thought, Counsel General, about possible confusion amongst the population of Wales? Might they think, because they're automatically enrolled for Welsh elections, that that will also apply to UK elections? And if that is a factor that you've considered, how would you set about overcoming those difficulties?

I think it is an issue. It's an issue we've already had to deal with. Firstly, we've had to deal with it because of the issue of 16 and 17-year-old voters, of course, within our own elections and within the Senedd and county council elections, so that is there already. We've also seen the steps that have been taken by the electoral registration officers in respect of preparations for the general election, and we've seen the notices that have gone out that have been very clear, for example, in respect of the requirements for ID in order to be able to vote. And those notifications make it very, very clear that this only applies to UK parliamentary elections. Of course, there are ongoing questions, and you have to keep reinforcing those messages. When we do come to reserved elections, I think what will be important will be the preparations for that, the communications that take place, how it is made clear to people what they have to do in terms of the voting processes. And of course, by then, there will be an automatic register as well. So, I think that is always ongoing.

In terms of communication and engagement with people, in terms of clarity of voting, and so on, it's something that always happens before elections, but I think it does become more important. So, we'll need to stress that, in order to vote, you do not need certain things—you do not need to have ID, or whatever, for the Welsh elections. So, that is, I think, very much in mind. I think it's one of the reasons why it's very good that there will be an electoral management board, why those things will be considered within a framework, and I think within a more consistent framework, around the whole of Wales.


I think there's a connection between the points that have been made, in terms of public confidence in an automatic registration process, if they know that the data is only going to be used for electoral information. One of the reasons the Electoral Commission has called for the removal of the open register for a long time is that they think electoral registration information should only be used for electoral purposes, rather than the commercial purposes that, often, the open register gets used for. And it's linked to the point on capacity. The Wales Electoral Coordination Board's function—the WECB as a voluntary body—will evolve into the statutory electoral management board, but the distinction between reserved and devolved functions isn't necessarily as clear cut. So, thinking about things like capacity of electoral management teams, obviously the EMB would want to take account of what are the pressures coming from a reserved perspective as well as a devolved perspective, because the answer is still the capacity of electoral teams to perform devolved functions. As the Counsel General said, the communication is really important, and that's something that is another really key strand of the pilots that we're designing with local government colleagues.

Could I just ask as well, Counsel General, were a UK Government minded to agree to such an idea, might you propose that the Welsh register for Welsh elections, as far as Wales is concerned, be used for UK general elections as well? Would that be feasible, or would that be an administrative or technical nightmare?

With the UK Government, I suppose, constitutionally, anything is feasible and possible. And if the UK Government were to do so, they would obviously need to regulate in a particular way to enable that to happen, whether it would need primary legislation or secondary legislation. I really haven't addressed that in my considerations. What I do think, though, is that the changes we are making, which I think are very much about modernising our electoral system, do to some extent set a lead in terms of perhaps more broader reforms. There might be lessons that will be learnt from the changes we're making in terms of the electoral system and electoral management across the rest of the UK. I think automatic registration makes perfect sense.

I think there's an additional element to that, which follows on from what you're asking. Of course, the Electoral Commission, who clearly have an interest in oversight of these matters, wrote to us within Wales—and I'm sure they've done exactly the same thing with the UK Government—to tell us that there are approximately 400,000 people in Wales who are not on the electoral register. They don't make the very specific suggestion of reforms, but they basically say, 'This needs to be addressed'. In some ways, we'd already started the process of addressing that. If you correlate that with the situation in the UK, it means, potentially, there may be, I don't know, seven, eight, nine million people in the UK who are not on the electoral register. Bearing in mind how important those are for the determination of parliamentary constituencies, it would be quite a significant change. So, I think we are modernising our system, and I think there may be those who will be looking to see what we do, to see what potential benefits there might be elsewhere.

But technically, administratively, would it be feasible, or not too difficult to achieve, if there was agreement for the Welsh register to be used for UK elections, as far as Wales is concerned?

Well, I'm sure, if we can achieve it within Wales, the UK Government should be capable of achieving it.


Diolch, Cadeirydd. You mentioned a mechanism for those who would wish to be anonymous on the register. What steps are being taken to reassure more vulnerable people that nothing will be placed on the record without their approval, and how can we continue to reassure those people? 

It's a very good point, and it's been very much something that's been in consideration. It's something that when we consulted over the legislation, and so on, there's been thought to. I think it really comes through the process that will be operated. So, as people are added automatically to the register, I think within 45 days they will have to be notified that they've been added, but what they will also be given is information that gives them, I think, two options. One is how they can be anonymised within the register—that is, they stay on the register but their details, for various reasons, will be anonymous—but then also for those who just don't want to be on it at all, and they will go back into the normal system that exists. Is there anything to add on that?   

I would just say it's quite clear in the law what would qualify to be an anonymous elector. I think, as the Counsel General says, if someone were to decline to be automatically registered in that way, or if they were to, effectively, object to being automatically registered, they would still be issued with an invitation to register, and they would go down the current route of having to proactively participate. It goes back to this point around communications and why we think it's such an important strand, because it's making clear to people—. It's potentially going to be engaging with communities who aren't historically on the register, or are under-registered. And we're quite keen to make sure that the communication from the outset in that notice of automatic registration is clear to them about what being on the register means, potentially why it's important to vote, but the point is people should be aware of what their rights are and what actions they're able to take afterwards.  

Jayne, if I can just interrupt a minute, just to bring Peredur in again. 

You mentioned the 45 days there. Just correct me if I'm wrong. You'd add somebody to the register, they've got 45 days to say they don't want to be on the register or be anonymised. During that 45 days, is that published anywhere? 

They don't have to do anything at all. What happens is they're given what is a notification that they've been added to the electoral register, and that there are then certain options. If they don't do anything at all, that just means they stay on the register. 

And is that register publicly available for that time, or not? 

Can I perhaps clarify? The way section 9ZA as drafted will operate is that the registration officer will identify someone who they believe is entitled to be on the register. They will then send the notice to that person. That person will have 45 days to either say, 'I don't want to be on the register' or 'I think I'm entitled to anonymous registration'. If they don't do anything during that 45-day period or at the end of that 45-day period, then the registration officer then registers that person. So, the registration only happens at the end of the 45-day period, after they've had an opportunity to consider what options they've got available to them. 

So, the data, effectively, doesn't go into the public domain and is then removed; it stays private until—

Yes. I think that's probably my slight misinformation. It's the notice of intention to add to the register that gives 45 days' notice, and, of course, that happens automatically unless one of the interventions that are identified takes place. 

So, you'll get that notice. There might be some people, perhaps—I'm thinking around English as a second language or other people—who might not understand what that will actually mean, and maybe they won't be likely to reply in 45 days. They might not understand. They might then automatically be on the register. Is there good practice that you've used for seeing through the registering of foreign nationals to vote that you could use? Have you thought about how you can communicate with people in a clear way, particularly people who might be concerned about this and not really understand what it would mean for them?


Well, it's one of the reasons why it's desirable to have a pilot, to explore how that actually operates in practice. We do have a democratic engagement partnership to engage with the various bodies that are involved in the conduct and oversight of elections, to see how that operates as well. And it’s very much in mind, of course, that we need to ensure that there is that inclusivity, et cetera, to see how that operates. I know it’s very much in mind, and it is still work in progress. Is there any more you can add to that, Michael?

I think, as you said, the democratic engagement partnership is a really helpful grouping that we’ve worked with. So, we did a lot of activity in advance of the 2022 local elections in particular, focusing on qualifying foreign nationals—so, different community languages, making sure that resource was available.

Can I just ask—? Just on the community languages, there are some community languages where they might not read the community language. They would understand it more through a video or hear it spoken word rather than understanding a leaflet.

Yes, and that allows me to bring in a great example of something we discussed at our last meeting of the democratic engagement partnership, where a group of councils have produced a video that shows the process of voting, and it’s going to be dubbed into the main community languages in that area. So, because of that, it’s that point that some people will prefer to hear something rather than read it. That’s the kind of practice that we’d like to learn from and make sure it was part of the package for the notice of registration, going forward.

I think it's a good point as well, isn't it, that some elderly people of some communities are illiterate anyway, so it wouldn't be a matter of preference, but the written form wouldn't reach them at all, really. 

Yes, and we've started conversations with the behavioural insights team to make sure that language is as clear as possible, and ultimately it's our overriding goal to make sure it's as clear and as easy to engage with as possible.

I think it's fair to say, Chair, isn't it, that these are ongoing challenges we have in every election that we're always very much alert to—how do we ensure the maximum inclusivity, understanding the issues of different languages, levels of understanding, and so on. So, that is the framework, I think, within which we normally operate, and I think it’s just a question of ensuring that that really applies to any changes that we make as well, to do the best we can with that as well.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Just looking more at the piloting powers that this Bill allows for, can you explain why the period for the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru to evaluate the pilot proposals is six weeks? Are you content that it's sufficient time?

Yes, well, it's the electoral management board that will undertake the evaluation of the piloting proposals themselves. We do think that six weeks is sufficient time for them to do that. There also needs to be time for any changes that emerge as a result of that evaluation to be considered and, if necessary, measures to actually be taken as well. And of course it does need to fit within the broader timescale in respect of the overall planning ahead, moving ahead towards the elections and so on, and the timescale within which that has to happen.

Okay. And the pilots that should be jointly—. The Electoral Commission would jointly propose pilots with local authorities. It also requires the Electoral Commission to evaluate the pamphlets. How would the independence of the Electoral Commission be safeguarded in its evaluation work? And when can it propose pilots?

Well, the electoral management board undertakes the evaluation of the projects. I think the pilots that can be proposed, for example, are from a variety of sources. It can be jointly, it can be local government, it can be the Welsh Ministers, it can be electoral registration officers, and so on. And then the commission has to report on the proposals. I think the independence comes from within the framework itself, as the powers are there to actually do that, but there are various sources as to who can actually initiate pilots, and I think all pilots have to be carried out within what is an existing legislative framework as well. So, that is really, I think, the sort of structure within which that happens.


Yes. So, I think the Electoral Commission, the research work they've been doing—the Counsel General has alluded to it already—is really important and powerful, and I think that will be an area where the Electoral Commission might come up with a proposal. I imagine the committee will be hearing from the Electoral Commission during the scrutiny of this Bill and taking their views, and it will be interesting—. We have every confidence that they would have their internal structures to allow objective evaluation of something that they had initiated, because we found them to be good at doing that kind of objective thinking.

If I'm reading it correctly, Ministers would have to have due regard if a local authority gave an objection to a pilot. So, in practice, what would happen at that point? So, if the Welsh Ministers came up with a proposal for a pilot, the local authority said, 'We don't want to do this', but you felt strongly that it needed to happen, what would be the process and, in practical terms, how would that go?

Well, the legislation requires a forum for the discussion of pilots. Any proposal for a pilot, I think, has to be laid before the Senedd, so it has to be voted on itself. But, beyond that—

I think the point of the power, it's one where—. The example that we had in May 2022 was that we had a really good pilot to show that elections could work using more flexibility, that they were resilient to use digital devices in a more embedded way through that pilot. We did find, in the evaluation from the Electoral Commission, that there was quite a narrow—. They were quite homogenous, those councils that participated in this pilot, so it would have been a shared conclusion that we had. It would have been great if we had had another council from a different area. I think, ultimately, the point of this isn't to force and to strongarm against their will, because, ultimately, we wouldn't want to undermine the integrity of the election; the point is to allow us to be a bit more encouraging, perhaps, of a pilot, but we wouldn't hope to actually be in a position of Ministers imposing their wishes on a local authority if it was at risk of the election.

And with voting for a pilot in the Senedd, that would be a simple majority.

Yes. Where the principal council objects, it would be the affirmative procedure, so a simple majority.

Just to add, the power is to a number of bodies to actually make proposals for pilots. So, for example, if you look at section 10:

'Proposals for pilots made by principal councils

'A principal council may propose to the Welsh Ministers that pilot regulations are made',

to a particular matter, but it's for the Welsh Ministers—. There is a forum, then, obviously, for that to be discussed, but it's the Welsh Ministers who would bring forward to the Senedd the proposals for a pilot, and those would have to be voted on by the Senedd.

Okay. Thank you very much. And, finally from me, has the Government given any consideration to how many of these pilots may be introduced after the Bill has been given Royal Assent, and could that place a burden on local authorities? And we'll probably go into more detail in the Finance Committee as to who pays for it.

The intention is that there will be no pilots prior to the 2026 elections, other than in respect of piloting the automatic registration issue.

Counsel General, could I just ask, on pilots, whether there are any—? Do you have any thoughts as to where the parameters should be set? Obviously, there's going to be discussion, as you describe, and a vote in the Senedd if Ministers are minded to bring a particular pilot forward following the discussion, but will there be any parameters at all? Because, obviously, there are lots of ideas around voting over extended periods and voting in the community, as it were, rather than polling stations solely, with electronic voting and, of course, quite a lot of concern around potential fraud as far as that's concerned. So, have you any thoughts about any parameters in the legislation itself, whether it's on the face of the Bill or in regulations, or will it be left to that process that you described?


Well, look, the first thing is that those are all matters that—. The issue of how we might vote differently over different times, the longer term issue of online voting, which I know is very topical—. These are all things that having an automatic register and digitisation of the register make possible. The maximisation of the use of the developing technology that we have to facilitate that—. The ultimate objective is that what we want to do is see maximum inclusivity and opportunity to participate in elections. So, all of those are things that are there and that are possible.

Of course, you know that, from both the Senedd reform legislation and this legislation, no doubt there will be reviews of the operation of the elections—how they have operated. But also, I'm sure that what we'll want to happen is to explore what things might be done better, and what opportunities there might be to actually improve. Those, I think, are things that will be for the next Senedd to consider, post the 2026 elections. But those are very much matters within the hands, I suppose, of Government, but also within the hands of the Senedd itself.

What does happen, of course, after elections is that there is also a review of how those elections have worked and so on. The Electoral Commission takes a very, very keen interest in that. The commission will have to produce a report as well, and I'm sure that there will be lessons that are learned from that. The underlying principles of wanting to maximise participation and inclusivity for the democratic well-being of our country means that all the sorts of things that you are talking about are possibilities. But they are possibilities post 2026, and they will be within the jurisdiction and ambit of that particular Senedd at that time rather than now.

What these pilots that we had previously held show is that you can do things differently. We do have a very clear culture as to how people are used to voting and participating at polling stations and so on. So, there are challenges to all change. Change always involves significant challenges. But again, as I say, those are things to be addressed in a future Senedd.  

Thanks, Chair. I just want to take a moment to focus on the voter information platform, which is section 27 of the Bill. I was wondering whether, Counsel General, you would want to briefly outline why you think that it's important to have that included and how you expect that to look.  

Well, thank you for that. I think that sections 27, 28 and 29 of the legislation are a really quite important part of this legislation. In terms of the information platform, I think that it is a fairly uncontroversial view that we think that voters should have as much information as possible about the candidates. That's not just for the benefit of the voters. I think that it's for the benefit of the candidates—those who wish to stand—to ensure that their information is available. So, it's partly about removing barriers to participation. It's about making information available, giving easier access, and better information, I think, in terms of people's understanding of how to vote. It was quite interesting once that, when I was actually canvassing, there were increasing numbers of people who wanted to vote but actually had no idea as to how you actually went through the mechanisms of it.

The information platform is about ensuring that the details of the candidates are more available. At the moment, of course, the system is very much dependent, isn't it, on the sort of information that goes through the postal system. There has to be a framework, and, of course, there is a framework that is being created here, that we need to create, which ensures that the information that is there is proper information— that there are safeguards, and that it is not open to abuse. To some extent, this happens already, doesn't it, with the paper material that goes out through the Royal Mail. There is a sort of oversight of it, in terms of how accurate it is and how basically tied in with the election it is, rather than the abuse of information. So, I think that that is the purpose behind it. Of course, there has been a lot of thought given to that. I might go over to Michael, because a lot of work has gone on thinking about this and also the challenges as to how you do it, how you ensure that it happens and it happens fairly and properly. 


I think the key point around the elections information platform is to be this one-stop shop, where people can access information about where can they vote, when and who are the candidates before them. I think there is a growing concern about possible disinformation as people gather more of their news online. There was a paper out today on artificial intelligence and how that could have an impact on people's confidence in elections. So I think the purpose of the elections information platform is to ensure that people know where they can go to get information that is reliable and accurate about when, where and who they can vote for. That's what we're looking for. 

With that in mind—there are a couple of points there—when do you expect that platform to be in place? And secondly, who do you expect to be responsible for both its creation and its upkeep? 

Good questions. We want it to be in place for 2026, so we would hope that would be up and running then. And it will be interesting to see how that works and how that is evaluated, because it is a very new development in terms of the operation of our elections. There will be a framework within which statements can be placed by candidates. There are similar arrangements, as I understand it, already in place for the police and crime commissioners. So, it's not a totally new phenomenon in terms of going down that particular road. Is there anything else that you want to add to that, Michael? 

You're right; 2026 is our goal. Obviously there is a sizeable difference in the quantum of information that would be hosted on such a platform in a local election with the 1,234 seats to be filled across Wales. You asked about who would host it. Our intention at the moment is for it to be the electoral management board, and that would be part of the transition as that body gets established. 

I think it's fair to say that there will need to be regulations around this. Clearly, it cannot be an open process to publish as much as you want. There will clearly have to be parameters as to how much information can be placed, the length of statements, the content and so on, and also the mechanism for actually placing those, ensuring that they are placed and so on. So there's work in progress on these. Of course, there will need to be regulations to create the framework for that, and, I suppose, also the provision of guidance to candidates as to what they could or should not put in and how they should manage it and, I suppose, how you deal with any problems that arise from that. 

In terms of 2026, there was slightly different language between the two; I think Michael called it a goal and I think the Minister perhaps called it something a bit stronger than that, so it will be interesting to see what happens there. 

Very good. In 2026, obviously, there's the Senedd elections. There will probably be a few hundred candidates, you'd expect, with information. In 2027, with the local authority election, you're talking thousands of candidates. I just wonder how you expect the challenge of that to be addressed in terms of scale.  

It certainly is a challenge, which is why it's work in progress. Do you want to update on the sort of work that is ongoing at the moment to try and create the mechanism for that to happen?  

Sure. Part of the goal of having it embedded with the electoral management board would be because you've got that existing relationship with the returning officers. So it makes it easier for there to be this flow of information. We invested some money in 2022 to develop a site bilingually, which previously was only in English, for people to be able to put in their postcode and find out where they can get their local polling station and the times and so on. We found that was used quite a lot, but for us a really important part of that was that it could be embedded as a splash site on councils' websites. We're in the process now of working through what should be contained. I think there is quite a lot of work that would be required in terms of developing the APIs and so on to make sure that the information can flow both ways to make it as helpful as possible. 

Just briefly. You said it's a bilingual site. Will the onus be on the candidates to translate or will there be an automatic translation system?  


I think the regulations that we'd be envisaging would include language expectations. I think we would be slightly reluctant to include a kind of automatic translation aspect, just because I think if things were slightly mistranslated, it could reflect poorly on a candidate, in a way that we—

But a service to help with the translation—that's what I meant.

Okay. I think that's something that we would look at in the regulations.

Going back to the point that Michael raised—and rightly so—about risks of disinformation, I guess the point of this, Minister, as you outlined, is to try and provide as much clear information as possible. At the moment, when you get a leaflet through your door, there's an imprint at the bottom, or there should be unless you haven't done things quite right, on which the agent responsible and the candidate responsible is clear. In terms of responsibility for the information being hosted on this platform, will that be very clear to potential electors? And then, the other point is that there are facts and there are alternative facts in elections at times, as well, and I was wondering how you arbitrate between what is fact and what is alternative fact within submissions, or is that not even the role of the platform host and it's purely down to, as it is with leaflets going through doors, the agent and/or candidate?

What you're identifying there I think are some of the real challenges in how you actually achieve this, because the responsibility for the statements obviously lies with the candidates and the agents, et cetera, who place the information on the platform. That having been said, there clearly does need to be a framework, there does need to be some sort of oversight. And I mentioned, for example, what happens already with the Royal Mail, with the printed copies we have. So, it's a relatively light-touch version of that, but we'd want to ensure that what is there is in accordance with the guidance and so on. But equally so, what you don't want is to have someone who is there basically saying that you can or you can't do this, et cetera, and you start getting into that realm of what it's fair for a candidate to say or facts for them to use, and so on. 

What none of this takes away, of course, is that what individuals post, whatever civil or criminal liabilities lie for what is there, ultimately do remain with the candidate. So, whatever mechanisms already exist, none of those actually change. So, what we're really trying to do is to create a facility that enables people within guidance to post information that is of benefit to the voters, to understand what the issues are, who the candidates are and about them, and so on. So, there are going to be real learning curves there: how to achieve it; how to review how it is operated; and potentially how you might have to deal with circumstances that might arise where there might be those who want to abuse the system and so on. So, that, again, is the work in progress and the regulations will need to have some sort of provision for that. So, I don't think it's a completely full answer, other than, of course, the legislation enables the platform to happen and we have to make sure that, within all those valid issues that are being raised, it is able to operate and do what we want it to do, and that is basically to provide information to people so that they can better exercise their voting entitlement. Is that a fair reflection?

Yes. The only point I would add is that there was an analogous example last week in the Westminster by-election where one candidate said something on Facebook—I can't remember if it was a post or an advert—and another candidate sought an injunction against that candidate—not at Facebook, but at the candidate. So, the analogous situation is that it's not the publisher that would own the liability and would be responsible for policing it. It's beyond the measures that the Counsel General mentioned around filtering out hate speech or making sure that that's not contained; it's the candidates who are the subject of the electoral law around mischaracterisation, for example.

To build on that, I guess it's similar with a piece of paper coming through a letterbox; it's not the volunteer or the Royal Mail person who is, perhaps, legally responsible, but again, it's the agent or the candidate themselves. Thank you.

Finally—and I think of my mother in these situations—there are those who do not access the internet on a regular basis, as they either don't want to, are unable to, or don't have the software or devices to do so. I just wonder how you expect those people to have as equal as possible access to that information, and also, of course, those who would usually gain information through British Sign Language, through Braille or other ways—how they would have that access to information.


Again, really important points, and, again, a lot of consideration will been given to how that would work. We will work very closely with stakeholders as to how we address that. Of course, we do still have a significant part of the population who don't have that, either the accessibility or that capability. So, on the continued use of hard copies, accessibility of hard copies, or information in different formats, I know those are things that are very much in minds. The questions you raise, I think, are ones that are very much emerging as we talk about how this might operate. Is there any further consideration on that?

Just to add, 27(4)(d) makes clear that we can make regulations about making the information available and the platform available other than by electronic means. So, we would be thinking about what's the most appropriate way of doing that, for example in libraries, sending out paper copies on request and so on. One of the things that's really supportive of the elections information platform is that we know that in other examples, organisations that are trusted as interlocutors, for example the RNIB, would be contacted, and it allows them to very easily provide information to the people who use their services, so that their call centre can support their customers, if that's the right expression, by knowing where to go and find the right information quickly and accurately.

Some more questions on diversity and accessibility, please. Section 3.52 of the explanatory memorandum states that

'electoral law in Wales is open to challenge in respect of disabled voters having the means to vote independently and in secret, without assistance from a presiding officer or companion.'

How is the Welsh Government addressing this?

You're right, the issues of disability, accessibility and so on are really quite fundamental to it, and there are two provisions within the Bill in particular, sections 28 and 29 of the Bill, one in respect of the duty to promote diversity, firstly in persons seeking office, and then also in respect of the establishment of a fund, which we trialled last time, to make funds available, particularly in respect of disability. So, those are very much there within the legislation.

Interestingly, in respect of section 28, of course, it's having regard to whether there are groups or persons with protected characteristics, under-representation and so on, reducing inequalities of outcome that result from socioeconomic disadvantage and so on. I think those are actually quite significant parts of the legislation. Of course, they move into an area that gets extremely complex as to how you actually identify, but I think part of the starting point is really being aware of that and aware of that broader duty in terms of we want our elections to be as accessible and as inclusive as possible.

Section 29, actually, really builds on the experience from last time in terms of a specific fund to assist people. That, again, is something that I thought was reasonably successful from the last set of elections. I think some 26 people were supported in that, six of whom went on to succeed in elections. But, again, this is an area where there is very much work in progress, again, going on in terms of understanding those needs and understanding the developments of technology, how those might be used, the opportunities that come to access that, to improve on that, arising from automatic registration and digitisation. Again, there are always limits in terms of the amount of funding that's available and where that should be focused, but I think the broader ambition in terms of how we actually can look to promote and so on is an ongoing learning process that doesn't just sort of come and start from one bit of legislation; it's the lessons you learn from the operation of elections, how you look to improve and build upon them each time to improve that inclusivity. Sorry, Michael.


Just on the specific point that we flag in 3.52 of the explanatory memorandum: that relates to—. I think it was the Royal National Institute of Blind People that brought a judicial reviewFootnoteLink and the UK Government's response to that was in the Elections Act to introduce a regime where returning officers are under a duty to provide equipment to allow independent and secret voting by disabled people, paying due regard to Electoral Commission guidance. What our Bill does is it requires the Electoral Commission to report on what ROs did in respect of making the elections accessible for disabled voters. The requirement for them to observe the Electoral Commission guidance will follow in the conduct Order for the Senedd elections and local government rules for local government elections. So, because they can be carried out through secondary legislation in our context, they're not on the Bill, but the requirement for the Electoral Commission to report on the actions taken by returning officers is.

Thank you. Okay, and just one more question. Section 26 of the Bill makes changes to existing provisions on surveys of councillors and unsuccessful candidates in local elections. Can you explain why section 26 changes the power for Welsh Ministers to make regulations on the content of surveys to a direction-making power? 

I think it's about having that broader flexibility, because there are survey powers that the local authorities themselves have, and I think the lessons that you learn as you go along—there will be specific things that I think, looking at the overall Wales situation, you would want Welsh Ministers to have the powers to actually say, 'We need to actually explore this. We need to do this.' So, that would be a direction, but it doesn't take away the other powers that exist within local authorities as well. So, I think what it does is just adds a greater opportunity and flexibility for that to actually happen. Anything else on that, Mike?

Are you happy with that, Carolyn? Thank you very much. Sam Rowlands.

Thanks, Chair. Just to build on some of that, really—so, there are two things on the go here, I guess. Section 28, which is a duty to provide services to promote diversity, and it refers to protected characteristics and the socioeconomic circumstances of people. Then there's section 29, which is a duty to provide financial assistance, but that's for specific characteristics or specific circumstances. I'm just wondering why we have two separate groups of people being supported here—so why do we have a duty to provide services to promote diversity in section 28 to protect the characteristics, but a duty to provide financial assistance is terms of specific characteristics?

Well, I mean, section 28 is a duty, so it's a duty to promote diversity, and it sets a framework for what it means by that in a fairly broad way. Section 29 is a very specific power—it's a specific power to actually provide finance. And I suppose the reality is is that (1), when you start looking about having to have regard to inequalities of outcome that result from socioeconomic disadvantage—that is a fairly broad area. It means having a regard overall to how representative, really, the outcomes of elections are, how reflective they are of the communities they represent and so on. The question is, though, that comes from that is: what specifically can you do about it?

Now, in terms of funding, I think any funding that you have has got to be very focused. You've got to understand where it's going to go for, how it's going to be applied; it mustn't be open to abuse or political interference et cetera; it has to be there to actually promote accessibility. So, we have a very specific legal duty—very specific and well established legal duties in respect of disability. So, the fund there, the powers there in respect of section 29, 'Financial assistance schemes to promote diversity', is very much focused on the issue of disability. There is scope within the regulations there to broaden that out, but it does need to be very specific. And we have to also recognise that there is not an open cheque book in terms of funding, so it's a question of, I think, ensuring that there is funding where it is most needed et cetera, and where there are very specific identified obligations, and also the benefits of what we have learned from previous use of the funding itself.


Perhaps Peredur might come in in a moment, Chair, but are you instinctively comfortable that what you've outlined in here goes far enough, or would you, if you had your own way, as it were, be wanting it to look different to what it does in this Bill?

Well, I think, at this stage the answer is 'yes', that I am, because I think it is practicable and achievable and then, ultimately, measurable. And measurability is, I think, a very, very important factor. But what it doesn't exclude is that there are all sorts of other ways of actually, I think, promoting greater equality, greater accessibility and so on.

There are some candidates and so on—there may be issues around mentoring information, training or whatever. So, I think there are other things there that are possible, which are not there about specific funding provision. And I think those are things that, again, are part of that learning curve, part of looking at things that we might want to do in the future that become possible. It's a very challenging and, I think, complex area. So, I'm very much satisfied with what's in the legislation, but, obviously, I think there are always lessons that you want to be learning in terms of what the nature is of the outcome of the elections. Why aren't there more from this group? Why is this particular group under-represented, in terms of age profile, the socioeconomic profile and so on? And I think those are broader issues in terms of the democratic health and well-being that we want to think about in terms of our representative systems. You've done a lot of work on this, Michael, and have given a lot of thought to all of these.

Yes, so I think one thing I'd just add to what the Counsel General has said is, obviously, the Minister for Finance and Local Government has spent a lot of time working with stakeholders across Wales on this. She's held events during the year; she's had drop-ins with Members and their staff. She's had conversations with councillors in particular. The point is that we're going where the evidence is taking us. I think the committee will have heard a lot of evidence in its recent inquiry into diversity in democracy about what is needed and the point of it not being a one-size-fits-all solution. I think, where there is a clearer need for financial support, that's what's specified in the Bill. If, in the future, the case is made for there to be specific funding streams for specific characteristics, then there is the opportunity to provide that later.

Following on from that, just making the money available isn't necessarily—. And I think it's what you were driving at there, especially having worked with candidates with disabilities, wheelchair users, that sort of element. The financial assistance is more to get somebody to help with delivery of leaflets or to go knocking on doors or whatever that might be, whatever their needs, whatever's necessary. I just wonder if you could unpack for me how the package around that finance might work and who would be responsible for helping to get somebody to help, be that the employer or that person, to be able to help the candidate to be able to get around, or whatever that might be.

I think the details of what is available and what can be done are something that we have to give very, very careful thought to. I will ask Mike to come in in a minute really just with the experience of the last time when there were, I think, 26 specific applications for that. I think the evaluation of that has actually been quite useful.

To some extent, what you're also looking at is the fact that a certain person with disabilities and so on has particular additional costs in actually participating. What experience do we have from the past 26 that we did?

So, I think that the evaluation showed that the funding was helpful for the people that applied for it and received it. I think, obviously, as you're alluding to, there is a need to raise awareness of this before so that—. I think that the point of it isn't so that people who are already thinking about standing for election who are disabled get the support, it's that people who are disabled are more likely to think about standing for election. So, I think a big piece of work that would accompany the detail that would be in the regulation will be raising awareness through our networks. And I think, respectfully, that's not just a Welsh Government responsibility, obviously, there are a lot of people in civil society and political parties who would also have an onus on them to raise awareness of the availability of such a scheme. 


I think you've covered quite a lot of it with Peredur just now, regarding that, clarification regarding the financial assistance. In past discussions, we did hear evidence on how important the surveys will be on people who want to stand in elections and why they might do so, just to make sure we have people from diverse backgrounds. I'm just looking forward—to try to get more of a gender balance, going forward, a lot of women still have caring responsibilities. It still falls on the woman, the caring responsibility, and also still the financial independence for a woman to stand is an issue in a partnership, until things move on. So, I'm just wondering—it's just really laying a marker as we go forward. That's something that really still needs to be addressed regarding that caring responsibility. Times are moving on as well. So, I know for men as well, the caring responsibility, but that's just something, if we want to get that equality there, the parity—

What you're setting out there, I think, are parts of what has been a very long-term debate about the obstacles and difficulties that we have culturally, socially, economically and historically in our electoral systems as to why there tend to be fewer women standing for elections—what are the obstacles, why are there difficulties, and how do you actually address those? Now, to some extent, you address some of them in terms of the actual issues that we've been addressing within Senedd reform, gender quotas and so on. Now, that's one aspect in terms of trying to ensure that you have the balance there, but to some extent, that doesn't address what you're doing, which I think is a valid, ongoing—. And I don't have an answer for you on that. 

If I had a silver bullet, I think it would be an incredibly valuable one. What you're identifying are basically, I suppose, the items that are identified in section 28, which are some of the socioeconomic issues that are there as well that impact and those broader areas. I think this is one of those areas where we are continually trying to learn, to understand, to try to address them, not just in terms of elections but in terms of every other aspect of society, in terms of jobs, in terms of equal pay, in terms of representation at senior levels in businesses, partnerships and so on. So, it represents a broader and deeper issue within our society to be addressed, but I'm afraid I don't have an easy answer to that, other than that it is recognised as one of many aspects in terms of things that we would like to see addressed within our electoral system for the short, medium and long term.

Counsel General, could I ask you about socioeconomic circumstances, social class? If it was the wish of Welsh Government and the Senedd to promote people who are under-represented in terms of those socioeconomic circumstances, people perhaps with lower income levels and lower wealth levels, what sort of criteria might be used, do you think, because I imagine it's pretty tricky. I can recall the Registrar General's scale being widely used in terms of occupations and social class, but I guess the world has moved on a little since those times. How might it practically be done, if it was the aim to make sure that there was better representation of people in those lower income brackets?

Well, there are a number of issues that arise from that. The first thing to say is that the Bill does include provision for arrangements to be put in place to remove barriers to participation. Of course, that really has to be evidence based. One of the issues isn't so much an issue that we can legislate for in the same way, because, for example, on the basis that the majority of candidates come through political parties, I think there are issues in respect of the political parties and the candidates they put forward, that they select. That then goes, to some extent, deeper, doesn't it, into the people that actually put themselves forward within political parties to be there, and those challenges, the ones we were discussing earlier, are all reflected within that. So, I think it's one of those of—. Again, there is no silver bullet in terms of how, within a democratic system where people are selected for candidature by political parties or choose to stand as independents and then the processes of them getting elected—there's no silver bullet on it other than I think it is always important that we have an understanding and we have a review as to the overall extent to which we here as Senedd Members, or councillors or whatever, are generally representative of the people that we claim to represent. I think that is always a democratic challenge. Being alert to it is important. Understanding it and the evidence base for it, looking at how we actually address it, is something that is extremely complicated. I suppose one of the most immediate ones, of course, is where there are financial barriers to someone being able to stand. Some of them were raised by Carolyn Thomas. But then it's not an easy thing to think, 'How do you actually direct finance in a way that is fair, that doesn't interfere with democratic processes and so on, and actually achieves that?', when many of the obstacles are actually more structural within our society, rather than finance based. I don't know if that helps. We're getting very philosophical now, aren't we?


Yes. It's that mechanism really, of how you would identify people in those social class terms and—.

I do think there are very specific obligations on political parties to address that. They very much have mechanisms themselves where they're recognising to make those changes themselves. But, as I say, a lot of the issues raised are very much structural within our society. The inequalities are really quite entrenched within our society, and those impact on our democratic system. We do have to try and address them. I'm not quite sure that it's easy, how we address them.

Chair, can I just come in? This was actually raised during our evidence-gathering session, that socioeconomic background was important, if you want people from diverse backgrounds, people that want to make a difference and can bring a lot to it, to this job, basically, rather than people that might come from a wealthy background and might do it for ambition. So, we need to have those backgrounds. So, I'm glad—. Thank you for raising that, Chair, and for this philosophical discussion, because I just think it's really important that we've raised it here.

Okay. Thanks very much, Carolyn. Okay, we'd better move on then. Joel James.

Thank you, Chair, and thanks ever so much for coming in this morning. I find it's been quite informative and quite fascinating, actually. I just wanted to finish on a couple of questions, mainly about the community reviews and then obviously the abolition of the independent remuneration panel, and a bit of the cross-over there, with the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill. In terms of the community review, I think as a committee we just need some clarification on—and I'll have to read it from the notes here—section 51(2)(5), where it changes the requirement for principal councils to report on its functions from every 10 years to one year. I just wanted to have a clarification on that. Is that the case, because that seems to be a big change there?

No, the main review is from 10 years to 12 years—there are specific reasons for that—but the issue of an annual report, which I think is what section 51, the section you're referring to, applies to, is really on the sort of minor changes and so on that might take place on an ongoing basis, and the report going to Welsh Government. One is to give us a national Wales overview of what is happening and what is changing. A lot of them relate to relatively minor issues, I think, with regard to name changes and things like that, which can all be quite important, but to make sure that there is a central and national pool of that sort of information. At the moment, it isn't there. It isn't held on any sort of national basis. So, I suppose, just dealing with that point, that is a very specific reporting change. Anything—?


No, I would just add that, as you say, Counsel General, it's about the reporting regime; it's not forcing councils to do reviews every year. It just means that things are recorded and captured and published on a more timely basis, avoiding, every 10 years, people going, 'Oh, crikey, what did we do nine years ago?'

Okay, perfect. Thanks for that, because, obviously, Mick, you mentioned there about the review then on the electoral arrangements; you've changed that from 10 to 12 years. So, from, I think, the explanatory memorandum, one of the reasons was because of the delay councils were doing in meeting that requirement. I just wanted to have some clarification on it. Was that the reason why it's changed to 12? And do you foresee, then, if, for example, with the previous question, where you've got that requirement on its functions and everything, annually, do you foresee then a situation where the council's not really going to be looking at that too much, because it's an annual thing, 'Well, it doesn't matter if we do it this year, next year, or—'? 

Well, the report we're asking councils to do each year is listed there—community names, community boundary changes, community council changes, community electoral arrangements and so on. So, that report is published and it goes to the commission and to the Welsh Ministers. So, that's a very specific thing, and it's, really, the relatively minor and consequential changes—basically, to have an overview of that. 

But the broader requirement, of course, is that, at the moment, there is the position where there has to be a full review; councils must conduct a review of the electoral arrangements for each community in its area at least once in every review period. That review period, at the moment, is 10 years. We're changing that to 12 years. There is quite a technical reason for that; I'll try and be precise on it. Section 51(3) places a duty on the council to conduct reviews of its communities et cetera, and that period is going to be defined as 12 years. And that is because the Bill makes several other changes to the timings of electoral reviews, including increasing the time the local democracy board is not able to work on reviews in advance of local government ordinary elections from nine months to 12 months, and introducing a new requirement on Welsh Ministers not to make any electoral review orders within six months of an ordinary election.

So, basically, I think the change comes from lessons that have been learnt that there needs to be a period of stability in advance of the election to enable preparations to be made, I think, in an orderly and timely fashion. And I think the knock-on effect of all of this is that it reduces the time available to complete the review. So, basically, it's an adjustment, learning lessons from what's happened with the 10-yearly reviews, that 12 years is a better period of time and gives more time in terms of the stability and clarity prior to the elections taking place and then the work that has to go on. So, I think it's very much an administrative efficiency that's being introduced here, from lessons that have been learnt. Anything to—?

No, I'd just echo the point that the purpose of this section of the Bill is to add a bit of regularity and transparency and predictability around the process, so that there are these buffers that the Counsel General has included. There is the councils and, it will be, the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru working together to ensure that there is a sensible schedule for community and electoral reviews. That extension is just to make sure that we're accommodating—. The extension to 12 years is just to make sure that those buffers are accommodated, without making the activity more frenetic, I suppose. 

Okey-dokey then, perfect. So, the other question I had there concerned the abolition of the independent remuneration panel. Obviously, you'll remember, back in 2021, there was a 10-year report, a review of the independent remuneration panel. It made seven recommendations; none of them called for the abolition of it, but you've gone for that. Can I just ask for the rationale behind that, then, and also why haven't chief executives been involved in that, then, when you've moved it to the boundary commission? Why has that pay not transferred?

Okay. Well, it's not being abolished; I think it's being brought into the new commission that's being established. So, it will be there, but it will be part of that broader framework. It just seemed a more sensible and efficient way, that it is within there, where there are a number of functions that actually overlap. The issue you raise in respect of—. I'll go to Michael in a minute, just, really, on the remuneration panel more generally, but it was one of those issues—. The issue of chief executive pay was one of those issues that we consulted upon in the White Paper. There was a lot of support for removing that, and, really, the logic for removing it is this: councils are democratically elected bodies; I think it's their democratic responsibility in terms of establishing but also then being accountable for chief executive pay. So, basically, taking that out, I think, is something that arose out of the White Paper, and also, I think, out of past experiences in terms of lots of issues that are around chief executive pay when you try to set it centrally. So, basically, it's restoring it to the democratic responsibility of the local councils.


So, that would be clarified, then, so councils will know that that's coming within their remit then.

They'll know it from the legislation. I think they will be aware of it; there will be engagement with them over this. Michael.

That's absolutely right, and nothing to add other than the purpose of moving the functions of the independent remuneration panel into the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru is to reinforce the independence, which, I think, is what the 10-year review called for. Previously, it was staffed by a secretariat within the Welsh Government. The idea is that it will be part of a free-standing body, which is more independent.

Okay. Perfect. I suppose the other question I have with regard to this, then, is about the likely costs and benefits of introducing resettlement payments for former local authority members. I just wanted to know what sort of assessment you've made there, then.

Well, yes. I mean, I think it comes down to, when people stand for representative office and so on, they're quite often giving up their career, they're quite often giving up their job, they will face additional challenges. Unlike in employment situations, where you cannot be unfairly dismissed, you can be, I suppose, unfairly not elected to office and suddenly find that—. Fairly or unfairly, depending upon the interpretation. So, really it is just about providing a buffer in terms of the fact that after an election there will be a number of candidates who have stood but are now basically unemployed. They will have families, they will have responsibilities, and I think, as applies within the Senedd system and within Westminster, I think it's extending that to councillors as well, that there were circumstances where that is also the case with councillors. The precise mechanisms, as to what they should be, I'll just go over to Michael for a bit more on the rationale.

Yes. The purpose is that it would be for the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru to design such a scheme, and, if it were appropriate, what the levels would be. It would have to do that through the kind of veil of ignorance in advance of an election, rather than making it post hoc for those people who need resettling. I think it's part of the demonstration of respect for elected members. So, in the same way that Members of Parliament or the Senedd would receive a resettlement payment, the intention is to respect the nature of the role of a councillor.

And we use the term 'resettlement payments'; to be honest, I suppose more coming from my legal background, I see it as almost a sort of redundancy payment, basically, and redundancy payments were established to actually provide that buffer for working people when they lost their employment. I think that equally applies then to those who take up elected office as well.

Perfect. I suppose the last question I have, then, is in relation to, as I mentioned before, the Bill, about the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill. I want to know about the cross-overs there, and, obviously, if that Bill was to fail, what impact would that have on this? Because one of the implications of that Bill is that the boundary commission's role is expanded. Obviously, if that doesn't happen, that will probably have an impact, then, on its remuneration. 

There are overlaps. What I'd say is that each of the pieces of legislation—. I mean, firstly, we are confident that both pieces of legislation will go through. What the precise format—that it is ultimately determined by the voting within the Senedd itself. There clearly are overlaps in terms of the fact that the 2026 elections will be quite different, because you'll have an automatic register, so it's a register that may be different to what it has been in the past, different voting systems, a different number of Senedd Members and so on, and, of course, a new mechanism for the management of elections. But each of those pieces of legislation can stand alone. What it does mean, of course, is if, for example, the Senedd reform legislation were not to go through, there would need to be changes in respect of—you'd need to make adjustments to the other Bill in respect of, I suppose some of the names, the numbers of people on the commission, how you might need to deal with the commission in another way. So, there would be some technical changes that need to take place. But the core functions of each piece of legislation should not—. They're not interdependent to the extent that one cannot proceed without the other. Perhaps I could just go over to Gareth, really, on that.


I think you spotted the main changes. I think we're confining these at the moment to quite technical changes—changing the name of the Commission, for example, which we're working on the basis will be changed to the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru. The same is true for the Act of the Senedd that set up that commission back in 2013. We've used the new name in this, and that would need to be reverted back. But they're the technical changes that we've identified so far.

As a previous councillor, I remember, annually, there'd be a complaint that they would have to debate whether or not to accept the remuneration that had been put forward by the remuneration panel. And if that could be taken away from councils, it would be a lot fairer—that they would have to vote on whether they received the remuneration. Would that be a change going forward, or would that be decided, then, by the boundary commission?

Well, my understanding would be that all those sorts of things would come in terms of the work of the commission. But, Michael, I don't know—. I have to say, I don't know what the answer to that is.

So, we're basically porting over the functions of the independent remuneration panel into this new body, so we wouldn't be changing that relationship.

And could I just finally ask you, Counsel General, your view in terms of competence and some of the provisions in the legislation that would allow for the promotion of certain groups within society, protected characteristics, financial assistance, and whatever schemes might be arrived at? That obviously brings into question equal opportunities and whether we have devolved competence to take forward those particular provisions.

Well, you raise a good point. I'm very satisfied that those are matters within competence. We do have, of course, through the Equality Act 2010, I think it was section 10 that we specifically implemented within Wales, which gives responsibilities in terms of that sort of promotion and so on. So, I think this is all about our devolved competence in respect of the 2017 Act. So, that is the purpose of this legislation, so I think that ensures that it is within competence, and I don't see any difficulties in that regard.

Okay, Counsel General, and your officials, thank you very much for coming before the committee today. You will be sent a draft transcript to check for factual accuracy in the usual way. Diolch yn fawr.

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

Okay. Our next item is item 3, papers to note. Paper 1 is a letter from the committee to the Welsh Government requesting a written update on the implementation of our recommendations with regard to community assets. Paper 2 is a letter from this committee to the Minister for Social Justice, following our meeting on 5 October, and that is to seek information with regard to the points that the committee made on housing Ukrainian refugees and the provision of sites for Gypsy, Roma, Travellers. Are we content to note? Joel.

Thank you, Chair. It was just a quick clarification, because I know, basically, the first sentence in terms of the Ukrainian refugees letter—agenda item 3.2—is about accommodation provider Calder World of Travel, and we've asked here is this the same company used by the UK Government. I know that the UK Government uses, I think, Calder Conferences or something; it's not actually that company, but it could be that company, if that makes sense. You know how some companies have different names under different umbrellas? If we can just highlight that again, when the response comes in, in the sense that the Welsh Government might say, 'Well, actually, no', but in essence, it's because the different—


All right. So, we just need to broaden it out a bit, so we're not going to get a response that says, 'No, it's not that company', when it might be a related company.

Yes, okay. We'll certainly do that, if committee's content. Yes. Okay. Thank you very much.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd 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.

The next item, then, is item 4, a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting. Is committee content to do so? I see that you are. We will move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:05.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 11:05.

Cywiriad/Correction: The judicial review was brought by Rachael Andrews (in R (on the application of Andrews) v. Minister for the Cabinet Office.