Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee

16/05/2024

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Adam Price Yn dirprwyo ar ran Luke Fletcher
Substitute for Luke Fletcher
James Evans
John Griffiths Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Lee Waters
Peter Fox Yn dirprwyo ar ran Altaf Hussain
Substitute for Altaf Hussain
Sarah Murphy

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Ben Mincher Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Joel James Aelod o'r Senedd dros Ganol De Cymru
Member of the Senedd for South Wales Central
Mick Antoniw Cwnsler Cyffredinol
Counsel General
Sarah Wymer Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Angharad Era Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Catherine Hunt Clerc
Clerk
Stephen Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cynnwys

Contents

1. Cyflwyniadau, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau 1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest
2. Y Bil Etholiadau a Chyrff Etholedig (Cymru): Trafodion Cyfnod 2 2. Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill: Stage 2 Proceedings
Grŵp 1: Comisiwn Democratiaeth a Ffiniau Cymru - swyddogaethau (Gwelliannau 115, 116, 121) Group 1: Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru - functions (Amendments 115, 116, 121)
Grŵp 2: Bwrdd Rheoli Etholiadol (Gwelliannau 98, 1, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15) Group 2: Electoral Management Board (Amendments 98, 1, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)
Grŵp 3: Cofrestru etholiadol (Gwelliannau 99, 2, 3, 16, 100, 127, 44, 45) Group 3: Electoral registration (Amendments 99, 2, 3, 16, 100, 127, 44, 45)
Grŵp 4: Pwerau a rheoliadau peilot etholiadau Cymreig (Gwelliannau 7, 101, 17, 18, 117, 8, 102, 103, 104, 19, 20) Group 4: Welsh elections piloting powers and regulations (Amendments 7, 101, 17, 18, 117, 8, 102, 103, 104, 19, 20)
Grŵp 5: Rheoliadau diwygio etholiadol (Gwelliannau 105, 106, 21, 22, 23) Group 5: Electoral reform regulations (Amendments 105, 106, 21, 22, 23)
Grŵp 6: Cymorth i bleidleiswyr ag anableddau (Gwelliannau 9, 111) Group 6: Assistance for voters with disabilities (Amendments 9, 111)
Grŵp 7: Amrywiaeth ymhlith personau sy’n ceisio swydd etholedig (Gwelliannau 107, 24, 52, 53, 110, 32, 43) Group 7: Diversity in persons seeking elected office (Amendments 107, 24, 52, 53, 110, 32, 43)
Grŵp 8: Platfform gwybodaeth am etholiadau Cymreig (Gwelliannau 108, 109, 49, 50, 51, 118, 119, 120) Group 8: Welsh elections information platform (Amendments 108, 109, 49, 50, 51, 118, 119, 120)
Grŵp 9: Cynllun Cymorth ariannol - gweithredu (Gwelliannau 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31) Group 9: Financial assistance scheme – operation (Amendments 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31)
Grŵp 10: Gofynion o ran y Gymraeg ar gyfer swyddogion canlyniadau (Gwelliannau 4, 5) Group 10: Welsh language requirements for returning officers (Amendments 4, 5)
Grŵp 11: Cyllid ymgyrchu (Gwelliannau 33, 34, 35, 36, 47, 48) Group 11: Campaign finance (Amendments 33, 34, 35, 36, 47, 48)
Grŵp 12: Adolygiadau o drefniadau etholiadol (Gwelliannau 122, 37, 38, 39) Group 12: Electoral arrangements reviews (Amendments 122, 37, 38, 39)
3. Y Bil Etholiadau a Chyrff Etholedig (Cymru): Trafodion Cyfnod 2 yn parhau 3. Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill: Stage 2 Proceedings continued
Grŵp 13: Cyhoeddi manylion cyswllt cynghorau cymuned (Gwelliant 123) Group 13: Publication of contact details for community councils (Amendment 123)
Grŵp 14: Comisiwn Democratiaeth a Ffiniau Cymru – swyddogaethau sy’n ymwneud â chydnabyddiaeth ariannol Aelodau etholedig (Gwelliannau 40, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 96, 97) Group 14: Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru – functions relating to remuneration of elected Members (Amendments 40, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 96, 97)
Grŵp 15: Comisiwn Democratiaeth a Ffiniau Cymru - aelodaeth (Gwelliannau 46, 41, 42) Group 15: Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru - membership (Amendments 46, 41, 42)
Grŵp 16: Diddymu Bwrdd Taliadau Annibynnol y Senedd (Gwelliant 6) Group 16: Abolition of the Independent Remuneration Board of the Senedd (Amendment 6)
Grŵp 17: Anghymhwyso rhag bod yn Aelod o Senedd Cymru neu lywodraeth leol (Gwelliannau 112, 113, 10, 114, 125, 126, 128, 129) Group 17: Disqualification from being a Member of Senedd Cymru or local government (Amendments 112, 113, 10, 114, 125, 126, 128, 129)
Grŵp 18: Adolygu’r Ddeddf (Gwelliannau 94, 95) Group 18: Review of Act (Amendments 94, 95)

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.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The committee met in the Senedd.

The meeting began at 09:30.

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

Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. The first item on the agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We have Sarah Murphy joining us today for her first committee meeting having joined the committee. So, welcome, Sarah. And may I thank Jack Sargeant MS for his contributions to the committee's work, as Jack has left us as Sarah joins?

We've received apologies from Luke Fletcher and Altaf Hussain, committee members. Adam Price is substituting for Luke Fletcher, and Peter Fox is substituting for Altaf Hussain. So, welcome, Adam and Peter. Under Standing Order 17.49, I have agreed that Joel James MS can attend the meeting to speak to the amendment he has tabled, and he will join us later on at that stage.

This meeting is being held in person. There is no facility for participants to join virtually. 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, of course, is bilingual and simultaneous translation is available. Are there any declarations of interest? No.

2. Y Bil Etholiadau a Chyrff Etholedig (Cymru): Trafodion Cyfnod 2
2. Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill: Stage 2 Proceedings

We will move on to item 2, Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill Stage 2 proceedings. The purpose is to undertake those Stage 2 proceedings on that Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill. I'm very pleased to welcome the Counsel General to the meeting as the Member in charge of the Bill. Croeso, Counsel General.

Members should have before them the marshalled list of amendments and the groupings of the amendments for debate. The marshalled list is the list of all amendments tabled, marshalled into the order agreed by the committee at its meeting on 18 April. So, for this meeting, the order in which we will consider amendments is as outlined on the agenda. Members will see from the groupings list that amendments have been grouped to facilitate debate. The order in which amendments are called and moved for a decision is dictated by the marshalled list. I will advise Members when I call them whether they are being called to speak in the debate or to move their amendments for a decision. Should a Member wish not to move an amendment, they should indicate this at the appropriate point of proceedings. In such circumstances, another member of the committee could choose to move the amendment in question. There will be one debate on each group of amendments. Members who wish to speak should indicate in the usual way. I will call the Counsel General to speak on each group. For the record, in accordance with the convention agreed by the Business Committee, as Chair, I will move amendments in the name of the Counsel General. Counsel General, for expediency, I will assume that you wish me to move all your amendments, and I will do so at the appropriate place in the marshalled list.

If you do not want a particular amendment to be moved, please indicate that at the relevant point. I will also move the amendment tabled by Joel James MS, who is not a member of the committee. In line with our usual practice, legal advisers to the committee, and indeed to the Counsel General, are not expected to provide advice on the record. If members of the committee wish to seek legal advice during the proceedings, please do so by sending a direct message to our legal adviser, Steve, next to me, or the clerk, Cath. If necessary, I will call an adjournment or the legal adviser will reply directly. No breaks have been scheduled, but I will call breaks at appropriate points during proceedings. 

09:35
Grŵp 1: Comisiwn Democratiaeth a Ffiniau Cymru - swyddogaethau (Gwelliannau 115, 116, 121)
Group 1: Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru - functions (Amendments 115, 116, 121)

Let us move on, then, to our Stage 2 proceedings. The first group of amendments relates to the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru and its functions. The lead amendment in this group is amendment 115, and I call on Adam Price to move and speak to the lead amendment, and to the other amendments in this group.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 115 (Adam Price).

Amendment 115 (Adam Price) moved.

Diolch yn fawr, Gadeirydd. Gaf i ddweud ar y dechrau cymaint o bleser yw hi i wasanaethu o dan eich cadeiryddiaeth fel aelod dros dro o'r pwyllgor yma? Dwi'n symud gwelliannau 115, 116 a 121.

Gan mai dyma'r grŵp cyntaf o welliannau ar gyfer Cyfnod 2, hoffwn i gyfrannu rhai sylwadau cychwynnol cyffredinol. Yn gyntaf oll, hoffwn i ddiolch i'r clercod ac i gynghorwyr cyfreithiol y Senedd, sydd wedi bod yn gymaint o gefn i mi wrth osod y gwelliannau yma. Hefyd i'n staff ni o fewn grŵp y blaid, sydd wedi gweithio yn arwrol dros y dyddiau diwethaf er mwyn cael popeth mewn trefn. Ac a gaf i hefyd ddiolch i'r Cwnsler Cyffredinol, a'i staff yntau, am yr ymgysylltu defnyddiol ac adeiladol rydym wedi ei gael trwy gydol y broses yma, a hefyd i gyd-aelodau o'r pwyllgor yma, lle dŷn ni wedi cael cyfle hefyd i gyd-drafod yn ystod yr wythnosau diwethaf?

Ar ddechrau'r trafodion yma, hoffwn i osod y cyd-destun ar gyfer y ddeddfwriaeth hon, o'n persbectif ni, ac amlinellu rhai o brif amcanion ein gwelliannau ar draws y grwpiau heddiw. Y cyd-destun ehangach, wrth gwrs, yw bod y Senedd wedi cytuno’r cyntaf o’r ddau Fil diwygio’r Senedd a fydd yn cryfhau ein democratiaeth seneddol a chynrychioladol yn sylweddol. Mae democratiaeth Cymru wedi cyrraedd carreg filltir o bwys yn ystod y dyddiau diwethaf, a dylen ni byth gymryd hynny’n ganiataol, wrth gwrs. Ond, mae yna fwy o waith i'w wneud, a Bil arall i'w basio, a gwaith pellach gennym ni fel Aelodau, ac eraill, i'w wneud i greu Senedd effeithiol sy’n adlewyrchu’r boblogaeth.

Mae democratiaeth yn y wladwriaeth hon, ac ar draws y byd, ar groesffordd. Mae yna greisis mewn democratiaeth yn fyd-eang, gyda dyfodiad technolegau newydd, er enghraifft, gydag ymddiriedaeth, fel roedden ni'n trafod ddoe, yn gostwng mewn sefydliadau democrataidd ar draws y byd democrataidd, ac actorion maleisus yn bygwth ein democratiaeth. Ac, wrth gwrs, fe welon ni'r digwyddiad erchyll ddoe yn Hwngari. Mae'r Llywodraeth yn Llundain hefyd, dwi'n credu, wedi cyflwyno rhai polisïau sydd yn mynd â ni i'r cyfeiriad anghywir, yn ein tyb ni, o ran rhwystro mwy o bobl rhag pleidleisio, o ran troi'r cloc yn ôl ar y mesur lleiaf o gynrychiolaeth gyfrannol a welon ni yn y newidiadau ar gyfer etholiadau'r meiri a'r comisiynwyr heddlu yn ddiweddar.

Ond mae'n bwysig i nodi hefyd, yn nes at adref, fan hyn yng Nghymru, dyw pethau ddim yn iach chwaith o ran hyfywedd ein democratiaeth ni: diffyg ymwybyddiaeth ein dinasyddion ni o ran y system ddatganoli, a'r diffyg democrataidd hynny, yn bwysig, yn deillio o ddiffyg o ran ein cyfryngau cenedlaethol; apathi, hynny yw difaterwch yn gyffredinol ynglŷn â democratiaeth, sydd yn arddangos ei hunan yn y canrannau isel sy’n troi mas i bleidleisio yn gyffredinol ar bob lefel; fframwaith gyfreithiol annigonol i gefnogi democratiaeth gref a bywiog; dyblygu cyfrifoldebau a chyrff allweddol heb gapasiti i weithredu yn iawn; a diffyg statws cyfartal i'r Gymraeg o fewn y cyd-destun yma a defnydd ymarferol ohoni mewn gweinyddiaeth etholiadau.

Thank you very much, Chair. May I say at the outset how much of a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship as a temporary member of this committee? I move amendments 115, 116 and 121.

As this is the first group of amendments to be discussed at Stage 2, I would just like to make a few initial general comments. First of all, I would like to thank the clerks and legal advisers within the Senedd, who have provided so much support to me in tabling these amendments, and also our staff within the Plaid group, who have worked heroically over recent days in order to get everything in place. And may I also thank the Counsel General and his staff for the very useful and constructive engagement that we've had throughout this process, and also fellow members of this committee, where we also have had an opportunity to discuss these issues over recent weeks? 

At the beginning of these proceedings, I would like to set out some context for this legislation, from our own perspective, and also to outline some of the main objectives of our amendments across the groups today. The broader context, of course, is that the Senedd has agreed the first of two reform Bills, which will significantly strengthen our representative parliamentary democracy. Welsh democracy has reached an important milestone in recent days, and we should never take that for granted, of course. But there is more work to be done, and another Bill to be passed, and further work to be done by us as Members, and others, in order to create an effective Parliament that reflects the population. 

Democracy within this state, and across the world, is at a crossroads. There is a crisis in democracy at a global level, with the onset of new technologies, for example, with a lack of trust, as we discussed yesterday. Trust in democratic institutions is falling across the democratic world, and there are also malicious actors, of course, who threaten our democracy, and, of course, we saw that appalling incident just yesterday in Hungary. The Government in London, I believe, has also introduced some policies that take us in the wrong direction—in my view at least—in terms of preventing more people from voting, in terms of turning the clock back on the smallest measure of proportional representation that we saw in terms of changes to the elections for the mayors and police and crime commissioners recently. 

But it's also important to note that, close to home, here in Wales, things aren't necessarily healthy in terms of the viability of our democracy: a lack of awareness among our citizens in terms of the devolved system, with that democratic deficit emerging from a deficit in terms of our national media; a general apathy about democracy, which demonstrates itself in the low percentages that turn out to vote at all levels; an inadequate legal framework to support a viable and lively democracy; the duplication of responsibilities and key bodies without the capacity to operate properly; and a lack of equal status for the Welsh language within this context and practical use of the language in the administration of elections.

Nawr, mae yna gamau cadarnhaol a blaengar wedi'u cymryd, fel ehangu'r etholfraint i bobl ifainc a dinasyddion tramor mewn etholiadau datganoledig, ac mae'r Bil hwn yn adeiladu ar y rheini ac yn cynnig sawl diwygiad sydd i'w croesawu'n fawr, fel cofrestru awtomatig. Anelu'n uwch a bod yn fwy uchelgeisiol, dwi'n credu, yw ein nod ni. Dyna'r cyfeiriad rŷn ni eisiau gweld gyda'r cyfle yma i ddiwygio ein democratiaeth ni eto, a thrio sicrhau ein bod ni'n canolbwyntio ar sylwedd a deilliannau yn ogystal â phroses. Dyw proses yn ei hunan ddim yn mynd â chi yn ddigon pell. Felly, rhaid cael gweledigaeth, rhaid cael strwythur ac eglurder ar bwy sydd â'r cyfrifoldeb o'i chyflawni, a dwi'n ddiolchgar i'r Cwnsler Cyffredinol a'i swyddogion, fel dwi wedi dweud, gyda'r trafodaethau rŷn ni wedi'u cael hyd yma.

O ran themâu, yn gyffredinol, y gwelliannau y byddwn ni'n eu symud heddiw, rŷn ni'n ceisio diogelu a datblygu seiliau democratiaeth Cymru, ac ymddiriedaeth yn ein sefydliadau democrataidd, yn arbennig yn oes deallusrwydd artiffisial a chamwybodaeth, a phoblyddiaeth hefyd, sydd yn ddigon parod i ddweud celwyddau er mwyn denu cefnogaeth. Yr ail thema ydy cael yr hanfodion yn gywir mewn gweinyddiaeth etholiadau a gwarantu parch i'n holl ddinasyddion, o ran triniaeth gyfartal ein hieithoedd cenedlaethol a hawliau pleidleiswyr ag anableddau. Yn drydydd, adeiladu ar sicrhau cysondeb gyda'r hyn mae'r Senedd eisoes wedi'i gytuno yn y Bil arall, y Bil Senedd Cymru (Aelodau ac Etholiadau), o ran y drefn statudol newydd o enwi etholaethau, er enghraifft, gan sicrhau aliniad rhwng darpariaethau'r ddau Fil. Ac yn olaf, cryfhau'r Comisiwn Democratiaeth a Ffiniau Cymru i fod yn gorff gweithredol pwerus sydd yn gyfrifol am bob agwedd ar ddatblygu ein democratiaeth, o daliadau Aelodau'r Senedd a chynghorwyr sir, i fonitro ac annog amrywiaeth mewn gwleidyddiaeth ddatganoledig a delio gyda'r rhwystrau sy'n atal pobl rhag sefyll fel ymgeiswyr ac yn bwerdy arbenigedd a gwybodaeth am y profiadau o fod yn aelod etholedig, gan gynnwys ymddygiadau annerbyniol, a chydlynu ac adrodd ar raglen o waith i wella iechyd ein democratiaeth.

Gan droi, felly, Gadeirydd—. A diolch am eich amynedd o ran y sylwadau cychwynnol. Gaf i droi, felly, at y grŵp yma, a'r gwelliant cyntaf, gwelliant 115, sydd yn sicrhau bod swyddogaethau’r comisiwn yn cynnwys

'materion sy’n gysylltiedig ag iechyd democrataidd y genedl’,

gan wneud yn siŵr bod y swyddogaethau mae'r Llywodraeth ei hun yn dymuno eu rhoi i'r corff, fel yr amlinellir ym mharagraff 1.2 y memorandwm esboniadol, yn cael eu hadlewyrchu ar wyneb y statud? Felly, beth rŷn ni wedi ei wneud ydy cymryd y geiriau oddi wrth y memorandwm esboniadol ynglŷn ag iechyd democrataidd, a rhoi hynny ar wyneb y Bil.

Mae cryn sylw wedi bod i ddatblygu'r cysyniad o 'iechyd democrataidd' yng nghyd-destun Bil diwygio'r Senedd—gwaith mae'r Cwnsler Cyffredinol ei hunan wedi'i gomisiynu a'i gyhoeddi gan Ganolfan Polisi Cyhoeddus Cymru a hefyd yng nghyd-destun gwaith y Comisiwn Annibynnol ar Ddyfodol Cyfansoddiadol Cymru.

Mewn ymateb i argymhelliad cyntaf y Comisiwn Annibynnol ar Ddyfodol Cyfansoddiadol Cymru, rhestrodd y Llywodraeth rai o'r gwahanol gyrff sy'n chwarae rhan yn meithrin iechyd democrataidd Llywodraeth Cymru ei hunan, Comisiwn y Senedd, a'r pŵer sydd gan y Comisiwn o dan Ddeddf Llywodraeth Cymru 2006, i'r cyfeiriad yma, a'r Comisiwn Etholiadol, y corff cynghori ar ddarlledu a chyfathrebu, y cyfryngau, y trydydd sector, llywodraeth leol ac, wrth gwrs, y comisiwn democratiaeth ei hunan. Mae’r system addysg ac ysgolion hefyd yn gyrff allweddol o ran rôl y cwricwlwm—dwi'n gwybod bod hwnna'n thema sy'n bwysig i'r Cwnsler Cyffredinol—yn meithrin dealltwriaeth a chyfranogiad. Dwi'n credu bod gyda ni eto fwy o waith i'w wneud i'r cyfeiriad hynny.

Felly, yn amlwg, bydd y cyfrifoldeb yma ynglŷn ag iechyd democrataidd yn parhau wedi’i rannu ar draws nifer fawr o gyrff, ond mae’n rhaid cael rhywun i arwain y gwaith hynny a chydlynu’r gwaith, a'n casgliad ni ydy y dylai’r gwaith yma fod yn digwydd, am resymau amlwg, hyd braich oddi ar Lywodraeth, ac mae’r comisiwn yn cynnig y model perffaith i hynny.

Now, positive steps and innovative steps have been taken, such as expanding the franchise to young people and foreign nationals in devolved elections, and this Bill seeks to build on those and proposes a number of reforms that are to be warmly welcomed, such as automatic registration. Aiming higher and being more ambitious, I think, is our aim. That's the direction of travel we want to see with this opportunity to reform our democracy once again, and to seek to ensure that we focus on substance and outcomes as well as process. Process in and of itself can't take you far enough. So, we have to have a vision, we have to have structure and clarity as to who has responsibility of delivery, and I'm grateful to the General Counsel and his officials, as I've said, in terms of the discussions that we've had to date.

In terms of the more general themes of my amendments today, we are seeking to safeguard and develop the democratic foundations of Wales, and trust in our democratic institutions, particularly in the age of artificial intelligence and misinformation, and populism too, which is more than happy to lie in order to attract support. The second theme is getting the fundamentals right in electoral administration and securing respect for all of our citizens, in terms of equal treatment for our national languages and the rights of voters with disabilities. Thirdly, building on ensuring consistency with what the Senedd has already agreed in the other Bill, the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill, in terms of the new statutory system of naming constituencies, for example, ensuring alignment between the provisions of the both Bills. And finally, to strengthen the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru so that it is a powerful executive body that is responsible for all aspects of developing our democracy, from remuneration of Senedd Members and county councillors, to monitoring and encouraging diversity in devolved politics and dealing with barriers that prevent people from standing as candidates and is an engine room of information and expertise on the experience of being an elected member, including unacceptable behaviours, and co-ordinating and reporting on a programme of work to improve the health of our democracy.

Turning, therefore, Chair—. And thank you for your patience in terms of my opening remarks. Can I turn, therefore, to this group of amendments, and the first amendment, which is amendment 115, which ensures that the functions of the commission include

'issues related to the democratic health of the nation',

ensuring that the functions that the Government itself seeks to give to the body, as outlined in paragraph 1.2 of the explanatory memorandum, are reflected on the face of the Bill? So, what we've done is to take the wording from the explanatory memorandum on the democratic health of the natio and to place that on the face of the Bill.

There has been quite some coverage on the development of the concept of 'democratic health' in the context of the Senedd reform Bill—work that the Counsel General himself has commissioned and published from the Wales Centre for Public Policy, and also in the context of the work of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales.

In response to the first recommendation of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, the Welsh Government listed some of the bodies that do play a part in nurturing the democratic health of the Welsh Government itself, the Senedd Commission, and the power that the Commission has under the Government of Wales Act 2006 in this direction, and the Electoral Commission, the broadcasting and communications advisory body, the media, the third sector, local government and, of course, the democracy commission itself. The education system and schools are also crucial in this in terms of the role of the curriculum—I know that that is a theme that is important to the Counsel General—in nurturing an understanding of and participation in democracy. I think we, again, have more work to do in that regard.

So, clearly, the responsibility on democratic health will continue to be shared across a number of different bodies and organisations, but you do have to have someone to lead and co-ordinate that work, and our conclusion is that this work should be happening, for obvious reasons, at arm's length from Government, and the commission provides the perfect vehicle for that. 

Roedd y Pwyllgor Biliau Diwygio, hefyd yng nghyd-destun codi ymwybyddiaeth o’r system etholiadol i'r Senedd newydd, wedi nodi’r angen am eglurder am bwy oedd yn arwain ar y gwaith yma o gydlynu. Roeddech chi, Cwnsler Cyffredinol, wedi ymrwymo i ymateb yn llawn, a dwi wedi gofyn cwestiwn ysgrifenedig i chi ar hyn, felly arhoswn am yr ymateb hynny. Ond mae hyn i gyd yn pwysleisio’r angen am y rôl gydlynol yna i yrru’r gwaith pwysig yma o bersbectif amhleidiol, hyd braich, a dyna beth rŷn ni'n treial ei gyflawni gyda'r gwelliant yma. Mae'r Cwnsler Cyffredinol a'r Llywodraeth wedi cytuno £1 miliwn yn y gyllideb bresennol i weithredu argymhellion y comisiwn cyfansoddiadol, gan gynnwys yn benodol o gwmpas arloesi democrataidd ac ymgysylltu, gan ymrwymo i ddatblygu rhaglen o waith dilynol a strwythur cysylltiedig. Pwy well i arwain ar weithredu’r rhaglen o waith hon yn ymwneud ag iechyd democrataidd ac arloesi democrataidd nag uned newydd o fewn y comisiwn democratiaeth?

Mae gwelliant 116, Cadeirydd, yn mynd ymhellach, felly, ac yn ceisio rhoi cyfrifoldeb gweithredol i'r comisiwn democratiaeth dros gydlynu rhaglen o waith ar draws y gwahanol gyrff dwi wedi eu henwi a fydd yn annog arloesi democrataidd ac yn rhoi fframwaith ar sut y dylai gario allan ei swyddogaeth dros iechyd democrataidd Cymru drwy sefydlu uned benodol o fewn y comisiwn ac i adrodd mewn adroddiad blynyddol ar draweffaith y gwaith yma. Mae’r gwelliant yn awgrymu rhai meysydd y gellid adrodd amdanynt, ond heb os bydd mwy, megis dealltwriaeth pobl o ba blaid neu bleidiau sydd mewn grym, beth yw cyfrifoldebau gwahanol gyrff democrataidd ar lefel leol, Cymru a San Steffan ac yn y blaen. Mae'r Cwnsler Cyffredinol, dwi'n gwybod, yn ymwybodol iawn o'r gwaith arloesol yn y maes yma sydd wedi cael ei wneud gan The Democracy Box, er enghraifft. Mae yna dempled yn fanna y gall y comisiwn a'r uned yma adeiladu arno fe o ran cynyddu ymwybyddiaeth o'r broses ddemocrataidd a sicrhau bod yna waith cydlynu ar draws y thema gyffredinol yma o ran iechyd democrataidd. 

Yn olaf, Cadeirydd, mae gwelliant 121 yn gosod dyletswydd ar y comisiwn i fonitro trais, aflonyddu, cam-drin a bygwth gwleidyddol ar sail rhywedd—gender-based political violence—yn erbyn cynrychiolwyr etholedig. Mi oeddwn i yn ddiweddar wedi cynrychioli'r Senedd yn fforwm seneddol byd-eang Banc y Byd a'r IMF, ac roedd yn ddiddorol iawn i gwrdd ag aelodau etholedig yno o Dansanïa, sydd yn un o'r gwledydd hynny sydd wedi deddfu ar gender-based political violence. Bolifia oedd y cyntaf, ac mae yna gyfres nawr o wledydd sydd wedi dod â chyfreithiau i mewn yn benodol ynglŷn â'r elfen yma o gender-based political violence, oherwydd dŷn ni'n gwybod, wrth gwrs, er bod y broblem yma o aflonyddu yn broblem gyffredinol i bawb, bron, ar bob lefel o wleidyddiaeth, mae yna duedd iddo fe fod yn fwy dwys o ran menywod mewn gwleidyddiaeth, pobl o leiafrifoedd ethnig a phobl LHDT, er enghraifft. A beth sydd gyda ni yn y gwelliant yma ydy creu dyletswydd ar y comisiwn i fonitro'r lefel fel ein bod ni'n gallu gweld hyd a lled y broblem. Dŷn ni i gyd yn gwybod ei fod yn broblem ddybryd, mae'n broblem gynyddol, ond mae angen y data yna arnom ni er mwyn deall natur y broblem, maint y broblem a sut ŷn ni'n gallu ei liniaru e. Ac felly bydd uned fonitro yn cael ei sefydlu ac yn casglu a chyhoeddi data ar hyn. Ac mae’r gwelliant hefyd yn rhoi grym i Weinidogion Cymru roi mwy o ddyletswyddau i’r comisiwn yn y cyd-destun yma.

Mae e'n broblem ar draws y byd, ac fel dwi'n dweud, mae yna arfer da yn dechrau amlygu ei hunan yn fyd-eang oherwydd hynny. Mae adroddiad y tasglu sydd wedi bod wrthi yng Ngweriniaeth Iwerddon yn edrych ar gyfranogiad diogel mewn bywyd gwleidyddol—safe participation in political life—ar fin cael ei gyhoeddi, ond yn ôl yr adroddiadau, un o’r prif argymhellion yw creu uned fonitro o’r math dwi'n sôn amdano. Mae yna uned fonitro o ran cyfryngau cymdeithasol yn bodoli eisoes yn Senedd yr Alban; mae'n bodoli yn Senedd San Steffan. Mae'n bwysig nodi bod y math hwn o ymddygiad yn gallu digwydd ar-lein a hefyd offline, onid yw e—yn ffisegol, felly. Mae'n bwysig bod y monitro yn gallu mesur yr holl wahanol gyd-destunau.

Ond beth sydd yn wahanol am yr hyn y mae Iwerddon, yr Oireachtas, yn mynd i'w gynnig, neu yn mynd i'w weithredu, rwy’n credu, ydy bod yr uned fonitro yma yn mynd i gyfro llywodraeth leol, nid jest y Senedd genedlaethol. Dŷn ni wedi gweld adroddiadau, onid ŷn ni, yng Nghymru ynglŷn â'r ffordd y mae cynghorwyr—rhai ohonyn nhw—wedi cael y profiad ofnadwy yma ac wedi penderfynu gadael gwleidyddiaeth oherwydd hynny. Ac weithiau, mewn rhai ffyrdd, mae'n gallu bod yn fwy anodd i gynghorwyr, onid yw e, oherwydd efallai bod dim gyda nhw'r isadeiledd o gefnogaeth sydd gyda ni, yn rhannol, mewn Senedd genedlaethol. Maen nhw'n gallu bod yn fwy ynysig, yn dibynnu ar y cyd-destun ac yn y blaen. Felly, fel yn achos Iwerddon, mae’r gwelliant yma yn cyfro pob lefel o lywodraeth, dim dim ond y lefel genedlaethol, a dwi'n edrych ymlaen at glywed ymateb y Cwnsler Cyffredinol a hefyd gyfraniadau cyd-aelodau’r pwyllgor i’r hyn dŷn ni'n ei gynnig yn y tri gwelliant yma.

The Reform Bill Committee, also in the context of raising awareness of the electoral system for the new Senedd, had noted the need for clarity on who would lead on this co-ordination work. You, yourself, Counsel General, committed to respond in full, and I have tabled a written question to you on this, so I will await that response. But all of this emphasises the need for that co-ordination role to drive this important work forward from an arm's length, non-party political perspective, and that's what we're seeking to achieve with this amendment. The Counsel General and the Government has agreed £1 million in the current budget to implement the recommendations of the constitutional commission, including specifically on democratic innovation and engagement, committing to developing a programme of follow-up work and related structures. Who better to lead on the implications of that work programme relating to democratic health and innovation than a new unit within the democracy commission? 

Amendment 116, Chair, goes further, therefore, and seeks to provide executive responsibility to the democracy commission over the co-ordination of a programme of work across the different bodies that I have named, which will encourage democratic innovation and will provide a framework as to how it should carry out its functions for the democratic health of Wales by establishing a specific unit within the commission and to report in an annual report on the impact of this work. The amendment suggests some areas that could be reported on, but without doubt, there will be more, such as people's understanding of which party is in power, or parties, what are the responsibilities of the various different democratic bodies at a local level in Wales and in Westminster and so on. The Counsel General, I know, is highly aware of the innovative work done in this area by The Democracy Box, for example. There is a template there that the commission and this unit could build upon in terms of enhancing awareness of the democratic process and ensuring that there is co-ordination across the general theme of democratic health. 

Finally, Chair, amendment 121 places a duty on the commission to monitor gender-based political violence, harassment and abuse of elected representatives. Now, recently, I represented the Senedd at the global parliamentary forum of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and it was very interesting to meet with elected members there from Tanzania, which is one of those nations that has legislated on gender-based political violence. Bolivia was the first, but there is a series of nations now that have introduced laws specifically on this issue of gender-based political violence, because we know, of course, that although this problem of harassment and abuse is a general problem for everyone at almost level of politics, there is a tendency for it to be worse for women in politics, people from ethnic-minority backgrounds and people from the LGBT community, for example. So, what we have in this amendment is a duty that will be placed on the commission to monitor the level of harassment so that we can see the extent of the problem. We all know that it's a very serious and increasing problem, but we need that data in order to understand the nature and scale of the problem and how we can mitigate it. And therefore a monitoring unit would be created and it would publish data on this issue. And the amendment also gives powers to Welsh Ministers to provide more duties to the commission in this context. 

It is a problem globally, and as I say, there is good practice starting to emerge globally as a result of that. The report of the taskforce that has been working in the Republic of Ireland looking at safe participation in political life is about to be published, but according to the reports, one of the main recommendations will be the creation of a monitoring unit of the kind that I am referring to. There is a monitoring unit in terms of social media output that already exists in the Scottish Parliament; it also exists in Westminster. It's important to note that this kind of behaviour can happen online and offline too—it can happen in a physical context too. So, it is important that the monitoring can assess all of these different contexts.

But what is different about what the Oireachtas in Ireland is set to propose, or to implement, I believe, is that this monitoring unit will also cover local government, not just the national Parliament. We have seen reports here in Wales of the way in which councillors—some of them—have had this terrible experience and have decided to leave politics as a result of that. And sometimes, in some ways, it can be more difficult for councillors, because perhaps they don't have that infrastructure of support available to them that we have, partially at least, in a national Parliament. They can be more isolated, depending on the context and so on. So, as in the case of Ireland, this amendment covers all levels of government, not just the national level, and I look forward to hearing the Counsel General's response and also contributions from fellow members of the committee to what we are proposing in these three amendments.

09:50

Okay. Does any other Member wish to speak to the amendments in this group? No. Counsel General.

Well, diolch, Chair. If you can give me discretion just to respond generally to some of the opening comments, can I first of all thank Adam and other Members for the constructive work that we've had in looking at this legislation and looking at how to frame the legislation, and also to look at how this whole process may develop?

Can I just first of all say that I agree, I think, with nearly all of the comments that were made in terms of the issues of democracy that I think are completely cross-party and things that we are all very much concerned with. The issue of democratic health, I'm very pleased, is now beginning to feature as one of the key elements of well-being and so on in our society, in our civic democracy.

The two Bills that you referred to, obviously this one and the earlier Senedd reform one, what they do is provide a framework for reform and for improving and strengthening our democracy. But this does not bring the process to an end, because our environment is continually changing and the challenges to our freedom, which is dependent on our democratic system, are continually under challenge as well. I always remember the—I think it was—the Tower Colliery National Union of Mineworkers banner, which had at the bottom of it, 'The price of freedom is eternal vigilance', and I think that is part of what we are actually addressing.

Can I also say that, as we go through this process, many of the amendments that are there—many of which I will be opposing—are not being opposed in terms of the principles or the issues that are raised? For me, part of the issue is to ensure that we get the basics right in getting what is a momentous change that will take place in 2026 in the way our Senedd general election actually takes place, but it's not something that is then exclusive to the fact that there is a need for further reform in terms of many of the other areas that are being talked about.

So, in terms of Adam's amendments 115, 116 and 121, these expand the functions of the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru that is taking on the responsibility for the Senedd boundaries, the independent remuneration panel functions, and also to host the electoral management board. The intention in relation to the proposed functions of the EMB is to build, as was mentioned, on the successful Scottish electoral management board in order to ensure the operational independence of it. Some of its operational matters will be, of course, for the board to determine as part of its ways of working. Now, I accept that the issues covered by amendments 115 and 116 could well be very helpful to the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru to consider in the future. As Members will know, as I've said, democratic health is a serious concern for me and, I think, for the Welsh Government. It is the underpinning of the consideration of all our work on electoral reform and, as I say, is an ongoing process. So, we may well look to add these functions in amendments 115 and 116 at a later date through subordinate legislation, and the Member referred, of course, to the explanatory memorandum, which gives further substance, I think, to the direction. I just fear that adding them at this point could jeopardise the DBCC's immediate focus as we set it up.

Amendment 121 would place a duty on the democracy and boundary commission to create a unit to monitor gender-based political harassment, abuse and intimidation of elected representatives, and to report annually on it. And while this amendment highlights a matter that is of concern to the Welsh Government, it goes beyond what the current intended remit of it is at this stage. There are already other mechanisms for reporting gender-based and other forms of political harassment, abuse, intimidation of elected representatives through the public services ombudsman, local standards committees, the Senedd standards committee and, of course, a range of regular surveys.

So, I'm not supporting these amendments, but, in not supporting them, it doesn't mean that there isn't ongoing work in terms of the direction within those particular areas, and how to achieve that, and, of course, it's an ongoing conversation that I'm more than happy to engage on as this legislation proceeds. Diolch, Chair.

09:55

Rwy'n ddiolchgar i'r Cwnsler Cyffredinol am y sylwadau cyffredinol yn cydsynio gyda rhai o'r themâu rŷn ni wedi eu gosod mas ar y dechrau.

I'm grateful to the Counsel General for his general remarks, agreeing with some of the themes that we've set out.

I think that, in terms of the democratic health, as I point out, it is in the explanatory memorandum—indeed, I think it's come up in committee previously—where the current commission recognises that, de facto, it has a democratic health function anyway. So, I think what we're seeking to do is to formalise and to give that clarity. If it is de facto, then it should be reflected, really, so that citizens are aware that there is a body in Wales that is devolved, that has this broader function. But we may return to this at a later stage, and there may be other ways in which it can be brought forward, as the Counsel General has said.

In relation to amendment 121—and, again, the commission is already involved in work in this field, as you said—I attended a seminar on abuse in politics that was chaired by the current commission, and a piece of work was initiated by your Cabinet colleague, the constitution and finance Cabinet Secretary. Our feeling is that we're already staring into the abyss on this one. Political life has always been difficult, challenging, filled with invective and all the rest of it, but we are entering into a new phase. For some of the reasons that I referred to in my opening remarks, when we're talking about democratic health as a positive, we've got to realise that there is something very, very wrong in the body politic at the moment. There is poison within the system. And if we don't act quickly, urgently, collaboratively, all those of us that, on a cross-party basis, want to see democracy thrive and, I have to say, survive, because there are existential threats out there—. The level of organised—because much of it is, certainly online, organised, and some of it offline as well, isn't it, by anti-democratic forces—. I think giving a focus to that—. I'm happy to discuss outside of these parameters how that could be done and then the legal form and practical form. But I think we need to do something more than we're currently doing. We're of the view that giving a particular focus, giving a home for this work and ensuring as well that data that is being gathered in pots, in silos—. But no-one at the moment is able to give us the complete view, and we're not able to identify over time, and yet, in Wales, we have academics like the HateLab in Cardiff University who are experts in this field—. The commission could work with them to do something that was genuinely pioneering, I think, in Wales. So, I accept that we're unlikely to get this amendment through today, but could I ask that we have further discussions as to how we could achieve the objective of this amendment on a collaborative basis?

10:00

But I will still be pressing it to a vote, if I may.

Thanks, Adam. I think Lee Waters wanted to come in briefly at this point. Lee.

Just very briefly, picking up Adam's point, that wonderful quote that you used there from the Tower banner apparently originated with Thomas Jefferson in 1817, and he's a great example of how politics has always been vicious. There have been anonymous, hateful attacks all through the democratic tradition, but the technological leaps we've seen give this a different flavour, and the fake audio we've seen of Sadiq Khan in the most recent London mayoral election and the very convincing visual deepfakes that are now in circulation really should worry us all. So, I'm very pleased to hear you say that you support the initiative and would want to look at how we can bring it in through regulations. I guess there's always the tension, isn't there, about how much we want to focus on the first principles of the Bill and not get distracted by other things, but it'd be good if, at the next stage, you were able to give us a little bit more information and commitment about how some of these ideas might be taken forward.

Thank you, Lee. Did you want to say anything further?

No, just that I agree very much with those sentiments, and, as I initially said, for me, with such momentous change for 2026, I'm very concerned that the focus is to ensure that 2026 is a robust election that works. It's central, which means there's focus there, but, as I say, all these things are absolutely relevant and things that I think the framework enables us to actually develop and to do, et cetera. So, I agree with it to that extent.

10:05

Thank you. Adam, did you want to say anything further?

Well, maybe a few of us, those of us who may be interested in this area, possibly could meet with you, Counsel General, to see, in between this stage and the next stage, how we could achieve this objective in different formats. I think that would be very useful.

Okay. Thank you very much. The question, then, is that amendment 115 be agreed to, does any Member object? [Objection.] Okay. We will, then, proceed to a vote. So, the question is that amendment 115 be agreed to. Will those in favour please raise your hands? Those against. That doesn't leave room for any abstentions. So, we have three in favour and three against. Therefore, I use my casting vote as Chair against the amendment and the amendment is not agreed.

Gwelliant 115: O blaid: 3, Yn erbyn: 3, Ymatal: 0

Gan fod nifer y pleidleisiau yn gyfartal, defnyddiodd y Cadeirydd ei bleidlais fwrw yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 6.20(ii).

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 115: For: 3, Against: 3, Abstain: 0

As there was an equality of votes, the Chair used his casting vote in accordance with Standing Order 6.20(ii).

Amendment has been rejected

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 116 (Adam Price).

Amendment 116 (Adam Price) moved.

Yes. The question is that amendment 116 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] There is an objection. We will, then, move to a vote. The question is that amendment 116 be agreed to. Will those in favour please raise your hands? And those against. So, once again, we have three in favour, three against, and, as Chair, I use my casting vote against, and amendment 116 is not agreed.

Gwelliant 116: O blaid: 3, Yn erbyn: 3, Ymatal: 0

Gan fod nifer y pleidleisiau yn gyfartal, defnyddiodd y Cadeirydd ei bleidlais fwrw yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 6.20(ii).

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 116: For: 3, Against: 3, Abstain: 0

As there was an equality of votes, the Chair used his casting vote in accordance with Standing Order 6.20(ii).

Amendment has been rejected

Grŵp 2: Bwrdd Rheoli Etholiadol (Gwelliannau 98, 1, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)
Group 2: Electoral Management Board (Amendments 98, 1, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)

That takes us to group 2, the second group of amendments, relating to the electoral management board. The lead amendment in this group is amendment 98, and I call on Peter Fox to move and speak to the lead amendment and the other amendments in the group. Peter.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 98 (Peter Fox).

Amendment 98 (Peter Fox) moved.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you for the important opportunity to contribute to the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill. I wish to speak to my first amendment, and it's a probing amendment, so I won't be looking to take a vote on amendment 98. It highlights some of my concerns surrounding the electoral management board. I'm concerned that the Welsh Government has not been clear in providing the full extent of the types of functions that the Minister intends to confer on the electoral management board. As the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee highlighted, we need more information on the types of functions that may be conferred on the EMB, as well as its independence. So, with this in mind, I would hope that the Minister could, therefore, clarify exactly what the functions of the electoral management board would be and what steps would be put in place to ensure that the board would be able to act with independence.

On the other amendments in this group, I will be opposing amendment 1, as my group is against the addition of 'three years'—that's just a position point of the group on that, so I have no great argument to make around that. As for all of the other amendments put forward by the Counsel General, we will be in support of those.

Okay, Peter. Thank you very much. Any other Member? Adam.

Jest yn fyr, mae gwelliant 1 yn ceisio sicrhau bod cadeirydd y bwrdd rheoli etholiadol wedi bod yn swyddog etholiadau o fewn y tair blynedd diwethaf. Mae'n amlwg bod annibynieath barn gennyf i a'r llefarydd Ceidwadol ynglŷn â'r peth, ond rŷn ni'n meddwl ei bod yn bwysig i sicrhau bod ganddynt isafswm rhesymol o ran profiad perthnasol a chyfeiriol o ran rheoli etholiadau. Felly, dyna yw bwriad y gwelliant.

Just very briefly, amendment 1 seeks to ensure that the chair of the electoral management board has been a returning officer within the past three years. Of course, there is disagreement between me and the Conservative spokesman on this, but we think it is important to ensure that they do have a minimum level of relevant experience in terms of managing elections. So, that's the intention of the amendment.

Thank you, Chair. I won't be supporting Peter Fox’s amendment 98, which removes the power for Welsh Ministers to make regulations that specify the provisions for which the EMB would be responsible.

The power is, in my view, required as Welsh Ministers may need to confer further functions related to electoral administration on the electoral management board in the future. So, it's important to have the flexibility within the Bill to ensure that the EMB remains fit for purpose and in case further functions do need to be conferred on the board, as in fact discussed just in the amendment earlier on. So, these functions would have to be created by legislation in the first place, so it provides the mechanism to enable that to happen.

An example of where provisions specified in regulations may add to the functions of the commission is, for example, the Welsh elections information platform. We envisage that the electoral management board would take forward the platform, and regulations could confer functions on the electoral management board in relation to that particular platform. 

Amendments 11 to 15 in my name are a set of amendments to tidy up the list of exclusions to the electoral management board. While the EMB will be comprised of people with elections officer experience and two members of the democracy and boundary commission, we wanted to make clear the need for impartiality and independence of EMB functions. So, I'm asking Members to support those amendments.

The purpose of amendment 11 is to clarify that exclusions from membership of the EMB apply for the duration of appointment, not just on appointment. That was already the policy intention, but the amendment clarifies that in law and ensures alignment with other sets of exclusions in this Bill and the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill.

Amendment 12 expands the list of elected members excluded from the EMB, and the purpose of that is to align it with the exclusions to membership of the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru via the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill.

The purpose of amendment 14 is to clarify the exclusion of staff of the Senedd from membership of the EMB.

Amendments 13 and 15 are consequential amendments.

Amendment 1 from Adam sets overly prescriptive eligibility criteria for membership of the electoral management board. Of course, it's important that there is experience, but we think it would unduly limit the field of potential candidates. There could be unfortunate consequences. For example, the most suitable candidate could not be appointed if they had worked as an elections officer for several elections more than three years ago. However, someone with only recent experience as an elections officer could be appointed even if that experience was limited or less. So, a requirement for previous experience as an elections officer, combined with a robust selection process, we think, is the best way of testing candidates' experience and suitability for the role. Diolch, Chair.

10:10

Okay, diolch, Counsel General. Peter Fox, anything to say in response?

Obviously, my 98, as I said, is a probing amendment and I'm not looking to take it to a vote, but I was looking for deeper clarity. I don't think I've got that yet, but that might emerge, I think, perhaps in later stages, as you say. So, we'll gain more insight on that. I concur with your views on amendment 1 as well, and am supportive of the rationale for the rest of your amendments, Counsel General. So, with that, Chair, I have nothing more to say.

Does any Member object to the withdrawal of amendment 98? No. Then the amendment is withdrawn.

Tynnwyd gwelliant 98 yn ôl gyda chaniatâd y pwyllgor.

Amendment 98 withdrawn by leave of the committee.

Yes, amendment 1, then, is moved. Does any Member object?

Dwi'n tynnu nôl, sori. 

Sorry, no, it's withdrawn.

Oh, sorry, it's withdrawn. Sorry, Adam. Does any Member object to the withdrawal of amendment 1? No. Then amendment 1 is withdrawn.

Ni chynigwyd gwelliant 1.

Amendment 1 not moved.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 11 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 11 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

Amendment 11, then. I move amendment 11 in the name of the Counsel General. The question is that amendment 11 be agreed. Does any Member object? No. Then amendment 11 is agreed.

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.34.

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 17.34.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 12 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 12 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

I move amendment 12 in the name of the Counsel General. The question is that amendment 12 be agreed to. Does any Member object? No. Then amendment 12 is agreed.

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.34.

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 17.34.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 13 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 13 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

I move amendment 13 in the name of the Counsel General. The question is that amendment 13 be agreed to. Does any Member object? No. Then amendment 13 is agreed to.

10:15

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.34.

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 17.34.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 14 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 14 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

I move amendment 14 in the name of the Counsel General. The question is that amendment 14 be agreed to. Does any Member object? No. Then amendment 14 is agreed to.

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.34.

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 17.34.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 15 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 15 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

I move amendment 15 in the name of the Counsel General. The question is that amendment 15 be agreed to. Does any Member object? No. Then amendment 15 is agreed to.

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.34.

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 17.34.

Grŵp 3: Cofrestru etholiadol (Gwelliannau 99, 2, 3, 16, 100, 127, 44, 45)
Group 3: Electoral registration (Amendments 99, 2, 3, 16, 100, 127, 44, 45)

And that, then, takes us to group 3, relating to electoral registration. The lead amendment in this group is amendment 99. I call on Peter Fox to move and speak to the lead amendment and the other amendments in this group. Peter.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 99 (Peter Fox).

Amendment 99 (Peter Fox) moved.

Thank you, Chair. I firmly believe that participation in democracy should be a choice, and the provisions laid out by the Welsh Government to increase voter participation do not fundamentally resolve the core issue. The fact is that turnout in Senedd elections is incredibly low—always has been—for a number of reasons, I'm sure, including the lack of knowledge surrounding devolution and a general apathy towards the Senedd. That is why I will be proposing and moving amendment 99, which seeks to increase the notice period of 45 days to 60 days, after which a person will be registered to vote without application. This gives more time for people to opt out, should they wish.

I am pleased to be supporting amendments 2 and 3, tabled in the name of Adam Price. We need to be careful with people's information, especially those who wish to remain anonymous for good reason, such as those suffering from domestic abuse. It is therefore crucial that we make it as easy for people as possible to opt out of automatic voter registration. While I recognise the desire to increase voter participation, I also wish to highlight the fact that we need to ensure automatic voter registration works for all people in Wales.

Too often we see proposals being brought forward with no means by which we can assess their effectiveness. This is why I've tabled amendment 100, ensuring that Welsh Ministers carry out a review relating to the operation of electoral registration without application no later than 12 months from the end of the local government elections in 2027. This will give us an idea of how effective the measure has been and what more can be done to improve voter turnout and make it easier for people to participate in democracy. We need to assess the effectiveness of this legislation, rather than just accept the fact that it has or hasn't worked anecdotally. That's all I need to say at the moment.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Cadeirydd. Mae gwelliant arweiniol y grŵp yma, 99, yn ceisio ymestyn y cyfnod hysbysu o 45 i 60 diwrnod, fel y clywon ni, ac, ar ôl hynny, bydd y person yn cael ei gofrestru i bleidleisio heb gais. Rydym ni o blaid dileu neu leihau rhwystrau i gofrestru pleidleiswyr yn awtomatig, felly rydym yn gwrthwynebu hyn.

Byddai gwelliant 100 y Torïaid yn creu darpariaeth ar gyfer adolygiad penodol o gofrestru pleidleiswyr yn awtomatig. Er ein bod ni o'r farn y byddai ein gwelliant ni, yn cyflwyno adolygiad o'r holl Ddeddf maes o law, yn cwmpasu hyn, nid oes gennym ni wrthwynebiad mewn egwyddor i'r gwelliant yma, felly fe wnawn ei gefnogi.

Gwelliannau 2 a 3 yw ein gwelliannau ni, sy'n ceisio gwneud ceisiadau am gofrestriad awtomatig mor hawdd a hyblyg â phosib, yn benodol drwy ddileu'r angen i unrhyw etholwr yng Nghymru sy'n dymuno cofrestru'n ddienw ddarparu tystiolaeth ategol ar gyfer ei gais, a dileu'r gofyniad i adnewyddu cofrestriad ar gyfer cofrestriadau dienw.

Byddem ni yn gwerthfawrogi mwy o esboniad gan y Cwnsler Cyffredinol am yr angen am welliant 16, sy'n dileu'r gofyn i gyhoeddi a darparu cofrestru agored o etholwyr llywodraeth leol, hyd y gwelwn ni. Pa drafodaethau sydd wedi bod gyda'r pleidiau gwleidyddol am hyn a'i effaith posib ar eu gweithgareddau nhw? Byddwn yn ymatal ar hwn, a hefyd ar 44 a 45, gan eu bod fel petaent yn rhoi mwy o hurdles, mwy o rwystrau, yn y ffordd wrth inni symud tuag at y cofrestru awtomatig yr ydym ni ym Mhlaid Cymru am weld yn digwydd cyn gynted ag sy'n bosib.

Thank you very much, Chair. The lead amendment of this group, 99, seeks to extend the notification period from 45 to 60 days, as we heard, and, after that, the person will be registered to vote without application. We are in favour of removing or reducing the barriers to register voters automatically, so we object to this.

Amendment 100 by the Tories would create provision for a specific review of registering voters automatically. Even though we are of the view that our amendment, which would mean a review of the whole Act in due course, would encompass this, we do not object in principle to this amendment, so we will support it.

Amendments 2 and 3 are our amendments, and they seek to make applications for automatic registration as easy and as flexible as possible, specifically by removing the need for any voter in Wales who wishes to register anonymously to provide supplementary evidence for their application, and removing the requirement for renewing registration for anonymous registrations.

We would appreciate more clarity and explanation from the Counsel General on the need for amendment 16, which removes the requirement to publish and provide an open register of local government voters, as far as we can see. What discussions have there been with the political parties on this and the potential impact on their activities? We will abstain on this, and also on amendments 44 and 45, as they seem to be placing more hurdles in the way as we move towards the automatic registration that we in Plaid Cymru want to see happening as soon as possible. 

Gaf i droi, felly, at welliant 127, sydd hefyd yn rhan o'r grŵp yma, sydd yn hen bwnc trafod yng ngwleidyddiaeth Cymru ac, a dweud y gwir, hefyd mewn ardaloedd eraill lle mae ail gartrefi yn ffenomenon eang? Mae yna nifer o ymgeisiadau wedi bod yn y gorffennol yn San Steffan i gael gwared â'r sefyllfa sydd yn bodoli ar hyn o bryd, lle mae rhywun, oherwydd bod ail gartref gyda nhw, mae gyda nhw'r hawl i bleidleisio mewn mwy nag un man. Rydyn ni wastad wedi bod o'r farn bod hynny yn sylfaenol annemocrataidd. Dyw'r ffaith bod gyda chi fynediad at fwy o eiddo ddim, yn ein tyb ni, yn rhoi hawliau i chi feddu ar fwy o benrhyddid i benderfynu mewn etholiadau ble i bleidleisio, a dylai fod hynny yn cael ei adlewyrchu yn y drefn etholiadol—yn sicr ar gyfer etholiadau cenedlaethol.

Mae yna ddadl sydd weithiau yn cael ei chynnig y dylid gwahanu o ran y gwahaniaeth o ran pleidleisio mewn etholiadau cenedlaethol yn y cyd-destun yma, ar gyfer y Senedd, er enghraifft, a llywodraeth leol. Rwy'n credu bod yna ddadleuon ar y ddwy ochr, hyd yn oed ar lefel leol. Ydy byw mewn ardal dim ond am ran o'r amser yn rhoi hawl i chi—yr un hawl, yr un hawl cydradd—fod yn penderfynu ynglŷn â'r broses ddemocrataidd o fewn y diriogaeth honno?

Ond, yn sicr, ar gyfer etholiadau yn gyffredinol, rydyn ni'n meddwl bod angen gweithredu i wneud yn iawn am yr aneglurder ynglŷn â'r cwestiwn yma, oherwydd bod gan swyddogion cofrestru lleol ar hyn o bryd yr hawl i herio pobl sydd ag ail gartrefi o dan process 1B, neu rywbeth fel yna—hynny yw, mae modd iddyn nhw gwestiynu rhywun sydd ar y gofrestr i weld a ydyn nhw â digon o gysylltiad lleol. Ond, mewn gwirionedd, wrth gwrs, dyw hwnna ddim yn cael ei weithredu yn gyson. Mae angen, dwi'n credu, y sicrwydd statudol i ddweud dyw cael tŷ haf rhywle ddim yn rhoi'r hawl i chi bleidleisio yn yr ardal yna. Hynny yw, mi ddylai fod eich bod chi'n pleidleisio yn y man lle mae'ch prif breswylfa. 

Mae yna eithriadau, fel rydyn ni'n gosod mas yn y gwelliant, digon synhwyrol. Os ydy rhywun yn byw am gyfnod i ffwrdd o'u prif breswylfa am resymau yn ymwneud â chyflogaeth neu wasanaeth neu addysg ac yn y blaen, mi ddylai fod yna eithriadau yn cael eu defnyddio i'r cyfeiriad yna. Ond os ŷch chi dim ond ar y gofrestr oherwydd bod gyda chi dŷ haf rhywle, ddylai fod hwnna ddim yn cael ei adlewyrchu yn ein democratiaeth ni.

Fel dwi'n dweud, mae yna sawl ymgais wedi bod ar hyd y blynyddoedd gan Aelodau o Gymru, o Gernyw, ac o lefydd eraill, i wneud yn iawn am yr anghyfiawnder democrataidd yma, a dweud y gwir—pobl yn penderfynu ym mha etholaeth maen nhw'n mynd i bleidleisio ac yn y blaen. Ddylai ddim bod yna hawl gyda chi i bleidleisio mewn etholiadau dim ond oherwydd bod gyda chi eiddo, a does dim gyda chi wreiddiau, a dŷch chi ddim yn rhan o'r gymuned honno yn y ffordd y byddem ni'n deall, hynny yw, fod yna gysylltiad gwirioneddol gyda chi ac yn y blaen. So, dyna yw diben y gwelliant yma.

Byddai'n ddiddorol clywed beth yw barn y Cwnsler Cyffredinol, yn naturiol. Rydym ni wedi drafftio fe fel gwelliant procio oherwydd mae yna lawer o moving parts, ond hoffwn i glywed cefnogaeth y Llywodraeth i'r egwyddor na ddylai fod—. Cofiwch chi, mae 36,000 o bobl yn byw mewn tai haf yng Nghymru. Hynny yw, maen nhw'n 'byw' mewn dyfynodau, hynny yw, maen nhw yna am gyfnod, ac oherwydd hynny, gyda chofrestru awtomatig, oni bai ein bod ni'n rhoi rhywbeth mewn i'r Bil yma, mae yna berygl bydd y niferoedd hynny, sydd wedi'u cronni mewn rhyw bedair etholaeth newydd, a dweud y gwir, yn cael effaith fawr ar ganlyniadau yr ardaloedd hynny, ac mewn ffordd sydd ddim yn deg, a dweud y gwir. Wrth gwrs, dylai unrhyw un gael pleidlais yn eu prif breswylfa yng Nghymru, yn bendant, ond ddylai ddim fod gennych chi bleidlais jest achos eich bod chi yn digwydd bod yn treulio ychydig o wythnosau y flwyddyn mewn ail gartref yng Nghymru.   

May I turn, therefore, to amendment 127, which is also part of this group, and is an old discussion point in Welsh politics, and also in other areas where second homes are a widespread phenomenon? There have been a number of attempts in the past at Westminster to get rid of the situation that exists currently, where someone, because they have a second home, has the right to vote in more than one place. We have always been of the view that that is essentially undemocratic. The fact that you have access to more property does not, in our view, give you rights to have more freedom to decide in elections where to vote, and that should be reflected in the electoral system, certainly for national elections. 

There is an argument that is sometimes aired that there should be a differentiation between voting in national elections in this context, for the Senedd, for example, and local government. I think there are arguments on both sides, even on a local level. Does living in an area just for part of the time give you the right—the same right, the equal right—to decide on the democratic process within that territory? 

But, certainly, for elections in general, we think that there is a need to act to make up for the fact that there is no clarity in terms of this question, because local registration officers have the right currently to challenge people who have second homes under process 1B, or something like that—that is, they can question somebody who is on the register to see if they have enough of a local connection. But, in reality, of course, that isn't implemented consistently. There is a need, I think, to have the statutory certainty to say that having a second home somewhere does not give you the right to vote in that area. You should vote in the place where your main residence is. 

There are exceptions, as we set out in the amendment, and they're quite sensible. If somebody lives for a time away from their main residence for reasons relating to employment or service or education and so forth, there should be exceptions in those cases. But if you're only on the register because you have a second home somewhere, that should not be reflected in our democracy. 

As I said, there have been a number of attempts over the years by Members from Wales, Cornwall, and other places, to address this democratic injustice—people deciding in what constituency they're going to vote and so forth. You shouldn't have a right to vote in elections just because you have property, and do not have roots or are part of the community in the way that we would understand that you have a real connection. So, that is the purpose of that amendment.

It would be interesting to hear the view of the Counsel General, naturally. We have drafted this as a probing amendment because there are a number of moving parts here, but I would like to hear the support of the Government for the principle that—. Remember, 36,000 people live in second homes in Wales. That is, they 'live', in quotation marks, for a period of time here, and because of that, with automatic registration, unless we put something in this Bill, there is a risk that those numbers, which are concentrated in about four new constituencies, are going to have a big effect on the results in those areas, and in a way that isn't fair. Of course, anyone should have a vote in their main residence in Wales, certainly, but you shouldn't have a vote just because you happen to spend a few weeks of the year in a second home in Wales.

10:25

Okay, thanks, Adam. Any other Member? No. Counsel General. 

Diolch, Chair. Firstly, I thank Peter Fox and Adam Price for the constructive contributions. I'm not going to be asking Members to support these amendments. Amendment 2 sets two different requirements for anonymous registration between devolved and reserved elections, which would very likely lead to voter confusion. The voters engaging with anonymous registration are likely to be the most vulnerable voters, and clarity of the process, I think, is of utmost importance in supporting them.

The amendment is technically flawed. It would have the effect of removing the requirement to provide evidence, but would not alter the requirements placed on the registration officer around evaluating this evidence. Registration officers would therefore be asked to make determinations without evidence and could reject valid applications, causing greater detriment to vulnerable electors. Additionally, the drafting with regard to the definition of the local government register of electors is inconsistent with that used elsewhere in the Bill and wider electoral legislation. Those are technical points I just draw attention to.   

Amendment 3 would set two very different requirements for anonymous registration between devolved and reserved elections, which could lead to voter confusion. It could lead to a voter being removed from the anonymous parliamentary electoral register if they did not know or were not aware of the fact that they needed to then re-apply annually for that register. Voters applying for anonymous registration, as I've said, are likely to be the most vulnerable of voters, and clarity of the process is of utmost importance in protecting them.

I take the points that were made. One of the objectives I've always had in looking at this process is keeping the system as straightforward as possible for voters, recognising that the administrative bodies—the bodies that we set up to run elections, and so on—are managing the same people who will do the reserved elections as well as the devolved elections. Those are clearly factors we want in terms of ensuring the clarity of information that's available. 

As with amendment 2, the definition of the local government register is, as I've said, inconsistent with that used elsewhere in the Bill, and that's a technical point.  

Amendment 16, tabled in my name, is in response to recommendation 11 of the committee’s report, which called for amendments to ensure the removal of the open register for Welsh elections prior to piloting electoral registration without application, and also to amend the powers contained in the Representation of the People Act 1983, to prevent the Welsh Ministers from subsequently reviving the open register. So, it's a response to recommendation 11. 

Amendments 44 and 45, which are also in my name, are technical in nature, to ensure that the amendments relating to the commencement of registration without application come into force at the appropriate time, which will be following the successful completion of the pilots. This includes laying the evaluation report of those pilots before the Senedd, and the making of regulations bringing about the abolition of the edited register of local government electors in Wales. So, these amendments are in response to recommendation 4 of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, and are designed to safeguard the effective roll-out of registration without application.

Amendment 99 from Peter Fox would change the notice period for those being registered without application from 45 to 60 days. I'm grateful for the discussions that we had a while back. We believe that 45 days is an adequate time frame for someone to respond to a notice of registration if they wish—six weeks. However, we will be piloting registration without application, so the 45-day period will be evaluated as part of that.

Turning to amendment 100, the Electoral Commission are required to produce an independent report evaluating the registration without application pilots. It would be an unnecessary complication to require the Welsh Ministers to then do the same, given the Electoral Commission’s report on the pilots will be published and shared with all Members.

Amendment 127, I think would create an unnecessary burden on electoral registration officers, as monitoring compliance would be difficult, particularly as we move to registration without application. It would also overlap and conflict with existing provisions around residency requirements when registering to vote, and could have unintended consequences with respect to people’s right to vote. It raises an issue; I think there are further aspects to it to be explored, but I think the issue in terms of the implications of how you would actually monitor, implement and go down that road, I think, are quite significant. They're an area for further exploration, but I don't think they're appropriate at this moment in time.

So, I ask Members to support amendments 16, 44, and 45 in my name, but not to support the amendments tabled by Adam Price and Peter Fox, for the reasons that I have given.

10:30

Thank you. Thank you, colleagues, for your contributions. On the 45 days, 60 days, the 45 is an arbitrary figure, plucked out when you considered this, and, likewise, I suggest that it's always better to give people more time. I understand, Counsel General, your points around a pilot and that a pilot might give us further indication of how people are seeing this, but I will still be wanting to move that to a vote.

And likewise, on amendment 100, I do hear what you're saying about duplication, but I'm still minded—. I think it needs to be a strong signal from us at this point about the need for that. So, I will be also moving amendment 100.

And the other amendments within this group, we will be supporting.

Okay. Thank you, Peter. The question then is that amendment 99 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] There is an objection. We will then move to a vote. All those in favour, please show. And those against. Okay. In relation to amendment 99, there voted 2 in favour, 4 against, and the amendment is not agreed.

Gwelliant 99: O blaid: 2, Yn erbyn: 4, Ymatal: 0

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 99: For: 2, Against: 4, Abstain: 0

Amendment has been rejected

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 2 (Adam Price).

Amendment 2 (Adam Price) moved.

Moved. Okay. The question then is that amendment 2 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes, there is an objection. We will then move to a vote. All those in favour, please show. And those against. Okay. There voted three in favour, three against, and, as Chair, I use my casting vote against. Amendment 2 is therefore not agreed.

Gwelliant 2: O blaid: 3, Yn erbyn: 3, Ymatal: 0

Gan fod nifer y pleidleisiau yn gyfartal, defnyddiodd y Cadeirydd ei bleidlais fwrw yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 6.20(ii).

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 2: For: 3, Against: 3, Abstain: 0

As there was an equality of votes, the Chair used his casting vote in accordance with Standing Order 6.20(ii).

Amendment has been rejected

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 3 (Adam Price).

Amendment 3 (Adam Price) moved.

Okay. Amendment 3 is moved. Are there any objections? [Objection.] There are. We will then move to a vote. Will all those in favour please show? And those against. There voted then three for, three against, and again I use my casting vote as Chair against, and amendment 3 is not agreed.

Gwelliant 3: O blaid: 3, Yn erbyn: 3, Ymatal: 0

Gan fod nifer y pleidleisiau yn gyfartal, defnyddiodd y Cadeirydd ei bleidlais fwrw yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 6.20(ii).

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 3: For: 3, Against: 3, Abstain: 0

As there was an equality of votes, the Chair used his casting vote in accordance with Standing Order 6.20(ii).

Amendment has been rejected

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 16 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 16 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

I move amendment 16, in the name of the Counsel General. The question then is that amendment 16 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes. We will then move to a vote. So, in relation to amendment 16, will all those in favour please show. Those against. And abstentions. Okay, there voted five in favour with one abstention, and amendment 16 is therefore agreed.

10:35

Gwelliant 16: O blaid: 5, Yn erbyn: 0, Ymatal: 1

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 16: For: 5, Against: 0, Abstain: 1

Amendment has been agreed

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 100 (Peter Fox).

Amendment 100 (Peter Fox) moved.

Okay. Amendment 100 is moved. Are there any objections? [Objection.] There are. We will then move to a vote. Will all those in favour please show? And those against. Okay. There voted three in favour, three against, and again I use my casting vote as Chair against, and amendment 100 is not agreed.

Gwelliant 100: O blaid: 3, Yn erbyn: 3, Ymatal: 0

Gan fod nifer y pleidleisiau yn gyfartal, defnyddiodd y Cadeirydd ei bleidlais fwrw yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 6.20(ii).

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 100: For: 3, Against: 3, Abstain: 0

As there was an equality of votes, the Chair used his casting vote in accordance with Standing Order 6.20(ii).

Amendment has been rejected

Grŵp 4: Pwerau a rheoliadau peilot etholiadau Cymreig (Gwelliannau 7, 101, 17, 18, 117, 8, 102, 103, 104, 19, 20)
Group 4: Welsh elections piloting powers and regulations (Amendments 7, 101, 17, 18, 117, 8, 102, 103, 104, 19, 20)

The fourth group of amendments relates to Welsh elections piloting powers and regulations. The lead amendment is amendment 7, and I call on Adam Price to move and speak to the lead amendment and other amendments in this group. Adam.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 7 (Adam Price).

Amendment 7 (Adam Price) moved.

So, amendment 7 simply specifies an enabling power to bring forward a pilot in relation to universal civic duty voting, which is defined through a consequential amendment. It's the term that I prefer to use, many of us prefer to use, that's supported with a principle, but it is sometimes known as mandatory or compulsory voting. It's important to stress that this is simply an enabling power, which would allow Government, at any point, if it so chose, to bring forward an election pilot using the procedure set out in this Bill, in order to test the impact of universal civic duty voting on democratic health, and particularly in terms of levels of turnout, which a key concern, as I said earlier, internationally, but it's certainly issue for us in Wales, isn't it, where we've never had over 50 per cent turnout for Senedd elections, and we also have challenges at all levels, in terms of our elections, particularly at local level.

In terms of universal civic duty voting, many of the advocates of universal civic duty voting have stressed the importance of a piloting process. When you're coming from a tradition of voluntary voting, which is the tradition within the UK, the current position, moving and considering moving towards a framework of universal civic duty voting, then you have many choices as to how that is going to work in practice. There are systems of universal civic duty voting that involve positive inducements rather than negative punishments. So, you can have systems that say, 'Everyone has £20 off their council tax', or whatever, but if you don't vote, then you lose that. There are many different ways of doing it, the levels of the inducement or the fine, et cetera. The way that it is implemented varies quite considerably across those many jurisdictions that have universal civic duty voting. And, as with any electoral reform, piloting it in order to see, possibly doing it in slightly different ways in different areas, in order to learn what works, actually having that as a possibility.

There are many steps in this political process, aren't there? First of all, there would have to be a change of policy, and each party would need to go through its own democratic structures. It would need to be in a manifesto, et cetera. But when you get to that stage, where you have a sufficient mandate, then actually having the technical ability to introduce an election pilot is a useful choice. It might be something that you decide, 'Well, actually that's not appropriate; that's not the way that we're going to take this forward', but you don't want to close that off. And, as I've said, Mark Tami, actually, 25 years ago, who's long been an advocate in this area, when he was a young union official in those days, before his parliamentary career, wrote a Fabian pamphlet arguing for the introduction of universal civic duty voting in the UK, and very strongly made the case for it to be done in a phased way, using pilots at local authority level and then testing, based on the different models that are out there, what works. And, indeed, there is a very, very big debate going on in America at the moment around universal civic duty voting and the main body, 100%Democracy, which is driving that, are very strong advocates of a piloting model. So, you have elections at all levels in America—they seem to elect everything and everyone—and the advocates are very strongly of the view that you learn at different levels of jurisdiction, so you don't have to go in one leap, necessarily, from no system, no tradition of 100 per cent universal civic duty voting; you can actually trial it at different levels, learn and then incorporate that at the national level if it's successful, using the kind of procedure that is well understood and well set out on the face of the Bill.

I should just say that the Counsel General may in his remarks say, 'Well, actually, the Bill already allows that facility because it allows Ministers to add further to the electoral matters that can be piloted under the provisions of the Bill', which would be fair enough, but, of course, amendment 20, as I read it, actually takes away that wide level of discretion that would allow you, in my reading anyway, to use the provisions here to do what I've just described. What the Counsel General giveth, the Counsel General taketh away, I think, possibly. So, we're slightly nervous, Counsel General, about the effect of amendment 20 in this regard, which would strengthen our case for putting it on the table as an enabling power, not in any way suggesting that that is the current policy intent by the Government.

If I can move on to amendment 117, which is in a kind of similar field of, 'What can we do? What different ways can we think of that could have a beneficial effect in terms of turnout?', one of them, which has long been advocated, is moving from elections on a Thursday, on a working day, to elections at a weekend. Most advocates in the UK context have advocated Sunday as the day that's most likely to get the higher turnout. There are problems, I think, in—. It's just become standard practice in the UK, hasn't it, that we vote on a Thursday. I think you've got to go back to the 1930s to find a general election that was on a Tuesday. But there is an argument, certainly, that weekend voting, when we look at places that have moved to weekend voting and when we compare weekend voting areas in terms of the levels of turnout with those that vote in the working week—. Most independent observers, for example Democratic Audit in their evidence to a House of Commons select committee, or certainly a parliamentary select committee that looked at this, estimate a 10 per cent higher turnout from voting at the weekend. Indeed, other expert witnesses to that same inquiry have, based on the research, estimate something like an increase in turnout between 6.8 per cent and 10 per cent. That's very exact, isn't it? But, there is a consensus, I think, amongst most academic experts and independent observers in this field that weekend voting would have a beneficial and positive effect, and again, here, arguably this is covered by the electoral matters list because it does refer to when elections should be held. So, this second amendment is not about giving that facilitative power, because it does exist, as I read it, already; it's about saying that we will definitely do this and that this is something that should be in that first wave of pilots, because it could have a very, very significant effect. And while I am an advocate of universal civic duty voting, it's less of a leap, maybe, than universal civic duty voting, but it takes us on that positive journey towards increasing the levels of turnout.

Gaf i droi at y gwelliannau eraill? Rydym yn cefnogi gwelliant 101 i fedru peilota cylch etholiadol o bedair blynedd—dyna sut dwi'n dehongli bwriad y gwelliant—a gwelliant 104 yn creu dyletswydd i beilota mewn ardaloedd gwledig a threfol, lle bo hynny’n briodol, er mwyn cael data cynhwysfawr ynglŷn ag effaith y gwahanol gynlluniau peilot mewn ardaloedd gwahanol.

Rydym yn erbyn gwelliannau 102 a 103, gan y byddai tynnu’r pŵer i orfodi awdurdodau lleol i gymryd rhan mewn peilot yn gallu llesteirio ei effeithiolrwydd, ac mae’r angen i ymgynghori mwy cyn treialu cofrestru awtomatig yn rhwystro un o fwriadau canolog y ddeddfwriaeth yn ein tyb ni.

Dwi eisoes wedi sôn, wrth gwrs, am ein pryderon ni am welliant 20 y Cwnsler Cyffredinol i dynnu’r pŵer oddi wrth Weinidogion i ychwanegu rhestr o bethau y gellid eu peilota yn y dyfodol, gan y byddai angen wedyn ddeddfwriaeth gynradd newydd ar gyfer hynny. Byddwn yn gwrthwynebu hynny gan ei fod yn cyfyngu ar hyblygrwydd a sicrhau darn o ddeddfwriaeth i alluogi arloesi.

Byddwn yn ymatal ar rai o welliannau mwy technegol a gweithdrefnol y Cwnsler Cyffredinol yn y grŵp yma, ond yn cefnogi rhai eraill sy’n cyflawni mwy o dryloywder i'r Senedd.

May I turn now to the other amendments? We support amendment 101 to pilot an electoral cycle of four years—or that's at least how I interpret the amendment—and amendment 104 providing a duty to pilot in rural and urban areas, where appropriate, in order to have comprehensive data on the impact of the various pilots in various different areas.

We oppose amendments 102 and 103, as withdrawing the power to require local authorities to participate in a pilot could hamper its effectiveness, and the need to consult more before trialling automatic registration is a barrier to one of the central aims of the legislation in our view.

I've already talked about our concerns about amendment 20 in the name of the General Counsel to take powers from Ministers to add a list of things that could be piloted in the future, as there would then need to be new primary legislation for us to do that. We will oppose that as it restricts flexibility and doesn't allow the legislation to innovate.

We will abstain on some of the more technical and procedural amendments of the General Counsel in this group, but we'll support others that deliver more transparency for the Senedd.

10:45

Thank you, Chair. First off, I'm afraid I can't support Adam here on amendments 7 or 8. While I hear views on a universal right—. While it is a universal right to vote, I don't believe it is a civic duty. This smacks, very much, of forcing people to vote, which goes against the very idea that we are free society where we are able to vote or not vote as we choose. And I understand that there may be ways to incentivise people to come forward, but that isn't the way you should be empowering people to vote. If there's apathy in voting, it's obviously something we're not doing right, and to force people to vote because of something we're not getting right I don't think is appropriate. So, we struggle with that.

I would also like to speak on amendment 101, which is a probing amendment and, therefore, I won't be requiring a vote on this one either. However, I would like to know what consideration the Welsh Government has given to piloting the reduction of the electoral cycle for the local government elections from five to four years. It absolutely makes sense—if we are advocating that we as a Senedd move to four years, why wouldn't we be advocating the same for local government? Indeed, many of us who were in local government for years knew it was four, and one of the reasons it moved to five was to prevent clashing. If you don't consider four for local government, you're going to get straight back into that same position we had then. Plus, a factor is that accountability is really important, and voters should have the chance to hold their local authorities to account more often than waiting five years. Five years may be convenient for some councillors, but it's not healthy for local democracy.

I want to briefly touch on amendment 103, which highlights the need for the Welsh Government to consult with stakeholders representing a range of vulnerable groups to be involved in planning the pilot relating to electoral registration without application. We need to ensure that those vulnerable groups are supported, and that their best interests are kept when they are automatically enrolled, and that the proper safeguards are put in place to prevent any manipulation or coercion.

Finally, I want to address amendment 104, which will ensure that the Welsh Government conducts pilots across a range of geographical areas, including rural and urban areas. This will ensure that we get a full understanding of the effects of any pilots that take place across all parts of Wales.

And on amendments 117 and 8, I'm afraid I can't support the move to Sunday. I think it would be detrimental to voter turnout in many ways, because it will contradict many practices within faith groups, which could make it difficult for them to engage with the system, certainly on a Sunday anyway. I have no actual evidence for that, but my gut feeling would be that there would be certain religious groups who might find it contrary to their beliefs to vote on a Sunday. So, in that regard, I can't support that. And, obviously, amendment 8 will go towards making it compulsory to vote, and I've shared my views on that already. 

10:50

I just want to briefly talk to amendment 7 in defence of the Government's position. I am very supportive of the universal civic duty to vote, but, as the Counsel General said earlier, the scale of the changes that are already coming in from this Bill is going to put significant strain on local authorities. Simply adding more and more functions is not consistent with the staffing levels in austerity, which is unlikely to change. We've already put an ability for local authorities to introduce proportional representation in their elections, and none of them have taken it up. So, while I support the symbolic nature of the amendment, I think the reality of a change this significant, which challenges our existing democratic cultures and traditions, is not something that should be done simply as a pilot, without any intention or mechanism to follow up. So, although I think the idea is a sound one, I think the Government is right to oppose that.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I have sympathy with amendments 7 and 8. My personal opinion is  that I think there should be a civic duty to vote. I think everyone should do it. I think, in some parts of the world, some people would be very pleased to have the vote, and, I think, sometimes, we take it for granted in our country that we do have the vote. And I think back to Chartists, and all those women who campaigned to get the vote for working people and for women. I think, sometimes, that is forgotten in our democratic history, actually—the great steps we've taken in our democracy here in the United Kingdom to enable everybody to vote. And I think it should be something that everybody should do, but I do agree, unfortunately, with my colleague Peter Fox, and the Government, on this. I do think this piece of work needs almost its own bit of legislation to bring this forward. It's a national conversation, I think, about how we drive up voter turnout, and I think this could be part of a number of measures—and I'm discussing with the Counsel General, maybe at Stage 3, bringing something forward—on how we can increase voter turnout at elections. But I don't think this Bill, judging by the amount of change that is coming forward, is the appropriate way to do that. It's a journey, getting on this road, and I think you've got to take people with you, and to include it as an amendment in this, I think, would be a mistake and probably would fall down at this stage. So, I won't be supporting this amendment, but I am supportive of what the Member is trying to do. Diolch, Cadeirydd. 

Well, again, diolch, Chair, and, again, thank you to Adam and Peter for their contributions, but also for to the additional contributions, because I think they show that this is an area where there's a wide range of thoughts and commitment and understanding of the need to explore and to look ahead to all the challenges that we face. 

As has been said, amendment 7 creates and adds 'the universal civic duty to vote' to the list of electoral matters on which the Welsh Ministers may make regulations to allow for pilots. Amendment 8 defines that universal civic duty. And, in earlier conversations that I've had—I suppose, to apologise—my earlier understanding was that I thought that the way we draft the regulations would potentially allow for a pilot on this. It doesn't. I'm wrong on that. Clearly, it doesn't. I don't think it changes matters. But I think, just for the sake of having that clarity, I've sought advice on it.

I can't support the amendments, because they would allow Ministers to pilot fundamental changes to the electoral system using secondary legislation, and we don't think it's appropriate that the rights and duties of citizens can be changed in this way through a secondary legislative process but without a clear political mandate from the electorate. Ultimately, Welsh Ministers would be able to make permanent changes through secondary legislation in the event of a successful pilot, and this is not acceptable in trialling the issue. So, moving to compulsory voting is, I think, of such constitutional significance that it can only be achieved through a clear political mandate and the appropriate primary legislation. A couple of comments, just in responding to some of the points that have been made, I'll save right to the end.

Amendment 101, tabled by Peter Fox, adds 'frequency of electoral cycles' to the list of matters that can be piloted. I don't support that amendment, as I don't believe the amendment is practical in its application. Local elections are held on an all-Wales basis, helping raise awareness and participation in the elections. The effects of a pilot in one area would likely mean permanent differences between elections. I will refer to the point that Peter raised in respect of the four years. The reason why it doesn't deal with local government is because it would be inappropriate to change the term of elections for local government without that consultation with local government, and I think it's something local government needs to consider—whether it wants to make that change or whether it doesn't. I think that's the reason why.

Amendment 117, tabled by Adam Price, would require the Welsh Ministers to publish pilot regulations no later than five years after this Act receives Royal Assent, making provision for an election to take place on a Sunday. The Bill already contains provisions that allow for pilot programmes to be developed and thought through in a rounded way, working closely electoral stakeholders for the benefit of voters. So, putting certain timescales to certain pilots, I think, limits the flexibility, and it could add unnecessary pressures to electoral services, so I don't support that amendment.

To speak to amendments 102, 103 and 104, tabled by Peter Fox, amendment 102 removes Welsh Ministers' powers to conduct electoral pilots without the local authority's consent. This was a matter, I think, that came out at Stage 1. The ability to properly conduct pilots is essential to evaluating the changes being proposed. This means that sometimes Welsh Ministers may need to compel a specific authority so that the demographic profile of Wales is properly represented through the piloting process—a similar goal to that of amendment 104. We have to ensure that the safeguards are in place so this is only used when entirely necessary. So, I don't support that. And I think a point to be made, of course, is that we will be looking at paired constituencies, for example, and there might be a pilot where there might be a part of a constituency. You would not want a pilot to not be as complete as it could. It's probably likely that this would never need to be used, so it is in many ways a failsafe provision that is there.

Amendment 103 requires that, before any pilot regulations under section 5 that relate to electoral registration without application, the Ministers must undertake consultation with such stakeholders as they consider appropriate, but in particular, with those they deem to represent vulnerable groups. I don't believe this amendment needs to be on the face of the Bill, and therefore don't support it. We are committed to consulting—not only consulting, but working closely with our stakeholders to develop the best possible pilot proposals. This includes working closely with those representing vulnerable voters, voters with additional needs and those in hard-to-reach groups. Setting this out in primary legislation is unnecessary.  

Amendment 104 requires that pilot regulations, where appropriate, must ensure that they cover a geographical range of areas across Wales, which includes both rural and urban areas. The amendment is overly restrictive and therefore I do not support it. It might, for instance, prove necessary, as I've said, to conduct pilots looking at issues specific to different types of area, such as voting in rural areas.    

I ask Members to support amendments 17, 18, 19 and 20, which are tabled in my name. Amendments 17 and 18 clarify the scope of the piloting powers in this Bill. They provide that pilot regulations made under section 5 of the Bill relating to registration without application may include provisions to test the new duty to register and provisions in electoral legislation connected to that duty.

Amendments 19 and 20 are in response to recommendations from the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee. Amendment 19 is in response to recommendation 5 from the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee and provides that the Welsh Ministers, at the time of laying pilot regulations in the Senedd that are to be made without a principal council’s consent, must also lay a statement to explain the decision to proceed without that consent being obtained. This will ensure the effective implementation of the provisions and its associated safeguards and provide additional assurances to stakeholders.

Amendment 20 responds to recommendation 7 from the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee. It removes in its entirety section 8 of the Bill so that the list of those areas where electoral pilots may be undertaken cannot be amended via secondary legislation. Primary legislation will therefore be required to make any future amendments. 

Can I make just a couple of comments on some of the broader points that were made? It is clear that there is an ongoing debate and there are issues of considerable importance over the issues of civic duty. I've explained why I'm not supportive of that going into this Bill but how it might develop as an argument. Can I also mention, of course, that we did have pilots to show how we could hold elections over different days and in different places? I think they were successful. They were not about suddenly changing the culture of voting and enormous numbers of people voting as a consequence, but showing that it can be done, that the technology allows us to look at and to do things that are very different. And of course all these things are things that have to be done in consultation and engagement with people and carrying people with them, because the election process ultimately belongs to the people. They are the framework and guarantee of our democracy. Diolch, Chair. 

11:00

Diolch, Counsel General. Adam Price to reply to the debate. 

Diolch, Gadeirydd, a diolch i bawb sydd wedi cyfrannu. 

Thank you, Chair, and thank you to everybody who has contributed. 

Just to slightly strike a more positive note, I've always been a person in a hurry and I would like tomorrow to arrive much quicker, but it's not true completely that there is no appetite for democratic innovation at a local government level. Certainly I'm aware that three local authorities and maybe more are now formally consulting on moving to STV, which is welcome. I would like there to be more. So, there certainly is some capacity and appetite there for the kind of level of change that we're talking about here.

I just wanted to ask: if I ask a question of the Counsel General, can he intervene on me? I don't know. Can I invite an intervention?

I was just wondering if you could say a little bit more about the legal point that you are making. If I summarise, you are saying that, as the Bill is currently constituted, you couldn't do an election pilot, if policy was in favour, on universal civic duty voting even without amendment 20. Is that what you're saying? Even without amendment 20, which narrows your ability to add to the list further, the discretion that is currently in the Bill wouldn't allow you to do it. Can you say why?

I think it's just that the drafting of it I don't think incorporates something that will involve a civic duty that would enable something then that would have to create a criminal offence in terms of that penalty. That's, I think, the mechanical part of the answer. The other point, of course, is the one I made, that we have a strong view that there would need to be a political mandate from an election to actually go down that particular road, even though I understand that, across all parties, there is considerable interest, and in other countries of the world, as to this particular issue.

11:05

I've found the discussion very useful and the discussion, I'm sure, will continue as we all consider this as a potential development in terms of our democracy here. So, I won't be moving these amendments in relation to universal civic duty voting to a vote at this stage.

I think there's a technical argument to be had still. Say you got to the stage where there was a mandate, we'd been through an election, it was in manifestos, there's a majority in the Senedd, even in bringing forward a piece of specific primary legislation on universal civic duty voting I think there's still an argument to be had as to whether you would at least consider—. It may not be the best way to proceed, but it's certainly something that has been suggested. It could be useful. So, I would just leave that hanging there in the political ether at this stage, but I don't need to press the matter further.

And in terms of Sunday voting, I think, again, it's useful to have this as a possibility. You have the facilitative power; it's something that maybe—in the wake of the 2026 election and the review that will happen in terms of turnout—we can return to in the context of the pilot powers that you have. So, I won't be pressing those amendments.

Thank you very much, Adam. Adam Price has indicated that he wishes to withdraw amendment 7. Does any Member object to amendment 7 being withdrawn? No. Amendment 7 is withdrawn.

Tynnwyd gwelliant 7 yn ôl gyda chaniatâd y pwyllgor.

Amendment 7 withdrawn by leave of the committee.

That was a probing amendment and I'm happy to withdraw that as well.

Does any Member object to the withdrawal of amendment 101? No. Then amendment 101 is withdrawn.

Ni chynigiwyd gwelliant 101 (Peter Fox). 

Amendment 101 (Peter Fox) not moved.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 17 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 17 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

I move amendment 17 in the name of the Counsel General. The question is that amendment 17 be agreed to. Does any Member object? No. Amendment 17 is agreed.

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.34.

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 17.34.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 18 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 18 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

I move amendment 18 in the name of the Counsel General. Does any Member object? No. Amendment 18 is agreed.

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.34.

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 17.34.

Does another Member wish to move it? No. That amendment is not moved.

Ni chynigiwyd gwelliant 117 (Adam Price). 

Amendment 117 (Adam Price) not moved.

If no other Member wishes to move, then amendment 8 is not moved.

Ni chynigiwyd gwelliant 8 (Adam Price). 

Amendment 8 (Adam Price) not moved.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 102 (Peter Fox).

Amendment 102 (Peter Fox) moved.

The question is that amendment 102 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] There is an objection. We will move to a vote. All those in favour of amendment 102, please indicate. All those against. Any abstentions? In favour two, against three, and one abstention. Therefore—[Interruption.] Oh, so, you were against? Sorry. In favour two, four against, so amendment 102 is not agreed.

Gwelliant 102: O blaid: 2, Yn erbyn: 4, Ymatal: 0

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 102: For: 2, Against: 4, Abstain: 0

Amendment has been rejected

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 103 (Peter Fox).

Amendment 103 (Peter Fox) moved.

Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes. We will move to a vote on amendment 103. Will all those in favour please show. And those against. There voted two in favour, four against, and amendment 103 is therefore not agreed.

Gwelliant 103: O blaid: 2, Yn erbyn: 4, Ymatal: 0

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 103: For: 2, Against: 4, Abstain: 0

Amendment has been rejected

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 104 (Peter Fox).

Amendment 104 (Peter Fox) moved.

Amendment 104 is moved. Are there any objections? [Objection.] There are. We will move to a vote on amendment 104. Will all those in favour please show. And those against. There voted three in favour, three against. As Chair, I use my casting vote against, and amendment 104 is not agreed. 

Gwelliant 104: O blaid: 3, Yn erbyn: 3, Ymatal: 0

Gan fod nifer y pleidleisiau yn gyfartal, defnyddiodd y Cadeirydd ei bleidlais fwrw yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 6.20(ii).

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 104: For: 3, Against: 3, Abstain: 0

As there was an equality of votes, the Chair used his casting vote in accordance with Standing Order 6.20(ii).

Amendment has been rejected

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 19 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 19 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

I move amendment 19 in the name of the Counsel General. Does any Member object? No. Then amendment 19 is agreed.

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.34.

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 17.34.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 20 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 20 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

I move amendment 20 in the name of the Counsel General. Does any Member object?

11:10

Yes, there is an objection. So, we will move to a vote on amendment 20. Will all those in favour, please show. And those against. There voted five in favour, one against, and therefore amendment 20 is agreed.

Gwelliant 20: O blaid: 5, Yn erbyn: 1, Ymatal: 0

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 20: For: 5, Against: 1, Abstain: 0

Amendment has been agreed

We've reached group 5, but I would suggest that now would be an appropriate time to take a short break if Members are content. So, we will resume at 11.20 a.m. Is 10 minutes enough? Yes, 11.20 a.m.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:10 ac 11:23.

The meeting adjourned between 11:10 and 11:23.

11:20
Grŵp 5: Rheoliadau diwygio etholiadol (Gwelliannau 105, 106, 21, 22, 23)
Group 5: Electoral reform regulations (Amendments 105, 106, 21, 22, 23)

—group 5 in our consideration, with regard to Stage 2 of the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill. Group 5 is a group of amendments relating to electoral reform regulations. The lead amendment is amendment 105, and I call on Peter Fox to move and speak to the lead amendment, and to the other amendments in the group. Peter.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 105 (Peter Fox).

Amendment 105 (Peter Fox) moved.

Thank you, Chair, and I do move amendments 105 and 106. I haven't got much to say on this area, you'll be pleased to know. But I want to begin by highlighting the need for scrutiny when it comes to creating offences here in Wales, and tabled 105, and 106, together, really, I suppose, because I am concerned that the Bill could give Ministers power to modify offences through regulation, rather than through proper scrutiny. This will give the Senedd and therefore the people of Wales more powers to scrutinise and hold Ministers to account. I'm supportive of the other amendments laid in the group by the Counsel General, but I have nothing more to contribute to them.

Thank you very much, Peter. Any other Members? No. Counsel General.

Diolch, Chair. I won't be supporting amendments 105 and 106 on electoral reform regulations. The amendments are overly restrictive. Electoral law already specifies numerous offences in various situations, so to essentially exclude these entirely from all future reform regulations could render those unworkable. Amendment 106 could have unintended consequences to making changes to the electoral administration system that is of benefit to voters.

The other amendments in this group are tabled in my name and I would ask Members to support them. Amendment 21 to section 20 about electoral reform regulations is in response to recommendation 10 of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee report and it will provide additional assurances to stakeholders, because it requires Ministers, where they decide not to accept in full or in part a Senedd committee’s recommendation in respect of draft electoral reform regulations, to lay a statement before the Senedd to actually explain that decision. Amendment 22 clarifies the conditions under which Welsh Ministers may make electoral reform regulations. It sets out that Welsh Ministers do not need to lay an explanatory statement where they've decided to go ahead with making regulations where a committee of the Senedd have not recommended any material changes.

Amendment 23 to section 20 about electoral reform regulations is in response to recommendation 10 of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee report and will provide additional assurances to stakeholders. It sets out what Welsh Ministers are required to report on where they decide not to accept in full or in part a Senedd committee’s recommendation in respect of draft electoral reform regulations. So, in this circumstance, if the Welsh Ministers make material changes to draft regulations that are materially different from those recommended by the Senedd committee, then they must lay a statement before the Senedd explaining their reasons for doing so. Diolch, Chair.

11:25

Diolch yn fawr, Counsel General. Peter Fox to reply.

Nothing more to add. Okay. The question is, then, that amendment 105 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Okay, we will then move to a vote. So, the question is that amendment 105 be agreed to. Will all those in favour please show? And those against? There voted two in favour, four against. So, amendment 105 is not agreed.

Gwelliant 105: O blaid: 2, Yn erbyn: 4, Ymatal: 0

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 105: For: 2, Against: 4, Abstain: 0

Amendment has been rejected

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 106 (Peter Fox).

Amendment 106 (Peter Fox) moved.

Okay, amendment 106 is moved. Are there any objections? [Objection.] There are. We will then move to a vote on amendment 106. Will all those in favour please show? And those against? There voted two in favour, four against. Therefore, amendment 106 is not agreed.

Gwelliant 106: O blaid: 2, Yn erbyn: 4, Ymatal: 0

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 106: For: 2, Against: 4, Abstain: 0

Amendment has been rejected

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 21 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 21 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

I move amendment 21 in the name of the Counsel General. The question is that amendment 21 be agreed to, does any Member object? No, then amendment 21 is agreed.

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.34.

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 17.34.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 22 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 22 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

I move amendment 22 in the name of the Counsel General. Are there any objections? No, then amendment 22 is agreed.

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.34.

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 17.34.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 23 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 23 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

I move amendment 23 in the name of the Counsel General. Are there any objections? No, then amendment 23 is agreed.

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.34.

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 17.34.

Grŵp 6: Cymorth i bleidleiswyr ag anableddau (Gwelliannau 9, 111)
Group 6: Assistance for voters with disabilities (Amendments 9, 111)

That takes us to group 6: assistance for voters with disabilities. The lead amendment in this group is amendment 9, and I call on Adam Price to move and speak to the lead amendment and other amendments in this group. Adam. 

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 9 (Adam Price).

Amendment 9 (Adam Price) moved.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Yng Nghyfnod 1, nododd y pwyllgor yma:

'Er bod y Memorandwm Esboniadol yn rhoi manylion sylweddol am fwriad Llywodraeth Cymru i wneud newidiadau tebyg ar gyfer etholiadau Cymreig, nid yw’r rhan fwyaf o’r newidiadau hyn yn cael eu gwneud yn y Bil hwn. Yn hytrach, mae’r Memorandwm Esboniadol yn dweud y bydd y rhain yn cael eu gwneud gan ddefnyddio is-ddeddfwriaeth. Nid yw’n nodi pa bwerau y bydd yn eu defnyddio i wneud hyn, pryd y bydd yn gwneud hyn na pham nad yw’r newidiadau hyn yn cael eu gwneud ar wyneb y Bil hwn.'

Ymhellach, mynegodd RNIB Cymru bryder y gallai fod anghysondebau yn y ddarpariaeth ledled Cymru, pe bai yn cael ei adael i swyddogion canlyniadau unigol benderfynu pa gamau y maent yn eu hystyried yn rhesymol i gefnogi pobl ddall a rhannol ddall i bleidleisio. Ar sail y pryderon hyn, argymhellodd y pwyllgor y dylid cynnwys gofynion i gefnogi pobl ddall a rhannol ddall ar wyneb y Bil. Mae gwelliant 9 yn ceisio rhoi effaith i hyn.

Argymhellodd y pwyllgor hefyd y dylid diwygio'r Bil i gynnwys gofyniad i ddarparu'r cyfryw gyfarpar ag sy’n rhesymol at ddibenion galluogi, neu ei gwneud yn haws i bobl anabl bleidleisio’n annibynnol ac yn amodol ar anghenion a nodwyd gan bleidleiswyr anabl ar wyneb y Bil. Mae gwelliant 111 yn ceisio rhoi effaith i hyn.

Mae'r diwygiadau yma yn adlewyrchu ac yn ymateb i bryderon a fynegwyd ac argymhellion a wnaed gan randdeiliaid perthnasol. Mae'n bosibl bod achos dros eu cyfuno neu eu cyfnerthu, ond, mewn egwyddor, dylai darpariaethau perthnasol i gefnogi pobl ag anableddau i bleidleisio'n annibynnol ac yn amodol ar eu hanghenion nhw cael eu cynnwys ar wyneb y Bil. Dylai'r Llywodraeth, o leiaf, yn ein tyb ni, roi esboniad cliriach pam na ddylai hyn fod yn wir.

Thank you. At Stage 1, this committee noted:

'Although the EM provides significant detail on the Welsh Government’s intention to make similar changes for Welsh elections, the majority of these changes are not made in this Bill. Instead the EM says these will be made using secondary legislation. It does not state which powers it will use to do this, when it will do this nor why these changes are not being made on the face of this Bill.'

Further, RNIB Cymru expressed concern that there could be inconsistencies in the provision across Wales, if it was left to individual returning officers to decide what steps they consider reasonable to support blind people and partially sighted people to vote. On the basis of these concerns, the committee recommended that requirements be included to support blind and partially sighted people on the face of the Bill. Amendment 9 seeks to give effect to this.

The committee also recommended that the Bill should be amended to include a requirement to provide such equipment as is reasonable for the purposes of enabling, or making it easier for, disabled persons to vote independently and subject to the needs identified by disabled voters on the face of the Bill. Amendment 111 seeks to give effect to this.

These amendments reflect and respond to concerns expressed and recommendations made by relevant stakeholders. It's possible that there is a case for combining them or strengthening them, but, in principle, the relevant provisions to support people with disabilities to vote independently and subject to their needs should be included on the face of the Bill. The Government, at least, in our view, should provide a clearer explanation about why this isn't the case.

11:30

Yes. Thank you, Chair, and can I thank Adam Price for the work he has done in advocating for partially sighted voters and for bringing forward his amendment? I brought forward 111 to extend that, really, to widen that, as I think we're both in agreement there that this ought to be on the face of the Bill. And if we can find a way to accept one of these or the other, or merge them, I think that would be the right thing to do. We should do everything we can to make sure that there's the opportunity for everybody to vote, if they wish to, at a polling station; you shouldn't have to have a postal vote or stay home, it's a right that you should be able to go and vote, and we need to make sure that everything is in place to enable that to happen. So, at the moment, obviously, I've got down that I would oppose Adam's in favour of my amendment, but, if there's a way that we can find a way forward, that would be helpful.

Okay. Thanks, Peter. No other Members? Counsel General.

Thank you, Chair. Diolch, Chair. If I speak first of all—. Thank you for the contributions. It's an important matter that you raise; I will address that towards the end of some of the responses.

Speaking first to amendment 9, amendment 9 places a duty on returning officers to make arrangements to provide tactile and audio solutions at every polling station for the benefit of blind or partially sighted voters, and to have regard to any guidance issued by the Welsh Ministers. We're not supporting this amendment—I'll explain further on. It would lead to different duties for returning officers for reserved and devolved elections in relation to accessibility. It would also require returning officers to consider guidance from Welsh Ministers, rather than from the Electoral Commission. It could lead to complexity, I think, for electoral administrators and confusion for voters in those circumstances. The amendment could also reduce flexibility in terms of meeting people's needs and also keeping up to date with advancements in technology. 

Our preferred approach, and it's our preferred approach, to achieve these things is by placing duties on returning officers via the rules contained in secondary legislation—that is, the conduct Order and the local government rules—to provide such equipment as is reasonable to help disabled people vote independently, according to the Electoral Commission guidance. The Bill will provide a level of accountability, because it will place a duty on the Electoral Commission to report on the steps taken by the returning officers to assist persons with disabilities to vote at the election. 

The overall approach will mirror that taken by the Elections Act 2022. It means that there can be local flexibility to provide appropriate equipment and support to remove barriers to voting independently and in secret, whilst also giving the voter a consistent experience between Welsh and reserved elections. The election rules framework in place in Wales means that the provisions relating to equipment at polling stations can be amended via secondary legislation by changes to the appropriate election rules set out in the National Assembly for Wales (Representation of the People) Order 2007 and the local elections rules of 2021.   

If I turn now to amendment 111, that would insert a new section into the Bill to amend section 36A of the Representation of the People Act 1983. This would place duties on returning officers in relation to equipment to be provided at polling stations to help disabled people vote at local elections in Wales. It would also place a duty on the Electoral Commission to publish guidance in relation to the type of equipment that should be present in polling stations in order to comply with the duty imposed by paragraph (4).

So, while I support the principle behind the amendment, I do not support the amendment because, again, as I say, our preferred approach is to place duties on returning officers, via the rules contained in secondary legislation, to provide such equipment as is reasonable to help disabled people vote independently, according to the Electoral Commission guidance. Again, as I've mentioned, that's conduct Order and the local government rules, and, again, this will reflect the approach taken in the Elections Act 2022. Diolch, Chair. 

11:35

Thank you, Counsel General, for the explanation as to the position of the Government. I have to say that I don't think that it meets I think reasonable expectations from stakeholders. On that basis, I will still be pressing our amendment to a vote and will be supporting the Conservative amendment as well.

I think stakeholders have very strongly made their views clear that this needs to be on the face of the Bill—it needs to be in primary legislation—to give it that legal standing and, indeed, status as an issue. This isn't a second order issue, and I realise that the Counsel General would say that it is not necessary to interpret using secondary legislation as giving it less of a priority. But, in terms of the nature of the duty, there is no substitute for primary legislation.

I hope he doesn't mind me saying, but there is a slight contradiction in saying, on the one hand, 'We'll do it, but we'll do it using secondary legislation', but also saying, 'We're also keen to have a consistency between reserved and devolved elections.' Because what if the rules and the guidance that you set out, and the duties that you create through secondary legislation, also create a gap between what is provided for in reserved elections?

The way that I would perceive it is that we have an opportunity, through primary legislation, to set the highest standard, and that that will influence the way in which reserved elections then are organised, presumably through their own secondary methods and through guidance. So, let's set a very, very clear standard in primary legislation, and then drive the reserved elections to meet that standard. So, on that basis, we will continue to press our amendment and will support the Conservative amendment. 

Okay. So, the question is that amendment 9 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Okay, we will then move to a vote on amendment 9. Will all those in favour please show? And those against. Okay. There voted three in favour, three against, and, as Chair, I use my casting vote against. And amendment 9 is not agreed.

Gwelliant 9: O blaid: 3, Yn erbyn: 3, Ymatal: 0

Gan fod nifer y pleidleisiau yn gyfartal, defnyddiodd y Cadeirydd ei bleidlais fwrw yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 6.20(ii).

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 9: For: 3, Against: 3, Abstain: 0

As there was an equality of votes, the Chair used his casting vote in accordance with Standing Order 6.20(ii).

Amendment has been rejected

Grŵp 7: Amrywiaeth ymhlith personau sy’n ceisio swydd etholedig (Gwelliannau 107, 24, 52, 53, 110, 32, 43)
Group 7: Diversity in persons seeking elected office (Amendments 107, 24, 52, 53, 110, 32, 43)

We move on then to group 7, diversity in persons seeking elected office.

Oh, sorry, it's not—. Sorry, it wasn't on the list. I'm being stupid, sorry.

Sorry. It's all right. I wasn't paying attention.

No, not at all. That's fine. So, group 7, then, diversity in persons seeking elected office. The lead amendment in this group is amendment 107, and I call on Peter, Peter Fox, to move and speak to the lead amendment and the other amendments in this group. Peter.

11:40

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 107 (Peter Fox).

Amendment 107 (Peter Fox) moved.

Thanks, Chair. Yes. So, I'm sure we all are aware of the increasing levels of harassment that many candidates receive across every political party. I would like to begin with a probing amendment through 107, which seeks to ascertain more information as to what consideration the Minister has given to including issues of harassment and abuse when it comes to questions surrounding candidates' experience. As this is a probing amendment, I do not wish to take a vote on it. However, gathering this data will help us understand the scale of abuse and harassment. It also provides for candidates to highlight these concerns when they are subject to this abhorrent behaviour. This is why I will be supporting amendment 52, tabled by Adam Price, as this seeks to provide security for candidates, to ensure people feel safer to stand for office.

I'm also pleased to support amendment 53, which opens up more opportunity for people with caring responsibilities to get into politics. I know that many who care for others sacrifice so much in order to look after those for whom they feel responsible, and I would hope access to this support would ensure that more people could feel able to stand for political office, therefore widening representation in democracy. So, when it comes to the issue of any financial assistance schemes, it's important that the Welsh Government takes steps to ensure as wide a range of people know about this support as possible. I'm sure the Welsh Government would love to publicise this scheme, but amendment 110 ensures this in legislation.

I finally want to say that I am happy to support amendments 32 and 43, providing guidance for all political parties in promoting diversity, a goal I know that we all agree with.

As we heard, amendment 52 adds 'security' to the list of services that it is permissible to provide in order to improve diversity of candidates. Amendment 53 adds care-related expenses to the list of expenses that financial assistance can be provided in relation to them in relation to this section.

In relation to the security aspect, it is relevant, really, to the discussion that we had earlier in terms of the toxicity of modern politics et cetera, and the way that it does target particularly precisely those groups within society, including women, who are actually a majority but under-represented in most democracies, and ours as well, and other under-represented groups. This issue of security, unfortunately, is becoming more of an issue for democracy worldwide, so it would seem to us necessary, unfortunately, to have that in there as part of the potential provision, for the reasons that I describe. 

In terms of the care-related expenses, this was something that the Women's Equality Network Wales have proposed as part of the Stage 1 proceedings. They have made a very, very strong case that providing care-related expenses in a similar fashion and at a similar level to the provision that is already on the face of this Bill and has already been provided in some form in terms of impairment is a very, very important step in terms of ensuring genuine equality of opportunity in terms of political participation. The fact that you have caring responsibilities, of whatever nature, should not in any way be a disincentive for you, a barrier for you, in participating in political life, but that is the reality for many, many people. And so having a scheme that provides those care-related expenses is important. As the Women's Equality Network points out, for sitting Members of this Senedd, and, indeed, I believe, also, in many cases, sitting councillors in those councils that do provide this—. Well, it actually is provided already through the remuneration panel for councillors, and it is provided for us in the remuneration board. So, as elected Members, we do have access to care-related expense provision. What we are seeking to do through this amendment is create a level playing field, both in the broader sense that I've already referred to in terms of those who have caring responsibilities, but also create a level playing field between candidates and elected Members. So, we think that these two amendments are very, very important in terms of achieving an objective that I think is widely shared on a cross-party basis—that we provide the most equal access possible to political participation.

11:45

Thank you, Adam. No other Members wish to speak. Counsel General.

Diolch, Chair. Again, thank you to Peter Fox for opening the debate, and for the contributions that you've made on this, Adam. Can I speak first to amendment 107? This amendment would require candidate surveys to include questions about candidates' experience of abuse and harassment. The Bill seeks to support greater flexibility and relevance of the survey. It is important to keep flexibility on questions that can be asked in surveys, in particular given amending primary legislation is time-consuming and costly. Development of the survey will include extensive engagement with stakeholders. Currently, the issue of abuse and harassment is high on the agenda of these discussions. Previous surveys have included questions on abuse and harassment without the need for the requirement to be specified in primary legislation. And that's the reason, I think, why we're not supporting this amendment.

I turn to amendments 52 and 53, tabled by Adam Price. Amendment 52 would enable Welsh Ministers to provide security as one of the services to promote diversity in persons seeking elected office. The Bill as introduced enables Welsh Ministers to provide services that can assist candidates with their well-being and to keep safe. Such services could include advice, training, coaching and mentoring, as already provided for within the provisions. The content of these services could provide assistance with, for example, staying safe on social media, personal safety, equipment and personal resilience. As a result, such an amendment is not required and, therefore, I do not support it. Providing security per se direct to candidates would be of a very different nature to the other services that are included within this section.

Amendment 53 would allow Welsh Ministers to make regulations making provisions for candidate care and support costs, to enable them to participate in the election. The provision in the Bill as it's introduced enables schemes for financial assistance to be provided to candidates with specified characteristics or circumstances, as specified in the regulations. These regulations could include care and support costs. Therefore, the amendment isn't required. To be clear, the Bill as introduced enables what this amendment refers to; the explanatory notes could be amended to provide specific examples of costs that potentially represent barriers to seeking elected office by people with specified characteristics or circumstances. I am certainly prepared to explore that and look at that further, but I do not support the amendment as it is.

Amendment 110, tabled by Peter Fox, would require Ministers to promote public awareness of financial assistance schemes prior to any relevant election before making regulations. So, whilst I fully agree that promoting awareness of financial assistance schemes is essential to attract candidates with the specified circumstances or characteristics, I don't agree that this amendment is necessary or effective. The purpose of this amendment is unclear. Promoting public awareness before the making of regulations would not be optimal. The optimal time for awareness raising would be after consulting on and making the regulations, when the scheme is available to potential candidates and when people are considering putting themselves forward for selection. Given that the amendment is therefore unnecessary and potentially, as it's drafted, counter-productive, I don't support it.

If I can now speak to amendments 24, 32 and 43, which are tabled in my name. Amendment 24 is a technical amendment that corrects an error in the terminology used in the Welsh text of the Bill. I therefore ask Members to support that.

Amendment 32 relates to the co-operation agreement and is in response to recommendations 12 and 16 of the special purpose committee’s report on Senedd reform, relating to improving diversity of elected Members. The amendment inserts a new section into the Bill to place a duty on Welsh Ministers to publish guidance for political parties about collecting, collating and publishing diversity information about candidates standing in Senedd elections. We have already discussed the survey of candidates for local government elections. The amendment also places a duty on Welsh Ministers to publish guidance for political parties on how they might publish diversity and inclusion strategies for Welsh elections. The purpose here is to encourage political parties to use diversity information to develop and publish a strategy setting out the steps that they intend to take to improve the diversity of their parties, particularly in areas where such diversity is lacking. The amendment provides that Welsh Ministers must publish guidance in relation to both areas before 1 May 2025 and review the guidance on an ongoing basis. 

Amendment 43 provides for the coming into force of the section inserted by amendment 32 two months after Royal Assent. I ask Members to support amendments 32 and 43. Diolch, Chair. 

11:50

I don't think I need to say any more, really. The Counsel General's made himself clear. Just to note that I won't be asking for a vote on amendment 107. That was, again, probing. I withdraw 107, but I am supportive of the rest of these in this group and happy to go to the vote.

Does any Member object to the withdrawal of amendment 107? No. Amendment 107 is withdrawn.

Tynnwyd gwelliant 107 yn ôl gyda chaniatâd y pwyllgor.

Amendment 107 withdrawn by leave of the committee.

Grŵp 8: Platfform gwybodaeth am etholiadau Cymreig (Gwelliannau 108, 109, 49, 50, 51, 118, 119, 120)
Group 8: Welsh elections information platform (Amendments 108, 109, 49, 50, 51, 118, 119, 120)

Group 8 relates to the Welsh elections information platform. The lead amendment is amendment 108. I call on Peter Fox to move and speak to the lead amendment and other amendments in this group.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 108 (Peter Fox).

Amendment 108 (Peter Fox) moved.

Thank you, Chair. I want to begin speaking to amendment 108 and raising my concern surrounding the issue of the creation of a Welsh elections information platform. I think there are some issues surrounding free speech and impartiality as well as data protection. Over the last few weeks we have seen several data leaks across a variety of high-value targets, including the Welsh Government and the Ministry of Defence, so I think we need to be careful as to how we use data and situations where it is collated in one place.

I also think there is an issue surrounding the platform's independence and perceived independence. I can envisage a situation where the platform refuses to publish a candidate's statement, calling its independence into question, and vice-versa, I can see a situation where a candidate deliberately tries to create a statement that is not published in order to make a political point. While I see the argument for improving voter understanding and knowledge of candidates, I do not agree that the central platform model created by this legislation is necessarily the way forward.

The other concern I have is the issue of legal liability when it comes to candidates' statements. I have tabled amendment 109, which is a probing amendment and therefore doesn't require a vote, but it seeks to see what steps will be taken to ensure that any statements on the information platform do not break libel laws, and if they did, then who would be responsible.

Similarly, on amendments 49 to 51, I cannot support any more information being provided on this platform, which I've shared concerns about. I'm happy to leave it there, Chair.

11:55

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Mae gwelliant 50 yn adeiladu ar y wybodaeth y gellir ei chynnwys ar y platfform er mwyn gosod yr wybodaeth a geir ynddo yn ei gyd-destun ehangach, fel hanes datganoli—rhywbeth sydd wedi bod ar flaen ein meddyliau yn ystod y dyddiau diwethaf, wrth gwrs—materion iechyd democrataidd fel cyfrifoldebau’r cyrff etholedig sy’n cael eu hethol yn yr etholiad dan sylw, a gwybodaeth ymarferol am orsafoedd pleidleisio, er enghraifft.

Mae gwelliannau 49 a 51 yn y grŵp yma yn ehangu’r cyfeiriad at 'ymgeiswyr' yng-nghyd destun y platfform etholiadau i gynnwys cyfeiriad at ‘ymgeiswyr’ a ‘phleidiau gwleidyddol cofrestredig’ fel ei gilydd. Mae ffocws rhy gyfyng a chul yma ar ymgeiswyr yn ymddangos yn anghyson gyda’r system o restrau pleidiol caeedig fydd mewn lle ar gyfer etholiad cyntaf y Senedd yn 2026. Ond yn ehangach na hynny, mae angen cydnabod rôl pleidiau gwleidyddol o ystyried bod ymgeiswyr yn aml yn sefyll ar raglen bolisi a phlatfform maniffestos pleidiau gwleidyddol, ac mae hwnna yn rhan bwysig iawn o hybu dealltwriaeth dinasyddion o sut mae democratiaeth yn gweithio. 

Thank you, Chair. Amendment 50 builds on the information that can be included on the platform in order to place the information in its broader context, such as the history of devolution—something that's been at the forefront of our minds, of course, in the last few days—issues relating to democratic health such as the responsibilities of elected bodies elected in the election in question, and practical information on polling stations, for example. 

Amendments 49 and 51 in this group extend the reference to 'candidates' in the context of the elections platform to include a reference to both 'candidates' and 'registered political parties'. Too narrow a focus here on candidates appears inconsistent with the system of closed party lists that will be in place for the first Senedd elections in 2026. But more broadly than that, there is a need to recognise the role of political parties given that candidates quite often stand on the policy programmes and manifesto platforms of political parties. That's an important part of promoting citizen understanding of how democracy works.  

I should just say I think I come at this from the opposite perspective to Peter. I think the creation of this platform is a really fantastic opportunity to raise levels of democratic engagement and public awareness of how democracy works. I referenced the work earlier of Democracy Box and their report in this area. They're calling in their report for an online—. They have ideas in terms of offline as well, and the excellent work they've done through the talking shops, but they're calling for an online one-stop shop in terms of access to information by citizens. Well, this should be it. And so, in our amendments, we're trying to use this opportunity to achieve the vision that Democracy Box and all the young co-creators that have been part of that have articulated so well.  

Moving on to amendments 118 and 119, this is somewhere where we can't afford to wait. I've heard the argument in other contexts and I'm sure I'll hear it later that this Bill isn't the right place for these ideas. In terms of AI, the misuse of artificial intelligence, in terms of deepfake video and audio, we can't wait. We can't wait a single day more. This is coming at us and is coming at us hard, and it could actually completely upend our democracy before we know it. Look at the story just in the last few hours about the role of deepfake video in the Indian elections, the biggest democracy in the world—incredibly frightening. It's organised, it's concerted, and it is accelerating. So, we can't wait, and we have the power to do something about this.

It came as much of a surprise to me, believe you me, as it did to anyone else that we actually have the power to regulate it in this area. And not only that—it's within the scope of this Bill because of this voter information platform. The way that these amendments work is that amendment 118 allows the platform to be used to make people aware of the use of AI in election information material. That's part of its function. And then, amendment 119 compels all electronic material that carries a digital imprint—. We're all aware of that, aren't we? We know that that is within our competence, Counsel General, because I think you said so when you had an argument with the UK Government in terms of the elections Bill, that, actually, for the purposes of elections, then electronic material, as defined in the Bill, is within our competence to regulate that.

And so what this amendment does, it says that all that electronic material that is produced specifically for Welsh elections, under the terms of the Elections Act 2022—how it's defined there—must be registered, must be lodged with this election platform, so that voters can see the information that is being put out there, and in a single place. Why? Because that gives us transparency then, doesn't it—as was argued by Ian Lucas MP, I believe, in Stage 1, who wrote Digital Gangsters, and indeed Reform Political Advertising—by having a single place where all of this electronic material is available, so that civil society, digital rights campaigners, academics, all of us, citizens, can see what is being put out there into the digital ether, much of it containing misinformation, disinformation, much of it using AI for nefarious purposes, much of it involving deepfake video and audio. 'We ain't seen nothing yet', I think is what we should have at the forefront of our minds.

What the amendment does is it actually mirrors existing legislative frameworks. So, other democracies have acted, in the last 12 months, actually, because this has come at us so quickly. So, the European Union has introduced now a very, very wide-ranging framework regulation around the use of AI in elections. And what they've introduced is a right to know that AI has been used in digital election material. So, what this amendment does, it mirrors that, so that all of the electronic material has to be there, searchable, for everyone, and it has to have a flag. So, in the same way that you have to put the digital imprint of 'produced by', et cetera, it also creates a legal duty to say, 'We've used AI in the production of this material.' It's not saying that you can't use it, but it's saying that, if you do use it, you've got to say and it's got to be clear.

Similarly, in terms of deepfake videos, again, a very particular use of generated artificial intelligence, and a very pernicious one, potentially. Because deepfake video, generally, in the political context, is not used for beneficial purposes; it's used to misrepresent an opponent in a very realistic fashion, in saying something that they never said. And before you know it, that lie has gone around the world, as someone once said 100 years ago, but now it's true. So, what this does is it flags up that if you produce a deepfake video for electoral purposes, then it has to be provided to the online platform, whoever administers it, and you have to flag that up, so that we all know, 'Oh, hang on, there's a deepfake video.' And then you can get into other aspects of existing electoral law, can't you, with the Representation of the People Act 2000, which means that you can't misrepresent somebody in a way that actually says something false about their character, et cetera. But if we don't know where these deepfake videos are, then it makes that more difficult, so it flags that up.

Twelve US states, and counting, have brought in this kind of legislation. So, we're not breaking new ground here. There are good examples of solid legislation that are already in this field, as I said, in the European Union, but also in the United States, at state level, and there are draft laws in Congress as well. I think that we need this in Wales.

The amendment does go on to have some remedies. If people don't provide the transparency that I've just described, then obviously there needs to be a remedy in relation to that. It allows a false statement in the material provided to be challenged, that's an additional dimension, and some Members may support that and some Members may not support that. But the key issue is that we do have the right to have this single repository that would allow us, at the very least—at the very least—to flag up, you know? We're not actually then preventing people from using these technologies, but we are saying, at the very least, 'If you use them—.' I mean, there is a case, I think, for the prohibition of deepfake videos in a political context. I would be supporting that as a more radical move. Some states have gone that far.

But what we're trying to do here, in a probing amendment, is to point out that we have the power to do it. It is within the scope of this Bill. I don't think we should wait. I'm hoping that, on this one—we've had very interesting discussions, and I think I've tried your patience, Counsel General, on more than one occasion—I would strongly say, 'Let's not wait; let's find a way of making this one work.' Because it's happening now, it's going to get worse and, actually, we can put in place the kind of best practice protections that are already in existence in some jurisdictions, so why not?

12:05

Thank you very much, Chair. I want to say a huge 'thank you' to Adam Price, and everybody who has been part of looking at this, and identifying that we have the power. I've also read the book, Digital Gangsters by Ian Lucas, who is very passionate about this. I completely agree with the ethos, with the purpose, with the call for transparency and accountability, because we have that already in many arenas, and it has to be applied to the digital and the data and the social media arena, in particular. It's wonderful that we do have the power.

However, and this is where my 'however' comes in: I don't think it's enough, in a way. That's why I won't be supporting the amendments, and I believe—Counsel General, you might be able to expand on this—that we can actually include it, not on the face of the Bill, but in the regulations, and I just don't think we can do this on its own. I think it needs to be part of a wider piece of work that is actually looking at the guidelines for AI and through a lens of shared prosperity, which is everything that you're talking about. But I think we actually have to encompass more into it, and I would say, like, generative AI, and all the principles of that.

And also, when you're asking people to state that they've used this technology and this software, there's also, behind that, training that has to go on, consolidation, consultation with workers who are even using this. I suppose what I'm saying is we almost have to take it a few steps back to, like, 'Why would this even be being used?' and, 'Who would be using it?' Yes, I suppose I just feel it's like a wider conversation, so that we can actually capture more with this and have a set of guiding principles, not just for now, but for all the new technology that comes down the line.

So, what I would say—and I hope, Counsel General, you can expand on this for us—is that I will vote against the amendments today, because I believe it doesn't need to be on the face of the Bill. And also, actually, because I don't think it goes far enough, and I think that this needs to have a wider conversation with more stakeholders and people involved in it, and I think this is something that is really important. So, those are my thoughts on it, but, truly, Adam, I think this is so important and crucial, but, yes, I think it needs more, so thank you.

I want to commend Adam for bringing part of this forward, because we all see how things work now on social media, with the deepfakes, when one video—. From a political perspective, Adam and I were actually talking earlier about the mental health of politicians, and about how that can be improved. We've all seen instances where fake videos, fake profiles and the rest are put online, through AI-generated images or people just pinching images of people and putting them on different platforms, and then, all of a sudden, it's read, and somebody's political career can be ruined and their personal reputation can also be ruined as well, because of something that they've never done, but is a deep fake and has been completely misconstrued. Unfortunately, that goes on, and I think anything to strengthen that area needs to be applauded.

I do agree with Sarah; I think it does need to go further in some areas. I think disclaimers on things, the idea is right, but how it works, I think, in practice, with social media companies and others, will be challenging to do that. But, as I said, I think a wider piece of work does need to be done. We're supporting you over the AI amendments, over the platform part, but I do think this is an area of work that does need to be really explored in the era we live in now, with deepfakes and AI, to make sure that politicians are protected, because sometimes we are seen as not doing enough to protect ourselves from some of the abuse that we get online. I think this would be a step towards doing that as well.

12:10

Well, thank you, Chair. Thank you, Peter Fox, and also Adam, because it is a very important area that you've raised. Peter Fox's amendment 108 would remove the duty on the Welsh Ministers to provide an elections information platform, and we've made a commitment to provide the people of Wales with an information platform to support their engagement with Welsh democracy. We consulted on this, and there was overwhelming support for such a platform, so ensuring Welsh Ministers must provide such support to Welsh voters will help improve, I think, democratic participation, which is, I think, the key objective of the platform. 

Amendment 109 would remove the transparency currently provided for in the provisions. The list of issues to be included in the regulations is not exhaustive, but it will set out those issues that must be provided for. The amendment would also remove the exemption from liability for information on the platform, so I don't support those amendments. 

I'm content to accept amendments 49 and 51 from Adam Price because these amendments would provide additional clarity as to what information electors will have access to through the information platform. I agree that providing voters with information about political parties will help them participate in democracy, especially as we move to a new voting system for Senedd elections from 2026.

Perhaps if I turn to amendments 118 and 120, which are really important amendments, which I hope are probing amendments because they do raise very significant issues, and I'll make some comments on some of the points that have been made in a minute. So, Adam Price highlights the important issue of artificial intelligence. Adding duties on Welsh Ministers to make regulations in relation to the use of AI is unnecessary as the regulations can already set out the information to be included, therefore, it does not need to be set out on the face of the Bill.

Amendment 119 also adds to what the regulations on the elections information platform must require, including requiring material covered by the Elections Act 2022's digital imprints regime, disclosures on the use of AI or deceptive material. It may create an unwieldy platform of raw material covered by the Elections Act if the digital imprints regime were to be included. It's also unnecessary, as the regulation-making powers are already comprehensive. 

If I can just add to those comments, because certainly in the initial stages, what the information platform is intended to do is to help with engagement, and there is a grave danger that if you overload so much information, that all of the information that is fundamentally important, when part of the engagement is about people who perhaps have never engaged with the system, whose information is basically, 'What is a political party?', 'Who are the candidates?', 'How do I actually vote?', or so on, there's a grave danger that if so much information is loaded and it becomes effectively a repository in that sense, then it becomes a very different thing and the question is whether it would actually function and actually contribute anything to the sort of engagement that is its initial primary objective. I don't see it as something that is going to be static and that needs to be reviewed and so on, and all the issues in terms of, perhaps, what links there might be to other networks, that it would provide links rather than being the depository in itself, but I think there would be a grave danger in terms of what we're trying to achieve with this in terms of, for many people, the basic issue is they don't even now how to vote and have never done it, and you want to encourage people to have at least the core essential basic information that is there. I think how it might develop, how it might develop links and so on and makes accessibility to other information for those who want to get to a next stage, to explore further and so on—I think that is something that is really important and I'm sure is something that will actually happen. I'm just very, very hesitant to go beyond, at this stage, preserving the basic objectives of what we should do, to review that, but to maintain, at this stage, the clarity and simplicity. That doesn't detract from all the things that Adam raises.

I would say there are issues around competence. It is not absolute. We have to be quite careful in terms of what we want to do and what we do tend, or what we might want to try and achieve, and it needs to really be explored in much more detail. That doesn't move away from the importance of all the points that Adam raises, but I don't think they could be achieved by so overloading this, at this stage, in a way that probably would make it ineffective and unworkable. That's, I think, the approach they've taken in terms of these steps. But it doesn't, again, to emphasise, take away anything of the importance of the issues that Adam is raising, but I'm not sure they can be achieved through what we're trying to do here. I hope that helps, Chair.

12:15

Thank you, Chair, and thanks to everybody who contributed. I suppose, in personal principle, I'm not necessarily against the idea of a platform. It's more about anxieties or needing to be convinced how secure it will be. Perhaps that clarity will flow between now and Stage 3. However, I'll stand by our position on that, initially, hence I don't want to see more things going on there. However, I am very supportive of Adam's amendments on AI. I think we do need to be thinking very strongly about that at this point. I know what everybody's said, but I will be supporting that. I think we need to have that conversation much sooner than later, and that needs to be considered early doors. So, with that, Chair, I'm happy to move to the vote.

Thank you very much, Peter. If amendment 108 is agreed, amendments 109, 49, 50, 51, 118, 119 and 120 will fall. Okay, so the question is that amendment 108 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Okay, there is an objection. We will move to a vote. So, on amendment 108, will all those in support please show, those who are in favour? And those who are against? Okay, there voted two in favour, four against, so amendment 108 is not agreed.

Gwelliant 108: O blaid: 2, Yn erbyn: 4, Ymatal: 0

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 108: For: 2, Against: 4, Abstain: 0

Amendment has been rejected

Okay. Does any Member object to the withdrawal of amendment 109? No, then amendment 109 is withdrawn.

Ni chynigiwyd gwelliant 109 (Peter Fox). 

Amendment 109 (Peter Fox) not moved.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 49 (Adam Price).

Amendment 49 (Adam Price) moved.

Okay, amendment 49 is moved. So, let's go to a vote. All those—[Interruption.] Sorry, does anybody object? Sorry. [Objection.] Yes. Okay, so we move to a vote on amendment 49. Will all those in favour please show? And those against? Okay, so there voted four in favour, two against, so amendment 49 is agreed.

Gwelliant 49: O blaid: 4, Yn erbyn: 2, Ymatal: 0

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 49: For: 4, Against: 2, Abstain: 0

Amendment has been agreed

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 50 (Adam Price).

Amendment 50 (Adam Price) moved.

Okay, amendment 50 is moved. Are there any objections? [Objection.] Yes, so there are objections. We will move to a vote. So, with regard to amendment 50, will all those in favour please show? And those against? Okay, there voted, in respect of amendment 50, one in favour and five against, so amendment 50 is not agreed.

Gwelliant 50: O blaid: 1, Yn erbyn: 5, Ymatal: 0

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 50: For: 1, Against: 5, Abstain: 0

Amendment has been rejected

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 51 (Adam Price).

Amendment 51 (Adam Price) moved.

Amendment 51 is moved. Are there any objections? [Objection.] There are. We will move to a vote. Would all those in favour of amendment 51 please show? And those against. There voted four in favour, two against. So, amendment 51 is agreed.

12:20

Gwelliant 51: O blaid: 4, Yn erbyn: 2, Ymatal: 0

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 51: For: 4, Against: 2, Abstain: 0

Amendment has been agreed

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 118 (Adam Price).

Amendment 118 (Adam Price) moved.

Amendment 118 is moved. Are there any objections? [Objection.] There are. We move to a vote, then, on amendment 118. Will all those in favour please show? And those against. Okay. There voted three in favour, three against. So, I use my casting vote as Chair against, and amendment 118 is not agreed. 

Gwelliant 118: O blaid: 3, Yn erbyn: 3, Ymatal: 0

Gan fod nifer y pleidleisiau yn gyfartal, defnyddiodd y Cadeirydd ei bleidlais fwrw yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 6.20(ii).

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 118: For: 3, Against: 3, Abstain: 0

As there was an equality of votes, the Chair used his casting vote in accordance with Standing Order 6.20(ii).

Amendment has been rejected

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 119 (Adam Price).

Amendment 119 (Adam Price) moved.

Amendment 119 is moved. Are there any objections? [Objection.] There are. So, we'll move to a vote on amendment 119. Will all those in favour please show? And those against. Okay. There voted three in favour, three against, so I use my casting vote as Chair against, and amendment 119 is not agreed. 

Gwelliant 119: O blaid: 3, Yn erbyn: 3, Ymatal: 0

Gan fod nifer y pleidleisiau yn gyfartal, defnyddiodd y Cadeirydd ei bleidlais fwrw yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 6.20(ii).

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 119: For: 3, Against: 3, Abstain: 0

As there was an equality of votes, the Chair used his casting vote in accordance with Standing Order 6.20(ii).

Amendment has been rejected

Amendment 120 is not moved. Does any other Member wish to move the amendment? No. Okay, so amendment 120 is not moved. 

Ni chynigiwyd gwelliant 120 (Adam Price). 

Amendment 120 (Adam Price) not moved.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 24 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 24 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

I move amendment 24 in the name of the Counsel General. The question is that amendment 24 be agreed to. Does any Member object? No, then amendment 24 is agreed. 

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.34.

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 17.34.

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 52 (Adam Price).

Amendment 52 (Adam Price) moved.

Okay. Amendment 52 is moved. Are there any objections? [Objection.] There are. So, we'll move to a vote on amendment 52. Will all those in favour please show? And those against. Okay. There voted three in favour, three against. I use my casting vote as Chair against. And amendment 52 is not agreed. 

Gwelliant 52: O blaid: 3, Yn erbyn: 3, Ymatal: 0

Gan fod nifer y pleidleisiau yn gyfartal, defnyddiodd y Cadeirydd ei bleidlais fwrw yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 6.20(ii).

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 52: For: 3, Against: 3, Abstain: 0

As there was an equality of votes, the Chair used his casting vote in accordance with Standing Order 6.20(ii).

Amendment has been rejected

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 53 (Adam Price).

Amendment 53 (Adam Price) moved.

Amendment 53 is moved. Are there any objections? [Objection.] There are. We will, then, move to a vote. Will all those in favour please show? And those against. There voted three in favour, three against, so, again, I use my casting vote as Chair against, and amendment 53 is not agreed. 

Gwelliant 53: O blaid: 3, Yn erbyn: 3, Ymatal: 0

Gan fod nifer y pleidleisiau yn gyfartal, defnyddiodd y Cadeirydd ei bleidlais fwrw yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 6.20(ii).

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 53: For: 3, Against: 3, Abstain: 0

As there was an equality of votes, the Chair used his casting vote in accordance with Standing Order 6.20(ii).

Amendment has been rejected

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 110 (Peter Fox).

Amendment 110 (Peter Fox) moved.

It's moved. Are there any objections? [Objection.] There are. We will move to a vote. Will all those in favour of amendment 110 please show? And those against. There voted two in favour, four against. Therefore, amendment 110 is not agreed. 

Gwelliant 110: O blaid: 2, Yn erbyn: 4, Ymatal: 0

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant

Amendment 110: For: 2, Against: 4, Abstain: 0

Amendment has been rejected

Grŵp 9: Cynllun Cymorth ariannol - gweithredu (Gwelliannau 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31)
Group 9: Financial assistance scheme – operation (Amendments 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31)

That takes us to group 9, relating to the financial assistance scheme and its operation. The lead amendment in this group is amendment 25. 

Cynigiwyd gwelliant 25 (Mick Antoniw).

Amendment 25 (Mick Antoniw) moved.

I move amendment 25 in the name of the Counsel General, and call on the Counsel General to speak to the lead amendment and other amendments in the group. Counsel General.