A report to the National Assembly from a panel of academics and experts says there is a "compelling case" to increase the number of AMs from 60 to at least 80 "and preferably closer to 90 members". It argues that greater capacity to pass laws and scrutinise the Welsh Government would benefit the people of Wales. It adds that "such benefits would be greater at the upper end of [the 80 to 90] range".
The report's other recommendations include:
An extra 20 Assembly Members would cost £6.6 million a year, plus one-off costs of £2.4 million to expand the Senedd and provide more offices.
An increase of 30 AMs would cost £9.6 million a year, plus one-off costs of £3.3 million.
Although the cost is "significant", it could reap significant dividends to the taxpayer, by improving legislation, policy and decision-making.
The preferred option for electing Assembly Members is from multi-member constituencies, using the single transferable vote.
There would be 20 constituencies, each with 4 or 5 members.
There would be a total of 89 or 90 AMs.
A gender quota system would ensure near equal numbers of male and female AMs
Two people could jointly stand on the basis that they would "job share" being an AM.
The minimum voting age should be reduced from 18 to 16.
In 2015, the previous Assembly Commission concluded that with only 60 Members, the National Assembly is underpowered and overstretched. They were far from the first to do so. For over a decade, independent commissions tasked with looking at the capacity of the Assembly have reached the same conclusion. This lack of capacity will not be resolved without bold action, and we cannot afford to ignore it any longer. This report presents considered, independent analysis of the evidence and possible solutions to create a more sustainable parliament that serves the people of Wales well into the future. I hope we can find a broad consensus for change and deliver a stronger, more inclusive and forward-looking legislature that works for Wales for many years to come.
The report calls for the changes to be implemented at the next Assembly election in 2021. In some cases it offers alternative recommendations to avoid any delay. These might lead to 83 or 84 Assembly Members and might place the responsibility for achieving gender equality on the political parties, rather than building it into the electoral system.
In 1999, Assembly Members had very little scope to affect the daily lives of people in Wales. Today, they are responsible for a budget of £15 billion, they make the law in Wales in a host of important areas such as health and education, and they can change the taxes we pay. Today’s institution still has only 60 members and, with its increasing powers to affect people’s lives, it lacks the capacity it needs. This matters. The Assembly and its members have a real, direct and positive impact on the lives of every one of us in Wales. Calling for more politicians is unpopular; but we have to report as we see the evidence. The Panel believes that, as its powers increase, the Assembly cannot continue as it is without risking its ability to deliver effectively for the people of Wales. There is a compelling case for an increase in size to at least 80, and ideally closer to 90 Members. There is no good time to remedy this. However, if this is not done now, the Assembly will continue to be undersized, presenting a risk to its ability to deliver for the people it serves.
The Electoral Reform Society has backed the proposals, arguing that the extra Assembly Members can be paid for using money that won't be spent of the four Welsh MEPs after Brexit.
The current provision of 60 AMs is just not sufficient when you consider that Northern Ireland – with just over a million people – has an Assembly of 90, while Scotland has more than double our democratic representation with only 74% more people. There are already signs that legislation and scrutiny here in Wales are taking a hit as a result.