Plans to overhaul the Senedd published including more members and election changes

Plans to introduce radical changes to the size of the Senedd and the way that it is elected are being published today.

A new law will increase the number of members of the Welsh Parliament from the current 60 to 96. And those members will be elected from lists for new super-constituencies. It’s estimated the changes will cost between £14.5m and £17.5m a year

The Welsh Government say the plan will “strengthen our democracy” but the Conservative Opposition says “Wales needs more doctors, dentists, nurses and teachers, not more politicians.”

The changes are set out in the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill which is being published today and is part of an agreement signed by the Labour Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru.

Another part of the planned change - to introduce gender quotas - won’t be published today. That’s been separated from the legislation because of concerns that a legal challenge to that aspect could delay the whole project.

Assuming the Bill becomes law, from the next Welsh Election, which is due in 2026, there will be 96 Senedd members compared to the 60 that there are now.

Under the current system 40 members are chosen as single representatives of constituencies using “first-past-the-post” while 20 are elected proportionally for five regions meaning that, for the past 25 years of devolution, people in Wales have had two votes.

That system will be replaced and instead Wales will be divided up into 16 large constituencies. The borders for these will be worked out by combing each of the 32 new Westminster constituencies.

Voters will have a single ballot paper instead of two and will be asked to cast their vote for a party instead of an individual. The total votes for each party will be added up and a formula used to choose six members for each of the new areas.

As things stand, there are Senedd elections every five years. That will change to every four years.

Candidates in elections will in the future be required to live in Wales.

The limit on the number of ministers in future Welsh Governments will increase from the current 12 to 17.

There will also be two deputy presiding officers appointed instead of one.

The estimated additional running costs of extra Senedd Members, ministers, staff etc. are expected to be between £14.5m to £17.5m for a typical year.

Although that cost is being criticised by the Conservatives, the Welsh Government says that it amounts to about 0.07% of the £24bn total Welsh budget.

Set up costs including changes to the debating chamber and offices are estimated at around £8m between 2024 and 2026.

Mick Antoniw is the counsel general and minister for the constitution

The Welsh Government’s legal chief, the Counsel General Mick Antoniw, said, “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a modern Senedd which truly reflects Wales, and to strengthen our democracy.

“We are creating a more effective Senedd, with a greater ability and capacity to hold the Welsh Government to account.

“This Bill will help ensure the Senedd also reflects the huge changes to Wales’ devolution settlement since 1999, including law-making and tax-raising powers.

“Wales is the most under-represented country in the UK – the Senedd has the least members of any devolved Parliament in the country and the recent reduction to UK parliamentary seats is the most significant change in a century.”

Ynys Môn MS Rhun ap Iorwerth took over the Plaid Cymru leadership in June Credit: ITV Wales

Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth said that “Twenty-six years ago to the day when the people of Wales voted Yes for devolution, we are taking another historic step to strengthen and empower our democracy.

“A stronger, more representative Senedd, elected through a proportional system, will be better equipped to continue to make a difference to the people of Wales.

“It will ensure fairness, provide better scrutiny and help all of us realise our ambition for Wales and our maturing democracy.

“Once passed, the Senedd Reform Bill will also place Welsh democracy on firmer foundations and bring us closer to the size of the legislatures in Scotland and the north of Ireland.

“This stands in stark contrast to the way in which Wales’s representation on a UK level at Westminster is being weakened.”

Welsh Conservative Shadow Constitution Minister Darren Millar

However the Conservative opposition is very much against the moves.

Shadow constitution minister Darren Millar, said that “It’s disappointing that Welsh Labour ministers continue to press ahead with plans to increase the size of the Senedd at a cost of tens of millions each year while threatening to cut budgets for schools and hospitals.

“Wales needs more doctors, dentists, nurses and teachers, not more politicians.

“The Welsh Government should be focused on addressing unacceptable NHS waiting times, poor standards in schools and the lacklustre performance of the Welsh economy, not wasting time, energy and taxpayers’ money developing yet more legislation on Senedd reform.”

After being published today, the Bill will go through the scrutiny process in the Senedd chamber and by committees before facing a final vote in spring 2024.