Y Pwyllgor Biliau Diwygio

Reform Bill Committee

09/11/2023

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Darren Millar
David Rees Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Heledd Fychan
Sarah Murphy

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Alberto Smith Make Votes Matter
Make Votes Matter
Dr Jac Larner Darlithydd Gwleidyddiaeth, Prifysgol Caerdydd
Lecturer in Politics, Cardiff University
Efa Gruffudd Jones Comisiynydd y Gymraeg
Welsh Language Commissioner
Jess Blair Cymdeithas Diwygio Etholiadol Cymru
Electoral Reform Society Cymru
Lowri Williams Cyfarwyddwr Strategol, Swyddfa Comisiynydd y Gymraeg
Strategic Director, Office of the Welsh Language Commissioner
Malcolm Burr Cynullydd, Bwrdd Rheoli Etholiadol yr Alban
Convener, Electoral Management Board for Scotland
Yr Athro Ailsa Henderson Cadeirydd, Boundaries Scotland
Chair, Boundaries Scotland
Yr Athro Alistair Clark Athro Gwyddor Gwleidyddiaeth, Prifysgol Newcastle
Professor of Political Science, Newcastle University

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Aled Evans Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Catherine Roberts Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Georgina Owen Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Helen Finlayson Clerc
Clerk
Josh Hayman Ymchwilydd
Researcher

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

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

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

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

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

The meeting began at 09:30.

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

Good morning, and can I welcome Members and the public to this morning's session of the committee, where we will continue our evidence gathering for Stage 1 of the Senedd reform Bill?

Before we start our business today, we've received apologies from Jane Dodds MS. There are no substitutions in her case. The meeting is to be broadcast live on Senedd.tv and we are bilingual, so therefore if you require simultaneous translation from Welsh to English in this room, please use channel 1 on the headsets; if you require amplification, channel 0 or channel 2 on the headsets—I'm querying it, because I was told in committee on Tuesday it was channel 0. We've always been told channel 2.

Channel 2. Yes, I thought it was. There we are. Okay.

There is no scheduled fire alarm today, so, if one does take place, please follow the directions of the ushers to a safe location. Please also ensure your mobile phone or other electronic device is on silent so it does not interrupt our business today. I think that's all the housekeeping we need to do. You will receive copies of proceedings at the end as well.

2. Bil Senedd Cymru (Aelodau ac Etholiadau): Sesiwn dystiolaeth gydag academyddion ym maes systemau etholiadol
2. Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill: Evidence session with electoral systems academics

Okay, item 2 on today's agenda is our first evidence session with academics, relating to the electoral system. Can I welcome both Dr Jac Larner to the meeting, who is a lecturer in politics at Cardiff University, and also we have online Professor Alistair Clark, who is a professor of political science at Newcastle University? Welcome, both. Can I thank you both as well for your written evidence that you provided to the committee? We obviously will want to ask a few questions on that evidence, and perhaps I'll start with a nice easy one, which is—. I'm trying to find it. There we go. Yes. I read in your papers, Professor Clark in particular, about the closed list proportional representation system, and I suppose rather than—. We'll explore the views as we go through this morning's session. What I want to know, first of all, is: is there any other nation that uses a closed list such as this in a proportional representation approach?

Thank you, and thank you to the committee for the invitation to speak. There are nations that use closed list systems. I think the difficulty with this is that there is no ideal electoral system. Ultimately, they all represent some form of compromise or another between different aims and objectives, and I think what has come across strongly to me with the Bill has been a desire to learn from where you are at the moment with the regional lists. That, I think, is a sensible approach. I think it's something that is the obvious thing to do—natural to try and develop from where you are. I think where I start from on this is the viewpoint: does this actually lead to an improvement? And my general assessment—and this is a problem with proportional closed list systems to begin with—is that it tends to downplay geographical links with local areas. The closed list system tends to prioritise the interests of political parties over those of voters, who are really left with a 'take it or leave it' kind of choice, and, to some degree, the method by which the seat allocation for this system will take place probably prioritises the larger parties, rather than the smaller parties as well.

So, I think there are a range of difficulties, and these are difficulties not just here but elsewhere as well, where such systems are used. My general assessment, as you'll see from my written evidence, is that this is probably a sub-optimal system, that it probably represents a step back from where you are at the moment with the additional member system. And while I understand that there has been a lot of discussion of electoral systems over the past few years, there may well be other systems that could be adapted within parts of the scope of this Bill to actually satisfy more needs than the current proportional closed list system that's proposed by the Bill.

09:35

I would agree with everything Professor Clark said. But in terms of, specifically, the closed list element of this electoral system, I would also say that it does seem to be out of step with general trends we've seen in developed democracies, especially across western Europe, where there has been this shift to actually give more choice to individual voters. And this closed list obviously kind of removes that idea; I'd say it puts more power in the hands of the parties. And one thing that we do know, especially about the first-past-the-post system that's used in the UK for Westminster elections is that it is quite popular, but the element of it that is particularly popular is that idea that people are able to choose their individual representatives, even if we know, in most cases, in terms of voting behaviour, people do just rely on party labels. But that idea that there is an ability to choose specific individuals is highly valued by people in all kinds of public attitudes research. 

And so, the proposal of a closed list system, I think, is—again, I agree with everything Alistair's saying—potentially even a step back from the system that we have now, where there is still that element of people being able to pick their own individual representative in the constituency ballot. 

Okay. Well, since you've both referred to voter choice, and voter choice has been brought up, I'll hand over to Sarah to start pushing that agenda.

Thank you both very much for being here this morning. Yes, we're going to delve a little bit more into the views on the impact of the electoral system that's being proposed by the Bill on voter choice.

So, if I can come to you first, Dr Larner, you found in your evidence that there are significant differences in attitudes across Welsh society, and it said that voters who identify as Welsh are pro-autonomy, support Plaid Cymru and skew younger, and are more likely to support an expanded Senedd. So, why do you think that is, and why do you think others are not so engaged with this or on board with it? What do you think it is, or is it a combination?

Sure. So, again, hopefully, as I said in the written evidence, unfortunately, you have to start at the point that politicians are unpopular—

—for most people. [Laughter.] And, also, that's not a personal thing; essentially, as long as we have any public attitudes evidence anywhere in the world, most people don't really like politicians. So, leading on from that, any proposal to increase the number, to create more politicians, is going to be unpopular with a wide range of people across society.

But, then, in terms of who are more likely to support those kinds of measures, well, in our research, obviously, the biggest thing that kind of correlates with that is that buy-in to the idea of home rule, I would say, and that buy-in to the idea that devolution is important, and that devolution may, in fact, for many of these people, take precedence over the idea of a Westminster as well. And especially for younger people, younger people are also more likely to feel Welsh than other kind of national identities. But for a lot of younger people, there's that idea of social learning as well; they're used to the Senedd, they've grown up with the Senedd, their entire education has taken place with a devolved education system, health wise, et cetera, et cetera. So, there's also that idea as well.

Although, again, it's important to say that even among those people, I would say that the enthusiasm for increasing the number of Members was not huge. It's still relatively small. But, again—hopefully, the point was made—it's very difficult to know whether that's something specific about this proposal, or whether that just reflects general levels of, 'Oh, politicians, we don't want any more', sort of feelings.

Yes, of course. And just to ask as well: in your written evidence, you also talked about—which was, I suppose, quite worrying and quite surprising—that, actually, you found since the first elections of the then Assembly, a large proportion of voters, sometimes majorities, have believed that the two votes represented a first and second preference as it is, or they just did not understand how the vote shares in this ballot translated into seats. So, there's actually been quite a large majority who haven't understood even the electoral system as we have it at the moment, then.

Yes, absolutely. And, again, this isn't unique to Wales; we asked the same questions in Scotland as well, and we get, essentially, identical sorts of figures of misunderstanding, specifically of the list vote and how that works, and if it's a second preference, or how the top-up works, if it tops up at all.

Now, again, we haven't actually asked that question since 2016. So, in the last few years, knowledge really could have skyrocketed, and people might understand it. I think it's quite unlikely, given that we know knowledge in other areas to do with devolution has not increased at all over that period; it's stayed pretty much the same. And one of the things I picked up on in the most recent report by the special purpose committee is that it talked about, 'Okay, one of the reasons for adopting D'Hondt, for example, as a method of seat allocation, is that people were already familiar with it.' But, from the evidence we have, that's not the case at all; people are not familiar. And, in fact, if you were going to go along with familiarity, what people actually know, the misunderstanding that we already have a preferential ranking system is higher than knowledge of how seats are currently allocated. So, if you're going to do it like that, well, based on the misapprehension, people already think we sort of have a form of single transferable vote, in fact.

09:40

Okay. Thank you very much. And coming to you now, Professor Clark, if I could just ask, I know that your expertise is in electoral systems and administration, and particularly STV in Scotland, so it would be really helpful if you could draw on your knowledge there in terms of—. Because I can see that in your written evidence you've said that maybe we should revisit looking at STV, and, if not, there's going to be quite a bit of work to do here. So, what are your views on what the Welsh public think of this, and some of the pitfalls, or the pros and cons for us?

Thank you. Excellent questions. I think that the public, whether in Wales, Scotland or elsewhere, tend not to know about the ins and outs of the operation of electoral systems. Indeed, there are many politicians who don't know about the ins and outs of the electoral systems that they get elected by as well. So, the public are not really unusual in that. I think what's important is that they understand what they're being asked to do as we come close to election day, and I note, in another Bill, the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill, there is an attempt to deal with that through a voter information system, for instance. So, I think that's a positive step, and I think the crucial thing is getting that information to voters at the time they need it, which is close to election day.

I have, you're right, conducted extensive research on the implementation of the single transferable vote for local elections in Scotland, and I note also that Wales has given councils the opportunity to go for that electoral system, should they wish to do so—I don't think any have at the moment. However, what I've found, and this is really from 2007 onwards, with a single transferable vote, is that Scottish voters have tended to use it very well. On average, they've tended to use around three preferences, but some people go all the way down to the bottom of the ballot paper, however many are actually on the ballot paper.

There is a feature—two features, I think—of the single transferable vote that I think are important. First is that it can provide and will provide proportionality. So, depending on how this is set up, maybe electing five, six, seven Members per constituency, it will provide proportionality. It also, importantly, can balance the needs of political parties, who can offer more than one candidate if they happen to think they have the strength to get more than one candidate elected. But, it also allows voters to have a degree of choice between those party candidates. Importantly, its operation, and its operation elsewhere as well, in Ireland, has shown that this also entrenches a degree of localism to the conduct of electoral politics. So, in many ways, it ticks quite a lot of boxes for electoral systems: proportionality, localism, balancing the needs of voters and parties.

Throughout its use in Scotland—we're now on its fourth use in the last local elections—Scottish voters used it very much on a par with how Irish and Northern Irish voters used it. In other words, there were no things there that really stood out as being problematic for voter understanding. Scottish voters used a similar amount of preferences. They tended to transfer between party candidates, party teams. Where parties offered teams of candidates, there would tend to be a transfer solidarity of up to about 70 per cent or thereabouts, with second preferences, for instance. Although initially there was a degree of a higher number of spoiled ballots, that is about the same level as it is in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which have, by far, much longer experience of using that electoral system. So, my assessment after four runnings of elections using the single transferable vote is that voters managed to use it quite well. What matters is giving them the information about how they vote. In other words, they give preferences: 1, 2, 3, 4, whatever, rather than just marking a cross.

Now, as I mentioned, STV has been offered to Welsh councils. This means that it's in a fortunate position, because I think the Welsh Government has already done quite a lot of preparatory work on the single transferable vote and how that might work at the local level. I don't see why there's any reason that couldn't be scaled up, to adapt to the 16 constituencies electing a six-Members model that this Bill actually presents.

09:45

If I can just explore one point on the understanding agenda, which is highlighted. If we have a system in Wales in which local authorities do decide to take STV, we have Westminster elections and the police and crime commissioner elections that will be first-past-the-post, and we have closed list elections in the Senedd, is there a possibility of confusion amongst the electorate if we don't get that public awareness right?

Again, my suggestion from Scottish experience would be 'not really'. I don't think there is. Scotland has equally had the same difficulty with a multiplicity of electoral systems. So, for instance, first-past-the-post for UK parliamentary elections; the additional Member system for Scottish Parliament elections; until 2019, a closed list system for European elections; and, of course, now a single transferable vote for local government elections. Although we don't have police and crime commissioners in Scotland, that was four different electoral systems that Scottish voters were dealing with. I don't see Welsh voters as being any different to Scottish voters in that regard and having any more confusion around those things.

I think, just to reiterate that what is important is that public information campaigns, in the run-up to those elections, clearly explain what is required, as do polling station workers when people go to cast their vote. That works fairly well in Scotland; I don't see any reason why it shouldn't in Wales.

Yes. I just wanted to ask, actually, in this whole area of voter choice, to both of the panellists today, obviously voter choice is exercised at elections, and in this case it's going to be a choice, if the Government's Bill proceeds, just to choose a political party. There will be, of course, the names on the ballot paper and then there'll be the outcome of the election and then people will have to make a choice as to who they approach, from the collective of six people that represent each constituency, to undertake their casework.

Now, we know from studies in Scotland, don't we, that there's a huge imbalance between the current case workloads between first-past-the-post constituency Members of the Scottish Parliament and the regional Members of the Scottish Parliament, and I suspect that if a similar piece of research was undertaken in Wales, it would have the same findings. I was just looking at the research myself, which was commissioned by the Scottish Parliament, and it suggested that 14 per cent of casework went to all of the regional Members, and the other 80-odd per cent went to the constituency Members, which is a huge, huge imbalance.

Now, when people are having to exercise a choice as to who to contact post an election of the sort that we're proposing here, isn't there a significant risk that some individual Members, in what are effectively mini regions, may be more heavily loaded with casework than others, because perhaps they've been more familiar to their constituents than others? Is that something that has been considered by either of you, and have you done any research into those things? 

09:50

Thank you. Again, an excellent question. This was certainly a big issue in the early days of the Scottish Parliament, and I think there was research done on the then Assembly at the time as well. The discrepancy that you refer to, I think, is very much a feature of the additional Member system that does have that first-past-the-post constituency-based element. So, there's kind of a hangover, if you like, of practice from first-past-the-post in that regard. I think my worry with a proportional closed list system is quite simply that the voters are not going to know who to go to with a constituency problem. It may well be that some Members are more high profile than others, and, as a consequence, actually end up attracting more of these sorts of constituency issues. That may well be the case, but I'm not quite sure how you mitigate against that particularly happening.

My bigger worry is that you have constituents who are not going to know who to go to in the first place, and there is a risk that the six Members for whichever constituency all end up getting the same complaint from a particular constituent. And you may end up, actually, to some degree having a degree of competitive responses to voters in that regard to deal with whatever the issue is—party representatives from one party trying to deal with it, as are others. So, there would need to be some form of understanding between Members as to how constituency issues would be dealt with, but I repeat that I think voter confusion about who to approach in the first place would be my biggest concern.

I agree that some of that is already happening now in our current system and arrangements, but this huge load of casework that comes to constituency MSs is a concern. That is one of the reasons why, of course, everybody is trying to seek some sort of equal election mandate, but people will still have to exercise a choice, of course, and if half the constituents go to one person and everybody else gets a share of the work, then it doesn't seem to be fair.

Sure. Yes, I agree with everything Alistair said, but also we do see that happening right now as well in the current system, where there is this almost competitive need to race to see who can solve this problem the fastest, and you would see that. So, there would be a need for co-ordination between elected MSs within their constituency and, obviously, that is potentially complicated as well. But I suppose I don't really know what else you could do. Whether there is enough evidence to suggest it would be worse under that system than the current system, I'm not sure. 

I'd just like to perhaps tease that out a bit further, because I think—. If I can also just perhaps ask your views on this idea that first-past-the-post constitutes voter choice, when actually, in effect, you have a closed list from political parties deciding on one sole candidate. There isn't that public involvement in our way of selections currently. So, can I ask on what basis do you think that it's less proportional, what's being proposed with the closed lists, as opposed to the current system where political parties solely choose who their candidates are anyway? 

09:55

Sure. I'd say the difference isn't necessarily in terms of proportionality of outcomes. The closed list system of PR with a district magnitude of six probably will be slightly more proportional in terms of the outcome. The question is more about the control of voters. So, you’re exactly right: for most people, most of the time, actually all that matters is the party labels, and they just use that—they vote for whoever the party puts up. You’re completely right. But there is still that option for an individual to be punished or rewarded specifically. So, we know, for example, that there are incumbency advantages that exist in first-past-the-post, and you can interpret that as just people saying, ‘Oh, it’s better the devil you know’, or it could be that people are rewarding that specific individual who performs better than other people within their party, for example. And we see that in the current system right now, right? So, we see that incumbents in constituency vote shares do a lot better on the constituency vote than their party does in the same constituency right across the list. Now, that’s an imperfect comparison, because obviously there are more parties on the list, et cetera, et cetera. But that’s more in terms of the actual control that voters have in picking their representatives rather than a concern about proportionality.

Gaf i ofyn cwestiwn i'r Athro Clark? O'ch tystiolaeth chi, un peth y gwnaethoch chi ei ddweud fel datganiad ydy bod yna

Could I ask a question to Professor Clark? Now, from your evidence, there was one thing that you said, that there's

'widespread scepticism about the role of political parties'.

Dwi ddim yn anghytuno o ran efallai bod yna scepticism o ran gwleidyddion, ond ar ba sail ydy'r dystiolaeth o ran

Now, I don't disagree that there is scepticism in terms of politicians, but on what basis do you make that statement in terms of 

'scepticism about the role of political parties'?

Thank you, it's a good question. I think it’s unfortunate that there is such scepticism, because political parties can and do play important roles in our democratic life, and lead to real benefits for voters. Having said that, most public opinion surveys that ask about the role of political parties tend to see them as—how shall I put this, or how does it put it—as a necessary evil. Indeed, I can think of at least one academic article that puts it in exactly those terms, as political parties being a necessary evil and something that, really, people aren’t very keen on being told what to do by. By contrast, what people tend to be more in favour of are local representatives, people that they actually recognise. And again, in public opinion surveys there’s a whole trend of scepticism towards political parties, towards national-level politics and politicians, but when it comes to questions about, for instance, a local MP or a local councillor, they tend to rate more highly in terms of political trust.

So, there is plenty of evidence in this regard, that the public view political parties with a degree of scepticism. As I say, it’s unfortunate, but there are things I think parties can do to counter that, and among them is that localism, and to be active locally and be known locally.

Gaf i ofyn cwestiwn yn benodol i Dr Larner, os gwelwch yn dda? Rydyn ni eisoes wedi bod yn trafod o ran dealltwriaeth y cyhoedd ac ati, ac yn amlwg, yn y memorandwm esboniadol mae'n cydnabod yr angen o ran dealltwriaeth a gwybodaeth am lywodraethiant o ran y mecanwaith adolygu, hefyd. Ydych chi'n credu bod yna unrhyw rinwedd o ran dyrchafu rhai o'r elfennau hyn i fod ar wyneb y Bil? Oes gennych chi farn o ran pwy ddylai arwain ar y gwaith yma o ran gwella gwybodaeth a dealltwriaeth pobl ynglŷn â threfniadau yng Nghymru? Oherwydd hyd yn oed yn yr Alban, lle rydyn ni wedi gweld STV, rydyn ni'n dal yn gweld bod mwyafrif—wel, bod yna nifer fawr o bobl yn dal ddim yn pleidleisio, ac ati. Felly, sut ydyn ni'n mynd i sicrhau, pa bynnag system sydd yma, ein bod ni'n gallu gwella faint o bobl sydd yn pleidleisio ac yn cymryd rhan yn ein democratiaeth ni?

If I could ask a question of Dr Larner now, please, we've already been discussing the public's understanding and so on, and clearly, in the explanatory memorandum it recognises the need for a better understanding and knowledge of governance, in terms of the review mechanism too. Do you think there's any merit in promoting some of these elements to the face of the Bill? Do you have a view as to who should lead this work in terms of improving people's knowledge and understanding of arrangements in Wales? Because even in Scotland, where we have seen STV, we still see that a majority—well, that a large number of people are still not voting and so on. So, how will we ensure, whatever system we adopt here, that we can improve public understanding and how many people participate in our democracy?

That's a good question. It's a tricky one as well. But in terms of public understanding, I think that's a really, really big question, and it probably involves lots of different areas. Key things in particular, for example, just in Scotland, something that has been a success is the modern studies programme. So, it's a qualification that people do at school, and there's a heavy politics element there. They learn about the political system; they learn about Government responsibility, which policy area is the responsibility of where. In Wales, there is probably an opportunity to do that. The Welsh baccalaureate, for example, could quite easily do that. But we know that, over the last few years—. In fact, in the most recent Welsh elections study, we actually interviewed people who were still at school—16 to 18-year-olds—and there were some quite troubling findings in terms of levels of awareness and understanding there, or just interest in politics more generally.

So, that’s an obvious place to start, but I absolutely think that any changes will require a lot of public information campaigns. And that was something that was a missed opportunity, I think, especially with the very first election in 1997. There was an effort to do that, but—. Sorry, in 1999, the first election. There was an effort to do that, but we know that, basically, the public understanding didn’t work and it has not caught up since then.

In terms of reading that into more general political participation, I suppose that the link there is more tricky. So, it is the case that people who are more interested are more likely to participate and are more knowledgeable. But we don’t know if that’s the reason that they are participating or whether it’s that participation makes people go out and seek the information, kind of thing. So, the link there is tricky. Did I answer all of your—

10:00

Do you have a view on whether it should be on the face of the Bill, in terms of addressing this? And do you have a view in terms of which body should be leading, or might lead, on this?

So, two parts. Yes, I do think that it should be on the face of the Bill. And the second part, I don't know. That wouldn't be something that I'm an expert in.

No, that's fine. Thank you. I don't know if Professor Clark has anything that he may wish to add. 

Yes, I can certainly add one or two things to it. One thing that we do know from the political science literature—. I take your question, really, to be about low levels of turnout—if I’m wrong on that, please let me know—and trying to improve that. I think that there are two ways of doing that.

One way is already going to be addressed by provisions of the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill, which is the provision of a voter information platform, which I think can be used in order to try and promote elections coming up and the importance of turning out closer to that time. I think the second thing would be to empower public bodies—local government and so on—to remind people, ‘It’s coming up to election time. Please get out and vote’.

The automatic registration facility, which is also part of the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill, will also help remove a barrier to people voting. In other words, if they are registered automatically, then they are not going to have to go through that additional burden of filling out another form and those kinds of things.

There is another point that I think is worth bringing up in terms of participation. One thing that we do know from political science research is that stronger local campaigns from political parties do actually improve turnout. This, I think, is one of the difficulties with the proportional electoral system that is being proposed in the Bill. It removes that element of localness, which means that there is no real incentive for political parties to actually go and campaign at that local level, where that mobilising effect of local campaigns might actually improve matters in that regard.

So, I would, on the one hand, place this on the administrative types of responsibilities. But I would also put some responsibility on the political parties to actually get out there and mobilise people at the local level as well, and I think that it’s important to think about electoral systems and the incentives, in that regard, that they provide for local parties and political parties to do so.   

A gaf i ddilyn i fyny, felly, ar hynny, os gwelwch yn dda? Os ydyn ni'n edrych wedyn o ran maint ardal sydd yn y Bil, a'r syniad o chwe Aelod felly, ydych chi'n meddwl bod hyn yn mynd i gael effaith ar lwyddiant etholiadol pleidiau llai yn etholiadau'r Senedd? O'r hyn dŷch chi'n ei ddweud, yn amlwg—. Beth roeddech chi'n ei ddweud oedd, ynglŷn â'r ymgyrchu lleol—. Ac, yn amlwg, os dŷn ni mewn ardal fwy efo chwech, byddwn i jest efo diddordeb gwybod beth dŷch chi'n feddwl ydy effaith hynny tu hwnt i'r prif bleidiau, felly. Efallai'r Athro Clark, yn gyntaf. 

If I could follow up on that, then, please. Now, if we then look at the size of the constituencies in the Bill, and the idea of having six Members for each, do you think that this will have an impact on the electoral success of smaller parties in Senedd elections? From what you say—. What you were saying about local campaigning was—. And, clearly, if we are in a larger area with six Members, I would just be interested to know what you think the impact of that will be beyond the main parties. Professor Clark, first, perhaps.   

10:05

Okay. Thank you. I think the performance of smaller parties is such at the moment in Wales that it is going to be a party system dominated by the three main parties, regardless of which electoral system is chosen. I think this is just one of the factors with how electoral competition has developed in Wales. I think there's not that much can be done about it. Having said that, you have the choice of D'Hondt versus Sainte-Laguë as seat allocation mechanisms. D'Hondt is a process by which the larger parties tend to be privileged, whereas Sainte-Laguë is one which tends to help smaller parties a little bit more. I think that the fundamental difficulty at the moment in increasing the ability of those small parties to be elected is actually them performing better in the first place at the moment. At the moment, none of them were anywhere near, I think, the thresholds for election in the last Parliament. So, I'm not clear that a different choice of seat allocation mechanism would make that much difference in this regard.  

When I mentioned local parties in my last response, I had in mind local party branches of the main three parties, for instance. But we shouldn't exclude the possibility for more local organisations or that type of organisation to contest election, and I think there's a fine balance to be struck there. I think the Bill pretty much manages that, but, ultimately, it's about performance to begin with, and the smaller parties are quite a bit away from being elected as it stands. 

So, as always, when we're talking about projecting future voter behaviour, there are lots of different caveats, right, because we know that current voter behaviour is conditioned and shaped by the current electoral system. So, we know that a lot of party preferences and behaviour is the result of people's understanding of first-past-the-post. You just vote for—. There's a lot of tactical voting, a lot of negative voting. You're not always voting for the party you prefer; you're voting to stop the party you really, really don't like. So, there is always that caveat. However, with that being said, what we can do is take recent years' elections, and we can make estimates quite reliably now using some different techniques, and under what different electoral systems and under different constituencies electoral results would look like. And again, I suppose to double down on that point, the seat allocation method does really, really matter. So under D'Hondt, right, with these 16 constituencies, a district number of six, you still have an effective electoral threshold—the minimum that you'd actually require—in almost every constituency of about 12 per cent, 13 per cent of the vote. That's quite high for the smaller parties to try and hit, very high. And, as Alistair says, that's actually quite a way off where any of the other parties were close to really getting outside of maybe one or two specific constituencies. But, again, the pairings will really matter there. And so, what you'd essentially have, if you select this D'Hondt method, is the vast, vast, vast majority of seats would again go to the big three parties, unless voting behaviour was to change quite dramatically. If you were to choose the Sainte-Laguë—however you want to pronounce it—smaller parties would be in with a better chance.

Now, in terms of which one is more proportional, that's really difficult to say, because there are problems with both, especially if you have a district magnitude of six. So, in the written evidence submitted, there is an example that under D'Hondt, for example, large parties—let's say that for every 10 per cent of the vote that they win they'd be rewarded a seat, right; you could have a small party that wins 14 per cent of the vote and receives no seats at all. Under Sainte-Laguë—however we're going to say it—a small party on 15 per cent could win two seats and a large party on 30 per cent, or 25 per cent or 26 per cent, could win one seat. Now, as you can see, neither of those are proportional, technically, but it's about choosing the balance of, 'Okay, well, on which side do you want the balance to fall?'

10:10

Can I just ask, in terms of an electoral threshold of 12 per cent, are there any other Parliaments in the world with that high a threshold if they've got a proportional system?

I'm not aware of any, but I'm also not—. The method being proposed here with actually quite small constituencies, district magnitudes, of six, is quite unusual as well. So, for example, there are places that set actual formal electoral thresholds, like Germany, right, and that can change—the minimum votes required fluctuates. This is just an effective one, so it's not a hard-and-fast rule, but, effectively, it would operate. But I'm not aware of any.

So, explain that to me. In Germany, there are statutory thresholds. So, for example, could the Senedd, if it wanted to, set a threshold that said, 'Look, any party that gets over 7 per cent of the vote in the new constituencies should have at least one of those six seats'? So, if that was done, that could technically be put into the mix and you could still have D'Hondt then, could you, to distribute the other seats?

Yes. So, it could work, but—and there's a 'but'—you'd have to then have a flexible size of the Senedd, because, in some constituencies, you might actually have lots of parties that meet that threshold, and that's what they do in Germany, right, they have a Parliament that shrinks and expands depending on the number of parties that meet that minimum threshold. So, yes, it's possible, but there are other downstream effects that you'd have to implement then.

I get you. I get you. But you're not aware of any other Parliament that has such a high bar for smaller parties to get over, or individuals to get over, in order to get elected in a proportional system.

I just want to clarify the point. It's also based upon district magnitude as a consequence.

So, the threshold is based very much upon the district magnitude, and ours is small compared to other nations, therefore.

For a proportional system, yes. Six is small.

And just one other question. How many electoral systems use D'Hondt in the world? Are there many?

I know it's like a Mastermind question, but is it a big number or very small number? [Laughter.]

It's a Mastermind question on which I would pass, I think, but—[Laughter.] I don't know the answer, I'm afraid.

I've nothing to add to that. You're suggesting a potential appearance on Mastermind on electoral systems here, I think. But I've nothing, really, to add to that. I don't know the answer to that question. It's common, but the actual number I couldn't tell you.

Os caf i jest symud ni at adalw, os gwelwch yn dda, oes gennych chi farn ynglŷn â sut y gallai system adalw ar gyfer Aelodau o'r Senedd weithredu o fewn system PR o ran y rhestr gaeedig? Dwi ddim yn gwybod pwy fyddai'n hoffi mynd yn gyntaf.

If I could just move on to the issue of recall, do you have a view on how a recall system for Members of the Senedd could operate within the closed list PR system? Who'd like to go first?

Thank you. It's a very good question. I've been tasking my mind with this and not really come up with much. I guess the fundamental question is: recall for what? And that, really, is where I'm not clear what recall could be used for. I think the fundamental question beyond that is: how would you avoid a vexatious attempt to recall Members? And I think those are the two questions that are absolutely crucial before you even start thinking about mechanisms. I'm not clear in my own mind what the problem would be for recalling Members under this system. I noted in the briefing pack that the Electoral Reform Society couldn't really talk about Members switching parties and things of that sort. If that's the case, then you still have the difficulty of, even if a Member is recalled, by which electoral system do you then try and elect a replacement, or do you just then go and use the next-on-the-list process that might be used for vacancies? The recent, or fairly recent, House of Commons recall Act from 2015 has some fairly high bars to avoid vexatious attempts to recall. It's been used, I think, four times, I'm right in saying, and reasonably successfully, although there have been arguments that it needs to be looked at again. But I think any recall system would have to deal with all of these difficulties. I don't have an answer to what might actually be the way of dealing with this as a question, because I'm not actually clear what the problem would be in the first place.

10:15

I agree. I don't have to much to add to there other than, of course, in other D'Hondt systems it is quite common, essentially, to roll down. So, someone can be kicked out, but then there's no actual selection mechanism for voters to select who they want to replace that person, if you see what I mean. But, in terms of the mechanism for recall, again, that's not something that I've done any research on, so I wouldn't be able to help.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Gaf i symud felly at adolygiadau ffiniau? Oes gennych chi farn o ran y cynigion sydd ar gyfer etholaethau'r Senedd? Efallai os down ni at Dr Larner i ddechrau.

Thank you very much. If I could move, therefore, to boundary reviews. Do you have any views on the proposals to introduce boundary reviews for Senedd constituencies? If we could go to Dr Larner first.

A couple of weeks ago, you had Professor Alan Renwick, and I agree with the point that he made about the concern about the leeway either side that's being proposed—is it 10 per cent either way? But, again, beyond that, no, I don't have any specific insight.

Un o'r heriau a wnes i eu rhoi yr adeg honno iddo fo oedd o ran cadw ardaloedd gyda'i gilydd. Un o'r pethau dŷn ni wedi eu gweld efo'r newidiadau efo San Steffan, er enghraifft, yw bod yna rai ardaloedd eithaf od wedi cael eu paru oherwydd y newidiadau hynny. Felly, o ran yr hyn dŷn ni'n trio edrych arno fo o ran cyfranogiad a'r ymdeimlad gyda beth bynnag ydy'r etholaethau newydd, ydych chi'n gweld bod yna fanteision, efallai, i beidio â bod mor rigid efo'r canrannau?

One of the challenges that I posed at that time was in terms of keeping areas together. One of the things we've seen in changes in Westminster constituencies is there are some pretty odd pairings because of those changes. So, in terms of what we're looking at in terms of participation and the way people identify with the new constituencies, do you see that there are, perhaps, benefits in not being so rigid with percentages?

Yes, absolutely. I would absolutely agree with that. For example, I know there were protected constituencies in the Westminster Bill, Ynys Môn, in particular, understanding that Ynys Môn is different. The same like—. If you were having very, very strict percentages, lumping somewhere like the industrial Valleys with Powys, for example, again, wouldn't necessarily make sense, but there are other allowances there, other things that have already been discussed previously about how that might be protected, bad decisions like that.

I've not much, really, to add. I think that you're right to highlight the tension between an automatic attempt to make it within 10 per cent of a particular quota and how that interacts with local boundaries and local loyalties. The only thing I would note about that is that that's really a process for the boundary commission itself to be teasing out in its hearings that people would be invited to contribute to. I think boundary commissions are experienced in doing this already, so I wouldn't have too many worries about that.

I do have one issue about the naming of the body, and I mentioned this in my written evidence, which is that 'the democracy and boundary commission' risks, I think, a degree of confusion with the Electoral Commission, and this starts to be a fairly crowded field, if you like, specifically when we add to that the electoral management board that's being proposed in the elections and elected bodies Bill. I just wonder if it's worth just calling it 'boundary commission Cymru' or something of that sort.

Yes. I just wanted to touch on this whole area of the review of the provisions in the Bill, if I can. So, obviously, everyone would want to have a look at how the new system functions once it's been introduced, to make sure that it's working. But it is—or seems—rather unusual to some people that the Bill has a requirement to do this in a specific time period, for example, and I wonder whether you have any views on that and, in addition, as to who ought to undertake that review. Should it be somebody independent? Should it be the Government? Should it be a Senedd committee? Perhaps I can come to you first, Jac Larner.

10:20

Sure. So, I think it’s a good idea to have this idea of reviewing the system and whether it’s working, and in terms of, ‘Okay, well, this is a kind of set time frame, this is when we’re going to review it, and there's not’, again, I actually do think that makes sense. I agree that, okay, there could be problems further down the line, but what we really ideally would not want to do if we’re talking about voter understanding and engagement is to repeatedly be in this position where we might be changing the electoral system every few years, if this is an ongoing process. So, I’d say that. In terms of who’s responsible for doing that, certainly not the Government, I would say, but some independent body, even if it’s a Senedd committee, I think would be appropriate.

I know, my apologies. I think this would be an important review, and I’m quite clear in my own mind that this should not be carried out be Government; it should be carried out by a committee of the Senedd, and it should be set up as a formal post-legislative scrutiny process to come up with clear recommendations. I think what was said about not wanting to change the electoral system all the time is an important point, however. I would hope that this doesn’t go on to recommend big changes but looks at things that might improve what has been put in place in the first place. I do have one reservation about one of the clauses in that part of the Bill that goes on to talk about reporting about the health of Welsh democracy. Now, I think that’s a completely different question to the operation of the Bill. I think that’s a much wider question and can be taken off in all sorts of different directions, and I think there’s the potential for whoever carries out this review to get distracted and diverted by that particular clause. I would actually recommend that that’s taken out of the Bill so that the review focuses narrowly on the operation of the Bill as it is passed.

So, the extent to which the elements of a healthy democracy are present in Wales—that’s the provision, isn’t it?

Because it could be widely interpreted, and how you define healthy democracy, et cetera.

Exactly. It can be very widely interpreted and there are many other ways to be doing that. This is the kind of thing that I and Dr Larner do, for instance, and some of the other academics you’ve heard of. That’s not something I think that needs to be in legislation, and so I’d remove that, to stop any review being diverted into matters that are not relevant to the operation of the Bill.

Dr Larner, you’d agree with that view? Okay, thank you for that.

Can I just turn, if I may, to this issue of vacancies that might arise? So, obviously, at the moment, if a regional Member of the Senedd passes away, or for whatever reason decides to step down from their seat during a Senedd term, then the next person on the list is appointed, unless they’re an independent that’s been elected on a regional list. In which case, they’re not replaced. The Government obviously wants to bring that provision forward for the new ‘mini regions’, if we can call them that, which will form the 16 new Senedd constituencies, but there is a risk, isn’t there, that seats could be then under-represented if candidates aren’t replaced, and, obviously, in addition to that, the fact that there are no by-elections, for example, to replace independent candidates has been flagged up as a potential issue. Do you have any thoughts on the whole vacancy process and whether it could be improved upon?

10:25

It's not a dissimilar problem from the recall problem, in terms of this idea of does it just keeping rolling down, for example, forever and ever. In terms of filling vacancies, well, we've already talked about—. I understand that, obviously, in practice it's very, very unlikely, given the electoral thresholds that are being set, for independents to win representation—

Well, it's more likely with the smaller constituencies. They're not the size of the current regions, are they?

No, that's true, that's true. And, yes, there are some constituencies with a history of electing, I suppose, independent Members. But, yes, I think this does need to be addressed and thought about, and, similar to what Professor Clark has already said, we need to think, okay, if we were to replace people, what would be the electoral system to be used, because there's only one vacancy. So, do you go back to first-past-the-post, for example? But, no, I think the idea of vacant seats, even if, in practice, they would be rare, is something that would need to be fixed, absolutely.

And can I just ask you about this a little bit more? So, my understanding is that the reason that there are no provisions for by-elections for regional Members who may vacate a seat at present is because of the sheer size of the current regions and, therefore, the significant expense, for example, that might be incurred in order to conduct an election on such a scale. Clearly, that won't be an impediment in these smaller constituencies of 16. So, you still hold this view that sticking with the current arrangement is probably likely to be best, do you?

I'm not sure I characterised it as that—as likely to be best. I agree there should be some provision that would allow people to fill an empty vacancy of some sort. On how to do that, no, I don't have a strong view.

With list PR, it's common to have the process that's in this Bill—just going down the list to find the next person and so on. I guess, if you were to have a process, there are probably two electoral systems under which you could elect a single Member by, one of which is first-past-the-post, but on a bigger scale than, obviously, current constituencies. And the second would be the alternative vote as well, which would be a preferential system, where voters give a '1, 2, 3' rather than a cross. So, you could do that. On the cost issue, I'm not entirely convinced that would be that much of an issue. I mean, effectively, these mini regions are two constituencies rather than, previously, one. So, I'm not convinced that would be that much of an issue. For instance, you'd be printing one single ballot paper for the two constituencies. 

I think, just to push back on the idea that somehow this would leave constituents unrepresented—I think the term you used was 'under-represented'—while that's useful, it's important to point out that even with five Members, constituents would still be represented, however, and so there would still be representation for them in the Senedd. So, this is something that is a problem, undoubtedly, but it's going to be not so much the problem that we think it is.

Perhaps another slightly different question on the same theme, and that is around what if a political party no longer exists and they have lists. We've had that situation in Wales, where a party had a number of individuals represented. Those individuals disbanded and then created another party, et cetera, et cetera. So, how are those vacancies then addressed? Do you have any thoughts?

10:30

Yes, okay. I push back at the idea that they are necessarily vacancies. Those Members are still elected to begin with, even though the political party that they've been elected for has ceased to exist. I understand this is a difficulty, but they are still elected Members to begin with. My understanding on vacancies would be that this is when someone resigns, or a Member dies or something of that sort. So, I think it's a rare example where you have a political party—

Professor Clark, I think the question more was focused on a Member of a party who resigns, for example, but their party no longer exists, so there would be a vacancy as a consequence, not transferring. 

Right, okay. In which case, I've misunderstood. But this kind of goes back to that question about recall. Again, I'm not quite sure if that's linked to the question here. It certainly was in the evidence from the Electoral Reform Society Cymru. Again, there's not that much that can be done in this regard under current circumstances, nor is there under any other electoral system that we have in the United Kingdom, whether that's first-past-the-post or anything of that sort, to actually force someone to stand down and there be an election. 

I'm going to have to come to a close now, because we're at the end of the time and we haven't discussed one question. Just to let you both know, obviously, gender quotas are not in this particular Bill; that will come in a second Bill. But, perhaps, if I've got one question on gender quotas, it's: is a closed PR system—and let's say zipping occurs within the system—likely to actually provide a balanced Senedd as a consequence of zipping in candidate lists? But, of course, I have a scenario in my head where you could get three Members from one party in a region—male, female, male—two Members from another party—male, female—and a member from another party—male—which doesn't give the balance. So, does a closed list, gender zipping-type approach, which we might want to think about in the next Bill, give us the expectation and the opportunity to actually create that balanced Senedd?

Does it give the opportunity? Well, in terms of zipping, closed lists give you the closest to a guarantee that you could get, I suppose. But, again, I suppose the important thing is actually for political parties there to think about—. Again, I know that you've had Professor Laura McAllister, and this is a point that she often makes: yes, closed lists do make zipping easier, but actually what has a bigger effect is political parties putting women candidates specifically in winnable seats and in winnable positions, more than actually the zipping in a closed list. So, again, you could say there is a small advantage to closed lists over, say, flexible lists or open lists there, but, as ever, the thing that's going to be more important is political parties' choices in terms of putting women in winnable seats—multiple political parties putting women in winnable seats. 

And, again, there just doesn't seem to be a lot of evidence now at the moment that women candidates pay a real, considerable penalty electorally. That certainly has been true over time and there is still actually a small penalty. So, it's not something to be dismissed at all, but, in terms of the size of that penalty that's paid by women candidates, it has been shrinking. In fact, in recent years, in the last 15 years or two decades, it has been shrinking more rapidly than ever before. So, I think it can be overplayed, the importance of closed lists to this idea of achieving especially gender balance and zipping. 

I've nothing to add beyond the fact that political parties are the crucial actors in this, but I think Jac has just summarised the position well. Thanks. 

Okay. Well, I'm going to close this session at that point in time, because we are now over our time. Can I thank you both for your evidence this morning? As you know, you will receive a copy of the transcript. If you find any factual inaccuracies, can you please let the clerking teams know as soon as possible so that we can get them corrected? So, once again, thank you very much for your time.

We will now move into a break so that we can prepare for the next session. So, we'll go into a break from the session now—'suspend the meeting', that's right. I couldn't remember the word.

10:35

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:35 a 10:45.

The meeting adjourned between 10:35 and 10:45.

10:45
3. Bil Senedd Cymru (Aelodau ac Etholiadau): Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda sefydliadau diwygio etholiadol
3. Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill: Evidence session with electoral reform organisations

Could I welcome Members and the public back to this morning's evidence sessions for the committee? In our next session, can I welcome Jess Blair from the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, and also Alberto Smith from Make Votes Matter? I thank you both for your supporting evidence that you provided to the committee. Clearly, there were questions we wanted to explore, and we'll start off with Heledd.

Diolch yn fawr iawn a bore da. Eisiau holi ydw i, i ddechrau, os cawn ni eich barn chi o ran y system proportional representation rhestr gaeedig sy'n cael ei gynnig gan y Bil ar gyfer etholiadau'r Senedd o 2026 ymlaen. Efallai os dof i at Jess i ddechrau.

Thank you very much and good morning. I want to ask, first, if we could have your views on the closed list proportional representation system proposed by the Bill for Senedd elections from 2026 onwards. If I could come to Jess first.

Yes, absolutely. Thank you for having us here today, first of all. I think, firstly, we want to warmly welcome this Bill. I think it is, particularly around the capacity of the Senedd, something we've long campaigned for. It's right, when you're considering increasing the size of the Senedd, to think about how that should be elected, but we do have some serious concerns about the closed list system proposed. I'm sure Alberto will go into more detail, but it's primarily around the lack of voter choice that's associated with it and the lack of voters' ability to be able to vote for their preferred candidate, or not vote for a candidate that they don't feel is doing a good job, necessarily. I think it's a fundamental thing in terms of electoral systems that voters have a say about who their elected representatives are, and it would be a real risk, I think, to public satisfaction around democracy if the closed list plans were to go ahead.

First of all, thank you so much for inviting us to participate in this process. It's great to see electoral reform at the centre of a legislative agenda. It's really important that we have a Government that is representative of those who vote for it, and it's implicit that this is an important part of making sure that Government is effective at dealing with our biggest challenges. We also welcome that this system looks like it should be a more proportional one. It maintains a local link, it's very flexible, it can be further amended and reformed if needed, and it's very simple for the voter to understand. We do think that there are some aspects that could be improved. As Jess has already mentioned, flexible lists is something that we would want to see from this system. We think that voter choice is very important for building trust and accountability within the system on offer. We also think that there could be space for variable district magnitude, so the ability to amend as demographics change. Where cultural or historic or geographical factors are important, there should be space for the ability for those constituencies to change in terms of how many elected representatives they have in the future. We think that both of these aspects could be amended in the future too, and as I already stated, we welcome the fact that this is on the agenda.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Os caf i ddilyn i fyny ar y pwynt yna, felly, oherwydd yn nhystiolaeth yr ERS hefyd, mi oeddech chi'n cyfeirio at Sweden yn dechrau efo system o restr gaeedig ac yna yn newid i system hyblyg ers 1998. Ydych chi felly yn gweld y gallen ni symud yn rhwydd drwy'r mecanwaith adolygu sydd wedi ei grybwyll ar gyfer 2026 i system o'r fath, os nad oes modd creu'r mwyafrif angenrheidiol y tro yma?

Thank you very much. If I could follow up on that point, because in the ERS evidence, you also refer to Sweden starting with a closed list system and then shifting to a flexible system from 1998. Do you therefore see that we could smoothly move through the review mechanism that has been announced for 2026 to such a system, if we can't get the necessary majority on this occasion?

Yes, absolutely. I think it's something that could be looked at in the future under the review mechanism, but we would argue that it probably needs to be addressed now, that one election under a closed list is probably too many. I think there's a risk with a closed list that as soon as you run that election the public will disengage or they will feel disenfranchised by not having their say, so we would prefer that change to be made now, if possible. But absolutely, a review mechanism is welcome in this legislation.

I'd like to second what Jess has said. I think, in an ideal world, this would start with a fresh system under those flexible lists in order to build a better public understanding of how the system works. However, as Jess says, if there isn't an opportunity to do this in this round of legislation, then it definitely should be looked at later, and the barrier to understanding from the public shouldn't be significant, even if it's not an ideal way of doing it.

10:50

Diolch. O ran dealltwriaeth y cyhoedd o'r newidiadau ac ati, mi fyddwch chi'n ymwybodol bod yna gyfeiriad at sicrhau bod democratiaeth iach ac ati yn rhan o bethau. Ydych chi'n meddwl y dylai hynny gael ei ddyrchafu i wyneb y Bil, ac oes gennych chi farn o ran pa gorff neu gyrff ddylai fod yn arwain ar hynny?

Thank you. In terms of the public's understanding of the changes, you will be aware that there is reference to ensuring that there is a healthy democracy in Wales. Do you think that that should be promoted to the face of the Bill, and do you have any view as to which body or bodies should lead on public understanding?

We welcome the review mechanism and the conditions put in place by both the legislation and the explanatory memorandum. I think, particularly in the explanatory memorandum, it's good to see that proportionality, for example, is listed. The reference to a 'healthy democracy' is interesting in light of the Wales Centre for Public Policy's recent report commissioned by the Welsh Government around metrics that could be used to assess a healthy democracy, and we would anticipate that that would probably be a good starting point for thinking about what a healthy democracy actually is and how you measure it. A really interesting aspect of that is turnout; we have concerns that the data around turnout at the moment doesn't go as in-depth as we would need it to. For example, with the extension of the franchise, we weren't able to accurately work out how many 16 to 17-year-olds, for example, or how many foreign nationals, voted in the last election.

In terms of public understanding, I think that's a key part of the review mechanism, and assessing the effectiveness of the communication campaigns that are rolled out with all of these changes. I think it's really important to see them in the round—so, this Bill, the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill, and future legislation on quotas. That's a huge amount of change for voters and it's really, really important that we clearly communicate that. In terms of what body could take that forward, I think there's joint responsibility here from the Welsh Government, the Senedd, the Electoral Commission, but I do feel that there's a strategic oversight missing—maybe on an arm's-length basis. Maybe that's something the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru could emerge or develop to form, but something strategically looking at the hole that's missing that's holding the Welsh Government and the Senedd to account, in a way.

I don't have any recommendations on which body could undertake this work, but I think citizen education and political education is really important. Proportional systems usually help to address issues of distrust and alienation in politics. Fundamentally, if people see that their views are being advanced in Parliament based on their vote, it can reinforce democratic legitimacy and a greater public understanding, but if there's significant change and repeated change, we need to make sure that education comes ahead of that to ensure that we drive a better understanding of and engagement with politics.

Just for clarification, you've always sought a more PR-type approach to representation here in the Senedd and elsewhere, but your answer to Heledd was more of, 'We want to see something other than a closed list, but a review might give us a change'. To me, that's a soft look at it, because this Bill needs a supermajority, and I would assume any further constitutional change to the electoral system would require a supermajority. I suppose what I'm looking to focus on is getting this Bill right in the first instance. Because then you have the question, 'Can you get a supermajority in any future Senedd as a consequence?' And with more Members, that might be more challenging. I want to see us get it right now. So, in your view, clearly, should we be looking at changing the closed list system in this Bill, irrespective of a review, because this is the opportunity where we possibly may have a supermajority, rather than somewhere down the line, where that's more questionable? My thinking is, 'Let's get it right now'. 

Absolutely; I fully agree. As I said, I think one election under a closed list system is too many. I feel like there's an opportunity in this Senedd, in this Parliament, to really have a constructive debate about electoral systems. A flexible list, I think, should be the priority, probably, just in terms of the ease of amending the legislation around that, and also allowing for a little bit of compromise in terms of voter choice, but also a degree of protection around any gender quotas, for example. 

10:55

I support that view too. I think if there is a chance to include flexible lists in this round of reform, we need to push for that. But I think it's really important to emphasise that the jump in the system in terms of voter understanding is quite small if we did add flexible lists later. And so that's not a barrier, and it doesn't fundamentally alter the intention of this legislation; it simply just bakes in an ability for the voter to select intra-party candidates, which we think is important for accountability. 

It's not a jump in understanding that I'd look at in the future; it's the jump in being able to deliver that change, because of a supermajority in the future. Darren, did you want to raise something?

Yes. I just wanted to pick up on voter turnout, if I can. Jess, you mentioned the fact that it's very difficult at the moment to get a handle on the data as to what the turnout is for certain groups of people, whether that be age or other demographic issues. And we know that Senedd elections have traditionally had poorer turnouts. Do you think that a closed list system, giving that power to the parties rather than the people, is likely to lead to a further problem with voter turnout in the future?

I think, fundamentally, the move towards the more proportional outcome that this system should offer will be something that insures against that, because, equally, people want to see that their vote matters, and part of it mattering is making sure that they actually elect someone. And so, I completely understand your point on the ability to vote for individuals being key to people's engagement, but I think that that is mitigated by the fact that the Senedd should more accurately represent and reflect the composition of the electorate's vote. 

Turnout is a really hard thing to predict, and there are many, many factors that contribute to turnout. The electoral system is one of them, but it's probably not a major motivating factor. What I'm more concerned about is voter apathy, or feeling frustrated that they don't have a say, and that, then, having a consequence for future turnout—people feeling like, 'Hang on a minute, I didn't get to vote for who I wanted to stand last time, why would I vote this time?', even if the system has then changed in the future. I do completely take your point about party control. I think it is extremely concerning that a small number of party members could potentially decide who, in theory, after the next election, gets elected. There's a massive issue with that. 

Can I just come back to Alberto's point? You say that having a more proportional system is likely to be a safeguard against lower potential turnout. But we have higher turnouts for first-past-the-post elections, don't we? In the UK general election, we have a much higher turnout than the current turnout for any of the devolved legislature elections. So, your assertion that having a more proportional system is likely to lead to more people turning out, where's the evidence for that?

I don't have the comparisons in front of me, so apologies, I can't directly address the statistics. But I think that Jess makes a great point about apathy. I think apathy results from a feeling that your vote and voice aren't heard, and I think what I meant to say is it safeguards against, potentially, a drop in turnout based on this change. I think that general participation in politics, and political understanding and engagement, is downstream from a lot of other factors than the system, but the system helps to address some of that distrust and alienation that people feel when they do participate and they aren't listened to.

And so, I think, if we want to address the overall turnout, we need to first think about how people perceive politics, how early they engage with politics, and how deep their understanding is of the political system itself. I think all of those things are far further upstream from the system change. I simply mean that the quality of participation, once people are already engaged, if the system delivers a more proportional outcome, could be a safeguard against some of those issues.

I'm very interested in this issue as well, if I may, of the potential of variable district magnitudes. One of the challenges that we all have as politicians sometimes is explaining where our boundaries lie to our constituents. People might be familiar with their local authority boundaries because they get a council tax bill and they know exactly who sends it to them, but they're not always familiar with the names of constituencies and where the boundaries might lie. So, having more permanency in boundaries, I think, is a good thing, in order to educate people about who their local elected representatives are, and who they can hold accountable if there's a more directly accountable electoral system than the current proposal in this paper, with the closed list system, can produce.

So, you're suggesting that you could flex up—or down, potentially—the district magnitude, still have a total cohort of 96 Members, but flex it up or down, based on shifts in population over a period of time, which interests me. Obviously, in the first set of elections, we know that any constituency that's coupled with Ynys Môn is going to have fewer voters in it than any of the others, by quite a significant margin—by about 25,000-ish, roughly. So, that's going to be a challenge, and would suggest that they should have fewer elected representatives. But then we have a problem, don't we, in terms of the hurdle that political parties have to get over in order to be elected. So, with a six district magnitude, we know it's about 12 per cent, which is, in my opinion, too high. But, if we go to smaller numbers, it's going to be even worse, isn't it? It's going to be like 20 per cent in order to get over. So, doesn't—? While I'm attracted to that idea, isn't this also a bit of an issue if populations go down in some places, and significantly up in others?

11:00

So, if I might just come back to your previous question very, very briefly, just to kind of warn against linking turnout and electoral systems too much. Obviously, the general election uses first-past-the-post and has the highest turnout, but local elections in Wales use first-past-the-post and have a significantly lower turnout than that.

So, I would just kind of say that, often, turnout is about salience, it's about political education, political debate, good media presence, and, yes, voting systems are a small factor in that, but there are larger factors at play. So, just on that.

In terms of district magnitudes, yes, I think the Ynys Môn example is why we've really argued for a little bit of flexibility in district magnitude, and we have examples from Scotland and Northern Ireland of varying district magnitudes, and voters understand that really well. I think what's key is to get the voter information right around this. There's another Bill going through the Senedd at the moment around elections and elected bodies. In our evidence on that, we've talked about the one pager that's sent out in Estonia prior to an election. So, every person gets a piece of post that says when the election is, who they're voting for, how many Members represent them, where they might find information about their polling stations. Something like that could really easily mitigate concerns around lack of voter understanding around district magnitudes. I think, across the EU member states, we've only found two countries that use the same district magnitude in every place within wholly list PR systems—sorry, it's a really technical sentence—and those are Croatia and Slovenia, and there are issues with that in Croatia currently. So, I think it's worth looking at international examples and seeing how other countries manage list PR systems.

Can I clarify one point then, because we are looking at this Bill? The current structure of this Bill wouldn't allow that, would it, because it says, basically, they will set up a review that may change the boundaries based upon population, rather than change the magnitude within the constituencies? So, this Bill, as it stands, doesn't offer that variable magnitude.

It doesn't, no, and I think, on the way that the size of the Senedd as well is framed is through 16 constituencies with six Members each; there's nothing that says, 96 Members of the Senedd, with 16 constituencies, and allows for that flexibility. Obviously, I'm not a lawyer, but I imagine that's quite difficult to potentially look at amending that.

Political reality might, as Jess has just detailed, mean that this can't happen in this round of legislation, but it's important to stress that this is a benefit and a positive part of the system that is on offer, that, moving forward—. And, of course, lots of this legislation is built to try and futureproof a lot of elements of the way the Senedd works. But closed list PR systems and list-based PR systems, as well as others, actually, one of their benefits is that you don't have to go through the cumbersome boundary review process every time, and you can instead vary district magnitude.

11:05

Gan ein bod ni wedi symud tuag at adolygiadau ffiniau, os caf i jest ofyn a oes gennych chi farn o ran y cynnig yn y Bil o ran y bydd angen i adolygiadau ffiniau llawn benderfynu ar etholaethau'r Senedd rhwng 90 y cant a 110 y cant o'r cwota etholiadol? Felly, o ran bod yna fwy o farjin. O'r hyn roeddech chi'n ei ddweud, rydych chi'n gweld—dwi ddim eisiau rhoi geiriau yn eich ceg chi—ond rydych chi'n gweld manteision o hynny, felly, fel ein bod ni'n gallu cael rhanbarthau sydd yn gweithio, neu efo'r cysylltiad sydd efallai ddim yn rhai o'r newidiadau rydym ni wedi'u gweld o San Steffan.

As we have moved towards boundary reviews, could I just ask you whether you have any views on the proposal in the Bill that full boundary reviews will need to determine Senedd constituencies between 90 per cent and 110 per cent of the electoral quota? So, that's a bigger margin. From what you say—I don't want to put words in your mouth—but you do see benefits of that, so that we can have regions that work, or that do have those linkages that haven't been in the changes that we've seen for Westminster constituencies.

Yes, just on boundaries, I don't think we have any particular view on the electoral quota, but we do have concerns about the way that the boundaries have been formed. Obviously, using a pairing of existing Westminster constituencies is concerning, and that boundary review was based on electoral rolls, which we know aren't complete; it was not based on population figures. And we have an entirely different franchise here in Wales. So, we think it's right that there should be that flexibility that any boundary review in Wales should encompass those factors and not try and replicate the one that's been done on a Westminster basis. That should allow for a little bit more flexibility in terms of the approach and recognising the fact that we have a different institution that we're electing in Wales. We have a different franchise, we have a different electoral system. It's very much a different democracy, and we should allow a distinct Welsh boundary system to reflect that.

Yes, just very briefly. So, I had the benefit of sitting on the previous Senedd reform committee, which I then resigned from because it was hijacked. But one of the issues that was discussed in that committee was the possibility of instead of using either the current Senedd boundaries or the new Westminster boundaries, which hadn't been announced at that point, of course, was the attraction of using local authority boundaries instead, as has been proposed by others in the past, because of their familiarity to voters, and then with different district magnitudes in each place. Is that the sort of approach that you would advocate?

Yes, I think, in our evidence to the expert panel, we preferred local authority boundaries; I think it maps communities in Wales a little bit more effectively than new Westminster boundaries, for example, that haven't actually been used yet. Obviously, we were disappointed to see that not taken forward. It might be too far of a stretch to rework the whole boundaries now, but we would just advocate for those principles being embedded into any review around actually including a different franchise, including population figures and not just incomplete electoral rolls. And then, obviously, I know this is the Senedd Cymru Bill, but if we moved to an automated voter registration system, that will fundamentally change the way electoral rolls look. How does that play into this? There are kinds of things that play between the two pieces of legislation.

But that would have required a more flexible magnitude within those constituencies, then.

Thank you very much. Thank you, both, for being here today. Can I ask you your views on the impact the proposed electoral system could have on the potential for coalition or minority governments?

So, what's clear is, if there's an increase in proportionality, whichever Government is formed will likely have a greater connection to the make-up of the electoral vote, and so, in those terms, it is better able to find a consensus that the public supports. So, it's likely that we'll have policy that's more resistant to electoral volatility that happens in electoral systems that have less proportional outcomes. And so, effectively, it should help prepare Government for more effective governance, more consensus and consent-led governance, and hopefully should deliver better outcomes because of that. Clearly, at times, if one party isn't able to govern, isn't able to attract the majority of the vote, they'll have to find partners. But that will feed in to that kind of security against large swings electorally, and large changes to how the electoral system will have to try and actually take on those longer term challenges, which could prove to be a barrier to effective governance.

11:10

Obviously, we've had a proportional system here in Wales, and that has led to a number of examples of coalitions, co-operation agreements, parties working together, which I think has actually been a really good thing for the Senedd, and it's led to—I feel, anyway—a lot more voters feeling represented in terms of their vote having actually led to some policy changes, for example. We'd be supportive of essentially proportional systems delivering what voters advocate for and what voters choose, and if that isn't electing a majority Government, that's okay, because we've had really good examples of parties working together in the Senedd.

It's worth saying we have modelled—as part of some gender quota work, actually—different electoral systems. It's heavily caveated because it's based on the previous 2021 regional lists that we have then moved onto the new constituencies, paired in a different way, so it's heavily caveated. But it shows a similar make-up of the Senedd as we have now, and that doesn't really vary depending on whether you use D'Hondt or Sainte-Laguë that much, with the parties having the same kind of size proportionally in the Senedd as they do now. So, we would say there probably won't be that significant a change in terms of coalitions.

Thank you. You've actually answered a couple more of my questions. I did want to ask—. We've heard some evidence this week, actually, from our Youth Parliament Members, which was tremendous.  It's really great to get their perspective on this. It was quite interesting, though, that there seemed to be a perception that the reason why we have the gender representation that we do—which isn't 50:50, isn't equal at the moment, but it is better than most Parliaments—is that it's happened organically. And I guess it's just interesting to think that if there is that wider perception that it's happened organically, if you could just talk a little bit more, I suppose, about, like you said, the modelling that you've done around the gender representation. And, of course, we would like to have a much more diverse Senedd as well. So, if you've got any thoughts on that, really, and how the different electoral systems can help with that.

Yes, I think that's a really interesting takeaway, isn't it—for the Youth Parliament, it's happened organically? We know that the success of female representation in the Senedd has largely been down to parties using different positive action methods, not entirely, but it has largely been down to that. And we welcome proposals around gender quotas. I think the thing that our research has really shown is that quotas won't do everything. They won't guarantee a 50:50 representation. They're very much about ensuring there's a floor, and it's really going to be down to parties to select enough female candidates and put them in winnable seats. But the closed list system in itself doesn't guarantee a 50:50 representation. 

For example, if you had constituency A, party A winning two seats and that was a list woman-man, you'd have one woman and one man elected. If in constituency 2 you had party A winning three seats and that went man-woman-man, you'd have two men and one woman elected. So, there's no baked-in guarantee around 50:50 representation. We've done some modelling of this and we're happy to come and bring this to the committee when considering the further legislation, or send this to the committee now if that would be useful.

So, as a single-issue campaign, Make Votes Matter don't have a position on gender quotas as such, but we do recognise that the system on offer does have a—. One of the advantages could be that this allows for things like zipping. Jess makes a good point that this needs to be seen in a round,  and vertical and horizontal kind of zipping needs to be done to ensure that outcomes actually achieve that aim. But this is definitely one facet that could be useful. 

What we do know is that—. And it's interesting that the participants from the Youth Parliament said that it was organic, because what we do know is that majoritarian systems are terrible for gender diversity in Parliaments, and all of the legislatures that have over 40 per cent representation of women are using PR. So, clearly we currently have a PR system in Wales, and that, we think, is massively influenced by the way that people vote. Clearly, this becomes more proportionate and you would hope that that would improve and deliver better results on that issue.

But, ultimately, the evidence isn’t as clear that voters prejudice women when they vote. So, it’s not clear whether there’s conclusive evidence, and I’m not an expert on this issue, but maybe Jess could develop it further. But it’s definitely not as clear now that there is a prejudice at the ballot box against women. So, perhaps it’s just potentially those impacts now becoming more apparent in the way that we vote. 

11:15

Absolutely. And just to add, for my own party, Welsh Labour, all 17 women MSs here were selected on some form of all-women shortlist, or some sort of mechanism like that. So, that's why it is so crucial. But, as you said, that's not the public; that's within our own internal party selection. 

Yes, it's just on this issue of gender and diversity quotas. So, obviously, the Senedd has a pretty good record on gender so far. We did achieve 50:50 after one election, and given that that system is currently working—. And I appreciate that some parties—my own, for example—have got to do more work on the gender side of things, although we've made good progress with some other aspects of diversity. We've all got work to do in terms of the way that we select and encourage candidates to come forward from certain diverse backgrounds. But given that we've had quite a large measure of success, do we really need quotas? Do we really need legislative quotas?

I think, absolutely. I think it's, again, about ensuring that floor, that kind of limit that the Parliament can't go behind. And I think it's fair to say that the success of gender representation in the Senedd has been due to the success of parties that have taken positive action. 

They have done so without legislation, but there's nothing to say that those parties will continue taking those measures, and there's also nothing to say that those parties will continue to do well electorally. So, there is a real risk, without putting that stopgap in, that mechanism of a floor, like I say, there's no guarantee that it could not slip significantly further down the list. 

And what about these other aspects of diversity? Why focus on gender? What about faith, what about race, what about disability? What about all these other aspects of diversity that we're not proposing to have quotas for?

I think it's a really good point. Gender for us is definitely a starting point, but there are huge issues in the representation of people with other protected characteristics, not least ethnicity and race. The Senedd hasn't been particularly diverse on a number of other factors, and I think we look forward to seeing whether the gender quota legislation has any provisions in there to increase diversity there. We do welcome, again, in the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill—I'm sorry to refer to another piece of legislation—that there is a duty there for Ministers to consider measures that could encourage people with other protected characteristics or social circumstances to stand for election. So, I feel like it should all be seen as part of a round, and while we regret that there aren't further measures around diversity being discussed at the moment, we'll wait to see what comes forward in that legislation.

And can I just check, Chair—this is probably a question for our legal team—when the gender quotas Bill comes forward, does that require a two thirds majority in order to—? Or is it a straight majority?

It will be a decision for the Llywydd to take on the basis of the Bill once it has been introduced. She will need our legal advice to assess whether any provisions in the Bill relate to any of the subject matters specified in section 111A of the Government of Wales Act 2006, which sets out which are the protected subject matters that are subject to a supermajority.

It sounded like you'd already had a copy of my question in advance. But a very good answer. Okay—so, we're not sure.

The only reason I ask is that, obviously, again, there could be this challenge with a two thirds threshold then, perhaps placing barriers in the way of further diversity measures that the Senedd may want to take in the future. So, isn't is better to get it right first time?

We'd agree with that, and, as I say, it's disappointing that other measures aren't being talked about in the round as well as gender quotas. We do a lot of work with the Diverse5050 campaign, with WEN Wales and other partners. The campaign has a number of recommendations around improving the representation of people with other protected characteristics that I would be happy to forward to the committee.

11:20

I'll give you an example, Darren, and this is off the top of my head. This Bill is actually changing the electoral system, whereas I understand that the gender quotas Bill might be looking at how parties themselves structure their candidate lists, which is not actually changing the electoral system. So, that might be a consideration as to what the Bill actually requires us to do. 

Yes. Can I just ask, in terms of the potential system of recall, if you have got any views on that and how it might work within the proposed closed list PR system? 

Yes, we do. I think that, overall, the provisions for filling vacant seats—I will probably start with that because we don't particularly have anything that strong on recall itself—are relatively consistent with the current rules. Our concern is around electing a Senedd entirely based on a closed list. We have seen examples, especially in the previous Senedd, of multiple representatives changing parties. That, I think, is a real issue there. I think that we had nine MSs in the last Senedd changing parties, a total of 19 times. If you have a Senedd of 96, elected entirely on closed lists, what is there in the legislation to guarantee that that won't happen, especially when voters are electing candidates based on party lists? They are not voting for them on an individual basis. I don't think that we have anything further, really, to add on that area.

Apologies, I don't have expertise on this issue.

I will bring Darren in in a minute. In that sense, shorter terms are more suitable for voters to actually change their representation as a consequence of that type of event happening, if we haven't got anything in place to address it.

So, we do absolutely welcome the four-year terms. I think that four years is good for democracy. Three years is too short. Five years is a little bit long. Four seems about right. I think that there is a question of, if a party, let's say, as happened in the previous Senedd, gets quite a lot of representation but then has internal issues within that party and that leads to a number of Members leaving that party, I don't think, from a voter's perspective, that it really matters if there are three years of the term left, or two. It is still a real lack of representation of what they were able to vote for.

Can I just ask a little bit further on this issue of recall and by-elections when a vacancy might arise? So, we just had evidence a few moments ago from—forgive me, I'll get his name on here—Professor Alistair Clark. He suggested that it would potentially be possible to have by-elections and to fill vacancies with an alternative-vote by-election in an individual new Senedd constituency. Is that something that you think you would support?

I think that it's a funny one. We haven't traditionally supported by-elections on list systems because that really changes the system of elections, because you are voting for, potentially, an individual candidate. I think that what we would say is that vacancies, to a certain extent, are okay. It's just about putting that safeguard in place about what happens if an elected representative changes party when they have been elected solely on a party list.

But you accept that if a vacancy arises because of an independent candidate passing away or stepping down for whatever reason, then there is a possibility of that area not having its full representation in terms of the number of voices in the Senedd.

Yes, it's definitely a risk. I think that there are similar provisions in Scotland, where seats are held vacant. It feels, on balance, like the appropriate response to take, but I totally accept that there are pluses and minuses with both approaches.

This isn't something that I cover, but, from what I have read and understand, when it comes to individual parties vacating a seat, there are mechanisms to ensure that that seat is filled. If there's support based on a larger list than is necessary, I share some of Jess's concerns. But, equally, I think that baking in a second electoral system to decide further vacancy filling seems too complex and contradictory, and I think, whilst that risk is there, we need to explore other avenues for addressing those problems, other than baking in another electoral system.

11:25

And, Jess, just to come back on this issue of recall, obviously, there are things that Members of the Senedd can be disqualified from being a Member of the Senedd for, but there are other things that may be perceived as just as serious by the public that don't fall into the disqualification criteria and, therefore, many people are attracted to the idea of having a recall mechanism in some way, but, to date, we haven't yet found anybody who has come up with a suggestion as to how it might fit into this new electoral system. Have you got any ideas? I appreciate that you said earlier on that it wasn't something you've been focused on, as the Electoral Reform Society, but we'd appreciate your thoughts.

Yes. I'm not sure that we've particularly got anything to add here. It's something that we can definitely take away and potentially consider, and write to the committee if there is something additional.

Because it links into the vacancy scenario then, as well, because if recall is successful, then there's a vacancy. And, Jess, just out of curiosity, as we talked about the last Senedd, well, we know the amount of Members who changed party—one party started with seven and ended up with one, for example. But, actually, changing parties happened before that, on the list, because I can remember an instance before that when a Member changed party. So, it isn't unique, I'm saying, to just the last Senedd.

And, of course, we've had parties fold after having people elected, as well. 

You both touched on this earlier, especially you, Jess. Obviously, it's wise to make sure that there's a review mechanism to see how any changes have bedded down and been received by the public and the impact that that might have had on turnout and all sorts of other factors. But we heard evidence earlier that suggested that the second part of the review, which is around the elements of a healthy democracy and to what extent it's present in Wales, might actually be so broad and open to interpretation that it would be difficult for a committee to focus on that piece of work. What are your views on that? I heard you reference the governance centre's work.

Absolutely. I totally agree. The way that the legislation is drafted at the moment does make it sound vague and that's why we welcome the clarity in the explanatory memorandum. I think it would be useful to get further clarity from the Counsel General or other Welsh Ministers about what exactly that could comprise of, but, obviously, that is a decision for the Senedd, following a motion in the next Senedd.

What I think is important is to embed those issues. I think the explanatory memorandum says,

'An assessment of turnout levels and an exploration of proposals for how this may be increased;

'Support for members and parties to undertake their Senedd roles',

and

'understanding of devolved Welsh government and elections'.

So, there are really, I think, mechanisms in there to have those conversations. What I think is lacking at the moment, in either the Bill or the explanatory memorandum, is a real commitment to engage with voters about their experiences as part of that committee's work. I think that would be crucial to understanding that whatever voting system is used in 2026 is effective and properly represents the choices of voters, especially with concerns around the closed list system and the lack of voter choice there.

So, do you think that voters should be referenced on the face of the Bill—you know, that the views of voters must be considered by that committee as part of the review process?

I'm not sure that it necessarily needs to be on the face of the Bill, but it absolutely should be included somewhere, either in the Bill or the explanatory memorandum.

I've got nothing further to add, but I'd support Jess.

Okay, thank you. There are obviously other provisions in the Bill around the need to review job sharing arrangements. What are your views on the proposals in the Bill around that?

I've got some quite significant concerns around the provisions in the legislation around job sharing. So, job sharing for us is something that really came up as part of work that we did in 2017, I think, interviewing candidates, interviewing elected representatives and talking to them about the barriers they face. And a number of elected representatives said, 'Actually, my job would be a lot easier if I could better manage my caring responsibilities or other commitments, and job sharing would be an appropriate solution to that'. I accept that there is further work that needs to be done on job sharing, and I accept that there is limited international evidence of how it has worked in practice, but I do worry that these requirements in the legislation amount to kicking the can down the road. I think that there has been an expert panel and a number of Senedd committees that have looked at it, and I'm not entirely sure why it isn't something that could be looked at now in this Senedd term, rather than putting a duty on the Senedd to consider a motion in the next Senedd term.

I also do wonder about that kind of mechanism, whether it's—. I'm not sure I can think of anything that's similar, especially around democratic legislation. It's a little bit of a quirky requirement.

11:30

So, you think that this would be better tackled by a committee in the current Senedd term, perhaps with not a view to legislating immediately, because of the timetable et cetera, but at least it would get the work on the road—

I think so. There's no guarantee that—

Yes. There's no guarantee. As you said, we don't know the make-up of a future Senedd. There's no guarantee this would actually be passed as a motion in a future Senedd. If we want work on job sharing to happen, it should happen in this Senedd, where there is the interest and the support.

Apologies, this isn't something I work on.

Can I just follow up just on the point that you mentioned the research that you'd undertaken in 2017? Obviously, the world changed dramatically in terms of how we work following the pandemic, and one of the things that have been maintained has been hybrid working. I wonder if you've got any plans for looking further in terms of the impact that may have in terms of people wanting to stand for election and how this Bill, if we're talking about expanding participation and that more people feel able to stand—I'd just be interested if you've got any additional research that you may have undertaken in terms of how that, perhaps, has changed attitudes.

We don't. I'm not sure if it's something One Voice Wales or another organisation may have looked at, but it's absolutely a really valid point that the world looks quite different to how it did in 2017. A number of elected Members we spoke to then actually are no longer elected Members now, so it's definitely something we could repeat. But it also feels like we're at a point of legislation now, things have progressed a lot since then too. One of the things we recommended in that paper was around gender quotas, which we're pleased to see has actually progressed since then.

Can I ask on the job-sharing agenda, if you're doing some further work, because you highlighted you talked to candidates and Members who were elected in 2017, but you didn't mention voters? I just wondered whether you'll be looking at voters, because there are aspects of job sharing: there are the barriers to actually standing for candidates for the Senedd, but there's also the understanding about the Members, knowing who represents them in a job-sharing scenario and what it means to them. So, will you also be looking at voter consideration in a job-sharing further review?

It's not something we've specifically looked at in relation to job sharing, but we did, also in 2017—it was a busy year—a piece of work called 'Missing Voices', where we talked to voters or non-voters across Wales to understand their feelings around politics and democracy. The main themes we got out of that were around confusion, lack of trust and fear, which I don't think will be a surprise to anyone. Since then, we've really been focusing on the democratic changes and making sure the democratic education or communication campaigns are in place to support these changes that are going through. I think that's fundamental to this legislation. The elections and elected bodies Bill is at its very core ensuring that these changes are properly communicated to voters. That will go a long way, I think, to addressing those issues around fear, lack of trust and confusion.

Have any other Members got questions? We're finishing early, then. But is there anything you think in this Bill that is missing and a lost opportunity, because, as you say, there's—? We haven't talked, really, about residency, which is an issue that, clearly, has been added to the Bill, but was not part of the special purpose committee's report. How do you feel about the residency agenda, and the requirement, therefore, to actually be registered on the electoral register somewhere in Wales to stand anywhere in Wales?

We don't take a particular view on residency, but we do accept that a line has to be drawn somewhere. I think there's a balance about what that line is that we wouldn't particularly take a view on.

11:35

It's not something that we work on either.

Okay. And I've got one final question for Alberto, because I think Darren's highlighted today, very much so, that the threshold under the current closed list system is quite high, and you said, Make Votes Matter, that there's going to be elements or individuals who will say, 'Why am I going to vote, because I never get my person elected?' So, the threshold is an important factor in encouraging people to go out and vote. Is the closed list also going to be another, as a lesser situation, but still a situation, where people will say, 'My vote won't count'?

That's a very good point, and apologies, Darren—I meant to answer that question earlier on when you proposed it; it just slipped my mind. I think there's a balance to be found in system design. You have to draw the line somewhere, and one thing that's very clear, especially in the UK as a whole, is that part of our understanding of politics is that local link, and so people want to be able to see that the person they vote for is somewhat close to home. And so there's no campaign in the UK that wants proportional representation that is asking for a single district in the same way that you have in places like the Netherlands, which would, potentially, address some of those issues of the effective threshold. So, you have to draw the line somewhere, and I think there are measures you could take to try to amend this. But, in terms of looking at how this would impact political actors, you would find that parties would probably change their behaviour, and parties would instead try to find those areas and constituencies where they can best deliver a good outcome for themselves because they already have local support there. And so we think that, whilst there will be some issues with this, and there's always going to be a concern that the barrier, the threshold, may lead to some lost votes, it will deliver a more proportional outcome. You have to have the line drawn somewhere, and we think that party and voter behaviour will change to ameliorate some of the issues that you've raised in the long term.

Just one follow-up question. So, as you know, my party's view is that we don't want an increase in the number of people elected into the Senedd, but do you think that the number of 96 is the right number? Because, if you added another 16, you'd get a much smaller threshold for parties to jump over, wouldn't you?

I don't mind taking that. I think 96 is relatively consistent with what we recommended back in 2013, which is around 100. We compared the size of institutions across Europe to work out that size. It is a slight increase on the 80 to 90 recommended by the expert panel, but I think that reflects the additional powers and the changing of the political culture then, and also secures a little bit of flexibility if further powers were devolved, for example. I don't know if the suggestion was to go 16 above.

Yes. So, I'm just saying, if it was 16 higher, then the threshold would be lower, wouldn't it, in order for people to get over?

I think there's a balance. I think 16 higher probably puts the Senedd slightly larger in comparison to the Scottish Parliament, for example. I think 96, at the moment, is quite in line with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. So, there's a real balance of where you want to go there. I haven't really seen many calls for above 100, in terms of the Senedd. I think 96 is probably about right.

In terms of that threshold question, one of the issues I think it comes down to is voters feeling that their choices are represented. One very easy way of doing that is to use a system like the single transferable vote, for example, where voters can rank candidates, and then, if their first preference doesn't necessarily get elected, at least their second might be, and they feel that they have some representation in terms of that.

Because, Alberto, what you were suggesting was that parties might retreat, if you like, from certain areas, focus their attention in a smaller number of areas where they think they might get over the 12 per cent threshold. But that would really disenfranchise people, wouldn't it, if they've got a passion about a particular political view that they want to see endorsed in the ballot box?

Yes. I definitely wouldn't advocate for voters having to move in order to get their vote to count. I think my wider point is that there will be an effective threshold somewhere, and, whilst we don't advocate for a quota, for an actual threshold, to get those voted in, in any system, I think there's a real tension between people feeling like they have a genuine connection with their politician and a meaningful vote and a feeling like they get lost in a larger constituency that they can't identify with. And so, there's a huge balance of things that you want from a voting system, and there's just not any energy behind a completely proportional system and there are certainly massive issues in having single-member districts. And so, there's a tension between those two things.

And if you want the other positive aspects of the new voting system—and I know the special purpose committee found 10, and we also have similar metrics for varying systems—you need to work out what you want most from it, and, obviously, both Jess and I believe there should be an element of voter choice in selecting the individual candidate, but I go back to the point again: there's no energy behind a purely proportional system and so we have to draw the line somewhere.

11:40

Okay, thank you. It's always on the last question that I come in somewhere. Could I thank you both for attending and for your evidence today? As you know, you will receive a copy of the transcript. If there are factual inaccuracies in that transcript, please let the clerking team know as soon as possible so that we can have them corrected. So, once again, thank you for your time today.

I now propose that we suspend for a lunch break and we will resume at 12:45 for the next session.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:41 a 12:49.

The meeting adjourned between 11:41 and 12:49.

12:45
4. Bil Senedd Cymru (Aelodau ac Etholiadau): Sesiwn dystiolaeth ar brofiad yr Alban o ddiwygio etholiadol a diwygio ffiniau
4. Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill: Evidence session on the electoral and boundary reform experience in Scotland

Can I welcome Members back, and the public, to this afternoon's sessions for the committee, as we review the Senedd reform Bill? The third session this afternoon is now with witnesses from Boundaries Scotland and the Electoral Management Board for Scotland. Can I welcome Professor Ailsa Henderson, who is chair of Boundaries Scotland, and also Malcolm Burr, who is the convener of the Electoral Management Board for Scotland? Can I thank you for your written submissions to the committee?

As you will be aware—you're used to it in the Scottish Parliament—once you submit something you get questions on it as well, so we'll go straight into questions, and perhaps this one is for Boundaries Scotland in the first instance. Can you outline the approach? This Bill talks about boundary reviews down the line, after the first implementation of the electoral changes, so can you tell us, perhaps, the approach you take to reviewing Scottish parliamentary boundaries, and how that might differ from what we are talking about in this Bill?

12:50

Thanks very much for the question. I should clarify, at the start, that I'm here in my capacity as chair of Boundaries Scotland, not in my capacity as a political scientist or in my capacity as an adviser to the Finance Committee on this particular Bill—so, just on Boundaries Scotland.

In terms of our approach, when we're conducting reviews for the Scottish Parliament, we do the constituency boundaries first and then we do the regional boundaries. When we do the constituency boundaries, we take the same approach as the Boundary Commission for Scotland takes when it is devising the Westminster boundaries, in the sense that we first start by aggregating local authority areas within Scotland and trying to work out what the theoretical entitlement of those areas is to a particular number of representatives. And from there, we're able to identify the building blocks of constituencies, and it means that we are able to keep to rule 1 that governs our work, which is having regard to local authority boundaries. And then, when we do those, we put them out to consultation. The legislation specifies a four-week consultation period. We get feedback from members of the public and other actors about possible improvements to the boundaries that we could possibly devise, and then we go out again with another round of boundaries.

When we're devising boundaries, we have a number of rules that we have to follow. Rule 1 is the one about local areas, but there a number of other rules. One that we have to stick to is that we want the electorate's size to be as close to the electoral quota as we can be. The legislation does not specify a particular band within which we need to operate, unlike the Westminster reviews, which specify that we have to be plus or minus 5 per cent. The fact that we have to try to be as near as practicable gives us a certain amount of room to manoeuvre, but the rules also mention that we should be attentive to special geographic circumstances, and also any inconveniences in changing boundaries, and a desire not to break local ties.

The one thing that is different about Scottish Parliament boundaries is also that when we make revisions we have to go back out again for a four-week consultation period. If we get suggestions that require us, we believe, to make more changes, we then go out again and again and again, so it's an iterative, never-ending process, in a way. If we feel that further changes need to be made, that's very different from the local boundary review work that we do, but also very different from the rules for the Boundary Commission for Scotland, where there are a set number of rounds [correction: consultation rounds], and the number of rounds is specified in the legislation. The other difference is that those specified periods for consultation are considerably longer than our four-week period for Scottish Parliament reviews. But the four-week period for Scottish Parliament reviews also has that built in, going back out again for four weeks, and again for four weeks, and again for four weeks. So, it's shorter in the first instance, but there are more rounds of it.

If I'm right, the Scottish Parliament boundaries are not coterminous with the Westminster boundaries, are they?

Correct, yes. They used to be.

They used to be, yes. But also, could I just clarify, just from what you said there, do you have variable district magnitude with your constituencies for regional members, or is it a fixed number of members per region for every region?

It's a fixed number for the regions in Scotland.

For the Scottish Parliament, yes, as here. Where we do have variation is in the operation of multi-member wards using STV for local authority elections. Those used to vary—. The district magnitude used to be either three or four. With the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, that then changed, so that you could have ward sizes of one to two, if the ward was wholly comprised of or mostly comprised of an island. And then, after that, there was further legislation saying that, for mainland wards, they could vary between two and five. And so that level of flexibility has been very much welcomed. 

12:55

So, that variation is at local authority level and not at the Scottish Parliament level. 

Yes. So, it's now two to five on the mainland, but on an island you can also have one.

Thank you very much for being here this morning. I'm going to ask some questions about Boundaries Scotland's experience of taking on additional responsibilities for reviewing Scottish Parliament constituency boundaries and any changes that were made to how the organisation operates. I noted that, in your written evidence, you said that the scale of the work required in designing proposals, consulting effectively, analysing responses actually falls largely on the staff rather than the commissioners. So, if you could just talk us through what that really entails, what that looks like. 

It's a slightly difficult question to answer, because we share a secretariat. Boundaries Scotland, formerly the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland, shares a secretariat with the Boundary Commission for Scotland. So, they're all in the same team and their time is split half and half. We have 3.2 full-time equivalents on our half of things. And so when we acquired the competence to review the Scottish Parliament boundaries, we were taking that from the Boundary Commission for Scotland. The secretariat team didn't have to change, because it just went from one element of their job description to a different element of their job description. So, the secretariat team didn't change. 

In the legislation, it allows for a chair, a deputy chair and up to four members of Boundaries Scotland, and that has long been the case. And the fourth position, the fourth commissioner position, was typically left vacant, because we felt we didn't need it. It was only with the transfer of competence after the 2016 Act that we felt we needed another commissioner to help us undertake all of the work that we're doing. It might sound like I'm saying that commissioner numbers matter more than secretariat numbers, and I'm absolutely not saying that at all—I think the commission needs to have a certain number of commissioners to do the job—but my point was just that there was no mention, given the expanded capacity for the democracy and boundary commission in Wales, of an enhanced capacity in terms of the secretariat, and so if there were to be significantly enhanced responsibilities, then secretariat size would, I think, become relevant. 

That's really helpful. Thank you very much. And your views on the pairing of the 32 UK parliamentary constituencies to create 16 Senedd constituencies for the 2026 election; do you think that this is an achievable timescale, based on your experience?

Yes, I do. The task at hand is simpler because you have the building blocks already. There are always building blocks that you're using; you're using local authority wards. Those are the building blocks that we typically use to construct constituencies. But the building blocks are much larger in this instance, and the number of possible permutations is also quite limited in some areas. So, absolutely, I think it's achievable. 

For me, I had a question about once you've done that initial exercise, and then moving on to the next full review and also employing a parity factor of plus or minus 10 per cent. That could then lead to considerable change between the twinned constituencies that you will generate in the first review and then what will be undertaken in the second review, particularly since they're constructed with different electorates, they're constructed under different rules. Ynys Môn is protected in Westminster constituencies, but not for this. And given that the legislation suggests that change should be minimised, I think there will be a considerable amount of change when you go from the twinning exercise to the first full review. But, absolutely, I think the twinning exercise would be achievable in the time. 

Thank you. You've answered my next question, so I was just going to add in one here about what you noted about public hearings, because you have talked about possibly the need to have oral evidence as well. This was obviously not something that we were able to do when the parliamentary boundaries changed in Wales, for example, although we went through about two to five rounds, I think it was, of changing them. So, I was just wondering what your thoughts are on that—in terms of public hearings, people being able to come forward and contribute, even public meetings. Do you think there's value in doing those? But also in terms of the time.

13:00

Thanks. That's a great question. Absolutely, I think they're valuable. We have different sets of rules for when they're triggered in Scotland, depending on whether it's a review of Westminster constituencies or a review of Holyrood constituencies. For the Westminster ones, we are told we can have no more than five. And also, in the 2018 review, they were located at a particular point in the process where we had to guess where to put them before knowing what the public reaction to the proposals were. So, we weren't able to say, 'Based on the feedback we've had so far, it looks like this is a hot point and this is a hot point and this is a hot point'. So, that's one thing; making sure they're in the right stage in the process so that you're choosing the correct location is important.

We also felt that, given Scotland's geography—and I suspect you might have a similar issue—five is not a lot. It's really difficult to identify where can we put them where it makes sense, because we want to hear from people in those local areas, but also where can we put them so that we don't place them so far away from people that they're not able to engage. And so that's why we felt that, were we to make changes to the legislation, we would want something in there about how we can facilitate participation, both in terms of the amount of time that they last, but also to clarify that some form of online participation is possible as well. Because the advice we got from our lawyers was that we were not allowed to have hybrid versions last time round, and that was a disappointment for us, because we think it would have facilitated engagement.

In terms of the rules for Scottish Parliament ones, there's not a set number and they are held whenever a local authority objects to our provisional proposals. And so, if 13 local authorities object, then there will be 13 of them. We're pleased that there's not a limit on that, because the other commission, on which I also sit, has found that limiting of five an unfortunate limiting because you want to expand the opportunities for the public to get engaged and to tell you when you've got it wrong—because sometimes we do—and it's important that we're able to give people that opportunity to come along and give us information.

Before I move on, Malcolm, do you have a view on the implications of boundary changes for the management of the elections and how the type of time cycle we're talking about allows you and the electoral registration officers to be able to deliver that change?

It has generally been a harmonious process in Scotland, I would say. The commission works well with local authorities and returning officers on these changes. My experience is mostly, of course, about the local government side of Boundaries Scotland's work, and that, in my own experience, has been very consensual, with a lot of early discussion and engagement. As regards the parliamentary side, of course, with the increasing divergence between UK constituencies and Scottish Parliament constituencies, it's key that returning officers are involved from the start, because so many constituencies now are multi-council-area based—and not just two, but often three council areas, owing to the increase in size of the UK constituencies.

It's interesting what you said there, because at the moment, we're talking about coterminous, in a sense—two constituencies within. They are going to be parliamentary constituencies for Westminster, but there's a possibility that that will vary down the line. Do you see that variation, therefore, creating more difficulties for EROs?

It does increase the risk, there's no question of that. When you have divergence, just as a matter of logic, you increase the risk of error and mistake. But that is mitigated, like everything in electoral administration, by good preparation and giving adequate timescales. That is key to success. It's interesting to see the development—. I won't bore the committee with history of how the Scottish Parliament constituencies have diverged over time from the UK Parliament constituencies, and that's been managed, I think, very well, but it does take careful planning.

13:05

What would you consider the minimum timescale that would be required if such changes happen?

Ron Gould, when he reviewed elections, he was absolutely clear that any legal changes governing elections had to be in place here for a minimum of six months ahead of any poll, to allow for the necessary planning. But, of course, one would want a longer period than that, and, of course, the consultative process, which Ailsa Henderson has outlined very fully, gives everyone a good warning of what might be happening, and one can prepare accordingly.

Diolch. I'll be speaking in Welsh.

Diolch. Os caf i ofyn i'r Athro Henderson, os caf i jest edrych o ran y comisiwn ffiniau eto, ydych chi'n cytuno y byddai modd ehangu'r adran o'r Bil sy'n rhoi cyfarwyddiadau i'r comisiwn ffiniau Cymreig i'w gwneud hi'n ofynnol iddo ystyried sut y byddai newid ffiniau yn 2030 a thu hwnt yn ehangu cysylltiadau cymunedol yn ogystal â'u torri? Ydych chi'n meddwl y byddai modd ychwanegu cymal syml i'r Bil i gyflawni hyn?

Thank you. If I can ask Professor Henderson—and I'm looking now at the boundary commission again—do you agree that it would be possible to expand the section of the Bill that gives directions to the Welsh boundary commission to make it a requirement to consider how a change of boundaries in 2030 and beyond could increase community links as well as break those links? Do you think it would be possible to add a simple clause to the Bill to deliver this?

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Just so I understand, a clause to talk about how when they devise their boundaries, it's not just about breaking local ties, but building local ties, is that—?

My view on that would be that boundaries should reflect existing local ties, but that electoral boundaries should not be a mechanism by which communities are generated. They should reflect the reality on the ground. And so, that's why I think it's been appropriate that the legislation asks for us to evaluate what the consequences of drawing boundaries in particular places are for the breaking of those local ties, so that it doesn't disturb existing communities. 

But I think we've always been of the—. Sometimes, we're asked, 'Well, if you draw the boundary in a different way, you might encourage people to move to the area', and we've always been very clear that we can't put boundaries where we hope people will come. It's not a 'build it and they will come' kind of thing. We have to reflect where people are already. And so, what we have to do is take absolute care that we're not disturbing natural communities that exist already, and that this should do as little damage, or cause as little disruption as possible to this. Because we're also at pains to point out that electoral boundaries are important for elections and for determining who represents which group of people, but we're always at pains to point out that it doesn't affect anything else—it doesn't affect where you pay your council tax, it doesn't affect where you access your GP, it doesn't affect where you do your shopping. And I mention these examples because, often, when we're getting public consultation documents through, people feel that these are the kinds of changes that we're making, that we're asking people to send their children to a different school, for example, and we're not. So, I think it's important that we separate out what these boundaries are about, but also what they're not about.  

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Os caf i symud ymlaen, felly, at drefniadau etholiadol. A dwi'n meddwl un o'r elfennau fyddai o ddiddordeb i ni fel pwyllgor ydy'r profiadau yn yr Alban, felly, o weithredu trefniadau etholiadol newydd, er enghraifft, cyflwyno STV ar gyfer etholiadau awdurdodau lleol yn yr Alban yn 2007. Efallai os cawn ni fynd at Malcolm yn gyntaf. 

Thank you very much. If I could move on to electoral arrangements. And I think one of the elements that would be of interest to us as a committee is the Scottish experience of implementing new electoral arrangements, for example, the introduction of STV for Scottish local authority elections in Scotland in 2007. Perhaps if we go to Malcolm first. 

Yes, thank you for that question. As you know, returning officers in Scotland currently have to deliver three tiers of elections, all of them operating on different systems and different boundaries. And I would commend the Gould report to you. It's dated, of course, now, but it does set out very clearly the wish, which is the wish of the electoral management board, to keep the voter at the centre of our operations.

The three things to guard against, I think, of course, are voter confusion, the inevitable risks of overcomplexity for returning officers and their teams and EROs and their teams and, of course, the risk that candidates and agents don't always understand the different systems. And that can be ultimately discouraging, particularly at local level.

Having said that, I should also add that we have different franchises in Scotland, some of them quite radically different. So, without plugging the EMB, a key function of the EMB since its inception has been to guide, assist, help, act as a resource, if you like, for increasingly diminished election teams across Scotland. I'm not sure of the position of local government, financially, in Wales at the moment, but, certainly, Scottish local government is under severe pressure and the very teams that form election teams, of course, have a particular focus on funding reduction. So, capacity is essential, understanding is essential, and hence voter education and, of course, excellent materials to guide everybody through the complexities of each election.

STV was a radical departure, we had multi-member wards for the first time, as Ailsa Henderson's explained. It used to be three and four. Now it goes from two to five. We have the capacity for single-member wards in extreme circumstances, but there aren't any. So, it's a complex system, and it requires, as ever, back to our old friend, careful planning.

13:10

Diolch yn fawr iawn ichi. Yn amlwg, elfen arall o hynny ydy cyfathrebu newidiadau i'r cyhoedd hefyd, oherwydd yr hyn rydych chi'n ei ddisgrifio efo systemau gwahanol, ond hefyd newidiadau i system. Pwy yn yr Alban sydd yn gyfrifol am hyrwyddo'r ddealltwriaeth o'r trefniadau etholiadol i bleidleiswyr?

Thank you very much. Clearly, another element of that is communicating change to the public, because of what you've described with the various different systems, but also other changes. So, who in Scotland is responsible for promoting an understanding of electoral arrangements to constituents?

As a lawyer I would say 'the returning officer', and returning officers do that in various ways in each local area. And, of course, we have to do that—. I, like you, operate in a bilingual environment. All our material is in Gaelic as well as English, and we do that locally, as seems best to us. But, I hasten to add, we could not do that, returning officers and EROs—I'll come on to EROs in a moment—returning officers could not do that entirely on our own. We're very dependent on the EMB reminding, providing the timetables, the resource, supporting returning officers, and on our colleagues in the Electoral Commission. They plan and they procure quite expensive and sometimes very effective and attractive campaigns, of course, about voting and about registration. And very much, as returning officers, when we're promoting, perhaps, information, administration, as well as encouragement to register and to vote, we tie in with these national campaigns as well. But there has to be a local element. The Electoral Commission's work is all in English. As I've said, we work in a bilingual environment, so we supplement and complement that for our own community, and I'm speaking as the returning officer, of course, for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Western Isles, when I say that, but the EMB also provides a critical part of that support. So, it has to be co-ordinated.

And you think that works effectively in Scotland? Do you think there's good practice that we could follow suit? Because it's unclear from the proposed legislation, perhaps, here at the moment, in terms of who would lead on that work. So, just trying to see if you've got any advice in terms of where that focus should be or responsibility for promoting the changes.

I'd be very happy to assist colleagues in Welsh Government and elsewhere. I know you're looking at an electoral management board for Wales and, indeed, you've kindly invited me to speak to the Senedd again later this month on that subject. It's a key role for the electoral management board, but it has to be locally delivered; its returning officers are responsible for the delivery in their area, and the job of the commission, the job of the EMB, is to assist ROs and EROs in that process. 'Is it effective?', you ask me. I believe so, but it's something—. Registration levels are a concern in certain areas. I'm interested, of course, in your own proposals on electoral registration; these are quite radical in many ways. It is encouraging people to register to vote that is the key task. I think, once they're registered, the information is there, but it's key to talk at election time not just about the election and how you vote, but whether you're registered to vote, and these are two linked but distinct pieces of work, and they have a different audience. That's where we work with the commission, for example. But I'd be very happy to share that and to share information with colleagues in Wales about how we believe we do that collectively and effectively.

13:15

Diolch yn fawr iawn. A dwi ddim yn gwybod os oes gennych chi unrhyw sylwadau ychwanegol o ran unrhyw brofiad o ran rheoli etholiadau gyda nifer o hawlfreintiau, ffiniau, a systemau etholiadol gwahanol—os oes yna unrhyw sylwadau pellach hoffech chi eu gwneud.

Thank you very much. I don't know if you have any additional comments in terms of any experience of managing elections with multiple franchises, boundaries and electoral systems. I don't know if you have any further comments that you'd like to make on that.

Simply to speak about the need for effective training and effective training materials, and to prepare staff particularly for all these changes. I mean, Scottish Parliament has a fixed term, local government has a fixed term, UK Government does not now have a fixed term, so UK elections can come at very short notice, and they can come, of course, near and close to other elections, which were on different franchises, et cetera. So, it is the quality of the materials, keeping in touch with your election teams, not just, of course, working with them at elections; that's critical, that people realise at all times that they're dealing with, in our case, three different systems.

I'll come back. I think you talked about the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill that you'll be coming to talk to us about. It's just the committee of ours that will be looking at that Bill, but there are implications, as you highlighted, of automatic registration. Now, could I ask Ailsa this question in that sense? That's going to have a major impact upon, possibly, boundaries, because we could see an increase in population or registrations. Are there pitfalls we should be watching out for in that process, in the review process, because all of a sudden you could find possibly thousands or more people being added to electoral lists, and they wouldn't necessarily be evenly dispersed?

I think you're absolutely right, they would not be evenly dispersed. In terms of pitfalls, no, I think the main one is just access. The boundary commission will need access to the data in a timely way, and once they have access to the data, so long as there are not radical changes to the way that that data are collected, or the rules by which they're collected, coming, then that will be fine. So, so long as the first piece of information that they get is the full registration list with automatic registration included in that, then that will be fine.

One thing I did pick up on, though, is, with our legislation, it refers to names on the register, not electors, and what that means is that we have electors, but also attainers—those who will be eligible to vote in two years—and that is an issue for us because it means that because the franchise is now at 16, it means we have the names of children on the list, and so there are some sensitivities around access to that. That has been helpful data, because it allows us to model not just deviations from parity based on existing electors, but also to get a sense of what the trends might be. If we have—. Oh, I think Malcolm has—.

He's still there. It's the screen, not Malcolm, disappearing. Okay, good. What was I going to say? Right. So, it allows us to identify trends, so we have not just the electorate, but also what the electorate will likely be. So, sometimes, there are areas, particularly if there's been a lot of building work, where we might expect that there would be more families moving in and therefore more younger people. Therefore, we have a particularly large number of attainers. It allows us to get a sense of where things will go in the future. But it is something to be mindful of in terms of whether you want names on the register or you want electors.

13:20

Yes. Because we currently have names, because we do have those who are due to become of age within the electoral period.

It's an interesting point you made there, because—. So, we, as a committee, we will need to look at when that particular Bill might be enacted and when the automatic registration comes in, with regard to when a review might take place. Because that's going to be important, allowing that review on whatever figures they have or whatever names they have.

Yes, because you'll already have a large—. You'll already have a significant difference, because you're moving from constituencies that were built on the Westminster franchise, and you're going to be shifting to a system where you're working off the Senedd franchise. Even before automatic registration, there would have been a significant change there.

And Malcolm, I've got one question for you in the sense of the way in which the elections have occurred. Rejected ballot papers: I understand that that perhaps has increased under the new systems. Do we have any confirmation of that, and, if so, do we have any indication as to why that has happened?

I would like to think voter education has been a key part in that. The level of spoilt ballots has reduced. It reduced in the 2022 council elections when compared to the 2017 elections, although it increased in some wards, which is a concern. It's a key feature of training of presiding officers and polling clerks now, though, that they must—that we insist, even in busy periods, that they take the time to explain the voting system. But the number of spoilt papers has reduced.

The biggest problem, of course, as you can imagine, is the multiple crosses on the ballot paper, which of course we cannot count at all, because there is no first preference. We can have endless arguments about crosses and the number '1' et cetera, et cetera, but that remains the biggest problem, that, no matter how much you tell people, 'Do not mark multiple crosses, do preferential voting', there will still be some—I suspect mostly postal voters, who don't have the benefit of that verbal guidance on the day—who are still marking the paper with multiple crosses. Those are, by far, the majority of disallowed votes.

And therefore, are you seeing a difference between the STV in local elections, compared to the additional members in Scottish Parliament elections?

Can I just ask about the governance arrangements for both organisations, if that's okay? So, as I understand it, you have a smaller number of commissioners that can be appointed to the commission in terms of its size in Scotland than is proposed in the Bill—so, there are up to seven commissioners. Do you have any view on whether a smaller number is appropriate, or a larger number?

I don't think we've struggled with our number. So, we've had—. We have a chair, a deputy chair and four members. There are vacancies at the moment that we're trying to fill; Malcolm's on the panel as well with me, to try and fill these vacancies. But we've managed well with these numbers. What that means, though, is that, because it's a fairly small commission, we tend to deal with everything in a committee of the whole. We don't have a separate finance committee, for example, we don't have a separate comms committee, we don't have a separate committee that would evaluate key performance indicators, for example. We examine all of that in every meeting that we have. So, what that means is that we possibly meet more frequently as a group, because we have all of that stuff to cover in the agenda, as well as the review work that we're undertaking. But I think, actually, a smaller number, where all of us are involved in these discussions every single time we meet, is no bad thing.