Senedd plans to change Welsh voting system passes first stage

A new bill which will see 36 more politicians added to the Senedd has moved a step closer following a vote in parliament.

Senedd members backed in principle the new bill which would expand the Welsh Parliament by the 2026 elections on Tuesday evening.

The Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill, which was drawn up as part of the co-operation agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru, proposes increasing the number of Members of the Senedd from 60 to 96 who would be elected from a reduced number of constituencies.

The bill aims to diversify and better represent constituents in Wales.

Under the new system, voters will choose parties rather than individual candidates and elections would run from every five to four years.

Each political party will nominate six members that will cover the new 16 merged constituencies.

These members must live in Wales and there should be an equal balance of gender under statutory rules.

Of all the devolved nations, Wales has the smallest number of members of its parliament. The bill looks to change this in the hopes to modernise and keep pace with Scotland and Northern Ireland who both have larger numbers. The change will mean the Welsh Parliament will see the biggest changes to its system since its creation in 1999.

A majority of 39 voted to pass the legislation to the next stage with 14 against it. For the final stage, two thirds of the parliament must vote for the legislation for it to become law.

Ahead of the debate, the bill faced criticism particularly from the Welsh Conservatives. Darren Millar MS claimed people do not want more politicians and added decisions have historically been made with the current number of members.

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

The Welsh Conservatives said a referendum is necessary to allow people to make a decision on the voting process in Wales.

Even within Labour there were some ahead of the meeting that felt this way of voting would likely cause confusion. Mike Hedges MS for Swansea East said he “can’t see any advantages of the system being proposed”. Adding that he believed it promoted ” party-think and group-think”.

Plaid Cymru’s Heledd Fychan spoke to BBC Wales to confirm her support for the new law before the debate. Ms Fychan believes that more jobs are needed in order to properly scrutinize decisions especially due to the current size of constituencies.

“The size of constituencies is a concern, but everybody has five MSs at the moment. At least everybody would be on an equal footing which makes this an easier job to communicate”

Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Jane Dodds described the legal change as a “once in a lifetime opportunity”. However, the leader of the Lib Dems stated that amendments to the “closed party system” required amendments.

Counsel General Mick Antoniw is the Welsh Labour MS who has continued to champion the bill which he said he felt creates “a far more representative system” by making “every vote count” and moving away from the regional vote system.

In response to some Conservatives calling this bill “a vanity project” Mr Antoniw said what happened in the Senedd on Tuesday was a “very serious constitutional debate”. Adding that he thought these changes to the electoral system were “essential”.

These changes are estimated to cost the tax payer between £14.5 and £17. 5 million per year as well as additional set up costs of £8 million pounds.

As the legal reforms were supported by the majority of MS’ it is one step closer to coming in to law before the 2026 election. If the law is implemented, it will be statutorily reviewed to ensure the new voting process is effective.