The Senedd in Cardiff Bay
The Senedd in Cardiff Bay

Senedd members have pressed Wales’ chief law officer about plans to reform the Welsh Parliament, raising concerns about residency rules for election candidates, vacant seats, and powers to increase the number of ministers.

Counsel General Mick Antoniw appeared before the legislation, justice and constitution committee on Monday October 16 to give evidence on the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) bill.

North Wales MS Carolyn Thomas asked her Labour colleague about proposals to disqualify people from standing as a candidate or being a member of the Senedd unless they are on the electoral register in Wales.

James Evans also questioned the counsel general about the criteria. The Conservative MS raised the example of someone living in Cusop, near the border to his Brecon and Radnorshire constituency.

He said: “Do you think that’s fair? That a Welsh person could not stand for their own national parliament just because they live a stone’s throw over the border?”

He pointed out that someone from north Wales could represent Cardiff despite it being four to five hours away.

Mr Antoniw said many other countries set residency requirements for elections.

Stressing that a line has to be drawn somewhere, he argued that the electoral register offers a simple and clear solution.

He said: “The question is whether it is appropriate that persons who don’t live in Wales, who aren’t subject to the laws of Wales, should be in a position to make the laws of Wales.

“It is a basic democratic feature. It seems, to me, to be a logical parameter.”

Asked whether a second home owner would be eligible, he said: “The only requirement is you’re on the electoral register – if you’re on the register then you qualify to stand.”

‘Future proofing’

Under the bill – which will require a two-thirds ‘supermajority’ to become law – the number of Senedd members would rise from 60 to 96.

The reforms would also increase the number of Welsh Government ministers from 12 to 17 and elections would be based fully on a form of proportional representation.

Alun Davies – standing in for committee chair Huw Irranca-Davies, who recused himself after leading an earlier inquiry on the reforms – raised concerns about powers to further increase the number of ministers to 19.

The former cabinet member asked: “You’ve said you have no intention of using those powers – so why do you need powers you have no intention of using?”

Mr Antoniw said the power was included with future proofing in mind and its use would be subject to a Senedd vote.

Mr Davies responded: “‘Future proofing’ is not a word this committee enjoys hearing.”

Vacant seats

Luke Fletcher, for Plaid Cymru, asked about by-elections being discontinued for vacant seats and what would happen if an independent resigned or political parties exhausted their list of eight candidates.

Mr Antoniw described the chances of it happening as remote, saying any mechanism to elect a replacement would weaken the proportionality of the original vote so such a seat would remain vacant instead.

Mr Davies said: “I’m not sure the circumstances Luke described would be that rare – we had a pretty chaotic session in the last Senedd where we had a lot of disruption to our democratic representation.”

On a return to a four-year election cycle from the recent practice of five, Mr Antoniw called it a natural step after the Fixed-term Parliaments Act was repealed by the UK Government In March 2022.

He explained that a separate gender quotas bill would be brought forward by a different minister by the end of the year.

Mr Antoniw said the Welsh Government is carrying out the wishes of the Senedd and stressed he would consider any recommendations. But he warned that the timeline is tight – with little scope to deviate if the reforms are to be implemented in time for the 2026 election.