Under the present devolutionary settlement, the Assembly has no powers over its own electoral arrangements, including such issues as the type of electoral systems used for Assembly elections, the number of AMs and length of Assembly terms. Instead, changes can only be made by the UK Parliament through primary legislation.
In a statement issued on 12 March 2013, the Secretary of State for Wales announced his intention to bring forward such legislation ‘at the earliest opportunity’. In particular, he said that forthcoming legislation will:
- Move the Assembly from four to five-year fixed terms;
- End the prohibition on candidates at Assembly elections standing in both a constituency and a region at the same time (also known as ‘dual candidacy’); and
- Prohibit Assembly Members from simultaneously sitting as MPs in the House of Commons (although this prohibition will not apply to members of the House of Lords).
No changes were proposed to the boundaries of Assembly constituencies and regions and the Secretary of State was also clear that no changes will be made to the number of Assembly Members or the method of their election.
Most of the reactions to the statement focused on lifting the ban on dual candidacy. The Secretary of State said that ‘the changes made in 2006 were really partisan changes that were put in place to favour the Labour party’, a position supported by both Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrat spokespersons. The former Labour Secretary of State for Wales, the Rt. Hon Peter Hain MP, was however critical of the proposed changes stating that ‘If the voters don’t want you and reject you, you shouldn’t still defy their wishes and become an Assembly member’, and finally asking ‘What sort of democracy is that?’
These proposals come on the back of the UK Government’s recent programme of political reform, not all of which has been realised. The Secretary of State’s latest statement also follows a Green Paper consultation held by the Wales Office between May and August 2012 to which a number of Assembly Members, political parties and MPs responded.
The First Minister has previously stated that the UK Government has no mandate to introduce changes to the Assembly’s electoral arrangements, stating that ‘The Assembly is a matter for the people of Wales and no one else’.
Further details about the Secretary of State’s proposals, including background information and reactions are included in the ‘Proposed changes to the Assembly’s electoral arrangements’ Research Service paper.
Article by Owain Roberts National Assembly for Wales Research Service.