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Understanding devolution in Wales
Understanding devolution in Wales

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3 The size of the Senedd

The size of the Senedd has long been a point of contention. Indeed, when the Siambr (Senedd debating chamber) was under construction, Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis-Thomas approved a design with space for an additional 30 seats.

In 2004, having made a recommendation that the Assembly be given primary law-making powers, the Richard Commission also called for the number of AMs to increase from 60 to 80. The UK Government did not accept this recommendation.

This is an animated GIF which visually demonstrates the proportion of the recommended expansion to the Senedd. It begins with 60 shaded circles arranged in a rainbow shape. A row of 20 additional circles then appears around the top.
Figure 3 Calls for increase in AM numbers

In 2014, the second report of the Silk Commission also called for an increase from 60 to 80 alongside the devolution of a number of areas of responsibility. The report described the Assembly as being currently “overstretched”. The UK Government said there was insufficient time to legislate on this issue and deferred it to the next Parliament.

In 2017, Cardiff University’s Professor Laura McAllister conducted an in-depth review on the issue. Her Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform recommended the Assembly should be increased to between 80 and 90 members so MSs have sufficient capacity to fulfil scrutiny, representation and campaigning roles. The Panel also called for major reforms to the electoral system to encourage diversity and a lowering of the voting age to 16.

In 2019, having received Professor McAllister’s report, the Presiding Officer established the Committee on Senedd Reform to consider the issues with a view to presenting measures to be enacted before the 2026 Senedd election.

The Committee published an extensive report and called on all parties to integrate its recommendation for increasing the number of MSs to between 80 and 90. As part of their 2021 Co-Operation Agreement, Labour and Plaid Cymru committed to progressing an expansion of the Senedd. In May 2022, Mark Drakeford and Adam Price announced their intention to bring forward legislation which would increase the number of MSs to 96 and radically reform the system for electing them. Instead of 40 constituency and 20 regional members, the Senedd would be made up of 96 members – with 16 constituencies, made by pairing the new 32 UK Parliament constituencies, with each electing six members from closed party lists. The lists will have statutory gender quotas and mandatory zipping, with the seats themselves allocated using the D’Hondt formula.

The Welsh Conservatives are strongly opposed to expanding the Senedd however Labour and Plaid Cymru have the necessary number of MSs to pass these changes in time for the 2026 election.