Y Pwyllgor Biliau Diwygio

Reform Bill Committee

22/11/2023

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

Bev Smith Cadeirydd, Comisiwn Ffiniau a Democratiaeth Leol Cymru
Chair, Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales
Elan Closs Stephens Comisiynydd Etholiadol, Cymru
Electoral Commissioner, Wales
Jane Dodds Aelod o’r Senedd dros Ganolbarth a Gorllewin Cymru
Member of the Senedd for Mid and West Wales
Rhydian Thomas Pennaeth y Comisiwn Etholiadol yng Nghymru
Head of Electoral Commission, Wales
Shereen Williams Prif Weithredwr Comisiwn Ffiniau a Democratiaeth Leol Cymru
Chief Executive, Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales
Tom Davies Uwch Gynghorydd Polisi,Y Comisiwn Etholiadol, Cymru
Senior Policy Adviser, Electoral Commission, Wales

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 09:31.

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

The meeting began at 09:31.

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

Good morning. Could I welcome Members and the public to today's session of the committee's continuation of deliberations on the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill? Before we go into our first item of business, can I just remind people of a few things? Mobile phones and electronic equipment, please make sure they are either on silent or off. The meeting is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv and a transcript is always available following the meeting. We do operate bilingually, and there are headsets available in the room for translation—channel 1 for translation from Welsh to English, channel 2 if you require amplification. There is no scheduled fire alarm this morning, so if one does occur, please follow the directions of the ushers to a safe location. There are no apologies today. Every Member is available for today's meeting.

2. Bil Senedd Cymru (Aelodau ac Etholiadau): Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda’r Comisiwn Etholiadol
2. Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill: Evidence session with the Electoral Commission

So, we go into item 2 of the session, and that's our first evidence session of the morning, and that's with the Electoral Commission. Can I welcome online our three witnesses? That's Dame Elan Closs Stephens, who is the Electoral Commissioner for Wales; Rhydian Thomas, head of Electoral Commission Wales; and Tom Davies, senior policy adviser, Electoral Commission Wales. Can I thank you all for your attendance today? And thank you also for the written evidence that was provided for us to consider prior to this meeting. 

As you know—you've been with me before on committees—we'll go straight into some questions, and perhaps the first one I'll start with. Can you just for the record explain any role the commission may have had in the Bill's development?

Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd.

Rŷn ni'n ddiolchgar iawn am y cynnig i ddod yma. 

We're very grateful for the opportunity to be here this morning.

As you know, we've been involved with the significant changes that have happened to elections in Wales. Could I just say that I think the UK as a whole, the UK commission as a whole, has been very interested in the reforms that have been mooted in Wales, and will have a very significant role in looking at how successful those reforms can be? I just want to say right at the beginning, for the avoidance of any doubt, that we as a commission will play our part absolutely in supporting the implementation of any changes, including the provision of support and guidance for electoral administrators and campaigners, and ensuring that voters understand how to participate within the new system.

But as regards looking at the way that these Bills have been formed, I’m going to hand over to Rhydian just with the caveat that, at every stage in every opportunity we’ve had, our relationship with Welsh Government and with the officials in Welsh Government has been excellent, both on these Bills and throughout the very difficult period of COVID, when we were trying to devise health and safety rules for the proper running of that election. So, it’s a relationship that we can build on. So, over to you, Rhydian.

09:35

Thanks, Elan. Yes, as Elan mentioned, we've got a really good working relationship with Welsh Government and we credit their approach in terms of the development of these Bills. They've been in touch with us all along, throughout the process of development. So, we had a very good idea of what would be included in the Bill before it was laid in the Senedd. 

We also sit on the Welsh Government's Senedd electoral reform delivery board, which has been a really important vehicle to be able to discuss what was intended to be included in the Bill, and I understand that that body will roll forward into a formal planning group, which I think is also very positive. So, we’ll want to continue to work closely with Welsh Government, the Senedd Commission and the wider electoral community in Wales. It's not been just about including us within the process; I think we've got a good network within Wales, with electoral practitioners, political parties, and they've all been included very effectively within the process.

I'm sorry I didn’t have my mike down. I hope you understood that.

Thank you very much. We did hear it, Rhydian. We did hear you. 

Can I just add—

I just want to ask Rhydian one question, if that's okay, Elan.

You said you have been working well with the Welsh Government and officials, and therefore, my assumption from that comment is that there is nothing in this Bill you didn't expect.

No, there's nothing in the Bill that we didn't expect. We think the provisions included within the Bill are deliverable by electoral administrators.

The two areas that we'd highlight, and we always highlight these areas, and I'm sure colleagues from the Wales Electoral Coordination Board and the Association of Electoral Administrators did as well, relate to timing and resourcing on timing. We always recommend that relevant legislation is in place six months before it's required to be implemented, following the Gould principle—that's a well-established principle that's understood by the wider electoral community—which allows for appropriate planning for these types of reforms. And on resourcing, obviously, the Welsh Government will need to ensure that administrators are properly supported to deliver these reforms, especially around changes to electoral management software and systems. And these are points that have been made to Welsh Government and I think it's fair to say that they've been understood.

Just to add. I think it's very important for us to differentiate between having a good, a really good working relationship with Welsh Government, and in any way trying to influence the policy making. I think there are two areas: policy making, which belongs to Welsh Government itself, and the practical implementation of any reform, which falls into the kind of advice that we would be giving. I think it's very important for us to note that.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, a bore da. Os caf i holi, felly, rydych chi'n sôn yn eich tystiolaeth ysgrifenedig am yr angen am raglen o ymwybyddiaeth gyhoeddus i godi ymwybyddiaeth o'r trefniadau newydd. Fel rydyn ni'n gwybod, mae pŵer gan Gomisiwn y Senedd, ond nid dyletswydd i wneud hynny. Byddwn i'n hoffi'ch barn chi, efallai, o ran pwy ydych chi'n credu ddylai fod yn arwain ar y rhaglen yma, ac oes angen i'r ddyletswydd fod yn glir drwy'r Bil, a'r un corff arweiniol i fod dan ofyniad i arwain y gwaith. Ac os felly, pwy ddylai'r corff yna fod?

Thank you very much and good morning. If I could ask you, you mentioned in your written evidence about the need for a programme of public awareness to raise awareness of the new arrangements. As we know, the Senedd Commission has a power, but no duty to do that. I'd like to have your opinion, perhaps, on who should be leading on that programme, and does that duty need to be clear through the Bill, and for the lead body to have a requirement to lead the work. And if so, which body should be doing that?

The work that has been undertaken by all the various bodies for previous elections in Wales, whether it's Welsh Government themselves, the Senedd Commission, and a range of partner bodies including Welsh local authorities, has been really, really useful. Where there has been—and I think this alludes to your point—maybe some confusion is around the co-ordination of that work. We've seen that in previous electoral events many, many moons ago, where I think the Senedd Commission would take the lead in terms of arranging and co-ordinating all of the various groups, so that we were clear that there wasn't any duplication in terms of messaging, that the organisations that were meant to be putting out a campaign relating to registration did that, the organisation that was meant to be talking about certain groups did that, and so on. We haven't seen that so much in recent years, and I think that relates to probably lots of pressures from a variety of different organisations, the wider environment, COVID. But I think it would be useful for that to be looked at in greater detail and I think the commission—as we have in the past—would welcome an opportunity to work, maybe not in leading that work, but in certainly working with the Senedd Commission, perhaps, on the overall co-ordination of messaging.

Do you have a specific view in terms of who? So, do you feel that it should be more explicit rather than left ambiguous, as it may be considered at this point?

Dwi'n credu y byddai hi'n syniad da i beidio bod yn amwys. Mae'n syniad da bob amser bod yna ryw arweinyddiaeth yn digwydd. Ac fel mae Rhydian newydd ei ddweud, mae'n rhaid osgoi gwastraffu arian drwy ddyblygu beth mae pobl eraill yn ei wneud. Rhaid inni fod yn glir yn y patrwm o bwy rydyn ni'n trio ei gyrraedd a gyda pha bamffled, e-bost neu beth bynnag ydy o—neu ar X. Mae'n rhaid inni gydlynu'r ymgyrch. Dwi'n meddwl efallai, gan fod Comisiwn y Senedd yn gorff pwerus ac yn siarad dros y Senedd fel corff, y byddan nhw'n addas iawn i gymryd yr arweinyddiaeth. Ond rydyn ni'n barod i gydweithredu gydag unrhyw un sydd yn y maes.

I think it would be a good idea not to be ambiguous. It's a good idea at all times that some leadership is there. And as Rhydian has just mentioned, you have to avoid wasting money by duplicating what other people are doing. We need to be clear in the pattern of who we are trying to reach and with what pamphlet, e-mail or whatever it is—or on X. We have to co-ordinate the campaign. I think, perhaps, as the Senedd Commission is a powerful body and speaks on behalf of the Senedd as a body, they would be very suitable in taking the leadership role. But we are willing to work with anyone in that field.

09:40

Rwy'n credu bod yna esiampl yna, efallai, efo'r ddeddfwriaeth. Efo'r ddeddfwriaeth, y Llywodraeth sy'n gyfrifol am y ddeddfwriaeth ac felly'r Llywodraeth sy'n cydlynu'r gwaith o ran tynnu'r grwpiau gwahanol yma at ei gilydd i drafod y ddeddfwriaeth a beth sydd angen ei wneud a phlanio, ac yn y blaen. Felly, o ran etholiadau'r Senedd a'r gwaith fydd ei angen o ran codi ymwybyddiaeth o etholiadau'r Senedd, y Senedd ei hunan sy'n gyfrifol, felly mae'n gwneud rhyw fath o synnwyr cyffredin eu bod nhw'n ei gydlynu fe a bod cyrff fel y comisiwn ac eraill yn rhan o'r drafodaeth honno. 

I think there's an example there, perhaps, with the legislation. With the legislation, the Government is responsible for the legislation and so the Government co-ordinates the work in terms of pulling these groups together to discuss the legislation and what needs to be done and planning, and so forth. So, in terms of the Senedd elections and the work that will be needed in terms of raising awareness of the Senedd elections, well, the Senedd itself will be responsible for that, so it makes sense that they co-ordinate that and that bodies like the commission and others are part of that discussion.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Yn amlwg, mae gennych chi rôl i'w chwarae, fel rydych chi wedi'i amlinellu, a da yw gwybod eich bod chi'n barod i chwarae hynny. Oes yna unrhyw gymorth neu adnoddau ychwanegol sydd eu hangen ar y Comisiwn Etholiadol, neu'r posibilrwydd o hynny, neu weinyddwyr etholiadol i gynorthwyo'r gwaith o weithredu'r Bil hwn, gan gynnwys hyrwyddo?

Thank you very much. Evidently, you have a role to play, as you've outlined, and it's good to know that you're prepared to play that role. Is there any additional support or resources needed by the Electoral Commission, or the possibility of that, or electoral administrators to assist in the work of implementing this Bill, including promotional work?

O ran y comisiwn, rwy'n credu bydd y gwaith rŷn ni'n ei wneud yn edrych yn debyg iawn i beth dŷn ni wedi'i wneud yn etholiadau yn y gorffennol—yn 2021, er enghraifft. Bydd y canolbwynt ar guidance, fel petai, i'r rheini sydd yn rhedeg yr etholiadau ac yn cymryd rhan yn yr etholiadau—pleidiau gwleidyddol ac ymgyrchwyr—a hefyd, yn bwysig, rhedeg ymgyrch ymwybyddiaeth. Dŷn ni wedi gwneud y gwaith hwnnw yn y gorffennol, dŷn ni'n gwybod beth mae'r gwaith hwnnw'n edrych fel, ond yn amlwg, mae'r neges sy'n rhan o'r ymgyrch ac yn rhan o'r guidance y tro yma yn mynd i fod yn wahanol. Felly, fydd yna ddim adnodd ychwanegol, fel petai, ond bydd yn rhaid inni edrych yn fanwl ar beth dŷn ni'n ei ddweud.

In terms of the commission, I think the work that we will be doing will look very similar to what we've already been doing in previous elections—in 2021, for example. The focus will be on guidance, so to speak, for those who run the elections and take part in the elections—political parties and campaigners—and also, importantly, run an awareness campaign. We've done that work in the past, we know what that work looks like, but clearly, the message that's part of that campaign and part of the guidance this time is going to be different. So, there won't be additional resource, so to speak, but we will have to look in detail at what we're saying.

Dwi'n meddwl, efallai—a, Rhydian, efallai byddet ti hefyd yn cytuno—mai rhoi'r neges allan i'r etholwyr ydy un o'r prif ddyletswyddau, achos mae'n hollbwysig eu bod nhw'n deall bod yna newidiadau sylfaenol wedi digwydd o ran pwy maen nhw'n ethol a sut maen nhw'n ethol, a dros ba ran o'r tir y mae'r etholaeth yna'n gyfrifol. Felly, mae yna newidiadau pellgyrhaeddol ac mae'n bwysig iawn ein bod ni'n cydlynu gyda Chomisiwn y Senedd ac eraill i wneud yn saff bod y negeseuon yna'n glanio'n iawn.

I think, perhaps—and Rhydian you might also agree—that getting the message out to voters is one of the main duties, because it's vital that they understand that there are fundamental changes that have happened in terms of who they elect and how they elect, and over what part of the land the election is responsible for. So, there are far-reaching changes and it's very important that we co-ordinate that with the Senedd Commission and other bodies to ensure that those messages land properly.

Er enghraifft, yn 2021, roedd yna ddau ran i'n hymgyrch ni. Roedd un ymgyrch yn edrych ar gofrestru i bleidleisio—sut i gofrestru, pryd oedd yn rhaid cofrestru erbyn i allu cymryd rhan yn yr etholiad. Ac roedd ail ran yr ymgyrch yn edrych ar wybodaeth i bleidleiswyr a beth oedd yn digwydd, beth oedden nhw'n mynd i dderbyn o ran papur pleidleisio, sut i fwrw eu pleidlais, ac yn y blaen. Byddwn i'n meddwl bydd yr ymgyrch y tro yma yn debyg, ond bydd y neges, o ran y papur pleidleisio, er enghraifft, yn wahanol.

For example, in 2021, there were two parts to our campaign. One campaign looked at registering to vote—how to register, when to register by to be able to take part in the election. And the second part of the campaign looked at information for voters and what was happening, what they were going to receive in terms of voting papers, how to vote, and so forth. I would think that the campaign this time will be similar, but the message in terms of the voting paper, for example, will be different.

Diolch yn fawr. Gaf i ofyn un cwestiwn olaf? Pa effaith, os o gwbl, fydd y Bil hwn, y Bil Etholiadau a Chyrff Etholedig (Cymru) a'r ddeddfwriaeth arfaethedig o ran cwotâu rhywedd ymgeiswyr yn ei chael ar eich cynllun pum mlynedd cyfredol chi fel comisiwn?

Thank you. Could I ask one final question? What impact, if any, will this Bill, the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill and the proposed legislation in terms of gender quotas have on your current five-year plan as a commission?

Bydd yn rhaid inni edrych arno fe. Mae'r cynllun yn edrych yn gyffredinol ar sut i gefnogi ymgyrchwyr, pleidiau gwleidyddol, ymgeiswyr ac yn y blaen. Felly, mae'r neges a'r egwyddor yn mynd i fod yr un fath.

We'll have to look at it. The plan looks in general at how to support campaigners, political parties, candidates, and so on. Therefore, the message and the principle are going to be the same.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi ddim yn gwybod yr ateb i hyn, ond gaf i ofyn a oeddech chi'n gyfrifol am roi'r wybodaeth allan ar gyfer y Senedd ddiwethaf pan oedd pobl 16 ac 17 oed yn gallu pleidleisio am y tro cyntaf?

Thank you very much. I don't know the answer to this, but could I ask if you were responsible for providing the information for the last Senedd when 16 and 17-year-olds could vote for the first time?

Oeddem. Ac roedden ni hefyd yn cymryd diddordeb mawr yn y grŵp oedran yna, ac yn gwneud gwaith helaeth i geisio creu diddordeb. Fel rydych chi'n gwybod, rydyn ni i gyd yn siomedig nad ydyn ni'n gallu cael 95 y cant neu beth bynnag o bobl ifanc yn ymddiddori, ond mae hwn yn rhywbeth dwi'n credu sydd yn broblem eang yn gymdeithasol o ran bod pobl ifanc, efallai, yn gweld eu swyddogaeth tu mewn i bethau fel ymgyrchu uniongyrchol, protest, yn hytrach nag adnabyddiaeth o system etholiadol. Dyna pam dwi'n meddwl ei bod hi'n hollbwysig bod yr ysgolion yn cael eu hannog i fedru cynnwys y systemau etholiadol a'r rhesymau pam y dylid defnyddio'r systemau etholiadol fel rhan o'u haddysg nid jest yn y chweched dosbarth, ond cyn hynny, gan fod y bleidlais gan bobl sydd yn 16 oed. 

Dwi'n meddwl mai un o'r problemau sydd gennym ni ydy ychydig o nerfusrwydd ymysg athrawon hefyd, ac mae hwn yn gwbl ddealladwy, eu bod nhw'n dysgu gwleidyddiaeth ac nid yn dysgu systemau etholiadol ond yn rhoi barn wleidyddol. Mae yna nerfusrwydd yn dod i mewn ynglŷn â hynny. Rydyn ni wedi paratoi adnoddau eang ar gyfer athrawon a disgyblion, ac mi fyddwn ni'n parhau gyda'r gwaith yna. Mae un o'n prif swyddogion ni, Ella Downing, efallai rydych chi wedi dod ar ei thraws, yn gwneud gwaith rhagorol gyda phobl ifanc. Efallai y byddai Rhydian yn gallu ehangu trwy ddweud wrthych chi pwy ydy'n partneriaid ni ar hyn o bryd.

Yes. And we also took great interest in that age group, and did extensive work in trying to raise their interest in it. As you know, we're all disappointed that we can't have 95 per cent of young people taking an interest, but this is something that I think is a broad problem in society in terms of young people seeing their function in direct campaigning and protest, rather than a recognition of an electoral system. That's why I think it's vital that schools are encouraged to include the electoral systems and the reason why the electoral systems should be used as part of their education, not just in the sixth form, but before that, as the vote is there for 16-year-olds.

I think one of the problems that we have is there's slight nervousness amongst teachers, and this is completely understandable, that they're teaching politics and not teaching electoral systems, but giving a political view. Some nervousness comes into that. We have prepared extensive resources for teachers and pupils, and we will continue with that work. One of our chief officials, Ella Downing, perhaps you've come across her, is doing excellent work with young people. Perhaps Rhydian could expand on that by telling you who our partners are currently.

09:45

O ran yr etholiadau diwethaf yn 2021, roedd y rhaglen addysg newydd ddechrau. Gwnaeth hi ddechrau, rwyf i'n credu, ym mis Medi, mis Hydref 2020, ac roedd y gwaith yn gychwynnol iawn. Mae hi wedi sefydlu lot mwy nawr, mae lot mwy o adnoddau ar ein safle we ni, adnoddau i bobl ifanc ac adnoddau, yn bwysig, i addysgwyr. Mae pwynt Elan yn hollol gywir, mae addysgwyr yn nerfus—dim pob un, ond mae lot o addysgwyr yn nerfus o ran siarad am wleidyddiaeth yn y dosbarth a thu allan i'r dosbarth o ganlyniad i lot o'r stwff dŷn ni'n ei weld, efallai, ar y cyfryngau cymdeithasol ac yn y blaen. Dŷn ni'n gwneud lot o sesiynau gyda'r rheini hefyd.

Yn ogystal â hynny, dŷn ni wedi datblygu partneriaeth swyddogol efo Plant yng Nghymru, Children in Wales. Nhw nawr yw ein partner youth voice ni, a phwynt y rhaglen honno yw dod â phobl ifanc ar draws Cymru at ei gilydd o bob cefndir, fel eu bod nhw'n gallu rhoi eu llais nhw ar beth dŷn ni'n ei wneud a dweud os ydy beth ydy ni'n ei wneud a'r negeseuon dŷn ni'n eu rhoi mas yn gywir ac yn effeithiol. Mae'r rhaglen honno newydd ddechrau. Dŷn ni hefyd yn gweithio efo'r Democarcy Box. Felly, dŷn ni'n hyderus y bydd y rhaglen yn fwy cynhwysfawr erbyn 2026 nag oedd hi yn gychwynnol yn 2021.

In terms of the last elections in 2021, the education programme had just started. It started, I think, in September, October 2020, and the work was initial work. It is more established now, and there are a lot more resources on our website, resources for young people and for educators. Elan's point is correct, educators are nervous—not all of them, but a lot of educators are nervous about talking about politics within the classroom and outwith the classroom as a result of a lot of the things that we're seeing on social media and so forth. We are undertaking a lot of sessions with them as well.

As well, we've developed an official partnership with Children in Wales. They are our youth voice partner, and the point of that programme is to bring young people across Wales together from all backgrounds, so that they can have their say on what we are doing and say whether what we're doing and the messages we're conveying are accurate and effective. That programme has just started. We're also working with the Democracy Box. So, we are confident that the programme will be more comprehensive by 2026 than it was initially in 2021.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, a diolch i'r Cadeirydd.

Thank you very much, and thank you, Chair.

Efallai y gallaf i ychwanegu, Jane, fod bwrdd canolog y comisiwn yn cyfarfod yng Nghaerdydd ddydd Llun a dydd Mawrth nesaf, ac mi fyddwn ni yn cyfarfod gyda Plant yng Nghymru a gyda Democracy Box yn ystod y cyfnod yna. Dwi'n meddwl ein bod ni yn mynd i fod ym Mhafiliwn y Grange, sydd hefyd yn gwneud gwaith gyda phobl ifanc. Felly, mae'r ymwybyddiaeth o'r angen i ymestyn allan tuag at bobl ifanc yn real. 

Perhaps I could just add, Jane, that the central board of the commission is meeting in Cardiff next Monday and Tuesday, and we will be meeting with Children in Wales and with Democracy Box during that period. I think we're going to be in the Grange Pavilion, which is also doing work with young people. So, the awareness of the need to reach out to young people is real. 

Before I move on to Sarah, just one question on the conduct Order for the 2026 elections. I would just like clarification as to what you think the last date is that needs to be set to ensure that elections can go smoothly, shall we say.

That's a really good point. Thanks. The point I made earlier relating to timeliness and the Gould principle relates to all legislation, so primary and secondary legislation. So, we would expect that the conduct Order would be in place six months prior to the date of implementation, the date of poll as well, so in the autumn of 2025.

So, you think that six months is what you really need to ensure—

At least six months. I know that the Welsh Government, to be fair, are hoping that it will be before then, but at least six months is what the principle states.

09:50

It's a minimum rather than desirable.

Obviously, we are scrutinising the Bill, and we will be making a report that may well have recommendations, depending on the evidence we receive. If the Government brings forward changes, or the Senedd decides to change the systems within the Bill, is that still doable within that timescale?

As in the electoral system?

You will have heard from the WECB and the AEA, and there are pressures there, especially given the wider environment with other Bills and Acts that are affecting their work. But from the discussions that we've had with the WECB—and again, it goes back to having a strong community in Wales that works together very well—we understand that according to current timescales, new systems will be implementable.

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you all for being here this morning. I'm going to ask some more questions now about the electoral system and Senedd terms. It would be great if you could start by sharing your views on the extent to which the closed list proportional representation system proposed in the Bill would be familiar to voters, in your opinion.

As you're probably aware, we don't take a view on the voting systems themselves. The decision to implement a new voting system is a matter for the Senedd and for Government. Our role is really around ensuring that voters understand any new electoral system that's adopted, so that they can cast their vote in the way that's intended, and also to provide guidance to administrators.

On your point, we've seen versions of the list system in Wales previously at Assembly elections and Senedd elections—albeit within a hybrid system—and at European Parliament elections. We write a report after each election evaluating how the election was run and managed, and as part of that, we take account of voter opinion, and we haven't got any evidence to show that there was any real confusion in relation to voting within a list system, so that's not something that we're aware of; they've been able to cast their vote properly.

Could I just ask one question on that, please? Sorry to interrupt, Sarah. We've had six elections in which there's been a regional closed list-type approach, but they also have been linked into a constituency first-past-the-post election. In your understanding of those six elections, have the voting public in Wales got a better understanding of the list agenda compared to the first-past-the-post? Because this is proposing just the list and no first-past-the-post. So, do people really understand the list system now, even though they've done it six times? Do they understand that, or have they just simply gone along and said, 'Oh, I'll vote X and Y, because that's the way it is'?

I think understanding has improved, and also we've seen a list system for European Parliament elections as well, although turnout was pretty low in many of those elections. I think public understanding has improved, but I think there's probably a fair bit of work to be done, especially ahead of this new election, with a focus on a list system, in actually explaining what their vote means and indeed how the individual candidates are elected as Members of the Senedd. So there's a piece of work that would need to be done around that, certainly.

I think it's a very interesting question, because first-past-the-post, of course, is not something that's linked to six elections, it's linked to all the general elections, and therefore it's very well known to the electorate, and the list system is more recent. One could argue that moving to a non-hybrid, moving to a list-only, is a simpler system to explain to people than running two systems, as it were, within the same election. So, again, I come back to effective messaging and making certain that people understand the quite substantial changes that will happen with this Bill.

Jane, did you want to come in with a small supplementary here?

Ie, diolch yn fawr iawn. Mae yna newidiadau enfawr, onid oes, yn dod i mewn, ac rydyn ni am ofyn cwestiynau ynglŷn â'r ffiniau hefyd. Felly mae yna system bleidleisio newydd, ac wedyn mae system dros y ffiniau hefyd ac etholaethau newydd hefyd. Oes gyda chi farn neu rywbeth rydych chi'n gallu ei ddweud wrthym ni rŵan sydd yn esbonio sut ydych chi am wneud yn siŵr bod pobl yng Nghymru yn deall y system newydd? Achos mae o'n wahanol—fydd yna ddim enwau, er enghraifft, os ydym ni'n mynd efo'r cynnig yma o ran rhestrau caeedig. Felly, oes gennych chi unrhyw syniadau rŵan, jest inni ddeall yn union sut ydych chi'n bwriadu gwneud yn siŵr bod pobl ar draws Cymru yn deall y system newydd? Diolch.

Yes, thank you very much. There are great changes coming in, aren't there, and we want to ask questions about the boundaries as well. So there's this new voting system, and there's a new system regarding boundaries and new constituencies. Do you have any views or something you can tell us now that explains how you will ensure that people in Wales understand the new system? Because it is different—there will be no names, for example, if we go with this proposal in terms of closed lists. So, do you have any ideas now, just for us to understand exactly how you intend to ensure that people across Wales understand the new system? Thank you.

09:55

Wel, yn y gorffennol, yn 2021 a 2016, beth wnaethom ni benderfynu arno ar ôl siarad efo'n partneriaid yn y Senedd, efo'r Llywodraeth a'n partneriaid ar lawr gwlad, oedd datblygu llyfryn a oedd yn cael ei anfon allan at bob un tŷ yng Nghymru yn esbonio beth oedd yn digwydd—bod etholiad yn digwydd ar y dyddiad yma, sut oedd cofrestru ar gyfer yr etholiad a sut oedd pleidleisio, a bach o wybodaeth ar yr etholiad ei hunan. Nawr, dyw llyfryn ddim o hyd y ffordd orau o ddatblygu ac o gyflwyno'r negeseuon yma, ond y broblem, rwy'n credu, a oedd yn ein herbyn ni oedd beth oedd y ffordd orau, os nad llyfryn i bob tŷ yng Nghymru? O'n safbwynt ni, rydyn ni'n hapus ac yn agored ac yn hyblyg o ran sut i gyflwyno'r negeseuon yma. Yn amlwg, dim jest y comisiwn fydd yn gwneud y gwaith; mi fydd partneriaid ar lawr gwlad yn edrych i drafod y system a'r broses newydd efo'u cleientiaid nhw. Bydd awdurdodau lleol hefyd yn edrych ar strategaethau datblygu ymwybyddiaeth y cyhoedd.

Ac mae yna grŵp nawr o dan Fwrdd Cydlynu Etholiadol Cymru, mae yna grŵp am y tro cyntaf sy'n edrych yn benodol ar gyfathrebu. So, bob un swyddog cyfathrebu o bob un awdurdod lleol yn dod at ei gilydd i drio datblygu rhyw fath o strategaeth genedlaethol a fydd yn cael ei rholio allan gan bob un awdurdod, i 'complement-io', fel petai, y gwaith y mae’r comisiwn ac mae'r cyrff cenedlaethol yn ei wneud. So, mae yna syniadau gennym ni, ond rydyn ni hefyd yn hyblyg iawn o ran beth fyddwn ni'n ei wneud a beth yw'r ffordd orau o ran cyflwyno'r wybodaeth yma i bleidleiswyr.

Well, in the past, in 2021 and 2016, what we decided on, after we talked to partners in the Senedd and the Government and on the ground, was to develop a booklet that was sent out to all households in Wales explaining what was happening—that an election was taking place on such and such a date, how to register for the election and how to vote, and a little information on the election itself. Now, a booklet isn't always the best way of developing and presenting those messages, but the problem that we had, I think, was what was the best way, if not a booklet for all households in Wales? From our perspective, we're content and we're open and we're flexible in terms of presenting these messages. Evidently, it's not just the commission that will be doing that work; there will be partners at grass-roots level that will be looking to discuss the system and the new process with their clients. Local authorities will also be looking at strategies for developing public awareness.

And there is a group now under the Wales Electoral Coordination Board, there is a group for the first time that will be looking specifically at communication. So, every communication officer from every local authority will come together to try and develop some kind of national strategy that will be rolled out by all authorities, to complement the work that the commission and the national bodies are doing. So, we have ideas, but we're also very flexible in terms of what we'll be doing and how best to present this information to voters.

A dwi hefyd yn deall y consérn, ond mae'n bwysig i gofio, fel y mae Rhydian wedi'i ddweud, nad ydy'r Comisiwn Etholiadol ddim ar ei ben ei hun yn y maes yma. Mae yna lawer iawn o gyrff sydd â diddordeb mawr mewn cael y neges allan yn effeithiol. Ac yn eu mysg nhw, wrth gwrs, mae’r ymgyrchwyr gwleidyddol eu hunain a’r pleidiau gwleidyddol eu hunain, sydd efallai â'r diddordeb mwyaf mewn cael y nifer uchaf o etholwyr yn deall y system ac yn medru pleidleisio’n effeithiol. Ac efallai y byddwn ni'n siarad â nhw hefyd, achos mae gennym ni y panel trawsbleidiol sydd yn cyfarfod yn gyson ac yn cael ei gadeirio mewn rota gan un o'r pleidiau. Felly, mae hwnna'n ffordd effeithiol o negeseuo. 

Ond y peth dwi mwyaf balch amdano hefyd ydy bod y bwrdd cydlynu, yn y Mesurau yma, yn cael ei wneud yn statudol. Rydyn ni wedi'i argymell dros y blynyddoedd ac rydyn ni'n falch iawn o gael ymateb positif. Rŷn ni wedi ymgyrchu i weld y bwrdd yn cael ei roi ar sail statudol, fel y mae o yn yr Alban, a dwi'n credu y bydd hynna hefyd yn ffordd o gydlynu'r gweinyddwyr etholiadol a’r swyddogion sy’n gyfrifol am etholiadau yn yr awdurdodau lleol.

And I also understand the concern, but it's important to remember, as Rhydian has said, that the Electoral Commission isn't on its own in this area. There are many bodies that have a great interest in getting the message out effectively. And amongst them, of course, are the political campaigners themselves and the political parties themselves, who perhaps have the greatest interest in getting the highest number of voters to understand the system and to be able to vote effectively. And perhaps we'll be talking to them as well, because we have a cross-party panel that meets regularly and is chaired on a rota system by one of the parties. So, that's an effective way of getting messages out there.

But what I'm most pleased about is that, in these Bills, the co-ordination board is placed on a statutory basis. We have recommended over the years that this happens and we're very pleased to see a positive response to this. We have campaigned to see the board being placed on a statutory basis, as it is in Scotland, and I think that will also be a way of co-ordinating the electoral administrators and the officials responsible for elections in the local authorities.

Thank you very much. So, just to move on as well—a similar line of questioning here—to your views on how the proposal to move to four-year Senedd terms would impact on the likelihood of multiple elections taking place in the same year. And if this was to happen, what mitigating action could be taken to address this, because it would obviously increase pressure on electoral administrators, parties and campaigners and voters?

If I can say, it's not in our gift to determine whether something should be four or five years. All we can do is to make certain that the messaging goes out as to which election is happening and what are the rules of that election. I'm happy to hear that there is a desire on both sides, both in Westminster and in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, for there to be a reasonable harmony about the date of the elections. The main problem for us, of course, is that, with the disappearance of the fixed-term election, the Prime Minister of the day has the right to call an election at whatever time he or she would determine, and that presents a complexity of its own. But I do understand that there has been an agreement that coinciding these dates would not be beneficial to the voter. I've had some projections done, and I think there is a risk that, in 2042, there might be a coinciding date, even without a snap election. But I hope that I will have long given up being an electoral commissioner by then. [Laughter.]

10:00

Thank you very much. That's very interesting. And then finally from me, your views on whether a system of recall for Members of the Senedd should be introduced by the Bill, and your views, really, on how this could operate in practice and who would operate it, essentially.

I think recall has worked reasonably well at a Westminster level. There have been some issues relating to the timing of recall, whether the six-week period is too long, where signing stations can be included and the number of signing stations, but generally I think recall has been something that has worked reasonably effectively. I think there are questions as to how it would be introduced for Senedd elections. For parliamentary elections, recall results in a by-election, and the individual candidate or the Member who was forced to stand down can again stand in that by-election. I know that certain members of this committee would probably have more experience of that than I will. That will be very different, because we will not presumably operate a first-past-the-post system for Senedd elections, so how would recall work for a list system? If an individual were to be recalled as a result of the petition process, would that then mean that the next candidate on the list would be moved up and elected? So, I think there are questions there, but we would be more than happy—. If this were to be something that Welsh Government and the Senedd would be interested in exploring further, we'd be more than happy to have those discussions with them. We've a responsibility to provide a report on the recall process in each one of the situations that have occurred across the UK, so we've got some recommendations and thoughts there. And if it would be useful for us to pass on a summary of those reports to the committee, we would be more than happy to do so. 

I'll take you up on that offer, Rhydian. We'll accept that offer. But also clarification as to whether—you just said that somebody is able to re-stand—in any recall by-elections that have been created, whether the Member has re-stood or not, as well. 

Well, yes, it happened in Brecon and Radnorshire, where the Conservative Member was recalled and then stood in the by-election.

Yes. Could I just add, about the Brecon and Radnorshire recall and by-election? From personal experience of going around the various polling stations, I think I would like you to consider whether a six-week period is too long. I think this is what Rhydian refers to when he's talking about the practicalities. And although he's put his finger on the fundamental point, which is how do you actually elect somebody when it's not a list system, possibly, any more, that's the fundamental, but the practical point is that, for a returning officer to have a six-week extended period of preparing and holding polling stations for that length of time, and having to have officials manning them—forgive the rather gendered word there—is a real ask. And especially looking at Brecon and Radnorshire, of course, it was an incredibly large constituency, and therefore a spread of polling stations had to be provided for. So, there are real practical obstacles in doing this effectively. And what we found out as well was that the most votes tended to be cast in the first week, because that is when the recall was new in people's minds, people who felt strongly were able to go out, and that actually, in the last five weeks, the amount of interest was remarkably less. So, this is just something to think about, I think, in practical terms.

10:05

But we do make recommendations relating to all these measures. There's an issue around transparency as well, but we can include that in the summary of the reports that we can provide to the committee if that would be useful.

Thanks. Can I just go back, Chair, if possible, to Elan's comments about the electoral management boards? And obviously, putting those on a statutory footing, that's a positive thing that I think we've heard very positive evidence on, but one of the issues raised by the individual who chairs the board in Scotland was that the current proposal from the Welsh Government is to have that board embedded within the boundary commission, as it were—the new Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru—rather than have it as a stand-alone body that is completely independent. Do you have any views on that at all?

Personally, and I may be out of order in saying this, but I think the two bodies have very, very different remits, and I think it might lead to confusion for them to be embedded one in the other. So, my preference, personally, would be for them to be stand-alone bodies.

Just to say, I think there's a kind of a balance on the electoral management board point, where we recognise the Welsh Government's approach, where there are considerable costs potentially to setting the management board up as a new public body, so I think it's fair to say we're kind of watching with interest as to how the independence of that will work while housed within the boundary commission. There are some kinds of legislative safeguards in the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill around what specific functions must be carried out by the electoral management board itself and not by the commission. There are some provisions around the membership, where you'd always have members of the boundary commission in the minority in terms of voting on the management board. So, there are some assurances there from Welsh Government as to the independence, and we know the Welsh Government is alive to this kind of slight concern about its independence, but I think it will be a case of almost watching and waiting. Just to note, as well, we're giving evidence on that Bill this morning as well, actually, so we'll probably—

—give some extra detail there.

Thanks for that. I just wanted to follow it up, given that Elan had raised it. And just on the four-year terms issue, obviously, we don't want to conflict with local authority elections or general elections or police and crime commissioner elections, and there's always a risk, as Elan has quite rightly pointed out, when a general election can be called at any time, but clearly, if there are four-year terms for local authority elections, which is something you refer to in your evidence, then that would be better, wouldn't it? Did you want to add anything more to that evidence that you've already submitted?

Yes. It's an interesting one, especially as the White Paper on electoral administration from last year did consult on a move back to four-year terms for local government. I think at the moment, given, as Elan said, the next sort of potential coinciding year for Senedd and local government elections is 2042, it's a case of—. It's not something that we view as an urgent problem that needs to be addressed in this Bill or other Bills currently going through this Senedd, but I think it's something that, within the next few years, it would be good if the Welsh Government, in consultation with local government as well, would kind of come to a view, I suppose, on the kind of long-term approach to local government terms. To be fair, in our written evidence there are legislative provisions to avoid a Senedd and local government election being held on the same day, even if they're scheduled to be held in the same year. But, yes, we just wanted to note that. We are on a very slow collision course to 2042, when those would be in the same year.

10:10

It would seem sensible to get it sorted in one of the two Bills currently before the Senedd, though, wouldn't it, if everybody can see it coming?

Yes. It's a little bit of a Rubik's cube, though, isn't it, because of the number of different elections, including the general election, the police and crime, local government, and the Senedd? It's a little bit like if you legislate for one you might push the other one into a problematic position. So, I know it's not very satisfactory for us to say we'll wait and see, but 20 years does seem a reasonable time to wait.

Can I turn now to the residency requirements in the Bill? Obviously, there's a desire by the Government to make sure that people who stand for election to the Senedd in Wales live in Wales, and the test of that, as far as the Bill is concerned, is to make sure that candidates are registered on an electoral roll in a Welsh constituency. Do you foresee any particular problems with that being the qualification criteria for candidacy?

The question will be how enforcement on this new disqualification would work in practice. I know there's a question of whether ROs would be required to check where candidates are registered to vote, and at what point in the process that would take place? I think the WECB and the AEA highlighted to you in their evidence that there's a long-established common-law approach of returning officers taking nomination forms at face value. So, requiring returning officers to make any kind of check would represent a significant deviation from this. As I think you allude to, what would that check look like? How would they enforce it, and at what point, and how much work would that require? We would be reluctant to see anything that forced returning officers to make those kind of checks. I think the key point is that the legal responsibility is on the candidate. There is a structure of support and guidance, including informal checks, provided by returning officers, but also support and guidance by the Electoral Commission and others. Ultimately, it's for the candidate to ensure that he or she is eligible to stand and isn't disqualified, and if that individual is unsure, then they need to take legal advice. If there's an issue, then there's a legal route to follow through the courts after the election.

Yes. Just to add, as well, that there's a separate question with these provisions around the ongoing requirement, then, for an elected member, once elected, to remain on the local government register to avoid becoming disqualified during the course of their term in office. And it's a similar question, I think, from us, as to the candidacy point that Rhydian raised. There's a question, I think, at the moment, as to how that would be monitored, and if it would be monitored how it would be enforced, and who would be responsible for doing so. And just to make clear, I suppose, from our perspective, we see that as something that if there is a monitoring role, that should be an internal process for the Senedd, almost, and certainly not for ROs, whose roles finish from the point of election onwards.

If I could re-emphasise what Rhydian and Tom were saying, I believe it would be a good thing to explore the onus on the candidate himself or herself to declare, to make a declaration, and if that has to be an annual one, or a change-of-circumstances one, it should be a declaration to the Senedd, just as any declarations of interest would be made to the Senedd. So, I think the onus has to be on the honesty and transparency of the individual candidate, otherwise you're going to set up some extra bureaucracy and costs, which would be not the object of the exercise.

Thank you for that. That's an interesting way to potentially address it, because at the moment our understanding is that there's no grace period in the Bill, so if, for example, through automatic voter registration, a Member of the Senedd is suddenly missed, for whatever reason, from the register, they would automatically be disqualified from sitting as a Member immediately, without any opportunity to correct the register or have any kind of redress system. But you're saying that if there was a declaration basis, then that would be, potentially, a better route, which is helpful.

10:15

I'm just offering it as one potential way forward. 

Just on the automatic registration point, I think, obviously, it remains to be seen how that system looks in practice. We're a long way away from—. We've got pilots still to look at. I suppose, if you were a prospective candidate wanting to make sure that you didn't fall foul of anything in terms of being registered, there will still be the existing process of individual electoral registration, so you'd be able to check in advance, I suppose, that you were registered as well.  

But, obviously, the role of the electoral registration officer becomes much more important if immediate disqualification comes from the publication of a register and a Member's not on it. So, there is huge burden, actually, isn't there, on the electoral registration officers to get this right, rather than the candidates to make sure that they are ordinarily resident in Wales, which, of course, is the desire. 

Are there other tests, rather than being on an electoral roll, that you think might be more useful to apply? If you're paying council tax, that's a straightforward one, isn't it? If you're paying council tax in Wales and your primary residence is in Wales, you don't have to necessarily be on an electoral roll, do you?

I think, from our perspective, we've just looked at the proposals within the Bill itself, really. They seem workable. There are just a few of those questions still around how it works in practice in terms of that continuing requirement to be on the register, but we could potentially look at that, if that would be helpful. 

And just one other question. There has been concern that people could be on two electoral rolls—one in England, one in Wales—because they might have a second home in Wales, and that gives them the qualification to therefore be regarded as being resident in Wales. Do you have any views on that?

Yes, as long as someone appears on the local government register in Wales, they'd be eligible to stand, as you know. But it's worth noting that applications to register to vote from a secondary address are looked at by electoral registration officers on a case-by-case basis. You must be deemed resident, as it states in the guidance, at an address in order to register to vote there.

We do provide guidance to electoral registration officers on this. So, for example, property ownership on its own isn't sufficient to establish if someone is resident at an address, and it will depend on the amount of time that an individual spends there. So, if it's useful, again, we can happily provide a copy of this guidance that's provided to electoral registration officers to the committee, so you can see what we say and what they act on.

Dwi am ofyn cwestiynau ar adolygiadau o ffiniau newydd. A'r cwestiwn cyntaf ydy: oes gennych chi farn ar yr amserlen ar gyfer yr adolygiad o ffiniau etholaethol cyn yr etholiad Senedd nesaf, os gwelwch yn dda? Dyna'r cwestiwn cyntaf. Wedyn, mae yna fwriad i gael amser ar ôl y Senedd nesaf hefyd, cyn yr etholiadau yn 2030. Allwch chi jest roi eich barn chi ar y ddau gam yna, os gwelwch yn dda?

I want to ask questions on the boundary reviews. The first question is whether you have any views on the timetable for the constituency boundary review ahead of the 2026 Senedd election. That's the first question. And then, there's an intention to have time following the next Senedd election, before the elections in 2030. Could you just give us your views on those two steps, please?

Yes, I can come in on that. So, in terms of the timing of the 2026 review, I think, overall, it's workable, given that we're already—. We know that timescales for delivery of Senedd reform for the next election are quite tight anyway. So, I think, in an ideal world, there'd be a little bit more time there, but this is the situation we're in. The Bill, as you'll know, sets a specific deadline for the boundary commission to send its final report to Welsh Ministers by 1 April 2025. I think, from our perspective, that is workable, and there's some legal safeguards in the Bill around the Welsh Ministers having to lay that report and make regulations to give effect to those 16 constituencies as soon as is reasonably practicable. 

The only thing we want to flag, and we've done so in our written evidence, is, if there is an unforeseen delay to this process, which we wouldn't expect, but if there was a delay into the summer of 2025 for that review, it does start to create some quite significant concerns for both electoral administrators in terms of planning for the delivery of an election, especially given the new cross-boundary workings that will be required across 16 larger constituencies, and then, for political parties themselves in terms of planning a campaign, arranging for candidates. So, I think the Bill as it's drafted is okay from our perspective on the timings for the initial pairing review, but we really don't want to see a delay into that summer of 2025.

And on your second question, I think, generally, on boundary reviews, it's really a matter for the Senedd and the boundary commission itself. I think the only thing we would really flag in terms of the next boundary review, ahead of the 2030 election, is that I think it would be good, as far as possible, for as much consistency as there can be in terms of constituency names and sizes from 2026-30, just in that you could have consecutive elections from 2021 to 2026 to 2030 where a voter is being asked to vote and it's a different named constituency every time, and that kind of thing. I know the Bill puts that in as a consideration for the boundary commission to consider. So, we're not expecting it to be a problem, but, just from our perspective in terms of voter awareness and confusion, it could be a decade where there's quite a lot of change for voters in terms of what the boundaries look like.

10:20

Felly, gaf i jest gadarnhau, os yw hwnna'n iawn, eich bod chi braidd yn bryderus, os yw'r amserlen yn symud dipyn bach, na fydd yna ddigon o amser, yn eich barn chi, i sicrhau bod y broses yn cael ei delifro ar gyfer yr etholiad yn 2026? Rydych chi braidd yn bryderus—ydy hynny'n deg?

So, could I just confirm, if that's okay, that you are slightly concerned, if the timetable moves a little, that there won't be enough time, in your view, to ensure that the process is delivered for the election in 2026? You're slightly concerned—is that fair?

Yes, I would describe it as a slight concern, given that the legislation does set aside a specific date by which the boundary commission must send its report, and then those kind of secondary duties then on Welsh Ministers to lay it. So, there's nothing that could be changed on a legislative basis to plan for it; it's just a note of caution that if there was an unforeseen delay, that would cause problems in terms of delivery, yes. 

Dwi'n meddwl ein bod ni wedi gwneud yn glir bod gennym ni un egwyddor y byddai isafswm o chwe mis—mai dyna ydy'r egwyddor sydd gennym ni fel comisiwn.

I think that we've made it clear, haven't we, that we have one principle based on a minimum of six months—that that is the principle that we have as a commission.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Jest un cwestiwn arall, ac roeddem ni'n sôn am hyn yn gynt hefyd. Mae gennym ni system newydd lle rydyn ni'n paru'r etholaethau, felly mae hynny'n system hollol newydd i ni gyd, i ddweud y gwir—system lle rydym ni'n paru. Dwi jest eisiau gwybod eto, os gwelwch yn dda, os oes gennych chi syniadau sut y byddwch chi'n gallu esbonio'r system newydd yma i bobl ar draws Cymru, i sicrhau eu bod nhw'n gwybod bod yna system newydd ynglŷn â'r ffiniau. Sut ydym ni am sicrhau bod pobl yn gwybod yn union beth sy'n digwydd ynglŷn â pharu'r etholaethau?

Thank you very much. Just one other question, and we were talking about this earlier as well. We have a new system where we pair the constituencies, and that's a completely new system for us all, if truth be told, this pairing system. I just want to know again, really, if you have any ideas of how you can explain this new system to people across Wales, to make sure that they know there's a new system in terms of the boundaries. How are we going to ensure that people know exactly what's happening in terms of the pairing of constituencies?

Wel, os caf i, jest cyn i Rhydian ddod i mewn yn fwy manwl, ar yr ochr negyddol, mae hon yn her o ran rhoi'r neges allan i'r etholwyr, achos mae hi'n system newydd sbon. Ar yr ochr bositif, mae yna rywbeth hyfryd yn y syniad o adnewyddu'r system etholiadol, ac mae o'n gyfle i ni, efallai, i estyn allan at y pleidleiswyr ac aildanio ychydig o ddiddordeb yn y system. Felly, mae yna ochr negyddol a phositif i hyn, dwi'n meddwl.

Well, if I could say, just before Rhydian comes in with more detail, on the negative side, this is a challenge in terms of giving this message out to the voters, because it's a brand-new system. On the positive side, there's something delightful in the idea of renewing the electoral system, and it's an opportunity for us to reach out to voters and reignite some interest in the system. So, there is a negative side and a positive side to this. 

Ie. Yr unig beth gallaf i ddweud yw'r un ateb ag y rhoddais i i chi'n gynharach, mewn ffordd. Dŷn ni'n agored ar sut mae cyfathrebu'r system newydd ym mhob ffordd i etholwyr yng Nghymru o ran y neges sy'n rhan o'r ymgyrch ar gyfer pleidleiswyr. Dwi'n credu mai beth fydd yn bwysig yw sut mae'r gwaith hyn yn cael ei gydlynu ar lefel awdurdodau lleol. Mi fydd y bwrdd cydlynu—y bwrdd rheoli newydd, fel y bydd e ar y pryd—. Un o'r pethau gorau am y bwrdd cydlynu, ar hyn o bryd, yw'r ffordd maen nhw wedi gweithio'n rhanbarthol ac yn genedlaethol o ran cysoni negeseuon. Felly, bydd y bwrdd rheoli newydd, dwi'n credu, yn gallu gwneud lot o waith i sicrhau bod y neges yn un briodol i'w cynulleidfaoedd lleol nhw, a bod y bwrdd cyfathrebu o dan y bwrdd rheoli. Mae yna lot o fyrddau, dwi'n gwerthfawrogi, ond bydd y broses newydd yma, y strwythur newydd yma, yn ein helpu ni i allu rhoi'r negeseuon pwysig yma mas.

Yes. The only thing I can say is the same answer as I gave you earlier, in a way. We are open in terms of how to communicate the new system in every sort of way to voters in Wales in terms of the message that's part of the campaign for voters. I think what will be important is how this work is co-ordinated on a local authority level. The co-ordination board—the new management board, as it will be at the time—. One of the best things about the co-ordination board, currently, is how they've worked at a regional and national level in terms of making sure messages are consistent. So, the new management board, I think, will be able to do a lot of work to ensure that that message is appropriate to their local audiences, and I think the communications board will be below that. There are a number of boards, I appreciate, but this new process, this new structure, will help us to get these important messages out there.

10:25

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Jest un cwestiwn olaf, os gwelwch chi'n dda. Roeddech chi'n sôn am yr awdurdodau lleol a'r rhan maen nhw'n ei chwarae yn y darlun yma. Pwy sy'n gyfrifol am roi'r gwybodaeth am y system newydd a'r ffiniau newydd hefyd i'r awdurdodau lleol? Sut maen nhw'n cael eu cefnogi i sicrhau eu bod nhw'n gwybod am y system newydd, yn enwedig pan dŷn ni'n meddwl efallai fydd y cynghorau ddim yn mynd ar draws i'r etholaethau newydd—efallai fydd yna gymysgedd o awdurdodau lleol. Ydych chi'n gyfrifol am weithio efo nhw—[Anghlywadwy.]

Thank you very much. Just one final question. You mentioned the local authorities and the role that they play in this picture. Who is responsible for providing information about the new system and the new boundaries to the local authorities? How are they being supported to ensure that they know about the new system, particularly when we think that the councils won't map over to the new constituencies—there will perhaps be a mixture of local authorities. Are you responsible for working with them—[Inaudible.]

Sori. Dwi'n credu bydd y cyfrifoldeb yn cwympo i'r bwrdd rheoli etholiadol newydd. Nhw fydd yn edrych ar sut mae rhedeg yr etholiad, yn bendant. Ond mi fydd yna gyfrifoldeb yna hefyd o ran cyfathrebu ar lefel leol, ac fel roeddwn i'n dweud, o dan y bwrdd rheoli, mae yna fwrdd eilradd sydd yn edrych yn benodol ar gyfathrebu a chyfathrebu etholiadol. Felly, mi fydd y bwrdd hynny yn gyfrifol am sicrhau bod y negeseuon, ar lefel leol, yn gynhwysfawr ac yn gyson.

Sorry. I think the responsibility will lie on the electoral management board. They will be looking at how to run the election, certainly. But there will be responsibility also in terms of communication on a local level and, as I said, under the management board, there will be a secondary board looking specifically at communication and electoral communication. That board will be responsible for ensuring that the messages, on a local level, will be broad and consistent.

I just want to turn to section 19 of the Bill, which relates to the review that is required to be conducted once the new system has been introduced. There's a timetable for the establishment of a committee—it says it should be within six months of the Senedd elections taking place. But then it sets out criteria and it says that the motion to establish the committee must look at and consider the extent to which elements of a healthy democracy are present in Wales. Now, obviously, as an Electoral Commission, you undertake reviews after every election to see how well those elections have been administered and whether there are any lessons that might be learnt. But to what extent do you think that this duty around the extent to which the elements of a healthy democracy are present in Wales is a useful term to have on the face of the Bill? And what role, more widely, do you think that you can play in helping to contribute to that review, once it takes place?

As you mentioned, we've a statutory duty to publish a report on the administration of the election for the Senedd, and that's normally published in around September, after the election has taken place. But that does really look at the experiences of electoral administrators, of campaigners, and there is some voter information data there. So, what's being suggested is sensible, and I think what's being produced by the commission currently, as set out, would assist you. But if there was something that you as a Senedd would want us to look at in greater detail to include in that report, or as a supplementary to that report—because the wider health of our democracy is quite a grand proposal, in a sense, and it encompasses many, many things—I think we can probably look at what we would want to include, within any statutory report, that would assist you or assist a new committee in doing that work.

Would it not be better to take this clause about the 'extent to which the elements of a healthy democracy are present in Wales', because of the lack of definition of what that means, and the very broad nature of it—would it not be just better to take that out of the Bill and just conduct a simple, straightforward review?

I think that would be a matter for the Senedd and for the committee. But what I'm saying is, what we would include within the report would include views of electoral practitioners, would include views of campaigners and would include views of voters as well as non-party campaigners. So, I think that those three groups are key groups in terms of determining the health of our democracy. It's a question of whether what we do currently would be enough or whether the Senedd would want us to do more as part of this piece of work.

10:30

So, just picking up on that—[Interruption.]. Pardon me, Elan. Yes.

Could I just add—? You know, we obviously use statistics on the number of people who cast their votes, the number of people who decided to register, and so there are some elements—or key performance indicators, if you want to call them that—as to what constitutes a healthy democracy. The number of people who participate, and you would be able to track that from report to report. So, rather than set it in stone as a KPI within the Bill, obviously it's a much more sophisticated way of tracking it from election to election.

And can I just pick up on the point that you made there, Rhydian, about the people that you engage in the production of your post-election reviews? Should there be a list of the key stakeholders on the Bill that the Senedd committee must engage with in its review of the implementation of these new arrangements? Voters, candidates et cetera.

I think that would be a matter for you to decide, rather than the commission providing a view on it.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Os caf i holi’n benodol, felly, ynglŷn â’r cymorth i’r pleidiau gwleidyddol. Fel dŷch chi’n ymwybodol, o dan adran 12 Deddf Pleidiau Gwleidyddol, Etholiadau a Refferenda 2000, mae’r Comisiwn Etholiadol o dan ddyletswydd i ddosbarthu £2 filiwn y flwyddyn i bleidiau gwleidyddol cymwys. Dydy’r ffigur yma ddim wedi cynyddu ers pan basiwyd y Ddeddf yn 2000, ac fel dŷch chi’n gwybod hefyd, mae plaid yn gymwys, fel maen prawf, os oes ganddyn nhw ddau neu ddwy Aelod yn Nhŷ’r Cyffredin. Mae’r arian sydd ar gael yng Nghymru i ddatblygu polisi hefyd yn amrywio pan fod newid mewn system bleidiol gwlad arall, fel yn yr Alban, er enghraifft. Aeth yr arian i lawr gyda dyfodiad plaid Alba.

Efo’r newidiadau sydd rŵan, efo 96 o Aelodau yn arfaethedig yma yng Nghymru, ydych chi’n credu bod y trefniadau yma'n dal yn addas, a beth fyddai’n digwydd mewn sefyllfa, er enghraifft, pe byddai pleidiau newydd yn codi yng Nghymru yn y dyfodol, efallai Llafur Cymru yn torri i ffwrdd o Lafur Prydain ac ati—fyddan nhw wedi cael eu cau allan rhag cael arian i ddatblygu maniffesto Senedd Nghymru os nad oes ganddyn nhw gynrychiolwyr yn San Steffan? Felly, ydy hyn yn rhywbeth yr ydych chi’n edrych arno fo, neu'n rhoi ystyriaeth iddo fo er mwyn sicrhau bod yna gysondeb, felly, o ran y datblygiad o bolisi sydd hefyd, wrth gwrs, yn allweddol bwysig o ran ymgysylltu â'r cyhoedd mewn etholiadau?

Thank you very much. Could I ask you specifically, therefore, about the support for political parties? As you're aware, under section 12 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the Electoral Commission is under a duty to distribute £2 million a year to political parties that are eligible. This figure hasn't increased since the Act was passed in 2000, and as you know, a party is eligible, as a criteria, if it has two Members in the House of Commons, and the funding available in Wales to develop policy also varies when there is a change in the political system in another country, such as Scotland, for example. The money went down with the emergence of the Alba party.

With the changes now, with 96 Members proposed for Wales, do you think that the arrangements here are still appropriate, and what would happen in a situation, for example, where new parties would emerge in Wales in the future, maybe Welsh Labour breaking away from the UK Labour Party—would they be closed off from having money to develop a manifesto in Wales if they didn't have representatives in Westminster? So, is this something that you're looking at, or giving consideration to in order to ensure that there is consistency in terms of the development of policy, which is also, of course, vital in terms of engaging the public in elections?

Dwi'n credu y byddai unrhyw bolisi tebyg yng Nghymru yn ddibynnol ar ariannu gan Lywodraeth Cymru a beth fyddai angen i'w wneud. Efallai y bydd Elan eisiau dod i mewn ar y pwynt mwy cyffredinol ar y grantiau datblygu polisi yma, ond dŷn ni’n agored, fel efo rhannau eraill o’r ddeddfwriaeth sydd ddim fel petai yn y ddeddfwriaeth ar hyn o bryd, ac efallai ei fod yn rhywbeth i'w drafod yn hwyrach. Dŷn ni'n agored i gael y sgyrsiau yma efo gyda Llywodraeth Cymru os yw hyn yn rhywbeth y bydden nhw â diddordeb i edrych i mewn iddo fe. Ond mae’r pwynt bod angen i bleidiau gwleidyddol yng Nghymru edrych ar bolisïau ac i edrych ar ledaenu'r neges a sut i gyfathrebu efo pleidleiswyr yn un dilys.

I think any similar policy in Wales would depend on funding by Welsh Government and what would be required to do. Perhaps Elan would want to come in on the more general point regarding the policy development grants, but we're open, as with other parts of the legislation that isn't in legislation, so to speak, at the moment, and perhaps it will be discussed later. We're open to have these conversations with Welsh Government if this is something that they're interested in looking into. But the point that there is a need for political parties in Wales to look at policies and at getting the message out and how to communicate with voters is a valid one.

Dwi'n cytuno eich bod chi wedi rhoi enghraifft dybiedig dda, sydd yn her i bawb. Yr unig beth allaf i ei ddweud ydy bod perthynas y comisiwn, nid yn unig gyda Llywodraeth Cymru, ond wrth gwrs gyda Llefarydd y Tŷ Cyffredin—mae yna ffyrdd o fedru codi materion fel hyn ac efallai rhoi rhagrybudd bod angen ailedrych ymhen amser ar y system. Dwi ddim yn gallu gwneud unrhyw addewid yn fan hyn, ond yn sicr mae yna rai anomalies yn y system, fel y mae datganoli yn datblygu ac yn esblygu.

Yes, I agree that you've given a good example, which is a challenge to everyone. But the only thing I would say is that the relationship of the commission, not only with the Welsh Government, but also with the Speaker in the House of Commons—there are ways of raising issues like this and providing a forewarning that we need to look again at the system. I can't make any pledge or commitment here, but certainly there are some anomalies within the system, as devolution evolves.

10:35

I'll ask the closing question, because I'm aware we've just gone past the time we were allocated. Obviously, the Bill is as it is, and you've given us in your evidence a clear indication as to what the role of the commission is in addressing elections here in Wales. Is there anything missing in the Bill that actually would make the work of the commission better, would allow us to actually deliver elections far more democratically and which ensures as much involvement of the voter as possible? Is there anything that the Bill misses in helping you to deliver that? 

I don't think so. I think the current responsibilities bestowed upon the commission in terms of public awareness and around guidance are ample. There may be a question—. Really, my thoughts, coming from this discussion are that there may be a question around what we produce and what we include in our statutory report. Would the Senedd deem what we currently plan on including within statutory reports for Senedd elections—is that enough, or would you like to see more from us in terms of research and reporting and for it to be all-encompassing or a wider capture of public opinion and other opinion? So, there may be something there, but I don't think there's a fundamental omission there in terms of something that doesn't allow us to do our work. 

And I think, Rhydian, that it would be in order for us to be asked to do more work of that kind without it necessarily being in the Bill. 

Okay. Well, on that point, we've gone past our allocated time, so can I thank you all for your contributions and evidence this morning? As you know, you will receive a copy of the transcript. If you identify any factual inaccuracies, please let the clerking team know as soon as possible and we'll get them corrected. Can I thank you once again for your time this morning?

Diolch yn fawr.

Diolch yn fawr.

I now propose that we take a break before our next session. So, we'll break until 10.45 a.m.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:37 a 10:48.

The meeting adjourned between 10:37 and 10:48.

10:45
3. Bil Senedd Cymru (Aelodau ac Etholiadau): Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda Chomisiwn Ffiniau a Democratiaeth Leol Cymru
3. Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill: Evidence session with the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales

Can I welcome Members back to this morning's evidence sessions in relation to the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill? We'll move straight into item 3 on our agenda, which is our evidence session with the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales. Can I welcome Bev Smith, who is the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales's chair, and also Shereen Williams, who is the chief executive of the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales? Welcome. Can I thank you in advance for your written evidence you've provided to the committee? But, clearly, as you know, you're here for a reason and you're here for us asking questions, and answering them, so we'll go straight into questions, if that's okay with yourselves. And Darren to start.

Yes. Good to see you both this morning. I just wanted to ask whether the commission had a view on the new title that is being conferred upon you should this Bill be successful. Are you happy with the proposed title?

Yes. I think it adequately reflects perhaps a shifting role in terms of that oversight of democratic health—so, looking in particular at how community electoral boundaries and Senedd boundaries contribute to it, but also picking up that remuneration element in terms of whether that's a barrier or an opportunity to help additional standing of councillors. And then, the third element, really, around that electoral management board, I think it provides that wider scope to look at democratic health across all of those strands and perhaps provide trends and analysis back to Ministers to be able to look at whether we need to shift or change any policy. So, for me, I think it captures that wider role.

10:50

And are you happy with the number of commissioners that are proposed to be appointed: at least one but no more than seven members?

It's not too top heavy? We had some evidence from Scotland last week that suggested that they were getting on quite fine with five members, I think.

I think the workload would be quite significant in terms of all of those elements, and I think what's important is that we have the right capacity, the right skills and the right resources to be able to deliver, especially within the tight timescales, perhaps, around phase 1 of the Senedd reform in particular. So, to make sure that we can manage community and electoral reviews and not impact that programme and take on the additional functions, I think the number is about right.

So, you think seven is about right, as opposed to five. Just in terms of the length of the terms for commissioners, it's four-year renewable terms, as I understand it, that you have. And in terms of the current commissioners, where are they in the cycle, as it were, of appointments? You're not all going to disappear on the same day, are you? 

No. The work that we're doing at the minute, first of all, is looking at the job description of what the new commissioners would need, so looking at the skill sets, that level of independence, the type of analytical role that would be needed, ensuring that that role has the capacity to work across all of those strands, so we've got the biggest resilience, then, to move people around in those different work streams. The existing commissioners will end their contracts at different times. What we need to look at now is how we make sure there's continuity, but also that there is a fair and equitable and open process for those new roles, so that we get the right skill set into them at the right time. That's a lot of work in progress at the minute, and job descriptions are in draft, in discussions with the sponsorship body as well, and the public bodies unit.

And in terms of the scope of your work, so, again, when we met with the people from Scotland recently, they were talking about the relationship between the commission and the electoral management board in Scotland, which is quite a different one because they're independent bodies. Do you perceive there to be any potential for conflict of interest if the new electoral management board is embedded within your organisation?

I don't, as long as we've got the governance and the clarity of roles and responsibilities clear, and that's a piece of work that we're working with the sponsorship body on now, so making sure that we understand where the decisions are being made, where the accountability and responsibility for those decisions sit, and also that we make sure that the commissioners that sit on the electoral management board have the right skill set to provide that level of support, and that the organisation as a whole has the governance and audit function and the right level of secretariat support for that electoral management board. I think that's still work in progress, to make sure that we've got that clarity and we understand the risks for the commission, but also where decisions are being made.

Just to highlight we're going to be doing some additional work that Scotland isn't doing, so we're going to be having the EMB and the functions of the independent remuneration panel come over, so perhaps that's why we need a few more commissioners. We're running community reviews currently. We'll be starting a new electoral review programme. So, we'll be utilising our commissioners slightly differently to how Scotland does it. In terms of—. Just to echo what Bev said around the EMB's relationship with the wider commission, we're working closely with colleagues on the Wales electoral co-ordination board to make sure that the secretariat is set up to properly support them, as well as the commission. We're comfortable—. Currently, we work to two different boards; we've got the Boundary Commission for Wales, which is answerable, which is part of the work we do with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and we've got the LDBC commissioner. So, as a secretariat we're comfortable working to two different sets of commissioners. I think we'd be quite comfortable supporting EMB members as well as the wider commission work, and the fact that we'll have the chair of EMB being a member of the commission and an additional commissioner also being part of the EMB—.

And can I just ask you about the role and responsibilities, then, as well? As you say, you're taking on the responsibility for the remuneration side of things for local authority members. Have you considered whether it might be appropriate for you to take on responsibilities for Senedd Member remuneration?

I don't think it's appropriate for the commission to make a comment on that decision. I think that's a decision for the Senedd.

10:55

We could look at that capacity to do that, if it was something that was proposed, in our planning, but, obviously, we haven't as yet. 

Can I come back to one point? Darren highlighted that the Bill says one to seven, effectively, and you said that's enough. Therefore, you don't need seven; the Bill says a maximum of seven. But, from the answers I took, your view is that you will use all seven. Is that your interpretation, that you will use all seven?

In our discussions with colleagues in our sponsor division, in how we're planning our work, because we're currently undertaking quite a lot of community reviews, undertaking the Senedd review at the same time as well, and then kick-starting a new electoral review programme for principal councils, we think we would want to recruit a full cohort. However, it would be timed as well, to make sure that people don't end their terms all at the same time and then we suffer a loss of organisational memory. But our intention is to make full use of the allocation. 

So, just in terms of the organisational memory, you currently have staggered appointments, effectively, over a period of time. So, when do current appointments come to an end?

So, in terms of the commissioners, the chair and one of the other commissioners finishes in 2026, and, in terms of the other commissioners, they all finish in the spring of 2025—spring to summer. But the continuity issue is something that we're discussing with the sponsorship body at this point in time, to make sure that we don't lose that skill set at a key point in that programme of work. 

So, you've got the capacity there, with the existing experienced commissioners, effectively, to do this first coupling of constituencies job.

Yes, and I think the other thing to note is that both myself and one of the other commissioners also sit on the remuneration panel for Wales. So, that—

Yes, and, both myself and the other commissioner, 2026 is the end of our time. So, I think that will help as well in terms of some of that continuity. 

Okay. I wasn't aware of that, but that's helpful to know. Thank you. 

Sorry, could you—?

Current term is four years, finishing in 2026. 

With permission. 

Thank you very much, Chair. Thanks, both, for coming in this morning. I'm going to ask a few more questions now about the appointments and relationship with the Senedd. So, it would be great to get your view on whether the commission's accountability relationship with the Senedd should change to take into account its additional responsibilities for the Senedd constituency boundaries. So, for example, that could be in relation to the Electoral Commission's five-year plan and financial estimates that currently go to the Llywydd's Committee. 

I think that would be a decision for the Senedd. If you feel that that would be helpful to improve governance and transparency, that's something we would welcome. In terms of—. I appreciate that a lot of reform that's coming through the Bill mirrors what's in the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020. We currently don't have that kind of relationship with the UK Parliament. Our relationship as Boundary Commission for Wales is with our sponsor division, and we submit our reports directly to the Minister of State and the Speaker of the House of Commons. And we provide updates that way. So, that is the current programme of engagement we have with that, and if it is in the interest of transparency and governance for that to change, when this new Bill comes through, then we'd be happy to take that on board. 

I think it's always tricky when we're drawing lines for politicians. 

Well, I think it's more important for us to understand, as you say, in terms of transparency and accountability, with these changes, do you believe that there should be good accountability to the Senedd?

Yes, I think, good accountability—. I would like to think that, as a commission, we provide good accountability, full stop. However, we'd be happy to expand that relationship and report to the Llywydd's Committee as well. 

Excellent. Thank you very much. And then, also, your views on whether the appointments process for the chair and commissioners should change to reflect the commission's new role. So, for example, through pre-appointment hearings with the Senedd committee. So, for example, we would currently do that with the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. They would come before one of the allocated committees. Do you think that would be appropriate?

I think, as long—. I think, if that was what Members wanted, then, obviously, we would work with that. I think what's important is that there is that independence, there is a proper, robust, transparent process that we ensure that the job descriptions reflect the skill set and the experience that we need. However robust that process needs to be for the chair, then we'd work with that.

11:00

Just to highlight, there is a difference, I think, in the other commissioners and the chair of the commission, whereas those commissioners then, to an extent, become the chief executives of those bodies. So, there's a different relationship for them, because Bev and the commissioners will be the decision makers. However, the secretariat does all the logistical work, all the planning, all the preparations of the report. So, there is a slightly different role for the board and the future generations commissioner and the Welsh Language Commissioner.

Okay. Thank you very much. And then, I think we've already touched on the changes to the length of term required and not losing that experience and expertise. So, in terms of the views on the additional office holders disqualified from being appointed as members of the commission, the commission's chief executive, and as assistant commissioners, are there any additional offices that should be added to the list? 

I think it's a very comprehensive list.

Okay, fantastic. And also then do you think there should be any additional changes to prevent one of these office holders later taking up one of the disqualifying offices set out in the Bill and in the 2013 Act? Does that need tightening up?

I think both elements are quite comprehensive. We've not had an issue at the commission, in terms of having to deal with such appointments before, so, not from—

It could be a slight overkill, yes.

Okay, thank you very much. And then, just my last question, your views on the provision in section 15 to change the quorum for meetings of the commission.

It works for us in terms of those numbers.

Okay. And if there were any changes then, with that, do you think there should be any—? Would that cause any issues, do you think, what's required at the moment?

No. [Inaudible.] We work flexibly. Commissioners dial in online, et cetera, so if there's a difficulty, we work quite flexibly as an organisation.

Excellent. Thank you very much. That's all my questions. Thank you, Chair.

We'll move on now to perhaps focus on what your role is anyway, which is boundary reviews. So, Heledd.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. I'll be speaking Welsh. Diolch.

Os caf i jest, cyn mynd ymlaen i hynny—ymddiheuriadau, Gadeirydd—ond o ran y pwynt roedd Sarah Murphy yn ei godi, yn benodol o ran pwy all fod yn aelod o ysgrifenyddiaeth y comisiwn neu'n aelod o'r comisiwn ei hun, dwi'n gwybod roeddech chi’n dweud, efallai bach yn 'overkill' oedd y gair, ond pam ydych chi’n meddwl bod y Bil yn gwahardd aelod o staff cymorth neu staff Comisiwn y Senedd rhag bod yn aelodau, ond nid gweision sifil a chynghorwyr arbennig Llywodraeth Cymru? Ydych chi’n meddwl bod angen ychwanegu at y sawl sydd wedi’u gwahardd o gwbl?

Before going on to that—and apologies, Chair—but in terms of the point Sarah Murphy was raising, specifically in terms of who can be a member of the commission secretariat or a member of the commission itself, I know you were saying, perhaps a slight 'overkill' was the word used, but why do you think the Bill disqualifies support staff or Commission staff from being members, but not civil servants or advisers of Welsh Government? Do you think there is a need to add to the number of people who are disqualified?

I think it would all depend on the public appointments process and how rigorous it would be, so I think the existing public appointments process is quite rigorous for Welsh Government appointments to the commission, so I don't feel, at this point, there is a need to add. However, again, I think as a commission, we wouldn't have a position on whether we'd strongly object or not.

If members determined that that was the most appropriate safeguard, then we would work within that.

Okay, thank you.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Os ydw i felly yn symud ymlaen yn benodol o ran yr adolygiad ffiniau, beth ydy eich barn chi ynghylch a yw’r llinell amser a nodir ar gyfer adolygiad ffiniau 2026 yn realistig, a sut byddech chi’n mynd ati i gynnal yr adolygiad?

Thank you very much. Therefore, if I move on specifically to the boundary review, what are your views on whether the timeline set out for the 2026 boundary review is realistic, and how would you approach the undertaking of the review?

Shall I take this? I think it is a tight timeline. I think that's very, very obvious, but our position as a commission is that, if we're resourced appropriately, that can be undertaken. So, for example, we would start planning for the consultation portal early next year to make sure that it's ready in time. We would kick start our briefing sessions with stakeholders pretty much within weeks of getting Royal Assent. We would start prepping our initial reports to be published in September and kick start the consultation process.

There is a lot of cost involved, I'm conscious of that, because we'd have to deploy staff to process consultation responses. We would need translations. When we ran the parliamentary review, we pretty much had an army of translators on top of the contracts that we had, just to translate all the responses we received, commissioners being able to give their time in planning it properly. One of the things we undertake for the first review is to ask very specific questions as opposed to open-ended questions, saying, 'Do you agree with the pairing that we've put forward, and, if you agree, why do you agree? If you don't agree, what alternative would you put forward?' So, that way we can sift out, perhaps, responses that aren't linked to the pairing exercise. What we found in the parliamentary review was that we had quite a number of responses, but the quality of the responses sometimes was quite challenging, because they were far more upset about the reduction in MPs, or the existence of MPs, and we had to sift through all of that for the report. So, for the first boundary review, the commission's intention is to ask closed questions.

11:05

Diolch. Felly, drwy gymryd y math yna o approach, ydych chi'n meddwl bod hyn, felly, yn mynd i roi digon o amser i'r cyhoedd ymgysylltu'n effeithiol efo'r broses adolygu, gan y bydd y cwestiynau efallai efo mwy o ffocws?

Thank you. Therefore, by taking that sort of approach, do you think that this is going to give sufficient time for the public to engage effectively in the review process, as the questions perhaps will have more of a focus?

The first review will be quite focused, because it's a pairing exercise. These constituencies have been developed based on a quite extensive consultation process that took over two and a half years, to create these parliamentary constituencies. So, for the first one, it will be quite limited. However, one of the things we have found is that investing appropriately through comms, advertising and engagement will create that conversation in the public domain. We have found that our recent investment for the parliamentary review has resulted in the most responses that we've received ever for a parliamentary review in Wales, and hence, in the costings we've provided, we had asked for, I believe, about just under £120,000. It's quite a lot of money from the commission's perspective to spend in that nine months just on advertising, but it does have an impact on responses. Having run an electoral review programme, currently running community reviews and the parliamentary responses, you will still get people saying, 'I didn't know anything about it.' So, what we wouldn't want is tonnes of responses at the end saying, 'We didn't know anything about this and we weren't given a chance to influence the decision.' That investment in comms is really, really crucial for us.

Ie. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Rydym ni wedi clywed tystiolaeth gan Gomisiynydd y Gymraeg oedd yn pryderu nad oedd mecanwaith o fewn y Bil, cyn dechrau'r broses enwi, ar y confensiynau y dylid eu dilyn wrth enwi. Rhoddwyd yr enghraifft o sawl cyfuniad posib, er enghraifft, pe bai Dwyfor Meirionnydd ac Ynys Môn yn cael eu pario—er enghraifft, Ynys Môn Dwyfor Meirionnydd; Dwyfor Meirionnydd ac Ynys Môn; Ynys Môn Dwyfor Meirionnydd—ac roedd y comisiynydd yn gofyn a fyddai angen Dwyfor Meirionnydd and Ynys Môn yn Saesneg, neu a ellid cael Dwyfor Meirionnydd Ynys Môn? Ond efallai na fyddai hynny'n dderbyniol i etholwyr, am y byddai'n pentyrru'r elfennau sydd yn ddieithr. Nodwyd hefyd rôl uned seilwaith ieithyddol Llywodraeth Cymru yn y broses.

Ydych chi'n credu bod angen i'r comisiynydd fod o dan ddyletswydd i ymgynghori â chi ynghylch enw Cymraeg a Saesneg arfaethedig, ac efallai os oes gennych chi unrhyw farn ynghylch a ydy'r gofynion i ymgynghori â Chomisiynydd y Gymraeg yn briodol? Byddwch chi'n ymwybodol, dwi'n siŵr, fod lot o'r sylwadau a dderbynioch chi efo'r newidiadau yn San Steffan yn ymwneud efo enwau ac ymgysylltiad. Felly, jest diddordeb mewn clywed eich sylwadau chi yn benodol o ran hynny.

Yes. Thank you very much. We've heard evidence from the Welsh Language Commissioner, who is concerned that there is no mechanism in the Bill, before the start of the naming process, regarding a naming convention. The example was given of a number of possible combinations, for example, if Dwyfor Meirionnydd and Ynys Môn were paired—for example, Ynys Môn Dwyfor Meirionnydd; Dwyfor Meirionnydd and Ynys Môn; Ynys Môn Dwyfor Meirionnydd—and the commissioner was asking whether Dwyfor Meirionnydd and Ynys Môn would be needed in English, or could you have Dwyfor Meirionnydd Ynys Môn? But perhaps that wouldn't be acceptable to constituents, because it would involve heaping unfamiliar elements together. The role of the Welsh Government's linguistic infrastructure unit is also noted in the process.

Do you think that the commissioner needs to be under a duty to consult with you with regards to proposed English and Welsh names, and do you have any views on whether the requirements to consult with the Welsh Language Commissioner are appropriate? You will be aware, I'm sure, that a lot of the comments that you received with regard to the changes in Westminster concerned name changes and connections and so on. I'd just be interested in hearing your views on that specifically.

Based on what's set out in the Bill, our intention is to run the pairing exercise, obviously internally, and then get in touch with the Welsh Language Commissioner to get input on the name combinations, also, obviously, making sure we check our spellings, accents, things like that, to ensure that it's as accurate as possible. The challenge we always have in a public consultation is that we'll consult the Welsh Language Commissioner, we'll publish it in our report, but, obviously, you could have an overwhelming response from the public saying, 'Actually, we disagree with the Welsh Language Commissioner's position on the name, and we would like to call Ynys Môn Dwyfor Meirionnydd something else.' Now, as a commission, the job of my team will be to pull together all the evidence and present it to my commissioners, and they would then consider all the evidence in the decision-making process.

I think it's that balance, isn't it, about where you put the weight in terms of the assessment that the commissioners will need to make. What I have done recently, obviously, with the new Welsh Language Commissioner, is met her myself, and had that discussion about where, perhaps, we can work more collaboratively and closer together as we move through some of these changes, because it's really important that we do take account of the Welsh Language Commissioner's views on these things. But also, it's one element of evidence that the commissioners need to weigh up in terms of those other community views and the consultation comments that come in as well. And I think she was very appreciative of the challenges associated with making sure that you get the right combination of names.

11:10

We've already started doing some of that in our community reviews now, where we go to the Welsh Language Commissioner in advance of the decision-making process to get input on place names, because I think that's really, really helpful for us. As a matter of practice, at the initial proposal stage, we take the position of the Welsh Language Commissioner's recommendations for place names, and then we put that in the report for the public to comment on and give us feedback. 

Yes, thank you. I think the Welsh Language Commissioner thought that, perhaps, she should have more of a role, rather than a consultatory role, in determining, because of that expertise within her office and team in terms of that. So, it's interesting, perhaps something that needs to be explored or clarified, because I don't think it's clear at present who ultimately has that decision. So, perhaps that's where the question was coming from. That's helpful. 

Os caf i droi i'r Gymraeg eto, sori. Oes yna unrhyw beth fyddech chi eisiau ei weld fel unrhyw newid i'r broses a nodir ar gyfer cynnal yr adolygiad ffiniau 2026, neu ydych chi'n hyderus ac yn hapus efo'r hyn sy'n cael ei gynnig ar y funud? 

If I could turn to the Welsh language again. Is there anything that you would like to see in terms of changes to the process in terms of conducting the boundary review for 2026, or are you content and confident with what's being proposed currently? 

We've had lots of discussions with officials to get to this point in terms of what's been included, and as for the 2026 review, we are content with what's being proposed. It's a pairing exercise. The parliamentary constituencies are now in legal order, so that's quite helpful for us as well. And I think bearing in mind there could possibly be a general election soon, there will be awareness among the public of what the new parliamentary constituencies look like. So, there's a level of public education taking place then before we start coming in with our Senedd review. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi am ofyn cwestiynau yn Gymraeg hefyd. I fynd yn ôl i'r cwestiwn roedd Heledd yn ei godi ynglŷn â rôl y comisiynydd, a oes yna arfer gorau yn rhywle yn y byd sy'n dangos yn union sut i wneud hyn? Dwi'n poeni dipyn bach hefyd am y rôl mae'r comisiynydd yn ei gael yn y system. Ydych chi'n gwybod am arfer da dros y byd yn yr un lle â ni? 

Thank you very much. I'm going to ask my questions in Welsh as well. To return to Heledd's question about the role of the commissioner, is there best practice anywhere across the world that shows us exactly how to do this? I'm also somewhat concerned about the role that the commissioner will have in the system. Do you know about any good practice across the world that is in the same situation as us?

I'm not aware, and I think what we have in the UK is quite unique with this pairing exercise, for example. It's based on UK parliamentary constituencies, and we are applying it to a devolved structure. I'm not sure if there's anywhere else in the world that would have this, or good practice around this. I know that other countries do come to the UK parliamentary boundary commissions to talk to us about how we run our parliamentary reviews, because of the amount of public consultation that takes place as part of that full process—the fact that it takes two and a half years from start to finish. It is quite a long and lengthy process. There are different parts of the process where the public and interested stakeholders can give input. So, I don't want to be arrogant and say we're best practice in terms of this, but I don't think there's any other administration outside the UK that runs similar types of processes. 

I think what is important, though, is whilst this might not be replicated in other parts of the country, that we make sure that the organisation itself has the most robust auditing governance arrangements in place, that we make sure that we have good robust project planning in order to manage the change that will occur to the organisation over the next 18 months, that we have the right checks and balances in place, and that the organisation's principles and ways of working look at continuous improvement. So, continually using best practice, for example, whether it's electoral management best practice, whether it's other boundary reviews that we can learn from, whether there are elements from the Scottish example. So, the organisation needs to be set up in such a way that continuous improvement is embedded throughout it, and the right checks and balances and robust challenge exist through the governance and audit committee. We’ve just recently appointed two new independent members, and there will be an independent chair of that committee, and those voices are really important to make sure that we’ve got that assurance as a board that we are doing things in the right order, in the right way, and taking account of all of our key stakeholders’ views, and learning as we go as well. 

11:15

Just for background information, all the local government and parliamentary commissions in the UK meet on an annual basis for an inter-commission meeting where we share best practice, discuss issues. After every review programme, I know all the commissions do a lessons-learned, and that’s shared across all the commissions, and we are actually looking at picking up some of the work, from the way England do the local government reviews, and adopting some of their practice in our next electoral review programme for principal councils. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Ond mae hyn yn unigryw—mae hyn yn hollol unigryw efo’r iaith Gymraeg, ac efo’r enwau Cymraeg i’r etholaethau. Felly, mae o’n wahanol i bopeth arall, fel dwi’n deall. Felly, ydych chi wedi meddwl yn union am y rôl i Gomisiynydd y Gymraeg? I ddilyn beth mae Heledd wedi dweud, dwi’n meddwl bod hynny’n bwysig iawn, ei bod hi’n cael rôl sy’n benodol yn y broses.

Thank you very much. But this is entirely unique, with the Welsh language and Welsh names of constituencies. So, it is different to everything else, as I understand it. Have you thought about the role of the Welsh Language Commissioner? Following on from what Heledd said, I think that's very important—that she has a specific role in this process. 

That has obviously been reflected in the Bill where we have a duty to consult with her separately before we even published a report, to talk through the Welsh names of the constituencies. However, if it’s felt that the Welsh Language Commissioner should be the determining body for constituencies, then that will need to be reflected in any changes to the Bill, and just in terms of timing, because the basis of the final proposals would be automaticity, then that would have to happen before we publish our final report, and that determination of the Welsh Language Commissioner should go in our final report, as opposed to us publishing our final report and then a separate process for the Welsh names of constituencies.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Mae hynny'n helpu. A jest cwestiwn olaf, os gwelwch yn dda: dwi wedi edrych ar yr amserlen—felly, i fynd yn ôl i'r amserlen—a dydych chi ddim yn dechrau'r broses tan fis Awst y flwyddyn nesaf. Gaf i ofyn pam nad yw'n dechrau cyn hynny? Rydyn ni wedi clywed pryderon ar gyfer yr amserlen. Felly, oes yna reswm dyw e ddim yn dechrau cyn mis Awst blwyddyn nesaf, os gwelwch yn dda?

Thank you very much. That's helpful. And a final question: I've looked at the timetable—so, returning to the timetable—you won't start the process until August next year. Could I ask why the process won't start before then? We've heard some concerns about the timetable, and so, is there a reason why it won't start until next August?

That date was picked on the basis of when the Bill is likely to receive Royal Assent. So, if the Bill does receive Royal Assent earlier, we would start earlier. Obviously, once a Bill passes through all the stages, we can start our prep work, once everything’s agreed. Once all the processes are agreed in the Bill, we can start our work. That’s not an issue. Yes, the timescales can move forward. It all depends on the timing of the Bill.

Felly, mae gennych chi—[Torri ar draws.]

So, you have—[Interruption.]

The success of the Bill, yes, perhaps—the success of the Bill.

Felly, mae gennych chi'r capasiti i'w wneud o'n gynt, os yw'r cyfle yna'n digwydd.

So you have the capacity to do this sooner if the opportunity arises.

Yes, we do. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Cadeirydd. 

Thank you very much, Chair. 

If we go on to the reviews post 2026, because you will be looking at, possibly, the boundaries, and there's going to be a change—well, 'minimise the change', I think I saw in some of your decisions or recommendations for amendments to the Bill. That'll be very interesting as well, and I'll come back to that in a minute. But, on the 10 per cent plus or minus, normally it has been 5 per cent plus or minus. Is 10 per cent really the right figure to be using when everyone else is using 5 per cent? Or is it really set up to fix the Ynys Môn problem?

Oh, Ynys Môn—always a problem. [Laughter.] No, I think, in terms of our position, it is that, whether it's 5 per cent or 10 per cent, that figure to an extent—. We will work within the rules that are given to us. The commission doesn't have a position on whether 10 per cent is better than 5 per cent. If it's 10 per cent and it's about minimising change, then we would look to deliver it within the rules that have been set for us. But I think it's important to note that there will be some significant changes just because of the numbers relating to Ynys Môn. I had a colleague look at some of the electoral quota figures based on the Senedd electors registered to vote as of December 2021. The electoral quota is 146,787. The minimum constituency would have to be 132,000, which the Ynys Môn-Dwyfor Meirionnydd combination is approximately 10,000 electors short of. So, assuming that these figures stay the same—obviously, there'll be changes with registrations et cetera—we're going to have to find 10,000 minimum from somewhere around the area. That could create a ripple effect, or it might not; it all depends on which combinations we put forward. But the 10 per cent does give us a bit more flexibility and room to play with, really, in terms of minimising change.

11:20

It's not our committee that's looking at it, but the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill, which is also being considered at this point in time, puts in automatic registration. Have you considered how that impacts upon the future calculation, because, all of a sudden, we could find many more thousands of people placed on lists and they might not be equally dispersed?

And that's where the exercise of how we put forward new proposals, in the 2030 review, will come into play. As a matter of practice, when we do parliamentary reviews, we move whole communities rather than splitting communities, so that could mean that, in one community, you could have one electoral ward, in another community, you might have two electoral wards. So, you could have communities split across a number of electoral wards. We make sure that communities stay together within the same constituency, so some of those changes—. Whilst something might be 110.5 per cent, so, it's 0.05 per cent over, we might make a bigger move just so that we can move a whole community, rather than move that 0.05 per cent of people to make sure that the constituency number works.

Just picking up on this issue of the threshold, given that the size of the constituency is going to, obviously, be roughly double the size of the Westminster constituencies, that also gives you greater flexibility, doesn't it, because you're dealing with much bigger populations?

So, effectively, the flexibility has not been doubled, it's been quadrupled, hasn't it, because of this 10 per cent variation that you're allowed to extend to, which does seem rather high and, obviously, inconsistent with elsewhere. But, you're saying that you don't have a view on the percentages; you'll just apply the rules, whatever they are.

If it's 5 per cent or 10 per cent, we'll work within that. 

Can I just go back to this issue of the electoral management board, if I can? When we met with your Scottish counterparts, they did make it clear that they felt that there ought to be this arm's-length arrangement and that it worked well in Scotland. Obviously, I heard what you said earlier on that, provided the governance arrangements were right, you felt that it could be kept and incorporated in-house, but there was a very strong sense of the need for those things to be completely independent from Scotland, which I was quite taken with, to be honest, in terms of the evidence that came forward. So, why do you think that you can make governance arrangements in a way that addresses the sorts of concerns and points that your Scottish counterparts have made?

I think part of the discussion that we're having now with the sponsorship body and with the existing voluntary body that is in place is around that independence. So, it isn't necessarily going to operate in exactly the same way as, perhaps, say, a sub-committee that looks at remuneration would, for example. So, it's about getting the balance between the independence of the electoral management board and it also being set within a context and framework of the boundary commission itself. Because, clearly, there will be decisions that are made, and the risk associated with those decisions will rest with the commission itself. Obviously, having an audit and governance function, that audit and governance function will be provided to the electoral management board in the same way as it would support other elements of the commission's work. So, I think there's a hybrid model in there that we can work towards that takes account of that need for independence, but also makes sure that we don't lose the benefits of having it as part of the commission, both in terms of the level of support we can provide, and also making sure that the board has that strategic oversight of the work of the electoral management board, to make sure we're picking up on things like trends, democratic deficit, how the whole system can work to make sure that there's a healthy democracy across Wales. That's the bit that I think is the biggest opportunity of some of the proposals that are put forward throughout this Bill.

11:25

When I looked at the costs associated with the commission in the explanatory memorandum—. Can you tell us to what extent did those costs change over time, as you discussed them with the Welsh Government, Shereen?

In terms of the change, the costs put forward for this particular Bill are based on our expenditure on the parliamentary constituency review. There are peaks and troughs. In terms of our timings, because of how we're going to be running reviews, it's about allocating which funds pay for the staffing structure at that point in time. So, during the quieter years, when we're not running Senedd reviews, the costs associated will be quite low. Currently, for example, when we run parliamentary reviews, over the two and a half years, it costs approximately £1 million plus, spread over three and a half years. However, in the quiet years when we're not doing parliamentary work, DLUHC provides us with a core amount of approximately £100,000 to £125,000 just to keep things going, so we could have our annual meeting once a year of the parliamentary boundary commission. So, in terms of costings, that's how it would work for the Senedd review.

I can see the patterns in terms of you having your peaks and troughs in work, and that's ho