Sunday, December 10, 2017

How many Assembly Members?

On Tuesday we are expecting a report to emerge from somewhere in the National Assembly for Wales - from the office of the Presiding Officer, Elin Jones I think. We expect this report to put forward proposals to increase the number of Assembly Members, plus options outlining how they are to be elected. I was in the Interview Chair with Arwyn on Wales Politics today (discussing Brexit) but since it followed an interview with Elin About this report, I was invited to comment. So I did. And I’m not expecting total support for my opinion. Though I think Elin herself might be pleased!!
Firstly, I need to tackle the desire by public opinion to reduce the ‘cost of democracy’. The public (or at least the most vociferous) neither care for or have any respect for politicians in general. The public wants to cut 5he cost - let’s do it. We are eliminating the 73 MEPs, which will be a huge reduction. I also believe there is an unanswerable case to reduce the size of the House of Lords. At present there are around 800 appointed to sit on the red benches. It’s too many. There are two reduction scenarios. Firstly to halve the number, or secondly reduce to the same size as the House of Commons (650). This would make things much more democratic, even with an increase in number of AMs from 60 to 80ish.
Not sure I should be taking a public view on this, except that I was asked. Its not going to be popular I sense. It’s up to the AMs themselves to justify. The case has to be made by Assembly Members, led by the Presiding Officer, and the political parties in the National Assembly.
When I was elected an Assembly Member in 1999, we were not overworked, in the sense that we had time to become involved in various related activity. I particularly enjoyed involvement in developing a political instruction that can be looked on a proper Welsh Parliament. So much so that I was mega-disappointed to lose my ‘seat’ in 2007. Later on, the National Assembly was given limited law-making powers, which were manageable in my view. But the recent Wales Act has invested the responsibility of raising half of our Income Tax in Wales. There will also be significantly more power vested in the Assembly as a result of Brexit. In my view, the National Assembly for Wales has grown into ‘The Welsh Parliament’.  I really don’t think 60 AMs are enough to do that job properly.
The case for more AMs is so strong that I consider it unanswerable. Of course, those who have never accepted the reality of devolution, will oppose this. Many would still like to put devolution into reverse. But in the end there will be agreement on around 80 AMs.
But there may not be Agreement on how they are to be elected. Labour will not want any possibility of losing its role as leading the Welsh Government. There could be a monster row over this. Best of luck Elin! Anyway, I just thought I’d outline how it seems to me.

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