Strengthening the quality of our Welsh democracy

Guest blog from Dr Elin Royles, Aberystwyth University.

The Senedd building in Cardiff Bay, Wales

The ‘Creating a Parliament for Wales’ consultation sets the direction for the next stage of Wales’ devolution journey.

It presents an important contrast to the real threat that the UK Government will centralise rather than transfer devolved powers back to the National Assembly for Wales in the EU Withdrawal Bill. Indeed, rising above the lack of respect and undermining of devolution, the consultation builds upon the 2011 referendum result.

It prepares the way for understanding how the people of Wales wish to see powers included in the Wales Act 2017 utilised. And there’s an opportunity for us all to contribute to the discussions.

A strong basis for the consultation was established by the Expert Panel on Electoral Reform established by the Assembly Commission. They took evidence and evaluated a range of matters in order to develop informed and robust recommendations regarding electoral reforms for Wales.

Personally, what’s extremely important about this consultation is that it provides an opportunity for the people of Wales to voice their opinions on proposed to enable the Assembly to work in a more effective way.

It tackles some key issues that have challenged the devolved body since its early years, such as the number of Assembly Members, and also influence how to strengthen the quality of democracy in Wales into the future.

View into the debating chamber in the Senedd

Even back in 1999 when the Assembly was a newly-established body with limited powers, the implications of the limited number of 60 Assembly Members soon became apparent.

From the Richard Commission, to the All-Wales Convention to the Silk Commission, independent reviews have called for increasing the number of elected members. In each case, they knew all too well that proposing more elected politicians is far from popular.

Nevertheless, they recommended increasing the number of members in order to strengthen the Assembly’s capacity to scrutinise the government’s work and legislation. Indeed, the Silk Commission suggested that there were real threats to how Wales is governed without increasing the number of AMs owing to high-level pressures and the constraints on their ability to scrutinise and fulfil their legislative duties effectively.

Given the increasing pressures, it’s no surprise that the Expert Panel has also recommended increasing the Assembly’s size to at least 80 members. A decrease in parallel in the number of elected members at other levels of government would also be a welcome step.

In seeking to strengthen Welsh democracy in the future, the Panel’s recommendations to reduce the minimum voting age in Assembly elections to 16 years old is an important step in order to raise political awareness and participation amongst young people.

Creating a Parliament for Wales

This is the start of a new phase of devolution and now is your chance to tell us how you want your National Assembly to be.

Get started >

In our research into Language, Education and Identity as part of the WISERD ESRC Civil Society Research Centre we have interviewed 16+ year-old students in schools and FE colleges across Wales, including asking them on their views on politics and voting.

A number of them expressed a strong desire to have the right to vote from 16 years old. The extension of the vote to 16 year olds during the Scottish Independence Referendum raised expectations amongst young people.

In our research, a number expressed disappointment (and stronger feelings at times) that they did not have the opportunity to vote in the Referendum on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

At the same time, the research confirms that there are higher levels of interest in politics amongst some young people than would be expected, and that they tend to be unsure and lack confidence regarding their levels of understanding of the political process.

Consequently, alongside establishing 16 as the voting age for Assembly elections, we need to increase and formalise the political and citizenship education that our young people receive.

Whilst there are distinctively Welsh arrangements in place in terms of personal and social education and the Welsh Baccalaureate, the research suggests that reforms are needed to better equip young people.

We need citizenship and democracy education that not only provides young people with more information but is high quality by extending opportunities to discuss and debate political topics.

These are essential steps in order to improve the quality of democracy in Wales in the future.

Do join in the discussions.

Information about the Centre for Welsh Politics and Society – WISERD@Aberystwyth

The Centre for Welsh Politics and Society – WISERD@Aberystwyth is an interdisciplinary research centre at Aberystwyth University, which aims to develop our understanding of politics and modern society in the context of a connected world, supporting and undertaking world-class research in the social sciences and contributing to public understanding and policy development in Wales.

We at the Centre for Welsh Politics and Society are delighted to be collaborating with the Assembly Commission on an event in Aberystwyth on 15 March as part of the ‘Creating a Parliament for Wales’ consultation.

The event is being held at 18.00 on Thursday 15 at the Arad Goch Centre, Bath Street, Aberystwyth.


Future Senedd Consultation

Minimum Price for Alcohol – Is It The Right Solution?

As part of our committee inquiry into the minimum price for alcohol, we asked young people and members of the homeless community for their views. Among the many insights offered was the possibility that there could be unintended consequences of a minimum price for alcohol.

About the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill

In October 2017, the Assembly’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee  was asked to consider the details of the Welsh Government’s Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill. The Bill proposes to set a minimum price per unit for alcohol in Wales and to make it an offence for alcohol to be sold or supplied below that price.

The Bill aims to protect the health of harmful and hazardous drinkers by increasing the price of cheap, strong alcohol such as white ciders. As part of its work, the Committee wanted to find out whether these changes would affect young people and also whether there could be any unintended consequences arising from the Bill for people who are dependent on alcohol, in particular people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

What did young people and the homeless community tell us?

Focus groups were conducted with youth groups, colleges, universities and organisations supporting the homeless community in Wales. Through these sessions, the Committee heard that higher alcohol prices may have a negative impact on dependent drinkers, and could push some drinkers towards other, more harmful substances.

“You can buy a bottle of vodka for £15 but you can get a pill for £7 – £10, and its effect will last all night”

College student, Conwy

This differed from information the Committee had received earlier in the inquiry, and as a result of the views and opinions shared by young people and the homeless community, the Committee asked for more information about the prices of certain drugs in Wales specifically. They also went to meet users of the alcohol recovery centre, Huggard, in Cardiff, where they were told that higher prices for alcohol would not necessarily deter people, and that they would find alternatives, including turning to drugs such as Spice.

The young people the Committee heard from also felt that, rather than deterring them from buying certain types of alcohol, some would simply make sacrifices elsewhere in their budget or find different ways of accessing the alcohol they usually bought.

“Increasing the price of alcohol won’t change the drinking culture but may lead to more anti-social behaviour like stealing”

College student, Swansea

Some young people also told us that they considered the proposals too extreme and used Australia as an example of somewhere that alcohol couldn’t be served after 10pm, while other suggestions included restricting the amount of alcohol that can be purchased in a day would be more effective than changing the price.

“The government hasn’t really tried any of the alternative ways of tackling the issue.”

University student, Cardiff

What did the Committee recommend?

After speaking to people from the health sector, young people, services supporting dependent drinkers and people who are homeless, amongst other professionals, the Committee agreed that the Bill will help to improve and protect the health of the population in Wales. However, they have raised concerns that the Bill in its current form could have a negative impact on dependent drinkers, and could push some drinkers towards other, more harmful substances. Because of this, the Committee’s report says that they would like to see a minimum price for alcohol as part of a wider package of measures and support services to reduce alcohol dependency and raise awareness of responsible drinking.

Next Steps

The Bill will be debated today in a meeting of the full Assembly before a vote to decide whether it can proceed to the next stage of the Assembly’s law-making process. You can watch the debate on Senedd TV.

You can read the Committee’s full report and the Summary of focus group evidence on the Assembly’s website.

If you would like to know more about getting involved in the work of the Assembly, visit our website, or get in touch with the Outreach team: SeneddOutreach@Assembly.Wales

Strengthening our democracy: your chance to have your say

Guest post from Helen Mary Jones, Morgan Academy Deputy Director

The Senedd, Cardiff Bay

At a personal level I should declare an interest.

I served as a member of the National Assembly for 12 years between 1999 and 2011, so I have some strong views about how our Assembly works, and how it could be made more effective.

But this is not about my views. March 12 is just one of many opportunities for everyone in Wales to look at the changes proposed and put their views forward.

There has been quite a lot of coverage in the media about some of the Expert Panel’s proposals, including increasing the number of AMs, changing how we elect them and constituency boundaries to improve representation, and reducing the age at which people can vote to 16.

These are really important issues but I would like to draw attention to two other issues the Consultation addresses.

For the first National Assembly election in 1999 the two largest parties elected, Labour and Plaid Cymru, used different affirmative-action procedures to ensure women were selected in winnable seats.

This wasn’t straightforward for either party to achieve.

The result was a large proportion of women elected, then the Western world’s first gender balanced parliament in 2003.

The resulting balanced Parliaments – which were subject to numerous academic studies – went on both to create a different political atmosphere, with more attempt to work by consensus, and to pay due attention to issues that often fall off the radar, such as the promotion of equality and children’s rights.

Since then we have seen the percentage of women elected to the Assembly decline. The Expert Panel suggests measures to halt this decline, including legislating for gender equality quotas and enabling people to stand for election as a job share. I think this is well worth considering. What do you think?

Then there is the question of who should be eligible to vote.

There has been considerable discussion of the proposal to reduce the voting age to 16. Another interesting proposal has received less attention. At present UK citizens, Commonwealth citizens and citizens of other EU member states who live in Wales are able to vote in Assembly elections. We don’t know of course what the status of EU citizens currently living in Wales will be after Brexit.

One simple way to resolve all the complexities that may arise is just to allow everyone who is legally resident in Wales to vote, in line with the Welsh Government’s proposals for local council elections. This seems fair to me. Everyone who lives here, regardless of their technical citizenship status, has a stake in what happens to Wales. So surely they should have a say in who runs Wales? What do you think?

I’d urge everyone to think about the issues this consultation raises.

This sort of constitutional debate can seem as dry as dust. But in fact this is all about how we get the right people in place to make and scrutinise the right decisions about issues that affect us all; our health service, what our children study in schools, our environment.

This is our chance to contribute to the debate around building a Welsh Parliament that really represents us all and will really work for us all.

Come along on March 12, attend one of the other meetings, go online and respond to the consultation there.

Make your voice heard.

The Morgan Academy is a new public affairs unit established by Swansea University.

Our aim is to take world-class research and use it to inform the development of policy to address the most challenging issues facing Wales and the world today.

We are very proud of our developing partnership with the National Assembly for Wales and we are pleased to be hosting this important event on March 12 to enable citizens of Swansea and the region to have their say on the exciting proposals being put forward by the National Assembly’s Expert Panel to grow and strengthen our democracy here in Wales.


Future Senedd Consultation

“A milestone on the road to gender equality, not the finish line” – Joyce Watson AM

Guest Post by Joyce Watson AM

This year we celebrate the centenary of women getting the vote. But not all women: those with property and older than 30. By setting that bar, the 1918 Representation of the People Act deliberately excluded working-class women from voting and put women’s rights below men’s. So as we celebrate the suffragettes’ historic achievement, we also reflect on how every victory for women has been a milestone on the road to gender equality, not the finish line.

The purpose of the Wales, Women and Politics working group is to keep Wales moving forward on that road. There is much to do. On the fundamental issue of political representation, for example: while the Assembly has a good record on gender balance (though, we have slipped back since 2003), it is a mixed picture elsewhere. Before I was elected to the Assembly in 2007, I was a county councillor in Pembrokeshire. At the time, just over one quarter of councillors in Wales were women. Today, not much has changed: 28 percent of councillors in Wales are women. In fact, progress has pretty much flat-lined for 20 years. That is something we must address.

We need more women making more decisions, not least because representative democracy should be just that: representative. But greater diversity also brings about better decisions. For example, right at the start of devolution, in 1999, women Assembly Members like Swansea East’s Val Feld played a pivotal role in securing important equality provisions in the Government of Wales Act. They ensured that every Welsh Budget – every spending commitment – is subject to an equality impact assessment. Tragically, Val passed away in 2001. Her legacy lives on, however, and on Tuesday (6 March), a plaque commemorating Val’s enormous contribution will be unveiled in the Senedd. It is the first Purple Plaque honouring ‘Remarkable Women in Wales’. Hopefully there will be many more.

As well as honouring the women who blazed the trail, International Women’s Day is about looking to the future. That is why I am excited to be taking part in Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales’ 2018 mentoring scheme. The aim is to get more women into public life and politics. From April to December, 25 aspiring women will shadow a mentor, gaining valuable first-hand experience. I look forward to meeting my mentee later this month.

Political representation is not just an issue in Wales, of course. And as the title explains, International Women’s Day is about feminist concerns around the world. Last year, I was elected vice chair of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians. As female politicians, we work to improve the lives of the more than 1 billion women and girls we represent. Clearly, the barriers and challenges they face vary massively across the Commonwealth. But, alongside political representation, access to health, education and earning power are a prerequisite to equality everywhere.

Joyce Watson AM

Active Travel. What next?

Cyclist in a city

Guest post by Russell George AM, Chair, Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee

In the last few weeks, the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, which I Chair, asked people how and why they walk and cycle and why they do not.  Over 2,500 people got in touch to share their experiences.

Firstly I’d like to thank all of you for taking the time to fill in the survey or take part in a focus group session.  It’s really important to each of the committee members that we understand the challenges you face when choosing to travel actively.

You told us that 60% of you who are already active travellers rated cycling as unsafe and 67% rated the number of cycle routes as poor.  That statistic surprised us.

Over the next few weeks, we will be speaking to local authorities, campaign groups, and experts on the built environment, health and disability.  We will be telling them what you told us and asking questions about how the Welsh Government could make the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 deliver better walk and cycle routes for people in Wales.

On 21 March we will be discussing the issue with the Cabinet Secretary Ken Skates.  Our report and recommendations will be published soon after.  I look forward to sharing them with you.

Russell George AM
Chair, Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee

Hearing the Voices of Care Experienced Young People

On #Careday18, we thought we would reflect on the recent evidence sessions from our inquiry into Care Experienced Children and Young People. The Public Accounts Committee wanted to hear directly from young people with  experience of care and we were delighted that two groups agreed to talk to us, and share their experiences.

We were particularly keen to hear about:

  • the help and support they received in care;
  • how many Social Workers and placements they had had, and how much, if any, choice they had in these decisions;
  • Whether being in care impacted on their education;
  • Whether they were prepared when it was time to leave care; and
  • What they might change to make going into care better for others

The young people were really open and frank with us about their experiences and gave us plenty of food for thought. The key messages coming out of the sessions were that children need to be at the heart of the system, and that it is essential that care is not something done to young people, but is undertaken with young people.

The need for a constant in the lives of young people

All those that came to talk to the Committee have had a number of placements, some of them too many to recall.  They had also had a number of Social Workers.  We heard that often the decision to change social workers or even placements (their actual homes) for the young people were not discussed with them. One young person told us she found out on the Friday that she was to be moved on the Monday, but that the fosterers had known that she was coming for over a month.  Another told us how she’d  had five changes to her support team in the last month – which meant she’d  had to recount her story on a number of occasions, which was upsetting and traumatic for her.  The need for a constant in the lives of those who are in care is essential, and the right to consultation and communication about their lives should be considered a basic right.

The Impact of being in Care on Education

We heard about the negative impact changing placements had on one young person’s education resulting in her missing around two and a half years of Secondary school. We were also told of the stigmatisation of pupils in care such as one occasion when one of the young people had been caught misbehaving in school with another pupil, and found that the other pupil was punished, and she wasn’t because she was in care.  However, we also heard how one of the young people’s good memories was getting 14 GCSEs A* to C despite suggestions that this would not be possible. The Committee was inspired by what this young person had achieved, but was disheartened that this was beyond what was expected of him. We must ensure as a society that the aspirations we place on young people are the same regardless of who they are. The ambitions of care experienced children are as valid as any other child’s and as such we need to make sure that they are achieved.

Support for those about to leave care

We heard a lot about how there was little in the way of support for those about to leave care – we were told:

“They are quick enough to take us off our parents but not quick enough to help us stand on our own two feet”.

We heard that many young people did not know how to use a washing machine, or budget a food shop when leaving care.

Evidence shows that the transition into adulthood can be more difficult for care leavers than many of their peers of a similar age. In a system where we are expecting this group of young people to go out on their own at 18 (although this is starting to change with the ‘when I am ready’ scheme) such a milestone needs to be a supported process.

Next Steps for the Public Accounts Committee Inquiry

These evidence sessions were a key part of the inquiry to make sure that all the relevant voices were heard. We want to embed the culture of young people being at the heart of making decisions that affect them, and we would not have been able to achieve this without the willingness of these individuals to take time to talk to us, and help our understanding of the issues they face.

The Committee’s inquiry is ongoing and will be spanning the course of the entire fifth assembly, as we are determined to keep this group of children and young people high on the political agenda, until outcomes they deserve are achieved.

As a member of a minority – does your history matter?

 As part of our work to commemorate LGBT History Month, our guest blog comes from Norena Shopland (@NorenaShopland), the author of Forbidden Lives: LGBT Stories from Wales.

When my book Forbidden Lives: LGBT stories from Wales was published at the end of last year, one of the questions I was asked was, why did I write it?

The question wasn’t asked out of prejudice, but a genuine concern about the usefulness of a work that concentrated on a ‘minority within a minority’ with, they believed, a limited audience.

At first glance, they seemed to have a point – Wales is a small country, with just 4.8% of the UK population; and when it comes to history, is it even necessary to define every person or event as specifically English or Welsh? After all, the laws of the UK affect everyone, and everyone has more-or-less the same experiences under those laws.

The same question can be asked of other, larger minorities, who rarely exceed 20% of the population, such as black and Asian, at around 13%. Although we can relate diverse histories in themselves, is it necessary to talk about, for example, Welsh and English black and Asian people as separate entities?

Before answering, perhaps it is helpful to contemplate how you might go about finding individuals in the written record, which in itself can be a daunting task, and something I came across when writing Forbidden Lives. One of the reasons I became interested in my country’s history of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender – about 6-10% of the population depending on whose statistics you accept) was because Welsh people were being used in UK history without any reference to their country of origin. This was particularly noticeable when celebrating LGBT History Month in February, when people like Ivor Novello, the Ladies of Llangollen, Leo Abse, and many others, were being included but within a UK, or more often, English concept.

LGBT history books rarely include an individual’s country of origin, or an index references to Wales or the Welsh – something that is also true of other countries. For example, many LGBT histories will include references to, say, work on sexology done in Germany at the end of the nineteenth century, but Germany per se will not appear in an index. If you wanted to construct a German history from general histories it could not be done.

The Welsh LGBT history conundrum

All this means is that to construct a Welsh LGBT history, it was necessary to search far and wide through many mediums. An added difficulty with regard to Wales, unlike other countries such as Germany, is that Welsh people for much of the nineteenth century and beyond, are often referred to as English.

Anyway, having surmounted various hurdles to put together the lives and events which appear in Forbidden Lives, what about the original question of ‘why go to all this trouble’? After all, some of the people I include already appear in UK histories and, whilst a number of my stories either highlight little known accounts, or are completely new, why can’t they simply be added to a UK history?

Well, they can. But there are far more reaching questions. The book has shown people from Wales have been very influential in shaping LGBT history, such as Wolfenden and the Sexual Offences Act – both of which changed society as a whole. What was it about these Welsh people that caused them to be so influential? In fact, the book has raised a whole series of questions that cannot be covered in detail here, but which concerns different types of experiences than that of England.

We also need to engage more museums, archives, schools and people in LGBT history and to do that we need to have local individuals – the more Welsh LGBT people we can identify the more engagement there will be. More engagement means more understanding of diversity and less discrimination.

So, in the end what was my answer?

Because history and politics aside, they’re rattling good stories – and after all, everyone loves a good story!


The National Assembly for Wales is committed to promoting LGBT equality. We have been named by Stonewall as the Top Employer in the UK for LGBT people, a Top Trans Employer, and our workplace network has been Highly Commended for their work. If you would like to find out more about our work promoting LGBT equality, please contact our Diversity and Inclusion Team.

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