The multi-million pound plan to increase the number of politicians in the Senedd has become law

A view of people sat in the Senedd chamber in Cardiff Bay with First Minister Vaughan Gething on his feet
The number of Senedd members will go up to 96 by the next election in 2026 -Credit:Matthew Horwood

The number of politicians elected to the Senedd will increase at the next Wales election. After years of discussion, the Senedd Reform law was voted through on Wednesday and will come into force by the next Senedd election in 2026.

There are currently 60 Senedd members, and it will go to 96. The way people vote for them will also change. The cost of the changes is expected to be up to £120m. You can see a full breakdown of the costs here.

The new law, formally called the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill, changes three main areas; the size of the Senedd, the electoral system used to elect politicians and the constituency boundaries. It will also mean Senedd elections every four, and not five years.

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The law was something pushed through by former First Minister Mark Drakeford before he left office and is part of the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru. The Conservative oppose the plans. Senedd members voted on it, with 43 Labour, Plaid and Lib Dem members voting in favour and 16 Conservatives against.

The key points of the law are:

  • There will be 96 members elected using closed proportional lists with seats allocated to parties using the D’Hondt formula

  • The 32 new UK Parliament constituencies will be paired to create 16 Senedd constituencies

  • Senedd elections will be held every four years from 2026 onwards

  • The maximum number of ministers which can be appointed will go up from 12 to 17 (plus the First Minister and the counsel general)

  • A second deputy presiding officer can be elected by MSs

  • All candidates for future Senedd elections must live in Wales

Numbers of MSs and ministers

Currently there are 60 members, but that will increase to 96 from the next Senedd election in 2026. Instead of the existing system of both constituency and regional MSs, there will be 16 constituencies created with six politicians elected from each. Each party can have up to eight people on their list for each seat and if a seat becomes vacant the next person on the list will be offered it. If none of the original eight names take it up, or it is an independent candidate vacating the seat, it would remain vacant until the next election.

Currently the number of ministers that can be appointed into cabinet is 12 along with the counsel general and First Minister. This bill increases that to 17 ministers with the counsel general and First Minister. That could be further increased up to a maximum of 19. However, the current government has said it does not plan to appoint more ministers, although it will be up to any future First Minister. Candidates will have to be registered as a resident in Wales to stand or take up a vacant seat.

How MSs are elected

The electoral system will be changed and instead of the current system to elect constituency and regional MSs, election will be via closed proportional lists. The seats would be allocated to parties using the D’Hondt formula.

A closed list proportional system is defined by the Senedd as: "A form of electoral system where each party puts forward a list of their candidates for multi-member constituencies. Winning candidates are taken from the lists in order of their position and seats are allocated proportionally using a formula. In a closed list system parties put forward a fixed list in an order of their choosing. Voters don’t have a say in how the list is organised and the voter simply votes for a party’s list." It is the system currently used for regional seats in the Senedd.

The D'Hondt formula turns votes into a proportional electoral system. The number of votes cast for each party is divided by the number of seats the party has already won plus one. For example if a party has won two seats the number of votes won is divided by three. The party with the highest number of votes each round wins the seat and this is repeated until all seats have been filled.

Voters will have the name and party of the candidates on their voting form.

However, the choice of the D'Hondt method has been controversial. The Senedd's reform bill committee "significant reservations about whether a bill that implements closed lists necessarily represents a positive step forward for democracy in Wales".

Concerns were raised that political parties would be able to choose the order of the candidates on their list, with one witness telling the committee it puts the power over which candidates are eventually elected “firmly in the hands of political parties” because voters would only be able to , rather than being able to give a preference to a particular candidate.

Professor Laura McAllister has said she thinks the system has "major weaknesses" because it "removes the choice from electors to choose individual candidates". "It seems odd to me that at a time when there's such a disconnect between the politicians and the public, we're disconnecting it further," she told the BBC.

Boundary review

The boundaries in Westminster are changing for the election due in 2024, and while a commission will have to formalise the Welsh plans, it is proposed the 32 new UK Parliament constituencies will be paired to create 16 Senedd constituencies and six politicians elected from each.

The two paired constituencies will have to be neighbouring, and take into account the boundaries of local councils, as well as accessibility in terms of their size and shape. The Welsh language will also be a consideration.

The commission has to produce its final report by April 1, 2025, and no changes can be made after this date. This is what's being called the streamlined review. A more detailed boundary review will be carried out for the 2030 Senedd election.

Gender quotas

The Welsh Government want gender quotas in place as part of this law, but expected legal challenge of that element, so split it and put it into its own piece of legislation. That is currently making its way through the legislative process.

If, and it's a big if, there are no hiccups or legal challenges, there is still a way that could be in place for 2026, but it is widely expected there will be a legal challenge to the proposal which would make it impossible to get in place by the next election.

The Senedd Cymru (Electoral Candidate Lists) Bill is the second part of the Welsh Government's proposals to reform the Senedd. In November of last year, the plan was postponed, with some political parties questioning whether the Welsh Government had the power to do such a thing. Presiding officer Elin Jones was required to assess whether the Senedd had the power to turn the plan into law. However, she said she believed it was outside the Senedd's "legislative competence", the term discussing whether the Senedd has the power to pass a law, or if it is a matter that is dealt with by Westminster.

It was the first time the Llywydd has stated that she considered a bill being introduced into the Senedd would be "wholly outside of the legislative competence". it could still be passed but may be challenged in the Supreme Court by the UK Government's Attorney General or the Welsh Government's Counsel General. You can read more about that here.

What is it going to cost?

The expected additional running costs every year is estimated to be between £14.5m and £17m, which has been amended to account for inflation. That includes the cost of extra Senedd members, ministers, and staff in the Senedd Commission. Officials are clear that sum is a "fraction" of the £24bn of the total Welsh budget. There will also be £8m to facilitate changes to the Senedd chamber, the neighbouring Ty Hywel, and things like computer systems. When the building was designed, it was done with expansion in mind, and there is capability to expand the chamber to seat 80 relatively easily. In terms of working space in the neighbouring office block Ty Hywel, the plan is not for a wholesale refurbishment but changes to current layouts.

But there are cost unknowns. If a First Minister appoints the maximum number of ministers it will cost more as they each receive an allowance. If constituencies are changed after 2026 that too could cost more.

Why is this happening?

The argument is that the current Senedd is too small to deal with the business that it needs to assess and scrutinise and laws it needs to pass. There have been many debates, reports, and committees looking at the issue. In 2022, the special purpose committee on Senedd reform published its findings. The committee's chair was Labour MS Huw Irranca-Davies. He said at the time: "Today’s Senedd is very different to the institution that was established over 20 years ago. Its powers have increased to meet the ambitions of our modern and proud nation. It can now make laws and set Welsh taxes, issues which affect the lives of every single person in Wales.

"With greater powers must come greater accountability. We need a parliament that can effectively scrutinise the decisions taken by the Welsh Government on behalf of the public it serves. The current system doesn’t allow that to be done as well as it should be. We believe reform is essential." Senedd reform was one of the things Labour and Plaid Cymru pledged to work towards when they signed their co-operation agreement in the wake of the 2021 election.