UKIP Wales Debate: Assembly Electoral Reform

Feb 7, 2018 | Articles, Assembly Business, Assembly Issues, Uncategorised | 0 comments

Plenary 6th February 2018

17:05
Watch on Senedd TV

Motion NDM6645 Neil Hamilton

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

1. Notes the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform’s report entitled ‘A Parliament that works for Wales’.

2. Believes that:

a) currently, there should be no increase in the number of the Assembly’s elected members; and

b) the electorate must demonstrate their consent to any future increase in the number of elected members by way of a referendum.

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. We’re here today to debate the proposed expansion of the Welsh Assembly. We heard earlier from the Presiding Officer about the report of the expert panel that has recommended expansion, and about the public consultation that will now take place. We in UKIP believe that the expansion proposals represent a huge change that will be very costly. We have to establish that there is popular consent for it, and that consent can only be demonstrated by way of a referendum. That is why I’m moving today’s motion to that effect in the name of Neil Hamilton.

Now to the amendments. There is only one, from the Labour group. We’ve had a good hard look at their very detailed amendment, which says ‘Delete all after point 1’, and we’ve decided, after much robust discussion, that we oppose the amendment.

Now, the main premise of the report is that there is now so much legislation going through the Assembly, requiring so much scrutiny, that it is all too much for the 60 Assembly Members that we currently have. The suggestion is that we increase the size of this place to something like 80 Members or, more preferably, 90. So, the first thing we need to look at is this. Is it true that we are all overworked as Members of this place?

David Melding AM

David Melding AM

Party: Welsh Conservative Party Region: South Wales Central

No, not all.

Mike Hedges AM

Mike Hedges AM

Party: Welsh Labour

Only those that turn up.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes, well I do tackle this point, David and Mike, so thank you.

It is interesting to note that the statutory obligations of an AM, that is, our legal duties, amount to almost nothing, in effect. So, if we are going to say that more AMs are needed, perhaps we first need to lay down a much more stringent set of statutory duties. You will recall how the Assembly was brought into some disrepute recently by the frequent non-attendance of Nathan Gill. Well, we can all shake our heads and say, ‘Naughty Nathan Gill’, but actually, here’s a question: how often is this Chamber ever near full? [Interruption.] It is now, but it wasn’t earlier on today. A point I would like to make is that on Wednesdays we now quite often being proceedings with only about 20 to 25 Members, and sometimes we are down to less than 20. So, even something as basic as attending Plenary is not an obligation, it is optional, as is the rest of the job, and some opt not to be here very much. We’ve even had the Labour Government telling us recently that Wednesday debates are mere opposition debates that don’t really matter very much at all, almost suggesting that we don’t need to be here. On top of all that, every Friday is free of any scheduled Assembly commitment. [Interruption.] Yes, Members do things on Fridays, of course. But the point is, you don’t have to do things. Yet this report speaks about us as if we’re all perpetually snowed under with work.

The Deputy Presiding Officer - Ann Jones AM

The Deputy Presiding Officer - Ann Jones AM

Can we just listen to the Member, please? I’m finding it difficult.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Now, there is a problem of committee work. This is probably the most serious part of the job, because we could be scrutinising legislation, and the committee work, I find, is quite demanding. However, even there, there are caveats, which the report doesn’t go into. For instance, we aren’t looking at legislation all of the time on committees, only some of the time. If we look at the forward work programme of all of the Assembly’s committees, does all of this work really need to be done? I have to say, from my viewpoint, no, a lot of it doesn’t. So, a lot of the committee work is unnecessary. Some of this could be stripped out and the programme significantly reduced. [Interruption.] Oh yes, I’m going to go into all that now.

Some of the committees, in short, could meet every other week rather than every week. That brings us to another question. Do we need eight Members on seven of the committees? Well, actually, no, we don’t. You could have six-Member committees with two Labour—

Simon Thomas AM

Simon Thomas AM

Party: Plaid Cymru

Then UKIP wouldn’t have a Member on the committees.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

If you would just wait for my proposal, Simon, you might have that point clarified. You could have six-Member committees with two Labour, three places between the Conservatives and Plaid, and one UKIP. This would still be proportionate if the Labour Members wielded two votes each in any voting situation. After all, the four Labour Members always vote the same way in any case, with the Labour whip, and this business of one AM wielding more than one vote already occurs on the Business Committee. So, we could simply extend the efficient operation of the Business Committee to these seven current eight-Member committees. This would reduce the workload

This would reduce the workload of the Labour backbenchers, who currently shoulder the biggest burden of the committee work. This is why I’m rather surprised that you don’t seem to like this. So, there are ways around this business of AMs supposedly being overworked. We just have to be creative in how we think about this challenge and not simply go for the stale response of: ‘We need more Members.’ The report says, in the introduction:

‘As an independent, impartial Panel, we have used our expertise and experience to conclude that a 60 Member Assembly does not have the capacity it needs’.

End of quote. Can I give an alternative view on what the panel are actually saying? Beginning of quote: ‘We are a bunch of people who make our considerable livings from politics. We live in a political bubble, completely detached from the lives of normal people. We think that the solution to every political challenge is to create more jobs for politicians. Then, hopefully, those politicians will put us on more of their commissions and inquiries, and then we go on making lots of money, all of it funded by the taxpayer.’ End of imaginary quote.

The problem is that, to balance the people from politics and governance, we also needed on this panel people who were not from that world. We needed somebody, possibly more than one person, to represent the business community. We also needed someone to represent the man in the pub and the woman in the coffee shop. [Interruption.] But, in appointing this panel, the opinions of such people were never solicited. This failure of democracy means that the opinion of this panel can be completely discounted. There is also something—[Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer - Ann Jones AM

The Deputy Presiding Officer - Ann Jones AM

No, sorry. I have asked nicely. Will you please—can we listen to the Member? We will listen, please.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Thank you. There is also something more than a little dishonest about this argument over more Members being needed. The 1997 referendum was a vote for an Assembly, which was then set at 60 Members. There was no talk of it having to expand later. The 2011 referendum called for primary law-making powers but didn’t explain that more Members would be needed once this had been achieved. Curiously, though, as soon as the new powers arrived, politicians in Cardiff Bay started to tell us that there was now too much for everyone to do—too much legislation, too much scrutiny.

So, it has been a bit of a circular argument, really. ‘Give us more powers’, the AMs screech. Westminster, after a bit of a battle, duly obliges. Five minutes later, the AMs screech, ‘Give us more Members.’ So, the Assembly asks for more powers, gets them, then tells the public they don’t have enough people to deal with the new powers they themselves called for. This is basically a political scam to hoodwink the Welsh public into accepting more AMs by stealth. Well, you’re not going to get your 30 more Members, not unless we have a referendum on it first. That’s my view, and that’s the UKIP view, and that’s why I’m moving today’s UKIP motion.

The Deputy Presiding Officer - Ann Jones AM

The Deputy Presiding Officer - Ann Jones AM

Thank you. I have selected the amendment to the motion and I call on the Leader of the House to move amendment 1, tabled in her name.

Amendment 1. Julie James

Delete all after point 1.

Amendment 1 moved.