Group 6: Recall of Members of the Senedd (Amendments 40, 42)

– in the Senedd at 5:06 pm on 30 April 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 5:06, 30 April 2024

(Translated)

Group 6 is the next group of amendments, and these relate to the recall of Members of the Senedd. Amendment 40 is the lead amendment. Darren Millar to move that amendment.

(Translated)

Amendment 40 (Darren Millar) moved.

Photo of Darren Millar Darren Millar Conservative 5:06, 30 April 2024

Diolch, Llywydd. I rise to move amendments 40 and 42, which have both been tabled in my name. These amendments seek to introduce a system of recall for future Members of the Senedd. A system of recall for Members is an important accountability mechanism that has, regrettably, been lacking in the Senedd so far in our first quarter of a century's history. Recall systems are used in legislatures around the world, and they serve to promote high standards amongst elected representatives by making it possible for them to lose their seats between elections.

Now, we know that Members of the Senedd have, in the past, expressed their full public support for introducing such a system; so, indeed, has the Member in charge of the Bill. At the Reform Bill Committee, when it considered the issue at Stage 1, we found many contributors who also supported the need for a recall system. So, faced as we are with a package of changes to the Senedd's structure and the way that we are elected, I think we've got an opportune moment to be able to introduce a system of recall for Members. 

As I've previously said with regard to the proposed new electoral system, this Bill, in its unamended form, risks drastically limiting the direct accountability of individual Members of the Senedd to the people they represent, even more so now that the flexible list amendments have been defeated. It's all the more important, therefore, that we look at ways of maintaining that crucial relationship of accountability between elected representatives and the public, as was recommended by the Reform Bill Committee in its Stage 1 report. 

Now, introducing a system of recall would do just that. It would empower voters to be able to pass judgment on their Members of the Senedd in cases where they failed to meet the very high standards expected of those in public office, so it would ensure that trust and accountability are at the heart of everything that we do, not just at election time but throughout the time that Members are in office. 

Turning to the amendments, amendment 40 would insert a new section onto the face of the Bill. It would reflect our unique context here in the Senedd and it would mean that Members of the Senedd would be required or subject to a recall petition if they are either convicted of an offence and sentenced or ordered to be imprisoned or detained, or suspended from Senedd proceedings for a period of 10 sitting days or more by the Senedd's Standards of Conduct Committee

I did bring similar amendments forward at Stage 2, but I reflected on some of the feedback and the comments in the debates, and I made changes to address some of the concerns that were raised. So, rather than simply replicating all of the provisions in the Recall of MPs Act 2015, in recognition of the fact that things are different here in Wales I've adapted it to reflect our circumstances. In recognition of the limited time to scrutinise what is a significant amendment, I've also made some parts of the original amendment that I tabled subject to Welsh Ministers tabling regulations in the future, which would then be subject to debate and would have to require an affirmative vote here in the Senedd.

Another important difference in the amendments before us today is that whilst my previous amendments would have resulted in a by-election in the event of a successful recall petition, these revised amendments will not. Instead, they will result in a vacancy being filled in the usual way—i.e. the usual way that a vacancy will be filled under the new arrangements—i.e. the next person on the list would fill that vacant post. That means that when 10 per cent or more of electors in the constituency have signed a recall petition, the Member who is the subject of that petition would be unseated, and the next candidate on the party's electoral list would take the vacated seat.

This change has been made because I understand that the prospect of holding a by-election could have sat uneasily with the new electoral system, because it would have led to a dual mandate—different mandates for individual candidates. Someone being amongst their peers all elected in a different way than somebody elected through a by-election would, obviously, not be something that would necessarily be good, but it was the only way I thought that it should happen. But I have reflected on that feedback, and that's why I'm saying, 'Let's fill those vacancies now via the list system, in order to overcome that challenge.'

The other difference in amendment 40 to take note of is an additional section that would allow Welsh Ministers to make provisions in the area of petition expenditure with regard to any campaigning around those petitions and loans—so, campaign financing, effectively. But, again, those would be subject to regulations that would require an affirmative vote. Finally, amendment 42 is consequential to amendment 40.

It was disappointing that other parties chose not to support my previous amendments at Stage 2, despite supporting the principle of the need for a recall mechanism and the support that that has commanded. But having made these changes, the changes that I've outlined, to make sure that the amendment reflects the context in the Senedd—the different arrangements in the Senedd than there are in another place in the UK in terms of our UK Parliament—I think we've been able to address some of those concerns, and we've given the opportunity for further scrutiny to take place as a result of regulations being subject to discussion and debate here, and requiring a two-thirds majority vote.

I know what the Member in charge will say, as he has said previously in response to the discussion that we had on the debate around the deception amendment, that he wants to see a system of recall, but that he thinks it's better for the committee on standards of conduct to be able to consider this in the round and bring forward something in the future. I am just concerned that we won't have time for that to happen between now and the next election, and that we could lose this opportunity. So, I'm saying again: let's try and seize it. Let's take this opportunity, make sure that we have a recall petition. These are matters of live public interest, and have been in recent weeks, since our Stage 2 committee debate. This is an opportunity to be able to lance that boil, to be able to deal with the situation in a way that maintains that accountability, given that we're losing it through the introduction of a closed list system for all future elections. I think it's a sensible way forward that is proportionate, and I hope that Members will give it their support. 

Photo of Vikki Howells Vikki Howells Labour 5:13, 30 April 2024

I'm contributing today in my capacity as Chair of the Senedd Standards of Conduct Committee. As Members will be aware, the Reform Bill Committee recommended that the issue of recall was consulted on by the Standards of Conduct Committee as part of a wider consideration of individual Member accountability. I'm pleased to say that the Standards of Conduct Committee met yesterday to discuss and agree a scope on this work. We intend to take evidence from key witnesses who can help the committee to identify an effective and proportionate recall machinery that works for Wales and our electoral system. The committee noted correspondence from the Petitions Committee and the Counsel General on this issue, which highlighted the wide-ranging support, both inside and outside the Senedd, to introduce a recall system. I'm looking forward to working with colleagues across this Chamber, and in Welsh Government, to introduce a system that works for Wales, a system that strengthens our democracy and our accountability to the public.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 5:14, 30 April 2024

(Translated)

I'm very pleased to hear that contribution from Vikki Howells on behalf of the committee. I think that we do all agree that we need some sort of recall system. It is something that is sensible and something that has cross-party support in the Senedd. But, as I said during Stage 2, we believe that a period is needed to scrutinise this proposal and ensure a system that works in this new context. Since Stage 2, we have been considering possible solutions, and we do welcome the fact that the First Minister has committed in correspondence that the standards committee, as we've just heard, will work on recommendations to establish a suitable recall process, taking into account input from all Senedd parties.

I would therefore be grateful if the Counsel General could confirm this on the record in his response to this group, and perhaps give us an idea of the possible timescale for introducing any appropriate legislation to bring a system of this type into effect. I think the message is very clear from a number of Members in the Senedd: we need a system, and we need it urgently, but it's a question of how we do it to ensure that it works.

Photo of Jane Dodds Jane Dodds Liberal Democrat 5:15, 30 April 2024

I think I'm just going to say half of what I was going to say, because it’s great to hear that your committee will be looking at this. Diolch yn fawr iawn. And I’m really pleased to support Darren’s amendment. Thank you for the work that you’ve done on this; it’s really important. Just to say we all agree that there are particular issues facing us as politicians around trust and legitimacy, and this is one process where we can actually start to restore that trust from the public.

In 2023, citizen assembly groups convened concluded that there exists an embarrassing political culture of dishonesty and lack of serious consequences for bad behaviours. As one participant said, ‘They get away with it, there is no reprimand’. Therefore this amendment represents a pivotal step forward to address this issue of eroding public trust. While the power of recall should be exercised judiciously, with proper safeguards against potential misuse, it does remain a critical mechanism for upholding the integrity of our democratic institutions, and so I’m really pleased to hear that steps will be taken to look into how this can work. I would urge it to be as quickly as possible.

Just to finish on a very personal note, several politicians have gained and lost from a system of recall. We’ll start with one who’s not in this Siambr: we must remember that Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned at the threat of a recall petition after he was found to have deliberately misled Parliament. And I myself was elected for a very short period of time on the back of a recall petition. There are many, many other examples, and there are very recent examples as well, but that’s about the public being able to take the decisions that they feel are right in terms of democracy. I very much hope that, as we move this forward, we’ll see that that will be strengthened in terms of the steps that are taken. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour 5:18, 30 April 2024

Diolch, Llywydd. I firstly thank Darren Millar for taking on board some of what was said in response to the similar amendment at Stage 2 and bringing forward a revised amendment that may fit more naturally within the electoral system proposed by the Bill, specifically that vacancies arising from a successful recall petition will be filled in the same way as those arising due to other reasons. It is, in fact, not so much an amendment on a recall system, but a removal system. The replacement would obviously come through the list system. Can I also say that I remain very strongly supportive, and the Welsh Government does as well, of the general proposal to enhance Member accountability? I believe that there is a consensus that a process is needed as part of that work, and I see it as an important area for further exploration.

I have, since Stage 2, as has already been said, written to the Standards of Conduct Committee to express my views on the importance of this work, as well as those conveyed during Stage 2 proceedings. The First Minister has also written to the leader of Plaid Cymru and shared the letter with the leaders of the other parties in the Senedd, to make clear that the Government stands ready to support the practical implementation of any recommendations made by the standards committee and subsequently endorsed by the Senedd. There is now some momentum behind this work, and I’m very pleased to hear the comments that were made by the Chair of the Standards of Conduct Committee that this work that is about to start has already been scoped. It’s important that we maintain that momentum. As such, I won’t be supporting these amendments today, because I remain of the view that the approach recommended by the Reform Bill Committee is the right one.

In recognising the complexities of implementing a system—we note that even this amendment amounts to 27 pages of legislation that needs to be scrutnised and needs to be considered in terms of interaction with other conduct matters, and we had the discussion earlier on the deception issue, and so on—it called on the Standards of Conduct Committee to work with the standards commissioner. The standards commissioner has also expressed views. He actually doesn't agree with this. It's very important that we understand what those particular reasons are, or how that engagement might impact on the considerations that the committee would have. It is important that due consideration is given to those views. We have to look at developing options for the strengthening of individual Members' accountability, and the Standards of Conduct Committee, as I've already said, has answered that call and is going to be taking up that work.

In fact, the length and complexity of this amendment helps to, I think, emphasise, as I've said, the need for careful consideration, as well as highlighting some of the areas the committee will, I’m sure, wish to consider. This includes the key questions of what the appropriate steps should be within the procedure, what the triggers would be and how that would relate to the disqualification regime for Members, and what the threshold should be for a successful petition to be valid. I think that is an extremely important point, especially bearing in mind that this is a removal amendment rather than a recall amendment, in that sense. So, it is different and needs to be different to reflect the different system that we have in Wales, particularly when the effect is that a Member loses their seat.

So, Darren, I thank you for the work in that area. I thank all the other Members for what I think are constructive comments. I see there is a very high degree of consensus here. I do think we have to maintain the momentum. The committee, I'm sure, will do that, and I look forward to engaging with the committee in its work. Diolch.

Photo of Darren Millar Darren Millar Conservative

Diolch, Llywydd. I'm very pleased to hear the consensus around the Chamber. I did see the exchange of correspondence between the First Minister and the leader of the opposition last week, and I know that assurances have been given that the Welsh Government wants to use its resources in order to try and help bring something forward as a result of the Standards of Conduct Committee's work. The one thing that I think we haven't had answered is the timescales for the completion of that work. I listened very carefully to what Vikki Howells said about the scoping piece of work that is being done, but, obviously, trying to get some sort of indication of a timescale, given how close we are to the next Senedd election and given that there is a desire to try to introduce some legislation before that election, I think is a bit of a challenge.

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour

I apologise for not commenting on that. I think that is really a matter for the committee and for the Senedd, and I'm sure that the urgency there is recognised and that those points are taken on board. 

Photo of Darren Millar Darren Millar Conservative

Given that there is a consensus across the Chamber, given that there is a cross-party committee that's prepared to look at this with some urgency, I hope, with a bid to try and get something done this side of the next election, in the spirit of that, I'm very happy to withdraw these amendments and have further discussions on a collaborative basis to try and get something that we can all agree on and support. 

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

Darren Millar proposes that amendment 40 is withdrawn. If there is no objection to that, we will consider that amendment withdrawn. 

(Translated)

Amendment 40 withdrawn in accordance with Standing Order 12.27.

(Translated)

Amendment 42 fell.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 5:24, 30 April 2024

(Translated)

We now move to votes on amendments 45 to 48 and 53 to 114. The proposal is that we dispose of these amendments en bloc. Does any Member object to that en bloc disposal? If there is no objection to that, I wish to ask Adam Price whether he moves amendments 45 to 48 and 53 to 114. 

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

No, they are not moved. 

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

All those amendments, around 60 of them, are not moved. I will not, therefore, call for a vote on those amendments. 

(Translated)

Amendments 45, 46, 47, 48, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113 and 114 (Adam Price) not moved.