|David J. Rowlands AC|
|Dawn Bowden AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Delyth Jewell AC|
|Huw Irranca-Davies AC|
|Anna Daniel||Pennaeth Trawsnewid Strategol, Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru|
|Head of Strategic Transformation, National Assembly for Wales|
|Dr Hannah White||Sefydliad y Llywodraeth|
|Institute for Government|
|Rt Hon Y Fonesig Dawn Primarolo||Cadeirydd y Bwrdd Taliadau, Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru|
|Chair of the Remuneration Board, National Assembly for Wales|
|Yr Athro Diana Stirbu||Prifysgol Fetropolitan Llundain|
|London Metropolitan University|
|Yr Athro Laura McAllister||Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University|
|Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Sesiwn dystiolaeth lafar ar gapasiti’r Cynulliad - sesiwn dystiolaeth gydag academyddion||2. Oral evidence session on the capacity of the Assembly - evidence session with academics|
|3. Sesiwn dystiolaeth lafar am amrywiaeth a chapasiti yn y Cynulliad - sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda’r Bwrdd Taliadau||3. Oral evidence session on the capacity and diversity of the Assembly - evidence session with the Remuneration Board|
|4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod||4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of the meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 10:03.
The meeting began at 10:03.
So, good morning, everyone, and can I welcome you to this committee on Assembly reform? I've received no apologies for this morning's session, although I understand that one of our witnesses, Hannah White, has been delayed, and so she'll be with us shortly. Can ask if there are any declarations of interest for this morning's sessions? No. Okay. Just to remind everybody that the National Assembly operates through the medium of Welsh and English languages, and there are headsets for simultaneous translation on channel 1 and sound amplification on channel 0. And, as this is a formal public meeting, Members do not need to operate the microphones themselves. In the event of an emergency, an alarm will sound, and ushers will direct everyone to the nearest exit and assembly point.
That takes me on to item 2, which is the oral evidence session on the capacity of the Assembly, and can I welcome Professor Laura McAllister from the Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University, and Professor Diana Stirbu from London Metropolitan University? And, as I said earlier, Dr Hannah White from the Institute for Government will be joining us shortly.
We've obviously had significant numbers of papers from you previously, not least of all the report of the expert panel. So, we'll move straight into questions if that's okay, and we'll start with the first set of questions from David Rowlands.
If you'll excuse the pun, Laura, we'll kick off with a pretty broad question, which is: how successfully has the Assembly responded to its changing powers and responsibilities?
I think that's a mixed bag, and I understand why it's a mixed bag. As you'll have seen in the report, 'A Parliament that Works for Wales', we think that there is only so much that the Assembly can do to ensure that it's able to discharge its functions within the size envelope that it currently works. I think that the Assembly has done the best that it can to adapt to, obviously, a moving feast of powers and competences, not least the significant changes that came on board with the Wales Act 2017 and, indeed, the previous Wales Act. But I think that there's only so much an institution can do while having such a very small set of backbenchers.
You'll know from your engagement with the report that a big tenet of the report is on the weaknesses of scrutiny, and that's by no means a criticism of the Assembly or the backbench complement here. It's just that you need a degree of size and capacity to be able to scrutinise properly. I'm afraid, in my opinion, the back-bench complement is far too small to be able to discharge that effectively, always, in a sustained way.
So, do you think that the Assembly's ways of working, and the support staff, et cetera—are they able to mitigate a lot of the problems that come with the number of Members that we have, or—?
The word 'mitigate' is an important one, because I think that they have served to mitigate the worst excesses of overload. I think that AMs have really quite remarkable overload in terms of their workload here. Again, you'll see in the report that there's a lot of comparative evidence internationally that shows that that is the case. I think that we did a pretty thorough and comprehensive review of international evidence to try to locate the Assembly within the international picture, and, by any measurement and by any index, this institution is severely underpowered.
So, the word 'mitigate', David, is a good one to use, because all of the administrative support that you give to politicians does assist, but it doesn't address the really significant issues about lack of capacity. So, I think that you can go on mitigating as long as you like, but the reality is, unless there's a change in the number of Assembly Members, all you'll be doing, I think, is avoiding some of the most severe difficulties with the underpowered nature of the Assembly.
Of course, a large part of our work is obviously split between Plenary and committees, as such. Do you think that the right prioritising is being done with regard to that at the moment, or—?
Well, I understand the question, because, clearly, I think most people would agree that the most effective scrutiny—[Interruption.] Hello, good morning. The most effective scrutiny happens in committee. That's normal, I think, for any institution, because the committees are the engine room of more dense and forensic scrutiny. But, of course, there is a platform for scrutiny in Plenary as well.
But I think that the constraints on reconfiguring Plenary and committee are quite considerable, actually, because there has to be enough time for Plenary, especially with giving the opposition proper time, and things like the 90-second statements, and committee Chairs being able to present their reports. I know that your own Chair gave an update on the report, on the work, last week. So, there are a lot of constraints on adjusting the time of Plenary and the operation of Plenary, and therefore I think that it's limited in terms of how you can change the overall picture.
And, of course, that workload is subdivided again between the legislative, policy and financial scrutiny, isn't it? So, we are also involved in prioritising with regard to that as well. Do you think that it's being done effectively, or—?
I'll certainly hand over to my colleagues to come in in a moment, but I think that you are absolutely right: those are the three big areas of scrutiny. Obviously, there is a more complex financial scrutiny now with the changes to the budget process, which, by the way, I think are good, but, obviously, they put much more pressure on all of the committees to think about the financial envelope, really.
Obviously, our legislative process in Wales is different to the legislative process in Scotland and in the House of Commons, and it does involve stages where Assembly Members can contribute more extensively. So, I think, again, that's a capacity issue. Policy-wise, the fact that we have legislation and policy being discussed and planned and scrutinised in committees adds another burden, really. That can be a good thing, of course, but it's only really discharged well when you have the right number of Members to be able to keep on top of that strategically.
Lastly, obviously, our other role is with regard to our other responsibilities—work in the constituencies, et cetera. Did you find any evidence, when you were talking about the way that we were able to mix that in with all our other work? Do you think there was a deficit in what we were able to do with—?
First of all, I would like to agree with Laura, in terms of this Assembly has been—. We mustn't forget this Assembly has been a learning Assembly from the very beginning. It had to adapt to very different legislative processes, had to adapt to very different constitutional arrangements. And, I think, to an extent, it has done as much as it could. If in 2007 there was a need for legal expertise, then it did that. There was a need for procedural expertise from 2011 and onwards; there was a need for external communications in media. And, to an extent, some of those problems have been addressed in terms of capacity, but then it comes to a point where I think the capacity issue becomes clearly just a political sort of capacity rather than an administrative capacity, and I think that we mustn't forget, and the more—.
With regard to your question in terms of, 'How much time?', or, 'This overload, how will it impact on Members undertaking their constituency job?'—well, that is true. I think, from evidence that we've heard, for instance, from the work that we conducted for the remuneration board, we've heard a lot of people saying that they don't see the Assembly Members enough in their constituency. Now, there's a question there to be asked—you know, what is the role of an Assembly Member? How much time should they stay in their constituency and deal with constituency business and how much time should they dedicate to the Assembly? An added problem to that is how do you communicate, then, to your constituents what that role should be and what that balance should be. But all of those things, including the explanation and the communication, add an extra burden, I think, on Assembly Members, and, as I said, I think the Assembly does operate under full capacity on all the issues, from scrutiny to representing the constituencies and so on and so forth.
Thank you. Can I apologise for being late? The trains were not on time.
No problem. It's one of those things that can't be helped. Okay. If we can move on now to questions from Huw Irranca-Davies.
Just to extend this a little—. We'll come back in a moment, I think, to what things like effective parliamentary scrutiny look like, but can I ask you first of all—? Let me play devil's advocate here: we have some really good examples of committee scrutiny within the Assembly, if you look back at things that the children and young people's committee have done with the mental health matters report and so on and so forth, and other work that has gone on here. We've had some groundbreaking legislation over the years as well. So, let me play devil's advocate and say, 'The evidence is that, actually, there's some really good work that goes on. Why do we need more Members?'
I think that's a fair point, but I think it's answered in 'A Parliament that works for Wales' very extensively. Of course, the problem with making a case for an enlarged size is you're, effectively, saying, 'We don't know what else could have been done', and that's a difficult argument to make, isn't it, in any environment. But, I think, with modesty, I think we make it quite well in the report, because what we show is that every other legislature that serves a population similar to Wales, with similar competencies and powers over fiscal policy and legislative matters, has a larger number of politicians.
Now, there's no scientific formula for this. There is the regional authority index, which you see quoted in the report, which looks at the range of powers, the representativeness and the population, but it's not an exact science. But by any measurement and however you do it—and we took lots of different approaches to this—I think we've presented the evidence to show that the institution is underpowered. But I take your point, Huw. There has been some really good policy innovation here, and there has been some good scrutiny, but I would respectfully say there have also been things that we've missed, and that's the danger, because what we do know about scrutiny is that scrutiny saves money, without a shadow of a doubt, and all the evidence—Hannah, I'm sure, will want to come in on this—all the academic and practical evidence shows that effective scrutiny saves money. And when we talk about the cost of enlarging the Assembly, and I hope I'm not leaping on too much here, but the costs are fairly clearly set out in our report, if you put that as a percentage of the block grant that the Welsh Government receives from the UK Treasury, then that comes up at 0.08 per cent of that amount. Now, I think the savings from effective scrutiny would be substantially more than 0.08 per cent of the block grant.
Right, okay. We will come back to this issue of effective parliamentary scrutiny, I'm sure, but could I just ask about your original conclusions about the size of the Assembly and where it should be? People pretty much know where you're pitching at it within a scale, but it was interesting in light of those comments that you've just made that you said, actually, there is a point at which you only have marginal gains, there's a point at which, actually, you could flood it full of Assembly Members—
—and frankly, they'd be just sitting around—well, not sitting around twiddling their thumbs.
But I would point to other Parliaments within the UK context where there are people who do not sit on committees, where people could essentially turn up and while away their time.
You seemed to come to a number or a range that was pretty specific in saying, 'This far, we would get real gains. Beyond that, it's marginal.' Now, I'm interested in how you got to that, and also, whether you would stick with that. We're a couple of years down the line now; would you still stick with that range that you indicated?
Yes. There are two points to make there. You're absolutely right. Some legislatures have not been subjected to the kind of analysis of appropriate size that we apply to Wales. In fact, the House of Commons is an obvious one—you know, you alluded to it there. There are over a hundred MPs who have no role beyond representing their constituency, so they don't sit on any committee and they hold no office.FootnoteLink But of course, what we've got to remember is that the House of Commons wasn't created in a strategic way to address the powers and the competences that the UK had at any point. It's a long-standing historic institution; I don't need to tell you that.
But your point about our conclusion that the appropriate size for the National Assembly for Wales should be between 80 and 90 is quite an important one, because we took a very evidenced approach, and as far as possible, analytical and scientific to coming up with that figure. So, for example, you'll see in the report that we looked at the point at which—you could call it a tipping point, I guess—Members would only need to serve on a maximum of two committees, and a Chair of a committee would only serve on his or her committee and no other. So we've applied quite a complex matrix to work out where that bracket of 80 to 90 would work effectively.
You also make the point of whether there should be more AMs, beyond 90, given that, not only do we have Brexit now, and the pressures, especially around secondary legislation, I guess, that will come from Brexit, but of course, the potential further devolution of some areas. We had the Lord Thomas report in October, and I don't sense there is a great appetite at UK Government to do much on devolution of justice, but that issue will remain, whether it happens now or in two or three years' time. And I suspect that there will be devolution of justice, by the way, in the next five years. So, should it be higher? I don't think the case has been made. I think you could try and make the case for a figure above 90, but I would be uncomfortable with that, because what our research showed was that 90 would deliver in a futureproofing way for the Assembly, so you wouldn't need to revisit it, probably, within a decade or maybe longer.
If you were to opt, or if the Assembly was to opt, for a figure closer to the lower end at that bracket, so 80 to 82, I think you'd probably find yourself—with Brexit and justice and other areas—having to revisit that figure in the next decade. And given the politics around this, and public nervousness, let's say, I would have thought that it is appropriate to futureproof such a significant structural change by opting for the higher end of the bracket, rather than the lower end.
Yes, okay. Thank you. I think, Chair, I'm happy to come back later on with some of the—. The only other thing I would ask is: in the two years since the report was published, has it faced any criticism for the number it came to at all? I mean, apart from people saying, 'Well, no, we can't afford any more elected representatives', has it faced any rigorous evidence-based criticism of the range that you came up with as the optimal number for running an Assembly with these responsibilities?
Well, not that I've seen or heard of, certainly not the rational evidence-based. I've had some debates with other academics about whether the figures should be higher, and I know some of my colleagues, not just in Wales but elsewhere, say they think that 90 still seems relatively small. But my pushback to them has been to read the detail of the report where we do quantify why 90 is probably an effective cut-off for now and will probably give that security for the immediate future too. But I don't think we received anything in our evidence for the expert panel, or have I seen anything subsequently, that argues for a figure either lower than 80 or significantly higher, but properly evidenced as well, unless my colleagues can think of anything.
Well, that's fairly categoric then. Nobody's arguing for—. Nobody from the informed academic research governance-analysis side is saying that either we should stick as we are or we should go—
Good morning. So, we are where we are politically. It is not reasonably possible that we will be seeing an increase in the numbers of Assembly Members—or I'm not sure if I should, by now, be saying 'Members of the Senedd', and how we'll get around to that change—until 2026. What implications do any of you see for the meantime period, then, between now and any increase happening? And what measures can we put in place between now and, say, 2026 as that earliest point, to try to further mitigate, to use David's word?
Diana, do you want to start?
If I may. To be honest, I'll probably focus more on the implications, which will be that there's going to be more added work, and obviously Brexit, and perhaps devolution of justice and other developments that have happened since the report was published.
We might actually want to look at the implications that inter-parliamentary relations might have on the changing role of AMs and workloads. I think inter-parliamentary relations have been some of the most under-researched, but also underdeveloped, although they are of utmost importance. And there have been a number of reviews that have called for strengthening the inter-parliamentary relations, and the default justification was that there is a lack of accountability and scrutiny over inter-governmental relations.
Now, with Brexit activity, and that includes repatriation of powers, but also negotiation over a future common framework within the UK, it is likely that inter-governmental relations are going to be intensified. Therefore, that scrutiny deficit at inter-parliamentary level will increase even more. So, what this might involve, in terms of additional workload for Members, is more co-operation at Parliament-to-Parliament level or committee-to-committee level; it might involve more travelling; and it might involve more collaboration and joint working at official-to-official level. So, this only adds an extra burden on the Assembly. I'm afraid I actually do not have any more solutions of how you can mitigate this. I think we ran out of administrative magic tricks that might mitigate some of these issues. But it's definitely more added work, that's for sure.
Obviously, this was covered quite effectively in the report that Laura and her colleagues put together, and they looked at this in quite a lot of detail. I think that, as you say, you are where you are in terms of the next six years. And I think, for me, I would advocate a focus on doing what you are currently doing really well in the sense of it's very easy to get distracted by numbers when it comes to scrutiny—numbers of meetings, numbers of inquiries and numbers of reports.
Actually, my observation, looking at most legislatures, is that there are lots of things that can be done to improve the scrutiny that is being done, whether that's to do with prioritisation—if you are realistic about how much time, how many committees and how much Assembly Member attention you have, picking the things that are really important to do and doing them really well—. It sounds boring, but there's often—. I know that the Assembly has done a lot with professional development for Members and those sorts of things, but I think that also committees thinking really strategically about what they're trying to achieve and thinking about their impact and so on is really important.
The other thing I would say is—. My colleagues have flagged some of the challenges definitely or potentially coming down the track, and I think that preparing for doing those well and preparing for if there are more Members, how to make the best use of them, and in the meantime, setting up the structures—. But also, now, as you've said, there's scrutiny of tax-raising powers and financial scrutiny; that's not done well in most Parliaments. So, really, for the Welsh Assembly to—I know a lot of thought's gone into it already—be an exemplar in how to do that both in committees that focus on it specifically, but across other committees as well, I think would be a really good use of time and effort between now and 2026.
Yes, if you don't mind. One of the interesting things I've found in my move down here is the inability to actually do that wider engagement. I appreciate what you're saying about focusing and prioritising, but some of that inter-parliamentary stuff that I think is going to be increasingly important, when you have parties—when you have, essentially, an Assembly that is designed not to have an overwhelming majority, certainly, you have very strict controls through the whipping process as to when you can be away from Plenary, quite frankly, and an unwillingness to release people. So, when other Parliaments are sitting on Tuesday and Wednesday—exactly the days when you'd want to be up and meeting with them, you can't—you can't leave the place, so we're hemmed in. I'd be interested in your observations on that, because it would seem to me that the working smarter we can do—focusing priorities and maybe a little bit more—but that wider thing of a mature Parliament, engaging with the outside world—we're going to be locked in the hen house.
Well, that's very much a consequence of the size, again, isn't it, in the sense that there's a visibility issue with Plenary, never mind the issue about voting? There's a scenario where the public would see a half-empty Plenary for important debates, which is significant, whatever one thinks. So, I think in all of these are facets of what is a misplaced number at the very outset of devolution, and we all know the reasons for that.
But, as Hannah said, the only thing, I think, that we can legitimately say might assist in the period before 2026, when I genuinely hope that this institution will have the right number of Assembly Members to deliver for the people of Wales, is to think more strategically and in the round about what decisions you have to make in committees about workload. Because there is no way in the world that committees can continue to do so much, really, and sometimes so thinly. I think it's going to have to be a lot of the stopping, rather than continuing and starting new projects, which is always the hard bit, actually, isn't it? It's very hard to let go of things that are interesting, attractive and important, nevertheless.
But I'm afraid we go back to my original point, which is: until the issue of Assembly Member size is addressed, there are going to have to be some really tough decisions about what you do and what you don't do. I have to say, I think that's a real shame, and I think it does undermine some of the principles of serving the people of Wales.
We had a wonderful piece of evidence from Lord Lisvane, who's a very distinguished parliamentary figure, who said, ultimately, the idea of changing the operation of a Parliament is a very beguiling one, because you can talk about technology and you can talk about choices and so on, but, ultimately, the key currency of scrutiny is Members' time. And you all know—I don't need to talk to you about it—how hard it is for you as Members to keep on top of committee work as well as all the other huge, multifarious roles you discharge as Assembly Members. Quite frankly, it can't be done—it simply can't be done to good effect, and that means that it must be frustrating for you as politicians not to be able to do everything you wish to do.
If I can just come in on this point about prioritisation—and I completely agree with that—we also need to remember what can be missed, because one of the things that we were writing about a few years ago around the work of subject committees was that one of the strengths and one of the positives around the work of committees here was that their inquiry work included things that the Government probably didn't have the time or inclination do any work on, and the subject committees came along with these innovative ideas to look at things that maybe were outside the Government's agenda and priorities. I think there will probably be something missed in terms of that liberty, that flexibility to look outside, maybe, of what, yes, is a priority and of strategic importance, but nevertheless would add value in terms of policy and in terms of engaging with different communities in Wales.
Could I add one other small point, Chair?
I think it's quite a significant one—it's covered in chapter 5 of the report—about the risks in augmenting the staff side of the Assembly versus increasing the number of AMs. I know you're taking evidence from the chair of the remuneration board, who will have her own opinions on this, but, having served as a member of the remuneration board, when we were discussing this issue of do we compensate for not having more AMs by ensuring the every Assembly Member has the right support structure, the right training and induction and so on, I was always a bit nervous about this, if I'm being really honest, because I think what it can lead to is a system where a Parliament is staff-heavy rather than Member-heavy. What that does, actually, is risk the democratic process, because you are elected Members; staff are not elected Members. You can have the most wonderful staff around a politician, but, if they're leading the accountability relationship, then I think that's fundamentally risky for the institution as a whole.
—but I'm fascinated with this train of thinking, because I can see the contrast between the two institutions. One of the things you could do in Westminster, because we didn't have hybrid committees like we have here—. And to the public this won't make a lot of sense, but, anybody watching in now, we have committees that deal with legislation and Government business, as well as following their own interests in policy. A committee I'm on at the moment is looking at homelessness and rough-sleeping; it's setting its priorities. But actually one of the—. I'd be interested in your thoughts on this. Certainly, what I've seen is, because we have a hybrid committee structure, and because we have Brexit regulations and legislation coming down the line—the Fisheries Bill, the Environment Bill and all the rest—there is also, with limited capacity on committees, the fact that Government can choose, should it be so minded, to crowd out the scrutiny landscape. Government could say to committees, 'Well, here we've got these important pieces of business coming up. It'll, frankly, wipe you out for your committee time, so that thing you were thinking of doing'—let me be provocative—'on A&E waiting times, that you really wanted to do a deep dive into that for a month—try and do it.'
I think it's a really good point, and it's something that has been pointed out, I think, in the Scottish Parliament as well, but particularly the committees where there was more legislation going through. Interestingly, justice is one of the areas where the Scottish Parliament has passed most legislation; I think about a quarter of the legislation that's gone through the Scottish Parliament has been justice related, so, should justice arrive, the committee that is tasked with scrutinising that will possibly spend lots of its time looking at legislation. I think that the trouble with having both responsibilities is that, as legislation is arriving—and it's very time critical, so the things where you might think, 'Well, we could do this scrutiny inquiry now or we could do it a bit later', in a way, the legislation always seems to have the imperative to do it now. And whether or not the Government had nefarious motives in doing this—. New Governments, for example, tend to come in with lots of things they want to legislate on. So, I would think, over the course of an Assembly, that the balance would shift for a committee, with a lot of legislation to start with and maybe less as you went on, and that would affect what got scrutinised over the course of the years.
I think the points about what you've done already, or the institution has done, need airing as well, because I know you've got more committees but fewer committee places now, and you've got smaller committees, but I think there's a risk with smaller committees, because there's the issue of attendance, isn't there, and substitution, and then organisational memory. If you're going to do some strategic scrutiny, if the same people are not there every week—. And by the nature of people's lives that's likely to happen with six-member committees. And then you've got the issue of meeting on Mondays, which I know you've had to do, because there isn't any other time in the calendar. That has a big impact on AMs who've got constituency business in the morning, or you know—. So, I just feel like the elastic has been stretched as far as it can without breaking, in all honesty. And I'm not sure that you can do anything else, but you're, obviously, probably going to have to in the run-up to 2026, to manage what is already a very, very tight working week.
Thank you, Chair. Looking at one of the reasons and one of the benefits that we would hope to get from increasing the numbers we have in the Assembly, it would be the opportunity to increase diversity and to make sure that the Members that we have here better reflect and represent in its truest sense the make-up of the people of Wales. In this interim period between now and at least 2026, one of the things that, inevitably, as you've all alluded to, we're going to—. There's going to be either an increase in the workload of Members here, or maybe working hours will have to change. There might be implications for the family-friendly working culture that we're so proud of here, and rightly so. So, looking at the two sides of the same coin, in a way—that we want to have greater numbers and we want to get to a place where we have greater diversity, isn't there a risk that, in this interim period, actually, an increase and a change in the workload pattern may well have an impact negatively on the diversity of people who would want to run, certainly for the next Assembly election?
Yes, it would. I think in our report for the remuneration board we looked at various barriers and incentives to a more diverse range of people standing in the elections for the National Assembly, and, interestingly, it wasn't the salary or it wasn't the pension and the job security that mattered; it was the things associated with working patterns. A lot of people said that a big incentive would be to work in an institution that resembles a twenty-first century modern workplace, which includes things such as flexible working and remote working and job share and all of that. So, we put those recommendations to the remuneration board.
But another theme that came out of our report is that people don't necessarily know very well what Assembly Members are doing and what their working week looks like and what type of work they do and what type of requirements they have in their work. They do know that, for instance, travelling from north Wales to south Wales is a big, big deterrent, because it will take a lot of their time. If there are candidates with caring responsibilities, they are very aware that being an Assembly Member is going to challenge their family life and caring responsibilities and so on and so forth. I think the remuneration board is doing already some really good work now taking forward some of those recommendations in order to make sure that it eliminates the barriers that relate to the nature of the job.
I think, for us, it's very important how that message is communicated about what Assembly Members are doing, to engage early with candidates or people who are interested in becoming candidates, mentoring that is non-political—so, not necessarily linked with a specific political party—and there's a role here for the Assembly as a whole, but there's also a role here for political parties to attract and explain the role of the Assembly Member when they're signing up in order to increase understanding of what it is to be an Assembly Member.
There is a sort of irony, isn't there, in the sense that, with our recommendations on changing the electoral system—as you know, we built in prescriptive legislative gender quotas, and I know you'll have heard evidence from my good friend Rosie Campbell on this, who's far more expert than I am, and I know Rosie will have made the case for job share as well, because I think you dismiss that at the peril of the institution, because I think job share will happen in politics and we could be groundbreaking on this. I think the things that have been put in the way by way of obstacles are not permanent things, actually, there are ways of working around those, and I'm sure Rosie talked about some of those last week. But the irony is that, if we were to push ahead with a change to the electoral system that built in gender quotas, but, by 2026, women, people with caring responsibilities, disabled people, were put off by what they saw operating here, we're going to have a big struggle to get those types of individuals to stand for elected office. So, I think it is incumbent on us to find a way of making the culture of this organisation as conducive to everyone in Wales as it currently is, I hope—certainly more than Westminster. But we lose that at our peril, I think, because then it will make the job of getting this institution properly gender balanced almost impossible after 2026.
Yes, just briefly. Are you suggesting that we should look for a legislative opportunity to—we've missed it under the current one—actually introduce job sharing at the soonest opportunity, not wait for 2026, in order to—?
Well, I guess everything is worth exploring. I'm not sure how easy that would be, because, obviously, I've seen some of the responses that you had—well, not you, but the Assembly Commission had—when this was being discussed after our report came out. But I think, generally speaking, the fact that most of the issues centred on the ministerial positions, rather than the body of Assembly Members, gives you some confidence that there are ways around this with the right will, I guess. So, when and how you do it—. But, nevertheless, it will increase capacity, by having job share, because, effectively, you're having two voices for the price of one, it's not costing you any more in any sense, and you're creating conditions where you can bring in different types of individuals. And people always think that we're talking about identities there, but you're often talking about professional experience as well—people who can't leave their professional jobs for a full Assembly term, but could do it on a short-term basis.
We also recommended in our report job share. And, if I may come to the point about young people being deterred from entering politics, in our research, we uncovered that, for young people, age is a real barrier. They think that being young, them being young, is a barrier, that they're not taken seriously, but also their own lack of information and understanding about what the Assembly does and about Welsh politics in general is a barrier for them to step up and become candidates. And I'll link this to the recent change in extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds. We mustn't forget that, with that change, we shouldn't automatically assume that there's going to be an invigoration of Welsh democracy. I think there is still a very important role for the Assembly, and Assembly Members, to seek to engage on a very meaningful level with that demographic and make politics easy and accessible for them. So, I think you might want to think of different ways of communicating with this particular demographic and of engaging with them and going places where they are, rather than expecting that all people are going to get their information from here, from the Assembly website, or something similar.
That takes us, actually, directly on to the biggest crunch point that I suppose we have, and it has already been referred to this morning—the fact that suggesting an increase in numbers is not immediately going to be popular with the public. Politicians are not automatically the most popular of people with the public, and it is absolutely essential that, for the role of this work, in order for—. Let me word that better; it's so important that the Assembly increases the engagement we have with the public, as Diana has just been saying. So, there's actually an opportunity with this work to start to bridge that gap, even though we're going to be recommending something that is immediately going to be not the most popular. Do you have any recommendations, or any research that you could draw on from other parliaments that have ever tried to undertake a deliberate increase in engagement with the public around a specific issue, that we could draw on? Because it seems to me that, although it's slightly perverse because we are going to be talking about something that is not going to be popular, maybe in a perverse way that could be the greatest opportunity we have to actually get to the crux of why the idea of more politicians is unpopular, that actually this could be a real opportunity to explain—not explain, no, to talk to people, to hear their concerns, and for us to learn from each other.
This isn't an example from a particular place, but I do think that you're on to something, in the sense that, if you feel that part of the reason that this is not a popular idea, and you sort of corrected yourself, but I think you meant a lack of understanding of the role of the Assembly—and in my experience a lot of people, in most countries, don't really understand the distinction between Government and a legislature—then some kind of engagement in a deliberative way, in the sense of talking, giving information, and then listening to how that affects people's views, I think could be useful. That's the sort of thing—. It's not new, but it has been more in vogue lately, and I know that there have been examples in Wales as well. But trying to take groups of the public, and maybe specifically focusing on particular demographics that you're interested in, and not just going and telling them what you think, or just asking them what they think, but a slightly more deliberative process, which involves some information sharing, I think could be interesting.
I think that's spot on really. There are a couple of issues here. If you look at Ireland, it has used citizens' assemblies and citizens' juries culturally and in a very ingrained way. We were fortunate with the expert panel, having Professor David Farrell from University College Dublin on our panel, and he'd worked very closely with the citizens' assemblies there. And if you think about the issues that they covered—abortion, equal marriage—massively polarised issues in Ireland, so probably much more controversial than increasing the size of the parliament, and they managed to work very effectively and come up with a real consensus around change. And I think, as Hannah said, the key there is to have properly constituted deliberative mechanisms, so they are reflective of the population as a whole, and to make them ingrained culturally, so that everyone knows that this is happening, and they feel that people like them are being represented on citizens' juries and citizens' assemblies, and so on. So I think that's really important.
The other piece of research that I've been involved in recently is for Welsh Government, actually, on democratic engagement, as part of their preparation for their own local government work, on young people voting and foreign nationals, and a whole mix of change there. That was with a commercial research agency, but I advised them on some aspects of the project. And what was interesting about the outcomes—. I think the report has only just been delivered to Welsh Government, so it's probably not in the public domain yet. But what was interesting was that, with every group—and they held quite detailed focus groups with young people, foreign nationals, both EU and non-EU citizens, and various other groups that generally are not as close to the democratic process as others—with all of them, although people felt frustrated by their lack of knowledge of how devolution worked, they wanted more information. They had a will to get more information. And I think that's quite a positive facet really, because it shows that there is the room for improvement around this.
And then, finally, I think contentious issues tend to have a quite small timescale for being contentious. I'm sure you'll read into what I'm saying. It's almost like votes at 16: if you look at the evidence around votes at 16, it's a low-salience issue generally. If you ask people, most people are against it, actually. However, once it's introduced, the mood changes very quickly and people's opinions change. And I genuinely think that, at some point, we're going to have to bite the bullet on size and ride some of the storm and difficulty that comes with that. Because I think, if the Parliament then delivers for people, there would be a retrospective sense of it being effective and a good decision. I'm afraid that's what politics is about, ultimately, isn't it?
I rather liked the word you used there for the concept of increasing—you said the 'nervousness' of the public. I would put it a bit stronger than that, actually.[Laughter.] You've touched upon it earlier, but could you expand on the fact—and it will be one of the arguments we'll be using for expanding, which is the benefits of effective parliamentary scrutiny, so could you expand on that a little?
Yes, I think you're right, David. I was being, probably, a bit timid in my use of words there, because we know that the public are not keen on the expansion of politicians at any point, and probably now more so than ever. However, I think there are things that can be presented by way of an effective case. A lot of it is in the report, obviously, around how an enlarged Assembly would deliver better. But I think there are issues around cost as well. We are losing our MEPs shortly and that will generate savings to the public purse of around £8 million per annum. Without a shadow of a doubt, there will be a reduction in Welsh MPs at Westminster at some point because we have a boundary review and there is a commitment to reduce or equalise the populations in electorates. When that happens, of course, is a decision for UK Government, but I think it will happen, and Wales will then lose between eight and 11 of our MPs who are sent to Westminster—another saving.
Now, at some point, we need to look at this in the round. Given where powers lie, where is it appropriate to have politicians? And the trajectory of increasing powers here is inarguable. I don't think anybody, academic or political, could argue about where the seat of powers is in terms of authority and breadth of policy competence now. But, I know that's not an easy argument to make on the doorsteps. And, as I say, all of us have got to defend our work when we talk to people in the pub or the coffee shop.
But I will say that I feel that an enlarged Assembly or an appropriate-sized Assembly—put it another way—would actually generate savings to the public purse by effective scrutiny. I think it would deliver better in policy and legislative terms on a very basic level to the population, and it can't be beyond us, as a population, not to be able to make that case effectively to people. It's not an easy one, but I think it's incumbent on us all—not just you as politicians, but all of us who work in the field of politics to explain to our friends and neighbours and families why it is important that we have an appropriate-sized Assembly. There's nowhere else in the world that is as underpowered, I think, as an institution vis-à-vis its powers than this institution, and therefore, unless we think Wales is congenitally designed to be underpowered and weaker, then I think it's a strong case to make to anybody.
Okay. In our briefing papers, one of the cornerstones of expanding the numbers that you've used obviously is the business of scrutiny, but in our briefing papers, in an article that both you and Diana wrote in 2013, you said that Ministers were subject to greater scrutiny than in other UK legislatures. Can you explain the anomaly in that?
I think we were talking about the first two Assemblies—the first two terms of the Assembly. And we were trying to find the benefits, if you want, and limitations of the model that was operating at that time, when Ministers were members of the subject committees that were scrutinising them. And, although we know all of the limitations of that model, we referred also to that being a benefit because Ministers were available and because they were appearing in front of the committee virtually every time. But also, there was access to information between the parliamentary arm and the Government. So, the access to Government information was much easier. So, to an extent, we were presenting, I think, to—
It was a retrospective on the first two terms. So, clearly the committees operated—
Not so much an anomaly; it's that the institution has moved on so much from that.
Yes, and the framework of committees was very different at that point to what happened in the third and fourth Assemblies.
Thank you for that. I'm just going to finish off with a couple of questions from me, if that's okay. I just wonder if you could tell us whether there's anything that the Assembly can learn on effective scrutiny and maximising capacity from some other legislatures. There must be others that have had to look at this and come up with some ideas and changes. Any thing that we can learn from elsewhere?
So, my research is mostly focused on Westminster, and in lots of ways, Westminster isn't necessarily an exemplar. I was reflecting on what I had found there in relation to the argument about whether to increase the size of the Assembly here. One of the things that I looked at was what the things are about scrutiny that actually lead to impact. It seems to me that there are some things where increasing the size of—.
I think that there are six factors that can lead to impact. There are four of them where, actually, changing the size of the Assembly wouldn't make much difference. The status of the Assembly: maybe it would change, but it would essentially be the same. The powers of the Assembly would essentially be the same in relation to scrutiny. The ability to communicate is really important in terms of scrutiny having an impact, but that can be addressed by increasing the support to the Assembly and having more staff. The way in which Members approach their scrutiny—something that I talk about in terms of respect; the way that they deal with their stakeholders and so on—isn't necessarily affected by the number of AMs.
But, there are two things that I think really are. The first is the expertise of the people doing the scrutiny, the actual Assembly Members: what they choose to look at, what they prioritise, what questions they ask. This is what it comes down to, you know, the shortage of time, which means that they can't really build that expertise. When you look at Westminster committees, not only are far fewer MPs having to sit on more than one committee, but when you look at the really effective committees, MPs are even specialising within those committees. So, if you look at the Public Accounts Committee, it's an explicit strategy that they've had that some of their Members will really focus on particular areas of the NAO's work. A similar thing was done by the health committee. So, actually, it's not even just sitting on one committee; it's specialising within that committee. So, the ability to build expertise is something that would really be affected by changing the number of Members.
The other thing—and this was probably, when I looked at the work of committees in Westminster, the single thing that most affected how impactful they were—was the relationships that those committees had. So, it was the relationships between the Chair and the Ministers and the Permanent Secretaries of Government departments, and with all their stakeholders. Without the time to devote to doing scrutiny, you cannot build those relationships effectively.
I really felt that, actually, to draw the analogy between what I had done in Westminster and this question here, those were the two key elements that, actually—. If you want to have effective scrutiny, relationships and expertise are really, really key.
Okay, thank you for that. I'm conscious of time, but there was just one quick thing that I wanted to ask you about. If we haven't got the time to explore this in more detail, I might write to you about this. We talked about support for the Assembly from Assembly staff, and you talked about the limitations of that. What about external support, such as advisers, academics, and whether they could be effectively used to support additional capacity, if you like?
Well, I was going to add that to Hannah's answer, which I agree with entirely, actually. I think again there are some limitations or parameters around how you might use that. Already, as a group of academics, we try to do as much as we can to support Assembly Members with our expertise and with the scrutiny process. I was at a seminar, funnily enough, last week that the Economic and Social Research Council arranged around academics working with Government and Parliament. But, I think that there's only so much that we can do as external people—whether as academics or experts in other fields—that will furnish politicians with the right information to then be able to scrutinise. I just sense—and you might correct me—that, by and large, information is not the problem for you; it's managing information and marshalling information in order to prepare for a very tight focus to a scrutiny environment. So, the problem with academics is that we can give you as much information as you want, and as much evidence as you want, but you're still the individuals who have to front up and scrutinise effectively in the committee. So, I think, again, that's probably only got partial value.
Yes, so it's not a dissimilar argument to the additional support staff.
No. One thing I would say, though, Chair, and I think this maybe an area that hasn't been maximised, is the use of other arms of Welsh public service, because I think there are Welsh Government sponsored bodies, which discharge a lot of policy responsibilities, that could be scrutinising on behalf of both Government and the legislature—just thinking of some of the Welsh Government sponsored bodies that cover a whole range of organisations and then probably don't feel they have as much responsibility to scrutinise those as effectively as they might do.
So, I guess if you're dispersing scrutiny throughout Welsh public service, it might take some, at least, of the strain off Assembly Members here. But, again, I have to say, I think these are small beer, really, compared to the challenges that you'll face, as justice will likely be devolved at some point and as Brexit happens—a bigger gamut of areas to scrutinise, with more pressure and with the same number of Assembly Members. I think it's impossible to square that circle without additional Members.
Well, one of the things that we will be doing is looking at what possible opportunities there are between now and, at least, 2026, so that will help feed into that. So, thank you very much, and I thank all of you for coming in this morning—really appreciate your input. You will be sent a transcript of today's proceedings to check for accuracy, and if there are any action notes from today we'll let you know that as well. Okay, thank you very much.
We will now move to item 3—we'll have a quick changeover and I'll just remind colleagues that we are still in public, while this happens.
Good morning. Welcome to this committee on Assembly reform. Nice to see you both. Welcome to Dame Dawn Primarolo, chair of the remuneration board, and Anna Daniel, who is senior advisor to the remuneration board, Assembly Commission. I'm very aware that you need to be away by 11.45 a.m. sharp, so we'll try and get through this and clear as much as we can before that time.
Can I just start by asking: what is the role of the board in relation to capacity and diversity of the Assembly?
In the board's remit, which is set down in legislation, we are given three specific objectives. One is to provide Assembly Members with the necessary level of pay that reflects the complexity and importance of the functions that you discharge in your public duties. Secondly, we need to ensure that you have the resources that support your discharging of your public duties—the office costs, all the support mechanisms. And, thirdly, we're bound by, as you would expect, because we're a designated public body, which is accountable in public for what we spend, probity, accountability, value for money, transparency, in particular with regard to the use of public funds. That was set down—that's the original—when the board was set up, which has held very well, and I think continues to for all time.
The current board then decided, in January 2017, following discussion around those strategic objectives, that we needed to have a better understanding of the barriers and incentives to standing for election, in the first place, and we had to interpret that within our remit. We're very clear: our role is to support the strategic objectives of the Assembly—soon to be Parliament—and what's decided in terms of policy objectives. So, we don't set policy, we discharge our responsibilities of supporting the elected Members.
And we will come on, in a moment, to some questions, particularly around barriers, but that's a really helpful overview, Dawn. Thank you for that. Can you tell us how the board balances its duty to consult with the need to make the right decisions for the Assembly, rather than what's just popular?
Okay. Firstly, using those objectives, and understanding that what some people think might be right—they make a subjective judgment, whereas we're looking at the evidence and making the decisions. The most important thing is discharging the remit by getting the evidence. And we do that by informal consultations. We have regular meetings with representative groups—inside the Assembly I'm talking about, so AM support staff and AMs. We engage directly with individual AMs who want to talk to us about that strategic objective. We've also undertaken visits over a range of different offices for elected Members to try and get a better understanding of the split between Cardiff and their constituency office, and the geography of it.
Then we would start, if necessary, consulting on a principle. So, we've just consulted on several principles about the provision of childcare, care responsibilities, maternity, paternity and adoptive leave. So, our first consultation would be, in principle, what do people think about that. And we have to give a rationale in our initial consultation, because we're a public body. We can't decide to do something that we didn't say in the initial consultation. Then we would look at the detail. So, we would collect evidence. And then we would consider—which we're about to do, there's a consultation shortly coming out—what such proposals would look like.
Obviously, it's difficult if we received a huge 'no'—that nobody liked what we're proposing. To date, I wouldn't say it's not been without some controversy sometimes, but we've been able to continue to justify and say, on principle, 'This supports the strategic objectives of the Assembly, of the Welsh Parliament.' What we have to be careful of is that we frame it in a way that decisions that we've taken, which we're accountable for, haven't indirectly or inadvertently put the Assembly Members in the firing line. To that end, we decided early on that the complete determination for the sixth Assembly will be ready 12 months before the election, so it will be finished by May. For those who didn't see me, I'm crossing my fingers here. Finished by May, so we're about now—. We've consulted at each tranche, as we've gone along, and then we will put the entire document out for final consultation.
At different times we've tried to engage civil society, because this is really a question of, 'What price for democracy?' How much are people prepared to pay for a fully functioning, well-resourced, dynamic Parliament? That's much more difficult and proved much more difficult to get into. But, nonetheless, we're bound to consult. We have to. We cannot do anything if we haven't consulted first.
But the key point is that your driver is the evidence, not necessarily public opinion, particularly—that may be a consideration, but it's not the driver.
Absolutely. We have to follow the evidence and policy. It's not always possible. There will be a principle that's accepted. Gathering the data to show how to have such a scheme operating—but that's the same in Government—isn't always there. At that point we would operate precautionary principles at what level we come in. And I know you want to go on to talk about the work we commissioned on barriers to people deciding they want to let their name go forward to stand, so I can give a bit more detail at that stage.
Well, that leads nicely into, actually, some questions from Huw Irranca-Davies just on that point. Thank you.
Could you expand on those issues and how you've brought forward any measures to tackle those barriers of diversity and so on?
Okay. I need to stress that it's our job to support what you decide as the elected Members, balancing what are our legal requirements. So, we commissioned research from Cardiff, having gone through the proper process. It was joint research with London Metropolitan University. Yes, you were just—. A proper process of putting out a tender. And we asked them, within our remit, what were the barriers. And they came forward with basically two broad areas. To be honest, most of their recommendations aren't for us; they're for you. But you're already working on that.
The first set—much more difficult—is the area of time, commitment, pressure, how the Welsh Parliament actually works. And the second area was if you had responsibilities: childcare, care responsibilities, giving up your job, how you would get back to your job if you decided after five years of a fixed term—. So, it comes in two broad groups. So, on the question of process, they're much broader ones: how long you meet for, how pressurised the work is, how difficult it is to leave one's family and come, if necessary, to live in Cardiff. So, all of those issues. What we've tried to do is amend the determination to make it clearer and to give as much flexibility as possible—which I can come back to—so that the individual Member can decide what package suits them best. Because, basically, we're dealing with 60 individuals who decide, because they're the elected representatives, how best to discharge their public duties.
The second area is to do with the care responsibilities, and, again, we looked at what was appropriate for us to do and we looked at what other Parliaments did, which didn't help us very much. So, we decided that we would move to the provision of childcare and we consulted on that principle and it's agreed. We decided that we would also have funds available for care responsibilities. That was agreed in principle, not the detail. Maternity cover, paternity and adoptive leave, of course, coming close to that, and we're about now—we will put out in the next week, following our board meeting last week, what that scheme might look like.
Now, it will—well, it may be controversial. It may not. But in our consultation, we justify, based on the evidence, why we come in at the level we do, what we think is necessary, and that we will review it after twelve months of operation in the next Assembly. And that's down to us. What those things won't do—they're limited, because, to be frank, if the political parties don't put forward the candidates, however well the determination is phrased, people may not get through the selection process. So, we can't do anything about that; it's not our business. But that's—. So, that's how we're approaching it, so that there's nothing in the way that we design the support for you as elected Members that is disadvantageous to somebody else.
The last big area is the area of disability. Now, all of this was there, but it was under exceptional circumstances, which, frankly, we understand why it was done that way, but it did lack clarity, putting it mildly, and cut across the idea that we're in a dialogue, we're explaining what an elected Member does, and, therefore, what are the resources they require. It's not transparent, and that's our aim. Sorry, that's quite a long answer but it's a really big subject to unpack.
No, no—that's a very helpful answer. It's a really helpful answer. And you'll know the growing support for some specific funding, particularly for those affected by disability issues—
—in order to allow them to stand. But it's interesting what you're saying, that no impediment will be put in place of this place functioning in the way that we want it to.
Not intentionally, anyway.
But can I just flip that over? Does the board have a real cognisance of the fact that this place seeks to work in a very different way from, for example, Westminster? It's modern—as much as it can be, frankly—family-friendly working hours. It's designed to operate like a twenty-first century working environment. It's designed not to be, if you like—as a former MP—the old macho style, 'Wasn't it great when we went through until 10 o'clock, 2 o'clock, through the night until 8 o'clock, holding Ministers to account?' Well, yah boo sucks, you know? This is very, very different. So, in your deliberations, do you take that into account?
When you see the consultation—I'm really sorry, because it comes out next Monday—I sincerely hope that you think we have. Look, there is a real dilemma here, between how much work an Assembly Member has to do, how much time they have, and therefore the resources that they have. I think that we are all seized by the fact that there is huge demand on Assembly Members' time, and there's only so much resource we can put in, because in the end you as Members won't be able to read any more, do any more—you know, you're physically at your limit. It's not about ability, it's about how many hours there are in a day and how much information you can consume [Correction: 'assimilate'].
And we did—. You know, it is a bit of a double-edged sword. It's really important, the point that the Parliament works differently. It's setting a new model. It shows that you can move away—this is my personal view—from what is considered to be more, I think you said, Huw, the 'yah boo', and inadvertently putting in measures that compensate for long hours or unsocial hours might not be helpful.
For you achieving that objective, what we have to do is we have to look in the here and now and say, 'In the here and now, you are starting to creep beyond your family-friendly hours.' So, I say no more. We're hearing what you're saying to us, and we're trying to ride two horses here: for the future, when you tell us the strategic direction; in the present, you're under massive pressure—
Thank you very much. Let's go to the here and now. One of the things that intrigues us as, now, a primary law-making, tax-varying Parliament of 60 Members who—. I mean, I'm sure I'm not untypical here, I worked a full six days out of seven, despite the family-friendly hours, last week. So, I worked all the way until the end of Saturday evening, and so on.
There is no difference in what I'm doing from what I was doing as an MP. Chris, my great, good friend—Chris Elmore the MP—we do joint surgeries, joint coffee mornings together, we jointly man them, we split the work. So, I do health and transport and education and so on and so forth, and he will deal with work and pensions and national security and other fascinating, important things as well.
So, here and now, one of the challenges I would suspect that might be put to you, and from here till 2026, when that number changes, is: I have one and a half fewer members of staff, so I can't do the policy back-up I need for my committee, I can't do the additional organisation and stuff alongside. Sorry, I'm not trying to pre-empt what might come through magically in your report. [Laughter.] But it's all this. It's not a special pleading. I'm poacher turned gamekeeper, and I see the commensurate workloads and the way that power and responsibilities are shifting down here. So, I'm just wondering, how have you come to it so far? I appreciate there are historic things as well, but which way is this going, for goodness' sake?
Can I just start by saying, actually, it does depend on what the Assembly, the Parliament, decides about the future structure and shape, the number, issues around all the things that you were talking about earlier—job share.
So, what we do—. Firstly, we inherit what's gone on in the other Parliaments, particularly Westminster, but Scotland as well. So, the first thing that we would always do is we'd look at what the other Parliaments are doing. So, let's take the Scottish comparison. They get paid less per Member—
And they get less money to discharge their responsibilities on their office cost.
Well, that's not for me to say, because you haven't taken any decisions on anything. The board has taken the view, and the previous board, in looking at the powers that have come to the Assembly thus far, it was important to raise the salary, and the justification for that predates me. To give you some figures, in Northern Ireland, the Assembly Members get two full-time staff; that's it. In Scotland, they get £90,000 per annum. Whereas in Wales it's £100,417 or something—
Now, obviously, in Westminster it's £155,930—
You know that. [Laughter.] You're mischevious.
But, of course, London weighting takes it higher. So, we understand that direct comparisons aren't always possible.
So, the other thing that we do, and we've done increasingly, and we see it as our brief, and it's mentioned in the legislation that sets us up, is that we have to do what's best for Wales. So, we then look across what's the pay for Wales. We use the annual survey of hours and earnings figure. So, in looking at those points—
No, I know you're not, I'm just saying—
So, we look at that and we carry on assessing what we can do. What we also did is we looked at how it was said you could spend the money. The board has had this huge debate about prescriptive versus flexibility and maintaining transparency. So, the previous board changed it from two and a half to three full-time equivalents, and also introduced the senior adviser. This was in anticipation of the powers that you are now getting. We'll see what happens after the next round. We can't guess that at the minute.
What we've done is we've tried to maximise the flexibility, because how it worked before you might have money left at the end of the year that you couldn't spend, because of the way the budgeting was required. So, we got rid of the 111 rule, which I know we spoke lots about, Huw. We are about to give power to the Assembly Members to determine the starting rate salary, as opposed to prescriptively telling them. The engagement fund, which is the fund to enable you to have external advice—maybe one specific, detailed thing that the Assembly is considering at that time. We've looked at that, we've brought that much closer in. We looked at the policy and research fund—this is maybe to help you do more consultation. We've increased it and we've brought that into clearer, straightforward rules. We're changing the pay point, so instead of it being assumed where it is, your budgets will be calculated on actual pay points.
All of this has sought to ensure that you can maximise the spending of what you have at the moment. The decisions about if you have more Members, what the powers are, and therefore what resources would be necessary, is something that we can only move on to—
My question was slightly different, though, Dawn. It was actually to do with, up to 2026, we'll be existing, come what may, with 60 Members but with those additional responsibilities. So, it's how do we—? Are the measures that you have talked about—which I have to say have been very good and have introduced that level of flexibility across budget work and so on and so forth, special adviser, research; all of those have been helpful. But going forward to do another five-year Assembly with the powers that we have—which will increasingly be used, I suspect, as well—is that now sufficient?
I think the board's view at the moment is that we've also looked at the question of political party funding, because that's another resource that comes in and supports. We've also looked at what the Commission provides, which if you like is off balance sheet, in access to services and support that isn't costed. I think that the view of the board currently is that we've done absolutely everything to maximise the support within the current envelope and, frankly, what an AM can possibly do. I think you're trying to get a quart into a pint pot. We can give you more resources, but the simple, straightforward proposition as we look at it—and it's not for us, I really stress this—is that we're going to be challenged to find any other ways that would meaningfully support and enhance your ability to do your job. Is that suitably diplomatic? I'm not elected—I'm straying a bit.
We have to move on, because I am conscious of time, but just one thing I would add to that, Dawn, and I think what you've outlined has been very helpful, is there are some fixed costs that I think cause some Members some particular difficulties, particularly constituency AMs that have to have an office, and the fact there are office costs. A constituency AM's office costs are considerably lower than the office costs available to an MP, and to run an office in any town location costs exactly the same. I know there are a number of AMs who may well have made representation to you about having to finance that themselves because of the costs of doing so. So, I'll leave that with you to look at.
But can we just move on? Being conscious of time, David, I'm going to skip your questions and come back to them, if I may, and move straight to Delyth's questions, please.
Thank you, Chair. Good morning—yes, it is still morning. How would the board go about designing a financial system to support a larger Assembly in terms of numbers?
What we would need to know is how many more. It doesn't have to have all the t's crossed and i's dotted, but we need to know the strategic direction that you want to move in, and we need to have a view of the role of those Members and how that fits. I know that you've touched in the previous session on other things that will go on about restructuring of parliamentary constituencies for Westminster, et cetera. When we have that information—and going back to the point that Huw made, as well—about how you want to work going forward, we would collect information. So, we don't just look at the Parliaments in the UK, we do look across Europe—widest Europe, so we look at Norway as well—at what other Parliaments are doing and what lessons we can learn from that.
I think it's a moot point on how far the board's responsibility goes to undertaking any deliberative research and consultation about how the electorate see the role. That's a bit difficult. We would start venturing into territory that's not ours. So, in the end, we would probably—because there aren't many places that have done this—work on a precautionary principle in making judgments and taking advice, and if necessary commissioning research, on what that structure might look like and the appropriate resource. Now, we're not told we can't spend money, because we're independent, but we do have to be mindful of what would be seen as value for money, and how the taxpayer generally might react. Consultation is always a good test of the water, so we would need to do that.
Thank you. Presumably, the same principle would apply to any implications that would have for support staff available to Members in a larger Assembly or Welsh Parliament.
Yes, but to a lesser extent. I think the biggest question is: how many additional Members might you decide on, what the understanding was of the obligations and public duties that person had to discharge, and whether or not you went for job share, or—. Any of these things would influence. Now, we need to be working on it sooner rather than later. That's why I say we would need an indication of the strategic direction you would like to go. If it was varied slightly, that's not going to cause us problems, but we are determined by doing reasonable periods of consultation, and that therefore means how fast we can go, not how many times the board can meet, but how we can discharge the consultation according to our obligations. That's not very clear, but it's very—. It's hard for me to say, you know—. Would we say that you were paid more but got fewer support staff, if that's what you're suggesting? Well, I don't know because it depends what you decide and how it fits with everything else that's going on: no European Parliament, a reduction in MPs; there'll be all sorts of things that would influence it.
Sure. Actually, the final question from me is something you've just alluded to, which is job share. If that were to be introduced, what considerations would the board have to make in order to countenance that?
You would have to give us quite a lot of information about how you saw that working and, obviously, there would need to be changes in the Assembly. It raises all sorts of issues around the democratic process: how you share that responsibility, who is ultimately held accountable, who's responsible for the staff. This is before you start talking about how much they're paid. But these are practical questions, but we'll only know what the relevant practical questions are when you give us an indication of what you're looking at. I'm not trying to avoid it; I'm saying, 'Look, it will be a challenge but we don't think it's necessarily impossible.' Could we do it all in one go or phase it? It depends on what the Assembly and Parliament decide. I don't think it's a showstopper, but there would have to be a lot of preparation. It depends what else you're doing. It would be the umbrella for us to operate under.
Sorry, Dawn, for interrupting you. So, that would indicate that—. Because whatever we do in this committee, it's going to be a recommendation to the next Assembly, so what you're suggesting is that the Assembly would need to make early decisions. The next Assembly would need to make early decisions on this base so that you could do the work that you need to do, ready for 2026.
Obviously, it's not for the remuneration board to drive the decision making of the Assembly. We would prefer—given that we want to publish a year before the election so that people know what to expect—to have enough details to start the work. It's easier to say, 'No, we've changed our minds; we're not doing that', than to say at the last minute, 'Actually, we would like you to do it.' So, we will follow, however challenging that might be, what the Assembly decides, the Parliament decides, because that is our job—to support you in your strategic objectives as well as discharging your political duties.
I understand. That's fine. David, I can come back to your questions now. Thank you.
Huw has alluded to the fact that we are likely to keep 60 Members until 2026. So, looking at the here and now, what further options are the board considering that could increase the capacity of the Assembly during the meantime?
Bearing in mind, David, that we're at the end now of our determination. Now, this doesn't mean that it's set for all time, because if something happened early in the next Parliament—. There are certain things we have to decide once a Parliament, for example, how much Members are paid, but things like office cost, and the point that Dawn was making earlier—it's a bit confusing with two Dawns, but Dawn, the Chair—around office costs, we're looking at this constantly, but we can't find a pattern yet that will give us a formula to deliver. So, office costs or the residential allowance for living away from home, we've tried to cut that lots of different ways; we've been around it lots and lots of times. There are pressures here, particularly what happens—. We tried to acknowledge this in our last consultation, that because the hours were creeping up, the Members who lived in the inner area were finding themselves perhaps having to stay overnight more, and so we adjusted that intermediate.
So, we can't move very far from the main big design that we've got. We've gone as far as we can. We can tweak and increase, but we have to be sure that we're not wasting—no, that's not the right phrase—that we can account to the taxpayer clearly, because we're a public body and I can be held to account, and the board members. So, I suppose we would say this, but we think we've done a good job at getting as far as we can, and, at the minute, it's difficult to see what else we can do, apart from tweaking. And that only stores up, could only store up, problems for making the change to something that looks quite different post 2026. So, we'd have to think about it.
You've had an opportunity to look at the whole portfolio of what Members do—obviously, their constituency work, their committee work, other Plenary work that we do. Without opening you up to look as if you're criticising us in any way, do you feel that we do prioritise our work in the best and most efficient way?
That's not for me to say. As far as we're concerned, and we look from the point of view of the allowances, how they're spent, we are clearly of the view that Assembly Members are doing their best under challenging circumstances to discharge their democratic and public duties to the best of their ability with the resources that they are given.
The question that everybody is now asking, and the board waits for the answer, is: are 60 Members enough to do that, given the new powers? But that isn't for us; we do not take a view. It's up to every single elected Member to decide how to discharge their duties, and, ultimately, the electorate will hold them responsible when they stand for election on whether they did it correctly. To the electorate's high standards. Fortunately, that's not my problem. [Laughter.]
I want to come back to this issue of diversity. It's linked to this, but diversity in a sort of modern working environment. Some witnesses in front of us have suggested that, going forward, in the period of the next, the seventh Assembly, we will need to adjust once again the ways we work because we've not yet been ready to take the heavy-duty political decision to extend the number of Assembly Members. So, we're going to have to change again, and that may include things such as extending the hours and days that we are here in Cardiff.
So, for example, we started here this morning—well, we're still in the morning—on a Monday morning. I don't know how other devolved nations and regions work, but certainly the UK Parliament starts, typically, on a Monday afternoon, in order that people from Scotland and so on can actually get down there and still be with their families on a Sunday. But we could be facing a situation, in order to cover the scrutiny that we need to, of meeting on the Monday morning, extending to Thursday afternoon and maybe—who knows—looking at a Friday, which will impact on constituencies. And of course, Members who are further away from here will be impacted more.
All the things that you've been telling us that the board have considered in order to actually work within the ethos of this institution, to increase the diversity, to give that flexibility to Members—through paternity, maternity, all of those other things—surely those two knock up against each other if what we have to do, because needs must after the next Assembly, is going to knock against those.
That is certainly a possibility. The board itself can't change that, given the dynamics around the Assembly and Parliament about the extra powers, and the demands on Members to fulfil, for example, their committee work, let alone their constituency work. If that turned out to be the case, we're talking about something in the interim, hopefully, before moving to a new model, the board would have to consider those changes. We would have to consider the impact on Members, a legitimate expectation when they stood, and whether the resources are still appropriate. Obviously, we can only work on what we know is happening. But if the Assembly resolved to meet four days a week—Monday to Thursday, 9.00 a.m. to whatever—that would, clearly, change the balance for you discharging your duties, and that would be a material fact that we would have to consider. Because we are currently making our decisions based on what we know you do now.
Yes. Could I ask one other question, which again is related to workloads, smarter ways of working, extending the week, and so on? There are roughly 100 UK parliamentarians who sit on no committees; I sit on three. Most of my colleagues sit on two, who are backbenchers; it's rare that you have somebody who sits on one. The level of additional support, as a parliamentarian of 18 years'—19 years, crikey—experience to support that workload is quite intense. We have massive support from committee, the UK Parliament has—[Inaudible.]—experts on every field, we have our own research unit. But I'm just wondering, if I wanted to develop here, as we were told by the previous witnesses to the session this morning, that level of not just expertise—and I can see you sitting there nodding—in a broad area, but expertise in a sub area, granulated, which they have in Westminster, I need that additional support. So, going into 2026—I'm trying not to go over ground I've covered with you already—but I will probably be sitting on three committees, at least, and others. I'm just positing that the workload—committee workload—of Assembly Members is, at this very moment, more significant than that of UK parliamentarians. So maybe I'm—. I'm actually arguing for an uplift, or perhaps I'm arguing for parity.
One of the problems—. And can I just say, because I know the time pressures, Chair, I'm happy to come back at another time, if you would like to pursue some of these things further, because I think they're important discussions? But I know you know that I have to get to another place to vote.
No, no. But the issue is this, Huw: we need to have a clear view, which we don't still have, of the support, for example, you get from all of the Commission services. Because that is relevant to the questions of transparency, accountability, and it's also relevant to us in understanding what's missing, what additional support we would need to give you. And it's quite difficult to pin that down entirely in a changing environment. So, the way that we are set up is, if you like, we're always looking back. So, we're looking—when we get to the sixth determination, it's on our experience during the fifth Assembly. So, radical change, when we don't know what it is, is quite difficult to build in. So, I'm sure you may look at it and say, 'There are things that I would like now' and that aren't there because we can't do that.
The other thing is this double-edged sword that you yourself touched on right at the beginning. If, to be an Assembly representative, a Member of the Welsh Parliament, you have to be superhuman, to be able to—you know, vast amounts—
I'm not saying you're not now, but vast amounts of information, and that you can do really long hours as long as you've got the right support. That may not fit with your idea of a different way of having representations. So, for example, the single parent or the professional who thinks, 'Do you know, I would like the opportunity to contribute to public duty? And I want to stand, but I only want to probably, if I'm elected, be there for five years.' But then that person's got to be able to return. They might have been a nurse or they might have been in a profession where they need to update their qualifications. We have to look at that and say, if you want that diversity, then how do we have the right resources to make sure that that person who does decide that they contribute for five years but then they want to go back to their employment or they want to move on to new employment with the added value that they have accumulated as an elected Member, which is so important in getting people to understand what elected Members do—. Then we need to think in a different way. So, we need things that may not be in the current determination. This model is designed on a conventional 'this is what everybody else does' and if you're going to grab the—whatever; I can't think—nettle and say, 'We're going to be creative and we're going to move forward in a much more participatory, expansive, reaching-out democracy for the Parliament', then that requires us all to think differently. So, I'm not trying to dodge—
—I'm just saying that the Norwegian Parliament, which we will want to look at, says, 'How can you make sure that somebody will take the risk of wanting to be an elected Member, but be able to go back to their employment afterwards?' Otherwise, they might get trapped, because it's their employment. And there are lots of interesting ideas that we could pursue, but we need to know the basic structure. And job share, it might be that we need to think: why would you do a job share and give up—being somebody who then has to update their professional qualification, or your business is closed down while you're here, or you put your education on hold and then need to return to full-time education? So, I'm sorry to open that up at the end, but it's a much wider and important debate.
And it is—. That is part of the consideration of this committee, looking at all of those areas, so thank you very much for that.
There were a couple of areas that we probably didn't get to, so I'll write to you about those. And if the committee feels that it would be worth having you back again for a further discussion, once we've got a bit clearer on our thinking, maybe, perhaps we'll do that.
That would be great, because you would have seen next week's consultation and you'll have a view. And I'm just coming across the bridge. I know it's a Monday morning and that's difficult for you, but—and then me on a train back to the other place that we shall not mention is doable for me and I'm happy to assist, because we are about process, not the principle. You decide the principles; we'll work out how to deliver it.
Well, thank you very much for that. We will send you a transcript of the proceedings for accuracy. So, feel free to check it and let us know if we've got it wrong. Hopefully, we'll see you again soon. Thank you very much indeed.
Okay. Thank you very much for your time.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
So, we now move on to item 4, which is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Is everyone content? Thank you.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:50.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:50.
Professor McAllister wishes to note that a clearer phrase would be: 'so they don't sit on any scrutiny committee and they hold no other office'.