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Politics

Warning against “undemocratic” 10% recall threshold for Senedd Members

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A 10% THRESHOLD for voters to remove Senedd members from office between elections would be undemocratic, the standards commissioner warned.

Douglas Bain, who investigates complaints against Senedd members, gave evidence to a standards committee inquiry looking into introducing a system of recall.

He said: “I very much welcome anything that will strengthen the ability of the public to call to account members of the Senedd. I think that should always be welcome.”

But Mr Bain warned that the closed-list electoral system, which will see people voting for parties rather than candidates from 2026, poses major difficulties.

He said: “If a member was recalled, the public – the electorate – would not have a choice of who might be elected, with the automatic election of the next person on the party list.”

He told the committee it would be “quite wrong” to replace a member in this way, without a byelection, “because only 10% of the electorate have said that’s what they want to happen”.

Stressing it’s a personal view, and ultimately a matter for the Welsh Parliament to decide, Mr Bain said: “I wouldn’t regard that as democratic or acceptable.”

He added: “There has to be some sort of mechanism to ensure actually it’s the will of not just 10% of the people that the member should be replaced, but it’s the majority of the people.”

Peredur Owen Griffiths, a Plaid Cymru member of the committee, pointed out that an MS could be elected with 40% of the vote yet removed with 10%.

Mr Bain suggested giving the standards committee powers to recommend disqualification could work as an alternative but this could be viewed as MSs marking their own homework.

Asked whether proxy and postal votes should be allowed as part of a recall mechanism, Mr Bain said the extra verification steps would unduly complicate the process.

Vikki Howells asked about Westminster’s criteria for triggering a recall petition: a prison sentence of less than 12 months, a ten-day suspension, or an expenses conviction.

Mr Bain, who was appointed in 2021, told the committee chair it is a good starting point.

The standards commissioner said there could be an argument for reducing the 12-month sentence threshold, above which members are automatically disqualified.

He asked: “Is it acceptable that someone who’s been sentenced to six months’ imprisonment … to remain a member of the Senedd? I think many would think the answer is ‘no’.”

Asked if members should be able to appeal, Mr Bain said in his experience of the complaints process, introducing an appeals mechanism risks prolonging the agony for everyone.

He recommended following Westminster’s model as closely as possible, adapting it for Wales as necessary: “Why try to reinvent a wheel that seems to work reasonably well?”

Mr Bain previously served as acting commissioner following Sir Roderick Evans’ resignation in 2019 after he was secretly recorded by Neil McEvoy, the former Plaid Cymru MS.

The commissioner, who is based in Northern Ireland, said a vote of the whole Senedd and a weighted majority should be required due to the serious nature of the recall decision.

“Otherwise it could be used by a party that had a greater number of seats in the Senedd simply to remove opposition, which would be wholly unacceptable,” he warned.

But Joe Rossiter, co-director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, suggested a vote of the whole Senedd is unnecessary and risks politicisation, with members voting in party blocks.

Mr Rossiter, who joined the independent think tank and charity in 2022, described the members and elections bill as a missed opportunity to include a recall mechanism.

He told the meeting on June 3: “The public have a right to expect high standards from elected officials who are having an increasing impact on everyday life in Wales.”

Ms Howells asked whether politicians should be recalled for changing their allegiance, saying voters are often vexed and lack representation when an MS joins another party.

Mark Drakeford suggested members should be allowed to leave a political group but then only be able to sit as an independent for the rest of that Senedd term.

“They wouldn’t be able to hawk themselves around to different political groups,” he said.

The ex-first minister suggested it is unlikely the main parties will exhaust their 12-candidate lists for constituencies, saying: “You’d have to have a very, very substantial run of bad luck.”

Mr Drakeford said any independent MS would effectively be on a list of one but he argued it would be preferable for the seat to sit vacant rather than hold a by-election.

He told the meeting the unintended consequences of holding by-elections under the new fully proportional system outweigh the problems arising from a vacant seat.

Natasha Asghar, for the Conservatives, asked whether Wales should introduce a public body, similar to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) in Westminster.

Mr Rossiter said an Ipsa-style approach could raise standards throughout the Senedd as an institution, not only among individual members, but it would require more investment.

News

Eluned Morgan announces bid to become Wales’ first female First Minister

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ELUNED MORGAN has officially declared her candidacy to succeed Vaughan Gething as Wales’ First Minister. The current health secretary is aiming to become the next Welsh Labour leader, presenting a unified front with Huw Irranca-Davies as her prospective deputy.

Morgan’s bid is grounded on a “joint unity ticket” with Irranca-Davies, signalling a move towards consolidating party unity after a period of internal strife that culminated in Gething’s resignation. Addressing a press conference, Morgan emphasised the need for Welsh Labour to learn from recent acrimonious events, which saw Gething ousted following a spate of resignations.

The announcement was made a press conference (Image M Tierney/Herald)

As it stands, the likelihood of a contest appears slim, with no other Senedd politicians expected to enter the race. Should this remain unchanged by the 12:00 BST deadline on Wednesday, Morgan will automatically ascend as the new Welsh Labour leader. Her success would mark a historic moment, as she would become Wales’ first female First Minister.

During her press conference, Morgan underscored the lessons Welsh Labour must heed from the turmoil leading to Gething’s resignation. She introduced Irranca-Davies as her “right-hand man,” aiming to fortify their leadership. Notably, former First Minister Mark Drakeford lent his support, lauding Morgan as a “great campaigning leader.”

Morgan’s campaign has already garnered significant backing, with 15 of the 30 Welsh Labour Senedd members publicly endorsing her. This tally includes key figures like former minister Julie James, former counsel general Mick Antoniw, and Neath MS Jeremy Miles, all of whom were instrumental in Gething’s resignation.

Morgan and Irranca-Davies presented a united front at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, pledging to restore public confidence in Welsh Labour. They eschewed party factionalism, aligning themselves with the broader Welsh Labour radical tradition that has shaped the party and the country since devolution.

Morgan said her bid is grounded on a “joint unity ticket” (Image M Tierney/Herald)

Morgan highlighted the importance of a female leader, stating, “It is high time Wales had a female leader.” Addressing the practicality of their leadership arrangement, she pointed out the necessity for shared leadership during crises, positioning Irranca-Davies as a key partner.

Drakeford’s endorsement adds weight to Morgan’s candidacy. He praised her potential as a “great campaigning leader,” poised to advance Welsh Labour’s message across Wales and work synergistically with the UK Labour government. Drakeford’s previous neutrality in leadership contests makes his current endorsement particularly notable.

The concept of a “joint” ticket is unprecedented in Welsh Labour leadership contests. Morgan’s strategy includes a promise to appoint Irranca-Davies as deputy, showcasing an effort to unify the party. This role, although existing in coalition arrangements, has not been a feature within the Labour party itself, marking a formalisation of leadership coverage during the First Minister’s absence.

The announcement has elicited varied reactions. Welsh Conservative Senedd leader Andrew RT Davies criticised Morgan’s tenure as health secretary, pointing to poor NHS waiting times. Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth accused Labour of prioritising party management over policy innovation, suggesting that continued Labour leadership would perpetuate existing issues in Wales’ economic, health, and educational sectors.

As the deadline approaches, all eyes are on whether any late challengers will emerge. Should Morgan remain unopposed, her leadership will mark a significant shift for Welsh Labour, potentially ushering in a new era with her at the helm as Wales’ first female First Minister. With backing from key party figures and a clear strategy for unity and leadership, Morgan stands poised to steer Welsh Labour through the coming months and into the next electoral cycle.

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News

Plaid Cymru expels Senedd politician following inappropriate conduct

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PLAID CYMRU has expelled a Member of the Senedd who was found to have inappropriately touched and sworn at two women while drunk during a party night out.

Rhys ab Owen, who represents South Wales Central, was previously banned from the Welsh Parliament for six weeks – the longest sanction ever handed out in the Senedd.

The party announced that Mr ab Owen’s membership had been terminated following an internal disciplinary process. In response, Mr ab Owen stated he would respect the decision and has previously issued an unreserved apology for his actions.

An investigation conducted by Standards Commissioner Douglas Bain revealed that Mr ab Owen had inappropriately touched the two women during a night out with Plaid Cymru staff and other Members of the Senedd in June 2021. Mr Bain noted that Mr ab Owen showed “no remorse” for the incidents.

Elected in 2021, Mr ab Owen later admitted to the Senedd that he had behaved badly and apologised for his conduct.

In a statement, a Plaid Cymru spokesperson said: “Following the publication of the Senedd standards report, there has been an internal disciplinary process within Plaid Cymru. As a result, his party membership has been terminated, and he will not be eligible to re-apply for a period of at least two years.”

Mr ab Owen had already been suspended from the party’s Senedd group in November 2022, which led to him sitting as an independent. He had also been suspended from the party itself since the findings of Mr Bain’s investigation became known.

Had Mr ab Owen been an MP, his punishment would have triggered a recall petition and potentially a by-election. However, no such system currently exists in the Senedd, though the parliament’s standards committee is considering introducing one when the institution expands from 60 to 96 politicians in 2026.

Mr ab Owen commented: “Today’s decision is the culmination of a long process which I hope will now bring the matter to a close. It is a decision I will respect so that my family and I can look to the future. As I have done throughout, I will continue to work with and for my constituency. I am proud to do so and remain fully committed to serving the people of South Wales Central. My wife and children are my priority above all else and I thank them for their enduring love and support.”

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Education

Teacher shortage ‘threatens Welsh speaker target’

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SENEDD members warned a shortage of teachers could undermine a target to reach a million Welsh speakers and double daily use of the language by 2050.

Eluned Morgan, standing in for Jeremy Miles, who resigned as economy and Welsh language secretary that day, gave a statement on the Welsh education bill on July 16.

She said the bill, which was introduced in the Senedd this week, will give every child in Wales a fair chance of becoming Welsh speakers.

Baroness Morgan told the debating chamber or Siambr that the bill would put the vision of a million Welsh speakers on a statutory footing.

But opposition parties warned the success of the bill will hinge on the teaching workforce.

Tom Giffard raised concerns about the recruitment and retention of Welsh-language teachers, questioning if the workforce is adequately prepared to meet the challenge.

The Conservatives’ shadow Welsh language secretary said teachers who teach through the medium of Welsh are, on average, older than their counterparts in classrooms.

Mr Giffard warned the bill will add to the workload of teachers who are already grappling with a new curriculum and additional learning needs reforms.

He supported moving away from the “blunt instrument” of “fluent” or “non-fluent” to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

But he cautioned against “lowering the bar” to count people towards the target of a million Welsh speakers set out in the Cymraeg 2050 strategy.

Plaid Cymru’s Heledd Fychan agreed the workforce will be pivotal to the success of the bill.

“If we don’t have the numbers in schools, then we won’t be able to achieve that ambition,” she said. “We do need to see definite targets in terms of increasing the number able to teach through the medium of Welsh because we aren’t hitting the targets as they currently stand.”

Ms Fychan, who represents South Wales Central, also raised concerns about dual-stream schools being seen as the solution.

She said: “Only a small number of schools operate according to this model and I’m not aware of comprehensive research that demonstrates this model works in Wales.”

Arguing the best way for a child to learn is to be immersed in Welsh-medium education, she said most children continue to be denied the chance to become confident Welsh speakers

Mike Hedges, whose daughter teaches in a Welsh-medium school on Ynys Mon, hailed a “huge improvement” in the teaching of Welsh in English-medium primary schools.

“I think there really has been a huge change,” said the Labour backbencher. “When I visit English-medium schools in Swansea, like I did on Monday, I hear Welsh spoken, see it on classroom walls and see Welsh on notice boards.”

Mr Hedges, who represents Swansea East, said this has been made possible by a one-year Welsh-language sabbatical course for primary school teachers.

Rhys ab Owen, who sits as an independent, called for a secondary school in south Cardiff to ensure Welsh-medium education is available in one of Wales’ most deprived communities.

The South Wales Central MS also raised concerns about unequal access to Welsh-medium education for disabled children and young people.

Cefin Campbell was involved in development of the bill as part of Plaid Cymru’s now-collapsed cooperation agreement with the Welsh Government.

Mr Campbell, who established the first of Wales’ 22 Menter Iaith, which provide community support for learning the language, said: “What concerns me a great deal … is the deficiencies in terms of a bilingual workforce.”

The Plaid Cymru MS for Mid and West Wales raised concerns about low numbers of students studying A-level Welsh.

Baroness Morgan recognised the workforce challenges, saying the Welsh Government is seeking to attract more people to train to become teachers.

The health secretary, who was previously responsible for the language, said incentives are offered to get more teachers to train through the medium of Welsh.

She stressed the census will determine progress against the target of a million Welsh speakers, raising concerns that people “tick that they don’t speak Welsh when they do”.

Baroness Morgan, who attended the first Welsh-medium school in Cardiff, pointed to “huge” progress and “transformational” change over the past 50 years.

She told the chamber: “When I was going to school, people would throw stones at our bus because they didn’t want a Welsh school in their area. That’s the reality of the situation.”

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