Wales politics

Elin Jones: 'Always difficult' to make more politicians case

Cardiff Bay, showing ship-face sculpture, with Senedd and Pierhead building in the background Image copyright Getty Images

New powers for the National Assembly means politicians will be "very stretched" but making the case for more assembly members will be difficult, says its presiding officer.

Elin Jones has called for the number of AMs to be increased, and asked an expert panel to examine the issue.

But speaking to BBC Wales, she accepted winning the argument was challenging.

A former Welsh Government adviser said persuading two-thirds of AMs to vote for an increase may not be easy.

There are currently 60 AMs, but with more powers soon to be devolved to Wales there have long been calls for that number to be increased.

Last week the Wales Act 2017 was given Royal Assent paving the way for the next stage of devolution, including a degree of control over income tax.

Provisions in the act will allow the assembly to expand, if two-thirds of AMs agree.

Speaking to BBC Wales' Sunday Politics programme, Ms Jones said: "It's always difficult to make the case in any country in the world that there should be more politicians, but democratic systems require elected members.

"We have to remind ourselves always of the fact that the National Assembly is taking on more powers, and that means current assembly members and assembly members in the future will be very stretched in their workload."

She said: "People when they're stretched in their workloads don't do their work as effectively as they could.

"We need to make sure our democratic system in Wales is working at its most effective and we do that for the benefit of the people of Wales."

The presiding officer has asked the expert panel to report back in the autumn so the assembly can discuss the findings and make any changes before the next election in 2021.

Under the Wales Act, the legislation would require a two-thirds majority in the assembly which means ultimately the Labour group would have to back the proposals.

But former special advisor Cathy Owens, now a political consultant, told the programme: "I don't for one minute doubt that quite a lot of the Labour AMs would like there to be more AMs, but that doesn't necessarily mean that getting two thirds of the Assembly to vote for more AMs is going to be an easy thing.

"It's quite difficult for the Labour party at this time, given everything that's happening in the world, to say 'what we want to do now is increase the number of assembly members'.

"Let's not assume this is definitely going to happen.

"A huge amount of work is going to have to go into persuading people this is a good thing to do, to vote for more AMs."

In an interview with The Wales Report last week, the First Minister Carwyn Jones said the current arrangement works but is "under strain".

The Welsh Labour leader said he did not want, within weeks of getting the powers, to say "the first thing we're going to do is increase the number of politicians", arguing that would "make us look ridiculous".

Sunday Politics, BBC One Wales, 11:00 GMT, 5 February

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