Wales politics

Brexit Party MS quits Senedd vote reform body in 'bias' row

David Rowlands
Image caption David Rowlands is a former UKIP politician who joined the Brexit Party last year

A Brexit Party Member of the Senedd (MS) has resigned from a committee looking at changes to the way the parliament is elected.

David Rowlands accused the chair Dawn Bowden of "blatant bias".

It comes after comments she made about regional list members changing parties between elections.

Dawn Bowden questioned whether there was an "ulterior motive" to scupper the work of the committee - which now just has Plaid and Labour members.

After former UKIP group leader Gareth Bennett had joined the Abolish the Assembly Party, Dawn Bowden said: "We now have 6 members sitting in the Senedd for parties that no-one voted for."

"An affront to democracy and evidence, if ever it were needed, that the Regional List System is now broken beyond repair," she added.

Since the 2016 election, eight MSs have left the parties they were initially elected to represent - six from UKIP, two from Plaid Cymru - to sit either as independents or for other parties.

Independent MS Gareth Bennett, who announced he had joined Abolish, last week, was elected on the regional list in 2016 as a UKIP politician, before leaving the party last year.

Under the rules, an MS elected to represent a particular party - either as a regional or constituency member - does not need to seek re-election if they decide to leave that party during that same Senedd term.

Image caption Dawn Bowden said she was expressing a 'personal opinion' which did not mean it would be the conclusion of the committee

Ms Bowden's committee is looking at whether to increase the size of the Senedd beyond 60 MS' and the electoral system.

It has operated without a Welsh Conservative member - the group decided at the outset not to participate.

The Brexit Party, whose MSs are all former UKIP members, felt Ms Bowden's comments were inappropriate given her role as chair of the committee on Senedd electoral reform.

Following his resignation from the committee, Mr Rowlands said he had tried to be constructive at the committee accused it of "following an agenda rather than seeking to gather evidence to come to conclusion on real reform".

"The chair's comments on Twitter were unprofessional and have highlighted blatant bias. Any work the committee now does will be in question," he added.

Labour and Plaid 'make up the majority'

In response, Dawn Bowden said: "I'm hugely disappointed they've taken this decision because he could've had a conversation with me before making that decision.

"I was just expressing a personal opinion. The fact that I happen to be chair of that committee doesn't in and of itself mean that that's going to be the conclusion of the committee. I'm just one member.

"Then you have to question whether there is an ulterior motive behind it, which would scupper the work of the committee," she added.

Asked if the committee's lack of political diversity was an issue, Ms Bowden said: "Labour and Plaid still make up the majority of the Senedd.

"If we have to proceed without them, it's disappointing but it's not an insurmountable issue because the vast majority of the work has already been done and the Brexit Party was part of that."

A Welsh Conservative spokesman called for the committee to be scrapped.

He added: "You have to question the viability of a committee that has three members - two Labour and one Plaid - and if that committee can speak on behalf of the whole Welsh Parliament."