Legislative programme for 2019-20 fails to fully impress the opposition

(Title Image: South Wales Argus)

Yesterday, the First Minister set out the Welsh Government’s legislative priorities for the 2019-20 term.

The full list of proposed Bills includes:

  • A new Local Government Bill to reduce the voting age in local elections to 16 and to lay out the ways by which councils can work together at a regional level.
  • A GP Indemnity Bill to ensure all clinical negligence claims are covered by the existing professional indemnity scheme.
  • A Bill to “address” no-fault evictions in the private rental sector – whether this will be a full ban or just an extension of existing notice periods is unclear at the moment.
  • A Bill to effectively end deregulation of bus services, based on the public transport white paper.
  • A Curriculum Bill to provide the legislative measure necessary to introduce the new national curriculum from September 2022.
  • A Higher Education Bill which will replace the HEFCW funding body with a Tertiary Education & Research Commission.
  • A Bill to put social partnerships (relations between employers, unions and government – such as collective bargaining) on a statutory footing.

Delays to two Bills

The First Minister said two Bills – setting out how agriculture and environmental rules will work after Brexit – have been delayed until the Brexit situation is sorted out.

“Should we leave the EU, we will acquire thousands of new powers and functions in policy areas that were previously set by EU laws. And that means the impact of leaving the EU on our legislative programme is not yet over. The ongoing question about the manner of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU means no-one can predict with any certainty what the autumn will bring….and what sort of additional legislation may be needed.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

Also, proposals for a new licensing system for taxis (included in the white paper alongside changes to bus regulation) will now not be introduced until the Sixth Assembly.

Same old, same old

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), was pretty unimpressed. He called for the government to reverse a state-backed indemnity scheme for GPs – which reportedly lead to £11million being redirected from front-line services. He added that a new local government law is likely to leave council staff in limbo again, while he was surprised new legislation hasn’t been brought forward relating to the climate emergency.

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) called for an Act to replace the Learner Travel Measure 2008, particularly to protect the Cymraeg 2050 policy by ensuring access to Welsh-medium education.

While Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) welcomed some aspects of the programme – such as social partnerships and bus regulation – he was disappointed there’s been a delay to taxi licensing changes due to the impact things like on-demand taxis (Uber etc.) are having on the industry.

“I am disappointed that we are delaying this because this landscape is going to look very different in two or three years. It looked very different two or three years ago. So, can we afford to not take this opportunity to ensure that we place that sector on firm, robust ground?”
– Adam Price AM

While criticising the lack of detail on spending commitments, Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) said his group were “open-minded” on bus regulation, but there was still a lack of clarity on regional/joint transport authorities. There needed to be more evidence of what works before making any policy or legislative commitments.

On a brighter note, Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) was pleased the government has delayed the proposed agriculture Bill as it’s right to see what the post-Brexit landscape will be alongside some guarantees on funding for farmers.

A visionary agenda, with some gaps

Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) described the programme as “a visionary agenda” and was enthusiastic about the social partnership Bill, believing it could go a long way towards addressing socioeconomic inequality – becoming “one of the jewels in the crown” of Labour’s programme in the process.

Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) broadly welcomed the legislative proposals but saw potential gaps. One of those gaps was updated Welsh language legislation – which has been dropped by the government – but he was also disappointed with another aspect:

“The First Minister will not be surprised to hear that I’m profoundly disappointed that he’s not moving ahead with local government reorganisation. This was a manifesto commitment of Welsh Labour….So, walking away from that manifesto commitment is something that I’m extremely disappointed in….We know that we cannot continue with a structure of governance in Wales that was put in place by John Redwood. So, I’m disappointed about that.”
– Alun Davies AM

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