Eight new laws announced by the Welsh Government for the year ahead

Published 04/07/2023   |   Reading Time minutes

The First Minister has set out the Welsh Government’s legislative agenda for the year ahead with eight new Bills due to be introduced.

The third year of the Sixth Senedd looks to be a busy one with legislation on transport, social care, Senedd Reform and Welsh language education announced amongst much more.

This article looks at these proposals in more detail and how opposition parties have responded to the statement.

What legislation will be introduced by this time next year?

Bus Services

This Bill will reform how bus services are regulated by introducing Wales-wide franchised bus services. The First Minister said it will “make the public interest the key test in which bus services are provided” in the future.

The Welsh Government published a white paper on bus reforms in 2022, which may form the basis of the forthcoming Bill. This Senedd Research article looks at the proposals in more detail.

This is the second time in just over three years that legislation has been proposed on the regulation of bus services. The Bus Services (Wales) Bill was introduced in early 2020 but fell as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Disused Tips Safety

The First Minister announced that a “world-first regime” would be introduced to manage the disused coal and non-coal tips such as those from slate quarrying and metal mining that are a legacy of Wales’ industrial heritage.

Eagle-eyed followers of Senedd business will recall that a Bill to manage coal tip safety was also included in last year’s legislative programme statement.

Since then, the Welsh Government has responded to a report by the Law Commission on options for new legislation on the regulation of disused tips and published a White Paper outlining proposals for a new regime.

Health and Social Care Reforms

The First Minister set out a number of reforms to how the health and social care sectors will operate in the future. He announced that a Bill will be introduced to fulfil commitments made in the Programme for Government to introduce direct payments for continuing health care, and to support the elimination of private profit from the care of looked after children. See our statistical briefing for more information on looked after children.

The Bill will also make amendments to “help regulation and support for the social care workforce operate more effectively”.

Welsh Language Education

This Bill aims to strengthen the education system’s capacity to contribute towards the Welsh Government’s aim of a million Welsh speakers by 2050.

The Welsh Government consulted on a White Paper earlier this year. The proposals include:

  • reflecting the target of one million Welsh speakers in law;
  • reforming how local authorities plan Welsh language provision in schools, particularly in English-medium settings; and
  • requiring Welsh Ministers to create a National Plan for the acquisition and learning of Welsh.
Senedd Reform

A major part of this year’s legislative programme will be two Bills focusing on reforming the Senedd.

The legislation will build on the recommendations of the Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform, which published its final report in May 2022. This Senedd Research article looks at the Committee’s recommendations in more detail.

The First Minister announced that plans to introduce gender quotas for candidates for election to the Senedd will be taken forward in a separate Bill. Responding to a question from Andrew RT Davies, the First Minister said that this approach is being taken “to ensure that the main Bill can be there and operating successfully for the 2026 election”. Whilst noting his confidence about the “legal scope here in Wales to legislate in this area”, the First Minister acknowledged that “it is an area in which other views may be possible”.

Reform of Electoral Administration

As well as seeking to reform the Senedd, there will also be a Bill to look at wider reforms to electoral administration. The First Minister said that this Bill will:

  • establish an Electoral Management Board
  • take steps to ensure every eligible voter is on the electoral register; and
  • reform the processes for conducting community and electoral reviews

The Welsh Government published a White Paper on a broad range of electoral reforms, which also includes automatic voter registration, in October 2022. This Senedd Research article looks at these proposals in more detail.

Local Government Finance

The final Bill announced in the Legislative Statement will seek to reform the council tax and non-domestic (business) rates systems so they are “aligned to changes in market conditions and are more responsive to pressures faced by people and organisations”.

As well as looking at council tax bands and revaluations, the First Minister said that the Bill would allow the Welsh Government to take “a more efficient approach” to the ways that exemptions, discounts and disregards have developed and how they interact with each other.

Reforming the council tax system was one of the commitments made in the Co-operation Agreement signed between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru in 2021.

Looking Ahead to the Future

In addition to announcing the Bills for the year ahead, the First Minister also set out other areas where the Welsh Government would seek to legislate before the end of this Senedd term in 2026:

How did opposition leaders respond?

Leader of the Welsh Conservative group, Andrew RT Davies, highlighted areas in the legislative programme where there will be “some common ground” between his group and the Welsh Government, such as on buses and care for looked after children. Mr Davies urged the First Minister to ensure that policy development and funding run alongside legislation so that it can “actually deliver for people”, rather than just having “legislation sitting on the statute book”.

New Plaid Cymru leader, Rhun ap Iorwerth, focused much of his response on proposals for reform of the Senedd, describing the introduction of a Senedd Reform Bill as “a landmark moment in the political history of Wales”. He particularly noted the need for reform of the voting system and measures to achieve gender parity in the Senedd.

Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Jane Dodds, welcomed proposals to take profit out of the care of looked after children and asked for further details on future plans to tackle homelessness. She reiterated her support for Senedd Reform but called for the single transferable vote electoral system to be adopted in the Bill.

How is progress monitored?

As we approach the half way point of the Sixth Senedd, Members will have an opportunity to scrutinise the Welsh Government’s progress in delivering legislation and its programme for government in Plenary next Tuesday (11 July). The debate will be on the Welsh Government’s second annual report, which was published on 4 July.

Article by Josh Hayman, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament