Ynys Llanddwyn

Ynys Llanddwyn

Wales at home and abroad

Published 29/09/2023   |   Reading Time minutes

This is the final article of our ten-part series looking at the Welsh Government’s progress in delivering its Programme for Government (PfG). Here, we explore the objective to “Lead Wales in a national civic conversation about our constitutional future, and give our country the strongest possible presence on the world stage”.

There are 7 specific commitments beneath this broad Cabinet-wide objective, which the Welsh Government has given an update on in its PfG annual report. There are also relevant Ministerial commitments.

Browse our full #ProgrammeforGovernment series, published to date.

The Programme for Government (PfG) sets out actions to both reform Wales’ constitutional arrangements and strengthen its international presence.

Wales’ constitutional future

The PfG makes a number of commitments around Wales’ constitutional future. This article will look at three of these:

  • establish an independent commission to consider the constitutional future of Wales;
  • introduce legislation to reform the Senedd; and
  • reform local government elections to reduce the democratic deficit.

Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales

Much of the discussion on this topic has been led by the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, which the Welsh Government established with the support of Plaid Cymru. Its work forms part of the Co-operation Agreement. The Commission was set up to consider and develop options to reform the UK’s constitution and to strengthen Welsh democracy.

The Commission is gathering evidence from politicians, academics, civil society organisations and others interested in the constitutional future of Wales. It has also held an open public consultation and is engaging directly with community organisations.

The Commission’s interim report, published in December 2022, found that there are “significant problems with the way Wales is governed”. It identifies three “viable” options for Wales’ constitutional future that the Commission will explore further in its final report, due by the end of 2023:

  • entrenched devolution;
  • federal structures; and
  • independence.

Our article last December discusses the Commission’s findings in further detail.

Reforming the Senedd

Another significant PfG commitment in this area was to introduce legislation to reform the Senedd. The Welsh Government said it would increase the size of the Senedd to between 80-100 Members; adopt a voting system, which is as proportional – or more so – than the current one; and introduce gender quotas in law.

A special purpose committee of the Senedd was established in October 2021 to make recommendations for this legislation. The Committee published its report in May 2022.

The Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill was introduced on 18 September 2023. The Bill takes forward many of the Committee’s recommendations, including:

  • increasing the number of Members of the Senedd to 96;
  • changing the way Members are elected to a closed-list system; and
  • establishing mechanisms to review the boundaries of Senedd constituencies.

Our article earlier this month looks at the Bill in more detail.

This Bill will be followed by separate legislation later this year aiming to improve the diversity of the Senedd, including introducing gender quotas for candidates seeking election to the Senedd.

Local government elections

The PfG also commits the Welsh Government to reform local government elections. Actions taken so far include piloting of flexible voting, introducing an Access to Elected Office Fund for local government elections, and proposals for automatic voter registration.

Pilots of early voting were held at the 2022 local government elections in four local authorities. The evaluation of these pilots found that they did not boost turnout significantly but the Counsel General said they did show that “flexible and more convenient” ways of voting can be provided securely and with voters’ confidence.

The First Minister announced that legislation will be introduced later in 2023 to “deliver the Government's commitment to reduce the democratic deficit in Wales, and to develop an electoral system fit for the twenty-first century”. This legislation is likely to be based on a White Paper published by the Welsh Government in October 2022.

This Senedd Research article looks at the White Paper’s proposals in further detail.

Wales on the world stage

So what’s the plan to give Wales the “strongest possible presence on the world stage”? The Welsh Government has set out three specific steps it’ll take.

Establish a peace academy, Academi Heddwch

Universities and organisations established the academy on 21 September 2020 to mark World Peace Day. £220,000 of funding was agreed earlier this year for heritage and educational activities.

Launch a £65m international learning exchange programme

The Taith programme enables people to learn, study and volunteer in Wales and abroad. £11.5m was awarded in its first year.

Reinvigorate twinning relationships across the EU through a Young People’s Twinning Fund

This involves two phases; Phase 1 will audit current arrangements to inform a Phase 2 on how to put the fund in place.

The Welsh Government’s International Strategy

The PfG does not cross-reference 2020’s five-year International Strategy, key priorities of which are to raise Wales’ international profile and establish it as a globally responsible nation. The latter also doubles as one of seven well-being goals for the Welsh Government’s duties under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

The First Minister recently said the International Strategy will be updated in 2025 to cover the remaining time before the 2026 Senedd election.

The Welsh Government does not report on its International Strategy in one place. Information about its overseas office network, costings and budget, priority relationships and international bilateral agreements are found in separate documents and in different places on its website.

As the Minister responsible for international relations, the First Minister attends the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee for annual scrutiny, as well as scrutiny of the departmental budget of £8.38m.

The committee recently agreed to report annually on the Welsh Government’s international work, with the first report expected later this year.

We’ve written about the Welsh Government’s International Strategy and the latest international relations committee session with the First Minister.

Seeing the bigger picture

Wales’ place on the world stage isn’t confined to the objective discussed here and features elsewhere in the PfG. International matters, like biodiversity, refugee policy and incorporating treaties into Welsh law are threaded throughout and also play an important part in Wales’ international story.

The update to the Welsh Government’s International Strategy in 2025 will help us see where Wales is headed.

The story of Wales’ constitutional future is also yet to be fully told, with legislation to reform the Senedd and local government elections on the horizon, and the Independent Commission’s final report due by the end of 2023.

One thing is for sure, these issues will continue to be hot topics throughout the rest of this Senedd term and into the 2026 election.

Explore the Programme for Government, its objectives and commitments

Article by Sara Moran & Josh Hayman, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament