Posted: Thu 20th Jun 2024

Plans for gender quotas in Senedd elections delayed by four years

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Plans to introduce gender quotas in future Senedd elections suffered a “major step backwards” due to “unnecessary” delays.

Jane Hutt confirmed reforms under the electoral candidate lists bill – which would require half of would-be Senedd members to be women – could be delayed by four years.

In a letter to Senedd members, Ms Hutt said the 2030 election may be a “more prudent” timetable for implementation than the initial 2026 plan.

Ms Hutt, who is chief whip and Trefnydd, the Welsh Government’s business manager, stressed that she remains committed to making the Senedd more representative.

But concerns have been raised that Wales does not have the powers to pass the bill, which could face legal challenge, with equal opportunities legislation reserved to Westminster.

‘Unacceptable’

Plaid Cymru’s Siân Gwenllian was extremely disappointed by the new timetable for the bill, with stage one of the legislative process pushed back from June 18 to July 16.

She questioned the Welsh Government’s reasoning for delaying the first crunch vote, saying the rationale “doesn’t hold water” and warning the latest delay is a huge step backwards.

The Arfon MS, who chairs the cross-party group on women, said: “The whole timetable for the bill is being pushed back. What will running the clock down mean?

“Well, there’s a risk that it’ll mean that we will have a larger Senedd, elected in a fairer way, but there’ll be a real risk that a lack of equality and a lack of diversity will continue as an unacceptable feature of the Welsh Parliament.

“We will have incomplete reform if the candidates bill, which is an integral part of the jigsaw, is not implemented.”

‘Weak’

Ms Gwenllian said a Labour UK Government could make an order in council, giving powers to the Senedd to pass the bill and putting the proposals beyond any doubt.

During the business statement on June 18, she accused Welsh ministers of rowing back on a programme for government commitment to introduce gender quotas.

She said: “It’s not two Labour Governments working hand in hand for Wales but rather a weak Welsh Labour Government in Wales just taking their instructions meekly from London.”

Ms Hutt said the bill got off to a disappointing start, with Elin Jones – the speaker or Llywydd – ruling that the proposed legislation would not be in the Senedd’s legal powers.

She told the chamber: “This is one of the crucial things about how we take forward a bill where there are issues about that grey area.”

‘Endangering’

Ms Hutt, who has been a minister for 25 years, said a voluntary scheme could be introduced if mandatory gender quotas cannot be implemented in time for the next election.

She raised the reform bill committee’s warning that candidate quotas could lead to legal challenge, potentially endangering the outcome of the May 2026 election.

The Conservatives’ Gareth Davies urged the minister to get “back to the real world”, echoing his party’s calls for the candidates bill to be dropped entirely.

Ms Hutt hit back at the Vale of Clwyd MS: “I’m utterly disgusted by what Gareth Davies said, by saying ‘back to the real world’. Why do we need a gender quotas bill?

“Because we need better representation of women, and I have to say, let’s look over there, where we certainly need this gender quotas bill.”

‘Desperate’

Darren Millar, the Conservatives’ shadow constitution secretary, took issue with the timing of the delay until after the UK general election on July 4.

“This bill shouldn’t just be postponed, it should be ditched altogether,” he said. “Candidates should be elected on merit, not because of their gender or any other protected characteristic.

“The shelving of the bill during an election campaign suggests this is a desperate attempt to avoid talking on the campaign trail about the fact the Labour Party can’t define a woman.”

In a letter to MSs when the bill was introduced in March, Elin Jones explained her position that the bill relates to a reserved matter and is not within the Senedd’s powers.

She said her view is based on legal tests and advice rather than the merits of the policy, stressing that the question can only be definitely answered by the Supreme Court.

By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter



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