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First Weeks Back at the Senedd

Lara Stace
Lara Stace

The first weeks back at the Senedd have seen co-operation talks, new coronavirus interventions and hours of opportunity to get a grasp on the priorities of new Senedd Members and parties. The most significant development has been, of course, the news that Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru are in discussions to reach a co-operation agreement, based around specific policy priorities and governance arrangements. The hot topics reputedly on the table include council tax reform (which, in the short term at least, would mean revaluation), the size of the Senedd and agricultural policy.

Welsh Labour beat expectations at the Senedd Election in May when it returned 30 seats, but it fell short of the 31 seats needed to command a majority. This means that any contentious or uncomfortable policies – such as a cut to basic payments for farmers – face a hurdle before they have even got off the ground.

The Liberal Democrats’ only Senedd Member, Jane Dodds MS, could have offered First Minister Mark Drakeford MS some stability, but she has not been involved in the talks. Party leader Sir Ed Davey has said it is right that Jane Dodds is not involved as it allows her to have a “distinctive message”. In reality, her main objective is to secure her seat at the next election, and her party believes that co-operation with Labour could limit that.

Returning to Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour, people have been reading through the parties’ manifestos to find the areas of agreement – and compromise – which we might expect to be included in any agreement. Mark Drakeford MS will give some policy and budget wins to Plaid, but he has suggested that it will be a limited agreement and that Plaid Cymru will be free to oppose other areas of the Programme for Government. Policy asks which will cost Welsh Labour at the next Senedd Election in 2026, such as increasing the size of the Senedd by 50% to 90 Members, also look unlikely, but there may be agreement on the next steps towards constitutional change.

Beyond these talks, the First Minister confirmed that Covid-19 Passes would be made mandatory in nightclubs and other venues from 11 October, after previously flagging that coronavirus certification (or passports) could be introduced to curb the spread of Covid-19. The Covid-19 Pass is different from a vaccine passport because vaccination is not a necessary requisite – if someone is not double vaccinated, they can instead register a negative lateral flow test to acquire the Pass. The First Minister also noted, during the press conference, that the Welsh Government is considering creating legislation against falsely reporting a negative flow test result, to prevent vexatious reporting.

The use of Covid-19 passes in particular, has become a point of contention not just in Wales but elsewhere in the UK. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ‘hokey-kokeyed’ around their use – first promising not to use them, then preparing to introduce them to protect long-suffering sectors (such as nightclubs), then turning back again to rule them out for the time being. In Scotland, a Covid-19 pass scheme will come into effect from 1 October, although the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats voted against the proposals.

Senedd Members have been told they will have the opportunity to debate the introduction of Covid-19 Passes when the regulations mandating their use come before the Senedd. However, their chance will come sooner than that as the Welsh Conservatives have tabled a debate this week on Covid-19 Passes, which calls for a meaningful vote on their introduction.

The Welsh Conservatives are not alone in opposition to the measure, as the Liberal Democrats also oppose the Pass, arguing that it infringes people’s liberties. Unless Plaid Cymru also joins the ‘against’ camp wholeheartedly – which is unlikely, given they are in the midst of co-operation talks – the regulations will pass, but the Welsh Conservatives and Lib Dems will be able to tell voters they stood against the measure. However, for the Liberal Democrats, whose target seats include densely-populated and student-heavy patches of Cardiff, opposition to a scheme that aims to keep nightclubs safer (and open) may be a mis-step.

Public opinion largely sits on the side of Welsh Government in this instance, as an ITV Wales poll found that 60% of people favour the idea of a Covid-19 passport scheme in Wales – with 26% against.

For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.

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