THE Welsh Government has dropped plans which would have allowed some prisoners to vote in council elections.
A planned future amendment to the the Local Government and Elections Bill, which is currently working its way through the assembly, would have seen around 2,000 prisoners being given the right to vote in the next local elections in 2022.
The changes would have affected around 1,900 adults and 20 young people and allowed them a provy or postal vote, if serving custodial sentences of less than four years.
But blaming the Coronavirus outbreak, ministers have confirmed they have now dropped this planned amendment to the bill.
Speaking during a “virtual” video conference session of the Senedd on Wednesday, Housing and Local Government minister, Julie James, said: “Unfortunately, I have had to take the decision as part of the Welsh Government’s wider consideration of its legislative programme at the start of our planning for coping with the grave circumstances we are in not to commit any future official resource to this proposed stage two amendment.”
Despite this, other aspects of the bill remain intact, including allowing 16 and 17 year olds the vote, and extending the right to stand and vote in local government elections to qualifying foreign citizens resident in Wales.
These aspects, however, require further debate and ratification before becoming law.
Among other proposals, authorities would also be able to decide for themselves whether to use the single transferable vote or stick to the mainly used system of first-past-the-post.
For the first time, council staff would also be allowed to stand in elections to their employer local authority, but would be required to resign their posts if elected.
But while agreeing with many aspects of the bill, some AMs were unhappy that such measures were being debated during what was described as a “wartime footing.”
The Welsh Government, however, say that such legislation has to proceed now in order to be ready in time for the next local elections in 2022.
Delyth Jewell AM said that while Plaid Cymru would be supporting the bill “under normal circumstances,” “now is not the time.”
She added: “All of us should be resolutely focused on helping the nation deal with the biggest health emergency in decades, in which it would not be an exaggeration to say that we are pretty much on a wartime footing.
“I look forward to revisiting the Bill in the future when this crisis is over, but, for the reasons I’ve explained, it’s obvious that we should not be discussing this today, when we should be discussing PPE, testing and saving lives.”
Brexit Party AM Caroline Jones, added: “We cannot legislate properly and we cannot just rush something through, because people are dying from a deadly and virulent disease.
“We have shut down vast swathes of our country and our economy, and some of our constituents have lost their jobs and their lives, yet here we are debating legislation.”
The vote to approve the general principles of the bill, passed by 30 votes to 25.
Following the debate, North Wales Conservative AM, Mark Isherwood, said: “Votes for prisoners serving sentences of four years or less would have enfranchised people convicted of some serious crimes, including sexual assault, breach of a sex offender order, racially-aggravated crimes, and necrophilia.
“To have attempted to push through this legislation through when all business must be focused solely on battling Covid-19, is not the best use of the Welsh Parliament’s time.
“However, we must pay careful attention to what has been said and mindful that the Welsh Labour administration does not try to push this through later, when the country has come through this emergency.
“After all, the Minister has only committed to not introduce this at the next stage of this Bill, but this does not stop her reintroducing it at the Bill’s final stages.”