Covid: New law for possible Senedd election coronavirus delay

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image captionThe 2021 election will be the first poll since the Welsh assembly was renamed the Welsh Parliament

A new law is being planned to make it possible to delay the Welsh Parliament election this year by up to six months.

Wales is under "stay at home" lockdown restrictions amid a rise in Covid-19 cases and ministers want to ensure a "safe" Senedd election.

First Minister Mark Drakeford wants to "allow some flexibility" but said he remains "committed" to the 6 May polling date.

But the plans have prompted concerns from the Welsh Conservatives.

The party's Senedd leader Paul Davies said he believes the election can be held safely on the scheduled date.

Plaid Cymru said it would support the proposed law because "it is reasonable that we should have the ability to respond to all scenarios that may face us".

A change in the regulations was suggested by Mr Drakeford in November when he said ministers would consider introducing the legislation in the new year "if the situation after Christmas suggests we will need to do this".

The Senedd's presiding officer, known as the Llywydd, already has the ability to postpone the election by up to a month but the new law would extend that period by up to six months.

Only a majority of Members of the Senedd (MSs) would be needed to pass the new law that would introduce the new framework allowing for a potential election delay.

But two-thirds of the Senedd would be needed to instigate an actual delay to the election.

"I remain committed to a Senedd election in May of this year," Mr Drakeford told BBC Wales.

"But in the circumstances we face it is simply responsible to put on the statute book a bill that would allow some flexibility in that date should that be necessary and we'll embark on that process early in the coming term.

"The Senedd badly needs an election. We have to do it in circumstances that are safe and don't prevent people from going to the polling booths."

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image captionMore people will be eligible to vote in 2021, with 16 and 17-year-olds able to take part for the first time

"We'll take the powers if they're necessary but my hope is is that in May we'll be able to hold that election," he added.

The Welsh Tories said it was "concerning" the Welsh Government wanted to introduce a law that could delay an election.

"Changing the date of the election has huge ramifications and many people will feel that they're having their voice taken away," said Paul Davies, leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd.

"I have every confidence that our election officials can carry out a safe and secure election on 6 May, learning from the multitude of elections that have taken place around the globe during the pandemic."

Plaid Cymru said it was "reasonable" to be able to delay the 2021 election as the party want "to achieve a fair and transparent election, enabling a much needed change of government".

The Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party MS Mark Reckless has previously said: "There should be an election on 6 May. There should not be legislation to delay it. It is wrong and we should not do it."

The Scottish Government has introduced a similar law to allow a delay to the Scottish Parliament election on 6 May.

Elections are also due to take place on that date for police and crime commissioners in England and Wales, and council and mayoral elections in England.

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