On Monday, 30 September 2013, the Minister for Health and Social Services, Mark Drakeford AM, introduced the National Health Service Finance (Wales) Bill, which will be subject to a ‘fast-track’ legislative process in the Assembly. The Bill comes in light of recommendations that the NHS should be given more flexibility to manage its finances across financial years by the Finance Committee, Health and Social Care Committee and Public Accounts Committee.
In practice, this means that the Bill will bypass detailed consideration by an Assembly Committee at Stage 1 and will instead go straight to a debate and a vote on its general principles in plenary next Tuesday, 8 October. Should that vote pass, the Bill will be subject to Stage 2 proceedings which will take place at least three weeks later, with proceedings at Stages 3 and 4 to follow in plenary three weeks after that. The Welsh Government’s Explanatory Memorandum anticipates the Bill then gaining Royal Assent in January 2014 and coming into force on 1 April 2014.
This is not the first time that the Assembly has considered legislation using this type of fast track procedure. During the third Assembly (2007-2011), a similar approach was adopted by the then Welsh Government in relation to the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008. That Measure was not subject to detailed committee scrutiny and went straight to a plenary debate following its introduction in April 2008. The government’s justification for its approach at the time was that the third Assembly’s Enterprise and Learning Committee had already undertaken pre-legislative scrutiny previously by looking at a draft version of the Measure, and had taken evidence and made recommendations to the Welsh Government in October 2007.
However, the fast track procedure is not the only mechanism available to quicken the pace of the Assembly’s legislative processes. The Assembly’s Emergency Bill procedure enables the Welsh Government to push through a Bill in certain, exceptional circumstances, using streamlined procedures which could see a Bill being passed by the Assembly within a week of its introduction. This process was utilised by the Welsh Government for the first time before the summer recess in relation to the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill. That Bill was introduced as an emergency Bill on 8 July and had its Stage 1 debate on 9 July. Stage 2 proceedings then took place on 16 July, followed by Stages 3 and 4 a day later on 17 July.
Article by Owain Roberts.