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.

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 18 June to 16 July.

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.”

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

Ms Hutt said the bill got off to a disappointing start, with Llywydd Elin Jones 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.”