"Welsh Ministers may, if they are satisfied that it is necessary to achieve effective local government, make an order ("an amalgamation order") for the constitution of a new local government area by amalgamating two or three local government areas."
The amendment goes on to stipulate that, before using the amalgamation powers, Welsh Ministers must be satisfied that local authorities have not achieved sufficient collaborative arrangements. However, although these powers are intended to be a last resort measure, it does look as though WAG Ministers will be able to amalgamate two or three local authorities where they feel it is necessary -- without, it seems, the need for any consultation.
There had been some questions about whether these amendments were legal as they were seen to significantly change the purpose of the Measure as it was originally tabled. However the legislation office and the Presiding Officer have ruled that they are within "the general principles" of the Measure and therefore it appears that WAG's intention is that they should be voted on next Wednesday (2 February) in Legislation Committee No. 3's meeting.
It is worth noticing that WAG has a majority in both the Committee and Plenary, so unless Plaid Cymru were to rebel, there is little chance of these amendments being blocked.
With regards to a timescale when these Measures would be implemented, it would not be for some time. The Local Government Measure still has to go through a third stage of having amendments tabled and voted on in Plenary, a fourth stage of the Measure being passed by the National Assembly, and a final stage of receiving Royal approval -- which will take several months. Even after that, the Minister would (should his amendments be approved in their current form) have to produce an amalgamation order which again could take some time.
Given the limited legislative time left in the Assembly (it will be dissolved in April prior to the election), it is unlikely that the Minister will be able to use any of these powers before May -- even if the Local Government Measure receives Royal Approval before then. Therefore, although these amendments will be voted on next week, there will be no immediate changes, and it is by no means certain that they will become law before the elections in May.
Who knows what will happen after May though...
UPDATE: The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) leader, John Davies, has slammed WAG's handling of these amendments:
WLGA leader John Davies said publishing amendments "at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour does fundamentally call into question the effective scrutiny of such an important piece of legislation both within the assembly and by stakeholders".
He welcomed [WAG Local Government Minster Carl Sargeant's] assurance that the amendment does not pave the way towards a wholesale reorganisation of local government.
Mr Davies added: "While this provides reassurance, it does bring into question why this did not form part of the extensive 18-month policy debate and evidence gathering sessions on the [Local Government] measure that have been undertaken within the assembly on which the WLGA were asked to give evidence.
"Clearly this is not only a matter for the WLGA but for assembly members who from recent headlines have also expressed a significant measure of dissatisfaction in this process.
"It is concerning that legislation as fundamental as the future structure of authorities can be done without scrutiny and wider engagement or consultation."
Ammendments Local Government Measure