|1. Questions to the First Minister|
|2. Business Statement and Announcement|
|3. Statement by the Minister for Environment: Air Quality|
|4. Statement by the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport: Accessible Monuments for All|
|5. The Digital Government (Welsh Bodies) (Wales) Regulations 2018|
|Point of Order|
|7. Stage 3 debate on The Regulation of Registered Social Landlords (Wales) Bill|
|Group 1: Tenant participation (Amendments 1, 1A, 3, 4)|
|Group 2: Scrutiny by the National Assembly for Wales (Amendments 5, 13, 19, 2)|
|Group 3: Failure to comply with an enactment (Amendments 6, 11, 12)|
|Group 4: Power to appoint officers (Amendments 7, 8, 9, 10)|
|Group 5: Regulation-making powers (Amendments 14, 15, 16, 17, 18)|
|Point of Order|
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
And the first item on our agenda this week is questions to the First Minister, and the first question, Nick Ramsay.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of dementia services in south-east Wales? OAQ52037
Aneurin Bevan Local Health Board have recently completed a consultation on the development of three centres of excellence for dementia care in their area and they are working with the regional partnership board to implement the new dementia action plan.
Thank you, First Minister. The decision of Aneurin Bevan Local Health Board to close the St Pierre dementia ward at Chepstow Community Hospital has been roundly criticised by dementia sufferers and their families alike in my constituency. It now appears that the decision could face a legal challenge from Monmouthshire County Council as it seems there is a strong case for a judicial review, and such action will clearly be detrimental to say the least to the relationship between the local authority and the health board. What discussions has your Government had with the local health board about their decision, and will you press the board to look at reversing this decision, even at this late hour?
Well, it is for the health board to plan and design services that meet population needs. Now, of course, as the Member has said, there are public concerns due to the closure of the ward at Chepstow. I understand the community health council have expressed overall support in relation to the community-based model. We know that community-based services assist people to have access to appropriate and timely services as close to their home as possible. The board have agreed a further £200,000 recurring revenue to continue to develop community-based services in Monmouthshire in recognition of the impact of this service change.
Now, as far as we as a Government are concerned, of course, our dementia plan looks to strengthen services within the community, to enable admissions to hopsital for dementia to either be avoided or result in a shorter stay.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for small and medium-sized house builders? OAQ52054
There are many products to support the sector. For example, through the development bank, the Wales property development fund provides SME home builders with affordable housing opportunitiess, and our house builders engagement programme also works with small companies to develop targeted support.
My concern is that the house building industry is dominated by a very small number of very large firms, which effectively creates a cartel, keeps prices artificially high, and prevents the mass building of affordable homes that are needed, because it's not in the interest to meet demand in the long term because that will cause prices to fall. The answer, I think, is an expanded housing market, in which small, locally based businesses who are sensitive to the needs of their communities are able to thrive and grow, and I intend to hold a cross-party group later this year to explore how we can do more of that. But I'd like to know what more the Welsh Government can do to develop that ambition and to grow that small business house building base.
Well, can I point to two things in particular? I mentioned there the house building engagement programme. Now, we are working with private developers, including SMEs, to understand and, of course, to tackle the barriers that they face to building more housing. That relationship is reflected in the recent announcement to quadruple the Wales property development fund to £40 million. That will be recycled over the 15-year life of the current scheme to an estimated investment of £270 million. But we also specifically want to support local builders to build the homes people need through a new partnership between Valleys councils and the Development Bank of Wales that will build on the fund. Just to give one example, there is an initiative in Rhondda Cynon Taf to make small parcels of public land available and therefore, of course, more attractive and accessible to SME developers.
First Minister, according to the Home Builders Federation, the Welsh Government could support small and medium-sized house builders by forcing local authorities to speed up progress on delivering their development plans and five-year land supplies. The joint housing land availability study revealed that only six local authorities had a five-year supply of readily developable housing land in spite of this being a key planning policy requirement by the Welsh Government. First Minister, what action will you take to ensure that local planning authorities meet your Government's requirement and increase the availability of deliverable housing sites in Wales please?
It is a matter for local planning authorities to have in place a development plan and to meet the requirements in terms of housing supply. The problem is, of course, if there's no development plan in place, then there is no guidance in effect. The problem then is that it becomes something resembling a free-for-all. That's in nobody's interest. Two things, however, are important. First of all, it is absolutely crucial that local authorities work together. Artificial political boundaries are just not recognised by the housing market. If we look, for example, at the south-east of Wales, we can't parcel up planning purely on the basis of local planning authority boundaries. So, working together will be hugely important. But also, of course, coming back to the point I made before, it's one thing to have a supply of land for the future, while it's another thing to ensure that that land is available in parcels that are attractive enough for SMEs to be able to compete.
Just on this same theme, I would like to know whether it would be possible to favour eco-homes companies. I think it is something that needs to be looked at in terms of the sustainability of the market and in seeking to make our housing more sustainable. Could you look into this as a Government in order to ensure that such plans would be given a priority?
Interesting. Usually, of course, in the past, this has been dealt with under the building regulations in relation to the standards that are adopted as regards the construction of these houses. The planning system deals with the land use and not with the construction standards of houses built on that land. But, having said that, it is an idea that’s well worth considering, and if I can write to the Member with further details, I will do so.
Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the UKIP group, Neil Hamilton.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. The First Minister is no doubt familiar with the aphorism that all political lives end in failure, unless cut off at midstream at a happy juncture. Is the First Minister's political career still in midstream, and is this a happy juncture?
Well, I think the leader of UKIP is an example of life after death in politics, although I'm not sure what kind of political life it is for him. From my perspective, I've outlined a timetable. I think it's important the country has continuity, and it's important of course that everything is in place to prepare for my successor, whoever that might be.
Well, we shall miss him when he's gone. And I want to move on now. I don't know what the First Minister's long-term objectives are, and whether he plans to stand for the Assembly in the next Assembly elections and therefore the extent to which he retains an interest in whether we expand the size of this institution or not. The Assembly Commission has embarked upon a consultation exercise, the results of which have not yet been made public, but nobody has actually gauged the feeling amongst the public in general, as far as I'm aware, and so UKIP have plugged the gap and done an opinion poll, which has been carried out by opinion research, a respected market research company. And we asked the public, 'Do you support an increase in Assembly Members at the National Assembly for Wales, from 60 to either 80 or 90?' Only 32 per cent of respondents were in favour of an increase, 42 per cent, and 26 per cent don't know. Does the First Minister think it right that we should proceed with this exercise without carrying the public with us?
Well, we shall see what happens at the next election in terms of whether UKIP are correct in their analysis of public opinion. If he wishes to know my plans post 2021, he is welcome to look to join the Labour Party and attend the general management committee of the next Bridgend constituency Labour Party, and I'm sure he will be enlightened as a result of that.
Can I say that it's hugely important that this debate is a sensible one and not one driven by what is seen as political expediency? I have been in this Assembly since 1999. I confess I only spent just over a year on the backbenches, but I do know that there is immense pressure and strain on backbenchers, of all parties, because we have moved on from being what was, in effect, a kind of administrative body. I remember standing here—or in the old building—and introducing the potatoes originating in Egypt Order and the undersized whiting Order, and we used to debate them. The level of scrutiny was nothing like as deep as it necessarily is now, and that has to be reflected, not just in the working practices of Members, but in the numbers of Members, because we have proceeded far beyond where we were in 1999, and a sensible debate has to be had as to what the correct number of AMs is. I notice that Northern Ireland, with a population just over half that of Wales, has 109, and Scotland has 129. We must look sensibly and carefully at what the right number is for the Assembly.
Well, I hear what the First Minister says, that we're all overworked, but I'm not sure whether that's going to strike much of a chord with the general public. Before the Assembly was set up, of course, there was a referendum, and before the Assembly's powers were increased, there was a referendum in 2011. Why should we not have a referendum on whether to expand the size of the Assembly on this occasion?
Well, the Member is talking about fundamental constitutional changes. I don't believe this is one. I think it is perfectly possible for parties to examine this and take their case to the people of Wales through an election—if that's what it takes—but, certainly, you've always got to be careful about this and it's never going to be popular to say to people, 'Let's have more politicians'. Let's all accept that, but I think we have to counter that by saying to people we have to have the right number of people to do the job properly. It's in nobody's interests to have Assembly Members in a position where they may not be able, in the future, to scrutinise in the way that they would want to, and that is a situation that we need to avoid by looking at the numbers that would be in this body in years to come.
Diolch, Llywydd. Before my questions, I'd like to acknowledge the announcement made by the Fisrt Minister on the weekend. First Minister, you have held this role for a long time and you've had a lengthy term in Government prior to becoming First Minister, and I know that you and I have had our political differences, and I'm sure that we will continue to have those differences, but I genuinely wish you all the best, and your family, for the future.
Now, we still have time to hold you to account, and I'm sure no-one would expect us to let up on that. So. with that in mind, can you please tell us how many people in Wales are in employment on a zero-hours contract? Has it increased or decreased since 2016?
It's very difficult to give an answer to that question, because, of course, the private sector is not something that comes under our control, but what we have done, however, of course, is to effectively outlaw zero-hours contracts in the public sector. We want to make sure of this, for example, in the care sector. The care sector is a foundation sector, as far as we are concerned, and we will use our powers to the utmost—we will push the boundaries of our powers—to make sure that zero-hours contracts are not there, as far as the public sector is concerned. There is a job to be done, yet, in terms of ensuring that public sector bodies ensure there are no zero-hours contracts in place when they subcontract, that is an area that still needs some work.
Well, perhaps I can help you, First Minister. Proportionately, more people in Wales are now employed on zero-hours contracts than any other UK nation. If I can put it another way, under a Labour Government, more people per head of the population are in unstable, zero-hours work than in any other country in the UK. Could the First Minister point the 43,000 people in Wales on zero-hours contracts to where in his Government's economic action plan there is a strategy to stop this abhorrent employment practice?
Two things: firstly, it'll be in the economic contract. There will be a very heavy focus on fair employment. Secondly, as I announced on Saturday, there will be a fair work commission established. The job of that commission will be to look at all levers—some legislative potentially, some not—in order to make sure that, as far as we can go in terms of the powers that we have, we truly make Wales a fair work nation.
Of course, some people want the flexibility of this kind of employment, but most people don't. For that matter, Labour has supposedly committed to end their use. Now, with this in mind, I'd like to point you to page 45 of Labour's 2017 election manifesto. Alongside boasting about the Welsh Government's clearly false record in ending the use of zero-hours contracts, it contains a commitment to legislate against them. We know from the NHS pay cap fiasco that this Government has a habit of disowning its own manifesto. So, how about the programme for government? And I'll quote from page 13 of your programme for government, which says that you will,
'limit the use of zero hours contracts'.
So, let me put a simple question to you, First Minister: did you mislead people, or was it incompetence that has led Wales to becoming the zero-hours contracts capital of the UK?
When it comes to the public sector, we have delivered. We've ensured that there are far fewer zero-hours contracts. We want to drive them down as far as possible in terms of subcontractors as well. But the second point is this: she is right to point to the 2017 general election manifesto. Of course, that would have used powers that are not available to us as a devolved institution or a Government in order to move forward in creating a fair work nation across the whole of the UK. Unfortunately, we did not see a Labour Government elected at that time, but I've absolutely no doubt that, at the next general election, we will have a Labour Prime Minister.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Could I join the sentiments of the leader of Plaid Cymru in acknowledging the statement you made to the Labour Party conference, First Minister? There will be a time to pay tribute in this Chamber to your time in public life and service here as First Minister and Minister, but, without doubt, obviously, this will now form an election in the Labour Party to find a successor to your good self. But in that time that you remain First Minister, I wish you all the very best, and ultimately I do hope that you are able to keep the wheels of Government moving forward, because, as I've said many times in this place, I might disagree politically with you and the Members on that frontbench, but 3 million people depend on the decisions that you make in a whole raft of public services, and ultimately those public services are obviously the crown jewel of what we require here in Wales.
With that in mind, First Minister, I'd like to ask you about the economic action plan that was brought forward by the Welsh Government in December. One of the key planks, surely, of any economic action plan is to increase take-home pay here in Wales. Regrettably, we know that we have the lowest take-home pay of any part of the United Kingdom—£498 is the average take-home pay here in Wales, against a UK average of £550. We know for a fact that, since the start of devolution—a Welsh pay packet is £49 behind a Scottish pay packet, which, at the start of devolution, was exactly the same for a Welsh worker and a Scottish worker. Why, with 17,500 words in the economic action plan, are wages only mentioned twice if it isn't a priority for your Government to make sure we close that gap to invigorate economically our communities in Wales?
Well, first of all, I do have to point out, of course, that the reduction or removal of in-work benefits has not helped in terms of people's take-home pay in Wales. We've seen the effect that has had. We are no longer, unfortunately, as a result of the actions of the UK Government, in a position where we can say to people, 'If you get a job, you'll be better off', and that is surely a disincentive for people to gain employment.
He asked what we will do. Well, there are two issues here: first of all, fair work—making sure that people get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, and that's what the Fair Work Commission will be charged to do. And, secondly, productivity: productivity undoubtedly leads to a driving up of people's wages. Now, this is a UK problem. It is a problem that I know is more acute in Wales, I accept that, but it is an issue that we should all strive to overcome. Why is it, for example, that a German worker gets far more out of the same machine than a worker in the UK would? Well, part of it's training, a heavy emphasis on training, whether it's in-work training through employers—Jobs Growth Wales is an example of that—also, of course, working with our FE colleges to make sure people have the skills they need to increase their personal incomes, and that is the way, to me, to look to drive up GVA per head.
As I said, regrettably, over the 20 years, we've seen that massive gap open up between a Scottish worker and a Welsh worker, and obviously, sadly, Wales stay at the bottom of the league table when it comes to wages. I have to say the answer you gave me doesn't give me much confidence that there is going to be that big change by, certainly, the early 2020s, if not the mid 2020s. That money coming into communities the length and breadth of Wales surely you'd accept would reinvigorate those communities, and one key plank of economic activity is house building. We've heard already from the Member for Caerphilly the importance of house building. Last year there was a 10 per cent reduction in house building in Wales. Now, if you have lower wages then you've got low demand for houses, because obviously it's difficult to make the economic case for house builders to invest in areas. So, surely you can see the link. Why isn't the economic action plan more prescriptive in the help that the Welsh Government will give to assist house building in Wales? Because, as I said, last year alone we saw a 10 per cent decrease in house building here in Wales.
Well, the latest statistics show that we continue, I'd argue, to have a positive trend in the number of homes completed in Wales, with October to December 2017 data showing an increase of 29 per cent on the previous quarter. During the 12 months to the end of December 2017, a total of 6,885 new dwellings were completed. That's up by 4 per cent on the 12 months to December 2016.
What are we doing as a Government? Well, first of all, of course, ensuring—[Interruption.] David Melding's very lively today, I must say. We are working with our partners, of course, to deliver against our key commitment of providing 20,000 affordable homes, and, on top of that, of course, we have Help to Buy—Wales. We know that that's firmly established. It's a £290 million investment in the second phase. That will support the construction of over 6,000 new homes by 2021, helping first-time buyers get onto the property ladder. And, of course, the changes to land transaction tax, they will help to stimulate the market, particularly for those who are most in need, who have the lowest incomes. We see, from the figures that I've given already, the positive effect of what we're doing.
I wish I could join you in being positive about those figures, First Minister. As David Melding pointed out, we need 12,000 houses per year to meet the demand. As I pointed out, the figures—not my figures, the industry figures—show a 10 per cent decline in house building last year. I've indicated about wage restraint here in Wales. After 20 years of Labour in Government, we are the lowest-paid nation of the United Kingdom compared to other parts of the UK. That is a deplorable record. One of the things that you have championed in your time as First Minister is obviously the new M4 relief road, as you believe that will create great economic potential not just for the south-east of Wales, but across the whole of the south Wales corridor. Can you confidently say that, with the intention you announced on Saturday, the M4 relief road will proceed on the basis of the support the Government has given to date—namely, continuation of support for the black route—as you have indicated that has been a personal goal for you to deliver? And, now we know that there will be a new First Minister, can you say that that will remain a Welsh Government priority?
I don't think I've expressed a strong preference for either route, and nor can I, because I'll be the decision maker who takes the final decision. There is no doubt there's a problem. We can all see what the issue is in the tunnels at Brynglas, and that problem is not easy to resolve. I will consider the evidence of the planning inspector when I get that evidence. But it's not just about roads, it's also about the metro and making sure that public transport is fit for purpose. We know that Cardiff Central station has 11 million people going through it every year. That number is bound to increase. There is no road solution for people coming in from the north into Cardiff. There's nothing—you know, we can't expand North Road. The A470 will always have a choke point as people come into Cardiff. The answer to that is multifaceted, to me. It means making sure there are more frequent services on the existing railway lines, better services, affordable services, new lines being opened up, particularly through light rail, and also, of course, the promotion of active travel. I know my colleague the AM for Llanelli is going to point out that, and he's quite right to do so, because Cardiff has great potential for ensuring that more people use bikes and walking in order to get to work. So, yes, roads are important, we know that, but so are the trains, both light and heavy rail, and of course what has traditionally been seen as recreation by some, but really is a form of transport, and that's cycling.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on public ownership of retail and commercial property? OAQ52058
The guiding principles for Welsh Government ownership of property are set out in our corporate asset management strategy. Other public bodies will have their own relevant asset strategies. Of course, since bringing Cardiff Airport back into Government ownership, it's been a remarkable success, and I look forward to the first Qatar Airways flight coming in next week.
I certainly look forward to those Qatar flights starting. First Minister, on 11 April, Ken Skates said that there had been no transaction connected with the proposed Cardiff bus station that would create a liability for stamp duty land tax or land transaction tax. Yet, on 18 April, he said Welsh Government had recently bought the site from Cardiff Council for £12 million. Did Welsh Government agree, exchange and complete on such a large and complex deal in less than a week, or has it somehow sought to avoid its own 6 per cent supertax on land transactions?
No, we did not gain a tax advantage as a result of this transaction being completed under SDLT rather LTT. So, I can assure the Member of that.
On this same subject, which obviously is of great interest to me, could you explain why it's been necessary for the Welsh Government to intervene with this proposed metro delivery partnership, given that a huge number of commercial companies have benefited from relocating to Central Square and I would have expected them to make the planning gain necessary to build the bus station as a crucial part of making this a success?
It's been necessary for us to become involved because we want to make sure that the metro is successful. We have a vision for the site around Cardiff Central to become an integrated transport hub to provide seamless integration between trains, buses, coaches and the metro, allowing easy access for pedestrians and storage facilities for cyclists, and of course facilities for taxis and private cars, because we know that an integrated transport hub is by far the most effective way of ensuring that people will actually use the system in the first place. So, I think it is appropriate for Government to become involved in developing the heart of our capital city for the benefit of not just the people of Cardiff but of course people who live beyond and work in the city every day.
4. What progress is the Welsh Government making in combatting loneliness and social isolation? OAQ52064
We'll deliver on our commitment to produce a strategy by March 2019. Building on the work of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee inquiry into loneliness and isolation, we are engaging widely with stakeholders, including the Scottish and UK Governments, to help us to set the direction that will drive our work.
Thank you, First Minister. Loneliness and isolation can affect anyone at any time in our lives. It's a significant public health issue and we know it can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. I hosted a round-table discussion with Age Cymru in my constituency last month about tackling loneliness, and one good example is the work of Ffrind i Mi in Aneurin Bevan Local Health Board. They're working to pair up care homes and schools, and the benefits there are clear for everyone to see. What role can Welsh Government play in supporting initiatives like this, which bring all generations together and tackle loneliness and isolation across Wales?
Ffrind i Mi is an excellent project, of course, that's been developed by Aneurin Bevan board. We know that, where people are lonely, it's not just a question of them not having company and a sense of isolation, but it affects people's health. That's why, obviously, as a health board, it's correct to actually get involved in making sure that loneliness as an issue is dealt with.
I can say to the Member that, on 23 April, we commissioned research looking at the basic principles of sustainable community-based volunteering approaches to tackling loneliness and social isolation amongst older people. It is not, perhaps, the snappiest title ever invented by Government— nevertheless, it does explain what it's going to do. That is there, of course, to enable us to find out what the most effective ways of tackling loneliness actually are, to make sure that what is developed in months and years to come is as effective as it can be.
Ffrind i Mi is, indeed, an excellent innovation, First Minister. In fact, next month, you will be paying tribute to, and recognising the work of, Mary Adams, who's a constituent of mine in west Wales, for the work that she undertakes through the Rotary-backed RotaKids project. RotaKids spends time with people with dementia, with people suffering from loneliness and who feel very, very isolated in order to bring some of that relief into some of the hours of their days.
These projects are absolutely vital, and yet, in that very important Health, Social Care and Sport Committee report, the Government only partially accepted one of the recommendations. That was the recommendation to ask for three-year funding for projects such as this in order to ensure that they have a chance to embed in the local community and become self-sustaining. Will you work with your Secretaries of health, social care and finance whilst you're doing this review in order to ensure that we look at this, because all these projects are worth nothing if they evaporate after a year? In fact, they leave behind a really sad wake of people who once had something who can no longer access a very vital service.
It is a challenge in Government to seek to provide three-year revenue funding when our own budget often—necessarily, because of the block grant that we get—has to be developed on a shorter timescale. That is an issue that's always been with us—it's not a political point I make—but that, nevertheless, is true. But, yes, as far as possible, we try to ensure that we don't simply see revenue funding for organisations disappear after a particular period of time. Where that does happen, and it has, we look to work with them—we encourage them to work with us to look at sustainable funding solutions elsewhere. I know that there are some organisations like Men's Sheds—I visited one in your constituency, in fact, in Pembroke Dock—that have been very successful in terms of combating loneliness amongst men who've lost their partners.
Well, that’s the fundamental point emerging from our report as a health committee. Further to the examples that we’ve already heard mentioned, which are going to be vulnerable in terms of long-term funding, do you believe that you, as a Government, should be providing greater clarity and more priority to this fundamental point—not only praising the service, but also saying something about long-term financial assurances?
Yes, that is the problem, of course. In a situation where the amount of money available falls year on year, it’s very difficult to give any kind of pledge or promise in that way because it’s not clear how much funding will be available to the Government. Where we can, we try to do so, but it is difficult to give that promise on all funding, because we know that the budget will be declining year on year.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on workplace culture within the Welsh Government? OAQ52056
Yes. The Permanent Secretary is responsible for the leadership and management of the Welsh Government civil service. I support her in leading a culture that is confident, inclusive, and focused on delivering for Wales.
First Minister, I think it's important to note your absence from the debate on the leak inquiry last week. Despite retreating from the legal challenge to block the debate, I would've thought that you would've respected the institution of this Assembly and would've been here to hear the arguments that AMs put forward.
We know that you've been cleared in the Hamilton report that was released late on a Tuesday evening following Plenary, but I think the public need to know why no protection was offered or given to witnesses, unlike with the leak inquiry. Have you seen, for example, BBC reports that people were afraid to give evidence because they were worried about the repercussions? Your former colleague—and I think very much former now—Leighton Andrews notes in his commentary on the matter that there was
'a toxic atmosphere on the Fifth Floor and that Mr Sargeant and certain other Ministers were subject to persistent personal undermining'.
Now, I agree, and I see what has been said with regard to the Hamilton report, but do you not agree that cultural changes need to take place within Government, and will you prepare to take on those changes before you leave office?
The Hamilton report is clear. I don't intend to elaborate on what it says, other than to say that, of course, as far as Welsh Government staff are concerned, that is a matter for the Permanent Secretary. And I can say that, according to our latest staff survey, 80 per cent of staff scored the organisation positively on inclusion and fair treatment—that's 4 per cent above the UK civil service benchmark—and 88 per cent of Welsh Government staff say they are treated with respect by those they work with, 3 per cent above the UK civil service benchmark. Now, of course, that does show that there's more work to be done, and I know the Permanent Secretary is very much aware of that.
First Minister, it is important to nurture an appropriate culture and the right culture within Welsh Government, and to ensure that work is carried out in a timely manner and that people working within the Government correspond in a timely fashion. Following on from the question that the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire asked you last week, I can confirm that I'm also waiting for a response to my subject access request submitted to the Government on 15 March regarding information asked about me by the Welsh Government to the Hywel Dda university health board. Given the importance of nurturing a culture of accountability and respect within the Welsh Government, it's crucial that matters like this are dealt with openly and professionally. Therefore, can you give me an indication of when I will receive a response to my subject access request?
I entirely agree that we should be open and professional, and that's what we strive to do. It's not something I've been directly involved with, as he can appreciate, but I do hope that a position will be reached soon when the question can be answered—and answered it must be, I understand that.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's intention to further expand the TrawsCymru coach service? OAQ52055
We continue to work closely with local authorities to explore opportunities to enhance existing TrawsCymru services and introduce new routes where there are clear strategic benefits from offering new long-distance bus and coach services.
Following the budget agreement, Plaid Cymru secured £400,000 to upgrade the TrawsCymru network from bus to coach, and following that, the new service from Aberystwyth to Cardiff was established last week, securing a more comfortable and swifter service. This is an important step forward in the process of creating public transport services fit for the twenty-first century in our rural communities. So, will the Government commit to looking to enhance and expand this service and offer coach services that would be available to people in my constituency who would wish to travel on a comfortable coach to the capital city and other parts of Wales?
Well, two points: first, regarding the question of whether we’re planning to expand the service, that is true; we are at present working with local authorities to look at new routes, namely Bangor to Chirk and Oswestry, and also from Wrexham to Newtown. But also, what we need to consider is how those services can be used and run. I'm very pleased to see a coach running on the service between Cardiff and Aberystwyth, as one who was very familiar with the former TrawsCambria service. That was a coach, but there was no toilet, if I remember, and so you had to stop in Swansea for some time for people to use the conveniences there. So, what we are considering is how we can expand the service, and then how we can ultimately ensure that the vehicles running on the service are enhanced over the ensuing years.
Has the Welsh Government conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the TrawsCymru service, and can I ask how do passenger numbers compare with other subsidised services? And can I ask what assessment you can make of the pilot on the free weekend bus travel on the TrawsCymru network?
There is an evaluation that is taking place. What we do know, however, is that passenger numbers are growing. The introduction of free travel has been hugely important in terms of doing that. I have to say that the Member gives the impression, in the way he asked the question, that he is not in favour of the TrawsCymru network. Any network when it first begins will take some time to bed in. We've never had a proper national bus network. Even in the days of the TrawsCambria, Cardiff to Aberystwyth and then on to Bangor existed, after an hour's wait in Aberystwyth for those who then went on to Bangor, but everything else was pretty short-term and unsustainable. We intend to put in place a long-term, sustainable network. We know there are communities now that are having a bus service for the first time in over 40 years, and that's something that I'm sure they will welcome. So, I'm happy with the way that the TrawsCymru network is performing and, of course, the passenger numbers in terms of the growth that we've seen.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the number of people in Wales with type 2 diabetes? OAQ52022
The national diabetes audit, which is part of the clinical audit programme for the NHS in Wales, indicates there were approximately 178,000 people registered with type 2 diabetes in Wales in the 2016-17 reporting year.
Can I thank the First Minister for that response? Genes do play a part in type 2 diabetes, but lifestyle choices are also very important. You can, for example, have a genetic mutation that may make you susceptible to type 2, but if you take good care of your body you may not develop diabetes. Will the Welsh Government consider introducing a national prevention week for type 2 diabetes?
Let me just give the Member a flavour of what we're doing. Of course we recognise the importance of prevention. We're aware of the NHS England programme. We don't think that this is right for Wales, because we know that obesity is a risk factor for a number of diseases, therefore a disease-specific approach is not warranted. We know also the evidence base for the effectiveness of a diabetes prevention programme is disputed. We do need to do something, clearly, so a broader and multifaceted approach is required; we know that. So, how will that be done? Well, the forthcoming obesity strategy will aim to put a strong focus upon prevention, and that will include exploring how we can scale messages across the population—I think a better way is to say, 'How we can tell people', actually, rather than putting it that way—by working with a range of partners, including with health boards, through delivery of obesity pathways.
First Minister, at the recent cross-party group on diabetes we heard that just about 100 new diabetes nurses are being introduced in England. We don't have any here. Even though, of course, insulin pumps are given by the NHS to people with diabetes if they need them urgently, without the specialist nurses there's no guarantee that they're being used correctly. Bearing in mind that we get more money per head in Wales than in England, I wonder what consideration has been given to introducing diabetes nurses here. Obviously, we don't have to do exactly the same as England, but I would like to get some reassurance from you that they've been considered.
Well, Diabetes Cymru are members of the chief medical officer's obesity strategy group, so they are able to inform Government of what they think is the best way of dealing with diabetes. I can say that we do continue to invest record amounts in diabetes care, from £76 million in 2009-10 to more than £111 million in 2016-17. Actually, it's been estimated that about 10 per cent of NHS expenditure goes on treating diabetes. The way forward is outlined in our diabetes delivery plan. That was updated and republished in December of last year and that will take us through to 2020.
I was very pleased that the Welsh Government had agreed to support a Plaid Cymru amendment to the public health Bill recently, which means that a strategy to tackle obesity is being developed at the moment. Now, given that we know that obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes, and that diabetes takes up so much of the funding of the health service—as much as 10 per cent of all the money spent on the health service, in fact—do you, as First Minister, agree that investing significant funds in preventing obesity in order to prevent many type 2 diabetes cases, far more than is currently being invested, is entirely essential if we’re to save money for the health service in the long term?
Well, I’ve alluded to the fact that 10 per cent of the funding goes on diabetes. We know that obesity—and I don’t speak as someone who has any kind of experience of this, of course—impacts diabetes. That is why we are developing a national diabetes strategy. The health service in Wales has a number of pathways in place already—an obesity pathway in order to support people in order to reduce their risk of developing things such as diabetes.
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government policy for supporting rural schools in South Wales Central? OAQ52019
We recently consulted on strengthening the school organisation code in respect of a presumption against the closure of rural schools. We'll publish our response in the summer. We have also introduced a new small and rural schools grant to encourage innovation and support greater school-to-school working.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. The formula that underpins funding of schools, and in particular rural schools, is based on the sparsity element of the census of 1991. The special education formula was last reviewed in 2006 and the primary and secondary school formula was last updated in 2003, First Minister. By any stretch of the imagination, those are dates that have long since passed. Do you think it is a sensible course of action for the Government to undertake a review of this funding formula to bring it more up to date with current figures and current aspirations for the Welsh Government?
That is something that needs to be explored with local education authorities and something that would affect the revenue support grant. Experience tells us that when a formula is changed there are winners and losers. That's not a reason why it shouldn't change, of course, necessarily, but it is a matter for local authorities collectively to decide on a common approach to, in order to inform Government.
First Minister, I am concerned about the proposal by the Vale of Glamorgan Council to reconfigure primary school provision in the western Vale, which would result in the closure of Llancarfan Primary School. The school was deemed 'good' in its last Estyn inspection and falls within the yellow category. According to the Estyn report,
'The buildings and site provide a stimulating and varied learning environment'
'pupils make good use of...its wildlife and wooded areas'.
So, First Minister, with respect to this consultation procedure on the school organisation code relating to small and rural schools, I do believe that the impact of these proposals on the local rural community of Llancarfan haven't been taken into account, neither have the views of prospective parents who have contacted me and are devastated by these proposals. Can you assure me that the Welsh Government's school organisation code will be respected in terms of the importance of this school?
Well, of course, local authorities, as the Member will know, are responsible for the planning of school places, but, in bringing forward proposals for substantial changes to schools, local authorities and other proposers must comply with the school organisation code and must take into account a range of factors, the prime consideration being the interests of learners. The code does set a high standard for consultation, providing all those with an interest with an opportunity to make their views known and have those views taken into account.
9. Will the First Minister make a statement on the importance of Welsh cities to the development of the economy? OAQ52034
Our 'Prosperity for All' strategy and the economic action plan do set out our actions for all parts of Wales to contribute to and benefit from economic growth. That obviously includes enabling our cities and large towns to be engines of growth that benefit their wider region.
First Minister, I agree with what you've hinted at there—that our cities are a great resource with regional and national responsibilities. But, as you will know, under the Planning (Wales) Act 2015, no regional planning schemes have yet come forward on a voluntary basis. I'm glad that you're going to consult on this and whether we need to take firmer action. I wonder whether you could give an indication of the Government's thinking.
Our thinking is that local authorities need to collaborate more in order to produce regional development plans. If that doesn't happen, then we will have to consider what steps to take next, but we'd encourage local authorities to do so. The reality is, of course, that political boundaries are completely ineffective when it comes to the way in which the economy works. The reality is that the economies of many local authorities are intertwined inextricably with Cardiff. I live 20 miles away from Cardiff, but I know that many, many, many people commute to Cardiff every day to work, and it acts—. Even though Bridgend has its own economy and its own employers, Cardiff still is an important source of work. I do think we do our public a disservice if local authorities simply see planning and the availability of housing purely as something that exists within their own boundaries. So, it is important that local authorities work together. If they don't do that, then clearly we'll have to take steps to make the planning system more effective.
10. How does the Welsh Government ensure that all children in Wales have an equal chance in life? OAQ52061
Our aim in 'Prosperity for All' is to support children and young people to make the most of their potential and that means providing them with the best start in life and the support they need, and the opportunities they need to grow and achieve to the best of their ability and, of course, in terms of the skills that they have.
I thank the First Minister for that response. Does the First Minister agree that all children deserve to be able to participate equally in after-school activities and that these often come at a cost, particularly to poorer families, when you need specialist equipment and specialist kit for sporting activities, for example? What can the Government do to give those children an equal chance in life?
It's hugely important that we are as flexible as possible in providing support to those who need it the most. The education Secretary is in the process of looking to introduce an improved grant that suits families' needs better than the current school uniform grant, something that supports better access to curriculum activities and learning opportunities that might otherwise be denied to learners due to cost. So, it's a question of expanding and being more flexible in terms of what has previously been in place to make sure that children don't lose out.
The next item, therefore, is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the leader of the house to make the statement—Julie James.
Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's business. Business for the next three weeks is shown on the business statement and announcement, found among the meeting papers, which are available to Members electronically.
Leader of the house, I'd be grateful if you could ask the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services to bring forward an urgent statement regarding Hywel Dda health board's plans to reconfigure health services in west Wales. As you will be aware, last week, Hywel Dda health board launched its new service change plans, and in all three of the options published, Withybush hospital will be downgraded from a general hospital to a community hospital. Needless to say, the people that I represent in Pembrokeshire are furious, as this consultation makes it crystal clear that they have no choice but to face the downgrading of their local hospital, as there is no other option. Indeed, people are so upset that in the last 24 hours, over 8,500 people have already signed a petition led by my constituent, Myles Bamford Lewis, to reverse the decision to downgrade Withybush hospital.
Of course, the health board's decision means that, yet again, even more patients in Pembrokeshire will have to travel further for important health services. And just as the health board's consultation recognises, this will have an impact on communities across Pembrokeshire. These options are totally unacceptable to the people that I represent. Therefore, it's important that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services brings forward a statement on the impact that this lack of choice and alternative will have on the people of Pembrokeshire, and at the same time, he can confirm, once and for all, for the record, that the Welsh Government will make funding available for each of these proposals. If the affordability of any or all of the proposals have not been signed off by the Welsh Government, then what is the purpose of consulting on any change in the first place?
Leader of the house, I believe that these catastrophic proposals by Hywel Dda university health board make it quite clear that it's time for the Welsh Government to intervene and to make sure that the health board brings forward much more sensible plans by being fair to the people of Pembrokeshire. Therefore, can you please impress upon the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services to bring forward a statement outlining the Welsh Government's position on the delivery of health services in west Wales?
Well, the Cabinet Secretary has heard your obviously heartfelt sentiments on the subject. It is a consultation and we do need to wait until the outcome of the consultation so that we get all views before responding.
Could I ask for two items, really? First of all, could I ask for a statement on the major announcement by the Labour leader at the conference over the weekend? I'm talking about Jeremy Corbyn's announcement that we'll have St David's Day as a bank holiday, of course—that was wonderful news. It was very sweet of him to mention Northern Ireland—I think they've already got St Patrick's Day as a bank holiday in Northern Ireland, actually, so I don't think we need a consultation on that. But here, again, we have an example of the UK Labour Party promising something that the Welsh Government could do now. So, the Welsh Government could say now, 'Next year, 2019—the first ever bank holiday for public services in Wales'. It can do it now. So, with the greatest respect to the Labour Party conference, you don't need a London leader coming to tell you something you can do within your own purview. So, can we have a statement from the Welsh Government saying how next St David's Day will be a bank holiday in Wales and how you intend to deliver that, rather than empty promises given for headlines in conferences?
No less seriously, can we also have a statement, or, rather, from the business manager, an explanation of the next steps for how we are now going to deal with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill? I understand that Mike Russell, the Scottish Minister, is about to make a statement in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon around negotiations around these very important amendments to clause 11 of the Bill. Yesterday, Mark Drakeford in committee I think said that we still haven't reached agreement, but the Government was hopeful to still reach agreement. We don't have a Joint Ministerial Committee timetabled now—that seems to have been postponed. We really are reaching the end of the endgame. Next week, the Bill finishes in the House of Lords. Even at the present timetable, any amendments to clause 11 will be debated right at the very end in the House of Lords, so how do you intend, as business manager, to ensure that the Assembly has timely and advance notice of such amendments, so that we're able to debate the implications of such amendments? I put it to you gently that what might be very suitable for Welsh Government may not be suitable for the Welsh Parliament. Government might be happy with one arrangement, Parliament may not. Do you have contingency plans, if necessary, to approach the Presiding Officer to recall this Assembly on a day that we don't usually sit in order to allow us to pass final judgment on any amendments that may be agreed between the Welsh Government and Westminster?
On the first point, I'd very much like to see a Labour Government in the UK, and, of course, what we'd then have is a reversal of the choice austerity policies and a renewal of the proper funding arrangements for Wales, which would, of course, allow us to put a public holiday in. In the current circumstances of the billions of pounds taken out of the Welsh Government's budget, on any real comparison of budgets, that is simply not possible—would that it were.
On the EU withdrawal Bill, there is a Joint Ministerial Committee European negotiations scheduled for next Wednesday. If anything happens in the meantime that's of any significance, we will, of course, approach the Llywydd to put a statement in or other suitable means of updating the Assembly. But my understanding is that the current arrangements are that the JMC(EN) is scheduled for next Wednesday.
Can I ask for a Welsh Government statement regarding ensuring the fairness of price comparison between the Swansea bay tidal lagoon and Hinkley Point? As the decommissioning costs and storage costs for the Hinkley Point development have been capped, we're not comparing like with like. If the building cap cost of the Swansea tidal lagoon was capped at a level well below what it was likely to cost, then it would make it a lot cheaper to generate electricity there.
Yes, indeed. Mike Hedges makes an extremely important point. The UK Government has chosen to protect taxpayers from exposure to all of the costs of waste and decommissioning liabilities of new nuclear power plants through the Energy Act 2008. Our understanding is that the total decommissioning costs within the funded decommissioning plan, including the contingency, are estimated to be around £8.5 billion, but given the costed index-linked, actual costs by the end of the station's 60-year operational life could be as high as £116 billion, once inflation is taken into account. Now, clearly, that's not a level playing field. Discussions are ongoing between BEIS—the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—the developers and the Welsh Government about the technical issues and actual costs associated with the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, including on financing the project to include other equivalent costs.
Leader of the house, I think you've had some indication of what I'm going to raise. You will know that a written statement was issued by the housing Minister on affordable housing and the assessment of future need, and therefore targets for supply. I do believe that something of such enormous significance should have been made to this Chamber as an oral statement. It opens the possibility of a huge policy shift, which I would welcome, but, as was clearly indicated in the press coverage that resulted from an extensive Welsh Government campaign to get its message out—I don't criticise you for that, but, clearly, the Welsh Government realised how significant yesterday's move was, and, frankly, you are not treating this Chamber with the respect it deserves by issuing it as a written statement.
It could be weeks before this is now fully scrutinised, and the actual forming of the review and the group that will do the review, and those that will be on that group—the leader or the chair of that group has already been chosen by the Minister—none of this will receive early scrutiny here, despite the fact it's now gone out to all and sundry via the Western Mail and the BBC. I do hope there won't be a repeat of this sort of shabby treatment. If you have a huge press campaign on any announcement, as sure as eggs is eggs, you should be making a statement here in the Chamber.
Well, I'm sorry to hear the Member feels that way. The Minister is here, listening to his point of view. Our point of view is very different to that. We think this is the start of a long process. There will be lots of opportunities to scrutinise the policy as it goes through, including regulation and legislation. So, I'm sorry he feels like that. No disrespect is intended to this Chamber. The Minister is here, listening to his point of view. Our point of view is very different.
Leader of the house, you'll be aware that the issue of delayed transfers of care is one that has been a constant challenge for this Government. Figures released last week, dealing with the month of March, show that 391 patients were suffering delayed transfers of care, with delays arranging social care a significant part of that figure. Now, as I recall, a decade ago we were dealing with figures of very similar proportions: 400 on average. So, the figures haven't changed, as regards delayed transfers of care, in a decade. To put that in context: on each and every day of the week, we have around the equivalent of two hospitals the size of the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend full with patients who are medically fit for discharge but are simply unable to move from their hospital bed on to the next stage of their recovery. So, in terms of capacity, that's 12,000 bed days per month lost from the system. So, will the Government therefore be prepared to bring forward a debate outlining what it intends to do to tackle this huge, systematic bottleneck?
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Delayed transfers of care are lower this year than they have been in the past and, of course, because of this Government's policy to jointly fund social care and the NHS, we have a great deal fewer problems with this than we see elsewhere. But all western Governments have this problem; it's not a unique problem to the Welsh Government. The Welsh Government has worked extremely well across the NHS and social services to ensure that this year we have the lowest ever problem, and all hospitals continue to work very hard in order to minimise this problem wherever possible.
Leader of the house, yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services issued a written statement on support for the armed forces in Wales. The statement concludes by saying that the Cabinet Secretary recognises the need to continue to invest in and to strengthen the support provided to our armed forces veterans. However, he does not believe that the appointment of an armed forces commissioner for Wales would add any further benefit or value. Leader of the house, I believe this issue is too important to be dealt with in a written statement at this stage. I would therefore ask you to schedule a debate in Welsh Government time, or at the very least an oral statement, on how we can best deliver services to our veterans, to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude.
I agree entirely with the Member that we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our veterans. The Cabinet Secretary for public services did set out his views on the matter very plainly and, of course, the Member will have opportunities to question him, during his own question time, on any further action necessary. But I would like to underline what he said, which is of course that we all acknowledge that we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our veterans, who ought to be getting the very best of services as a result of their service.
I appreciate it is not always possible to provide statements to this Assembly, but I think with regard to the termination of Communities First, that did warrant a statement here, and it was shuffled out last week again, after we retired from these debating chambers to our region or to our committees. Now, considering that this was a flagship programme of the Labour Government in relation to alleviating poverty, the fact that it didn't come with any explanation as to what happens next, any analysis of what's happened with Communities First in the past, or any recognition of the fact that 50,000 more children are now facing living in poverty in Wales is something that I find quite startling from a Labour Government here in Wales. So, I would appreciate a statement here in this Chamber, so that we can understand, as Assembly Members, what is happening next. If it's being put in the revenue grant for local authorities, how do we go about monitoring that, and how do we go about ensuring that those people that need the support the most are going to get it.
And my second request is for a statement from the same Minister with regard to the offenders framework that he announced, again last week. I think we need to understand, if the Welsh Government is putting any new prison on hold, what that means in terms of the wider criminal justice policies that he and the Government are developing in this regard. So, I would like to see that we can debate that also, so that we, as Assembly Members, from across the Chamber, have input into how that criminal justice system for Wales would look.
On that first one, the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services is in the process, I know, of a complex discussion with the UK Government about the department of justice policy in Wales and the interaction of various parts of that. And I'm sure that once those discussions are at a point where he can update the Chamber, he'll be very pleased to do so. I don't he's quite at that point yet.
In terms of the closure of the Communities First programme, this has been a transition year, and Assembly Members are very well aware that it was a transition year. The statement is to thank those who've played a role in the orderly closure of the Communities First programme, and the preservation of its best work, which we've all been extremely anxious to see happen. This is part of a policy renewal programme for Action Against Poverty, in the light of the austerity programme from the UK Government, and it's been in place for a long time. And, actually, a very large amount of their programmes are continuing in other guises, such as the employability plan and so on. But it's no surprise to Members that the Communities First programme has been in its transition year and that this is the closure.
I wonder if I could request, actually a written statement is probably better for this one, either from the local government Secretary, or indeed from yourself, to clarify the position about who is responsible for monitoring and resolving any problems with the gender pay gap within our local authorities. Back a few weeks ago, in a written reply to an oral question that we didn't get to, here in the Chamber, I was told that
'The Equality and Human Rights Commission guides, monitors and regulates local authorities in relation to their duty'
and then takes any action with employers to help address that gap. When I wrote to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, they confirmed that for the financial year 2017-18 and for the previous three years, they held no information at all about the gender pay gap in any of the councils in Wales, and indeed had taken no action to remedy anything. So, I wonder if you could just clarify exactly who is responsible for, not just providing the data, but analysing it, because it strikes me that someone somewhere is not doing what they're supposed to be doing.
Yes, well, that's very timely, actually, as it happens, because we have announced a rapid review of gender-focused policy, and I put the terms of reference for that in the Members' Library last week. So, we're hoping to bring forward the first proper results from that, including differing arrangements, where necessary, for monitoring and evaluating and taking things forward, such as the gender pay gap across all public sector organisations, including this one. So, I will take on board what Suzy Davies has just said and have a conversation with my Cabinet colleague about the best reporting arrangements for that as part of the rapid review, because I think, actually, the evaluation model is almost as important as the policy that we put in place to take it forward. So, I will take that on board, and as part of the report back on the rapid review, I will make sure that that's covered off.
May we have a statement on the Caernarfon-Bontnewydd bypass? This road was due to open this summer, but, instead, the construction work hasn’t even started. That is two years late and, of course, constituents in my area are becoming more and more frustrated and some are even starting to doubt whether this road will see the light of day at all. So, to allay their fears, can we have a statement either announcing a timetable or explaining the nature of this unacceptable delay?
The Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport is considering the findings and recommendations of the inspector's report, following the public local inquiry, before making a decision on this. We acknowledge there has been a delay, but there is a large volume of correspondence as part of the statutory process and it has taken much longer than expected to consider it. However, we want to make sure that we do take the time needed to ensure all the evidence is fully evaluated. We totally understand the importance of the infrastructure investment in north Wales, and I'm sure that once the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport has had the opportunity to consider all the recommendations in detail, he will be bringing forward a statement on this scheme.
Can I call for three statements, please—the first on road safety in Conwy and Denbighshire? The leader of the house will be aware that there has been an announcement of a task and finish group for an extremely dangerous stretch of road, known as the Evo triangle, which crosses the border between Conwy and Denbighshire in my constituency. It's a 20-mile stretch that is promoted by online forums and magazines as a place where people should be speeding, and enjoying the thrill of the ride. But, unfortunately, this has led to some serious accidents, and a number of deaths on that particular stretch. Before Christmas, the Welsh Government announced that a task and finish group had been set up, and that task and finish group made a recommendation for average speed cameras along the route. I was very disappointed, just last week, to be informed by Conwy County Borough Council that, following the encouragement to promote an average speed camera bid, the Welsh Government had turned down the funding application to install average speed cameras along that route. So, I'm afraid my constituents have had their hopes of a safer road traffic situation in that part of the constituency completely dashed. And I think they're owed an explanation from the Minister, in this Chamber, so that we can find out precisely why the Welsh Government has denied the funding to make their promise of an average speed camera route along there possible. So, I think we need an update on that, please.
Can I also call for an appropriate statement on the targeted regeneration investment programme? I understand there's a draft document out at the moment, for the period 2018-21, and it does refer to one place in my constituency—the area of Pensarn, near Abergele—but, unfortunately, it seems to have missed out completely a quite impoverished community in a place called Sandy Cove, along that stretch of the coast between Rhyl and Abergele. I was wondering whether there might be an opportunity, given that it's a draft document, to petition the Government to review the situation, so that Sandy Cove can be included, particularly given the serious situation with unadopted roads.
And, finally, given your responsibility for faith communities, leader of the house, will you join me in congratulating the Baptist Union of Wales on its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary? Many Assembly Members were present at the celebrations, which were held across in the Pierhead this afternoon, and I do feel that that should be recognised here in the Chamber this afternoon, by you, in your capacity as the Minister for faith communities. The Baptist Union of Wales has had a tremendous impact, not just on the people of Wales, but also around the world, through its missionary activities, and I think we owe it to them to recognise that tremendous contribution that they've made.
Yes, I'm absolutely delighted to acknowledge that contribution, not least to my own life. Many of the hymns that I know and love are as a result of attending Baptist chapel with my grandmother, and singing my heart out, three times a day on a Sunday, when we were privileged to be spending a day with her. So, I have very fond memories of that. And, indeed, I am very happy to acknowledge the contribution of the Baptist Union of Wales, and, indeed, of all of our faith communities, to the rich cultural and faith heritage that we are very proud of—rightly so—here in Wales. So, I'm delighted to be able to do so; thank you for the opportunity.
In terms of the other two, the Member has set out a number of very specific issues, which I think would be best dealt with by way of letter between him and the Cabinet Secretary. I'm not aware of the details, so I'm not in a position to say one way or the other, but, if that's not satisfactory, then I'm sure that we can do something by way of information for the whole Senedd.
May I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on the news that has emerged today that the Awyr Las charity funding is paying for a staff engagement strategy for Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board? I know that constituents in north Wales will be surprised and disappointed that funding raised by volunteers and charitable groups is being spent on work that one would expect to be core work for the health board. I’ve looked at this engagement strategy, and it talks about things such as creating a vision and direction, securing feedback for staff—well, any public body, you would expect, would be achieving that in their day-to-day work. But, it also talks about things such as engaging senior management and the leaders of the board with front-line staff, and then we realise, of course, that this money is being used, to all intents and purposes, as part of the effort to get the board out of special measures. The level of expenditure is also going to surprise many people.
We’re all supportive of the £25,000 that’s been raised for heart monitoring equipment; the £20,000 for physiotherapy equipment; the £75,000 for buying wigs for cancer patients, but we’re talking here about £450,000. We also note, of course, that members of the Betsi Cadwaladr health board are trustees of this charity. So, I do think that we need a statement from the health Minister in response to this. And does the Welsh Government believe that it’s right that the board is reliant on charitable funding to get them out of special measures?
I also heard the reports of this on the news and I know the Cabinet Secretary is aware. The board were at great pains to say that they were of the view that they had not done anything that was untoward. I know the Cabinet Secretary is looking into it and if there is anything that requires looking into, I know he will update Members accordingly.
Finally, Nick Ramsay.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Can I concur with the comments made earlier by Darren Millar regarding the one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the Baptist Union of Wales? I also attended that event, as did many other Assembly Members. It was very successful and we send them our best.
At the same time, I had my own event upstairs in the Oriel for Love Zimbabwe. Leader of the house, we are now some five months on from the resignation of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. That country is still in the process—the very early days—of putting itself back together with support from as many people as possible from across the rest of the world. The Love Zimbabwe group are centred with a base in my constituency. I'm currently in the process of raising funds and books to supply a library in Zimbabwe and to try and get that country moving in the direction that it should been in over many years but has been stifled. Can you tell us how the Welsh Government is planning to support the people of Zimbabwe as they try to put their lives back together and try to put their country back together, and make sure that they know that the hand of friendship is well and truly extended from the people of Wales and from this Welsh Assembly?
Well, yes indeed. I'm sorry that I didn't get to the event, because I very much would have liked to have been there. Of course, we're immensely proud of our links with Africa and the Wales for Africa programme. I'm not actually aware of any specifics around Zimbabwe, but I'm more than happy to look into that for the Member. Our efforts on behalf of Africa, through the Wales for Africa programme, always bring benefits, not only to the people that we're assisting in Africa to do things such as build schools, get computer equipment, have libraries and so on, but actually to hugely enrich the cultural life of Wales in the exchanges that take place. I'm very well aware of many such programmes in my own constituency. I'm afraid I don't know the specifics for Zimbabwe, but I'm more than happy to look into it and write to the Member accordingly.
Sorry, and finally, finally, because you all do it, so I'll do it from the chair, and finally, finally, Julie Morgan. [Laughter.]
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I know the leader of the house will be aware of the statue of Millicent Fawcett that is being unveiled in Parliament Square today—the one woman statue now along with 11 male statues. So, I wondered if we could have a statement about the plans to have the statues of two women here in Wales. The First Minister announced that in his very welcome speech in Oxford University. So, I wondered if the leader of the house could give us some more details of this very welcome move.
Yes. I think it's a matter of some shame actually that there isn't a statue of a historical named Welsh woman in Wales. When these things are pointed out to you it becomes clashingly obvious, but it is obviously completely unacceptable. I am planning to bring forward a statement on a number of issues, including statues, plaques and so on, during this term—before the summer recess—and I will certainly be very pleased to include plans for statues and a number of other commemorative permanent installations to make sure that the contribution of Welsh women to Welsh cultural history, and current cultural, political, scientific and other endeavours, take the place they rightly should in our history.
Thank you, leader of the house.
The next item is a statement by the Minister for Environment on air quality and I call the Minister, Hannah Blythyn.
Diolch. I'm committed to action to reduce air pollution in Wales to support a healthier future for our communities, our natural environment and our country. This issue is rightly high on the agenda of Assembly Members and I welcome the cross-party consensus on the need to drive this agenda forward. When I first came to post, I made clear that delivering clean air in Wales is one of my key priorities. Since then, work to address air quality problems in Wales has gathered significant cross-Government support and momentum. I'm committed to building and sustaining this approach.
Our national planning policy document, 'Planning Policy Wales', has been rewritten and restructured around the principles of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The revised document now contains a dedicated section on air quality and soundscape, and this consultation on 'Planning Policy Wales' closes on 18 May.
I will establish the clean air Wales programme to consider evidence and develop and implement actions required across Welsh Government departments and sectors to ensure clean air for Wales. Its immediate aim will be to achieve compliance with existing legislative air quality obligations, but its wider purpose is to reduce the burden of poor air quality on human health and the environment. This can be achieved through planning, infrastructure, regulation and communication measures. If the programme identifies gaps in the necessary levers to make required air quality improvements, I will seek to develop new legislation to address this.
A core component of this programme will be the clean air plan for Wales, which I will publish for consultation by the end of this year. It will set out how we will achieve improvements in air quality and support our well-being goals. It will identify cross-Government and sectoral actions required to achieve clean air in Wales, and highlight communication, engagement and education measures to encourage behavioural change. It will also include actions for strengthening the regulation of emissions from different sectors of industry. Areas such as Port Talbot present particular challenges in relation to the contribution to poor air quality made by industrial pollution. I've instructed an update of our short-term action plan for Port Talbot to ensure we maintain the most effective way of reducing pollution in the region.
Another important aspect of the programme is the development and establishment of the air quality monitoring and assessment centre for Wales in 2019. I informed the Assembly previously that this centre is being established to ensure decisions on tackling airborne pollution are evidence based, and associated actions are prioritised to maximise benefits in terms of public health and well-being.
Our draft clean air zone framework for Wales consultation will be launched tomorrow. A clean air zone is a defined geographical area where a range of actions can be applied with the purpose of significantly reducing public and environmental exposure to airborne pollutants. The framework sets out our principles for the consistent operation of clean air zones in Wales, how they should be established and what they should deliver to improve the health of our communities. We do not currently have any clean air zones in Wales, although local authorities could introduce them to address illegal exceedances of harmful emissions. Where evidence suggests that they could bring about marked health benefits by securing effective reductions in airborne pollution, I would welcome the use of them.
A key component of clean air zones will be a mechanism for managing traffic access to promote reductions in overall traffic levels and limit harm caused to health and the environment by remaining vehicles. This will not be popular, however we must generate behaviour change by encouraging less-harmful modes of travel. The proposed model for Wales requires certain vehicles using the roads to meet the latest Euro emissions standards in order to be able to travel within the boundaries of the clean air zone. This could be introduced through the introduction of access restrictions for the most polluting vehicles, such as bans or charges.
I recognise concerns that access restrictions could hit those least able to upgrade or replace their vehicles the hardest and may find it more difficult to meet any access charges that could be applied. The framework is clear that an economic impact assessment should be undertaken to evaluate potential impacts that may result from any restrictions that will apply within a clean air zone and to determine potential mitigations to limit any negative consequences. Assessment should consider the full potential impact of a proposed clean air zone, and I expect costs and benefits to be carefully weighed. Any action taken to address air quality issues must be proportionate and in line with our well-being of future generations requirements. Access restrictions for vehicles will also need to go hand in hand with access improvements for other, less-polluting modes of transport. The framework promotes a modal shift to public transport and active travel, greatly reducing emissions and road congestion not just within the clean air zone, but in neighbouring roads also.
Effective public engagement and support is central to the success of clean air zones. We will develop communication and engagement measures to raise awareness of the health problems associated with poor air quality to ensure the public is fully informed and understands the reasons for action. With this in mind, tomorrow I will launch the new, improved Air Quality in Wales website, enabling bilingual access for all to air quality information in Wales. It will provide live information on current and forecasted levels of air pollution for their area, as well as access to historical data on air pollution. The new site provides new educational materials, games and tools for schools and improved health advice information.
Tomorrow, we will also publish the consultation on the Welsh Government supplemental plan to the UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations 2017. The plan sets out how the Welsh Government will reduce concentrations of nitrogen dioxide around roads where levels are above legal limits in the shortest possible time.
Welsh Ministers have accepted that the Welsh section of the 2017 plan did not satisfy the requirements of the ambient air quality directive and associated Welsh regulations during a judicial review earlier this year. This consultation and accompanying plan are published to meet our legal obligations. However, this is not just about legal compliance. It’s about taking action to improve the air quality for everyone in Wales for the health improvements that this will deliver and because it’s the right thing to do. A final compliant plan will be published by 31 July 2018 in accordance with a court undertaking.
EU directive limits for nitrogen dioxide are currently exceeded in Cardiff and Caerphilly—Hafodyrynys—and at five other locations on the motorway and trunk road network in Wales. Studies are under way to identify measures that are likely to achieve compliance in the shortest possible time. Motorway and trunk road network exceedances are the direct responsibility of the Welsh Government. In advance of completing detailed modelling in the summer, we are introducing modest measures such as temporary 50 mph speed limits and road markings to smooth traffic flows. These will be implemented by the end of June over the stretch of road where nitrogen dioxide levels exceed directive limits at each of the following locations: A494 at Deeside; A483 near Wrexham; M4 between junctions 41 and 42; M4 between junctions 25 and 26 during the night, using the existing variable speed limit infrastructure; and A470 between Upper Boat and Pontypridd. We have established that this action has the possibility of achieving the largest immediate improvement to air quality.
I would like to assure Members that, as a Government, we take this matter very seriously. I am committed to ensuring the delivery of actions identified in the plan to meet our statutory obligations in the soonest time possible. More importantly, this plan is about doing the right thing for our environment and for the health and well-being of our community and country. Finally, I can confirm today the allocation of over £20 million for an air quality fund through to 2021 to help accelerate compliance with nitrogen dioxide limits and improve air quality in Wales. This will be used to provide ongoing support, guidance and finance enabling councils to develop and implement plans and take action to achieve compliance in the soonest possible time. The action I've outlined today is the start of our journey to ensure clean air for Wales, supporting a healthy nation. But this is just the beginning. Our collective ambition must be to become a clean air leader in Wales.
Thank you very much. David Melding.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I am pleased that we seem to be moving in the right direction, though we have been slow off the mark. Nearly two years ago we were looking at the Government's outline programme for this Assembly, and I can't remember if there was no reference to air quality or it was just cursory, but they certainly weren't the sort of commitments that we've just heard—that we need to be a leader in developing a clean air environment. So, I do welcome that, but Scotland seemed to be a fair bit ahead of us as they have four clean air zones to be established this year. In fairness, there has been some confusion over the implementation of clean air zones and where the actual power lies, but, now we have clarification to act, I think the Welsh Government needs to move very quickly and, in my view, we need clean air zones in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, and possibly in other areas.
We need to really be aware of the advantages that these integrated policies to improve air quality can have. You may be aware that, in Berlin, their clean air zone, which was launched in 2008 and expanded in 2010, led to emission reductions that were up to 50 per cent lower than the predicted trend. That does show what we can achieve. So, energy—if that's not an inappropriate imperative at the moment to urge on you—is appropriate to improve our air quality.
Can I say secondly, on the launch of the new Air Quality in Wales website, that that is something that can involve the public and ensure that you get that wider participation? One area Welsh Conservatives have been very concerned about is in the collection of data in the immediate vicinities of our schools and nurseries in Wales. This is an area perhaps we could now look at. If I jump to the air quality monitoring centre for Wales, it seems to me that this can be linked very much to the website, and also the centre could be a key educational source for schools to engage children in initiatives to improve air quality. A project along these lines has been going on in Oxford and has led to some really interesting and encouraging results. And we need that sort of imagination.
On road congestion and restricting the most polluting vehicles, I think we need to progress in this area, but, in our urban areas, obviously, we are to some extent restricted by history and we do not, largely speaking, have public transport systems and a culture of walking more extensively now, and that needs to be changed over time. In this transition, we need to take people with us because some people, at the moment, unfortunately, see no alternative to the car. So, I think public transport systems operating effectively and appropriate traffic restrictions, clean air zones—all these need to be integrated into an approach that sees an improvement in public transport and other active travel networks such as city-centre streets as pedestrian-only areas. We can open up the historic centres of our cities to the people again and not have them restricted, as they often are, by excessive motor transport. So, there are some real possibilities here that would make the environment much, much better.
In terms of another consultation—. There are lots of consultations, and I do hope they will progress speedily. Again, my phrasing is way out. But in terms of reducing nitrogen dioxide concentrations, the impact on ambient air quality here is enormous, and whilst we don't have a compliant plan at the moment, and you want to bring one in by 31 July—obviously it's when that plan gets implemented that it's really going to have an impact on people—I am pleased to see that certain roads are targeted, like the A470 between Upper Boat and Pontypridd in my region, which is the most heavily polluted road in Wales at the moment. But, again, that feeds in, I think, to the points I made about the wider public transport infrastructure problem. So, we've got a lot to do, but I do, insofar as it has been indicated today, welcome the modest progress and I hope that now we see implementation soon.
Thank you. I welcome the Member's contribution, and also, in particular, he came up with a number of important suggestions, which is why, I think, there's such a consensus and this is such an important issue. I would encourage all Members to feed into the plans and the consultation to make sure that we do include, as you rightly say, the importance of taking people with us. That's why we have cross-Government working, and across governments. So, local authorities working with Public Health Wales and the health boards, as well as with the Welsh Government and the UK Government as well. Because, of course, we want to encourage people to have this modal shift, but there's no point doing that unless we're joining up to make sure there's somewhere for them to shift to. And I think you're absolutely right to link the role of digital technology in this and the difference that can make, in terms of the website and with the national assessment and monitoring centre. And I think I mentioned in this place before the role of schools and education, and I think we've talked before about the role for eco-schools and the monitoring projects that some of them will be doing. If they find levels of exceedance near the school, then they can come up with their own plans for how they tackle that, which helps with that educational and behavioural change for them—encouraging the parents and the adults to do the same.
We're looking in terms of clean air zones, and I think Member has mentioned this before, in terms of around schools as well and speed limits. And within the consultation, within the framework for clean air zones, there is the ability, should you wish to, to lower speed limits in certain areas as well.
I appreciate that the statement by the Minister today goes further than just responding to a legislative challenge, but I think it is—and needs to be put on the record—shameful that the Welsh Government has had to reach this point by dint of responding to a High Court case, and it's taken an awful long time because, a year ago now, Plaid Cymru actually sought to amend the public health Bill to put some of these features that are now in the Minister's announcement actually in our legislation. And I think that is the first thing that I'd like to identify as still missing from what the Minister has said today. So, Plaid Cymru are certainly of the view that we, by now, need a clean air Act, in effect, for Wales.
We need to look at how we ban non-hybrid vehicles much earlier than the UK Government intends—2042, I think, is the date there. I'd like to hear what the Welsh Government thinks of that. We need air pollution monitors in our towns and cities, particularly outside schools and hospitals, clear air zones, which have been mentioned, but I think need a legal underpinning, and, of course, empowering of local authorities to issue pollution charges as such and encourage less polluting traffic, whether it be regulations on certain days or to certain areas. Now, these things are hinted at in the statement, but, for example, I don't see how we can have local authorities introducing charging unless we have a legislative underpinning to that and unless this Assembly has taken the overview about how that should work.
So, the first question I really have to ask the Minister is—you know, she does mention that she would seek to develop new legislation if she finds gaps. Well, I would say to her the gaps are there. The gaps are clear and the gaps are there in our failure to deal with this public health problem that is causing 2,000 premature deaths a year in Wales. So, please, can we have a firmer commitment from you to take forward the necessary legislation to underpin what you say in your statement?
The second issue I'd like to raise is one of air quality monitoring. You've talked about an assessment centre for Wales; we of course welcome that development. Are you however convinced that we have the sufficient air quality monitoring at the moment in Wales? My understanding, from corresponding with local authorities, from talking to campaigners, is that many of our so-called monitoring stations are not real-time monitors at all; they take an average over a period of time, even over a month. Many of them outside schools are not, for example, doing real-time monitoring at that drop-off half-past eight to 9 o'clock time when children will be exposed to the very worst pollutants. So, are we really understanding the size of this problem? You mention in your statement where the problems are—certain roads, certain areas. I think it's deeper and I think we see, in asthma and in the respiratory problems we see in our young children, that we have a fundamental problem with this.
So, the second point is: are we going to improve our air quality monitoring, have real-time monitoring, and linked into a website? Again, that's a welcome development, a revamped website, but let's link it in so that people themselves can see, 'If I drive my SUV to my local school instead of walking half a mile, this is the effect I'm going to have'. We need to get that conversation going in Wales.
You're quite right, of course, to say that dealing with air quality, particularly in our towns and cities, may have an unfortunate impact on those who are least able to deal with the costs of trying to find alternative transport and so forth. So, what discussions are you having with your colleagues, particularly Ken Skates, of course, around bus infrastructure? The Bevan Foundation made an interesting proposal a few months ago that, in fact, it wouldn't cost all that much to have free bus transport in our cities, and maybe that would take away from the air pollution things. But some radical thinking is needed, particularly the use of hydrogen now in our towns and cities as a way certainly of improving air quality. You could still have a question around how the energy gets put into hydrogen, but the air quality would certainly be much improved by the use of hydrogen. And banning heavy goods vehicles from particularly our cities and town centres at particular times—. I think it's that juxtaposition of heavy goods vehicles entering our towns and cities at the same time as children are walking to school—and we want them to walk and cycle to school—that is a particular problem.
The fourth point I'd like to raise is just around where the Welsh Government is taking its other initiatives. I appreciate some of these are not in your direct purview, but we heard the other day that Aston Martin are unlikely, actually, to develop an electric SUV in Wales. It begs the question of what exactly is Aston Martin doing in Wales—are they developing the most modern technology here? TVR, again attracted with Welsh Government money, the £10 million for the automotive centre in Blaenau Gwent—is that looking at electric and hydrogen and post fossil fuel vehicles and transport, or are we using Welsh Government money to prolong the problem that we already have in our towns and cities? I think that needs to be answered as well before we can really understand whether what you've set out today is going to have a real impact. I appreciate you don't directly control those, but the rest of the Government has to come alongside you to make this work.
And then a final question, if I may, is around the air quality fund, which you've announced today. Again, I welcome that there is a fund available. Just to be clear, is that over two or three financial years? Because, when you say 2018-21, that could be two financial years or three financial years. And how will you actually make that now available, presumably through local authorities—is it a bidding process? Are you going to direct at a strategic national level where this money needs to go, or are we going to see, unfortunately—it could happen—that some authorities will be better placed to bid for it? I would like to see this, in short, being a need-driven formula and a need-driven fund that really deals with those most dreadful parts of Wales that are suffering from air pollution at the moment.
Can I thank you for your number of questions? I know that this is an issue that you are very passionate about and your party is very supportive of taking action on. In terms of—just on the legislative issue, I made it clear in my statement, and I hope I can make it clear again, that it's definitely something under consideration, and that's not to delay it, but that is just because I want to see action now. I think it's certainly something we can look at and consider down the line. I think the Member will appreciate too that the legislative agenda can often be quite full, and to wait for that when we could be taking action probably wouldn't be the most responsible thing to do, but it's definitely something that is on the agenda there. We could, actually, when we go to the second consultation on the plan ask: do people want to see a clean air Act in Wales? If so, what should that do and what do they want to see it achieve?
I hope the Member doesn't drive the SUV to the school—
Thank you for clarifying that. [Laughter.] But you're absolutely right about the importance of—. I go back to what David Melding said about the importance of taking people with us, that we're not bringing things in like reducing speed limits just to—. I think the comments—it would probably be on Facebook or a Facebook forum—would be that it would be to raise revenue from catching people speeding. So, I think the educational part of this and taking people with us is so important, actually, and the role of digital technology again to bring that home, that this is actually because we need to do it for people's health and well-being and to tackle those preventable health issues that we know are linked to air pollution.
You mentioned things like hydrogen vehicles, HGVs. The clean air zones would allow us consideration of that in the round, in terms of actually being able to limit HGV access at certain times and look at that, but that's obviously for each place-based approach—whatever they consider to be best.
You're absolutely right about the importance of working across Government on this, because many of those things that have a big impact on what we're trying to do on air quality are outside the environmental brief, but have such a big impact on our environment, which is why, on our cross-Government commitment to decarbonisation, I am working very closely with the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport in terms of looking at how we use the economic action plan and other initiatives, working with the public transport sector, to reduce harmful emissions from things like taxis and buses by 2025. Our ambition is to achieve carbon-neutral public transport by this date.
First of all, I'd like to welcome the Minister's commitment to take action to reduce air pollution in Wales to support a healthier future for our communities, our natural environment and our country. This issue is very high on my agenda as well, as I am the Assembly Member for Swansea East and we have problems in some of our communities, such as Hafod, where a combination of topography and traffic leads to very poor air quality.
But we've been here before: London in the 1940s and 1950s suffered from smog—a combination of smoke and fog—that was killing people. Action was taken. Today, we know that outdoor pollution is killing people via heart disease and strokes—we know that, and action desperately needs to be taken. I welcome that, in the clean air zones, there are mechanisms for managing traffic access to promote a reduction in overall traffic levels and limit harm caused to health and the environment by the remaining vehicles. This is something that we desperately need in a number of our communities.
I've got one question, and I think it's almost covered by a 'yes' or a 'no': does this mean that access-only rules for HG vehicles, especially those that are diesel lorries, can be introduced by local authorities?
Thank you, Mike Hedges, for your contribution. I think we raised the issues around Hafod and topography and traffic just last week, around a similar time, in this Chamber. In terms of clean air zones, all that information is contained in the consultation, and it will be the responsibility of the local authorities to look at how they can reduce access of the most harmful vehicles into those clean air zones. But it's also to make sure, as I said in the statement, that it doesn't then—to take into consideration that it doesn't just push the issue of pollution to the perimeter of the zone as well. So, it all needs to be considered as a whole.
Thanks to the Minister for her statement today, and thanks for the commitment that you've outlined. As David Melding and Simon Thomas have indicated, we have had a bit of a battle to get to this point, but at least there are now some commitments from the Government.
Now, we've had quite a few discussions here in the Chamber on this subject during this Assembly term, and, of course, we all want to see the Welsh Government and the Assembly do their utmost to improve air quality in Wales, which is a big problem in most of our built-up urban areas, the question being: what action will be effective in achieving that aim? Now, a lot of air pollution, I think we all recognise, emanates from roads. One of your proposals today is for temporary 50 mph speed limits on motorways and trunk roads. Just a minor point, but I'd like to point out that you cite the A470 between Upper Boat and Pontypridd as one of the proposed 50 mph zones. Well, from what I'm told by regular users of the route, it's already a 50 mph zone, and has been since roadworks were carried out there some months ago. So, I just wanted to pass that information on.
But a more important point is that these motorways and trunk roads are the only roads that the Welsh Government manages. The vast majority of roads are under local authority control, and these are the roads with pedestrians on them; you don't get many pedestrians on motorways and major trunk roads. So, of course, what you are going to need to do going forward is have some meaningful interaction with the local councils about how they are dealing with the pollution coming from their roads, and I think this is what we've been discussing, to some extent, today, how you're going to achieve that. I think we need strong guidance from the Welsh Government in this area. I know that you're proposing an air quality fund, which is good, but you may need to accompany it with strong guidance to ensure that the necessary action is implemented effectively. How strongly will you be overseeing the air quality fund as the relevant Minister?
You say that you want to create clean air zones and restrict admission to these zones by banning certain kinds of polluting vehicles, and I think this is in many ways a fairly obvious step, but, as you recognise yourself, there are going to be major difficulties with this—cultural difficulties as much as anything. To look at the issue more precisely, HGVs have been mentioned by a couple of people. So, one obvious thing is: why have we got HGVs going through residential areas? Should this be allowed? So, that maybe needs to be looked at. But we do have to look at possible repercussions of bringing in these clean air zones, because we have had scientific evidence recently relating to what's happened in London since the congestion zone was brought in 15 years ago. There is recent research that indicates that, in some ways, air quality has actually worsened in London. In particular, the diesel pollution has increased by 20 per cent. This is because of the increased traffic from diesel-powered buses and taxis.
So, yes, you can look towards public transport, which you're citing here, but you need to look at what are the emissions coming from public transport, I guess is what I'm saying. So, how are you going to monitor the fleets of buses and the licensed taxis that operate through the 22 local authority areas in Wales? Because you're going to need to look at that and assess the pollution elements of that if you are encouraging public transport rather than private vehicle use into these areas.
But you need to do all of that first, I think, and, once you've got those measures in place—and Simon Thomas has mentioned that extra legislation may be needed—then you've got the big task of the cultural change of persuading people who do drive when they could walk to actually get out of the vehicles and do so. But, of course, at the moment it's kind of a vicious circle, because you can't persuade people to get out of their vehicles and walk to places like the school because the roads are so polluted, why would they want to do that? So, you need to tackle this cycle at some point, so good luck with it and I'm interested to hear your answers. Thank you.
I thank the Member for his good luck wishes there. To deal with the first thing in terms of the 50 mph temporary speed limit between Upper Boat and Pontypridd, it's from the Upper Boat roundabout on to the A4058 roundabout at Pontypridd; it's exactly 4.2 km. So, some of these areas are actually—particularly the one I'm most familiar with, in Deeside—an extension of perhaps where there might have been existing temporary 50 mph zones before.
Interaction with local councils: a key part of this is—. We can take action on the trunk roads, but the key part of being able to do this is to offer resources as well as guidance. Clean air zones in major cities like Cardiff are an option with this, and in other places where they may work best and may be a fitting solution to the problems. The plan and the clean air programme will also try to identify, through our monitoring, what is the best solution, what is the action needed in certain places and what best suits those places and what the problem is.
I think one alternative with that, in terms of schools—and you've all raised that today—I think I'd go back to this behavioural change, and this generational shift and bringing the younger generation with us in terms of tackling any pollution and monitoring it around schools and coming up with their own solutions, whether that be behavioural change campaigns such as walking buses, 'no idling' policies outside the school, scootering to school or using bikes. I'm very keen to support the growth of that in terms of making sure that we develop that pester power and actually start—you know, that we take measures now to tackle air pollution and air quality problems right across the country. I think it is really, really key to make sure that we educate the next generation in particular to take this forward in the future.
I welcome this statement and am really pleased that this is coming high up on our agenda. I'm particularly concerned about the effect of air pollution on children, because three of the nine schools in Cardiff that are situated near roads with harmful levels of air pollution are in my constituency of Cardiff North: Ysgol Mynydd Bychan, St Joseph's and Cathays are all around the North Road area. I've got huge concern about the effect on the health of the children in those schools, as well as the children in all the schools in Cardiff. So, I would like to see a lot more effort made to improve the air quality, particularly around the schools. She mentioned in answer to the last question some of the things that can be done in relation to encouraging parents not to use cars—the scootering and the cycling. I wondered if she'd looked at play streets, where streets are closed off for certain hours or days so that children are free of pollution and are able to play.
Would she congratulate Cardiff council on its production of Cardiff's transport and clean air Green Paper, 'Changing how we move around a growing city'? There are many suggestions in there about the way that we could go in Cardiff, recognising that it is an absolute imperative. I wondered if she had had any liaison with Cardiff council about this document. I think what's come up in a few of the questions today is how much local authorities can do by themselves on their own initiative and how much action is needed from Welsh Government. So, I don't know whether she could clarify that now or at a future time so that we know how we're able to work together. Because there are many things in this document that could really transform the quality of air in Cardiff, but as I say, I don't know how much they can do that themselves or how much they need the Welsh Government to help them.
The last point you made there goes back to how it's absolutely key, if we are going to get where we need to be and where we want to be on this, that we do work collectively and collaboratively on it. I really liked the idea of the play streets. I think I have seen one in Cardiff before on the news in terms of them shutting off the streets and it's definitely something perhaps we could consider looking at going forward.
Yes, I'm more than happy to congratulate Cardiff council on their transport and clean air paper. I have had meetings with Cardiff council officials and my officials continue to liaise with them. I believe I have another meeting on this issue coming up very shortly, which I'm happy to keep the Member updated on. I have to confess that I've not had a chance to try out the new bikes just yet, so I think maybe for my next meeting at Cathays Park I might try that, now the weather's getting a little bit better. I've now got myself in it putting that on the record, haven't I?
Thank you very much for your statement. I thought it was very interesting, actually. I just wanted to ask you two or three questions quite quickly. Back in November, you said that you wanted to work across Government and with local authorities and across the board. I just wanted to ask you a little bit about the consultation. At the moment, it looks like it's going to be the usual online consultation, which is fine, but most of the people I know don't live their lives online. Can you just confirm that you will be including—just thinking of Julie's question—individual groups and organisations, and perhaps things like schools and nurseries and care homes directly, rather than through non-governmental organisations? You may have to just take a sample—I appreciate that—but I think some direct evidence from these places would be really helpful on this.
Secondly, you mentioned Port Talbot, which is in my region, and I just wanted to mention that the pollution in Port Talbot doesn't just affect Port Talbot and the Afan valley; it spreads across the whole of Swansea bay. At the same time, we've also got some of the highest traffic pollution. So, can you give me some reassurance that your two approaches to this—in certain parts of Wales where it's appropriate—will be worked upon concurrently or together, rather than as two separate items? Because the cough the morning is the cough in the morning; I don't really care where the cough comes from.
Finally, just on Port Talbot—. Oh, sorry, no, I had another one for you. It's very quick. I've mentioned nowcasters to you before. I'm not going to mention them—except that I just have. It's in the towns that we'll be collecting a lot of the useful information here, and I note that the additional monitoring is going to be done on stretches of A road. Can you explain why you've chosen stretches of A roads, which may be polluted but may not feel as polluted as, actually, as you said, being close to a school? Why have you chosen to prioritise those rather than some hotspots within towns?
Just on that same point, really, on the Port Talbot issue, when junction 41 was closed—I appreciate that it was before you came here—a lot of air quality monitoring was done at that time and revealed, rather to my surprise, that the nitrogen oxide emissions were actually below Welsh Government standards, with one exception. Again, I'm wondering why you've chosen to extend the 50 mph element of the M4. It's not that I object to you doing it, but why have you chosen there when, actually, the nitrogen oxide returns weren't as bad as we probably would have expected? Please do it, though. Thank you.
Thank you. Can I thank Suzy Davies for her questions? I know that you've got a keen interest in this as the regional Assembly Member. The point in terms of the consultation and directly contacting individuals like care homes and schools is a really, really good point, and I'll take that on board and speak to officials about how we can do that.
In terms of Port Talbot, you're absolutely right that there are the two strands there in terms of the impact on air quality, and that's why I'm keen to look at the Port Talbot action plan and actually make sure that it looks at this as a whole. And we need to monitor to see where the infringements are and when they're happening. As well as the steelworks themselves, you actually have all the other industry around it as well. So, you're right that it is a really complex, integrated situation, but there's no point tackling one without the other; we need to address them together to improve air quality in the area.
I'm not entirely sure on the question about the A roads. The ones that I listed in the statement are where we know there are exceedances, and also because they are trunk roads and we have the responsibility or are able to action that as a Welsh Government. But I take on board what she says in terms of town centres. That's why we need to look at the clean air programme and the clean air plan and how we work with local authorities and other organisations to tackle that.
I too think that this is a very important statement today because of the public health issues and also pollution generally and the quality of our environment. I know that the British Heart Foundation have done a lot of research, spending millions of pounds, on the connection between air pollution and heart disease, and they're quite clear that this is a priority for them. Outdoor air pollution contributes to thousands of premature deaths annually, as we heard earlier, and long-term and short-term exposure can make existing heart conditions worse as well as cause new ones and, indeed, is a big stroke risk as well. They see road transport as a key contributor, as we've heard many times already. So, with that sort of background, I share some of the impatience and frustration that we heard about earlier in terms of the length of time it's taking for us to show signs of getting to grips with the magnitude of the issues and the need to take necessary action.
So, I just wonder whether the work that will be undertaken now, Minister, will include cross-references to active travel and integrated transport systems, and whether there might be consideration of a default 20 mph zone in inner urban areas, given that that lends itself to walking and cycling and getting people out of their cars to playing on the streets and creating those more health-friendly and environmentally friendly areas. Perhaps there could be some more specific schemes, such as the one that's been mooted, I think, for quite some time, in terms of LPG conversion for taxi fleets, which, I believe, repay themselves in cost terms over about two years, and do make a significant impact to air pollution in our towns and cities. And similarly with buses and their emissions.
And tree planting, Minister, because I know that it's been shown in some studies that trees can take something like 50 per cent of particulate matter out of the air. I know that there have been successes and failures in tree planting terms in Wales in the past, and sometimes it's about the right sort of trees that don't get bigger than anticipated and don't create problems with the leaves that weren't anticipated, because, quite often, trees have been planted and then, when they've grown to a certain size, they've been uprooted and taken away and not replaced. So, I just wonder, when you talk about the air quality fund of £20 million, the support and guidance, will that be addressing these issues? To what extent will local authorities be guided and to what extent will they have wide discretion?
I thank the Member for his contributions. You're absolutely right about the need to cross-reference in terms of our ambitions and aspirations in terms of active travel. That's why we're only going to progress in this area if we truly work across Government. That's why I've been working very closely with the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, making sure that there are those alternatives in place and that, when we are planning for the future, we're taking into account our obligations as part of the well-being of future generations Act as well.
In terms of a default 20 mph zone in inner urban areas, I certainly think that local authorities could look at that as part of their clean air zones, but these are all things that we need to look at as part of the air quality monitoring and assessment centre and also as part of the clean air plan and programme that we'll be bringing forward.
On tree planting, you're absolutely right. I think the phrase was, 'The right trees in the right places'—and the role that they can play in terms of carbon capture, as well. I think one of the things to do with that is that the other priority within my portfolio is woodland creation, and yes, we know that, to meet our ambitions on that, we need to create woodland at scale, and that's actually not forgetting that it's not just about woodland creation on scale and in great sizes, but it's about, actually, our urban and peri-urban areas as well, and that's a role for the green infrastructure fund as well.
Thank you. I have got four more speakers and if you look at the time, you'll know that's going to be slightly impossible. I'm happy to run it over, but please can we not have long speeches? If your question or subject has been covered, then perhaps we can think about those questions. Vikki Howells.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Minister, I note your comments around the direct actions that the Welsh Government can take on the motorway and trunk road network. One of the areas mentioned, the A470 between Pontypridd and Upper Boat, is a key commuter link for my constituency. Lots of residents already raise their concerns with me about congestion in this area, so what monitoring will the Welsh Government do to make sure that measures like temporary 50 mph zones aren’t having a negative impact on commuters?
Secondly, key to your statement is encouraging behaviour change among Welsh citizens, but this requires that we have policies in place to enable less harmful behaviours. That, I would argue, requires a cross-Government approach, for example in terms of improving public transport so that my constituents don’t need to use the A470 to get to Cardiff, or air quality around schools, for example. So, what work are you doing with colleagues to ensure that this cross-Government approach is taken?
The Member is absolutely right in terms of the importance of a cross-Government approach, and there was a wry smile, I think, from colleagues over here when you were talking about if we had that replaced with the alternative, then your constituents wouldn't have to sit in the congestion on the A470. I think I said in previous responses that that's why I'm looking very closely with the Cabinet Secretary responsible for transport at how we can actually not just look at the whole in terms of our active travel—. If we are going to be able to truly tackle the problem of poor air quality, we have to have that in place, so that if we want the behavioural change, people to shift the way they travel and the way they get to work, the way they go out for their leisure, then we need to make sure we've got something for them to shift towards. On the A470—the unintended consequences and how it will be monitored—it will, actually, be closely monitored by roadside testing, and the results will be fed into ongoing investigations and modelling to establish the measures likely to achieve compliance in the shortest possible time. So, that will be able to be closely monitored to see the effectiveness of the measures in the area.
I'm very pleased to hear that we have cross-party support for this really significant subject, because when the going gets tough—and it will get tough—when we start actually introducing measures, we know that we have people in our own parties, and indeed in the wider community, who are still living in the second half of the twentieth century, and we have to start getting people to realise that air safety is just as important as road safety. Air pollution is killing more people than bad driving via vehicles, and the people who are most at risk are, of course, children with their young lungs. So, I'm very pleased to see that the Minister is launching the clean air zone framework tomorrow, because we absolutely need to get on with doing things rather than talking about them. For example, Tredegarville primary school, which is opposite the Cardiff Royal Infirmary, just off Newport Road—this is an area that I think should become a play street or access-only because it's simply unacceptable the level of pollution we are submitting these children to, and there is an alternative route for vehicles. So, I hope that Cardiff Council is going to be ambitious and courageous, in its action and not just words.
It's more difficult to see what can be done about the children of St Peter's who are actually on Newport Road, but we really need to get across to parents that they're putting their children more at risk by bringing them to school in a car than by walking, cycling or getting the bus. That cannot be repeated too often but it's not something that parents often recognise. I have three questions. [Interruption.] They are literally one-liners. [Laughter.] The Llanedeyrn interchange on the A48 is another hotspot. There are three schools and one nursery near to it. Is that a Cardiff council action that needs to be, or is that a Welsh Government—? It's the A48 interchange with the slip road to the Bay.
Secondly, I would like to see a levy on city-centre car parking. We already have alternatives, which are the—. There are about 1,000 car parking spaces in the city centre of Cardiff, and if we had a levy, we would be encouraging people to do the right thing, which is either come by bus, come by train or do a park and ride. Is that something that is within the purview of the county council?
And, thirdly, will invest-to-save be available to local authorities who want to clean up their buses?
I thank the Member for her questions. I think in terms of things like invest-to-save and the clean air plan and the clean air zones, I think Cardiff council is one of the areas that has been identified that is in exceedance, and as I said to your colleague Julie Morgan, I've been working, and officials have been liaising closely with Cardiff council on that. So, these are all things that can be considered as part of the plan and the programme going forward, and clean air zones.
I am not a politician who would like to guess and make things up, so on the A48, I'll get clarification on that for you and come back to the Member. I think your first point is absolutely the most important: air quality and tackling it is as important as tackling road safety. And, actually, we have to work across parties, and across layers of Government, and across organisations within the community. As I said before, we're bringing in reducing speed limits, not just to annoy motorists, it's not to raise any charge or anything, it's not to raise revenue, it's actually for a reason, and I think if any authority was going to go down the road of a charge, particularly within the clean air zones, any profit from that we would look to go back into investing in public transport.
Despite the valued contribution of the Wales health impact assessment support unit to the A494 Queensferry-Ewloe public inquiry in 2007, the lack of teeth given to it led to my giving evidence on air quality to the public inquiry, which the inspector accepted, and which contributed to the successful recommendation that that programme or that proposal at that time should not go ahead. How will you ensure, therefore, that your new air quality monitoring assessment centre for Wales works with the Wales health impact assessment support unit, and has more teeth in circumstances such as that to be able to make direct representations, for example, during public inquiries?
Secondly, and finally, we heard reference during the business statement to the Caernarfon-Bontnewydd A487 bypass. How can you ensure, or will you ensure that in the Welsh Government's further consideration, referred to earlier, of proposed routes for this bypass, that the black option, which received 75 per cent public support in the consultation in 2011, against just 6 per cent for the yellow option chosen by the Welsh Government—? The black option found that a number of properties with an improvement in air quality would be 2,730 compared to a deterioration of just 192.
Can I thank my north Wales colleague for his questions and his points there? The air quality monitoring assessment centre for Wales—the formation of the centre is to ensure decisions on tackling pollution are evidence based and that the associated actions are prioritised to maximise public health and well-being, and that does need to be in line with our obligations of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. And it goes back to what I said about making sure that we are working cross-Government on these things. Linking into his question on Bontnewydd, air quality has been approved as a priority and it's actually making sure that we all work—. That's why I'm working cross-Government regularly, liaising with officials and at a ministerial level with both the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport and with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services.
Minister, I welcome your statement today, and thank you very much for your personal interest and for the commitment that you have shown personally to ensure that Wales's air quality improves. As you are aware, in my constituency of Islwyn, there are concerns about the impact of air quality on health outcomes also, and I've impressed on you, Minister, the impact that that is having and the concerns of the lower Sirhowy valley residents' group with the potential emissions of nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, and in an area that is in the top 6 per cent of poor health communities across Wales and the top 1 per cent of cancers. So, with this in mind, and the obvious concerns expressed throughout about the air quality in Hafodyrynys Road near Crumlin, what considerations has the Minister given to working with Caerphilly County Borough Council to ensure Wales's first ever clean air zone?
I thank the Member for her questions, and I know this is an area that we've had previous discussions about and I'm familiar with your concerns. We know that apart from Cardiff, Caerphilly to Hafodyrynys is the one area within exceedence and has been issued with a directive to actually come in to see us, and officials are working closely with Caerphilly council. The Member will be aware that we're looking at establishing a working group within the area to look at the various concerns of residents and difficulties around particularly Hafodyrynys and the particular exceedences there. That working group will involve NRW, Public Health Wales and also, hopefully, Caerphilly council. I'm happy to keep the Member updated on that as it progresses.
And finally, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you. I'm grateful to you, Dirprwy Lywydd, for allowing me a moment or two, or just a moment perhaps to be more accurate—[Laughter.]—just with a quick word and a question in relation to electric vehicles. We discussed the regulation of vehicles and limiting traffic and bringing in speed limits as if we have no intention of tackling the prevalence of the internal combustion engine. In Norway, in December, the sales of electric vehicles outstripped sales of cars with internal combustion engines for the very first time, and we too should be aiming for that here in Wales.
Now, other EV manufacturers are available, but I am very grateful to Renault UK for lending me an electric vehicle in the next few weeks for me to—including other elements of my work—travel down to the National Assembly, where I'll be plugging into the new charge points here, hopefully, in Cardiff Bay. But can we have an assurance that, rather than lagging behind, as this Government has been doing, unfortunately—you're trying to get on the curve, let alone trying to stay ahead of it—we in Wales will be trying to join the twenty-first century revolution towards using electric vehicles? Because you look at cities like Dundee, where they are streets ahead of us, you look at incentives that can be brought in—how about free parking for people with electric vehicles? How about access to places for people with electric vehicles? Incentivise, make it a proactive mission of this Government to make sure that the internal combustion engine becomes not the favoured choice of people because it becomes a no-brainier for them to choose an EV.
I'm glad that was just one moment—I wouldn't have wanted to have to give you more moments. [Laughter.] Minister.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. The Member raises a number of important points there in terms of incentivising people and, actually, the importance of working in parallel that is open to us, tackling poor air quality to reduce emissions, reducing speeds without actually looking at how we use modern technology to support that modal shift in transport and electric vehicles. I look forward to—I'm sure the Member's going to chart his journey on Twitter and social media for us, and I wish him good luck with it.
Thank you, Minister. Thank you.
The next item is a statement by the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport: accessible monuments for all.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. Our heritage and culture belong to us all, and it gives me enormous pleasure to speak to you today about the vital work that is being undertaken to improve access to our very special monuments and here in Wales. Our spectacular natural landscapes and our world-class sites have more than contributed to the record number of visitors over recent years to Cadw sites, which illustrates what our impressive Cadw sites have to offer.
Ensuring that sites attract as many people as possible, as well as making them accessible, has been a real priority for the Welsh Government and Cadw. Many of our sites have recently taken great strides to achieve this. From Criccieth castle in the north-west to Castell Coch in the south-east, I have had the enormous pleasure to see at first-hand some of these improvements. The improvements range from new visitor centres and vantage points to renovations, improved accessibility and cutting-edge displays—all delivered without detracting from how special the original buildings are.
Cadw continues in its efforts to enhance, expand and introduce new schemes and initiatives in order to generate interest among the people of Wales in our history and encouraging them to enjoy and make the most of our monuments. One example of this is free, educational visits to Cadw sites. There is no better way to enthuse and captivate young people than by seeing their history and heritage coming to life. It is important that we encourage future generations to have an interest in ourlegacy, because, after all, they will be the guardians of our heritage in the future. We are also pleased to say that foster children and the families who care for them can visit all historic monuments in Cadw’s care free of charge, through the partnership with Action for Children.
The timebanking scheme is also very important partnership that enables volunteers who have registered for timebanking programmes, and who work in support of their local communities, to spend credits earned through time given on visits to all monuments in Cadw’s care. We are also running the Cadw rewards scheme, namely supported visits that are offered free of charge to organisations that work with families and individuals with complex needs.
And I'm very proud of the new Cadw monument pass, which will offer holders repeated access to a site. The pass is part of the action being undertaken to cater for every taste. We continue to offer free access to disabled visitors and their carers, children under five, and visitors who attend Open Doors events.
Once again this year, there was free access to all Cadw sites on 1 March in celebration of St David’s Day, including popular sites such as Caernarfon, Caerphilly and Kidwelly castles—although it was more of a challenge this year because of the snow.
In addition to introducing schemes to widen access to heritage sites, investment has also been made to improve physical access at a number of Cadw sites. Over recent years, bridges have been installed at Caernarfon and Harlech castles, both of which are part of a world heritage site. These offer an alternative means to access the entrance of both castles, as opposed to the staircase, and they improve accessibility to the sites. More recently, a new lift has been installed at Criccieth castle, which provides more visitors with the opportunity to view the interpretation and exhibitions at the new visitor centre.
Of course, providing visitors with an opportunity to understand and learn about the buildings and their historic legacy is just as important as increasing the opportunities available to visit them. Cadw does this by interpreting history through the form of compelling storytelling, which is presented in an imaginative way.
Our aim is to provide more interactive opportunities to visitors. The new interpretation at Beaumaris castle, for example, delivers a digital tour with pictures, text and audio in the form of an app. At the Criccieth castle visitor centre, there are audio-visual films with sound and bilingual subtitles, and interactive hands-on activities. There is a re-enactment film on display featuring CGI images, which is shown at the visitor centre, and a digital points of interest tour delivered through the Cadw app, which is available to all, including those who may not be able to access the most difficult parts of the castle themselves.
Cadw’s compelling events programme also attracts some people who ordinarily might not choose to visit historic sites. Cadw runs more than 500 events and days out across Wales, including large re-enactment events, art exhibitions, outdoor cinema showings and live performances, including theatre and rock bands. As part of these events, it was a pleasure to meet the Man Engine recently at Blaenavon historical ironworks.
It’s also worth noting that the Live the Legends 2017 campaign by Cadw has exceeded the record-breaking success seen in 2016, by attracting more than 132,000 visitors to meet the dragons on their tour of Wales. Every September, as part of the Open Doors programme, hundreds of venues, including those that are normally closed, open their doors to the public free of charge. During 2017, this featured 344 venues welcoming over 44,000 visitors.
Cadw also has a good track record of working with partners to deliver events that bring our history alive for communities. That relationship will continue, and will be built upon with the National Trust and the members of the Historic Wales strategic partnership, including sharing best practices on digital developments, membership, catering and retail.
We are fortunate in Wales that we have such a rich history and heritage, and despite the good work that’s going on, we have to continue to encourage yet more people to enjoy, understand and learn about our history and the monuments. Thank you very much.
Thank you. Suzy Davies.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you for that statement.
It's very pleasing, of course, to have such a positive round-up of Cadw's successes in this last year or so. Obviously, I'm not going to say that I disagree with any of these. They've obviously made a difference in many of these cases, and I particularly liked the announcement on foster families. And actually, I thought the timebanking introduction was a pretty interesting one as well.
I did want to ask you, though—. These are Cadw properties. I'm going to make my perennial plea for Neath abbey, of course. I know you can't be everywhere, but Neath is an area of high deprivation, and an area of under-exploited tourism potential as well. While free entry to sites is great, they're actually pretty free at Neath abbey because there's no visitor experience there. So, if you can give me any update on that, that would be great.
I would have liked to hear a little bit more, as well, about how access to heritage—. Even though it inspires younger people, it also has a place in a strategy for the local economy, particularly for my region, based on skills and tourism, effectively. So, when we talk about access to monuments, I think we need to be talking about access to work as a result of access to monuments as well. So, I don't know if you can fill me in a little bit on that.
My next question is about cash. There's no reference to money in this statement at all. While I commend Cadw's—as far as I know—very successful attempts to raise money through its charging system, I'm not clear whether this is a bit of a virtuous circle and whether this primary income, and indeed the secondary income that's raised from visitors who come for free, are ploughed back into Cadw's coffers or whether they're ploughed back into the Welsh Government's general pot, or, if they are ploughed back into Cadw, whether that's used as a reason by Government to reduce the amount that Cadw then gets centrally from the budget.
Then, my final point is: not all monuments, of course, are owned by Cadw. Arguably, I think where the help might start to be needed now is with monuments in the ownership of local authorities. Because I'm not convinced, from the Cadw sites I've visited, that they're still doing their very best to promote other monuments, or other sites of interest, actually, within the immediate area that might be owned by local authorities, or—and I'm glad you pointed this out in your speech, actually—owned by the community or possibly, even, private owners. When visitors visit an area, they visit an area. They don't necessarily hop from Cadw site to Cadw site to Cadw site around the peripheries of Wales. So, if you can update us on what Cadw's doing in terms of access to monuments that they don't own, I think that would be very helpful.
I just wanted to say briefly as well, in supporting and encouraging community ownership, I'd really like to hear perhaps from you separately on that in the future, because I think it's a great idea. Thank you.
Diolch yn fawr. Thank you for those questions. As regards Neath abbey, I'm very happy to make a visit there with you, if that would be helpful, and then we can see what we can do further with that particular site.
In terms of the impact on the local economy, Cadw does have apprenticeships and does develop training of all kinds for the skills that are very valuable to it, as indeed does National Museum Wales. I've recently been able to meet with the various apprentices that have been trained and have developed skills, which means that the substantial skills that we have in the restoration of heritage buildings is available not only to the public sector, but to Wales more generally.
Now, as regards the expenditure and income of Cadw, I note that there has been no significant reduction in the level of expenditure that is allocated and has been undertaken by Cadw over the period since 2013 through to 2017, but there has been a significant increase in the income that Cadw has generated, from about £4.8 million, right through to £7 million—£7.537 million actually—at the latest count. The figure I have here is, in fact, for 2017. Now, that £7.5 million income of Cadw is income that is gained by Cadw, and I can assure you that we are not in the habit, in a small and perfectly formed department, like the one that we have, of sharing our gains with the rest of Government. We have not been asked to turn the Cadw profit into the overall Government coffers, but, in fact, this will return to ensure that the further work will be undertaken on the restoration and maintenance of heritage. Diolch.
May I thank the Minister for his statement on accessible monuments for all? Now, of course, accessibility to monuments isn’t a new challenge. The castles of the middle ages naturally were built to prevent accessibility, and it was quite a challenge to survive that. It cost a great deal at the time to prevent people from accessing these sites. Notably, Owain Glyndŵr had a few successes in overcoming the lack of accessibility to a number of castles here in Wales, which naturally builds a route for the work of the Minister in improving the accessibility of those monuments from the middle ages. Of course, things have now changed, and castles that once suppressed now attract visitors. The question that follows on from that is: what exactly are you as Minister doing to promote the real history of oppression of our nation, more than just encouraging people to look at these monuments through an architectural orbit only?
Later in your statement, you mentioned Live the Legends 2017, and in considering that, I’m reminded of that time when someone had the wonderful idea of having an iron ring at Flint castle. I don’t know what analysis has been done of that initiative or who had that absurd idea in the first place. You mentioned towards the end of your statement, and I agree with you, that we must encourage community ownership of our monuments and heritage in order to secure their future for years to come. 'Hear, hear', I say.
And, of course, local historical place names play a crucial part in our heritage. Indeed, our historic place names in and of themselves are part of the story of accessibility to monuments. Without a name, where does one go? Given the failure of my Bill last year in this place to safeguard historic place names, as you will know, there is no statutory safeguarding for our historical place names now, unlike other issues: certain plant species have greater protection than our historical place names. So, what steps will you be taking to safeguard historical place names here in Wales? Thank you.
We do have a lengthy register of historical place names, which is available online, as the Member knows. It was decided not to pursue a legislative approach in this area, but that resource is clearly available, and, indeed, the desire to use indigenous, Welsh, Celtic or Latin names on lands and sites and holdings and houses in Wales has increased as compared with the use of English names over the past few years. But I’m not going to pursue that particular issue any further because I am mainly discussing monuments today.
The good news is that we are looking forward, in Cadw, not only to maintaining our current castles and monuments—and I assume we will have to make a contribution to this—but to take ownership of more castles in the future, including a castle built by Dafydd ap Gruffydd ap Llywelyn with income from the then English monarch. But later, Dafydd ap Gruffydd ap Llywelyn actually made a pact with his brother, and he then became the last Prince of Wales to build castles in Wales. Our intention, therefore, is to produce particular material for visitors that will focus on the historical monuments that have been built or invaded and occupied over a lengthy period of time by the Welsh princes. That, of course, includes what we’ve already done on Owain Glyndŵr in Harlech castle. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit that castle recently, and particularly the interpretation provided there, it is a national interpretation, as it should be, by the Welsh Government, and Cadw on behalf of the Welsh Government, of what has happened there.
I’m not going to make any comment on what was done by Ministers in this post before me who made decisions, and decisions that were ultimately changed. I don’t think that would be appropriate.
But may I just say one other thing on Criccieth castle and Owain Glyndŵr? Certainly, Owain Glyndŵr succeeded in burning at least some of the stones in Criccieth castle. I had the privilege of seeing the remains of that fire recently, and I’m sure it would light a fire even in the heart of an old nationalist such as the Member who asked those questions.
I'd just like to follow up, as Dai Lloyd started his questions, by asking the Minister whether he agrees with me that history is not something that should be read but should be experienced by each generation so that it understands how it fits into the continuum of a nation's history. That's absolutely vital to the success of any nation. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote nearly 200 years ago, as the past ceases to shed its light on the future, the mind of man wanders in obscurity. Therefore, national monuments and accessibility to them is absolutely vital in the education of any civilised person, but also it's essential to the understanding of how the nation has developed as it has and where we all fit within it.
And so I'm delighted to welcome the success of Cadw and its events programme and to laud the extent to which Cadw has been able to popularise its monuments and its activities through re-enactments and art exhibitions and live performances. History, when I was young, was taught as a kind of dry-as-dust subject and it's vital that we get away from that if we are to enthuse the younger generation to understand the importance of these things, not just for the economic value, although that's vitally important as well, as Suzy Davies pointed out earlier on, but the revenue that is raised is for a purpose, and that is to bring the monuments that we inherit from the past into a better state of repair and also to make them even more accessible to future generations than is the case in ours.
I realise it may be a little premature for the Minister to make any comment on the recommendations of the culture committee very recently on the historic environment, but the collaboration with the National Trust is a very important element, I think, of Cadw's success for the future, to increase its revenues and improve its digital interpretation tools across historic sites in Wales, and I wonder if the Minister is able to give us any further update upon what Cadw intends to do in this respect.
My second and last point is to welcome the last part of the statement, where the Minister mentioned Cadw's track record of working with partners to deliver events that bring history alive for communities and his affirmation that these relationships will continue to be built upon. In our report of the culture committee, in recommendation 10, we requested that there should be a clear timeline of progress, measurable milestones, for the development of the Historic Wales partnership, and I wonder whether we're in a position as yet to give any indication of what those timelines and measurable milestones might be today or in the near future.
Thank you, I'm grateful for those questions. I just want to say I will be responding in detail to the issues raised in the committee report and there will be a full Government response in the usual way to those recommendations and I would prefer to deal with that through that particular response. But I would like to take advantage of some of the points he's asked to reply more specifically to one question that Suzy Davies asked earlier, which is what Cadw does to promote non-Cadw sites. There are displays, of course, and information is produced about other sites on all Cadw sites—other attractions that are privately owned. There are reciprocal arrangements for discounts and for promotions between museums and castles. There is also a promotion run alongside, with the National Trust, where visitors can get half-price entry on a Cadw or National Trust site if you visit two sites on the same day and you've paid full entry price to one. Now, I'm not sure whether that's sufficiently widely publicised, but that does happen.
Sites that are not cared for by Cadw are included in Cadw's north and south maps, of which 60,000 are distributed in various attractions. Where I've had the opportunity to visit castles that are in the ownership of landowners, particularly recently in Carmarthenshire, I can say that the arrangement always is that where Cadw can assist with promotion and advice on the conservation of the buildings, and where there is an opportunity to charge, or there is a facility for part of the season to charge, then generally that benefit is shared between the landowner and Cadw—it's usually about a ratio of 60:40. So, that's how Cadw operates alongside those who have the responsibility for private sector attractions.
Diolch yn fawr—thank you.
Item 5 is the Digital Government (Welsh Bodies) (Wales) Regulations 2018. I call on the leader of the house to move the motion—Julie James.
Motion NDM6705 Julie James
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
1. Approves that the draft Digital Government (Welsh Bodies) (Wales) Regulations 2018 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 13 March 2018.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I move the motion to approve the Digital Government (Welsh Bodies) (Wales) Regulations 2018. The Digital Economy Act 2017, which received Royal Assent in April 2017, grants new powers to public authorities to share data with other public authorities to improve the delivery of public services, identify and take action on debts owed to the public sector, and identify and tackle fraud against the private sector. For a public body to be able to exercise these new powers, they need to be specified in the legislation. For the public service delivery powers, a public body will also need to be named against a specific policy objective, which will be set out in separate regulations.
Devolved Welsh bodies are not currently named in the Digital Economy Act 2017 and cannot make use of any of the new powers. The UK Government is preparing to lay new regulations, which will set out the first four objectives of the public service delivery powers: supporting individuals and households affected by multiple disadvantages, for example, disability, unemployment, or care leavers; identifying and supporting individuals and households that may be eligible for support under a television returning scheme; identifying and supporting individuals and households that are living in fuel poverty; and identifying and supporting individuals and households that are living in water poverty.
The regulations being considered by Members today will ensure that devolved Welsh organisations are able to use the new powers alongside their English and Scottish counterparts. It is vital that our devolved public bodies are able to use these new powers alongside English and non-devolved bodies to deliver the best possible services. Data sharing, when done securely and for the right reason, is critical for enabling services to integrate and work together to deliver better outcomes for citizens. If Welsh bodies are not able to access these powers, Welsh citizens will be at a disadvantage in terms of water and fuel poverty.
We have consulted publicly on the regulations, and, in general, respondents recognised the positive benefits of Welsh public bodies being included, and, in fact, many respondents wanted more public bodies named. In future, this Assembly will also be able to set new policy objectives for data sharing amongst devolved public bodies to deliver better public services for Wales. I urge Members to support these regulations.
Thank you. I have no speakers in the debate, therefore the proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Before we move to the debate on Stage 3 of the Regulation of Registered Social Landlords (Wales) Bill, I intend to suspend proceedings for 10 minutes. The bell will be rung five minutes before we reconvene, and I would encourage Members to return to the Chamber promptly. The sitting is now suspended for 10 minutes.
Plenary was suspended at 16:09.
The Assembly reconvened at 16:19, with the Llywydd in the Chair.
Before we start Stage 3 proceedings on the Regulation of Registered Social Landlords (Wales) Bill, a point of order from Simon Thomas.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. I raise this point of order because there is breaking news, and I ask for your assistance to see if the Assembly could discuss this breaking news. The situation is that it’s become clear now that the Welsh Government has reached agreement with the Conservative Party in Westminster on the EU withdrawal Bill, on the powers that are to be devolved and the powers that are to be retained. I hear that there'll be a period of seven years, or five years, when powers will be retained in Westminster and won’t be passed to the Assembly. This agreement may be valuable to the Government, but the aspect that I’m interested in what we as Assembly Members have to say about this. Has anyone asked to make an urgent statement on these issues, Llywydd? Or would it be possible for Assembly Members such as myself to request an urgent statement or some clarity from the Government as to what exactly the situation is?
Given that nobody is responding to that point of order, I will say to you, Simon Thomas, that you know that it is a matter for the Government to decide on matters of Government business. Of course, the Government is accountable to this Assembly and my wish is to ensure, at every opportunity, that major policy statements by the Government are presented to the Assembly in their entirety in order to allow questioning and the appropriate accountability. That hasn’t been proposed for this afternoon so far, but it’s possible that that may emerge in due course.
We will now move on to the Stage 3 debate on the Regulation of Registered Social Landlords (Wales) Bill.
The first group of amendments relates to tenant participation. The lead amendment in this group is amendment 1. I call on the Minister to move the lead amendment and to speak to the lead amendment and the other amendments in the group. Rebecca Evans.
Amendment 1 (Rebecca Evans) moved.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. I would again like to thank the Chairs and members of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, and the Finance Committee for their detailed scrutiny of the Bill throughout Stage 1 and Stage 2. I would also like to thank the stakeholders who provided written and oral evidence and Assembly Members for their support for the Bill so far in its passage through the Assembly.
The Government’s commitment to tenants at the heart of regulation has been made absolutely clear throughout the scrutiny process. I hope it's clear that this Bill does nothing to change this, nor the regulatory expectation that registered social landlords consult with tenants and listen to their views. This is a fundamental requirement. RSLs are required to demonstrate that tenants are involved in shaping services and decisions and that services are high quality and improving. This is set out in performance standard 2 issued under section 33A of the Housing Act 1996. And, to confirm what I have said previously, we will be updating and issuing statutory guidance under section 33B of the housing Act, which will set out regulatory expectations on RSLs on various matters, including consultation.
However, having listened carefully to the debates, I committed to bring forward an amendment at Stage 3 to set out provisions on tenant consultation on the face of the Bill. My amendment does exactly this. It sets out provisions to require consultation with tenants when RSLs are considering certain constitutional changes such as voluntary mergers or amalgamations. I do not, however, propose to impose a duty on RSLs to consult in circumstances where I think that any such duty is not appropriate and would present additional risk to tenants and the RSL, for example when an RSL is in financial stress. This is because structural change, as caught by amendments 3 and 4, can be a means of dealing with RSLs in financial stress or facing potential insolvency. In these circumstances, the RSL and the regulator must be able to take very urgent, tailored action to intervene to protect tenants. Even where voluntary arrangements are put in place to deal with financial stress, often there will be a number of factors outside an RSL’s control—creditors, timescales and so on—that will have an influence on the proposals made by an RSL and may limit the ability of an RSL to carry out an effective and legally compliant consultation.
I am not, whatever the circumstances, saying that tenants should be left in the dark when such changes are being considered. I have made it clear, and I don’t think anyone disagrees, that there must be appropriate communication with tenants when these proposals are being considered and those communication arrangements will be subject to regulatory oversight. But communication is different to formal consultation. A duty to consult has a particular well-understood meaning in law.
My amendment also doesn't include a requirement for consultation where an RSL proposes to change from a registered society to a company or vice versa. In these circumstances, it will not result in a change of landlord for the tenant, only in a change of the legal form of the landlord. Amendment 1A, on the other hand, would have the effect of placing a duty to carry out consultation when an RSL proposes to change from a society to a company. I recognise that there may be concerns that a change from a society to a company may signal a change of ethos for an RSL, but there are safeguards against this. All RSL’s registered in Wales, including those that are companies, must be not-for-profit and their purposes must include the provision, construction, improvement or management of social housing. Diversification is monitored closely, as is the establishment of non-registered subsidiaries. In fact, progressing the core purpose of the business is central to performance standard 1 and subject to ongoing regulatory oversight.
My amendment has been developed to address issues discussed during the scrutiny process, taking into account the knowledge and experience of the RSL sector in Wales and the co-regulation approach that we take here in Wales. It's the most appropriate way of ensuring tenant consultation when there are planned changes, whilst allowing flexibility to respond to urgent situations.
David Melding referenced TPAS Cymru, the tenant representative organisation, when speaking to his amendment at Stage 2. As you might expect, officials have discussed my amendment with TPAS Cymru, who, whilst welcoming the proposal to set out provisions for consultation on the face of the Bill, also recognise that this may not always be practical in cases where RSLs are in financial stress or facing insolvency. We welcome the briefing provided to the Assembly from Community Housing Cymru, which supports my amendment, recognising that it deals with the concerns raised at Stage 2, ensuring that tenants are at the heart of decisions taken about the future of their landlord and the services it provides. Therefore, amendments 1A, 3 and 4 are unnecessary. My amendment therefore provides an appropriate requirement for consultation but without the operational difficulties that would arise if amendments 3 and 4 are passed.
Amendments 3 and 4 as drafted effectively place a duty for RSLs to consult before a wide range of constitutional changes, including those that may be driven by the need for an RSL to take steps to make arrangements with their creditors, or prior to taking certain steps relating to insolvency, which, as I have said, is not practical. The issue of the need to be able to step in and take action where an RSL's viability is in jeopardy is also recognised in Scotland, where the regulator can, for example, set aside the requirement for RSLs to consult tenants before it can became a subsidiary of another body where becoming a subsidiary can be one of the ways of avoiding insolvency.
Additionally, amendments 3 and 4 seek to invalidate certain resolutions. They may have unforeseen consequences—for example, creating uncertainty as to whether the Financial Conduct Authority or the Registrar of Companies can register those resolutions, or whether they must consider whether or not an RSL has carried out a lawful consultation. I therefore recommend that Members support amendment 1 and reject amendments 1A, 3 and 4 for the reasons I have outlined.
Before I speak to the first group of amendments on this Bill, can I firstly reiterate the fact that all of my amendments today, in one form or another, have derived from the recommendations of the sub-committee on this Bill or from the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee's report?
Whilst this Bill's aims are unarguably in the public interest, given the judgment of the Office for National Statistics, we need to still keep in mind that this Bill is a significant act of deregulation within the housing sector and, consequently, it was identified in both of the committees' reports that it would, and I quote,
'require diligent risk management and effective monitoring.'
Given that my amendments have derived from the cross-party committee discussions and from the general principles of this Bill, which, again, have cross-party support, I think it is worth appreciating that no-one here wants to disrupt or slow down the reclassification process. This is about crafting good law. Llywydd, can I say that all the amendments that I have laid have had the full support and drafting skill of the Commission's lawyers, and I would repudiate any deficiencies in those amendments from a legal standpoint?
One of the amendments that I brought forward with the support of Plaid Cymru at Stage 2 has, indeed, now been adapted by the Welsh Government and put into their own format, and this amendment is the basis of the discussion we're now having. So, I should welcome the fact that the Government has responded. They're not doing what they originally intended to do; they have responded to the discussions that were held at an earlier stage in the legislative process, for which, rightly, they should get credit.
So, having said that, and the recognition for the greater tenant participation in this process, I do believe that, in comparison with our amendments, what the Government is offering is a weaker and, I think, vaguer version, and that's why we have this disagreement. I'm now going to try to elaborate so that Members can make a judicious decision.
In group 1, the purpose of amendments 3 and 4 is to provide for a formal process for tenant participation and consultation where there are amalgamations and other structural changes to a registered social landlord. And I do think it's appropriate, when we are referring to the trade organisation, to remember that they clearly have an interest in this and it's appropriate that we hear it, but when the Minister quotes discussions that have been had with the various interested groups in this, they're not part of the legislative process. They give us advice, of course, and I think it's important that we reflect on it, and so I've certainly looked at Community Housing Cymru's note in that vein. They do, in a sort of off-hand compliment, welcome, and I quote,
'The numerous amendments brought forward by David Melding'.
Well, I have to say that 'numerous', I thought, meant something that could not be counted, like, 'There are numerous stars in the universe; they're beyond the ability to count.' I've moved 18 amendments. I hope the Llywydd doesn't think that's too arduous. I notice the alliance that's been formed with the Government with this key body, and, of course, that's in no way inappropriate. But I do think, from the start of this Bill, a lot of people have assumed that it's very technical, therefore not really worthy of full scrutiny and a proper and full legislative process. I am a little disappointed that, in some quarters at least, we haven't had perhaps the level of engagement that one could expect. I mean, law is a serious business, and deregulation, even when its forced on us and it's something we cannot avoid—I completely agree with that—does require rigour.
So, anyway, amendments 3 and 4 ensure that no amalgamations or other structural changes are valid unless the RSL concerned has first carried out a consultation in which all of the society's tenants have been invited to participate. These amendments also provide the Welsh Minister, by regulations, to set out the methods and the time frame to be applied to any consultation. And these regulations may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by the National Assembly for Wales, so that we have some control and influence on the nature of those regulations.
Now, in comparison to the Bill in Scotland on this same issue, these amendments are more relaxed and less restrictive in terms of tenant participation. I did not want to propose a veto for tenants, as, in effect, in the circumstances, can exist in Scotland. Because there are issues about managing potentially—even if they're rare—very difficult circumstances, and the Minister has referred to some of them as if they would apply to my amendments, although I do strongly repudiate that.
So, in sections 6 and 7 of the Scottish Bill, an RSL has to consult tenants and to obtain their agreement to the restructuring in cases where the restructuring would lead to a change of landlord for the tenant or the landlord becoming a subsidiary of another body. This was already part of the Scottish Bill, as introduced, so it's clear to everyone, I suppose, who is having to do this, as well as the situation in England, that the approach to reclassification of housing associations has to be undertaken with the rights and protections of the tenant fully considered, and, obviously, I'm seeking to provide a fuller form of protection to tenants, though not as restrictive as the Scottish case. So, I think that here in Wales, at this amendment stage, the least we should do is to guarantee that tenants have the opportunity to participate and engage, when such a huge change is going on around them in terms of the constitutional structure of RSLs. As I said in the Stage 1 debate, what is more powerful than putting a statement like that on the face of primary legislation? As I said, we have had some advance, though not as full as I would have wanted.
When we took evidence, and the Minister's already referred to this, we did have I think strong support from TPAS Cymru, the tenant organisation. I think that was very welcome in developing the thoughts of the sub-committee that looked at this and provided their report. I've not heard anything that dissuades me that those concerns were, in any way, inappropriate, and TPAS Cymru did frame their views by emphasising that the actual legislation was very important and, whatever happened, it shouldn't prevent the legislation reaching the statute book. Again, that's the view that we all have.
So, it is all a matter of balance, and I think that we've struck the right one. We need greater emphasis on the inclusion of tenants in the big decisions that happen around them. Effectively, these are their lives and homes, and I don't think it's too extravagant to expect RSLs at least to invite them to offer their views in a consultation.
For group 1, now, the Government, as I said, has recognised the issue, and has come up with its proposals, but I've already made it quite clear that I think the Government's response is a lot vaguer than mine. I think clarity in legislation is to be welcomed. So, I would say, whilst I welcome what the Government has done, I still think their approach is tepid and I don't think that's good enough in terms of protecting tenants. The wording of the Government's amendment dictates that
'a society must also provide the Welsh Ministers with a statement about the consultation carried out by the society with its tenants before passing the resolution to which the notification relates.'
Again, I don't think that's as strong as we should be aiming for. It is a little ambiguous and, while not perfunctory, I do feel that it does not have the rigour of amendments 3 and 4, which I'm moving today, to give Welsh Ministers the flexibility to determine the method and the time frame of the consultation via regulations over which we would have some say. But that would be a much, much firmer position.
So, if I can just turn to the point, again, that the Minister referred to—that an amendment is down in the name of Nick Ramsay, namely amendment 1A, and I've tabled this as a sort of insurance policy, I suppose, in the case of the Government's amendment 1 passing. It is our opinion that the consultation exclusion for circumstances set out in point (2B) that the Government is pursuing, and that's namely an event of a conversion from a society into a company, usually under financial duress—we believe that exclusion is not warranted.
Now, we've heard a lot from the Minister that there are cases when the financial skids are on and you've got to move quickly, otherwise the whole thing collapses. Well, let me just say that action in this area is still regulated by the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014, and for a society to be able to convert into a company, there is a requirement, which cannot be avoided, on the society to at first undertake a ballot of the society's membership. This ballot has some stringent conditions attached to it, such as the requirement for there to be 50 per cent of the membership present and for at least 75 per cent of those to vote for conversion. Now, in comparison to other situations where membership ballots are required, I'm sure you would agree that those conditions are highly stringent. Whilst the Welsh Government will argue that conversion isn't a significant change, I'd simply disagree. The Government's view is that it wouldn't really be of concern to them because their landlord doesn't change, it's just the nature of the constitution of the landlord. Well, you know, the rules behind the procedure for the co-op Act are highly significant and rigorous. If that change requires that level of endorsement by the members, why do the tenants get no say whatsoever? During the time that the stipulations of the co-operative Act have to be met, there's plenty of time for a consultation to take place. I think it may be reasonable that that is shaped by the circumstances, and so the Government could set out how that should then apply.
So, I think we should not be fooled that sometimes, even under financial duress, very significant changes could occur to the structure of what was a housing association. And under those circumstances of deregulation and change, a high level of protection of tenants should be required, and at least some consultation. So, should the Assembly decide to approve the Government's amendment 1 over our amendments 3 and 4, which offer the proper gold-plated protection—should you approve amendment 1, I hope that you will then approve our amendment 1A, which at least ensures that the Government's approach, limited as it is, is not disapplied to those cases of change that relate to a financial situation requiring a society to become a company. So, I so move.
Plaid Cymru will be supporting this legislation, and we are minded to support all the amendments in this group at this current stage, but I'd like to take this opportunity to explain our approach to this legislation, as David Melding has also done. We've supported the principle of this legislation, in a pragmatic way, ever since it became clear that the ONS decision to reclassify social landlords as public sector organisations would have significant impacts on the ability of the sector to finance new housing. On that premise, I should say, we are supporting it. But equally, it has become clear that there could be unforeseen consequences from this legislation that should concern us all, particularly over tenant participation. We've been consistent on this throughout, and this has been reflected in our amendments alongside David Melding at Stage 2, and in our narrative on this particular Bill. There are several examples where tenant participation has not been up to standard, even within the existing laws, let alone with what might happen following this legislation—for example, the lack of consultation that happened when Wales and West Housing took over Tai Cantref. And we've seen something similar is happening with regard to the recategorisation of further edudcation colleges, where, for example, Denbigh college is closing with no consultation and massive disruption to the students—something only possible because of recategorisation.
Just on that point—and if I can declare an interest, as a member of Wales and West—to the fact that Wales and West took over Tai Cantref, in that regard, there was no consultation at all with the tenants, as you say, under the current legislation. It created a great deal of unhappiness, which is still there, with people unsure as to whether this new landlord is actually answerable to them. So, it changes the culture of the relationship between tenants and the landlord if you don't have full participation, and that's why I think it's really important to examine these amendments to see where we can improve this Bill in that regard.
Yes, and I think that's exactly why we have raised concerns at each stage, and I think that's true to say of our concerns for the future, because if it's happening now, how can we put checks and balances in place via this Bill to make sure it doesn't happen in future? So, we will be listening carefully to the Government's response on these amendments, but we are currently minded to also support the amendments tabled by Nick Ramsay and David Melding, to help strengthen the protections available for tenants when social landlords go through major changes. And I've been listening to the debate already today, and I think, actually, have become stronger in my view that we need to put these amendments forward, because these are fundamental reasons, actually, as to how changes happen. If there are financial crises, or if an organisation does have to go into receivership, there's more of a reason, actually, to consult, because it may have a detrimental effect on the tenants and how they may live their lives. So, I think that's something that we need to consider further at this stage and at further stages of the Bill. We've got to recognise also that social landlords have a unique and different relationship with their tenants to that of other landlords, and it's entirely appropriate that tenants are consulted and, crucially, listened to.
There is a risk that this Bill may effectively lead to social landlords becoming more like private enterprises—and the deregulation point has been made already—and it may lead to housing associations diversifying how they build their stock, and we really do need to keep a watching brief on that. This is why I think it's important that we have protections in this Bill. I appreciate that there is a piece of work ongoing about tenant regulations and their participation by an independent body, but I think the Government would do well to understand that, when I visited—and I'm sure other Assembly Members have visited—housing associations and talked to their tenants, they want more engagement and more power, and not less engagement and less power. If we can do anything within any of our capacity with regard to legislation to enhance that, then I don't see that as being a negative.
We, in UKIP, were happy to support the general principles of this Bill and, as I said in the earlier debate here, we did so because we need to protect the provision of affordable housing in Wales. This Bill will have the effect of reversing the reclassification of housing associations as public bodies, with the resulting impact that that would have on public sector borrowing. So, it's clearly in the public interest, and for that reason the Bill has cross-party support.
That said, we are concerned that the rights of housing association tenants are protected. We believe that the amendments tabled by the Conservatives today improve the Bill. They provide an opportunity for tenants to engage and to have their voices heard when major changes are planned to their registered social landlord. In light of our recent debates here in this Chamber relating to freeholder rights and leasehold reforms, both of which UKIP supported, we see these amendments as logical and as a constructive attempt to enhance this legislation. For that reason, UKIP will be supporting all of the Conservatives' amendments today.
In terms of the Government amendment—amendment 1—we feel that it's somewhat restrictive, and that it could deny tenants a voice in the event that their housing association were to change hands. I know that, in Committee Stage, the Minister said that:
'in these situations, appropriate communication with the tenants features as part of the regulatory guidance, and it will be subject to regulatory oversight.'
We take her point on board, but on balance we would rather the rights of tenants in those circumstances were put into the Bill rather than into guidance. So, we won't be supporting the Government's amendment 1 today. Diolch yn fawr.
I'm pleased to move amendment 1A—David Melding's insurance policy, as he put it. We would rather, in the Welsh Conservatives, that the other amendments in the group be passed instead, but as David Melding said in his comments, should that not happen, then we do believe that there is a case to at least make sure that residents are consulted specifically in relation to that change between a registered society and a company.
I listened closely to the Minister's comments in opening, and you used the phrase, 'We want to put tenants at the heart of this process'—something that I actually wrote down myself, on my own notes here, before you'd said it. I think we would all agree that that is the aim of this legislation. We do believe here that, as things stand at the moment, if you don't accept our amendments, then the system will not be as robust as it could be. As David Melding said, if you put this on the face of the Bill, then that gives an assuredness to tenants of associations that they will be fully consulted when and as they need to be.
As Simon Thomas said, in his comments, there has been bad feeling hitherto because tenants don't feel that they've always been consulted when there has been a cultural change within the organisation that is responsible for providing them with their home. That hasn't been good enough in the past. We want to move away from that, so I would urge Members, first of all, to support the other amendments in this group, but failing that, to support this amendment.
I call on the Minister to reply to the debate. Rebecca Evans.
Thank you very much. I'd like to begin by recognising and welcoming the fact that all parties have recognised how important this Bill is, and how important it is that we achieve the reclassification of RSLs. It is, indeed, a serious Bill that deserves serious consideration and serious scrutiny, as David Melding quite rightly pointed out.
I would say that we haven't heard the last, certainly, of tenants' rights and participation. It's something I've taken a personal keen interest in, and just last week I met with the chair of the regulatory board for Wales to discuss the role that they might play, and particularly the piece of work that they're doing in terms of a strong and close look at tenants' rights and tenants' participation as part of one of their thematic reviews. I know that they'll be keen to hear from Members in terms of their views and experiences there as well.
Whilst RSLs will be private entities, it doesn't mean that strong, effective regulation has gone away. It's quite the opposite. We've taken really strong steps to revise and strengthen the approach to regulation in anticipation of the ONS reclassification in collaboration with key stakeholders including tenants. We don't just want to have tenants at the heart of regulation—actually, they already are at the heart of regulation thanks to our new regulatory approach, which has been recently introduced.
Some issues were raised regarding conversions from societies to companies. So, an RSL that is a registered society can only convert to a new company as opposed to a pre-existing company, and therefore any new company created for a conversion is deemed to be an RSL. That brings with it all of the safeguards that that affords in terms of its core purpose and business. That core purpose and business for RSLs, including those that are companies, as I said in my introductory remarks, mean that they must be not-for-profit, and their purposes must include the provision, construction, improvement or management of social housing. Diversification is monitored closely, as is the establishment of non-registered subsidiaries, and in fact progressing the core purpose of the business is central to performance standard 1 and subject to that ongoing regulatory oversight.
I would close my remarks by restating that my amendment sets out provisions placing a duty on RSLs to consult with tenants. It's a duty that applies where there is a fundamental change that affects tenants by way of a change of landlord in response to the concerns raised by Gareth Bennett, but it is not a duty to consult where an RSL is in jeopardy and needs to take those urgent steps to protect its tenants. Again, I reiterate that this doesn't mean RSLs can leave tenants not knowing what's happening if their landlord is facing difficult decisions. Effective communication in any event is a regulatory expectation and it will be subject to regulatory oversight.
Turning to the duty itself, the requirement on RSLs to provide a statement about the consultation they have undertaken, effectively forces them to consult, and if they do not consult, they will be unable to provide the Welsh Ministers with the statement required, which then in turn would put them at risk of an adverse regulatory judgment, with the potentially very serious consequences that brings. So, therefore, Llywydd, I ask Members to support amendment 1 and to reject amendments 1A, 3 and 4. Diolch.
The lead amendment in group 1 is amendment 1. As an amendment to amendment 1, amendment 1A will be disposed of first. Nick Ramsay, amendment 1A.
Amendment 1A (Nick Ramsay) moved.
Thank you. The question is that amendment 1A be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] We proceed therefore to an electronic vote. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 23, no abstentions, 30 against, therefore amendment 1A is not agreed.
Amendment 1A: For: 23, Against: 30, Abstain: 0
Amendment has been rejected
The question is that amendment 1 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] We therefore proceed to an electronic vote on amendment 1. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 37, no abstentions, 16 against, therefore amendment 1 is agreed.
Amendment 3 (David Melding) moved.
The question is that amendment 3 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] We therefore proceed to an electronic vote. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 23, no abstentions, 30 against, therefore amendment 3 is not agreed.
Amendment 4 (David Melding) moved.