|1. Questions to the First Minister|
|2. Questions to the Counsel General and Brexit Minister (in respect of his "law officer" responsibilities)|
|3. Business Statement and Announcement|
|4. Statement by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs: Delivering a Low Carbon Wales|
|5. The Regulated Advocacy Services (Service Providers and Responsible Individuals) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2019|
|6. Debate on the M4 Corridor around Newport|
|7. Voting Time|
|8. Debate on Stage 3 of the Legislation (Wales) Bill|
|Group 1: Definitions in Part 1 of the Bill (Amendments 13, 14)|
|Group 2: Programme to improve accessibility of Welsh law (Amendment 1)|
|Group 3: Effect of provisions in Part 2 of the Bill (Amendments 3, 4, 8, 9)|
|Group 4: References to EU legislation (Amendments 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12)|
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from John Griffiths.
1. What is the impact of the Welsh Government's policy to reduce rough sleeping in Wales? OAQ54119
Llywydd, nowhere is the impact of prolonged austerity more visible that in the rise of rough-sleeping. The impact of Welsh Government policies can be seen in prevention, in the provision of new services and in increased partnership working across Wales.
First Minister, Wales has suffered UK Government austerity for some nine years now, and its cumulative impact on our communities and the public services we rely on is more and more damaging year on year. Queues at food banks and people sleeping rough in tents and doorways show the misery caused. Many of my constituents are shocked and angry that this is the state of the nation when the UK is still one of the biggest economies in the world. First Minister, in advance of a badly needed change of UK Government, and Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister, what more can Welsh Government do [Interruption.] to address increasingly entrenched rough-sleeping, involving people with complex diagnoses and support needs, who may already have been failed by the system?
Llywydd, I want to thank John Griffiths for that and to agree with him entirely at the shocking nature of the impacts that austerity now has in our communities. I reread at the weekend, Llywydd, the reports that John Griffiths's committee have produced in relation to homelessness, and they provide a telling level of detail about the impact that cuts to benefits and cuts to services are having in the lives of people across Wales. As a Government, we will take the advice of the action group that has been established, chaired by the chief executive officer of Crisis, to make sure that we have everything we can in place as we go into the second half of this year. We will continue to invest the additional £20 million that we have found within our ever-shrinking budgets to do more in the field of homelessness. We will promote Housing First as a model, which brings together the two aspects that John Griffiths highlighted in his supplementary question—the need for more accommodation, but, at the same time, for the support services that respond to the complex needs that many people who find themselves sleeping rough on our streets have accumulated during that incredibly difficult journey. All of those things will be done by this Welsh Government here in Wales in order to mitigate the impact of rough-sleeping across our nation.
Thank you, First Minister, for the reply to John Griffiths regarding homelessness. You may be aware that I have raised this issue previously in this Chamber, on how homeless pods could reduce rough-sleeping in Wales. In February this year, pods to provide emergency overnight accommodation for the homeless were installed in Newport by the charity Amazing Grace Spaces. Since then, they have helped six homeless people off the streets and have been hailed as life savers. Do you agree, First Minister, that these pods provide an innovative solution that has helped to save lives in Newport, and they should be provided for those homeless people, who, for whatever reason, do not want to use hostels? We've got nearly 2,000 homeless people in Wales at the moment—under 2,000—so we have to do something to accommodate them, and I'm sure your Government will look to this Chamber rather than looking at the other side of the channel.
I thank the Member for that, and I do indeed recognise that he has raised these matters before on the floor of the Assembly. As a Government, we are committed to innovative approaches to tackling the problem of homelessness, but the route of homelessness is the need to provide more permanent homes across Wales. And while innovative solutions may help in the here and now, a long-term answer to tackling the housing problems that we face across the nation are more permanent homes, investment in those new homes, protecting our social housing stock, and making sure that every family has a decent home in which they can thrive.
First Minister, is it the Welsh Government's policy to take the worldly possessions away from homeless people, leaving them with absolutely nothing and exposed to the elements? And, if not, will you condemn your Labour Party colleagues in Cardiff Council for doing just that?
That's not the policy of this Government, Llywydd, nor is it the policy of Cardiff Council.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on transparency within Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in dealing with enquiries from the public? OAQ54134
I thank Llyr Gruffydd. For every enquiry from the public raising concern or complaint, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board receives nearly three communications expressing thanks and appreciation. I expect all health boards to be open and responsive to all forms of enquiry, whatever their nature.
Back in October, one of your Ministers wrote to a man who had lost his mother, following her stay on the Hergest mental health ward in Bangor. The Minister for Health and Social Services said that he expected the response to the inquiry from the health board, and I quote, to be:
'a transparent and thorough investigation process'.
Now, in the spirit of your response to my initial question, that inquiry is ongoing, but the family are concerned that the health board is refusing to be open and transparent in answering questions. The board, for example, is accused of hiding behind section 42 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which allows them to refuse to share information if they have received legal advice to see whether the law has been broken. Now, would you accept—again, in light of what you said a moment ago—that using that rationale would mean that a health board could avoid sharing information, with, in this context, a son who is seeking justice as a result of the death of his mother in a mental health ward? Do you agree, therefore, that such a situation is not fair, and do you agree with me that we should look anew at this clause that allows the health board to evade transparency, in order to ensure the process is more open for the future?
Well, Llywydd, I look to each health board to be open and transparent when they respond to complaints. Sometimes things are complicated. I'm not familiar with the detail of the case that Llyr Gruffydd is alluding to this afternoon. Sometimes there are things that we are unaware of, and it's only those who deal with the details are familiar enough with what has happened and who can therefore come to conclusions. As the Member has said, the Minister has written to him already about this case, and if there is more to be said, I'm certain that another response will be on its way following his question this afternoon.
I'd like to thank Llyr Gruffydd AM and endorse the very concerns that he's raised here. First Minister, in the statement you made when you were in the previous role, on Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in special measures, on 9 June 2015, you stated that,
'the fifth and final priority I have identified rests on reconnecting the public with the board, and the board regaining the public's confidence.'
Now, in my book, to have confidence, you need transparency of process. Now, the Minister is fully aware of a case that I have been dealing with, which has seen a constituent who. Let's just say it was one of the situations where something went wrong, very wrong, within the health board. Now, he's been waiting around eight months for a response to a serious incident review. Now, after such a delay, you would have expected all the inquiries to be addressed, and there to be a transparent thread through all the actual points raised by the constituent and his family. However, after a not very good response coming through, the family, and I, have now had to turn to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, to ensure that there's some redress for this family in things that went very, very, sadly, wrong. Such a signal should be a signal to you, First Minister, that your fifth and final priority is still not being achieved. So, will you therefore explain what measures you will take to ensure there is more transparency and, indeed, more accountability when dealing with any complaint going in about the quality of healthcare that a patient has received in a health board that you, technically, as the First Minister, are responsible for?
Well, Llywydd, I don't think it's sensible ever to try and read general lessons from specific cases. The Member is right that I am familiar with the case that she has drawn to my attention, and it has been a difficult case. If the family believe that reference to the ombudsman is the best course of action open to them, then, of course, that is a course of action available to patients and to families here in Wales. I believe that the state of relationships between the board and the population that it serves is different to how it was when we entered special measures. The board itself has made real efforts in that regard—attendance by health board senior staff at public events, working with Public Health Wales and the well-being of future generations Act commissioner to find new and innovative ways of engaging with the public. When, last week, we published the results of public responses to public services here in Wales, satisfaction rates with health services in Betsi Cadwaladr—with 93 per cent of residents of Betsi Cadwaladr saying that they were satisfied with the services that they provided and received in primary care, and 95 per cent of that local population saying that they were satisfied with the services they received in secondary care—were above the national average, and I think that they reflect the general effort the board has made to re-cement the relationship it has with its public.
Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the opposition, Paul Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, six weeks ago you stated that your Minister would have no difficulty in publishing the report into Kukd.com. Despite your reassurances to this Chamber, the report hasn't fallen into my hands, as your Minister says the appropriate clearances have not been given. What are the clearances that need to be given, and when will the report be published?
Well, the report is in the final stages of receiving those clearances. Llywydd, of course, reports that end up in the public domain have to be cleared. They have to be cleared for accuracy. They have to be cleared by legal services to make sure there are no legal impediments to publication. That is the normal and inevitable procedures of Government in any part of the United Kingdom. That procedure has been undertaken since I last spoke on the floor of the Assembly. We are near the end point of that, and, once they are completed, then the report will be published.
Well, this has been going on for three years now, First Minister, and we should see that report as soon as possible.
And whilst we're talking about Welsh Government's use of taxpayers' money, as you know, First Minister, the Wales Life Sciences Investment Fund has a target investment of £100 million to attract and grow life science businesses that are based, or will be based, here in Wales. I fully agree that this fund is innovative and is helping to bring skilled jobs to Wales. However, I hope you will join me, First Minister, in my concern of how the fund is being managed. Since 2016, the fund has been managed by a fund management company run by Arix Bioscience plc, which has made nine investments so far. However, it's been reported that six of those investments have been made to companies where Neil Woodford is a shareholder. It is also worrying that Mr Woodford is a major shareholder in Arix Bioscience, with a 24 per cent stake in the company. First Minister, do you agree that it is unacceptable for people to be shareholders in the company that gives out taxpayers' money and in the companies that benefit? And do you share my concerns that this individual is now being investigated by the Financial Conduct Authority? And what action will you be taking to make sure that Welsh taxpayers' money is invested appropriately?
Well, Llywydd, let me start by welcoming what Paul Davies said about the nature and purpose of the fund. The fund has been innovative and, because it is innovative, it has been subject to very regular and significant scrutiny—a full Wales Audit Office review, an independent mid-term review, a series of reports on progress and options by the Development Bank of Wales. It's also, of course, a regulated fund; it's regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Now, if the leader of the opposition has specific concerns, he should raise them. And if they are specific concerns, we will investigate them. If they are general, smeary concerns linking names of individuals, previous things that have happened and things that are nothing to do with the fund, then I don't think there's anything in what he has said today that I can see is specific enough to be investigated. If he has specific concerns, of course we are open to hearing those, and, of course, they would be investigated. The general conduct of the fund has always been scrutinised independently by the organisations that we have here in Wales and at a UK level, and the FCA has never raised a concern about the conduct of the fund.
First Minister, this is about openness and transparency and how your Government makes sure that information is in the public domain and that our taxpayers' money is being invested appropriately. It's quite clear to me that your Government has failed to listen to the report of the Wales Audit Office in 2016. Three years ago, the auditor general said, on the Wales life sciences investment fund, that
'aspects of its establishment, governance, oversight and early operation were flawed and poorly documented'
over the conflict of interest of the previous company that managed investment, sending moneys to companies of which Sir Chris Evans was also a shareholder.
First Minister, once again, it seems to me that your Government is failing to be transparent with the people of Wales. Why, therefore, following the report of the auditor general, did your Government allow Arix Bioscience to take over the managing of the life science investments? And why did Finance Wales not learn their lesson and thoroughly scrutinise future investments? Because it seems to me that your Government is making the same mistake again.
Well, Llywydd, the Member complains about openness and transparency and then proceeds to quote a document that was published in the public domain as open and transparent as you can be. And I explained to him earlier the many different ways in which that fund has been, in an open way, observed, reported upon and lessons learnt during its progress. All those things are available in the public domain. The leader of the opposition needs to decide which question he wants to ask. He started by asking a question about transparency and openness and then quoted from a publicly available document, so I don't see what his problem is there. [Interruption.] He then suggests—I can hear his friend next door to him doing his best to help him to find the right question to ask. He then thinks that the right question to ask was about lessons learnt. The Welsh Government accepted every recommendation made in that WAO report, and the implementation of the fund since that time has never been criticised by the FCA—the Financial Conduct Authority. So, as I say, if the Member has specific difficulties with the fund that he thinks should be investigated, they will be investigated. If he simply wants to use general suggestions based on nothing other than reports in newspapers that something has gone wrong, there's nothing there to investigate and there's nothing to support the observations that he's made this afternoon.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, why did the taskforce the Welsh Government established to save Ford Bridgend in October 2017 meet 10 times in the first 10 months of its existence and then meet just once in the last 11 months, in March of this year, nearly two months after the company announced 1,000 job losses? How did you move from an average of one meeting a month to around one meeting a year? Now, I understand the argument is that there was a lot more engagement happening with the company outside of the taskforce meetings. So, can you say during 2018, in the run-up to the January announcement, how many times did Ministers meet with Ford executives?
Well, it's kind of the Member to answer the question as well as to ask it. His first question to me was why did it meet 10 times rapidly and then with a gap between the next meeting. The clue, Llywydd, is in the title. It was a taskforce; it had a task and it went about it rapidly, and it met very regularly and involved all the people who needed to be involved in discharging its terms of reference. It developed a proposition for vacant space at the site, and all parties to the taskforce then concluded that those propositions were better taken forward outside the taskforce itself. That is exactly what happened. I met Ford in the first weeks of becoming First Minister, as I met with the trade unions and as I met with local management at the site as well. The conclusions of that taskforce have been taken forward in a whole series of ways and engagement between the Welsh Government, the local workforce and the company has been consistent throughout.
In your own list of ministerial engagements and meetings for last year, there is only one meeting listed there with Ford during that entire crucial year. Now, when I asked earlier this month if you would fly out to the Michigan headquarters of the Ford Motor Company, you said your preferred plan of action was to meet very soon with senior Ford Europe decision makers, because this was a Ford Europe decision. Have you now met face to face with those Ford Europe representatives? And can you say why you disagree with Len McCluskey of Unite when he says that, ultimately, the decisions around Ford UK are made around the boardroom table in Detroit?
Llywydd, not only have I had a direct conversation with Ford Europe, but I have also had a direct conversation with representatives of Ford in the United States as well. And that was a conversation that involved not simply the most senior staff at the USA level and the most senior staff at the European level, but it also involved Ford UK as well. The Member can be quite assured that this Government does everything we can to do our best to put the careers of people who work in Ford at the top of our agenda, and everything we do is dedicated to finding ways forward where that dedicated, loyal and skilled workforce can see a future for themselves and their families.
In terms of what happens now, have you studied recent developments around Ford's closure of its French plant in Blanquefort announced last year, with the loss of 850 jobs? A buyer was found by the French Government that put together an investment package, but the Ford Motor Company blocked the sale on commercial grounds, leading to the loss of those 850 jobs. Would you support a policy of temporary nationalisation if Ford proves similarly obstructive here? And while we hope that the new taskforce you've now established is more persuasive in relation to Ford than the old taskforce proved to be, what message would you like to send to the Ford trade union's national joint negotiating committee that is meeting today, I believe, to consider UK-wide strike action?
Llywydd, Ford will be a key member of the group that we have set up to work on what happens as a result of the announcement made. They will be part of—and they gave this absolute assurance that they would play a major and constructive role in helping to secure whatever we can for the future of that workforce. My message to the trade unions is the one that I have already given to them when I met them face to face—that we will stand with them in making sure that their futures are at the forefront of everything we do. And when I speak to those Ford workers, I will give them an assurance that it is their careers that are most important to us in all of this and that, unlike the Member opposite, we are more interested in securing their careers than in advancing his own.
First Minister, your Liberal Democrat Minister published on Thursday a statement further watering down school accountability in Wales. Her new measures will remove the emphasis on the level 2 inclusive measure for GCSE, despite that grade C to D boundary being so important for school and university, particularly in maths and English, when people consider future employment. Measure-specific targets will be removed and, instead, schools will determine their own non-specific targets. We're told that your Government, or at least the Liberal Democrat element, believes that these changes will provide greater autonomy for schools to self-improve. Don't they also give schools more scope to deteriorate without parents being able to hold them to account?
Well, that is absolutely not the case at all, Llywydd. The plans that this Government has developed, and that the education Minister published last week, are about making sure that the way in which we assess the performance of a school represents the performance of that school in the round—that we give more trust to the professional workers who are there in the classroom and leading those schools to identify the matters that matter most in that local context. Of course, we will have outside accountability as well, but people on the ground, we believe, are best placed to make those individual decisions on how the greatest difference can be made for their school populations. The plans we have in place do that, and they do not for a moment step back from our determination to make education for every one of our children in Wales the best it can possibly be.
But if you don't publish the results, if you treat league tables as a dirty phrase, if you tell each school to measure what they like and hold themselves to account, how are parents possibly going to judge what schools are delivering and make decisions about where they want their children to go to school? The fact is that accountability measures in Wales—. Let's take primary schools, Kirsty Williams. We discussed this two or three years ago when I said that the measures available to compare primary schools were far less than they were in England, and you rightly pointed out to me that, actually, since 2014, Estyn had increased that accountability and had put the levels 4 and 5 for key stage 2 onto its report. Unfortunately, since at least late 2017, that, once again, appears to have stopped happening, and the accountability measures have gone backwards.
So, people increasingly fall back on the Programme for International Student Assessment, where the comparisons are absolutely awful. We are well below the average on all three of the comparators, where England is above it. We are 478 on maths, 490 is the average and it's 493 for England. On reading, we're on 477, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average is 493, and it's 500 in England—and similarly on maths. Is it not the case that, under Liberal Democrat leadership, education in Wales has deteriorated further? It is harder and harder for anyone to call it to account because you won't publish the information to allow them to do so. Is it not a risk that things will deteriorate even further, because Kirsty Williams is letting schools mark their own homework?
Diolch, Llywydd. Well, I look forward to the Member's lecture sequence, where we can enjoy his views at even greater length. Of course, he makes two basic misunderstandings in his question. The first is that he has no idea about how collective Cabinet Government works. Every member of this Cabinet is an equal member of the Cabinet, and equally committed to it. His own semi-detached membership of many parties around this Assembly stands him in very bad stead in understanding that basic principle.
And he betrayed himself, in any case, in his first sentences. He betrayed himself with that first sentence, because what he believes in, Llywydd, is the marketisation of education. He believes in that league table approach to education in which we treat education as a commodity, in which we understand nothing of the value of it, in which we simply don't understand the way that parents have a much finer understanding of what goes on in their schools than he will ever have on their behalf.
When you look at the results that were published last week, not only in relation to the health service and public appreciation of health services in Wales, you will see there what parents in Wales make of the education that their children receive. It's a completely different picture to the one that he would seek to portray, and that's because, Llywydd, in the end, the Member has no idea of the way in which people in Wales value public services, have voted in favour of the approach that we have to public services. He comes with a completely different mindset. It is only weeks since, sitting in a different party there, he invited me to join with him in celebrating the life and work of Margaret Thatcher—[Interruption.] Well, I remember it.
I remember the question very well, even if he doesn't.
If he doesn't understand what that legacy has been here in Wales, if he doesn't understand just how far his views of the way that things should be done are apart from people in Wales, it's no surprise to me that he made such basic errors in the questions that he asked me this afternoon.
3. What is the Welsh Government doing to encourage and support smallholders in Wales? OAQ54136
I thank the Member for that question. Smallholders play an important role in caring for our landscape and contributing to our economy. They are eligible for our Farming Connect advice service, as well as the basic payment scheme and a range of other Welsh Government support, such as the farm business grant.
Can I thank the First Minister for that answer? No doubt he will want to join with me in congratulating the Glamorgan Smallholders, who held an outstanding exhibition in the Senedd last week, displaying the whole range of their work and how innovative it was, and also, I think, for the first time, Llywydd—no doubt with your permission—brought some animals onto the estate. Many Members went along and saw them alongside the Pierhead.
I think it's really important to remember what an essential part of the agricultural economy that smallholders are, and the need for the Government to consult with them and recognise their innovation, and involve them in the development of policies, especially post Brexit. You did refer to the basic payment scheme. Of course, that is set at a minimum size of 5 hectares or 12.4 acres in Wales. That's something, as we move away to recognising public goods, it may be appropriate to encourage smallholders to provide services like school visits and other environmental impacts that they can make as well. This is a sector we should not forget. It's really, really important to the flourishing of rural life.
I thank David Melding for that and congratulate him on sponsoring the Glamorgan Smallholders event last week. I, myself, attended some previous events that they have held here, and they are an opportunity, always, to showcase Welsh farming, Welsh food, and the commitment that the sector has to the highest standards. It was good to see that there were animals brought here, as well, from Glamorgan— animals from other parts of Wales are no doubt available, Llywydd, as well, to visit us here. But we want to go on as a Government supporting Welsh smallholders.
The Royal Welsh Agricultural Society has a smallholding and countryside festival, which the Welsh Government helps to sponsor, and the chief vet and others attended there. Farming Connect offers a series of events called 'Living off 10 acres', which are very specifically aimed at the smallholding sector. While smallholders do have to have 5 hectares as a minimum size to qualify for the basic payment scheme, there is no size limitation on the farm business grant here in Wales, and we encourage smallholders who are interested in diversification, in providing public goods of the sort that David Melding described, to apply for that grant so that we can go on helping them in innovation and diversification.
The majority of smallholdings are family-run businesses, which need to supplement their income with other sources such as tourism. They make a great contribution to our rural economies. They also tend to sell locally, reducing food miles and benefiting our environment. To my mind, the supply and consumption of home-grown food closer to home makes perfect sense. First Minister, what can your Government do to encourage more local food production?
Llywydd, let me agree with what the Member has said about the importance of smallholdings to their local economies; the way in which diversification has always had to be part of what a smallholding owner has to think of, because by itself it's unlikely to be able to support a family. In addition to the things that I mentioned in my answer to David Melding, Farming Connect will hold an innovation and diversification show on 26 September this year. It will be an opportunity to bring smallholders from across Wales together. There will undoubtedly there be a focus on food production and local food production, and to support the sector in the efforts that it makes to provide those products that are saleable locally but often have a market further afield as well.
Could I also commend David on an excellent event, hosting the Glamorgan Smallholders association? We look forward to it coming back next year bigger and better again. But could I ask the First Minister: what's his vision, both for smallholders and other land managers in a post-Brexit scenario? It was only a few years ago that we marked the fiftieth anniversary of the common agricultural policy, and that was going to change whether we stayed in the EU or not, but now we're in a very different perspective. So, going forward, can he paint that vision about how different that future is in a post-Brexit scenario, and what opportunities, if there are, there would be for a different type of land management?
I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for that. I had the opportunity to speak at the annual general meeting of the Farmers Union of Wales last week in Aberystwyth, and this was exactly the point of discussion at that AGM. If the UK leaves the European Union, then direct subsidies under the CAP will cease, and that's why so much effort has been made in Wales, through 'Brexit and our land', to begin to take our future into our own hands. We had a fantastic response to that consultation, over 12,000 responses to it, and we are about to publish our successor set of proposals in which we will learn from that consultation and put forward proposals for sustainable farming in which sustainable food production and sustainable use of the land, environmental stewardship of the land, come together in order to provide that sustainable future. I look forward to further conversations with farming interests and other land managers in forestry and so on to find ways in which, provided we have the resources here in Wales the other side of the CAP, and we're committed to using those resources to go on supporting rural and agricultural communities, to do so in a way that rewards active farmers for the work they do in food production, but also for the work they do in securing public goods for which the public is prepared to make an investment.
4. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government's plans to protect listed buildings in Wales? OAQ54139
Listed buildings form an important part of our heritage and are given special protection in legislation, recently strengthened by the Historic Environment (Wales) Act, passed here in this National Assembly in 2016. Over this autumn Cadw will launch a training programme for local authority conservation teams, focusing on the role of enforcement action in protecting listed buildings.
Yes, thanks for that, and I look forward to progress reports from Cadw. We did have a slightly different emphasis from you when you were answering a question from Nick Ramsay recently about a particular planning issue in his area. You said at that point that you were thinking about reviewing the rules around planning appeals. The question did relate to listed buildings, so in light of that response, could I ask you for any more detail on that and any time frame for progress on that?
Llywydd, let me be clear about the nature of my exchange with Nick Ramsay last week. Nick was referring to Troy House in his constituency, a listed building where recent attempts to find a future for it have been difficult. Nick Ramsay asked me a question about the way in which planning rules either support or get in the way of viable and sustainable use of those properties. I undertook to make sure that we looked at the planning rulebook so that, when a listed building does have a viable and sustainable use, the planning system takes into account its status as a listed building. Because in the end, Llywydd, listing by itself is not enough.
We have over 30,000 buildings listed here in Wales, and listing by itself does not guarantee that building a future. The building must have a future beyond listing and that means finding a use for it in the future that will give it that viable use and that long-term future. That's what we want to provide here in Wales. We provide financial assistance for historic community assets, community halls, historic places of worship and so on. The majority of listed buildings are in private hands, and private owners have to play their part too in finding those uses that will give those buildings a long-term future.
I was pleased to hear your reference there to places of worship, First Minister. One of the communities that was once very vibrant in Wales and, indeed, had faith communities across the country, was the Jewish community. Unfortunately, the numbers of people in the Jewish community across Wales have fallen in recent years, and they're pretty much confined now to Cardiff, Swansea and Llandudno in north Wales. Very often, though, those places of worship have been lost to future generations. And I know that Dawn Bowden, of course, has been ardently campaigning, quite rightly so, for a fantastic synagogue in her own constituency. But, unfortunately, I've lost places in my constituency, in places like Colwyn Bay, where there used to be a synagogue. Can you tell us what you are doing as a Government to particularly protect the last vestiges, if you like, of the Jewish community's heritage here in Wales, given the importance of this to the rich fabric and history of our nation?
I thank Darren Millar for that question. He's absolutely right to point to the changes in the nature of the Jewish community here in Wales, and the rich legacy, both in the built environment, but also in many other ways, which that community provides. In my own constituency, there is a listed frontage to a synagogue that Members will have noticed on Cathedral Road here. There are local activities. Darren Millar asked me last week about local history, and I'm sure that he will have seen a local exhibition in Bangor that was held earlier this year that traced the history of Jewish people in that part of Wales. And a really fascinating exhibition it was too.
I have been working with some Jewish interest groups to see whether we could have an exhibition here in the National Assembly, drawing attention to the history of Jewish people here in Wales. And the education Minister is meeting people on that score next week as well. So, there are steps we need to take, I agree, at this point in the history of that community, to make sure that people are aware of that very rich heritage. And where there are things that can be done to preserve it and to draw it to wider public attention, the Welsh Government will be keen to play our part in that.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the progress of the Cardiff capital region city deal? OAQ54105
I thank Hefin David for that. The Cardiff capital region city deal continues to make progress in key actions, such as its £30 million metro plus proposals in transport, a housing investment fund to help bring forward challenging stalled sites, and its innovative graduate scheme placing graduates in private businesses in growth areas.
In order to address the problems of speculative planning applications along the M4 belt on high-demand land, we've got to work together on a cross-party basis, and parties of all colours need to work together to try and resolve these issues. The first thing I did when I was elected in 2016 was call on the Welsh Government and local authorities to develop a strategic development plan for south-east Wales, and that was provided for in law by the Planning (Wales) Act 2015, which the Welsh Government had introduced in 2015.
It's got to be done on a cross-party basis, and I'm pleased to see the 10 local authorities of the capital region are now working together to produce that regional plan for south-east Wales that will enable local authorities to work across boundaries in Wales that local development plans simply do not allow. Would the First Minister provide an update on progress with the strategic development plan, and also outline what he and the Welsh Government are doing to target housing need in the areas that we need to build houses, not those of greatest demand, and what he's doing to take on the big developers that have no concern at all for local communities—the cartel developers, the likes of Redrow?
I thank the Member for that question, and he will, I know, be glad to have recognised the fact that the joint cabinet of the Cardiff capital city deal have now agreed to develop a strategic development plan for the region. And, Llywydd, that is a significant step ahead, because it does mean that each of the 10 contributing councils have individually agreed to delegate this responsibility to that regional level. The development of a strategic development plan was not part of the original joint agreement that established the city deal and I think it is genuinely a sign of the ambition that the leaders of the deal have that they have been able to come together in this way. So, I congratulate all those who have taken the lead in it, the Vale of Glamorgan and I think Caerphilly councils have been nominated to lead the process, and, of course, we will look forward to seeing the outcome of that here.
It will be part of that general effort that we are making as a Government to make sure that housing need as well as housing demand is recognised in the way that we discharge our responsibilities, in promoting building, as I said in answer to an earlier question, in the way that we protect tenants in the private rented sector, in the way that we have prevented the sale of council housing, which diminishes housing stock. All of those are measures that this Government is taking to put the emphasis on need as well as demand, and the action that is now being taken by the Cardiff capital cabinet will, I think, be a very important contribution to that in this part of Wales.
First Minister, I'm very grateful to listen to that answer and the more collaborative working model that does exist within the city deal concept. One thing that has changed is Government policy, quite considerably, in the last couple of weeks with the deceleration of a climate change emergency, various statement positions that obviously the Minister has made about clean air, for example, we've got carbon reduction this afternoon, and indications of future legislation that might come forward in the next two or three years. How does the Welsh Government work with the city deal board to make sure that the aims and ambitions of what the Welsh Government is seeking to achieve via its legislative proposals and its policy positions are informing the decisions at the city board deal level, which, obviously, will be charged with implementing much of this on the ground, especially when it comes to regeneration and renewal projects?
Llywydd, can I echo a point that both Hefin David and Andrew Davies have said about the importance of councils being able to work across not just geographical boundaries but political boundaries as well? I think that has been a strength of the Cardiff capital deal—that it has had parties of different political persuasions and none who have manged to come together on a common agenda. So, I agree with both contributions in emphasising the importance of that. The contribution that the deal can make in relation to climate change can be seen in a series of actions that it is already taking. I referred to the £30 million metro plus programme that the city deal have agreed, and that is about integrated transport as well as new forms of transport. It's making sure that people can make as easy use as possible of the public transport facilities that we as a Welsh Government and the different local authorities are supporting in their localities. It does, to go back to Hefin David's question, also mean a new focus on construction and construction standards in new development. We know that, as a Government and as a nation, we have a real challenge in relation to retrofitting housing that was built previously not to the correct standards and where, in order to achieve carbon neutrality, we have to go back and put new measures in there. We cannot afford to be building today the next generation of houses that will need retrofitting in the future. The work of the cabinet of the city deal in making sure that the work it does in housing and in planning is constructing houses that will last for the future and play their part in combating climate change is something that I'm sure they are very well apprised of.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on actively promoting the use of the Welsh language in the delivery of public services? OAQ54109
I thank Helen Mary Jones for that. Welsh language standards provide the basis from which the use of the Welsh language in public services can be extended. One hundred and twenty-five bodies are currently covered by those standards.
I'm grateful to the First Minister for his answer. In the context of the debate that we held around these matters last week in the Chamber, I'd like to invite the First Minister to put on record his very clear understanding that in healthcare and social care the provision of services through the medium of Welsh is not just about people accessing their language rights, it also leads to better clinical outcomes—people get better faster—and this is particularly true of some of our most vulnerable citizens like older persons with dementia.
Given that 90 per cent of our healthcare happens in the primary sector, does the First Minister accept that his Government now needs to be more ambitious in terms of what is expected from primary sector providers, accepting that many of those are independent providers and that his Government's relationship with them is somewhat different from the relationship with the health boards? And could he undertake today to perhaps have a further conversation with the Minister for health and the Minister for the Welsh language to see if there's anything that can be done to accelerate the provision of primary care through the medium of Welsh for all those patients in Wales who want it, wherever they live?
Llywydd, I'm very pleased to put on record my belief that the provision of services through the language that the user feels most familiar with has not simply a benefit in terms of our wish to see an extension of the Welsh language, but in the field of health and social care, it also has an impact on the quality of the service that is provided. And we've discussed here many times on the floor of this Assembly how important that is, for example, in psychiatric care, where to have to force your thoughts and feelings through a language that is not the one you would normally use adds a different level of difficulty to the diagnostic outcomes for that patient. So, I'm very happy to put that on record.
I believe that the standards that were agreed last week are a significant step forward in primary care. Helen Mary Jones is quite right to say we don't have the same direct relationship; these are contractor professions. We have to use persuasion as well as other methods to bring our colleagues on this journey with us, and we want to do more to encourage and support those practices that recognise the importance of linguistically sensitive services. But can I just add one other thing to what Helen Mary Jones said? The last report of the Welsh Language Commissioner also says that we have a task to do with users, because not everybody who is able to use the Welsh language chooses to use a Welsh language service when it is available, and there's more for us to do in trying to understand why that might be. Is it a lack of information, is it a lack of confidence, is it a lack of experience of using the Welsh language in those sorts of contexts? So, as we expand the range of services available through the medium of Welsh, so we need to work with Welsh speakers to make sure that they are confident to take those opportunities that are available to them, and then we will create a benign cycle in which the demand for services will grow, the provision of services will grow alongside it, and we will see the sorts of outcomes that were implicit in Helen Mary Jones's question.
7. Will the First Minister provide an update on Welsh Government plans to introduce a 20 mile per hour speed limit on all urban roads in Wales? OAQ54133
Llywydd, it is the policy of the Welsh Government to extend 20 mph speed limits in residential areas across Wales. An implementation group has been established to take this policy forward during the rest of this Assembly term.
Diolch, First Minister, for that answer. The proposal begs the question of what constitutes an urban area. If we look at most of the Rhondda, one could say that Blaenrhondda to Tonyrefail, or Maerdy to Porth, or even Pontypridd, could be said to constitute an urban area, given the fact that these are linear conurbations. Is it suggested that one should travel from Blaenrhondda to Pontypridd at 20 mph? And where, First Minister, these blanket speed restrictions have been applied, such as north-east Somerset and Bath, deaths and serious injuries have actually gone up. Manchester city has suspended its roll-out of 20 mph zones, and the Department for Transport has stated that 20 mph zones had proved ineffective. Considering north-east Somerset spent £870,000 on its roll-out of zones, how much does the First Minister estimate it will cost for such a roll-out in Wales, and to what effect?
Well, of course, Llywydd, I don't agree with the Member in his scepticism about the effectiveness of 20 mph zones. I don't think there's any doubt that the evidence demonstrates that they improve road safety and that they have a part to play in improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions, and they also, crucially, reduce what's called 'community severance'—the fact that communities can't act together because they have traffic speeding through them in a way that blocks people off from one another. Now, we will be able to draw on the experience here in Cardiff, where the city council has had, I think, a very ambitious and progressive programme of expanding 20 mph zones, initially in the inner city area but then to the rest of the city as well. It has a series of criteria that it uses to answer the question that David Rowlands asked me—how you decide where a 20 mph zone should be implemented. We will be able to use their experience, as well as experience elsewhere.
The purpose of having an implementation group is to be able to make sure that we can answer some of the questions that inevitably arise about how you go about implementation, how you deal with the costs of implementation and how you make sure that we can realise the very real rewards that this policy will bring about. And, Llywydd, it's popular with the public as well. In Cardiff, where some councillors were sceptical to begin with about 20 mph zones, now the pressure is on from everybody wanting their part of Cardiff to be moved up the programme, because they know that the public appreciate the benefits that the policy brings.
8. What is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that the best possible health care is delivered to people in the Rhondda? OAQ54141
I thank Leanne Wood for that question. The Welsh Government invests in a series of measures to provide the people of the Rhondda with the best possible care. The £6 million investment in a diagnostic hub to improve waiting times and the £2 million partnership with Macmillan to improve palliative care are only two examples of that determination.
As far as I and many thousands of others living in the Rhondda are concerned, we are best served by having a 24-hour, consultant-led accident and emergency department operating out of the Royal Glamorgan Hospital. As we've seen with the centralisation of maternity services in Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, it's not a panacea for the deep-rooted problems faced by the Welsh NHS, namely understaffed and overworked personnel.
With the centralisation of paediatric services currently on ice, surely this means that this Labour experiment now has to be over. I was told last week that a statement from the health Minister on 2 July on the task and finish group on critical care's report would be an appropriate time to raise the future of A&E at the Royal Glamorgan. I'm afraid I and the people of the Rhondda, not to mention concerned staff who have approached me, want assurances—not just assurances but guarantees—before then that our nearest accident and emergency department is to stay where it is and that it will not go the same way as the maternity department did. Will you now provide those assurances to my Rhondda constituents?
I thank the Member for that. I've had the benefit of seeing her letter to the health Minister, and I can say to the Member this: there has been no removal of emergency department consultants from the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, nor have such consultant posts been removed from the hospital at any time. Four whole time-equivalent consultant posts remain at the Royal Glamorgan emergency department. And where people move on, and people do get new jobs and go further in their careers, those posts will be replaced. They will be replaced, we hope, by substantive posts, and a number of expressions of interest for vacancies at the Royal Glamorgan have already been received and are being considered by the health board. If we have to fill those posts on a temporary basis by locum appointments, then that's what we will do. That is the future for that emergency department, and I'm very glad to have had the opportunity to put that on the record here this afternoon.
The next item, therefore, is questions to the Counsel General in respect of his law officer responsibilities. I call for the first question, which is from Helen Mary Jones.
1. What representations has the Counsel General made on behalf of the Welsh Government in relation to the litigation case against the Department for Work and Pensions for the alleged mishandling of raising the state pension age for women born in the 1950s? OAQ54098
The Welsh Government did not intervene in the proceedings themselves as we do not currently see a statutory basis to do so. Before the hearing, we had expressed our concerns to the UK Government about women who have had their state pension age raised without effective or sufficient notification and our position has been acknowledged by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in correspondence.
I thank the Counsel General for his reply. No doubt, he was as disappointed as I was in the response that was received, and I know that we're very grateful on the opposition benches for the fact that the Government shared that response with us.
With regard to the litigation, if we do end up in a situation of appeal, which seems likely if the court finds in favour of the women, can I ask the Counsel General to look again at whether or not it may be possible for the Welsh Government to take some part in that litigation? I would suggest to him that the grounds for that may be the overall impact on the Welsh economy of those women not being provided with the funds that they had the right to expect. I think it might be more complicated to try and make the case around the impact on Welsh public services of, for example, women having to continue to work in roles for which they're no longer physically fit because of these changes, but I think the impact on the economy ought to be considered. And if he does reconsider and comes to the conclusion he's unable to make such representations, will he undertake to publish the basis for that advice, so that the women who are hopeful of getting more concrete support from the Welsh Government, though they very much appreciate the Welsh Government's support in principle around this non-devolved matter—? It would be useful to see, if he is unable to take any concrete action, on what basis he's come to the conclusion that he cannot do so.
I thank the Member for that supplementary question. I had the benefit of her having made that argument in the Chamber a few weeks ago, and I reflected further in light of that on whether it affected my judgment on this question. And I'm afraid it still remains the case that I see no statutory basis for that power to intervene that she is inviting me to exercise, unfortunately. My officials have, however, been in touch with the court to ascertain the arrangements for the judgment being handed down, and, as of yet, as of our most recent communication, no date has yet been fixed for that.
But I would like to reassure her that we do keep the progress of litigation under review, and, equally, I would just like to make it clear that, though I don't see a statutory basis for the Counsel General to intervene in the litigation itself, that does not mean that there isn't a basis on which Welsh Ministers can and can continue to make representations to the UK Government. And, indeed, since the response from Amber Rudd, which the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip has circulated to Members, she has indeed responded to that letter, as I'm sure Members generally will feel that it was a wholly inadequate response to a very serious attempt to engage with the UK Government and to make representations on behalf of women in Wales for reasons of personal injustice and from the broader perspective that the Member reflects in her question. And Jane Hutt, in that letter, identified the ongoing injustice that women feel—women who have often experienced gender inequality throughout their lives, both as workers and as carers—and pointed out very straightforwardly that the response from the UK Government in seeking to point people towards employment opportunities in later life failed entirely to reflect the realities of these women's lives in many cases. And I also know that there has been correspondence since then between the First Minister and the UK Government. So, I will just be clear that we continue to make representations, within the bounds of our competence, on behalf of women in Wales affected by this serious injustice.
Thank you, Counsel General, for that answer, because you and I both attended the rally in Port Talbot, at which women actually expressed their frustration and anger at that response that had been received by the Welsh Government, which was one that basically, to my view, was disgusting and should not have been written by such a Secretary of State, reflecting their discourteous approach. They had contempt for the women in that response and it was unacceptable. But, as Helen Mary pointed out, I actually think you can look at the public services agenda on this, because the services that are required by these women as a consequence of them not being able to retire, not being able to take up the care services or the caring facilities they'd offer to their grandchildren or to older parents and so on— this will fall back on the Welsh Government. So, have you done a legal analysis of the funding of the additional services, and the accountability for that funding, because that is going to put additional pressures upon the Welsh Government budget, as a consequence of a decision by the UK Government, with its failure to actually consult with those individuals and to give them sufficient notification to be able to take on on the implications of the pension changes? And, therefore, will you look carefully at that to see what you can use as a lever to get into this argument, particularly as it means the Welsh Government have to now take care of responsibilities that the UK Government is forcing upon them?
The Member is right, as is Helen Mary Jones, to describe the broader impact of the changes for women themselves, but also on the Welsh economy and Welsh public services. I have taken that into mind when looking at the powers of the Welsh Government in this regard. I just want to reassure the Member that, whilst it is the Counsel General's role to ensure the Welsh Government operates at all times within its competence, it's also his role or her role from time to time to make sure the Government is operating to the limits of its competence in order to stand up for the people of Wales. I have done that in this analysis, and I will continue to do that.
Counsel General, as a WASPI woman myself, I can tell you that I was never informed of the changes to my pension, and I only found out from an off-hand comment by a friend. My case is far from unique, and hundreds of Welsh women are in the same boat. I was also at the Port Talbot meeting, along with yourself and David Rees. That meeting was testament to how many people were there. We received no letter, no information pack, no explanation. So, Counsel General, will you be the voice of Welsh women who were let down by the Department for Work and Pensions and the UK Government? Diolch.
I thank the Member for giving that personal reflection of her own experience, which I think reminds us that these are individual experiences, as well as parts of a broader campaign and a public movement, if you like. I should also acknowledge that Dai Lloyd was also at the event on Saturday a few weeks ago. And I can give the Member the reassurance that we will take every step we can within our powers, and continue to make representations on behalf of Welsh women.
Counsel General, yesterday I met with representatives of Women Against State Pension Inequality, who stoically and resiliently continue to campaign on this critical issue. What assurances further to what you've already given us can you give that the Welsh Labour Government, in its capacity, will continue to make every legal representation possible and continue to press the case to the UK Tory Government, who alone have the capacity to rectify this obvious injustice and, in doing so, could take thousands of women out of poverty, narrow the gender inequality gap and enable women, as has been said, to live the lives that they have always planned?
I thank the Member for that further question. As I mentioned earlier, my colleague Jane Hutt has written subsequently to the UK Government and echoed the points made in her earlier correspondence in relation to the evidence and the findings of the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston, but also pointed the UK Government towards the findings of the Institute for Fiscal Studies paper, which quantifies in economic terms the impact of this injustice on women who are affected by it. And I will speak to Jane Hutt and ask her if she will be prepared to share that correspondence, as she has the previous correspondence, so that Members can see fully what representation—she's helpfully indicating that she's prepared to do that—so that Members can see fully what correspondence we engaged with on this important matter with the UK Government in the course of making our representations.
2. What representations has the Counsel General made on behalf of the Welsh Government in light of reports that EU citizens in Wales were denied the right to vote in the recent European parliamentary elections? OAQ54099
Whilst the Welsh Government has no formal responsibilities for European elections, we are, of course, deeply concerned that EU citizens were unable to exercise their right to vote. We stand ready to actively contribute to any review by the responsible bodies, i.e. the UK Government, the Electoral Commission, and returning officers.
I'm grateful to the Counsel General for his reply, and glad to hear the Government standing ready to respond. I wonder if he will be prepared to give consideration to making representations to suggest that those bodies should undertake a proactive review. I've seen figures, for example, suggesting that less than 19 per cent of eligible EU citizens in Powys were actually able to vote, because the system that was presented to them was so complicated—people thought they'd registered to vote, they didn't realise they had to send another form, and so on and so forth. We don't of course know, Llywydd, whether there will be further elections in which EU citizens are eligible to vote. Unfortunately, they won't be eligible to vote in the upcoming by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire. But we may hope that there may be other such elections. And I would put it to the Counsel General that it might be appropriate for the Welsh Government to be proactive in seeking to put this wrong right just in case that circumstance arises.
I thank the Member for that question. We obviously are considering—or will consider, rather—the evidence that emerges from that process, so that our representations in future are fully evidenced in that regard. She is right to say, of course, that this would be a challenge for any future elections, but she would also recall that a similar problem arose in 2014, when many EU citizens were unable to vote in those European elections, and so there are significant issues here, potentially, which need to be looked at very closely and we will look forward to reviewing that evidence and make whatever representations we feel are appropriate on behalf of people affected by this matter in Wales.
3. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the impact that the UK Government's immigration laws will have on how the law operates in relation to refugees in Wales? OAQ54101
The integration of people seeking sanctuary is a shared responsibility, even though responsibility for immigration law itself is, of course, not devolved to Wales. We work closely with local government and the third sector in Wales to monitor impacts and we regularly raise matters affecting refugees and asylum seekers with the UK Government.
Thank you for that reply. I've had contact from women who due to—immigration laws mean that they are being denied recourse to public funds. The Minister, Jane Hutt, says people can apply for destitute domestic violence concession, but this is only for people on a spousal visa for a short period of time and this isn't for everyone. Due to this particular instance, many women are being denied access, in some cases, to housing benefit and other support. And I've been told by organisations such as Women's Aid and Bawso that these laws are making it difficult, even impossible, for them to support women in crisis, including a woman who I have raised in this Chamber before—due to the fact that she didn't know her status in this country, it meant that she couldn't gain access immediately to a refuge centre after fleeing her abusive husband. I fear this is going to put more women in danger and many may be even in a very critical situation.
So, what are you going to be doing to ensure that the Welsh Government are raising these concerns with the UK Government, especially with the loophole in the immigration position that I've outlined to you in terms of the concessions? And how will you be able to potentially right this wrong in relation to the Welsh Government's budget—i.e. would you be able to fund refuges in Wales more so that they don't have to question where the woman comes from when they enter that critical moment in time when they're fleeing an abusive relationship?
I thank the Member for drawing attention to what is obviously a very, very important matter. We want to ensure, as a Welsh Government, that those who are refused asylum are provided with legal advice and a roof over their heads whilst they look for a sustainable solution in what are obviously extremely difficult circumstances and situations. That may include legal representation, perhaps leading to a fresh claim, or engagement with a voluntary returns process, and we've commissioned some research recently into ways to professionalise and expand the hosting sector in Wales to improve access and to improve safeguarding in that context.
She mentions in her question the funding that the Welsh Government provides to Bawso in particular to enable black and minority ethnic women and girls to access the support they need. The intention of that is to ensure that no victims are turned away. I do know that the Deputy Minister has been in correspondence with the Member and that these issues are, as part of the regular correspondence between the Deputy Minister and the Home Office, certainly issues that she will be continuing to raise with them to ensure that this remains on both our agenda but also the UK Government's.
The next item is the business statement and announcement and I call on the Trefnydd to make the statement—Rebecca Evans.
Diolch, Llywydd. There is one change to this week's business. Business Committee has agreed that a motion to suspend Standing Orders will be moved to allow a change in the Member leading tomorrow's short debate. Draft business for the next three weeks is set in the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the papers available to Members electronically.
Minister, please could I ask for two statements from the Minister for health, first on the recruitment crisis in NHS Wales? According to the Royal College of Physicians a third of advertised consultant posts go unfilled and sickness absence is also rising. The college reports that the Welsh hospitals are understaffed and overstretched, and have made 16 recommendations for improvement to address these problems. Please could I have a statement from the Minister on his response to the points raised by the Royal College of Physicians? That's one. And the second is: how many doctors have been disciplined on their conduct in NHS Wales, and what is the proportion between the white and non-white doctors in this respect? Thank you.
Thank you for raising these issues. You'll recall that the health Minister provided a statement on the 'Train. Work. Live.' campaign very recently, in which he outlined the number of doctors that are being recruited to the NHS and made comments on recruitment more widely. And, of course, we've had the good news just last week in terms of the Welsh Government keeping the bursary for nursing staff. So, recruitment and retention of staff is clearly a top priority for Welsh Government.FootnoteLink
I will ask the Minister to provide you with an answer to your question in terms of the disciplinary procedures, because I wouldn't have access just now to that information, but I'll be sure that you get it.FootnoteLink
Trefnydd, last week the leader of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, Councillor Rob Jones, stated that he believed that it was now time to 'turn discussion into delivery' with the Swansea bay city deal. You will remember that, only last month, we were discussing in this Chamber how that council had actually threatened to pull out of the city deal. So, this apparent change of heart is certainly a step in the right direction. Now, as I said at the time, I cannot see how any council could essentially turn their noses up at £68 million-worth of UK and Welsh Government funding, particularly when that funding has been allocated to boost the local economy. In fact, to do so would, in my opinion, constitute a dereliction of duty. Now, there are clearly concerns locally that some of the initial projects being proposed by Neath Port Talbot council haven't progressed to the same extent as some of the other city deal projects. What we need to see is Neath Port Talbot council developing their revised business cases as soon as possible.
There is equally concern among the local authorities and partners in the city deal at the continued delays in approving existing business plans, and in honouring commitments made to projects that are already under way, such as Yr Egin in Carmarthenshire, and Swansea waterfront scheme. The city deal should be making a vital contribution to the economy of south-west Wales, and the people of the region will neither understand or forgive governments at all levels if a lack of co-ordination or agreement causes projects or the overall deal to fail. Therefore, following on from Councillor Rob Jones's intervention last week, could I again ask for a statement on the city deal and, in particular, what discussions the Welsh Government is having with Neath Port Talbot council in order to develop their local business cases, and whether you are content with the progress on their revised plans? Could I also ask what measures the Welsh Government is taking to ensure that any backlogs in approvals and payments are being resolved urgently?
Thank you for raising this issue, and I can confirm that it is the intention of Ken Skates to make an announcement on this very shortly.
Minister, I understand that you will be making a statement on 16 July on the future outlook for public spending. I would be grateful if you could clarify, or whether you would be able to host another statement to look at, some of the issues we'll be facing in terms of the budget round for next year. I and members of the Finance Committee spent some time in Scotland two weeks ago, looking at the way in which the budget round there is managed, and one of the key issues that we learnt there, I think it's fair to say, is the importance of having earlier conversations about the shape of the budget. And I certainly think that this place would benefit from an early opportunity to highlight some priorities for spending in terms of the following budget round. So, I'd be grateful for your clarity on that.
Secondly, I notice from the statement that there are no statements programmed for us to learn about the end of the consultation on bus services and on the transport White Paper that the economy Minister held earlier in the year. I think many of us will want to know when we can anticipate further opportunities to discuss the outcomes of the consultation and the White Paper process, to enable us to understand then the process and what sort of priorities the Minister will be taking forward for legislation.
I hope also at the same time that the Government will be able to find time for an opportunity to discuss the impact that this will have on taxi services as well. I know that many taxi drivers are very concerned at the moment about the increasing competition from organisations such as Uber, and will want to see opportunities to ensure that businesses—microbusinesses and local businesses—will have the opportunity to be protected, if you like, from the impact of these international businesses. So, I hope that, before we reach the recess, we're able to have a conversation both on future public spending priorities and on future priorities for transport legislation.
Thank you for raising both of those requests. As you say, I will be making a statement on the future outlook for public spending in Wales on 16 July. As Members will be aware, we don't have a budget yet for the next year, but that doesn't mean that we don't start in earnest with our discussions in terms of identifying our budget priorities for next year, which is why I've already had my initial round of meetings with every single one of my ministerial colleagues to discuss the pressures within their portfolios but also their ambitions for next year. So, those discussions have already started.
I'm also keen to have a series of visits over the summer where I look at our priorities through the lens of the priorities the Government has set out in our programme for government—so, looking, for example, specifically at what we can be doing about decarbonisation, mental health, housing, and so on. I think that would be very useful in terms of helping us determine the way forward. Absolutely, the priority has to be, at this point, having some clarity from the UK Government as to where we stand for our budget next year. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has suggested that there will be no comprehensive spending review before the summer recess, so that does suggest to me that we could be looking, potentially, at a roll-over budget, which would be very disappointing. But we do need the clarity as soon as we possibly can. In the meantime, we'll continue to have discussions about priorities. Obviously, I'll make opportunities for Members to have those discussions, but, as I say, I am making a statement on 16 July, which is a perfect opportunity for Members, in the first instance, to talk to me about their priorities for the budget for next year.
The consultation has now ended in terms of the proposed legislation in respect of bus services, and I can tell you that the Minister and his team are currently analysing those responses and will obviously keep Members updated in due course.
Organiser, can I seek three statements, please, if possible? One, I'd like to see and hear what the Government's reaction is to the Deputy Minister for the economy in a speech at the Clink restaurant, where he commented on the economic performance of the Labour Party in Government, where he said,
'For 20 years we’ve pretended we know what we’re doing on the economy—and the truth is we don’t...Everybody is making it up as we go along'.
I applaud him for his candid speech, remarks and notes that he gave at that meeting, but I do think it's important, given that the Government, I assume, is underpinned by policy—'Prosperity for All', for example, is a document that's constantly referred to—and here you have a Deputy Minister saying that, when it comes to the economy, this Government and its predecessors have been making it up as they go along. That is deeply concerning to say the least.
Secondly, could I press you, as finance Minister, to bring forward a statement in relation to the financials around the climate change emergency and the initiatives that will flow from that and the policy positions that the Government will take. I applaud the Minister for what she's done on this, but I do think we need to understand what the financials will be and what the job numbers will be as well. The Treasury in London have provided certain figures for Government, totalling £1 trillion to meet the net zero contribution by 2050. I do think that it is incumbent on this Government, if it's putting forward policy positions that seek to move from old carbon to new, green jobs, to ensure that we understand what that will mean in monetary terms and what obligations that will place on each department on the financials. You as finance Minister, surely, have an element of that information to hand, and if that could be captured in a statement, that, I would suggest, would greatly inform the future debate around this subject.
The third point I'd like to press on is, if possible, could we have a statement from, I believe it would be, the Minister for transport or perhaps even the Minister for the economy—I know they're one and the same but I think it's delegated to the deputy, I think, but I might be wrong there—in relation to the roadworks at Sycamore Cross junction in the Vale of Glamorgan? Only five years ago, the Government spent £2 million upgrading that particular junction to trunk road status. Anyone who's travelled that piece of road over the last couple of weeks has seen it being systematically dug up again, new temporary lights put in, causing traffic chaos. And what many people cannot work out is, if Welsh Government spent £2 million five years ago to put that junction in good order, why is it now all being ripped up—and it literally is being ripped up—and all those improvements that were put down only five years ago being taken part, and some form of reconstruction will appear, I'm assuming, in the next couple of weeks, but it's a little difficult to try and envisage what that will be, given all you've got is holes in the ground at the moment. So, if we could seek a statement from the Minister so that that could be amplified to all those motorists, cycle users and walkers who are inhibited by those roadworks at that particular junction, I think that would be a very beneficial exercise.
Thank you very much for raising those various issues. For anybody who is confused about the Welsh Government's approach to the economy, the Minister Ken Skates will be making a statement on the issue of the economic action plan and our economic development measures, and he will be doing that on 2 July.
In terms of the climate change emergency, of course we have the statement next this afternoon from the environment Minister, who will be talking to us about the measures that Welsh Government is putting in place. Obviously, we have to look at that through the lens of how much measures will cost and what the benefits will be, and, in each of the meetings that I described to Alun Davies that I've been having with my colleagues, I've also been doing so within very much the context of the climate emergency and having specific discussions with them about the climate emergency and also our response to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. So, that is very much front and centre of our budget-setting process.
On the matter of the roadworks at Sycamore Cross, perhaps in the first instance it would be wise to take it up directly with the Minister with responsibility for transport and he will be able to provide you with the advice that you need.
I was horrified over the weekend by the media coverage and some of the reaction to the row between one of the two Prime Minister candidates from the Tories and his partner at her flat. Neighbours who reported the incident have been vilified. Now, not only do the public have a right to know the character of someone who could well be leading the UK in a few short weeks, but, more than that, people have a duty to report incidents where they think someone is in danger to the police to ensure safety. Do you agree with me that it's highly irresponsible to condemn the reporting of such an incident to the police?
Two women are killed every week by a current or former partner in Wales and England, and one woman in four experiences domestic violence in her lifetime. Early intervention can literally mean the difference between life and death. In line with your own Government's campaign, 'Don't be a Bystander', will you send out an unequivocal message that domestic abuse is not a private matter, it should not be kept within the family and behind closed doors? And will you please urge people to call 999 if they are concerned for a neighbour's safety? Can you also make sure that everything is done to ensure that people are aware of the Wales Live Fear Free helpline for anyone who needs help or has concern about potential domestic abuse, which includes psychological, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, coercive and controlling behaviour, threats and intimidation, economic abuse and harassment? Diolch yn fawr.
I thank Leanne Wood very much for raising this, and I completely agree with all that she has said this afternoon. As you say, Welsh Government has a campaign supported by Welsh Women's Aid, 'Don't be a Bystander', and I think this is what this is very much about in terms of us all being good neighbours, good friends and good colleagues and being there to support people who we believe may be experiencing domestic violence but also to report it to the police if we have any concern about any of our neighbours. I think it is disgusting that people who, in good faith, call the police because they're genuinely worried about somebody else are vilified in the newspapers in the way in which they have been. People should never have to go through that, and people should never be concerned about picking up the phone either. So, my worry about the way in which this issue has been presented in the press is that it might put people off raising concerns when they have them. So, I think it is a really opportune time to be adding some extra promotion behind our Wales Live Fear Free helpline, so I'll make sure that we give that a boost on social media, and I know that colleagues will be keen to do that as well.
Can I ask the Trefnydd firstly for a Government statement regarding Virgin Media, which is due to close in Swansea on 30 June? I'd like a statement from the Government including the number of people who worked there who have now found alternative employment, the number who are still being assisted by the Welsh Government, and what future use of the site is being considered.
I would then like to ask for two statements that follow on from petitions that the Assembly received and were subsequently investigated by the Petitions Committee and then followed by debates in the Chamber—and very positive Government responses to those petitions. Firstly by Whizz-Kidz regarding access to public transport for those with disabilities, and secondly Talking Hands regarding sign language provision. Can we now have statements giving updates on what action the Government has taken? Because they were all very well welcomed in the Chamber, they were very well welcomed by Government, lots of very positive things were said, and having talked to both Whizz-Kidz and to Talking Hands, they'd like to see now what action is going to be taken.
Thank you for those questions. On the issue of Virgin Media, which, as you say, is due to finally close in Swansea, I was able to provide, a couple of weeks ago, an update on the number of staff who, at that point, had found further employment, but I'll certainly ensure that you get that final figure. And also, I know that Virgin Media was due to appoint an agent in terms of future use of the site, and Welsh Government officials have made contact to enquire how that's progressing. We are awaiting a further update from them on that particular issue.
And again, with the debates that we had—I think it was the Talking Hands petition that we specifically talked about in the Chamber. As you say, it was very well received. But now we need to ensure that the action flowing from that debate is being followed up. So, the National Deaf Children's Society have recently written to the Petitions Committee, I know, with an update from their perspective, and I can confirm that officials now have arranged a meeting with them to discuss any further actions that they feel are required following the discussion of the petition.
First of all, can I just begin by supporting Dai Lloyd's request for a statement on the city deal? It's two and a quarter years since that was announced for the Swansea bay city region, and the general feeling is that we don't seem to have got much further and we're still at the talking stage.
I'd like, if I could, to ask for two statements in Government time—before the end of this session, if possible. Members will be aware of the very sad news about the closure of Jistcourt, a major employer, again, in my region, at a time when we've already had quite a chunk of bad news on the employment front, what with Ford and with Dawnus as well. And, of course, very much like Dawnus, the bad news here has travelled to Powys, which isn't in my region, but nevertheless makes me start to wonder with some real concern now about what constitutes due diligence. Now, I appreciate not every arrangement can end successfully, but we've had such a run of what looks like dangerous decisions recently, I'd like a statement not only to cover off the work the Welsh Government might be able to do to help Jistcourt and its families at this difficult time, but also who is best placed—would that be Welsh Government or a different body; the FCA or someone like that—to offer guidance now on what constitutes good due diligence. Because there seems to be a pattern of just looking at spreadsheets and thinking that's enough thought to bring to a decision on lending a lot of money. And, of course, in the most recent case, the Development Bank of Wales has been caught out on that one.
Secondly, I wonder if we could have a statement from the Minister for Welsh language on the work that her officials do to monitor the work against the 2050 strategy. Members may be aware that two councils in my region—Bridgend County Borough Council and Neath Port Talbot council—have recently issued ideas that seem to contradict the policy priorities of this Government. In the case of Bridgend council, the effect of the LDP and the provision of Welsh-medium education seems to have resulted in what looks like a drop in the amount of offer that they would be able to give to families in Bridgend. And, of course, on the Neath Port Talbot situation, you've probably heard they're doing a consultation on buses, which will include proposals—and, obviously, consultation is still ongoing—that could seriously damage the ability of people who had Welsh-medium education to continue it post 16. I understand all the financial arguments on this one, but, really, that would be such a setback in a county that's actually doing much better than Bridgend in terms of what it's being able to offer in terms of Welsh-medium education.
Thank you for raising both of those issues. In terms of the Jistcourt job losses, obviously this is going to be devastating news for the 66 employees and their families, and our focus now will be on supporting those employees to find alternative local employment. The workforce there is particularly talented, and our ReAct programme has a strong record of supporting individuals who have been impacted by job losses. We will make this support available as soon as possible, alongside co-ordinated support from local partners and organisations, including Careers Wales and Jobcentre Plus. On your wider concern about the economic development measures that the Welsh Government takes, of course, we do have that statement from Ken Skates next Tuesday, which might be an opportunity to explore the issues more widely.
I was able to respond to Dai Lloyd last week—to his question regarding the Neath Port Talbot provision of transport for those who wish to have Welsh language education. As you say, it is out to consultation at the moment, but we would be concerned if those who would like to have their education in Welsh were at a disadvantage. Obviously, we would be seeking to ensure that all efforts are made to ensure that there is no disadvantage there. I will ask the Minister with responsibility for the Welsh language to provide you with an update on the actions that have been taken towards the target of reaching a million Welsh speakers by 2050.
We found out from the BBC that, in Port Talbot, the 50 mph area that has been a trial period around junction 31, and has been extended, will be made permanent. And, from the BBC, it says that it will remain in force to maintain air quality standards. Now, without any Government statement, it's very hard for us to know what those air quality standards have reached and how we can be assured that this is the answer to the pollution problem in that particular area. I've been asked by constituents over the weekend for the information that led to a Government decision in this regard and I would welcome that information, because, as far as we don't have it, speculation will arise as to why the decision was made and about why that particular stretch of road will be kept at 50 mph. I don't disagree with it, but we need to know why that decision was made and we need to satisfy our constituents as well. So, a statement would be welcomed.
I'd also just like to reflect the issue that Suzy Davies raised in relation to Jistcourt. I've had a few emails about this too. Again, I would welcome a Welsh Government statement to AMs—I haven't seen anything in my inbox—because we need to know what's happening, we need to know how the workers are being supported, and we need to understand what conversations the Welsh Government had à la the conversations that may or may not have taken place in other circumstances with job losses in south Wales. I think it's a matter of respect for all AMs to be told. We can't be told sensitive information, but surely we can be told when job losses are potentially going to happen so that we are not in a position where we have zero information to give to people. So, a statement on that would be very beneficial.
Thank you for raising those two issues. I think the Minister for the environment did provide some of the information that you're requesting in a statement on clean air last week. So, I would refer you to that, but if the answers that you're seeking aren't in that, then I'm sure that she would be able to liaise with Ken Skates to provide that information to you.
And on the matter of Jistcourt, I will ask the Minister, again, to provide an update on the discussions that have been had and the support that we are able to provide employers. I think we have to be sensible, really, in terms of what's possible with regard to job losses, because as Ken Skates said last week, around 2,000 jobs are lost every single week in Wales, but at the same time, more than 2,000 jobs are created. So, there is a constant churn of jobs, but that said, where there are employers of significant size, I can completely understand why local Members would wish to have as early notification as possible in order to best support their constituents.
Could I repeat my call for a timely—at the appropriate time—statement to give us an update on work on Ford and the taskforce in particular? It would allow us, then, to raise the issue of up to 25 workers at Ford, some of whom are my constituents, who, in early May, accepted a basic package of redundancy and sought assurances from Ford at that time that there were no imminent closure plans, and in so doing, and accepting that basic package, are probably now out of pocket, with their families, to the tune of £50,000, £60,000, £70,000 or more, having been assured by Ford that there were no closure plans imminently. Four weeks later, Ford announced its closure proposals. Now, Ford will argue that they are watertight on this because those workers signed on the dotted line and accepted the terms, but those workers also sought clear assurance from Ford that there were no imminent plans for closure of the plant. So, they may be legally watertight, but I'd say, morally, they are shipping water on this issue, below the plumbline. So, a statement would allow the concerns of those workers to be laid out on the floor here, but also could give us assurance that Ken Skates, who I've raised this with, the Minister for the economy, will take this up with Ford as well, because I think there is a moral case here for Ford to answer about why their workers were being told, 'No plans for closure. Take the basic package. It's the best you can possibly do' and then they found four weeks later that they were left with a massive hole in their pockets.
As Huw Irranca-Davies said, those employees did accept the package in good faith at a time when they were reassured that there were no imminent plans for closure of the plant. Thank you for raising that matter directly with the economy Minister. As a result, he is writing today to ask Ford to consider its position on this matter and to investigate the possibility of enhancing the separation package agreed with the employees who are affected, so they're not at a disadvantage as compared to their peers.
I'd like to ask the Trefnydd for three Government statements, please. I'd first like to ask her to make representations to the Minister for Education for a statement about the financial sustainability of the higher education sector in Wales. I ask this in the light of concerns that have come to light about the possible job losses at the Lampeter campus of University of Wales Trinity Saint David. Now, obviously, any job losses are always a concern, and job losses in higher education are a concern, but the importance of the Lampeter campus to that small town is difficult to overestimate, so I'd be very grateful to hear what steps Welsh Government is taking, in association with the sector—hearing what Ministers always say about these being individual, autonomous organisations—to try to protect those jobs in a community that very much needs them.
I'd further ask for the Minister for the economy—probably a written statement, given the pressures of time—to make a statement about the proposed job losses at GRH Food Company in Minffordd. Now, this is, as the Trefnydd will be aware, a company that's very important to its local economy. It may only be 90 jobs, that may be relatively small, but I would put it to the Trefnydd that of those 2,000 jobs that she referred to just now that are created in Wales, not enough of them are created in the north-west and so the loss of those 80 jobs to that community is significant. I know that the environment Minister will fully understand the significance of the potential loss of that processing capacity to the wider rural economy. So, can I ask for a written statement? And there may be some capacity for the environment Minister, with her support-for-farming hat on, to have some input into that statement.
Finally, further to remarks already made by Andrew Davies, I do think that this Assembly has got the right to expect the Deputy Minister for the economy to come before us to explain why he has said—and I quote again—
'For 20 years we’ve pretended we know what we’re doing on the economy—and the truth is we don’t really know what we’re doing on the economy.'
These may have been comments made light-heartedly—I've only seen them written down, I haven't seen them in context—but I do think—. And I heard what the Trefnydd has said about the statement from the Minister for the economy himself, but I think his deputy has got to account to this place both for what he means by those comments, which are extremely serious if true, and also, perhaps more importantly, what role he intends to play to make sure that the Welsh Government does work out what it's doing on the economy. It isn't good enough simply for him to hide behind his Minister; he has to account for those comments, because I certainly know that his constituents in Llanelli will not be very reassured unless he's prepared to clarify them.
On the first issue, which was seeking a statement on the financial stability of the education sector, as you say, universities are independent and autonomous bodies, and Welsh Government doesn't get involved in their administrative affairs. However, I can confirm that the education Minister did have a meeting with the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales in the last week, where I'm sure that the issues relating to Swansea University and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David at Lampeter would have been discussed.
With regard to GRH Food Company, obviously, again, this is going to be more devastating news for the employees there, and the focus has to be now on exploring all avenues to look for secure jobs for those workers to move into. I can confirm that Welsh Government will be meeting urgently with the administrators to see what more we can do for the workforce, but also for that wider supply chain, which you referred to in your statement.
And on the final question, in the first instance I think I'll be having a conversation with the Deputy Minister.
The next item, therefore, is a statement by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on delivering a low-carbon Wales. I call on the Minister to make the statement. Lesley Griffiths.
Diolch, Llywydd. Last year, we received the stark warning from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, showing that the warming of our climate is beyond doubt and the evidence for human impact is even more certain. In Wales, we have a strong commitment to act on climate change, through the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. In December 2018, we set our first legislative interim targets and first two carbon budgets, providing clarity and direction.
Following the setting of our first carbon budget in March this year, the Welsh Government published 'Prosperity for All: A Low Carbon Wales', which contains detailed sector-by-sector emissions profiles, and 100 policies and proposals to achieve our first carbon budget and a low-carbon Wales. The plan is broken down by portfolio, which demonstrates the collective Cabinet commitment to change. It pulls together 76 pieces of policy from across the Welsh Government, UK Government and the European Union, and 24 proposals for future action. Implementing the policies in the plan is crucial to meet our first interim target and carbon budget, and the proposals create the foundation for greater decarbonisation.
Latest data shows we are making progress, with carbon emissions 25 per cent lower in 2017 compared to 1990. However, we must not underestimate the challenges we face in Wales. Nearly 60 per cent of our emissions are from power and industrial installations. In the power sector, emissions grew by 44 per cent between 1990 and 2016, whilst over the same period, overall UK emissions from the sector reduced by 60 per cent. This reflects historical UK Government decisions to site fossil fuel power generation in Wales. Wales is, as a result, an exporter of electricity to the UK power system.
We need to be a part of a new energy system where we can control the outcomes we want for Wales—outcomes that are good in terms of our economy, the natural resources we all rely on, and our communities. This is why, in the plan, we have a proposal not only to develop our policy on the combustion of fuels, but have also focused on greater local ownership of renewable energy generation. Wales already generates electricity from renewable sources equivalent to 48 per cent of our total consumption.
The plan contains actions to reduce emissions from industry, which must focus on collaboration, research and development. We will establish a dedicated industry-led group to consider the particular opportunities and challenges of decarbonising industrial sectors and business in Wales. Doing so must ensure a sustainable and competitive business environment, whilst also maximising the innovation opportunities from decarbonising industry.
We will decarbonise our transport system through focusing on encouraging modal shift towards more sustainable travel, and support the uptake of low-emission vehicles. We will decarbonise our buildings through expanded retrofit programmes, which not only help to reduce emissions but also tackle fuel poverty and build local skills. Next month, we will receive recommendations on how this could be achieved from our external advisory group.
We will also increase our carbon stores through increasing tree cover and woodland creation activities. This is one of the reasons for a new national forest for Wales, and I will also be launching a consultation on the next stage of our land management policy next month, ahead of the Royal Welsh Show.
We must ensure our transition is grounded on fairness and equity, leaving no-one behind, and I am pleased to see this was also highlighted in the UK Committee on Climate Change's recent advice, whose 95 per cent target was predicated upon retaining the industrial base we have and decarbonising it, rather than offshoring our emissions. This is not only important in protecting our local jobs but also ensuring we are being globally responsible. We will also establish a climate just advisory group to advise Government on the transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy, with equity at the heart of our action.
I have always been clear, Government action alone will not be sufficient. We cannot do this without everyone playing their part. Working differently to develop skills, innovation, behaviour change and collaboration will be crucial if we are going to meet our ambition. Therefore, our next plan will need to be a whole-Wales plan, reflecting the need to recognise the contributions of all to meet the challenge of climate change and to secure maximum benefits for the well-being of Wales through the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Shortly after the plan was published, the Welsh Government declared a climate emergency to galvanise action. This was followed by the National Assembly becoming the first Parliament in the world to vote in support of such a declaration. Earlier this month, and in light of our declaration, I confirmed acceptance of the Committee on Climate Change's advice for a 95 per cent emission reduction by 2050, and committed us to going even further and achieving net zero emissions no later than 2050. This is Wales's fair contribution to the UK's commitments under the Paris agreement.
As a result of this, next year we will bring forward legislation to adopt a 95 per cent carbon reduction target, representing a huge increase in ambition from our current 80 per cent target; and before the end of 2021, we will set out our next plan to meet the 2021 to 2025 budget period. All Ministers are being asked to review their actions in the plan to identify where we can go further and faster to meet the increased ambition we have set ourselves.
However, we must remain focused on the first step. 'A Low Carbon Wales' describes how we will meet our first carbon budget and also provides a vital foundation for the greater efforts to come, not only from Government, but from all of Wales. If we do not tackle the areas outlined in the plan, we will not ultimately meet our first carbon budget or the fundamental challenge of tackling climate change.
Reaching our targets will mean people working together across Government, the private, public and voluntary sectors, and the involvement of society as a whole, and I am pleased to see others have already followed in declaring a climate emergency. This is a tremendous challenge, but one I am confident Wales can rise to.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement. It seems as if the environment spokespeople and the Minister occupy a permanent slot on Tuesdays these days with the various statements—important statements, I might add, and very appropriate to be taken.
If I could first of all begin by asking—and I did ask in business statement to the finance Minister—about the economics of all this. I sign up entirely to the goal and the objectives of what you're talking about, but I do detect a sense that the economics of all this and how it will be delivered aren't understood in Government. If they are understood, then can we have that information made available? I do make reference to the Treasury analysis of what some of these initiatives will end up costing the economy and also generating for the economy as well, both in terms of jobs and in terms of money that Government will need to find. The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales has highlighted that, at the moment, only 1 per cent of the Welsh Government's budget is spent on decarbonisation. Can you at the very least this afternoon give us an indication of where you think that figure might be in five years' time, as a percentage? Surely these sorts of numbers have been worked and crunched within Government. Otherwise, unless the finances follow the policy, the policy just will not be able to be delivered. I hope you would accept that logic.
Also, on the energy element of the statement that you've highlighted this afternoon, Minister, you've highlighted previous decisions to locate certain power plants in Wales—Aberthaw is one that springs to mind, which is in my own electoral region. And we know, by 2025, that power station will come to the end of its life, given, obviously, that it's a coal-fired station. But you have previously said that, actually, as an energy model, we should be looking more at just generating enough energy for our own consumption, and not being an exporter of any surplus energy. Can you highlight to the Chamber today how you think that might be achieved, or indeed, is it active Government policy to only provide the energy capacity within Wales that will meet the demand of Wales, and not look to export generation outside our borders?
And do you see any role for fossil fuels in the energy mix here in Wales? Because in the decarbonisation strategy, obviously, we do have the gas-fired power station, for example, in Pembrokeshire. I'm led to believe it's one of the most modern, if not the most modern gas-fired power station in Europe. And, so, from the balancing point of view, as we understand with renewables, there's only a certain amount you can get to, because renewables, at certain times of peak demand and certain times of the night, in particular, don't generate. And battery technology at the moment—. Say, in south Wales, for example, if you want to put battery technology on the grid, it's impossible to put it on the grid because there's a moratorium from Western Power. So, can I understand what your energy policy is, and how that's going to be unfolded in the next 10 years, and in particular whether there is any space within the energy mix that the Government is envisaging for Wales for gas-powered stations such as Pembrokeshire?
I think it's really, really important the point that you make offshoring. It's one thing having a clear conscience in Wales, but there's no point in us having that clear conscience if all we've done is ship the businesses abroad. I think, if you look at the Ford decision, for example, I don't think that Mexico's declared a climate change emergency, and I'm pretty sure some of the environmental conditions—and I'd be happily corrected on this—are not as robust as maybe some of the European conditions are, and I'm sure that that might well have played out. And we're talking about the combustion engine here. So, again, I really would like to understand how your new working group that you're going to set up will be advising Government on how we can keep the competitive edge for Welsh business and industry, because without those Welsh businesses and industry creating the jobs and wealth that we need for our overall economy, the public will soon move away from this particular policy agenda because, ultimately, they will say they're losing their jobs because of it.
The forestry sector, as the climate change committee has highlighted, the Government’s own target of planting 100,000 hectares by 2030 has slipped considerably. I think, most probably, that’s a generous term I could use, because obviously that goal still sits there, but the planting targets have been missed successively over recent years. Again, it would be worth while trying to explore with the Minister how you're getting that back on track. And in particular, the future generations commissioner has highlighted a budget line of some £16 million required to reactivate this particular initiative. Has the Minister considered such financials within her settlement? And if she has, will she be committing to those lines that the future generations commissioner’s highlighted?
And I'd also like to draw house building into the equation, because if we are on about carbon reduction, house building, in particular, offers huge potential for us to achieve gains in this—whether that be retrofitting or indeed new building standards. And from the Conservatives' own housing position that my colleague David Melding brought forward last year, it is Conservative policy to have zero-carbon housing by 2026. Does the Government subscribe to such standards and such a goal, because, obviously, you are in the chair to make this decision at the moment? I do think it’s slightly regrettable that there is that disconnect in the department, now that housing and planning sit in another portfolio, whereas historically they did used to sit with your good self. Linking the environment and the environmental objectives with building regs and the planning system, obviously, does require very collaborative working with other departments, but there has, from previous examples, been shown to be a lack of joined-up thinking sometimes in some of this policy development.
And my final point, if I may, on this, is you've announced today that you've set up two new groups to advise you on it. I can remember when the economy Minister came into office and he highlighted how his department on its own had in excess of 40 different groups advising him on economic policy. Could you—and I appreciate you might not have this figure today—highlight exactly how many groups are working within the department, because there’s not many statements we get where there isn't a new group or task and finish operation set up to advise? And I think it would be good to understand exactly how all these groups, whilst doing no doubt very good work, are actually informing the debate and, importantly, crafting the policy to be delivered to meet the ambitious goals. And credit to the Government, they have ambitious goals, but they won't be goals that will be achieved unless you actually get this all working in harmony.
Thank you for that contribution. I think Andrew R.T. Davies spoke longer than I did with the initial statement—[Laughter.]—but I will try to answer all his questions.
I think it's really important that when we consider the potential cost of any transition, we don't lose sight of the economic opportunities that can be realised. I think we focus perhaps too often on the loss of jobs. I think we can learn lessons. If you look at coal mining back in the 1980s, and the transition from that, I think there are lots of lessons to learn from that, and lots of things that we should avoid. But I think we have to have the courage to lead the way on this.
You ask about the financial cost, and there is something that we are looking at; I think the Trefnydd answered in her business statement, with her Minister for Finance hat point of view, that, clearly, decarbonisation is something that she's questioning us all on as we start the budget process—well, we have started it, we've had the initial meeting, and, obviously, it will be intensified over the summer recess. I go back to what I was saying in my original statement: every Minister has to look at their policies and their proposals in relation to decarbonisation and climate change, and, clearly, there will have to be movement of finances within every Minister's portfolios.
I think also, when I received the UK Committee on Climate Change's advice around the 95 per cent target—that is relying on retaining the industrial base that we have and decarbonising it, rather than offshoring emissions, and I'm pleased that you welcome that, because I think it is really important to be globally responsible.
You talked about the future generations commissioner's 10-point climate emergency plan and the headlines. We obviously received that report last week. I think we did have it about 24 hours before it was made public, and, certainly, she's on the same side as us, and I very much welcome her contribution to this debate. I think it would be good for all public bodies. I've been very pleased that since we announced the climate emergency, since we declared the climate emergency, so many local authorities have come on board. And they say that it's because the Welsh Government led the way that they followed.
Last Thursday, the First Minister and I attended Natural Resources Wales offices here in Cardiff to have a presentation on what they've done since the Welsh Government announced, declared, the climate emergency. And they said it really made them look at what they're doing. And they've really led the way around the Carbon Positive project. I don't know if colleagues are aware of it; it's worth looking at. So, I think it's good to see public bodies in particular looking at what they can do, and also the private sector and businesses. And I think it was in the statement last Tuesday that I mentioned that I'd gone to the economic council that's chaired by my colleague Ken Skates, because business specifically asked if I would go, so they could talk about their response to the climate emergency and climate change.
You asked quite a few questions around energy generation, and before, when planning was in my portfolio—and I think my portfolio is big enough, and I think it's good that I can work collaboratively with Julie James as the housing and planning Minister. We're a small Government and we work very collaboratively across the Government. But one of the last things I did before I had planning taken out of this portfolio was look at ensuring that fossil fuel applications and licences was absolutely at the bottom of the energy hierarchy, and we have a huge focus on renewable energy projects. And there are now more than 67,000—I was quite astounded at the number—of renewable energy projects here in Wales. And, now, 22 per cent of electricity—well, this is back in 2017—in Wales was generated from renewables. And you ask whether we should just be looking after own energy, or whether we should be looking to export. And I think, as we go forward, we might see a difference and an adjustment in that.
You mentioned forestry, and I am not going to defend our tree planting. We're not planting enough trees. I've made that very clear—that we need to be looking at that—and, again, I will have to find funding within my budget, and, certainly, I think, again, I've mentioned previously in the Chamber that I am looking with NRW, because they do have land ready for reforestation, to see what funding we can do. You'll be aware of the First Minister's commitment in his manifesto to a national forest, and I've just received some options today, actually, which I need to look at. But, clearly, forestry is an important element of our land management policy that we will have post Brexit, and you'll be aware I'm going out to consultation in early July.
I think you're right about house building. I would like to ramp up our retrofitting schemes and programmes. We've made some significant advances and progress in the number of houses that we've retrofitted. But, again, the budget is the budget, and we are putting, I think, about £250 million into retrofitting and our energy efficiency programmes in the lifetime of this Government. What I think is really important—and I think the First Minister mentioned this in his questions—is that we're not building houses now that will need retrofitting 25 years, 20 years down the line.
You mentioned about the report I think that David Melding brought forward. And I did speak to David after last week's statement to say I'd be very interested to hear about his proposals for zero-carbon housing, and I hope we can meet in the near future.
You asked about the two groups we're setting up. I can't tell you how many groups I have. I certainly haven't got 40; I don't have many groups. But I do think, going forward we've made it very clear that the next plan that we bring forward next year needs to be an all-Wales one, and we need to bring everybody with us. And, of course, there are experts out there who can help us with this. And I'm always really pleased how many people are very willing to give of their time to help us as a Government. I referred to the industry group. Officials have already been actively engaging with industrial stakeholders, and I mentioned the economic council—the board members of that had asked me to go along to talk about the challenges and the opportunities. So, officials are already looking at establishing that group. It hasn't been established yet—it will be established this year, and it will be a pan-Wales working group.
The Climate Just advisory group, which was announced when the First Minister launched the carbon delivery plan, will advise us on the transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy, ensuring—and this is really important for me and for the Government—a fair and equitable transition for all of our society, and that includes all our workers and communities.
May I thank the Minister for her statement this afternoon? I've expressed a view on 'A Low Carbon Wales', the document published, of course, and the element of frustration I feel that what that is is a collection of announcements that have previously been made to a great extent. And since then, we have declared a climate emergency, and it's positive that the Minister has asked her officials to look again at those commitments in that document, but I would like to hear from the Minister that the amended document will be far more ambitious and far more far-reaching than what we've seen in the past to reflect the climate challenge facing us. I'd also like to know exactly when we will see that amended document. Because as we have now declared a crisis, one would suggest that that work should move on swiftly.
You mention in your statement the role of industry, the role of transport and the role of the construction sector, and I would agree that they have a crucial contribution to make. But there's an irony here, of course, because just three years ago the Government consulted on changing Part L of the construction regulations related to energy efficiency in new homes. They consulted on strengthening that to 25 per cent or 40 per cent, and then settled for 8 per cent, and when we in Plaid Cymru opposed that, you voted us down, saying that 8 per cent was to be your target, and now you're saying, ‘Well, we have to do more to ensure that new homes are more energy efficient.’ Well, where have you been for three years? And therefore I would ask you to consider that, but that's no reason, of course, not to go further and more quickly, and I would like to see you doing that.
But in your statement, you're quite right in saying that every Minister should review his or her actions, and I would welcome that. What you don't say is, of course, by what point they will do that—what is the timetable for them? We are in a crisis, so should we expect statements from every Minister before the summer recess? I see nothing in the business statement that that's to happen. So, at the earliest, we’re talking about mid or late September, and, that's four or five months after declaring a climate emergency in Wales, and we still don't know what the response of most Government Ministers is.
You’ve stated that you will do more to decarbonise buildings that already exist by expanding retrofit programmes, and I welcome that warmly. I would like to hear more detail as to how you intend to do that. What would be the scale of the new programme? How much budget will you have to spend on this work, because the future generations commissioner, as we know, has published a 10-point plan last week that suggested between £200 million and £300 million per annum on retrofitting? That's the kind of figure that she had in mind. So, what kind of figure do you have in mind? And you have touched upon that 10-point plan in an earlier response, but, of course, that's mainly a challenge in terms of the Welsh budget. You say that the commissioner is on the same side as you—well, I'm sure that is the case, but the challenge, of course, is there’s £1 billion to invest in this agenda. So, what case are you, as Minister, making to the Finance Minister, because we would have expected, for example, in the supplementary budget published last week, that the Government's response could be seen clearly to the climate crisis? But what have we had? Nothing. It's business as usual, to all intents and purposes. So, we will be looking with great interest at the next supplementary budget when it’s published, as well as, of course, the draft budget for next year, which will be published by Government in the autumn.
Finally—and it's a minor detail, but I do think it's very significant indeed—you say in your statement this afternoon that you will launch your consultation on your land management policy at the Royal Welsh Show. Now, on 15 May, you said in this Chamber, and I quote:
'I have committed to go into a second consultation ahead of the Royal Welsh Show.'
It's only one word, but I think there is a fundamental difference there, because I want to understand why the change? Why the delay? Because it is disappointing. I would have assumed that announcing the consultation before the show would give you, as a Government, and you, as Minister, and the rest of us an opportunity to have a far more meaningful discussion, where stakeholders and the wider public would have had an opportunity to consider what’s contained within that document in the greatest event of the rural calendar of Wales, rather than turning up, announcing that the statement is to be made and not giving us an opportunity to air these crucial issues at that crucial event.
I'll start with that last question from Llyr, and I would suggest, with respect, that at the bottom of the oral statement that you were given as a spokesperson, it does say 'check against delivery'. And when I was reading out the oral statement I did say I would be launching the consultation ahead of the Royal Welsh Show. So, I'm sorry if you didn't hear me say that, but if you want to check the record, I definitely did say it. And I will—I do remain committed to launching the sustainable land management consultation early next month. So, I do accept why you thought that, but, as I say, it does say 'check against delivery'.
Regarding the future generations commissioner, I think the information she sent in her 10-point plant is very helpful. She doesn't say where we should get the £1 billion from. I don't know where we can get the £1 billion from. But, clearly, when Ministers review their policies and proposals, which they have to do, there's no doubt that the fact that we're now in the first carbon budget period, for instance—we are having to look at things differently. And those discussions will be ongoing. You've heard the Trefnydd say in business statement that she's already started to have those discussions.
Every six weeks or so I chair the decarbonisation ministerial Cabinet sub-committee, and we're meeting tomorrow. And I will be asking Ministers what they've done in relation to reviewing their policies and proposals. You asked for a time limit, and I did the lobby briefing this morning on behalf of the Welsh Government where I was asked that question, and I think that's a very fair question. We can't do it before the summer recess, and I would think, when we have had that review of all our proposals and policies, it could take several months to bring it all together. But that doesn't mean work isn't ongoing, because clearly it is. But in these times of austerity and all the calls on the Welsh Government budget, to find £1 billion in a year is completely unrealistic I think.
And I think that is one of the things about the low carbon delivery plan. It's ambitious, but it's realistic. And the UK CCC, when I met them ahead of them giving us the advice—I think it was probably two meetings back—agreed that the low carbon delivery plan was ambitious and if we were able to fulfil all the policies and proposals in there, we would be well on the way to achieving our targets. I think, looking at the energy efficiency schemes, we have increased the number of houses that we have retrofitted from an energy efficiency point of view. Of course, that has not just an impact on our emissions but it also helps people in fuel poverty, and I was very pleased to see the data that came forward in relation to that last week or the week before, and I would encourage Members to have a look at that.
The low carbon delivery plan does set out sector by sector all the different departments across Government and what is required by them. It was only launched in March, and I do appreciate the world has moved, because of the advice that we have received not just from the inter-governmental panel but also from the UK CCC. I asked the UK CCC why they didn't give us 100 per cent, you know, the net zero carbon reduction, because we were the only country that they didn't do that with, and they say the same as me—targets have to be realistic. But I have said that we have the ambition to reduce our carbon emissions by 100 per cent by 2050 and I think that's the right thing to do. It's important now that we work with the groups that I mentioned in my answer to Andrew R.T. Davies to make sure that we work with stakeholders to achieve that.
Thank you very much, Minister, for your statement. I'm interested in the fact you state quite openly that the Government—there are certain matters beyond your control. So, the Aberthaw power station is obviously—we can't close it; we have to wait for the UK Government to do the right thing. But it's great to hear that we already have 48 per cent of our energy from renewable sources, and clearly it'd be fantastic to see many more community-led projects.
I'm keen to understand how the Government plans to encourage uptake of low-emissions vehicles, because every time I escape to go on holiday I need to go up the A470 and I need to be able to get back from north Wales. There are lots of good locations along the A470 for putting in electric vehicle charging points, but to my knowledge there aren't any at the moment, which means I simply can't rely on this mode of transport and am unable to invest in an electric vehicle. I'm also very glad to see that Wales is not going to clean up our act in this country by dumping it on poor countries, offshoring our emissions. I think this is absolutely crucial.
I think, in relation to horticulture, Brexit sharpens our attention as to where we're going to source our vegetables and fruit that we currently import, and I'm not terribly keen to be hearing that fresh veg is going to be substituted by tinned and frozen vegetables, but that's better than nothing. But we clearly need to be growing more of our own. In the cross-party group on food, we heard that Castell Howell, which is obviously one of the main distributors of food, only source 18 per cent of their supplies from Welsh producers. So, I think there's a lot we can do to reduce our food miles, both in relation to food security issues posed by Brexit and the threat of a 'no deal', but also just in order to clean up our act. If we have food produced locally, we're obviously going to be using a lot less carbon. So, I just wondered if the Government could say a little bit more about how we're going to do that.
Thank you, Jenny Rathbone. You're quite right about Aberthaw. So, the UK Government is planning to close Aberthaw in 2025; we don't have the power to do that earlier. The significant decrease we had in 2017 from carbon emissions, at 25 per cent, was due to coal generation not being used, Aberthaw not being used, so many days as the previous year. But I think you're right about being globally responsible. We need coal to make steel. We could import steel from other countries, but then that would not be being globally responsible in my opinion. You quite rightly pointed out that 48 per cent of our electricity comes from renewable energy. So, again, we're well on the target that I set of 70 per cent by 2030—I think I set that target back in December 2017—and the local energy service that we have is working very hard with individuals, with communities, to try to bring on more renewable energy projects.
In relation to low-emission vehicles, I work closely with Ken Skates in this area. There are over 600 publicly accessible charging points in Wales at the moment, and I know from my discussions with the Minister that there are plans for the private sector, certainly, to now really up the number of those publicly accessible charging points. But, you're quite right, people need to have the confidence to purchase an electric car, knowing they can get from Cardiff to Wrexham or any other part of Wales. So, I think it is really important. But we do envisage the majority of electric vehicle chargers being rolled out by the private sector, and I know the Minister, who's just come into the Chamber, is engaging with charge point providers to gain some insight into their investment priorities and ensure that that provision across Wales can be encouraged.
Horticulture—I know the Member is passionate about horticulture, and it only makes up—I think it's less than 1 per cent of our agricultural sector, so there are huge opportunities for horticulture in our post-Brexit sustainable land policies, and it's something that I'm personally very keen to see. I visited a horticultural farm, if that's the right term, in west Wales last year and it was just brilliant to see the Welsh produce that was available. And, as you say, if we can reduce our food miles in the way you suggest, that will benefit everybody.
Can I very much welcome the statement? I'm very pleased that we are again discussing what I consider to be the major issue facing us in Wales. We can either decarbonise or look for a new world to inhabit, because, if we don't, this world will not be able to sustain human life. We are facing a serious climate change emergency, and we've got to address it.
I have three questions, and the first one is probably the most important: battery technology. Many of us have visited the Solcer House, and they were using car batteries in order to store electricity. We know that people would like to use electric cars, but they'd like to use electric cars that have batteries that can be charged very easily and very quickly, or where you could have a two-battery system, where you could just swap the battery around in order that you use one, leave the other one at home on charge, and then swap them around. What progress is being made in battery technology? Because, with both cars and houses, unless we get the battery technology right, then we're not going to really get the decarbonisation we want to.
The second question is: what is being done to ensure that hydrogen generated for vehicles is produced using renewable energy? Because I see people talking about hydrogen as a renewable—it is—but it takes energy to create the hydrogen in the first place. So, if you're going to use gas-powered generators to generate the electricity to produce the hydrogen, you're actually doing something that is environmentally less friendly. Everybody says, 'It's hydrogen, it must be good'—it's how you get to the hydrogen. And, if you're using electrolysis, you're going to need a lot of electricity in order to split the hydrogen and oxygen, or hydrogen and nitrogen, or hydrogen and whatever elements you wish to have it with.
The third point is: more trees. I don't believe you can ever have too many trees, and I think that we ought to have a lot more woodland than we've got now. But have the Welsh Government got any thoughts on trying to create a series of urban forests around urban areas, like the one in Maesteg that Huw Irranca-Davies speaks very highly of? There are lots of other areas, including around eastern Swansea, where we have areas that could be easily covered in trees to the benefit to the environment. Also, we talk about forestry—forestry is a commercial enterprise. We talk about subsidising forestry—forestry for a lot of people is a means of making money. Even Natural Resources Wales, surely, can make money out of forestry.
Thank you, Mike Hedges. You are quite right; climate change is the biggest threat that we are facing, and the advice that we're receiving is we've got 12 years to turn this around, and it could be that we are the last generation that can do that, and it's really important that we take the opportunity and that our children and grandchildren don't turn around and say, 'Why didn't you do something about it when you could?'
Mike Hedges raises a very important point, I think, around battery technology. I've been to the Solcer House—it was probably about two and a half years ago, and I remember thinking the batteries were very large that they were using then. Clearly, there's a lot of research and development going on to ensure that battery storage is getting smaller, because people will not have the room to have those large batteries. This goes for hydrogen as well—I think it's really important that we're not bringing forward technologies that people can't use easily. So, batteries are a classic example. We also need to make sure that the infrastructure is there. So, the national grid needs to be reinforced in parts of Wales—certainly mid Wales—and that's a matter for the UK Government to ensure is happening, and I'm having those discussions both with the National Grid and officials have also raised it with the UK Government.
Later this week, I'll be attending the British-Irish Council, alongside the First Minister, where energy is the topic. So, I'm very much looking forward to talking with colleagues from across the UK Government, the devolved administrations, and, of course, the Crown dependencies as to what they're doing. I'm sure there will be a lot we can learn.
Trees—I go back to my answer to Andrew R.T. Davies: we are not planting enough trees. You're quite right; there are commercial interests as well. It's not just down to Government to plant trees; there are lots of organisations that can help us. NRW, certainly, I think should be planting more trees, and I'm looking, as I said in my answer to Andrew R.T. Davies, to see what funding we can help them with.
I think you make a very good point about urban forests. The First Minister's manifesto commitment around a national forest—I think, in the beginning, when we were discussing a national forest, I was thinking of a forest. But, clearly, the options I've asked officials to work up point to many more smaller forests around Wales being joined up, but I've only received those options today. I will need to discuss them further with the First Minister, but I think there are opportunities to link up the forests with the coast path, for instance, to ensure that people recognise what they are and what they're for.
We have several schemes. You'll be aware of the Size of Wales scheme. We're now at twice the size of Wales schemes, with the number of trees that we've planted. And, of course, our Plant! scheme was set up back in 2008 to plant a tree for every child born and adopted in Wales—since 2014, we've planted a tree in Wales and we've also planted a tree in Uganda.
You say in your statement, Minister, at least in the written version, that you've committed us to going even further, in achieving net zero emissions no later than 2050, yet you said in reply to Llyr Gruffydd that that was downgraded to an ambition, and we're legislating just for a 95 per cent cut, not for net zero. In what sense, then, are you committed to net zero instead of the 95 per cent reduction? Could you also—? I know you weren't able to last week, and, if you can't now, could you perhaps give me a timetable when you might be able to do this—what is your policy in terms of international offsetting? Will it be allowed, and, if so, will there be a limit placed on it?
I think your statement today is very timely, after the vote in the Commons—or not a vote in the Commons last night; it went through without even a vote—to change the 80 per cent reduction up to this far higher amount. I wonder about the cost of that. We have at least semi-official estimates of £50 billion or £70 billion a year, and I think it's much more sensible to focus on the annual cost than it is adding it up over an unknown period to get £1 trillion-plus scary numbers. But, if it is this £50 billion or £70 billion a year, then I welcome this process of carbon budget setting, of looking at what are the implications of this, because I think it's very easy for politicians to make great commitments for a long time in the future to synthesise a legacy for Theresa May or whatever other motivations there may be, but it's only when they come down to looking at what are the implications of this, what are the costs, what are the trade-offs, that, actually, you engage in real policy. And I think, with a 40 per cent or so cut in carbon dioxide emissions across the UK since 1990, we were leading the world in that and making really quite big strides in this area. I'm just concerned that, by lumping that up from 80 per cent to 95 per cent or 100 per cent without explaining how we're going to do that, there may again become a detachment between our ambitions and reality, or what our constituents would be prepared to accept in this area, given the trade-offs involved.
You mentioned that coal is required at Port Talbot to make steel. How, then, do we decarbonise that process while retaining the industry? What is the intention in terms of gas boilers? To come anywhere near this, you're going to have to get rid of everyone's gas boilers. Are you looking to replace them with electric—currently three times the cost—or would you have hydrogen instead, and, if so, how on earth does one get to a situation where one cuts off the gas and puts in hydrogen at a point in time instead? How do you co-ordinate people's boilers for that?
And could I ask you, finally, just to clarify a little further around this electricity production point? What's your assumption about what's going to happen with Aberthaw B that's so huge in terms of its implications in this area, and are you saying that as Welsh Government policy you would like to see a greater emphasis on autarchy and less in the way of exporting to England in electricity? What's wrong with exporting power to England? Is that a bad thing? If so, what do you intend to do about it?
Thank you, Mark Reckless, for those questions. We accepted the UKCCC's advice around a 95 per cent reduction. That was a significant increase from the 80 per cent that they said last year, and I have committed to legislate next year to increase our emissions reduction target from at least 80 per cent to 95 per cent by 2050. That's in line, obviously, with the UK accepting a net zero target. But I did signal an ambition to develop a net zero target, and we now need to work—and I think I outlined this in my answer to Llyr Huws Gruffydd—we now need to work with the UKCCC—if I am at all concerned, I will ask for further advice—and other stakeholders to identify the ways in which a more ambitious target could be met. If we had said we would only accept 100 per cent—as it is now, by having that ambition, we are going further than any other UK Government.
I think what the UKCCC's advice does is that it recognises that we do need a collective approach across the UK, with everyone playing their part. So, I think it's really important that where the UK Government hold the levers, I encourage action from them. On the cost of it, we have to recognise the cost of not doing this, and it's hugely significant both in financial and, obviously, in human cost. Wales has already been badly affected by climate change, and it's right that we do take this very seriously. And I go back to the low-carbon delivery plan; it's important that every Minister reviews their policies and proposals to do that.
I'm not sure if you've read the low-carbon delivery plan because you asked me the same question, but I really would encourage you to do that, and you will see the way we set out around the emissions and how we're accepting them, and how we are ensuring our global responsibilities. So, I said we still need coal to make steel and we could import steel, but, for me, that wouldn't be globally responsible. So, it's important that we work with Tata and other businesses to ensure how they look at innovative ways to ensuring that they're not so fossil fuel dependent in the coming years.
I think it's really important that we see an increase in UK Government support for steel-related R&D, not just here in Wales but across the UK, and I think as part of the industrial strategy we should be calling for more funding for this. I think it's also important that the UK Government reduce the still significant energy price differential that we have, and that means UK-based energy-intensive industries, and that includes steel, continue to pay more for their energy than their European competitors.
Is it a bad thing to export electricity to England? No, but you will understand that it's UK Government decisions that have placed much more fossil fuel generation in Wales, and that's why our emissions are much higher in Wales.
And finally, Joyce Watson.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I want to just highlight in terms of woodland that 15 per cent of land cover in Wales is the coverage of woodland, against the 37 per cent that is the EU average. So, therefore, to catch up we would have to have an extra 22 per cent land coverage of woodland. And I just put that there, because you've given lots of answers. But there is also another factor in all of this. The UK Government's advisory board have suggested that the grassland that is used for animal grazing might be reduced by 25 per cent by 2050 to help cut carbon emissions, and we all know that producing red meat really does increase the carbon emissions on so many levels that, really, we have to question what we are doing. And that is in terms of everybody playing their part, as you said in your statement. And I did call for a plant-based choice on school meals just the other week. So, maybe, you know, we can start looking at balancing these things. I'm not a vegetarian, I'm not a vegan, and, yes, I do myself eat red meat, but I eat less of it now and that's the point I'm trying to make.
The other thing I think that we could really look at: under the future generations and well-being Act, we have a duty not to create a consequence on another country. So, when we're looking—and I mean us as governments and public bodies more widely—sourcing materials, whether that's for the desks we're leaning on or the chairs we're sitting on, we should make sure that they're coming from sustainable forestry, and that we're not importing and helping to create a problem for somebody else. That is writ large in that future generations and well-being Act—that we don't create harm somewhere else.
My final point here is: you may be aware that there's a campaign going on at the moment to try and save Trecadwgan farm in Solva for the public. The council own this particular smallholding and there will be lots of smallholdings owned by other councils across Wales. Again, I ask you if you will look at advising local authorities, and being advised ourselves, that if we're thinking of disposing of any land, we need to think about handing it back, first of all, to the community, when actually it's owned by the community in the first place. Because the council or any public body doesn't actually own anything; it's the ratepayer who owns it, and the ratepayer should have the first option of trying to do something productive with it.
Thank you, Joyce Watson, for that series of questions and observations. Just talking about smallholdings, when I came into portfolio three years ago, I was very keen to do a piece of work with local authorities around the number of smallholdings that were being sold off. I understood they were doing them quite often because of financial pressures, however once that smallholding is lost, it's lost forever, particularly if it's sold, obviously, for house building, for instance. So, I think we have seen a smaller number of smallholdings being sold off. I'm not aware of the particular one you mentioned, but I will certainly look into that.
I think the point you raised about importing—. I gave the example of importing coal for steel making and how it would be wrong for us, I believe, as a globally responsible country to import steel, but I think you took it down to an individual level, which I think is really important, and the choices we make around our purchases, for instance. I think once of the reasons for declaring a climate emergency was to galvanise people into action and it wasn't just governance, it wasn't just local authorities, it wasn't just businesses; it was individuals as well. I think that you've given a very good example of how people, when they're purchasing anything, do it from a sustainable point of view.
You mentioned woodland, and new planting has been shown to give considerable gains in carbon sequestration, which is why we have now committed to planting 2,000 hectares a year from 2020 to 2030. We've also linked our Glastir woodland creation support to the woodland carbon code. There's a really significant piece of research being undertaken by Cambridge university at the moment to investigate technological solutions to challenges related to climate change, and that focuses on what a positive role woodland can play. Certainly, whilst I appreciate it can take a long time for trees to mature—and this is a conversation I've had with farmers, who sometimes are reluctant to plant more trees because they know that piece of land will be tied up for many, many years. You might be aware the National Farmers Union has actually said they'll be carbon-neutral by 2040, which is incredibly ambitious, so I think the agricultural sector is very very keen and take their role very seriously. Obviously, we can look at this as part of our post-Brexit sustainable land management policy.
Thank you very much, Minister.
Item 5 on the agenda this afternoon is the Regulated Advocacy Services (Service Providers and Responsible Individuals) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, and I call on the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services to move that motion—Julie Morgan.
Motion NDM7078 Rebecca Evans
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales; in accordance with Standing Order 27.5
Approves that the draft The Regulated Advocacy Services (Service Providers and Responsible Individuals) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 4 June 2019.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I move the motion. The statutory instrument before you today makes minor amendments to the Regulated Advocacy Services (Service Providers and Responsible Individuals) (Wales) Regulations 2019. It is the intention that these amendment regulations come into force on 1 July 2019. Now, these amendments have been brought forward as a response to issues raised by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee in their technical scrutiny report on the regulated advocacy services regulations. The amendment regulations are corrective in nature and only seek to address the minor issues raised in the report. They do not make any substantive changes to the advocacy services regulations.
The amendments make the following changes: correcting a reference in regulation 6(4)(c) to read 'Part 2' instead of 'Part 3', correcting a reference in regulation 7(3)(c) to read 'Part 2' instead of 'Part 3', and correcting a reference in regulation 15(1)(d) to read as 'service commissioners' rather than 'commissioning authorities'. The regulated advocacy services regulations themselves were introduced as part of our legislative package to fully implement the requirements of the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016. They aim to ensure that providers of regulated social care services achieve the required standard of care and support so that people's well-being and safety are maintained.
The requirements within the advocacy services regulations ensure that people have access to up-to-date information about the services that relate to them and that these services are person-centred. The regulations also set out requirements in relation to safeguarding, staffing and governance of services being provided. The amendment regulations before you make necessary minor technical corrections to the advocacy services regulations in order for them to operate fully as intended, and I ask Members to support them.
Thank you. I have no speakers for the debate, and 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.
The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1 and 5 in the name of Caroline Jones, amendments 2, 3 and 4 in the name of Darren Millar, and amendment 1 in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Item 6 on our agenda this afternoon is the debate on the M4 corridor around Newport, and I call on the Minister for Economy and Transport to move that motion—Ken Skates.
Motion NDM7097 Rebecca Evans
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Notes the Public Inspector’s report and decision letter published by the First Minister on Tuesday 4th June, including an oral statement later that day, regarding the M4 corridor around Newport project.
2. Notes the proposed next steps outlined by the Minister for Economy and Transport including the establishment of an expert Commission to be led by Lord Terry Burns.
3. Recognises the significant congestion issues on the M4 network around the Brynglas Tunnels and the impact it has on Newport and the wider economy.
4. Notes the Welsh Government’s commitment to developing and funding sustainable and effective solutions to congestion issues as part of an integrated, multi-modal and low carbon transport system.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. It is indeed a pleasure to bring forward this debate this afternoon. Members have already been able to put across some of their views during a recent Plaid Cymru debate, but I think this is an incredibly important subject and it's only right, therefore, for Members to have the opportunity to provide contributions in full.
As Members and as all other interested stakeholders are aware, the First Minister decided not to proceed with the M4 corridor around Newport project, otherwise known as the black route. And, yes, as a Government, we are aware that, in terms of the M4 around Newport, our proposal was the black route and that is what we were pursuing and what we were promoting. However, I do recognise that times have changed since the black route was conceived. It is only responsible for Governments to accept when times change and when new challenges are presented, to respond accordingly and to act in a nimble way, and that's precisely what we have done.
I can assure all Members that we recognise that this challenge has to be addressed. 'Do nothing' is simply not an option. The question for us is how we are able to respond, packaging some of the alternatives in a way that will reduce or eliminate congestion. I believe that we can achieve a reduction in congestion on the M4 through Newport in a way that offers value for money and minimises cost to the public purse.
I'm pleased that Lord Terry Burns will chair the expert commission to make recommendations on the next steps for the transport network in south-east Wales, and the terms of reference of the commission were published alongside my recent written statement. The commission will be small and will be focused. It will consider the views of all stakeholders, such as the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, the future generations commissioner, business groups, social partners, environmental groups, transport user groups and local and national political representatives. I believe it is imperative that social and economic performance should be central to this crucial work. The commission will therefore ensure that their views are fully captured in its work.
Now, the commission's work has already begun. I've had incredibly constructive discussions with Lord Burns about the work that's being undertaken to date by the Welsh Government and how he and his commission will take the work forward. We are examining all short-term measures that are available to alleviate congestion. I'm pleased that we are able to introduce additional patrol services and breakdown recovery services. These will not come without cost, of course; these are expensive services, but they are now tried and tested. They were deployed first on the A55 as part of the A55 resilience work, and they are now proven to work.
I must add that not all of the money that was allocated to the black route is available for a road-based solution or for interventions purely on the M4 because, of course, one of the reasons why the First Minister decided not to grant the Orders was because it would have drawn capital from other vitally important social infrastructure. However, the First Minister has already been clear that the recommendations put forward by the commission will have the first call on funding set aside by the Welsh Government to resolve the issues that we see on that part of the road network.
But we've also been clear with Members that those solutions must represent good value for money. It will be for the commission to consider all solutions. We will not be entertaining any pet projects, as I said in my written statement, outside of the commission's work. Whilst there will always be competing demands for funding, we are clear that delivering sustainable solutions for the significant challenges along this transport corridor is a top priority, and I can assure Members that the money spent since 2013 developing the proposals for the M4 project will not be wasted and will be put to good use by the commission, making sure that it is fully informed in terms of transport modelling, in terms of environmental surveys and all the other factors at play right across the region.
I recognise that the figure attached to the development cost of the proposed black route is significant, but it does represent something in the order of just 6 per cent of the overall project cost that was estimated. And that, as I've said already in this Chamber, compares very favourably to other projects across the UK. You only need to look at development costs of projects such as HS2 to appreciate that you cannot deliver a major infrastructure project in the western world without incurring significant development costs.
We've also been very clear in stressing that this project is absolutely unique in terms of the scale and in terms of the impact on the site of special scientific interest, and that, therefore, it had to be considered in its own right. Since we presented, I think, a very compelling case, there's been a declaration of a climate emergency, a greater understanding and appreciation that we need to act now, that we need to be more responsive and more responsible, and, therefore, the bar has been raised.
I know that other schemes have been highlighted recently and a fear that they will be lost as a consequence of this being seen as having set a precedent. That is simply not the case; all of those programmes will go ahead. Indeed, the Caernarfon-Bontnewydd bypass is going ahead. We are proceeding with consultations on improvements to the A483 this month. Work on the Flintshire corridor of the A55/A494 will be proceeding this summer with further modelling work, Welsh transport appraisal guidance work and further consultations and meetings with local stakeholders. Other road projects across the length and breadth of Wales are still in the pipeline to be delivered, and this does not shift our position on those.
We also have some incredibly exciting and bold plans for public transport here in Wales: from the £5 billion plan that we've developed, through Transport for Wales, for the new and transformational rail franchise and metro; to major legislation that will help us to re-regulate the bus network; to, of course, the biggest investment we have ever made in active travel. There is a huge amount of exciting work taking place right across Wales that I think will inspire, will encourage and will enable modal shift, which is so very important. Dirprwy Lywydd, we are committed to taking an inclusive and collaborative approach to finding innovative, affordable and sustainable solutions in the shortest possible timescale, and we look forward to working with Members and stakeholders in conjunction, of course, with the commission, to meet that need.
Thank you. I have selected the six amendments to the motion and I call on David Rowlands to move amendments 1 and 5, tabled in the name of Caroline Jones.
Amendment 1—Caroline Jones
Add as new point after point 1 and renumber accordingly:
Regrets the Welsh Government’s failure to abide by its promise to deliver an M4 relief road.
Amendment 5—Caroline Jones
Add new point to the end of the motion;
Recognises that congestion around Newport has been hampering the Welsh Economy for the last two decades and calls upon the Welsh Government to ensure that, in the absence of a relief road, any mitigation measures are put in place as soon as possible.
Amendments 1 and 5 moved.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I formally move amendments 1 and 5 tabled in the name of Caroline Jones, and wish to confirm at this point that we will be supporting amendments 2, 3 and 4, tabled in the name of Darren Millar.
I move amendment 1 and simply record that the delivery of a relief road for the M4 motorway at Newport was a Labour Party manifesto pledge. Moving amendment 5, I fear it is incumbent upon each party in this Chamber to discuss, in a productive and co-operative way, any firm proposals and alternatives proffered by any Member or party in this Chamber. The situation at Newport is now so dire that we all have to put party politics aside, both for the people of Newport and the Welsh economy in general.
Even this morning I witnessed, at 6.45 a.m., a horrendous tailback from the tunnels to junction 28, and further, last Friday, I experienced a tailback from the St Mellons interchange right through to the tunnels. Again, I wish simply to make the point that speed limits from the Tredegar Park interchange were exacerbating the problem, because actual traffic volumes flowing through the tunnel were quite low.
I wish to confirm that we support all moves to accommodate people on public transport, and we believe that this will be a vital factor in cutting down the volumes of traffic now experienced on that road, and I am absolutely certain that the metro will help a great deal in actually reducing those volumes. But, as the Cabinet Minister knows, there has to be a much greater emphasis on what is actually happening on the M4 motorway, and I look forward to the proposals coming out from the commission with regard to their proposed solutions. Thank you.
The Llywydd took the Chair.
I call on Russell George to move amendments 2, 3 and 4, tabled in the name of Darren Millar. Russell George.
Amendment 2—Darren Millar
Add as new point after point 1 and renumber accordingly:
Regrets the failure of the Welsh Government to publish the independent Public Inspector’s report prior to 4 June 2019.
Amendment 3—Darren Millar
Add as new point after point 3 and renumber accordingly:
Further regrets the failure of successive Welsh Labour Governments to deliver a solution to congestion on the M4 to date.
Amendment 4—Darren Millar
Delete point 4 and replace with:
Calls on the Welsh Government to accept the recommendation of the independent public inspector and build the M4 relief road.
Amendments 2, 3 and 4 moved.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I move the amendments in the name of my colleague Darren Millar.
On 23 October, the then leader of the house, Julie James, standing in for the then First Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government, committed that we would have a binding vote in Government time on the M4 relief road project. I think it's disappointing that this commitment has not been honoured. Six years on from the start of this project, the inquiry has taken the best part of two years to examine the Welsh Government's own proposals and 28 alternatives at a cost of what we now know is £114 million. Only, of course, for the whole scheme to be scrapped by the First Minister.
I'm disappointed that the Welsh Government has now kicked the can down the road yet again, with the creation of a new expert commission, which was put together to come to new conclusions within six months. What's to say, of course, that at the end of that process, the First Minister will not just run a coach and horses through Lord Burns's recommendations, like he has done with rejecting the detailed conclusions of the report of the independent public inspector?
The Welsh Government is right in its motion that the significant congestion issues on the M4 have an impact on the economy of Newport and the wider economy. But it's all very well putting that in a motion today; this Welsh Government is part of the problem and not part of the solution.
'"Make do and mend" is no longer a sustainable policy choice to meet the long-term needs of Wales.'
Not my words; they're the words of the economy Minister with regard to the M4. For 20 years, the Labour Government have pretended that they know what they're doing with the economy, but I'm afraid they're just making it up as they go along. Since the rejection of the inspector's conclusions, the Government has no plan, no targets, no practical solutions that will resolve the congestion issues that are holding back Newport's economy, and suffocating the wider Welsh economy.
We on these benches cannot support a motion that fails to recognise the Welsh Government's failure over the last 20 years, despite two decades of discussion and consultations. The economic benefits are clear. The economy and transport Minister has previously recognised this, and I quote him here:
'over the 60-year appraisal period, there is more than £2 of benefit for each pound spent on the scheme, without touching on the wider economic benefits likely to flow from the scheme, such as a stronger perception of Wales as a place to invest, which cannot be captured.'
I couldn't sum that up better myself, Presiding Officer, and, of course, the planning inspector also said that for every £1 invested it would pay back £1.56 to the nation. Meanwhile, as it goes on now, traffic levels are increasing and we're failing to build an infrastructure and road network that would attract inward investment. The economic impact of not proceeding has been estimated as being £134 million a year to Cardiff and £44 million a year to Newport.
I have real concerns and questions in regard to the environmental impact of the Government's own proposals, but it was incredibly important that the public inquiry heard stakeholders' views, examined the alternative proposals being put forward and examined, in detail, the environmental consequences being raised. It was my view and the view from these benches that the public inquiry outcome, having examined and balanced all the evidence, should be respected.
To be clear, Presiding Officer, we on these benches are calling for the Welsh Government to accept the recommendations of the public inspector and urgently build the M4 relief road. Presiding Officer, I will end with a quote from the words of the Welsh Government's own economy and transport Minister, who said
'the existing infrastructure on the M4 around Newport is not fit for purpose....Piecemeal and useful improvements have been undertaken over time, which will improve the position...but they've only postponed the issue. This piece of infrastructure needs a major, long-term upgrade.'
I agree with him.
Amendment 6—Rhun ap Iorwerth
Add as new point at end of motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure that any new proposal is part of a Wales-wide package of infrastructure investment.
Amendment 6 moved.
Diolch. Let me tell you two contrasting stories. One is actual, one is a portrayal of what might have been. First, then, in 2011, Welsh Government commits to pursuing the so-called black route to the south of Newport. In 2019, eight years later, eight years of putting all eggs in one unsustainable basket, and Welsh Government is forced to admit the project is unsustainable financially and environmentally. The M4 remains overburdened and congested, and no alternatives are in the pipeline.
Alternatively, 2011, Welsh Government realises this is the twenty-first century, not the twentieth, that road resilience must be improved, yes, but in conjunction with major investment in public transport and modal shift. In 2019, eight years later, a major road improvement programme is well under way to take the strain off the M4, and the population of Newport and around are already enjoying the early fruits of investment in low-carbon mass public transport, as promised when Newport was identified as a pathfinder for transport innovation.
Now, I said that second version was very much imagined, but it needn't be now, if we change the dates and start the clock from now. We have waited and wasted eight years, and the electorate will make their judgment in future elections, no doubt, about this Labour Government's missed opportunities, but we have to get moving now.
Here's something else that may have happened in that second scenario: Welsh Government, through a national infrastructure commission, was able to develop those Newport and south-east road and public transport innovations as part of a new Wales-wide transport infrastructure strategy. Wrexham and the north-east, Swansea, Cardiff and the Valleys saw public transport plans accelerated due to Newport's experience. Confidence gained from seeing Newport's response to the new public transport offer, which took traffic off the M4, of course, led to new thinking on developing and reinstating new transport links like the west coast rail connection.
All of this, I truly believe, is possible, and would have been possible. What we have to do, though, now is to make sure that 2019 is the starting point for that kind of new approach to south-east and Wales-wide transport planning.
Now, I mentioned the national infrastructure commission, and the Minister will have heard me previously ask, 'Why set up a new commission to look at the Newport M4 issue? Haven't we got a vehicle in the relatively new national infrastructure commission that should be there to do just that?' And, okay, the national commission isn't exactly what we in Plaid Cymru called for—not as strong—but we welcomed it as a step in the right direction at least, and wouldn't giving it this project, this high-profile task of responding to the M4 decision, be exactly what's needed to let it grow in stature and grow in confidence? And, at the same time, isn't having a commission just for the M4 issue exactly what we don't want if we're serious about Wales-wide transport developments? Look at point 4 in the Government's motion, noting
'Welsh Government’s commitment to developing and funding sustainable and effective solutions to congestion issues as part of an integrated, multi-modal and low carbon transport system.'
Now, I'd like to think that, by that, the Government means a Wales-wide transport system, in much the same way as we're calling in our amendment for a commitment to a Wales-wide package of infrastructure investment. Maybe the Minister can confirm that. Putting the task in the hands of the national infrastructure commission would guarantee that wider context—yes, addressing the issue at hand around Newport as a priority, but seeing how it could all dovetail together, perhaps as I envisaged in my alternative timeline.
So, what are the solutions? I don't have the advantage of being in Government. The Government has missed the opportunity of the last eight years. They are in the privileged position of being able to plan from now on. But as the Government's commission starts its work, we in Plaid Cymru will be doing our own work, speaking to stakeholders locally, speaking to transport experts and other economic experts, to look for alternative proposals. I hope that the Minister will be happy for that work to be presented to the commission to be considered. We're starting on that work immediately.
And there are opportunities for us now. There are political elements to what needs to happen next. We need certainty that borrowing and spending powers will still be open to the Government. There’s no justification for allowing the UK Government to control what should be our priorities here in Wales. I hope to hear the Minister agreeing with that. I know that the Welsh Government has been to blame for those arrangements, but we now have to see the Government here in Wales fighting to keep those borrowing powers. And in answering the problem of the south-east and Newport, which is a priority, we need to make sure that the whole of Wales benefits.
The issue around the Brynglas tunnels is a Welsh problem, not a Newport one, as it's often portrayed. However, I think, today, it's important for me to concentrate my remarks on what it means for Newport.
I know that I'm in a privileged position. I've been put in this Chamber by the people of Newport West to represent my home city—the place where I was born, brought up and live. For the purposes of today's debate, it gives me a perspective of what living in a city with a motorway running right through it is like. It doesn't make me a transport expert, but it does give me an understanding of the issues that people who live in Newport face on a daily basis.
The M4, which bisects Newport, is the most heavily used road in Wales. It's part of the trans-European road network and is critical to the Welsh economy. The road provides access to industry, ports, airports, and is crucial for tourism. It's the main gateway to England and to the rest of Europe. In his report, the inspector describes the M4 as the most important road in Wales. The Newport stretch of the M4 does not meet modern demands. The report notes that there is, and I quote,
'clear evidence that the M4 is burdened by an abnormally high number of non-recorded and unpredictable incidents which block or obstruct the motorway throughput causing delay, frustration, economic harm, pollution, inconvenience, negative perceptions of the area and diversion onto unsuitable'
roads in urban Newport. In the last few weeks alone we've seen prestigious events hosted in Cardiff. This is something that we should all be proud of and eager to attract. However, everyone who lives in Newport can look down at the motorway and see the congestion this causes—not congestion simply caused by residents of Newport. Even the smallest bump, let alone anything more, can take an age to clear. This has been heightened since the tolls have been removed. Every time there's an accident or severe congestion at Brynglas tunnels, motorway traffic is pushed onto local roads. This creates gridlock, choking the city and taking toxic fumes closer to homes and schools.
I grew up in an area that suffers gravely from air pollution caused by the M4. There are four schools a stone's throw away. Children walk alongside the motorway and over the bridges to reach their schools, breathing in the air pollution caused by the regular idling traffic. This is exacerbated by the topography of the area, which means that toxins from the motorway cannot disperse easily.
Today's debate gives me another opportunity to be clear in what I expect from the commission. I appreciate it was a difficult decision, and I respect the objections of ecologists. However, as I said in response to the First Minister's statement, we must not go back to square one. I will be there every step of the way, scrutinising and ensuring the views of people who live in Newport are uppermost in the commission's work. It's crucial that the money that was put aside must be spent on solutions for exactly that: to tackle this specific issue around Newport. The money must not be frittered away on projects across the country. Our city must not be strangled by congestion.
Ideas such as the closures of junctions on the Newport stretch of the M4 will not be an answer. Any closure of an M4 junction will only make life more difficult for my constituents and those in Caerphilly, Torfaen and Risca, amongst others. Significantly improved public transport in the Newport area would be welcome, yet we need radical and substantive changes. While I would urge the commission to look at new ways that can improve our transport system, both on the motorway and within Newport and the surrounding area, our city can not just be a test bed. We need to see a tangible and sustainable difference. We've been waiting for decades for a solution to a road that is not fit for purpose.
The inspector's report detailed the dangers of an M4 relief road not going ahead for Newport and the surrounding area. That's why I'll today abstain on amendment 4. I'm keen to meet with the commissioner and to reflect my constituents' views and ideas. Now that a decision has been made, the Government must be determined that things can be done in the here and now. The focus must not be lost. The challenge is great.
The case for a relief road for the M4 around Newport remains strong, Minister. First proposed way back in 1991, it tackled the problem of congestion that has never been properly addressed. The M4 is Wales's strategic gateway to the rest of the UK and Europe, but we are serviced by substandard dual carriageway that fails to meet modern motorway standards. In the last two years this stretch of road has been forced to close over 100 times; 100,000-plus vehicles travel on the M4 around Newport every day. This increases when major events such as concerts and rugby, football and cricket matches take place, and will do so again when the new convention centre at the Celtic Manor Resort is completed. Constrained by the oldest motorway tunnels in the United Kingdom, this stretch of road causes increased vehicle emissions, poor air quality and accidents around Newport.
The National Assembly's own planning inspector spent more than a year considering the case for a new M4 route south of Newport. Minister, there are six junctions that actually go towards Newport, around Newport, and the motorway is not a motorway—it's like a zig-zag around it. It's a slow motorway; it's a car park around it. The inspector gave the proposal his overwhelming backing. In his report, he details the economic, environmental and health benefits of the project. Yet, his recommendation was rejected by the First Minister. This decision was met with dismay, anger and frustration by industry and business groups in Wales. The Confederation of British Industry said, and their quote is:
'This is a dark day for the Welsh economy…Congestion and road pollution around Newport can only increase. Economic growth will be stifled, confidence in the region will weaken and the cost of an eventual relief road will rise'.
The Freight Transport Association said, in their quote:
'The M4 is a vital stretch of infrastructure with international economic importance, yet it is blighted by heavy congestion'.
Another quote from them is:
'It is frustrating that the opportunity to deliver this essential investment into South Wales’ infrastructure has been missed.'
The situation can only get worse. The Welsh Government predicts severe operational problems on congestion around Newport by 2020. The removal of the Severn bridge tolls, also set to inject over £100 million of economic activities into Wales, has increased congestion. Projection by the Department for Transport shows that traffic along the M4 is set to increase by nearly 38 per cent over the next 30 years. Failure to act is simply not an option, Minister. We need to look again at the alternatives to the black route.
One option considered was to improve the existing A48 by upgrading the present junction on the route that impedes the free flow of traffic. This would entail new bridges and underpasses. The cost of this option was a great deal less than the black route. Could we not look again at using a combination of the A48 southern distributor road and the former steelworks road to create a high-standard dual carriageway that would be called the blue route?
Much of the traffic is caused by commuters heading to or from work. The south Wales metro proposal is an ambitious scheme to get more commuters on our railways, but it is a long-term scheme that will take 10 to 15 years to deliver. We need options for rail now. We need a direct link between Newport and Ebbw Vale, Minister. We need to provide more communities, such as Magor and Undy, with railway stations.
I know that the commission set up by the Welsh Government will report on its interim findings with recommendations for immediate practical interventions within the six months of its formation. I urge the Minister to stick to his timetable. The people of south-east Wales have waited long enough for the problem of congestion on the M4 to be addressed. Now is the time. Minister, it was music to the ears when you said it's time to change. How, when and which end of Newport? And I’m sure you will do your best to make sure that congestion is eased, the environmental side is covered and the lesson has been learned over the last eight or nine years of wasting time and money in the area. Thank you.
I understand the quasi-judicial hoops that the Welsh Government had to jump through in order to arrive at its decision, which would have made it very difficult to have a plan B up its sleeve, because that would have been seen as prejudicing the decision that the First Minister has made. So, I disagree with Rhun ap Iorwerth that we, somehow, have to convert this whole problem into a new transport system for Wales. We do need, obviously, a refreshed transport system for Wales, but we do need to focus on the here and now in relation to the congestion we have around Newport. And I listened very carefully to the problems that Jayne Bryant described, and I’ve experienced them myself. I wouldn’t want to live just near that motorway—
Thank you very much for giving way. I don't think I was suggesting that we turn what we had before into a Wales-wide programme. It's a matter of developing an answer to the Newport problem as a priority, as I made clear, alongside now, and as part of, a new, innovative Wales-wide transport strategy.
Okay. But in the future we will have 5G infrastructure that will enable us to plan the minutiae of thousands of daily journeys and deploy the public transport system to meet that demand. But we are some way off that for now. So, we absolutely have to get on with the issues that will relieve the congestion today.
So, I'd like to press the Government on the timelines for the things that the Minister announced on 5 June, which are expediting the recovery of vehicles in an area where there are problems on that road, the date for providing an additional traffic officer patrol with extended hours, the live journey time information on the roadside signs—that sounds a little bit more difficult to provide immediately—and a driver behaviour campaign to reduce these incidents that cause the traffic officers to have to be deployed in additional numbers.
We can use the road space differently by, in certain places, having road space designated for buses and those who have more than one passenger in the car. But we really do need to find alternatives to the commuter—mainly commuter— congestion problem. So, I do hope the South East Wales Transport Commission is going to consider, for example, making bus travel in and around Newport free to entice people out of their cars and onto existing buses. We know that the lifting of the tolls on the bridge has led to a 20 per cent spike in traffic on the M4; no doubt this was a deliberate ploy by the current Secretary of State for Wales to try and gain the relief road decision, but let's turn the table on that: what about reintroducing tolls at busy times on the stretch of the M4 where the most difficulties are being experienced?
So, looking at the south Wales metro electrification projects, we hope we're going to see a sea change in terms of frequency and capacity on those north-south Valleys lines into Cardiff, but this is a north-south affair; the east-west rail services are not devolved, they're currently run by GWR. So, what discussions is the Welsh Government having with (a) the UK Government, (b) Network Rail and (c) GWR on using the four lines between Cardiff and Newport and beyond more effectively? We only need two to be dedicated to the long-distance express services. Why are the other two lines not available for suburban trains?
Last month, I went on a magical mystery tour on an electric bus, which is manufactured by Alexander Dennis in Scarborough, and I'm confident that Cardiff council is now going to buy some of them—or, if not these ones, other electric buses—to deploy in parts of Cardiff. So, that's all good stuff, but what about some of these electric buses around Newport as well? Because they are much more comfortable than the buses that are currently circulating—the dirty buses that are currently circulating—you can charge your phone on them, and it seems to me very much the way in which things are going.
But I also need to point out that the 12 million trips taken by bike in Cardiff last year mean that there's over 11,000 cars that are not on the road that would have been otherwise. So, I think that there are many things that we can do, and I agree absolutely with Jayne Bryant that Cardiff council has a duty and a responsibility to ensure that there are different ways of getting to these large-scale events taking place in Cardiff, and that means putting in things to actually make it less advantageous for people to travel into Cardiff by car when there are other modes of transport available, so long as we can marshal them.
As regional Member for South Wales East, I am acutely aware of the need to address the congestion issues around Newport. Now that the relief road has been abandoned, which we have welcomed, we need to look at alternative ways of addressing those specific issues, alongside upgrading our transport infrastructure to make it fit for us as a twenty-first century European nation. Yes, it is regrettable that there was no plan B put forward by the Government, but there's little traction in going over old ground on that point—far better to look to the future. Whatever is done next must be based on clear criteria and informed by the declaration of a climate emergency by this nation. Future plans should also uphold the principles of the future generations Act. As the commissioner herself has said, historically, in cases such as these, it has not been uncommon for the economic benefits of proposals to be given precedence, but this is one of the reasons why legislation was needed to redress the balance. So, let's make good use of that Act.
The black route would have failed on these criteria, since it would have crossed four sites of environmental and scientific importance. It would have threatened the habitat of the common crane, which has recently nested in the Gwent Levels for the first time since the seventeenth century, and would have released over 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. To add to this, it would have obviously led to a significant increase in vehicles on the roads, at a time when we want to achieve a reduction in transport emissions.
So, a solution that only focuses on facilitating more car usage is plainly not the answer. We in Plaid believe that a hybrid strategy should be pursued, involving multimodal transport options, with a view to addressing the needs of people all over Wales. This hybrid strategy could combine innovative ideas such as smart motorways, where we use technology to influence the flow of traffic; allocated lanes for multi-occupancy vehicles, such as buses, which can also be used as a car-pool lane; we also need to consider smarter use of our current infrastructure in the area. Professor Mark Barry has suggested, for example, flexible working patterns to help alleviate congestion during traditional rush-hour periods. After all, as we've heard a number of times in this Chamber before, it is only 10 per cent of the daily traffic on the route in question that causes the real problem. Freight consolidation—moving freight to rail, or moving freight during the quiet periods—can also provide some respite during this period of congestion. As we raised in our own debate two weeks ago, lessons can be learned from the Scottish example, where the Scottish Government pays grants to companies who decide to transport freight via train, because removing freight from roads reduces not only congestion, but also road traffic accidents.
Now, there are so many innovative ideas being put forward by Members of all parties in this debate, and that is the thing that we should be focusing on now; we should be focusing on the future. Over the coming weeks, Plaid Cymru will be setting up a working group to look at solutions to this issue and, as my colleague, Rhun, has already indicated, we would welcome the opportunity to present those findings in due course. Now, it's clear from contributions across the Chamber that the situation cannot be allowed to just get worse—for the good of the people of Newport, but people all over Wales. We have to work together on this. Diolch.
Way back in distant time, when I was in another place, in another Chamber, back in 2015, I was chairing the Environmental Audit Committee in Westminster, and we looked at the issue of Heathrow Airport. And on that committee were a range of views—it was a 17-strong committee—from ultra climate sceptics through to ultra ecologists and environmentalists. But we came to an interesting conclusion on the Government's proposals then on Heathrow, which was that, yes, Heathrow could proceed, but only with the most unprecedented massive modal shift—not only on new passengers travelling to Heathrow but on existing passengers, and not just around Heathrow, but in that area of greater western London—shifting people out of their cars, out of their reliance on cars, to avoid the issues of air pollution, of air quality, of climate warming, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So, yes, you can go ahead, it's an opportunity, but you have to do this on a scale that has never been seen before. It's curious, now, that the Government is actually coming forward to that way of thinking up there, three years later.
What relevance does this have here? Jayne is absolutely right in her contribution today that the immediate focus of the work of the Ministers has got to be on Newport itself—what can be done in the immediate future. And the statement of the Minister in making the decision on this made it clear that immediate solutions need to be found in terms of traffic management, in terms of enforcement and finding ways to deal with the right here and now. But the taskforce itself, going forward, should indeed be focused on Newport, on the greater Newport area. And the terms of reference have been set out.
But there is bigger issue here, and I don't think think we ought to conflate the two. That's what I would say to Rhun at this moment in time. There is a bigger issue, without a doubt. This is a Wales-wide issue. What is happening in Newport, around the Brynglas tunnels, around that side of Wales at the moment, is something that we're going to see more and more. We're seeing it now, everywhere between Pont Abraham and Port Talbot. That's where the massive growth in congestion is going to be—the next one. We're going to find gridlock down there if we don't actually respond in a very insightful way to those challenges. It's also going to be in north Wales; it's going to be every part of Wales. Now, that produces—if you pose that as the question, we start to come up with different solutions. I have to say that they are solutions that do provide challenges, but great economic opportunities as well, if we choose to go with them.
So, first of all, this is a Wales-wide issue—Jayne made that point very much. The M4 is creaking along its length; many other parts of our road network are. So, is the solution to actually build more and more and more and more and more roads, or is the solution to actually focus on how we make that massive, unprecedented modal shift? I'm not talking about sandal-wearing, hippy-dippy, 'Wouldn't it be nice if we all travelled by bike?', although I do love travelling on my bike.
We had a meeting of the active travel group the other day over in the Senedd. One of the chaps there from Public Health Wales did an interesting presentation. He said that if you put a bowl of fruit out in front of people at one of these receptions that we often go to around here—just a bowl of fruit with apples and whatever—most people won't choose them at all. If, however, you slice the apples up there and make it easier for people to eat them, they'll disappear just like that.
There's something here that's as important about the behavioural sciences as it is about technological advances and changes. How do we make it so easy, so attractive to people, that they pick that apple up and eat it? How do we cut and slice our public transport, our modal shift offer, so it is easy? Now, some of those are part of that bigger-picture thinking, and we do need to do that now as well as the immediate solutions within Newport and the Brynglas tunnels.
So, I'll pitch some of them in here, for what it's worth. Along the M4 corridor—the whole of the M4 corridor, not just the Brynglas tunnels—why wouldn't we want to be one of the first ones that actually looks at moving to light freight being moved by rail on a huge scale, where you actually load the stuff onto pallets? So, we'd take the Amazon deliveries from Swansea and where they're being distributed and we'd put the right mechanisms in place so that we can shift white vans—other colours are available, I understand—off that network. We release capacity.
Why don't we look at places along the entire M4 and out into Avon and Bristol as well, where you have not park and ride per se, but car-sharing park and ride, so that people who are going into Cardiff, into Newport, from Bridgend, using those tunnels every day, are actually making the active choice, the easy-apple choice—the cut and sliced one that you can just pop in your mouth—to sit in the car with somebody else and chat as they go, or, as I do, to get on the train and work as you do it? How do we get those easy choices?
Gosh, there was more I was going to say, but I've run out of time already. But that's, I think, where our thinking now needs to be. Immediately, we've got to deal with the Newport Brynglas tunnel, but are we willing to do something as ambitious as the future generations commissioner has said, and shift our funding into the areas where we can influence that modal shift—behavioural sciences as well as transport innovation? That's our challenge in Wales, but it's an opportunity as well, and we can create jobs in doing that.
The Labour Party manifesto promised to build a relief road for the M4. Now, First Minister, to adopt your language from earlier, you have betrayed that commitment. [Interruption.] Yes, that's what you said earlier, wasn't it—'betrayed'? That is what you have done. It was perhaps the most important, largest spending and most significant infrastructure project ever seen in Wales—
No, you don't need to at this point—you're to be called later on in the debate. Carry on, Mark Reckless.
I'm not sure if you were here, Alun, but it was the First Minister's language to me earlier at First Minister's questions, and it is the appropriate language for what you have done in respect of your commitment for that absolutely crucial project in your manifesto. Everything you put out now is cover for that—the cost-benefit ratio over two for that. Now, we'll look at other projects. You've got your commission; we'll see how long that takes to report. But the fact is that you had an M4 relief road recommended by the inspector that would give very clear cost-benefit return—whether that is the case for substantive spending commitments in respect of this commission remains to be seen. No doubt, there are some less costly projects that are sensible to do, like the free rescue—why you haven't done that before, I'm not clear.
I don't get this idea that they shouldn't have been looking at alternatives—that it would be prejudicial to have contingency plans for if the inspector didn't approve it or if they decided against the inspector's decision. Surely, a sensible Government would have contingency plans. I don't accept the idea that it would make the decision challengeable in law if anyone in Government was thinking, 'What do we do if this isn't agreed?' It's just a perfectly sensible planning arrangement.
We have our own amendments—amendments 1 and 5—that David's explained the purpose of. Amendment 6 we will be opposing. I was listening to Delyth Jewell, but in amendment 6 Plaid Cymru say, instead of what Labour are proposing to cover their own embarrassment at the betrayal of that manifesto commitment, which is at least to try and focus the spending on Newport and south-east Wales, those who suffer most from that failure and that broken promise—Plaid instead want to spend the money generally across Wales. Now, that speaks volumes about the relative priority Plaid Cymru give to Newport and south-east Wales, and we will be opposing that amendment. I'll give way.
And if you give way, you would recognise that I used the term 'priority' in relation to Newport and addressing the problems there.
But a lower priority than even the Labour Government—which has breached its manifesto commitment—intends to give to it.
I was astonished by Jenny Rathbone's contribution. She said there'd been a 20 per cent spike in traffic—that's a higher number than I've seen from other studies of this—and she describes scrapping the tolls as a deliberate ploy by the Secretary of State for Wales in order to make the Welsh Government build this M4 relief road. I'd like to, as I did before, give some credit to the Secretary of State, because he has been very, very clear on building this relief road. And in this motion today I note that the Conservative group here also says that the recommendation of the independent public inspector should be accepted—
'and build the M4 relief road.'
That is a very, very clear statement. Some members of the group have made other comments publicly; I note Nick Ramsay isn't in his seat. We'll see whether he's here for the vote later. But I do appreciate the very clear commitment, both from the Conservative group and from the Secretary of State, to doing that. It's almost as clear as the commitment that Labour gave in their manifesto, but which they have now, I'm very, very afraid to say, broken. The Minister said earlier that it doesn't matter that all the money that's been spent on the wasted costs—or some perhaps he'll manage to make sure aren't wasted, but I doubt they'll all be non-wasted—he says it will not waste as much money as they are on HS2. I'm not quite sure if that's a sufficient recommendation.
Can we also just have clarity on these 50 mph limits? I heard from your colleague Lesley Griffiths last week when I asked about this. Why were these 50 mph limits at six sites about air pollution being made permanent? Had the temporary ones been considered, and did the evidence support that? And she told me the evidence was mixed and inconclusive. So, why are these limits being made permanent? It's so important in terms of the Brynglas tunnels, the M4, what's happening with congestion, that people know that the measures being taken are those under best advice to try and limit and mitigate that congestion, when the Government has gone back on its promise to build this relief road. Are they there to do that, or are they instead there for the pollution reasons discussed last week by your colleague? Thank you.
Llywydd, as we've heard before when we've discussed these matters, I think there is wide agreement on the pressing and urgent nature of the problems on the M4 corridor around Newport, though there are different suggestions as to how they are best addressed, with very strong views on both sides of the equation as to whether the M4 relief road should have been built or not. That is reflected in the e-mails I've received as a local representative, and my own view very strongly is that the environmental as well as the cost factors support the decision that the First Minister has made. We've declared a climate emergency, and I believe we have to show new thinking. I believe the M4 relief road would have been yesterday's solution to the problems of today and tomorrow, and there are better ways. The precious Gwent levels, which are a wonderful resource for local people and the whole of Wales, have to be protected. The site of special scientific interest has to be protected, and the quality of life that that area brings to local people has to be protected.
We have to move away from the predict and provide model, Llywydd, where there's an estimate of future traffic growth and then new roads are built to provide for those estimates. We have to have an integrated transport solution, which we've been very poor at in the UK, but we need to become much better at, and much better at very quickly. I very much welcome the First Minister's assurance that the £1 billion or so borrowing ability is for the M4 corridor around Newport where the problems are, and where local people suffer the consequences of congestion on that section of motorway and local roads, the air pollution and the noise on a daily basis. The money must be spent to significantly reduce and address those problems.
In terms of the suggestions that we've heard again today, Llywydd, that the so-called blue route is an answer to these problems, I would totally refute and reject, and I wonder if those making those suggestions have ever driven on that road, with its roundabouts, its traffic lights and its junctions. If they did so, they would know that that route goes through the heart of many communities with many thousands of people living there, and they do not want to be subjected to the higher volume of traffic, the higher speed of traffic, that would bring those associated problems of air pollution and noise to those communities. It's also highly impractical, given those roundabouts, traffic lights and junctions. You know, really, everybody should recognise that reality.
Llywydd, when we're talking about integrated transport, there are, I believe, some pretty obvious ways forward that have been developed by local people and others over a period of time. One of those is the proposal for a new station at Magor, a walkway station, which is awaiting, hopefully, Welsh Government funding for the next stage of the UK Government's new stations process to take it on to the next level. The long-desired passenger train link between Newport and Ebbw Vale is another good example, and east of Newport, there is dire overcrowding on services to Bristol and other routes. We need much more UK Government investment to improve capacity and we need phase 3 of the metro to address those east-of-Newport issues.
In terms of early action, Llywydd, I would repeat the call that Jenny Rathbone made that we have a clear timeline for that new enhanced service to deal with accidents on the M4, where, for example, a space could be found for a recovery service to remove vehicles to. Because those unplanned problems are hugely difficult in terms of the chaos that they create on the M4 and indeed on local roads. To some extent, people can change their travel habits for what people would term the usual congestion, but, obviously, when it comes to accidents, that isn't the case. Many of them are relatively minor accidents, you know, and they could be cleared quite quickly with an enhanced service.
The other thing I would mention is the school run, which again I think is very significant for local congestion. We could have school buses with much greater availability to deal with those issues. We could also have a much stronger push on active travel around the school run and, indeed, in general. I mentioned, just last week, in the Assembly that one of my local primary schools had achieved a 40 per cent increase in active travel—scooting, walking and cycling—to the school in just a one-year period. I believe this does show what's possible, Llywydd, with the right energy and the right imagination.
It seems remarkable and contradictory that it's only a few weeks since this place backed calls to declare a climate emergency, the first parliament in the world to do so, and yet some Members here are calling for the building of a new major road for economic reasons. Regardless of how you voted in the climate change emergency debate, you can't deny that building a road of this size would cause a huge amount of environmental damage and encourage increased car use, which, whether powered by electricity or fossil fuel, will increase pollution. I understand that congestion itself increases pollution, but this relief road would not stay congestion-free for long, and then what? Build another road and another after that. Where does it end?
It is not that there are too few roads in Wales. The problem is that we've got too many car journeys in some places at some times. We all accept that congestion increases year on year. But the road network isn't shrinking, it's the increasing reliance on car use that's causing the issues. It isn't really rocket science to figure out what's causing the problem. It does, however, take some new thinking in order to solve the problem. I'm sorry, but there are surely no economic benefits that justify the permanent loss of important environmental areas, the continued march towards tarmacking over Wales and ruining the country for future generations. Anyone calling for this road to be built needs to tell the Welsh public what level of economic benefit they consider enough to condemn our future generations to live in a pollution-ridden concrete and tarmac jungle where they can't breathe the air and can't see any trees or hear birds sing.
I don't doubt that this Government can be doing much more to reduce congestion, whether that's through investment in public transport, ensuring the proper roll-out of superfast digital connections, incentivising companies to adopt staggered operating times and so on, but the failure to do that thus far doesn't justify calls to take the unimaginative step to build more major roads. When roads are built to ease congestion, for a short while it does work, but planners take their foot off the gas in exploring other options to deal with congestion. Refusing to build more roads that cost too much, both financially and environmentally, means that more sensible and sustainable options will have to be found, and there's a lot of money available to explore the more sensible options that will help reduce our carbon footprint and that don't require the permanent tearing up of our beautiful land.
It's time to halt the squandering of our country's landscape and our natural environment, the destruction of our wildlife and the pollution of our air from huge construction projects when the problems could be solved in other ways. So, I do support the Welsh Government's recent decision to can the M4 relief road. There are some here, though, who, if they have their way would see a road built that has little justification and would cause irreparable damage to the environment of Wales just to score a few political points. I hope the Welsh Government will now take a more sensible approach to road building.
On a final note, there's a Native American saying that only when the last river has been poisoned and the last tree has been felled will people realise that you can't eat money. So, please think on before you start talking about building extra roads. Thank you.
I hope and I think that this afternoon marks a debate on the M4 where we've actually been debating solutions to it and not simply rehearsing arguments on whether we would support either the black route or the blue route. If I think back to the debates that I've participated in and listened to in this place over the last decade or so, they've basically been debates not on the issues facing the M4 corridor transport in south-east Wales but debates on the black route, and I think those debates have been addressing the wrong issues. I agree with those in this debate—I agree with Jayne Bryant and with Huw Irranca-Davies, who've said that the issues that we have are certainly focused on and in and around Newport, but the solutions have to be focused in and around Newport and elsewhere. And certainly when I look at some of these issues it is clear to me that it is insufficient simply to point to the M4 itself, point at the traffic jams, and say, 'That is the problem.' I believe the problem goes further than that.
I understand and I do agree that the current M4 is no longer fit for purpose, but then again neither is the rail infrastructure in the area either, and neither is the trunk road network and neither is the public transport system serving communities in the south-east or enabling people to move through the area as part of a longer journey. So, this certainly requires addressing these particular issues but in a far wider and bigger way. So, I do welcome the announcement of the First Minister on the establishment of the commission to look at a wider and bigger response, and I hope that the Minister, in responding to the debate today, can give us further information on the timetable and the budget available to this commission. I did notice in his earlier opening remarks that he said that the £1.4 billion would not be available to the commission, but I think we do need to understand how much money is available to the commission, and we also need to understand what the timescale is that he seeks to provide answers in.
But when we look at where we've been over the last few years, we do have a comprehensive analysis of the capacity of not only the local and regional motorway, trunk and network system but also the capacity of the rail network, and I have, Presiding Officer, some real concerns about the capacity of the rail network to fulfil the role that many people have seen for it in providing an alternative to road transport. And I've heard what's been said this afternoon, but I am not convinced we have the rail network in place in this part of the world that's able to deliver on the ambitions and the visions that have been outlined today and at other times. I hope, Minister, that you will be able to persuade Lord Burns to speak to Keith Williams about the importance and urgency of the devolution of rail infrastructure investment, and investment in signals, in stations, and to ensure that we have the services that we require on the infrastructure that we need. And, in doing so, I hope we'll also set some very clear objectives in solving these problems and putting in place alternative transport networks.
One of the reasons I opposed the black route was certainly because of the extraordinary environmental and ecological damage it would've done, but for what benefit? When I looked at those economic heat maps and I saw the impact on Blaenau Gwent, it made my blood run cold because we were going to spend £1.4 billion on a road that would have no impact at all on the economy and the poverty in one of the poorest parts of Wales. And why would we do that? When I look at the issues, and when I look at the solutions that the commission will be delivering and developing, I will be looking at the economic impact on the whole region and not simply looking at a very narrow impact along the M4 corridor in Cardiff, Newport and Bristol. I believe that if we are making investments of this sort, then it has to have a much wider and broader economic impact.
And a final point I'd wish to make in this debate today is that on regional connectivity and the integration of public transport services. We are focused in this debate, and we focus all too often in our debates, on the hard infrastructure, on the investment in the railway line or a road, or wherever it happens to be. But I want to see us invest as well in the services that will enable people to make public transport a realistic choice in exactly the way that Huw Irranca-Davies described earlier. All too often in Blaenau Gwent we are seeing fewer bus services and not more bus services. We are not seeing the same urgency in investment in additional rail services that other parts of the Valleys networks are seeing. And consequently, many of the people who I represent listen to speeches on active travel and making these choices with a sense of incredulity and disbelief because we simply don't have those services available to us.
So, I hope that there will be the investment that we need in the infrastructure, which will allow a far bigger answer and a better answer to the questions we face. But I hope, also, that in making the investments in the infrastructure, we will also make investments in bus services, make investments in rail services, and also, Minister, take advantage of the legislation that you're currently considering in terms of the regulation of public transport to ensure that we do have a south-eastern travel authority or executive established by statute to manage the integration of public transport services.
People will know that I disagreed with the abolition of the South East Wales Transport Alliance when it took place at the time, and I think since then we've seen a real diminution in the connectivity of transport services serving the co