Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd04/04/2017
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call the National Assembly to order.
Our clerk and chief executive, Claire Clancy, will retire this month, and this is her penultimate Plenary. She has served in the office for more than 10 years, and this will be Plenary No. 643 for her. To acknowledge the value of her contribution, I will invite comments from party leaders. Carwyn Jones.
Diolch, Llywydd. I can say that there are few benefits to ageing, but one of the pleasures of serving as a founder Member of the Assembly is having seen the institution grow and develop over nearly 20 years. And, having served for 10 years, Claire has provided leadership for more than half of the National Assembly’s existence, but she will leave, of course, a significant imprint behind.
The post Claire took up in February 2007 was very directly the product of the Government of Wales Act 2006. A key element of that Act, of course, was to separate the National Assembly and the Government—the legislature, of course, from the Executive. It took us forward; it was an important step, in fact, in our maturity as a democracy. And, of course, behind it lay a great deal of work in setting up the Commission and tooling it to do the job that it required. And that will be Claire’s lasting legacy to the Assembly. She supervised the transformation of the Assembly from a somewhat ad hoc body into a pillar of Wales’s democracy, capable of operating as a professional scrutiny body, in both Welsh and English.
We know that security, sadly, is an area where we’ve seen great change during the years of Claire’s stewardship. Working with the police, and her wider team, she has, of course, helped to respond to the changing security environment, while succeeding in retaining the Assembly that is open to the public, literally as well as morally.
I know, Claire, that your stewardship and your role is the culmination of a long career of public service in Wales. Before coming here, you were the chief executive of Companies House. Before that, of course, a long career in skills and training in Wales, at the Manpower Services Commission, and elsewhere. And I know that, in the 1990s, Claire spent two years on St Helena, supporting her late husband, Mike, who is very well and fondly remembered by his former colleagues in the Welsh civil service.
We know, as Members of this Assembly, that we look to the Commission to give us the support and infrastructure we need to do the jobs that our voters sent us here to do. So, could I thank Claire for all that she has done, and, of course, wish her every success and happiness in the future? [Applause.]
On behalf of Plaid Cymru, I’d like to place on record our gratitude to Claire Clancy for having served the National Assembly for 10 years. She’s been a constant source of support and guidance for all Members, across the Chamber. And, alongside the current and previous Presiding Officers, she’s developed and improved the Assembly since 2007—a period of significant change in how laws are made in Wales.
We’ve seen a growth in the responsibilities of this Assembly. There’s also been a growth in voter turnout, public engagement and public support, and Claire Clancy has played a leading role in all of those developments. I’m confident that Welsh democracy will develop much further in the future, and that that will be possible because of the contribution that Claire has made to date.
So, diolch yn fawr iawn, Claire, and best wishes to you for the future.
I well remember the first time I walked into this Chamber, in 2007, and Claire was the other side, there, to take the oath of office for newly elected Members. I didn’t realise the mosaic in front of us here—the Heart of Wales—was there; I just set my eyes on the clerk of the Assembly and walked straight across the mosaic, and sent the fear of God into the clerk. I was, at that stage, about 15.5 stone, so it didn’t crack; if I did walk across it now, it might cause a problem.
But, from that day forth, I have come, over the 10 years, as my group has come, to appreciate the advice, the support, and the continuity of that support and advice that you’ve given us as a group, but to the Assembly as a whole. And the Assembly, in that 10 years, has grown in stature to be a Parliament, and a Parliament with legislative and, now, tax-raising responsibilities. And that is in no small part due to the contribution that you have made as the clerk of the Assembly and the chief adviser to the Presiding Officer.
I do thank you for all the support you have given us. I do wish you well, and your family, in retirement. I hope it will not be the last time we see you and that you do come back, on many occasions, to see how we develop over the coming years. But, it has been a privilege and it has been a pleasure, and, on behalf of the Welsh Conservative group, I thank you most sincerely for all the time, effort and support you have given us all. Thank you. [Applause.]
Well, Llywydd, it’s always a pleasure to make a non-controversial speech that is going to command agreement around the Assembly, and to agree with everything that’s been said by all previous speakers so far today. I speak from a completely different perspective, as somebody who is wholly new to this institution, and, indeed, all my group members are in the same position. And we have been enormously the beneficiaries of the quiet efficiency of the clerk’s department, which you’ve presided over with such grace, charm, intelligence and ability. And, without the clerks in any parliamentary institution, of course, it would never be able to function properly. In fact, there are many outside who would probably say that it’s the only part that does function properly. And I’ve seen this, of course, at Westminster as well, where I think the permanent staff are a standing rebuke to all us elected members, in the way in which they conduct themselves and in which they perform their functions.
And so, I would also like to thank you personally for all the help that you’ve given me in the year, now, that I’ve been a member of this place, and I’ve grown to appreciate how important you have been in the development of the Welsh Assembly, and your inheritance will, of course, survive you. We hope that you will have a long, happy and vigorous retirement, and that, as Andrew R.T. has just said, you will come back and visit us as often as you can. Thank you.
And the former Presiding Officer, Dafydd Elis-Thomas.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. Claire Clancy has filled the post of chief executive and clerk of the Assembly in a dignified and warm way. It is most appropriate for us to pay a worthy tribute to her today, as she has done more than achieve the commitments she made upon appointment, and that feels like yesterday to me, although it was 10 years ago. Through her service to this Assembly, she has also provided exemplary services to the people of Wales and to democracy. It’s no easy task to be chief executive of a democratic body, working with disparate and varied elected Members. Keeping the balance is quite a task in an institution that exists in order to represent different views and to hold the Executive to account.
The greatest resource of any organisation is the character of the people who work within it. Claire’s greatest achievement was to focus on developing the talents all who work here, showing the same respect to all, whatever their role may have been. There is more than one way of providing and showing leadership, and, in my view, Claire’s leadership has been exemplary. Through all the changes that we’ve seen in the constitution of Wales and this Assembly since 2007, Claire has provided firm, balanced, true and person-centred leadership. I wish her a happy and contented retirement from this post that she undertook with such grace. I also hope that she will continue to contribute to public life in Wales and in the United Kingdom in some other way.
A word of gratitude from me to close. It has been a true pleasure for me, over the past 10 months, to collaborate with Claire as clerk, as chief executive and as Claire—the three in one. What springs immediately to mind when one thinks of Claire is her wisdom, her firm and friendly leadership of her staff, and her willingness to laugh. There is also her ambition for this Assembly, this Senedd, and her ambition for all who have been elected to serve the people of Wales in this place. In all the work that has been achieved by Claire, she did it all whilst upholding the highest possible standards of service in a public office. I am sure that that will be her legacy to us as she departs—that we should be wise, that we should be ambitious and innovative, and that we should do that in word and deed with the highest possible standards of public service to our nation and to secure the good reputation of this Senedd in perpetuity. So, best wishes to you, Claire, and I thank you on behalf of us all. [Applause.]
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
And that brings us to the first item on our agenda, namely questions to the First Minister. The first question is from Lynne Neagle.
1. Will the First Minister outline what steps the Welsh Government is taking to improve child health in Wales? OAQ(5)0555(FM)
Yes. We’re committed to continuing to improve child health in Wales. ‘Taking Wales Forward’ included a commitment to implement our Healthy Child Wales programme, which was launched last October. That programme includes a range of preventative and early intervention measures to help parents and children make healthy lifestyle choices.
Thank you, First Minister. Recent reports by the Chief Medical Officer for Wales and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health had very hard-hitting messages about the impact of poverty and inequality on child health. Will the First Minister outline what steps the Welsh Government is taking to improve outcomes for children from poorer backgrounds in Wales, and what assurances can you give that tackling the impact of poverty on child health will be a top priority for this Government?
Absolutely, it’s a priority for us. In terms of closing the attainment gap we’ve seen, that gap has been closing. We’ve seen, of course, the pupil deprivation grant and the way that has worked for the benefit of so many young people. We’ve seen the foundation phase and the benefits that gives to children in terms of developing skills early that will stand them in good stead for the future. Of course, we always look to see how we can improve outcomes for children in the future, and that is being considered across the Government at the moment as part of our commitment to prosperity for all.
May I also refer to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in Wales? There are 39 recommendations contained here, and the First Minister would do well to consider the report and to reflect on the recommendations as an agenda to tackle the issue of child and adolescent health in Wales. Among the recommendations on one key area in this context, of course, is the additional risk to a child’s health when someone smokes during pregnancy. We know of the impact that that has, in a number of ways, on the development and growth of a child, the risk of stillbirth and the risk of low birth weight, and so on. There are data on the numbers that smoke during pregnancy in England and Scotland, but, for Wales, the data aren’t perhaps as robust as they should be, because we rely on self-reporting from pregnant mothers when it comes to gathering the data. Can I ask you, therefore, what intention the Government has to look at the need to gather more robust data in that area, because how can we know what needs to be done unless we can be sure of the scale of the problem?
Well, we are developing a new child health plan at the moment, and that will look at the priorities that we should pursue and those that the health service should also follow. As part of that, we must ensure that the data that we have are robust, and this will be considered during the development of that plan.
First Minister, will you agree with me that one of the ways to improve child health is to ensure proper access to school nurses across Wales? Will he congratulate the school nursing workforce that we have here in Wales that do an excellent job in terms of immunisation and public health messages in our schools, and, in particular, the unique Judith Jerwood in your own constituency, who serves in Bryntirion Comprehensive School, where they have a unique model of school nursing, which, I believe, we ought to see more frequently in high schools across Wales? You’ll be aware that the school nursing service there is one that is employed by the school itself, and one that gives advice on all range of subjects, not just to the pupils, but also to the staff and, indeed, their families.
It’s a very good example of good practice. I can almost see the school from where I live; it’s very, very close to me. We know that the school nurses do an excellent job. We know, for example—the Member mentions immunisation—that our childhood immunisation rates remain at the top of international benchmarks. We know that, in 2016-17, the childhood flu immunisation programme was extended as well to include all children aged two to seven years of age. It’s an excellent model that’s in place in Bryntirion and one that I would encourage other schools to look at.
First Minister, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s 2017 report, ‘State of Child Health’, highlighted the need for safe places for children to play in order to tackle the quarter of the child population in Wales who start primary school obese. What is your Government doing to ensure that young people have access to open spaces and play areas, and what actions are you taking to ensure that every new development provides safe areas for children to play?
In new housing developments, we would expect local authorities to provide those open areas—and I’ve seen them, not just in my own part of the world, but across Wales. Where new houses are built, there is space for children to play, there are often facilities for children to play on as well, and cycle paths, which are increasingly included as part of developments, as they should be. The Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 is part of the process of ensuring that cycling is seen as something completely normal in terms of the provision of cycling facilities in new developments in the future. That is certainly much in advance of the situation that previously existed, where housing developments were built and no provision was made at all for either open spaces or, indeed, for facilities for children to play.
Cross-border Health Arrangements
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on cross-border health arrangements between England and Wales? OAQ(5)0548(FM)
A cross-border protocol is in place to ensure relevant patients have access to appropriate services, and all associated matters are handled in an agreed and consistent manner.
First Minister, you will be aware of the ongoing Future Fit process on the future of emergency healthcare services for patients in Shropshire and mid Wales. It’s important for my constituents that emergency services are based in Shrewsbury. To date, the Welsh Government hasn’t taken a public position in this regard. Can I ask what prevents you from taking a view on this matter and making strong representations to the NHS Future Fit programme board on behalf of mid Wales’s residents? Will you take a position?
Geographically, Shrewsbury is closer, and so we would prefer services to be based in Shrewsbury. But it’s important to ensure that services are safe and sustainable, which is something, of course, that we’ve had to deal with ourselves. I know, for example, with ophthalmology and neurology, that the health board—Powys, that is—has secured alternative provision for ophthalmology services through an organisation called The Practice, which does include community outreach clinics within Powys. But clearly, from our perspective, we would wish to see services that are accessed by Welsh people in England as close to those Welsh patients as possible.
First Minister, today we learn that there has been a 16 per cent increase in the number of junior doctors choosing to come to or stay in Wales to train to become GPs. Across the Welsh NHS, waiting times are going down; average response times to emergency calls are now less than five minutes; the British Heart Foundation described Wales as a world leader in cardiac rehabilitation; there’s improvement in cancer performance, with the number of patients treated now 40 per cent higher than five years ago; and for the fourth successive month we are getting people home from hospital faster. First Minister, in England the proportion of patients being treated or discharged in time fell below 78 per cent, with nearly half of hospitals declaring—
You do need to come to a question.
[Continues.]—major alerts because of a shortage of beds. What message do you have for the men and women who work in the national health service and have had to endure the Tories’ attempts to denigrate the Welsh NHS over the last few years?
Well, we all saw what the Tories did in 2015, but the Member makes a robust and comprehensive case that shows the progress that the Welsh NHS has made. Today we see that more GP training places are being filled and it shows that the Welsh NHS is seen as a good place to work, and that good progress will continue in the future.
At the same time as fulfilling a genuine need, cross-border healthcare co-operation can also serve to mask the shortage of specialist clinical staff in Wales, which has been caused by the failure of Government to train sufficient clinicians. When are you going to review the number of self-standing organisations within the Welsh NHS, which receive tens of millions a year, with a view to reducing them so you can spend more on specialist clinicians for Wales itself?
If we look at a rural authority like Powys, it’s inevitable that an authority like Powys will access specialist services from England. Geographically, it makes sense for people who live in large areas of Powys. In fact, there are specialist services in England that rely on Powys patients in order to be sustainable. Accident and emergency in Hereford is an example of that; without patients coming from eastern Breconshire particularly, the numbers going through Hereford’s A&E would cause questions to be asked about the sustainability of the service in Hereford. So, no; from my perspective, the last thing I want to see is any kind of wall come down between Wales and England in terms of healthcare. We know as well that 25,000 people cross the border the other way, to get A&E services in Wales. That’s why, of course, we have a robust protocol in place to ensure that services are available to people on both sides of the border.
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
I now call for questions from the party leaders. Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. First Minister, why did the Welsh Government decide last week to sack the chair of Sport Wales given that, upon his appointment, the then incoming chairman was told by the Welsh Government representative that he was entering a toxic environment and that he was tasked with tackling a dysfunctional and insular organisation? Does all your Government agree that sacking this chairman was the right reproach?
First of all, can I say that Sport Wales was facing great difficulties? That much is true. There is an independent review of Sport Wales, which is continuing at this moment in time, but it was quite clear that the relationship between the chair and the board and the vice-chair had broken down and therefore action had to be taken in order that the organisation could be rebuilt.
I am told that the review has been concluded, First Minister, and, on 13 February, the Welsh Government’s deputy permanent secretary, James Price, dismissed all the allegations made against the then chair and offered him three options to move the situation forward, all of which saw him continuing his involvement in some shape or form within Sport Wales. What happened in the very short intervening period, which altered this situation and resulted in the sacking of Paul Thomas?
Well, as is known, on 14 February the Minister made a statement to Assembly Members on the headline findings of the review. One of those findings was that a clash of cultures had developed between the chair and other board members. It was clear that action needed to be taken in order for the board to become fully functional in the future.
I have the letter here—it is in the public domain, so you can comment on it—that was sent to James Price at the beginning of March that clearly itemises the allegations that were made against the chair and how those allegations were rebuked. There are some very serious allegations levelled against the previous chair and also the current chief executive of Sport Wales. Sport Wales handles a considerable amount of public money and has a remit to improve elite sport and participation sport around Wales.
I would be interested to hear how the Welsh Government will take forward the allegations and investigate the allegations against the previous chair, and also the current chief executive, as the allegations warrant answers, and above all to make sure that Sport Wales is able to get on with its day-to-day functions. But I do reiterate: the Welsh Government told the new chair, Paul Thomas, on taking up office, that he was entering a toxic environment and that he was tasked with tackling a dysfunctional and insular organisation. I do ask once again: does the entire Government agree with the dismissal of Paul Thomas?
The answer to the question is ‘yes’. The Government has taken a view on this. It is quite clear that the organisation remained dysfunctional and that the relationship had completely broken down between the chair and the board. In those circumstances, no organisation could possibly be expected to deliver what it should do in the future. We know that all organisations need to adapt to changing circumstances and the independent review of Sport Wales’s operations is continuing, but it was quite clear that Sport Wales could not continue with the dysfunction that still remained in the organisation and the Minister took the decision that the best way forward was to take the action that was taken in order to make sure that Sport Wales is effective in the future.
Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, the proposed job cuts at the University of South Wales are of great concern, and I’m sure you share that concern. The plan is to cut 139 jobs to deal with rising costs and various other challenges. The University of Wales Trinity Saint David is also looking to downsize its workforce. I’d like to place on record mine and Plaid Cymru’s support for the roles both of those institutions play in our society. But I am concerned about the situation that those institutions are facing and about the prospect of losing what are well-paid jobs. What discussions has your Government held since the two sets of redundancies were proposed? Were the universities’ strategies shared with you and are you satisfied with the explanations they’ve given for these changes?
I’ve not seen any explanations for these changes at this moment in time. I am aware of the situation, however, at those institutions. We expect there to be a period of consultation and that staff and unions are kept informed at all stages in the process. One of the issues that concerns me is that we are seeing a drop in applications, particularly from students from abroad. We know that applications through UCAS to Welsh universities from EU countries, for example, decreased by 8 per cent between 2016 and 2017. The fewer the students there are, the less money there is and the less money there is to pay staff, and that concerns me.
As a former student at Treforest, I know how important this institution is for the Valleys. It’s always played a leading role in upskilling people to do the work that our local economies need doing. Now, there are demographic challenges, which you’ve alluded to, and rising costs facing that university, but I don't think that should mean that we should lose the positive economic impact that the institution generates. Plaid Cymru also believes that the University of Wales Trinity Saint David plays a vital role in the west as well. The proposals are for a 4.6 per cent reduction in staff at USW and the figure for Trinity Saint David is yet to be confirmed. I've had contradictory information on these job losses. On the one hand, we were told that many of the roles at risk will be managers, but from the trade union, I've been told that the roles to be cut could include jobs in IT, library staff and student services as well. Do you think, First Minister, that these job losses are normal housekeeping or are they a sign that these two universities are facing a difficult future?
I’ve not seen anything on this scale since I was in university myself in the 1980s, and that is concerning. It's also correct to say that it’s not quite clear what sorts of jobs would be lost. That’s why, of course, we expect there to be that period of consultation, so that there is greater clarity from both institutions about what they are proposing. But I am concerned—I don't know whether this is correct or not, but I have the figures in front of me—as to whether the drop-off of applications, not just from the EU countries, but other countries as well, is having an effect on those universities’ income, which would be, from our perspective, as a country that welcomes students, something to greatly regret.
Both the institutions are feeling the pinch as well from the decision taken to lift the universities admission cap in England. We know that the situation around European and international student recruitment remains volatile and is likely to be for some time, but the responsibility to navigate through these difficult waters falls to us here in Wales, and it’s you, First Minister, who has overall responsibility for protecting our higher education sector. So, what will the Welsh Government do to support our universities? How will you help to protect these jobs and ensure that there’s no impact in the longer term upon courses? Do you intend to carry on as business as usual or are you going to step in and provide support and guidance to Welsh universities so that they can continue to do the good job that they do, serving our economy and our country?
We’ve provided more money for higher education, but it's about more than that. It's about making sure that Wales is still seen as a place where students from abroad want to come to. That is a point I've been making very strongly whenever I've gone abroad and, indeed, when ambassadors have come to visit us here in Wales. That is hugely important. We also finance schemes, for example, like Sêr Cymru. Sêr Cymru is a way of bringing in the top academics into Wales, attracting, then, the best students as well. That helps with the sustainability of universities. Some universities themselves have invested heavily in capital programmes to improve, or indeed build new campuses, which again are hugely important in terms of attracting in students. But what we don't know at this moment in time is what effect Brexit will have—we've seen some figures already on EU students applying to Welsh universities and, of course, students from other countries such as India, where there's been a significant drop-off of numbers over the past few years—and what effect that will have on the sustainability of our universities. That is something that is yet to be fully seen in terms of the impact.
Leader of the UKIP group, Neil Hamilton.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. It's inevitable, I suppose, a certain amount of posturing takes place at the beginning of any negotiation and the current Brexit negotiations with the EU is no exception to that. The First Minister wants to play a direct role in these negotiations and there is, in fact, a useful role that he can play. He could write to Chancellor Merkel, for example, to say it’s a mistake on their part to disconnect the trade talks from the other issues that haven't been decided, such as EU citizens’ rights in this country and vice versa, and also the question of the dowry that the EU apparently wants the British taxpayer to stump up, which may be as much as £60 billion, which is a bit rich considering we've paid them £500 billion in the last 40 years.
Secondly, there is the other development in relation to Spain and Gibraltar, where it seems that the EU is trying to use Gibraltar as a bargaining chip to try to get a better deal from us. Given that the question of sovereignty in Gibraltar has been decisively settled by referendum, where nearly every single resident of Gibraltar voted to retain its links with Britain, will he write to the Prime Minister of Spain and also to the Chief Minister of Gibraltar supporting the Gibraltarians’ right to self-determination, which is guaranteed by article 1 of the UN charter?
Well, firstly, it’s right to say that there’s a lot of posturing, that much is true, and there are issues that still need to be worked through. But the important thing is to discuss the start as soon as possible and that the future of EU citizens all around the UK and UK citizens in the EU is resolved as quickly as possible. I do think there’s been a significant amount of hysterical reporting on some of these issues. It was said that the UK was using defence and security as a bargaining chip. That’s not the way I read the Prime Minister’s comments last week, in fairness. It’s also said that Spain is trying to use Gibraltar. I don’t believe that either. Spain, in fact, has been very quiet on the issue of Gibraltar. It was just one clause that appeared in the Commission’s negotiating document. That has more to do with not sovereignty, but Gibraltar’s status as a tax haven and how that would affect the border with Spain in the future. So, I see nothing malevolent in this. There are issues wherever there are tax havens that need to be resolved when there is a land border with that tax haven.
It’s absolutely clear that the people of Gibraltar wish to remain British and that’s what should happen. That was a decision of a referendum. They also voted 95 per cent to remain in the EU. That’s not going to happen. When I met with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, he was quite clear that the last thing Gibraltar wanted was the closure of the border. It would be disastrous for the economy of Gibraltar. Some 15,000 people cross that border every day. So, it is in the interest of both Spain and Gibraltar that that border stays open, but of course there will need to be a consideration of what effect Gibraltar’s tax status has on the European market, which I’m sure can be resolved.
Well, it’s certainly true that it’s in the interests of both countries—Spain and Gibraltar—for that border to remain open because 40 per cent of the jobs in Gibraltar are filled by people who live in Spain. Given that the rate of unemployment in Andalusia is 30 per cent and in Gibraltar is 1 per cent then it’s massively in Spain’s interest to respect the existing status of Gibraltar and, indeed, its status as a tax haven for that matter as well. So, I’ll repeat my question to the First Minister: will he write to the Chief Minister of Gibraltar and to the Prime Minister of Spain supporting the Gibraltarians’ case, both in relation to sovereignty and to their freedom to set what tax rates they want in respect of the trade that is actually conducted within the territory of Gibraltar?
In fairness, the Prime Minister of Spain has not actually laid claim to Gibraltar or indeed commented at all on the issue of Gibraltar. The issue has come from the Commission not from Spain itself. I reiterate what I’ve just said: it is a matter for the people of Gibraltar how they choose what relationships they choose to have. They have voted overwhelmingly to stay British and that’s exactly what should happen. Nowhere should be forced to transfer to another country against the wishes of its population. That’s true of any country in my view. I’ve already met with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar. I will be meeting with him in the next few weeks. I’m happy to reiterate that point to him. In the discussions we’ve had, it’s Gibraltar’s concern about what Brexit might mean for their own trade situation and their border, that is what Gibraltar’s been most concerned about, certainly as we look forward over the next two years.
I agree with the First Minister. He’s absolutely right: the border is of critical importance to Gibraltar. But it’s not as though we have no bargaining chips in our hand in this respect. If indeed it is the case that Spain has put its claim to Gibraltar’s sovereignty on ice and is prepared to live with Gibraltar, that’s well and good. But the idea that the European Commission suddenly produced this proposal in a letter without discussion with the Prime Minister of Spain is fundamentally absurd. Clearly, this is something that has been decided in the Council of Ministers between the Commission and in particular the Prime Minister of Spain. It is vitally important for southern Spain as well as for Gibraltar that there should be no interference from Spain in the economic life of Gibraltar at all. I think, given that the First Minister was a strong supporter of remain and, indeed, Gibraltar itself and the people of Gibraltar were overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU, I think this is where he can play a significant role in trying to persuade the EU authorities of the good sense of coming to sensible agreements with Britain in the interest of us all.
Well, I’ve never had three questions on Gibraltar, I have to say. I’m not responsible in terms of my devolved powers for Gibraltar, but we do have a relationship with Gibraltar. As I said, I’ve had meetings with the Chief Minister and I’ll continue to have meetings with the Chief Minister in the future, as Gibraltar is in a similar situation to, for example, Northern Ireland, although it’s very different in the sense that Gibraltar is outside the customs union and it has its own arrangements in terms of tax. But what is absolutely clear is that when Brexit happens there must be no destabilisation either of the area around the border on the Spanish side or, indeed, of Gibraltar itself. I’d expect that to be examined as part of the negotiations. I would not expect nor would I support there to be any negotiations about future sovereignty over Gibraltar; that matter is settled.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on investment in Welsh road infrastructure? OAQ(5)0546(FM)
We have a projected spend of over £700 million on improving and adding to our existing road infrastructure across Wales. That’s in addition to funding held in reserves for the M4 project.
Thank you, First Minister. The public inquiry into the M4 and the route decided on by the Welsh Government is well under way. The Welsh Government’s original published proposals for the M4 black route also included de-motorwaying the existing stretch of motorway between Magor and Castleton, with the possible creation of cycle lanes, bus lanes and speed restrictions. Is this still the Welsh Government’s intention and is this being considered by the public inquiry, given that de-motorwaying could itself have a negative impact on journey times for many of my constituents, many of whom would still continue to rely on the existing piece of road, regardless of whether or not the black route is chosen?
Given that there’s a public inquiry ongoing, it wouldn’t be wise for me to comment on that. However, the Welsh Government’s evidence is of course public and open to examination. It’s hugely important that the inquiry is able to consider all evidence before making a recommendation.
Anyone who regularly travels between north and south knows that it’s not a pleasant experience to say the least. Unfortunately, the most practical way of travelling across Wales for very many people is by car, and there have been no significant improvements to the main road linking the north and south of our country since the days of Ieuan Wyn as Deputy First Minister. What work is being done by your Government to analyse which improvements are needed to the A470 in order to improve this key transport route that links our nation? If the answer is ‘none’ or ‘not much’, will you commit to carrying out this study and to cost any improvements required in full? I would be willing to bet that we are talking about a relatively small sum compared with the investment intended for the M4.
Nid wyf yn derbyn yr awgrym mai dim ond y car sydd ar gael; mae’r gwasanaeth trên wedi gwella ers amser—ers blynyddoedd. Ar un adeg, pan ddechreuodd y lle hwn, nid oedd yn bosibl mynd o’r gogledd i’r de ar y trên; roedd yn rhaid newid yn yr Amwythig. Nid oedd modd mynd lan heb newid trenau. Mae hynny wedi newid; mae trên nawr bob dwy awr yn mynd i lawr. Mae’r awyren, wrth gwrs, yn mynd lawr hefyd ddwywaith y dydd a lan ddwywaith y dydd. Ac hefyd ynglŷn â’r A470, fe welsom ni bethau yn gwella o ran ffordd osgoi Cwmbach-Llechryd ym Maesyfed a’r newidiadau a ddigwyddodd yn Christmas Pitch yn sir Frycheiniog, Dolwyddelan hefyd i Bont yr Afanc, a’r newidiadau yn ardal Cross Foxes ar yr A470. So, rydym wedi gweld gwelliannau sylweddol ar yr heol honno ers blynyddoedd. Ond mae yna gynllun gennym—cynllun ‘pinch-point’ os y gallaf ei alw’n hynny—er mwyn delio â rhai o’r problemau sy’n dal i fod yna. Wrth gwrs, i rywun fel minnau sydd yn dod lawr o’r gogledd o Gaernarfon trwy Machynlleth ac Aberystwyth i Ben-y-bont ar Ogwr, roedd yn bleser mawr i weld y gwelliannau hollbwysig yng Nglandyfi—rhan o’r heol a oedd yn beryglus dros ben am flynyddoedd mawr, ond mae’r heol nawr wedi cael ei gwella yn fawr iawn.
First Minister, yesterday’s report by the British Heart Foundation underlined the links between roads policy and health outcomes. The fact that 42 per cent of people in Wales are physically inactive, leading to long-term ill health and costs to the health service, is directly related to the decline in active travel over many years. When future roads are considered, will the First Minister make sure that interventions to encourage and prioritise public transport and to build cycle design into the road infrastructure are at the heart of considerations?
Yes. I cannot stand here and preach from a position of strength in terms of inactivity, I’m afraid, but what I can say is that the vision that was shown on what was the M4—what is now the A48 at Britton Ferry—in terms of the cycle route that exists over the bridge was incredibly visionary at the time. We’ve seen it rolled out, for example, at the Church Village bypass. When that was built, that had a cycle path running more or less alongside it, and we would expect that where new road schemes are in place that there should be an improvement in cycle routes as well, in order to provide people with a choice in terms of the way they travel, and not feel that they have to travel by car.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on paediatric care in Wales? OAQ(5)0553(FM)
Yes. We are committed to ensuring safe and sustainable paediatric care delivered on the basis of the very best available clinical evidence and advice.
The First Minister will be aware of the limitations on paediatric care at Withybush hospital and I have a particularly distressing constituency case that has arisen, where a child was taken out of hours to Withybush in June 2016, in pain that was diagnosed wrongly as a urine infection, treatable by antibiotics. Next morning, the child was taken to A&E with something that was suspected to be appendicitis. The child was then rushed to Glangwili for an emergency operation for peritonitis. The same child, in January of this year, was again taken to the out-of-hours GP in Withybush with a fever. That was misdiagnosed as a virus. The child was then driven the following morning by the parents to Glangwili where the symptoms of scarlet fever were diagnosed, which was correct. I know that an individual case isn’t necessarily representative of everything, but given the out-of-hours limitations on paediatric care, if there had been a paediatric specialist in Withybush at the time that the child was taken to the hospital for the initial diagnosis, it’s perfectly possible, and indeed likely, that those errors might not have been made. So, can the First Minister tell us what the Government may be able to do in order to restore full 24-hour paediatric services at Withybush?
First of all, the situation that the Member’s described is a situation where I would expect the GP to make a diagnosis rather than a paediatric consultant being needed to do that. We’re talking here about an infection, or scarlet fever—a GP should be able to pick up on that. You wouldn’t need a consultant to diagnose that. There are changes that have taken place at Withybush—that much is true—at the paediatric ambulatory care unit. They are temporary, they’re not designed to be long term, and I know that the health board is working hard to resolve the issue and to reinstate the 12-hour service as soon as possible.
First Minister, when children leave hospital, particularly if they have a life-limiting condition of any kind, they’re still going to need medical and, of course, social care at home, and that will affect their carers and other children in the household. In July last year, the Minister said that the Government was refreshing the carers strategy at the end of last year and it is, as far as I can tell, still being currently refreshed in both January and March this year. If your priorities are young carers and carers’ respite, when can they see what you mean by that?
Well, we want to make sure that the strategy is right; that means taking into account as many views as possible in order for the strategy to be robust. The strategy will be published as soon as possible, once it’s felt that the strategy is one that can be presented to the people of Wales.
The Valleys Taskforce
5. Will the First Minister provide an update on the work of the Valleys taskforce? OAQ(5)0550(FM)
Yes. It’s met on four occasions and an outline delivery plan will be published in July, addressing three priorities: firstly jobs and skills; secondly, integrated and improved public services; and, thirdly, community and personal well-being. The plan is being shaped, of course, by feedback from the initial public engagement events.
First Minister, depressed wages and high unemployment have been blighting the Valleys for at least three decades, so the obvious question is: what’s taken you so long? Places like Maerdy and Treherbert are desperate for investment and well-paid jobs, and the commute to Treforest, or further afield from the Heads of the Valleys, is a joke. There were two trains cancelled this morning. If the city region and the Valleys taskforce prove to be yet more false dawns for these communities, there’s a risk that real damage will be done to this institution and to devolution, not just to your Government and the Labour Party. How do you intend, as head of this Government, to ensure that actions match the rhetoric and real benefits are delivered to the Valleys? And what will you do if another two or five or 10 years go by with no noticeable improvements in these communities?
Well, transport is key and that’s why the metro is so important. It takes an unacceptably long time at the moment to travel from Treherbert down to Cardiff. The service is also not seen as reliable and the leader of Plaid Cymru has given an example of that happening. From next year, we of course will specify the franchise. We’ve not had an opportunity to do that before. We will also be able to move forward with the metro, to have more convenient, more comfortable and more frequent services and also, of course, to connect the Rhondda Fach via bus services into Porth, for example, to make sure that bus services connect more frequently with the train services going through the Rhondda Fawr.
Now, that is one way of getting people to jobs in Cardiff, but it’s not just about that. We know that 11 million people go through Cardiff Central every year. It is about making sure that it’s easy to get from Cardiff up into the Valleys as well, so that investors don’t see the Valleys as being physically distant from Cardiff, which I’ve heard. They’re not, we know they’re not, but that’s the way, sometimes, they have been perceived and we want to make sure that we have a transport network that shows that our Valleys communities are able to attract more investment in the future, as well as people also being able to access employment wherever that might be.
First Minister, as has been highlighted, the Valleys taskforce is looking at areas of transport that you’ve identified, and, of course, there are Valleys to the west that don’t even get involved in the metro aspects. I’m very pleased to welcome that the taskforce is actually looking at all the Valleys, including those in the west, including the Afan valley, and I know that there’s been a meeting in that area. But tourism is important in the Afan valley, and it’s industries such as that that are going to drive the regeneration of those Valleys and the skills you’ve identified. Will you ensure that the taskforce looks at the development of those skills to ensure that local jobs for local people can happen through the tourism agenda?
Absolutely. We know that Afan Argoed has been a major driver for tourism at the top of the Afan valley. Glyncorrwg, of course, is seeing the benefits both of the fishing lakes and also cycling routes, and that is something we intend to develop further in the future. It’s hugely important as well that we don’t forget that transport links are important wherever the particular valley might be, and that means, when we get control of the buses next year, we’ll be able to look at how we can improve services in the Afan valley and on the buses as well. We know that trains went in 1970, but, certainly, it is an opportunity for us now to create an integrated transport system across Wales, not just in some parts of Wales, to benefit people who live in the Valleys.
First Minister, I’m told that, to date, there have been nine engagement events, five targeted events, and four further formal engagement events are planned, and the Cabinet Secretary has attended, or plans to attend, each and every one of these engagement events. Can you confirm that that is the case? I would ask how these views are being fed back in and possibly whether you could report back some of that feedback to the Welsh Assembly. And, if, indeed, Cabinet Secretaries are attending these events so regularly, I do commend that as very good practice.
Yes, that is the plan. It’s hugely important that people see these events as worth coming to, and, if they have Government Ministers at those events, I trust they will feel that that is the case. I think it’s right to say that, in the initial events, there was a great deal of frustration that people wanted to get off their chests, and that is inevitable. Now, what we’re finding is that people want to move on and see what can be done to improve their quality of life, whether it’s transferrable skills—we know that skills are hugely important across Wales. Skills are the key to raising GDP, and we know that unemployment is, on paper, less of an issue than it was, but GDP per head is still an issue, and that is something that we will focus on very sharply over the next five to 10 years and beyond.
6. What are the Welsh Government's priorities for improving public transport in the northern valleys? OAQ(5)0544(FM)
The national transport finance plan, published in July 2015, sets out investment for transport and infrastructure and services for 2015-20 across all parts of Wales.
The south Wales metro gives us the opportunity to deliver real improvements in public transport services in the Valleys, and I welcome the First Minister’s answer last week about the importance of inter-Valley transport links.
At the moment, a return bus journey between Aberdare and Merthyr is £7. A train journey between Aberdare and Cardiff is £8—more than the hourly national living wage. How will the Welsh Government make sure that fares for the metro are set at an affordable level?
I can assure the Member that affordable fares are being considered as part of the procurement of the next rail services that we have and also the metro contract. We want to make sure that we see increased patronage, particularly at off-peak times and on services where patronage is currently low. We want to see discounts to the cost of travel for people working irregular work patterns or part-time hours, and, importantly, it’s hugely important that the system is integrated and has a ticketing system that has electronic ticketing and smart ticketing. That is something that is absolutely crucial to the development of the metro.
First Minister, in an announcement, they claim—here is the quote:
‘one of the most significant improvements to valleys commuters in a decade, since the opening of the Ebbw Vale line.’
Arriva Trains Wales revealed that they are to double the capacity of commuter trains in and out of Cardiff to deal with overcrowding. However, the Arriva contracts mean that it is trying to deal with rising passenger numbers with the same number of trains as they held in 2003. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with Arriva Trains to find ways of increasing the number of trains to provide services between Cardiff and the Valleys?
Well, it’s part of the franchise discussions that will take place next year. We want to make sure there are more trains and more comfortable trains on the network. For the first time, the Welsh Government will have control over these issues, and we intend to make sure that the network is improved and developed for the future.
I just want to speak up for the northern valleys of the Ogmore constituency. We have four valleys, many of which will benefit from better public transport in terms of faster buses, cheaper ticketing, joined-up ticketing, but particularly the Llynfi valley. I wonder: what is the view of the First Minister on the importance of the Maesteg to Cheltenham, as it now is, main line—or community line as it in in the Llynfi valley—in terms of south Wales metro? Because for many people in that valley and adjoining valleys, that is as integral to the Cardiff travel-to-work area as is Ebbw Vale or Merthyr or anywhere else. They believe they are part and parcel of the south Wales travel area, so what role do they play within the south Wales metro?
Hugely important. It was a great act of foresight by Mid Glamorgan, actually, in 1988, to open up that line to passenger traffic. At the moment, of course, it’s an hourly service with no Sunday service—well, that’s not something that in the long term we should be satisfied with. It’s important that we look to increase services on the line and look to see how that can be done, and, of course, to see what can be done to run a Sunday service, although it’s important that we understand what the patronage would be of that Sunday service. But I know full well that those trains are very, very well used. They now run later in the evening than they used to, which is one thing—I don’t spend my entire time looking at rail timetables, may I add, even though I may give that impression at times. But I do know that the service is hugely important to the people of the Llynfi valley, and we will look to enhance that service in the future.
7. What action is the Welsh Government taking to support access to high street banking services in town centres? OAQ(5)0549(FM)
Decisions on the location of branches are matters for the banks but we recognise the negative impact closures can have on communities. Whilst this is non-devolved, of course, we have welcomed the announcement that post offices will be able to provide services to fill some of the gaps left by bank branch closures. If that’s done properly, it may well enhance the service to bank users, rather than reduce the service.
NatWest has announced their closure across south Wales. We’ve heard of closures in the constituencies of Alun Davies, Lynne Neagle, Vikki Howells, and in my constituency, where Ystrad Mynach branch is closing—that comes on top of Barclays closing in Nelson—and NatWest did it without any consultation at all, as far as I’m aware, and I condemn that and I think that there should have been far better consultation than there was. I’m concerned about the impact on elderly and vulnerable people, people who don’t have access to internet banking, and also the message this shows to high streets where there are banks closing, branches closing, and we’re trying to regenerate the northern valleys and build our town centres, and the banks are doing the opposite, and I think it’s absolutely the wrong thing to do.
You mentioned the Post Office: to what extent can you as a Welsh Government and we as Assembly Members ensure that people like the Post Office ensure that those services are properly available?
I’ve seen branch closures in my own constituency as well over the years. I know that, in even branches in Bridgend town itself, the patronage has dropped quite considerably because the reasons for people going to the bank are few in number now compared to years ago. Now, internet banking services are not of themselves a solution. As the Member rightly points out, there are people who either can’t or don’t feel comfortable using electronic services, and provision must be made for them. To my mind, if this is done properly and people can access the same services through the post office, that will give them access to a wide range of branches. It’ll also help with the sustainability of post offices, because I know that they receive a commission for providing those banking services, and the post offices do provide a way of ensuring that services continue for those people who use them.
I have been told by banks that there will be more closures at some point in the future—nothing specific, but it’s just the trend that they have seen thus far. HSBC were the last to resist that trend—they kept their branches open longer than most in some parts of Wales—but it’s absolutely crucial that services are not lost to people and that they are provided by the alternative means of the post office.
A statement by Lloyd’s Bank this week that they intend to shrink a number of bank branches is concerning in a number of ways, particularly in terms of the job cuts that that is bound to lead to, and the erosion in the face-to-face counter service available, but we could also take a positive view of the announcement in part, because what we seem to be seeing is the bank adapting in response to changes in customer habits, rather than taking the step, which has appeared far too easy for them in the past, to close branches. Does the First Minister agree with me that we should urge the banks to adapt rather than close, and that’s best for our high streets in Wales, and that we should seek to use all legislative and regulatory tools possible in order to urge them to do that?
I don’t believe that it’s possible to use legislation to change the situation, but I do agree with him that banks should think of every alternative apart from closure—that should be the very final option, rather than the first option, because, of course, the service is lost to the high street. If that’s not possible, then it’s crucial that the banks deal with the post office so the services can continue in the post office, but we wouldn’t wish to see the closure of branches as a priority for the banks.
First Minister, the NatWest bank, in the last 12 days, has also announced the closure of the Welshpool and Machynlleth branch in my constituency—two very major towns, of course, there, as well. As Hefin David has alluded to, they’ve done so without any public consultation whatsoever. Now, a public meeting was held last night in Welshpool in this regard, and the post office, as you have mentioned, was also discussed as a potential, but a lot of the issues there revolve around privacy and disability access. Is there actually capacity at the post offices, as well, in some particular locations? Now, as you said, I understand absolutely that this is, of course, an issue, ultimately, for the bank—it’s a commercial decision. I have previously raised—and had a fairly positive response from Ministers when calling for the Government to facilitate a discussion with the banks and the Financial Conduct Authority and other partners to explore a community banking model that would see banks share services. I wonder whether this would be something that you’d be willing to explore in more detail.
I will consider that. I’ll ask the Minister to write to the Member with regard to the proposals that he has made. What we don’t want to see is a loss of banking services completely in communities, and there is a danger that, where banks—particularly when they do this very quickly—decide to shut branches, sufficient provision isn’t made in the post offices—that they don’t leave a cash machine, for example, in a community, so people can’t get cash. I know that in Crickhowell, recently, one of the branches closed, but the ATM has remained, which provides some service for local people, although not all services. So, I will ask the Minister to write to the Member in that regard, particularly with regard to the suggestion he makes on community banking.
8. Does the First Minister have any plans to make official visits to European countries in the near future? OAQ(5)0558(FM)
Yes. My most recent visits were to Brussels and Norway, and I plan to visit Gibraltar in the near future.
I thank the First Minister for that response. Does he have any plans to visit the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg to state Wales’s case for future investment by the bank in projects in Wales like Velindre hospital in my constituency and to put the case for the UK to continue as a subscribing partner after we leave the EU?
Yes, I can say that a senior-official-level delegation visited the EIB in Luxembourg in October to maintain direct dialogue. The vice-president of the EIB visited Cardiff for a number of meetings on 9 February. But we strongly advocate that the UK should remain a sponsoring partner of the EIB. It doesn’t cost anything to the UK; UK contributions loan money, so it’s repayable over the terms of those loans. There is no reason, at all, why, in leaving the UK, we cannot remain part of the EIB infrastructure.
Thank you, First Minister.
The next item on the agenda is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the leader of the house, Jane Hutt.
Diolch, Llywydd. I have three changes to report to this week’s business. As promised last week, the First Minister intends to lead a debate this afternoon on the European Union. As such, I will move a motion to suspend the relevant Standing Orders to enable this to take place, which I hope you will support. I’ve also made some changes to the ordering of today’s oral statements. Finally, the debate on tackling poverty through the warm homes programme has been postponed. Business for the next three weeks is shown on the business statement announcement found among the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
I wanted to ask a question with regard to whether the Welsh Government are able to make representations to the UK Government with regard to the potential deportation of a family—the Rebwah family—who are currently based in Swansea. There are two families who left Iraq in tragic circumstances. Two of the fathers froze to death on their way, and the mother died. One of the families have had—the orphaned children—a reprieve and they can stay for two and a half years. That has been confirmed as an emergency, so we do welcome that.
But the other children have not been allowed to stay, and they are Marwa, who is five years old, Dani, who is 11, and Mohammed, who is 12, along with their mother. They’re currently with their uncle, based in Swansea, who is Iraqi but now has British citizenship. He actually went over to the camp that they were in, in Bulgaria, and demanded that he would not leave until they were granted status to come with him to Swansea. So, they have absolutely nothing to go back to, because they were actually in a camp, having fled Iraq, at the worst of the war in Iraq.
I understand—of course I understand—the fact that we don’t have powers over immigration here, but this family have been put through such a traumatic experience; they’re seeking support through our mental health services at the moment because of those traumatic experiences. And I would urge you, as a Government, to support the family in Swansea and to show that by making urgent representations to the UK Government.
Well, as the Member has said, clearly, immigration and asylum policy isn’t devolved to the Welsh Government. I really do thank Bethan Jenkins for raising this question, for also sharing with us the plight and circumstances of this family, which we’re very sympathetic to, in terms of the circumstances of this case. And, of course, I know that our services, which are available to that family, and to those people affected—to the Rebwah family—will be available. And, of course, this has been noted and shared, and is on the record in terms of your representations.
Last Friday, my constituent, Ronahi Hasan, from Llandaff North, was named as the student journalist of the year at the Wales Media Awards, for a piece she wrote on her homeland of Syria, which was published in the ‘Western Mail’. Ronahi came to this country as a refugee in 2008 with her family, with three children. She had to sell her house to pay people smugglers, and it’s been a very hard struggle to settle here and make a life for herself and her family in Wales. But, now, the family are British citizens and are making a tremendous contribution to life here in Wales.
So, would it be possible to call for a statement about what has happened to the Syrian refugees who have settled here in Wales, which would give us an opportunity to pay tribute to people like my constituent, who have achieved so much? And I know the vast majority of us here in the Assembly would support that.
Again, I’m very glad that Julie Morgan has drawn this to our attention, so that we can also congratulate Rohani Hasan from Llandaff North, who was named student journalist of the year at the Wales Media Awards. And, indeed, this is a real opportunity for us today here in this Chamber, in the Senedd, to acknowledge that and recognise that, and I’m sure we will want to read that piece that she wrote on her homeland of Syria.
We do know that there are many refugees, including those from Syria, who have overcome remarkable barriers, as well as traumatic events, to successfully make a life for themselves in Wales and contribute to our nation. So, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children did issue a written statement last week, providing an update on refugee resettlement in Wales, and he of course will have heard this exchange today.
Cabinet Secretary, Womanby Street is a place famous for live music right across Wales, and I’m sure there are many of us in this Chamber who’ve had some very late nights in those venues. Many renowned musicians have started their careers in Womanby Street. Now, Wales is a musical nation and music is the heartbeat of Wales. It’s also the heartbeat of this city, and we need to encourage live music in Cardiff and across Wales. But the problem is that the current planning regime just doesn’t do that, because it allows developments to be built in areas sometimes just next to a live music venue, and then, when a complaint is made, the venue will have to close down. So, you can have a music venue like the one in Womanby Street, there for 35 years. There can be a development next door, a flat can be put in, and that will justify the closure of the live music venue. Now, what we need in Wales is the agent of change principle written into planning law. There’s a petition, and I understand that more than 3,000 people have signed it. There’s also a statement of opinion, which I’ve put in, and I would encourage every AM here to sign that. Now, what we need to do is designate places like Womanby Street as cultural centres, which need to be protected through the planning law. The Mayor of London is doing this, so will your Government? Over to you, Minister.
The Member has drawn attention to the importance of live music in Wales, which, of course, many of us have enjoyed in both public and private venues across Wales, and you draw attention to one here in the capital of Wales, in Cardiff. Indeed, you also say that there is a petition on this issue that’s coming forward, and I’m sure the Petitions Committee will handle that and make sure that it is then drawn to our attention.
Leader of the house, I’d like to request that we have a debate on the licensing fees for dog breeders and pet shops in Wales. It was recently brought to my attention that the licensing fees for both can vary significantly—dog breeding licences from £23 to £688, and pet shop licences can range from £23 to £782. As a consequence of the UK Government austerity, many local authorities have significantly had to cut their budgets and consequently find themselves with inadequate animal inspectors. There have been, as I’m sure you’re all aware here, some terrible cases of neglect and animal cruelty in dog breeding premises in my area, and I believe that introducing a fair licensing system for all breeders and all pet shops could potentially raise the necessary funds to help bridge the gap, and to ensure that these establishments are regularly inspected so that high levels of animal welfare can be maintained and cruelty and neglect avoided or reduced at the very earliest opportunity.
I also thank the Member for drawing this important issue to our attention today. The Animal Welfare (Breeding of Dogs) (Wales) Regulations 2014 controls the licensing of dog breeding in Wales. The Pet Animals Act 1951 and Pet Animals Act 1951 (Amendment) Act 1983 cover the licensing of pet shops, which, of course, you raised. Local authorities are responsible for the enforcement of these regulations, but there are a number of work strands in relation to the licensing and registration of animal welfare establishments in Wales, and the Welsh Government has indicated its commitment to work streams on responsible ownership and mobile animal exhibits.
Last week, I had the honour of meeting the deputy mayor of Hargeisa, Somaliland here in the National Assembly. It was interesting to hear about the relative stability and peace that has been secured in that country without international recognition. I know there’s been significant support across this Chamber for Somaliland recognition, particularly in previous Assemblies, and, indeed, a vote took place in 2006 to recognise Somaliland. The deputy mayor was keen to see that support continued, and renewed if possible, on a cross-party basis, and I can certainly confirm that Plaid Cymru would be very keen to support again the recognition of Somaliland on behalf of the National Assembly for Wales. Can we have a statement by the Welsh Government reaffirming the Welsh Government’s recognition of Somaliland?
Steffan Lewis also raises a very important point about those close links, and, indeed, questions and points about those links in terms of Somaliland, drawing attention again to the stability that’s been achieved and the recognition of people from Somaliland. Just a few weeks ago, Julie Morgan raised this issue with us. So, certainly, we will look at how we can express our support in the way that you request.
Thank you, leader of the house.
A motion, now, to suspend Standing Order 11.16 to allow the next item of business to be debated, and I call on Jane Hutt to move the motion.
Motion NNDM6290 Jane Hutt
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Orders 33.6 and 33.8:
Suspends Standing Order 12.20(i), 12.22(i) and that part of Standing Order 11.16 that requires the weekly announcement under Standing Order 11.11 to constitute the timetable for business in Plenary for the following week, to allow NDM6289 to be considered in Plenary on Tuesday, 4 April 2017.
The proposal is to suspend Standing Orders temporarily. 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, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in the name of David Rowlands, and amendment 7 in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth.
The next item therefore is the debate on the implications for Wales of leaving the European Union, and I call on the First Minister to move the motion. Carwyn Jones.
Motion NNDM6289 Jane Hutt
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Reiterates its strong support for the Welsh Government-Plaid Cymru White Paper, ‘Securing Wales Future’—as a credible and comprehensive approach to protecting and promoting Wales' interests as the UK leaves the European Union.
2. Takes note of the letter sent by the Prime Minister on 29 March 2017 in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty of European Union, and the draft negotiating mandate published by the President of the European Council in response.
3. Further notes the UK Government's White Paper ‘Legislating for the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union’, published on 30 March 2017, setting out its proposals for legislation to give effect to the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union but believes the analysis of the inter-relationship between the current powers of the EU and the devolution settlement is deeply flawed.
4. Reiterates that constitutional and governmental structures following the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union must be based on full respect for the devolution settlement, and improved arrangements for the conduct of inter-governmental relations based on mutual respect and parity of esteem between the four governments in the UK.
5. Further reiterates in the strongest terms that any frameworks relating to policy areas that are devolved that may be needed to ensure the smooth functioning of the UK market must be agreed by consensus between the UK Government and all three Devolved Administrations and be subject to independent dispute resolution mechanisms. The starting point for such common approaches and frameworks must be through agreement and consensus.
6. Supports the Welsh Government in continuing to press the UK Government for direct participation in the negotiations on the UK's withdrawal from, and future trading and other relations with, the European Union, to ensure protection of distinctive Welsh interests.
7. Reaffirms its view that there should be no financial disadvantage to Wales arising from the UK's exit from the European Union, and calls on the UK Government to make a full and public commitment to that effect.
8. Notes the Welsh Government's commitment to report regularly to the Assembly on progress in relation to these matters.
Diolch, Llywydd. Well, following the issue of the article 50 letter last week, the UK Government has published a White Paper legislating for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. We were given a copy 24 hours before publication, but no opportunity to respond in draft form. I have commented before, of course, on our frustrations about the process for dialogue within the UK. I regret that the UK Government has chosen thus far to operate like this. It doesn’t have to be this way, but, of course, the Welsh Government will stick up for Welsh interests. We want what’s good for Wales and, indeed, the UK as a whole. It’s correct to say, Llywydd, that parts of the White Paper are ambiguous and need to be unpacked. The central purpose is sensible, but I have very significant reservations on the devolved aspects, which I will come to.
Llywydd, we’ve long argued for a managed transition from EU membership to our new position outside. The great repeal Bill will convert EU law into domestic law across the UK at the point of EU exit two years from now, and that’ll provide continuity and certainty for businesses and employees, as we adapt to new circumstances. We will retain, at least for an interim period, convergence with EU regulation, and this means that exporters to European markets, for example, can carry on exporting in compliance with the necessary standards. Over time, of course, things may begin to change, though ensuring broad alignment of environmental and employment standards is likely to be essential if we are to retain full and unfettered access to the single market. But a transition phase is surely a sensible and pragmatic starting point.
Llywydd, the precise implications of the White Paper will not be fully apparent until we see draft legislation. So, at this stage, we urge the UK Government to share their draft legislative proposals with us at the earliest possible time. The UK itself will have to contend with between 800 and 1,000 pieces of secondary legislation, and we know that there will be primary legislation on both customs and immigration, with a raft of other Bills to follow. It’s more likely than not that this Assembly will have to manage a significant volume of legislation in the years ahead, with considerable implications for scrutiny time.
Llywydd, I want to turn now to the specifics of devolution, as described in section 4 of the White Paper. The White Paper says,
‘The devolved settlements were…premised on EU membership.’
We do not accept that, certainly not as a basis for current and future policy. I do not believe that, in 1997 and 2011, people had EU membership uppermost in their minds when they were considering what response to give to those two referendums. It’s also a misrepresentation of the facts, I believe, to pretend that the UK Government alone has exercised the UK role in formulating EU frameworks on devolved matters. I know that’s not the case, because I was part of the framework that was agreed in Luxemburg when I was rural affairs Minister. On the contrary, the UK Government was, and is, bound to work with the devolved administrations in formulating a joint UK position on devolved issues within the EU decision-making process, such as the common agricultural policy. That is the position while we’re in the EU. We can accept nothing less outside the EU.
Just on that point, does he not agree with me, therefore, that the White Paper does not, in fact, take that interpretation that he has just set out and with which I agree, but rather takes an alternative interpretation that it’s been the UK, i.e. the English Government, that has led on these issues?
Well, that’s what I just said. They take an entirely different view from the position taken by, I believe, the vast majority of Members in this Chamber and, indeed, this Government and Governments elsewhere in the UK. As I said, the impetus for devolution was unrelated to the EU. It’s a matter of fact and history that, when devolution began, we were in the European Union, and the settlement had to take account of that. It’s now a fact that we will exit the EU and, as we do so, we must develop new ways of doing business within the UK to ensure that no barriers to trade are erected within our own internal market. But that’s a very different proposition from accepting that the UK Government should replace the EU institutions when it comes to competences that have already been devolved. We see that as false logic. Devolution is based on the wish of the Welsh people to govern their own affairs. It’s been tried and tested at two referendums, and the UK Government needs to recognise that the impetus for devolution was and is unrelated to our EU membership. The UK Government cannot choose to accept the result of one referendum and fudge the result of the referendum we had in 2011.
We have to be ready to consider the potential for the Assembly to pass its own continuity legislation, as proposed by the Plaid Cymru amendment, but in our view, that should be a last resort. We don’t know yet how much legislation will be needed. Whether it can, in fact, be consolidated in one Bill or not, we do know that this will be an unsettling period for Welsh businesses and organisations, and they will need to receive comfort in that regard. So, with regard to amendment 7, we’ll abstain today, but only on the basis that it’s unclear as yet how much will be needed in terms of legislation in the future.
We do readily accept the need for common frameworks across the UK in certain areas. We’ve got plenty to say about this in the White Paper. The way to ensure that we have policy coherence, where this is needed, is for the four Governments together to sit down and agree frameworks. This has to be done through consensus, not imposition. I’ve said that many, many times. The question—
Steffan Lewis rose—
Can he elaborate today, therefore, on what the Welsh Government’s deadline is for clarity from the British Government on its intentions in terms of the repeal Bill and the other legislation that will give the clear indication about whether or not this place needs to legislate on its own constitutional settlement?
It’s when we see the Bill itself. That will give us a better idea of what the UK Government is thinking. When we see what is the self-described great repeal Bill, then, of course, it will be available to this Assembly, and indeed the Welsh Government, to offer an opinion at that time. But I would expect there to be greater clarity, whether that is positive or negative, when that Bill is actually published.
The question is asked, of course: what happens if no agreement can be reached? We accept that, in those circumstances, there must be a backstop arrangement. We believe that the answer is an independent form of arbitration. I’ve said before that we need to ensure that if we have an internal single market with rules, that those rules are agreed, not imposed, and secondly that there’s an independent adjudication mechanism such as a court—it could be the Supreme Court—that polices the rules of that internal single market. We’re open to further discussion about this and what it might look like in practice, but what we can’t accept is that the UK Government should impose itself in areas like agriculture and fisheries, which are fully devolved, in accordance with the wishes of the Welsh people, as expressed through a referendum and legislated for by the UK Parliament itself. It’s further been suggested that there is a case for replicating, through UK legislation, current frameworks provided by EU rules in order to—it is said—provide legal and administrative certainty. If nothing changes, then we will exit the EU in March 2019—it is said—in accordance with the terms of article 50. There are genuine issues about workable arrangements as we transition from EU membership to life outside. That’s why we included a chapter on that in the White Paper.
We note that the UK Government talks about working closely with the devolved administrations, as they say they want to deliver an approach that works for the whole and each part of the UK. I couldn’t disagree with that. We want to work with the UK and our devolved counterparts on the basis of mutual respect and parity of esteem. The UK Government can help to build trust in two ways. First, it needs to recognise that—to adapt a well-known phrase—devolution means devolution; what is already devolved stays devolved. And second, that any measures designed as transitional should clearly be labelled as such through the adoption of sunset clauses. It’s hopelessly inadequate for the UK Government to make vague promises about potential future devolution and expect this Assembly simply to fall in line, especially when they’re talking about competences that we believe are already devolved to us.
We know, however, Llywydd, that powers mean little or nothing unless they are accompanied by the resources to match the policy. I haven’t forgotten—and the people of Wales won’t forget—that promises were made that Wales wouldn’t be a penny worse off as a result of exiting the EU. We will hold those who made that promise to that promise, because Wales gets around £680 million annually in EU funding. We do not expect that money to stick to someone’s back pocket in Whitehall. We expect that money to come to Wales. We expect that money to come to underpin our rural and regional economy and, of course, other programmes like Horizon 2020, from the point of departure from the EU.
Now, we do want to work constructively. We want a place in the next stage of negotiations. The future of the UK outside the EU is as much a matter for this Government and this Assembly as it is for the UK Government and Parliament. The UK Government now has a chance to live up to its rhetoric and genuinely move forward in ways that bind us together in the common cause of achieving the best EU exit terms possible—the creation of a reformed, dynamic, democratic UK outside the EU—but that will require a fundamental change of Whitehall mindset. If they grasp that chance, then of course we can look to work together as equal partners within the UK in the future.
I turn, finally, to the amendments put forward by UKIP. It will come as no surprise, I am sure, to those that proposed these amendments, that we will today not accept any of them. For most of them, the world is seen from a very different perspective if you are a member of UKIP than from our perspective. But one I will refer to now, before dealing with the others, perhaps, as I respond, is amendment 6, and that’s on the issue of tariffs. The amendment fails to recognise that tariffs are taxes on consumers. The cost of a tariff is simply passed on to the consumer of that good: £8 billion a year in tariffs is money raised by the UK Government from UK consumers, not from those who export into the UK. That is a tax of some £120 or £130 a year per head that would have to be paid as a Brexit tax, in effect, by each man, woman and child within the UK. We do not think that that is a sensible way forward.
Will the First Minister give way?
Of course I will.
Does he not understand that, simply as a matter of economic analysis, how those tariffs will fall in terms of the split between consumers and suppliers, and how much they get passed on, will depend on the competitive nature of that market?
The whole point of a tariff is to protect what is produced in a country. It is to impose a barrier against goods coming into a country by making them more expensive to consumers. That’s the whole point of a tariff. The imposition of tariffs—there are many different tariffs, that’s true—but the most stringent tariffs are on dairy products, at 40 per cent. There is no way that those tariffs will be absorbed by those who sell into the UK market. The cost will be passed on to UK consumers, and vice versa, as farmers from Wales and the rest of Britain seek to export into the EU. At the end of the day, the consumer always pays the tariff, and that would mean, in effect, a huge increase in taxation as far as consumers are concerned. It doesn’t have to be that way.
We have always said that there are a number of different options available that would mean that we can leave the EU—respecting the referendum result, of course—while at the same time avoiding our manufacturers and farmers losing access to a market of 500 million and gaining instead free access to a market of only 60 million. I don’t believe that’s in the interests of anybody, and that is something that I know the UK Government, in fairness, is keen to avoid, and something that we will support them in looking to avoid as well.
There are many challenges ahead. That much is true. This is a very complicated divorce. The people have spoken, and there is no going back to the referendum result last year, but it’s absolutely crucial that, as we look forward, we minimise disruption and we ensure that the growth of the Welsh economy over the last few years is not jeopardised over the decade to come.
I have selected the seven amendments to the motion. I call on Neil Hamilton to move amendments 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, tabled in the name of David Rowlands. Neil Hamilton.
Amendment 1—David J. Rowlands
Delete point 1 and replace with:
Believes that the Welsh Government-Plaid Cymru White Paper, ‘Securing Wales Future’ lacks credibility on account of its unrealistically pessimistic assumptions of the alleged costs of Brexit.
Amendment 2—David J. Rowlands
In point 3, delete 'but believes the analysis of the inter-relationship between the current powers of the EU and the devolution settlement is deeply flawed'.
Amendment 3—David J. Rowlands
In point 5, delete 'must be agreed' and replace with 'should be agreed'.
Amendment 4—David J. Rowlands
In point 5, delete 'The starting point for such common approaches and frameworks must be through agreement and consensus' and replace with:
'Recognises that the conduct of the Scottish and Welsh Governments in continuing to fight the referendum campaign after the result on June 23 2016 renders such an outcome unrealistic'.
Amendment 5—David J. Rowlands
Delete point 6.
Amendment 6—David J. Rowlands
Add as new point at end of motion:
Believes that, should EU intransigence preclude a free trade agreement with the UK, the transitional costs of Brexit based on WTO rules would be significantly alleviated by the saving of Britain's £8 billion a year net contribution to the EU Budget, and a likely net revenue on tariffs on trade between the EU and UK of £8 billion a year.
Amendments 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 moved.
Diolch, Llywydd. I formally move the amendments down in my name.
There is little that one could disagree with in what the First Minister has just said. Clearly, we are going to be in a very different world administratively and legislatively outside the EU than within it, and I will say this right at the outset: that there must be no going back on the devolution settlement, and the powers that have been devolved to this Assembly should not in any way be eroded or obscured by whatever happens as part of the Brexit process. It is a matter of law what has already been devolved to the Assembly, and certainly agriculture and environment are going to be very important powers for us to exercise in years to come. It gives us greatly enhanced power in Wales to make for ourselves an agricultural policy or an environmental policy that better suits our needs. As the First Minister, and, indeed, the Government’s White Paper, together with Plaid Cymru, point out, there are many differences between the Welsh economy and the economy of the rest of the United Kingdom. In particular there is, as we know, a trade surplus in goods between Wales and the EU, whereas for the rest of the UK it’s very much the other way round.
But we can’t see this purely in a Welsh context because it is the United Kingdom that is going to be leaving the EU, not just Wales, and Wales has to see itself in the context of the United Kingdom, from which there are massive benefits in terms of fiscal transfers that it would lose if we were to take the nationalist position and become an independent nation politically. That’s not a dispute that we want to argue at length today. But what I want to say, as a result of this debate, is that the world is full of opportunities, not least for our own country to take advantage of them.
The First Minister referred to our amendment in relation to tariffs. We put this amendment down not because we want to move to a protectionist policy—we are a free-trading party. We think tariffs are a foolish way in which to try to protect your industries because, at the end of the day, all you do is institutionalise inefficiency and make yourself less competitive in the world. There’s a wealth of academic analysis that proves the truth of that.
The figures that are mentioned in the amendment are not our figures. They’re produced not, indeed, by a Eurosceptic body. They were produced by Open Europe, which was rather dispassionate and neutral on this issue and was actually in favour of Britain remaining inside the EU. The net effect of the tariffs that we refer to reflect the massive imbalance in trade between Britain as a whole and the rest of the European Union. We have a £60 billion a year trade deficit with the EU overall and, if we were to revert to WTO tariffs in two years’ time, on account of the intransigence of the European Union—. Because the British Government has made its decision perfectly clear: that it wants to see tariff-free trade, frictionless trade, between Britain and the rest of the EU after we leave. But, if the EU prevents us from doing that, then the impact will be felt more in terms of pounds on the European Union than it will be on Britain. If tariffs are introduced, then the net impact will be as described in our amendments. We will be very much in pocket.
Will you take an intervention?
Do you believe the likely outcome for the people of the United Kingdom will be a tariff tax on goods?
Well, that assumes rationality on the part of the European Union negotiators. I very much hope that we will not have. I have to say that the evidence over the last week is not encouraging, with Chancellor Merkel wanting to detach negotiations on trade from other issues that divide us, which is not sensible given we have only a two-year timeframe within which to reach a trade deal. The gratuitous addition of Gibraltar to the negotiations is another irritant that is not likely to assist a sensible resolution of the arguments between us. But it must surely be massively in the interests of the EU, as well as for this country, for us to facilitate trade rather than to obstruct it.
Given that, for Germany alone, we have a £20 billion a year deficit in cars, just in that one sector, then it’s clearly in Germany’s interest, as the motor of the EU, to use its weight and influence to achieve the outcome that would be mutually beneficial—one of free trade. What goes for cars goes for all sorts of areas of trade between us, even in agricultural products, which the First Minister quite rightly refers to, because agriculture is a balkanised market all around the world. Even where we do have free trade agreements with other countries, very often agriculture is marked out as being different and remains subject to all sorts of trade restrictions.
Even in the case of lamb, for example, we actually have a trade deficit in the UK in sheep meat. Therefore, although for Wales this is a massively important issue for agriculture, because we export such a huge proportion of our production of lamb, in the UK as a whole, which will be negotiating for us, we have an opportunity to ensure a sensible outcome.
I see the red light is on, Llywydd, and I’ve not been able to develop my argument because I was seduced by Rhianon Passmore into going down an avenue that I hadn’t intended to. But the main point I want to make is that this is an opportunity for us and not a threat. It’s a challenge, of course, but life is full of challenges. Any business worth its salt knows it has to change. Nothing ever stands still. Let us grasp this opportunity and make the best of it for the people of Wales.
I call on Leanne Wood to move amendment 7, tabled in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Amendment 7—Rhun ap Iorwerth
Add as new point at end of motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to bring forward a continuation (Wales) bill in order to uphold Wales's constitution and convert into Welsh law all European legislation related to devolved policy areas.
Amendment 7 moved.
Diolch, Llywydd. I move the amendment in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Plaid Cymru believes that the act of leaving the European Union will have a profound effect on Wales as a nation. Last week, we witnessed two major events that will enable the UK Government to take Wales and England out of the European Union. The fact that only two parts of the UK want to, and are definitely going to, leave already speaks volumes about the tectonic changes that are taking place, and it demonstrates that we in Wales must protect and defend our national interests. We cannot be a silent bystander or spectator. We must use whatever leverage we have to create our own voice and to carve out a distinct position if Wales is to have its own future, distinct and different from that of England.
Both the article 50 letter and the repeal Bill White Paper refer to Wales. But, to Plaid Cymru, the UK Government isn’t acting as if Wales exists at all. Plaid Cymru continues to give its strong support to the joint White Paper, ‘Securing Wales’ Future’, as the most comprehensive outline of the Welsh national interest for the Brexit process, but we don’t see enough evidence that the UK Government has listened. We are not convinced that, to date, consultation has been genuine.
The article 50 notification makes clear, once and for all, that the UK Government will take us out of the single market. The question for us now is what a free trade agreement will look like and whether it will include tariff or regulatory barriers. Will there be some sectors of the Welsh economy that face tariffs and others that don’t? Business doesn’t want this uncertainty. Employers will need to know the playing field well in advance of Brexit taking place.
Llywydd, perhaps the greatest challenge arising from the UK Government announcements last week is the future as to how the UK works internally. The original motion recognises this to some extent, and the Plaid Cymru amendment today confronts that challenge and offers a solution: a continuation bill for Wales to uphold our current constitutional status. That constitution has been endorsed by people in Wales as recently as the 2011 referendum. The common EU frameworks are discussed in chapter 4 of the UK Government White Paper. Those frameworks are the foundation upon which this Assembly operates. The replacement of those frameworks with new arrangements to protect the UK single market is a recipe for a Westminster power grab.
The repeal Bill White Paper gives the UK Government the power to create new UK frameworks. They say they will consult with the devolved Governments, and, at best, they will work intensively with them, but we aren’t here to be consulted with. As the First Minister has already said, Wales already co-decides the UK position on EU frameworks. These responsibilities rest with Wales and they are for us to share and negotiate, not for Westminster to impose. That’s why Plaid Cymru wants this continuation bill. We should act in the most decisive way possible to make sure that the balance of power within this state does not shift even further towards Westminster, and I would encourage the Welsh Government to look seriously at this option.
If you share our analysis, then I urge you to take action and support this amendment. This can’t be a last resort. We have a relatively small window of opportunity here; don’t delay in taking it. Don’t wait for the Tories to change their mindset and don’t abstain. Please back Plaid Cymru’s amendment on this today.
Llywydd, we will be opposing UKIP’s amendment. They offer nothing whatsoever in terms of protecting the Welsh national interest. They would delete the need for agreement and consensus between devolved and Westminster Governments. They also talk of EU intransigence at a time when Wales needs friends and allies in the rest of Europe. And isn’t it interesting to note that UKIP is the only party talking about the referendum in their amendments today? Why do UKIP seem so obsessed with the referendum? Is it, perhaps, because they have no vision whatsoever beyond that result? And we’re still waiting to hear their plan. The debate has moved on. [Interruption.] It’s now about securing the Welsh national interest during the negotiations ahead of us.
The original motion today describes and analyses that situation. There’s nothing in that motion that we can disagree with; it’s just a description. On the other hand, the Plaid Cymru amendment proposes action. A continuation Bill is the next immediate step we should take to secure that position. Future UK frameworks covering the single market, agriculture or any other fields that interact with devolution must be co-produced and co-decided. As far as the Party of Wales is concerned, nothing less is acceptable and I would urge the Chamber to support our amendment today. I’ve run out of time, sorry.
I’m very pleased to take part in this very important debate today. It makes absolute sense for the powers in the devolved areas that lie in Europe, such as agriculture and fisheries, to be transferred back to Wales. I think there’s absolutely no case for the UK Government to in any way take back any of those powers, because I think, as the First Minister said in his introduction, that these powers have been devolved, a referendum has been won, and I agree with the First Minister that EU membership had no role at all in the votes in the devolution referendums. In her letter, the Prime Minister says that the UK Government
‘will consult fully on which powers should reside in Westminster and which should be devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But it is the expectation of the Government that the outcome of this process will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration.’
I think it is very important that this issue is cleared up as soon as possible because the Prime Minister is obviously hinting at what may be the outcome for Wales, but there also is the hint of holding something back as well. So, I think it’s really important that this is cleared up because it’s very hard to see, if the powers didn’t come back to Wales, where on earth they could sit in the UK Government because it’s not possible to recreate the Welsh Office. All of the Secretary of State’s powers were transferred to the Welsh Assembly in 1998 and devolution was won and the transfer took place. It would be ludicrous to add Welsh functions on to the equivalent English departments for agriculture and fisheries, for example. So it makes absolute sense for them to come to Wales. If, of course, as a result of negotiation, additional responsibilities do come to Wales it is essential that the money comes as well.
It’s obviously more complicated where a field is not devolved, like scientific research, for example, which I wanted to refer to, where there is a lot of devolved spending by the Welsh Government, but responsibility is with the UK-wide research councils. Obviously, this is the same in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Of course, the UK is a net beneficiary. It’s absolutely key that Wales does not lose out on any of this funding. I repeat, as others have said today, we were promised that we would not lose one penny by leaving the EU and we do expect to see that promise fulfilled. There are key figures in the UK Government who are negotiating on this who campaigned strongly to get out of the EU and they said all these things, and we do have to hold them responsible to make sure it happens. Of course, there are key figures here in this Assembly who also campaigned for us to leave the EU and I think they bear a heavy responsibility for this and we expect them—those people who did campaign so strongly—to make sure that this does actually happen. I think this is absolutely vital.
In my constituency, research funding is a key issue so I wanted to mention that, but I also wanted to mention, before I finish, the real importance of human rights and the hard-won rights that we have gained from Europe. I know that the Government is committed to making sure that the same laws apply, including equality laws, at the point of the UK’s exit from the EU. Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee has recommended that the great repeal Bill is an opportunity to make real the Government’s promise to give the same or better protections on equality after Brexit, and recommends there should be a clause in the great repeal Bill saying that there should be no going back on equalities. Maria Miller, who is the chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said:
‘If the Government wants to maintain the current level of equality protection for vulnerable groups including pregnant women and disabled travellers’—
there’s been a news report on issues there today—
‘it must take active steps to embed equality into UK law.’
‘There are two concrete priorities which the Government should focus on: first, to include a clause on equality in the Great Repeal Bill saying that there will be no going backwards on current levels of equality protections, and second, to amend the Equality Act 2010 to empower Parliament and the Courts to declare whether new laws are compatible with equality principles.’
I think it is absolutely essential that we keep all those hard-won rights, that we keep all the equality rights that we have got, that they are embedded in the law, and I think we must make absolutely certain that happens. So, as I said earlier, I think there’s a heavy burden on some of our Assembly Members to make sure that Wales does not come out of this any worse. I urge everyone here in the Chamber to use all their influence to make sure that we do manage to survive.
Last Wednesday, the Prime Minister formally notified the European Council of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union. As her letter began, the decision of the people of the United Kingdom to leave the EU
‘was no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europeans.... the United Kingdom wants the European Union to succeed and prosper…. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe—and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.’
The First Minister promised to deliver this debate on this issue. It is therefore regrettable that the Welsh Government motion instead begins with reference to the Welsh Government-Plaid Cymru White Paper, despite this already having been debated here and having been overtaken by events since. As I said in the 7 February debate on this—.
Will you take an intervention, Mark?
Yes, of course.
I thank you for taking the intervention. Are you therefore disappointed that the UK Government has actually not responded to the Welsh Government’s White Paper to show how it’s been included in the considerations for the negotiations?
Unfortunately, the timing of the Welsh Government’s White Paper came after events, as you were following rather than leading.
As I said in 7 February debate on this, although their White Paper
‘calls for full and unfettered access to the EU single market, and although EU rules make this impossible after border control is restored to the UK, this is not inconsistent with the UK Government’s desire for a free trade deal without membership.’
‘We will continue to attract the brightest and the best, allowing a sovereign UK to determine and meet the workforce needs of our economy and society, be they engineers, scientists, health professionals, carers or farm workers. But the voice of the people was clear; there must be control.’
The UK Government is closely engaged with a high-level stakeholder working group on EU exit, universities, research and innovation, to ensure that the UK builds on its strong global position in research and innovation excellence after leaving the EU. There is already agreement between the UK and the EU that guaranteed rights for EU citizens living in the UK, and for UK citizens living in the EU, will be a priority for the negotiations. The Prime Minister stated that supporting integration and social cohesion means fully respecting and, indeed, strengthening the devolution settlements, but, she said, never allowing our union to become looser and weaker, or our people to drift apart.
Speaking on the article 50 process in the House of Commons, she expressed her expectation that the outcome of this process will be a significant increase in the decision-making powers of each devolved administration. Although uncompromising on core principles, the EU draft negotiating guidelines have flexibility to allow for a deal acceptable to both sides. In response to that, the UK Government reiterated that it is seeking a deep and special relationship with the EU on trade and the many other areas where we have shared aims and values, and that it is confident that such an outcome is in the interests of both sides.
As the Assembly’s chief legal adviser briefed yesterday, when we leave the EU, restrictions on the ability of the devolved administrations to legislate in areas not reserved to the UK Government will disappear. The Labour-Plaid Cymru White Paper calls for a UK framework to provide legal underpinning for effective regulation of issues such as the environment, agriculture and fisheries, which are heavily governed by EU law. And the great repeal Bill White Paper outlines a holding pattern to deliver certainty on exit day by preserving repatriated law, and allowing the UK Government to work with the devolved administrations on UK frameworks.
As the National Farmers Union states, an agricultural framework should prevent unfair competition between devolved administrations, and secure and protect adequate long-term funding for agriculture. And the Farmers Union of Wales has urged the Welsh Government to be ambitious in reviewing EU-derived legislation that adds unnecessarily to the bureaucratic burden faced by farmers.
The UK economy was the fastest growing G7 economy last year. A survey published yesterday found that global central bankers favour sterling over the euro as a long-term stable reserve investment.
When our great union of UK nations sets its mind on something and works together, we are an unstoppable force. No-one in the UK or the EU—
Will you take an intervention?
No, I’m sorry.
[Continues.]—wins if everyone ends up weaker from this process. So, let us condemn and reject any single-issue bandwagon-jumping enemy within who seeks to undermine the development of a new relationship with the EU in order to weaken and divide our islands and destroy our United Kingdom, whether they’re in Scotland or whether they’re simply mimicking their heroes from Scotland. With optimism, we can embrace this opportunity to build a dynamic, global future, but this will only happen if Carwyn’s doomsday cult climbs off its one-trick pony.
If anyone ever wonders why I’m a Welsh nationalist, they should listen to the comments of the previous speaker. Llywydd, it was correctly foreseen by many that the UK repeal Bill or related legislation might pose a threat to the current constitution of Wales in terms of our competence as democratically mandated by the people of Wales in two referenda. The concern is based on the fact that, if the UK withdraws from the European single market, as intended by the UK Government, then, for the first time since 1973, there will be a UK internal market and it will require frameworks in order to operate effectively. Of course, in 1973, there was no devolution and a new UK internal market will inevitably have frameworks that impact upon devolved policy issues.
The Welsh national White Paper makes constructive and practical proposals for how such frameworks can be established through a UK council of Ministers, with each Government of the UK acting as equal partners and agreeing between them shared frameworks where appropriate. At present, where European frameworks impact upon devolved functions, a common UK position is agreed among the Governments of the UK before a European council meeting, and that common, pre-agreed position is presented.
Paragraph 4.2 of the UK Government’s White Paper on the repeal Bill, published last week, misrepresents that current practice and it does so as a pretext for centralising powers over the UK internal market at the UK level. We know that much because the Secretary of State for Wales last weekend said that the governance of the UK’s internal market is reserved to Westminster, and, upon leaving the EU, UK frameworks would be determined at Westminster and divvied up afterwards to different levels, as they in Westminster see fit. The devolved administrations will be little more than consultees on matters that are clearly under their jurisdiction already.
In pre-empting this, the Welsh national White Paper, on page 28, says, and I quote:
‘We await sight of the detail UK Government’s Bill to inform further thinking about whether the Parliamentary Bill adequately reflects the devolution settlement. If, after analysis, it is necessary to legislate ourselves in the National Assembly for Wales in order to protect our devolved settlement in relation to the Bill, then we will do so.’
Llywydd, it is my view and that of my party that the devolution settlement has not been adequately reflected in the UK Government White Paper. Indeed, that is recognised by the Welsh Government in point three of their motion today, and it is now necessary for this National Assembly to legislate. I do not underestimate the work that will be required to achieve this, but, given that it is the intention of the UK Government to bring forward their repeal Bill by mid-September, the window of opportunity we have to act is very limited. Within a few months, we may have lost not just the opportunity to act; we may have lost responsibilities that have been entrusted to us by the people of this country.
I urge all Members here on all sides who believe in a genuine family of nations in these islands, and who want fair governance of the UK’s internal market, to uphold the provision of the Welsh White Paper by supporting our amendment today calling for a continuation Bill. Whether we were ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ last year, and whether we are nationalists or unionists today, we all promised the people of Wales that we would not allow this country to be worse off either financially or in terms of powers. Let us deliver on that commitment to them today by backing Plaid Cymru’s amendment.
Let’s be clear about one thing, that there is little to celebrate—nothing to celebrate in fact—about the actions of the UK Government in the last couple of weeks. The only virtue of serving the article 50 notice is that it puts to bed the question of whether or not we are embarking on a process of leaving the European Union. What we now have an opportunity to do is to fight for the kind of Brexit that we want in Wales’s interests, and, unlike Mark Isherwood’s somewhat partial recollection of the paper between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru, I think that sets out a very clear direction of travel for the kind of Brexit that we want for Wales.
But we also need, in tandem with that, to be addressing the kind of Wales that we want to be after Brexit. For those who campaigned to leave, leaving the European Union was the first step, not the last word. And they have a very different vision of Wales and of the UK than most of us in this Chamber. We’ve heard Philip Hammond talking about a new economic order, and Theresa May arguing for fundamental change as a result of the decision. The majority in this Chamber do not want to see that, and vast though the task is of handling Brexit, we all need to engage in that bigger battle against those values as well as that version of Brexit and argue for the kind of Wales that we want to be beyond that.
Turning to the issue of the Plaid Cymru amendment on the continuation Bill, this comes down to a question of powers and a question of funding. In a sense, the proposal for a continuation Bill is an alternative to putting our faith in the UK Government to protect our interests in the European repeal Bill. It would have the effect of putting into Welsh law the body of EU law in relation to devolved areas, giving Welsh Ministers the right to amend that in technical terms and asserting the right of this Chamber as a body of accountability and also asserting its legislative competence. In a sense, it would be a made-in-Wales version of the repeal Bill, designed to protect the Welsh devolution settlement. It seems to me, for reasons that other speakers have already given, that that settlement is very likely to need protecting.
Both the original White Paper and the paper we saw last week describe powers coming to Wales ‘where that is appropriate’. What neither of those two documents say is that powers will come to Wales in accordance with the current devolution settlement. Now, you might argue that a continuity or continuation Bill in relation to the devolved areas might be seen as a first step rather than as a safety net, and I suppose that is the case in some ways, unless you reflect on the fact that, in this Chamber, it’s not just about the powers that we have, but the funding that we have, and that, actually, is a much bigger question.
We focus on receiving our powers from statute and that’s right, but we still receive our funding, basically, on the basis of a handshake. We know that Barnett is broken; we’ve known that for a long time, and though the fiscal framework takes forward issues around reflecting need and independence of adjudication, that is not enough. Surely, what Brexit has done is throw into stark relief that now is the time to put our funding on a statutory basis, both in terms of the baseline funding—what we get through Barnett—but also on a fair deal for European funding, for the lost European funding.
I think we need a funding statute—a kind of small constitution, if you like—that sets out the obligation to fund, the principles on which we will be funded, which would be redistribution and reflecting need, and the judicial mechanism for resolving disputes between different parts of the UK. Most modern states find that pretty natural. The UK Government finds it something that they have to struggle with, but I think, coming out of Brexit, the one thing that people do understand is the importance of funding for the future of Wales, and I think—
Will the Member give way on that one?
Would the Member agree, just on that point, that what he is, in fact, advocating, is a federal system for the United Kingdom?
I don’t know if it’s a federal system, but I’m advocating a system that has a statutory fair funding mechanism to protect Wales. And I believe that, coming out of the Brexit argument, people understand the need for that, and we should argue for that future.
In June 2017, the citizens, by a small but sufficient majority, said two things, I think, to us. They did not want to remain part of European governance. I know we hear often about we’re still European—of course we are, and we’re part of that great cultural inheritance, but we did vote to remove ourselves from European governance and we will face consequences for that.
Secondly, I think they said that we need to take care much more of those left behind. It was a huge message, shared in many western societies, it has to be said, but it seems to me that message is that our society’s not cohesive enough, and many people feel they don’t get a fair deal. This has been a particular crisis, really, to have hit since the financial difficulties of 2008, which sparked the great recession, and it’s this bit we really need to concentrate on as we, in the National Assembly, get to grips with Brexit, because it’s our whole governance at the moment that many people feel is not producing at the level it needs to produce, so we must remember those that are left behind.
So, a small majority voted to leave the European Union, but I think for all of us unionists in this Chamber—and I respect those that are not—we must realise that it will require a large majority to rejuvenate the UK’s union. This is not about preserving Britain, it is about rebuilding Britain, and that work will require great vision, generosity, and an awareness that we now need a new relationship between the UK’s nations. We are in a very different position to the one we were in in 1973, and that is certainly the case, and, indeed, this is why, broadly speaking, I’m prepared to back the idea of a council of Ministers to take forward now the JMC process and make it more predictable, formal, and much more at the heart of our governance arrangements. I have to say I’m an optimist in terms of—I think a lot of the language is fairly austere at the moment in terms of ‘we must protect our patch’, and in this time of great change and uncertainty we don’t fully trust our other partners, be they in Scotland, London, wherever, and I think we need to get over this. We need to think of what functions we need. We need to ask ourselves what is required for the UK market to operate, not just over the economy, which, broadly, is not contested, but over areas like agriculture and the environment.
We need to be very, very cautious about what we wish for, because I think any argument that is basically saying that current competences, which were examined a few years ago in that foreign office study, and basically decided that what was at the EU level was appropriately at the EU level—. To argue that those current competences that underwrite the European frameworks that we are now leaving, that those competences go from the supra-state level straight down to the sub-state level without stopping in-between—really, I think we need to be cautious about these very purist arguments that remind me of the medieval church’s debates on the nature of the hypostatic union; I mean, you missed the big picture. We need the UK to work as an integrated—
Will the Member give way?
[Continues.]—enterprising market. Yes.
I think the point is that the powers are already here now and they are pooled at the moment to European Union level, and, when we leave the European Union, the powers will remain here. There isn’t a repatriation of powers; we have competence in these fields now. It is not a matter of them being transferred to London or Brussels or Cardiff, or wherever else; they are here now, that is the fundamental point.
Well, a wise civil servant once told me that the true test of maturity is the ability to live with paradox, and I really think that we must recognise that what—. You know, the great truth here is that in 1997/8/9, when we moved to decentralised Government and devolution in this country, the framework was that we were within the girdle of the European Union. No-one thought at that time—apart from our friends to my right, and it was a distant dream then—that we would leave that framework. That was the foundation, really, of the devolved settlement, and had that not then existed, I think very different arrangements would have been required in terms of the environment and many other policies. But you are right, one can read it the way you do, but I don’t think functionally it gets you very far, because you’re basically saying, ‘Yes, we want all these powers, we may give some of them back to the—
No, we have them. We have them already.
Well let me just use the language as I choose.
‘And by the way, what we do want London to have are all the obligations to finance the policies that we will now put in place.’ Frankly, if we don’t have functional competences at the levels we need them, which has always been the pro-European argument—now you’re a little Brexiteer in saying, ‘No, no, we’ve got to go micro and get everything back and defend it’. We need to pool these things; we need to work effectively.
But here I do—and I conclude on this, because my time is running out—we do need effective, inter-governmental structures. And it is something that the UK Government is going to have to work very hard on, and sincerely on, and with great vision, and with give and take. Thank you.
I’m delighted to follow David Melding. I apologise to him for my inability to engage in the debate over the hypostatic union of the medieval church. Perhaps we can discuss offline.
Can I say that I hope that the process of the two-year withdrawal will help bring people together, within our United Kingdom and within the Assembly? I believe that the article 50 letter, as delivered by the Prime Minister, was a masterpiece of diplomatic language. I don’t know whether the First Minister has been convinced that it’s better than a straight, ‘We hereby withdraw the United Kingdom under article 50 of the treaty of the European Union’, but as a diplomatic piece of setting the basis of our discussions and our desire for a wide-ranging trade and security—and beyond—relationship, I felt it read in a very compelling way.
I think there was—
David Rees rose—
May I just carry on for a little while?
I think there was probably much to and fro between the UK Government and the European Council in terms of seeing each other’s drafts and commenting, and already a degree of, if not of negotiation, at least mutual feedback. That doesn’t appear to have happened with the devolved administrations, and I share some of the First Minister’s regrets about that. But he must understand that there is no Government in Northern Ireland, and that the Scottish Government is an SNP Government whose leader is committed to breaking up the United Kingdom.
I urge him once more to protect the interests of Wales: please seek substantive, wide-ranging, bilateral discussions, in private, between the Welsh Government and the UK Government, to try and push some of these issues in the interests of Wales. I’d also encourage him to take up Julie Morgan’s plea that not just UK Ministers but key Members of these Assemblies, who have made commitments or at least suggested certain things would happen for the benefit of Wales outside the European Union, particularly on the financial side—I would urge him to work with those people who campaigned for ‘leave’, not just those who campaigned for ‘remain’, including those who may have influence with the UK negotiating partner.
I’m encouraged by the draft negotiating mandate that came back from the European Council, as well as by the article 50 letter. It refers to the fact that negotiations under article 50 will be conducted as a single package. It then says that the framework for the future relationship could be identified during the second phase of the negotiations under article 50, as soon as sufficient progress has been made in the first phase. And yes, financial discussions are part of that, but there’s a whole range of issues, including the rights of EU nationals in this country, which we’re very keen to settle and push forward and show good progress on. So, I think the link of those is encouraging.
I also think, in terms of the role of the European Court of Justice—. The relevant paragraph on that is paragraph 16:
‘The withdrawal agreement should include appropriate dispute settlement mechanisms’.
But the council then refers to these ‘bearing in mind’ the union’s interests, and the ECJ, which I think is something we can work with in discussing what would be an appropriate settlement procedure.
We then have the section on Gibraltar, which there’s been a lot of coverage of. I actually think people may be missing quite a key implication of this paragraph 22 of the negotiating mandate: that, after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, no agreement may apply to Gibraltar without the agreement of Spain.
Now, that phrase would be otiose, unnecessary, unless it were considered that agreement would be by qualified majority, at the European Union. If it is to be, as the First Minister is afraid, a mixed negotiation, post-exit, that would leave the unanimous agreement to member states, and, potentially, of regional parliaments, then there would be no need to give that specific protection to Spain, who would already have a veto over such agreement.
So, I think it is encouraging that the European Union is looking at those trade and related arrangements post Brexit as potentially being negotiated by qualified majority. And I think the fact that these negotiations, at least after a bit, can proceed in parallel is good, to the extent, say, the Canada agreement was a mixed agreement that had to go the regional parliaments and be unanimity. But the mixed elements in any trade agreement we could potentially deal with with article 50, and the trade one would be where the European Commission had exclusive competence. So, again, that would be by qualified majority voting. I think that does make agreement potentially easier.
I also think it’s interesting that the EU is saying that it’s the successor to all the agreements. Even where we as 28 or 27 member states negotiated on behalf of the EU because it lacked legal personality, the EU says, well, that’s its agreement and it doesn’t bind us. So, for example, on the WTO EU commitment in terms of the quota free of tariff for New Zealand lamb, they are implying that that’s a matter for the EU, and they want us to take our share of international agreements, but that’s for us to agree with them, and isn’t something that they consider to be binding on us. So, I think that’s promising.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Finally, like the First Minister, I don’t want to see tariffs, but on most standard economic analysis, it is just wrong to say that the whole of any tariff is borne by the consumer. You have a demand and supply curve, and as the price rises, consumers buy less, so that squeezes out marginal supply, with the remaining supply being at a lower price from the overseas supplier. Now, how much of that tariff is increased price to the consumer, and how much would be a reduced price for the supplier to hold on to their share when there’s actually less being supplied in the market, will depend on the dynamics of the market. But I really am optimistic we will see a free trade deal that doesn’t see tariffs, and I hope the First Minister will work with everyone in this Assembly, as well as the UK Government, and continue to look at this all in a positive way.
I will make some comments that are relevant to the whole of Wales, and then look at my constituency of Anglesey. We’ve all heard people discussing the importance of taking back control. What we’re not clear about is what exactly we’re talking about: what kind of control we’re talking about, and what will the cost of that be. The risk that we face in Wales now is that we could lose control as a result of the UK Government’s intent through the great repeal Bill, and we’ve heard some of my fellow Members discuss that already. For example, I’m very concerned about the agricultural industry in my constituency if the UK Government do what they’ve threatened to do in terms of European framework powers, taking them to themselves—temporarily at least—with no pledges in the longer term, rather than doing what is just, and constitutional, in my view, and is crucial for our rural economy and our rural communities, namely to ensure that the Welsh Parliament continues to have full responsibility on issues in this area, an area that is clearly fully devolved.
But I will mention one other area where control will be lost as a result of the issuing of the article 50 letter: not losing control for constitutional reasons or legislative reasons, but because of the practical implications of the kind of Brexit that the UK Government seems intent on seeking. Anglesey is the main port for trade between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Over three quarters of the trade on lorries between Europe and the Republic of Ireland passed through Welsh ports, and 79 per cent of that went through Holyhead port. Over 2 million people passed through the port: hundreds of thousands of cars and thousands of buses. I hope I’m painting a picture of just why the port of Holyhead is so important to Wales and so important to the island of Anglesey, where hundreds are directly employed in the port, and far more in businesses related to the success of the port. My concern is that the UK Government is voluntarily losing control of the prosperity of that port by deciding to give up its membership of the single market and the customs union. If, for obvious reasons—to save the peace process—we need to secure a soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, that wouldn’t be the case between Wales and Ireland, and Holyhead/Dublin would be a hard border, quite possibly. There would be a major temptation to develop direct links from the Republic of Ireland to France—routes that currently exist at the moment, of course. Now, I am gravely concerned as to the impact of turning Holyhead from the swiftest and easiest route, and the most efficient route between Europe and Ireland, into one of the most difficult.
In the White Paper drawn up jointly between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government, we attempted to state what kind of control we would wish the UK Government to retain in terms of the relationship between Britain and Europe in the future. Playing a part in the single market is close to the top of that list, if not on top of the list. I don’t want to leave the European Union—I never would. But as that is the direction of travel, we do have to seek mitigation measures, and the single market is crucial to that, and we must continue to put pressure on for that.
To conclude, I will turn to the continuation Bill, which is the subject of our amendment. The First Minister said that he thought that a continuation Bill should be a last resort in terms of securing the constitutional future of Wales, and ensuring that the Parliament of Wales express in legislation our expectations that leaving the European Union wouldn’t undermine our ability to take action on behalf of the people of Wales. He added that we would have to wait for the great repeal Bill first. I will say this: surely now is the opportunity and the time for us to take action, because we can’t wait to see if the UK Government is going to act in a way that reflects the needs of the people of Wales, because the signs currently aren’t there that the UK Government will do that.
I thank the Member for giving way. Would he also agree with me that it’s even more a matter of urgency that we legislate as soon as possible because the UK Government’s on record as saying it will not publish a draft of the great repeal Bill? So, whatever is published and whenever it is published—by mid-September—we will not have the time to respond to it, at least legislatively.
The Member certainly emphasises, again, the narrowness of the window that we have in front of us.
Mae Ysgrifennydd Cymru, rydw i’n meddwl, i gloi, wedi ei gwneud hi’n berffaith glir nad oes ganddo ddiddordeb mewn cynrychioli barn Cymru yn y Cabinet, ond yn hytrach mai ei rôl o ydy cyfathrebu wrth Gymru beth mae’r Cabinet yn Whitehall wedi ei benderfynu ar gyfer Cymru, p’un a ydy hynny er ein budd ni ai peidio. Bachwch ar y cyfle yma, Lywodraeth Cymru, i osod ein stondin deddfwriaethol ni. Gwarchodwch yr hyn sydd gennym ni. Unwaith y bydd y ‘repeal Bill’ ar y llyfrau statud heb ddeddfwriaeth i’w herio fo mewn lle yn y Senedd yma, mi fydd llinell amddiffyniad Cymru yn un denau iawn.
Colleagues have already highlighted this afternoon that, after much walking through the darkness, the UK Government has actually, finally, come to a point where it’s now getting on with the outcomes of the referendum on 23 June. However, that referendum, as we all know, only said one thing: that we had to leave the EU institutions. It did not determine the terms on which we leave and it did not discuss the new relationships with the other 27 member states. This is why it is important now to get our objectives on the agenda, as the process about that begins.
I’m disappointed that, prior to this point and the invocation of article 50, the Westminster Government’s handling of this matter has not shown sufficient respect to the institutions of the devolved nations in moving forward, even though the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government both submitted their own proposals for consideration. It’s now critical that the UK Government delivers on its stated commitment to fully involve the devolved nations. This needs to go beyond merely meeting with Ministers through the JMC, or the JMC(EN), but actually taking on board what each Government has put forward and involving Ministers from devolved nations in the negotiating process, where appropriate, and creating a new constitutional mechanism for our nations.
This was highlighted in the report by the Exiting the European Union Committee, published only today, in, for those who want to read it, paragraph 10 and paragraph 13—have a good look at it—but also a report from the Lords Constitution Committee published in March, which states, and I quote:
‘This will mean that the UK Government and the devolved administrations will need to manage new interfaces—and potentially overlapping responsibilities—between reserved matters and devolved competence in areas where the writ of EU law no longer runs. The UK Government and devolved administrations will need to agree, before Brexit, how those new interfaces will be managed.’
In other words, everyone is saying, except the UK Government, ‘We need a constitutional structure that is based upon statute, not simply upon a good handshake.’ Llywydd, there are some in the UK Government who actually accept devolution. Some even get it, but too many don’t and have a belief that everything must be driven by Westminster and Whitehall. We must do all we can to actually collaborate strongly with our colleagues in other devolved nations to ensure the UK Government delivers on its words and sentiment in both the article 50 letter and the great repeal Bill White Paper. They say it; let’s make sure they deliver on it.
Dirprwy Lywydd, the Welsh Government’s White Paper also placed the economy at the top of the agenda, and understandably so, because we need prosperity across this nation and the ability of Welsh businesses to trade without barriers—whether financial or regulatory—is critical to allow it to grow. And manufacturing plays a great part in the Welsh economy, more than any other nation in the UK—it’s actually 16 per cent of GVA. And so, we must ensure that a difficult divorce, with the WTO Brexit rules, does not happen, because it would mean crippling tariffs placed upon our exports.
I noticed UKIP’s amendment 6 highlights that they want to say, ‘It’s £8 billion; we can use the money.’ I just think that’s an excuse to actually justify why they can’t deliver on their promises of £350 million a week going to our public services. They want to hide the fact they can’t do it, and therefore they’re now saying, ‘Oh, let’s get from the EU another £8 billion or so.’ So, that’s something we need to address very clearly. The White Paper’s priority, actually, is for unfettered access, and it’s one that we should all embrace. We know that—. We understand that free trade agreements are important, but we also must understand the EU-27 position as well, because very often we talk about our position, but there are negotiations.
Mark Reckless talked about the ‘mastery’ of the letter on article 50. I saw a veiled threat in that letter about security. I don’t call that ‘mastery’; I call that ‘threats and intimidation’, and that’s not good negotiation.
Can I just say, almost all my speech was dedicated to the draft negotiating mandate, and I identified about three or four things that I thought were really positive, and actually could allow a good negotiation in our mutual interest and showing respect to the EU position?
I take that point, but when I asked to intervene on the point he raised at the very beginning, he didn’t allow me to have one. So, I took the chance now to tell him what I think about it—quite clearly.
Now, we understand there are risks. There are risks because we’re leaving. We must address those risks in the coming negotiations, and I believe strongly that the direct involvement of Welsh national Government Ministers in those negotiations will be important. We have to move forward. I’m conscious of time, so—. On the amendment, I wish you’d actually said we would actually ‘prepare’ a Bill, not ‘lay’ a Bill, because I think the preparation of one is, at this point, important. It’s semantics, but it’s important semantics. The laying of a Bill, perhaps, at this stage is presumptuous because we haven’t seen the Bill yet. We haven’t seen the Bill yet. We need to see that. But I won’t deny that preparation is important in that situation.
The UK Government has a mandate for us to leave the EU, but no mandate to use Brexit as an excuse for change in ideological approaches in the way in which we look at our economy and our public services. As they negotiate our exit and our future relationship, they must accept constitutional structural changes, and they must ensure that the interests and priorities of the devolved nations are actually not ignored.
Thanks to the Government for bringing today’s debate. I thought the First Minister raised some reasonable points today, and in a balanced manner, and it hasn’t actually been as heated today, which is perhaps a welcome development—but maybe that will change. [Laughter.] After Brexit, the UK will need an independent arbiter to rule over issues such as legal competence and what is being called ‘the UK internal market’. It’s been suggested that, ultimately, the main arbiter could be the Supreme Court. The First Minister has said before that, in constitutional terms, the UK Government can’t be both judge and jury. I’m sure most of us in UKIP are not too frightened of our own UK Supreme Court being the ultimate constitutional arbiter. We are also keen on empowering the Supreme Court, which is why we in UKIP want Brexit to encompass the UK’s departure from the European Court of Justice. Hopefully the First Minister agrees with this outcome.
The First Minister says that what is devolved must stay devolved. This sounds reasonable. The problem is that the issue of legal competence has been rather fluid—rather nebulous—in the post-devolution world. For instance, the Trade Union (Wales) Bill is currently being discussed by the relevant Assembly committee, of which I am a member. We are being urged by the Welsh Government Minister, in this case, to back this Bill even though he accepts that legal competence in this area will revert to the UK Government after the Wales Bill becomes law. So, these things are rather fluid and are not written in stone.
The demand that every penny lost from EU funding to Wales must be replaced by UK Government funds: Julie Morgan raised this today, quite rightly. We agree with this demand, and we always have done. But Jeremy Miles did make a constructive suggestion today, and he saw an opportunity—. Oh, he’s gone, but he did make a constructive contribution, I felt. He saw in Brexit an opportunity, in that it could be a chance to put Welsh funding on a statutory basis, and that may be worthy of exploration in the future. Thank you.
Thank you. And finally, David Rowlands.
Diolch, Llywydd. Well, as usual, this debate is held with that fallacious concept that the European Union and its governing institutions has been a huge benevolent factor for the countries it holds in its sway. The European Union has, in fact, proved itself to be to the advantage of just two groups of people: big business and the political elite. If you challenge the veracity of that statement, just ask the views of Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal, where unemployment is running at some 50 per cent, and whose only hope for work is to emigrate. I won’t ask you where they tend to emigrate to. Time after time, we see the political ambitions of the European politicians put before the well-being of the working people of the EU. You may argue ad infinitum about the commercial consequences of Brexit from the EU, but the truth is that the European Union has been an economic disaster for many of its members. We have members of the European Commission making decisions in the full knowledge that they themselves will in no way suffer financially from those decisions. I wonder how many of them pause to contemplate the appalling spectacle of the Greek pharmacist setting himself alight because their policies had caused his financial ruination.
Time and time again in this Chamber we’ve heard arguments that ‘They will not allow this’ or ‘They will not allow that.’ Well, who is the ‘they’ you talk about? [Interruption.] Well, politicians, of course. But I reiterate what I’ve said in the past: it will not be politicians—
You’re a politician.
[Continues.]—for all their posturing, who will decide on the terms of our exit from Europe; it will be the businesses of Europe who will decide, and it is those that will demand that there is free and unfettered access to our markets.
Will you take an intervention?
Of course, David.
I thank the Member for taking an intervention. Do you agree that the end outcome of any negotiations has to be put before the council, which is all the heads of state—politicians; has to be put before the Members of the UK Parliament—politicians—
[Continues.]—and also to the UK Government—politicians? So, actually, it’s politicians that will make the decision, not what you’re saying.
Well, just listen to the next few paragraphs and perhaps you’ll change your mind on that, David.
I don’t think so.