Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd10/01/2018
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
In opening the meeting, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Ireland's new ambassador to the United Kingdom, Adrian O'Neill, who is visiting the National Assembly today. So, a warm welcome to you.
The first item on our agenda is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, and the first question, Vikki Howells.
1. What are the Welsh Government’s priorities for improving public transport links for Cynon Valley residents in 2018? OAQ51518
Can I thank the Member for her question? I wish her, and, indeed, all Members, a very happy new year. And I can confirm that we are moving forward with our ambitious vision to reshape public transport infrastructure and services across Wales, including local bus services, rail services through the next Wales and borders contract, active travel and the south Wales metro project, which will act as a blueprint for other projects across the country.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I'm sure you'll be aware that I've been spearheading a local campaign within Cynon Valley to improve Sunday services. And, following on from that campaign, Arriva did double the number of services from Aberdare during the month of December, and this was welcome news for many of my constituents, who were able to access employment opportunities much further afield as a result of that. Now, this was simply a pilot during the month of December, and I am concerned that, with this service possibly being removed thereafter, my constituents will be at a disadvantage, with the first train not leaving Aberdare until almost 10 a.m.. So, will you support my call for Arriva to be flexible in looking to continue these services so that people from Cynon Valley will have a greater chance of accessing employment opportunities further afield?
Yes, indeed, I will. I welcomed the decision by Arriva to extend services on Sundays. A lack of appropriate, reliable and affordable transport still remains as one of the biggest barriers that people face in trying to access work and stay in work. So, I was very pleased that Arriva Trains Wales decided to put on these additional services, and I would hope that the pilot scheme was a great success and might lead to a longer term provision of additional services. But what I can say for the long term, and I hope it gives the Member some assurance, is that Transport for Wales are now assessing the three bids that have been submitted for the next Wales and borders franchise. And our minimum, absolute minimum, requirement is that services will be equivalent with those currently provided. However, we are incentivising bidders to enhance services across the network, including, crucially I believe, on Sundays, given that many people do now work on the weekends, and particularly on Sundays.
I think this question of access is absolutely key, and it means reliable and regular links—railway, buses—are vital. But, you know, traditionally it's been a real problem, and it's not just access to jobs but to cultural assets in Cardiff, and enjoying those. You know, it's as much the right of people in the northern valleys to do that as those of us who live in or around Cardiff, and we really must ensure that, in the franchise that we let, these things are reflected—these requirements.
Well, indeed. Maslow's hierarchy of needs states that we need to feel connected to one another, and it's not just during weekdays that we should be connected to one another with public transport. Actually, the pilot scheme that we've been running using TrawsCymru's free means of transport on weekends has proven to be incredibly successful. We're still monitoring the performance of that particular free service, but what it has demonstrated is that people are now shifting their modes, from private car to public transport, and that could potentially carry through to using buses during the week as well. But, certainly at weekends, I think it's essential that bus operators, that we as a Government, that local authorities and that the operator and development partner of the next franchise work together to improve provision of public transport on weekends.
Cabinet Secretary, you'll be aware that many Cynon Valley residents travel to and work in the Pontypridd and the Taff Ely area. O course, one of the areas as part of the metro that I've raised on a number of occasions is the new railway link in respect of Creigiau to Llantrisant—a very vital development as part of that infrastructure. I wonder whether you have any indication yet as to the sort of timeline as to where that development may fit within the metro development?
Well, can I thank Mick Antoniw for his question? Proposals to include that particular service in the metro is something that will be assessed further as part of the future extendibility of the network under future metro phases. But development of projects to be taken forward under future metro phases cannot be taken further until we've evaluated our operator and development partners' delivery solution for metro phase 2 and awarded the contract, which will take place in the coming months. I can assure the Member that I will provide further updates as and when I can.
2. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the economic benefits of infrastructure developments on Ynys Môn? OAQ51522
Thank you very much, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
We are working with a range of project developers, as well as local stakeholders, including the Isle of Anglesey Council, to facilitate the delivery of a number of significant infrastructure projects that will benefit the island’s economy by providing opportunities for skilled employment and training.
Thank you. In the debate yesterday on the marine plan, I emphasised to your colleague, the Cabinet Secretary for the environment, the need to ensure that an electrical connection is developed urgently to develop the exciting Morlais scheme—the test zone for marine energy on the west coast of Anglesey. It’s important that we make the best of any opportunities with regard to renewable energy for our environment, but, as Cabinet Secretary for economy, do you see that ensuring that that electrical infrastructure, that connection to Morlais—for which funding has already been allocated through the Welsh European Funding Office—is something that the Government should be trying to implement as soon as possible to realise the economic benefit that could come to Ynys Môn and beyond in realising the potential of the test zone? Will you commit to playing your part in ensuring that everything is done to ensure that that connection is made?
Can I thank the Member again for his question? He makes a really important point and I'd support it wholeheartedly. WEFO are supporting the Morlais demonstration zone and gaining the consents that will attract marine energy developers. The Member highlights the support that has been attracted from Europe. It amounts to more than £4 million in funding. It's absolutely essential that this work is taken forward at speed. It also, I think, complements some other major investments that have taken place across Anglesey, not just concerning Wylfa Newydd, but also, within the enterprise zone, the master plan that is being refreshed for the port of Holyhead. I'm very pleased that we've been able to work with his party on the ports fund, which I know has been utilised by the port of Holyhead and by many other ports around the coast of Wales.
As you will be aware, the north Wales growth bid from all councils and all partners was submitted early in our Assembly recess. Not only was it proposing measures to strengthen the economy in the north-east, but to spread that prosperity at last westwards. It includes proposals for investments to extend Parc Cefni in Llangefni, Parc Cybi in Holyhead and £50 million for the Holyhead port redevelopment, alongside, on the mainland, the Trawsfynydd centre for energy generation. The bid is asking both the UK and Welsh Governments to enter into negotiations with them early in this year on these and the other proposals. Can you, therefore, update us on how you propose to approach that and in what sort of timescales as we take this forward? Also, in so doing, how will you exploit the opportunities in these centres with Ireland, where, yesterday morning, I met Ieuan Wyn Jones, our former colleague and now the executive director of Menai Science Park, who told me the good news that they've already got 11 tenants ready to go in, but there's growing interest from Ireland in the current broader Brexit context?
I think it's fair to say that Anglesey is home to some of the most exciting infrastructure projects anywhere in the UK in the coming years, and some of the biggest as well. It's essential that all partners—UK Government, Welsh Government, local authorities across north Wales—work together to maximise the opportunities for growth in terms of jobs, work experience and training for people who live on the island and in the immediate vicinity as well. For that reason, I'm keen to continue with constructive discussions with the UK Government and with local authorities. Indeed, I met with the leader of Anglesey council and the chief executive just before Christmas to discuss progress on Wylfa Newydd and the growth deal bid. It's my intention to take forward further discussions as part of the growth deal negotiations, and I think we stand on the cusp of producing a set of proposals with an overarching vision that could lead to significant growth in employment and wealth across north Wales, but that's not going to stop us making the right investments in the meantime. In particular, when it comes to roads, when it comes to preparing employment sites on Anglesey, I think it's essential that the money keeps flowing, and funding has already been made available to support a strategic employment site at Llangefni, and also another one at Penrhos in Holyhead. But, of course, that money comes from Europe—yet another reminder of how important European funding has been to many parts of Wales.
Thank you, Presiding Officer, and a happy new year.
Cabinet Secretary, I'm impressed by the progress being made on the Menai Science Park, and I look forward to this great facility being open for business as soon as possible. Now, I do recall the techniums from the Assembly before last, where you built it but they didn't come. Can you reassure my constituents that this wonderful facility will indeed bring the business, jobs and innovation that it promises, and that it is actively being marketed in the relevant sectors?
Can I thank the Member for her question and welcome her to the Assembly Chamber? As somebody who lives not too far from myself, we last debated at Penley high school, I believe it was, in the election of 2015.
I must say that I've been incredibly impressed as well by the speed at which the Menai Science Park is being developed. It wasn't long ago that we cut the sod on that particular project, but that, together with other investments, such as the Advanced Manufacturing Institute on the other side of north Wales, are distinctly different from the techniums, in that they will bring together employers, training providers and education in a new way that makes sure that all development in terms of training and education provision is driven by employer needs, and that education and training are more responsive to what employers and investors require.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Adam Price.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. I’d like to return, if I may, to the matter of the Government’s support to the film and television industry, which is a very important and significant sector of our economy and our culture. Last month, the Government confirmed in the freedom of information request that the Pinewood company no longer pays rent or is a tenant at the Wentloog studio that they signed a rental agreement for in 2014. However, you did inform us that Pinewood are still committed to operating a studio under the management agreement, even though the details of that agreement aren’t in the public domain. Is it right, then, to take from this that Pinewood was paying the Welsh Government to maintain a studio in Wales and that we are now paying them to maintain a studio in Wales? Considering that they’re not paying rent and that they are not a tenant either, and that they no longer have a role with regard to the investment fund, is it a Pinewood studio in name only?
I will respond to this question as it falls within my portfolio and because I have answered on this matter in the past.
These changes in our relationship with Pinewood follow commercial changes within the structure of Pinewood as a company and the company that is now responsible for Pinewood’s facilities. It is not accurate to say that we as a Government are paying Pinewood, but Pinewood ceased to provide a service in terms of managing third party funds. That is the most significant change, and the agreement that the Welsh Government has renegotiated with Pinewood, within that collaborative framework, means that Pinewood continues to operate the studio but that Pinewood doesn’t promote as it did in the past under the previous contract.
Well, I’m confused by that response, because I understand that the change of ownership that happened with the Pinewood group two years ago means that they have withdrawn from the business of providing advisory services with regard to investment, and the Minister referred to that. But that doesn’t explain why they no longer pay rent, nor why they are no longer a tenant for the studio. That has no connection to that particular question. So, if they’re not paying rent, how are they maintaining the studio? Is it under some kind of management agreement—this strange agreement that we can’t ask for details on?
So, I have to ask about the procurement process. Was there a procurement process for the management agreement for the studio? Did it happen in accordance with public procurement regulations? Why was the clause in terms of a minimum tenancy of five years, which was in the original agreement, ignored? Why would you have such a clause if you were just going to ignore it?
Was consideration given to other options, such as with the Bad Wolf studio, which is rented through a lease agreement with Screen Alliance for Wales? Why wasn’t a radical option considered, if I may say so, which is to run the studio directly? Elstree Studios are run and owned by Hertsmere Borough Council. Now, if a Hertfordshire council can run a studio, why can’t the Welsh Government?
As I explained in response to a question on this prior to Christmas, the terms of the agreement with the company are confidential for commercial reasons. But I can confirm that the relationship with what was the Pinewood unit continues, but that Pinewood no longer operates that role of third party fund management. That’s the situation as it stands, and that situation remains at present.
Well, I’m sorry, but I have to say to the Minister that it isn’t good enough just to reread a script that has been given to you. This follows numerous questions that have been asked, mainly by Suzy Davies, and we haven’t received answers to the majority of those questions. Suzy and others have had to use freedom of information requests in order to find out that Pinewood is no longer a tenant and nor is it paying rent. I understand that there is a possibility that there will be a Senedd committee looking into this. We would welcome that, and I have asked the auditor to do so. But is it not true that, because of the dual importance of this sector, not only because of the economy, but because of our culture, it is unacceptable to hide behind this excuse of commercial confidentiality? It’s too important a sector for you, Minister, to refuse to answer questions and to give vital transparency to us in this way.
I am not refusing to answer questions. I have offered to meet with Suzy Davies to discuss this issue, and I do hope that we can arrange that meeting before too long. Given his great interest in this issue, I’m happy to invite Adam Price to the same meeting or to another meeting.
The citizens of Wales need to hear those answers.
Welsh Conservative Spokesperson, Russell George.
Diolch, Llywydd. Happy new year, Cabinet Secretary. Over the Christmas recess, part of my bedtime reading was your economic action plan—[Interruption.] I did plenty of other exciting things as well. But what struck me was not what was in it, but what was not in it. So, I would like to touch on a few of those items today.
Now, earnings in Wales are the lowest in the whole of the UK. Gross weekly earnings for full-time employees in Wales stand at £498. That's 10 per cent lower than the UK as a whole. Now not only is Wales stuck at the bottom of the earnings pile, but the gap between Wales and other parts of the UK has significantly increased over the past two decades. So, 20 years ago, a Welsh and Scottish worker took home identical pay packets. Today, a Welsh pay packet contains £498 and a Scottish pay packet contains £547. So, a critical focus of any new action plan, in my view, should be about raising wages across Wales. So, can I ask: why doesn't the new economic strategy contain any targets for raising wages across Wales?
Can I wish the Member a very happy new year, and say how pleased I am that my gift to him arrived safely and in time for him to read it over Christmas? [Laughter.] Look, let's just look at the facts concerning average full-time earnings. You're right, £484.40 a week is the average, but, between 2012 and 2017, that average increased by 10.1 per cent, compared to the average across the UK, which was just 8.8 per cent. And therefore the gap has been closing, as a consequence of interventions by this Government.
It is true that, historically, the gap in wages between us and many other parts of the UK was smaller, but that was at a time when far more people were employed in higher paid jobs in, for example, the steel industry. Consequent to the de-industrialisation, without the safety net in the 1980s, those quality jobs—well-paid, secure jobs—were replaced by jobs that were often temporary and poorly paid. Unemployment rates rose through the roof. Employment today, the employment rate, has increased more quickly in Wales than in the UK throughout the period of devolution. It has increased by 6.5 per cent, compared to 3.1 per cent, and unemployment has decreased more quickly in Wales than in the UK as a whole as well during devolution.
So, I think, if you look at our recent record, if you look at the record of this and the previous Labour Government in Wales, you'll see that, in terms of earnings, we're heading in the right direction and in terms of employment, again, in the right direction. Unemployment is down and it's heading in the right direction, but the big challenge that our economy faces—. And I don't think that the Member would disagree with this, because the Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy I'm sure agrees that productivity is the big challenge that we face as a country. And, in order to improve productivity, we need to improve skills levels. Once we've improved skills levels, the availability of high-quality work, then we will see a significant increase in average earnings and we will see that gap continue to close.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your answer. Of course, my question was why there wasn't anything mentioned, and no targets mentioned, in the economic action plan.
I've got here a copy of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report from last year—another item on my Christmas reading list. Now, this states that a huge number of jobs are at immediate risk due to automation. This, of course, makes Wales particularly vulnerable because two of our largest areas are heavily reliant here in Wales on retail and manufacturing—an area that is, of course, at a high risk of automation. Now, equipping Wales to cope with the opportunities that exist, as well as the challenges of automation over the next 10 years, I think is critical to support the Welsh economy, and I think we should be taking advantage of this with new technology and to protect Welsh jobs.
But can I ask why doesn't the economic action plan contain any effective target-led strategy whatsoever to ensure that the Welsh economy takes full advantage of opportunities presented by automation, and why doesn't it contain any targets whatsoever for protecting Welsh jobs from the challenges of technological innovation?
First of all, the action plan does contain—right at its heart is the economic contract and then the subsequent calls to action, the economic contract being the front door—get through that and then through the prism of the calls to action and you'll be able to draw down support that aligns with the main causes or the main factors that influence improvement in productivity. One of those is futureproofing a business in terms of the threat and opportunities of automation and in modern ways of working. So, the action plan does have, at its heart, a desire to make sure that businesses are futureproofed and to make sure that we are embracing and taking full advantage of industry 4.0.
I'll just go back to the targets question again, actually, because the Member's right, I decided not to include those specific targets that he outlined in his first question, the reason being that, often, when targets are set, it becomes an obsession to chase targets. And, insofar as earnings are concerned, what you can do is grow the economy in one part of a country or two parts of a country and make sure that the rich become richer and then close the gap, but what you're not doing is closing the level of inequality between the richest and the poorest. I prefer, through the interventions that we've outlined—regional working, a focus on high-quality secure employment—. I think it's absolutely essential that we go on improving the levels of wealth in Wales, whilst also reducing levels of inequality across the country.
Well, I appreciate your answer, but, of course, targets help us as Members in this Chamber to scrutinise the Government's plans, and, without targets, it makes our job, of course, more challenging. Now, the final part of what I want to raise is regarding procurement. Procurement is, of course, a key part, a key tool that can be used by the Government to support growth across the Welsh economy in the long term. The Welsh Government's track record, I would say, on public procurement to support Welsh businesses, I think, is extremely poor. Now, from the end of last year, I've got here the Wales Audit Office report 'Public Procurement in Wales'. What this report clearly states is that, in Wales, they found that there is clear scope for improvement in how authorities procure services at a national level. So, can I ask why does the economic plan contain so little effective detail on reforming public procurement practices across Wales at Government level? It does seem that the new economic action plan represents a big missed opportunity, I think, to reform procurement across Wales in order that we can support businesses and better support public procurement.
I think the Member, if he rereads it, will find that—it's possibly on page 18. It might not be, but I think it's on page 18 where we talk about disaggregating major contracts, and that's particularly important for smaller businesses. What we've found, in particular with regard to the construction sector, is that there's been a significant increase in Welsh-based companies that are able to win publicly procured contracts in Wales. But what we wish to do is enable more companies, especially smaller and medium-sized enterprises, to win parts of major contracts that, at the moment, only the big companies—often English-based, or even further afield—are able to bid for, because of capacity or expertise issues. The economic action plan deals with that question directly. It may not be on page 18, I can't remember exactly whether it is, but it does specifically reference the need to disaggregate components of major infrastructure projects so that we can give more work to Welsh-based firms and drive up the value of the Welsh public pound.
UKIP spokesperson, David Rowlands.
Diolch, Llywydd. Can I take this, my first opportunity, to wish you, the Cabinet Secretary and the rest of the Members of this Assembly a happy new year? Blwyddyn newydd dda.
Cabinet Secretary, local authorities, businesses and the charitable sector are making very real efforts to address the challenges facing Wales, but the progress that many would like to see is minimal and, in some cases, such as child poverty, we are going backwards. When are we likely to see our economic strategies provide results that will give hope to the poorest communities of Wales?
In many respects, as I outlined to Russell George, the approach that's been taken by this Government and that was taken by the previous Government has already led to a record level of low unemployment, record levels of employment, record low levels of inactivity, but what we need to do is make sure that more people get into work so that they're not caught in a poverty trap, a poverty trap that's been made worse through, what, eight years now of austerity measures. The path into work is the best pathway out of poverty, and our objective is to make sure that we don't just create more jobs for people who are out of work, we create more high-quality jobs. But, of course, on top of that, in order for people to access those jobs, we need to tear down other barriers, barriers concerning childcare and a lack of appropriate transport to get people to and from work. But through one of the most ambitious childcare offers anywhere in Europe, and through reforms to local public bus services and the new rail franchise, I'm confident that we can address those two big barriers to getting people into work and staying in work.
Well, once again, I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his reply, but I have to say that I think the time has ended where we can keep on blaming austerity in Wales for our lack of progress. Once again, after 17 years, the people of Wales are facing another promise of jam tomorrow. The First Minister said, prior to the 2016 Assembly elections, that 'we started the job five years ago, and I need another five years to finish it.' At the next election, in 2021, Labour will have been in power for 23 years. Will the First Minister's promises have been kept, or will we continue on the race to the bottom of all economic indicators?
Well, we should start talking up Wales and the Welsh economy, particularly in those areas where we're appreciating significant success. The Member who represents north Wales, next to David Rowlands, is laughing at this, but the Member lives in a county where we have record levels of employment, where the GVA of the county is higher than virtually any other county in Wales, and is near the average for the north, and rising, where we have invested in companies recently, such as Hotpack, where we've worked with the likes of Tata steel, where we've worked continually with Airbus and other major employers to maximise employment opportunities and to create new, high-quality jobs. We will continue to do that in the coming years, and we will drive up opportunities for employment in higher value industries and the industries of tomorrow, utilising the economic action plan as the basis for creating a new economy based on new and emerging technologies and green growth.
Again, I thank the Cabinet Secretary, and I do share, to a certain extent, your belief that perhaps things may be changing, but things do not all go well, particularly for the poorest in our society. The burden on the taxpayer in 2018 is likely to increase. The Welsh Government's rents policy will increase social housing itself by £200 per two-bedroomed home. And likewise, the modest increase predicted in UK unemployment is unlikely to boost those parts of Wales where unemployment stands well above the UK average. Nor is it likely to help the 13.1 per cent of young adults out of work. It's predicted that inflation will wipe out any real-term earnings growth, and that relative poverty could well rise to 27 per cent for people of all ages, and to around 40 per cent for children, as people's standard of living is squeezed further. I ask the Cabinet Secretary: is this the Wales we want? And are you confident your economic policies are going to alleviate these hardships in both the short and the long term?
I can tell the Member that the Wales that we want, I think, is a Wales where nobody is left behind. The Member highlighted the challenge that many younger people have faced in recent years in accessing jobs. The Member wasn't a Member of the previous Assembly, where we took forward Jobs Growth Wales, but that is a particular programme that has led to 17,000 young people in Wales having an opportunity to work, to gain the skills and the experience to stay in work. And as a consequence, I believe it's more than 70 per cent who have gone on to secure full-time employment or further training that subsequently has led them into full-time, secure work. It's absolutely imperative that we go on supporting projects such as Jobs Growth Wales and the emerging employability plan to ensure that young people, and, indeed, people who are currently in work, can access higher quality jobs. But it's also worth pointing out that Wales is amongst very few nations that have a strong vision for fair work, for a country where the proper, decent living wage is adopted by employers, where trade unions are recognised, where people can expect a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, and where people can expect dignity and respect in the workplace.
3. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the impact of winter storms on the road networks? OAQ51504
Yes. Over the winter period, several sections of trunk road network had temporary restrictions placed on them, or were closed due to high winds or flooding. Heavy snowfall also brought disruption to a number of routes during the weekend of 9 and 10 December, but every effort was made to respond to such incidents quickly.
Cabinet Secretary, you'll be aware that congestion costs Welsh drivers £1.5 billion a year. INRIX, the leading international provider of real-time traffic information, has calculated the economic cost of congestion at an average of £939 per driver per year. Added to that, a number of crashes, caused by the winter weather, have seen closures and delays on the A5, A483 and A55 last week. As regards traffic flow on the A55 in north Wales, and the recent network resilience Welsh transport appraisal guidance stage 1 report, when will you be implementing the identified low-risk and quick wins that are mentioned within that report?
The A55 resilience study, which I commissioned, identifies many quick wins that can be delivered in the coming financial year. It is my intention to roll out those quick wins as soon as possible. We believe that most of them can be delivered in the space of six months. But, I have to say that, last week—as I live very close to the area where the A5/A483 was closed temporarily—it was essential that we closed that particular point on the road network. It was over a viaduct. It was absolutely essential that we didn't allow high-sided vehicles across that road. They could barely stand up in the wind that was in that particular area. We were already receiving reports on the trunk road network of trailers being blown over. So, it was absolutely imperative that we didn't put any lives at risk. I would agree that congestion causes the Welsh economy and the taxpayer too much, and that's why I commissioned the A55 resilience study. It is why we are moving forward with the pinch point programme across Wales and with considerable investment in bypasses around towns and other communities, and why we are committed to upgrading infrastructure the length and breadth of the country.
Cabinet Secretary, I don't know if you are aware, but the B4286, known locally to us as the Cwmavon Road, one of two main arteries into the Afan valley, was actually closed due to a landslide following the stormy weather over the Christmas period. This resulted, importantly, in no injuries, but it did cause large, major traffic problems, with long queues on occasion. That did concern me, as to the accessibility of our emergency services during those peak times. I wanted to praise the local authority. They have done tremendous work. They have removed about 200 tonnes of rubble, mud and wood and actually got the road open again, and at the same time, keeping the safety of residents and users as their core aim. That's fantastic work. But, if this had occurred a further two miles up the valley, it would have blocked off the Afan valley, basically. As such, it would have closed communities' accessibility and that of emergency services to them. Will you work with the Cabinet Secretary for local government and with local authorities to look at areas that may be of concern to see what we can do about ensuring that this doesn't happen again?
To a degree, I think we were fortunate that the incident took place where it did. As the Member highlighted, it could have been far more devastating in terms of consequences. But, I would also like to place on record my thanks to the local authority, which did a sterling job in ensuring that the aftermath of the incident was properly dealt with. While we are responsible for trunk roads in Wales, I'm more than happy for my officials to work with local authority officials, as has been the case recently concerning flooding on Anglesey. I'm pleased to say that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance will be meeting with the Welsh Local Government Association in the coming weeks to discuss the state of the local road network, and how we can work together to ensure that best practice is deployed across Wales, and to ensure that we are working with our local authority partners to ensure that our roads are clear and in good condition.
4. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the Welsh Government's plans to grow the mid-Wales economy? OAQ51513
Yes. We have developed a strategic approach based on prosperity for all, enabling all parts of Wales to benefit from economic growth. The economic action plan launched in December will work with partners to reflect the very different needs of regions in Wales.
Cabinet Secretary, I thank you for your response. We had a very welcome commitment from the UK Government in terms of the UK Government budget at the end of last year, in terms of supporting a mid Wales growth deal. In fact, I very much welcome your commitment as well to a mid Wales growth deal in responding positively to an Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee recommendation for a mid Wales growth deal as well. The message from both Governments seems to be that this deal has got to be put together by the people of mid Wales themselves. I also agree with that approach. I think it is essential that the Growing Mid Wales partnership now makes a strong case for a mid Wales growth deal. But, in order for them to do that, I wonder if you would be able to offer any financial support to assist in the developing of proposals. Also, I would suggest that what is needed is perhaps a steer from yourself and, indeed, the UK Government in terms of the mechanisms about how they can take forward these proposals.
I thank the Member for his question. I am very pleased to be able to say that I have agreed to provide a match-funding contribution to enable the feasibility work that the Member has identified to take place. Can I thank the Member for the opportunity to attend the stakeholder meeting on 19 January? I will ask one of my officials to attend in my place, to be able to offer not just advice and support, but perhaps also a steer, and also to bring back to me details of what it is that the Growing Mid Wales partnership seeks to include in its vision for the region.
I would like to ask you, Cabinet Secretary, around the mid Wales growth deal, because I was very interested in the announcement in the budget, so I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer following the budget and had a reply back on 19 December, which says as follows: that the Government is open to proposals for a mid Wales growth deal. That's not the same as a commitment, which has been mentioned by Russell George and others, and I want to understand what commitment there is to invest UK Government money in mid Wales. I welcome what you've just said about a match fund to work up some of the ideas that have been floated around in mid Wales, but are we likely to see real cash on the table from the UK Government, and are you having discussions to make that rather weak half-promise something that we can actually translate into economic activity on the ground in mid Wales?
Well, that's the test: whether they're willing to actually put money aside for something that they say they're open to consider. At the moment, they're open to proposals, and that's why I'm keen to make sure that the Growing Mid Wales partnership develops a set of proposals and an overarching vision that makes a compelling case for developing a subsequent growth deal bid. We are in discussions with the Wales Office insofar as the support that the Wales Office could give to a growth deal bid, but as we develop those proposals, I'm keen to make sure that partners in mid Wales meet with UK Government Ministers as well as myself to take forward this important agenda. I don't think that we can afford to have mid Wales left behind where the rest of Wales develops under city and growth deals. It's simply unjust.
5. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the number of businesses adversely affected by force majeure? OAQ51502
Through Business Wales's Construction Futures Wales and procurement support we remain committed to supporting business resilience. Diagnostic checks and support ensure that businesses are fit and as best-placed as possible to withstand the impact of general or force majeure issues impacting their financial standing.
Thank you. It's a difficult question, and I use the term 'force majeure' very deliberately, because of course you'll know that that affects the levels of compensation, and it is also a reason why organisations can withdraw services. I've had a number of concerns raised with me by both small businesses and the general public where they feel they've been on the rough end of a deal where they've not been able to either complete something or have not had a recompense, and the businesses have used the excuse of force majeure. This is mainly all to do with the various storms that have swept us over the last three or four months. I just wondered if there's anything the Welsh Government can do to assess or analyse whether or not this clause is being appropriately used and to remind small businesses that they have that liability if they themselves stop performing a service, and it is something where they are not covered, and they must have that business resilience in place.
I'd like to thank the Member for this question. When I saw it submitted I was at first perplexed and then realised, actually, this is a piece of work that needs to be considered more deeply. I took a look at the clause and, in particular, condition 39.2, or part of 39.2, which states:
'However, if any such event prevents either Party from performing all of its obligations under the Contract for a period in excess of 6 months, either Party may terminate the Contract by notice in writing with immediate effect.'
My concern is—[Interruption.] Exactly, yes. I'd happily take up this issue. If the Member has any information that would enable my officials to consider instances of force majeure that are leading to unjust withdrawal of support under a contract, then please do share it with me.
6. What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made of the current economic state of the construction sector? OAQ51500
The construction sector makes a critically important contribution to the Welsh economy, sustaining as it does something in the region of 13,000 businesses and employing around 112,000 individuals. The Construction Skills Network in their latest forecast predict that Wales will see unprecedented growth in construction up until 2021.
And to add a further statistic, it's 10 per cent of our GDP. It has declined in the last month. Commercial building and civil engineering in particular are weaker, and this has caused more reliance on house building. I just wonder what vision you have for the revival and extension of the construction sector in the next four or five years, as you've indicated in your projection there. What part will be played by more ambitious house building targets in Wales?
We're continuing, I think, a positive trend in house building in Wales, despite the latest quarterly figures that showed, as the Member indicated, a 12 per cent decrease in completed dwellings in July to September last year. There was actually a 27 per cent increase in the previous quarter. And in addition, the number of social housing homes completed in the first quarter of last year was up by 56 per cent on the same quarter of the previous year.
Our intention is to work together across Government to identify land where small and medium-sized enterprises are able to construct homes. At the moment, too many small businesses are not able to bid for land masses and development sites because they're not able to necessarily compete. But through innovative housing support, we believe that we can continue to support the growth of small and medium-sized Welsh enterprises.
I think it's also very important to note the good work that's taking place at a local authority level. I highlight in particular Flintshire County Council who are building council houses for the first time in quite some time. Their work and their commitment is paying dividends already and I'd like to congratulate other local authorities that are considering doing the same.
7. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the benefits to the Welsh economy of the living wage? OAQ51516
Yes. The living wage can provide benefits to the economy, to businesses and to individuals. We're taking action to promote the benefits of adopting the real living wage to employers. I think it's worth pointing out that a more equal society is a more cohesive and a happier society.
Cabinet Secretary, can I thank you for that statement and also recognise the hard work that Welsh Government has been doing with regard to the national living wage? Can I draw attention to the concerns that there are that it's not just about the direct engagement of Welsh Government in terms of the promotion of the national living wage, but it is also through the supply chain, through procurement, through all those areas where Welsh Government has influence that we actually need to bring people together to buy into the ethos and the ethics of what is essentially fair work and fair pay around the concept of the national living wage? Could the Cabinet Secretary perhaps make a statement and outline how he sees that policy developing and the role of Welsh Government in achieving that?
Absolutely, and I'd reiterate that the Welsh Government is committed to taking action on the living wage and will continue to promote adoption of the living wage across the Welsh economy. In March, I believe it was, last year, we introduced the code of practice on ethical employment in supply chains. This code commits public, private and third sector organisations to a set of actions that tackle illegal and unfair employment practices. All organisations that receive funding from Welsh Government, either directly or via grants or contracts, will be expected to sign up to the code, and other organisations in Wales are of course encouraged to do so. In addition, through the economic action plan, and in particular the economic contract, we are determined to see the adoption of fair work practices take place across the workforce.
Finally, question 8—Mohammad Asghar.
8. What action will the Welsh Government take to improve roads in south-east Wales in 2018? OAQ51507
The national transport finance plan, which was updated in December, is a live document and contains an ambitious programme of integrated transport interventions for south-east Wales.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. The traffic analysis firm INRIX recently reported that there were more than 30,000 traffic jams in 2017 on Welsh roads. They estimated the cost to the Welsh economy was nearly £278 million—a striking figure—you could build two state-of-the-art hospitals with that sort of money. In view of the delays in progressing the M4 relief road project and dualling the A465 Heads of the Valleys road, what action will the Welsh Government take to tackle the problems of congestion on Welsh roads, please?
The Member highlights the need for continued investment in our road network, not just in Wales but on a cross-border basis. We're working with Highways England to make sure that we get good cross-border road access as well. But within Wales, where we have full responsibility, we've initiated the pinch-point programme, with a particular focus on alleviating congestion at pinch points that take traffic from the south to the north and the north to the south. We're also looking at investment in a series of bypasses in Wales, again designed to alleviate congestion, particularly in urban areas. Urban areas suffer as a consequence of high levels of carbon emissions where there is congestion. And we're also looking at improvements to public transport, whether it be to rail or to buses, whilst at the same time integrating all of them as part of one vision for transport in Wales, at which active travel will be a part, so that people can, by foot or by bike, access public transport in a way that is reliable and convenient.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary.
The next item is the questions to the Counsel General, and the first question comes from David Rees.
1. What discussions has the Counsel General had with UK counterparts in relation to the retention of the EU charter of fundamental rights in UK law following Brexit? OAQ51510
I thank the Member for the question. The Welsh Government has been clear that UK withdrawal from the EU should in no way lead to a dilution in human rights protections, or, indeed, any other social, environmental or employment protections. I fully support that position and advocate for it.
Thank you for that answer, Counsel General. The UK Government's approach to transferring EU law into UK law through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will not give the protection we should have for maintaining the EU charter of fundamental rights after we leave the EU. Senior lawyers are very concerned that the UK Government's refusal to incorporate the charter into UK law will weaken human rights protection. As an example, they've highlighted the free-standing right of equality under article 21 that has no counterpart in domestic law. In fact, the Equality Act 2010 has no constitutional status either. It's clear that the UK Government's legal analysis is similar to their sectoral analysis—a total sham. Following our departure from the EU, Wales wants to remain a nation that respects everyone and has reserved in statute the rights that we have gained in the EU. What analysis has the Welsh Government made of the impact of Brexit on the rights of Welsh citizens that have been gained as members of the EU, and how has it used the continuity Bill that it has prepared to include any protection of those rights?
I thank the Member for the question. As his question makes clear, the charter of fundamental rights extends beyond the convention of human rights and includes other rights; he mentioned equality rights—there are others around personal data and so on. 'Securing Wales' Future', which was produced a year ago by Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru, made it clear that in leaving the EU we need to be vigilant and insistent that the protections and standards that benefit our citizens and the well-being of society as a whole are not eroded. For that reason, and others, I've previously noted our concerns that the EU withdrawal Bill does not include protection for the charter itself.
Now, he mentions in his question there is some legal dispute or discussion around the effect of that charter, but it's clear that it can be used to practical effect to protect human rights for people across the UK. In a Supreme Court decision before the end of last year, for example, the charter was used to disapply primary legislation that was not in accordance with the provisions of the charter. So, there are absolutely clear and categorical legal rights and remedies that are available to members of the public as a consequence of the incorporation of the charter.
As the Member mentioned, the UK Government published at the end of last year an analysis, in its words, of the comparison between provisions of the Act and ongoing law beyond Brexit, and is continued that, unfortunately, it will not include the EU charter within the Bill, which is a matter of great regret.
You mentioned the continuity Bill. The Welsh Government has been clear that the place for preserving those protections that I've just mentioned is in the UK's new withdrawal Bill. There are amendments that we both will be aware of that will be put forward in Parliament in an attempt to secure that inclusion in the Bill. However, in the event that the Welsh Government was forced into introducing our own Bill, we would obviously look to do whatever is possible to ensure that the rights of Welsh citizens are not eroded.
I thank David Rees for raising this important issue. The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has been looking at human rights over the past few months, specifically on the same issue that you’ve raised: the concern expressed by a number of organisations the length and breadth of Wales on the decision of the UK to leave the European Union, as well as the UK Government’s proposals to change domestic legislation.
During our evidence sessions, we heard from a number of experts who argued that not only does the Assembly have the power to introduce a human rights Act for Wales, but that there is also a strong argument for doing so in order to defend Wales from any weakening of human rights through the UK Government. So, what is your view on having a human rights Act for Wales?
As the Member will know, the devolution settlement for Wales means that the Senedd and the Government of Wales operates within the context of the UK Human Rights Act, and that’s what the Welsh Government wants to see continuing: that the framework that provides fundamental rights for people in Wales continues beyond the period after we have exited the EU, not only through the Human Rights Act, but also, as you heard a moment ago, through the charter that expands on the rights of people in Wales. And that’s what I’d like to see—the Westminster Act being amended to ensure that those continue to be a part of UK legislation as a whole as we exit the EU.
Will the Counsel General agree with me that the democratic institutions of the United Kingdom—Westminster, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast—are perfectly capable of defending the human rights of British nationals? They need no assistance from unelected judges based in Luxembourg. When the charter of fundamental rights was being negotiated, the then Labour Government secured an opt-out from its provisions by protocol 30 of the Lisbon treaty, and the Blair Government said that the UK would not be bound by the provisions of the charter. But despite the seemingly clear wording of protocol 30, the European Court has, in fact, in a supreme example of judicial activism flouted the will of the then Labour Government and has applied the provisions of the charter to British legislation in some very important areas, like data protection, for example. It is very important for democratic legitimacy to be respected, just as human rights must be respected, and therefore, when we leave the EU, there is no reason to believe there will be any dilution in the rights of the British people in any shape or form.
Well, this attack on judges and attack on their impartiality by virtue of the fact they're unelected fundamentally misses the point of the British constitution, actually. They're there to act impartially and they do so, and in this place we should resist any attempt to undermine that perception by allegations of failure to be impartial because they are unelected.
You mentioned protocol 30: it is not a question of the European Court of Justice applying that in the teeth of opposition from the UK. As I answered in the question earlier, the Supreme Court of the UK itself applied that charter in a case just before Christmas to disapply primary legislation as a consequence of a failure to comply with that, and he is absolutely Pollyannaish in his optimism about the level of protection that will be given to human rights if these provisions are not retained in UK law. The only point of the UK Government in changing those provisions is in fact to weaken them, and I think we should resist that at every single opportunity in this Chamber.
2. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact of the Acts of Union 1535-42 on the Welsh constitution? OAQ51493
May I thank you for your question? In any assessment of current or proposed constitutional arrangements or developments in Wales, at the forefront of the Welsh Government’s assessment is the law that is in force at the relevant time, and whilst of great historical importance, the Acts of Union have now been repealed.
Thank you very much for that response. I’ve been waiting five centuries to ask this question, of course, and I’m glad to have an answer from the Counsel General—that’s the purpose of having these sessions with him. But what happened with the Acts of Union was that the principality of Wales was abolished, and as Wales became part of England, to all intents and purposes, and was under the English Crown, the principality of Wales was abolished. Now, therefore, any talk of a principality in the context of a Welsh constitution is only some sort of romantic fantasy, and a royalist fantasy, indeed.
Will you, therefore—coming back to current times—as Counsel General, on behalf of the Welsh Government, pledge to this Assembly that you will never use the word ‘principality’ in referring to the constitutional status of Wales?
Well, I had an opportunity, as a result of the question, to remind myself of the effect of the Acts and laws of the Middle Ages in Wales—the Member will be pleased to hear that—including the decisions made by the Aberdyfi council and the Rhuddlan judgments, and as Dai Lloyd mentioned to me yesterday, just to remind myself of the laws of Hywel Dda. I haven't managed to do that in the short time that I've had since then, unfortunately. But on the specific question that you asked, with regard to the issue of the principality, the fact is that Wales is a nation in its own right, as part of the United Kingdom. It has its own legislature and an elected Government that legislate and create policies that are appropriate for the people of Wales. The question of a principality isn’t part of Welsh Government policy. I can’t make any further comment on personal comments that may have been made recently.
3. In light of the Lammy Review, will the Counsel General make a statement on diversity in the Welsh legal profession? OAQ51523
The Welsh Government believes that a fair and inclusive justice system can only be achieved if legal professionals fully reflect the diversity of the population they serve.
I thank you for your answer. We all understand the principle of equality before the law, but the question really is: what about equality within the law? And with the Commission on Justice in Wales considering how a distinct Welsh justice system might work, I believe it's imperative that we also reflect on what that system looks like, in terms of ethnicity, gender and social background. The UK Government, it seems, does not intend to take the necessary steps that were recommended by the Lammy report to create a more diverse judiciary. So, therefore, I ask: what can we do, what can Welsh Government do, to create a more diverse judiciary, and promote greater diversity throughout the legal profession?
Well, I thank the Member for that question, and for her continued advocacy of the cause of diversity and of equalities in general.
The lack of diversity in the criminal justice system identified by the Lammy review militates against access to justice, which is a key pillar of our democracy in Wales, and across the UK. Lammy demonstrated that this lack of diversity applies to those making important decisions across the criminal justice system, from prison officers and governors to magistrates and the judiciary more generally. And these are major issues for us in terms of the rule of law in the UK. In terms of the legal profession in Wales, and in terms of BME diversity, we are a little behind where we should be in terms of the general population of Wales, and there's more that we absolutely can do.
In terms of the Welsh Government's action in relation to this, the First Minister wrote, for example, to the chief executive of the Supreme Court recently, to underline the importance of securing diversity in the Supreme Court, and more generally throughout the judicial system. In Wales, appointments to the Welsh tribunal judiciary are made on the advice of the Judicial Appointments Commission, and are subject therefore to their policies on promoting judicial diversity.
She mentions the question of diversity in broader terms, covering gender, gender identity, sexuality, and so on. I think it would do us well to remember the words of Lady Hale, who is the president of the Supreme Court, who said when she took up appointment,
'I take the view that "difference" is important in judging and that gender diversity, along with many other dimensions of diversity, is a good, indeed a necessary, thing. However, the principal reason for this is not our different voice, but democratic legitimacy. In a democracy governed by the people and not by an absolute monarch or even an aristocratic ruling class, the judiciary should reflect the whole community, not just a small section of it.'
I was pleased to hear the Counsel General's reference to the importance of socioeconomic background, as well as gender and ethnicity, in diversity. He mentioned the Judicial Appointments Commission and being subject to their procedures. Does he anticipate any improvement in the diversity of that body to the degree that Welsh voices are heard within it to the extent that is ensured for Scotland and Northern Ireland? To what degree does he as Counsel General interpret his role expansively in diversity, and promoting that for the legal profession in Wales?
On the first question, in relation to the diversity of geography and jurisdictions, if you like, within the Supreme Court, of course the relevant legislation provides that the Supreme Court needs to have a blend of justices that reflect a knowledge and experience of all parts of the UK. It's the Welsh Government's strong position that that should include a justice for Wales. As he will know, the Supreme Court has a Welsh liaison judge—Lord Lloyd-Jones—with whom I met recently, to discuss some of these issues. I absolutely see it as part of my role to advocate for the question of diversity, generally speaking and including the legal profession here in Wales. I've had the opportunity of speaking with a number of people in relation to that and look forward to making that one of the priorities for my time as Counsel General.
4. What discussions has the Counsel General held regarding the Welsh Government's ability to use its new powers under the Wales Act 2017? OAQ51494
Members will know that the majority of new powers under the Wales Act 2017 will come into force on 1 April this year, with certain other powers coming into force shortly thereafter. The Welsh Government stands ready to receive these new powers.
Thank you for that response. I just wanted to ask the Counsel General in broader terms about the taxation powers that his colleague sitting next to him, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, is currently considering, namely the four new taxes and the possibility of one tax being brought forward. I support the plastics tax and I will be repeating that, and it was good to see that the Assembly voted in favour of such a tax yesterday evening in discussing these issues.
In discussions at the Finance Committee, the finance Secretary said that, in his view, it’s a matter of joint agreement between the Assembly and Westminster— the House of Commons and the House of Lords—and that, for him, what was important was not the policy, that it wasn’t a policy issue for Westminster, but an issue of how this impacted on powers at Westminster, and that both Parliaments should be in accordance with each other and should be agreed on that. But, there is nothing in writing or a protocol here. So, I would like to ask you as Counsel General whether you will now tackle this issue and ensure that the ground is prepared, constitutionally, so that your colleague the Cabinet Secretary can take whatever tax is selected by the Government through successfully and bring it into force.
Well, the analysis of the Member is correct that that’s the process: that is, we need agreement. The Cabinet Secretary has said several times that it’s about ensuring that we have a system that works and that we collaborate in a system, and that’s what’s important about this process. I would endorse the Cabinet Secretary’s comments on that, and I intend to collaborate with him to ensure that the Government ensures that this is a success.
Thank you, Counsel General.
That brings us to our next item, the topical questions, and the first question is from Angela Burns.
1. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the crisis in the Welsh NHS this winter, in light of reports that services are at breaking point? 96
Thank you for the question. The winter, as ever, is a very challenging period. NHS Wales and the wider social care system are under considerable pressure and that is consistent with pressures being reported right across the UK. Despite activity in parts of the system, that at times have been unprecedented, our dedicated and hard-working staff continue to provide a professional and compassionate response.
They do indeed and, in fact, it is these dedicated and hard-working staff who have, over the last 10 days, raised a significant number of concerns with me. We've had royal colleges coming out with commentary and statements about the enormous pressure their staff have been under. I've met with royal colleges in the last few days, I've met with doctors, nurses, front-line staff and an ambulance worker. They all talk about the same thing: comments such as they've 'never seen the Welsh NHS in such a bad way', their colleagues 'are at breaking point' and front-line staff 'are under immense pressure'. The BMA themselves have said that one health board area in Wales had absolutely no cover whatsoever in terms of GP doctors. We've lost over 2,000 ambulance hours in the last seven or eight days. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine said that some people are waiting over 80 hours in emergency departments before being admitted into hospital.
Cabinet Secretary, this is an enormous issue. I absolutely accept that you are not personally responsible for front-line issues that go wrong. I absolutely accept that there has been an uplift in problems this winter and that this winter was a bit tougher than everyone thought it was going to be. But, my concerns are that you've given some £50 million prior to winter to prepare for this and what I would like to ask you is to undertake an urgent assessment of how that £50 million was spent. Did it get to the front line and, if so, where, how, and what did it ameliorate? Did managers involve the right people in planning? Because GPs say they were not involved in winter preparation. Hospital doctors say they were not involved in winter preparations. Emergency department unit leads say they were not involved in winter preparations. There was no account taken of the three, four days, so, effectively, we had two whole weeks with very, very light bank holiday-style cover. Social services were basically absent for two weeks. We had enormous delayed transfers of care. The Heath themselves had two whole wards full of people waiting to go home.
Would you please also accept, or look at the managers within the NHS, because we seem to be great on strategy, but putting it into action is difficult? When you have a nurse or a bed manager saying, 'I'm not going to open up a bed, put an extra bed on that ward, because that one bed will make that ward risky', I totally accept that, but risk is about the balance of risk. So, what is worse: having one bed open on a ward, or having a person on a trolley for 80 hours in an A&E department? So, Cabinet Secretary, I'm asking you to make sure that we are holding the management, the management of the NHS, holding their feet to the fire on those issues.
You've just awarded, in the last few days, another £10 million. That is incredibly welcome, but we need to make sure that that £10 million goes to the front line and solves these problems. The Health and Social Care Committee held an excellent inquiry. We came up with a strong report on winter preparedness. The people came to us and told us they weren't being involved. They're still saying it today. You need to find out what went wrong, and I would ask you to really, really drill down into this, because something somewhere just didn't work. And as you started off saying, we have a lot of excellent people who are working their socks off and are under immense pressure. It's our job to lift that pressure off their shoulders.
Thank you for the series of questions. To think about where we are and about the pressure that exists right across the system, much of our commentary ends up inevitably being about the front door of a hospital and the emergency department, but, actually, the pressure is right across the system, including in primary care, where on peak days they've had 100,000 contacts in primary care across the country. Part of my idea was not just the £10 million to go into the system, it was also throughout QOF and the admin duties of GPs to give them more time to spend with patients who need to have their care and assistance.
There's also that pressure across the social care system. I think perhaps suggesting that social services were virtually absent for two weeks was a little unkind and not exactly accurate, because, actually, part of the reason that services continue to work is because of the commitment of social care staff, in addition to their colleagues within the health service. But, part of our challenge in moving through this—and I understand that we'll need to do better in the future—as always, is not just what happens at the front door either in primary care, or in general practice, or an emergency department, but as you get to the other end and needing to return people to their own homes, whether that's their own home in a private residence or residential care as well. So, the money we have announced we think will help at the nexus between health and social care in particular, because we recognised at one point last week when I did an interview that there are about 350 medically fit people in beds within our hospital system. That's a challenge not of bed capacity, but of flow within our whole health and care system. So, there is a challenge that goes across health and social care in resolving this.
The £50 million was about maintaining performance, not just unscheduled care, but scheduled care as well. We expect to be in an improved position at the end of this financial year on our scheduled referral-to-treatment figures as well. So, we've made different choices. We haven't had a nationwide cancellation of elective care. We've seen some of that continuing, but there have been some cancellations to make sure that emergency admissions are dealt with. We will, of course, report back to the National Assembly, and I expect to face scrutiny in this Chamber and in committee about what the £50 million has delivered. It's to deliver to the end of the year, so I won't undertake a mid-point inquiry, as opposed to understanding through the whole system what it's done in preparing for and delivering across winter.
The same for the learning we will obviously take from this winter, both at the point of extreme pressure, as it almost always is in the first week of January, but then to see the whole winter period in the round. Because, at the time when you initially asked this question, that was at one of the peak points in pressure. Fortunately, it has reduced across the country. We see a different level of escalation now. But the winter is certainly not over and I suspect there will be many more difficult days.
So, we need to understand not just what happened this time around with winter planning, and the voices you say there that were not taken account of actually went into some of the winter planning, because there were colleagues representing every part of the service, not just health care, but actually social care colleagues in the room, as well. There's always a challenge in terms of how we gather together the voices of staff and understand how they plan together to deliver our service. We will, of course, learn from this winter. We want to be better prepared again for next winter, and I expect to be completely transparent about what we have learnt and what we expect to do better in the year to come. In addition, I want to improve our response for the remainder of the current winter.
This Welsh Labour Government tells us that the pressure over the 2017-18 winter so far has been down entirely to unprecedented peaks in demand. Now, I have no doubt whatsoever that peaks exist. They exist around winter, as they do at other times of the year as well, and we've heard that there have been some particularly big spikes. But you cannot keep fobbing people off with the same story time and time again, because you're not reflecting what's actually happening and what people on the front line are telling people like me and the Conservative spokesperson opposite.
The truth is that our NHS does not now have the resilience to be able to cope with peaks. Bed capacity has been continuously over the 85 per cent safe level since 2011. Over the same period since then, successive Labour Governments have cut bed numbers by 10 per cent. I don't think that's a coincidence. We in Plaid Cymru say, 'Reverse the bed cuts'. We've outlined how we'd want to train and recruit a 1,000 extra doctors and thousands of extra nurses over the next decade or so.
Hospitals inadequately equipped with both beds and staff, coupled with a lack of integration with social care means cancelled operations; it means ambulances queuing up outside emergency departments; it means patients on beds in corridors; and it means that our excellent staff, who you mentioned and all of us do, and treasure, being put under more and more pressure. It is unsustainable. I've said it before and I'll say it again here now: I fear that having run the Welsh NHS for the last 19 years almost, Labour can't now face up to the depths of the NHS's problems, because to admit to those problems would be to admit to your part in causing those problems. When will this Government take its head out of the sand, admit to the problems and put a proper, long-term, sustainable plan in place to deal with them?
I do regret the tone with which Rhun ap Iorwerth approaches this very serious issue—[Interruption.] Suggesting that we are fobbing people off is a denial of the reality. A 54 per cent spike in red ambulance demand on New Year's Eve is not fobbing people off. That is a real, unplanned for—and how on earth could you possibly plan for—spike in demand. On New Year's Day, the increase in demand was 29 per cent for red ambulances. We've seen extraordinary reversals of the norm. For example, in out-of-hours care, we saw a significant spike in Cardiff and the Vale, when normally in the Christmas period—on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—you see a fall in calls for services, but this year we saw a significant rise. So, these are not pressures that you could reasonably plan for in terms of those spikes. This is a factual presentation of what is happening.
I think to try to suggest that this is because a party has run our service into the ground—. It may make great headlines for the party faithful, but actually it doesn't really get us to the point of understanding the nature of our challenges and actually being able to do something about it. I think it's my job in the Government to try and be responsible and responsive and constructive in how we do that. That's actually why, in terms of your final point about the long-term future of health and care in this country and not being prepared to do something, that is exactly what we have done. On a cross-party basis, we've instructed a panel of experts to undertake a parliamentary review of health and social care. We'll have that report within a week, and we will then discuss and have to make choices about the long-term future of the health and care system here in Wales. Far from avoiding the very real and difficult challenges, we have tried to be constructive and mature in doing so, and we will then have a real, meaningful and demanding basis, both for Government and also other political actors in this place and beyond, on which to make difficult choices for the future of health and social care here in Wales.
Cabinet Secretary, despite your own evidence in our committee about winter pressures and how they impact upon the NHS in Wales, we never seem to learn from these experiences; we always seem to be caught on the hop, as though winter pressure was something new. The word 'unprecedented' appears to come out every time, as if this word excuses the very fact that we are not learning from past experiences.
The additional £10 million is, of course, welcome, but I want to ask you, Cabinet Secretary, how was the £50 million spent in combating this situation that happens almost at this time every year? What lessons year on year regarding winter pressures are being learned, and how are they being acted upon? We hear again that flu outbreaks have added to the pressure, which, of course, they would, but, again, flu is not new to our country at this time of the year. We expect it—it gets colder—and flu to be partly a consequence of this. It happens the same time every year and we must be prepared for this.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine stated that emergency departments in Welsh hospitals felt like a battlefield to staff. We know that A&E attendances topped 1 million. But why, when we are encouraging people to use pharmacies, for example, are they still turning up at A&E? Is this because they cannot get the GP appointments that they feel they need and that A&E is now becoming the alternative?
What discussions will you be having with both primary care and secondary care staff to gain an insight into the situation we find ourselves in? What proportion of these A&E admissions could have been dealt with by other means, such as pharmacy and GP visits? Were the hospital staff in these departments prepared and of full complement?
You state that NHS organisations have been planning for this period since the end of last winter—supported by the £50 million of funding to help them balance urgent and planned care activity—yet we do not still have sufficient beds or staff to cope with this situation. How can we plan for next year so that we are not cancelling operations for patients that could lead to them needing additional treatment because of this delay, which has a knock-on effect on cost of course, because they cost more in the long run, or they possibly could? What strategy do you have planned for next year—
I think you've already outlined enough questions for the Minister. I doubt if he'll be able to remember them now.
Sorry. What strategy do you have planned for next year so that all GPs and hospital staff can meet to combat this? Thank you.
Thank you for the series of detailed questions. I appreciate we only have 20 minutes on the agenda for the three questions, so I'll try and be brief in response. The questions about the money and the broader look back to winter this year to try and learn for the next year, I think I dealt with in response to Angela Burns. There's a question for the Government, but also for the health service, together with local government and housing colleagues as well, in understanding what we've done this year and what more we need to do in years to come as we progressively design and deliver a more integrated system that understands the needs of the citizen and how we deal with them.
That does come on to perhaps the most interesting part of your series of questions about how the public can be part of this as well. This isn't about blaming the public, but about how we equip the public to make different choices and how we make sure those choices are available. The Choose Well campaign encourages people to think differently, and, just before Christmas, we saw the ambulance service producing a list of calls they'd had for coughs and colds and shoulder pain that weren't 999 calls at all. So, that is a real part of our system, but actually we need to manage demand differently and change expectations around that. Actually, the investment we're making in pharmacy is a good example of wanting to do that.
I expect that, in the lessons to be learned during this winter and from the end of this winter, we won't just have a report and a dry report for operational matters, but one that will have to take account of the real experience of staff in every part of our system, to then try and plan ahead for not just the year to come but, in the response to the parliamentary review, for the medium and longer term challenges that all of us face as our country changes, as demand goes up and, as we all know, as money is tighter and health and social care seem to have less money than before, together with other public services, to manage an ever-increasing amount of demand.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. The next question will be answered by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, and the question is from Simon Thomas.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of the EU Withdrawal Bill on Wales, given that the UK Government has not tabled amendments relating to devolution to the Bill? 97
The UK Government has published a number of amendments to the Bill today, but they don’t respond to our fundamental opposition to the Bill, particularly the fact that it doesn’t respect the devolution settlement. We continue to work with the UK Government, with the intention of agreeing amendments to be introduced in the Westminster Parliament, but now, of course, that's at the Lords stage.
Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for the confirmation that the promised amendments that related around the devolution settlement and, of course, clause 11 in particular, have not been tabled in the House of Commons, as promised by a Secretary of State, albeit for Scotland, but on behalf of the whole of the UK Government? I think that's extremely disappointing. It's doubly disappointing because it means we have less time as an Assembly to consider those amendments, and it is disappointing from the point of view of those in Westminster, because, of course, now it's not elected MPs who will be scrutinising these amendments, but the House of Lords, and the House of Lords should be the second Chamber and the backstop on constitutional amendments, not the first port of call for discussions around devolution and the relationship between the constituent parts of these islands. So, it's a really deep and desperate failure by the Westminster Government that is directly related to the Cabinet reshuffle that they've just undergone, because it's directly related to the leaving of Damian Green and the fact that there's been no leadership over the Christmas period to give these amendments force for them to be considered in Westminster.
But the question for the Cabinet Secretary and the Welsh Government must be this, now: why continue to trust the Tories? Why put the constitutional future of Wales in the hands of a Conservative Government that's failing to deliver on its promises—on this occasion, but several times in the past as well? Why not now bring forward your own continuity Bill, previously referenced by the Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, which you have prepared, which you have ready, which you can now use as a belt-and-braces approach to ensure that we do not lose out on the future arrangements as we leave the European Union? It's essential that there is respect paid to this Parliament, as it is becoming, and to the devolution settlement. Tabling main amendments at the last minute that cannot be properly discussed or properly analysed and ascertained of their relevance to our constitutional future cannot be a way to go ahead. I urge you: don't trust the Tories anymore; bring forward your own continuity Bill.
Llywydd, can I begin by agreeing with what Simon Thomas said at the start of his remarks? It is deeply disappointing that the UK Government, having given an explicit commitment to bring forward amendments at Report Stage, have failed to do so. Their narrative throughout the Committee Stage of the Bill was that they were going to listen to what was said and they would reflect on that. And the Secretary of State for Scotland, during part of that debate, said absolutely explicitly that the result of that consideration would be amendments at the Report Stage. So, of course, we are equally disappointed that that has not turned out to be the case.
Let me give the Member an assurance that I have never trusted the Tories on this or any other matter—[Interruption.] Well, if I had, I'd have been very disappointed in this instance, wouldn't I? But, what the responsible Government has to do is to hold the Government to the commitment that it has made, and so I will be writing today to the new Secretary of State, David Lidington, making it clear that we expect the assurances that were given to Scotland and to Wales at the Joint Ministerial Committee that officials would meet urgently so that we could work to what we hope would be an agreed set of amendments to the withdrawal Bill—that those discussions now urgently need to take place. They have been delayed, exactly as Simon Thomas says, because of the exigencies of the Conservative party. Because of the difficulties they are experiencing, the rest of the United Kingdom has had to be held up in these vitally important discussions.
It remains the position of the Welsh Government that we would like to see the withdrawal Bill succeed. We would like to be in a position where there was an amendment to clause 11 that we could agree with the Conservative Government and with the Scottish Government, and we could bring a legislative consent motion in front of this Assembly that we could recommend for approval. But I say again to this Chamber and to the United Kingdom Government that if they're not in that position, if they continue to drag their feet, if they continue to fail to have the necessary discussions, we have a continuity Bill. We have a continuity Bill that we have prepared, that is in a state that is ready to be introduced, and if we can't get a solution by our preferred route, which is to put the withdrawal Bill in proper order, then we will have to bring forward the Bill that Simon Thomas has referred to.
Cabinet Secretary, I agree with many of the comments that you've made, but, of course, we are in a situation now where things are getting so desperate within the Tory Government that they now have a Brexit Minister, Suella Fernandes, who, openly, is saying that it would be great to have no deal—almost the worst possible economic consequence for Wales, but who thinks it would be fantastic not to have any deal whatsoever. You've got a Tory Government that is so desperate in terms of its economic position and its failure to really attract any credibility in its negotiations with the EU that it's actually talking about taking us into a trade deal to join the Pacific trading bloc, something that I'm sure may cause considerable concern as to what its impact might be on the Welsh economy. The crux of the problem, really, is that we have a Government that is actually incapable of resolving these issues.
My concern is where that drift takes us, because it now moves not just to the issue of whether we can get a withdrawal Bill into working order, and if we can't then the issue of the role the House of Lords will play, almost as a constitutional parliamentary block, in terms of upholding the Sewel convention, and the refusal of an LCM by Wales and by Scotland, so a constitutional crisis as well as a democratic crisis and an economic crisis. It's also a question of the fact that the Government is also, through the back door, pursuing other Brexit-related legislation like the Trade Bill, which is equally as bad, if not, actually, almost even worse, because of the way in which it proposes to use the royal prerogative, and the fact that it is still incapable of giving any commitment on the financial red lines that would also be essential in terms of a post-Brexit situation. So, within that environment, where is the basis for trust? It seems to me half the Tory Government are either incompetent and incapable, and the other half are just telling fibs. So, where do we go?
Well, Llywydd, crashing out of the European Union on a no-deal basis would be a disaster for the Welsh economy and for Welsh public services. I don't think we can say that often or loud enough. Any voices at the other end of the M4 that continue to argue that a no-deal Brexit will be good for the United Kingdom really are simply trapped by their ideological view of the world and take no account at all of the evidence that is provided to the UK Government day in, day out, not by the Welsh Government only, but by the Confederation of British Industry, by the confederation of employers, by the directors' association. The evidence of the need for an orderly exit from the European Union, and one that we believe keeps us as close as we can to the single market in a customs union, allowing Welsh businesses and Welsh jobs to be protected—that's the sort of Brexit that we urge the UK Government to pursue.
What we do, and it is a very difficult job, in the way that Mick Antoniw has outlined—we try to align ourselves with and to strengthen the hand of those voices in the UK Government that are prepared to argue for a form of leaving the European Union that puts the need of our economy first. It's sometimes difficult to hear those voices amongst the din of other conflicting views within the Government itself, but our job has to be to put forward the case, which we know is solid and secure, for the sort of Brexit that is necessary for Wales, and to try to get that case heard by those elements within the UK Government that have a more considered approach to leaving the European Union.
Can I concur, Cabinet Secretary, with everything that Mick Antoniw has said, particularly on the Trade Bill, which I think is very worrying, because it just reflects a continuation of the way in which the UK Government approaches this, and most of what Simon Thomas says—though perhaps I might challenge the fact that just because Damian Green left just before Christmas and there's been a reshuffle—? They had a month before that, when amendments were laid down by both the Welsh and Scottish Governments, to actually come and negotiate and set up possible amendments for the Report Stage, and they still haven't done that. So, to me, it worries me, because it shows that they don't really want to discuss with you, and they're going to try and steamroller this through the House of Lords. So, in that sense, are you in discussions with the Lords to look at whether you can re-establish your Welsh and Scottish Government amendments, in the light that the UK Government fails to come up with something sensible? And, also, will you be looking at the continuity Bill to look at the timescales that we need to address? Because that is now getting very, very tight. If we need to get the continuity Bill in place and approved, we have to do it before the parliamentary process completes, and it's getting tighter and tighter all the time, the longer this takes. I'm sure the UK Government totally knows that and is pushing it to its limit as much as possible, so we have to start taking this forward.
I don't trust the Tories in London, and, in fact, I listened to the debate of the Scottish Tories, as I told you on Monday in our scrutiny session. If you listen to that debate, they have no confidence from me—me having confidence in them actually taking this forward. They seem to accept what the UK Government is saying, and do not really address the devolved issues that we need to address—devolved issues that Scottish Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament agree with us on. So, we need to get that sorted out, and faith in the UK Government is not there.
Well, I can give the Member an assurance that the Welsh Government is very alert to the timetable issues with a continuity Bill, and we will not not bring forward a continuity Bill because we've missed the necessary timescales involved—I give you that assurance.
I want to thank David Rees for drawing my attention to yesterday's report by the committee of the Scottish Parliament, signed by all the Conservative party members of that committee, which makes it clear that they will not support an LCM on the withdrawal Bill as it is currently drafted, and that's part of the disappointment they face, having negotiated as they believed—because it was in response to a Conservative Tory, a Scottish Conservative member of the House of Commons, that the Secretary of State for Scotland gave his assurances in what was clearly a choreographed piece of House of Commons activity. Having negotiated that, as they saw it, to find themselves let down by yesterday's announcement, I think you can see that in that report as well.
As far as the Trade Bill is concerned, I share the concerns that Mick Antoniw and David Rees have raised this afternoon. Members will be aware that we have laid our legislative consent memorandum on that Bill, and Scotland have now laid theirs. We repeat the concerns we have in the withdrawal Bill as they re-emerge in the Trade Bill. It's difficult to see how, if we can't get the withdrawal Bill put right, and therefore are able to recommend an LCM on the floor of this Assembly, we will be in any different position in relation to the Trade Bill.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. The next question will also be answered by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, and the question will be asked by Suzy Davies.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the announcement this morning of Welsh Government capital funding for the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon? 99
I thank the Member for the question. In a letter to the UK Government before Christmas, the First Minister indicated that the Welsh Government is prepared to consider an equity or loan investment in the Swansea bay tidal lagoon if that would enable the project to move forward by reducing the cost of capital.
Thank you for that answer. I was hoping you might give me a little bit more on that, but that leaves me more questions to ask. We've just heard, via the press, just about quarter of an hour ago, actually, that the substantial sum seems to have been identified at somewhere between £100 million and £200 million. I'm wondering if you could confirm that in your reply to this, but, if it is at those figures, that is a substantial sum—not exactly down-the-back-of-the-sofa material. Perhaps you could tell us where you're likely to be getting that kind of money from, if, as Plaid Cymru suggests, your capital borrowing pot, if you like, is pretty much committed to the M4. So, perhaps you can give us some clarity on the type of figure that you're considering and where that money will be coming from. And that is material, because the—. If I read from the letter correctly,
'This investment could help to reduce the cost of capital for the project and hence reduce the subsidy requirement over the lifetime of any contract for difference.'
So, with such a figure, we'd need some reassurance that it would actually be likely to make a difference to the strike price and the term of the deal. So, what assessment have you done to determine the effect of the capital that you're likely to be able to put in on the strike price and the length of the repayment deal?
And then, finally, on what disclosable terms are you at this stage able to say that you would like to see any such loan or equity deal being made? We already know that the loan taken up by the company—I think from 2015—is unsecured. And, while I don't want anyone to be in any doubt about my support for this, for the tidal lagoon, we've also got a duty to constituents to make sure that any investment is adequately protected. So, if you are able to give us some sort of indication of the protection that you would wish for Welsh investors—sorry, the Welsh Government—on behalf of the public in Wales, what kind of protection would you be looking for in any further deal?
Llywydd, let me be clear that the First Minister's letter to the Prime Minister on 6 December was designed to try and unlock the UK Government's inability to do the right thing and to announce that it is taking forward the conclusions of the Hendry review, and to allow the Swansea bay tidal lagoon project to proceed. In order to try and create movement in this position, the First Minister made it clear that we were prepared, in the right circumstances, to consider a substantial equity and/or loan investment. I'm not going to be able to provide the Chamber with specific figures this afternoon because that figure would depend crucially on the UK Government coming forward with an offer on the strike price. Those two things are interlocked with one another, and I can't give you a sensible answer on the first leg of such an arrangement without knowing what the UK Government was prepared to offer on the second.
But Suzy Davies is right to say that what we were trying to do was to create progress on two fronts. We were prepared to put money forward in order to help with the cost of construction of the tidal lagoon. If that's what's stopping the UK Government from coming forward, then we were offering to be part of a solution to that difficulty. But, by being willing to put forward capital for the construction of the project, we would also lower the long-term cost of borrowing involved in the project, and that should allow the UK Government to be in a better position in coming forward with an offer on the strike price. It would be lower as a result of the lower borrowing costs involved. So, our offer managed—we thought—to have an impact on both scores. It is very disappointing that the First Minister has had no reply of any sort to his letter of 6 December.
I want to be clear, Llywydd, with the Chamber, that, when the First Minister sent his letter, he deliberately decided not to draw attention to it. He wanted to make sure that the Prime Minister had the offer in a way that couldn't be vulnerable to suggestions that it was just there for political point-scoring, or that it was there to embarrass the Government in any way. He wrote in terms that would have allowed the Prime Minister—. If there was any genuine intention on the part of this Government to come forward on the tidal lagoon, it would have given her every opportunity to have done that. The letter is only in the public domain now because we are a month on from when it was written, we are days away from the anniversary of the Hendry review, and here's the offer that the Welsh Government is willing to put on the table. We really think that it is time for the UK Government to move forward in the way that parties across this Chamber—I'm not making it up at all—parties across this Chamber have urged the UK Government to do so. We are showing our willingness to help solve some of the barriers that there may be in the UK Government's mind to making this very necessary and important decision for Wales.
Can I warmly welcome the Welsh Government's action? I don't think it's possible to overestimate the importance of the tidal lagoon to the Swansea bay city region. I know that there is support from Members right the way across this Chamber for the tidal lagoon, and Members I disagree with on virtually everything else are in total agreement about how important this is to Swansea and the Swansea bay city region.
If Swansea is the first, then we develop the design skills, we develop the technical skills, we develop the supply chain. That means we will develop a whole industry, and people who want to develop tidal lagoons afterwards will be coming to Swansea, just like Aarhus and places in Germany did with wind turbines. Isn't it really one of the most important things that could happen? Does the Cabinet Secretary agree that we really do need to be the first to develop these skills and develop the industry and help answer some of the questions that Russell George was asking earlier?
Well, Llywydd, Mike Hedges sets out exactly the arguments that persuaded the Hendry review. The Swansea bay tidal lagoon is not simply about Swansea. It is about creating the knowledge that is needed for us to be able to do more in the future to use the power of the sea to help us to create the sustainable energy that we need. The investment in Swansea is part of that whole learning experience. It allows us to be the first in this field to build up all the things that go alongside, having tested that proof of concept. That's why it's so important to Wales. That's the case that their own appointee, their own previous Minister, Charles Hendry, tested and concluded was sound. That's why he urged the UK Government to get on and make the necessary investment, and 12 months later here we are, still trying to roll that stone uphill.
Can I first declare that I'm a community investor, as many hundreds of local people are, in this scheme? I do that because many people in the Swansea bay area think that this is the future, not just for Swansea bay, as you say, but for energy around the Welsh coast as well. There's much to be gained from it.
I very much welcome the actions by the First Minister. I appreciate how the Cabinet Secretary has set out why this was done, confidentially, a month ago, though I have urged the First Minister to do this in the past. I think that, in effect, what the Welsh Government has done is call the bluff of the Conservatives in London and said 'It's time for you either to stump up or say that you're not interested in tidal technology for the future of energy production, not just in Wales but throughout the UK as well'. If they do that, of course, they will be putting the UK at the back of a technology that is going to take off exponentially, driven by China and countries like Canada. But we can be at the forefront of that.
Now, I understand why you don't want to talk about the sums, but you have talked about substantial sums, which is why it's so shocking that you haven't had a reply to the letter from the First Minister to Theresa May. But what I'm really interested in is the type of investment at this stage, because the sum is not so important from the Welsh Government's point of view. It does open the door, of course—I understand that—but from the Welsh Government's point of view and from our public interest point of view, what kind of investment the Welsh Government might be interested in is important. A simple loan, which is paid off because there's an income stream from the tidal lagoon, does not put us, perhaps, in a position where we can take the most advantage of this technology as it develops. An equity stake in the holding company, of course, allows us to be there as the technology develops, and not only as this project develops, but as other potential projects also develop.
I very much urge the Government to consider, if this does come to fruition, to take a much more proactive role in that equity stake, rather than a simple loan, or loan guarantee, or some other arrangement around construction that just makes the figures easier. Because this is our opportunity. Other major capital investments you've made, such as Cardiff international airport—this is your opportunity to be there, and to be there for a long period of time. So are you able, if not to state the size of the offer made, at least to state what type of offer you're interested in and whether you've discussed with Tidal Lagoon plc how this might be actually achieved?
Llywydd, the letter to the Prime Minister from the First Minister kept the door open on a range of different ways in which our systems could be brought forward, including equity investment, but also loan possibilities as well. Llywydd, I want to just stress to the Chamber how serious an offer this was, and the discussions that lay behind it, between myself as the finance Minister and the First Minister. It was not an offer made off the cuff, because our hope was that this would have unlocked the position, and that our offer would have genuinely been drawn down. As your finance Minister, I had to feel satisfied that I would be in a position to be able to offer that assistance at a time when, as Members here will know, all our budgets are under pressure, and there are many very important calls on our ability to provide capital investment right across the Welsh economy.
So, I guess Simon Thomas would not be surprised to know that, from the finance point of view, finding figures that we could meet easily is not something that I could afford just to push to the margins of my consideration. But, I did feel, having gone through it all very carefully with senior officials here, with the First Minister as well, that had the Prime Minister responded and responded positively to our offer, we were in a position to back up our offer with investments of different sorts, depending on the deal that could have been done, and we would have thought carefully about the points that he has made this afternoon and has made previously about what an equity investment in the project might have provided for Welsh taxpayers but also for the future of this very important industry in Wales.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary.
The next item is the 90-second statements. Jane Hutt.
In the centenary year of women's partial suffrage, I'd like to pay tribute to inspiring women from my consistency in the Vale of Glamorgan, starting with 19-year-old Hannah Tuck from Barry, the youngest ever railway chaplain. Hannah has been appointed to this role covering the railway network in Wales and the Marches. I already knew Hannah before she was appointed to this role as a leading members of the Vale youth forum and a young carer. I met her before Christmas at the Mind in the Vale cafe and gallery in Barry town station to congratulate her on her new role and clarify what her post entails.
Hannah said that the job mainly involves travelling across the rail network, getting to know staff and passengers, and her previous volunteer work for St John Ambulance for eight years has been very helpful experience in preparing for her new responsibilities. In her new role, Hannah has already supported two train drivers who witnessed people taking their own lives and has helped ticket staff who have been abused by passengers. Hannah was appointed by a Christian charity, but she says faith is not the focus of her work. She says, 'Obviously, we chaplains all have our faith, but what's important is that we're supporting people who need it.' What an inspiring young woman of Barry and of Wales.
Personal statement—Gareth Bennett.
Diolch, Llywydd. I refer to the point of order that was raised with you on 13 December last year. I'm sorry that people took offence at what I said and I wish to make it clear that I respect your authority as Chair. I do, however, stand by the views I expressed about the proposed changes to the gender recognition Bill.
I accept your apology, Gareth Bennett, and you may be assured that I'll always uphold the right of any Member in this Chamber to air views that are unpalatable to other Members and to others as well. But, all Members need to do so using language that is both parliamentary and non-discriminatory at all times. Thank you.
We move on, then, to the next item.
The next item is the debate on the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee report, 'Turning the tide? Report of the inquiry into the Welsh Government's approach to Marine Protected Area management'. I therefore call on the committee Chair to move the motion—Mike Hedges.
Motion NDM6620 Mike Hedges
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Notes the report of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee on 'Turning the tide? Report of the inquiry into the Welsh Government’s approach to Marine Protected Area management', which was laid in the Table Office on 7 August 2017.
Diolch, Llywydd. I think marine discussions are a bit like buses—you wait a very long time for one and two come along very quickly. I am delighted to open today’s debate on the report from the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee on the management of marine protected areas in Wales. I need to thank the previous Chair of the committee, Mark Reckless, and members of the committee who worked on this inquiry—Jenny Rathbone, Huw Irranca-Davies and Siân Gwenllian—who are no longer members of this committee. I really thank them for the work they did in producing what I think has been a very good report.
This is the second debate, as I said, held this week in the Chamber on marine policy. I believe it's a very important policy and it’s appropriate that it should be given this level of focus. Somebody once said that we shouldn't be called planet earth, we should be called planet water, because far more of our surface is covered by water than is covered by earth. So, I think that we do need to give the marine environment a great deal of thought. The marine environment makes up over half of the area of Wales and is home to some of the most biologically diverse habitats and species in Europe. In order to make sure they will survive and benefit future generations, two thirds of Welsh seas are protected in some way due to their vulnerability.
The response to the report: the committee made 12 recommendations in total, 11 of which were accepted in full or in principle by the Welsh Government. Despite our recommendations being accepted, however, it is unclear what, if anything, will be done differently as a result. In order to address this, I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary to seek clarification. A response was received in advance of this debate and this exchange of correspondence is accessible via today’s Plenary agenda.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Assembly Members and stakeholders will see from the exchange that the Cabinet Secretary has addressed a small number of the committee’s many concerns, but the majority of our questions are still unanswered. But I'm sure the Cabinet Secretary will address those today. Our report, 'Turning the tide', addresses several issues, including the Welsh Government’s approach to enforcing, the availability of reliable data and funding and management of marine protected areas post Brexit. But, today, I will concentrate on the three key areas that came out of the inquiry: the need for the Welsh Government to take a stronger leadership role, the need for appropriate levels of resource, both financial and staffing, and the need for greater transparency in the work that is already ongoing.
During our inquiry, we heard criticism from stakeholders about the lack of leadership from the Welsh Government. This is not a new complaint. Our predecessor committee heard calls for a stronger lead from the Welsh Government back in 2012. Stakeholders want the Welsh Government to give a clear strategic direction. This would ensure that a coherent management system for marine protected areas is in place and that it is understood by all. Simply put, for Wales to fully realise the benefits of its marine protected area sites, it must be managed effectively. The committee has therefore recommended that the Welsh Government should bring forward a marine protected area strategy and that all management authorities, including the Welsh Government, are fulfilling their duties and responsibilities in relation to marine protected area management. This recommendation was accepted by the Welsh Government, but it's apparent from the response there will be no marine protected area strategy. I hope that I've misunderstood that and there will be a marine protected area strategy. There will an action plan. The obvious concern is that this will not be the strategic document that is so badly needed. I hope that the term 'action plan' will be started off by a strategy, and the action plan will sit underneath that strategy, because we do need a strategy to take us forward, and the action plan should sit underneath that strategy rather than exist in isolation.
Cabinet Secretary, stakeholders have been expressing concern about a lack of leadership for at least five years. These are sincere concerns from people about the marine environment. These are people who work in the environment, who take a deep interest in the environment and who want to see an improvement in marine protected areas management. Their concerns should be addressed. It's not clear from your response what, if anything, will be done differently in the future. These are people who really care about the marine environment, and whilst other Members here will get up and make speeches on it, these people care about it day in, day out, and for many of them it is the passion of their lives.
The second key area was resources, both financial and staffing. Stakeholders did not ask for vast sums of money or a huge increase in staffing numbers. I think they actually understood that they were unlikely to get either of those. They were very pragmatic and understood the wider financial pressures the Welsh Government is under. But, they were clear: marine protected areas cannot be managed effectively without the appropriate level of resources. The committee notes that an additional £0.5 million has been made available for marine and fisheries in the 2018-19 budget. This is intended to address a variety of issues, including the costs associated with identifying and designating five new marine protected areas and ensuring that marine protected areas achieve and remain in favourable conditions. Of course, this additional resource is welcome, but we have sought reassurance from the Cabinet Secretary that this resource is sufficient to deliver their several ambitious priorities. Put simply, is there enough money to achieve what we want to see achieved?
We were not reassured that the current staffing resources within Welsh Government are sufficient to deliver its marine conservation responsibilities. We were also concerned that a lack of resources would have a negative impact on Natural Resource Wales’s ability to deliver its marine protected area-related activities in the immediate and medium terms. We also asked the Welsh Government to bring forward proposals for funding an area-based approach, with each management area having a dedicated officer. The evidence suggests that there are benefits to this approach, particularly for strengthening local delivery and facilitating cross-site collaboration, and, I would argue, perhaps most importantly, for people to know the person they have to go and see about a problem in the area. I think that having somebody in charge, somebody responsible for it, makes life a lot easier. These issues are addressed in our second recommendation, which the Welsh Government accepted in principle. However, the Cabinet Secretary has said she disagrees with an area-based approach, saying that she believes it would be more cost-effective and provide better value for money to focus on specific projects.
It is, of course, the Cabinet Secretary’s right to disagree with the committee’s recommendations. However, it would be helpful to receive information to explain that alternative position. Members will see from our correspondence with the Cabinet Secretary that the committee has asked to see any financial analysis that supports the Cabinet Secretary’s position. We have yet to receive that, but I'm sure, again, that will be provided for us this afternoon.
Transparency—we'll turn now to our third key area. Many stakeholders felt strongly there was a lack of transparency in relation to the meetings of the considerable number of Welsh Government-led groups in this field. The committee welcomes the commitment given by the Cabinet Secretary that minutes of the marine protected areas management steering group will be published.
We were also advised that updates from the steering group are also shared with the Wales marine stakeholder advisory and action group, and are available on the internet. However, no minutes of this group are available, only their terms of reference. I am disappointed that the Cabinet Secretary’s response says that the notes from the Wales marine fisheries advisory group are available, but only on request. Why can't they just be put on the internet? People put lots and lots of things on the internet. People who are interested in it will be able to access it. If we get one thing out of today, please can we ask that those are put on the internet? If they're available to anybody who asks for them, then they're not being kept secret for any particular reason, then, to save people having to ask for them, let's just put them on the internet, and let people have access to them.
For other Welsh-Government-led groups, summaries of meetings are available, but again only on request. And I make the same request to the Welsh Government—don't just only provide them on request, make them available on the internet. This does not address the considerable concerns expressed by stakeholders about the lack of transparency of these groups. I would be grateful if the Cabinet Secretary could explain why the minutes of all of these groups’ meetings cannot be published.
In conclusion, this is a vital area, given the value of our marine protected areas to supporting wildlife, our coastal tourism industry, and our fisheries. I am grateful to all the stakeholders and members of the public who contributed to the committee’s work. I am also very grateful to members of the committee, who put an awful lot of time and effort into this project. I believe that this is an important report, however I must end by reiterating the committee’s concerns that, despite all but one of our recommendations being accepted, there's a lack of clarity about what will change in practice and, as a consequence, whether any progress will actually be made.
Cabinet Secretary, as we saw in yesterday’s debate on the marine plan, this is an exciting time for marine policy in Wales, and there is support across this Chamber for a renewed emphasis on this policy. There's support in amongst the public, especially those in the voluntary and other sectors, who take an interest in the marine environment and this policy. You've got an awful lot of goodwill, Cabinet Secretary, from Members in here and from the public at large, and I hope you will use that goodwill to keep on taking things forward. I welcomed the marine report yesterday, and I think that that is a step forward. I hope you will take the opportunity to reassure stakeholders that this is a priority area for you, and that they can expect to see meaningful improvements as a result of this report. We've waited a long time for the marine to make its way to the top of the political agenda in Wales, and we have pushed it there this week. Let's hope that we can make substantial progress following this debate.
Can I just say how delighted I am that we have the second of two debates on the maritime environment this week? And I hope this will demonstrate the close co-operation that the legislature and the Executive will have in this vital area of public policy, which does need substantial improvement, as our Chair, Mike Hedges, has already alluded to. And can I join him in thanking all those who allowed us to issue such an authoritative report—all the people who co-operated with us, in our various visits, and gave evidence, and also our outstanding secretariat and the research staff?
It's a formidably complicated area. I have to say, in all my time here as an Assembly Member, I don't think my statistical and analytical abilities were more tested than trying to make some sense of our designation system, in terms of seas and coasts around Wales. Around 50 per cent of our seas, and 75 per cent of our coastlines, are protected by MPAs. However, as we heard in a survey of some 727 stakeholders, 35 per cent thought ineffective management was one of the biggest threats facing the marine environment. And I think, if there's one thing I took away from this report is that we must always remember that designation does not automatically mean effective management. And I think that's at the heart, really, of what the Government now needs to achieve, to ensure that designation does lead to the effective management of our marine resources, and the encouragement and protection of marine life.
Yesterday, in this vein, I emphasised the need for good data and monitoring. Again, it's a point that's been made strongly in this inquiry, but as I made that a highlight of the speech I made yesterday, I won't repeat it here this afternoon. Can I talk, Deputy Presiding Officer, about the first recommendation in this report and I think it's probably the most important? That states that the Government must provide leadership on this matter by developing an MPA strategy and by ensuring that all management authorities are actively engaged and are fulfilling their duties and responsibilities. Now the draft plan is really important and will receive our most detailed attention. Even though the Government has accepted this recommendation, the Government's subsequent responses have not always been I think up to the mark, though, as I've said, I want to give credit to the Minister at least for delivering the plan now, and let's hope that is a starting point for better performance in this area of public policy.
But we have here this repeated call for effective leadership and it's something that goes back a long way. The Environment and Sustainability Committee's report in the fourth Assembly on the inquiry into marine policy in Wales, published in 2013, noted that marine stakeholders felt that the previous Welsh Government had often had, and I quote, an 'and marine' mentality with the marine environment and economy treated as an afterthought. The committee's legacy report in 2016, which obviously we've noted very carefully, noted stakeholders were concerned that even three or four years on that mentality still persisted. I have to say that was something that we found in our evidence, and I know that the Government hopes to improve its delivery of marine policy, and we will be active partners in ensuring you're able to do that, but we certainly need this new start.
As I said, this really does come back to how the Government sets priorities and enables the likes of NRW to implement their statutory duties effectively, and, previously the Countryside Council for Wales said they sought a greater lead from Welsh Government on MPA management. Let me just quote one person, Professor Warren, from Aberystwyth, and she said that the Welsh Government,
'is not strong enough in its ideas'—
I think that's really key here—
'as to what it actually wants at the moment to be able to give the lead to people'.
So, again, that's the objective of the plan you've brought forward I hope.
Can I just finish by briefly saying about resources? The committee's been concerned about the extent of NRW's current statutory obligations and there have been hints from NRW, I think, that they are fully extended at the moment. I think we do need to be satisfied that they have the ability to ensure that effective monitoring and reporting and management of marine protected areas is achieved now, because it's not been done in the past and that is what we need to rectify. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.
I’m sure it is appropriate that, as we discuss marine issues, tides come and go twice a day—I don’t know whether it’s ebb or flow today, but I just want to highlight the fact that I’m not going to repeat what I said yesterday on the marine plan. So, if people are more interested in Plaid Cymru’s marine policy, then they should read both transcripts together. I just want to focus in this debate on three issues that have emerged from the committee report. One is about funding and resources, one is about data, which has just been mentioned by David Melding, and one is about the future direction of travel.
It became clear from the evidence gathered by the committee that most people involved in safeguarding biodiversity and marine conservation don’t believe that the Welsh Government is allocating sufficient resources to tackle these issues. And that varied, not in criticism of staff, but criticism of a lack of ideas and a lack of resources provided, and that is clearly demonstrated in the fact that the committee has recommended very clearly a way forward for the Welsh Government in this area, namely to designate six clear areas of marine conservation under different systems and levels, as David Melding referred to, in terms of designation, conservation and biodiversitybut to designate six clear areas and to ensure that sufficient funding is available for each of those areas, using local partners and placing the Welsh Government at the centre of that web, as the people who lead and manage this. In looking at the way the Government has responded to those recommendations, essentially, the Welsh Government isn’t going to do that. Essentially, nothing will change as a result of the publication of this report in terms of the way the Government has responded to it. And I do think that that is a significant failing by Government, particularly in the context that the Government published its marine plan yesterday, and we discussed that, and the response to the various MPAs is very important in delivering the marine plan.
The second reason I’m concerned is that we do have a lack of data—there is a lack of data collection, and there is a lack of data in order to compare one period with another, which leads us to the conclusion that we heard in committee on a number of occasions, namely that the MPA designation—the marine protected area, and that covers all of the designations, if you like—in and of itself didn’t lead to an improvement in what was happening in that specific area. And we have similar experiences in the SSSIs on the mainland, of course; every time there’s a designation, it doesn’t necessarily lead to an improvement in biodiversity, or the status of the area, or improved conservation. But we need to highlight that, and one of the reasons that we found that is a lack of data underpinning it. There’s no way to prove that the system works—it’s as simple as that—and therefore it’s difficult to justify spending public money on it, one has to be honest. But what you have here is an interesting question as to which comes first. You have to invest in order to gather data in order to demonstrate that the public funding is being spent in a way that improves biodiversity and improves the quality of our seas and leads to more robust defences in the long term.
And the final point, if I can conclude on this, is that there is a lack of clarity about how we take this forward now for the future. Due to that lack of data, due to the lack of resources over a large period of time, there is complete confusion, it has to be said, about how we take forward marine protected areas, and the interaction of those marine protected areas with other areas in which we want to see sustainable activities, including fishing, including coastal communities profiting from those areas, including marine developments that we discussed yesterday as part of the marine plan. And we were unable to really get to the heart of that because there is that lack of transparency that's been referred to, and there is that lack of clarity about who is responsible for what and who will lead. The clearest message that came from the evidence was that the stakeholders wanted the Welsh Government to lead, but the Welsh Government was not prepared to lead, and I think that's something that the Cabinet Secretary really has to get hold of and assert her authority on within the department and the way we take it forward.
Now, how do we take this forward in the future? Well, as we leave the European Union, of course, a lot of these designations will change. A lot of them are under EU habitats and bird directives. Some are designated as marine conservation zones, which are also EU law, but some are international law—Ramsar sites, I think, is international law. And therefore, to conclude on this, if I may, Deputy Presiding Officer, we have this mix of law and that some will apply and some won't as we leave the European Union, and we also have this challenge to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill itself under the Aarhus convention as to whether we're actually taking into account stakeholders' concerns in all of this. I don't think the response from the Government to date has really addressed the committee's concerns, and I very much hope that this debate will help lead to further interaction between the committee and the Government to ensure better action in this area.
I'd like to start by welcoming the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee's report into the Welsh Government's approach to marine protected area management. I am a former member—I wasn't a member when this report was written, but I'm back on that committee now. I've been a champion for the bottlenose dolphin for a couple of years now, and I do feel incredibly lucky to represent an area that is home to the largest semi-resident and breeding population in Wales of this iconic species, located in Cardigan bay. And it was just over 12 months ago that sections of Cardigan bay's special area of conservation were reopened to scallop dredging. It was previously stopped due to a smash-and-grab process that was being carried out at that time and that is the best way to describe it. The seabed was absolutely smashed to bits and the scallops that existed there were grabbed and it was all very unpleasant, but it was stopped.
So, I was pleased to see that the report recognised the importance of gathering evidence and data—and we're back to that again—through monitoring and surveillance as crucial in managing marine protected areas. Because it's only high-quality research and monitoring of the potential impacts of scallop dredging, boat traffic and other activities that will enable us to monitor the health and the population of bottlenose dolphins and, of course, all the other marine animals in that particular area. Whilst data collection is a critical part of research, being able to interpret the results is also crucial. I've heard some evidence that due to financial constraints, some organisations—and they would be the ones that gave evidence to this report—are struggling very much with that.
Equally, I was concerned about points raised in the report about the Cardigan bay special area of conservation relevant authority group about tightening regulations for wildlife trip operators, and the need to strengthen marine conduct through statutory measures. You'll be aware that disturbance from boats can have, and does have, a detrimental impact on not just the bottlenose dolphins, but is also related to a decline in live birth rates.
We talked yesterday an awful lot about pollution, and I'm really, really pleased that we do now have a clear plan. The pollution that can very often come off boats is hugely detrimental to anything that is going to survive in that sea. So, I do really call for very, very close monitoring in that regard. I'm also aware that there was correspondence, Cabinet Secretary, between you and the committee in November, when you said that the indicative site reports for each of our special areas of conservation and special areas were due to be published by the end of the year. I wonder now whether those reports are available, and if they are available, what the findings might be.
I'm very pleased to congratulate the committee for this interesting and informative report, which is very balanced and fair. One of the things that has impressed me about this Assembly since I've been here is the way that these committees do work effectively with a cross-party consensus view very, very often. I would also like to commend the committee members for the immense amount of work that has gone into producing this report, which was referred to by David Melding. I always listen to his speeches, as I do, indeed, to my neighbour, Simon Thomas's speeches, on this subject with great interest, and I never fail to learn something.
I've got little to add to what's been said already. I agree with everything that's been said in this debate so far. It's very important, of course, for Members from Mid and West Wales in particular. We've got more coastline and more water than anyone else in this Assembly and I'm the third of our four Members for the region to take part in the debate today, and the only other one is precluded from doing so by being a member of the Government. I think that underlines the significance that we give to this. Some of the best coastal areas of Wales, and some of them the most interesting coastal waters, are in our region. The majority of the Welsh marine protected areas, I think, are within our region—more than anywhere else.particular
The majority of the MPAs have been designated under EU legislation as special areas of conservation or special protection areas, and this is a precious resource that is vitally important for us, not just to recognise and designate, as the committee's report points out, but also to protect, defend and enhance. This is what, ultimately, it's all about. Site management and monitoring and enforcement are the next stage.
I'm very pleased to see that, in mentioning enforcement, the committee says that the Government should develop an enforcement strategy based on risks, because, inevitably, in environmental concerns, there are competing interests—not necessarily in conflict with one another—where different emphases might be put according to one's interest in the subject matter. I'll come to that, perhaps, in a moment. I agree with the committee's view that there should be no further designation of protected areas until the current suite of MPAs are brought into effective management.
Of course, the question of uncertainties related to Brexit inevitably rears its head in these circumstances, but post Brexit, the Welsh Government will be able to implement its own policy direction, as outlined in the committee report, and rationalise the existing regime. I support a two-tier system of MPAs without reducing the levels of protection, as the committee has recommended. I think it's an advantage to us in future that rather than automatically accepting EU legislation, UK and Welsh Ministers will have the opportunity to designate marine conservation zones, and I agree with the committee's recommendation that this should be a priority if it is to be achieved.
I'm pleased that the Cabinet Secretary has guaranteed that there will be no diminution in funding following the EU, and I hope her letter to Mike Hedges of 2 November puts this firmly to bed, where she says,
'I have made it clear on a number of occasions I do not expect Wales to lose any funding as a result of Brexit.'
And I'm very, very pleased to hear that.
Concerns have been expressed by some over accountability and monitoring mechanisms, but I think that the Welsh Government is perfectly capable of doing everything that the EU does, and more, and I hope it will do. I will just refer to the evidence of the Welsh Fishermen's Association, because when I mentioned earlier on that there are different interests that need to be reconciled, to an extent, with one another, of course balancing marine management with historic fishing rights is very important, as I said yesterday in the other debate. We do need to develop our seas and help them achieve their economic potential in the future, particularly as some of the poorer areas in Wales are in coastal areas, where the fishing industry has great opportunities now to expand. I hope that we can do that without in any way compromising the other environmental benefits that the Government proposes and the committee recommends us to concentrate on.
So, I'll just conclude by saying that the EU has, in my opinion, been no ally, really, for those working in Welsh and British waters, from fishermen to conservationists over the years. And although the EU's record is improving, it has a shocking record, in fact, over most of the period of our membership for the depletion of the seas and the depredation of fishing species. I'm pleased that the real errors of the CAP are now being addressed, and once we have firm control of fishing policy under our own hands here in Cardiff, I'm sure that we will do even better than we're doing at the moment.
I welcome the committee's report, Dirprwy Lywydd, and very much agree with them that we should be proud of our Welsh seas and our Welsh coastal environment, and that the marine protected areas are important for healthy seas that will maintain that advantage that we have, and support tourism, fisheries and other uses.
I also agree with the committee that, of course, you can never take that quality for granted, and that the current condition of our seas and marine and coastal environments do require urgent attention from Welsh Government and others. There is a need for us to set out a bold and ambitious vision, as I think the committee described it.
What I would like to do is to concentrate on one recommendation of the committee, Dirprwy Lywydd—recommendation 9—because I do think it's very important that the Welsh Government does carefully assess the impact of Brexit because so much of the protection that we have, and the framework of protection that we have, does come from the European Union. I'm very pleased that the Cabinet Secretary and the Welsh Government have accepted that recommendation and, indeed, will set out a vision for the way forward early this year. I know we all look forward to that with eager anticipation.
In terms of the European Union, Dirprwy Lywydd, the marine strategy directive has been crucial. It was transposed into UK law by UK Government regulations back, I think, in 2010 and from that came the marine strategies, including the one that we have in Wales. It seeks to sustain and conserve and to achieve good environmental status by 2020, which I'm sure all of us would very much support and be in agreement with. So, I know that many of the organisations in Wales and environmental groups very much value what the European Union's efforts have brought in those terms, and generally believe that these regulations have been a vital framework and, indeed, a driving force for the progress that we've seen.
So, what I would like to ask today, Dirprwy Lywydd, is: will the marine strategy regulations be central to the new vision that the Cabinet Secretary will shortly be setting out for our seas and coastal environment around Wales following the UK leaving the European Union? And, also, what discussions has Welsh Government held, and will Welsh Government hold, in terms of taking these regulations forward as a framework following the UK leaving the European Union? Because I really do believe, and I know, that many of the organisations vitally concerned with these matters, with all the passion that Mike Hedges described earlier in terms of what they value in terms of our seas and our coastal environment, and what they want to see conserved and, indeed, developed in the correct sustainable way for the future, a lot of that passion does revolve around these regulations: what they've brought and what they can bring if we continue that approach for the future. So, I know they and I also, Dirprwy Lywydd, would be very keen to get the Minister's assurances and response on those particular matters.
I'm pleased to take part in such an important debate here this afternoon. Now, as Members will appreciate, this inquiry and report is especially relevant to Pembrokeshire, with the vast majority of the sea around the county located within marine protected areas. Indeed, on a recent trip to Ramsey island with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, with my species champion hat on, I had the opportunity to discuss this particular inquiry and talk about ways in which the Welsh Government can better support and protect marine protected areas in Wales.
From that discussion and from discussions with other stakeholders and local groups—and I appreciate that the Welsh Government has now published a consultation on its draft marine action plan—it's clear from this report that that strategic direction on marine management in Wales has been historically lacking. It's absolutely crucial therefore that the Welsh Government now develops a plan that works with the marine industry and stakeholders, and can actually be delivered on the ground. Previous reviews of marine management have consistently concluded that a higher priority must be given to MPA management, and whilst the Welsh Government's intentions have been good, as the Chair of the committee said, we need to see leadership on this issue.
Of course, part of the problem is that the Cabinet Secretary's budget is tight and that therefore resources are sometimes insufficient to meet their intended purposes, and I certainly don't envy the Cabinet Secretary's position. The committee's report makes it very clear that there is a need for greater resources in terms of staffing and finance to enable the sustainable management of MPAs across Wales, and stakeholders have been very clear in outlining that the lack of resources is hampering the ability to deliver MPA-related activities. Therefore, it's crucial that, moving forward, the budget for MPA activity is closely monitored. Whilst I'm pleased to see in the Welsh Government's response that the Cabinet Secretary will keep this budget under review, perhaps in responding to today's debate she will commit to updating Members more regularly on the level of resources and strategic direction for its marine conservation policies.
Of course, staffing and resources aren't the only issues facing marine protected areas in Wales. Recommendation 3 of the committee's report makes it crystal clear that the Welsh Government must increase public awareness of MPAs and improve its engagement with stakeholders and the public. Marine protected areas, when properly managed, offer widespread benefits and the seas off my constituency in Pembrokeshire have been designated to safeguard important species, including the world's biggest concentration of breeding Manx shearwater sea birds and internationally important numbers of puffin, of which I'm proud to be species champion. Indeed, every year, thousands of visitors flock to Pembrokeshire to see our beautiful wildlife, and whilst they are there they, of course, spend money in the local area and help support the local tourism industry.
Now, the Welsh Government has accepted recommendation 3, making it clear that the Year of the Sea campaign 2018 provides a great opportunity to promote the value of our MPAs. However, I am concerned that an approach to increasing public awareness of MPAs and the benefits of these protections beyond 2018 and the Year of the Sea has not been demonstrated, and there haven't been any further commitments outlined in the follow-up letter on 2 November, following a letter from the committee seeking further clarifications. Therefore, given that both our wildlife and Welsh tourism depends so much on the health of our seas, perhaps the Cabinet Secretary could tell us a bit more about what action the Welsh Government is taking to promote the benefits of marine protected areas and increase the public understanding of their importance beyond the 2018 Year of the Sea campaign.
Deputy Presiding Officer, like John Griffiths, I'd like to briefly touch on recommendation 9 and the impact that leaving the European Union will have on Welsh MPAs. I appreciate that the Cabinet Secretary has accepted this recommendation. However, no detail was given regarding any assessments that are being made of the impact of exiting the EU on our marine protected areas. As Simon Thomas referred to, the majority of the sea area protected within marine protected areas in Wales has been designated under the EU nature directives within European marine sites, and this includes the Pembrokeshire marine special area of conservation, which covers an area of over 130,000 hectares. As I think Neil Hamilton said earlier, marine protected areas were specifically designed to complement European marine sites as part of a two-tiered protection system, that is, legally and ecologically. So, perhaps, in responding to this debate, the Cabinet Secretary will commit to keeping this two-tiered protection system so that the network of protected sites in Welsh waters can function as intended.
In closing, Deputy Presiding Officer, the benefits of marine protected areas in Wales cannot be understated, but they have to be properly managed and properly resourced. Moving forward, I hope the Welsh Government seriously commits to providing more leadership and promoting the value of Welsh MPAs much more than at present, as this will, no doubt, strengthen our tourist industry as well as environmentally protecting our seas in the future.
Thank you very much. Can I now call the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths?
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I very much welcome this report and the debate we've had today. As several Members pointed out, it does follow on very nicely from the debate we had yesterday on the draft national marine plan. But I think it also emphasises how important our seas are to us.
The Welsh Government's written response to the report and my further letter reflect the very positive spirit in which it was received and our commitment to continue refocusing marine and fisheries policy and strengthening where appropriate. The issues that have been raised here today and the conversations I have with people across Wales demonstrate the importance we all place on having a healthy and resilient marine environment. I think Mike Hedges made a very important point about the goodwill of people, not just in the Chamber, but also within our non-governmental organisations, and, certainly, they are some of the most passionate people I've ever come across—they really believe in what they are doing in relation to our seas. They also reflect how important it is for us to develop policies that are integrated and cross-cutting.
The management of marine protected areas cannot be viewed in isolation. It needs to be part of an integrated approach to the management of the wider marine environment to ensure that we achieve our ambitions and vision for clean, healthy, safe, productive, biologically diverse and resilient seas around Wales that support vibrant coastal communities. Yesterday, we had the debate on the first draft Welsh national marine plan, and that's now the subject of a formal consultation. The plan sets out for the first time a joined-up approach to the planning and management of our seas for the next 20 years, and it works towards our ambition for a resilient marine environment that supports blue growth and sustainable, productive and prosperous fisheries. Key to achieving resilient marine ecosystems is Wales completing its contribution towards a network of marine protected areas and for us continuing to build on our current programme of work to manage our MPAs so that they remain in or, where necessary, are able to achieve, favourable condition.
The Llywydd took the Chair.
The Welsh Government has a strategic role in managing MPAs. We cannot secure favourable conditions on our own, so we will continue to work with other management authorities across Wales through the MPA management steering group to provide leadership and, where necessary, support towards collective fulfilment of our roles and responsibilities. John Griffiths asked a question around what strategies we will be bringing forward, and we will be developing an MPA management framework and that will set out our strategic vision for a well-managed network.
Several Members mentioned funding, and, as part of my ongoing review of funding, right across my very broad portfolio, and aligning resources where the need is, I have made an additional allocation of funding to marine and fisheries of £0.5 million. I think it's important to work with my officials to see how we can use that to the best advantage, and, again, I want to work with the MPA management group in relation to this. It also will require, I'm sure, additional funding as we exit the EU, and, obviously, we need to continue with the assessments that we're making regarding the impact of leaving the EU.
Part of the additional funding will also build on our current programme of work to ensure our MPAs maintain and, where necessary, achieve, as I say, favourable condition. I've asked my department to work with NRW and the management steering group to consider how we can use that to have the most positive impact upon the condition of the network of the marine protected areas.
We need to continue to improve our understanding of the marine environment and how human activities interact with it, so we're working to enhance how we monitor to detect change and, where necessary, investigate cause and effect and scientific data to support and inform policy making and delivery.
Joyce Watson raised concerns around monitoring the environmental impacts, in particular around the scallop dredging in Cardigan bay, and I think that's an absolute best example of work that was undertaken. So, we had that two-year intensity study, which had been led by Bangor University, to inform the management of the scallop fishery in Cardigan bay, which, obviously, is a special area of conservation. That work was the first of its kind, and it's really been hailed as world-leading science. So, it's really important that we continue with that and we apply it to any new management measures.
So, I am continuing to look to invest in marine science in Wales. Looking ahead, we need to identify more opportunities to work with partners such as Bangor University to share those standards, to collect and collate evidence and data from a variety of sources and activities. The availability of robust data, evidence and research is absolutely vital to ensure effective management and sustainable use of our seas, and I'm very grateful for the ongoing participation of stakeholders in developing and delivering a marine and fisheries work programme in Wales.
The Wales marine advisory and action group brings together a broad range of strategic interest groups to ensure effective and meaningful engagement in relation to the delivery of all marine and fisheries work through collaborative working and co-production. Sub-groups are established where there is a need to focus on subject-specific issues. We established a marine planning stakeholder reference group at the start of the marine planning process to provide us with advice, guidance and feedback on the approach, and members of the reference group have co-produced the marine plan content collaboratively.
Mike Hedges said that he only really wanted one thing, most importantly, from today's debate, and that was about having the minutes published, and I did give that commitment, I think, back in the committee appearance I made. My understanding is that the minutes of the meeting of, I think it was, 30 November, will be published by the end of this month.
Early engagement with stakeholders has been a key priority for the Welsh Government to ensure we identify the implications and opportunities of exiting the EU on our sectors. Members will be aware I established a stakeholder roundtable and a number of sub-groups straight after the referendum back in June 2016—I'm trying to think now. One of the stakeholder sub-groups relates specifically to our seas and coasts and it includes broad representation from the relevant sectors, so the seas and coasts sub-group plays a key role in helping us identify our priorities for managing our seas in a sustainable way, following our exit from the EU. I think it will also help us to develop a set of strategic priorities, including reaffirming our commitment to the sustainable management of our marine natural resources, a fairer deal for the fishing industry and our coastal communities, and a plan-led approach to driving blue growth. My department and I continue to meet with counterparts from right across the UK to discuss the issues arising from our exit from the EU and, of course, marine and fisheries are part of those discussions. And I am absolutely committed to safeguarding our rural, environmental and marine interests, and I think, by working together, we can explore every opportunity to benefit all of our sectors.
I've also been very clear there will be no reduction in our environmental protection in Wales when we leave the EU. An ecologically coherent and well-managed network of marine protected areas is a key part not just of our day one readiness, but also of the management and resilience of our seas for years to come. So, my focus remains on continuing to deliver key economic, social and environmental benefits to Wales. Thank you.
I call on Mike Hedges to reply to the debate.
Diolch, Llywydd. Can I thank David Melding, Simon Thomas, Joyce Watson, Neil Hamilton, John Griffiths, and the Cabinet Secretary for taking part in this debate—and Paul Davies for taking part in this debate? And I think it's really—. I think it really is important that we've got a number of people who aren't members of the committee taking an interest in this committee report. I think we've all seen, far too often, a committee report is the committee talking to the main body amongst ourselves, and I think it's very nice to see so many people interested. Can I say, Cabinet Secretary, I think you've seen today you have the goodwill and support of the committee, of Members across the Chamber, and I think you know you've got that from the non-governmental organisations and, more importantly, perhaps, the public, who are all keen on ensuring that our marine environment is well looked after?
I think your response was very positive. You talked about a resilient marine environment and the Welsh Government's strategic role and I think nearly every Member who spoke talked about the Welsh Government's strategic role; I think that is the key—that Welsh Government is responsible for the strategy. I welcome that you put all documents available on demand—that they are, on demand, to be now put on the internet; I assume that means the Welsh Government website. And I welcome the willingness to work with partners, because they really do want to work with the Welsh Government. They don't want to fight with you. They don't want to quarrel with you. They want to work with you for a better marine environment.
Can I reiterate what Paul Davies said? Can we have regular updates? Not just to the committee, because the eight of us knowing about it is nice, but all 60 of us knowing about it in a Plenary is so much better. And I think that, really, people have mentioned the same things all along. David Melding talked about the ineffective management being a threat, designation does not always mean effective management, and the importance of good data and monitoring. And Simon Thomas said virtually the same thing using different words. But, really, it's about making sure the data's right, making sure the designations are right and effectively funded, and everything is working properly. We want a successful marine environment. I think, if we had a vote on it, 'Do we want a successful marine environment?', we would have 60 hands going up, or 60 people pressing 'yes' on the buttons.
Can I welcome Joyce Watson back onto the committee? Because I think her interest in both the marine environment and the rural areas is very strong. Scallop dredging has been stopped. That was an interest for several of my constituents, as well as people living in west Wales. She raised the importance of marine life, and I think that sometimes we talk about the marine environment and perhaps we don't always think beyond fish—the whole series of marine life out there, which aren't just fish.
The concern about boat pollution, I think, is something that we perhaps underestimate. We talk about the dangers of cars in urban areas, but you've got boats going out there, often with diesel, sometimes older boats that spill diesel—only small amounts. The effect that can have on the marine environment can be dramatic.
I think Neil Hamilton emphasised, again, the cross-party consensus and an enforcement strategy based on risk. I think that's something the Cabinet Secretary accepted as well.
John Griffiths is proud of Welsh seas and the coastal environment. I think that's another thing—. We could put that down as a cross-party resolution. I think that's another one where we'd get 60 yesses. People are proud, and we need to build on the ambitious vision.
Brexit—that's going to happen. I think we just need to make sure that we keep the best of the old and we bring in the new. I think it's no good lamenting that we are leaving the European Union. It's about saying, 'We'll keep everything that's good and we'll add to it and make it better.'
I think that, again, with Paul Davies's discussion with stakeholders, it's very important that we all talk to stakeholders. I think that one of the great strengths of us being here as opposed to being Members of Parliament is that we get more time in our own constituencies and a chance to go and talk to people in our constituencies, to discuss these matters. We need to work with stakeholders because they all want this to work. There's nobody trying to undermine the marine environment. No-one is trying to undermine the marine plan. No-one is trying to sabotage it. Everybody wants it to work. We really do need to give a high priority to marine protected areas, as Paul Davies said.
Can I just finish by asking for—? Given the first thing that I asked for when I led off, can I ask the second one again? Can we please have regular updates, perhaps annually, to this body, not just to the committee? I think that you've seen today the amount of interest that exists, not just among the eight of us on the committee, but among lots of people who aren't on the committee, who represent areas that have a substantial amount of coastline, where it is an issue that affects them, affects their constituents, and is a matter that is brought to their attention on a regular basis. Thank you.
The proposal is to note the committee's report. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.