Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd15/05/2018
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Dawn Bowden.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on tourism investment in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney? OAQ52176
Over the past few years, we have provided support for a number of exciting capital projects and events in the area, for example BikePark Wales, Rock UK and, of course, support for the Merthyr Rising festival.
Thank you, First Minister, and given that this is tourism week, it's probably timely to remind ourselves that tourism, culture, our environment and our heritage will play a major part in securing a successful future for our Valleys communities as they make a valuable contribution to securing a diverse economy alongside the traditional sectors like manufacturing, public services and now an ever stronger retail offer. With this in mind, can you assure me that the recent 'Crucible' report, published by the Design Commission for Wales, which provides us all with a big vision for the huge future potential for Merthyr Tydfil's industrial heritage, will receive a full and proper consideration by the Welsh Government in order that all partners can work together to drive forward this ambitious project, which has the potential to provide us with a major Valleys attraction that could be as successful as Titanic Belfast or even the Eden Project in Cornwall?
Well, I'm aware of the report. It does call for around £50 million to be spent on Merthyr's industrial past to make it a major tourist destination with the focus, of course, on Cyfarthfa castle. I do look forward to being kept up to date with progress on developing the offer that was set out in the report. I understand that you met recently with the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport to discuss the report, and that is something, of course, that will continue, no doubt, in the future. I know that officials are also working on a number of exciting private sector proposals that will continue to develop the offer in the area. So, a great deal of interest and, of course, a great deal to offer, as far as Merthyr and Rhymney are concerned.
The report for the Design Commission for Wales has highlighted that there is a huge benefit that could be gained from the marketing of Merthyr Tydfil's industrial heritage, making the town a major tourist destination. Does the First Minister agree with me that a marketing strategy covering all industrial heritage sites of south Wales, including canals such as Monmouthshire and Brecon, has the potential of providing a massive boost to the tourism sector of our economy? Thank you.
Yes, because I think what's important is that we link what Merthyr has to offer with other attractions in the area as well. So, the centrepiece of the 'Crucible' report is regenerating Cyfarthfa castle, but there are wider opportunities to bring together other local heritage landmarks, including, of course, the furnaces at Blaenavon, Big Pit and the National Waterfront Museum as well, and being able to offer a collection of experiences to potential tourists of high quality will be important in the future.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for sport and fitness in Newport? OAQ52164
Well, via Sport Wales, we are providing over £570,000 this year to Newport City Council to support the development of sport in the area. The council has a contract with Newport Live to deliver a range of sport and physical activity programmes, allowing people of all ages to take part.
Yes, First Minister, sport and fitness are obviously vital for health and general quality of life and, thankfully, Newport is building a strong reputation in terms of its activities and facilities. As you mentioned, Newport Live is the bedrock, really, of delivery in Newport with over 1.6 million participants at leisure facilities annually and they work in close partnership with Newport City Council and many other organisations to reach every community in the city. Soon, they will be on the public service board and they are very keen to support the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.
They also helped with the delivery of the recent Newport marathon and 10K, which saw several thousand runners on the route, including the vibrant riverfront and the wonderful Gwent levels. It was a great occasion for the city, First Minister, as I know you are aware, and it saw a really good turnout of local people in support. And the really good news is that there is almost a year to go before next year's event, which gives plenty of time for you and any others who may be considering participation to prepare. I'm sure, First Minister, you'll join me in recognising the sport and leisure activity in Newport at a scale that I think shows a good example to many others.
Well, the Member has great faith in me in assuming I'd run a marathon in under a year. I will have more time on my hands after December, but I think that's misplaced faith. I understand that the Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr was out jogging this morning; I think he's well ahead of me in terms of his ability to take part, rather than myself.
But he makes an important point and that is that people now are participating far more in activities than was the case. Twenty-five or 30 years ago, there were very few, if any, marathons that people took part in. It wasn't a question of trying to run to win; it was a question of taking part and finishing the course. That was the achievement for so many people. The money that we have provided for Newport, working closely with Newport Live, working closely with Newport City Council, has ensured that Newport is ever stronger in terms of being on the map for physical activity. That's good for the city, but it's also good, of course, for all those who participate.
Free swimming for children was a flagship Labour Party policy designed to encourage children in Newport and elsewhere in Wales to get fit and healthy. It has now been announced that Sport Wales is reviewing its support for free swimming for children. Given that child obesity in Wales is soaring, will the First Minister update this Assembly on its free swimming policy and what measures the Welsh Government intends to take to encourage children in Newport and elsewhere to improve their fitness?
We have no plans to change the policy. Policies are always under review, of course, and we recognise how important it is that children are able to access facilities in order to be active in order that they remain active for the rest of their lives.
Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Llywydd. Does the First Minister agree that, quite clearly, there is a power grab going on by Whitehall on the EU withdrawal Bill?
I think that was the case, but the agreement that we have reached now with the UK Government has avoided that.
It's absurd and embarrassing in equal measure that this Government chooses to endorse Theresa May rather than their own party leader. It's difficult to find any real benefits to exiting the EU, but there was one tiny sliver of positivity—[Interruption.]—
Can I hear the leader of Plaid Cymru, please? The question needs to be asked, please.
There was one sliver of positivity in that more decisions about Wales would be made in Wales, we were promised. That glimmer of hope has now gone. So, First Minister, tonight we will vote to accept this disastrous Brexit Bill. You can choose who to back: Plaid Cymru, the Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish and English Liberal Democrat parties, the Green Party, the Scottish Government, legal and constitutional experts, or your own party leader. Not even a single one of the six tests set up by this Assembly's own cross-party external affairs committee is met by this deal. The list goes on. Or you can back the Conservative and Unionist Party and UKIP. Who is it going to be?
Well, this is Wales, and, as Welsh Labour, we, in Government, have negotiated hard to get the best deal for Wales, which we believe we have achieved. What happens in Scotland and England is a matter for Scotland and England. That is what devolution is about. I note the support we received from the Confederation of British Industry and the report that we received from the Institute of Directors, and I am still not clear what the position of the leader of Plaid Cymru is when she says that, somehow, powers are being taken away from Wales. All 64 areas will return to Wales when we leave the EU. There will be some powers that, by agreement, will then be kept in the freezer. Every Government in the UK will be in the same position; they will not be able to legislate until such time as there is agreement to take those powers out of the freezer. That is a huge change from where we were last year when all powers would have gone straight to Westminster, where Ministers in Westminster would have had unlimited powers in terms of sunset clauses, and they would've determined when and if powers came to this Assembly and this Government. We've moved a huge way since then, which is why we are the party of devolution.
Can you tell us, then, what extra powers have been delivered by this deal? Because when our steel industry needed Westminster's intervention, they were nowhere to be seen. When our family farms need the support to sustain their business, do you trust Westminster to be there? When our environment is being laid to waste, do you trust Westminster to be there? That's what this deal means. Westminster, and not Wales, will decide on issues that matter to people's lives here in Wales. Llywydd, the very principles of devolution are at stake with this. So, First Minister, now that you know the facts, now that all the players have shown their hands, what will it be? Are you going to stand up for Wales or for Westminster?
I will always stand up for my country. It may be that others will take a different view on what's best for Wales, but I respect their views and I trust that the views of those on these benches will be respected as well, because they weren't last week. I have to say, as far as I am concerned—she mentions steel—we worked to save our steel industry. We did that with the powers that we have and we did that by working with Tata and putting a financial package on the table. With regard to farming, we need to see the colour of Westminster's money, that much is true, because we can't pay farming subsidies. It's hugely important that an equivalent sum of money is put into a pot at the UK level and distributed in the same way as it is now until such time as there is agreement to change the way money is spent and allocated. That much is very, very true.
But, as far as this agreement is concerned, there are restraints on the UK Government that are equivalent to any restraints there would be on Welsh Government. We are in a situation now where we are all in the same situation. There's great pressure on us all to come to agreed frameworks well before seven years, because England is now in the same situation as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. And so—[Interruption.] It is exactly the same situation as Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. So, we've come to a position where a UK Government, a year ago, were saying—and I'm not sure the situation would be different if they had a majority of 100 in the House of Commons—'All powers will come to us. We will determine when and if they come to the devolved administrations.' That has changed; those powers will come to us. We will agree how they are frozen, we will agree the frameworks and then, of course, we will all be on a level playing field across Governments in the UK. This is the first time that the UK Government has ever agreed to be bound in this way, and that is a tribute to the negotiating skills of Mark Drakeford.
The leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. It's not very often I start First Minister's questions by saying I agree with the First Minister, and he might not want that type of praise from the leader of the opposition here in the Senedd.
I'd like to ask you about the rail franchise, First Minister, and the tendering exercise that is under way at the moment. Obviously, there is huge anticipation of the improvements that people want to see in the rail franchise. I think, across the Chamber here, people generally recognise that the last 15 years have been difficult, shall we say, because the last franchise that was awarded had zero growth built into it. You yesterday, at the opening of the new station at Bridgend and the subsequent journey you took, said that it is doubtful that there will be any real improvements until at least four years into the franchise. Those were your words. Back in June last year, the Cabinet Secretary, in responding to the committee report that looked into this, talked of there being very early improvements in the next rail franchise. Why is there now the difference in timelines for seeing the improvements that passengers, politicians and businesses want to see, because your assessment yesterday has those improvements coming at nearly a third into the life of the next franchise?
No, what I said was that people will start to see improvements in services very soon, certainly over the course of next year. But, in terms of new trains, well, clearly, they take time to procure and build, and, in terms of electrification, for example, in terms of new trains, in terms of looking to extend the current network, well, of course, that would take us into the early part of next year. People will begin to see changes early, but the step change will come, I suspect, in around about four or five years' time when people will see the roll-out of new trains and new modes of traction.
I think the language you used yesterday did confuse the situation for many people, because we were led to believe that the change would come in the very early years, but I'm glad of the clarification you've given. The Cabinet Secretary in February indicated that the announcement as to the winner of the tendering process would be made now in May of this year. I don't see anything on the forward outlook for next week on any announcement that's to be made. Is the First Minister able to confirm that the announcement will still be made in May as to who will be the preferred bidder and, actually, that the franchise will begin in October of this year, as the original timeline identified?
I can confirm there is no delay to the process, and we want to make the announcement as soon as possible.
So, on that timeline that I just asked you about, i.e. the announcement on the preferred bidder will be made in May of this year and, obviously, in October the actual franchise will begin, and given the difference in interpretation of improvements, i.e. the major improvements in five or four years' time, what can you also identify as being the quick wins that can be identified for early improvements? Can I ask you just to confirm that the timeline is still being stuck to on the franchise, with an announcement this month, which it would be pleasing to have in this Chamber, bearing in mind that the last week of May is the half-term recess, so that we can question the Cabinet Secretary and understand exactly what's happening?
I can confirm that. In terms of what people will see immediately, well, what we would look to see are new services and more frequent services, although not to say, obviously, with new trains at that stage. There's then the question of electrification and how that's rolled out, and then new trains being procured as a result of the electrification. So, people will see changes when the franchise is tendered, but the major changes are bound to come a few years down the line, as we look at changing the nature of the lines through electrification and as we look at new rolling stock. That's when people will start to really see a big difference in the quality of the trains.
Leader of the UKIP group, Neil Hamilton.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Important as are the constitutional issues raised by the leader of Plaid Cymru, they're always likely to be of less immediate concern to the average person in the street than issues such as the health service, and last week, in answer to the leader of the opposition, First Minister, you were unable to give him the assurance that Betsi Cadwaladr health board would be out of special measures by the time your term as First Minister comes to an end. The Tawel Fan report referred to the difficulties involved in the creation of Betsi Cadwaladr in the first place, and that said that organisational developments on that scale normally take between five and seven years to accomplish. In the light of the Deloitte report, which was commissioned by the Welsh Government, which said that
'change management arrangements...are not fit for purpose and remain a significant obstacle towards delivering sustainable change',
can the First Minister tell us whether he thinks that there is the right culture, still, within Betsi Cadwaladr, and whether their use of personnel is sufficiently good so that it can ever pull itself out of special measures?
I believe it can pull itself out of special measures. It's not there yet. I've never been somebody who would put an artificial timetable on when it should come out of special measures. I think it's important that it comes out of special measures when the time is appropriate and right. When that is, we would have to take a judgment at the time. There are challenges for Betsi Cadwaladr as a result of what was in the Tawel Fan report, that much is true, and they will need to meet those challenges, but I don't think, for example, another reorganisation of the health service in the north of Wales would be the answer. I think stability is crucial for the next few years.
I understand the point that the First Minister makes, and I've got a great deal of sympathy with it, but the Deloitte report notes a number of worrying, long-term systemic weaknesses, which will need to be addressed if the delivery of health services in north Wales is to be significantly improved. For example, in relation to the transformation groups that are supposed to deliver the improvements that we all want to see, the objectives are said to be poorly defined; group leaders don't yet appear to be clear on accountability outside their own divisions, and are yet to deliver any tangible outcomes; service improvement members of staff are said to be overly junior; there's a lack of in-depth analysis and benchmarking; there is concern about the project management office, over whether the skill set actually exists to address the transformation agenda; and in responding to a question from Deloitte on whether there is sufficient project management capability and capacity to support delivery across the financial plan, the majority of managers, finance directors and members of the central finance function teams said that they either could not say or they disagreed. So, are we actually in a position at the moment where we can say we've even begun this improvement plan to any significant degree?
There have been performance improvements, but there is some way to go, and the leader of UKIP is correct in identifying the weaknesses that still need to be addressed, which is why Betsi Cadwaladr will remain in special measures until such a time as we can be assured as a Government, and indeed that the Assembly can be assured, that it's able to stand on its own two feet again.
There were some damning comments in the Deloitte report about leadership in Betsi Cadwaladr, specifically: executive directors operating in silos; a lack of joint corporate ownership and accountability; the chief operational officer's portfolio was said to be too large for a single individual, managing a budget of over £800 million a year; other executive directors still establishing their portfolios; a lack of granular understanding that the actions of the health board will need to deliver to ensure financial stability. Given that continued indictment, is there not a case for the Welsh Government getting even further involved in the process of transformation than it is already, and that the current leadership team within Betsi Cadwaladr simply have a task that is too great for them to achieve within the limitations of the administrative structure of Betsi Cadwaladr and the budget that they have available to them?
No. I think it is right to say that the situation in Betsi Cadwaladr is such that the new structure is not yet bedded in, which is why, of course, it's still in special measures, which is why I've always been absolutely firm in saying that it will remain in special measures until such a time as it's able to leave. If I were to say, for example, 'Well, it will leave special measures by x date', well, inevitably, I think that would take some of the positive pressure off in terms of making sure that the health board is fit for purpose in the future, and I don't intend to do that. Working with the board, we intend to make sure that the board looks to a situation where it's able to run itself outside of special measures in the future.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on regeneration schemes in South Wales West? OAQ52206
Well, our investment in regeneration supports schemes that create jobs, enhance skills and employability, and delivers the right environment for businesses to grow and thrive.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. Now, obviously, the Swansea bay city deal is vital in seeking to develop jobs in south-west Wales, yet 12 months on from the city deal agreement by the UK Government, and despite the agreement by Welsh Government that local authorities can retain 50 per cent of any business rates uplift, there are still concerns around finances and governance, most notably from Neath Port Talbot council. So, what is the Welsh Government therefore doing to tackle those concerns, and how confident are you that a joint-working agreement can be finalised and agreed by the local authorities in the near future?
I understand that the concerns of Neath Port Talbot have been addressed, but there is a responsibility on local authorities, of course. The city deal is a deal that requires local authorities to work together for the good of the wider areas—something that all parties in the Chamber have been keen to promote. We see, of course, the Cardiff capital region deal working very, very well, and it is hugely important that, with our support and with the support of the UK Government, local authorities are able to show delivery in Swansea bay as well.
I share Dai Lloyd's concerns, but I want to mention today that it's been a good five years now since it was reported that the revival of Swansea castle would provide an extra attraction to the thousands of people who were expected to flood into the city for the Dylan Thomas centenary celebrations. Well, those celebrations are well over now, but Swansea castle is still closed to the public. While there are some regeneration projects around the castle, I'm wondering whether you would be prepared to approach Swansea council to make more of the castle itself, because it's Wales Tourism Week and much of Cadw's promotion work, of course, is based on us being a nation of castles. So, I think perhaps a little Government support or intervention or leverage here would be very welcome indeed.
The castle was actually almost demolished after the war, because there was so little of it left that—
There's enough of it left.
—in the 1950s and 1960s, when such things were done, the suggestion was to remove it altogether. Fortunately, that didn't happen. It is a matter, ultimately, for Swansea council. I will, however, seek to get more information, and I'll write to the Member with more information.
First Minister, Port Talbot is not only one of the poorest parts of my region but also one of the poorest parts of the UK. The Social Mobility Commission also ranks Port Talbot as the worst area in Wales for social mobility. This is despite significant Welsh Government investment. The Port Talbot waterway has created fewer than 100 jobs, and we also live with an element of uncertainty regarding Tata steelworks. So, First Minister, what changes do you propose to your regeneration policies for Port Talbot, and will you support Neath Port Talbot council's bid to relocate Channel 4 to Port Talbot? Thank you.
Well, there are a number of bids from across Wales, so we have to be careful in terms of showing favouritism to any particular bid. We would like to be supporting all of them, of course.
In terms of Port Talbot, what is crucially important to the sustainability of Port Talbot is the future of steel making, and the fact that we have, over the past two years, secured that—let's not forget that, just before the last Assembly elections, the future looked very bleak indeed for the heavy end at Port Talbot. Because of the hard work that we've put in, working with others, working with Tata, the money put on the table, we've ensured that the steel-making end of Tata has a future, and that is something, in particular, that's hugely important to the town. I understand that Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council secured £11.5 million of the funding to deliver a programme of targeted regeneration projects to address community needs and to improve the well-being of the people of Port Talbot.
4. What is the Welsh Government doing to support credit unions? OAQ52204
Well, £844,000 is in place over the next two years for credit unions to take forward projects to support financial inclusion. An additional £1 million has also been agreed to support credit unions with their growth.
Diolch. The Minister for Housing and Regeneration has rightly commented that credit unions in Wales deliver financial awareness education for adults and children, they support people dealing with debt problems and provide some of the most vulnerable people with sound and ethical financial products, and therefore I very much welcome that the Welsh Government recently announced that credit unions across Wales will receive additional funding, including the £844,000 of funding, for projects that support people who are struggling financially. Sadly, under this UK Government, these people are the many and not the few. What direct impact does the First Minister then think this financial and capacity support for credit unions will give to some of the most vulnerable people in Islwyn?
I can say that officials will be meeting with the credit union sector on 21 May to discuss the financial transactions capital support that's being made available for this and the next financial year. Indeed, there's been interest from credit unions in terms of accessing that. We now have some 75,000 credit union members in Wales, and for many credit union members the credit unions provide a choice that doesn't involve going to loan sharks. We know that, and we know the financial pressures that have come on people over the last eight years, and we've seen never-ending austerity, and that's why the credit unions play such an important role in our communities, and it's why we have been supporting them to support people.
First Minister, I was looking forward there to saying I agree with Rhianon Passmore. Unfortunately, the bit at the end I found difficult to agree with, but the first part was positive. Can I also concur with those sentiments that credit unions do a great deal of work across Wales? In south-east Wales, my area, the Gateway Credit Union has branches in Abergavenny and in Bulwark, and as Rhianon Passmore said, they do a great deal to deal with poverty issues. Would you agree with me that it's important that we recognise the role that credit unions play in rural areas as well? It's not just an urban area that they serve. There are great pockets of rural poverty across my area, and also mid Wales as well, and they have an important role to play there. So, when you're targeting this funding, will you make sure that rural areas' poverty is addressed as well?
Absolutely. Credit unions are as relevant to rural areas as they are to urban areas. Some years ago, when I first went to Ireland, it was noticeable how large the credit unions were, particularly in small country towns, and the progress that had been made there. So, credit unions have a relevance and they provide a means of support to all communities in Wales, urban or rural.
Although people from Wales are members of credit unions, as compared to the rest of the UK and Ireland, as you’ve just said, membership is much lower than it is in those other nations. So, when I raised these issues with you in the past, I suggested the concept of having a national hub for credit unions. Yes, funding is provided to them individually, but there’s a great deal that they can learn from each other so that they can work and improve their offer as credit unions. So, where are you with looking into that concept and what are you as Government doing in terms of promoting or encouraging members of the civil service staff, for example, to save with credit unions, in order to ensure that we as Members, and those working here in Wales, play our role in promoting this sector?
I mentioned the funding that’s available and I mentioned the meeting that will take place next week. Membership of credit unions has increased from 10,000 people at the beginning of the century to 75,000, as I said, currently. So, there has been a great growth. The next step for credit unions, I think, is for them to consider how much they want to grow and what capacity is needed for them to grow. I know that, in Ireland, they can have hundreds of thousands of euros-worth of loans, which is much greater than those available in Wales. So, we must consider how far some of these credit unions wish to go. Do they want to grow to become much bigger, like the Irish credit unions, or do they want to remain as local credit unions? I think some of them will choose the first route and some will choose the other, but we will continue to speak with them in order to identify the ways in which we can ultimately promote them.
5. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Swansea Bay city region deal? OAQ52203
Yes. Progress continues to be made towards the next stage of delivery and to unlock UK Government funding.
Thank you. A groundhog day question, I know.
The shadow board of the Swansea bay city deal told us that they would, if it were possible, like to add to the 11 projects that are already part of the deal, and, of course, many of us have been speaking about transport potentially being an additional aspect of it. Two weeks ago, your economy Secretary said that work on a Swansea parkway should be taken forward 'at pace', just to quote him. And with that in mind, what discussions are you holding with the Wales Office and the Department for Transport about this idea? And can you tell us whether it's been discussed in the context of the city deal or more generally as part of the wider vision for transport improvement in Wales, or maybe both? Thank you.
I know the idea—the idea has been around for some time for a station at Morriston, effectively: Swansea parkway, as I understand it. There are issues, because it would mean upgrading the Swansea district line, and it would bypass Swansea itself, and also bypass Neath. And I know that people in Neath do not want to see their station bypassed in that way and I can well understand why it is not Government policy that we would want to do that. So, there would be a need to upgrade the Swansea district line, because at the moment it's a freight line and is used for occasional passenger diversions. There would also be a need to ensure that services were not lost to existing stations, particularly inter-city services—not just inter-city services, but all services—if that proposal was taken forward. So, an interesting idea, but there are some negative potential effects, unless any services on the Swansea district line were in addition to the services that already exist, serving stations such as Swansea high street itself and Neath.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the performance of the ambulance service? OAQ52202
Yes. The Welsh ambulance service continues to deliver a highly responsive service to the people of Wales despite record levels of demand. In March, 69.6 per cent of immediately life-threatening calls received a response within eight minutes, with a typical response time of five minutes and 29 seconds.
In a Plenary session on 16 January I raised the important issue of front-line NHS workers being at breaking point as a result of the pressures being put on them on a daily basis. This related specifically to the Welsh ambulance service, and you pledged to investigate and to write back to me. You wrote back to me earlier this month with a reply that outlined that measures are being taken by the ambulance trust to support its staff. And that includes an in-house well-being team, which on paper sounds great, but a contact of mine says they were unable to access this service because that service never got back to them. The lack of capacity in our hospitals, causing delays in transfers of care, is cited by my contact as being the biggest factor in delayed ambulance responses and, subsequently, stress caused to call handlers. For the sake of our NHS as well as staff and patients, when is this Government going to get to grips with this problem?
Let me give the leader of Plaid Cymru a fuller answer. The winter of 2017-18 did see a sustained pressure across the NHS, both in Wales and the UK in general. March 2018 was, I think I'm right in saying, the busiest month ever for the ambulance service. One of the key groups of staff affected has been the 999 call takers and the control-room staff who work for the Welsh ambulance service as well as, of course, ambulance staff themselves and the paramedics. What the ambulance service did was approach the ambulance service charity to provide support to ambulance clinical-control centres, particularly to call-taking staff. Two sessions were run at each of the three regional control centres, covering a range of support mechanisms available to help staff with their emotional and physical well-being, but also the wider support available from TASC, the charity, in areas such as financial management, preparing for the future, and other benefits that TASC provides for ambulance staff. And the feedback from staff has been, 'Those sessions were invaluable', and the trust is now looking at how TASC resources can be used to support staff in the future as part of the trust's response to operational pressure.
First Minister, over the three winter months, 1,860 people who were classified as amber, and you will know this includes people suffering from a stroke or a heart attack, were made to wait over six hours for their ambulance. Now, this is, surely, unacceptable and we need to ensure that, next winter, some of these very basic standards are met.
I can say, at the request of the Cabinet Secretary, the chief ambulance services commissioner has commenced a clinically led review specifically on the amber category, alongside work that's ongoing at the moment to look at ambulance responsiveness, clinical outcomes and patient experience. There are four things in particular the review will look at: firstly, the current state in respect of extant policy practice and guidance; secondly, the expectations and experiences of the public, staff, and the wider service around ambulance response to amber calls; thirdly, consideration of environmental factors, such as the location of an incident and the age of a patient when determining allocation of a response; and, fourth, the other external or internal factors that may contribute to, or impact on, how the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust responds to amber category calls, and that work is ongoing.
The amount of emergency ambulance calls during 2016-17 was up 116 per cent on the number of emergency ambulance calls made in previous years. This is a staggering increase by any calculation, yet the Welsh ambulance service has for 30 consecutive months met its national response-time target for red calls, thanks to our clinical response model and our staff delivering care quicker to those who need it most—a model rubbished by the Welsh Tories as 'moving the goalposts', and a model now being looked at to be replicated in England by their Westminster Tory colleagues.
Will the First Minister join me, then, in praising the dedicated men and women of the ambulance service, who continue to contribute to our wonderful Welsh national health service in the year of its seventieth anniversary, and further outline what we can do to further aid their invaluable work?
Can I join the Member in paying my regard, consideration and thanks, indeed, to the ambulance staff for what they do in saving lives day after day in Wales? I can say that significant resources have been invested in the last few years, targeted at ensuring that the number of front-line staff is increased, both in the control centres and, indeed, on the road. We have a record number of staff, actually, employed in the service. Back in October, we announced an £8.2 million investment to enable the Welsh ambulance service to continue upgrading the existing fleet, which brings the total investment in new ambulance vehicles since 2011 to almost £45 million.
7. Will the First Minister provide an update on the provision of healthcare in mid Wales? OAQ52186
We continue to invest in the provision of healthcare services in mid Wales, including £6.6 million on the Llandrindod Wells County War Memorial Hospital. We will continue to work with health boards in the region to provide healthcare services that deliver the best possible outcomes for patients.
I thank the First Minister for that reply. I've seen many health service reorganisations in the course of my lifetime, and it's always a great problem bringing about change—even beneficial change. There are always going to be perceived winners and losers. The Hywel Dda university health board proposed their big NHS change, which will affect the provision of healthcare facilities throughout the Hywel Dda area. Will he agree with me that any change that does take place should not disadvantage very significant areas of population within the health board in order to benefit other parts of the area?
In particular, in Llanelli there's a proposal to downgrade the Prince Philip Hospital, which will see the provision of 24/7 acute medical services affected; adequate bed space in the highest populated area of Hywel Dda will be reduced; a specialist breast oncology unit will not be there; and also it will affect mental health services. If changes are going to be acceptable to the public at large, then they have to benefit the maximum number of people and not disadvantage them.
There are two objectives, to my mind, to the exercise: first of all, to have the fullest possible consultation, and, secondly, to ensure that what we see, not just in Hywel Dda but across Wales, is the best, safest and most sustainable health service for the population. That is something that, as a Government, we'd want to see across Wales.
First Minister, a constituent, Mr Robert Jones, has recently informed me that he can no longer collect his prescription from the pharmacy within the building of his GP practice because of dispensing rules that have changed as a result of being brought in following the National Health Service (Pharmaceutical Services) (Wales) Regulations 2013, in spite of the fact that he has been registered at the practice for the whole of his life. It's clearly common sense, as far as I can see, for him to be able to collect his prescription from within the building where he was given the prescription, so I do find the policy difficult to comprehend when the constituent is already at their GP practice. Can you commit to looking again at this issue to see whether there is sufficient flexibility within the system—from the correspondence I've received back from the health Minister that doesn't seem to be the case—so that these regulations do not have these kinds of unintended consequences?
I'd not heard that, I have to say. The Member asked a question that, with respect, is hyperlocal. It deserves an answer, but that answer will need to come, if he gives me further details, via a letter.
It's been a delight today to welcome Elly Neville to the Assembly, and many Assembly Members have met her. She's raised nearly £160,000 now, as a six and seven-year-old, for ward 10 cancer treatment in Withybush, and I'm sure you'll join me in a minute, First Minister, hopefully, in thanking her for her efforts.
But what it really underlines, of course, is how important those services are to local communities, and how committed communities are to them. You told me last week that in the options being considered for Hywel Dda, you as a Government and you as a First Minister had no preference. Wouldn't it be better, therefore, if your own Assembly Members did not campaign for or against some of these options, but let the public have that wider consultation and then take some decisions in the cold of light of day, with good clinical evidence to date with that, and with the best evidence possible from the health Cabinet Secretary around the availability of funding also?
Firstly, I've had the pleasure of meeting Elly before, and it's wonderful to welcome her back to this building. She's done a fantastic job in raising so much money, and it's great to know that she's here. Secondly, if it were the case that no AMs were going to campaign in any way with regard to Hywel Dda's consultation, it might be a level playing field, but I suspect that's going a little bit too far in terms of what to expect. Backbench Labour AMs are free, of course, to represent their communities; that's why they are there. There are more restrictions, of course, on those in Government, naturally, but I'm sure that all AMs who live in the Hywel Dda area will make their views known as part of the consultation.
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on support for the port of Holyhead? OAQ52207
We continue to work with and support Stenaline to maximise Holyhead’s potential to increase economic growth and jobs for the region. This includes engaging on plans for a new multi-use berth, for which we have granted £0.5 million under the ports development fund towards undertaking a feasibility study.
Thank you very much. This Friday, a group will be reconvened bringing together various users of the port. It will be jointly chaired by myself as Assembly Member and the Member of Parliament for Anglesey, and I’m grateful for the confirmation over the last three quarters of an hour that the Welsh Government will send an official to that meeting. But prior to that meeting, I would like to appeal for a very clear focus from the Welsh Government on supporting and investing in the port of Holyhead and the transport infrastructure serving that port, particularly as a result of the challenge of Brexit, competition from other ports such as Liverpool, and the challenge of direct crossings developing more and more from Ireland to France. We must ensure that the excellent port of Holyhead continues to be competitive for the sake of jobs directly there and, of course, for the wider economy of Anglesey and not just north Wales, but the whole of Wales too.
Brexit, of course, is a challenge for Holyhead and the other ports such as Pembroke Dock and Fishguard. I can remember a time when there were tolls at Holyhead. Not everybody was checked, but if you were stopped there, there was a problem as regards a delay before moving on.
For me, there are two things. Firstly, we don’t know exactly what the relationship will be between Holyhead and Ireland. We’ve said that nothing should go there, by saying that the UK should remain in the customs union and that is vital. When I spoke to Irish Ferries, one thing that struck me was that they said there is potential as regards ferries going from Ireland to France directly, but that the capacity isn’t quite the same as that from Dublin to Holyhead. Their problem was that they would carry something like fish and then find that they couldn’t get out of the Holyhead port in time and then they would miss the ferry at Dover and their load would perish. That is something that they considered would have to be resolved.
At the moment, I don’t see any kind of investment from the United Kingdom Government in the network in Holyhead, but what I wouldn't like to see would be tolls and, even worse, we wouldn’t want to see any kind of passport control in Holyhead. All that that would do is make it even more difficult to use the port and give a competitive advantage to ports such as Cairnryan and Liverpool.
9. Will the First Minister provide an update on increasing the provision of medical education in Bangor University? OAQ52201
We remain of the view that Bangor University, working with Cardiff and Swansea medical schools, can deliver increased opportunities for medical education and training in north Wales. We are working with the universities on proposals for delivering sustainable medical education in north Wales.
You will be aware, of course, that I have been prioritising a campaign for a medical school at Bangor, because I believe that it is a means of improving patient care across north Wales. I commissioned this report, 'Tackling the Crisis', which outlined the case very clearly and there was an agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Labour Party and £7 million was allocated towards developing a plan for medical education in north Wales. I’m pleased that negotiations are ongoing but I would like some details on this expenditure, particularly the capital spend element of the funding allocated, and I would like a commitment from you today that we will receive a clear statement demonstrating the progress that’s been made in this area. Thank you.
I can give you that commitment. It is important that Bangor collaborates with Cardiff and Swansea in order to access the major hospitals in south Wales too, in order to give a complete education to any trainee doctors. The other option would be Liverpool, but, for myself, I would prefer to create a Welsh medical education system between the north and the south. That work continues and, once the work is ready, we will make a statement.
Thank you, First Minister.
The next item is the business statement and announcement and I call on the leader of the house to make that statement—Julie James.
Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's business. Business for the next three weeks is shown on the business statement and announcement found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Leader of the house, you will have heard the First Minister's exchange—the questions exchanged between myself and the First Minister in relation to any announcement that we might be able to expect as an Assembly on the awarding of the rail franchise. The Cabinet Secretary is on record as saying that this will be made in May 2018. Can you confirm as leader of the house that next week there will be a statement on the order of business for the Assembly to actually understand how the Government are going to make this announcement and indeed who is the successful bidder? Because, in my understanding, there are still only 12 working days left in May and it is very important, with such a substantial announcement that affects so many communities the length and breadth of Wales, that that statement is made in this Chamber so that Assembly Members are able to question the Cabinet Secretary in relation to the awarding of the tender and, importantly, the timetable for implementation of that tender. So, I'd be grateful if you could confirm that that piece of business will be taken next week.
And, secondly, in relation to the QC-led inquiry, could we have a statement from the First Minister or the relevant person in Government as to the progress of the QC-led inquiry into the reshuffle of last November? There's much press speculation in relation to the progress, or not, as the case may be, on this inquiry. I think it is only appropriate that, as Assembly Members, we understand how the work is going in this particular area and when the actual inquiry will begin its full engagement and undertake its inquiry.
In terms of the first question you asked, which you asked in FMQs as well—you can see the Cabinet Secretary explaining a complex process that goes with the procurement, but I'm sure there will be an announcement in May. There is the necessity for a stop—[Interruption.] Well, because of the procurement rules—and the Member, I know, is familiar with this—and because of the particular procurement route that's been taken, there is a standstill period between the initial announcement and the actual award of contract. So, a statement will be made, but it will be after the initial announcement, because of the way that the procurement rules work. But the Cabinet Secretary is nodding happily at me that we're on track and that the announcement will be made in line with the current timetable.
Further to the point just raised around the QC-led inquiry that Andrew R.T. Davies asked about— another opportunity to answer that aspect, but, in particular, if you could confirm something that I've asked you in the past, whether the terms of reference of that inquiry will also be published by means perhaps of a First Minister's statement to the Assembly. Because I think we all have an interest to understand the terms of reference of the inquiry but, particularly, the extent of the inquiry in terms of the period of time that will be relevant to that QC-led inquiry. So, if you could confirm those and when we might hear about that in terms of future business.
The second item I wanted to raise with you is different, but many of us would have been shocked by the events in Gaza yesterday. It is not to excuse anything that Hamas or any other organisation does as an authority in Gaza to say that we do not and cannot accept the use of snipers to mow down thousands—literally thousands—of unarmed civilians. That is beyond any civilised Government's response in terms of protecting its borders or protecting its citizens. So, although this is not, I appreciate, an item for you or specifically for the Welsh Government, certainly people have been contacting me, people who are very upset about what was experienced. It's the worst that we've had for at least half a decade in that part. And, of course, the effects on overall peace in the middle east do affect us all because they affect the way we live our lives in our communities here and the way that many of our members of armed services might be involved in future as well. So, there is, I think, a real need for the Government to do two things, if possible: (1) simply for the First Minister to write to the Palestinian Authority just in terms of commiserating with the loss of life, not in a political way but simply just as a humanitarian gesture, and, secondly, to contact the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to urge the UK Government to take this up at the highest level, including at the United Nations.
I know that questions are being asked right now in the House of Commons about this, so I'm not quite sure where it is, but I just would like the Welsh Government to be part of that discussion and, particularly in your role then, for you to share that correspondence with us so that, when people do contact us, as they don't always know who we represent and what level we represent at, we're able to share with them the expressions of regret but also some positive action going forward trying to achieve the maximum opportunities—that's all we can talk about at this stage—for peace in that benighted land.
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely shocking scenes; I think all of us were just horrified at what we were seeing. I'm sure the Government will want to pass on its commiserations to the people who lost their lives in such an appalling way. It is a very worrying time in the middle east. There is a large number of things happening in slightly different spheres in the middle east, the complexity of which I think we haven't seen in many, many decades, if at all. So, I think the Member makes a series of very important points and I will certainly have a discussion with the First Minister about what can be done in terms of expressing the views of this place as to where we are with some of that. But I think, absolutely—. Presiding Officer, I'd like to pass on my own commiserations indeed to the people caught up in such an appalling conflict—terrible, terrible scenes.
In terms of the QC-led inquiry, my understanding is that we're still in discussion about the terms of reference and that that's very much a discussion ongoing between the QC, the family and the Government. Presiding Officer, if there is some information that's different to that that I'm unaware of, I will make sure that the Assembly knows, but I'm not aware that anything has changed other than that those negotiations are ongoing.
I would like to ask for two statements. The first one—I would like a statement on the Welsh Government's proposals to improve public health, this to include the relationship between health and lifestyle. It should also include action to reduce obesity, increase exercise and improve diet, including what is being done to replace Communities First activity in this area.
The second one, which perhaps is more urgent—last week we were all surprised, shocked and disappointed to hear that Virgin Media were talking about closing and the loss of just under 800 jobs. The Welsh Government hadn't been consulted a great deal at that time, if at all, about it, and it's a matter of grave concern to me, as it's in my constituency, but I'm sure it is to you and our colleagues from the whole of west Glamorgan and east Dyfed, because people travel some distance to go to work. So, have you got any further update on how the Welsh Government is doing? I know the Cabinet Secretary talked about that actions could be taken and a taskforce and lots of other things, but we're now a week further on, people are further worried, as we all would be, or, as I said last week, as I was when redundancy hung over me. So, have we got any further updates on what is happening?
Yes, indeed, on that matter, the Member will know, because he was there as well as me, that a large number of AMs from the region had a meeting with Virgin Media last week to discuss the situation that they find themselves in. I can't say that that meeting was entirely positive, but some positive discussions have been taking place since. Once the consultation period that was spoken of in the meeting last week is complete, which we understand is the week commencing now—so, at some point this week the consultation will have finished—then the taskforce has been agreed by Virgin Media to go in to assist people who are at threat of redundancy. We've had a very large number of positive discussions as the Welsh Government with other employers in the area who might have need of the skills of the people who are potentially displaced from Virgin Media and those have been going well. I'm delighted to say that Virgin Media have actually agreed that the taskforce will go in with their full co-operation, which is a serious step forward from where we were before. We continue to talk to other major employers in the area who might require the skills necessary for the displaced officials. I do very much regret that Virgin Media did not see fit to approach the Government first. You were in the meeting as well as I; it was very frustrating, where we were. But the Welsh Government has stepped forward and stands ready to support any employees that are displaced as a result of the activity there.
In terms of the public health matter, our proposals to improve public health definitely include the relationship between health and lifestyle. That includes all of the actions that the Member set out, and, in fact, it's set out in our flagship programme, 'Prosperity for All'. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services will be setting out our aims and ambitions to promote healthier weights in a forthcoming strategy to be consulted on later this year. That will include all local health boards and partners delivering against the all-Wales obesity pathway and also working with Public Health Wales and Sport Wales to deliver national actions to increase levels of physical activity and to develop a well-being bond, which will be launched in the coming weeks. So, very timely.
Could I call for two statements, or responses to two matters? The first on advance care planning: this is actually Dying Matters Week, from the 14 May to 20 May. Macmillan Cancer Support have published their report into advance care planning across the UK, including Wales, called 'Missed Opportunities', and they've asked me as chair of the cross-party group on hospices and palliative care to both raise this report and highlight the fact that this is Dying Matters Week in the Assembly this week.
They're urging the Welsh Government to honour its commitments, set primarily within its palliative and end-of-life care delivery plan, to support and roll out advance care planning and put the systems in place to ensure that advance care plans are acted upon as an important part of a person-centred health service, ensuring that people approaching the end of their lives receive the best care possible and that their wishes for death and dying are fulfilled.
Briefly, their report found that although almost a quarter of people with cancer in Wales have difficulty talking honestly about their feelings around cancer, more than three quarters of people with cancer in Wales have thought about the fact that they may die from the disease. However, in-depth conversations with health and social care professionals and people with cancer reveal there are a number of barriers preventing honest conversations about dying from taking place, not least the pressure to stay positive and support people to fight cancer even when they've received a terminal diagnosis. This, hopefully, might merit more than simply a response from yourself now, but a Welsh Government statement, given the importance of this matter to all of us, because it does affect all of us in our lives.
Secondly, and finally, could I call for a statement or even, dare I say, a debate in Welsh Government time on another equally important matter, and that's support to the deaf community and people with hearing loss in Wales, because 14 May to 21 May is also Deaf Awareness Week? Deaf Awareness Week aims to raise the awareness and challenges of deafness and hearing loss, ensure access for deaf people to information and services at first point of contact, promote equal access in health settings, particularly in reception areas, ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, provide clear and concise information about treatment and health management, and engage with and involve local deaf communities on a regular basis—also to improve access to education and social care, ensure people have the access to information they need, advocate and inform government and the public at large about deafness and hearing loss, improve services, but, above all, raise the profile and importance of equality, accessibility and recognition by supporting deaf access and communications, employment, British Sign Language and the deaf Olympics, noting, for example—and I'll finish with this—that although a checklist developed as a practical supplement to the all-Wales standards for communication and information for people with sensory loss was sent to health boards and health establishments across Wales, deaf organisations in Wales report that many health boards and establishments have not taken this on as a way of tackling the inequalities faced by British Sign Language users in Wales. I hope you agree that that merits a more substantive response from the Welsh Government in this place. Thank you.
Yes, on that last one, I've actually been, with my equalities hat on, having a series of discussions with a number of Cabinet colleagues, and had a very useful meeting with Mike Hedges AM on this as well about the services for people with hearing loss around a whole range of issues, including in education, in health settings, in general communications areas and so on. Actually, as part of my own brief with my equalities hat on, I hope to be at least including it as part of my statement, if not bringing forward a separate statement. So, we will have an opportunity before the end of the summer term in my portfolio to cover off some of those areas, because we've been working across Government. So, I entirely agree with the Member that it needs a cross-Government look, because it's a whole-of-life situation for many people. So, we will have that opportunity before the end of the summer term to do that.
I was being indicated to by the Cabinet Secretary that we are already working very hard on the advance end-of-life care pathways and that we will be bringing forward a statement in due course, setting out what we're doing on that as well.
Leader of the house, I bring two issues for your attention. Last night, I attended a packed public meeting in Cwmgwrach in the Neath valley—Jeremy Miles was also there—where universal opposition to a plan to build a garage complex in the village was voiced. Now, we've been lobbying and writing to the local authority for many months. Alternative plans are available. The original planning decision was passed last year, with few people even knowing about it. There's huge anger and concern locally in terms of what this Assembly can and cannot do. So, can we have a Government statement on any future changes in planning guidance that truly reflect the concerns of local residents in such matters, who cannot appeal, whereas the applicant can?
My second issue involves Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board. Back in March, I raised the fact that Abertawe Bro Morgannwg local health board had been under Welsh Government targeted intervention since September 2016. The concerns that existed at that time centred around unscheduled care, stroke and planned care, amongst others. There's still concern locally with regard to the delivery of national performance targets and ABMU's ability to deliver sustainable services in the long run. Back in March, I asked for the Cabinet Secretary for health to bring forward a debate with a particular focus on improvements against the targeted intervention priorities in ABMU. In response, you stated that the Cabinet Secretary would bring forward an end-of-year statement. Given that we are now post end of year, can you provide me with the details of when we'll get that opportunity to scrutinise the performance of ABMU, mindful that it is nearly two years since it was put into targeted intervention status by Welsh Government? Diolch.
On that, I understand that the Cabinet Secretary is bringing forward that statement shortly. So, you will have that opportunity. I'll also say that a large number of us who work in the ABMU area and represent people from that area have been having a series of meetings with the health board, both the chair and the chief executive. I know a number of other Assembly Members, and David Rees in particular, have been raising issues with the health board around some of those issues as well. So, the Cabinet Secretary is aware of all of those.
In terms of the planning consent, I was aware that you and Jeremy Miles were at the packed public meeting. Obviously, we can't comment on individual planning matters, but there is an extant planning consultation out on 'Planning Policy Wales', and that would be an appropriate point to put in anything that you think is missing from that, including some of the issues that are always raised with all of us around what people who oppose an application can do in the light of planning consent being granted when they're not very happy about it. And I'm sure, Presiding Officer, that that's something that all of us have in our postbags every day of the week. So, it's an appropriate time to put that into the consultation.
Following on from the task and finish group review of breastfeeding support and practices in maternity and early years settings, which has just been published, would the leader of the house look for opportunities for us to highlight the importance of breastfeeding and to debate the issues raised in this document, as it is absolutely essential for the future health of our children that women are encouraged and supported to breastfeed? I think we're all aware that the breastfeeding rates have been static in Wales for a number of years.
The Member raised a very important point, and again, in a meeting in my own constituency very recently, I was very moved to say that I was very disappointed that all of the experiences that I had in attempting to breastfeed my own children, some 30-odd years ago, were being experienced by young women today. So, that's not good enough. And there are a number of things we can do across the Government. It's not just about health, is it? It's about social acceptability and the ability of people to be able to be comfortable with what is, after all, a very natural function and all the rest of it. As you said, an expert group was set up to look at the issues and provide recommendations. The Cabinet Secretary did issue a written statement last week, and he is indicating that he would be more than happy to arrange for a meeting with one of the senior nursing officers within the chief nursing officer's office if Members want to discuss that more. And then, depending on the outcome of that, we can see what we can do to take it forward.
Leader of the house, may I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on waiting times for heart bypass surgery in Wales? Official statistics show that patients were waiting an average of 79 days between April 2016 and May 2017 for surgery, compared to 43 days the previous year. The average wait for heart bypass in England was 51 days, 28 days fewer than in Wales. Please could we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary on this unacceptable long wait for vital surgery?
My second request to the finance Minister is: just before the Easter holidays, £6 million was given to Cardiff Airport. I'm pretty sure it's public funding going for good reasons, but I think we have a right to ask where this money was going, and in what direction, because the company, or the airport, in fact—Qatar came in earlier this month. So, for what purpose was the money injected, and how is profit-making business going to be improved in Cardiff Airport? Thank you.
The Member raises points that he obviously cares very much about, but there are appropriate moments to ask those questions—very specific questions—of various Cabinet Secretaries during oral Assembly questions, or, indeed, in written questions, and I don't think either of them warrants a statement from the Government. I would suggest the Member either puts them in as written questions or, indeed, raises them during oral Assembly questions with the relevant Cabinet Secretary, which is next week, in fact.
I have two issues I’d like to raise with you. The first: in the budget agreement between Plaid Cymru and Labour, £2 million was allocated to promote co-operation between western counties on strategic linguistic and economic issues. Unfortunately, there is still confusion as to which Cabinet Secretary is responsible for this important programme, or at least we can’t access that information. So, would you write to me in order to clarify that particular issue? Plaid Cymru does have a proposal that is well developed with local government leaders, and this needs to be implemented as soon as possible.
The second issue is the announcement last week that the fire and rescue authority in north Wales is facing substantial budgetary cuts. There are a number of options that have been presented, including cutting services in my own constituency. At the moment, I understand that there is a consultation ongoing on the governance and funding in this area, and it may make more sense for that to happen first before any cuts are made. So, could we have a statement from your Government on the future of fire and rescue services across Wales?
On the second one, it is absolutely right that we should have a consultation. There will be an opportunity to ask the Cabinet Secretary about that. This is a very specific concern that, Siân Gwenllian, you're raising, which I'm not sure I entirely caught. So, perhaps if you wouldn't mind writing with that very specific concern, we could address it more directly. But apologies; I'm not sure I quite caught the point you were making, other than the general point about it. So, perhaps you wouldn't mind writing with that specific.
In terms of the first, the Cabinet Secretary is indicating to me that he's more than happy to clarify what the arrangements for the budget settlement are.
This week is also Mental Health Awareness Week, and the focus of this year's campaign is stress. I am extremely proud to be wearing my green ribbon today in the Chamber in support of Mental Health Awareness Week. I want to begin by thanking all the Members from across the Chamber, and their support staff and staff from the Assembly, for joining me earlier outside on the Senedd steps for a photo in support of the campaign. Coming together to show support is so important, and it goes a long way in saying that it is okay not to be okay.
I have two things I'd like to raise in particular today. Firstly, will the leader of the house join me in paying tribute to those thousands of people who work for charities and organisations that help people with mental illness?
Finally, I want to take this time and opportunity to put on the record and inform Members and the wider general public that my family and I are very pleased to announce the first donation from the Carl Sargeant memorial fund. As this is Mental Health Awareness Week, we have decided to donate the money from the fund towards Cruse in north Wales. Cruse provides vital bereavement support, advice and information to children, young people and adults who need it when someone dies, and I know personally how important that support is. I hope that this donation will play some part in ensuring that organisations like Cruse and so many others can continue to offer the vital mental health support that is so, so important to people across north Wales and the whole of the UK, for those who desperately need it. Thank you.
Of course I'm absolutely delighted to join with you in congratulating and being very grateful to all of the people who volunteer in mental health services across Wales, and indeed across the UK and the world. Of course, the great thing about that is that we know that volunteering also assists with your own mental health, so it is a great virtuous circle, which I'm very delighted to encourage and applaud. I'm very, very pleased to hear about the first donation from the Carl Sargeant memorial fund. I'm sure that the organisation will be delighted and I'm sure that your father would've been very delighted with it as well.
I was very pleased to be part of your photograph. I particularly chose this poster, Llywydd, that says, 'We're all different, accept and be proud of who you are rather than wishing you were more like someone else.' I'm very pleased to have that, because, of course, it goes alongside our This is Me campaign, which we're very keen on promoting and is very much about mental health awareness. It's also about lack of stereotyping, particularly gender stereotyping, but any kind of stereotyping, because that's also very important for mental health. It's extremely important that we all accept who we are and that everybody around us accepts who we are as well. So, I was very delighted to be part of that, Jack, and congratulations on that first donation.
Can I concur with the sentiments of Jack Sargeant? I was pleased to attend the six-month memorial dinner last week. I'm pleased to hear that around £3,000 was raised at that dinner and I think that the decision to donate the first tranche of funds to the Cruse charity in north Wales is a very good one. I know that Carl would've been proud of your efforts in this regard, and also proud of the support he's had from Assembly Members.
Can I secondly say that yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending, along with the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport, who's deep in his e-mails over there—you got a name check—the launch of the Museum of the Moon exhibition at Tintern abbey? I can see you looking shocked—'What is this?' I felt the same until I went. It was an art exhibition from internationally acclaimed artist Luke Jerram—a really fantastic event, which had a 7m large moon suspended in the middle of Tintern abbey. At night, that's illuminated and provides an amazing spectacle for locals and also tourists. That's attracting a different type of tourist from across the world, as art exhibitions can do. So, I wonder if we could have a statement in the light of yesterday's event, from the Minister, as to how—don't worry, not in the immediate future, you've got time to think about it—we're going to use our great historic buildings, such as Tintern abbey, as venues for different types of events, to attract a different type of tourist, so that we make the very most of the culture and heritage we have in Wales, bringing together different spheres so that people from across the world can benefit from the best that Wales has to give.
I'm sure that the Member will be aware that it's very difficult to make sure that the Minister takes his correct share of Plenary time, so he'll be delighted to bring forward a statement as long as I can give him the space for it, I'm sure. I have to say, Llywydd, that he appears to me to have been doing a tour of places starting with 'T', because I'm aware of several others as well. I'm going to have to have a word with my own diary secretary about getting some better gigs for myself, for some of these cultural events.
But in all seriousness, it is, of course, the effective and creative use of our beautiful heritage spaces that does bring them to life and actually attracts different sorts of people attracted by different kinds of cultural events. It's always great to see an old building brought to life by something a little bit unexpected. I haven't seen the moon suspended from Tintern abbey. Perhaps I should make a pilgrimage to see it. But there are several old buildings in my own constituency where having an art exhibition inside them has really brought them to life in a different way, and it's brought aspects of the building to life in a way that, perhaps, you wouldn't have seen if you were used to the building, even if you used it a lot. So, I'm very happy to applaud those creative uses to highlight both the cultural and artistic merits of all of our things. I'm sure that the Minister will bring forward a statement as soon as I can get him time on the Plenary agenda to do so.
As outlined by my Plaid Cymru colleague a moment ago, of course, the North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority executive panel met yesterday to discuss cuts of £1.9 million to its budget to balance the books for the next financial year, and the proposals still include, of course, cuts to front-line services. Now, in practical terms, that could mean losing one of the two whole-time fire engines that we have at Wrexham. It could mean reducing services across other towns in north Wales—Colwyn Bay, Rhyl and further afield, of course—as well as reducing a large number of retained stations. Now, the threat to one of Wrexham's engines was beaten last year, effectively, through mass protest by people locally, and if similar proposals are brought forward, I'd imagine we'll see, and rightly so, the same reaction locally again. The Government itself is projecting steep increases in population over the coming years, but, of course, the funding for those services isn't reflecting that potential increase in demand as well.
Now, I know that the public services Secretary is hoping to have that discussion around the future of the fire services that we have in Wales, particularly in terms of accountability, but also we have to discuss funding sustainability for these services, because, whatever the method we choose, whether it's directly funding through the precept or whatever comes out of that discussion, we have to be clear that we mustn't lose these jobs, we mustn't lose these services. For those people who are still arguing in favour of austerity, they have to realise that this is the sharp end and these cuts cost lives. So, can we have a clear statement from the Secretary and this Welsh Government about where this service is going in years to come and how, as a Government, you can secure the sustainability of these essential fire and rescue services?
The Member makes a very important point, and, as we say all the time, it is impossible to have an austerity agenda without having real effects on people's lives. I've said many times in this Chamber that we're all faced with no good choice at all. We're not cutting things that we think aren't any good; we're cutting things that we know are important to people, because austerity is a political choice with which we do not agree and which has very serious consequences for public services. [Interruption.] It absolutely is. So, I absolutely hear what you say. You've made a very good point, and the Cabinet Secretary heard what you said as well and I'm sure will respond in due course.
It is a hard fact that the shrinkage of local government non-statutory services across the UK is happening due to the UK austerity agenda, but I'll leave that. I therefore wish us to ask for a statement to this place on the status and health of music support services across Wales and the subsidised instrumental tuition and incremental ensembles access that they provide. I would like to request that this statement includes an assessment of schools that currently do not have access to a music support service or are in the process of losing one, and an evaluation of the impact that the loss of a music support service has on the equality of access for poorer students to music performance education across Wales.
The Member's raised this many times in the Chamber and clearly feels very passionate about it, and has brought a number of events to the Senedd, actually, demonstrating the importance of it. It's a conversation we've had many times across Government about how we can best support the music service, and I know it's an active consideration for several Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers. So, the Member can be assured that we take it very seriously indeed and it's something that we're in active consideration about.
Finally, Bethan Sayed.
Thank you. I'd like to concur with the comments made by Jack Sargeant in relation to the importance of Mental Health Awareness Week and the fact that we can, where possible, work together in supporting one another. I think that was something you brought to the table, so, thank you, Jack, for that.
I wanted to expand on the comments made by Simon Thomas in relation to Palestine. I've had quite a lot of e-mails with regard to this. This is an issue that has really shocked our systems in relation to the violence. Fifty-eight people were killed in that protest. Today, the Scottish Parliament are having a debate on the future of Palestine, and we have had a consensus here in the past whereby most AMs have recognised that we need to have a state for it as a nation, and I wondered whether we could have another debate here in the National Assembly for Wales to take leadership on this issue, because it's clear that international law is being violated, and we cannot sit idly by. While we don't have powers over international affairs, it still means that we can take the moral high ground and that we can show leadership in this particular area. So, I would urge a debate on this issue as opposed to a statement, if that would be possible.
The second issue I wanted to raise here today was with regard to Resolven miners institute. Now, I know many AMs from across the party divide—again, a consensus-based approach here—have visited and have seen what they want to achieve there in relation to upgrading the miners institute. It's a vast building, but it could be a great resource for local people. But finance is always an issue, so I was wondering whether we could have a statement or a debate on support from the Welsh Government for industrial heritage to try and discuss some of these issues that challenge local people in relation to how they can build up their funds to make these particular amazing buildings viable again. They have cinema and theatre space, but it would cost some money to make that a reality. I know that some of these schemes have been successful in other parts of Wales, and we don't want to lose this heritage. We don't want that to be gone, as has been mentioned earlier in relation to Merthyr Tydfil. So, please, can we have a statement on the importance of industrial heritage?
Yes. I think, on that second one, I've actually been there. It's a very beautiful building, absolutely. The Welsh Government has a number of schemes, including the potential for vouchers, community asset transfers and creative use of finance and so on, that can be brought to bear to save some of our industrial heritage. The Member will forgive me—I know it's in her region as well—but one of the examples that I'm particularly fond of at the moment is the Copperopolis development in Mike Hedges's constituency in Swansea, which brings alive much of the industrial heritage of the Swansea valley, which is a matter of great historical monument to the whole of Wales, but particularly to my own family as well.
So, it's great to see those, and it's lovely to see old buildings that were put together by the efforts of local working people very often brought back to life in the way, as I was just saying. So, I do think it's a very important matter. I will have some discussion amongst Cabinet Secretary colleagues and Ministers just to see how we can best highlight some of that. The Member makes a good point about how we highlight the various routes to save some of the industrial heritage and buildings, and there have been a number of issues raised—not least the land transaction tax, actually—that we can have a look at to see what we can do with unused buildings and so on, to encourage owners to bring them back into use. We all have a number of those in our regions and constituencies as well. So, I'll certainly take that forward and see what we can do to highlight it.
And, as I said on Gaza, words are just not enough to describe the horror that we saw unfolding there. As I said, it's such an immensely complex problem in the middle east, and we do seem to be in a particularly accelerating violent cycle at the moment, which is of some serious concern to all of us. As I said to Simon Thomas, I will discuss with the First Minister what we can best do to indicate this place's views on the subject.
Thank you, leader of the house.
The next item is the legislative consent motion on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to move the motion—Mark Drakeford.
Motion NDM6722 Carwyn Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 29.6, agrees that provisions in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in so far as they fall within or modify the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales should continue to be considered by the UK Parliament.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. I move the motion, which proposes that the Assembly should give its consent to a parliamentary Bill making new provision on matters within and about the Assembly's devolved legislative competence. There is, of course, nothing unusual about that. The Assembly has been asked to do so over 100 times. Many long weeks and months have been spent in negotiating a new outcome to clause 11 of the original withdrawal Bill. I know, however, that there are other aspects of the Bill that are of concern to Members, and I will deal briefly with those aspects first.
Many of the more objectionable elements in the original Bill—the omission of the charter of fundamental rights, the excessive Henry VIII powers and the inadequate provisions for parliamentary scrutiny of these powers, the risk to the environment, the labour market and consumer rights—have now been modified in the House of Lords and my party will defend every one of those changes when the Bill returns to the Commons.
Directly in the devolution sphere, the Bill was also amended in the House of Lords to restrict the use of clause 7 powers, so that they will not now be able to be used to amend the Government of Wales Act, and the Bill was further amended to remove proposed restrictions on devolved Ministers in respect of retained direct EU law within devolved competence. But from the point of view of providing legislative consent, it is clause 11 that was at the core of our objections to the Bill when it was first published, and it is the amendments to that clause and the associated inter-governmental agreement that are at the heart of our consideration today.
Let me be clear, Llywydd, that the Bill to which the National Assembly is asked to give consent today provides that every one of the 64 areas of responsibility currently exercised through the European Union remains here in Wales. As the EAAL committee report into the second legislative consent memorandum published puts it,
'the default position is that the Assembly’s competence is untouched.'
On the day that the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, that will be the position; every one of those 64 areas will be here. That's what you're being asked to vote in favour of today. Thereafter, the Bill provides that, by regulation, which, in consequence of the inter-governmental agreement, will be subject to this Assembly's consent, some aspects of some areas will continue to operate under the existing European Union rulebook—not to change the rules but to ensure that they continue as they are today, and to continue until a new rulebook can be agreed. Every time that happens, Llywydd, and a proposal made that existing European Union rules should remain in place, that will be subject to the consent of the National Assembly for Wales. That would mean that, on 24 separate occasions, this Assembly could be asked if it is prepared to give its consent to the temporary extension of the rules under which we currently operate. No wonder that the First Minister of Scotland summed it up in her letter to the Prime Minister in this way. She was referring to the work carried out in the Joint Ministerial Committee by David Lidington, Michael Russell on behalf of Scotland, and myself on behalf of Wales. Nicola Sturgeon says,
'We have made substantial progress in agreeing the areas where devolved competence intersects with EU law where common frameworks may be required and in agreeing that as we work through the detail of those frameworks, existing EU rules'—
existing rules, Llywydd—
'should be maintained on a temporary basis after withdrawal.'
In other words, nothing changes. As the First Minister of Scotland says, what we're agreeing is that current rules continue until we all agree that something better can be put in its place.
Llywydd, in the agreement we have reached, the regulation-making powers that will be used to put in place these new temporary arrangements will be subject to the Sewel convention so that the agreement provides for Parliament not to approve regulations unless the devolved legislatures and administrations have given their consent. Now, entirely in line with current conventions, should UK Ministers seek to move ahead with regulations in the event of a legislature withholding consent, then this agreement secures entirely new defences for devolution—defences that have never been here before. Because, if UK Ministers decided that they thought they would like to proceed in that way—and remember, it is not for UK Ministers to decide on whether or not they can proceed in that way—then the agreement secures the position that both Houses of Parliament separately will be asked to decide if the regulation should be made, and an affirmative vote will be required in both the Commons and the House of Lords—the House of Lords, where the Government has no majority, where it's just been defeated 14 separate times on its own withdrawal Bill. The House of Lords will be asked to decide whether or not the Government should go ahead. When it makes the decision on whether or not to go ahead, it will make that decision for the first time ever on the basis of even-handed information. It will have the UK Government's own account, but it will also have, for the first time, information provided independently by the devolved administrations.
I was following that closely, but maybe he can help me here, because everyone else, it would appear—as we heard from the leader of Plaid Cymru earlier—in your own party, the Scottish Labour Party, and the leader of the UK Labour Party, believes that the provisions that you've just set out are an affront to democracy and an affront to the principles of democratic devolution. Why are you right and they're wrong?
What is it about devolution, Llywydd, that Plaid Cymru does not understand? [Interruption.] Where have they been? [Interruption.] Where have they been for the last 20 years? Scottish politicians make decisions based on what they believe to be right for Scotland. This Assembly makes decisions on what we believe is right for Wales. What is it about that simple proposition that Plaid Cymru find it so difficult to grasp?
Will you take an intervention?
Last one, Llywydd.
Whilst the devolution settlement might be different for Scotland than it is for Wales, whilst there might be different questions of what to do with different powers in Scotland and in Wales, the principle is one and the same, and the principle here is that, in relation to Scotland, senior figures in your party, including your party leader, believe this is an affront to democracy, whereas in Wales for some reason it's not. It is one and the same in terms of the principle.
It really is an abject failure of understanding, Llywydd. What happens in Scotland is for people in Scotland to comment upon, and it's for them to comment upon what is right for them in their circumstances. Scotland—where, let us not forget, a majority of the local population voted to remain in the European Union. Here in Wales, different considerations, different powers, different arrangements apply. We debate what is right for Wales, and the agreement that we bring forward is one that we know is right for devolution and right for our nation as well.
And let me clear up as well, Llywydd, if I could, once and for all, what 'consent' means in this context. Consent means that the Assembly has voted positively in favour of the draft regulations being put before Parliament. That is what consent means, and nothing else.
In a third defence, Llywydd, the UK Government has always previously claimed that the constraints envisaged in its original Bill would be temporary, but there was nothing in that Bill to substantiate that. Now, there are sunset clauses on the face of the Bill. Some have argued that these could be extended ad infinitum, but let me be clear again: this Bill simply does not allow for that to happen. The only way in which the sunset clauses could be extended would be by way of new parliamentary legislation, and that new parliamentary legislation would of course be subject to the Assembly's consent.
In a fourth development, the agreement gives an unequivocal guarantee that UK Ministers will not bring before Parliament any legislation for England making changes to retain EU law in framework areas. As the report of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee said, in its report, yesterday, this recognition of England in the agreement is 'constitutionally notable'. It is just one way, Llywydd, in which the agreement breaks new ground in defence of devolution and the future operation of the United Kingdom. A level playing field has been created, it applies to all administrations, and it is now in everybody's interests, as the First Minister said earlier this afternoon, to agree a new post-EU rulebook as quickly as possible.
Finally, the agreement makes clear that any new primary legislation establishing new UK frameworks will be negotiated, negotiated by all partners coming around the table on the basis of parity, and that the outcomes of such negotiations will themselves require the Assembly's legislative consent in accordance with normal principles.
Llywydd, I want to end by addressing some of the wider constitutional issues that the Bill draws to the surface. Many of the objections and criticisms I've heard in recent days and weeks have not really been about the Bill or the agreement at all. They've been about the Sewel convention itself, a convention that the CLAC report says that the force of it has been 'maintained and reaffirmed' as a result of this agreement.
I've also heard a lot of ill-informed criticism of the 'not normally' formulation in the agreement, as if by agreeing to that we've somehow 'sold out', as we're told, on devolution, in that offensive phrase. But the commitment 'not normally' to legislate without consent is in the Government of Wales Act, to which this Assembly gave its consent, and it's there in the Scotland Act too. Have we reached a moment where we need to move beyond Sewel and the 'not normally' formula? Well, I agree with the conclusion reached recently by Professor Michael Keating of University of Aberdeen, when he said that the Sewel convention
'has worked well for almost twenty 20 years',
but it was not designed to bear the burden that Brexit is now placing on it. That is why, in 'Brexit and Devolution', this Welsh Government argued for the creation of a new UK council of Ministers, which would be able to reach binding decisions that would be supported by a dispute resolution mechanism and an independent secretariat, and which would operate with far greater visibility to the public.
Llywydd, our ambitions for devolution are by no means exhausted by the agreement we have reached, but our objective from the beginning has been a withdrawal Bill that delivers stability and certainty for businesses and citizens about the rights, obligations and responsibilities that will exists at the point at which we leave the European Union. We have defended and entrenched our devolution settlement. We have provided for the successful operation of the United Kingdom after Brexit. We have delivered a good deal for the Assembly and a good deal for Wales. I'm proud to ask the Assembly to give its consent to this legislative consent motion this afternoon.
I call on the Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, David Rees.
Diolch, Llywydd. The External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee has been considering the legislative steps needed for Brexit since the autumn of 2016 and has considered the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in detail. Yesterday, we published our third report in relation to the Bill, in preparation for the debate today. I hope Members have had a chance to look at it. In an earlier publication on the Bill, Members will recall that we set six objectives that we believed needed to be met to safeguard our devolution settlement and the rights of the Assembly. And I'll remind Members what they were: remove the clause 11 restriction on the devolution settlement; ensure the Welsh Ministers and the Assembly are responsible for correcting all aspects of EU-derived law in areas of devolved competence; ensure powers available to the Welsh Ministers under the Bill are strictly limited and far more tightly drawn than those currently set out in the Bill; prevent UK Ministers from amending aspects of EU-derived law that affect Wales unless reserved; prevent UK or Welsh Ministers amending the Government of Wales Act using delegated powers; and, finally, to ensure that the Assembly can set its own scrutiny arrangements.
Following the agreement between the Welsh and UK Governments on clause 11 of the Bill, as numbered on introduction to the House of Lords, and the associated amendments to the Bill that were made in the House of Lords, we have reflected on the progress that has been made against each of our six objectives. It is fair to observe that, in some areas, considerable progress has been made. It is equally fair to observe that our objectives have not been met in full in all areas. But can I also remind the house that we had objectives that went further than the Welsh Government's original views?
Objective 1 is at the heart of today's bid, which was to remove the clause 11 restriction on the devolution settlement. Considerable progress has been made towards meeting this objective when we look back at the starting point we faced when the Bill was introduced. The UK Government now accepts that it cannot place a blanket restriction on the Assembly’s legislative competence in areas where European policy frameworks currently exist, and there is a mechanism for ensuring the Assembly can consider whether it should give consent to any restrictions being temporarily placed on its competence. However, parliamentary sovereignty means that in circumstances where the Assembly has refused its consent, Parliament could still proceed to impose a restriction on our legislative competence. Additionally, the mechanism established by the recent amendments to the Bill placed few duties on the Welsh Ministers to facilitate Assembly consideration of the proposed restrictions or to communicate decisions of the Assembly. We took a view on how the Assembly could take steps to strengthen this aspect of the mechanism and I'll talk about that a little bit later.
Considerable progress has been made on the second objective. The prohibition, in the Bill as introduced, on Welsh Ministers modifying directly applicable EU law, which includes much of the law relating to the common agricultural policy and structural funds, was the biggest difference between the UK and Welsh Ministers' powers. This has been removed, subject to the new clause 11 restriction mechanism.
In terms of our third objective, we concluded that whilst it has not been met in full, we do recognise that ministerial powers have been more tightly drawn. However, they remain broad and the Bill delegates significant powers to the Executive, with limited controls.
Objective 4 has not been met, and we are particularly disappointed that no provision for Assembly consent has been made for circumstances where the UK Government wishes to use its regulation-making powers in Welsh devolved policy areas.
Whilst our fifth objective has not been met in full, significant progress towards protecting the Government of Wales Act has been made. However, concerns remain around the UK Government’s powers to implement the withdrawal agreement, and we must not lose sight of that fact.
And, finally, objective 6 was to ensure that the Assembly can set its own scrutiny arrangements.
I pay tribute to the important work the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee has undertaken in this regard, and particularly the recommendations it made for the establishment of a sifting committee, which were endorsed by this Assembly. We believe that, in the circumstances, giving effect to the Assembly’s preferred scrutiny arrangements through amendments to the Bill offered a pragmatic compromise, but does not detract from our commitments to the principle behind our sixth objective. However, we are disappointed that the Welsh and UK Governments chose not to implement the full extent of the scrutiny arrangements agreed unanimously by this Assembly on 7 March, and expect our Business Committee to remedy this in its proposal for changes to Standing Orders.
From this assessment of our six objectives, you can see that the inter-governmental agreement and the amended Bill have provided a stronger position for the Assembly than under the Bill as originally drafted. But it is true to say that they do not remove entirely the risks we have previously highlighted. A significant task for this Assembly remains. And if consent is granted today, we in this Chamber must use the procedural routes available to us to ensure that we play our full part in the process of managing the Assembly’s legislative competence in the months and years to come.
In our report, we recommend that the Business Committee considers the case for revising Standing Orders to place additional duties on the Welsh Ministers: to ensure that the opportunity to scrutinise any proposed constraints on our legislative competence is maximised; that we are provided with at least the same level of information as Parliament in relation to this, and at the same time; and that the Welsh Ministers are required to communicate the Assembly’s decision on consent for temporary constraints on its legislative competence. Yesterday, in our committee meeting, the First Minister committed to delivering such issues on the above points, and I hope that the Cabinet Secretary will reaffirm those assurances to the Assembly this afternoon.
At the core of this inter-governmental agreement is an inter-parliamentary process. We also conclude in our report that strengthened communication between legislatures would wrap an additional level of assurance around the process, circumventing the need to rely solely on governmental sources of information. I intend to raise this for discussion at the next inter-parliamentary forum on Brexit.
Once the draft regulations proposing constraints on our legislative competence are laid for scrutiny, we need to ensure that we have the correct procedures in place to scrutinise them thoroughly. Without crossing into the important work the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee is doing in this area, we believe that there will be a collective role for Assembly committees in scrutinising these draft regulations, if we are to bring the full range of technical and policy expertise to them. And with the Llywydd’s leave, we’ll perhaps discuss this at a future Chairs’ forum.
We shortly face a vote on one of the most significant decisions faced by the Assembly and in the Brexit process. I hope that throughout our consideration of the withdrawal Bill we have sought to ensure that the role of the Assembly and the powers devolved to Wales are protected in the Brexit process. We hope our report will assist Members in deciding whether or not to support the granting of legislative consent this afternoon. But whatever the outcome of today’s vote, we will, as a committee, continue to do all we can to protect Welsh interests in the Brexit process and to hold the Welsh Government to account for its actions.
I call on the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, Mick Antoniw.
Thank you, Llywydd. On 27 April 2018, the First Minister laid before the National Assembly the Welsh Government’s supplementary legislative consent memorandum—memorandum No. 2—on the Bill as presented to the House of Lords at First Reading. The supplementary legislative consent memorandum clarifies that the Welsh Government’s objections with the Bill as introduced related to four issues:
'all of which have been substantially addressed in the amendments made or proposed to the Bill or the Inter-governmental Agreement related to it'.
We took evidence from the Secretary of State for Wales on 16 April 2018 and from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, pre supplementary LCM, on 23 April, and again on 30 April, very shortly after the supplementary LCM had been laid. The evidence we heard informed our conclusions, and we made them in our report laid yesterday afternoon—the agreed report of the committee.
We welcome the progress made by the Welsh Government in negotiating with the UK Government the position regarding the powers to be exercised by the National Assembly following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. As a consequence, the original clause 11 has been inverted so that powers over devolved policy will now lie with the National Assembly and in line with the devolution settlement currently in place.
We believe it is unfortunate that substantial effort on the part of both sides has been spent correcting the significant deficiencies in the Bill in respect of clause 11, now clause 15—a situation not dissimilar to our experience with the Wales Bill. These prolonged negotiations could, and should, have been avoided had the original drafting shown more respect for the role that devolution plays within the United Kingdom.
The amendments tabled by UK Ministers to clause 11 of the Bill indicated an important step forward and showed significant movement by the UK Government. We welcome the fact that the UK Government, in evidence to us, and in other places, has repeatedly emphasised how important the Sewel convention is and how it will continue to be respected, although we draw the Assembly’s attention to our observations on the new clause 15, following the completion on 8 May of the Report Stage in the House of Lords.
The inter-governmental agreement will test the notions of shared governance and trust. However, we acknowledge that it is a start towards a more respectful and workable inter-governmental relationship. We hope this progress will mean improved inter-governmental working and lead to the short and long-term reform that we recommended to the JMC in our report, ‘UK governance post-Brexit’. We are committed to keeping a watching brief on the implementation of the inter-governmental agreement, including its future application, interpretation and review.
There is still considerable uncertainty around common frameworks, and the terms of the inter-governmental agreement suggest that much remains to be decided. In considering the supplementary LCM we wish to draw to the National Assembly's attention the following points, which I will detail in turn.
Point 1: the convention about the UK Parliament legislating on devolved matters is set out in section 107(6) of the Government of Wales Act 2006, and specifically deals with 'legislating'. For that reason, the inter-governmental agreement—a political agreement—does not form part of the National Assembly’s legislative consent process.
Point 2: the inter-governmental agreement does not have a legal status and cannot bind future Welsh or UK Governments.
Point 3: the length of the proposed sunset provision for new clause 15 will allow restrictions and common frameworks to potentially extend beyond the life of the current Welsh and UK Governments.
Point 4: for Wales, temporary preservation of EU law will be given effect through regulations made under new clause 15 and Schedule 3 to the Bill. For England, temporary preservation will be given effect through the inter-governmental agreement. The recognition of England is constitutionally significant. Nevertheless, in the context of mutual respect and parity—
Will you take an intervention?
But in terms of—. There is no parity between the devolved nations and England in terms of legislating in devolved areas for England is under the inter-governmental agreement, which is political and not legal, whereas any legislation in devolved areas for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is in legislation, so the treatment is different.
The treatment is different, but there is a clear convention and the whole agreement, and the whole arrangement sinks or swims on the implementation of that and the maintenance. If that were to fail, then it's very clear, as we discussed within committee, that there would indeed be a constitutional crisis.
Nevertheless, in the context of mutual respect and parity between the nations of the UK, this difference of approach is also noted.
Point 5: the new clause 15 restrictions will apply until the National Assembly passes Acts that lift those restrictions.
Point 6: the amendments to the Bill do not require the Welsh Ministers to lay before the National Assembly a copy of any draft clause 15 regulations on the day they receive them from the UK Ministers, even though the 40-day clock on making a consent decision will start on the day the Welsh Ministers receive them. We acknowledge that the Cabinet Secretary—and we put on record—has given an undertaking that the Welsh Government would lay them immediately if they were able to.
Point 7: in the event that the National Assembly actively refuses consent for any draft clause 15 regulations, UK Ministers will be able to lay those draft regulations before the UK Parliament for approval, with a statement prepared by the Welsh Ministers explaining why the National Assembly refused consent. It will then be for the House of Commons and the House of Lords to approve clause 15 regulations. Therefore, it will be for the UK Parliament to make a decision on whether the Sewel convention will be enforced.
Point 8: UK Ministers will report every three months on whether powers that impose restrictions on the National Assembly’s competence should be repealed. UK Ministers will send a copy of each report to the Welsh Ministers, but there is no requirement for the Welsh Ministers to subsequently lay the reports before the National Assembly.
And point 9: when restrictions on the National Assembly’s competence are lifted by the UK Government, the Bill does not require UK Ministers to notify the National Assembly or the Welsh Ministers.
I think those are the comments that summarise the key parts of the report, which, as I say, was an agreed report representing the position of the committee. Thank you, Llywydd.
I'm pleased to support the motion before the Assembly this afternoon. As the CLAC report notes, central to the recommendation to approve the LCM is the inter-governmental agreement, and I want to return to that later. This, together with the amendments to the original clause 11. As the CLAC report states:
'The amendments tabled by UK Ministers to clause 11 of the Bill indicate an
important step forward and show significant movement by the UK Government.'
And CLAC also observed, and this has already been referred to, that
'the force of the Sewel convention has become apparent during the Bill’s progress'.
I do believe genuinely that this whole process of difficult negotiation has been to the credit of the UK Government and also to the Welsh Government. This is what we expect in difficult constitutional areas, which many of us never wanted to occur and many of the challenges have been unanticipated. But there has clearly been constructive working on both sides and this has borne fruit.
It is clear to me that the Welsh Government secured an important and constitutionally significant concession from the UK Government on the way EU law is to be retained until frameworks for the UK are agreed. Let me again quote the CLAC report:
'The current position whereby this temporary preservation will apply to the devolved institutions and England is a substantial development.'
I genuinely think the Welsh Government's negotiation here has been hugely significant and has obviously had an effect on the debate in Scotland.
Immediately after the Brexit vote, which was a democratic mandate of great constitutional importance—I did not vote for it, but we cannot deny its importance—there was a strong consensus that UK frameworks would be needed when we left the EU. It seems to me that the need, overwhelmingly in the public interest, to construct frameworks has been the motivational principle driving the Welsh Government and the UK Government. Unfortunately, Plaid and the SNP have been driven by narrow political interests. On the one hand, they say we need frameworks, but on the other hand, Scotland, and presumably Wales, should have a veto.
It's appropriate to note here that the EU's frameworks do not operate on the basis of a national veto. They operate by negotiation, with an ability to use majority voting if necessary. Perhaps the public are well ahead of the nationalists. They realise the practical need for shared governance, relating to the environment and farming, for instance. There seems little support in Scotland or Wales for the narrow nationalist agenda on the process of agreeing frameworks.
Would the Member give way?
If this is really a roll-back of devolution, as Plaid and the SNP claim, the public seem very sanguine. I will give way.
I thank the Member. Can he name one occasion when any Member here has argued against a UK framework?
Well, you see, that's the whole point, isn't it? You argue, 'Yes, we need them', but you won't agree any process or give reasonable consent to them being constructed. You want a national veto. You want to preserve what you see as your absolute sovereignty.
Will you take an intervention?
There wouldn't have been an EU in the first place if that particular interpretation of sovereignty had not been reassessed. As Monnet said, we need to go through the barrier of narrow national sovereignty, and we need to create, in the UK, something analogous to the shared governance in the EU. Your approach is antithetical to that and that's the whole problem here this afternoon.
Will you take an intervention?
Okay, I'll take one more.
Thank you for the intervention and for drawing attention to our narrow nationalism versus your wide nationalism, if that's the case. One thing that we certainly did propose was a disputes mechanism. You have a Council of Ministers on an EU level; we need a disputes mechanism on a UK level, which we don't have.
Can I say, Rhun, I'm genuinely pleased that you've made that point because I want to now move to my conclusion, which I do think is an area, we may find, that more unites us?
As I said at the start, the inter-governmental agreement is really important. It's only the start, however, of our concept of shared governance and this does require an overhaul and it will be the ultimate test of whether these frameworks endure and work effectively. If they don't, then that unfortunately will undermine the integrity of the British constitution and the devolved settlement. So, I do partly agree with you that issues like how you resolve disputes is really, really important.
The overhaul of inter-governmental relations needs to be accompanied, Llywydd, by an overhaul of inter-parliamentary relations, because how we scrutinise this level of governance has been little discussed so far and that's going to be very, very important. One of the main reasons we got into a mess, in terms of what the public saw anyway, of deficient EU governance was there was a lack of parliamentary scrutiny, and we do not want to repeat those mistakes. And here I conclude by commending the CLAC report, 'UK governance post-Brexit'. I do urge everyone to vote for this most reasonable compromise and the motion before us.
Today is about facts. There has been a lot of debate; there have been lots of accusations that we over here don't understand what's going on, but now the time for rhetoric is over. This is about a reasoned argument against a Bill that will weaken this Assembly. Llywydd, tonight, we'll see a Labour Government vote with the Tories and UKIP to support Westminster's EU withdrawal Bill, a Bill that is designed to take powers back under Westminster's control, and it's as simple as that. The body of evidence, public opinion and even their own party leader are against them.
We heard from the Chair of the committee who's just accepted that not a single measure of the tests set by the cross-party external affairs committee was met. Labour's own party leader called it a 'power grab', while the Conservative Prime Minister is praising their actions. Members opposite, I know that many of you believe in devolution and, for this reason, I'm appealing to you to take a stand today. Join us in defending Wales. Join us in standing up for devolution. If you take the party whip, if you follow your front bench, know that this institution will be weaker for it.
Llywydd, I know that through arduous discussions with Westminster, concessions have been achieved. This deal, however, does not deliver on the targets set out by Ministers themselves. In a lecture yesterday, the finance Secretary outlined in detail how the Joint Ministerial Committee is not fit for purpose, yet this deal commits us to using that very committee to protect our powers. The Assembly lawyers have highlighted the risk to devolution posed by this Bill, and the cross-party committees that took a look at these matters agree. Even last week, the environment Cabinet Secretary complained that Westminster had failed to consult her before publishing a new consultation. Westminster are breaking this agreement before it's even in force.
Llywydd, there will be heated contributions to this debate, I've no doubt, but I once again want to appeal to reason. If you believe in Wales, if you believe in devolution, if you believe that it is this Assembly and not Westminster that best serves our people, vote against this motion; vote for devolution; vote for Wales.
I thought that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance made a powerful unionist case for this legislative consent motion. And, of course, I understand where Plaid Cymru are coming from; they don't believe in the United Kingdom, so they therefore take the maximalist view that has been expressed, and Plaid are quite right to make the points that they have made with the force and vigour that we've come to accept. If I took their view of what nationalism meant for Wales, I would agree with them, but I don't; I'm a unionist, and I accept the fundamental reality that was referred to by David Melding in his speech that this EU withdrawal Bill is consequent upon a decision of the people of the United Kingdom by referendum to leave the European Union, and I believe it's a trust that's been handed to us as legislators to deliver on the decision that they made. It is not for one constituent part of the United Kingdom to frustrate that process. Even in Scotland, where 62 per cent voted against Brexit, I don't believe it is constitutionally proper for them to stand in the way of the passage of the Bill.
I believe that the Welsh Government has played an extremely good hand in the course of the negotiations, and there's been, I think, a deepening of the whole devolution process—a deepening of understanding of the constitutional processes that were set in train 20 years ago. I believe it is regrettable that the United Kingdom Government was so far behind the tide of events in this respect that the whole argument about clause 11, as was, was allowed to develop as it did. I thought it showed a sort of shocking failure of understanding on the part of UK Ministers of the constitutional realities of modern life in Britain, and that's highly regrettable.
I believe also that Plaid Cymru have been quite right to draw attention to the deficiencies of the leader of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom in the course of the last few days, because what's happening in Scotland is that he is playing party games with the future of the United Kingdom, and I believe that that is a fundamentally irresponsible approach. And I'm sorry to have to say this, but I believe the grown-up and mature approach that we've had from Ministers in the Welsh Government shows how unfitted the leader of the party in the United Kingdom is for the office to which he aspires.
Now, I'll say at once that I've got no more trust in Theresa May than Plaid Cymru have. She makes Ethelred the Unready look like a model of decisiveness. I wouldn't trust her word, not because I think she's a dishonest person, but I think that she is so hopelessly incompetent that she could make the opposite happen by accident. And I do believe that for a remainer to show her colours in the way that she has done over the last few weeks over the absurd proposal of some kind of a customs union, which isn't even on the table, and which nobody on either side of the argument over Brexit is prepared to give the time of day to, shows the problems that we're dealing with.
But the fundamental reality is that we, in this Assembly, do not exercise any of the powers that are going to be affected by this Bill at the moment. The fundamental reality is that these powers are exercised by bodies that are far from Cardiff and over which we have no practical control, whether it's the European Commission, which has the power to legislate in itself without any democratic control by the Council of Ministers—. There's a huge corpus of EU regulation that simply spews out of the Commission and is rubber stamped on the spot. We will now have the opportunity to participate in the democratisation of huge portions of technical legislation in areas such as agriculture and the environment, in particular, which are of great importance to us here in Wales.
This is a massive—this whole process—enlargement of the democratic process and an extension in practical terms of the powers of this Assembly. I think that is hugely important, and this is why I can't understand the paradox of the Plaid Cymru position, that they regard a power grab by Westminster of constitutional tools and legislative tools that currently we don't even possess to be of fundamental importance, but they show absolutely no fear at all of handing those over to a body based in Brussels or elsewhere in the European Union, where we have even less control over what goes on than we do at Westminster. So, that seems to me to be, in practical terms, a most unsupportable position to hold. If Wales were an independent country politically then their points would have some force. But, as we are not, and the Welsh people don't show any great predisposition to adopt the Plaid Cymru position on Wales's role within the United Kingdom, and are not likely to in the foreseeable future, I think the arguments that Plaid are advancing here are very, very far from being in the world of reality.
So, consequently, I think it is very important that we do pass this legislative consent motion today, not just because it gives us the scope for increasing the powers of this Assembly, but, as part and parcel of this process—and I'm not sure that this point has been drawn out today, although it has on previous occasions when we've debated this topic—actually England is restricted now in many ways that it wasn't before as a result of this agreement, and that gives us the greatest possible assurance that the United Kingdom Government will want to conclude this transitionary period as quickly as it can, because I don't believe that the United Kingdom Government does want to have the legislative power for Wales in these devolved areas and that we can, I think, be as confident as we possibly can—. Even though I accept that this is not something in which the i's have been dotted and the t's crossed in legal form, I think it's inconceivable almost that the United Kingdom Government would want to resile at this stage from the devolution settlement, and, as Mick Antoniw pointed out in response to Dai Lloyd earlier on, there would be a fundamental constitutional crisis of great importance, where I think you would find that across this Chamber there would be, to all intents and purposes, unanimity in opposing such a venture. Therefore, I don't believe, personally, there is any constitutional risk in allowing this legislative consent motion to proceed; I believe there's every constitutional advantage and practical advantage for the people of Wales in doing so.
I'd like to thank the Cabinet Secretary for bringing the LCM forward for debate this afternoon, and once again acknowledge the major gain that this agreement delivers for Wales and for the people we represent. Now, last night, I was fortunate to hear Mark Drakeford speak to a packed audience at Cardiff University on Brexit and devolution. He gave a formidable account, a formidable account, of Welsh Government and not just himself as the key Cabinet Secretary, the First Minister, all Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers, of their engagement in the Brexit process, but also focused on options, opportunities that we can consider that lie ahead through towards the transition period and beyond, but he delivered the message very clearly on his inter-governmental agreement, and, of course, was questioned on it, but was so clear. And we must make sure that we get this message over to the people that we represent, that all powers in our devolved policy areas will be held in Cardiff except those areas where UK frameworks are needed, and repeat the fact that the original clause 11 in the EU withdrawal Bill would have retained in Westminster all returning EU powers in devolved policy areas. We must show clearly what we have moved from, what this inter-governmental agreement has achieved.
Will you give way? Thank you.
What they're doing is taking powers from Brussels that ought to go to Scotland, Wales and the regions of England and instead hoarding them in Whitehall. That's totally unacceptable, and we've made that clear. Jeremy Corbyn: what have you got to say about that?
The powers are coming back to Cardiff; they're going to Edinburgh. Indeed, what is so important about this agreement is that it was developed over a long period of time with negotiations with the Scottish Government, with the Scottish Minister, acknowledged in terms of substantial progress by the First Minister of Scotland. And this agreement will deliver for the people of Scotland, not just for the people of Wales. It will deliver for the people of Scotland. It will ensure that those powers are retained in Cardiff and Edinburgh. So, securing this substantial agreement is a major achievement, but I think it now will enable the Welsh Government to constructively engage at inter-government level in the Brexit negotiations that lie ahead.
I also want to recognise the opportunities and responsibilities that we have as an Assembly as we move forward. We did conclude in our LCM report, and, of course, David Rees has spoken of this already, with a strong message from the EAAL Committee, a strong message to the UK Government, and that conclusion was that we hope that the UK Government will seek to engage meaningfully with the Assembly through its committees at an early stage when it comes to future Brexit legislation that affects Wales, and, in particular, the proposed withdrawal agreement and the implementation Bill. And that is what we must focus on. I do welcome the inter-parliamentary forum, and that's been mentioned by Mick Antoniw as well. It has given Wales a strong voice in Westminster and with the devolved administrations. I'm glad that that forum is there to ensure—. It will have a close watch on the delivery of this agreement, but also a close watch on those amendments that, of course, will now go back to the Commons, which we need to make sure are delivered and are supported by our parliamentary colleagues.
Now, Mark Drakeford has told our committee that the Welsh Government has had to prioritise 40 strands of Brexit negotiations, and it's vital that there is robust machinery to enable the Welsh Government to take this forward and to be held to account by this Assembly. There are areas where we can unite and should unite in this Chamber as we move from this LCM with a strengthened message from all parties that the UK Government must now deliver that more robust inter-governmental machinery, and, of course, we only have to turn to 'Securing Wales' Future', which Mark Drakeford mentioned more than once last night, and look at that section in 'Securing Wales' Future' on constitutional and devolved matters, and that section, which says,
'Withdrawing from the EU is a major constitutional turning point for Wales and the UK as a whole.'
'The current inter-governmental machinery will no longer be fit-for-purpose and new ways of working—based on agreements freely entered into by the UK Government and the three devolved administrations and subject to independent arbitration—must be developed.'
Let's move forward together on that all-important objective. We do need a council of Ministers, we do need a strengthed JMC machinery. And, Llywydd, we have an agreement that has forced the UK Government to respect devolution, that not only protects but entrenches devolution with entirely new defences, an agreement that has broken new constitutional ground, a remarkable achievement. Let's make sure we do share this good news as clearly as possible as much as necessary. Now, let's move on and engage fully in the next phase of the Brexit negotiations, in particular the withdrawal agreement and all Brexit forthcoming legislation.
Historians often say that British rule, while it often was unfair, was almost always polite, and here we are in this Welsh Parliament presented with a consent motion that, effectively, is asking for our consent to be removed.
We are joining a very select club of national Parliaments, if we pass this motion today, that have voluntarily decided to cede their own authority. You have to cast about and think of the Scottish Parliament in 1707, the Irish Parliament in 1800, for examples in history—albeit, of course, we are ceding our authority for a time-limited period in certain areas. But the principle is there. Now, I was expecting the former honourable Member to intervene on me, and say, 'Well, isn't that what we did with the European Communities Act?' And, indeed, it was echoed, really, in David Melding's point. But an essential difference was there: we were joining a community of equals, and through mechanisms like weighted voting, et cetera, then the interests of small nations in particular were protected. That isn't the case in this unitary state. Effectively, the dominance of one nation in these four islands, it's almost a kind of Bagehot-like part of the dignified constitution of the UK; it's a principle that underpins everything, and, actually, it's now written into statute. And therein lies the problem. Indeed, this debate actually has laid bare, hasn't it, the fractures, the fault lines, of what is an entirely imbalanced and unstable constitution in these islands.
What we're asking for is parity for this nation. That is surely a principle that we could all actually get behind. Now, of course, the constitution is where politics and law meet, and I think that the note that we got from the Assembly lawyers, it's incredible reading:
'The words "consent decision" suggest that the Minister can only lay the draft regulations before the UK Parliament if either the Assembly has consented to their making, or the Assembly has done nothing about them for 40 days. But this is misleading.'
Those are rare words coming from any lawyer because, of course, as we know, as indeed Nicola Sturgeon, who was quoted earlier, I believe—as she said, if we say 'yes', UK Ministers will take that as consent, if we say 'no', they will take that as consent, and, if we say nothing at all, they can take that as consent. It is heads they win and tails we lose.
Now, I've heard the argument that this is actually—[Interruption.] Yes, certainly.
You're referring, of course, to the Assembly legal opinion. But, of course, in paragraph 15 of that, it says, 'The amendment has been described by some as defining the concept of consent as including refusal of consent.' The legal opinion actually says, 'In our view, this is not accurate.'
Yes, but it goes on to say—. There's another 10 paragraphs, by the way. It goes on to say, the key point remains
'the Assembly’s competence can be restricted without its consent.'
And that is the essential point in any democracy. I heard the Member say, 'Well, this is Sewel. This is Sewel.' Well, this is Sewel on steroids. This creates a legal pathway, a streamlined mechanism whereby the exception can become the rule if the politics of Westminster so decides. And that's the tragedy. That is the tragedy, you know. Thinking in particular of the words of Rhodri Morgan—his last words in this Chamber—when he talked about this National Assembly we built together, it will outlast us all, it will continue to develop and grow and serve the party of Wales, he was echoing the words of Henry Grattan, who actually created the legislative independence of the Irish Parliament and talked about a nation and a new character when they won their legislative independence:
'I hail her and, bowing to her august presence, I say, "esto perpetua"'—
it will continue. It didn't. It didn't. And therein lies the danger, because, if we pass this motion today, we are accepting the principle that this place is no longer sovereign.
Mark Reckless. [Interruption.] Mark Reckless.
Diolch, Llywydd. I'm delighted to speak today in favour of the National Assembly for Wales giving our legislative consent to the European Union withdrawal Bill. This is, of course, the UK Government's legislative mechanism for leaving the EU with maximum certainty, continuity and control, and I'm delighted to support it.
Back at the first First Minister's questions after the summer, I was rather critical of the First Minister for the degree to which he had, I think, been palling up to the SNP Scottish Government over the summer. I questioned why he was working hand in glove with a Government that wanted to break up the United Kingdom and with a Government that was impeding our exit from the European Union. And he responded by saying that he was only doing so to the extent that we had a common interest in protecting the devolution settlement. Now, I was surprised by that, not least because the First Minister and Welsh Government had spent considerable time working with Plaid Cymru to come to a joint paper on what the objectives should be for the future migration or the future trade arrangements of the United Kingdom. I feared that the First Minister and the Welsh Government, potentially working with Plaid Cymru, would use this process of legislative consent to this Bill as a way to seek to impede the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union. It has not done so. The First Minister has been as good as his word. The Welsh Government has succeeded far more than I would have expected in improving this Bill to protect the legitimate interests of our devolved settlement. And I think they deserve respect and congratulations for doing that.
Of course, some people have a different objective—one of staying in the European Union, even though the majority of people in Wales voted to leave, or the intention of being independent from the United Kingdom, even though only a tiny minority of people in Wales support that. And, of course, they will, therefore, oppose this, just as Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP will oppose it, because almost nothing would've settled what they were requesting, because their objective isn't to make this withdrawal from the European Union work while protecting the devolved settlement; it is to impede Brexit and to break up the United Kingdom. And of course—
Will you take an intervention?
Thank you. Just on a basic point, will you understand that the purpose of Plaid Cymru is not to break up the United Kingdom? It's to build up Wales.
The purpose of Plaid Cymru is to bring about an independent Wales, breaking up the United Kingdom. I respect, but I do not agree with, your objective.
Returning to the legislative consent motion and what we are debating today, this Bill has been hugely improved by the efforts, yes, of Welsh Government, but also, I think, others, and I'd like to congratulate both Mark Isherwood and David Melding for how they have dealt with this issue, and actually the unity of this group in supporting and trying to improve this legislation while noting what others were doing, including the threat and the actuality of a continuity Bill. I think what Mick Antoniw said about how this would've been a much better process if, at the beginning of it, UK Ministers had shown, in how they drafted the initial Bill, an appropriate level of respect to the Welsh Assembly and the devolved settlement—that that would've been better. But it is the case that, with some exceptions, UK Ministers are not as knowledgeable—and it's not at the top of their mind through most of what they do—about the mechanisms, the assumptions and the understandings, as well as the legal basis of the devolved settlement, as we in this Assembly are. But during this process, they have been educated on that. Damian Green and David Lidington in particular I think had reasonable knowledge to begin with, and that knowledge has become more expert as the process has gone on. I think, helped by Alun Cairns as Secretary of State, as well as by Andrew R.T. as leader of the Welsh Conservatives, many more Ministers at a UK level have come to appreciate and to understand the devolved settlement and how it functions. We now have a Bill that reflects and understands that in a way it didn't before.
When we talk about what a committee may have asked for before, it didn't ask for one of the things that, actually, the Welsh Government has succeeded in getting, and that is for the UK Government to commit not to legislate for England in these fields until there is an agreement on UK-wide frameworks, when England has 18 times the population of Wales. People often, with justice, complain about Wales not being treated with respect by the UK Government, but in this case the UK Government is binding, or at least giving a commitment to, itself in respect of England, the same as will be for Wales, as to what will actually happen, and there is a great motivation for everyone to agree on getting sensible frameworks up and running so we leave the European Union successfully, and go forward together as a United Kingdom.
I stand here today to state that I’m against this LCM that is before us, and against it because it could open the door to undermine the National Assembly. Over two years ago, I had the thrill of coming here as an Assembly Member for the first time to join with this Parliament, and in coming here I was very aware of the work of patriots who had been campaigning so hard to establish this Assembly in the first place. So, today is a very depressing day for me.
Devolution is a process. Many people have said that over the years. So far, we’ve had a story of progress and a process of development and growing and maturing. Passing this Bill today is a step backwards. The legislative clause that includes the sentences about the consent decision is what counts today, not any political agreements. This clause undermines, this clause takes us backwards. Two years is a long time in politics and I’m afraid that the thrill that I felt two years ago may become a huge disappointment before the end of the day.
I welcome the Welsh Labour Government's robust and highly proactive work in negotiating with the United Kingdom Government to stand up for Wales over the complex consequences of Britain's withdrawal, still to unfold, from the European Union. It is evidence, if any was needed, that the Welsh Labour Government stands up for Wales and Welsh interests within the fabric of our family of nations within the United Kingdom. As the First Minister said in the Chamber earlier today in First Minister's questions, much tribute needs to be paid to the expert negotiation skills of Mark Drakeford, and I wish to strongly echo the First Minister's praise.
Nationalists criticise this critical, important legislative consent motion—a good-deal motion—but let's be candid; the avowed aim is for an independent Wales that fundamentally breaks away from the United Kingdom, and I believe nothing less than this would ever please Plaid Cymru. If the Welsh public, in the expression to leave the European Union in 2016, and their expressed wish delivered in election after election and opinion poll after opinion poll, is for Wales to remain within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, calling us unionists is not an insult on these benches. Indeed, it is an act of description of the majority of the Welsh people.
This historic and, let me say, hard-fought agreement—let's be under no illusion—that has led to this LCM means any changes to power held in Westminster would need the consent of all the devolved legislatures. Indeed, finance Secretary Mark Drakeford articulated Welsh Government, saying that the aim throughout these talks has been to protect devolution, to protect the economy of Wales and to protect the livelihoods of the Welsh people, and make sure laws and policy in areas that are currently devolved remain devolved. This has been successfully achieved with the Westminster UK Government fundamentally changed in its position, in clause 11 to clause 15, so that all powers and policy areas rest in Cardiff unless specified to be temporarily held by the UK Government. It is right to say that there is a factual element of 64 areas to come home to Wales that were previously held in Brussels. Surely this must be understood by Plaid Cymru.
Will the Cabinet Secretary and First Minister confirm for me, then, that these will be areas where we all agree that common UK-wide rules are needed for a functioning UK internal market—
Will the Member give way?
Just picking up on something the finance Secretary said earlier on, he basically said that we need to note, in considering different actions taken in Wales and Scotland, that Wales voted to leave the European Union, whereas Scotland voted to remain. That, to me, sounds like an admission that, in terms of what it means for devolution, what the Welsh Government is settling for is inferior to that which the Scottish Government has decided to continue to fight for. How come this Government thinks it now has the right to decide that what a 'leave' vote meant in Wales was a vote to undermine devolution?
Fundamentally, I don't agree with the connection that you have made, and I hate to say this, but I think in regard to what David Melding said earlier, I think some of his points are extremely valid.
So, finally, would the Cabinet Secretary agree with me that in a devolved UK—[Interruption.] I did caveat it. I did. Would the Cabinet Secretary agree with me that in a devolved UK—[Interruption.] I'll start again. Would the Cabinet Secretary agree with me that in a devolved UK, respective, mature Governments need to deal with each other as mature equals, that a council of Ministers and a disputes framework is a good idea, and that this agreement is a good step forward in the right direction for that goal? Thank you.
In Plaid Cymru, we believe that you should respect the result of every referendum, including the 2011 referendum in Wales, when the people of Wales voted decisively for more powers. Since then, we have lost hundreds of powers with the Wales Act 2017. That's why we had to rush through Stage 1 of the minimum alcohol pricing legislation, otherwise we would lose those powers, and we face losing more powers now, with the EU withdrawal Bill and the deal over clause 11—now clause 15—meaning 24 devolved areas have gone back to London and are frozen for seven years, some people's definition of 'transient'. They're frozen, and can be changed by UK Government without our consent. Even when we refuse consent, they can be changed by UK Government. So, we have lost power. We have lost leverage over environment, agriculture, fisheries, public procurement and another 20 devolved areas. They can be changed without our consent, and in the teeth of our opposition. [Interruption.] My Chair.
I do appreciate you reciprocating the intervention. Thank you. We do, of course, recognise that Government can't change anything; it has to be Parliament, not the Government. The UK Government has no powers whatsoever.