|1. Questions to the First Minister|
|2. Business Statement and Announcement|
|3. Statement by the First Minister: The Legislative Programme|
|4. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance: Update on European Transition|
|5. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services: Local Government Reform—Next steps|
|6. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport: Update on Welsh Government Requirements for Other Rail Franchises Serving Wales and Rail Infrastructure Investment|
|7. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services: Publication of Donna Ockenden's Governance Review|
|8. The Regulation of Registered Social Landlords (Wales) Act 2018 (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 2018|
|9. Motion to approve the financial resolution in respect of the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill|
|10. Voting Time|
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Hefin David.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government funding for major infrastructure projects? OAQ52551
Yes. The Wales infrastructure investment plan sets out plans to invest over £6.5 billion in infrastructure across Wales over the remainder of the current Assembly term. That includes our flagship infrastructure projects, such as investment in 20,000 affordable homes, and the south Wales metro.
Thank you, First Minister. In spring 2017, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance announced the Welsh Government's intention to undertake three major infrastructure schemes using the mutual investment model for this year. And according to Welsh Government information, they have a combined capital value—those three projects—of £1 billion. The Welsh Government stated that the mutual investment model, or MIM, will see private partners build and maintain public assets. In return, Welsh Government will pay a fee to the private partner, which will cover the costs of construction, maintenance and financing the project, and, at the end of the project, it will be transferred into public ownership. So, can I ask the First Minister would he outline the key differences between MIM and private finance initiative, and identify whether other schemes will be used, using the MIM model, in the future, during this Assembly term?
Well, the difference is that MIM has value for money among its core objectives. It won't be used to finance soft services, such as cleaning and catering, which has led to expensive and inflexible contracts in the historic PFI model, nor will it be used to finance capital equipment. We invest a small amount of risk capital in each scheme, ensuring the public sector participates in any return on investment. So, it's a different model to PFI. I can say that a public interest director will be appointed by Government to manage the public shareholdings and to promote the public interest more widely, and that post will ensure there is transparency about costs and the performance of private partners.
First Minister, broadband is a key part of our economic infrastructure within Wales. The UK Government has established the local full fibre networks challenge fund in order to bring on the next generation of digital infrastructure and to help local-led projects leverage commercial investment into the full fibre future—the gold standard of reliability in broadband. Will you join me in welcoming the news that Monmouthshire and neighbouring local authorities Torfaen, Newport, as part of the city region, have successfully bid into this scheme? And can you tell us how the Welsh Government's own plans for developing broadband infrastructure in Wales will dovetail into the success of areas like Monmouthshire, Torfaen and south-east Wales to make sure that we capitalise on this? These are the first areas of the UK to benefit from this new development. How is the Welsh Government going to make the most of it?
Well, we are involved as a Government with the projects that he has mentioned. It builds, of course, on Superfast Cymru, which has been hugely successful in bringing broadband to many communities that would otherwise not be served with broadband if it was left to the market because of their size. So, we look to work with the UK Government to deliver the best digital outcomes for all our communities.
Given the current level of interest rates and annuity rates, a debt service liability of about £150 million, over the course of 30 years, would unlock about £2.5 billion, using the kind of innovative financing method like the MIM that the First Minister referred to. Do you think that represents value for money, and, if it does, shouldn't we be much more ambitious in terms of the scale of the capital investment programme to maximise this historic opportunity of low interest rates?
I'm with him on ambition, but it has to be tempered of course with prudence. I can say that the MIM incorporates the best of the Scottish non-distributing model—optimum risk allocation, whole-life costing and performance-based payments, whilst ensuring that new investment is classified to the private sector, which is a hugely important issue of course that we've had to deal with in this Chamber many times. And it's therefore genuinely additional to investment from other public services. So, it's a different model from PFI. We will always seek to maximise the amount of funds available through the scheme, but we always have to bear in mind the affordability of our ambition for Wales.
2. What plans does the Welsh Government have to support technology companies in south-east Wales? OAQ52563
Our economic action plan recognises the importance of technology to futureproof and maintain the competitiveness of our economy. Our calls for action, with a focus on digitalisation, automation and innovation, will see us foster the conditions that will enable technology businesses across Wales to thrive.
Thank you, First Minister. On Friday, I visited Innovation Point, a digital innovation company based in Newport that helps provide expertise, knowledge and contacts to small tech firms. Their annual international digital festival is the biggest tech event in Wales. Innovation Point has attracted many companies to Wales, and businesses like these are vital in sustaining growth and establishing our reputation for being at the forefront of technological developments. So, will the First Minister set out the steps the Welsh Government is taking to assist small and medium-sized technology firms in Newport and the region, so that we can seize the opportunities to attract more investment and ensure south-east Wales maintains its place as a digital hub?
First of all, of course, the Cardiff capital region deal will help to deliver more funding for digital businesses. We've provided £25 million-worth of funding to the Institute for Compound Semiconductor Technology in Cardiff, with a further £38 million investment with the Cardiff capital region, and, of course, the UK's first national software academy, a new national cyber security academy, and of course, as the Member said, Innovation Point.
In 2017, we announced we will invest £100 million in a Tech Valleys programme over 10 years to support the creation of more than 1,500 jobs, and, indeed, two months ago, in May, the Cabinet Secretary confirmed we would invest an extra £25 million in the Tech Valleys programme over the next three years as part of that commitment.
I recently visited the Alacrity Foundation in Newport, which is an educational charity with a mission to train and mentor graduates to create the next generation of high-tech companies based in Wales by providing the skills and knowledge required to run a profitable technology start-up. It also supports businesses by challenging its graduates to solve practical problems sourced directly from companies themselves. Will the First Minister join me in congratulating Dr Wil Williams and his team, and the private benefactors who help fund this charity alongside the Welsh Government for the fantastic work they are doing in training the next generation of entrepreneurs with the skills required to run the companies that will provide the jobs we need in the future in Wales? Thank you.
Yes, I would join him in that. I think it's hugely important that advice is given to individuals who have great ideas but who need advice as to how to run a business, how to be entrepreneurs. To be able to receive that advice is invaluable to them.
Questions now from the party leaders. The Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, can you tell us which areas of Wales have the highest rates of late-stage cancer diagnosis?
That's something that I would have to write to the Member about, but we do know that, as far as the targets are concerned in Wales, our figures compare very well.
Rich or poor, rural or urban, man or woman, cancer is an indiscriminate disease, yet diagnosis is anything but. Recent research by Macmillan shows that cancer diagnosis in this country remains a postcode lottery, and our poorest communities consistently face later stage diagnosis. Where stage is recorded, more than one in four people in Wales were diagnosed with cancer at its latest stage, which is stage 4. This is not only unacceptable in the context of our rates being the worst of any country in the UK, it's not acceptable full stop. For some cancers, the wait between first suspecting that something is wrong and diagnosis is the longest in Europe. We all know that catching cancer early saves lives. First Minister, you can save lives. Will you commit to setting and sticking to a 28-day cancer diagnosis target for all so that we can catch cancer early?
What medics tell me is that it can't be done for all types of cancer—that sometimes it takes longer for certain cancers to be diagnosed. Now, she makes the point that it's hugely important, for example, for people to be encouraged to present early, and also, of course, for GPs to refer people early on in the pathway. We know that the vast majority of cancer patients in Wales start their treatment within target times. We know that the incidence of cancer continues to rise, and treatment is increasing in complexity. The number of referrals for suspected cancer requiring investigation has risen by more than 36,000 over a five-year period to around 96,000 referrals a year, which I think is at least partial good news, because it means people are being referred on more quickly. We know, of course, that 85.5 per cent of patients newly diagnosed with cancer via the urgent suspected cancer route started definitive treatment within the target time of 62 days, and 97 per cent of those diagnosed not via the urgent route started definitive treatment within their target time of 31 days.
So, you're talking about treatment and I'm asking you about diagnosis. Cancer Research UK has championed it, clinicians are calling for it, England is doing it, and yet, First Minister, you continue to argue with the experts. You reject 28-day targets not for the good of patients, but for the good of your own public relations. You won't hit those targets and you won't meet those patients' needs.
First Minister, the evidence is clear: people in poorer areas are diagnosed later. Macmillan's data shows that stage 4 diagnosis in our poorest areas is up to 9 per cent higher compared to their wealthier neighbours. You can't afford to be poor and ill in Labour's Wales. An information campaign, more readily access to GPs and diagnosis services could turn this around. So, will you commit to creating accessible cancer diagnosis services in all parts of Wales so that, whether you are rich or poor, your cancer diagnosis is not left too late?
As somebody who is married to somebody who works for Macmillan, I'm lobbied on a daily basis in terms of the way cancer is dealt with in Wales. And I can say there is no clinical evidence at all to suggest that a 28-day target would work. Where has that come from? Where is the clinical evidence to say that 28 days is some kind of golden figure? Politicians love these figures, but, in reality, I don't see any clinical evidence for it.
There are the issues—[ Interruption.] There's no point shouting. If you asked the question, I'll answer the question for you now.
Part of the problem is a reluctance in some areas for people come forward early, and that doesn't help. We need to make sure that all GPs are referring as quickly as possible, because access to treatment is the same for everyone. It's simply a question of encouraging people to come forward as early as possible and for GPs to refer as quickly as possible. And that is something that is hugely important in terms of the campaigns that we have run in terms of raising awareness of different types of cancer, because we know if people are asked to check their symptoms, they are more likely to present early, and that's the way to make sure that more people not just are cured of cancer, but live with cancer, making sure that people are aware of the different types of cancers and their symptoms. And the work that Macmillan does is exactly that. Part of their work is to raise awareness of different cancers and provide evidence to people. They will be at the Royal Welsh Show. One of the themes they've had at the Royal Welsh Show is they have dealt with skin cancer, melanoma, especially with a show that's held in the summer, and they focus very, very strongly on people identifying cancer at an early stage themselves, or what may be the symptoms of cancer, so they can present and so, then, of course, they can have a better outcome.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, the report published by independent examiner, Donna Ockenden, last week provided a frightening picture of the delivery of services in north Wales. The damning report showed that leadership at the health board has been wholly inappropriate and significantly flawed since its creation, and that mental health services are chronically understaffed at a time when patient numbers and acuity were increasing. First Minister, are you ashamed of your Government's management of Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board?
Well, there will be a statement on this further on on the agenda this afternoon. What I can say is, of course, this is a difficult report. The report did highlight areas of progress in the presentation of the board last week. BCU now has a different executive leadership team in place. Since 2016, a new chief executive, seven executives, including a medical director and a director of nursing and a new director of mental health, have been appointed to lead on the improvements needed. A new chair will take up post shortly. I know that the Cabinet Secretary has published a written statement. He will, as I say, make an oral statement on the review later this afternoon and he has been clear about what he expects of the board.
First Minister, you should be ashamed of the way that you've actually run this health board. It will be three years ago this summer that the Welsh Government put Betsi Cadwaladr health board in special measures, and the Ockenden report has shown that, over that period, progress has been slow and significant improvements have yet to be made. Lessons simply haven't been learnt and people in north Wales will rightly feel anger and outrage at the lack of progress over the past three years in addressing these serious failings. This is a health board that is only eight years old, and has been in special measure for three of those years. It's your Government's responsibility to run this health board. You are responsible. Your Cabinet Secretary is accountable to you for the delivery of health services in Wales. What are you doing to make sure that he sorts this mess out and how are you performance managing the health Secretary to make sure he improves Betsi Cadwaladr health board? You clearly have no targets for improving the health board. Have you set any targets for your health Secretary?
I can say that Donna Ockenden was commissioned by BCU in 2015 to review the governance arrangements relating to the care of patients in Betsi Cadwaladr. She presented her findings to the board on 12 July. The report runs to about 500 pages, with the executive summary alone running to 50 pages. I wonder if he's read that report. The findings are consistent with previous reports. In many cases, it's a summary of previous reviews since 2009. What's hugely important, now that we have that report, is that we can now build on that report, as the Cabinet Secretary will outline this afternoon, and now that we know what the challenges are, we can meet those challenges.
Clearly, your Cabinet Secretary has failed when it comes to Betsi Cadwaladr university health board. The Welsh Government's record of delivering health services in north Wales speaks for itself. Let me give you some examples, First Minister: 93-year-old Margaret Megan Evans waited on a concrete path for more than three hours after falling and breaking her hip, and then was not seen by an emergency department doctor until almost 11 hours after help was initially summoned; 46-year-old Ester Wood waited five hours in an ambulance before being admitted to hospital, where she then died; 78-year-old Neville Welton passed away following a delay in treatment because of capacity, staffing, administration errors and patient flow problems. First Minister, these are real people. Warnings that lives remain at risk have been issued by the coroner's office following deaths in hospitals, and in the past 12 months, the health board received 294 new claims for either personal injury or clinical or medical negligence. There's clearly a culture of deny, defend and dismiss at the heart of Betsi Cadwaladr health board and your Government. First Minister, when will your Government take responsibility for the catalogue of failures in care at Betsi Cadwaladr university health board since it has been in special measures? Will you now apologise to the people of north Wales for the shambles of a system that your Government has presided over and for the lack of accountability in handling these services?
This contrasts, doesn't it, with the way his party approaches things in England, where if there is an issue like Gosport it's always the fault—[Interruption.] It's always the fault—[Interruption.] I know it's the leadership contest, but perhaps he'd like me to answer the question.
Allow the First Minister to respond, please. Allow the First Minister to respond.
All these things are brushed off towards the health boards; it's never the fault of the UK Government. We take responsibility for what happens in Betsi Cadwaladr because it is in special measures. It is the report that we will use in order to create that improvement. We are diverting and putting resources into health as best we can, despite the austerity—[Interruption.] Well, they can moan about it, but it's despite the austerity that has been put in place by his party. If he stood up and demanded the same for Wales as his party has given to Northern Ireland, he would have more credibility in the arguments that he puts forward. As I say, the Cabinet Secretary will make a statement on this this afternoon. It's time he and his party apologised for fleecing the people of Wales for the past eight years.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, the outgoing Auditor General for Wales has been highly critical—[Interruption.]
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, the outgoing Auditor General for Wales has been highly critical of the Welsh public sector's inability to adapt to reduced budgets. In evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, Huw Vaughan Thomas said that public services could be reforming for the better, but their only response to austerity has been cutting costs. He also said that he was frustrated that devolution hasn't led to a fundamental rethink on how we deliver public services in Wales. The reality is that, regardless of who is in power in Westminster, we will not see massive increases in public spending because the UK is now nearly £2 trillion in debt, which equates to around 85 per cent of GDP. We can't borrow our way out of this mess, so we have to spend smarter. So, First Minister, do you agree with the outgoing auditor general that we need a radical rethink for public services?
We always look to put in place the best system for public services that we can. For example, we took three Welsh Government-sponsored bodies and turned them into one—Natural Resources Wales—and we reduced the number of bodies delivering health to make sure that there were fewer organisations that people had to be in contact with. The reality is this: we have protected the Welsh public services budget. Local government in Wales is far better financed than is the case in England. We haven't seen the destruction of social services that is happening under a Tory Government in England. We have put resources into social care and into health. We've also, of course, put resources into education. We have seen the cut in education funding that we saw in England last week, where schools have been starved of money by a Conservative Government. Why is this relevant? Because if they were in charge, they would do exactly the same in Wales—exactly the same in Wales. We have fought against the austerity that the Welsh Conservatives have greeted in Wales, and we know what would happen to our older people, to our young people, to schools, to hospitals and to social services if ever—God forbid—they got their hands on power.
I agree with the former auditor general that austerity is the biggest challenge facing public services in Wales, coupled with the rise in demand. These services are facing incredible pressure. While NHS spending has continued to rise, local authority cuts are impacting upon social care, which, in turn, impacts upon healthcare. We spend more per head on health than they do in England, yet we have to wait longer for appointments and longer for treatment. So, First Minister, your Government's long-term plan for health and social care will help us prepare for future challenges, but what about now? How do we meet the challenges of today? Huw Vaughan Thomas said that public services in Wales need to think more radically about how services are delivered, with a focus on outcomes rather than structures. So, First Minister, is your Government too focused on structures as opposed to outcomes?
No, because, for example, in the field of health, that would mean that we would be looking at yet another reorganisation, and that's not something that would cause stability in the health service. It is down to resource, it's down to ensuring that we can allocate as much resource as we can to health and other public services, but it's a hugely difficult task against the backdrop of austerity that we face and what we've faced over the past eight years.
Thank you, First Minister. Huw Vaughan Thomas said that the Williams commission report clearly sets out the nature of systemic problems that need to be fixed. He added that he finds himself both frustrated and increasingly concerned that many clarion calls for action that Wales has heard over the last decade or so have not yet generated the tangible changes that are now urgently needed, and that we have not used devolution as an opportunity for fundamental rethinks. So, First Minister, does your Government lack the will to do what is necessary to drive forward change in Wales's public services, or do you truly believe that the changes proposed by the Williams commission and others are unnecessary? Thank you.
I'm not sure whether it's now UKIP policy to back what was in the Williams commission in terms of local government reform. If that is the case, then that's interesting. We have seen a situation in Wales where we have seen the development of consortia, for example, in education, which has led to far better outcomes for education than was previously the case. At one point, we had six local authorities in special measures and we had one local authority that collapsed completely in Anglesey—we're far from that position. So, we've worked to make sure that our local authorities have become more sustainable. There are still challenges to make sure that that happens in the future, and that is where, of course, it'll be interesting to hear other parties' views in terms of what the structure of public services should be in the future, rather than simply saying, 'Well, we don't like this.' What are the views of other parties? Let's see whether there is a consensus—we've had the parliamentary review on health—in terms of how public services might be structured in the future.
3. Will the First Minister make statement on tackling traffic congestion in South Wales Central? OAQ52520
The metro is one obvious example of how that is being done. We also have our pinch points programme and the improvements to public transport I've already mentioned, and we're supporting local authorities to address key local issues.
First Minister, we all know that you are making traffic congestion worse in Cardiff rather than tackling it. Thousands of houses are being thrown up right now—right now—along Llantrisant Road, for example, in the west of the city, where there's only a single-carriage road. The metro is at some point in the future. You're also planning on building a motorway, when you can make a decision, but that traffic will then end up on local roads. Now, in this region, in this city, especially in the west along Llantrisant Road, traffic jams already go on for miles. There is no metro in place, there is no public transport in place, there's no actual plan when you speak to developers. So, my question is: what are constituents meant to do, and what advice do you have to those people stuck for hours and hours and hours in jams? And I would appreciate it, this time, if you could just take that little bit of care and actually address the question: what are my constituents supposed to do?
Well, I expect—. First of all, the issue of development is a matter for Cardiff council, not for the Welsh Government. Secondly, we do expect councils to put in place plans for sustainable transport, particularly for active travel. I note the intention of Cardiff council, for example, to look at five cycling superhighways, which I think is an excellent idea for the city. He is right to say that we cannot keep on building houses without there being an active transport plan that supports those developments; we can't rely on the roads in Cardiff forever and a day to take the traffic. But these are matters that have to be addressed in the course of the planning process.
Congestion straddles the whole of South Wales Central. Just a distance from this Chamber, the village of Dinas Powys exists, the largest village in Wales. On the one side you have Barry, the largest town in Wales, and the capital city falls the other side of it. For some 40 years, there's been a campaign to have a bypass built around the village of Dinas Powys, and successive campaigns, sadly, have come to nothing. Do you identify with the issues around congestion in the village of Dinas Powys, and the blight it puts on people's lives there, especially with air pollution and noise in particular, where that road passes several schools—primary schools, I might add—and will you identify this as a top priority for the Welsh Government, and work with the Vale of Glamorgan Council to take forward the plans that are currently being discussed?
This is primarily a matter, of course, for the Vale of Glamorgan Council, but we did award funding of £20,000 in 2016-17 and £80,000 in 2017-18 to the council towards a study looking at the options to resolve traffic congestion in Dinas Powys. The scope of that work was extended in April 2018, and I understand the Vale of Glamorgan Council is funding additional work. Consultation on the next stage is planned for this September—September 2018.
Would the First Minister agree that the metro plans for two new stations in my constituency of Cardiff North—Gabalfa/Llandaff North is one of them, and the other one will go in the centre of the new build of the Velindre cancer centre—that these will aid traffic congestion in the city of Cardiff?
Yes, I do. I think it's hugely important—. There is no way that Cardiff city centre can plan its way out of traffic congestion simply by roads; that's self-evident. It is why, of course, we're making the investment in the metro. What's important about the metro is its extendability, so that, in the future, new stations can be opened up with light rail to provide better alternatives than people have at the moment in terms of public transport, whether it's light rail, whether it's buses, whether it's heavy rail. And, of course, there's a need to make it easier for people to cycle. There's no doubt in my mind that a substantial proportion of cyclists—apart from the dedicated few, and I know we have some in this Chamber—don't feel comfortable about sharing the road with heavy vehicles. So, anything that can be done to make it easier for people to cycle to work via separate highways for cycles I think is something to be welcomed.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's review of gender equality? OAQ52540
My ambition is for the review to provide the change needed for Wales to become a world leader in women’s rights and gender equality. I know the leader of the house recently updated Members on the first phase of the review. Phase 2 will provide a comprehensive programme of actions to take forward.
Thank you, First Minister. Last week, we held the first meeting of the cross-party group on women, supported by the Women's Equality Network, a membership network of over 1,000 organisations and individuals working to advance the rights of women in all spheres of Welsh life. The Women's Equality Network delegation is presenting their UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women report to the UN committee this week, asking a wide range of questions of the UK and Welsh Governments regarding gender equality. Will you agree to meet with the delegation to respond to their report, which includes calling on the Welsh Government to formally adopt the Istanbul convention and CEDAW principles to provide internationally recognised standards to make Wales the safest place in Europe to be a woman?
Yes, I will be able to meet with the delegation to discuss the report. We will, of course, formally respond to the report during the UN examination on the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women in February of next year. Could I suggest as well that the leader of the house and the national advisers who recently attended Cabinet are also involved in any meeting with the delegation?
First Minister, your own intentions towards honing a Government of equals is sadly undermined by figures that make clear that the Welsh Government's gender pay gap, for your own staff, has recently increased. The annual employer equality report earlier this year found that the pay gap between men and women working in the Welsh Government had actually increased in 2017 from the previous year. On average, men actually earn more than women in every single pay grade, from team support to senior civil service. Men also outnumber women in each of the three highest pay grades and the average basic full-time equivalent salary for men was more than £3,000 higher than for women. Given such a scale of inequity and unfairness within your own Government departments, do you not now think that it is time to practise what you preach and to better seek to lead by example—in other words, First Minister, by getting your own house in order?
Well, the Welsh Government gender pay gap is 8 per cent. It is nothing to shout about, of course, but it's better than the pay gap that exists in Whitehall—[Interruption.]
What on earth is wrong with comparing the situation in Wales to the situation that is so shameful with the Conservatives in England? [Interruption.]
The First Minister is answering the question, please. [Interruption.] Please will you allow the First Minister to continue his answer.
Thank you, Llywydd. We do recognise the current position isn't good enough. It's fair to say the majority of higher paid roles are currently filled by men, and Welsh Government is fully committed to doing everything it can to reduce the pay gap. Women hold 40 per cent of senior civil service posts in the Welsh Government. Now, of course, the pay arrangements of senior staff are not in the control of the Welsh Government, they're not devolved, but there is a commitment on our part to achieving 50:50 representation across the senior civil service by 2020.
So, what measures are being taken? Well, measures are being taken to attract more women into senior posts; this includes support for women who are pregnant or on maternity leave, ensuring job adverts are inclusive, offering development courses to women and having no all-male shortlists for recruitment exercises. Alongside this, the Welsh Government has signed up to Chwarae Teg's Fair Play employer benchmarking service, and that will help to review existing practices and develop the action plan for further changes.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the future of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board? OAQ52565
We have set out clear expectations and milestones for Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board to meet in order to drive improvements and action recommendations made in key reports during the next 18 months. A new chair has been appointed and more intensive support is being put in place to accelerate improvements to benefit the population of north Wales.
This is the response that I’ve been hearing over five years of asking this question, to all intents and purposes, and we’ve heard reference to another damning report that has just been published recently. It is a beast of a health board; certainly the largest health board we have in Wales, and perhaps the biggest public body we have in Wales. But over the last three years, it has been in special measures and, therefore, it has been directly accountable to your Government, directly under the purview of your Cabinet Secretary, and therefore the buck stops directly with your Government. You can’t deny that. But tell us, how many more damning reports, and how many more scandals are needed before you'll accept that the situation as it currently exists is unsustainable and that it’s time for change, and that we now need to look again at the structures for delivering health services in north Wales?
I don’t think a change of structure will do anything. What will make a difference is to have reports and ensure that action is being taken on those reports. If nothing happens after the report, then the criticism would be very fair, in my opinion. It’s crucial that we understand what the challenges are before we get to those challenges. What's happening positively in Betsi Cadwaladr? Well, there is a mental health strategy that’s been developed with partners and the users of services. There’s more of a focus on quality and the experience of patients. We’ve seen, of course, maternity services improving, and coming out of special measures. We've seen significant improvement in terms of those who finish their training. We know that therapy services operate access within the target of 14 weeks. So, things have improved, but it is true to say that there is work to be done again, and it's crucial that we consider reports like the Ockenden report in order to know what to go on with.
First Minister, you'll have to forgive me, but I think that was a very complacent answer. It's very clear from the Ockenden report that the issues that were identified when the health board was put into special measures are not being addressed, and I quote from one of the reasons why the health board was being put in special measures:
'the health board must implement governance and assurance actions which have been highlighted in a series of reports, including by the Wales Audit Office and HIW, and in a review carried out by Ann Lloyd.'
The Donna Ockenden report makes it absolutely clear that those things have not been fully implemented, and yet the man who is responsible for the oversight and accountability arrangements of the special measures, who's sat on your front row in your Cabinet, around that Cabinet table, who is responsible for the failure, is still in his post. Don't you agree with me that there needs to be an apology from the Cabinet Secretary to the people of north Wales and to the families of the Tawel Fan patients who were failed by your Government in terms of turning this situation around? And will you accept that, given that we don't have any confidence in your health Secretary to turn the situation around, he ought to go and go now?
Oh dear, oh dear. Is he standing for the leadership as well? I mean, really. We have a report that was published last week. We've not had a chance to respond to it yet, and according to the Conservative Party the response can come within a few days. It's a 500-page report. I wonder whether they've actually read the report. There are 50 pages of an executive summary, and it is right to say that the Cabinet Secretary will need to respond to that report, which he will do this afternoon. This is all about improving patient experience, not about scoring political points.
First Minister, what lessons have you learned over the years since the creation of the Betsi Cadwaladr university health board?
Well, because we know that there were enormous problems in the health board and those problems are not yet resolved, and that has to be accepted. There has been some progress, but it's reports such as Ockenden that provide us with the ability to identify the challenges more closely and ensure the health board then meets those challenges.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of night-time domiciliary care? OAQ52564
Local authorities are responsible for assessing an individual’s needs for care and support, including any night-time domiciliary care required, and for subsequently meeting those needs through a care and support plan.
Thank you very much for that response.
Age Cymru have carried out some important work in analysing the provision, or rather the lack of provision, of night-time domiciliary care in Wales. Unfortunately, only eight out of the 22 local authorities actually provided figures in terms of the number of adults receiving night-time domiciliary care. Of those local authorities that could provide figures, we know that only 1.92 per cent of care and support assessments led to night-time domiciliary care. Under 2 per cent of assessments led to night-time domiciliary care, with wide variations between local authorities.
So, what, therefore, is your Government going to do to tackle the lack of data collection in the first place and, more importantly, the lack of consistency and provision in terms of night-time support to our most vulnerable citizens?
Well, we've already taken action to improve the terms and conditions of the workforce. We provided £19 million of recurrent funding to local authorities for them to work with providers to further support the workforce. We're aware that a number of authorities use part of that funding to pay a higher rate for sleep-in cover. We will of course continue to work using, for example, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 with local authorities in order to make sure that local authorities understand their duties and to create greater consistency. It's very difficult, of course, to understand on an individual basis whether somebody has been assessed or not for night-time domiciliary care, but it's hugely important that local authorities are flexible enough in their interpretation of the regulations and in their assessments to make sure that people get the care that they need.
Well, I think those figures just highlight the critical role of unpaid carers in overnight care, for people within their family usually. Obviously, in those circumstances, it's very often mental health care and traditional domiciliary care is not appropriate anyway. You'll remember that the Welsh Conservatives launched a policy last month to give grants to young adult carers to help them stay in education post 16, partly on the basis that it needed be recognised that carers allowance should be payable to those individuals, taking into account their overnight caring responsibilities as part of their hours for eligibility. Can you give us some steer on whether this policy is going to be considered by the advisory body that's supporting the Minister, who is, at the moment, trying to get together some policies to support carers?
Well, there is nothing that is not on the table as far as future policies are concerned. There is the question, of course, of identifying the resources in order to do that, but, also, we do have the education maintenance allowance in Wales, which I suspect would apply, potentially, to many carers. But, of course, if there are other proposals that come forward, we will, of course, look at them.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the accessibility of children's play areas? OAQ52559
All children benefit from being outside, interacting with their environment and developing through play. Statutory guidance directs local authorities, working with partners, to consider the diverse needs of all children and young people in their area.
Thank you, First Minister, but I'm sure that anyone would be moved by the story that broke last week of an eight-year-old boy, Kobi Barrow, who helped design a park that could be used by both able-bodied and disabled children, and he did that in memory of his best friend, Rhianna, who sadly passed away in 2016. It emerged that Rhianna had to travel for three hours from her home to play in a playground that had suitable equipment and he wanted to rectify that for the other children who lived more locally. First Minister, what steps are the Welsh Government taking to ensure that playgrounds in Wales have inclusive play equipment for children and how are we going to monitor progress of that throughout Wales?
Well, the statutory guidance directs local authorities to consider the diverse needs of all the children and young people in their area, including those with disabilities. I know that, in April, the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care visited Oaklands play area in Rhondda Cynon Taf, which is a good example of an accessible play area. It shows what can be achieved. In May, local authorities were reminded of the expectation for each local authority to develop a clearly identified play section on their websites. That information should be made available in a way that supports children and families to know what's available in their local areas. It should also include actions that local authorities propose to take to achieve sufficiency and improve inclusive play opportunities. I can also say that the Groundwork Wales SNAP Cymru Sustainable Play project trained play workers in disability awareness and inclusion and that was extremely successful in engaging disabled people in outdoor play.
Well, of course, you hit on the word 'play', and you said that everybody should have access to be able to play, especially young children. We talk in this place a lot about obesity, about making our kids healthy and fit and active and all the rest of it, and yet, First Minister, what I'd be interested to know is what is your Government doing—your Government, the one here in Wales—to ensure that the planning system in Wales takes due regard of the necessity to have safe, accessible play areas, close to homes that are currently being built? Because too many times you get to a situation where the developer will actually, perhaps, through the use of a 106 agreement or something, put aside an area for a play area, but it happens to be the other side of a busy main road or it happens to be the other side of the village where kids can't access it. In the old days, we used to put our play areas near our houses so that the parent at home or the carer could look out and just check the kid was still safe and out there playing. We can't do this now, and I've seen planners use the pavement, the green grass by the sides of pavements, as part of the square footage to add to the so-called 'playing area' available on a housing development. How can we stop that? How can we make safe play areas that small kids can access all the time, where people can watch them and know that they are truly, truly protected?
Well, an effective planning authority will do just that. I've seen it happen in my own authority where play areas are accessible on new housing estates and very accessible, so there's no reason why that can't be emulated by authorities elsewhere through the use of section 106 agreements and through the use of planners ensuring that play areas are available for new residents on new developments. So, there is a responsibility on local authorities and their planners to make sure that they follow the best practice that I've seen elsewhere in Wales.
8. What plans does the Welsh Government have to introduce a default 20 mph speed limit in urban areas? OAQ52528
We have carried out a comprehensive review of speed limits near schools on or near trunk roads and we have a multi-year programme to introduce part-time 20 mph-limits in those locations. We also provide funding for local authorities to implement 20-mph zones and limits through the road safety and Safe Routes in Communities grants. We have also commissioned Dr Adrian Davis to carry out an evidence review on the 20-mph limits to inform any future policy development. That review will be concluded in August and that will show us what the direction forward will be.
Thank you, First Minister. Because, two years ago, Public Health Wales did produce some research that showed that a default 20-mph speed limit would result in a reduction in road traffic casualties, a reduction in carbon and nitrogen oxide emissions in residential areas, a decrease in noise, an increase in active travel, community cohesion and more spending in local shops. Put simply, it would achieve all the national goals set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. Now, having said that we'd introduce 20-mph zones once we had the powers, now we have the powers, it does seem that we are waiting for the Department for Transport in London to complete some further research before we go ahead. Wouldn't the First Minister agree that the evidence is clear and consistent and we should now get on with it?
Well, let's wait to see what the review says. We're not dependent on what the DfT does, for obvious reasons. Their work is of interest to us, of course, but we have our own review. Once that's published then, of course, further decisions can be taken as to then whether or not we introduce a comprehensive 20-mph limit.
First Minister, this has been examined, reviewed, endlessly across Europe, and very many countries now have a 20-mph limit, or 30 kmph in their measures. Can I commend Cardiff council for just getting on with this? And I welcome the local campaigns that are now pushing us, like the one in Sully. It should be default and the motorist should not be king in terms of who can go out and enjoy the outside environment. When we drive cars, we have to be responsible for that, and the pedestrian needs greater protection and we need to shift to more active forms of travel.
It's impossible to argue with him when he puts it that way, and he is right to say that active consideration will be given to a 20-mph speed limit. He's also right to say that we want to encourage more people into other forms of transport, and that's precisely, as I've outlined earlier on this afternoon, what we're looking to do.
Well, this is the third party getting up to support 20 mph as the default in our towns and villages. When I went to primary school, 90 per cent of children walked back and forth to primary schools alone. Now, only 25 per cent travel to primary school in that way. That’s because the car has come to dominate our urban landscape in a way that isn’t natural and doesn’t allow natural play or health. So, will you at least empower local authorities now to introduce these zones without any barrier put in place by the Welsh Government?
We are providing funding to local authorities to ensure that there are 20-mph zones there already, and people see them across Wales. It’s not a legal problem but a financial one. They need to know that the funding is available, and that’s why there’s a grant available to ensure that these zones can move forward.
The next item, therefore, is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the leader of the house to make the statement—Julie James.
Diolch, Llywydd. There's one change to this week's business. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services will make a statement on last week's publication of Donna Ockenden's governance review. Business for the next three weeks is shown on the business statement and announcement found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Three things, If I may, Llywydd. You may have heard—sorry, leader of the house; apologies—that there was another fire in Heol-y-Cyw fairly recently in the woodchip facility that they have there. I just want to mention that the Cabinet Secretary, in 2006, said that she would look closely at regulations and powers regarding the storage of flammable materials. I asked your predecessor twice in 2017 when we might see some of these new powers and regulations coming through, and, in fact, I asked you in December 2017 when we might expect to see some progress on this. Unfortunately, we've had this fire, as I say, and, as far as I can tell, there has been no update, so could we please have an oral statement from either the Cabinet Secretary or the environment Minister in the first week of term?
I also wonder if I might ask for the same department to take a look at the regulations and guidance under the 2006 Commons Act. I'm about to mention something with which you're familiar, leader of the house—we still have instances in Gower where we have irresponsible grazing by a particular grazier, which affects other commoners' rights, neighbouring properties, and, rather sadly, personal safety, in a fairly recent instance. I think we need some clarity on whether lack of action is legislative, whether there are any lacunae in the law at the moment, or whether there's a failure to use enforcement procedures, and, if so, why.
And then, finally, I wonder if we could have an update on where is the legislation to extend part 2 of the Nurse Staffing Levels Act (Wales) 2016. This was promised in this Assembly. I see from the statement on the legislative programme today that it's not included. This Assembly is running out of time, so I think the least we could expect is a timetable for that. Thank you.
Well, taking the middle one first, which is the easiest, the Cabinet Secretary is nodding happily at your suggestion, so I'm sure we can take that one forward. In terms of the issue with the woodchip fires, I will be discussing that with Cabinet colleagues, and we will come forward with the timetable for that, and, in terms of part 2, again, I will discuss with the Cabinet Secretary exactly where we are with that and make sure that the Assembly's informed immediately.
First of all, can I ask the leader of the house how the Welsh Government intends to keep Members informed of developments around the Brexit process? Things are very febrile in Westminster, and they're going on holiday early—perhaps never to return, who knows? We shall see. But I think it is important that we understand, as things are negotiated and discussed—albeit it might not happen in August, because the rest of the European Union certainly goes on holiday in August, but we will, early in September, have some more details coming forward on some of these agreements. Can we have an undertaking that written statements, at least, will be issued by the Welsh Government to keep us all informed so that we can follow those matters? Of course, we'll leave the Westminster politics for now to another place, but just note that if all the Lib Dems had turned up to vote yesterday then we'd have a very different scenario today, perhaps, in terms of moving things forward—[Interruption.] Oh dear. [Laughter.]
The second issue I'd like to raise with her is much more in her Government's purview. For the third time in a row, the Wales auditor general has qualified the accounts of Natural Resources Wales, this body that the First Minister just said was wonderfully established. Three times in a row their accounts have been qualified for timber contracts. We understand the origin of this, but the fact that we have the auditor general saying that Natural Resources Wales, after three qualifications, is still not taking his views seriously, I think says a lot about some failures in that organisation. I have to say I think there's something rotten in the governance of Natural Resources Wales now. My patience has run out with them. They keep assuring me that these things will be done and lessons will be learned, and we've got another set of qualified accounts.
I've had complaints from timber contractors in my own region, including in Meirionydd Dwyfor, of problems with the contracts being let. I've taken them up with the Minister; the Minister tells me and my constituent, 'Well, use Natural Resources Wales's own complaints mechanism.' Well, I can tell you that those complaints mechanisms have been exhausted and the details passed on to the media now, because I think there's something seriously wrong here that your Government needs to tackle. So, can we have a statement—it's too late to ask for an oral statement now, but a written statement, certainly—from the Minister on what she is doing to get hold of the fact that Natural Resources Wales does not seem to have put its house in order, does not seem to have the right governance structures in place, and is not delivering a healthy woodland sector for Wales?
The Member's made a series of important points there. The Cabinet Secretary is indicating to me that she's meeting the chair and chief executive of NRW tomorrow and will update Members as soon as that meeting has taken place.
In terms of Brexit updates, I hesitate to say that we'll keep Members informed as things progress, as we seem to be in a position where things are progressing and then unprogressing and then reprogressing again all over the place. But I know the Cabinet Secretary is very anxious that Members are kept informed, and I'm sure that we will find a way, whether by written statement or by letter, to make sure that Assembly Members are kept in touch with significant developments, should they occur over the recess, Llywydd.
Could the leader of the house arrange for a statement to be made about game bird shooting on Welsh Government land? Seventy-six per cent of respondents to a YouGov poll showed that they were opposed to the shooting of game birds for sport on public land in Wales. Could there be clarification about how NRW will be taking into account the very welcome views of the Minister, asking NRW to consider not renewing the pheasant shooting lease agreements as they expire?
Yes, that's a very important issue. I know that the Minister will be meeting NRW very shortly to discuss these issues further, and to discuss how to end the pheasant shooting leases on the Welsh Government estate. She is very happy to provide a written statement once those meetings have concluded. We understand that the NRW board endorsed the recommendations of the review last week on the use of firearms on land managed by NRW, and considered the letter that she sent out on the Welsh Government position on shooting on the estate. So, I'm sure that, once that series of meetings have concluded, the Minister will update the Assembly as to the outcome.
Leader of the house, may I ask for a statement from the Welsh Government on access to sport by disabled people? A study commissioned by Sport Wales showed that people thought access to sport by disabled children and adults is perceived to be very patchy in many areas and across many sports, with accessible changing rooms and direct access to the sporting facilities often lacking in Wales. Could we have a statement from the Minister on what the Welsh Government is doing to remove the barriers to disabled children and adults participating in sports in Wales please?
Yes, I think the Member raises a very important point. I am actually bringing forward a statement on the annual equalities report of the Welsh Government in the autumn, and I'll be sure to include the issue the Member raises in that.
Leader of the house, I have been contacted by trainee doctors, for some time now, who are concerned and disappointed that a pay gap of some £40,000 exists between Welsh and English histopathology trainee doctor salaries over the course of their training, between ST1 and ST5. Now, I know that the Welsh Government is aware of the pay gap, but, even though I've corresponded with the Cabinet Secretary for health on this matter, no change has yet been implemented. Clearly, pay, among other factors, is important to trainee doctors when deciding on where to train and study. Doctors who decide to train in Wales deserve parity with their counterparts across the border. Trainees have told me that they feel that by deciding to work in Wales they are being financially punished for their decision. Now, this is not fair. It is not equitable, does nothing for morale, and, in the long run, it undermines the Welsh Government's attempts to attract doctors to train and work in NHS Wales. So, can I ask about your influence in making the Cabinet Secretary for health agree to bring forward a statement on the matter of histopathology trainee doctors and what he is doing to close this unfair pay gap?
If the Member writes with the details that he has, I'll make sure that we can get an answer to that. I know that we're very pleased with the amount of junior doctors that have come forward to take up training places in Wales, and in fact we've been oversubscribed. So, we certainly want to make sure that that situation continues. So, if he is kind enough to write in with the details, I'll ensure that there's an answer.
As you know, leader of the house, in the first week of May this year, Virgin Media announced 772 job cuts at its Swansea call centre, which it proposed to close, causing serious concerns to many of my constituents and many of yours. The Welsh Government, since then, have been involved in supporting staff working in Virgin Media, and all I've heard are good things from the people working there about the support they've had from the Welsh Government and Welsh Government officials. But can the leader of the house provide an update on the progress being made as of now? And will the leader of the house be able to keep us informed if anything does happen in either the last couple of weeks of July, August, or during early September? I'm sure that a number of other Members are interested. Some are Government Ministers and can't ask questions on this, but they also represent constituents who work there. Approximately 800 people is bound to cover a far larger area than Swansea East.
Yes, indeed. The Member's quite right, Llywydd. Obviously, Members of my own constituency are also covered, just to make sure the Assembly is aware, and I know other Government members have a constituency interest in that area. We are in close touch with Virgin Media. We are continuing with our plans for the taskforce to be ready to support any affected staff. We have done what we can to help reverse the decision by assisting the in-house staff association, Voice, in preparing a counterproposal. We are prepared to assist with any proposal that maintains the skills and the jobs in the Swansea area and, certainly, Llywydd, I will undertake to ensure that Members are kept updated of any change to that during the recess period.
Please may I call for a single statement on care for learning-disabled adults who develop dementia? When I chaired last month's cross-party group on disability in the Assembly, we heard from Shared Lives Cymru about the all-Wales dementia initiative, a proposal for dementia-specific services for learning-disabled adults who do develop dementia. Carers of learning-disabled people all over Wales have identified the deficit of a clear pathway of support for those who develop dementia, and the all-Wales forum of patients and carers, in partnership with Shared Lives, working together alongside key health and social care agencies, have pulled together the early stages of a suggested pathway to support all those with a learning disability affected by this condition. I therefore call for a statement in which the Welsh Government hopefully provides reassurance and outlines what ongoing practical support it can offer to this innovative and effective intervention in addressing the recognised health deficits experienced by some of our most vulnerable citizens.
The Member raises a very important point. We have worked very closely with representative groups on our dementia plan, including people with dementia themselves from a wide range of diverse areas. And I know that that dementia plan has been well received by the communities of people both supporting people with dementia and living with dementia themselves. I'm sure the Cabinet Secretary will update us in due course as that plan rolls out.
I wonder whether we could have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on how the Welsh Government is helping people who have been in the armed forces with mental health issues. I work closely with the 65 Degrees North organisation, which brings veterans on adventures or long walking tours. They have come to understand that there are many young men now taking their own lives having been in the armed forces, and that’s for various reasons, and they want an update on what the Welsh Government is doing to support these veterans—mainly men—as part of that agenda.
The second statement I would like to receive from the Welsh Government is again under the purview of the Cabinet Secretary for health. In December last year, the advisory panel on substance misuse released a report into the feasibility of enhanced harm-reduction centres in Wales, as other European countries have established, to help ensure safety for users and to help to reduce drug-related deaths, which is rising here in Wales, as I raised last week in regard to problems in Neath and Swansea. Could I request that the health Secretary provides an update on the Welsh Government's response to this report? I've had concerns from our police commissioner in north Wales, Arfon Jones, that, despite the fact that we've had this report, the Welsh Government hasn't yet responded to it, or said how they would want to, potentially, put some of these practices in place in Wales. I think we need to adopt a realistic attitude as opposed to a perhaps more moralistic attitude towards drugs here in Wales, considering that it is a rising issue. And when I raised this question last week in the Senedd, the amount of people who engaged with me, constructively actually, as to how to address the drugs problem here in Wales was really positive. And so, if we could see a response from the Welsh Government to this piece of work—a very valuable piece of work—then I would be grateful.
And also—again, the same Cabinet Secretary—you did promise me a response on the Immigration Act 2016 issues, with regard to people potentially having to identify themselves when they wanted health treatment. I still haven't had that response. I know it is a complex issue, but if I could get a statement or a letter from the Cabinet Secretary, that would help me go back to my constituents—your constituents as well, actually—to tell them what the progress is on that.
Well, in time-honoured fashion, Llywydd, and in reverse order, I will certainly find out where that response is. It was very good to see you at the Welsh refugee Swansea launch the other day, and it was a matter raised with me as well. And I will certainly chase up where we are with that response, as you brought up.
On the substance misuse response, I completely agree that we need to regard this not as a criminal issue but as a mental health and social issue. And, again, I will check where we are with the response and what the timescales for that are.
On the veterans mental health issue, she raised a series of important issues there, which I will discuss with the Cabinet Secretary, as they cross a few portfolios, and I'll just make sure that the Government provides a comprehensive response to the issues that she raises.FootnoteLink
Leader of the house, the Welsh Government has done a lot of excellent work to deal with domestic abuse, not least the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, which, as you know, my dad and former member of the Cabinet, Leighton Andrews, worked extremely hard on. In terms of my own team, we have recently all become White Ribbon ambassadors and champions, and I think it would be extremely great if Members from across the Chamber, including the Cabinet, could find some time to take that training and become members, ambassadors and champions of the White Ribbon campaign themselves.
Leader of the house, technological innovation is impacting every part of our daily life, from the economy to the delivery of our services, and, for the most part, it is providing us with excellent and exciting opportunities. However, it is also having an impact on domestic abuse cases. I recently read an article in The New York Times, entitled 'Thermostats, Locks and Lights: Digital Tools of Domestic Abuse'. I think also the BBC covered it as well. It's a really insightful article that Members should certainly take time to read through. It highlights a new pattern of behaviour of domestic abuse cases, tied to the rise of smart home technology. Internet-connected locks, speakers, thermostats, lights and cameras that have all been marketed as the newest conveniences are also being used as a means of harassment, monitoring, revenge and control. Leader of the house, could we please have a statement on issues like this, and would the Welsh Government perhaps undertake some work on the impact of such technology on cases here in Wales, like that being done by the Safety Net project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence in the United States of America?
Yes, two excellent points. On the White Ribbon ambassadors, I was very impressed when I visited the fire service recently, who have trained all of their fire personnel in being White Ribbon ambassadors because, of course, they go into people's houses, and they have also all taken the Welsh Government's 'ask and act' training, which is very important indeed. I'm very happy to commend that training to all Assembly Members. The 'ask and act' level 1 training is not difficult to do, and it's accessible online and is a very useful insight into what people can do to enable them not to be a bystander when domestic abuse, violence against women or any kind of sexual violence is happening.
I was also very pleased to attend the launch in Gwent of the registered social landlord scheme there, which was a very impressive online portal, which is also accessible to absolutely anyone who wants to take an interest in that. So, I highly recommend that as well.
In terms of the technology, we are very aware that coercive control in particular can be enabled by such technology, and we are taking that into account in looking at our guidance in terms of the 'ask and act' policy and the Don't be a Bystander campaign in order to ensure that people understand that it can be used in that way and to recognise it when they see it.
Leader of the chamber, I would like a Government statement on declarations of interest for members of the Welsh Government. I note, for example, that the ministerial declaration of interests has just been published, five days ago, and your son has been declared as working for the controversial lobbying firm, Deryn, since 2017. Now, Deryn's clients have received at least £100 million of public funding in the last year alone. One of the organisations to receive millions from the Welsh Government has been Chwarae Teg. That's interesting because responsibility for core funding to Chwarae Teg was moved into your portfolio area at the beginning of the year. Now, when the former leader of the Conservatives alleged that Deryn knew about the sacking of the late Carl Sargeant before even he was told, you responded on behalf of the Government. [Interruption.]
Your microphone is not on. [Interruption.] Your microphone is not on at this moment. You need to be clear to me why this is a request for a statement from the Welsh Government.
It's clear because there are questions to answer in terms of interests, in terms of what people knew, in terms of when the Minister's declaration of interest was known, and whether or not those declarations were made before she addressed this Chamber in replying to the debate on the leak—on the report about the leaks—and also whether or not the declaration was made before the decision was made for core funding for Chwarae Teg. Those are the very, very fundamental questions about democratic accountability that should be asked in this Chamber on behalf of the public, because I feel that this Minister had a very particular—possibly a very particular—[Inaudible.]
Neil McEvoy, your microphone is no longer on. This is a series of accusations, not a request for a statement. This is not a time to question the Minister. This is a business statement. I do not think that the Minister has anything to respond to on that basis, unless the Minister wants to respond.
Rhun ap Iorwerth. [Interruption.]
There's nothing shameful in what I've just said.
Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. I received a letter from the Minister for economy and transport on 25 June, and in that, he referred to a meeting that had to be cancelled between both of us a while ago because of reasons that the Minister couldn’t avoid. But it says a couple of positive things about plans that I’m very supportive of: to reopen the railway across Anglesey between Gaerwen and Amlwch, and also to reopen Llangefni station. I would like a statement, if possible—written, I take it now, because of the parliamentary timetable—to provide an explanation on this sentence, which I hope is a positive one:
‘In terms of the Llangefni to Amlwch line, we don’t intend to reopen it, but we are happy to support the proposal that is being developed by the Anglesey Central Railway company’.
I welcome that. I want to know what sort of support the Government intends to provide, because this is a project that could be of great benefit to Anglesey and especially to the town of Amlwch.
Thank you for that. It's obviously very important. I don't think it's suitable for a statement, though. If you want to ask a specific question of the Cabinet Secretary, I'll make sure that you get an answer.
The next item is the statement by the First Minister on his Government's legislative programme. I call on the First Minister, Carwyn Jones.
Presiding Officer, it is with pleasure that I can today announce the Bills that the Government will bring before the Assembly over the next 12 months.
We know the year ahead will be one of the busiest in legislative terms since Wales gained primary law-making powers. As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, there will be a significant amount of work for this Assembly to undertake between now and March if we are to have a fully functioning statute book at the point of exit. This will be a challenging time and the legislative workload associated with leaving the EU should not be underestimated.
The Assembly will need to deal with a substantial programme of correcting regulations under the EU withdrawal Act between October and March. We will continue to keep under review the need for Brexit-related Bills over the coming 12 months, and it is likely that a number of UK Brexit Bills will require the consent of this Assembly. As far as possible, we must not allow this Brexit workload to limit our legislative ambitions, but we must be flexible and be ready to adapt our legislative programme should the need arise.
Llywydd, the Welsh Government has taken the lead in protecting children’s rights. We've enshrined the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in the landmark Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011. We will continue to act to protect children and children’s rights and we will introduce a Bill to remove the defence of reasonable punishment. This legislation will support children’s rights by prohibiting the use of physical punishment. We have consulted widely and the responses from the public, parents and young people will help to shape our proposals.
Llywydd, this Government believes that Welsh law should be clear and accessible not just now, but in the long term. We have started a programme to consolidate and codify Welsh law but this will be a long journey. Achieving a clear, available and well-organised statute book will take many years, but we must ensure we make steady and enduring progress. We will therefore bring forward a Bill that commits the Government to improving the accessibility of Welsh law and making provision about how Welsh legislation is to be interpreted.
Llywydd, I announced last year that we would bring forward a local government Bill. This Bill will be introduced in the coming year and will include the reform of local authority electoral arrangements, including extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds. It will also include legislation related to the outcome of our recent local government Green Paper consultation. The Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services will make a detailed statement about this and the Bill later this afternoon.
Llywydd, this Government wants to ensure that quality is at the heart of our NHS. In the rare event that something goes wrong—and, unfortunately, in a system that relies on people working under intense pressure, occasionally things will go wrong—we want a health service that is open and transparent and able to learn from its mistakes. We will, therefore, bring forward legislation to establish a duty of quality for the NHS in Wales and a duty of candour for health and social care. A duty of candour would place statutory obligations on all health organisations in Wales to be open and transparent, and set out a process that must be followed when things go wrong and people suffer harm. This Bill will also establish a new independent body to represent the citizen's voice, ensuring people have a stronger voice that reflects their experiences of health and social care services. It will also include proposals to require NHS trust boards to appoint a vice-chair.
Finally, Llywydd, we will bring forward a Bill to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. Animal welfare is a priority for this Government and the way we treat animals is an important reflection of our values as a society. Circuses are legitimate businesses, and it's not our intention to outlaw all forms of circus entertainment in Wales, but the use of wild animals in this context is outdated and ethically unacceptable. We'll prohibit their use in travelling circuses in Wales.
Llywydd, I delivered my first legislative statement as First Minister a little over eight years ago. This statement will be my last and I trust you'll allow me to reflect on what this Government has achieved in that time. Housing has been, and continues to be, a priority for the Welsh Government. We've taken measures to protect tenants and prevent homelessness. We've ended the right to buy in Wales. We've protected our stock of social and council housing. The Renting Homes (Fees etc.) (Wales) Bill, which is currently being scrutinised by the Assembly, will, if passed, ban letting agents from charging fees to tenants, removing barriers to entering and moving within the private rented sector.
We've undertaken major reforms of the social care system in Wales, we've legislated to drive up hygiene standards by making it compulsory for food businesses to display their scores on their doors, and the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 will reform how we plan and build infrastructure for walking and cycling in Wales. Wales has a long and proud tradition of radical action in public health, and this institution was the first in the UK to vote to ban smoking in public places and the first to ban smoking in cars when children are present. Llywydd, I’m proud of what we've achieved by working together in this Assembly to protect public health in Wales: improvements in the provision of public toilets, a licensing regime for tattooing and piercing, a ban on intimate piercing for under-18s, a ban on unstaffed sunbeds and a minimum unit price for alcohol.
Perhaps it was the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013 that was truly groundbreaking and is saving lives. It’s another example of how Wales has led the way in the UK, changing the system of consent for organ donation to increase the number of organs available for transplantation. But this is not the only new ground we've broken. The Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 is providing protection and support for victims, and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is driving public bodies, including Government, to plan and deliver in a sustainable way to improve the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales.
Llywydd, where necessary, we've used our legislative powers to protect devolution. Through the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Act 2014, the Trade Union (Wales) Act 2017, and most recently the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Act 2018, this Government has ensured that when the interests of Wales are threatened by the actions of the UK Government, we've deployed the tools at our disposal to stand up for Wales. During my time as First Minister, our devolution settlement hasn't stood still. Using our legislative programme, we've delivered our new Welsh taxes—the first for almost 800 years—and the Welsh Revenue Authority.
Llywydd, there are many more Acts that I could mention, but it's clear how much has been achieved in that time. All the Acts I've mentioned may have been proposed and introduced by Government, but they've been shaped by stakeholders and improved by the scrutiny of this Assembly. We've always worked across this Chamber to ensure our legislation is the best it can be and to ensure it improves the lives of the people of Wales. We'll continue to do that on the Government Bills currently before the Assembly, and those I have announced today. This may be my last legislative statement, but a full legislative programme delivering on this Government’s commitments, including a Bill in relation to the Welsh language, will be announced next year. And so, Llywydd, I commend this legislative programme to the Assembly.
Can I thank the First Minister for his statement this afternoon? We're nearly halfway through this Assembly and the Welsh Government has had sufficient time to introduce a legislative programme that enhances the lives of the people of Wales. But, sadly, the lack of ambition in the Welsh Government's legislative programme has shown that this simply isn't the case.
I'll start by asking a few questions around the Welsh Government's policy areas and legislative priorities before asking some further questions around the practicalities and processes of delivering legislation. Today's statement makes it clear that the workload associated with leaving the European Union should not be underestimated, and I agree. But perhaps the First Minister will indicate at this very early stage what his initial legislative priorities will be once Britain leaves the European Union.
At the start of this Assembly, the Welsh Government talked about delivering public health legislation to improve the lives of people living in Wales, and I note from the statement that legislation will be forthcoming. The ongoing events at Betsi Cadwaladr university health board have shown that accountability is seriously failing in our health service and the First Minister is right to say that we need to see a health service that is open and transparent and able to learn from its mistakes.
Llywydd, one of the bills proposed in my party's manifesto in 2016 was the NHS governance and finance Bill, which would increase accountability by requiring health commissioners and NHS chief executives to appear twice a year before local authority committees and annually before the National Assembly. The Government is considering legislation to introduce a new patients' watchdog, but we've already got a patients' watchdog in the form of community health councils, so perhaps the First Minister can tell us how this new body will operate alongside community health councils.
Our proposals also seek to establish directly elected health commissioners, which we believe would give communities a far greater say in local health decisions that impact upon them. This is something that would be greatly received in areas like my own constituency, which is facing unwanted and unnecessary changes to its services. Therefore, I'd be grateful if the First Minister could confirm whether the Welsh Government would seriously consider this legislative proposal as part of a wider movement to improve accountability in the Welsh NHS.
Of course, accountability in the NHS is not the only health issue facing Wales. I'm sure the First Minister is aware of figures published by the Royal College of Physicians that show that as many as 1,300 people a year die prematurely in Wales from breathing polluted air. Public Health Wales has described air pollution as an urgent public health crisis, second only to smoking and more of a concern than obesity and alcohol. So, perhaps in his response the First Minister will confirm whether the Welsh Government will consider bringing forward any legislative action on this specific issue.
Llywydd, the First Minister will no doubt be aware of the numerous legislative and regulatory commitments of the Welsh Government in the field of agriculture and animal welfare, so perhaps he could provide some clear timescales on when we're likely to see the introduction of a Welsh agriculture Bill, for example, given that it is not referred to in this statement today. This afternoon's statement confirms that the banning of wild animals in circuses will now finally be implemented and I'm pleased that that is the case. Indeed, the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs has made it clear that the Welsh Government is considering quite a few different legislative and regulatory avenues in her brief. Therefore, given those commitments, perhaps he could also provide more clarity on what Bills in her portfolio will actually be introduced in the fifth Assembly.
Animal welfare is also a policy area where the Welsh Government has indicated support for UK Government legislation, notably around the Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill and around the UK Government's policy on banning third-party puppy sales. Perhaps he could provide a general assessment on how the Welsh Government works with Westminster on legislation that affects Wales and how those processes can be strengthened so that the implementation of those Bills is as streamlined as possible.
Today's statement confirms that yet another Bill will be brought forward to reduce the number of councils across Wales. I'm afraid the First Minister will have to forgive us for being sceptical when it comes to accepting the Welsh Government's assertion that it will reform local government in Wales, as it seems as though the same idea keeps being recycled and dropped every few years. I appreciate that the Cabinet Secretary will be bringing forward a statement with more information on this later this afternoon, but perhaps the First Minister can tell us once and for all whether he will now accept that the tired arguments for centralising local authorities against the will of the people have now been put to bed and whether he will now consider using the Welsh Government's legislative powers to look at other aspects of local government here in Wales.
I'm sure that the First Minister would argue that legislation passed by the Welsh Government in many cases places a financial burden on the Welsh budget and it's therefore essential that there is clarity on the outcomes expected from new legislation and on whether the costs laid out in the budget actually provide value for money. Perhaps the First Minister can tell us what mechanisms are in place to ensure that any outcomes as a result of Welsh Government legislation provide value for money for the taxpayer. The Finance Committee agreed to undertake an inquiry into the accuracy and reliability of estimated costs provided by the Welsh Government in the regulatory impact assessments accompanying legislation. Perhaps the First Minister could also give us an update on where the Welsh Government is in implementing the recommendations of that committee's report.
Finally, Llywydd, I'd like to briefly mention my proposed autism Bill, which will be introduced tomorrow afternoon. In the past, the First Minister has made it clear that no party has a monopoly on good ideas, so I sincerely hope that he'll be present for my statement tomorrow to hear the real benefits that implementing primary legislation will have for people living with autism in Wales. I therefore ask him again to reconsider his position on this Bill and to, at the very least, be open-minded to the prospect of implementing autism legislation.
In closing, Llywydd, I look forward to scrutinising the Welsh Government's legislative proposals for the remainder of this Assembly. We, as an opposition, will work openly and constructively with the Welsh Government where we believe it's doing the right thing. I hope that the Government will use its resources in the best possible way in order to produce legislation that will make a difference and will improve the lives of people here in Wales.
There were a number of questions there. First of all, the five Bills that we've put forward—they allow us some slack in order for us to be able to free up resource to deal with any Bills, or any other legislation, that will be needed as a result of Brexit. In terms of what the priorities will be, we don't know, because we have no idea what the UK Government wants. I was in Brussels yesterday, and the frustration that is felt there is quite simply this: what does the UK actually want? No-one knows. We knew on the weekend, then it all changed yesterday, and now we still have no idea what the position of the UK Government is. So, we are operating in the dark, in terms of what the final outcome of Brexit is going to be. We don't even know whether there'll be a UK Government by the end of the week, so there needs to be certainty there.
In terms of health, we have, of course, the quality and governance in health and care Bill that I've already mentioned. Transparency and duty of candour, I think, are really important, and they are particularly important so that people have faith that, where mistakes happen, they are then rectified. In terms of health commissioners, I think that the difficulty with having an elected person in a particular area is that they will focus solely on services that are provided to their own constituents. If you have a health commissioner who's elected for, say, ABMU, what is the guarantee that that health commissioner will take any interest at all in what's happening in Hywel Dda? This is the issue. So, there's a great danger that a health commissioner would simply look at what's happening in their own area because it would affect their own electors. So, we're unconvinced that health commissioners would make any real difference.
In terms of air quality, he's right, of course, to emphasise that air quality is important. We have our plans in place. We don't see that there's a need for legislative intervention at this stage. We have, of course, the south Wales metro. It's a great shame that his party didn't support electrification of the main line from Cardiff to Swansea, and a very great shame that his party didn't support—well, that's not fair, as there are those on his benches who supported the tidal lagoon, but his party in London did not support a project that would've created so many jobs and would have improved air quality because of the fact that it was renewable energy that was being created. That has not helped, in terms of making sure that air quality improves.
He asked about a Welsh agriculture Bill. We don't know what's in the UK agriculture Bill yet—we haven't seen it, and I don't suppose that anybody else has seen it in Whitehall. Apparently, it's going to be published in September. Until we've seen it, it's difficult to know exactly what legislative interventions we will need to make. What is not clear at the moment is what happens after 2021. What happens to agricultural subsidies? We've no guarantee that a single penny will come to Wales. Some £260 million of money comes every year to farmers, and not a penny has been guaranteed beyond the date that's already been publicly declared. We can't find that money. What we have said to the UK Government is, 'Put aside an equivalent sum of money and distribute it in exactly the same way as now, until there's agreement between the Governments to change the system if that's needed.' So far, there's been no answer.
In terms of animal welfare, again, we will work with the UK Parliament where we need to. There have been occasions where we have piggybacked on UK legislation, and where that legislation is uncontroversial, there's no reason why we shouldn't do that in the future—where there is no proven need for there to be separate Welsh legislation and when, in fact, we're in agreement with what's happening across the border. That is something that is done fairly commonly in government.
He mentions the local government Bill. No decisions have been taken in terms of the structure of local government, but, I have to say, is he really saying that Pembrokeshire council has delivered consistently a good service to its citizens? Really? After what the chief executive was paid, after the car that he had, after the failures in education, he sits there and defends it. Come on. He can't do that as far as his constituents are concerned. Now, if he doesn't like what we're proposing, come up with your own ideas. I've heard nothing from the Conservative benches about local government reform. I've heard nothing from the Conservative benches about how we might improve local government—nothing at all. They're within their rights to oppose what we've put forward, but for goodness' sake, have some ideas, put them forward and let's see how those ideas will work.
But I'm flabbergasted that the temporary leader of the opposition thinks that in Pembrokeshire, and in several other authorities in Wales, people have somehow had a consistently good service over many years. Yes, things may have improved, but for goodness' sake, there was a time when it was very, very poor, and it's not the only local authority that has been in that position. I have no doubt there will be others in the future. That's why it's so important to get a grip on this now, and not just be oppositional without coming up with your own ideas.
He makes the point about value for money. That's a fair point in the RIA system that we have. We always seek to ensure that there is value for money. It's always an open question as to whether legislation is good or not; that depends, I suppose, on your political perspective, and that is for the Assembly to scrutinise.
With regard to his autism Bill, he will, of course, get a full response tomorrow from the Cabinet Secretary.
This is the First Minister's eighth and final statement on a future legislative programme, and we look forward to having a full debate on this question in the autumn. So, what do we have in this eighth statement? Well, council mergers are back on the agenda five years after the Williams commission first raised it. The seemingly ever-present question of reasonable chastisement rears its head again, and I'm looking forward, finally, to seeing some progress on this; and a limited expansion to the voting franchise for 16 and 17-year olds. Isn't this pretty much a rehash of a legislative programme that we've seen before? When our democracy, our nation and politics all over is in flux, we need ambition, values, vision and leadership, and I don't see those represented in today's statement.
We can agree that Westminster is failing Wales, but this Parliament, the new home of Welsh democracy, was meant to give us the opportunity to do things differently. When they cancelled the plans for a tidal lagoon, don't you think that legislation should have been brought forward for a new nationalised Welsh energy company? We must take our future in our own hands, not allow Westminster to tie them behind our backs.
First Minister, our future generations face great challenges, and although your much-lauded future generations Act might look good on paper, where it matters in the real world, those pressures continue. Climate change is gathering pace. We are leaving an environment that is increasingly inhospitable. Air pollution kills tens of thousands every year, and plastic waste litters our coastline and countryside, but a clean air Act and a bottle return scheme are nowhere to be seen in this statement. Where are they? Where is the legislation to prepare our nation for the power of hydrogen and electric vehicles? Rather than action, instead you've chosen to attack Members on these benches for daring to ask these questions.
Now, First Minister, I respect your aspiration to create a feminist Government. You've said you wanted to make Wales the safest place in the world to be a woman. What's not to like about that? Well, I can tell you that we are one hell of a long way from there. So, what legislation, what laws, what changes are you proposing to make this a reality? Again, this sounds more like a soundbite than anything of substance to me. Your unambitious childcare scheme that doesn't tackle inequality has been derided by the Minister charged with managing it, and it'll be forced through and you continue to refuse to call for the devolution of welfare administration—a key recommendation of your own rapid review on gender equality. We are nowhere near a feminist utopia, not even in ambition.
I hope the omission of detail on a Welsh language Bill indicates that the Welsh Government is pausing and thinking again. You know that the need is there. Under your current proposals, isn't it the case that private companies like Trago Mills would be absolved of their responsibility to respect and protect our language and our culture? When we have seen an unprecedented rise in anti-Welsh bigotry, this surely cannot be acceptable.
Many key decisions have been kicked into the long grass: the size of our Parliament and those who can participate in our democracy for one, and there has been a serious lack of courage on this question and that has been disappointing. I know with a new First Minister there will inevitably be changes, but time does not wait for the internal processes of the Labour Party. Brexit looms and the world still turns. There is not a single piece of legislation planned for education, transport, energy, the environment, housing, social care, farming, fisheries, yet we have challenges in all of those areas, do we not?
First Minister, this is a legislative programme of old ideas and no ambition. It fails to address so many of the problems our people are facing. Wales needs and can do so much better than this.
First of all, just to say that, once again, it's been suggested that council mergers are inevitably on the table; they are not. There will be a local government Bill; there's a working group that's been set up in order to look at improvements in public service delivery via local government. It's right on the voting franchise—we've put this forward because it hasn't happened yet, so it's important that when it comes to local government elections that that is part of that process.
I have to say, passing laws on things doesn't mean they happen. Resources are needed in order for things to happen. She says we need legislation to have a publicly owned energy company; it doesn't mean anything unless it's got money behind it. If there's money behind it, where's it coming from? In terms of where it's coming from, does that mean the money's on or off the books? None of these things have been actually explained in terms of how that would deliver for the people of Wales. I am with her when she condemns the Swansea bay tidal lagoon decision because that was our decision as well, but we can't let Westminster off the hook by claiming that there's a plan that would deliver £500 million of investment in the meantime, because it simply wouldn't do that.
In terms of future generations, I come back to the metro—not just the metro in south Wales, but the plans across the whole of Wales. We see a much, much better public transport system being developed across Wales both in terms of heavy rail lines, but light rail and in time buses as well. Those options, as they become more attractive to people, will mean that fewer and fewer people will use cars, fewer people will feel that they cannot cycle or walk to work and that's the way in which we can ensure that we see better air quality in the future. A law is not going to help that; it's changing people's behaviour that will help that in terms of offering them better alternatives to what they have now.
She's right to say that we're a long way from being the safest country in the world to be a woman. We've seen what's happened in the last few months and it's right to say that we have the violence against women and domestic abuse Act that is a proud part of what this Government has done, but there is a lot to do, there's no question about that, which is why we've had phase one of the review and why phase two will take place after my time in this office, because we do need to do more. The gender pay gap is one such area but there's more than that. To my mind, things have gone backwards in the short term in terms of the way women have been treated. We've all seen what's happened on social media and we've all seen the work that has to be done there. So, I entirely agree with her in terms of the fact that we need to do more in order to deliver on what she and I would want to see.
In terms of the childcare scheme, she says it wouldn't deliver, but offers no evidence as to why it wouldn't deliver. This is a scheme that was voted for by the people of Wales. We were clear about what we would do with the childcare scheme and it will deliver for the people who voted for it and the people who need childcare for three to four-year-olds. Yes, of course it would be nice to be able to extend it, but the resources aren't there in order to do it. So, this is the furthest that we can go with the resources that we have available.
She mentioned the Welsh language Bill. The reason why we are considering a new Bill is because the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011, which was taken forward by a Member of her own party, is not adequate and is not working for the people of Wales. So, we need to make sure that we improve the legislation—[Interruption.] We did vote for it, but it was Plaid Cymru votes as well, and so that's why we need to have a system that looks to encourage more people to use the language. Of course, we have our target for 2050, but there are aspects of the Measure that need to be strengthened, of that there is no doubt, and that is what we intend to do as a Government.
In terms of the way this place operates as an institution, that is not, respectfully, for me—that's a matter for the Llywydd and for all of us who are Members of this Chamber to work through what sort of structure we should have for this Chamber. There is great disagreement, not so much in terms of the numbers, but in terms of the electoral system and that will need to be worked through over the course of the next few months. There are very different views in this Chamber as to, firstly, whether there should be 80 Members, and secondly, if there are, how they will be elected, and that cannot be resolved quickly. That will need some time to be resolved.
Then, in terms of the other issues that she has raised, I did notice that, unlike, I have to say, the leader of the Conservatives, she didn't put forward any legislative ideas. Now, if Plaid have ideas, let's hear them and let's understand what their legislative programme might look like. Let's see what ideas they have for Bills, and then of course we can see whether those Bills would be practical and, indeed, supportable as far as the Government is concerned. We have put forward our legislative programme, and that is something that we will take forward, of course, over the next year.
Thank you for your statement, First Minister. And while I welcome some of the measures outlined in your legislative programme, it’s not as ambitious, I feel, as it should be.
We're almost halfway through this Assembly and we have eight Acts on the statute books and, apart from the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017 and the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018, the majority of the legislation focuses on taxation. The Welsh public, I feel, expect the Welsh Government to introduce legislation to make an improvement to their lives, to make their lives better, and I do not see sufficient evidence of this improvement.
I welcome the plans for an independent voice for Welsh patients, provided it is truly an independent voice, the true voice of patients. I look forward to scrutinising that Bill in detail, and I would be grateful if you could outline how it will differ from the community health councils. First Minister, what role will this new body have in tackling clinical negligence, ensuring local health boards are meeting their obligations and ensuring local authorities are complying with the social services Act?
The plans to establish duties of quality and candour in health and social care are also most welcome. These will ensure that all working in the health and social care field are held to the same professional standards as our doctors and nurses. First Minister, can you outline the discussions your Government has had with the various royal colleges and professional bodies about how the new duties tie in with their various codes?
I welcome plans to reform local government, because I feel it’s ridiculous that we have 22 different local authorities for such a relatively small population. However, we have been here before and nothing happened. So, First Minister, does your Government actually have the will to see it through to fruition this time?
I remain unconvinced about lowering the voting age, but I see the wisdom of taking it forward at the same time as you reform local government. First Minister, will the Bill also seek to make other changes to the franchise? Will long-term residents be eligible to vote?
I welcome the intention to introduce legislation to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses; this is long overdue. However, what are we doing about puppy farms or tackling those who abuse companion animals? First Minister, what consideration have you given to expanding this legislation to cover wider animal welfare issues?
Regarding the plans to introduce a ban on smacking, do we have the right to tell parents how to discipline their children? First Minister, as the results of the consultation on the legislative proposal have yet to be published, can you let us know what convinced you of the need to introduce the legislation now?
The violence against women and domestic abuse Act is proving to be very supportive, but we still have a long way to go to provide sufficient places of refuge in this area.
Air pollution, as Paul Davies has mentioned, is of major concern. I ask, when we ask people to take responsibility for their health, how we can factor this issue into the equation to improve air quality for all.
First Minister, your programme for government promised action to tackle mental health discrimination. Where is the legislation, please, to back this up? And as we continue to encourage people to take responsibility for their health and well-being, the planning of infrastructure is important, and I'm pleased to see that this has been mentioned. I look forward to an update in this area and the progress, and I will be watching this progression with great interest.
You promised to amend the Welsh language Measure so that businesses can invest in promoting the Welsh language, and you promised to look at ending land banking, improve animal welfare, combat cyber crime, tackle fast food advertising near schools, and make Wales a dementia-friendly nation. You promised a lot that has yet to be delivered. So, when can we expect a more ambitious legislative programme for Wales? Thank you.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
I think the first thing it's important to remember is that not everything can be resolved by primary legislation. There are issues there that she's identified that are important but don't actually need Bills in order for them to be taken forward. Some of them need resourcing; some of them would need secondary legislation. It's not necessarily the case that there needs to be a Bill. In terms of the quality and governance in health and care Bill, well, just to remind Members again that the statutory duty of quality will build on current requirements on Welsh Ministers and the NHS and it'll ensure that future decisions about healthcare services lead to continuous improvement and improved outcomes and then, of course, the duty of candour will lead to openness, learning and improvement across the health and social care sector.
She asked about the consultation: I can say that the consultation took place between June and September of last year. The feedback from that consultation has centred heavily on the citizens' voice proposals and, of course, the Cabinet Secretary made a statement on 21 February outlining responses to the consultation on the White Paper and how we were going to take things forward.
With regard to the local government Bill, it was interesting what she said about reducing the number of local authorities. That's a matter, of course, for her, but, in terms of what the local government Bill will include, it will at least include provisions for the voluntary merger of principal local authorities. It will include issues such as, as already mentioned, reduced voting age in local authority elections and eligibility—so, just for example, looking at residence—a general power of competence for principal local authorities and eligible community councils; increasing public participation in local democracy; it'll look at the duties and conduct of Members; a new system for improving governance based on self-assessment and peer review; a power to issue guidance on workforce matters; strengthening controls on non-domestic rates avoidance; public services ombudsman investigations of code of conduct complaints; and increased flexibility for public services boards to merge or de-merge. That is the bare bones of the local government Bill.
In terms of animal welfare, there is a code of practice—or codes of practice—that are in place that deal with the issue of puppy farming, to use the phrase. There are legal requirements on breeders as well.
In terms of reasonable chastisement, well, it is the case that we control the way parents are able to chastise their children, otherwise we would allow them to do what they wanted, and that's never been—. That's not been the case for many, many years. The objective of the Bill is not to prosecute people needlessly, but to look at diversion if there is a first incident and then only look at prosecution if there are subsequent incidents. So, it's certainly not the intention to see a spate of prosecutions where there is a first instance. That will need to work through working with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service in terms of who is charged, in terms of what the charging guidelines look like that are publicly published by the CPS, and that work is in hand. I think it's another step that people will see as being important in terms of getting the balance right between chastisement and protection of children. I was in this Chamber, as were many others, before the smoking ban came in and there were many who opposed that, and now it's accepted. Nobody—. Well, very few people argue with the smoking ban and the fact that it is in place.
On mental health services, we continue to—. We've demonstrated, of course, our commitment to mental health services with the extra money that we have put into that. As I say, coming back to the points you made on infrastructure, well, again, that doesn't need legislation; that's something that we'll look at in terms of the Wales infrastructure investment plan, for example, which gives us the plan in terms of investment in the future.
And, as far as the Welsh language Measure is concerned, of course, what we aim to do is to strengthen the legislative protection and rights available to Welsh speakers.
I welcome the programme for government, and I particularly welcome some items in the programme for government that I do think are ambitious, and I am particularly pleased that there will be the introduction of the legislation to end the defence of reasonable punishment. As the First Minister knows, this is something that I have campaigned for for many years. I actually first spoke publicly on it in the House of Commons in the year 2000. So, I'm repeatedly reminded that politics is a long game. In any case, I'm very pleased that it has finally reached this point, and, if passed, Wales will join the growing list of countries that are removing this defence. And there has been no evidence in those countries that there has been any increased criminalisation of parents. It seems a very normal, practical step to take and I think, after this has been done and we have the, no doubt, spirited debate, we'll all wonder what all the fuss was about afterwards.
I'm sure that the First Minister is aware of the latest research commissioned by the Welsh Government, which shows that public attitudes in Wales are changing about how parents do punish their children. The majority now do support legislative action. The number of parents who do actually smack their children is falling rapidly, so I do think that public opinion is changing and I do think that the debate we've had over many years here in this Chamber and outside has helped towards this change of view. So, I think the fact that we're having this legislation is ambitious and I think that it does show that the Welsh Government is putting foremost the protection of children, so this is one aspect of legislation that I really welcome very strongly.
The other one is the fact that 16 and 17-year-olds will get the vote in local government, if passed by this Chamber, which, again, is a campaign that many of us have been involved with for many years. So, it's great to see that coming to fruition. I'm sorry it's just in local government at this point and I do hope that we'll be able to have it for Assembly elections, and eventually in Westminster, but extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds, respecting their opinions and getting them to take a role in their future, I think is a very positive step and I think is in line with what this Labour-led Welsh Government has always done in terms of putting children at the front of all of our policies. So, those are the two issues that I'd like to particularly welcome and really believe that we will be able to, I hope, deliver those two particular bits of law.
Can I thank the Member for her comments? She will remember the discussions that she and I and Christine Chapman had in my room upstairs. They were always discussions that led to agreement, and she will see what we deliver in terms of moving this forward now. Of course, it's about, as well, providing support for parents through a package of measures, including advice on parenting techniques. As she has said—and others—the intention is not to look to criminalise people as something that is the first intention, but to provide that support and to make sure that the message is understood by people. We know from practice in other countries that that's the way it has been done.
Of course, what she says about 16 and 17-year-olds is correct. If it was correct that 16 and 17-year-olds were able to vote in the Scottish referendum in 2014, there is no reason why they should not be able to vote across the UK in other elections as well. There's no logical reason why one shouldn't follow the other. And that's why, of course, as far as local government is concerned, we will take forward votes for 16 and 17-year-olds in local government elections, and, of course, in time, there will be a Bill before the Assembly looking at the Assembly's own franchise. She will know that, personally, I've been in favour of 16 and 17-year-olds voting, but she has a much more venerable record on that.
Perhaps I could start with the smacking ban as well, if I may. Obviously, we recognise your policy objective on this, but there is still this problem in as much as the current defence is a construct of the criminal law and removing the defence doesn't remove the actual offence that remains from the realm of criminal law either. So, whether there's a prosecution or not—and I know this is not your intention—it does still leave parents at the risk of technical criminalisation. So, how do you expect to work with the UK Government to overcome this rather inconvenient truth, from your perspective, that non-injurious battery still remains a crime?
We agree that the UNCRC is important, so I'd be curious to know where is your Bill to ensure that the UNCRC, children's rights and the due regard are observed at all levels of public service. It's fine that we here make policy and legislation having taken due regard of children's rights, but if the implementation of those policies and the interpretation of them are not also subject to that due regard then there's no guarantee that public services will deliver in the way that we are intending. I apply this question as well to older people's rights. You mentioned that—well, I think it was Paul Davies who mentioned, actually—you don't have the monopoly on all the great ideas. Well, why not include these two ideas, these two great Welsh Conservative ideas, in your future legislative programme while you still have the chance? You've done it with wild animals in circuses, so you can see we've got some good things to say, and, at the same time, perhaps you could look at our ideas for localism and citizenship, which could also be delivered through a Bill.
Finally, Dirprwy Lywydd, I just wanted to talk about the quality of legislation that's likely to come forward. We've still got a huge emphasis here on framework Bills, sometimes based on incomplete evidence, and I cite the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill in support of that argument. But there's definitely an emphasis on too much secondary legislation, with less than optimum scope for scrutiny with such a small Parliament, of course. I think it's one of the legacies of the contact with the Napoleonic code, which has never really been a good fit with our common law system here in the UK. It's resulted in a lot of gold-plating here. So, do you see the form of Welsh Government legislation perhaps changing over time as we leave the European Union, with more detail on the face of draft Bills, where they, of course, face the full glare of our scrutiny? Thank you.
I never thought I'd hear the code of Napoleon mentioned in the Chamber, but she'll be aware, of course, that the civil law systems that the continental countries have are reflected in Scotland as well. So, it's not the case that all of the UK is somehow different from the legal systems that exist elsewhere. The balance that's struck between primary and secondary legislation is primarily one of flexibility, because where there is a need, perhaps on an annual basis, or less frequently, to update legislation, then clearly secondary legislation is the vehicle for doing that. That's why, of course, quite often there are issues that won't appear on the face of a Bill, because that Bill may need to be amended in a year or so or beyond that, and so the flexibility of secondary legislation is needed.
One of the issues that has taxed us is—ironically—as we look at finance Bills in the future and Bills that will contain rates of taxation—. It's the custom, I understand, in Westminster for rates of taxation to be presented on the face of primary legislation, but they have a particular system of Standing Orders to deal with that, which we will need to develop, potentially, in the future if that is to be the case—if we have finance Bills presented to the Assembly in the future.
In terms of reasonable chastisement, of course, by removing the defence, it means not that a new offence is created but that a defence is removed to an existing offence. She wasn't arguing, I trust, for the offence of common assault to be removed from the Criminal Justice Act 1988, but, nevertheless, what it will mean is that where, in court, people plead the defence of reasonable chastisement, that defence will no longer be available to them. Could that lead to more prosecutions? It could. But that's why it's hugely important that we focus on diversion, that we focus on ensuring that there are no prosecutions for first offences, for example, and that prosecution is something that is held to be something in extremis. Now, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are engaged on this, they're working with us to see how that would work, and the CPS, of course, will want to lay down charging guidelines in order for there to be a full understanding, publicly, of how the law will operate. Simply creating or removing a defence will not, in itself, lead to more prosecutions, as long as the situation is handled sensibly.
In terms of the quality of legislation, I actually think it's been quite remarkable. This institution has only had primary powers since 2011. We had no history at all of drafting legislation, unlike the Scottish Office, which did. We had, of course, the days of legislative competence Orders and the days of Measures, which I suppose gave us a bit of practice, but it's quite remarkable that we have been able to produce so much legislation collectively in this Chamber despite having no pedigree at all and no expertise at all until quite recently. The fact that that legislation has been judged to be sound—we've not seen major challenges to that legislation—I think is a tribute to all those who've been involved in drafting that legislation and the quality of people that we have—there are not many of them compared to other Governments, but the quality of people that we have. So, we're content with the legislation as it is presented. We believe that the Bills that I've gone through today will give us full candour, for example, in the health service, will give us the progress we need to see in local government, and, of course, will enable us to move forward with a long-held commitment towards removing the distance of reasonable chastisement.
First Minister, I've just three relatively succinct points. In respect of 16 to 17-year-olds voting, I wonder if you could perhaps elaborate on your views as to how that legislation might be framed, particularly since it has a significant impact on how the education curriculum operates, and the issues that exist, for example, around schools within their curriculum talking about political issues, talking about trade unions and bodies such as that within society, which are clearly important to facilitate 16 and 17-year olds in exercising that power if the legislation actually proceeds and is passed. I did some consultations with two schools in my constituency—Bryn Celynnog and Y Pant—and what was clear was that the overwhelming majority of pupils clearly wanted the vote at 16 and 17, provided they had the information that enabled them to use that. Without that, it was down to something like 50 per cent of pupils actually wanting that. So, it seems to me that's a fundamental part of the legislation in addressing that particular deficit.
Whilst I welcome the Renting Homes (Fees etc.) (Wales) Bill, you'll be aware that also in this Chamber there was a unanimous vote in support of legislation to abolish leasehold tenure. I'm aware of the very positive statements that have been made by the Minister in this respect. It seems to me that this is a simple piece of legislation, and I'm just wondering if you could at least confirm it hasn't been ruled out at this stage, and is still a particular option.
Thirdly, on the issue of inequality, you'll be aware that the Equality Act 2010, section 1, specifically imposes duties on public authorities to take action on major decisions, to actually reduce inequality of outcome. Now, the Tories specifically prevented the implementation of section 1 of that Act, but of course under section 45 of the Wales Act 2017, that power to trigger section 1, and to implement it, now lies with this Assembly. It seems to me that, without the burden of torturous processes around legislation and so on, a simple step could be taken by an Order of the Welsh Ministers to actually implement section 1 of the Equality Act 2010.
With regard to 16 and 17-year-olds, I think there's a duty on political parties—perhaps not the most objective of sources—to provide information to voters, for them to decide how they should vote. I think the issue of constitutional education doesn't end at 17; it's there for people at all ages. They don't properly understand, quite often, the way that Government works, and why should they? It's not part of their everyday lives. So, I think, yes, we can look at the curriculum, but there is an obligation, I think, on us as politicians as well to engage with not just those 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds, but all ages.
In terms of leasehold tenure, if you ask, 'Is it ruled out?', the answer is, 'No, it's not ruled out.' It's not, obviously, in this year's legislative programme, but nevertheless it is an issue that's still live as far as the Government is concerned.
In terms of the equality Act, let me write to him on that, in terms of what we would need to do in order to implement section 1, and what the effects would be. I will write to him to provide him with an update on that issue.
And finally, Simon Thomas.
First Minister, when you look at the Record, I’m sure you will find that there were six legislative proposals made by the Plaid Cymru leader in her response to your proposals, and all six of them are exciting and radical ideas for Wales. I’d like to add another three.
First of all, the leader of the house told me, as we discussed the Bill that became the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Act 2018, that your Government would take the first opportunity to introduce environmental principles into Welsh legislation. You did that in rejecting Plaid Cymru proposals to write those principles on the face of Welsh legislation. And since then, of course, the House of Lords, in the EU withdrawal Bill, has written those principles into law. So, there is something missing here that isn’t in Welsh legislation, but is in England-and-Wales legislation, but for England only, as you said. So, when will we see those environmental principles written into Welsh primary law?
Secondly, your Cabinet Secretary for rural affairs is consulting on very broad issues at the moment in terms of funding rural areas as we exit the European Union. It appears to me that some of those proposals do require a Bill in relation to agriculture, and therefore when will we have an opportunity to discuss legislating for that purpose? I assume it won’t be over the next year.
And finally, your Cabinet Secretary for Finance has expressed his intention to proceed with a vacant land tax as one of the taxes where we can use our new power. Now, I assume that we will need legislation to institute any taxation and that you wouldn’t be using framework legislation to do that. So, when will we see this tax? Are we to assume, therefore, that the vacant land tax won’t realistically be delivered over the next year or two?
Well, there is a difference between us and England, because we do have the well-being of future generations Act, which, of course, much more broadly includes environmental principles. But there’s no reason why we can’t consider that during the next few months, because one of the things that isn’t obvious is which Bills will be required.
Will we need an agricultural Bill? Well, my answer to that is, ‘We may need one.' But at the moment, it's difficult to say what that Bil would include. That’s why, of course, there has been space created in the legislative programme to ensure that there is room to develop Brexit Bills. Instead of us announcing six or seven Bills this afternoon, there is scope for the legislative team, and the Bill teams, to develop Bills when they need to be made. So, the capacity is there to do that, as I said at the outset of the process.
In terms of the vacant land tax, it’s not something that is in this year’s programme, but it’s evidently something that the Minister is considering now. Of course, there will be more to be said on that again at a later stage.
Thank you very much, First Minister.
Item 4 on the agenda this afternoon is the statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance: update on European transition. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Mark Drakeford.
Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. For more than two years now, the whole country has debated how to approach the circumstances created by the Brexit referendum. The Welsh Government, together with Plaid Cymru, took six months to produce our White Paper, 'Securing Wales' Future', based on a comprehensive economic analysis of Wales's interests. It has taken the UK Government fully two years to produce last week's White Paper on its negotiating position with the European Union.
Dirprwy Lywydd, it is hard to begin a statement of this sort without commenting on the unparalleled chaos and mismanagement that has now been long apparent in the UK Government's approach and that has brought us to today's sorry position. The UK Government is in a state of disarray, its divisions exposed daily, if not by the hour. Serious questions are raised on all sides about its basic competence. At a time when the UK as a whole faces our most important challenge for a generation, we have a UK Government ill equipped for the work in hand.
It took two years for the Prime Minister to impose a collective Cabinet agreement, but only two days for the Secretary of State charged with delivering that policy to resign. The foreign Secretary—the person whose job it is to represent the UK abroad—swiftly followed, accusing his own Government of flying the white flag. And resignations continue, as we know, on almost every day. All of that, Dirprwy Lywydd, matters to us here in Wales. Important aspects of the UK White Paper, including transport and fisheries, are, of course, within our devolved competence. The UK position on our future economic relationship and mobility framework is of vital importance for Wales and the delivery of devolved services.
At every opportunity, Dirprwy Lywydd, the First Minister, Rebecca Evans through her role on the new ministerial forum and I have continually made the case for a Brexit that protects the interests of Wales. Our position remains as it has been from the outset: one that puts the future of jobs and our economy first. We say that the UK needs to remain in a customs union with full and unfettered participation in the single market. In its White Paper, the UK Government has taken some faltering steps towards the direction we have set out with such consistency. The UK Government now concedes the importance of participation in the single market for goods and agricultural products. We agree. They note the need for dynamic alignment with EU regulations as the European Union continues to evolve and develop a common rulebook. Again, Dirprwy Lywydd, we agree.
The UK Government has also been persuaded to support the continued free circulation of goods within a new combined customs territory. In plain English, this surely equals participation in a customs union, and insofar as it does that, we agree that these could be steps in the right direction. But for every answer the White Paper attempts, a further set of questions arises. How might the UK's convoluted customs proposals work in practice? The departing and hitherto unquenchably optimistic David Davis said that the proposition was unworkable. What evidence is there that supports the service sector being left outside the common rulebook? And how will the UK Government provide sufficient guarantees to the EU-27 on environmental and labour market standards, to ensure that there is a genuine level playing field?
Dirprwy Lywydd, let me draw out some other aspects of the White Paper that are important to Wales. On the so-called mobility framework, we have argued strongly for a system that is compatible with the principle of free movement of people, but where migration is clearly linked to employment. We take a positive view of the contribution of EU citizens to life in Wales, and the White Paper is a missed opportunity to provide clarity to businesses, to public services and to those EU citizens that we have been lucky enough to attract to be part of our community here in Wales. Once again, faced with intractable difficulties in its own ranks, the UK Government seeks refuge in obfuscation and delay. In reality, issues around the freedom of movement need to be addressed urgently and with clarity.
Dirprwy Lywydd, the White Paper sets out the UK's aspirations for continued participation in some, but not all, EU programmes such as Horizon and Erasmus+, for which we have made a powerful case ourselves. Yet, there is no mention of interterritorial co-operation programmes, which would enable Wales, for example, to continue joint working with Ireland and other neighbours—work that we say will be more important, not less so, after Brexit. And the UK commitment in the White Paper has committed to some, but again, not all, of the crucial European agencies that support the delivery of devolved services such as the European Medicines Agency. In these hesitations and compromises, what we see is the Prime Minister still trying to manage the internal politics of her ever-changing Cabinet. Her focus is on the future of her political party rather than where it should be—on the future of our country and the livelihoods of the people we represent.
Serious negotiations now need to proceed with urgency, so that a credible agreement can be reached in October. Any slippage from this timetable simply increases the risk of a chaotic Brexit and the UK leaving the European Union without agreement. The UK Government needs to be clear and unambiguous. Instead of inventing new ways to stretch words—'economic partnership', 'common rulebook', 'customs', 'combined territories'—the Prime Minister needs to state straightforwardly that the UK aims to stay in the single market for goods and agricultural products, and remain in a customs union. The time for appeasing the unappeasable on her own side has gone. It is now time to focus on the real negotiations, those with the EU-27. And it is true that we need some flexibility from the European Union too. We need open space for dialogue, not cordons defined by red lines. When the First Minister met Michel Barnier yesterday, he set out the case for the EU to show generosity and flexibility, especially on timings. Clearly, there is a mutual interest at stake for both the UK and the EU, and we should not maintain unrealistic deadlines for transition if that risks pushing us unnecessarily over a false cliff edge.
In summary then, Dirprwy Lywydd, the UK White Paper is a late but potentially significant step. It recognises several of the key points that the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru have been making for the last 18 months, but further steps are now needed to secure a Brexit that protects jobs and the livelihoods of people in Wales and the UK as a whole. To achieve this we need a UK Government focus, not on itself but on the long-term economic interests of the whole country.
Well, diolch—thanks for your statement. I regret—very uncharacteristically for you—that I only got to read it when it came up on my screen a couple of moments ago. I understand, in the process of it being delivered down very, very late, it didn't find its way, sadly, to me. Although, having read it—or listened to it—I now understand why it might have been delayed, because its title was, 'Update on European Transition', but in reality, it's—dare I say it—an opportunistic reaction to developments over the last four days and media coverage thereof. I'm happy to respond to that, but not the title of the statement.
You refer, again, to the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru White Paper, but from inception, contrary to the Welsh Government statement, it did not treat the referendum result with respect because it was Brexit in name only.
You say it took UK Government two years to produce its White Paper, by comparison with the Welsh Government White Paper, which disrespected the outcome of the referendum, using rhetoric regarding the Prime Minister almost identical to that used a year ago in the context of a stage 1 withdrawal agreement, which he delivered before Christmas; almost identical to the rhetoric used before she delivered, with Mr Barnier, the agreement on the transition period in March, which the Welsh Government promptly took credit for. I can assure you of many things, Cabinet Secretary, but I don't think the Welsh Government could take full credit for that, although clearly you did put the case, and I concede that.
Clearly also, the Prime Minister, being accused of doing nothing, delivered Cabinet agreements some months ago on extended customs union arrangements beyond transition, should the agreed solution not be in place in time, which is probably going to be the case. But it's the reality, is it not, as the UK international trade Secretary said this weekend, that the UK Government can't please everybody? There had to be compromises, but Brexit had been backed by 17.4 million, and legislation implementing that decision had been approved by Members of Parliament and—dare I add to that—Assembly Members also.
So, everything regarding developments over the last few days—robbing, perhaps, the terminology of someone far greater than myself and plagiarising it—is speculation wrapped in rhetoric inside a negotiation. Well, the developments over the last few days—and I hope you will agree—have been about establishing what the negotiating position is going to be, not what the outcome of that negotiation is, and to weaken or attempt to weaken negotiators at this stage by any party is, or would be, regrettable. Because the reality is that the UK will cease to be a member of the EU on 29 March 2019, and none of us want to fall off a cliff or have a hard Brexit—[Interruption.]—except for Plaid Cymru, of course, who would love to see this lead to the division and destruction of the British people—[Interruption.]. The British people who are the Welsh people. Welsh means British. It's the name the invader used to describe us: y Cymry Cymraeg Cymreig, the people of Britain, the Brythonic people, the British people, who belong together, never apart, while celebrating our culture—
The Member has had three and a half minutes, and I'm yet to hear a question to the Cabinet Secretary. Could we hear a question, please?
Yes, certainly. Given the engagement the UK Government has had with the Welsh Government, through discussions with the First Minister and yourselves, the Joint Ministerial Committee European Negotiations meetings, ongoing correspondence, and, of course, ongoing official level engagement, what engagement, aside from all this fun and games, will you be having as matters move forward now, both in terms of internal discussions regarding UK single market frameworks and engagement, as we move forward with negotiations on exit from the union, particularly in relation to trade?
I will jump forward because time is short. We know that the new Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, will this week be having his first negotiations with Mr Barnier, but in the meantime, this week, his officials are holding ongoing preparatory talks. What, if any, role has the Welsh Government had, or will be having, in those preparatory talks, and potentially in the discussions as the week progresses?
Given the statement in the Italian national assembly yesterday that a 'no deal' Brexit would damage Italian farming, and of course recognition of the evidence given to the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee by Bremen that a 'no deal' agreement would hit 10 to 15 per cent of Germany's GDP, what outreach is the Welsh Government having, both in terms of supporting a strong UK free trade deal, given that that's the most likely outcome unless it's sabotaged, and how is it reaching out beyond the EU, much as that's critical, to other areas of the world? For example, the British Council published a report last week showing that the combined GDP of the Commonwealth is likely to reach £13 trillion by 2020, overtaking the eurozone, and that the results of research carried out by Ipsos Mori for the British Council into the perceptions of young people across the G20 found that levels of trust in the UK's peoples, Government and institutions are higher in the Commonwealth countries than any other regional grouping in the G20, and that the EU referendum result has had a significant net positive effect on the UK's perceived attractiveness in the G20 Commonwealth countries of India, South Africa, Australia and Canada?
Are you winding up, please?
That was also positive in terms of trade. Finally, given Liam Fox's statements yesterday in his capacity as international trade Secretary in terms of post-Brexit trade arrangements, when he set out his intention to boost trade with old friends and new allies, expanding access to markets across the globe, but also said that he was working closely with the devolved administrations, of course Governments and the Northern Ireland administration, on an ongoing basis to deliver an approach that works, as part of this concluding a series of collaborative policy round tables with devolved Governments, recognising the close interaction between trade policy and devolved policy areas, could he tell us a little bit more, please, about what was stated in that paper yesterday? Thank you.
First of all, could I apologise to any Members who had a late sighting of the statement that I've made this afternoon? As Members will be aware, this is a very rapidly moving scenario, and the statement has been under active development right through the morning and into the early part of the afternoon.
Let me say that I entirely reject what the Member has said. We have been focused not on the fact of Brexit—that was settled in a referendum—but on the form of Brexit. In that, there are very many different ways in which the UK might leave the European Union, some of which will mitigate the harm that will be caused, some of which will exaggerate the harm that will be caused, and we have been relentlessly focused on trying to persuade the UK Government to adopt an approach that would minimise the harm that would be created to the Welsh economy and to the future the people in Wales can look forward to.
Trying to do that, we were prepared to offer a modest welcome to some parts of the Chequers White Paper. Unfortunately, our ability to do that has unravelled as the Prime Minister's ability to make that White Paper stick inside her own party has unravelled even faster. So we face a position today in which we saw the genuine absurdity of a UK Minister having to resign in order to support the position that his own Prime Minister had been in only half an hour earlier. That just tells you something about the complete chaos that reigns at the other end of the M4 and I didn't envy the Member's task in getting up to try to defend the position of the UK Government, because he couldn't be confident that by the time he sat down, the position he stood up to defend would still be the one that the UK Government was supporting.
In relation to his specific questions then, we will continue to engage wherever we have the opportunity, no matter how unsatisfactory the forum, no matter how unsatisfactory the nature of the engagement. There will be a meeting here in Cardiff on 1 August where UK Ministers will attend, where Ministers from Scotland will attend, where my colleague Rebecca Evans and I will both represent the Welsh Government, and we will, once again, take the opportunity to try to impress on the UK Government that their mandate as they approach the European Union should be one that puts the jobs and the livelihoods of people in the United Kingdom first.
I've listened again to Mark Isherwood offer us this nostalgic view of the world in which we can turn our backs on our European neighbours—the people we have worked with for 40 years—because there is a Commonwealth out there that remembers how things were in the good old days and are just waiting to recreate the past in the conditions of the future. It has no possible chance of being delivered in practice and as a prospectus for a modern Wales, trying to make its way in contemporary circumstances, it's an entirely false prospectus. Where there are opportunities, as I say, and where the Secretary of State for International Trade looks to work closely with the devolved administrations, then, of course, we will always be there to make sure that Welsh interests and Welsh priorities are known to the UK Government.
Can I say I regret, to say the least, some of the comments made by the Conservative spokesperson? To say that we in Plaid Cymru seek the destruction of the British people, I think, goes beyond the bounds of usual political banter. I'm sure the Member will want to reflect on his comments and perhaps apologise once he's cooled down at some point. And to use terms such as 'fun and games' when it's his fantasy island politics that's going to cost people jobs in this country, I think is nothing short of shameful.
But I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his statement today and for his observations on the continuing shambles that is our separation from the European Union, and we on these benches, of course, share his concerns that the growing instability at the other end of the M4 will result in the catastrophic 'no deal' Brexit, as described in the Cabinet Secretary's statement.
On that point, he will know I've asked him on a number of occasions in the past, and my party leader has also asked the First Minister, in terms of the contingency planning that can occur in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit. I entirely agree that there is no way of mitigating our withdrawal from the European Union economically, regardless of the form of the withdrawal, let alone a 'no deal' withdrawal. But, as we've alluded to previously, the head of the NHS in England has spoken about the contingency planning happening there in terms of the stockpiling of drugs and medical equipment in order to avoid undue damage to the services that patients and their families rely upon. Can he give us assurances that that kind of discussion is happening at Welsh Government level, and in areas related to health that are non-devolved, in particular, like drug control, that engagement is happening at a UK level between the devolved administrations and the UK Government in order to avoid a situation where we run out of medicines and equipment in our national health service?
In the statement, there's a mention of the need for flexibility in terms of the timetable for separation from the European Union. I agree with that. The statement doesn't appear to go as far as the First Minister himself went the other day when he said that he would welcome an extension to the article 50 process. And, given the fact that we might not have a UK Government in a matter of weeks, days or months, the need for an extension of the article 50 process might become a necessity. So, I wonder if he could clarify that it is the Welsh Government's position that an article 50 extension should be on the table, particularly in the event of a UK general election and the inevitable delay that that will cause to negotiations with the European Union.
Given his scathing appraisal—I think it's fair to describe it as a scathing appraisal—of the UK Government performance to date and the dreadful treatment of devolved Governments still that is occurring at JMC level—I understand the Welsh Government did not get full sight of the UK White Paper before it was published—I wonder, therefore, given that instability, given the continued lack of respect, even after the inter-governmental agreement has been signed and has had time to embed itself, will the Welsh Government reconsider repealing the continuity Act as hastily as it is? Because it sounds to me like we still perhaps should be wary of relying on the goodwill of the UK Government when it comes to future developments.
In terms of future developments, the Welsh Government today has published one of its most significant publications to date, I think, on the whole Brexit process, that for the future fiscal arrangements for the UK post separation from the EU, in particular the question of future regional policy, and one of the passages in that report states that:
'A UK Government “shared prosperity fund” approach would be a direct attack on devolution and would risk depriving some of our most disadvantaged communities of the funds they need to develop economically.'
We agree, but, in the event of the UK Government moving forward and legislating irrespective of our wishes here, wouldn't it be prudent for us to have legislative contingencies in place to pursue our own regional policy?
Just a final couple of points, Dirprwy Lywydd. Now that we know that the European research group in the House of Commons has been given a full role in the legislative process as we leave the EU and has successfully changed the terms of the Trade Bill, can the Cabinet Secretary clarify Welsh Government's position on the Trade Bill? Will the Welsh Government be recommending that we withhold legislative consent from that Trade Bill, or is it yet to form an opinion?
And, finally, will the Cabinet Secretary be able to offer a comment on the observations of the OBR yesterday that there will not be any Brexit dividend to spend on the national health service, or any other part of the public sector for that matter, and that the Prime Minister's assertion that one would be apparent was false? Could he therefore offer the Assembly an explanation as to where we could expect to find the additional promised money for the Welsh national health service, above and beyond of course the £350 million a week that we're all still very much looking forward to?
Can I thank Steffan Lewis for all those questions? He started off by making a very important point. The stakes here are absolutely real, and the impact on our nation if we do not get an agreement with the European Union will be felt in the lives of people right across this country.
I'm grateful as well for a chance to take up his point about planning, because for all the noise that there is sometimes around this I don't think there is any difference between our two parties on this matter. We both agree that you cannot plan away the catastrophic consequences of a 'no deal' Brexit, that it is not just something that you can devise a way of mitigating such an outcome. Does that mean that we do not do contingency planning of the sort that he described? Well, of course it doesn't mean that, and events over the last week mean that the urgency of that contingency planning has to increase.
It was discussed at the Brexit sub-committee of the Cabinet last week. It was rehearsed at the European advisory group that met on Thursday. I will meet officials on Thursday of this week. I will meet the Permanent Secretary on this matter this time next week. Because a catastrophic crash-out Brexit will have direct implications for responsibilities that we hold as a Welsh Government: whether we will be able to have access to nuclear medicine, how will we discharge our highways responsibilities if there is a queue from Holyhead to the English border. There are some practical issues that we have to think through, and that work has been going on for some time and it will now intensify over the summer, not because we think we can produce a plan that just means that, such a Brexit, its effects can be evaporated, but because, in that contingency sense, we have to make sure we're doing everything we can to protect Welsh interests.
I spoke about flexibility in the timetable because that is the point that the First Minister was making directly to EU leaders yesterday. We have long said that we don't think that we can conclude everything that needs to be done during the transition period by the end of December 2020. In that sense, an extension to the article 50 timetable seems to us to be inevitable. The point that the First Minister was making was one that I had been making when I was in Brussels last, that it is in nobody's interests to find ourselves in a straitjacket where, should everybody agree in the autumn of 2020 that an extension of time for the transition period would allow everybody to have outcomes that were preferable—why would we want to put ourselves in a position where that sensible course of action was denied to us all?
Steffan Lewis said that the Welsh Government had not had full sight of the White Paper before it was published. In any practical sense he was correct, because a version of it did not arrive here until 1.35 a.m.—a matter of a few hours' sleep before the White Paper actually was published.
We are proceeding with our plans in relation to the continuity Bill. We look carefully, of course, at everything that is happening around us. All our plans, inevitably, given the uncertainty of recent days, are always kept under review.
Steffan Lewis mentioned the shared prosperity fund. The paper that I have published today on future fiscal arrangements—the fifth in the series of papers that we have published since the original White Paper—does indeed make that point, Dirprwy Lywydd. We will not—we will not—sign up to a shared prosperity fund where what the UK Government really means is a chance for other parts of the United Kingdom to share in the money that has come to Wales because of the needs that we have here. We will not be removed from that position; I can give him that assurance.
Finally, the OBR has long been on record as demonstrating that Brexit will have a deleterious effect on the UK economy and on the tax revenues available to the Chancellor. Far from there being a Brexit dividend, there is a Brexit hole for the Chancellor to fill, and that hole is getting bigger, not smaller, as the chaos at London unfolds.
Well, the Cabinet Secretary is a kindly soul and moderate in speech—it's hard to quarrel with his rhetorical condemnations of the Conservative Government. If anything, he erred very much on the side of understatement. I've said before that Theresa May is even worse as a Prime Minister than John Major. I'll go even further—I think she's the worst Prime Minister we've had since Lord North. At least the flipside of his incompetence was that he created a new nation across the other side of the Atlantic that has been a beacon of freedom, enterprise and success for 250 years. The flipside of Theresa May's incompetence is that she's going to keep us in subjection to a European Union that is fundamentally undemocratic and that is, in relative terms, a failing federal project, economically as well as politically.
It's not surprising that this is the outcome of two years of non-negotiation, I suppose, because Theresa May is a remainer Prime Minister who presides over an overwhelmingly pro-remain Cabinet and has for support in the House of Commons a party that, by a substantial majority, supported 'remain', and the House of Lords was overwhelmingly pro-remain. If the people who are actually charged with the responsibility of delivering on the Brexit referendum don't even believe in the project, it's not surprising that what the Cabinet Secretary described correctly as chaos and mismanagement is the consequence, because they are a collection of defeatists, pessimists, fainthearts and, indeed, some of them, saboteurs as well. For all the high-flown language about wanting to respect the result of the referendum, there are many members of the Government who see this, as the Cabinet Secretary does, as a disaster for Britain. Therefore, they want to try to do their best to undermine the process, and they have spectacularly succeeded.
Of course, the fundamental problem is that there has never been any preparation for a 'no deal' outcome. If there had been, then we might have been able to make some progress in our negotiations with the EU. 'If you want peace, prepare for war', is the old Latin tag, and the same is true in negotiations as well. The idea that Britain, as the fifth largest economy in the world and the eighth largest manufacturing nation in the world, which has a massive deficit in trade with the EU and is prepared to pay £40 billion a year in budget contributions over the next five years, has no negotiating weapons in its hands is absolutely absurd. Donald Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on EU goods. The immediate effect of that was for German manufacturers of cars to call on the EU to scrap its auto tariffs against imports of cars from the United States, because they impose a 10 per cent tariff. As we know, the United States imposes only a 2.5 per cent tariff. The EU is a massive protectionist racket that operates to the disadvantage of the most disadvantaged people in society—the poor, those on the lowest incomes.
The outcome of this Chequers agreement, the only upside of which is to increase the support for UKIP from 3 per cent to 8 per cent in opinion polls in a week—there's that to be said for it, at least. But the outcome of this Chequers negotiation is a common rulebook that isn't a common rulebook at all—it's 'take it or leave it; accept the EU's rulebook'—and, if we're out of the EU, we won't even have the limited voice in the process of developing that rulebook that we have had up until now. We'll still be subject to the judgments of the European Court of Justice, so we won't get back control of our laws either. Then the so-called facilitated customs arrangement, which, as the Cabinet Secretary pointed out, David Davis has said is unworkable, and so it is too—it'll be vastly costly and bureaucratic—and then the so-called mobility framework, which is just an opaque cloud. We know nothing whatsoever about that so we can't, at this stage, form any judgment. What we, I think, can be pretty certain of is that the EU will insist upon free movement much as we have at the minute, and therefore we won't even have control over our borders either.
The Member's had nearly four minutes, and I haven't heard a question.
Well, the questions are all implied, and I'm sure the Cabinet Secretary is sophisticated enough an audience to be able to answer them.
No, no. This is a statement; you ask questions, please.
I can always end up by asking the Cabinet Secretary if he agrees with what I've said. But I will conclude, because I don't want to take up any more time than I have done.
There are massive opportunities, as well as transitional problems, in leaving the EU. I wonder why the Cabinet Secretary doesn't see at least some glimmer of light in the options that are available to us with the freedoms that we would have if we even had a 'no deal' scenario. As Mark Isherwood pointed out, the Commonwealth is a massive force in the world economically, and growing. The United States under President Trump is clearly very favourably disposed towards the United Kingdom, and he sees the EU as the enemy and, indeed, they have been a hostile power to us in these negotiations. There are massive opportunities there for us, and whatever the transitional problems of leaving—nobody denies that change of this magnitude is going to produce difficulties—nevertheless there are massive opportunities for Britain to connect properly with the rest of the world through free trade deals. The limited effect of tariffs within Europe are massively outweighed by the trade opportunities elsewhere in the world, and President Trump has, for all his imperfections, shown that, in the art of the deal, he is a past master, and he has got for America what the people who voted for him wanted in casting their ballots. What the Conservative Government at Westminster have done is actually to deny the British people, 17.5 million of them, what they voted for in the referendum two years ago.
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, I suppose that no afternoon in which the Napoleonic code and Lord North both make an appearance on the Assembly floor is entirely wasted, but I'm afraid it was very much downhill from there on. The Member makes his normal pitch for the Brexit that he has favoured and the Brexit that he has persuaded to vote for, and where he is quite wrong is to characterise the position of the Welsh Government as attempting to deny the outcome of the referendum. I say it again: we are focused on how we leave, not whether we leave.
Here, though, are the three takeaway messages from the Member's contribution this afternoon: for our population, a future in which he says, 'Let them eat chlorinated chicken, that will be good for them'; for our economy, he invites them to accompany him to the end of a pier in Aberystwyth, hand them a rubber ring, point them in the direction of New York and say, 'There may be some transitional problems, but there'll be massive opportunities if you ever get there'; and for the rest of our democracy, he says the example of President Trump is there before you. Don't be dazzled by the light that surrounds him.
It's hard to follow that. I think we'd all like to think that the Chequers deal is not dead in the water, but the idea that this is fun and games is obviously not the case. If people like Justine Greening are saying that the UK Parliament is incapable of making a decision, it's extremely scary.
The majority of my constituents are involved in a services business of one sort or another, whether they're working for universities, which involves collaboration with other universities across Europe in the Horizon programme, or whether they are involved in business services or insurance companies. I am struggling to understand how relinquishing the right to sell these services to the 500 million people living across the water in Europe, unfettered by tariffs, is going to be compensated for by some never-never land of future prospects that we might be able to look forward to, whether in the United States or elsewhere. So, this is of extreme concern to me.
In addition to that, I just wondered if we can now look at the possibility of crashing out of the European Union without a negotiated deal and the risks that that imposes for food security, because as most of our vegetables and fruit are imported from the EU, if our ports descend into chaos, how are we going to feed our population, which is the first task of government? Obviously, we want to avoid such a catastrophe, but the end of March is before the commencement of the growing season for fruit and vegetables. So, I just wondered what the Welsh Government contingency plans are to increase the availability of home-grown vegetables and fruit, which are such a vital component of the Welsh Government's aspirations for a healthier Wales.
I think there were three points there. I'm afraid I agree with what Jenny Rathbone has said. I think the House of Commons is demonstrating that there is not a majority to be brought together for any form of Brexit. I think that is the message we are learning from the last few days. The First Minister has said that in those circumstances a general election is the democratic necessity, and I completely agree with him there.
Jenny makes a very important point about services, Dirprwy Lywydd. The Chequers White Paper offers regulatory alignment in relation to goods and agricultural products, and that is very important in having unfettered trade as far as those things are concerned. But this idea that you can have a simple separation between goods and services as though they are entirely separate categories is simply not the case. To take the most obvious example, most people who buy a car buy a good, but they buy a finance package with it in order to secure that good, so there's a good and a service in the same thing. In fact, some estimates suggest that 40 per cent of goods that are traded in the European Union have an element of service directly connected to them. So, she's absolutely right to point to the very significant difficulty that remains there in the White Paper as far as services are concerned.
And in relation to the important point that she makes about food security, just as I said to Steffan Lewis that the Welsh Government is engaged in contingency planning already, we'll be doing more of that, and more intensively, over the summer. So, food will be part of what we will be considering. And in a point allied to that made by Jenny Rathbone, nobody should believe that there is some simple solution to some of these things in which you simply advise people to stock up and that they'll be okay, because, these days, supply chains and just-in-time delivery of food as well as other services means that there are no big stockpiles of food waiting to be mobilised for the public in the way that might have been the case when these things were organised very differently.
Cabinet Secretary, can I thank you for your statement today on the White Paper and also welcome the paper you published on reforming UK funding and fiscal arrangements after Brexit? At the weekend, Cabinet Secretary, you warned that a hard Brexit could throw the UK to the wolves with the spectre of a chaotic Tory Brexit looming over Wales and a hard right Brexit amounting to an attack on workers as a result of deregulation. Can I ask whether you have any confidence that this can be resisted, and can you clarify whether you believe the Welsh Government will have influence or the levers to safeguard employment rights in Wales as a result of this White Paper?
In the First Minister's speech yesterday, he reminded us of the Welsh Government's position and the four priorities laid out in 'Securing Wales' Future', agreed with Plaid Cymru, which has stood the test of time, including, as he said, retaining the social, environmental, employment and consumer protections we enjoy. In their White Paper, the UK Government does state:
'Existing workers' rights enjoyed under EU law will continue to be available in UK law on the day of withdrawal.'
But in your statement today you raise a number of questions, as well as giving the views at this point—difficult though it may be—of the Welsh Government. But one of your questions in your statement is:
'how will the UK Government provide sufficient guarantees to the EU-27 on environmental and labour market standards, to ensure that there is a genuine level playing field?'
Can we be confident that we will have the influence to safeguard these rights?
The Women's Equality Network, which I've mentioned already to the First Minister today, is making representations to the UN Convention on the elimination of discrimination against women. They're making these representations in a report this week. It's calling on the UK Government to enshrine the rights of women currently protected in EU legislation in domestic law to guarantee that no women's rights or human rights will be lost post Brexit. But, Cabinet Secretary, how likely is it that this can be achieved, considering the UK Government's rejection of the EU charter of fundamental rights and their current state of political paralysis?
I thank you for your statement and would ask you to ensure that the valid points you made last weekend about threats to workers' and particularly women's rights, if there is a hard Brexit, can be included in your dialogue, including Rebecca Evans, when you meet with UK Ministers in Cardiff on 1 August.
Could I thank Jane Hutt for those very important points and give her an assurance that we will certainly be raising these points, as we have already and at every opportunity with the UK Government? I've said already this afternoon, Dirprwy Lywydd, that we would have been prepared to have offered a modest welcome to the Chequers White Paper, in some aspects of it, and one of the reasons we would have been willing to do that is because it does repeat a commitment that the Prime Minister has given previously not to undo the rights that Welsh and UK citizens have gained as a result of our membership of the European Union—workers' rights, citizenship rights, human rights, consumer rights, gender equality rights and so on. But the reason why it's not been possible to do that in the way we might have intended this afternoon is because the White Paper is unravelling in front of us. Yesterday, the Prime Minister agreed to amendments laid down by her hardline Brexiteers that directly contradict the content of her own White Paper, and the things that I said at the weekend were designed to demonstrate that if the UK Government, if the Prime Minister, is prepared to commit herself wholeheartedly to a sensible Brexit, to face down the people in her own party who are not of that view, then we would be willing to offer her some support in that. But if she thinks that the way to navigate ourselves to a sensible Brexit is by continually making concessions to those of a very different point of view, then that's where we have the risks that Jane Hutt has pointed to. That's when we will end up in a position where, in order to compete in the world, there will be people who think that the way to do that is to sacrifice every protection that working people have gained as a result of their membership of the European Union. That's what I meant when I said that working people in Wales and the United Kingdom would be thrown to the wolves in that set of circumstances.
Thank you. I have two more speakers. If they can guarantee they will ask a brief question, I will call them both—and if the Minister can respond, as he always does, with brevity. Mick Antoniw.
Cabinet Secretary, on the basis that UKIP have raised the issue of Donald Trump, do you agree with President Trump that Boris Johnson would make a good Tory Prime Minister and that he would certainly be better than Theresa May? Do you agree that, if that were to happen—or even if it doesn't happen—any possible trade deal with America is now a potential disaster zone, bearing in mind the tariff war? And do you also agree with me that the proposal by the Tory Government now to actually cut and run by scuttling Parliament, by calling Parliament short, is a direct undermining of parliamentary democracy and an abuse of the democratic system, and that this is a Government that really shows that there's only one option left for it, and that's to call a general election?
I agree on the final point, definitely, Llywydd. The UKIP spokesperson suggested that Mrs May was the worst Prime Minister since Lord North. Surely there has never been a president of the United States in such disrepute as the current incumbent of that office, and we should take him at his word that if any trade deal were to be struck with the United States, it would be 'America first' that would be in his mind, and anything that we get will simply be the crumbs that fall from his table.
Finally, David Rees.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Cabinet Secretary, I fully welcome your statement and I agree with everything you said in that statement and all the answers you've given. Can I also agree with comments from Steffan Lewis and agree with some of the point he was making? It's very important that we address those. It was poor of the Conservative representative to comment on 'fun and games' in this. These are people's lives, these are our constituents and it's their jobs that are going to be affected by the outcomes of this.
Just some quick questions, Dirprwy Llywydd. On the White Paper, in reading through it—and I'm sorry to say I didn't have time to read through it all—there are very serious elements in there that affect Welsh Government competencies. Now, you said you didn't get the paper until 01:35 in the morning. You, therefore, haven't been consulted on a contribution into that paper. It talks about a joint committee that may oversee work going on, but it doesn't reference the Welsh Government in terms of representation on that joint committee; it talks about other actions. Do you really have confidence that they're going to listen to us in the negotiations going on? We know that they should be in the trade deals, but we're still seeing whether they will or not. There's a huge gap here in confidence in the UK Government in being able to deliver—where our voices are heard, let alone acted upon.
I thank David Rees for his support for the statement this afternoon and for associating himself with the remarks that others have made in the Chamber about the seriousness of the position that we are facing. He's right, of course; we were not consulted on core parts of the White Paper that directly impinge upon Welsh interests. Can I be confident that they will listen? Well, that isn't in my gift, Dirprwy Lywydd. What is in my gift is to make sure that wherever there is an opportunity to speak up for Wales and with our point of view, we will take those opportunities. Whether we are listened to is a different matter, but if we're not listened to, it's not because of any lack in our determination to make that case and to try our very best to make sure that the interests of Wales are articulated and heard.
Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary.
Item 5 is a statment by the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services: local government reform—next steps. I call on the Cabinet Secretary, Alun Davies.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. When I first spoke with Welsh local government last November, I told them that I believe in the public good and the public purpose and I very much believe in local government. It is these principles, Deputy Presiding Officer, that drive this Government.
For a great deal of time, many groups and individuals, including local government leaders, have been telling me that the current system and structures for local government are simply not sustainable. In response to this in March of this year, I published the 'Strengthening Local Government: Delivering for People' Green Paper consultation to reinvigorate the debate on the future of local government.
The Green Paper set out our vision for stronger, more empowered local authorities that can provide bold, determined and focused local leadership. Councils with the space to flourish, to be innovative, to work effectively together and with partners, with clear lines of accountability to citizens. For me, this is not an issue of geography or population size, but one of empowerment of local councils. It is not a dogmatic argument based simply on numbers; it is a pragmatic, but principled one that should be rooted in the kind of local democracy we want as a country and that also recognises our communities, local identities and places.
I have been clear that I want local government to build on its strengths. I see local authorities as the shapers and makers of places, working to get the best outcomes for the people they serve. I want local government to have the freedom to make decisions to help them deliver the standard and quality of services that their communities expect and require.
The Llywydd took the Chair.
The Green Paper consultation set out proposals to create larger, stronger and more sustainable councils as we set out in our manifesto. The Green Paper offered three possible routes to achieve this: voluntary mergers; phased mergers with comprehensive mergers at the local government elections after next; and comprehensive mergers at the earliest opportunity. It also highlighted other proposals for consideration, including wider recognition of the valuable contribution of elected members, the potential scope for sharing services and additional powers, and flexibilities for local authorities. It also recognised the importance of continuing with clear, determined regional working by authorities, which is already seeing benefits to many services.
The Green Paper proposed a specified future footprint for local government reform. I was very clear from the outset that I believed that such a footprint would be important to deliver consistent and transparent change, and we have been engaged in a discussion on what this might look like, if and how it might be applied.
In total, Presiding Officer, we received over 170 responses to this consultation, and today, I will be publishing a summary of those responses. I am pleased that we have had responses from across Welsh society and that many members of the public responded, demonstrating the value that they place on local democratic accountability. The majority of those who responded were in favour of creating fewer, larger local authorities and this was particularly reflected in the responses from members of the public. At the same time, the vast majority of local authorities were not supportive of such change in principle, although there was an openness to locally led voluntary change.
I have said throughout this consultation that I was not wedded to any single map and that I was inviting debate and proposals for an alternative to the options we set out. It is plain from the responses to the Green Paper that there is no clear agreement on a definitive map, but at the same time, no alternative has been offered.
I have listened carefully throughout the consultation and have always said that I want to work with local government to agree in partnership a way to ensure a sustainable future for local communities. However, no change is not an option, and neither is finding more money at a time of continuing austerity and the confusion over Brexit. I want to work with local government to agree a shared vision for the future, and to jointly develop solutions to the challenges they face. Those challenges about how we maintain progressive public services in the context of long-term austerity are simply not going to go away.
The consultation has suggested that there is an appetite amongst local government to work together to progress voluntary mergers and to increase and improve regional working. I therefore intend to introduce the local government (Wales) Bill early next year to legislate to enable this to move ahead at the earliest opportunity. This, Presiding Officer, was confirmed by the First Minister earlier today. The Bill will also make provision for electoral reform, changes to the governance and performance arrangements for local government, and a number of other proposals, including the general power of competence, which has been broadly supported at consultation.
But we cannot ignore or move away from the need for more fundamental reform. I therefore intend to establish, in partnership with the Welsh Local Government Association, an independent working group to drive a shared approach that will shape the future of local government and service delivery in the future. I'm very pleased to say that Derek Vaughan has agreed to carry out the role of chair of this group, and the membership of the group will be drawn largely from local government and supported by a joint Welsh Government and WLGA secretariat. It will take into account the broad range of views and ideas expressed during the consultation period and debate. The group will be charged with proposing a way forward on structures, additional powers, flexibilities and support for change. The output will be a farsighted and long-term plan for change and will include proposals for structural change driven by local government and how those changes and this process and programme of reform might best be supported by and through Welsh Government.
Presiding Officer, I will continue to update Members on the work of the group as it progresses.
Cabinet Secretary, thank you for your statement. Now, from the start, we as Welsh Conservatives did raise initial concerns about the Green Paper proposals. You and your predecessors, for the past three or four years, have been playing with the hearts, minds and lives of many working within our local government organisation. The aim of your Green Paper in March was supposedly to invigorate the debate on local government in Wales, and you mentioned at the time your vision for stronger, more empowered local authorities, focusing on local leadership. Yet, in reality, you pushed the button of turmoil, demoralisation and destabilisation once again within offices and council chambers across Wales.
You might see this as flexing your muscles of power, but, frankly, many, including members of your own party, thought that your actions were insensitive and calculating. You undermined the intelligence and dedicated commitment of our council group leaders, our councillors and our officers in their rejection of your preposterous proposals. You boast about 177 responses to the Green Paper consultation, in a population size of over 3 million people, it's not a lot, and, to be honest, I take credit for some of those, because we were actually writing it up in our news column in the local papers and making people across Wales aware of this consultation, because, too often, these go above the heads of the very people whose lives they affect.
You also know that the local authorities were sending copies of their responses to me at my request, so we were ahead of the game in analysing these responses, and we've challenged and scrutinised you since March, all the while, whilst people were very worried in local government about what you were moving towards. This clearly proved that you were going off on a mission well above the heads of these good people who work in local government, delivering vital services.
There are other ways of going about achieving some of the fundamentals that you are aiming for. You mention that no-one is bringing forward alternative proposals, yet I would beg to differ. Local authorities and the WLGA broadly noted the ongoing success of collaborative and regional partnership working, and they want longer for these principles to enable and to bed in. Of concern, though, is that you did not actually ask for any alternative suggestions, but merely offered these three possible routes towards forced mergers. You speak of empowerment for local authorities, but your Green Paper gave them very little. Would you not agree with me that expecting responses to a question you did not ask is a very poor way to undertake consultation?
Moving on to voluntary mergers, in reviewing the responses of local authorities, I must admit that I did not note the appetite that you describe, still, for voluntary mergers amongst local authorities. Denbighshire stated,
'The past experience of some authorities with regard to voluntary mergers and Government’s response to them is hardly encouraging.'
Conwy noted that,
We do not agree now that merging local authorities is appropriate.
That opportunity was lost when Leighton Andrews rejected them offhandedly at the time. The Vale of Glamorgan said that it was,
'taking the position that a merger with any other local authority is an untenable prospect in securing the quality of services rightly expected by our citizens.'
Now, given that sections 3 to 10 of the Local Government (Wales) Act 2015 already provide local authorities with the opportunity to voluntarily merge, can you advise as to why, if such an appetite exists, that you are not pushing that model forward? This, what you're bringing forward now, appears to be just another recycling of Leighton Andrews's plans. Why do you not consider amending the Act rather than bringing forward another raft of costly new legislation?
I also note your proposal to establish a new working group with the WLGA. As a result of all this local government reorganisation over the years, we've seen a Public Services Staff Commission set up, and there's now been a workforce partnership council. So, what is the point of setting up another costly group for local authorities to feed into? Why not consider streamlining these structures? You say that finding more money is not an option. However, we now know that local government, housing, education, social services and health are all intrinsically linked. Why, oh why, will you not seek to work with your other Cabinet Members around the table and seek a wholesale reform of all our public services across Wales, removing the numerous and costly tiers of bureaucracy and waste that exist within all five areas of this service delivery, and which have actually grown in 20 years of devolution in Wales?
The Williams commission gave us 62 recommendations, yet your Government and your predecessors have only ever taken four forward—all relating to local government reform. Is it not time now to get that report out again, blow the dust off it, and work with the panel, who were very good cross-party individuals, to revisit those proposals, and work with key stakeholders towards a wholesale reform of our public service delivery in Wales? Until you grasp that nettle, we are just going to carry on and on on this magic roundabout.
Presiding Officer, I'm afraid I'm going to start my response this afternoon by breaking Janet's heart. I'm sure she didn't intend this, but I actually think her remarks are very helpful, and I actually agree with much of what she said. I know this is somewhat unusual; I can see the Presiding Officer looks quite surprised as well.
We can agree on some things. Much of what has been said by the Conservative spokesperson, I think, makes a great deal of sense, and this is why I hope that the way in which we work with the WLGA and take forward a reform programme won't simply look at the structures, but it will look at how we work together as a Government and systems of governance within this country. I agree that there is a great deal of complexity, and I agree, and I know my colleagues in Government agree, that one of the objectives that we need in taking these matters forward is to streamline existing structures, and to streamline existing processes, to make Government appropriate and not as large as perhaps we're able to do so. The way in which we're going to take this forward will clearly look at the sorts of structures we have in place, but I hope that it will not be limited to a dry and sterile debate about either the number of local authorities we have in this country or the boundaries of those local authorities. I hope that we will be able to have a much more stimulating conversation about where services are best delivered and how services are best delivered for the citizen.
And I think, if I may say this, where I do disagree with the Conservative spokesperson, it was her lack of emphasis on the citizen and the place and the rights of the citizen. We all exist to serve the people of this country. Local authorities and this Government and this place exist to serve people, and it is the people that we serve that should be at the centre of our thoughts, and not simply the structures that exist in order to provide those services.
So, let me say this: it is not right to suggest that this process has either created turmoil, destabilisation or is insensitive, which are the words the Conservatives used. In fact, one of the issues that is constantly brought up to me, and brought up with me, by people like public service workers and by elected leaders up and down the country is the impacts of austerity on their budgets and their ability to deliver services. In all the debates that we've had here—and I've told her this before, and I will tell her again, I'm afraid—there isn't a single local authority leader, not one, across Wales who is saying what we need in Wales is the sort of Conservative policies that are being delivered in England. Nobody says that—nobody at all. I think it's fair to say that she can read the consultations throughout her summer break, but she will find very little evidence of that in any of the responses that we received. What we want to be able to do, though, is to do something that is very different. We want to take the best from the collaborative and regional working that she's described, and I accept that that is an important and central part of how we take these forward. We want to empower local authorities, but we want to empower local people as well. What we want to be able to do is to ensure now that we deliver the sorts of structures in Wales that are appropriate to a country with a devolved Government, and that are appropriate to a country of 3 million people. I hope that we will be able to do that in consultation with each other, and that we will see a far greater and far-reaching and far-sighted reform programme that goes beyond a dry and sterile conversation about the number of local authorities in Wales.
Thank you for the statement. Today's statement, of course, confirms what was reported in the press following the WLGA conference in Llandudno, which, of course, is that you are giving up on your plans to force council mergers—for the time being, at least. So, thank you for making the statement in the Chamber, which is the appropriate place for announcing important policy changes.
The Green Paper was deficient in that there was no cost analysis carried out. Your summary of the responses to the consultation on the Green Paper states that a third of the respondents had commented on the financial case. It was suggested that that case hadn't been made and that the costs in the Green Paper weren't complete, that people believed that the costs of merger would be higher than anticipated, or that the savings anticipated had already been made by local authorities. This is the argument that I've put forward consistently over the past few weeks, and one that I heard regularly from council leaders across Wales.
I have to say that I never understood the purpose of the change of direction from the regionalisation approach of your predecessor. Through introducing the Green Paper, valuable time was wasted, and uncertainty was created that was unnecessary. Therefore, we have taken a step backwards once again, and you are looking to create legislation around enabling voluntary mergers. But, as far as I can see, there are only two councils that are willing to consider that, and they are Swansea and Neath Port Talbot. But, even there, there is disagreement on the timetable, with Swansea wanting to merge swiftly whilst Neath Port Talbot sees some merit in merging with Swansea by 2026. So, it is clear that councils aren't willing to merge voluntarily. So, my first question is this: how confident are you that any councils would be willing to undergo a voluntary merger as a result of this legislation?
Now, as the legislation won't bring any radical proposals forward in terms of reorganising councils, perhaps we should turn our sights to other aspects of the new legislation, and try and see to what positive end we can turn this new Bill. Now, perhaps there may be opportunities in creating provisions for electoral reform. I know that you, like me, support proportional voting as a way of bringing life to elections and enhancing participation. Your predecessor mentioned introducing proportional voting to local government elections, but it wasn't to be mandatory. Now, for me, this should happen across Wales so that there is no postcode lottery created. If it isn't made mandatory across councils in Wales, then there's a risk that it won't happen at all. So, my second question is this: will you introduce proportional voting that will be mandatory for local government elections as part of this legislation?
The new legislation could also start to tackle the lack of diversity in local government. At the moment only 20 per cent of Welsh councillors are female, and we need far-reaching changes if the desire of the First Minister for a feminist Wales is to be made a reality. The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has started an inquiry into this, looking specifically at how we can overcome some of the barriers that exist. Why don't you also think about means of generating change through this new legislation—introducing quotas, for example, or allowing job sharing among councillors?
So. to conclude, will you commit to introducing electoral changes as part of this new Bill that will create a more diverse and equal local government? Thank you.
I would be very happy to do that. We have been discussing for some months the parts of the legislation that will be dealing with electoral reform, and, as the Member has acknowledged in her contribution, like her, I agree with PR, proportional voting, and I do think that that would be a help in creating much more diversity within local government and in ensuring that many more people have the opportunity to stand for election and to be elected as councillors, and I'd like to see that. If the Member has any additional suggestions for doing this through changing the law, I'm very happy to consider them, and I'm very happy to consider asking the working party to consider different options to ensure that there is more diversity within local government. I'm very willing to ensure that we have scope to discuss that over the next weeks and months.
When it comes to proportional voting, the Member is aware of the statement that I made back in January about the Government's proposals in this area. We want to offer councils the power to change the system themselves. I would like to introduce a policy that would ensure that we had proportional voting here and for councils across Wales, but the Member is aware that the support for that isn't available to us. So, until there is support for that, we will continue with the current policy, but I'm very happy to join the Member to campaign for proportional voting across Wales and in every part of our democratic institutions, from councils to this place, the Senedd, and the Westminster Parliament. I do think it's important to change our politics.
When it comes to the changes, can I say this? The Plaid Cymru spokesperson has focused on one side of this, namely council mergers. I'd like to look more broadly than that. What's important to me is considering the importance of the citizen and looking at how we ensure that citizens, wherever they live, whatever their geographical situation and whatever community they live in, whether urban or rural, have the kind of services that they need, and that we create the kind of democracy, democratic accountability and democratic structures to ensure that that happens.
I think that we have an opportunity here to go much further than talking just about mergers, and I don't want the discussion that we're going to have over the next few months to focus just on mergers. What I want to see is how we run our systems on a regional basis, how we decide that some services can be shared between different authorities, the relationship between local government and other parts of the public sector, the relationship between local government and the health service, for example, how local government ensures that it plays a greater role in economic development—there are several questions here for us to answer, and there are several discussions that we can have over the coming months.
So, I do hope that we will have a discussion that's more broadly framed than just discussing mergers, and a discussion that is richer than that. And I do think that the process over the past few months has created a foundation and a different situation, where local government leaders do acknowledge that we need change and are willing to discuss what kind of change we're going to have. And I look forward to the kind of discussion that we will have in the coming months.
Thanks to the Minister for today's statement. We seem to find ourselves in a bit of a strange situation now with this long-running local government reorganisation, and I appreciate that it was long-running before you came into the job, so I'm not casting aspersions at your efforts so far—at least not totally casting aspersions at your efforts so far. We seem to be in a position where the 22 local authorities in Wales are being encouraged to go for voluntary mergers now, even though many or indeed most of them have already suggested strongly that they're against mergers full stop.
There is evidence that many of them are now working collaboratively on sharing services with their neighbouring authorities. Indeed, this isn't really a choice for them, given the shortage of money in local government; it's more of a financial imperative. Councils are going to have to work more collaboratively in this financial climate or the alternative will be cutting more services. So, collaborative working is coming in, whether councils want to do it or not.
What is not so clear is whether we are moving with any purpose at all towards actual mergers. The Minister now proposes to set up a joint working group with the WLGA to talk about possible mergers—and other matters, no doubt. It's probably a good idea to have this group in some senses, in that it does represent some form of consultation. But, as I said at the start of my response, this has been going on for some time now, this whole reorganisation. So, at some point, presumably, you or some other local government Minister will have to decide whether or not to make any mergers. Your group, chaired by Derek Vaughan, does sound a little bit like kicking the can down the road. When do you think we might now expect a decision on mergers? Will we have a definitive decision by next summer, for instance?
Now, it strikes me that the councils in Wales don't seem too keen on mergers, but they are involved in this collaborative working. Given this, might it not be a good idea to move away slightly from the idea of mergers and more towards collaboration? I don't mean abandoning the idea of mergers, but at least beginning a parallel course in favour of collaboration. Could you perhaps effectively monitor collaboration, incentivise it, and reward those councils who can demonstrate that they are saving the public purse effectively by such collaboration? Would this be a way forward?
Now, if you can get voluntary mergers, that would be a good outcome, but we do need to steer clear of one-sided forced mergers, by which I mean one local authority that has designs on another local authority. We have the local example of Cardiff county council, which has expressed its designs on a merger with the Vale of Glamorgan, as evidenced by Huw Thomas's recent statements. Well, we went through this last time—the Vale of Glamorgan never wanted a merger with Cardiff. They never expressed any desire to merge with Cardiff. In fact, when they had the idea of voluntary mergers last term, they expressed a desire to merge with Bridgend. So, given that the Vale have never suggested that they have any inclination towards merging with Cardiff, could you assure us that we won't have this outcome if it's demonstrably the case that the majority of the Vale council has no desire for this outcome?
Lastly, Mike Hedges isn't here today, but he normally is present on these occasions. I think he has raised a quite valid point on numerous occasions, which is—. He talks about the fact that we've had local government reorganisations at regular intervals, roughly every 20 to 25 years, and they're always called the definitive reorganisation, and then, 20 years later, we start talking about another one. The one point that he's made flowing from that is: can we demonstrate from any of these reorganisations that bigger councils necessarily lead to significant cost savings? I think we do need to look at this and to see if there is any evidence basis that bigger councils will necessarily lead to reduced costs to the public purse. There is also the example of the enlarged health boards as well. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
I'm grateful, Presiding Officer, for the comments. Can I say this? I have never argued for a one-size-fits-all approach to local government reform and never have I argued that, necessarily, significantly large councils are always a good thing. In fact, if you look at a much wider basis than simply Wales, you will see that the councils that were being proposed in the Green Paper are not large themselves. These aren't very large institutions. Many of the local authorities across the border in England are significantly larger than the authorities that were being proposed here, so we're not talking about significantly large institutions.
What I'm concerned about is to create institutions that a