Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd20/02/2019
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call the Members to order.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, and the first question is from Jack Sargeant.
1. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Economy and Transport on the impact of environmentally friendly transport on pollution levels? OAQ53454
Thank you. I have regular discussions with the Minister for Economy and Transport about sustainable action required to reduce emissions from transport, for example through work on our Welsh plan to tackle roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations, and the decarbonisation ministerial task and finish group, which I chair and of which the Minister is also a member.
Thank you, Minister, for that, and I welcome this opportunity to ask my first question to you in this Chamber. I'm sure the Minister will agree with me that plastic pollution levels are an issue globally, but Wales has an opportunity to lead from the front. Sometimes, we also need to look elsewhere as to how we think differently about transport. In Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city, decision makers have come up with a different way to encourage residents to recycle waste, giving free bus rides in exchange for used plastic bottles. Under a scheme launched by Surabaya in April, communities can ride red city buses by dropping off plastic bottles at terminals or directly paying for a fare with bottles. Llywydd, a two-hour bus ticket costs 10 plastic cups, or up to five plastic bottles, depending on their size. The city hopes to meet their ambitious target of becoming a plastic-free city by 2020.
Alongside the Government investing in the future of technology and green transportation, will the Minister also discuss with the Minister for economy, as well as local government leaders, how we might be able to replicate a similar system in pilot areas here, which falls in line with our future generations Act?
Thank you. It's certainly a very interesting initiative. We had a lively conversation with officials this morning when we were going through the oral questions, and I'll certainly discuss it with my colleague Ken Skates. I think it's also important to discuss it with the Deputy Minister for Local Government and Housing, Hannah Blythyn, who obviously leads on that part of the portfolio, but also local government leaders as well.
The Member will be aware that Hannah Blythyn also announced a consultation on the merits of a deposit-return scheme for drink containers earlier this week, and the UK Government are consulting at the same time, but, clearly, plastic is an area where we've done well with our recycling. We have very high recycling rates of plastic, so we want to avoid unintended consequences.
As we heard at the recent cross-party group on transport, chaired by Russell George, it's buses and heavy goods vehicles that contribute primarily to the diesel pollution. And while lorries get replaced fairly frequently, buses don't. Previously, Welsh Government gave Swansea Council quite a lot of money towards the Nowcaster system—I haven't mentioned it for a while, so I thought it deserved a bit of an airing—and as far as we can tell—somebody may contradict me here—it has not been used to redirect traffic at any point. So, it's, as far as I'm concerned, a failed system. Would Welsh Government consider putting money into helping councils upgrade their public transport, if you like, making that more anti-pollution, rather than investing in these monitors that don't seem to have made any difference?
It's certainly something I'd be very happy to discuss with my colleague Ken Skates.
Minister, you mentioned the level of nitrogen dioxide, and you'll be aware of the study being undertaken by Professor Paul Lewis at Swansea University in this regard—figures showing 81 out of 916 places exceeding safe limits, including eight in Carmarthenshire, and one example being the Felinfoel road in Llanelli. What evaluation are you and your officials making of moves like the 50 mph limits on certain trunk roads and parts of the M4 since they were introduced? Are we yet able to see what difference those are making?
What recent discussions have you had with local authorities to improve the monitoring of pollution levels, because you will be aware that there are communities that are concerned that they've got levels that they feel may be dangerous but the monitoring just isn't there. And have you given any further consideration to the need for a new clean air Act for Wales?
Thank you. In relation to the five areas that we've got across Wales that relate to the reduced 50 mph speed limit, this is obviously an area that Ken Skates leads on, but I do have one in my own constituency and I know that they are being monitored very closely, but I don't know if any figures have been brought forward as yet. The speed restrictions have been identified as the only measure that will achieve compliance with nitrogen dioxide limit values in the soonest possible time. I think we need to get the message out a bit better. Certainly, the one in Wrexham, people don't understand why we had the 50 mph there, why it wasn't being enforced, was it for safety, was it for emissions. So, I think it's really important that we have signage, and that's something that I've been discussing with my officials.
You asked about a clean air Act, and, again, that was something that was in the new First Minister's manifesto that I am looking to deliver on as we take forward this term, looking at what we can do within the legislative programme we have.
2. How is the Welsh Government's landfill disposals tax community scheme benefiting communities in south-east Wales? OAQ53444
Thank you. Twenty-seven of the 71 applications received under the landfill disposals tax community scheme were successful in the first funding window, administered by the Wales Council for Voluntary Action. Eight of these projects will be delivered within south-east Wales, investing £257,490 in projects that enhance the environment, biodiversity, and minimising waste.
Thank you. I welcome the news announced last month that a total of 27 projects across Wales will receive grant awards in the first round of funding, raised by the Welsh Government's landfill disposals tax community scheme. Minister, this highly innovative scheme was established by the Welsh Government to support local community and environmental projects in areas affected by disposals to landfill, and funded by the new Welsh landfill disposals tax, which replaced UK landfill tax in April 2018. So, Minister, are you able to state how many applications for funding were received from projects in Islwyn during the first two rounds of funding? And can you indicate further what actions the Welsh Government are taking to ensure that Islwyn benefits from this rewarding scheme?
Thank you. I mentioned in my original answer that the WCVA hold the contract and the responsibility for the management and distribution of fundings. There were a number of applications received from the surrounding area, but only one application was received from within your own constituency of Islwyn in round 1. Unfortunately, that was unsuccessful. One application from Islwyn has also been submitted in round 2, and that's currently being taken through the assessment process. I am continuing to encourage the WCVA, as the delivery organisation, to provide eligible applicants equal opportunities to apply to the scheme. I think—the early discussions I've had with the WCVA—there has been a very high level of demand for the scheme, and they've confirmed that the applications are of a very high standard.
You've started something now, Minister. I don't know whether you've got any figures in that file relating to my constituency as well—probably other Assembly Members will ask the same. If you don't have any figures, either now or later, if you could contact me regarding the uptake of the scheme in my area, that would be much appreciated. In terms of the community scheme and the benefits overall, it's clearly a good idea to have this, and the Welsh Government's gone down the right route following the devolution of landfill disposals tax. Could you tell us what you're doing to raise awareness of the scheme across Wales in communities? Because it strikes me there's probably very little knowledge out there about the landfill disposals tax itself, and maybe there would be more applications forthcoming if there was a greater awareness. So, if you could tell us a little bit more about that, that would be very helpful.
Just looking through my list, it doesn't appear there are any successful applications from Monmouth; I don't know if there were any that were unsuccessful, but I'd certainly be happy to look into that and write to the Member.FootnoteLink As I said in my answer to Rhianon Passmore, the WCVA run the scheme for us. They promote it, they publicise it, they use a range of mechanisms—I know they do specific events, they have newsletters, they use social media. And, again, there's been a very high level of demand for the scheme. So, I think they are promoting it in a way that's been very successful, but of course we can always do more, and I will certainly encourage that.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd.
Thank you, Llywydd. Minister, we're a matter of weeks now away from leaving the European Union. As things stand, it seems that we may leave without an agreement or a transition deal even. This, of course, places a clear threat to the environment in Wales, and to our rights as citizens. Because, to date, we haven't seen any Welsh Government proposals on the environmental governance structures that will exist in Wales post Brexit. Now, you promised a consultation back in the summer of last year, then in the autumn, then in the new year, and we're now approaching the end of February and we're still waiting, and, of course, the Brexit clock is still ticking. That lack of progress is scandalous, if I may say so, and, of course, it could be disastrous to the environment here in Wales. Will you, therefore, confirm to this Senedd when we will see that long awaited consultation on environmental governance? And when will the Government, at last, outline your intention in terms of legislation? And how will you introduce emergency measures in a 'no deal' Brexit scenario?
Well, I'm very interested in the use of the word 'scandalous' and 'leaked letter' might come to mind, having looked at your website this morning—Plaid Cymru's, not the Member himself. I don't think it's scandalous. We've done a huge amount of work. You're quite right about a 'no deal' Brexit. I take that threat very, very seriously, and I will be bringing forward the consultation. You've got to appreciate our environmental gap is very, very different to any other part of the UK because of the legislation that we've already had in place, but I will be bringing a consultation forward next month.
Well, I have to appreciate some things, but I think you need to appreciate as well that you've had well over two years to get ready for this, and now we've got 37 or so days left until we leave the European Union, until our environment is exposed to all of these threats that many of us are concerned about. Our current environmental governance structures through the EU provide a free and accessible mechanism for every citizen to pursue potential environmental infringements by their governments or public authorities. There's nothing even close to the scope and power of the EU Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union in this area that currently operates here in Wales. So, the question is: where do we turn after Brexit?
I was concerned to see you recently implying in a letter to the environment committee that the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales provided mitigation for these complaints. Our existing European structures also, of course, monitor compliance, and they can fine, they can instruct remedial action where infringements are identified. The ombudsman doesn't do that. Given this significant gap, and given the possibility that from the end of next month people in Wales will be stripped of their rights to challenge Government in these ways, how will you ensure that the rights of Welsh citizens, the protection of the Welsh environment won't be diminished after Brexit? And when will we see an equivalent monitoring and enforcement structure created, which has the power to monitor compliance, to receive complaints and to require the Welsh Government and public authorities to take remedial action and to do all of that, of course, from a wholly independent standpoint?
So, I want to ensure our response to addressing the gaps in the functions that are undertaken by the EU Commission currently. And you are right—there will be gaps but, as I say, they will be much, much smaller than in other parts of the UK. But I want to make sure that it not only helps to maintain and enhance our environment, but it's one that's consistent with the devolution settlement and it complements our existing accountability mechanisms. The public services ombudsman is one of them, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales is another one, the Assembly itself is another one.
I'm also having ongoing discussions with the UK Government on its proposals. They are publishing their draft provisions sometime towards the end of this year. Again, those draft provisions are required by the withdrawal Act, and that includes sustainable development as a principle. But I've made it abundantly clear that I don't want to see any diminution of sustainable development or of our environmental standards here in Wales.
But why is it taking so long? I say again, you've had over two years to ready yourself for this. It seems to be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Maybe we should call you the 'maniana Minister', because where is the finishing line on this? Well, I'll tell you where it is: it's in 37 days time when we leave, potentially, the European Union, and without these arrangements in place our environment will be exposed to all kinds of threats and our citizens will have their rights in that respect diminished.
Now, the current environmental principles and associated rights, of course, apply to all public authorities and all Government decision making. But, without action, that will not be the case after we've left the European Union, even in areas where the Welsh Government has previously legislated for some principles, albeit in a much narrower and now, I believe, wholly inadequate scope within, for example, the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. They've moved in England to legislate for nine principles and rights in their principles and governance Bill. All we have in Wales, with days until Brexit, is a blank piece of paper. There are no excuses for this, Minister. You've had plenty of time to get ready for this eventuality. So, how will you ensure that there's no regression in the scope of how these environmental principles and rights apply from the very moment at which we no longer fall under the remit of existing EU structures?
As I said in my earlier answer, I'll be going out to consultation next month. You say we've had two years, but you have to appreciate the level of work that Brexit has brought to the Government. The 'no deal' scenario I am taking very, very seriously, I think, as the days tick by—you're quite right. We will be going out to consultation. I've been working very closely with stakeholders since the referendum around this, but I don't want to pre-empt any consultation. But I do state again: we do have legislation in place in a way that other parts of the UK don't.
Conservatives' spokesperson, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. It is good to hear from the Plaid Cymru benches that the Conservatives in Westminster are taking action on the environment and I hope that the Minister will listen to the complaints this morning about the delay in her putting her own proposals forward.
But, in talking about delays, I really do want to ask the Cabinet Secretary if she could indicate when she will actually be making a decision on the environmental impact assessment that she was minded to, or her deputy was minded to, instruct on, regarding the Barry biomass boiler, because this now has been going on for over 12 months. The 14 February last year was when the Deputy Minister said that the Government was minded to instruct that an EIA be undertaken by the developer. When we talk about action not being taken and when people in a community listen to those statements, they expect action. We are now over 12 months on, and no action. So in that folder, I very much hope that you can give me a definitive date as to when you will be telling us that that environmental impact assessment will or will not be required.
I'm afraid I don't have it in my folder because that decision is still being taken by Hannah Blythyn.
You must agree, Minister, that that is completely unacceptable, 12 months on from when it was first announced that the Government was minded to instruct the developer to undertake an environmental impact assessment. We're 4 months on from when the then First Minister sent me a letter indicating that a decision would be taken by the end of November last year. Residents and Members of this institution are still waiting. How much longer do we have to wait? What pressure then will you bring to bear on Hannah Blythyn in her new role, who's obviously taken this responsibility with her, because I was of the opinion that it still resided with you, but clearly that's not the case. So, what pressure will you be bringing to bear to get that decision made? You were quick enough to make a decision on the Hendy windfarm in mid Wales. Let's have a decision on the Barry biomass boiler.
As I say, the decision is going to be with Hannah Blythyn. I'm sure she'll be in the Chamber, because I think she's answering the next set of questions. So, if the Member has the opportunity, he can ask her himself. But certainly, I will speak to her and ask her to write to you.
That seems to be the reply I get time and time again on many issues that I put before the Minister: 'I will write to you' or 'We will make a decision in the fullness of time' or 'in due course'. What is the fullness of time? Nearly 13 months on now on this particular issue.
If you look at the department in particular, the 'Brexit and our land' consultation has moved on now into the summer before the Government responds to that; the WWF and other environmental organisations have highlighted their concerns about delays in the department; and, in particular, developing the agri Bill, which we're not sure will or will not be coming before us and the timing of that Bill. I think the Minister has indicated that it most probably won't be in action by the time this Assembly breaks up in 2021. It seems to be a constant delay and pushing back.
We need proactivity from the Minister and her department in developing these solutions here in Wales. That's what devolution was all about. When residents in Barry and other parts of Wales look at this inaction, they really do question what decisions have been taken in their name. What confidence can you give that your department is up to speed, is on top of its brief and is able to deliver on the various initiatives that I've highlighted to you today, because on the evidence that I've highlighted, when it comes to making what I would suggest is a relatively simple decision, albeit with legal constraints and legal considerations, you cannot even make that decision?
I go back: the question the Member asked me is about a decision not being taken in my department, so I can't answer that question. As I say—[Interruption.] You asked me a question about when a decision was going to be taken. I cannot answer that question; it is not in my department.
So, you ask me what confidence I've got in my department. I've got a great deal of confidence in my department. But I have to say, Brexit, which so many members of your group supported, has added a level of work that you cannot begin to imagine. I've had 45 new officials. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs alone has had 1,300 new officials. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has had 700 new officials, just to help with Brexit. So, I have great confidence in my officials who are working flat out to make sure we've got an agricultural Bill.
'Brexit and our land' consultation came forward last year. I had hoped to bring the White Paper forward in the spring; I've now said the summer because I want to ensure that we analyse the responses we've had in a thorough way. There were some very, very good thought-provoking ideas coming forward. We need to give them due consideration, and I think it's better not to rush this. I have said, as has the First Minister, that I will bring an agricultural Bill forward in this term. It's got to fit in with the legislative programme, it has to fit in—it's obviously a whole-Cabinet decision, but both I and the First Minister have said that we'll bring an agricultural Bill forward this term.
In the interim, I have made sure that we've taken temporary powers through the UK Government Agriculture Bill to make sure that we can pay farmers, for instance. You too mentioned the letter from WWF—it's not just Plaid Cymru that had it. Frankly, I was quite surprised at that letter because, again, they know how our Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and how the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 have embedded sustainable development in everything that we do in the Welsh Government in a way that other Governments haven't.
UKIP spokesperson, Neil Hamilton.
Diolch, Llywydd. Has the Minister seen the panicked letter that was written by the major European agricultural food and drink organisations to Michel Barnier on 6 February? It says:
'on behalf of the entire EU agri-food chain'—
I'm reading from the letter itself, pointing out that
'In 2017, EU-27 agri-food exports to the UK amounted to €41 billion',
whilst the UK sells only €17 billion in return. So, there's a massive deficit in food and drink between Britain and the EU, which opens up a very substantial opportunity for British producers if there is indeed no deal on 29 March. Does she welcome at last the dawning realisation on the part of European producers that, if there is no deal, this is going to hurt them far more than it'll hurt us?
No, I don't.
Well, in that case then she's flying from reality because that is the view of the people in Europe who are most concerned about the impact of this.
But let's look at this in a positive light. There is going to be a massive opportunity for British farmers and food producers generally after 29 March, if there's no deal. Just let's look at the figures. In beef, let's take beef: we export £450 million-worth of beef; we actually import £1.3 billion-worth of beef. So, we actually export only one third of what we import. Lamb: it's broadly based. We import as much as we export and the imports come mostly from New Zealand, but New Zealand is increasingly interested in exporting to other parts of the world, like China and the far east and, actually, sales from New Zealand to Europe are falling and they don't use anything like their quota anyway. Pig meat: we export £470 million-worth a year; we actually import £1.1 billion-worth year. So, there's a massive opportunity there for people who are in the pig meat production area. Dairying—[Interruption.] Cats, the Member for Ynys Môn thinks we should be concentrating on. I think we should take this seriously as an issue and not try to make a joke out of it. In dairy products again there's an opportunity. Eighty-two per cent of the milk that Ireland exports comes to the United Kingdom, as does 49 per cent of their beef. I'd like to know what the Minister is doing to promote Welsh produce within the United Kingdom to take up the opportunities that will open up after 29 March if there's no deal.
Llywydd, the Member says I'm flying in the face of reality. You, Neil Hamilton, were at the meeting of the council of National Farmers Union Cymru, I think it was last month, where you heard the president John Davies saying that a 'no deal' exit would be absolutely catastrophic for the agricultural sector and for farmers, on the day that Theresa May apparently said that she thought—I think the phrase was something like 'Welsh farmers would welcome a "no deal" Brexit.' You heard what John Davies said that night, so if I'm flying in the face of reality, I really don't know what you are. A 'no deal' would be absolutely catastrophic for farming, for farming families and for our communities in Wales, and I'm getting more and more fearful that that is the way we are going to leave the EU.
On a positive way, you ask what we're doing to promote Welsh food and drink in the UK. You may be aware that we have an event on a biannual basis, and we are due to have it next month at the Celtic Manor—Blas Cymru—and there we will have over 100 producers and we will welcome about 150 buyers, many of them international, but many from across the UK.
Well, I'm very pleased to hear that, and this is the sort of positive talk that we want to hear across the Chamber, but the reality is that, whether there is a deal or no deal is not actually in our hands but we have to prepare for the consequences if there is one. And what I say is that there are massive opportunities as well as, obviously, the difficulties that that would pose for producers. But, there are markets that are rapidly expanding in other parts of the world, unlike Europe, which is a stagnating—and, indeed, declining—economy, as most of the continent will be in recession in a very short time.
In the middle east we've been very successful recently in expanding our markets. In 2013-14, we were selling only about £3 million-worth a year of food to the middle east. The latest figure that I've got is for 2017, and it was 10 times that—£33 million. So, clearly there are opportunities there that can be taken advantage of. China is a massive market, of course. It'll soon be one of the largest markets in the world. New Zealand is selling more and more to China. Exports of New Zealand produce to the UK in 2017 were only £340 million. They are now exporting more than three times that amount to China, and rapidly increasing that every year. So, what are we able to do to capitalise upon being able to sell to markets in other parts of the world, like China and, indeed, India, which expanded at a rate of 8 per cent last year, to take advantage of these opportunities for Welsh producers?
The Member may be aware that the Welsh Government supported an enhanced export programme with Hybu Cig Cymru. So, for instance, Japan have obviously recently opened their market to Welsh lamb, so I know HCC are working there. We support trade missions to places like Japan and India. So, I'm ensuring that that work is progressing. I think that work was being done before we had the referendum to leave the EU. I think we were always looking for new markets. I was out in Gulfood in Dubai a couple of years ago, where, again, most supermarkets that you went to had Welsh lamb on the shelves. So, I think this work has been ongoing for many years.
3. What action will the Minister take to further promote Welsh food and drink produce in 2019? OAQ53434
Thank you. A significant amount of work is undertaken to promote Welsh food and drink. One example is the biannual Taste Wales event, which is taking place again next month at the Celtic Manor resort. There will be over 100 Welsh food producers who will meet over 150 buyers, a third of whom are international.
Thank you very much for that answer, Minister. A YouGov survey of consumers carried out for NFU Cymru found that Brexit could help drive sales in Welsh produce once the UK leaves the European Union. A quarter of respondents said that buying Welsh produce will be more important to them post Brexit, while an additional 31 per cent said that buying Welsh produce is important to them now and will remain so. Minister, what discussion have you had with regard to food labelling to ensure that Welsh farmers and producers can take full advantage of the potential benefits indicated in this consumer survey?
I think that food labelling is very important, and it's part of ongoing discussions, particularly post Brexit. I think that people are far more interested in where their food and drink comes from than they were probably just a couple of decades ago. I think that having the dragon on our food, showing that it was made in Wales, is very important, and people really recognise that. If I can just say: just yesterday, another food—actually, the first fruit—gained protected food name status from Europe, and that was the Vale of Clwyd Denbigh plum. It was great to welcome them into an ever-growing family. I think that's 16 food and drink products and, as I say, it's the first fruit.
The food and drink industry in Wales issued a report last summer saying that UK consumers wanted to see more Welsh produce. That was at the same time as, of course, Welsh produce was rebranded as British produce at the Royal Welsh Show last year. Can the Minister update us on what the Government has been doing since then to try to stop this rebranding of Wales by the British state?
So, the Member is referring to a commercial decision that was taken by the Royal Welsh Show to allow the UK Government to sponsor the outside of the food hall. That will not be happening again this year; I can assure you of that. Those discussions are ongoing about Welsh produce being labelled in that way. Certainly, I think that the majority of companies that I work with do feel it's a massive advantage. They feel it's very easy to sell Welsh food and drink with that branding on it.
4. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with stakeholders with regard to reducing pollution in Port Talbot? OAQ53462
Thank you. The Welsh Government has a good working relationship, with Ministers and officials meeting regularly with stakeholders in Port Talbot. This includes Tata Steel, local authorities and Natural Resources Wales. Our discussions focus around air quality management in the area, action to reduce air pollution, and communications with the local community.
Thank you for that answer, Minister, and, obviously, there are two main areas of the pollution that we've been concerned about. One is vehicle emissions, which I will raise with the Minister for Economy and Transport, because it's under his remit at this moment in time. The other one is, obviously, industrial emissions. As you've highlighted there, you have discussions with Tata, and I want to raise the issue of pollution from Tata. We all understand the importance of Tata to the economy of the town and the area, but at the same time it needs to be a responsible neighbour to the residents of my constituency. What discussions will you have with Tata to ensure that the emissions and the pollution that we are seeing—? And residents complain to me every day that they wash their car, they get up in the morning, and their cars are full of red dust or black dust, their houses, their gardens, the window sills, the patio sets—everything is continually being polluted. What discussions are you having with Tata to look at how they can actually reduce that for my constituents, because, whilst it's not deemed to be the worst of the pollutants, because the PM10s and the PM2.5s are, people are still breathing in this dust, they are still living in this dust, they're carrying this dust throughout their houses, and we need to do something to ensure that it actually is reduced?
Thank you. As I say, officials are having ongoing discussions with Tata Steel. I know there are plans for myself and Ken Skates to do a joint visit to have further discussions with Tata Steel. You'll be aware of the intense monitoring that goes on in that area, and I know that so far this year there's only been one single exceedance of the daily limit of particulate matter, which is PM10, across all the monitoring sites but, of course, one is one too many and we are closely monitoring it.
Swansea University, along with the universities of Warwick and Sheffield, are collaborating on this new SUSTAIN project, which will use £35 million of investment to reduce emissions from the steelmaking process and increase productivity and jobs, which I think is a very welcome collaboration, something that can reduce pollution for Tata Steel, which I hope will also, when they're building their new power station, if that comes into being, be very conscious of reducing pollution with that power station as well. If the SUSTAIN project does make the progress that's expected, what direct support do you think Welsh Government could consider giving it, particularly once or if the state-aid rules change after we leave the European Union?
I'm unsure of what support we would be able to give, but I'd be very happy to look into that and write to the Member.
Now, increasing the use of electric vehicles, both private and public, is a clear way to reduce air pollution levels—pun intended—such as in Port Talbot, but the Welsh Local Government Association has been critical of progress, or rather lack of progress, on this agenda, stating that there's a lack of national direction and there has not been a concerted effort by Welsh Government to work with local authorities on this agenda. Do you accept that there's been a lack of progress on this and that, until you provide that national direction, Port Talbot and other areas of Wales will continue to suffer air quality issues?
Well, I think we certainly have shown leadership in relation to electric vehicles. I know we gave—I think it was about £2 million we gave in funding, I thought to all local authorities, but my colleague Ken Skates does lead on this. But, from my memory, I think it was about £2 million that we gave to local authorities to kick start, if you like, some progress in relation to this area. But, of course, we do need to do more and, clearly, we need—. I've certainly had discussions with the National Grid, for instance, to make sure that such a route of electric vehicle charging points would be able to be sustained by the current capacity that we have within the grid.
Minister, it's not just air pollution that we have to worry about in Port Talbot and my wider region. Other pollutants are also having an impact. A recent review in the journal of Biological Conservation highlighted the impact pesticides were having on invertebrate species. As the species champion for the fen raft spider, whose habitat is in the shadow of the steelworks, one of only three in the UK, I am concerned about the impact pesticides will have, threatening this native species with extinction. Minister, what action will your Government take to protect the fen raft spider and other insects from pesticides and other pollutants?
It's very important that we protect all insects, as you say, and, certainly, we have guidelines for pesticide use, and I know farmers are very careful in what pesticides they use, and we work very closely with them to ensure they have up-to-date information on pesticides that can be used.
5. What discussions has the Welsh Government had about licensing of performing animals? OAQ53450
Thank you. I issued a written statement on 31 January summarising the outcome of a series of workshops held with stakeholders to discuss mobile animal exhibits last year. My officials have been in correspondence with DEFRA to discuss cross-border issues regarding the English licensing of animal activities legislation.
Thank you for your answer, Minister, and thank you for your letter that you sent to me recently on an issue raised by my constituent who at the moment faces needing to pay not only for her own Welsh licence, which she's perfectly happy to do, but also an additional £800 if she's going to be able to take her business into England, which she does on a regular basis. Now, she—and many other people who work in this field—is a sole trader, with very low turnover, and, if she has to meet this additional £800 on an ongoing basis, her business will cease to be viable.
I'm pleased to hear you say that you are having discussions with Michael Gove about this issue, because it's a small issue in the great big post-Brexit picture, but to my constituent, and to others who work in that field, it's a very serious one. What assurances can you give us? It is too late now to resolve this by the 1 April deadline, I imagine, for this year, but what assurances can you give my constituent that, by next year, we will have some sort of cross-border arrangements in place, and that she will not have to pay twice to licence her business?
Well, officials are still—. I'm aware of the correspondence that we exchanged, and my officials are certainly continuing to have those discussions with counterparts—not actually just the UK Government, but, obviously, Scotland, because, obviously, these businesses, as you say, are transient in nature. So, I can't give you a date as to when those discussions will come to a conclusion, but I do hope that it won't take a year to do so. But, you're quite right, I don't think we'll have it in place by 1 April this year.
Minister, I think this area of public policy deserves a lot of attention and needs to be speeded up. Your first written answer, I think, or written statement, was in December 2016, so, it's well over two years ago that that was made. The public are demanding some action here, because it's not just circus animals. We've all been to agricultural shows and seen the birds of prey there, and, at Christmas, you often see reindeer out on the streets in some mobile displays. And I think we need clarity, and, those that are using animals, if they can do it humanely, and without those animals suffering any loss of dignity, then it may be appropriate. But we do need to come to a conclusion on this and state what our policy aims are for regulation.
I think you're right about public interest. I think, in some ways, there's more public interest in mobile animal exhibits than in circuses, because we don't have any circuses registered in Wales. And, as you say, we've all been to agricultural shows. Schools, for instance, often have birds of prey, and so I do think it is something of public interest, and, certainly, when we had the consultation, there was a high number of responses in relation to this aspect.
The licensing scheme is being developed. You'll be aware that we've engaged with any stakeholders, also with enforcement agents. We are going to have a full public consultation, because I think that is required and that will be done, hopefully, within the next few months. But you will appreciate, again, Brexit has to take priority—particularly a 'no deal' Brexit—but I do hope that the consultation, certainly, will come out by the end of the summer.
6. What action is the Welsh Government taking to address the risk of flooding to critical infrastructure in Wales? OAQ53441
The Welsh Government prioritises flood and coastal risk management funding on the protection of homes and communities. Whilst it also supports schemes that provide wider benefits, including protection of infrastructure, the owners of those assets are ultimately responsible for ensuring they remain resilient and fit for purpose.
Thank you for that answer, Minister, and can I put on record my thanks to the Welsh Government for the investment that it's made in flood defences in my constituency? But you will be aware that there is one particularly fragile part of the sea defences in the area of Old Colwyn, which protects the main sewerage network, the A55 trunk road, the Colwyn Bay promenade and, indeed, the north Wales railway line. We saw some dramatic storms earlier this month, which have further undermined those defences, and it's now becoming critical that they are upgraded and improved in order to protect that vital infrastructure that I just mentioned. Now, your predecessor in terms of holding the portfolio for flood defences was kind enough to visit the constituency to learn more about the concerns of Conwy County Borough Council in relation to the fragility of those defences, and I'd like to extend an invitation for you to come and visit as well, to see for yourself some of the challenges that are faced. I think what is absolutely clear is that this is going to require some leadership from the Welsh Government in terms of a commitment to bringing forward some investment in order to bring those other partners, which also have some responsibility, including the local authority, Welsh Water, national rail, et cetera, to the table. But I would be grateful if you could visit the constituency to meet with Conwy County Borough Council, some of the other partners and myself in order to explore a way forward.
The Member wrote to me at the end of January, and I wrote back to you on 13 February just clarifying that we had not provided any agreement to fund work. Because I do really think that the local authority needs to get together with the third party beneficiaries—you named Network Rail as one of them—because I really think—you know, this is a £37 million scheme; that would absolutely take up all my budget. So, I really think that the leadership really needs to come from the local authority in getting these third parties together. I know officials are having ongoing discussions also.
7. Will the Minister make a statement on the red meat sector post-Brexit? OAQ53465
Thank you. We expect the red meat sector in Wales to face considerable challenges post Brexit. We've been working closely with our stakeholders to help prepare the sector as best we can for the multiple challenges and considerable change that leaving the European Union is almost certain to present to our farmers and farming families.
I recognise that lamb will indeed face significant challenges, particularly in a 'no deal' Brexit. I was pleased with our Brexit committee visit to Brussels over the past couple of days. We had a meeting with the New Zealand ambassador there and had constructive conversations, which I understand he's also now been having with the lamb sector in Wales. Will the Minister, though, give some more consideration to the beef sector? Because, if we were to leave the EU with no deal and apply tariffs to Irish exports to the UK, which are so significant, that would leave a very significant opportunity for beef and, indeed, dairy farmers in Wales to step up production profitably to fill that gap.
I was going to say, when you said you were aware of the challenges to the lamb sector, I'm very aware of the challenges to the beef sector also. My officials have been doing, obviously, some scenario planning and it's not just about your sectors, it's about your position in Wales and where you are as to the effect a 'no deal' Brexit could have on you.
One of the reasons I brought some funding forward under the EU transition scheme was to help the red meat sector, to help farmers, benchmark to make sure their business plans—they understood their performance and their productivity, so we could identify where to focus our real efforts. So, I think you're quite right, we do have to look at lamb and beef, but, really, we need to ensure that there is a 'no deal'—that there is not a 'no deal' Brexit.
8. Will the Minister make a statement on tree-planting rates in Wales? OAQ53455
Thank you. The Welsh Government is committed to accelerating woodland creation in Wales, and I am aware that more needs to be done to encourage this. I have agreed to another round of Glastir woodland creation funding. I'll be making an oral statement on Welsh Government support for forestry in Wales in March.
Thank you. Last week, children across the UK went on strike in a call for action on climate change. I know the Welsh Government is fully committed to combating climate change and recognises the hugely important role that woodlands play in the sustainable development of our natural resources. Welsh Government has committed to a minimum increase in woodland cover to 15.8 per cent by 2030. To meet the legal target for greenhouse gas emission reductions, the UK climate change committee recommends that 4,000 hectares of trees should be planted each year by 2030. This would take woodland cover in Wales to 16.7 per cent. We undoubtedly need more trees in urban and rural environments across Wales. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that we meet our tree-planting targets?
As I say, I know that we need to do far more in relation to tree planting, and I have been having discussions both with the Confederation of Forest Industries and with Natural Resources Wales. You'll be aware of the actions on our climate change adaptation—they're described in our climate change strategy in Wales. And woodland creation, including urban greening, which you referred to, has got a very important role to play in tackling the impacts of climate change. So, we're going to embed that in the role that sustainably managing Wales's natural resources can play into their decarbonisation work. I mentioned that I met with Natural Resources Wales just last week, and they certainly have land that's going to be available for tree planting, so I'm going to work with them to see how we can convert some of that land into woodland—hopefully, over the next year.
Minister, I think we all agree with the aspirations for greater tree planting here in Wales. The forestry sector, actually, over the last couple of years, has been hugely successful, and when we look at the outcomes—especially financial outcomes—from some of the participants here, they give optimism for the future. But the successive targets that Welsh Government have set for tree planting have been missed—not just by a small distance, but by a country mile. Now, you've talked of conversations you've had. You're a Minister who's been in post some several years now. Can you give the Chamber some confidence that you, in your ministerial role, have identified the shortcomings in previous rounds of funding for forestry plantation here in Wales, and how, going forward, we can have confidence that you will hit the Welsh Government's targets by shutting off those shortfalls and actually getting some momentum behind the tree-planting operations across the length of Wales?
I think we do need to get some momentum behind our tree planting. There are clearly several barriers, which I think we have to overcome, and it's interesting, it depends who you're talking to as to whether we're planting the right trees in the wrong places or the wrong trees in the right places, and going through the wood for the trees—pardon the pun—I think it seems to be very complex, and I don't think it needs to be that complex. I had a very productive discussion last week with Confor, followed immediately by a meeting with NRW, where we did identify how we could overcome some of those barriers, and I mentioned in my answer to Jayne Bryant that NRW do have land ready to go, ready for being planted, so I want to work very closely with them over the next few months to make sure that woodland is planted over the next year, to kick-start some tree planting at the levels that we would want over the next year. I also think there are opportunities within the public goods scheme—we've brought forward that proposal in 'Brexit and our land'—and again, post-Brexit, I think that is an opportunity that I would want to work through.
Thank you, Minister.
The next item is questions to the Minister for Housing and Local Government, and I have received notification under Standing Order 12.58 that the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government will answer questions on behalf of the Minister. The first question is from Paul Davies.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s strategy to build more homes? OAQ53435
The delivery of additional homes is a key priority for the Welsh Government, as set out in the national strategy. We're using all levers available to us to encourage house building and are making a record investment in housing during this Assembly term.
Deputy Minister, your own Government estimates that around 8,300 homes need to be built every year, and according to the Federation of Master Builders in Wales, only 6,000 were built last year. Now, the Federation of Master Builders states that the planning process is too complex and too expensive, and that recent evidence suggested that the housing market had become dominated by a small number of very large firms. They've estimated that around three quarters of new houses were being built by five large firms. In order for you to reach your targets and to give smaller Welsh firms more opportunities, will you now look to review the guidance issued to local authorities in order to make sure that the planning process is less complicated and less expensive, so that smaller businesses are able to build more new homes?
The Member will be aware that a revised national planning policy for Wales has already been published, which is aimed at helping address housing delivery issues by introducing more rigour and challenge into the plan-making process in terms of allocation of housing sites. Both myself and the Minister did meet with the federation recently, to talk through those concerns that you've raised, but also, actually, we're taking steps as a Government to make sure that we are helping to support those small to medium enterprises, particularly those Welsh-based ones, to be able to work with us towards our ambitious targets of 20,000 new homes. One of the schemes that the Minister recently announced to assist us in doing this is the Self Build Wales project, which will help address some of those collective previous barriers of planning, finance and access, and open up the market to more small and medium enterprises in the process.
We know that the large house builders benefit from scarcity of housing as it increases the prices they can charge for new builds. And as Paul Davies outlined, we've got a small number of very large builders who dominate the market. One method of increasing housing supply is self-build and self- managed build. Will the Government ask local authorities, outside the local development plans, to identify sites for five or fewer dwellings that can be either self-built or the building can be self-managed so that we bring houses into use, help small builders and help people become home owners?
Thank you, Mike Hedges, for your question. You make some incredibly valid and interesting points. As I've already referred to, the latest iteration of 'Planning Policy Wales', specifically, now requires local planning authorities to maintain a register of small sites. And as I've previously mentioned, we've announced £40 million to support new and innovative Self Build Wales schemes, and as part of that, officials are currently engaging with local authorities to identify suitable sites for self-build, potentially on the scale that you've mentioned in your question. Clearly, it's for local authorities to determine which sites are put forward for the scheme, but myself and the Minister look forward to seeing those sites start to come through in the coming months.
Deputy Minister, it's my belief that there are some key measures that we can take to address our housing needs that don't involve having to build new homes, and one such example is RCT council's schemes to bring back empty properties into usage. Three hundred and twelve empty property grant applications have been received since the scheme began in 2016, and to date, 128 of those homes have now been brought back fully into use, with £2.4 million being spent through the empty properties grant. So, do you agree with me that this sort of scheme provides a very sustainable way in which we can address the housing shortage, and are there any plans to ensure that other local authorities can learn from this best practice?
Thank you, Vikki Howells. Absolutely, I certainly welcome the efforts and the work of Rhondda Cynon Taf and other authorities in terms of how we actually create new homes by bringing empty buildings back into use. And it's something I particularly feel passionate about now in my role of leading in terms of regeneration, how we can link that up holistically, not only regenerating and bringing back to life a community and a town centre, but also, actually addressing housing needs and decent housing needs in the process.
We know there are many reasons as to why homes are lying empty, so there needs to be a range of tools available to bring them back into use. So, I've asked officials to explore how we can better support local authorities in using their enforcement powers to bring empty homes back into use, and I think this is an area where we can definitely add more value.
2. What measures will the Minister take to tackle rough sleeping in Wales in 2019? OAQ53433
Our commitment to tackling homelessness, including rough sleeping, is supported by significant additional investment of £30 million. This includes investment for Housing First and support for a range of initiatives as part of our rough sleeping action plan.
Thank you, Minister, for the reply. In its response to the Assembly inquiry into rough sleeping in Wales, Cardiff city council said that many people who experience rough sleeping can remain isolated on the streets as they do not want to be accommodated in hostels. Last year, a request for funding by Newport City Council to provide homeless pods for rough sleepers was turned down by the Welsh Government. It was very upsetting. Earlier this month, it was reported that a scheme for turning shipping containers into accommodation was coming to Cardiff, having been piloted in Bristol. Minister, do you agree with me that such innovative ideas as these should be encouraged to tackle rough sleeping in Wales by those who, for whatever reason, do not want to be accommodated in hostels in Wales?
As a Government, our first objective is to support intervention that aims to support people in avoiding rough sleeping as a course of action in the first place. Out of the additional £30 million, £12 million is provided to the local authorities to increase their support to people who present themselves as homeless. As the Member rightly says, there are many reasons why people may not feel it is right for them, or, indeed, appropriate for them to go into hostel accommodation, so, that's why Welsh Government works with local authorities and our third sector partners to ensure that we can take a holistic approach that takes into account the individual and the individual circumstances. The Member refers to the initiative in terms of the Newport City Council pods initiative that previously came before the Welsh Government. Whilst I think that the Welsh Government understands the intention behind these pods and the issue they're trying to tackle, there were concerns regarding their use and what alternative options are available for funding, with each pod costing in the region of £6,000. However, we are keen to work with all of our partners and our stakeholders to look at actually how we can take action to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness in Wales, in all of our cities and towns.
I'd like to return to the question of HMP Cardiff inmates committing offences upon release just so they can have a roof over their heads. Labour in Government have a track record of promising to solve this problem. In December 2015, communities Minister Lesley Griffiths pledged that prisoners facing homelessness would receive support 56 days before their release. In launching the national pathway that she claimed put Wales ahead of the rest of the UK, she said
'There is no doubt a stable accommodation situation is a key factor in helping to break the cycle of offending.'
Then, there was the framework launched last year by local government Minister Alun Davies to provide positive change for those at risk of offending. He trumpeted the Government's commitment to reduce—and I quote:
'offending and reoffending, to help ensure our communities remain safe.'
We've had plenty of warm words from previous Ministers in the past, but as the independent monitoring board report from last week illustrated, the future for many inmates remains seriously grim and bleak upon release from prison. How will you ensure that your new initiatives fare better than your previous initiatives?
Diolch. The Member is absolutely right in terms of, particularly within HMP Cardiff, the impact that short-term sentences can have in terms of particularly the 56 days, because if you're in prison for an incredibly short term, it's a short enough period to have an impact on your previous accommodation and potentially that of your family. And actually, then, there's a challenge in terms of making sure the right accommodation is available afterwards. It's something I know the Minister is acutely aware of and action is ongoing to tackle this as a matter of emergency.
On the same subject, Minister, given that Welsh Government removed prisoners from the priority need category, and then there was a protocol set in place that should have joined up organisations and agencies to make sure that prisoners upon release did have a roof over their head, it seems that that isn't working very well, given the statistics that Leanne Wood has referred to. I just wonder now, in this situation, whether the Welsh Government will have a new look at the situation for prison leavers, given the obvious implications for their health and well-being if they are sleeping rough and without a secure home, and also the impact on reoffending.
Can I thank John? I know the Member, in his role as Chair of the committee, has a keen interest in this area. You made very similar points to those Leanne just made. I refer back to last week's report from the independent monitoring board for HMP Cardiff, which was incredibly stark in its findings. We recognise there is a specific issue with HMP Cardiff with high levels of short sentences and the impact that has. However, as my colleague stated in this Chamber last week, we expect to see improvements in the standards and capacity of the community rehabilitation companies, who deliver resettlement services on behalf of the Ministry of Justice. Local authorities have a key role to play, and we've provided in this area additional resources through the homelessness prevention grant. We certainly take on board what the Member has said to ensure that the review we take of priority need will see things improve in this area.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson—David Melding.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Deputy Minister, you'll know that having a safe and affordable home is without any doubt a basic need, and stable surroundings can help maintain health and well-being. So, today, I'm sure you will welcome with me the initiative of Tai Pawb and the Chartered Institute of Housing to publish a report on mental health within the private rented sector. I think it's a very good area to focus on. It has found that almost a third of support organisations feel that tenants in the private sector never have enough support. Interestingly, nearly half of landlords feel there is never enough support and information for them to support tenants, particularly those with mental health problems. So, today, will you join me in welcoming this report, and will you help to disseminate its very important findings?
I certainly join you in welcoming the report and the findings and the issues that it's raised today. I and the Minister for Housing and Local Government will, of course, go through those findings with a fine-tooth comb and respond in due course. And I think you're absolutely right to raise the point about support not only for tenants, in terms of their mental health, and the impact that has on somebody's ability to maintain and secure a decent and stable home, but, actually, the benefits and support for landlords and agencies as well, enabling them not only to support tenants, but, actually, so that they secure stability of tenancy as well.
Well, I certainly welcome what you've said there, Deputy Minister, and your broad support. For tenants, the stress and worry of accruing rent arrears, for instance, can exacerbate existing mental health problems, and for some, of course, it can trigger those mental health problems. And the cognitive and behaviour changes that often accompany mental health problems can make it extremely difficult to prevent arrears in the first instance, or to resolve them once they've occurred. Now, social landlords pay a lot of attention to this phenomena, and on two of the main recommendations of the report—that the Welsh Government should provide comprehensive information for landlords and letting agents regarding local and national mental health support, and that Rent Smart Wales should require all private sector landlords to complete a module on mental health to improve their knowledge of how to access support for tenants with mental health problems—will you be supporting these very innovative ideas?
You're absolutely right that they're very innovative ideas, and they're the sort of ideas that we need as part of our discussion on the way that we work in collaboration within Wales to make a difference to our communities and those within our communities. The idea of doing work with Rent Smart Wales to do a module on mental health is definitely one worth considering, but as I am the super-sub today, I'd hate to put words into the Minister's mouth, but I'm sure it's something that she will look at with great interest as well.
I welcome your full-match game today, as it were, as the super-sub—[Laughter.]—and I'm sure you are able to form your own judgments and urge the boss to move on this. It's really significant, I think, that there's unity in the sector, including the organisations that represent the private landlords. And it is an area that is growing—20 per cent or so of people now are in the private rented sector, and many of those are quite vulnerable, they may be on low incomes and they may have pre-existing health conditions. And so, this is an area, I think, of public policy that does need cross-party support and, I'd say, improvement or development to meet modern trends. And I believe that most private sector landlords would jump at the chance of receiving this type of help and advice and training, because it will enable them to sustain their long-term tenancies and their income streams. So, it really is, in the landlord's and landlady's, I suppose, interest, as well as the tenant.
A further recommendation of today's report states that representatives of the private rented sector should be included in the governance structures of the Supporting People programme. Will you look at this recommendation, another innovative one, and act on it as soon as possible? And will you also commend the work undertaken by the Residential Landlords Association, and, indeed, highlighted in today's report, in their efforts to reduce inequality and discrimination in the private rented sector?
I'll certainly commend any efforts to tackle inequality and discrimination within the sector in Wales, and within the country as a whole. You're spot-on in terms of saying, like we said, that it's not only to take on board and look at the review and the innovative proposals contained within it, which will not only potentially bring benefits for the tenants, and particularly to address inequality and any discrimination that may be faced by a tenant because of their own mental health problems, but that it also gives that security and long-term, sustained tenancies for landlords and landladies as well. And just to reiterate, we will certainly take away and look at the findings of the review with great interest.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Dai Lloyd.
Diolch, Llywydd. Given the costly and long-running farce in Caerphilly County Borough Council, what consideration is the Welsh Government giving to bringing in a nationally decided set of pay scales and terms and conditions to control senior and chief officer pay through a national framework?
May I thank the Member for his question? You raise a number of key points. Local workforce matters are matters for individual local authorities at present. Clearly, you raise a number of key issues there, and issues that can be looked at in terms of future legislation going forward.
Would you agree that having one pay scale throughout Wales would take out the variances that we see between chief executives and directors across Wales, put an end to the competition and form of internal market that we have at the moment, and put an end to situations such as that in Caerphilly happening again in the future?
In terms of creating—the Member raises a really interesting question; it was raised previously, in terms of the potential for one public service and central pay scales. And, clearly, anything of that sort needs to be done in partnership and in discussion with the trade union representatives in local government, as well as local government representatives. Things like—obviously, you raised the benefits, but they can also bring clear challenges as well, if there's any reorganisation of that sort, in terms of harmonisation of pay scales as well.
We have one pay scale for National Assembly staff, one pay scale for health board staff. Why not local government? What's holding you back?
I think the Member raises some really salient points, in terms of how we go forward, in terms of actually working with our hard-working workforce in local government, who we all depend on for those services that make a day-to-day difference to our lives. And it's certainly something the Member would like to take up with us further that we can consider further down the line.
The UKIP spokesperson, Gareth Bennett.
Diolch, Llywydd. Last time we had these questions in the Chamber, I was discussing with the Minister, Julie James, her thoughts on the planning system in Wales. Now, later in that session, a couple of Members raised specific issues over multiple applications for large-scale housing developments in their areas. This is an ongoing issue, of course, in many different parts of Wales, as I'm sure you're aware, Minister. Now, you've just come across from the environment portfolio, so you'll also be very aware of the environmental considerations. Do you think that the planning system takes enough consideration of environmental impacts?
The Member has picked up—as many Members will be familiar with from their own postbags—the need, when we're taking into account large-scale developments, to take into account, as part of that process, and as part of local development plans, that local infrastructure and also the impact on the environment. And we recently had a review of 'Planning Policy Wales', to broaden that context, and take things into a more holistic account.
Yes. And of course it wasn't long ago, so we do need to have a look at that further on down the line. But, clearly, there are, as you say, implications for infrastructure to these large-scale housing developments, to always put in place the infrastructure that's needed. Now, one specific point in relation to this issue is the use of section 106 agreements. These are conditions attached to planning applications, whereby the developer is obliged to provide certain community facilities, which could be a park, a library, a playground, or it could be some other part of the infrastructure. There have been complaints that many developers haven't fully provided the facilities that they said they would. Do you think that enforcement of section 106 agreements has been robust enough?
Clearly, 106 agreements offer an opportunity for local communities to gain broader benefits from large developments, or developments in their area. And, clearly, we recognise that when local people, as part of a proposal on the table, in its initial form, are given reassurances, it will come with various agreements and community development projects—it creates concerns when that doesn't happen. And it's certainly something we are looking at in terms of how we make sure that local people have the confidence that we work with local authorities, and through LDPs, to make sure that the full benefits of section 106 agreements are realised.
I'm glad that you see that that is an issue, and hopefully maybe we can get a statement on that later on, and see what your department's thoughts are on that, because I think it is something that does cause anxiety to existing communities when new large-scale developments are built and they don't have in place these things that were promised. Large-scale housing needs can prove challenging to the environment. We were talking earlier on, in response to a question from Mike Hedges, about small-scale developments. Mike was talking about self-build in particular. I don't want to task you with that specific issue, as we've tackled that, but how far should there be a presumption in general, going forward, in favour of brownfield developments?
The Member raises the opportunities that we've talked about earlier in this Chamber for self-build and to enable more opportunities for self-build through our new programme, and also more opportunities for those smaller to medium-sized construction and building developers within Wales. The revised 'Planning Policy Wales' has been published, and that aims to address a number of the housing delivery issues that have been raised in the Chamber today by introducing more rigour and challenge in the planning-making process in terms of the allocation of housing sites.
3. Will the Minister make a statement on public satisfaction with local authority services in Wales? OAQ53440
Local government provides vital services that support people and communities. Receiving feedback plays an important part in this and 77 per cent of respondents to the latest national survey for Wales were satisfied with their ability to access the services and facilities they need.
Thank you for that answer, Deputy Minister. You will have read with some concern, no doubt, the reports last week that local authorities in Wales had received 87,000 complaints in relation to missed refuse collections. In my own constituency, of course, we have a regime where a missed refuse collection means that people can go up to eight weeks without having their waste collected, which is clearly unacceptable. And, in fact, in Conwy, around 10 per cent of the 87,000 complaints related to that one particular local authority.
Now, the local authorities in Wales have to abide by Welsh Government rules. What many people in my constituency are asking for is, yes, better reflection within the local government funding formula to make sure that there's a fair settlement for the local authority of Conwy, but in addition they're also asking for the Welsh Government to protect local communities by insisting that local councils collect waste on a more frequent basis. So, I would be grateful if you could tell me what you're doing to look at the funding formula to make sure that it's fair to north Wales and to Conwy in particular, and what work you are doing with your officials to look at the timeliness and the frequency of waste collections in order to protect the public from the potential harms that can come about to the environment and their public health?
The Member raises—and I know this is a point that the Member has raised previously in terms of the frequency of bin collection and in particular residual bin collection. I'm resisting the temptation to make a joke about talking rubbish. [Interruption.] It's worth noting that the reports that you refer to are actually in the top 10 complaints for all English councils, but, nevertheless, we know that when this happens it creates an issue for local people—whether it's the burden of having to remove the rubbish yourself or about any ensuing complications from that. There are many reasons for missed collections. I won't know the detail for individual ones, which could be vehicle breakdowns, weather, bins in the wrong place, or slightly late. In terms of actually how we work with local authorities to support them with this, the Member will be aware that it's a matter for local authorities in terms of the frequency of their bin collections. Welsh Government has always been clear that we do need to build on our recycling record. We know that if you are recycling all the dry recycling you can do, that if you look in your bin there are more things you can recycle. We need to move in that direction in terms of the sustainability of our planet. We actually need to do it in the right way and work with residents to do that as well, and that includes making sure we have other collections in place, such as for nappies and incontinence pads—the things that you don't want to leave in a black bin for a number of weeks.
In terms of going forward to work with local authorities in the area of particularly waste and recycling and waste collection, later this year we will be going forward on our 'Towards Zero Waste' strategy, looking at what sort of statutory guidance we do issue to local authorities. But, at the same time, I was working with those partners in local authorities and in the Welsh Local Government Association to make sure that we work in a way that not only works for them, but works for the citizens of those communities as well.
In response to your question with regard to the funding formula, my colleague the Minister for Housing and Local Government has been clear, in meetings with Conwy County Borough Council and in this Chamber, that the Welsh Government is certainly open to having people come forward with alternative suggestions for how we approach that, but they have to be fair, they have to be objective and they have to fit in and be applicable to local authorities across Wales. But it's certainly something that the Minister is happy to consider and to test.
Minister, one of the important services that are very much appreciated in our communities are, of course, leisure services. Some councils at the moment are investing very heavily, particularly my council, Rhondda Cynon Taf. Others, of course, because of the financial position, are looking at closures. Of course, local authority leisure centres, which tend to also provide better terms and conditions for its staff, are disadvantaged against leisure centre trusts that are set up because they're exempt from business rates. Those trust leisure centres, often former publicly owned leisure centres that have been put into trusts, benefit to the tune of about £5.5 million by way of exemption from business rates. But, of course, local authority leisure centres have to pay those business rates. Rhondda Cynon Taf, for example, pays £850,000 per annum in that respect. Do you agree with me that, in order to maintain public satisfaction in leisure services, to maintain those leisure services, there needs to be a level playing field? I wonder if you will make recommendations now that they should be put on the same par and that local authority leisure centres should now be exempt from business rates.
Can I thank the Member for his question? He raises a very good point about how his own authority still has it in council, but a lot of authorities have looked at asset transfer as an alternative and community-run facilities. You raised the difference between status in terms of non-domestic rate relief in terms of who's owned by local authority council or by a trust.
Leisure centres are liable to pay non-domestic rates, as you say. As this is a matter for the finance Minister, who is responsible for this form of taxation, I'm happy to—. The Minister is obviously in the Chamber and has heard all of this exchange, but I'm happy, through the Minister for Housing and Local Government as well, to follow that conversation up with the Minister for finance.
4. Will the Minister make a statement on the impact of the sustainable urban drainage regulations on housing supply? OAQ53464
Research published by the Welsh Government in 2017 indicates that compliant, well-designed SuDS on new developments could save Wales nearly £1 billion in capital construction costs alone by 2021 and generate wider benefits not only for our environment, but for the broader economy, of £20 million per year.
I know what the Minister says, but she also tells us, as do other Ministers, that the Welsh Government is committed to a great increase in housing supply and what a priority this is. While she no doubt has worthy justifications for the particular regulations, does she accept that there is a trade-off between such a regulation that makes house building more expensive and more difficult for people who might undertake it and the amount of housing that will be supplied?
Will she also consider complaints that I've had from house builders about inconsistent interpretation of these regulations by different drainage-approval bodies and the intention of various planning authorities to come up with separate and potentially conflicting guidance as to how they should take these regulations into account?
In terms of the interpretation of the regulations by SuDS approval bodies, then actually SuDS, as a water issue, is a matter for the Minister for environment, but I understand that local authorities should have been issued with guidance in terms of the approval bodies and how that is applied.
I don't think we can get away from the fact that we know that sustainable urban drainage systems will reduce the incidence of flood damage by 30 per cent, and I don't think this is a benefit that we can choose to ignore. I hear what the Member's saying in terms of—. I'm aware of the evidence in a paper submitted to the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee earlier in the month. It asserted that SuDS regulations could cause a 20 per cent reduction in density on housing estates, but this isn't consistent with the findings of the research that we commissioned by Environmental Policy Consulting, which was published in January 2017, and which found that, where SuDS are planned into developments from the outset, there appears to be no impact on the number of housing units, and this is consistent with the research of a wide range of professional bodies. However, we will continue to work with house builders, local authorities and all stakeholders to monitor the progress of this policy, and we'll be steadfast in our objective of not only developing efficient and effective long-term sustainable approaches to reducing flood risk, but our objective of building more houses.
5. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to ensure that developers keep to planning obligations? OAQ53468
A planning obligation is a legally binding private contract between a developer and a local planning authority. The adherence of a developer to such an agreement is therefore not a matter for the Welsh Government.
Well, I disagree with that because there are regular examples now of cases where developers, even once they’ve been given planning consent, refuse to provide the necessary percentage of affordable homes that they have agreed to provide as part of the planning conditions, and the reason, very often, is because they can’t make sufficient profit. Now, if there isn’t a requirement for them to stick to that clause come what may, then why include it in the first place? So, what are you going to do as a Government—and not wash your hands of this issue, because it’s a national problem—to assist local authorities in ensuring that clauses such as this, which designate the number of affordable houses required, are actually respected and delivered by developers?
I hear what the Member's saying. When planning obligations are negotiated by local authorities and developers—and they represent important conditions, including conditions that many of us in this Chamber are in favour of—it's important that the developer protects that in the public interest. Like I said previously, if the public have been following a particular planning application with a particular expectation, they have a right to expect those obligations are adhered to, and I am aware, as you say, of developers seeking to renegotiate some of those planning applications after consent to develop has been gained. I know that's something that my colleague the Minister for Housing and Local Government is acutely aware of, and she's looking into the situation.
Deputy Minister, I'd be grateful if you could clarify for me how much progress you are making in actually getting to the decision about the environmental impact assessment that is required for the Barry biomass boiler. It is an obligation that you were minded to support. Obligations play both ways—both placed by planning authorities on developers, but where Government has obviously indicated their desire to implement something, then surely a 13-month period is significant time for you to be able to form an opinion and actually make a judgment call on it? Residents in Barry, and also the developer now, have been waiting a considerable length of time. Can you this afternoon give us a clear indication at the very least of the timeline you're working to to allow that decision to come forward?
I'm very aware of the representations the Member has previously and assiduously made on the issue, and of the local and the public attention and the public feeling behind it, and why. In respect of the decision, you're asking in terms of the environmental impact assessment of the planning application dealt with by the Vale council, and I know the former First Minister wrote to you to say he didn't anticipate a decision before Christmas, but further legal clarification on the aspects of the case has been necessary. I understand the Member's frustration with this and why he is pushing on behalf of his constituents, but I'm sure he agrees, on an issue such as this, it's important that things are done and that we get all of the best legal consideration that we can have to make sure that we come to the best decision, and a decision will be issued as soon as possible.
6. What is the extent of the Welsh Government's powers to ensure that rents for social housing are affordable? OAQ53446
Rents must be affordable for people living in social housing. Social landlords are required to comply with the current Welsh Government rent policy, which provides a framework within which social landlords are responsible for setting the rents for their own properties and tenants.
My understanding is that the Welsh Government has set an index of 2.4 per cent rise at the September 2018 consumer price index assessment of what is reasonable, and that means that tenants’ weekly rent, if they're assured tenants, is only 2.4 per cent. Now, my understanding is that this only applies to assured rents and it will come into effect on 1 April this year. I’ve had several tenants correspond with me, concerned about the level of rent increases they’re experiencing. One assured tenant, who obviously won’t experience more than a 2.4 per cent increase, is also being loaded with service charges for additional things like decoration, gardening, roof repairs, this sort of thing, and she reports that, over the last few years, since the service charge and the rent have been split, there have been significant increases twice a year. So, that’s produced a very significant outlay for that individual.
For another individual, who is a secure tenant, a fair rent is set by a rent officer. The last review was in October, and it was set at an 8 per cent increase over the next two years. Now, that’s well above the 2.4 per cent. And the concern I have is that social landlords are finding loopholes to not adhere to the Welsh Government’s guidelines of 2.4 per cent and that this is in a context of an absolute shortage of affordable housing, and that people on low wages are concerned that they’re simply not going to be able to stay in their social rented housing unless they go on to housing benefit, producing a perverse incentive to become unemployed. And, obviously, we’d all agree—
You do need to ask a question.
Thank you. Apologies. And so, my concern is, what can the Welsh Government do about this, given the implications there are for social housing tenants?
Can I thank the Member for her question? I recognise that delivering all the housing we need across tenures is a challenge, a challenge not just for those delivering the housing, but challenges for people in need of that housing as well.
You’re right to say that the Welsh Government has decided that this year’s rents in the social housing sector should increase by no more than 2.4 per cent. Individual social housing landlords have made the case that, in managing a house, there can be a need to vary rent increases in different parts of their stock. Where this case has been made persuasively, the Welsh Government has agreed to allow a limited and controlled variation around an average increase of 2.4 per cent. The points that you’ve raised in terms of actually the challenges some of your constituents are facing merit further attention, and I’d invite you perhaps to write to the Minister for housing on this issue so that we can look further into that.
7. How does the Welsh Government support recycling and reuse enterprises in Wales? OAQ53456
Reuse plays an important role in achieving our zero-waste ambitions, with the potential to save hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste between now and our 2050 zero-waste target. In November, I announced an additional £5.4 million across eight new projects to improve reuse and recycling levels across Wales.
Thank you, Deputy Minister. I recently visited Reseiclo in Newport, a social enterprise that won the environmental award in last year’s Social Business Awards. Reseiclo was established 13 years ago in Crindau, and aims to save as much wood waste from being sent to landfill as possible. They collect wood mostly from construction sites in south-east Wales, sell the items in the best possible condition at low cost and make a wide variety of items from reclaimed wood. The seven employees work with volunteers and adults with learning disabilities to upcycle the wood, and the business survives entirely on the fees charged for collection services and sales. So, with an estimated 5 million tonnes of wood waste generated in the UK each year, what support can Welsh Government give to support enterprises like Reseiclo to achieve their ambition, and perhaps the Deputy Minister will join me in visiting Reseiclo to see the excellent work that they've done over many years?
I thank the Member for that and for highlighting the excellent work that Reseiclo does. In my previous role as Minister for the Environment, and still with having responsibility for this, I've visited a number of re-use centres: FRAME in Pembrokeshire, Crest Co-operative in north Wales and also most recently The Shed in Llantrisant. So, I'd be more than happy to join you on a visit and to congratulate Reseiclo on their award in person. We talk about the way that, actually, these centres are not only providing environmental benefits but, as social enterprises, they're bringing much more broader benefits to the people who have an opportunity to get involved, and I've heard so many stories of volunteers who have then gone on to learn skills and to actually have employment there as well, so they are not just to the benefit of the environment but change people's lives. That's why Welsh Government is committed to further investing in supporting initiatives such as these. As you mentioned, there's question of whether you upscale and use reclaimed woods—and we know that wood can be a particularly hard thing to recycle because of the chemicals often used on it, so it's really good that they are taking this and creating such a successful initiative, and I'd be more than happy to come and visit.
8. Will the Minister provide an update on Welsh Government support for co-operative housing? OAQ53424
We are committed to supporting the development of co-operative housing in Wales and community-led housing more generally. Through our co-operative housing in Wales project, we fund, with the Wales Co-operative Centre, to encourage, promote and support housing co-operatives.
Oh, sorry; I wasn't sure if you'd finished then.
Whilst co-operative housing provides a substantial proportion of dwellings in places as diverse as New York, Vancouver and Scandinavia, it has failed to become a major provider of housing in Wales. Will the Minister set up a taskforce or take some action to identify what needs to be done to substantially increase co-operative housing in Wales? I believe it's something that we are missing out on and an opportunity to increase the number of houses, which we all keep on talking about wanting.
The Member talks about innovative initiatives that are happening elsewhere, not just in Europe but across the world globally. I agree there are things we can learn from elsewhere in housing as well as other public policy areas as well. Likewise, there are things where other countries could learn from the things that we are doing. We do have innovations in co-operative housing in Wales. At the moment, these are fairly small scale, but some are obviously more successful than others, and we need to learn from these examples and scale upwards based on the lessons learnt.
We already have a number of expert groups on this topic. There's the Wales Co-operative Centre, which is grant-funded by the Welsh Government, and there's also a co-operative housing stakeholder group, where both the Wales Co-operative Centre and the Confederation of Co-operative Housing are joined by Community Housing Cymru, the Welsh Local Government Association, as well as community-led housing groups themselves. Whilst at the moment we're not convinced by the merits of another expert group, I think it's certainly something that these expert groups can look at to ensure that they learn from examples in other parts of the world and see how they can apply successfully here in Wales.
Finally, question 9, Nick Ramsay.
9. How is the Minister strengthening the planning process in rural areas? OAQ53447
Effective planning in rural areas is best achieved by having local development plans in place setting out the planning strategy for rural areas. 'Planning Policy Wales: Edition 10' has strengthened planning guidance on rural areas by requiring effective placemaking to ensure development promotes prosperity, health and well-being.
Thank you, Deputy Minister. And you've anticipated my question by mentioning the LDP process. I recently held a supermarket surgery in Morrisons in Abergavenny—always a popular model. I can see Lynne Neagle agrees and holds them as well. [Laughter.] One issue that keeps coming up in my surgeries at the moment is planning and, in particular, the number of planning applications that are coming forward outside of local authorities' local development plans. What guidance are you giving or has the Minister given to local authorities when it comes to dealing with these applications? I get the sense that my constituents accept that there must be more housing and there must be more building but they are concerned about the robustness of the process and, if you're going to have a local development plan process, would you agree with me that it's better that applications go through that process rather than being seen to be rushed and possibly inappropriate in the longer term?
The Member again raises important points in terms of public confidence in the processes going forward. I think there was a familiar smile all round when you mentioned a supermarket surgery—many an hour spent by many of us in this place at one of them. [Inaudible.]—many local authorities are currently in the process of reviewing their development plans. When the Welsh Government comes to consider and approve any review, it will consider whether the plan meets the needs of local communities and its own guidance. It's an objective of this Welsh Government and the Minister that the LDP of any local authority is developed in the context of a regional plan, and I'm pleased that progress has now been made in developing such a regional plan in south-east Wales. If a local authority is considering approving a very significant development that is outside its own LDP, the Welsh Government does have the power to call in such an application and has done so in the recent past. But the Member is aware that I am unable to comment on any individual applications.
Thank you, Deputy Minister.
The next item is the topical questions, and I have selected one topical question to be asked to the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport. The question is from Rhun ap Iorwerth.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the effect of Honda’s decision to close its factory in Swindon on the supply chain in Wales? 281
Diolch. Wales-based suppliers to the Honda Swindon facility will of course be impacted by this devastating news. Our officials, together with the Wales automotive forum and the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, will be working with these companies, utilising all available resources to help.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. This clearly is a worrying announcement for us. It's thought, I think, that around a dozen companies are direct suppliers, including Kasai—200 workers in Merthyr Tydfil—Toyoda Gosei in Gorseinon—600, I think, there—Mitsui in Ammanford—over 100. It's a very long list and, of course, those companies have their own supply chains as well. So, there's a knock-on. Some companies, no doubt, will be able to transition to new customers, given the relatively long run-in to the Swindon closure. But, certainly, many will find it very difficult to replace their Honda deals, especially if those contracts form a large proportion of their total work. So, could the Deputy Minister outline the nature of the work that will be ongoing now with the sector to assess the impact of the Honda announcement, and outline what kinds of support packages are being considered for development by the Government at this stage? Could he tell us what specific support is being investigated to assist with transition to new contracts, and also transition to new vehicle technologies, including new generation propulsion? Because, in fact, much of our expertise here is in the electronics—in the chips and so on—that could be the smart foundations of a future automotive industry in the UK—an industry that is threatened by Brexit, of course.
Now, while Honda say that their decision is not because of Brexit, there is plenty of evidence to show that uncertainties and nervousness about Brexit have been a significant factor in some decisions taken by car and component makers to de-invest in the UK in recent months. There are, of course, plenty of warnings about the catastrophic consequences of a 'no deal' Brexit for carmaking in the UK. Now, the Deputy Minister will have read reports, as I have, of a fund—code-named 'Kingfisher' by the UK Chancellor—to bolster the economy in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit. Now, were preparations for Brexit transparent, as they should be, I'm sure that the Treasury would already have been having conversations with Welsh Government about how such a fund could work in Wales, what the priorities would be, and so on. I'm not holding my breath, but I'll ask, nonetheless, what discussions may have taken place. Specifically, what level of funding might be available from Kingfisher, or any other fund, for that matter, for the automotive industry in Wales? Also, does Welsh Government expect to have any influence over how those funds are spent? Also, how can different companies and different sectors, including automotive, be expected to access those funds?
Thank you. In fact, there are 18 Wales-based companies in the Honda supply chain. For the majority, Honda accounts for less than 10 per cent of their total business, but there are three companies—all of which are Japanese-owned—where Honda accounts for 80 per cent of their business. There is one other company, also Japanese-owned, where Honda accounts for nearly 50 per cent of their business. Of course, this announcement will not come into play for three years, which does give us some time to work with the companies to find alternative markets. In the meantime, the companies are still expected to meet their contractual requirements to Honda to work at capacity. So, we're not expecting any immediate redundancies, and we do have three years to assess the options available to us. And it's encouraging that Honda are inviting the companies to bid into their new model. There is a range of dialogues going on with the companies and with the UK Government. Officials were part of conversations yesterday in London with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Again, they're there today taking part in a summit—the inaugural Honda taskforce, chaired by Greg Clark—so we're in full dialogue with the UK Government in working out how we can respond to this.
Were it to come to the pass where redundancies will happen, of course, we have the ReAct programme where we are now, sadly, well used to putting in place a package of measures, including Careers Wales and Jobcentre Plus, and support in place to help companies adapt and for workers to retrain, but we're not there yet.
In terms of the broader picture, the Member is right—there is, of course, a confluence of factors at play here. Brexit is undoubtedly a factor, as the cost of exporting to Europe could well increase significantly after the end of next month, but it's not the only factor. This is a factory that has not been operating at capacity for some time. There's a drop in global demand for cars. There's a move away from the standard engine towards electric vehicles. There are environmental concerns and, of course, there is the dropping of the tariff, making it cheaper for Japanese companies to export from Japan into the rest of the world. So, there are a whole range of interventions.
In terms of the specific question on Brexit, we did have a meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee on Brexit preparedness this morning, which I can tell Members was a fairly sobering affair. There are, of course, dialogues going on of how we can help each individual industry. We would encourage all manufacturing companies to take advantage of the Brexit portal, which is the central source of all advice for how to adapt. We are concerned that, certainly amongst small and medium enterprises, too few are engaging. Having taken part in a round table with business groups last week, there is a feeling amongst small businesses, in particular, that Brexit will be sorted out in some way, something will turn up, and they needn't worry too much about it. There are a number of organisations who are engaged and have accessed our Brexit preparedness fund, which has been maxed out, and we have now released extra resource to make sure that there is further support available for businesses.
Well, of course, Honda has confirmed that Brexit wasn't a driving force behind their decision, but it was largely driven by the industry's move to electrified vehicles, and they have said that they will focus activity in regions where it's expected to have high production volumes of electric cars. So, I am concerned that we are behind the curve here in Wales. We know that the Scottish Government—or, certainly, my view is that the Scottish Government is much further ahead when it comes to developing infrastructure and supporting that technology. Now, some councils, I'm aware, haven't even started to bid for funding to install EV charging infrastructure, preferring to wait for market demand.
So, just to briefly focus my questions on this, what is the Welsh Government doing in terms of working with local authorities and also working with regional economic plans to ensure that this area of electric vehicle and new technology is being taken forward? And what is the Welsh Government doing to demonstrate to companies like Honda and Ford that Wales is a place that makes innovative infrastructure investment decisions and takes new technologies seriously?
Thank you. I think that's a little bit of a stretch to try and link those two issues together. We do have a £2 million fund, which we've agreed jointly with Plaid Cymru, to roll out electric vehicle charging. On the point of Brexit not being a deciding factor, I think, again, the Member is stretching credibility a little. This morning—
That's what they said. I'm quoting what they said.
This morning, the former ambassador to Japan, Sir David Warren, has said that it is fanciful to claim the decision was not related to Brexit. At the end—[Interruption.] I'm having heckles from the Conservative benches. Their anger would be better directed at their own Government who are failing to provide certainty for businesses about what the trading environment is going to be at the end of this month.
You listen to businesses—they support the Prime Minister's deal.
I am listening to businesses, who are telling us that at the end of this month, they could well be facing a tax of £400 on every engine, on top of non-tariff barriers, if we don't get a good deal, which will disrupt the whole just-in-time business model that the car industry relies upon. So, the Conservative benches are living in fantasy land if they think that the uncertainty around Brexit is not a factor in every decision that every multinational company is making at the moment.
Minister. I can well understand why the UKIP and Conservative Members want to bury their heads in the sand about the devastation that Brexit is causing on a daily basis to our manufacturing jobs. I am desperately worried about my automotive plants in Torfaen. We have hundreds of well-paid workers working in automotive supply chains whose jobs are all now at risk, not just from a 'no deal' Brexit, but also they recognise that there is no deal as good as the deal that we've got now for our manufacturing.
Can I ask what discussions you've had specifically with automotive plants in Torfaen to ensure that, as best we can, we can prepare for this catastrophe that seems unstoppably to be heading down the track towards us?
Thank you. The Wales Automotive Forum is seeking early engagement with all the companies—all 18 Wales-based companies in the Honda supply chain—to understand the positions they're in and how the Welsh Government can help mitigate this loss. As I say, we have a suite of interventions available and we do have three years. There are going to be no major redundancies from this announcement, the factories will continue to have their order books guaranteed under their contracts for the next three years, and we will then have time to help them to prepare. But, of course, this is a fast-changing environment in terms of the way the car industry is developing. The automotive sector and the aerospace sector are undergoing profound changes to their industries, which makes it all the more important that we have a stable framework of regulation and law and trading arrangements through a good deal. And I agree with the comments that Lynne Neagle has made—it is fanciful, as the former ambassador to Japan has said, to claim that the decision is unrelated to Brexit. Brexit clearly is not the only factor, but it is, nonetheless, a factor for all companies who are trading in the international environment at the moment.
Well, it's fanciful for the Minister to try to link this to Brexit, because Honda are closing their production line in Turkey, which is inside the customs union. So, this has absolutely nothing whatever to do with Brexit, as the company itself has said. It has everything to do with the EU's policy and the UK Government's policy and the Welsh Government's policy on phasing out diesel. Because since 2006, the demand for Honda's cars of all kinds in Europe has fallen by 50 per cent, and demand for the Honda Civic, which is in question, had fallen by nearly two thirds, and that's directly related to the dieselgate scandal and the legislative changes that have been made as a consequence of that. So, I'm afraid to say that the businesses and individuals who are suffering, or will suffer as a result of this decision can point the finger of blame most closely at the Welsh Government, the UK Government and the institutions of the European Union that are in the process of destroying the market for diesel cars in their own back yard. The demand for diesel cars last year alone fell by 30 per cent. The idea that the decision to close these production lines within the European Union or within the customs union are anything to do with Brexit is nonsense. They're everything to do with the deliberate policies, job-destroying policies, of the EU.
It's worth remembering that Neil Hamilton made very similar arguments to argue against the phasing out of leaded petrol. He has been consistently wrong on protecting consumers and protecting vulnerable people from polluting vehicles, and he seeks to point the blame everywhere but at the reckless policy he has pursued to destroy jobs on the back of lies about what the impact of withdrawing from the EU would achieve.
Stick to the facts.
Neil Hamilton points to the fact that Turkey is also closing its plants. That is what happens when you have free trade deals; there are consequences both ways. We've undertaken a trade deal with Japan that makes it cheaper for Japan to produce its cars in Japan, and that's the way free trade works. Outside of the protection of the EU, we're going to be more vulnerable to changes in international conditions.
Neil Hamilton dismisses the expertise of the former ambassador to Japan, who himself has made the link to Brexit, and I think it's naive—. I'm not saying that this is the only factor, but he's naive to think that companies that rely on trading goods—. And bear in mind that just 10 per cent of the 160,000 cars produced by Honda are sold in the UK, these are—. These are—I see Michelle Brown is busily taking photos; the—[Interruption.] It's just a shame she didn't have more important things to do—[Interruption.] These cars are being sold for export to the EU and the potential costs of exporting rising is clearly going to be a factor in the decisions that they make.
Minister, you'll be aware that Kasai in my constituency is a large automotive operation employing around 200 people, as Rhun ap Iorwerth has already mentioned. Now, they provide a very unique and revolutionary manufacturing process—the first of its kind in Europe, in fact, which has been largely responsible for its success and its ability to be able to secure contracts with companies like Honda and Jaguar Land Rover, which both account for a large part of its business.
Now, as you've already said, at this stage, we don't know what the impact of the Honda announcement in Swindon will be on Kasai, but in the worst case scenario, it's possible that jobs will be lost, and the impact on an area like Merthyr Tydfil on the back of recent job losses in St Merryn Meat and the proposed transfer of 200 plus Department for Work and Pensions jobs out of the town can't be underestimated. Now, I'm grateful for the information that you've already given in previous answers, but I'm going to be meeting with Kasai management tomorrow, with Gerald Jones MP, and it would be helpful if, in those discussions, we were able to provide some more reassurance about Welsh Government's ability to support them through what could be a difficult period, should they need to explore alternative markets and contracts to secure their long-term future in Merthyr. Because I'm assuming that Kasai, like many other companies, will be in a position where they're going to need to get over a hump; they don't want to lose jobs while they're doing that, while they're out in the market looking for alternative business. They may need to be developing alternative skills within their workforce to compete in different automotive markets. So, what particular support and assistance would Welsh Government be able to give a company like Kasai in that process of getting over that particular hump in terms of delivering their future security?
Thank you. Yes, I'm aware of the position at Kasai and the 200 jobs. As I said, there'll be no immediate redundancies in any of the plants, as this announcement will not take effect for three years, and we will be working with the companies in the meantime to help see how we can support them to find alternative markets. Kasai, as Dawn Bowden said, produce the inner door panels for the Honda Civic and have a specific skill set, and Honda are going to be inviting all the companies affected to bid in for the new models that they are going to be producing. So, the Wales Automotive Forum will be engaging with the company to see how we can work together to provide a future for the plant in Merthyr Tydfil.
I'm sure it hasn't escaped Members' attention that the Ford factory in my own region has imminent job losses of up to 1,000 potentially in the pipeline. You mentioned earlier, Deputy Minister, that the situation at Honda is not going to become acute until 2021, that means there are two years when Welsh Government could be working not just for Honda, but for Ford and their supply chains to make sure that we get the best out of what is really a disastrous deal all round.
The second thing I wanted to ask you is: last week, we heard from Jeremy Miles that the Minister for international affairs was working hard on promoting the automotive sector, which included supply chains, across the world, and I wonder if you've got any update on what exactly that is looking like. Thank you.
The First Minister and the Minister for the economy met with the UK chair of Ford last week to see if we could provide any further help and assistance. Clearly, the situation they face is serious, and they too, like Honda, are facing the changing nature of the automotive sector and the confluence of different forces that have come together at the same time to cause difficulties for the various companies in the sector. The conversation there reinforced the fact that the creation of trade barriers and non-trade barriers in the export market was a very real factor in their decision making. In terms of the work the Minister for international affairs has been doing in promoting Wales, I will certainly ask her to update you on the progress in that, but I can assure you that we're all working together to try and mitigate the impact of Brexit and help the sector to become more resilient in the face of considerable change.
I thank the Deputy Minister.
The next item, therefore, is the 90-second statements, and the statement comes from Jayne Bryant.
Paul Flynn was a giant of the Labour movement, a passionate devolutionist and an exceptional parliamentarian. He was a champion for the Welsh language, which he learnt as a teenager, and was incredibly proud to have seen the establishment of our Senedd. Respected across the political divide, with his wonderful turns of phrase, witty comments and incisive mind, Paul undoubtedly spoke truth to power. He was far ahead of his time on issues that others found too controversial. He was proved right on so many of them. As he said, everyone agreed with him 20 years after he said it. [Laughter.]
He loved Newport, and was so proud to represent Newport West in Parliament. There could be no-one better to have on your side than Paul. A tenacious campaigner who cared about people and never gave up, always wanting to seek out and speak up for the silent voices, he was freethinking and courageous. Paul embraced new technology and saw it as an opportunity to communicate with more people. He was the only person I know who was disappointed when Twitter increased the character count. To him, Twitter was an art form, like poetry; every word mattered, and he enjoyed the challenge.
Due to his mobility issues, Paul thought of different ways to campaign. He once parked up on Bettws Hill and regaled the whole estate with a massive loudspeaker for hours with his dulcet tones. I'm not sure whether he enticed or annoyed people out to vote; either way, it worked.
I first met Paul when I was nine years old, when he visited my school after he was first elected to represent Newport West in 1987. He brought politics alive to me then, and has done so ever since. Never bland or boring, Paul proved that politics was about people, and wanted young people to be as passionate about it as he was all his life.
He was forever optimistic. Best of all, he was kind, inspiring and so much fun to be around. He'll be greatly missed, and our thoughts and love are with Sam, his wife, and their family. He has done Newport, Wales and the Labour movement proud. [Applause.]
The next item is the motion to elect a Member to a committee. I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion.
Motion NDM6977 Elin Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14, elects Dai Lloyd (Plaid Cymru) as a Member of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee in place of Helen Mary Jones (Plaid Cymru).
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No, therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Which brings us to the debate on the 'Wales' future relationship with the Committee of the Regions' report. I call on Mick Antoniw to move the motion.
Motion NDM6942 Mick Antoniw, Bethan Sayed
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Notes the report and recommendations relating to Wales’ future relationship with the Committee of the Regions.
2. Recognises the importance of a continued relationship between Wales and the Committee of the Regions.
3. Calls on the Welsh Government to support the establishment of a Joint Commission between the Committee of the Regions and the United Kingdom to ensure continuing dialogue and collaboration between the Committee of the Regions and the Assembly and Welsh local authorities after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Thank you, Llywydd. I move the motion and also refer to the document prepared by myself and Bethan Sayed on Wales's future relationship with the Committee of the Regions. Llywydd, by the end of next month, it is likely we will have left the European Union. Nothing, however, is certain. There could be an extension to article 50, there could be a general election, there could be a referendum or ratification of some form. No-one knows for certain, especially the Government. This means that our representation on a number of European bodies will come to an end. This report is predominantly related to our representation on the Committee of the Regions. It is not, however, exclusively so, which is why Bethan Sayed and myself have referenced a number of associated EU bodies that we are, as an Assembly, engaged in or associated with to one degree or another.
I'll be frank that I don't think we have ever had a sufficiently clear strategy in respect of these subnational structures of the European Union, nor have we maximised the potential benefit to Wales that we could have achieved. Nevertheless, our leaving the EU draws into sharp focus the consequences of leaving and the potential partnerships, associations and opportunities for engagement with other European countries and organisations that we are likely to lose unless we proactively take steps to construct new post-Brexit frameworks.
I was previously a member of the Committee of the Regions for two years in the last Assembly, with Rhodri Glyn as alternate. We worked well together, covering as many of the key areas of influence relevant to Wales that we could, from the economic and social policy in the EU to environmental policy. We both had a number of successful opinions that directly related to Welsh policy or issues. The relevance of the committee of the regions, in my view, has always been massively undervalued, because it enables a coming together of towns and cities, of federal states, of subnational governments and governance, and provides a framework for the development of EU policy, of access to the EU Commission, the EU Parliament and Council, and has played a massive role in the planning of regional metro transport systems, smart cities, environmental planning, recycling, regional governance, regional economic and regeneration projects, and there is much that we have implemented here that has its origins in the developments in other European countries, and then promoted and developed into strategies through the Committee of the Regions.
At the moment, for example, I'm a member of the Committee of the Regions taskforce on Ukraine, and the Committee of the Regions is playing a significant role in the process of decentralisation and democratisation in Ukraine, twinning mentoring regions across Europe with the regions of Ukraine. Economic and social stability and security in Ukraine is vital to the future stability and economic prosperity of Europe. The geopolitical value of this type of work cannot be underestimated.
The Committee of the Regions has also made a significant contribution to inter-regional policy on culture, the arts and on minority languages. Importantly, it is also a significant constitutional function and legislative power as a guardian of subsidiarity. In a post-Brexit world, Wales as a country, and this Assembly and Welsh Government, will need to develop its own specific relationship with Europe. We will want to protect the reputation we have established and developed, and develop new, more formal Welsh relationships, particularly in the field of innovation and research, and projects such as Erasmus. We will need to show that we are prepared to do what is necessary to overcome the political, economic and social isolationism that risks overshadowing our future identity.
At recent meetings of the Committee of the Regions, the UK delegation has been promoting a new dialogue, to establish a new format for a post-Brexit associate status. This has been accepted in principle, but flounders around the uncertainty of the Brexit negotiations. Until there is clarity about the UK position and the final arrangements for the relationship between the UK and the European Union, the Committee of the Regions and other EU institutions are understandably reluctant to develop and formalise new arrangements and structures.
Key issues will arise in respect of future UK engagement. It will have to properly represent the interests of devolved Government and the political diversity of the UK. We will want to promote a specific Welsh relationship within that, which is not restricted by previous UK arrangements. Issues of funding will have to be addressed. It is, for example, likely we will want to continue with Erasmus, one of the most successfully used social policies that enables young people from across Europe to engage with one another, study and train in various European countries. What is clear to me is that we will need a Welsh European voice. The isolationism and introversion of the extremists in the Tory Party and UKIP are not for us. We must continue to be internationalist and to be an outward-looking nation. It is very likely that by the conclusion of the next Committee of the Regions conference in March, significant progress will have been made, but the outline of the prototype structure for a future relationship will have progressed. The purpose of today's motion is for the Assembly to endorse the approach that Bethan and I have adopted, and to instruct the Welsh Government to take ownership of the process now. After 29 March, our input as members of the Committee of the Regions will have come to an end. It is therefore vital that Welsh Government fills that vacuum and continues the process until a formal arrangement is in place. The motion, therefore, calls on the Welsh Government to directly engage with the Committee of the Regions and with other EU institutions, and also to pursue this objective with the UK Government, as part of the ongoing Brexit negotiations. Thank you, Llywydd.
Can I say how much I welcome the debate that's before us today, on this important issue of engagement post Brexit? I do not accept the caricature that in order to be a Brexiteer, you are therefore not an internationalist, and you are an isolationist. That's certainly not my view. I'm very much an internationalist, and I think it's very important that we engage globally, and not just within Europe. And of course it's absolutely vital that we have a continued close relationship with the different regions within Europe post 29 March. I was an individual, of course, who voted to leave the European Union, but I do think that it's very important for this National Assembly, as an Assembly that has a look over the horizons that are beyond Wales, beyond the UK, and beyond 29 March.
We were told constantly, of course, during the referendum that it would be impossible to maintain a close relationship with other parts of Europe after Brexit, but, of course, that is absolutely not the case, and that's why my party was very pleased to see the new First Minister follow our lead, in appointing somebody who's responsible for international relations. And I'm very pleased to see that Eluned Morgan took on that post, given the wealth of experience that she had in Europe. And of course other groups in this National Assembly have also taken the opportunity to appoint international relations spokespeople. And it's great that Delyth Jewell has that privilege on behalf of Plaid Cymru, and I want to welcome her to her post.
I think that it's vitally important that, yes, the Welsh Government does develop its international relations strategy in terms of engagement around the world, and this, of course, is a very important part of it. But you're quite right to point out in your opening speech, Mick, about the need for this National Assembly, as an institution, also to have an international relations strategy, so that we can promote the work of the National Assembly outside of Wales, but also learn from other parts of the world too, in terms of how we operate and function as a devolved legislature within the successful union that, of course, is the United Kingdom.
Now, I have the privilege of representing the National Assembly as one of the members on the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. I've been a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly now for over a decade, and as part of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly's work, of course, we have the opportunity also to engage, in a different forum, with people from other legislatures within the UK, and of course the Republic of Ireland, and indeed some of the other islands that make up the British isles. And I find that that is a very useful way to work collaboratively with other parliamentarians, in terms of trying to explore some of the challenges that are often very common to all of us on the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.
I chair the European affairs committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, and that committee actually undertook a short inquiry about engagement with different European institutions following Brexit. It published a report about 18 months ago, and it looked at the value of engagement and collaboration that was already taking place—not just the inter-governmental collaboration, but we also did meet with the president of the Committee of the Regions, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, to have a discussion with him about the opportunities that might exist to still engage with the committee in the future. And it was very, very clear that there are a whole host of nations outside of the European Union that are already actively involved in different fora, which have been established for engagement. And some of the ones that he was referring us to were the Association of European Border Regions, for example, which of course is going to be increasingly prominent, I think, for us, in terms of our engagement going forward. It works very closely, of course, as Mick and Bethan will know, with the Committee of the Regions, and you don't have to be a member of the EU in order to engage with it.
So, I would very much encourage this National Assembly, and the Welsh Government, to seek some involvement with that particular organisation, as time goes forward, because I do think that there are huge opportunities for us in terms of international engagement post 29 March, and I think we ought to seize them, but we can only do that if we've got a proper strategy in place, both as a Parliament and in terms of the Welsh Government too.
Can I welcome the report from our representatives in the Committee of the Regions and the introduction by Mick Antoniw in relation to the importance of the Committee of the Regions and what we need to do about it? I want to refer back to the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee's report of last February or March, 'Wales’ future relationship with Europe—Part one: a view from Wales'. By the way, that was a hint—part 2 is coming out on Thursday. Recommendation 16 we had was:
'We recommend that the Welsh Government sets out in its response to this report, what discussions it has had on Wales’ future relationship with the Committee of the Regions after Brexit and how those discussions are progressing.'
And this is the response we had from the Welsh Government—I hope the Minister might be able to expand on some of the comments in here:
'The Welsh Government supports the principle of a continued relationship between the UK and the Committee of the Regions (CoR) and the detailed discussions already underway as to the shape of the relationship.'
So, perhaps we can have some confirmation as to how far they've now gone.
'In the transition period, we have expressed our support to the establishment of a joint Committee of the Regions-UK Commission which would if adopted by the CoR include twelve members from the CoR and twelve from the UK.'
But, again, we need to know if that is still the position of Welsh Government, and if so, what pressures are they putting on the UK representation to ensure that there's Welsh representation on that delegation.
The Welsh Government also states:
'We also agree with the proposal of a permanent political forum for North-West Europe after transition which should include representatives from each of the Devolved Administrations.'
So, again, this is last May. What progress has been made on these three points in the response to our part 1 report?
It's important we now also—. I support Darren Millar's comment about separation from Assembly and Welsh Government. I note that my other remaining comments will be on Welsh Government, but it is important that the Assembly has its own position in European institutions. And I appreciate very much, Llywydd, the response you gave to the committee, which highlighted some of those things. Perhaps we need to see how much more work we can do and who else we can explore to work with as an Assembly, particularly legislatures across Europe in particular regions. I know you've had discussions with the Basques and the Catalonians, for example. We may want to—. And that will be very helpful for us as well, because there are two separate groups here: there's an Assembly relationship and there's a Welsh Government relationship, and it is important. We must remember that the two representatives may be appointed by the First Minister, but they are representing the Assembly at that Committee of the Regions, not the Welsh Government. Why? Because, again, if you read the papers from the Committee of the Regions, and we were given some, when we met with the president of the Committee of the Regions yesterday, relating to Brexit, and their voice is very clear in that they want the discussions between the UK Government and the EU to come also to a position where we can have an agreement on a joint committee between the Committee of the Regions and the UK. Now, my concern, then, is that what we were told was most of these—[Inaudible.]—with third countries happen on a once-a-year basis. So, that's a loss of access in one sense, but it's the informal connections we'll get as a consequence of that, and perhaps you will look at how we can get sub-committees as a consequence to work on it. So, that is important—very much indeed.
What we were told yesterday, and this is quite clear—the president told us, without reservation: it's up to the Welsh Government to lead on the ask. They weren't going to lead; they wanted the Welsh Government to take the lead. So, in a sense, if we really want to get involved, the Welsh Government has to step up to the plate and put forward its proposals.
Will you give way? Does he recall the emphasis also placed on having UK Government support for what we want to do? And does the Member believe that's something we can obtain to ensure Wales can keep the connections he wishes?
Yes, it is important, the UK Government support, because, clearly, the UK Government at the moment is still a member state and will be seen as the main body in one sense. But what they did identify was that—. There are two points to that: is Wales able to have an influence within the UK argument, in the sense of what we've always talked about—a Council of Ministers or replacing the JMC with something more formal? But they did indicate that was a UK issue and they didn't want to get involved in that. But there also is a point that the UK Government needs also to get involved, because they are, at the moment, at member state level and that's who they are in discussions as far as some of these positions, because the structures are from state to state. So, that was the formalisation process. But it is important that, if Welsh Government wants to get involved, Welsh Government must start asking for this.
I also want to highlight one thing, because this is important. We also met with other officials, who clearly stated that, during the years that the Welsh Government has had a presence in Brussels, they have been very effective in what is known as soft diplomacy, and they are now being recognised for that work. What's more, they are being sought out as people who have gone that far, because, for many others—. As a member state, you're automatically included. As Wales, we actually began to act as a third country, in a sense, and we built that soft diplomacy up. And that was a very clear direction in which we needed to go. So, this relationship with the Committee of the Regions is another mechanism to continue that soft diplomacy and, therefore, I would urge the Welsh Government to pursue this and I recommend this report to the Welsh Government.