|1. Questions to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs|
|2. Questions to the Minister for Housing and Local Government|
|3. Topical Questions|
|4. 90-second Statements|
|5. Motion to appoint an Acting Standards Commissioner|
|6. Motion to amend Standing Orders: Proposals to introduce a new Standing Order 18A for oversight of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales|
|7. Motion to amend Standing Orders: Standing Order 12.63—Oral Assembly Questions|
|8. Motion to alter the remit of the Equalities, Local Government and Communities Committee|
|9. Motion to alter the remit of the Finance Committee|
|10. Motion to approve the Assembly Commission's Budget 2020-21|
|11. Voting Time|
|12. Short Debate: The National Development Framework: Turning mid-Wales into the world’s biggest wind farm|
|13. Debate on Stage 3 of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill|
|Group 1: Name of the National Assembly for Wales and designation of its Members (Amendments 162, 127, 2, 128, 44, 147, 148, 149A, 149B, 149C, 149D, 149, 45, 150, 46, 151, 47, 152, 153A, 153B, 153C, 153, 48, 154A, 154B, 154C, 154, 49, 50, 51, 52, 155, 156, 53, 54, 81A, 81B, 81, 16, 129, 69A, 20, 55, 157, 56, 158, 57, 159, 21, 130, 22, 23, 131, 24, 26, 132, 59, 60, 58, 73A, 27, 133, 28, 134, 29, 135, 30, 136, 32, 137, 33, 138, 34, 139, 35, 140, 36, 141, 37, 142, 38, 143, 39, 144, 41, 145, 42, 146, 164A, 164B, 64, 161)|
|Group 2: Extension of right to vote to persons aged 16 and 17, and associated electoral registration (Amendments 102, 3, 4, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 86, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 43, 125, 126, 101, 100)|
|Group 3: Reviews of the operation of the Act (Amendments 160, 6, 40, 164, 165, 163)|
|Group 4: Extension of right to vote to foreign nationals and associated electoral registration (Amendments 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 61, 62, 63, 1)|
|Group 5: Administration of elections (Amendments 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 87, 82, 97, 83, 84)|
|Group 6: Disqualification (Amendments 88, 25, 89, 90, 91, 92, 98, 99, 73, 31, 74, 75, 76, 93, 94, 65)|
|Group 7: Miscellaneous and general provisions, including coming into force (Gwelliannau 77, 95, 78, 79, 96, 80, 85)|
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, and the first question is from Dawn Bowden.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's priorities for managing the natural environment in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney? OAQ54666
Thank you. Our natural resources policy and nature recovery action plan set out our priorities at a national level. The South Wales Central area statement currently being produced by Natural Resources Wales will help to focus action at a local level, building on initiatives already under way in Merthyr and the surrounding area.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. The natural environment of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, like other communities in the south Wales Valleys, needs that continuing investment from the Welsh Government in order to build on the growing recognition of the importance of projects like the Valleys regional park. The natural environment of our valleys is also a backdrop for important tourist attractions in my constituency, like BikePark Wales, Rock UK, the Garwnant forest park, and areas like the Merthyr and Gelligaer common. So, what more can Welsh Government do to develop these sustainable types of tourism attractions for the overall benefit of the local economy?
Our aim is to unlock and maximise the potential of the natural environment and the associated cultural heritage of the Valleys to generate social, economic and environmental benefits. I'm sure you'll be aware, just last month, my colleague Dafydd Elis-Thomas the Deputy Minister—sorry, Lee Waters, the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport—announced £2.4 million for foundational economy projects in the Valleys taskforce budget, and that, obviously, includes the tourism sector. You mentioned BikePark Wales, and I just wanted to say that I know they are becoming a premier destination for mountain biking, and I very much welcome the investment in its facilities, and that did include £400,000 from Visit Wales. Also, organisations such as Ramblers Cymru and Green Valleys received funding.
Minister, you will be aware of the importance of pollinators to the natural environment and of the need to reverse the decline in their numbers. Could you provide an update on the work being undertaken by your department to improve land management in the countryside, including farmlands, to ensure the importance of pollinators is given the recognition it deserves in Wales?
Thank you. I quite agree with you that pollinators do need to be an area where we continue to have a focus—that is, within the nature recovery action plan. And you may be aware that I recently announced funding through the enabling natural resources and well-being in Wales grant. And, if I am right in remembering, I think there are some specific funding in relation to pollinators there.
Question 2 [OAQ54646] not asked.
So, we now move to spokespeople's questions. The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd.
Thank you very much, Llywydd.
Minister, the national development framework clearly is primarily the responsibility of the Minister for Housing and Local Government. But you've explained to us here previously how you've worked closely with her in developing many aspects relevant to your portfolio, and it will clearly have a huge bearing on your and the Government's ability to deliver on your aspirations in relation to biodiversity, carbon reduction, renewable energy, et cetera.
And I'd like to start with renewable energy, if I may. There are 11 energy priority areas designated for onshore wind development in the NDF—the draft NDF. But there have been huge concerns from many in the sector, and beyond actually, that the Arup assessment used to underpin the proposal is fundamentally flawed, and that those areas, as a result, are largely unusable for onshore wind. Arup have applied, I'm told, inappropriate constraints, onerous buffers around designations, they failed to include separation distances from residential properties, which developers apply as standard to mitigate against the impacts of noise, visual amenity, or shadow flicker impacts. Now, that means that less than 10 per cent of the priority areas are actually suitable for wind, and only 5 per cent is available once, of course, existing windfarms have been excluded. Now, furthermore, available areas are only likely to be suitable for projects of less than 10 MW. That won't, then, fall under the development of national significance system and will therefore not be assessed against the NDF. So, do you accept that these proposals are flawed and that we should replace the place-based system of energy priority areas with a broader criteria-based approach?
Obviously, the consultation is still live until Thursday, I think. And it's really important that the draft NDF, and then, consequently, the plan itself, does support the Welsh Government's targets for decarbonisation and renewable energy generation, so it's very important that we get that right. I am aware that the evidence that's been used has been commissioned by Arup, but certainly, as you can see, the Minister for Housing and Local Government is in her place and has heard that, and we will continue to have discussions on this following the close of the consultation, and, particularly, I have been contacted about some of the points that you've just raised.
Well, I am a bit concerned that you're not concerned and, clearly, it needs to be addressed, because it will have a huge impact on your ability to fulfil what I presume are your aspirations in terms of decarbonisation and energy or renewable energy production. Now, the strategic search areas in TAN 8, of course, had a target in terms of proposed energy generation. There's no indication of what levels of energy your energy priority areas in the NDF are expected to contribute. So, is that something that you intend to provide? And if not, then how do we know how significantly, or otherwise, these specific areas will contribute to our energy needs? Indeed, what demand assumption have you made for the period of this NDF up to 2040, in terms of energy, in order to ensure that it does actually facilitate the delivery of enough renewable energy to meet our decarbonisation targets over the next 20 years?
Well, I wouldn't want you to think I wasn't concerned. I made very clear, right at the beginning, that it's vital that the draft NDF and then the plan itself does seek to support our targets for decarbonisation, and it's very important that when the consultation is finished—and please remember it's still in consultation—that it does just that. So, those will be the conversations that will be continuing, certainly at an official level and at a ministerial level. There is huge potential for renewable energy in Wales, and you've referred to onshore wind particularly. So, I'm very aware that the policy has caused a lot of media interest. I don't think it would be appropriate to make any further comment on specifics while the consultation is live.
Well, I'm afraid that you're hiding behind the consultation a little bit, because what I'm asking is what assessment has your Government made in terms of the demand that will be required in terms of energy generation over the next 20 years, because surely you will have to have done that piece of work before, then, you can put forward a national development framework that is supposedly there to facilitate the achievement of those renewable energy targets. So, I really would like you to try and answer that question again, if you would.
But I'd also like you to address this point, because, within the NDF, policy 8 sets out the strategic framework for biodiversity and economic resilience, something, of course, that you spoke at length about yesterday in a marine context. Now, feedback so far indicates that this needs strengthening, and the policy interestingly only requires that the development 'should enhance biodiversity', not that it must contribute to net biodiversity benefit as is stated, of course, in 'Planning Policy Wales.' Now, that is a clear change in policy from the Government, as the NDF will sit above 'Planning Policy Wales' and will dictate the policies that need to be fulfilled through the strategic and local development plans. So, can you explain to the Assembly why you believe this clear change of policy is justified?
Yes, that is not the case, and those are discussions that I am continuing to have with the Minister. The NDF falls in her portfolio. Obviously, from a renewable energy point of view, we've had a great deal of discussion, but whilst the consultation is live I cannot comment on specific projects and assessments, but, believe me, the assessments have been done and they will come forward once the NDF has been published.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, we're in the middle of a general election campaign, just in case no-one had noticed. Obviously, environmental policy will be closely co-ordinated across the UK, but you have responsibility here in Wales. Your party, at a UK level, says that if it was to become the Government on 13 December they would move to a net zero target by 2030. Your policy is 2050 here in Wales, something we all subscribe to. Do you believe it is credible to move to net zero by 2030? And if you do believe it is credible, will you as a Government be doing that as well?
So, this Welsh Government took the advice from our advisory body, the UK Climate Change Committee. They advised us that the target that we should reach for here in Wales, because this is the Welsh Government that you're questioning now, should be 95 per cent. I've asked the committee to go back and see if we can go further to net zero by 2050. They're the people who advise us and that's the advice I take. What the UK Labour Government comes forward with on the evidence that they've gathered for, obviously, the UK—. This is devolved to Wales, please bear in mind, but we are part of the UK when it comes to our climate change targets. I'd be very interested to see that evidence and then we could look at it further.
I accept that, because that's the point I made in my opening remarks—that you were responsible for policy here in Wales, but environmental policy is co-ordinated across the UK, as well, to make that overall gain. I assume from your answer—and if you could just clarify, because I think it is really important, because there are many comments that say it would be devastating to move to net zero by 2030—. The GMB union, for example, says it would be completely devastating to whole swathes of communities the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, and here in Wales. But I take it that your policy stays the same—it is 2050 and you cannot see a credible route to move to net zero by 2030 in your capacity as Minister and with the evidence that you have before you at the moment.
We're a long way from 2050, aren't we? At the moment, the UK Committee on Climate Change, which advises us, tells me that we should be aiming for a 95 per cent target. I, of course, want to reach net zero and I, of course, want to reach net zero earlier, and if the UKCCC comes back to me with advice that that's possible, I will look to it. Presumably, the UK Labour Government that hopefully will be in place after 12 December will also go to the UKCCC for advice and they will be able to then take that forward.
Well, I think, as you said, the advice that the climate change committee have given is that it is completely impractical to move to net zero by 2030, and so, hopefully, the Labour Party will bear that in mind when they're bringing their policy forward, rather than devastating communities here in Wales and across the rest of the United Kingdom.
But if I could ask you another question around the basic payment for farmers, a window for which will be opening in the first week of December, and I declare an interest in this as an active farmer—. The Government brought forward news that was very welcome in that they were making a loan facility available to farmers should their basic payment application be held up through concerns around Brexit and obviously staffing alignment to make sure that claims were processed. As I understand it—and I look forward to this being corrected, because I have tried to find this information over the last month—if you've claimed that loan in the last 12 months, which was the last payment window, you would be excluded from doing the same this time around. Now you did, a week or two ago, say that you'd come back to me and write to me. I'm hopeful that you might have more of an up-to-date position, given that we're only two weeks away from that window, and, as we saw with the dairy in north Wales going bankrupt and going into administration, there are many farmers who have a real problem with cash flow at the moment, and any delay in the basic payment hitting bank accounts will cause huge problems. So, can you confirm that all farms will be eligible to receive that loan facility if they wish to, or is there an exclusion for farms that have exercised that option in the last 12 months?
I thought I had signed off a letter to you actually, so I do apologise if you haven't received that, and the answer was, yes, all farms can apply for that loan scheme. I thought it was really important to bring that loan scheme forward, because certainly the loan scheme we had last year—it's a support scheme we're having this year—was very well taken up and I've done all I can to publicise it to farmers to make sure that they do apply. But the answer to your specific question is that my understanding is that everyone can apply.
3. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's forestry policy? OAQ54680
We need to rapidly increase the scale and pace of tree planting in Wales to help tackle biodiversity decline and the climate change emergency. The First Minister’s vision for a national forest programme will accelerate tree planting, delivering a wide range of economic, environmental and social benefits for the people of Wales.
I welcome that statement from the Minister. I particularly welcome the First Minister's commitment to a national forest. I think those are very important statements. I also welcome what is written in the latest iteration of 'Woodlands for Wales', which I think was published last year. In that document, I believe the Government sets out advice on climate change policy that it requires to move from planting a few 100 hectares at the moment, to 2,000 and then to 4,000 hectares of woodland in order to meet our climate ambitions. Could the Minister tell me whether it is the policy of Welsh Government that we will reach the European average for woodland cover, which I think is something like 38 per cent? Is that the policy of the Government? If that is not the policy of the Government, what is the objective of the Government in terms of woodland cover across Wales, and does the Government have a timescale by which it can deliver that objective?
I would be the first person to say that we aren't planting sufficient numbers of trees, but we have seen steady but small progress over the last three years in particular. Just over the last three years, we've planted 16,387,612 trees. I'm not quite sure what percentage of land that covers, but that's the number that we have planted. Certainly, the progress that we are making to take forward the First Minister's vision for a national forest programme will help. Obviously, it's a long-term project, so I haven't got a target, as such. There was a target within the woodland strategy, which we haven't been fulfilling, so I would rather really push ahead with significant work, and I hope to bring forward some significant announcements around tree planting before the end of the year, but, clearly, if we are going to meet our climate change targets, we do need to rapidly increase the forest cover that we have in Wales, because that is an absolutely key way of being able to mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration.
Two weeks ago, the Confederation of Forest Industries—Confor—stated that, at present, only a third of the budget is available to meet the Welsh Government's minimum target of creating 2,000 hectares of new woodland each year and to meet its climate energy aspirations. I understand that the Welsh forestry sector generates £528 million gross value added for Wales, supporting 10,000 jobs, and, of course, plays a major role in carbon dioxide sequestration, or carbon capture and storage.
During the summer, I visited a BSW Timber group at Maelor Forest Nurseries Holdings in Bronington, Wrexham, just outside your constituency, who told me about the world-leading role they're playing in forestry genetics research and development—the only nursery in the UK carrying out this key work, developing species to make them more sustainable as the climate changes. They told me that they're investing heavily in this research and development and planning further long-term investments, that the Scottish Government is opening the door to them and trying to encourage them to go there, but they're looking to the Welsh Government to encourage them and incentivise them to stay in Wales and develop the lab they have there. So, what support will you give to ensure that this world-beating research stays in Wales and doesn't emigrate to Scotland?
I'm not aware that I have been asked for support, but there could be something in the pipeline that I haven't seen. But I'd certainly be very interested to visit there and have a look at their R&D. I think any R&D, particularly world-leading R&D, that's done in Wales, we would be very keen to keep here, in principle. So, I'd be very happy, if the Member would like to write to me around it, or ask them to write to me, and I'll certainly visit and take that forward.
Minister, in 2017 the decline in softwood planting in Wales was time-predicted to lead to a 50 per cent reduction in the availability of softwood by 2045. The shortfall in production in conifer woodland in Wales since the turn of the century is of considerable concern and has affected the supply of timber. What measures are being taken to increase the planting of trees by NRW and to also replenish stocks felled in response to the deadly disease of larch?
Thank you. I met just yesterday with the chair and officers of Natural Resources Wales, where tree planting—well, it's always a standing agenda item. And, certainly, we've given funding to NRW for them to be able to increase the tree planting. We have seen some specific tree planting around some diseases—you'll be aware of P. ramorum, for instance, which has forced clearances of large areas of larch, as you said, especially in the south Wales Valleys. So, NRW, when they do replant trees and replace them, they take the opportunity to make sure that the trees and the woodlands that are replanted are restructured with multispecies to help them become much more resilient to that disease.
4. Will the Minister provide an update on actions taken by the Welsh Government following the written statement on dog breeding issued on 9 October 2019? OAQ54669
Thank you. The Wales animal health welfare framework group is undertaking an urgent and immediate review of the dog breeding regulations and will continue to engage with key stakeholders. The chief veterinary officer met with local authorities and the Welsh Local Government Association yesterday to discuss licensing and enforcement issues.
I do welcome the immediate action that the Welsh Government did take following the documentary on Welsh puppy farming last month. But one area that concerns me and others I've spoken to when it comes to licensing is the staff-to-dog ratio in these establishments. Currently, only one full-time attendant is required for 20 adult dogs, and that doesn't even take into account the number of puppies that each dog could have. So, we could end up with a situation of an average-sized litter per dog equating to one person being expected to be responsible for up to 180 adult dogs and puppies at any one time. I can't see how any one person can adequately care for so many animals, spot potential health issues and also meet the welfare needs of those animals to a good standard. So, what I'm asking, Minister, is if you'll consider reviewing the ratio of competent staff required to look after dogs and puppies in breeding establishments to ensure that they are well cared for and that their welfare needs are met. I'm also asking if you'll consider reducing the number of licences issued to each authority to enable a manageable inspection and protection scheme, which is currently failing.
Thank you. I certainly share your concern, particularly about the staff-to-dog ratio. Following the meeting that was held yesterday between the chief veterinary officer and her officials with, actually, 21 local authorities—Flintshire didn't attend, they sent their apologies—I think this was one area that came out very, very high up on the list that we need to look at very carefully.
I mention the task and finish group with members of the Wales animal health and welfare framework group review that's already begun. I don't want to pre-empt that review, but I think, certainly, there were a lot of issues that were raised at this meeting yesterday that I think need careful consideration. Certainly, if you think about exercising the dogs, for instance, whilst I appreciate you can take several dogs out at once, you certainly wouldn't be able to take 50 dogs out at once. If they need exercising three times a day, which I think is what the regulations say, then, certainly, we need to look at that. So, whilst I don't want to pre-empt the review, I think this is clearly an area we need to look at.
In relation to your question about the licences, again, when you see the table of local authorities and the number of licensed premises that they have—I think Torfaen's got one, for instance, Carmarthenshire's got 80, so you can see that there's a big difference across all local authorities. So, again, as part of the review, it's something we can look at, but, clearly, it's the unlicensed breeders that we really need to be making improvements on as well, and the review will have a holistic look at dog breeding here in Wales.
I'm pleased that Joyce Watson raised this question, because I do have a number of very serious concerns about this, Minister. I represent an area where illegal dog breeding is rife. I've written to Elin Jones, when she was the Minister, John Griffiths when he was the Minister, Alun Davies when he was the Minister, Rebecca Evans when she was the Minister, and I've also written to you on this subject. We've seen very little action. Now, Joyce raises a very, very good point about licensing and about—but the issue is, they're the people we know about. The big problem is the people we cannot track, or who we know are down the end of long lanes, and I'd like to understand really clearly a couple of things. One: will you really take action this time, because this has been a long-running sore in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire? Two: how will you ensure that good breeders, honest breeders, legitimate breeders are not overly penalised, so that we really drive after the illegal dog breeders?
Finally, I do have to raise the issue of dogs being brought in from Ireland, because I've been out with the police, I've seen with my own eyes caravans where the floors are literally awash with little puppies, and they're used to disguise the trafficking of drugs and other things. There's a van that goes around Pembroke, Pembroke Dock—literally, I've seen him, and he's opened up his back and inside are cages, stuffed, racked, full of puppies. Those are the people we need to get, because the people that Joyce talks about—we know where they are, they need to be improved, they need to be banned or whatever, but it's the others that we cannot get hold of. A difficult job, I appreciate, but it is time we took action on this.
You make a very important point, and that was why I said at the end of my answer to Joyce Watson—Joyce was referring to the breeders that we know about; it's the illegal breeders that we also need to make some areas of great improvement on, because I'm very aware of the stories that you've just told here. The balance about not penalising the legal breeders is very important, and the meeting that was held yesterday with the local authorities was to find out exactly what is going on on the ground—how local authorities are dealing with enforcing, for instance. So, I think it was a very productive meeting. I've had a note of the meeting. That will now feed into the task and finish group review that I asked to be undertaken immediately after that programme was aired. So, I will keep Members updated, but I just wanted to show that, with what I said in the written statement, we are taking action immediately. I expect to have the report from the task and finish group by the end of this year. So, when we come back in January, after the Christmas recess, I hope to be able to update Members then.
5. Will the Minister make a statement on how the Welsh Government is supporting the farming industry in mid-Wales? OAQ54668
The Welsh Government is supporting the farming community in mid Wales, as in all parts of Wales, to become more profitable, sustainable, resilient and professionally managed. Over 5,000 individuals and 2,000 businesses in the region have signed up to Farming Connect, a vital element of our support to farming.
Thank you for your answer, Minister. As you can imagine, I regularly meet with the farming unions in Montgomeryshire. The issue that they raised with me in the last meeting, as you would not be surprised about at all, is the 'Sustainable Farming and our Land' consultation. They have raised a number of questions regarding how the scheme would work in practice, and how the abandonment of the stability mechanism that protects farmers from that market volatility would work in practice, and how it would impact businesses.
Now, given that you've emphasised to me and to others that this is a genuine consultation rather than being a done deal, can I ask how the Government will take into account these concerns that they've raised with me, and the need to address them in designing any future schemes? And how would the bespoke support for every farm work in practice—'practice' being the key word here; how it would it work in practice—and will you confirm that the proposals will not result in extra bureaucracy for farmers and, indeed, of course, for Welsh Government?
Starting with the extra bureaucracy, I have said from the outset that if we introduce extra bureaucracy into a scheme—I think many farmers will tell you that one of the reasons that many of them voted 'leave' in the European elections was because of the bureaucracy surrounding common agricultural policy—then we will have failed. It is absolutely important that we don't increase extra bureaucracy, certainly for the farmers and for ourselves.
The consultation only closed at the end of October. We had well over 3,000 responses, many of them individual responses. They will take a while to work through, but I also meet very regularly with the farming unions. Just last week, I spoke at the NFU Cymru conference and, of course, questions around 'Sustainable Farming and our Land' were raised with me.
You used the word 'stability' in relation to CAP and the basic payments scheme. I would disagree with you—I don't think CAP has provided stability for our farmers. If you think about just last year, when we had a drought, we held a summit at the Royal Welsh Show—they were looking for Welsh Government support because they couldn't cope with the drought. CAP has not made our agriculture sector stable in the way that we would want. What we're seeking to do in 'Sustainable Farming and our Land' is do that.
We've come forward with the idea of the scheme, which I think has been broadly welcomed. Certainly, the responses that I've seen—and I've probably read about 200 of the responses now—very much welcome the change in focus in 'Sustainable Farming and our Land' as to what had gone on in the previous year in 'Brexit and our land'. So, we are now working through the consultation responses. We're working on the co-design of the scheme.
Of course, that bespoke support is going to be very important—that bespoke assessment. No two farms are the same, and it's really important that every farm is visited. But we're not starting from scratch. When an adviser goes out to a farm, there will be a lot of data already there—nutrient management, for instance. So, the bureaucracy, I hope, will be kept to the minimum.
We know that the goods produced by mid Wales farmers go way beyond the excellent food produce that they do produce off their land. Also, the successful management of the Pumlumon hills has a direct effect, whether it's good or bad, on downstream flooding, both in parts of Wales and parts of England. I feel very strongly that they ought to be rewarded for good, effective land management.
Also, I have to say that they are a resource not only for visitors from within Wales, but also for tourists from far afield. Recently, we launched with Cicerone, the publisher—and I declare my interest as one of the vice-presidents of Ramblers Cymru—Walking the Cambrian Way, the official Cicerone publication for people like myself who like long-distance trails and stay in bed and breakfasts, and like a good restaurant meal in the evening and so on, as we go along. The Cambrian mountains initiative—the Dyfodol Cambrian Futures project—has launched 11 community routes, and I think, as ramblers are putting forward, that, in the consultation, we should be considering whether some of the public goods that are produced through that access—we should be able to explicitly reward farmers for maintaining those routes. So, would she confirm, in taking this forward, that she will engage, definitely with farmers and land managers, but also those other members of the wider Welsh public who see the public goods that are delivered by good, effective land management?
I agree with everything that Huw Irranca-Davies has said. It's very important that farmers are rewarded for the environmental outcomes that they're not currently rewarded for. You will have heard me say many times that people come to Wales for the beautiful landscapes. They are there because of our farmers and our agricultural sector, and it's absolutely right that they are rewarded for it. The farm on which I launched the 'Sustainable Farming and our Land' consultation—the carbon capture on his farm was just incredible. The tonnage of carbon capture that he had—he's not rewarded for that at the current time, and he should be.
6. Will the Minister make a statement on actions taken as a result of the Welsh Government's declaration of a climate emergency? OAQ54652
Thank you. We've accepted the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation to increase our 2050 target to 95 per cent. We've made a series of new investments across Government and arranged Wales's first climate change conference with 300 low-carbon leaders to see how all parts of society can respond collectively to the challenge.
Minister, thank you for that, but, according to recent opinion polls, 56 per cent of adults across the whole of the UK support the Labour Party's green new deal policy, which sets the objective of total decarbonisation by 2030. This Welsh Government has led the way by declaring a climate emergency. What more can Welsh Government do to assist the next Labour Government to achieve this objective?
I'm not sure if you were in the Chamber when I answered Andrew R.T. Davies's questions, but you will have heard me say that we moved to a 95 per cent target on the advice of the UK CCC. I have, however, asked them to see if, here in Wales, we can move to a net-zero target.
I'd be very interested to work with the next UK Labour Government after 12 December to see what advice they can give us also, and what we can do together. The UK CCC will be advising the new Government, and, certainly, obviously, as a UK, we have our climate change targets. Wales has to play its part. I'm very keen. We may only be a small country, but we've got really big ambition in relation to climate change mitigation.
I'm sure you'll enjoy working with the next Conservative Government as well in Westminster. [Interruption.] Touché Turtle. Thank you for your answer, and I think we all welcome the declaration of a climate emergency. But it strikes me—. I welcome the 95 per cent target as well, which you've set, but it strikes me that it's only really going to achieve its aim if it's mainstreamed across all departments, not just by yourself and your officials, and across public bodies, with some real behavioural changes at the end of those policy changes. And I think electric charging points, for instance, are one example of an area where—. Wales needs far more electric charging points than we've had in the past. But only last year an application for a new charging hub in Monmouth, in my constituency, was turned down due to it breaching technical advice note 15 rules, much to the dismay of local people. I wonder if you could see if Welsh Government policies, including the TANs and the planning polices, are revisited so that they can be more flexible when decisions are being taken that will actively promote the environment. I'm not saying they should be disregarded; in many cases, they're there for a reason. But I think if we are all trying to make sure that this climate change emergency really does work and we do solve the long-term environmental and climate problems that we've got, then we need to make sure that these policies are more flexible.
I think you raise a very important point about conflicting policies and about making sure we don't have those conflicting policies, particularly when it comes to our decarbonisation and climate change targets. Obviously, this is cross-Government. Climate change mitigation might sit within my portfolio, but every member of Cabinet and Welsh Government is thoroughly aware of their responsibilities too, and that's why we’ve got the sub-committee on decarbonisation, which many of my ministerial colleagues sit on. The First Minister's putting that onto a permanent footing.
And, again, after we declared the climate emergency at the beginning of the year, right across Government we can show how we've reallocated funding, for instance, where we've made investments—so, my colleagues Ken Skates and Lee Waters, £30 million into active travel; Vaughan Gething as the health Minister spent significant funding on the new ambulances having solar panels on them—so that we can address that climate emergency. And, again, right across Government, you will see a variety of proposals coming out to make sure that we focus on delivering 'A Low Carbon Wales', which is our plan that was launched by the First Minister back in March.
7. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of how the Welsh agri-food sector can help mitigate climate change? OAQ54674
Thank you. Welsh Government published 'Prosperity for All: A Low Carbon Wales', which includes detailed sector-by-sector emissions profiles, policies and proposals to achieve a low-carbon Wales for the agri-food sector. Future farming schemes and food action plans will continually be aligned to respond to the climate emergency.
Thank you, Minister. Since you announced the climate emergency here in Wales, what specific steps have you taken to mitigate the effects of climate change on the Welsh agri-food sector? Because I'm particularly concerned with the potential for price rises, which will affect farmers and households alike.
Well, I think we'll certainly see price rises if we do leave the European Union. And one of the reasons I've been working with the agricultural sector, particularly around red meat and dairy sectors, is to make them more resilient and competitive. The agricultural sector are doing a great deal of work in relation to reducing their emissions. Agriculture accounted for 13 per cent of Welsh greenhouse gas emissions in 2017, and NFU Cymru in particular have come forward with some very good policies to become net zero.
8. Will the Minister provide an update with regard to the Welsh Government's policy for improving the management of common land in Wales? OAQ54677
Thank you. The Commons Act 2006 is being implemented through a rolling programme, with substantial parts already in force. Our priorities now are to implement the remainder of Part 1, to include electronic registers, and enable commons councils to be established by bringing forward Part 2 of the Act.
I've written to the Minister on several occasions about the problems at Eglwysilan common, which is mostly located within the Caerphilly constituency. In your most recent letter, dated 24 September, you didn't address the substance of the numerous issues facing the common and simply repeated your offer of a one-off financial and official support to Caerphilly County Borough Council to address it themselves.
The local authority, having spoken to them, elected councillors and commoners, are disappointed that the Welsh Government doesn't appear to be taking its ongoing legal responsibilities under the Commons Act 2006 seriously enough. A one-off offer of support will be of no significant use to the local authority in dealing with the recurring problems on the common, which they feel would continue even if they were to take successful action against perpetrators on the land.
A further option that was discussed related to potential for Welsh Government to consider the introduction of enhanced legislation relating to standards of management in use of common land across Wales, which I think would be a step forward. But, for legislation to be successful, it needs to be enforced. Will the Minister therefore commit today to making sure Welsh Government meets its legal responsibilities and works with the local authority and other appropriate partners to address the longstanding issues at Eglwysilan common?
Well, we do work with the local authority. I know my officials attended a multi-agency meeting with Caerphilly council to continue to explore possible solutions. The offer of that financial support is still there. I understand that is currently being considered. But I will be very happy to ensure that officials continue to work with Caerphilly council to that endeavour.
Minister, it's about a year since Hefin David—in fact, Andrew R.T. Davies raised the issue with you of commoners' rights being restricted on their patches. But, at that time, I raised the opposite problem with you, relating to residents in Pennard in Gower within my region, where common rights are being exercised with some irresponsibility, if I can put it that way, meaning that residents who live in villages adjacent to common land have stock wandering through their gardens and their streets without any curb on that by, well, one particular commoner, actually. At that time, I asked you whether there was anything that could be done through secondary legislation—a similar point to that raised by Hefin—to help commoners exercise their rights responsibly, because it's pretty important that rights are respected and observed and protected, of course, but then they should be exercised with consideration for those around them. Thank you.
I do remember you raising that with me and we did look to see if anything could be done further. And I know we are going out to consultation in January on the introduction of the commons councils. So, whether that could be encompassed within that, I will certainly check and I'll write to you.FootnoteLink
9. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's consideration of the introduction of mandatory CCTV for slaughterhouses in Wales? OAQ54663
Our seven largest slaughterhouses, which process the majority of animals, already have CCTV. I have committed to working with slaughterhouse operators, in a supportive relationship, to ensure CCTV is in place in all Welsh slaughterhouses. I've not ruled out the introduction of legislation to make CCTV mandatory.
Thank you, Minister, for that very encouraging reply. Since Animal Aid released their disturbing footage of cruelty at the Farmers Fresh slaughterhouse in September, another investigation by Animal Equality released last week has revealed similarly appalling evidence of horrendous suffering being inflicted on animals in the same slaughterhouse. Covert cameras have shown animals being thrown, pulled along by their legs or throats, kneed or kicked, and not properly stunned. This is just not acceptable. So, as the voluntary use of CCTV clearly isn't working, isn't it time to move to a system of mandatory independently monitored CCTV on welfare grounds?
Obviously, there is a live investigation currently under way in relation to Farmers Fresh slaughterhouse. I'd also like to say that Farmers Fresh slaughterhouse does indeed have CCTV, so it just shows that CCTV on its own is not the answer. Training is also a key factor, and it's really important that Lantra, who deliver that training, continue to play a key role in relation to that.
I've already stated I've not ruled out legislating to introduce mandatory CCTV, but I did commit a year ago to work with businesses to look at whether they would do CCTV installation voluntarily. We've put forward the food business investment scheme, where we would give funding for CCTV. The bid process for that doesn't close until the end of January. I want to see how that progresses before I make a decision looking at the next steps in relation to mandatory CCTV. But, as I say, the slaughterhouse to which you refer does have CCTV and there is an investigation under way and I will be meeting with the Food Standards Agency next week about this issue.
Thank you, Minister. I know very much about your sincere commitment to the highest standards of animal welfare, but I do think that the case that has already been cited by Vikki Howells demonstrates very clearly that the current voluntary arrangements in respect of CCTV in slaughterhouses in Wales are not working and that we do need to move to legislate on this as soon as possible. The UK Government, as you know, have already legislated in England, and the vast majority of slaughterhouses there are complying with that legislation, and the small number that aren't are being tackled about it. And I would urge you, therefore, to move to ensure that this legislation is brought forward as soon as possible. I think we have the evidence already, we shouldn't delay, and we should get this on the statute book as soon as possible.
Well, as you will have heard me say in my answer to Vikki Howells, the slaughterhouse to which Vikki referred does have CCTV so, clearly, mandatory CCTV on its own is not the answer. We have to look at this holistically. There was also—you know, there are inspectors on site, there are vets on site. Clearly, we need to ensure that the training is up to date. So, whilst I appreciate your comments around CCTV—you know, your wish to see it mandatory—I still don't think that, on its own, is the answer. But it is a live investigation. I am meeting the Food Standards Agency next week, because they are looking into the two examples that Vikki Howells gave us. But just CCTV on its own is certainly not the answer, when you look at this particular case, where CCTV is installed. And, as I said, the majority of our slaughterhouses, certainly, where the majority of animals are processed, do already have CCTV; it's only a very few small ones.
10. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's energy policy? OAQ54685
Thank you. Energy underpins prosperity and is a key part of delivering our climate goals. We are reducing emissions from energy in a way that responds to the climate emergency and also improves well-being in Wales. This means a managed transition to a low-carbon energy system, supported by investment and innovation.
Diolch. I welcome the Welsh Government's policy on fracking; I think that's a good development. Do you know how much of our natural gas imported through Pembrokeshire comes from fracked sources?
I don't have that data to hand, but I'd be very happy to write to the Member.FootnoteLink
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Minister, the roll out of smart meters—a UK programme, of course—but something that can be helped very much by Welsh Government, has stuttered recently. This is not the Welsh Government's fault, but it's important we get back on track, because particularly for those in fuel poverty, once we've switched completely to tariffs based on these meters and different rates through the day, it could really, really be a way out of fuel poverty for many, many people.
I quite agree, and I think I'm about to meet, certainly before the end of this term, I am about to meet with smart meters to see what more as a Government we can do to encourage. As you say, it is a reserved issue, but I'm very keen to do all I can to support them.
Thank you very much, Minister.
Item 2 is questions to the Minister for Housing and Local Government. The first question this afternoon is question 1 from Paul Davies.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s priorities for the housing sector in Preseli Pembrokeshire? OAQ54659
Certainly. Our housing priorities for Pembrokeshire are the same as for all of Wales. I want to see far more much-needed social housing built in truly mixed communities, homelessness being proactively addressed, decarbonisation being tackled, and market housing that is of good size and quality.
I'm grateful to the Minister for that response. According to figures from Shelter Cymru, there are around 3,600 households on social housing waiting lists in Pembrokeshire, and yet only 172 social houses were built in the last year, leaving, of course, a significant shortfall. In September, the Welsh Government's innovative housing programme committed a further £33 million of funding to help deliver 600 new homes this year. Can the Minister therefore confirm that some of the funding will actually reach Pembrokeshire, and can she also confirm how she's monitoring the progress of local authorities on this issue?
Yes. Paul Davies will know that we've been really working very hard to build a lot more social homes in Wales; it's been a significant priority for this First Minister to accelerate both the pace and scale of social home building. At the moment, most social homes in Wales are built by registered social landlords because, as he will know, there were restrictions on the housing revenue accounts of local authorities until only last year. So, we've worked very hard with local authorities to remove those restrictions and get the right frameworks in place for the councils themselves to be able to borrow to build housing, whether they're stockholding or non-stockholding.
In the meantime, we have been making a series of investments. So far in this Assembly term, we've invested £1.7 billion in housing, £137 million of that in social housing grant, and over £33 million in housing finance grant. For the mid and south-west Wales region, we estimate that the social housing need is 44 per cent of the new homes needed, so 44 per cent of the new homes built in the mid and south-west Wales region should be houses that are affordable if we are to get to where we need to be. So, I agree with you entirely that we need to accelerate that programme.
We've been investing £71.5 million revenue funding over 29 years under the affordable housing grant programme to support the local housing authorities to build new council homes, including Pembrokeshire County Council. Around 400 new social homes are expected to be funded directly through that initiative across Wales. We're also on track to achieve our target of bringing 5,000 empty homes back into use during this Assembly term. We've already provided councils in Wales with £40 million to support property owners to help bring back empty properties into use. Very recently, I made a statement in this Chamber about using the private rented sector to assist with social housing in the interim while we build the homes that we need, and it was welcomed from across the Chamber; I think we're all on the same page around hoping to take that scheme forward.
So, I absolutely agree with him; we do need to build at pace and scale. We have worked very hard to get those arrangements in place in only the year we've had to get that started. Pembrokeshire has had its full share of the grant, as have the national park authorities, where appropriate, for the planning arrangements. In the meantime, we're putting a series of interim measures in place.
2. Will the Minister make a statement on permitted development rights in Wales? OAQ54650
Certainly. Permitted development rights are an important tool to remove minor developments from the need for planning permission. They allow local planning authorities to concentrate on larger, more complex applications that create homes and jobs.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. I've been recently contacted by a number of people in my own constituency, in the Llanferres area, regarding concerns that they have about a development that appears to be taking place in the Big Covert area in the Clwyd forest. This is a situation where parcels of woodland appear to have been sold off piecemeal to individuals and, unfortunately, some of the individuals who were buying those pieces of land are then felling trees without appropriate licences from Natural Resources Wales, and some of them are building structures made of wood or dragged in on trailers into the forest and setting up almost like second homes or camps of some sort. All of this is without proper development permissions, and, unfortunately, Denbighshire County Council appear to be having some difficulty in enforcing development because of the current permitted development rights. Can you give me some assurance that you'll look into this sort of development, which does appear to be happening more frequently, not just in rural Denbighshire but also in other parts of Wales as well?
Yes, I certainly would. I'm not aware of it, and if Darren Millar wants to write to me with specific details, I'm very happy to look into that. I don't know the specifics, so I can't really comment, but in general permitted development rights are only available where there is already a residential or other structure that carries the permitted development rights with it. They wouldn't normally be available in open woodland where there was not already a structure. So, although I can't comment specifically, because unless you know the specific detail you can't, in general the advice would be that you don't have permitted development rights unless it's attached to a dwelling or other premises that carries those rights with it. So, it seems unlikely on the face of it that that would be permitted development.
One of the issues that faces many residents in rural Wales is that because their land isn't considered an area for permitted housing development they find it very difficult to obtain planning permission for housing on their land, when the purpose of that housing, of course, is to accommodate a family member to remain in the local community. So, would you examine the possibility of relaxing these rules to allow for limited housing purely for local need, which can't then be sold on or turned into second homes, as a way of supporting the sustainability of some of our rural communities?
Yes, I accept the point that he makes. Unfortunately, we do have a large range of houses that were built under those circumstances that then are fairly rapidly sold on as open private market housing, and the issue is how we can get a balance to do that. I've been very keen to explore with councils from across Wales how we can get more social housing into those areas. I'm very keen that young people from across the whole of Wales can afford the housing that's there. So, it is a question of how do we get the right kind of housing into communities of that sort to allow young people to stay there, and family members to stay, without actually it being a route into just selling out another private sector house in the middle of a field somewhere, which we, unfortunately, have seen happening in other bits of Wales. So, I'm very happy, Llyr, to work with you to see what we can do to achieve both of those aims simultaneously. So, I think we're trying to get to the same place. It is around how we get the controls in place to make sure that such a system isn't abused and is available in particular to the youngsters who want to stay in those areas.
Turning to spokespeople's questions, and, again this afternoon, the Conservative spokesperson, David Melding.
Diolch yn fawr, Diprwy Llywydd. Would you agree, Minister, that following your accusation that the private house building industry were creating the 'slums of the future'—comments you made earlier this year—that the Welsh Government has created a rather inhospitable environment for private house builders in Wales?
No, I wouldn't agree with that at all. I stand by what I said. I said they were in danger of creating the slums of the future. If you have an estate of houses that has no infrastructure available to it, where people have to drive to work, where the houses are poorly built, and, frankly, we've seen examples of that from the big house builders across Wales, where not even the most routine of fire breaks have been present, where there's little green infrastructure, where the houses are too close together and there's no play space, this—. I know he agrees with me: this is not a good example of development.
On the other hand, there are many private sector developers across Wales, particularly in the SME end of the market, who build really lovely private sector homes in mixed developments with good green infrastructure and so on. I can give him a list of good SME builders of that sort. So, it's not the private sector in general. There have been issues with some of the bigger builders building far too fast in mono-tenure estates a long way from any infrastructure, built, I think, just to generate profits for that builder rather than building the communities that we need for the future.
Well, I'm glad you qualified those remarks and added some commendation to your appreciation of the sector, because I think you caused a lot of distress when you used that rhetoric about slums earlier this year.
And the point is, we obviously need a housing market that brings together the public and private sector, large and small house builders, and national and local government in a positive public-spirited partnership. And a robust housing strategy to increase supply needs more than the very necessary expansion in social housing; it also needs private house builders to significantly increase market housing to boost affordable delivery in general, mixed tenures, and everything else that goes hand in hand. And a lot of what you said earlier this year was actually about poor planning law, poor regulatory enforcement, and it's not a matter that can be laid at the doors of most house builders who do an excellent job for this country and are there with much latent capacity. And if we can encourage them, they could really be at the heart of solving our housing crisis.
Well, again, we can find some areas of agreement and some areas of disagreement in those remarks, David Melding.
So, recently I met with one of the very biggest house builders; we had a full and frank exchange. I've just had a letter back off them thanking me for the very positive meeting and indications of the way that we can go forward together with this ambition. And I think you share my ambition to see the houses that are built being fit for human habitation, easy to heat and cool in the summer, with good, green infrastructure around them, not houses that people are only in because it's all they could afford, there's no social housing available, and the developer has maximised their profits. So, I agree with you that there are large numbers of good small and medium-sized builders around. Some of the larger builders have not stepped up to that plate, although I'm very pleased to say that in my conversations with them, they are seeming to step up to that plate now.
Having thrown a comment that I very much disagreed with at you, can I ask you to elaborate on what you were reported to have said to the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru in Swansea earlier this week? It's something I rather approve of. You said that:
'the "major flaw" with Right to Buy was not necessarily the selling off of council homes, but was instead not allowing councils to use the proceeds from those sales to build more homes.'
I mean, I agree with that. But does it not prove that it was the Welsh Conservative Party that was correct all along, the right to buy policy needed reform not abolition?
So, I'm afraid the headline of the article that you've obviously read is rather misleading. If you go on to read what I actually said, the headline isn't quite it. What I said was, when we have built enough social homes in Wales, when any person in Wales who wants a socially rented home can rock up to a council and say, 'I would like to rent from you, please' and they can show you a portfolio of suitable premises, then we might need to look at whether, in order to get mixed tenure into some estates, we would, in limited circumstances, allow people to buy their socially rented home. So, it's not quite the headline that you've been so pleased to see. So, I'll just reiterate it: when we have built that many social homes across Wales, and it's something that people can choose because there is a sufficient supply, then, yes, of course, we could look to see how we can drive some mixed tenure in. But I fear that that will not be in my political lifetime or yours.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Leanne Wood.
Minister, you'll be aware that the National Housing Federation has joined the lengthy list of organisations who are critical of the behaviour of Europe's most vindictive and incompetent department, the Department for Work and Pensions. In this case, they are referring to the problems caused by universal credit for those who pay their rent on a weekly basis. The regulations for universal credit state that tenants with weekly tenancies will have their universal credit entitlement calculated on a maximum of 52 weeks. This means that every five or so years, tenants paying weekly on the same day will be charged rent on the basis of 53 weeks, but will only be able to receive universal credit to cover 52 weeks. Therefore, there is a shortfall that Community Housing Cymru have estimated could affect 13,000 people in Wales.
This might seem like a minor quirk of the interaction of the regulations and the calendar, but for people who are already struggling and who are already distrustful of the DWP, it simply adds another problem and may push households over the edge. So, what actions are you taking to mitigate this?
Yes, I agree. And I think there's a real problem—we were discussing only in this Chamber, I think the last time I was answering questions, or in one of the statements on housing—around what the local housing allowance does to people in the private rented sector as well. Because, as you know, universal credit is capped at the local housing allowance level, and that's been frozen for four years. So, quite clearly, people are having to top up their rent very substantially from a very small amount of money. And that is driving rent arrears, debt and, pretty much, misery into the sector. And I think that report, off the top of my head, I seem to remember, said that only 2 per cent of available housing for rent in Cardiff was inside the local housing allowance, because it's been frozen for four years now. The Government of the party opposite had said that, if they had stayed in power and not called this general election, they were going to review that next summer. I don't know what 'review it' means, but we obviously hope that they would put it back to where it should be, which is at around a third of the normal market rent for an area. So, the first thing we ought to be doing is saying that we would do that.
Secondly, on the way it's paid, the delays in universal credit, when you come in and out of universal credit, are clearly ruinous for people. I can't remember if I'm on the second or third, but, anyway, the last point I want to make is to agree with you entirely that, obviously, people should be paying the rent they have to pay. And if they pay it weekly, they should be paid it appropriately, and if they pay it monthly, they should be paying it appropriately. I'm very much hoping that, when we get our Renting Homes (Wales) Act, which we passed in this Assembly back in 2016, in force, which I very much hope to do by the end of this Assembly term—as you know, we're working very hard to do that at the moment—that will at least alleviate some of that, because it will give people a better security of tenure as their lease is running.
Okay. Well, Community Housing Cymru have suggested using discretionary housing payments to help those people affected. Now, my preferred option is for Wales to have administrative control over social security so we could solve this problem overnight, and it wouldn't cost us any money either. There's no point in asking you if you agree with that, Minister—we've been round the houses on this many, many times.
So, I want to broaden the subject. You'll be aware of the lengthy list of reductions to social security payments over the last decade, and how each one of those has not only made poverty worse, but has also hindered the ability of our housing associations to support people. The Wales Audit Office a few years ago noted most of the alleged savings from benefit cuts have been swallowed up by housing associations having to focus resources on administrative tasks that have been caused by many of these cuts, in addition to the wider costs public services have had to bear from homelessness, arrears, stress, and so on. Has the Government conducted an up-to-date assessment as to how much Westminster's social security cuts have cost Welsh public services?
I'll talk to my colleague Hannah Blythyn, who takes a lead on welfare issues, but it's one of the issues that we've asked the homelessness action group to look at as well, because they're going to do three more reports. As you know, they've done the homelessness report in the run-up to Christmas for us. But it's one of the things we've asked them to look at as well. And I think we're still awaiting the piece of research on the administration of welfare. I don't know off the top of my head—I don't know if Hannah does—when that's due, but I can write to the Member and tell her when it's due.
Minister, if your Government did carry out an assessment, as I've just suggested, I think it would finally put to bed the notion that there's a financial benefit to Westminster controlling these matters. The truth is, we can't afford not to take over control over welfare administration. It's clear from international evidence that one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty is to give more money to the poorest households. Now, Plaid Cymru wants a fair deal for Welsh families, which means we are now proposing that Wales introduces a new £35 a week payment for every child in low-income families, lifting 50,000 children out of poverty. After almost 20 years, child poverty is worse than ever in this country. Isn't it time we took a different approach, and would you agree with Plaid Cymru that now is the time to introduce such a payment?
I think, again, we agree on the base—obviously, the way out of poverty is to give people more money. Their chance to earn it, in good, fair employment, is obviously the best way to do that, so that people are not reliant on benefits—so, paying a real living wage, and all that sort of stuff. So I think we're on the same page on that. We are awaiting a piece of research, but I'm afraid I just can't recall when it's due back. We want to be sure what would happen if we take over the administration of benefits, what that means for us in terms of cost, and whether we can administer the benefits properly, without having to administer some of the, frankly, appalling mandation and sanctioning regimes that are currently perpetrated by the DWP, with which I know she disagrees, and I also vehemently disagree with people having their money stopped because their bus was late, and so on—a completely heartless way to go on. So, we want to just be sure that, if we take over the administration, we aren't just having a series of unintended consequences as a result of that, in terms of the cost to the rest of the public purse, because I agree with her in the principle of administering it, but what we want to look at is what the practice would look like. Apologies—I should be able to remember, but I can't remember, when that research is due, so I will write to you about it.FootnoteLink
3. How does the Welsh Government promote effective partnership between local government and public health bodies in Wales? OAQ54647
The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 require public bodies, including local government and health boards, to think and act differently, putting collaboration at the heart of how they work. This includes, but extends far beyond, their work on public services boards.
Thank you. Although Public Health Wales provides specialist public health support to the 22 local authorities in Wales, responsibility for public health in Wales is shared amongst all the NHS bodies, with leadership provided by Public Health Wales. In contrast, in England, the main statutory duties for public health were proffered on local authorities in 2013, with responsibility in local authorities for improving health of the local population and for public health services, including no sexual health services and services aimed at reducing drug and alcohol misuse. I recently had a meeting with executive members and officers of a local authority in Wales, who told me that in England, as a consequence, there'd been a better focus and scrutiny for the same resources. A subsequent report to the launch of this in England by the independent health and social care charity and think tank, King's Fund, said,
'The transfer of public health functions and staff...to local authorities has gone, in most cases, remarkably smoothly, with directors of public health confident of better health outcomes in the future and reporting positive experiences of working in local authorities.'
Without prejudging this, what consideration or what review role does the Welsh Government have in considering, on a neutral basis, on a non-judgmental basis, what works best in an outcome-related manner and looking at whether the systems across the border are delivering better, as was alleged to me?
Public health is actually in my colleague Vaughan Gething's portfolio and not mine. So, much of what you've just talked about is in Vaughan Gething's portfolio but, in general, we've been using the regional partnership boards to achieve the same result, because it's not just about transferring functions from one part of the public sector to the other; it's about getting the whole public sector to work together in harmony to deliver a set of mutually agreed outcomes and a shared vision. So, it's a relatively new system. We've had some reports done into it.
We're about, in the local government Bill, to put a different regional working arrangement in place, which local authorities and health authorities and public health and other public bodies will be able to take advantage of, if they want to, on a not-one-size-fits-all basis. So, if a local authority you're talking to thinks that's a better route, they will have a vehicle to do that. But, at the moment, we've been looking at getting the regional partnership boards to work. It's a relatively new arrangement in Wales. So far, so good. But we are taking account of where they are at the moment, and actually my colleague Vaughan Gething and I are taking an interest in how that works and whether the way that we fund that and the way that we support that might need to change in view of the learning, as we come through the, I think, second year of functioning.
Yes, thank you, Minister. I hear what you say about regional partnership boards, but, just to develop the argument a bit, with the range of what makes people ill in the first place—the so-called determinants of ill health, as you'll be aware—they already fall within the ambit of local government: bad housing and environmental health, education particularly and public transport. They're already under the control of local authorities. So, it would make sense, really, to try and strengthen the public health aspects of local authorities, because they already do a lot of that, to actually move across a fair amount directly to local authorities, rather than to regional partnership boards. I don't know how you think about that.
We're not actually in the game of moving functions from one to the other. You can make an argument that social care should be in health, or the whole thing should be together in one body or whatever. Generally speaking, I'm a proponent of the view that it's not the structure that matters but the working arrangements and the culture. So, we're going down the regional partnership board route because we want all of the public services to work well together. So, he's absolutely right, but you could also add having a decent job and decent primary healthcare, and all the rest of it, into that.
So, the regional partnership boards have the range of public services sitting on them. They have shared budget arrangements, and they have a shared vision and purpose. As I say, we're about to give them a new vehicle if they want to use that. It's not compulsory; they can use it if they want to. We haven't gone for a one-size-fits-all, because the culture is different across Wales, and so, in some places, they will want to have slightly different arrangements. But, together with Vaughan, I have been looking very closely at how the regional partnership boards have been developing, how we fund them and how the partners work together. You'll know that we've recently made housing a statutory member of the board for the very reason that you outlined.
4. How is the Welsh Government supporting young people living in care to find appropriate housing that meets their needs to live independently? OAQ54673
We've invested an additional £10 million this year to tackle youth homelessness, including funding specific projects for care leavers. Our focus is on strengthening the arrangements in place to successfully transition young people from care into independent living, with a joint housing and social services group driving forward this work.
Well, thank you for that answer, Minister, and there's no doubt that there are many good organisations out in the community that work with these young people to allow them to transition from the care setting into an independent living setting. Now, very often, we find that they move into one room or kitchenette in a house, where they have shared bathrooms, shared toilet facilities and maybe the access of a warden, who usually doesn't live on those premises, for support. Now, I've seen a bill for such accommodation and it works out at approximately £900 a month. Those young people, therefore, have to find their food, have to find their travel costs and their clothes costs, and they end up borrowing money as a consequence of trying to live normal lives. If they find work, they're then in a spiral because they can't get social housing because of debt. As a consequence, they are very much locked into that accommodation and they're still paying those high costs. Will you have discussions with organisations to ensure that they work with these young people to ensure that they are able to get out of that spiral and get into social housing? I saw a flat in my constituency—a one-bedroom flat. So, that will be one bedroom, one living room, one kitchen, one bathroom, all to themselves—not shared—for £400 a month. And they don't spend £400 a month on utilities, which is what the other cost would be. So, if we want to help these young people to become independent and to live independently in the community, get employment and become useful citizens, we need to work with those organisations to help them.
Yes, I absolutely agree with that. I don't know the specifics, and I would invite David Rees to write to me with the specifics of the case that he's mentioning. But there are a range of things that are provided through accommodation for young care leavers, and some of those are actual care. I'm afraid I don't know what's included in the rent that you mentioned—if there's a care package included or anything else. But what I do know is that, in the transition period for young people, we do have financial assistance available to them if they get into that circumstance and we are also working with registered social landlords and local authorities to make sure that that kind of debt does not debar you from being able to access social housing, for example.
So, we know that care leavers have been disproportionately impacted by homelessness, and we very much want to address that. So, we've put a number of measures in. We've got a joint housing and social services group established to sit under both the ministerial homelessness task and finish group, which you'll be aware of, and the improving outcomes ministerial advisory group in order to make sure that we capture all of the issues together. I'm more than happy to share the work of that with the Member, as a result of this question.
Leaving care, of course, is one of the most difficult times in a young person's life and some people—young people in particular—do not feel quite ready to manage on their own. In such circumstances, supported accommodation, such as community living schemes or supported housing, will be considered. I've been around some fantastic provision in Conwy County Borough Council. However, demand is outstripping the supply, and I've established, through chatting with elected members and also officers, that less then 50 per cent of individuals with learning difficulties or disabilities, in fact, are able to access such supported schemes in Conwy. And I'm also mindful of the actual cost associated with some of these schemes—they can be over £1,000 a month. What support are you giving to local authorities in order that they can at least try and meet some of the demand that actually seems to be increasing now on a week-by-week basis—the need for this kind of supported living scheme?
We have a range of measures, as I've just said in response to David Rees, and we're also looking at a suite of other measures across the Government. So, as I mentioned, we've got the joint housing and social services group, which is sitting under the homelessness action group and the ministerial group, to look at the range of options available for young people leaving or have left care, aged between 16 and 24 years old. It also looks at the ongoing support arrangements in place to help support young people transitioning to more independent living. And as Janet Finch-Saunders has just mentioned, there are a range of different provisions, from full care, really, in supported accommodation, to putting you into accommodation where you've got ordinary tenancy support, but not care arrangements. There's a very large range. If there's care being provided, that has to be in a registered address. So, it's very hard to have a general conversation about a very specific set of things.
We also, of course, have the When I Am Ready scheme that enables young people in foster care to continue with their foster carers until they turn 18, if that's what they and their foster carers want and it's in their best interests, or up until the age of 21, if they're completing an agreed programme of education or training.
So, if you've got anything specific in mind, I'm very happy to talk to you about those specifics, but, in general, we have a range of provision that is supported by our various grants. We've just added £1 million to the St David's Day scheme, for example, in order to support these kinds of schemes for young people leaving care.
5. Will the Minister provide an update on Welsh Government support for credit unions in Wales? OAQ54667
Credit unions provide access to affordable credit and promote a savings habit. They offer a fairer and ethical alternative to often exploitative high-cost credit. In support of their work, £544,000 is being provided to credit unions this financial year to take forward 20 projects that promote financial inclusion.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. You'll be aware that we're approaching a time of the year that can be a huge pressure on household budgets, and the pressure of advertising and wanting to buy the right thing can often lead to wrong decisions on spending and fuel the growth of personal debt, and unsustainable debt, actually. So, would you join me in thanking the credit unions across Wales, including the great work of Merthyr Tydfil Borough Credit Union and Smart Money Cymru Credit Union, which provide financial and loan services in my constituency, that can really help hard-pressed families to budget effectively, not just at Christmas, but all year round? And could you tell me what more can Welsh Government do to promote and encourage the use of credit unions?
I absolutely share the Member's concerns regarding the additional pressure and burden often felt and placed on families particularly at this time of year, and wanting to do the right thing, perhaps, by your family or your children—the additional pressures that that places, and it affects people's ability to pay essential household bills, including rent and mortgages.
Of course, I join with you in thanking the excellent work that credit unions in communities right across Wales do, including, obviously, Merthyr Tydfil credit union and Smart Money Cymru. And I'd like to place on record today my thanks for their commitment in all that they do in our communities. As you say, you need to think that credit unions are for everyone, and, as you say, they're particularly useful in the build-up to Christmas, enabling people to save towards Christmas, but I think we should really use the mantra that credit unions are not just for Christmas, they are for life. And I think Welsh Government has put in resources to promote the use of credit unions and I think perhaps there's more we can do in terms of working with Members in terms of how we can spread that message right across each and every one of our constituencies.
Minister, Newport Credit Union has pioneered a personal loan scheme to prevent more people from falling victim to high interest rate payday lenders. The family loan is an innovative scheme that allows members of a credit union to repay what they borrow directly from their benefits. Other credit unions in Wales are now following Newport's example. Minister, will you join me in congratulating Newport Credit Union on this scheme, and will you also commit to continuing to support credit unions in their work to prevent people from using payday lenders charging, in some cases, over 3,000 per cent more interest to some borrowers? Thank you.
I'm absolutely more than happy to join the Member in congratulating the work of Newport Credit Union in all they do, and as I said in my initial answer to Dawn Bowden, credit unions offer a much fairer, more ethical alternative to what are often very exploitative high-cost lenders who take advantage of people in communities right across Wales.
In terms of the services that Newport Credit Union offer, they offer excellent services, as do many other credit unions throughout Wales. I think one of the things the Welsh Government is 100 per cent committed to continuing to support is the excellent work that credit unions do. I think we need to be aware, actually, there is huge diversity amongst the 18 credit unions right across Wales, with the largest credit union in Wales being 42 times the size of the smallest, and some credit unions are, like some in my own consistency, entirely volunteer-run and focus on the provision of traditional savings, whereas, perhaps, larger credit unions are able to offer a much wider range of services. And, of course, we're happy to continue to work with credit unions across the country to see how they can build on the work that they do.
6. Will the Minister provide an update on Welsh Government attempts to reduce levels of homelessness? OAQ54684
Yes. This Government is committed to tackling homelessness, in all its forms, in Wales. This commitment is supported by over £20 million this year alone. Our strategy, published last month, sets the policy framework for actions to prevent homelessness and, where it cannot be prevented, to ensure it is rare, brief and unrepeated.
I've received casework regarding homeless people in a desperate situation after presenting themselves to Rhondda Cynon Taf council, only to be fobbed off. I know of a local charity helping homeless people that are having similar experiences. Now, the council usually say that they have no legal obligation to house people if they aren't a priority. They add that the only way to be treated as a priority is if the person is a threat to themselves, the general public or if they have mental health issues or medical issues.
Back last month, I asked you in a committee session if we could raise cases directly with you when the local authority has fobbed someone off in this way, and you replied unequivocally with a 'yes'. Yet, when I e-mailed you subsequently about a man who was homeless after being a victim of domestic abuse and had already been turned away by Rhondda Cynon Taf council, you wrote back to me saying, and I quote,
'Welsh Ministers are unable to intervene in individual cases, as Local Authorities have responsibility for addressing housing needs within their area.'
So, can you clear up with me today, once and for all, whether the Welsh Government can intervene when a local authority turns its back on homeless people or any other cases involving people in a crisis situation?
Yes, well, the letter goes on to say,
'However, my officials have been in touch with Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council regarding the issues you raise. I am able to offer the following advice.'
And then there are several more paragraphs of the advice that we were able to offer. I'm sorry if that wasn't what you were expecting, but, obviously, we can't do individual casework from the Government. We have, however, been in touch with Rhondda Cynon Taf, as the letter makes very plain to you. It offers a range of services to your constituency office, setting out what is available, and I know that the officials had quite a long conversation with the officers at Rhondda Cynon Taf about that case and the general themes that it raised. So, that's what I had in mind when I spoke to you. Obviously, I can't take on individual case load as a Government Minister. But officials had had that conversation with Rhondda Cynon Taf, and if there are things that arise generally out of your casework that you think are going wrong in a council, I'm more than happy to get the officials to contact the council and just make sure that they are working within both the spirit and the letter of the law.
Minister, winter will soon be upon us once again, and it looks like it's going to be a bad one. What support is your Government going to give to the local authorities and delivery partners in the third sector to help rough-sleepers in particular?
As I just said, we've invested over £20 million in preventing and relieving homelessness this year alone. The funding supports a range of statutory and non-statutory services to help those who do not have a secure place to live. The strategic policy statement was published on 8 October and sets out the policy framework and principles this Government will take to tackle and prevent homelessness. Our strategy is very much focused around a person-centred, trauma-informed response that involves all public services in meeting the needs of those who actually find themselves at risk of being or actually homeless.
7. What actions will the Minister take to improve services for armed forces veterans in Wales over the next 12 months? OAQ54649
The Welsh Government is committed to supporting our armed forces community. Further to my oral statement yesterday, we will, in partnership with the armed forces expert group and others, continue to progress the key issues identified in our armed forces scoping exercise, building on the work we've already done.
Thank you for the answer, Minister, but I'm sure you'll agree it is essential that veterans and their families are given safe, secure and supported housing when entering civil life. Simply providing leaflets and advice cards does not address the Royal British Legion's concerns about how housing officers who provide the necessary support are able to manage complex cases of free housing for veterans. Deputy Minister, what action are you taking to ensure that local authorities provide the training necessary to skill housing authorities on the correct procedures and options open to veterans in Wales? Thank you.
I absolutely agree that we need to make sure that we support our veterans and our armed forces community, and ensure that there is the trained expertise there to support people, particularly in the period of transition upon leaving the services. We do actually have a specific housing pathway for veterans in Wales. We've worked across portfolios to develop the pathway, which not only provides information and signposts to services, but also the options available.
Members of the armed forces community are classed as a priority if they are currently identified as homeless when leaving the forces. But as I alluded to in my oral statement yesterday, there is currently a review in terms of the priority need in terms of housing, which is expected to report early in the new year. Clearly, we'll look also at that against our scoping exercise, which we recently carried out too, to identify any gaps in services for the armed forces community and veterans, and make sure we build that into the work we've already done to make sure we plug any gaps moving forward.
8. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact that holiday home ownership is having on housing provision in Wales? OAQ54672
We recognise that, in some parts of Wales, holiday or second-home ownership does impact on the availability and price of homes. Whilst councils are best placed to understand housing need in their areas, we are supporting a range of measures, including introducing powers to apply council tax premiums.
Thank you. I'm going to use the phrase 'holiday home ownership', which I think covers a range from two categories: the 'second home' the Minister referred to, perhaps only used for a few weeks—or perhaps, at most, months—a year, compared to a property that is let out to a wide range of holidaymakers, more as a commercial proposition. I just wonder, as housing Minister, do you consider there is a difference in terms of impact on housing provision elsewhere of those two different models, and do you see one as more attractive than the other, or one we would want to incentivise or not? If so, will you seek to ensure joined-up policy making by Welsh Government by having appropriate discussions with ministerial colleagues?
No. As I said, I think the local authority is best placed to understand the challenge that a specific sort of second home, empty home or holiday home—whatever you want to call it—can present to the supply of affordable housing in that community. That's why we introduced the powers for authorities to apply council tax premiums. Since 1 April 2017, local authorities have been able to charge a premium of up to 100 per cent of the standard rate of council tax on second homes and long-term empty properties.
The powers to charge council tax premiums on second homes and long-term empty homes are discretionary powers introduced to assist local authorities to manage issues in their local housing supply. Wales remains the only part of the UK that has given local authorities these powers in relation to second homes, and we are working closely with local authorities and other partners to meet our target of delivering affordable homes across Wales in order to assist with the housing supply that we think this issue addresses.
9. What assessment has been made of the impact that a predominance of second homes is having on areas of housing need in Mid and West Wales, particularly in coastal towns? OAQ54660
Yes, I accept that some Welsh coastal towns can have extremely high house prices, with people struggling to get on the property ladder in their own community. I'm keen to see Welsh Government support like homebuy benefit these people. And our new Self Build Wales can also offer help when it launches shortly.
I'm grateful to the Minister for her answer. In her answer to the previous question, she made reference to the council tax premiums that now can be charged, but I'm sure that she's aware that there is, of course, a loophole allowing individuals to register second homes as businesses and then renting them out for a minimum number of days a year. By doing this, they can of course avoid those council tax premiums and, in fact, may become liable for small business rate relief—in that case, contributing nothing.
We know that there's an estimate that 1,000 of the 5,000 second homes in Gwynedd alone have been taking advantage of this loophole. Has the Welsh Government made any assessment of what the picture of this is across the mid and west region, what kind of impact that may be having, and how that may be exacerbating the impact of second-home ownership on those coastal communities I referred to in my original question?
Yes, I think that my colleague Rebecca Evans answered this fairly comprehensively in a debate fairly recently. What I would say is if they're—I have said to all of the local authorities across Wales that, if they have evidence that this is causing them a problem, they should bring it forward. I said it at the WLGA executive committee, and I had individual meetings with various local authorities in north Wales around the evidence that they could bring forward. If that evidence exists, we're very happy to look at it. At the moment, we don't have the evidence that that switch is happening to the detriment of local tax raising, but, if there is evidence, we are very happy to look at it.
Thank you very much, Minister.
The next item on the agenda—there are have been no topical questions accepted, which is item 3.
Item 4 on the agenda, then, is the 90-second statements, and the first of the 90-second statements this afternoon is from Leanne Wood.
The Llywydd took the Chair.
I'd like our Senedd to acknowledge the singing talents that we have in the Rhondda. We are famed for world-class male voice choirs, whose talents are more than well-known. But it's great to see that we have some new kids on the block. The school choir at Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Llwyncelyn has been forging a formidable reputation over recent years. They've won first prize at the Urdd National Eisteddfod and have been crowned BBC Songs of Praise Young Choir of the Year. The latest stellar achievement is for them to be selected to sing and appear on the Marks & Spencer Christmas advert campaign. The song they've recorded—a version of Fleetwood Mac's Albatross—will be played at least once an hour in every M&S store, and millions more will hear them on the television advert over coming weeks. If that sounds a bit like overkill to you, then you haven't heard the incredible sound that they make. It really is something special, and I've been privileged to hear them on a number of occasions over the years. The pupils may change from year to year, but the excellence remains. I'm so pleased to see the next generation of singers in the Rhondda. Long may this excellent singing continue.
Congratulations, Llwyncelyn, and thank you very much.
Diolch, Llywydd. November always turns our minds to remembering the sacrifices made on our behalf, when we stop and take time out of our lives to remember the service and the debt of gratitude that we owe. On Saturday, I joined constituents of different ages and faiths to take part in the merchant navy remembrance service on the steps of the Senedd with other Members in the Chamber today. It's the ninth consecutive year as a constituency Member that I have had the honour of laying a wreath at the seafarers' memorial. The memorial was unveiled in 1997—thanks to the dedication and the hard work of a local man, Bill Henke, who I had the pleasure of meeting—to ensure that seafarers would never be forgotten. And, afterwards, it is always inspiring to listen to veterans, not just from Cardiff South and Penarth, but from across south Wales—Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Barry, Newport and beyond—as they speak of their experiences in the merchant navy. And, of course, Butetown and old Tiger Bay has a proud maritime history. It has brought the world to our city, and we are richer for it. But their stories are remarkable and too easily forgotten or taken for granted. The sacrifice, the loss, the victory and the ongoing comradeship have all helped to ensure the freedom that we enjoy today, and I'm proud to be working with the Merchant Navy Association and Cardiff council to ensure the memorial is restored to its former glory. I hope it continues to act as a focal point for conversation, reflection and remembrance for generations to come.
This year is the two hundredth anniversary of John Humphrey's birth. He was known as 'God's architect' for the chapels he designed, including Tabernacle in Morriston. The number of chapels he designed or remodelled has been estimated at between 30 and 44, and they were built across mid and south Wales, between Llanidloes, Pentre Rhondda and Carmarthenshire, whilst most were built in Swansea. He also designed four schools, including Terrace Road school in Swansea, which is still open.
What made John Humphrey's success astounding was he had no architectural qualifications or training. He was a carpenter by trade. His father was almost certainly illiterate. He lived the whole of his adult life in Morriston between Martin Street and Crown Street—a distance of about 100 meters. He designed chapels of all sizes. He is, of course, best known for
'the largest, grandest and most expensive chapel built in Wales'—
Anthony Jones's description of Tabernacle, Morriston, in his 1996 definitive book, Welsh Chapels. Like all architects, he had his signature designs, both internal and external, such as thin windows at the front, and the drop of the balcony behind the sedd fawr. But what I really want to talk about is how somebody came from such humble beginnings. He had no qualifications in architecture whatsoever. If he tried to start building today, he'd be stopped immediately by building control. But what he actually did was to produce some great buildings the whole length and breadth of Wales. So, I think it was a tremendous achievement in the nineteenth century.
The next item is the motion to appoint an acting standards commissioner. I call on the Chair of the Standards of Conduct Committee to move the motion—Jayne Bryant.
Motion NDM7192 Jayne Bryant
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Notes that the National Assembly for Wales Commissioner for Standards is vacant.
2. Appoints, Douglas Bain CBE TD, as acting Commissioner in accordance with Section 4(1) of the National Assembly for Wales Commissioner for Standards Measure 2009, on the following terms:
a) the appointment takes effect immediately;
b) the appointment ends immediately when notice is given to the acting Commissioner by the Clerk of the Assembly;
c) the acting Commissioner’s Remuneration is to be a daily rate of £392 (or pro-rata for part of a day) for activities that relate directly to the role and responsibilities of the post plus reasonable expenses;
d) all sums referred to in paragraph 2(c) are to be paid to the acting Commissioner by the Assembly Commission.
Llywydd, I move the motion to appoint an acting commissioner for standards in light of the resignation of Sir Roderick Evans on 11 November 2019. This appointment is an important step to maintain and ensure the integrity of our independent standards process.
The nominee today, Douglas Bain, has a broad range of experience in making considered judgments across a number of complex fields, and so is more than qualified to take on this role. Furthermore, he has undertaken the role of acting commissioner in this Assembly previously, and therefore has a good knowledge of how the Assembly operates and the code of conduct.
This is a temporary appointment. Members will have noted in my statement yesterday that the committee is reviewing the code of conduct, and as part of this we will be considering the role of the commissioner for standards. We intend for this to be an open process and will be consulting on our work in due course.
May I ask the Member whether the committee has discussed or approved Douglas Bain as a candidate before she put forward the motion today? Can I also ask a little more about the scope of the work? She mentioned 'temporary', but I'm unclear whether she's referring to perhaps a few weeks, or is this something that could extend through to the end of the Assembly?
Also, in terms of his skills and the type of work he's going to be doing, what is her expectation about is this narrow, if we like, black leather letter law, more about financial issues and declarations of interest, or is she expecting his work, in terms of the time commitment and the skills appropriate, to be more about far more subjective and judgmental issues with respect to the dignity and respect policy? Does she expect his work to support Government Ministers, using the standards system to pursue opposition AMs? [Interruption.] In terms of the £392—[Interruption.] If I may ask the Member about the £392 daily rate, what consideration has been given to choosing this rate? It is simply because the previous permanent occupant had this rate? And, if so, what consideration has been given to the respective qualifications and experience of the candidate she's put forward now, compared to the previous occupant and his long-time role as a High Court judge? Thank you.
Diolch, Llywydd. [Interruption.] Who are you?
Diolch, Llywydd. I think I'm one of only a handful of Members who have had direct dealings with Mr Bain. Now, I—[Interruption.] Now, I wasn't intending to speak on this motion today, but I was moved to do so by a member of my staff, who is watching these proceedings from the gallery. My staff member wanted to put on record how he was made to feel after Mr Bain had dealt with him. Now, Llywydd, given that we have to be mindful of the dignity and respect policy, I think these comments from my staff member need to be borne in mind. If you will allow, I will quote briefly from what he said. I quote: 'During the first interview with Mr Bain, when I accompanied Gareth, I found his manner to be both aggressive and intimidating. I felt helpless to support my employer, because the acting commissioner had threatened to eject me from the room if I so much as opened my mouth. After the interview, I was shaking as I left the room. I felt bullied and demeaned as I had had no right of reply, even though the acting commissioner referred to me and my actions several times. When we left the room, Gareth asked me why I was shaking. I replied that I had no idea how he had put up with Mr Bain's interrogation for so long. I was hurt and angry and bruised from the experience. I dreaded the second interview with Mr Bain, who hadn't changed his tune since the first time—'
Reading out of lengthy quotations in this Chamber is not usual practice. I think most of—. Unless there is something new that needs to be added in the rest of the quotation you have there, I think you can bring this to a close now.
This appointment is being pushed through very quickly. What has basically happened is you're—. He's thrown me under a bus, Bain, and now you're trying to get him to bring someone else—you're bringing him in to throw someone else under a bus. He's a political hatchet man and he shouldn't be appointed. That's why I'm voting against this motion today.
The use of 'political hatchet man' as a term of abuse is not acceptable, and you will withdraw that use of a description of any individual who is not here and able to defend themselves at this point. I ask you to withdraw that accusation.
I will withdraw it, although I regret that you didn't allow me to give some substance to my remarks today. But certainly, of course, Llywydd, I withdraw it.
I've allowed you every opportunity to give substance to your remarks. I've curtailed only a lengthy quotation by you. You are as equal as all other Members in this Chamber to put any substantive points you wish to make to debate. Are you continuing, or have you drawn to a close? No. You have drawn to a close.
I call on the Chair of the committee to respond to the debate.
Diolch, Llywydd. Just in response to some of Mark Reckless's points, all of the members of the standards committee agreed on the appointment for this acting commissioner. On the issue of how long it will take to appoint a new commissioner, the Standards of Conduct Committee have already started discussions about the next stages, and we're keen to ensure that the changing nature of the role since it was established in 2011 is reflected in the forthcoming appointment.
You ask about the suitability of the acting commissioner. He's held a number of senior positions in the Northern Ireland Office, the police and the Northern Ireland Prison Service. In addition, he's held a number of public offices, such as the chief electoral officer for Northern Ireland and, more latterly, he was the Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards from 2012-17.
The other points that you raised around terms and conditions—it's on the same terms and conditions as the previous standards commissioner. The acting commissioner will be responsible for continuing the work of the previous commissioner in considering complaints that have been submitted to the office and for investigating any new complaints that are submitted during the period of his employment.
And, just to finish on the point that Gareth Bennett raised, just for Members to be aware, while I understand that Gareth Bennett might have concerns about the acting commissioner, the report of that commissioner went to the Assembly standards committee and then was brought to this Assembly Chamber and was then voted on by the majority of Assembly Members in this Chamber. Thank you, Llywydd.
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] I will defer voting on this item until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
The next item is the motion to amend Standing Orders and the proposals to introduce a new Standing Order 18A for oversight of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion, Rebecca Evans.
Motion NDM7184 Elin Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 33.2:
1. Considers the Report of the Business Committee ‘Proposals to introduce a new Standing Order 18A for oversight of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales’ laid in the Table Office on 6 November 2019.
2. Approves the proposal to introduce a new Standing Order 18A, as set out in Annex B of the Report of the Business Committee.
I have no speakers on this item. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
The next item is also a motion to amend Standing Orders: Standing Order 12.63 on oral Assembly questions. I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion.
Motion NDM7185 Elin Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 33.2:
1. Considers the Report of the Business Committee ‘Amending Standing Orders: Standing Order 12.63 - Oral Assembly Questions’ laid in the Table Office on 6 November 2019.
2. Approves the proposal to revise Standing Order 12.63, as set out in Annex B of the Report of the Business Committee.
Again, there are no speakers to the debate. The proposal therefore is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
The next item is a motion to alter the remit of the Equalities, Local Government and Communities Committee, and I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion—Rebecca Evans.
Motion NDM7186 Elin Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 16.3, agrees to alter the remit of the Equalities, Local Government and Communities Committee, so that its remit is as follows:
a) to examine legislation and hold the Welsh Government to account by scrutinising expenditure, administration and policy matters encompassing (but not restricted to): local government; housing, community regeneration, cohesion and safety; tackling poverty; equality of opportunity and human rights;
b) to exercise the non-budgetary functions set out in Standing Order 18A.2 in relation to accountability and governance of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.
No speakers. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
The next item is a motion to alter the remit of the Finance Committee. I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion—Rebecca Evans.
Motion NDM7187 Elin Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 16.3, agrees to alter the remit of the Finance Committee, so that its remit is as follows:
a) to carry out the functions of the responsible committee set out in Standing Orders 18.10, 18.11, 18A.2(iv) and (v), 19 and 20 of the National Assembly for Wales;
b) under Standing Orders 19 and 20, the committee’s responsibilities include considering any report or document laid before the Assembly concerning the use of resources, or expenditure from the Welsh Consolidated Fund, including undertaking budget scrutiny of the bodies directly funded from the Welsh Consolidated Fund;
c) under Standing Orders 18.10 and 18.11, the committee’s responsibilities include oversight of the governance of the Wales Audit Office, as set out in the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2013;
d) under Standing Order 18A.2(iv) and (v), to exercise budgetary functions in relation to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales;
e) the committee also considers any proposals for, and the progress of the devolution of fiscal powers to Wales as part of its responsibilities;
f) the committee may also scrutinise legislation introduced to the Assembly.
No speakers, therefore the proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
The next item is the motion to approve the Assembly Commission's budget for 2020-21 and I call on Suzy Davies, the commissioner, to move the motion on behalf of the Commission.
Motion NDM7182 Suzy Davies
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales in accordance with Standing Order 20.16:
Agrees the budget of the Assembly Commission for 2020-21, as specified in Table 1 of the 'National Assembly for Wales Assembly Commission Budget 2020-21', laid before the Assembly on 6 November 2019 and that it be incorporated in the Annual Budget Motion under Standing Order 20.26(ii).
Diolch, Llywydd, and I move the Commission's budget for 2021, so that's from April next year, and I ask that it be incorporated into the annual budget motion.
As you will have seen in the budget document, the Commission is seeking a total budget of £61.411 million, and that comprises £36.274 million for Commission services—that's our operational budget—£16.172 million for the remuneration board's determination, £0.5 million for pre-election expenditure, and £8.465 million for interest and non-cash items.
Before I outline the detail of the Commission's budget requirement a bit more, I'd like to comment just on two specific items that I think do need highlighting in this debate. Both these items, I do want to make clear, are outside of the Commission's control. As you'll have seen, the budget shows an increase on both last year's budget and the forecast figures we proposed in our budget document this time last year. The first reason for this is the requirement for organisations to account for leased assets in the same way that they account for assets that they own, following the implementation of international financial reporting standard 16. This is an independent accounting standard commonly adopted across the world.
It's important to stress, from a funding or cash point of view, that this does not impact on the amount of cash we require from the Welsh consolidated fund, but it does increase the overall budget figure. Without this change in the accountancy rules, the total budget would have been considerably lower at £59.575 million, and to help with transparency and understanding, we've included that pre and post IFRS 16 figure in the budget document.
The second item to draw to Members' attention is the increase in the budget between the draft and the final version of this budget. The draft Commission budget was laid on 24 September 2019 and the Finance Committee had a scrutiny session on that document on 3 October. That draft budget document included a sensible estimate of the increase in the annual survey of hours and earnings index that applies to Assembly Member and Assembly Member support staff salaries from April 2020. The estimate used in that document was 2 per cent, a very sensible estimate based on actual increases in October 2017 of 2.3 per cent and in October 2018 of 1.2 per cent, both of which in themselves were within the acceptable range of budget estimates. However, on 29 October 2019, the Office for National Statistics published the data for 2019, and the increase is unexpectedly more than double the estimate that we had used, requiring an increase of £360,000 more than was included in the draft budget. Now, as you'll appreciate, this confirmation comes very late in the day, but we have included the additional amount in the final budget and we have, of course, informed the Finance Committee of this increase. Both those items, actually, have been fully explained to the Finance Committee, but I do repeat that they're outside the Commission's control.
Coming back to our overall budget, this document outlines the financial requirement for the last year of the fifth Assembly, which includes provision for the Commission to prepare for the sixth Assembly, and forecasts for the first two years of the sixth Assembly. And in it we set out how the budget supports the Commission in meeting its strategic aims of providing outstanding parliamentary support, engaging with the people of Wales, and championing the Assembly and using resources wisely.
The Commission exists to support the Assembly and, of course, its Members. As we know, the pressure on Members remains significant, given our relatively small number and the complex issues that we're addressing now, most noticeably the impact of the UK leaving the EU. We need a budget that provides the right level of resource to support Members through this period. The longstanding uncertainty around the timing of the UK's withdrawal from the EU, and the terms of any departure, has created challenges in planning how we resource that work as an Assembly, and how we as a legislature can deliver those changes. Whilst the terms of Brexit still remain to be determined, we have been planning for work post Brexit, as you would expect us to. Controls and actions such as scenario planning and training ensure that we are managing potential risks.
The direct link to movements in the Welsh block has been removed in accordance with the guidelines provided in the Finance Committee's statement of principles, but this budget is transparent, prudent and is set in the context of long-term financial funding here in Wales. It considers how the Commission prioritises its resources to ensure services to Members and those that we serve are not compromised.
I'd like to thank the Finance Committee for its scrutiny of the budget and its continued commitment to ensuring fairness in our budgeting process and transparency, of course. I have to say, appearing before a committee is not the most relaxing of experiences, but the questions that we have and those of the Public Accounts Committee do genuinely help drive improvement, and I hope you feel that you're seeing that.
The committee made six recommendations on the back of the scrutiny of the draft budget. Three of the recommendations requested further information and clarity on particular issues: the first of those was the project to replace the legislation software in use; details of the Commission's long-term project planning; and a report on the long-term benefits from the voluntary exit scheme. I hope, again, that the Finance Committee acknowledges our wish to be open and transparent on this and we'll be reporting back to you on the legislation software project in the summer of 2020, when the contract has been awarded, and on the other two areas in the autumn of 2020, again reflecting the requirement for a long-term view.
The fourth recommendation concerned staffing support for the standards commissioner and proposed that the resources needed for this work be identified separately within the budget for 2021 and for future years. We've done that, and so those costs are now clearly shown in table 4 and will continue to be shown separately in the years ahead. Members will be aware, of course, of the resignation of the former standards commissioner. There's an acting commissioner pending, but the work on scrutinising and reviewing what the standards commissioner needs in terms of his work will kick in when the permanent standards commissioner is appointed and when we get a clear idea of what that individual is going to need.
The fifth recommendation highlights the importance of ensuring transparency regarding additional costs when new policies are authorised by the Assembly. There is—I have to assure Members—continued governance around the provision of resources, including to the standards commissioner, and, of course, it's very relevant when we see the final version of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill, which we'll know a little bit about today, about what uncosted changes might be occurring to that, hence our commitment, as you'll see in the letter to you, to the Finance Committee, about focusing on these new policies that might come through the Assembly.
And then just finally, the committee recommended that the Commission prioritises funding to promote the awareness of votes at 16. One of the Commission's strategic goals is, of course, to engage with the people of Wales and to champion the Assembly. So, I can confirm that within that total of £500,000 set aside for pre-election expenses, £150,000 has been earmarked for awareness-raising work.
We are, of course, as ever, open to suggestions on how to improve our budgeting process. I'll be willing to answer any questions Members may have, but in the meantime, I'm very happy to put this budget forward on behalf of the Commission, reiterate our commitment to working in a way that's open and transparent, and to deliver the best possible value for money for the people of Wales. Diolch.
The Deputy Presiding Officer took the Chair.
Thank you. Can I call on the Chair of the Finance Committee, Llyr Gruffydd?
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm very pleased to be speaking in the debate today, because, as you heard, the Finance Committee had an opportunity in its meeting on 3 October to consider the Assembly Commission’s draft budget for 2020-21, and we published our report on 17 October. On behalf of committee members, I would like to thank Suzy Davies and Assembly officials for responding to the committee’s questions and recommendations.
In May of last year, the Finance Committee recommended that any underspend from the budget for the remuneration board’s determination be returned to the Welsh consolidated fund. This issue had been a cause for concern for some time, so we are pleased that our recommendation was implemented.
The committee considers it a priority to ensure that the Assembly improves engagement with all the people of Wales and we were surprised that the draft budget did not include specific references to the Youth Parliament, the Citizens' Assembly or other initiatives. We welcome the commitment of the £250,000 engagement fund, but Members were keen to ensure that any engagement activity was meaningful and not tokenistic.
The committee is pleased that the legislation software project, as we heard, is being progressed with joint funding from the Welsh Government. However, we are concerned on another matter, that the cost estimate of £4 million for the Tŷ Hywel window replacement project is not included in the budget for 2020-21 or indicative budgets for future years. It is unclear as to how this work will be progressed as £345,000 had been allocated to the windows project in the budget for 2019-20, yet at that stage no feasibility studies had been undertaken. While we welcome the Commission’s acceptance of our recommendation to provide details of its long-term project plans, we are unclear as to why this information will not be provided in June next year as requested, but rather will be provided by 1 October.
The way the Commission is staffed has also been an issue for the committee in previous years. Whilst steps have been taken to increase transparency over staffing decisions, the committee is concerned that the draft budget did not include a more accurate estimate of staff costs for the year without the need for an estimate of churn. We have therefore requested an update on the churn provision.
The lack of transparency around staff numbers was a particular concern for the committee in light of the recent voluntary exit scheme. We believe that a scheme that releases 24 staff members and includes significant voluntary severance payments, such as the two in excess of £100,000, should only be used where substantial restructure or change is evidenced. The committee has yet to see sufficient evidence of this type of change, and is disappointed that the scheme will not result in savings, particularly in terms of staff numbers. Our report recommends that an annual report on the long-term financial benefits of the voluntary exit scheme is provided to the committee. The Commission has stated that the Finance Committee will receive a report on this by September 2020, but did not go as far as accepting our recommendation.
We have previously recommended that the Commission keeps in place a cap on staffing levels, which has been adhered to. However, the Commission recently increased this cap from 491 to 497 and we heard evidence that the posts may increase to 501, plus, of course, the two additional posts to support the standards commissioner. The committee recognises the requirement for the Commission to provide resources to support the standards commissioner, but concerns were raised about the creative accounting involved in the creation of these two additional posts outside the establishment cap.
The committee is grateful for the detail provided by the Commission on staffing and the voluntary exit scheme. However, it is difficult to comprehend how, in a time of austerity, a public sector organisation can release 24 members of staff but still increase the total number of posts. We also believe there is a need for increased transparency in terms of how the standards commissioner is funded, and we welcome the assertion that this will be clearly identified in the final budget for this and future years.
Given the planned additional work to raise awareness for votes at 16 and 17, the committee was surprised that the budget for election expenditure is not higher than the spend for previous elections. We are keen that the Commission prioritises funding in this area and works proactively with the Electoral Commission, the Welsh Government and local authorities to ensure a comprehensive awareness-raising campaign across Wales.
The committee is grateful for the information provided on the scenario planning that the Commission has been carrying out in order to prepare for a variety of Brexit outcomes. Finally, the committee wishes to acknowledge the considerable amount of work carried out by Commission staff over the last 12 months in relation to Brexit preparations.
With those comments, may I thank you for the opportunity to convey the views of the Finance Committee on the Assembly Commission budget?
Thank you. Can I call on Suzy Davies to reply?
Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. Diolch yn fawr, Llyr. Thank you for your comments. I mean, these are rehearsals of what we went through in Finance Committee, really.
You started off by talking about this almost like a separation of powers between the remuneration board and the operational budget of the Commission, which is a step that the Commission took very much on the basis of suggestions coming from the Finance Committee, and it seems to be working well. I mean, one of the things that you obviously realise as a consequence of that, of course, is that if there are any unexpected areas of expenditure, perhaps either by the remuneration board or operationally for the Commission, we're no longer in a position to take money from one budget line and put it in the other, which is fine because we actually can resolve any problems through supplementary budgets— either returning money to the Welsh block or asking for more from this Assembly in order to meet issues that we haven't actually foreseen, for example.
With regard to the windows project, I know this has come as something of a surprise, perhaps, to some Assembly Members, but it was never going to be cheap. We've reached a situation now where there are certain windows in this building that do need replacing. But trying to replace them all within year is financially, I think, shall we say, not very palatable to any Assembly Members around here. And, of course, then, you'll have seen that, within the budget, there's a sum put aside in order to have a planning—it's a planning sum, so that we can actually replace the windows that need replacing in this building, in a way that is sensible and most cost-efficient.
With regard to the VES, the core purpose of the VES was to make sure that we had commission staff that were able to meet the three priorities of the Assembly, and to do that in as painless but also realistic a way as possible. It was quite a procedure to go through, this, as you know. But the main purpose of it wasn't necessarily to save money—but we did save some money, as it happens. What we didn't manage to do was create enough space in that restructuring to fulfil our commitments to Assembly Members to provide them with the excellent service, using resources wisely, and engaging with people in Wales, that we would have wanted to do—bearing in mind that we have the context, which we've been in for a few years now, regarding Brexit, and, potentially, Assembly reform.
Regarding the election year budget, yes, of course that's going to be a bit more this year. We've got a Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill going through, later on today, I suspect. There are cost implications to that, which include awareness raising, and potentially awareness raising for people that we hadn't considered at the time that the draft Bill was laid, and, indeed, this draft budget was laid. So, as you would expect, in order to make this Assembly a place where people will want to come, and people will want to vote in, the level of awareness raising we do, and the quality of that work, is essential for making sure that the law itself is worth making. Thank you.
Thank you. The proposal is to note the committee's report. 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.
We now move to voting time. And unless three Members wish for the bell to be rung, I am going to proceed to call the votes. No. Right.
So, we vote this afternoon on the motion to appoint an acting standards commissioner. So, I call for a vote on the motion, tabled in the name of Jayne Bryant. Open the vote. Close the vote. For the motion 40, no abstentions, two against. Therefore, the motion is agreed.
NDM7192 - Motion to appoint an Acting Standards Commissioner: For: 40, Against: 2, Abstain: 0
Motion has been agreed
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
We now move to the short debate. And the short debate this afternoon is in the name of Neil Hamilton, and I call on Neil Hamilton to speak on the topic he has chosen. Neil.
Hang on a minute, Neil. If you're going out, can you go quickly and quietly, please—although you should all be sitting in, listening?
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I've selected this topic for debate this afternoon because I believe that the 'National Development Framework 2020-2040', which was published recently, poses, for Mid and West Wales in particular, the environmental equivalent of Henry VIII's despoliation of churches and monasteries. In the foreword to this document, the First Minister says that, by 2040,
'We know there are significant challenges to be met, not least in tackling climate change',
which he believes is the defining issue of our time. And
'Tackling the causes and mitigating...climate change is a key consideration in our plans and hopes for Wales.'
And Julie James, in her foreword to the document says that we should
'make sure we can build a society and an economy that is flexible and resilient'.
And I want to explore the conflict that I believe exists between these two propositions. The conflict, in fact, between economic growth and tackling climate change—I quote from the foreword in the name of the First Minister—and having clear visions of renewable energy. And so, what I think we need to understand is the answer to the question: does economic growth trump climate change mitigation, or having visions of more renewable energy? I believe that the overwhelming majority of the people of Wales are far more interested in economic growth and improving their standard of living than the airy-fairy notions of an undeliverable climate change target, which Governments actually have no possibility of influencing. Wales is, after all, the poorest of all the UK nations and regions of England, on the latest gross value added figures, and I believe that the Welsh Government should make economic growth its top priority. In the early stages of the document, this is never made entirely clear. Later comments, however, do let the cat out of the bag.
It appears that talking climate change, decarbonisation and creating more renewable energy sources are the key aim, regardless of economic growth supporting tourism or indeed changing landscapes. On page 36 of the document, it says that the Government aims to tackle the causes of climate change and has a key commitment to carbonisation. It also says that the Welsh Government will work with relevant stakeholders to help unlock the renewable energy potential of these areas and the economic and environmental benefits they can bring to communities. But nowhere does it say that economic development, and the consequent benefit that it brings, will be the highest priority for Welsh communities.
When we look at Wales's place in the world and its contribution to global warming, we find that its contribution is absolutely insignificant—0.06 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. I believe that the kind of economic burdens that will be imposed by our zero-carbon commitments will impose a very, very significant burden upon the people of Wales and, most particularly, those who are least able to bear such burdens, and we know that there are many pressing issues in Wales. The Programme for International Student Assessment results are going to show, yet again, that we have the worst education results in the country. The state of the health service, again, is an absolute scandal, with five of our seven health boards in special measures or targeted intervention. If we're going to spend public money at all, I believe it should be on improving health and education and the well-being of ordinary people, rather than on building more windfarms and solar panel farms despoliating the countryside.
Because whatever we do in this country, it's going to make no difference whatsoever to global warming—that's the fundamental backstop of this issue. China and India, as I never tire of pointing out, are responsible for 36 per cent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. And China is planning to double its output of carbon dioxide in the next 15 years. India is planning to triple its emissions of carbon dioxide. China is even now building 300 coal-fired power stations, not just in China, but also around the world, as part of its geopolitical priorities of extending China's political reach. They're building them in Africa, in Turkey and in many other countries.
The United States, of course, has responded to this. President Trump thinks that it's important that the United States should not bear the burden of these climate change policies if other countries are actually going in the opposite direction. He wants to resile from the Paris accords altogether, because he said he was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh and not Paris. Well, I believe that Welsh Government should take the view that they were elected to represent the citizens of Port Talbot and not Paris. What motivates Trump is that there is a let-out clause in the Paris agreement that exempts the worst and most recalcitrant polluters, if you think that carbon dioxide is a pollutant. Article 4.7 of the Paris agreement says the extent to which a developing country will effectively implement its commitments under the convention
'will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.'
So, there's an explicit commitment in the Paris accords to put economic development ahead of everything else for developing countries, which include even the economic powerhouses, as they are now becoming, of China and India. So, China and India have signed up in principle to the fundamental theories behind the climate change convention, but they're not actually going to do anything to reduce their contributions to the global emissions that we currently emit. In fact, they're going to go in the opposite direction: they're going to do even more.
Even Germany, which is fully committed to the aims of the convention, is going in the opposite direction too. In each of the last eight years, including this year, carbon dioxide emissions have risen in Germany—the great cheerleader, under Angela Merkel for more and more penal policies on global warming for the peoples of Europe.
So, last year, China had a nearly 5 per cent increase in its global emissions, and India 7 per cent. India, in 2018, increased its global emissions by 10 times Wales's total annual output of carbon dioxide. So, even if we were able to close down the entire Welsh economy and, indeed, if Wales didn't exist on the planet and suddenly was vapourised, India would make up the gain to the word in carbon dioxide reductions in a mere five weeks. So, why are we actually going to impose these massive burdens upon the people of Wales? And they're not just economic burdens, of course, they are environmental burdens as well.
I believe that the conscious, deliberate policy of imposing such burdens upon the people least able to bear them is actually grossly immoral, as well as absurd, because they won't achieve their object.
Wales needs economic development, and it needs poverty eradication. Because even on the latest report of the Welsh Government, fuel poverty in Wales stands at 12 per cent. That is an eighth of our population that has to spend more than 10 per cent of its income on keeping warm in the winter.
Large-scale renewable energy schemes, of course, are financed by ordinary people, and the money is transferred to major development companies and it's the largest transfer of wealth that's occurred in my lifetime from the poor to the rich. It's rather surprising that a Labour Government is countenancing such a policy and indeed pursuing it so enthusiastically.
Of course, the Welsh economy is changing. The old-fashioned industrial base of Wales has gone or is going. We're developing more and more rapidly into a service economy. In 2010 there were 39,500 financial and business services. That's gone up to 53,500 in 2018, and there were, in 2010, 52,000 retail and tourist businesses. That's now gone up to 60,000. These are the kind of businesses that mid Wales is going to see as its future, and therefore the extent to which these climate change policies are going to make it more difficult for tourism and related industries to make a profit is going to have a significant impact upon the economic well-being of my region.
There is a presumption in this document in favour of development for windfarms and similar schemes that are going to desecrate the landscape. I drove from Glasgow down to Carlisle a few weeks ago. I hadn't been there for a great many years, and I was amazed that every single hilltop along that stretch of road seemed to be covered with windmills—absolutely appalling. It completely ruined the view for anybody who was interested in visiting that part of the country in order to enjoy the countryside. I don't want to see that happen to mid and west Wales, because I believe that, not only is that wrong aesthetically, but I believe it'll also have a massively adverse economic impact upon our region.
Ogden Nash, the American comic and comic writer, wrote in the 1930s, when billboards were popping up along major road routes through America—he wrote and said:
'I think that I shall never see / A billboard lovely as a tree. / Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, / I’ll never see a tree at all.'
Well, I feel that the windmill or wind turbine is today the equivalent of 1930s billboards. We introduced advertising controls directly as a result of the development of advertising boards along the arterial roads leading out of London in the 1930s. Yet, now we have a Government that is deliberately and quite consciously going to wreck our countryside, all in the name of some mythical target, which we can never actually reach.
So, this is massively unpopular, of course, with the people who are going to live with these things. The Council for the Preservation of Rural Wales—I declare an interest as a member of it—has said that widespread industrialisation and irrational destruction of our landscapes is what is in prospect here. Acceptance of landscape change can't be assumed, it must be democratically mandated.
In England, onshore windfarms require majority local approval, and Welsh communities should have no lesser rights. I fully support that objective. The Plaid Cymru leader of Gwynedd Council has described this framework as 'comedy gold' and said that this document isn't fit for purpose in tackling the needs of rural Wales and the market towns that feed the wider economy. I don't agree with Plaid Cymru on much, but I do agree with him on that.
Welsh Government does believe that Wales would benefit from inward investment and economic growth as a result of these renewable energy schemes. I don't believe that there's any evidence that that is possible. Just look at some of the projects that have been proposed and have completed so far— let's take the three schemes at Hendy, Bryn Blaen and Rhoscrowther. These windfarms all have their own companies, but they all have the same registered office at 7a Howick Place, London SW1P 1DZ, and they all list a Steven John Radford as director. A company based in Shrewsbury called Viento Environmental Ltd, run by a Fran Iribar, has also been involved and this is all being directed by another London company called U and I Group plc—there's no Welsh involvement whatsoever in this development. As I said earlier, I believe that it's the largest transfer of money from the poor to the rich in my lifetime. Labour pose as the Robin Hood of society, but in fact they are the allies of the Welsh equivalent of the Sheriff of Nottingham.
In the case of the Hendy windfarm, as is well known, it was rejected by Montgomeryshire county council, it was then further rejected by the planning inspector appointed by the Minister herself, and then she overrode the planning inspector's report. She had the legal power to do it. I don't believe she had the moral power to do it, because it's as though it was never worth having the inquiry in the first place, because the Labour Government's policy priority of decarbonisation and renewable energy overrode all the objections that the planning inspector raised in the course of his report.
The Bryn Blaen scheme at Llangurig apparently has never actually even generated a volt or watt of electricity, and I see from the latest accounts of the company that is developing it that they have projected targeted gains for their company of £6 million to £8 million—they will get £6 million to £8 million out of this without generating the slightest electricity at all, and, in the process, of course, have erected eyesores in the landscape. I mean, this is utterly, utterly irrational.
Jac o' the North, a famous blogger, who has been mentioned in the Chamber only recently by the ex-leader of Plaid Cymru, has said, to explain what has happened here, that U and I—or Development Securities is the company developing it—planned three windfarms of a size so that, even if the local planning committees voted against them, their bacon could be saved by the Planning Inspectorate, or, as a last resort, the Welsh Government:
'No doubt, the developers had hoped to get planning permission for all three developments, netting them as much as £20 million. Being more realistic, they were probably prepared to settle for two out of three. But the High Court going against them on Rhoscrowther in September meant they were left with just Bryn Blaen, and so they were only going to make a small profit.'
But £6 million to £8 million is a lot of money to you and me, I hope you'll agree, Deputy Presiding Officer, and therefore I believe that this policy is wholly misconceived, grossly wrong and immoral. And I believe that it is opposed by the overwhelming majority of people in mid and west Wales because it poses a tremendous threat, I believe, to the economic future of our region by undermining the very basis of the local service economy.
Thank you. Can I call on the Minister for Housing and Local Government to reply to that debate? Julie James.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. The production of a national development framework is part of a concerted effort by this Government to show leadership in addressing and combating the climate change emergency we face. Only last week, more than 11,000 scientists across the world warned that we face untold suffering due to climate crisis. Their stark assessment requires us to change our lifestyles and take immediate action. The crisis is existential, immediate and undeniable and is accelerating faster than most experts expected.
As a Government, we cannot ignore the biggest threat to our planet; it is our responsibility to combat this threat and plan for our national energy needs. Our energy policy is driven by our decarbonisation commitments. Welsh Government has accepted the Committee on Climate Change's recommendation for a 95 per cent reduction in Wales and intends to legislate to this effect in 2020. This represents Wales's fair contribution to the UK's commitment under the Paris agreement. However, we have also declared our ambition to reach net zero by 2050 and we will work with the UK Committee on Climate Change and other stakeholders to understand how this can be achieved. By aiming to reach net zero, we will be the only Government considering going beyond the CCC's recommendations.
The Welsh Government has a target to generate 70 per cent of our electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2030. 'Energy Wales: A Low-Carbon Transition' and 'Prosperity for All: A Low Carbon Wales' include policies and proposals that seek to limit fossil fuel production, increase renewable and low-carbon energy generation and encourage innovation in the energy sector in Wales. We will take the opportunities this transition offers to increase prosperity in Wales.
Currently, we meet half our power needs from renewable energy. However, we must identify further resources to meet the growing need for low-carbon heat and transport. The planning system is key to delivering our targets. The policies outlined in the draft national development framework further illustrate our commitment to decarbonising Wales. Based on independent research, the draft NDF has identified priority areas where new large-scale wind and solar developments can be accommodated. We are providing the national lead that is required for the step change we need to take in Wales to tackle climate change. No other country in the UK has provided such a strategic policy lead for onshore wind and solar.
I recognise the potential impact renewable energy developments could have. Policies in the NDF seek to limit the extent of this impact. I am very mindful of the possible cumulative impact of proposals and the impact this can have in making a community or settlement feel surrounded by development. The NDF is very clear in identifying this as a key issue that will need addressing in development proposals.
The national development framework will provide a basis to determine major infrastructure projects classed as developments of national significance. Whilst we accept the principle of landscape change, we do not expect all of the priority areas identified in the draft NDF to be completely covered with windfarms, as some of the more alarmist reactions have suggested, and as we have heard today from Neil Hamilton.
All applications for major windfarms must be accompanied by an environmental impact assessment, and this must be taken into account when determining applications. Approximately 25 per cent of Wales is either a national park or an area of outstanding natural beauty. These areas are statutorily protected and were excluded from consideration as priority areas. The policy in the draft NDF states that large-scale wind and solar is not appropriate in these areas.
The draft national development framework, and its sister document 'Planning Policy Wales', strongly support a strengthened regional and local approach to planning. Local development plans in Wales are playing a key role in delivering renewable energy, and this will continue as the remainder are adopted and others are reviewed. We expect all renewable energy projects in Wales to include at least an element of local ownership, to retain wealth and provide real benefit to communities in Wales. We want to ensure that rural Wales is not left behind. Indeed, we could see rural Wales leading the way in maximising the value of these developments to the local economy, meeting Wales's energy needs and keeping the benefits within that local economy. We expect renewable energy developments, particularly those owned in Wales, will provide Wales with a fair and proportionate share of benefit in return for hosting them.
I recognise that mid Wales is already generating a considerable amount of renewable energy. For example, in the recent energy generation report, Ceredigion has been generating more renewable electricity than it consumes. However, we need much more clean energy if we are to decarbonise heat and transport and not be dependent on fossil fuels. We also need to ensure those communities that are dependent on oil in mid Wales are supported to ensure they are able to benefit from locally generated renewable energy. We are working with the grid operators to evolve grid solutions to meet Wales's needs that are appropriate to the landscape and to improve resilience. The grid operators are working to ensure the grid in place is flexible, efficient and smart. However, we do not expect all of the renewable electricity generated to be transmitted via the grid. The NDF is a plan for the next 20 years, and, inevitably, there will be technological advances in transmission, distribution and storage over this time. It is also important to note that, although onshore wind and solar are the most affordable technologies, there are a range of other technologies that will also help to meet our need for energy.
The first national marine plan is soon to be adopted. This will provide the policies to support sustainable development of marine renewable energy. We are working hard to ensure we have the mix of renewable energy in Wales to provide secure, dependable energy both on and offshore.
The consultation period on the draft NDF runs until the end of this week. After this, I will be considering the representations we have received and will also decide if there is a need to amend any of the policies in the light of that consultation.
Deputy Presiding Officer, without bold and decisive action now, the risk to our planet is enormous. We have a legal and moral duty to do all that we can to stop the causes of climate change. The draft NDF seeks to put in place a rational, evidence-based policy response to ensure the delivery of renewable energy across the whole of Wales, not just mid Wales. We owe it to our future generations to show decisive action and leadership on this issue. Eleven thousand scientists say we are right, and only Royston Jones appears to say we are wrong. Thank you.
Thank you very much.
The next item on the agenda is Stage 3. Before we enter Stage 3, I intend to take a break now, and I would encourage Members to return to the Chamber promptly. The bell will be rung five minutes before we reconvene, and we will reconvene at 4.05 p.m. So, the bell will be rung at 4 o'clock. Thank you. We stand adjourned now until 4.05 p.m.
Plenary was suspended at 15:55.
The Assembly reconvened at 16:05, with the Deputy Presiding Officer in the Chair.
Okay then, so we'll move to Stage 3 of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill.
I'm going to call group 1 amendments. The first group of amendments relates to the name of the National Assembly for Wales and the designation of its Members. The lead amendment in this group is amendment 162, and I call on Rhun ap Iorwerth to move and speak to the lead amendment and other amendments in the group. Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Amendment 162 (Rhun ap Iorwerth, supported by David Rees, Mike Hedges, Hefin David, Huw Irranca-Davies, John Griffiths) moved.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. A Bill of the kind that we are dealing with today requires collaboration, it requires compromise, it means that we must realise what our role as a Parliament is. It is a Bill that relates not to policy, not to any programme of government, and not even to today, but the work of nation building and the institutions that that nation needs for future generations.
The name of our Senedd is what we are discussing in this first amendment, and once again in moving the amendment I urge the Welsh Government particularly to reconsider their stance and to reconsider what their role should be in this context. The debate itself, I think, is clear now.
It's a pretty well-rehearsed argument now. Our Assembly has grown into a fully fledged Parliament over the past 20 years. This Bill is a means to reflect that, referring to this place in legislation as a Parliament for the first time. It's also about who can vote, who can stand for election, those mechanisms of public engagement with democracy, and the democratic process in Wales. But, we also have an opportunity at the same time to give our Parliament a name, a title. As we gather here in the Senedd—because that's what the building is already called—to discuss the Senedd and elections Bill, it strikes me as being infinitely sensible to christen our Parliament as the Senedd. Senedd Cymru is Wales's Parliament.
We sing our national anthem in Welsh not to exclude anyone, but to include everyone, in a celebration of our Welsh nation in a way no-one else does theirs. Every country has an anthem, only one has 'Hen Wlad fy Nhadau'. Every nation has a Parliament, only one can have a Senedd. We've never thought, 'Let's do this as a party political point.' I hope Members can see in the way that I and my colleagues have reached out, trying to work across party divides on this, that that is the case. But, we've also been pretty convinced that that's what Wales wanted. My party commissioned a poll over the past few days—over 1,000 people, a major poll—and respondents were asked this:
Assembly Members will decide next week on a new name for the National Assembly for Wales. Which of the following would you prefer the Assembly to be called, 'Senedd' as the official name in Welsh and English, or 'Welsh Parliament' as the official name in English and 'Senedd' as the official name in Welsh?
Just look at the responses. Excluding those who didn't know—just 20 per cent, by the way; it seems this is something that really has resonated with people—56 per cent wanted 'Senedd' and just 35 per cent wanted the bilingual version. So, whilst you're probably fed up of me banging on about this, why not listen to the people of Wales? And by the way, although this isn't a party political matter, an even bigger share of Labour supporters said they supported 'Senedd', in case that helps convince my colleagues on the Government benches. It's higher still amongst Liberal Democrats, by the way.
Now, I appreciate that, in Government, there is the principle of collective responsibility. You rarely allow free votes, but this shouldn't be about Labour or Liberal Democrat policy in Government. This isn't about this Government. It's not about us. We're being trusted, as AMs, to decide what this institution's name will be for generations. And I'd like time, incidentally, to ask Members of our Youth Parliament what they think. And, given that poll I just mentioned, I've got a pretty good idea what they might say. But, First Minister, you said to me yesterday, when I raised this with you, and I quote:
'It's an issue on which many Assembly Members have strong views, and it's not a matter for the Government. This is an Assembly Bill, not a Government Bill, and different Assembly Members will take different views on the right answer to this question.'
But, and I address this to you all as Ministers, in saying on one hand that this is not a matter for Government and that different Members have different views, on the other hand, you've rejected my calls and others' to allow a free vote among your Ministers on this particular point of principle.
There are three voting blocks in this Assembly standing in the way of giving the institution the name that the people of Wales, it seems, want: one is the Brexit Party, another is the Conservative Party, the other is the Welsh Labour and Liberal Democrat Government. You have the casting vote. And despite saying that this is a matter for the Assembly, the result of your actions is to block a truly open vote. Yes, it's a free vote of Labour backbenchers, and it's been good to have the open debate that I've had with those Labour AMs. I'm grateful to those who have supported the amendment, both at the time of tabling and in the votes at both Stages 2 and 3 of deliberations on this Bill.
I have no choice now, as my party's whip, but to allow a free vote on the whole Bill at Stage 4, unless these amendments are passed today, because to some, the opportunity to give our Parliament its own unique Welsh title is paramount. These opportunities, symbolic but important, don't come along very often—once in a generation, perhaps. Yes, there are far more important things for us to discuss—health, education, poverty and good jobs—but we are the ones who have the honour of dealing with matters like this, and we very rarely do, but today is one of those days.
Passing this kind of Bill is about building consensus and compromise, and I've certainly been willing to compromise with Government, as seen in the tabling of the name 'Senedd Cymru', as opposed to just 'Senedd', after agreeing a form of words that Government could agree was in order. There were suggestions from Government originally, at other earlier stages, that having a Welsh-only name was somehow problematic in legal terms, but with a signal from Government that this amendment is in order, we know that's not the case, and we know from plenty of other legal opinion, too, that this is all legally possible, certainly. So, what we have is a Government using a collective casting vote on a matter of collective opinion opposing the Welsh-only name whilst being also of the opinion that this isn't a matter for Government. It just doesn't add up. And given that I know of individual Ministers who have been eager to support the Welsh-only name, it's even more frustrating.
I still hope that Government, collectively, can rethink today. I hope that other Members who have free votes can rethink today and come around to this decision. And that appeal goes out to Members of all parties, in all parts of this Senedd. But, to Welsh Government: be brave, be a Welsh Government, not just any Government. As we all can say, the Senedd is the Parliament of Wales.
Take this opportunity. Support those who have contacted you from across parties and beyond parties to say that we must adopt the name 'Senedd' officially. Support Penrhyndeudraeth council, who went to the trouble to hold a vote yesterday evening to support the name 'Senedd'. I'm very grateful to them. Support the people of Wales, as they have spoken through the opinion poll I mentioned earlier, and have expressed their views in all corners of Wales. This is what they want. I am convinced of that; I think you are convinced of it, too. This is our Senedd, each and every one of us here in Wales.
I move my amendments in this group, which simply aim to change the designation in English of Assembly Members from 'Members of Senedd Cymru' to 'Members of the Welsh Parliament'. This was the aim of the amendments put forward by Alun Davies at Stage 2, which we in the Welsh Conservatives supported. I felt that it was appropriate that we once again put this option before Members at this stage in the legislative cycle. As the Bill stands now, we have the bilingual name 'Senedd Cymru' or 'Welsh Parliament', and I believe that we now need to address the designation to bring that consistency.
Now, referring to the speech that Rhun has just made, which was full of sincere feeling, I think it's a fairly fine judgment, I have to say. I don't as a matter of principle have great views on this, one way or the other, but I think what's convinced our group that we need in the legislation the bilingual form is the consultation to this Bill did produce an emphatic response—over 70 per cent—that by far the clearest option that was favoured was for a bilingual name, and that is why we believe this institution should carry that.
I have no doubt that 'Senedd' will be the Welsh name and the common name in English in all probability; it's certainly the one I've been using for years, frankly. So, I just wonder whether us having this rather tortured debate is awfully helpful, but I do accept that some people feel there is greater symbolism with the legislation just saying so in Welsh. But it's not an argument, I'm afraid, that convinces us. We feel that we should stick to the original position, which was developed at Stage 1 and in scrutiny of this Bill through an extensive consultation exercise.
Now, you're ingenious in introducing this poll. I think one way of getting around this inconvenient fact of what the consultation so clearly found is then to try and find some alternative evidence. What I would say is that it would have been helpful to have shared that poll with us more generally. I don't doubt your veracity, but opinion polls, as we may well find out during the course of this campaign, are not always what they appear because of the terms in which the questions are put. But in any event, we need to respect the full scrutiny process and what that produced. [Interruption.] I will give way.
Very quickly, I can certainly give an assurance to the Member that I would be more than happy to share the details of that poll at a further Report Stage, if that's necessary.
Well, I dare say that that's the very least you need to do now, but it doesn't give us a chance at this stage—the last stage, in effect, unless we have an extraordinary process and bring in a Report Stage—to interrogate the data. That's what I mean.
But I do think we've already found the compromise, Rhun, I have to say, and that is for the legislation to state very clearly that we are both 'Senedd Cymru' and 'Welsh Parliament', the designations to follow, and then we'll just let the natural preference of the people of Wales take its course, and that I'm sure will reflect what most of us already do in referring to this institution as the 'Senedd'. Thank you.
I move the amendments in my name, amendments 127 to 159 in this group. These are largely technical amendments to ensure consistency throughout the legislation, consistent with the decision taken by the National Assembly at Stage 2 proceedings.
I gave an undertaking at that time, Dirprwy Lywydd, to ensure consistency throughout the Bill to ensure that there were no parts of the Bill that did not appear consistent with each other. The Assembly's decision was that the institution should be known as 'Senedd Cymru' or the 'Welsh Parliament', and that Members should be known as 'Members of the Senedd' or 'Aelodau o'r Senedd'. All but one of my amendments make consequential changes to give effect to those decisions, and to ensure consistency.
The odd one out is amendment 149. It's a technical amendment connected to changing the Assembly's name. It amends section 150A of the Government of Wales Act 2006, to ensure that, unless the context requires otherwise, a reference to 'Senedd Cymru', the 'Senedd Commission' or 'Acts of Senedd Cymru' in any legislation or any other document is to be read as including a reference to the previous name, that is the 'National Assembly for Wales', the 'National Assembly for Wales Commission' or 'Acts of the National Assembly for Wales'. This will avoid the need for future legislation to mention the old names where that legislation is referring to things done before as well as after the name change. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.
I speak as Plaid Cymru spokesperson on the Welsh language. It would be wonderful if we, the Members of the fifth Assembly, could state clearly today that 'Senedd Cymru' should be the name of our national Senedd, and that the term 'Senedd Cymru' should be used from here on in. If we fail to do so, then I believe that we will miss a historic opportunity, and we will be making a mistake, and that that mistake will live with us for years to come.
It is entirely right that we should be ambitious for the Welsh language and it is important that we convey a clear message that the Welsh language belongs to everyone in Wales, that the Welsh language belongs to everyone and that the word 'Senedd' belongs to everyone, be they speaking Welsh on a daily basis or whether they live their lives through the medium of English. The word 'Senedd' would quickly win its place in the vocabulary of everyone in Wales, just as 'paned', 'cwtsh', 'twp', 'nain' and 'hiraeth', and so on, have done already.
I was reminded recently, whilst canvassing in Bangor, of how the Welsh language adorns the English language in an entirely natural way. One of the wonderful words of Bangor is 'moider'—to talk rubbish. There aren't many people who are familiar with the word 'moider', perhaps, which is used through the medium of English—'Don't moider me.' That's what people say. It's a word that comes originally from the Welsh language. It comes from the word 'mwydro', and that is an entirely natural example of the Welsh language transferring into the English language and becoming a natural part of daily conversations in Wales. And the word 'Senedd' would very soon be an entirely natural part of conversations about our national institution. It is a name that is unique on a global level. It highlights the fact that we are a unique country and unique people—people who are proud of their unique language and use a word taken from that unique language on our uniquely Welsh institution. It would place us on the international stage and would become part of the Welsh brand.
And I do think that being unique in a world that is becoming more and more uniform is very important. Identity is important to people across the world and is becoming more and more important, particularly for younger people, and in Wales we are fortunate—we have a modern and exciting Welsh identity. We can express that identity through two languages. We express it through sport, the arts, through our values and through our national institutions, which are also unique. And why not also express it by calling our national Parliament 'Senedd Cymru'? It's a Senedd for everyone, and everyone would call us by the name 'Senedd'.
Just three very quick points. Isn't it best to give it a name it's going to be called? The word 'Senedd' is the word that's going to be used. Does any person in here believe that Senedd.tv is going to be called 'Senedd Cymru Welsh Parliament tv', or do you think it's going to stay as Senedd.tv?
In terms of bilingualism in Wales, I've never seen the word 'eisteddfod' ever translated. People use the word 'eisteddfod' although it happens to be a Welsh word. Can I correct Siân Gwenllian slightly? We might know 'nain' in north Wales; we know 'mam-gu' in south Wales. [Laughter.]
Senedd is to Wales what Tynwald is to the Isle of Man. It's a unique word. 'Tynwald' is a Norse word, 'Senedd' is a Welsh word, but it's a word that is unique. And I just think it keeps it simple that we give it a name that people are going to use. Otherwise, we'll have a name that is official and a name that people use, and I don't think that's going to be of benefit to anybody.
The only other plea is that whatever gets passed at the first stage, we keep consistency when we go through. So, if Carwyn Jones's or Rhun ap Iorwerth's amendments go through, then we need to make sure that we get consistency as we go through, so that it actually makes sense when the Bill is completed.
Thank you. Can I call on the Counsel General?
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. On the question of the naming, I don't wish to detain Members for long on this point. The Government is content with the Bill as it was amended at Stage 2, subject to the amendments that Carwyn Jones and I have tabled for consistency, and we, of course, support those amendments.
I would also wish to say this: the matter of the name is, of course, one that divides opinion. It is the sort of thing on which it is possible for reasonable people of goodwill, and often of shared values, to take a different view. Perhaps most people observing these proceedings will reflect—and I'm sure that we would all agree with this—that this is not the provision in the Bill that is likely to make most difference to the lives of the people of Wales. I think that it's important to approach that question in light of those facts.
May I respond to a few of the points that have been made—[Interruption.]—in contributions thus far?
Very briefly on that point, you say that people can have different views on this, but not within the Government, it would seem.
Thank you for that question. I intend to deal with that in due course, and comments that have been made so far.
It was mentioned that there is a legal issue. I should say that the Welsh Government has not contended that there is a legal barrier to a Welsh-only name, and I am very grateful to Professor Keith Bush, in the e-mails shared with Members, for his acknowledgement of that. But there are good reasons why the accessibility of the law supports a name in Welsh and in English. Indeed, I have provided my view in discussions with Rhun ap Iorwerth about how to make sure that the amendments being proposed at Stage 3 are legally operable, should they pass.
I am aware of the view that having an English name as well as a Welsh name for this institution is felt by some to undermine the use of the term 'Senedd', and also to undermine the use of the Welsh language. I would simply observe that the institution currently has a statutory name in Welsh and in English now—neither of which have prevented the growing use of the term 'Senedd'. With the best will in the world, I'm not persuaded that the challenge we have set ourselves of achieving a million Welsh speakers by 2050 will be impacted by the existence of a statutory term in English for this institution in future, because we have statutory terms in both languages at the moment. As the First Minister said yesterday, the Government took a view during Stage 2 that we as bilingual nation ought to have a bilingual name for the institution.
To respond to the point the Rhun made in his contribution, the Government has reached a view on how it will vote together, very much informed by discussion by Members on our benches, both Government Members or backbench Members. We did not apply a whip on this question beyond the front bench at Stage 2, and we won't do that at Stage 3. Other parties, of course, will have reached their own views on whether to apply a whip or not, and some of our Members, as Rhun has acknowledged, have indeed supported this proposed amendment.
The only Government amendment in this group is number 81, and this amendment makes consequential changes to the Legislation (Wales) Act 2019. And in light of what I've just said, I hope Members will support the amendments in the name of Carwyn Jones and myself and withhold support for the other amendments.
Thank you. Can I now call on the Llywydd?
Thank you, Deputy Presiding officer. And to start, I would like to remind Members that I will not be voting on the amendments that we are debating today. Standing Order 6.20 states that the Presiding Officer or Deputy may vote in Plenary proceedings only for the exercise of a casting vote, and in the circumstance provided for by Standing Order 6.21 with regard to needing a two thirds majority for legislation. So, I will be able to vote in Stage 4 of this Bill, as will the Deputy Presiding Officer.
With regard to the name of the legislature, Members will remember that I had outlined in Stage 2 how the name 'Senedd' is already a familiar term across Wales, because it is used widely to refer to the home of Welsh democracy. Using the name 'Senedd' alone would reflect the Assembly's strong commitment to promoting the status and use of the Welsh language and normalising its use. That's my personal opinion, and it's my opinion as the Member responsible for introducing this legislation, but, as I already have said, it's the Members here today who should decide what the new name of this place should be. If amendments 161 and 162 from Rhun ap Iorwerth, to call our national legislature by a single name, 'Senedd Cymru', pass or not, the Bill will achieve the ambition shared by Members in 2016 to change the name of this place to reflect its constitutional status as a national legislative Parliament.
With regard to the name of Members, when I introduced the Bill I proposed the titles 'Aelodau o'r Senedd / Members of the Senedd'. The amendments introduced by Carwyn Jones and David Melding today propose different titles for Members, and both sets of amendments would be useful in solving the inconsistency in the Bill at the moment, and would ensure that there would be a clear result at the end of this Bill's progress, to respond to the point that Mike Hedges made in his contribution a little earlier.
Carwyn Jones's amendments propose the consistent use of the titles 'Members of the Senedd' and 'Aelodau o'r Senedd'—those were the titles proposed in the Bill on introduction. As I said at Stage 2, I feel there is a simplicity to these titles and that is very attractive in terms of the titles for us as Members. We're voting today on a name that will stand the test of time; a name that will be incorporated in the hearts and minds of the people of Wales in time, and the choice facing Members, therefore, is a simple one: 'Members of the Senedd', or 'Aelodau o'r Senedd' in Welsh, or 'Aelodau Senedd Cymru', 'Member of the Welsh Parliament' in English, as put forward by David Melding. Whichever option is chosen today, that will be the title for the final vote in Stage 4, and that will be consistent throughout the Bill.
Thank you. Can I call on Rhun ap Iorwerth to reply to the debate?
Thank you very much. I do regret the fact that there has been no shift within Government in light of the arguments that we have put forward. Certainly, I am not at all convinced as to why the Government couldn't have given a free vote to its own members. There are examples when members of this Government have been allowed to disagree on other issues and I simply can't understand why you couldn't have allowed that freedom in this context, particularly in light of the words spoken to me by the First Minister in this Chamber some 28 hours ago, that this is not a matter for Government but a matter for the Senedd. Each of you, as members of the Government, are Members of this Senedd, and with the honour of making a decision on this institution for generations to come.
I have no doubt that 'Senedd' will be the widely used term to describe this institution, as David Melding has said. I am confident that we will vote today to describe ourselves as 'Aelodau o'r Senedd / Members of the Senedd'. I think the fact that we have pushed so hard on this means that we have won that argument and that by default, 'Senedd' will be the name of this institution. What I can't quite work out—and I may be being stupid here, but, if we're going to call ourselves 'Members of the Senedd', if everyone is going to call the institution 'Senedd', why is the legislation the one place that doesn't give it the name 'Senedd'? It makes no kind of sense whatsoever to me. I do have an idea for a bilingual name for this institution, a name in Welsh and in English: that is 'Senedd'. The people of Wales understand that, and the Government has lost an opportunity here to show that it is serious about creating a country that is proud of its heritage and confident in its future.
Thank you. The question is that amendment 162 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Therefore, we will proceed to a vote. Open the vote. Close the vote. For the motion 16, no abstentions, 39 against. Therefore, amendment 162 is not agreed to.
Amendment 162: For: 16, Against: 39, Abstain: 0
Amendment has been rejected
Carwyn Jones, amendment 127. Carwyn Jones, amendment 127.
Amendment 127 (Carwyn Jones) moved.
Thank you. If amendment 127 is agreed to, amendment 2 will fall. The question is that amendment 127 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Therefore, we will proceed to an electronic vote. And open the vote. Close the vote. For the amendment 37, no abstentions, 18 against. Therefore, amendment 127 is agreed to and amendment 2 falls.
Amendment 2 fell.
Carwyn Jones, amendment 128.
Amendment 128 (Carwyn Jones) moved.
Thank you. The question is amendment 128 be agreed to. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, amendment 128 is agreed to in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
David Melding, amendment 44.
Not moved. Thank you.
Amendment 44 (David Melding) not moved.
Carwyn Jones, amendment 147.
Amendment 147 (Carwyn Jones) moved.
Thank you. The question is that amendment 147 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Okay, so we proceed to an electronic vote. And open the vote. Close the vote. For the amendment 41, no abstentions, 14 against. Therefore, amendment 147 is agreed.
Carwyn Jones, amendment 148.
Amendment 148 (Carwyn Jones) moved.