Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd21/01/2020
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Angela Burns.
1. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's priorities for improving the health service over the coming year? OAQ54972
Llywydd, I thank the Member for that question.
Amongst our priorities for the coming year are the investment of record sums across our health and social care system, the training of record numbers of clinical professionals to create the workforce of the future and defending Wales against any attempts by the UK Government to put the NHS up for sale.
Well, First Minister, as you know, recent weeks have brought to the fore the current pressures that are facing the Welsh NHS—'winter pressures', as we like to term them, though the reality is that they are there for most of the year. Now, in the words of Dr Phil Banfield, the British Medical Association Cymru Wales consultant committee chair, he said
'It is clear from the latest developments that things are getting worse not better.'
He also went on to state that
'Care will suffer if something isn't done about this now. This must be taken seriously. There is a real chance of lives being needlessly lost.'
First Minister, the BMA also go on to suggest, as many of us have in this Chamber suggested, the various things that need to be done to alleviate winter pressures and the kinds of areas that we need to look at, from increasing beds in hospitals, to increasing people's ability to come out of hospital and be supported in the community, to ensuring that only the people who need to go into hospital go into hospital. So, we're four years in, and this was a priority of the Welsh Government. Can you please tell us, in the remaining year that we have, whether or not you'll finally be able to address this very serious issue? And it is serious, because I want to end on this one note. Dr Banfield, who represents a great many people in the health NHS goes on to say that the staff pressures are intolerable, and that patients' lives are at risk. This is not an acceptable situation.
Well, Llywydd, let me agree with something that the Member said at the start of her question, because nine of the last 11 months in the Welsh NHS have been the busiest months of that sort on record. So, she is right to say that the pressures in the Welsh NHS are relentless; that the demand grows all the time. But she then goes on simply to focus on the supply side, as though the answer to the health service is just continually to ratchet up the services that are provided, in pursuit of ever-growing demand. And that is not an answer to the health service. We do all of that. We go on every year. We have a record number of professionals working in the health service in Wales. We now have more people working in the NHS in Wales than in the whole of the British Army. More than 92,000 people are employed to provide the service that Angela Burns refers to. As a result of winter pressure planning, there will be 400 more beds, or bed-equivalent services, available in this winter than there otherwise would have been.
The Member referred to the services that are there to keep people out of hospital. My understanding, from management information, is that we will have seen a fall in delayed transfers of care in December of last year because of the enormous efforts that are made by our local authorities to provide those services. But when you have a rising tide of people coming through the door; when those people are often elderly, where their needs are often complex, where they do need to be in hospital—. I agree completely with what Angela Burns said, but only somebody who needs to be in hospital should be in hospital. But the number of over-75-year-olds presenting at the front door of the Welsh NHS, who then need—and genuinely need—a hospital bed, has been at the highest it has ever been over this winter.
So, wherever we can, we need services that divert people from the highest level of intensity in the hospital sector, deescalating need, using community pharmacies before you go to the doctor, all of those things—they are all happening in the Welsh NHS, but they happen against a pattern of demand that means you have to run even faster simply to stand still.
A fundamental challenge is to move towards a system that is truly preventative. We don't see that in terms of policy at the moment, and we don't see it in terms of how budgets are divvied up. So, will the First Minister realise that we need real prioritisation now? We need to find ways of moving towards a new kind of NHS, and of being able to invest in the preventative—including preventative infrastructure, sports resources, physical exercise resources, and resources for keep fit—or the NHS will be a bottomless pit. We need that transformation that we are not currently seeing.
Well, of course I agree, Llywydd. The things that we could do to prevent people from—. Sorry.
—to prevent people from needing access to the health service, that, of course, is a proper investment in the future; it's not an answer to the person aged over 75 who needs services in the here and now. The parliamentary review, in which parties across this Chamber participated, provides a bridge of that sort. It describes how you can incrementally—because that is the only way you can do it—shift the system so there is greater emphasis on prevention, and therefore a reduced need for people to seek help in the most intense part of the system. That doesn't help people whose needs for that sort of help are in the present day, and you can't not attend to those needs.
And prevention is not the responsibility of the national health service; prevention is something that you can only bring about where you have all public services invested in doing that and where you have a relationship with the user in which they too play their part. We talk often on the floor of the Assembly about co-production, and the need to capture the contribution that users make, and nowhere is that contribution more important to capture than if we are genuinely to have preventative services. Because most of all, that relies on what individuals can do to make sure that the harm that would otherwise happen in their own lives is avoided.
Minister, I see that a worldwide study has revealed that sepsis is now a bigger killer than cancer, and instances of it are increasing in England and Wales. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of this, and how is your Government going to ensure that the Welsh NHS is prepared for this over the coming year?
I thank the Member for that important supplementary question. I should just make it clear that sepsis numbers in Wales are falling and not rising, so the figures that were published are not Welsh figures—they have fallen in Wales since 2016. And that is because of some really groundbreaking work that has been done by clinicians here in Wales, led by some very far-sighted and committed clinicians, who have developed the early-warning signs system that we have for sepsis here in Wales, which is now being adopted in other parts of the health service more broadly, which makes sure that people are alert to those early signs that can easily enough be confused as a sign of something other than sepsis, to do the six steps that you need to take as a clinician to test for whether sepsis is what you're seeing in front of you, then to take rapid action. It's a really important issue, but I think we can genuinely claim that we have been in front of this debate in Wales, and that's why the figures in Wales have been falling.
First Minister, I've raised with yourself the situation in Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board many times, in respect of ambulance handovers. And it's fair to say that, in recent years, they have developed an excellent model, where they receive the patients from the ambulance, to free up the ambulances. But of course it also requires that there is the investment at the other end in terms of those who are in beds being able to leave; that they have the right social service support, and so on. Now, it is clear that, this year, that has been working, but there are considerable pressures, so I've had a number of examples reported to me.
I think there are two issues, really, that I'd like to consider. To what extent has that model that was developed in Cwm Taf been rolled out amongst other health boards? But secondly, what evaluation is taking place of the pressures that clearly exist at the co-ordination with the social services side, so that beds—people are able to leave hospital when they're ready to do so, obviously freeing up space, and also then freeing up the ambulance service? And I suppose finally on that is really the recognition, I think, of the professionalism and dedication of our ambulance services. Because, at this time of year, their responses and their commitment are second to none.
Well, Llywydd, I'm very glad to put on record the appreciation of the Welsh Government for all those who work at the front line of our health services under the unremitting pressures that have been there, not just over the winter, but as Angela Burns said, over many months before that. There is a lot that other people can learn from the Cwm Taf experience of handover of people from ambulances into hospitals and that's why we have a national approach to the development of ambulance services.
Mick Antoniw is right, of course, to point to the pressures that are there in our social services, as well as the health service. I mentioned in my answer to Angela Burns that there are 400 bed or bed-equivalent services being produced over this winter in addition to the normal services. About 160 of those are actually in social care, providing places where people can be safely looked after in the community, either rapidly discharged from hospital or preventing admission in the first place.
But, as I've also said previously on the floor of the Assembly, what local authorities are facing, in some ways, is a consequence of the success that they have achieved in reducing the need for residential care here in Wales. I remember reading predictions at the start of devolution that told us there would be thousands more elderly people in residential care in Wales by today and that we needed to start preparing for that. In fact, what local authorities have done is to strengthen community services so that that explosion in the need for residential care hasn't happened.
But when you are looking after more people—more fragile people, people with higher levels of need and greater intensity of service in the community—then the challenge of keeping those people well, keeping them active, returning them to their homes when they have an acute episode of care, is a genuine challenge. Of course we track it; of course we talk through the regional partnership boards and with our colleagues, and we will learn the lessons from this winter, as we begin planning—as we soon will—for the winter of next year.
2. Will the First Minister outline how the Welsh Government is tackling domestic abuse in Wales? OAQ54954
I thank the Member for that. We tackle domestic abuse through a range of initiatives informed by survivors. These include raising awareness and challenging attitudes through communications campaigns; training professionals; providing healthy relationships education; setting standards for working with perpetrators; and providing both revenue and capital funding to service providers.
Thank you for that answer. I know the Welsh Government has put in many different practices in relation to coercive control, which I welcome, and you will know, from the debate last week that we had on rape—the Plaid Cymru debate—I hosted an event with David and Sally Challen in the Senedd building. And what struck me was that many of the victims will just not know that some of the many forms of abuse that relate to coercive control is something that they don't identify in those relationships. And so trying to get to grips with that is something that—. When we had the police commissioners present they were saying that domestic abuse is an epidemic now and that coercive control-related incidents have risen exponentially within that particular police force.
So, my question is, from that evening, we heard that the Freedom programme is very successful, will you be able to put that into schools? We know that it looks at belief systems of abusers and how they can change their attitudes.
And my second question is—. We had a roomful of people there, but we only had five or six men. Whether they are being abused or whether they are abusers, if they're not in the room they're not listening and they're not engaging in those processes. So, how do we make this a societal issue?
And the third one is about how you can make sure that, when the current coercive control programme that you've got, as a Welsh Government, comes to an end, what are you going to do post that, so that we can make sure that we have people in these types of relationships in the future who are able to be supported and helped when they need to escape those relationships, but in a way that they can do with the support of society behind them?
Well, Llywydd, I thank Bethan Sayed both for those questions and for the event that she hosted, which I know has attracted a lot of interest beyond the Assembly in learning from what was said and the question and answer session with David and Sally Challen. And it was said there, I know, that, for so many victims of coercive control the first step is to recognise that this is happening to them and to understand that this is just not a normal way that relationships are conducted. So, to take the specific questions in reverse order, the 'This is not Love. This is Control' communication campaign, which ran through last year, will have a successor. We will go on from there. It has certainly, we think, through evidence from police forces, seen a rise in reported cases of coercive control, suggesting that the awareness campaign is having an effect. But as the event here showed, raising awareness has to be the first step. I thought a very important point was made about how we broaden the conversation so that men as well as women are fully engaged in it, understand what is being debated and can be themselves, as Bethan said, victims of coercive control but also need to understand the part that they play in sustaining it in some relationships, or challenging it when it is seen.
As far as schools are concerned, then, of course, the new curriculum has a rounded approach to the way in which health, well-being and personal relationships are taught in our schools in an age-appropriate way, so that by the time young people are themselves involved in relationships, they are informed, they understand and, hopefully, are better equipped to be the sort of citizens we would like to see them be here in Wales.
I did attend the question and answer session with Sally and David Challen. Of course, coercive control also applies to children in terms of adults. Worryingly, analysis by the Children's Society has shown that around 85 per cent of sexual offences against children reported to the police in England and Wales do not result in any action taken against the perpetrator, and the figures they include are that 70 per cent of sexual offences against children under 13 are familial sexual offences; in other words, domestic or occurring within their family or home. How, therefore, do you respond to the call on the Welsh Government by the Children's Society to review the case for making the offer of debriefs following a child's return from a missing incident a statutory requirement, where there are frequently links between children going missing from home and their experience of sexual abuse or exploitation? They say this will result in improved intelligence gathering to help inform abuse and exploitation cases, young people being referred into services for support and in information sharing about at-risk children between the police and social care, noting that debrief is offered in England.
Llywydd, I think there are a number of different strands in that question. The Member began by rightly pointing out that children who are sexually exploited are more likely to have that occur to them within the home and with people they know than with strangers. Children who run away from residential care provided by the state are in a different position. They are vulnerable in a different sort of way and to a far wider range of potential perpetrators.
I am not aware of the very specific point in the Children's Society's advice. My understanding from the cases that I myself have dealt with is that when a young person runs away and are returned, they are almost always spoken to and their experiences explored with them. Whether that is a debrief interview in the sense of the Children's Society's report I'd need to look at in greater detail, and whether there is a case for making that statutory, when, as it would seem to me, it would simply be good practice on the part of any childcare social worker, to have explored with a young person on return what has happened to them in the interim, I'm happy to look at that as well.
Questions now from the party leaders. Leader of the opposition, Paul Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, the Welsh Government's latest figures show that over 12,000 cattle were slaughtered due to bovine tuberculosis. This is an eye-watering 24 per cent increase on the previous year. These figures are the highest on record. Where is your Government's policy going wrong?
The Government policy is certainly not going wrong on the basis that the Member has just outlined. Let me begin, though, by recognising the enormous impact that TB has in the farming community, the trauma and the hurt that occurs in farming families when TB occurs in cattle, but the slaughter figures are the result of greater sensitivity in testing, greater testing regimes—. We are discovering more TB, and, therefore, the slaughter figures are up. It is not that this is TB that wasn't there before. It was there before, and it went undetected, and because it was undetected, it continued to pose a risk of further onward transmission. So, the fact that we are discovering more TB, and I understand all the distress that that brings—but the fact that the slaughter figures are up is not for a moment by itself a sign that the policy is failing.
Well, First Minister, you've just said it yourself: you are finding more incidents of TB. And let's be clear: your policy is not working, otherwise the number of cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB would be decreasing, but, instead, we're seeing an increase. And whichever way you want to look at this, the fact remains that the Welsh farming sector is under a huge amount of pressure. This morning's farmhouse breakfast hosted by the Farmers Union of Wales gave us the opportunity to hear more about the challenges facing Welsh farmers, and bovine TB was certainly at the top of their agenda.
First Minister, you're right, I myself have had first-hand experience of seeing just how difficult and devastating bovine TB can be for those farmers affected by the disease, and they expect and deserve more from the Welsh Government. The unsustainably high number of cattle being slaughtered in Wales is down to your Government's failure to tackle this disease holistically, and in the meantime, farming communities across Wales are feeling isolated, ignored and neglected.
So, with that in mind, First Minister, and in light of the very serious impact that bovine TB is continuing to have on Welsh farms, both financially and emotionally, can you tell us what new action the Welsh Government will now take to push ahead with the eradication of bovine TB in Wales? And can you also tell us what reassurances you can offer Welsh farmers that your Government is listening and that you will protect the sustainability of the farming industry for the future?
Well, in terms of the Welsh Government listening, Llywydd, I myself addressed the National Farmers Union council yesterday afternoon, as I did to the FUW's annual conference last year in Aberystwyth, as I met with the FUW with Lesley Griffiths to talk with them specifically about TB. I want to recognise the sense of strain that there is in farming communities here in Wales as we leave the European Union, with all the uncertainty that that brings for farming communities, and that is very real, as they told me yesterday when I met with them, alarmed by what the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to say at the weekend about not pursuing regulatory alignment, for example.
As far as long-term indicators of TB in Wales are concerned, there's been a 37 per cent decrease in new incidents over the last decade, a 4 per cent decrease in animal slaughters over the whole of that period, and there were 393 fewer herds under restrictions at the end of 2018 than at the end of 2009. We do need to do more. I acknowledge that. It's why I met with Professor Glyn Hewinson, with Lesley Griffiths, not last week but the week before—the world's leading expert in bovine TB who we have brought here to Wales, we have established with a new institute in Aberystwyth under the Sêr programme, drawing in other major figures from this world. He said to us that he thought there were new things that we would be able to attempt in Wales as a result of the research that he is carrying out and that what we will need is a differentiated package to deal with TB. TB is different in different parts of Wales, the underlying causes are different in different parts of Wales, and as a result of his work and the work that we're doing with others, for example in the Gower, where we have a very particular project hand-in-hand with farmers, we will find new ways of tackling a disease that has such a devastating impact on farming families.
It's quite clear, First Minister, that farmers and farming unions don't think that your current policy on bovine TB is working and that's why it is crucial now that your Government reconsiders this policy in order to tackle this disease in a much more holistic way.
Another pressing issue raised with me this morning, where the Welsh Government also has responsibility, is in relation to nitrate vulnerable zones. There are some very serious concerns regarding these proposals that could impose huge burdens on farmers and, as a result, force many out of business. So, farmers are rightly seeing these proposals as another blow to the agricultural community. At the very least, a regulatory impact assessment must be published, given the enormous impact your Government's proposals will have on every farm in Wales. First Minister, NFU Cymru are absolutely right to say that the Welsh Government is testing the Welsh farming industry beyond its limits. Will you therefore confirm exactly what the Welsh Government's plans are for nitrate vulnerable zones in Wales, given that you promised to introduce these at the beginning of this year? Will you now publish a detailed regulatory impact assessment of these proposals and will you now make it crystal clear exactly what support will be made available to those farmers who will be financially disadvantaged by your Government's proposals?
Well, Llywydd, we were committed to bringing forward regulations at the start of January, and the reason that we have delayed that for a number of weeks is exactly in order to be able to carry on the conversation with farmers who have come through the consultation process with some new ideas as to how the purpose of the regulations can be delivered in practice. But let me be completely clear: the Welsh Government will not step back from tackling pollution in agriculture here in Wales.
Pollution incidents are too high—they have been growing, they do damage. They do damage to water courses here in Wales, they do damage to the environment and they do damage to the reputation of the farming industry, just at the point where the reputation of food production here in Wales needs to be at its very best. That is why, following years of a voluntary scheme agreed with the NFU, which is not then honoured on the ground, we will move to regulate, but we will do it alongside our farming communities, in discussion with them. That's why we have held back in bringing the regulations forward, because there may be ways in which we can achieve the aims that we will not stand back from in a way that farmers would find more practical in the way that it is applied. And then we will provide financial support to assist them—not to reach the standards that are already there in regulations and that every farm in Wales ought already to be meeting, but to meet any additional regulatory burden that will come through the pollution control. Five million pounds in next year's budget to help tackle pollution to water quality. We will work with the farming community. This is the right thing to do. We want to do it alongside them, but that does not mean for a moment that we will stand back from the challenge that agricultural pollution poses to us here in Wales.
Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price.
Diolch, Llywydd. Despite repeated public safety concerns, the then justice Secretary at Westminster, Chris Grayling, pressed ahead with the part privatisation of the probation service in 2014. A year later, Conner Marshall from Barry was murdered by David Braddon, who was under the supervision of a privately run community rehabilitation company. This has turned out to be one of the most catastrophic policy decisions by a Westminster Government. Conner's mother Nadine, who was in the Senedd today, has led a tireless campaign to get justice for Conner. First Minister, how can we best honour his memory and her work?
I thank the Member for that question and begin by agreeing with him that the destruction of the probation service, often referred to previously as the jewel in the crown of the England and Wales criminal justice system, is a stain on the record of the previous Conservative Government and a stain that had such devastating practical consequences in the case to which Adam Price has referred. I pay enormous tribute to the campaign led by Conner's mother. I know what an impact that has had on the wider family and on her own future. I know that, because she met twice with my predecessor as First Minister to present directly to him her and her family's experience and to ask for our help in putting pressure on the UK Government to right the wrongs that had been done, which was assiduously followed by my predecessor.
The Member asked what could we do to mark our difference here in Wales. Well, I have long argued that the probation service ought to be devolved here in Wales. I first gave evidence in 1995, on behalf of the National Association of Probation Officers, to a commission that was preparing legislation for devolution and argued there that the probation service and youth justice ought to have been on the early list of services to be devolved, because the things that a probation officer relies on to discharge their responsibilities effectively are all devolved already. If you're looking for a mental health service, it's controlled in Wales. If you're looking for a course for somebody to go on to improve their prospects of employment, it's devolved to Wales. If you're looking for somewhere for somebody to live, housing services are devolved to Wales. The alignment between the probation service and the services that are already devolved is so strong that probation ought to be devolved so that the dedicated staff who still work in the probation service, under often impossibly difficult conditions, would be better placed to do the job that they want to do, and we could have a probation service of the sort that we would want to see here in Wales.
Thank you, First Minister. When the system was privatised, as we know, eight organisations were awarded the contracts worth just under £4 billion. Working Links was the company supervising David Braddon. In 2015, the year of the murder, The Financial Times reported that staff were writing to the company complaining of excessive workloads. Last week, the coroner concluded that the management and supervision of the newly appointed probation worker responsible for David Braddon was woefully inadequate. However, it's not clear that much changed in the intervening period. The inspectorate of probation report in July last year reported that 60 per cent of reporting officers thought their workload was unmanageable. Were the concerns raised by probation workers brought to the attention of the integrated offender management Cymru board or the all-Wales criminal justice board, on which the Welsh Government is represented for the reasons that the First Minister has just outlined, and, specifically, were the boards aware of any increased risk, potentially, to the public in south Wales at the time of Conner Marshall's murder as a result of the shortcomings identified?
Llywydd, what I can say in general is that our concerns about the fate of the probation service, about its privatisation, about its break-up into component parts, have very regularly been raised through the machinery that we have here in Wales and in our contact with the UK Government. Indeed, I very well remember myself the strenuous efforts that we made while Chris Grayling was embarking upon this wholly misguided reform, where we argued that Wales should be excluded from it, because if there was a market anywhere—and I would have doubted that very much—if there was a market that could be used to provide services, there was no market in Wales. There simply weren't providers out there waiting to take on this work. So, we argued strenuously at the time that we should be excluded from these reforms, because they simply were never going to work on the ground here, and we conveyed that through all the different mechanisms that we had.
Llywydd, Adam Price asked me a very specific question at the end as to the boards' discussions of a particular item. I don't have that information immediately to hand, but I'm very happy that we will find it and let him know the outcome.FootnoteLink
First Minister, you make the case very eloquently that, certainly, probation should have been devolved long ago, and it's certainly the case, I think, that had the justice system been devolved then we wouldn't have followed the disastrous changes that the UK Government implemented, and I think you have to ask: could it be that an innocent life would not have been lost? Obviously, the Thomas commission has issued its report, making the case broadly for the devolution of justice and policing. It should be noted in this context that the actual name of the new community rehabilitation company that took over from Working Links is, actually, and almost inexplicably, the Wales division of Kent, Surrey and Sussex, which in some ways say it all, doesn't it, about the predicament that we're in? Is the First Minister able to tell us when the Welsh Government will formally respond to the Thomas commission recommendations, and will that response be a positive one in terms of its core proposal, which is the devolution of justice and policing and probation? And wouldn't that be the best way of honouring Conner's memory?
Llywydd, we will certainly be making a positive response to the Thomas commission. One of the recommendations was greater co-ordination of the work that turns out to be going on right across the Welsh Government in this non-devolved area already—one of the striking things that Lord Thomas said he found that he hadn't necessarily anticipated.
Yesterday we had the first meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee that I will chair to oversee the implementation of the Thomas commission's recommendations and the wider work of the Welsh Government in the justice field. There will be a debate on the floor of the Assembly here in Government time very shortly, in which we will report on the steps we have taken immediately after the publication of the report. I understand that there is a conference planned for April of this year led by Swansea University, which will be a further opportunity to bring those interests together, because, Llywydd, let's not forget that lots of the recommendations in the Thomas commission are aimed at the profession here in Wales—things that the profession itself needs to do to strengthen its ability to provide the service of the sort that the Thomas commission envisages. That April conference will be an early opportunity for us to report on progress, and to do it with those other interests that are necessary if we're to make a success of the recommendations in Wales.
Brexit Party leader, Mark Reckless.
First Minister, a key element of city deals, at least as the UK Government has promoted them over the past eight years, is to integrate transport on a regional basis. Does Cardiff council's announcement last week mean that a different approach is being taken in Wales? Not only does one council area, Cardiff, appear to get a disproportionate share of public transport investment for the Cardiff city region, we're now told that Cardiff council wants to make others pay for it by charging non-Cardiff residents £2 a time to bring their cars into Cardiff city centre, while exempting all Cardiff's own residents. First Minister, do you support taxing Newport, Bridgend and the Valleys to pay for Cardiff?
Well, Llywydd, I think the Member confuses a number of different strands in trying to tie the city deal and its mechanisms and its funding with the proposals for consultation that Cardiff council have produced. I'll just draw the Member's attention, in case he's not had an opportunity to see it yet, to a letter issued by my colleague Ken Skates on behalf of the Welsh Government to the leader of Cardiff council. The letter is in the public domain, and I'll just quote from the relevant paragraph: the Welsh Government needs to consider in detail the proposed introduction of any new demand management mechanism by the council and its impact on the wider region around Cardiff, which includes some of the most deprived communities in Wales. To this end, I can confirm that the Welsh Government is now commissioning a detailed study into demand management approaches, their benefits and challenges, to inform a national position on this issue, which can help contribute to regional positions in relation to it.
I'm glad to hear the Government will be looking at this in detail and responding to the consultation. However, doesn't this go to values? Average pay in Cardiff is £583 per week. In Blaenau Gwent, it is £458 per week. Why should people who earn £125 less per week pay a new tax while people who earn £125 more a week are exempted? What does that say about the values of the First Minister, his party and his Government? While he may respond in general in due course, why can't he say now that it is wrong for Cardiff council to seek to make everyone else pay a congestion charge while exempting its own residents? We learned in the draft budget that there are to be swanky new electric buses at twice the normal price for Cardiff, yet bus services in Ebbw Vale have been halved in frequency as Welsh Government makes real-terms cuts to bus subsidies. [Interruption.] And the junior Minister heckles. His budget—real-terms cuts to bus subsidies. Those are the values of this Welsh Government. The head of Welsh Treasury told Finance Committee last week that this was because Welsh Government could give capital support, but not more revenue. First Minister, is this really true? Wouldn't new buses reduce operating costs and attract more passengers, therefore reducing the need for revenue subsidy? And if UK Government can rip up Treasury rules in order to get investment out of London and to the north of England, why is it that Welsh Treasury is insisting on an approach that denies investment to the Valleys in order to concentrate it in Cardiff?
Well, Llywydd, it is the normal farrago of ideas that we are offered by the Member. Swanky new electric buses are being provided in Newport and Caerphilly as well. Does he not want to see them there either? Does he not want to see the £29 million that we have put in our draft budget for next year to support electric vehicles here in Wales? Of course we need to see new forms of public transport, because we have to persuade people to come away from the car and to use different forms of transport. Cardiff is the most commuted city in the whole of the United Kingdom—70,000 vehicles travel into Cardiff every day. If we are serious about air quality, if we are serious about the climate emergency, then we can't just look the other way and say, 'Never mind; just let it carry on.' Now, fairness is at the heart of how that problem must be solved, and that is absolutely in the heart of the letter that Ken Skates has provided to the leader of Cardiff council. But dismissing all the ways in which we can make a difference in the future as though they were of no relevance to people who live either in the capital city or in the areas that surround it is no way at all to approach what is a fundamentally serious public policy challenge here in Wales, in our capital city and far beyond.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on improving ambulance transfers in Wales? OAQ54941
I thank the Member. The health Minister published a written statement on 15 January setting out steps further to improve ambulance services in Wales, including transfers between ambulances and receiving hospital departments.
Thank you, Minister. The Wales Air Ambulance charity had its busiest year in 2019, its hard-working team responding to 3,627 emergency calls—up 1,200 from 2018. The aircraft can travel over 2 miles per minute and reach anywhere in Wales within 20 minutes. Now, the effectiveness of reaching, treating and transporting patients is clear, so I now support the air ambulance's aim for it to become a 24-hour service. David Gilbert OBE, chairman of the trust, has said:
'with the help of the Welsh public, we want to make our vision of providing a 24-hour service a reality'.
An extra £1.5 million is required for this. What steps could you as a Welsh Government take to help make a 24-hour air ambulance service a reality?
I thank the Member for that, and just want to say how much I share the positive view that she has expressed of the Wales Air Ambulance, the fantastic work that it does. The air ambulance has always been very clear with us as a Government that it doesn't want public money directly paid to it, because it thinks it would compromise its ability to raise money from the public, which it does year in and year out in such a fantastic way, with so many committed volunteers.
We support the charity in other ways. We do support it by training, particularly the paramedics that it employs. We support it through the EMRTS service, the emergency medical retrieval services that work closely with it, and we certainly support the work of the Wales Air Ambulance by explaining to people the fantastic work that it does, how making it a 24-hour service will allow it to do even more in future, supporting it in the different places in Wales from where it operates, and making it clear to people in Wales that it has the full support of the Welsh Government in its work and in its ambition.
4. Will the First Minister outline how the Welsh Government is promoting Newport's heritage and culture? OAQ54977
The Welsh Government invests directly in key elements of the rich heritage and culture of Newport. At the same time, we act with others—the local authority, private businesses, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Cadw, for example—to promote the city's many attractions, both at home and abroad.
Thank you, First Minister. As you said, we have a very rich and diverse history in Newport that we're very proud of, from our Chartist heritage to our majestic transporter bridge and maritime history, the splendid Tredegar House and our Roman fortress at Caerleon.
Last week, it was a pleasure to welcome the Deputy Minister to Caerleon for the reopening of the National Roman Legion Museum. While the museum has been closed to the public for renovation, the educational visits continued, with over 20,000 visitors last year. In Caerleon, we have a Roman legacy with an amphitheatre, baths and barracks that rival anywhere in the UK. However, to make the most of this wonderful site, National Museum Wales, Cadw and Newport City Council, along with Welsh Government, must all work together to promote Caerleon as a popular tourist destination, not just within Newport, but within the rest of Wales and to attract visitors from further afield.
Firstly, will the First Minister join me in recognising the important educational work of National Museum Wales's offer to schools and our young people in Caerleon, and also look at practical ways that the Welsh Government can redouble its efforts to support Newport council, National Museum Wales and Cadw to come together to ensure that what we have to offer in Caerleon is maximised and utilised fully?
Can I thank Jayne Bryant for that? I see that the Deputy Minister is a regular visitor to Newport, having been to the transporter bridge recently as well, and I look forward to developing possibilities for making more of that attraction in Newport in the future.
Of course, Jayne Bryant is right in what she says about the importance of the ancient Roman town of Caerleon—the most complete Roman amphitheatre in Britain, the only Roman legionary barracks on view anywhere in Europe—and it's great to see that the work that has been done to repair it, some of the essential work to the roof of the museum, has now been completed and that it's open fully to the public.
I want to just pay tribute to the people who work at the museum for the way in which they kept those educational services going, even when the museum itself wasn't open to the public in the way that it had been previously. It's a really important part of what it does to make sure that those live experiences that it offers to young people—that bring the history of Caerleon and Wales's history alive for them—now continues and develops. And, of course the Welsh Government will work, as I said in my original answer, in partnership with the local authority, with Cadw and others, to make the very most of that really important site.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on what action the Welsh Government is taking in south Wales to tackle climate change? OAQ54956
Llywydd, we are tackling climate change by reducing emissions and building resilience. In south Wales, we are investing in public transport, low-carbon buildings, decarbonising our energy system, improving biodiversity, and building resilience to the impacts of climate change in areas such as flood prevention and natural resource management.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. I'd like to return you briefly to the issue of road congestion and the impact on climate change. I very much welcome the consideration that's now being given to the issue of congestion and pollution from traffic into Cardiff. Of course, that traffic doesn't miraculously appear in Cardiff, it goes through constituencies such as mine into Cardiff, and that congestion and pollution is felt all through quite a large number of our constituencies. But, in particular, the solution to congestion and pollution is not just in Cardiff, it lies much further through.
In order to win the support, I think, of the many people in the Pontypridd constituency and further afield, it seems to me that consideration of the whole issue of congestion charging is dependent on a number of principled assurances I think people want. The first one is that the costs do not disproportionately fall on the poorest communities. The second one is that a proportion of the proceeds are redistributed and invested within our broader transport system. And that, thirdly, there is an affordable public transport alternative available, First Minister.
I thank Mick Antoniw for those additional points on this matter. Of course, he is right that traffic that flows through his constituency and very often from his constituency into mine and then onwards into Cardiff is generated elsewhere. I just want to recognise what Mick Antoniw said about the need for this to be tackled. The idea that you can simply ignore it and look the other way is simply not an answer to what we face. But the answer that we design has to have the sorts of characteristics that he mentioned.
I said in the answer to my previous question, for those who were here to hear it, that the Minister's letter puts fairness at the heart of the Welsh Government's response to it, and that redistribution of any sums raised, so that they benefit areas outside Cardiff, is integral to any plan as well. And of course, affordable public transport of the sort that I know the Member has particularly campaigned for, for the reopening of former railway lines that would serve his constituency and provide that sort of affordable public transport, has to be integral to the plan as well. And it is why, in the answer that I provided to Mark Reckless, I read that part of the Minister's letter to Cardiff Council that places all of those things in that wider context.
6. What is the Welsh Government doing to help victims of crime in Wales? OAQ54975
Llywydd, we work closely with the four police forces and our police and crime commissioners in Wales and other partners, including the Welsh Local Government Association and Public Health Wales, to support victims of crime and to reduce the risk of people becoming victims of crime.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. A number of months ago, I asked you if you would support my call for the fathers of children conceived by an act of rape being barred from gaining a right to see those children. At the time, you refused to give me a straight answer, saying that it was not a devolved matter, despite the fact that you in this place often call on the Westminster Government to act on matters that are not devolved to this place. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cymru is devolved, though, and can make recommendations to the family courts in Wales that a family court in England or elsewhere in the UK might not, and so are social services devolved.
How can a victim of rape ever find anything near closure if she has to worry that, one day, her attacker may come back and be a part of her child's life, and that her child may be forced to have contact with the person who raped their own mother? So, I'm asking you for a second time: do you agree with me—and you do have some of the levers necessary to be able to do this—that the family court shouldn't grant the fathers of children born from rape any access rights to see those children, and will you make an effort to bring about such a ban in Wales? If not, why?
Llywydd, I probably can't go further than I did in my last answer to the Member. I want to recognise the importance of the points that she makes and the debate that she has engendered around this issue. The reason why I can't offer her the guarantees that she looks to me to provide is that the powers to do so do not lie in this Assembly. That was true the last time she asked me the question and it's true again today. A change in the law of the sort that she has asked me about cannot be brought about here, no matter how many times she asks for that to happen. So, I can't provide her with a guarantee, because it wouldn't be honest to do that.
The decisions that are made in the family court cannot be made by politicians. They are made in the family court with the advice of the professional workers who report on individual cases. Of course they should take very seriously the points that the Member has made. I agree entirely with that. But it's for—[Interruption.] The Member is trying to intervene, Llywydd, from where she is sitting, but the point she makes is no better for repeating it than it was the first time she made it. She asks me to guarantee something that is not in my power to guarantee. I won't do that, because that would be to offer a false assurance to people who, quite rightly, are concerned about the points the Member has raised and, I'll repeat, deserve to be taken seriously.
7. Will the First Minister provide an update on the projected timetable for the dualling of sections 5 and 6 of the A465 Heads of the Valleys road? OAQ54947
I thank the Member for that, Llywydd. It's expected that tenders for the dualling of sections 5 and 6 of the A465 will be received next month. Ministers will then consider the project's full business case. Provided that remains satisfactory, we expect a contract to be let in the summer of 2020, with construction due to start by the end of the year.
Thank you, First Minister. I know you've been a strong supporter of this project, which has been so important to my constituents, not least in your former role as finance Minister when you put forward the mutual investment model that will ensure that this project is delivered. I know there have been some concerns about the impact of delays and increased costs in dualling earlier sections of the road, and this can be set against recent reports that geological survey work on the Hirwaun to Dowlais section wasn't carried out until more than a year after procurement of contracts began. In at least one case, exploratory drilling has been postponed until construction is under way. This surely must raise some concerns about how both costs and engineering techniques have been drawn up for this section thus far and, with that in mind, what lessons has Welsh Government learnt from the dualling of the A465 section 2, and how will they be applied to the dualling of sections 5 and 6?
I thank the Member for the important question. She is absolutely right to say that there are lessons to be learnt from the way in which the dualling of section 2 of the A465 has been carried out, both in the way in which contracts are drawn up and the way in which risks between the Welsh Government and the contractor are spread. Indeed, to turn to the specific point that Vikki Howells made, in that contract the collection of data—for example, through ground condition surveys—was the responsibility of the contractor; I think one of the things we will have learnt from that is that, in future, it would be better if the Welsh Government took responsibility for that, given some of the things that have transpired since.
But I'm very grateful to Vikki Howells for the opportunity just to be clear—because I think there may have been some confusion about this—that section 2 of the A465 was not a mutual investment model programme, whereas the contract to be used for sections 5 and 6 is to be discharged through the MIM arrangement. It's a fundamentally different approach; it's a fixed price, lump-sum contract, in which the Welsh Government will not pay for the service until it is operational. That will incentivise the contractors to deliver the programme on time. The risk of cost increase and programme delays sits entirely with the appointed service provider in the mutual investment model. We will learn the lessons from earlier sections, but the model we will use for sections 5 and 6 will have all those additional benefits that we think, in this instance, using that form of contract will bring.
Finally, question 8, Leanne Wood.
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on the future of accident and emergency services at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital? OAQ54953
Llywydd, I understand that the local health board will discuss this matter at its next public board meeting on 30 January.
First Minister, I have a report looking at how communities served by the Royal Glamorgan Hospital will be affected if consultant-led accident and emergency services are removed from there. The worst affected communities are to be found in mid Rhondda. The towns and villages at the top of the Rhondda Fach and Fawr can access Prince Charles Hospital relatively quickly via the Maerdy and Rhigos mountain roads. However, Rhondda residents who regularly use that route know that that's a dangerous assumption to make because in the winter those roads are often closed. Do you support the retention of consultant-led services at the Royal Glamorgan accident and emergency department and its ability to deal with trauma admissions? And will you be prepared to listen to the views of both patients and staff, especially those concerns around travel times, before any final decision on the future of consultant-led A&E in that hospital is made?
Llywydd, I thank the Member for those points. I haven't seen the report to which she referred, and I haven't seen the paper that the board will take to its public meeting on 30 January. However, I do understand that the board is to offer local Assembly Members an opportunity of a briefing on Friday of this week, in order to understand what they are to report to that board. I certainly expect that the board would operate in the way that Leanne Wood has suggested, listening to the views of patients, of staff, and of elected representatives, and I hope that Friday's meeting will be a helpful start to that process.
Thank you, First Minister.
The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make the statement—Rebecca Evans.
There are two changes to this week's business. Firstly, the legislative consent motion on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill will be debated immediately after this business statement, with a vote then taken immediately afterwards. Secondly, the length of the debate on the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill has been reduced in line with the number of amendments tabled. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Trefnydd, can I call for a statement from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs please, on the Welsh Government's efforts to protect endangered and threatened species in Wales? You may or may not be aware that today is Squirrel Appreciation Day around the world, and as the red squirrel champion in the National Assembly, I think it's very important that I take this opportunity to raise the important issue of red squirrel conservation across the country.
Since the 1940s, the red squirrel population has gone from covering the majority of Wales to having a population in just three main centres, one on Ynys Môn, one in mid Wales, and one in the Clocaenog Forest in my own constituency. Now, I know that there are many species represented by many individuals in this Chamber, but I do think it would be an opportune time to request an update on the action that is being taken by the Welsh Government to protect red squirrels, and, indeed, other threatened species across the country.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
I thank Darren Millar for the question, and wish him a very happy squirrel appreciation day, as the species champion within this Assembly. And, certainly, the Minister was here to hear your request for an update on action to protect threatened species, and I'm sure she'll give it due consideration.
I want to raise the devolution of the criminal justice system. The past week has seen a significant strengthening of the arguments for devolution, in line with what already exists in Scotland and the north of Ireland. The tragic case of Conner Marshall has highlighted what many of us already knew—that the probation service privatisation has been an unmitigated disaster. How many other lives have to be lost before the probation service is sorted out? Will we ever fully understand the extent of the true cost of the decision to part privatise the probation service?
The Tory justice secretary has said that he's keen to press ahead with plans for another new prison in Wales, even though we have the highest incarceration rate in western Europe. The numbers of people dying because of substance use has reached an all-time high, and the rape conviction rates are plummeting from an already low level. It's clear that the English criminal justice system is not working for us. As the Thomas commission on devolving justice found, people in Wales are let down by the system in its current state. If Wales were running its own criminal justice system, we could have a focus on reducing harm and improving outcomes.
In the First Minister's initial response to the Thomas commission, he promised to open dialogue with the UK Government following the election. Now, more than a month has passed since that election, so can we have a Government statement outlining whether that dialogue has begun? Can you also tell me what preparatory work that you personally have begun in terms of this Government's budget, because you can demonstrate that Wales is serious about the devolution of the criminal justice system to Wales, and that we are not content to see the findings of this commission kicked into the long grass by committing resources to the issue? Do you plan to do that?
Well, I would say, in the first instance, with respect, I think the First Minister has answered some of those questions. But there will be the opportunity to have a more detailed discussion in a debate in Government time, which I understand will be taking place in the coming weeks.
Could we have a statement or a debate on the provision of appropriate treatments for borderline personality disorder in a consistent way right across Wales? I've been approached by an articulate and very well-informed constituent—informed through personal experience and through academic research—who has raised the difficulty of obtaining dialectical behaviour therapy, DBT, in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board area, and he's queried whether the same may apply across different health board areas in Wales. And we could also discuss, then, the extent to which an individual experiencing borderline personality disorder should be able to engage with clinicians on what the individual considers to be the most appropriate form of treatment for themselves, as opposed to simply accepting whatever treatment may or may not be available within one health board area.
Could we also have a statement on changes on train timetabling, to enable Valleys commuters to get to work on time in Cardiff? There are only two trains that leave Maesteg that are scheduled to arrive in Cardiff before 9 a.m. on weekdays. The first leaves at 6.44 a.m., arriving at 7.38 a.m.—plenty of time to get to work for an 8 a.m. or 8.30 a.m. start. However, the second was subject to a timetable change in November, which pushed back the departure train to 8.04 a.m., arriving in Cardiff at 8.54 a.m. if there are no delays. Minister, there are always delays—sometimes five minutes, sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes more. So it means that commuters who previously had understanding bosses who said, 'As long as you're at your desk by 9 a.m., don't worry, you're fine', are now regularly arriving at their desks later than 9 a.m., to find their bosses saying, 'You keep this up and you'll be out of a job.' So, I've written to Ministers, to Transport for Wales, to KeolisAmey, to Network Rail, and others, to put this train back to an earlier time when the May timetable changes come. So I'd welcome a statement on the May timetabling.
And finally, could we have a debate on the roll-out of universal credit, which, as I'm seeing in my surgeries week after week, is pushing many of my constituents deep into debt, into penury, and into despair? And can we have an update on the Welsh Government-commissioned research by Policy in Practice, which is designed to help the Welsh Government make policy decisions to best support local authorities and residents with universal credit, and understand how this is affecting families in Wales? We saw the research last year by Cartref, showing the impact of the freeze on universal credit, leading to an average 6 per cent cut to the income of people claiming working-age benefits since 2016. It showed that 84 per cent of tenants claiming UC now owe some rent to their housing association, whether through non-payment or technical issues. And those tenants on UC who are in arrears owe more than double the amount of rent compared to peers claiming housing benefit under the old system. So it would be good to have a statement or a debate on this, so we can really get to grips with the worst effects of this badly designed and poverty-inducing UK Government policy.
I'm grateful to Huw Irranca-Davies for raising three really important issues. The first he raised was regarding access to DBT for individuals with borderline personality disorder. Improving access to a range of therapies is a current priority for the Welsh Government, and over recent years, we have continued to implement our commitment to improve access to psychological therapies, and we provided an additional £4 million to health boards in 2018-19 to support that. A further £3 million was also made available as part of the mental health service improvement funding from this financial year. Improving access, quality, and the range of psychological therapies will, I can confirm, remain a top priority in the forthcoming 'Together for Mental Health Delivery Plan 2019-2022' and it is the intention of the Minister for Health and Social Services to publish that very shortly.
The second issue that was raised was the concern that Huw Irranca-Davies has raised previously in the Chamber, actually, in relation to access to Cardiff from Maesteg. In the first instance, it's an operational matter for Transport for Wales and KeolisAmey, which must meet the franchise commitment, and that is those two trains from Maesteg to Cardiff to arrive before 9 a.m.. But in recognition of the particular issues that he's described, I understand that Transport for Wales representatives have held a stakeholder workshop to look at this issue. The Maesteg-to-Cardiff morning service and the challenges you describe are currently under consideration, and I know that they'll be keen to provide an update following those stakeholder workshops.
The third issue was the issue of welfare reform, and particularly universal credit and the devastating impact that's had on many people right across Wales. Another piece of evidence that adds, I suppose, to our understanding of the impact of the roll-out of universal credit, is the piece of research I published on the council tax reduction scheme in Wales. And Huw Irranca-Davies has described the impact it has on people in terms of rent arrears. That is one piece of a suite of research that we've undertaken that relates to both council tax and non-domestic rates, and as we gather more of those pieces of research together, they will help inform our way forward, and obviously I'd be keen to update Members in due course.
Could the Minister make a statement regarding the siting of small modular reactors in north Wales? We understand that the consortium led by Rolls Royce is considering building small modular reactors, with Trawsfynydd in Gwynedd tipped as a prime target. We also thought that there were plans to site one on the Wylfa facility on Anglesey and reports seemed to confirm that. But a statement from Horizon Nuclear Power has sought to make it clear that this is not correct. They say,
'There are no plans to deploy a Rolls Royce Small Modular Reactor at Wylfa Newydd site and recent media stories reporting this are not correct.'
Could the Minister comment on this statement?
'Activity on the Horizon project is currently suspended, but we're working hard to establish the conditions for a restart using our tried and tested reactor design, which has already cleared the UK regulators' assessment process.'
They said that there is a
'planning application to deliver two of these reactors—providing enough clean power for over five million homes and a multi-billion pound investment to the region.'
Can the Minister give a clear understanding as to the position with both these sites?
Can I ask you, in the first instance, to write to the Minister for Economy and Transport, who will, I think, be best placed to provide an update on his latest understanding of the situation?
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Organiser, the First Minister, in response to the leader of the opposition, did not confirm when the regulatory impact assessment was going to be made available for public consideration. This is a vitally important document to understand the impact of such proposals that the Government are considering at the moment around nitrate vulnerable zones to be implemented here in Wales. Could I implore you to work with the Minister to make that document available to Members, so that we can understand exactly what the regulatory impact assessment is telling Ministers and the impact it will have, should these regulations be implemented across Wales, as proposed, before the Minister decided to have further consultations with the farming unions and other organisations?
I do take the sincerity with which the Government is entering into those discussions, but these are big decisions that are going to be made here on an all-Wales basis. And the Government's own panel, which it set up with the regulator, Natural Resources Wales, signing up to the report that that regulatory panel came up with, was for a voluntary approach on these matters that would seek to address the agricultural pollution incidents that the First Minister touched on.
I would draw the First Minister's attention to the fact that, over the last 20 years there has been no substantial increase in agricultural pollution across Wales. The barometer has been between 190 instances at its top mark and about 120 or 130 instances at its lowest mark. And of those instances, only 20 to 30 have been severe. Now, one is one too many—I accept that. But when you think of the discharge of Welsh Water, for example, in sewage pollution incidents that happen across Wales, and the action of the Government doesn't seem to want to take on those particular issues, this does seem to be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut here, when you already have a deal on the table that the regulator has signed up to, and the organisations came around the table, discussed this, debated it and came up with a proposal. I would implore the Welsh Government to go back to that document and actually work to that document, rather than bring these draconian proposals forward.
I know that the Minister with responsibility for environment, energy and rural affairs is really keen to keep on working alongside farmers and their union representatives on this particular issue. As you say, these are big decisions, which is why Welsh Government is taking the time that it needs in order to develop proposals and to consider them. I understand that the Minister will be receiving advice including the RIA within the coming weeks, hopefully by the end of the month, and, clearly, she'll be keen to discuss things further with stakeholders in due course.
Could we have a statement from the relevant Government Minister on the recent fire at Kronospan in Chirk, which has caused huge concern locally, of course? It's the third fire there in just three years, and it burned for a week, causing pollution across the town and further afield. Now, it took 48 hours for air quality monitoring equipment to be put in place, which missed, of course, the worst of the pollution, but nevertheless it detected formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen, in the air, which, as you can imagine, is causing huge worry to the population locally.
We need an explanation in the wake of these events. We need to hear what Welsh Government is doing to ensure that this doesn't happen again. Will you join with me in calling for an independent inquiry to establish why the fire raged for so long and also why the response from agencies was so sluggish? We also need independent air quality monitoring equipment to be permanently sited there. I understand that the current temporary equipment had to be moved up from Swansea. Now, local residents deserve a robust response from Welsh Government on this, and, at the moment, I'm afraid they're not getting it.
Also, could we have a statement from the education Minister in the wake of a highly critical report by Care Inspectorate Wales into Ruthin School, which was published recently? The report says, and I quote:
'The leadership, management and governance relating to safeguarding was found to be inadequate and as a result, young people were not fully protected.'
And the report identifies
'Significant and widespread concerns in respect of the wellbeing of young people'.
'arrangements for dealing with concerns about young people's safeguarding were inadequate.'
Now, that's wholly unacceptable, and I'm sure you'll agree. So, will the Minister make a statement regarding the Welsh Government's role in safeguarding children in private and boarding schools? Will she also make a statement regarding the interventions available in schools based in Wales that are not subject to local authority control? What oversight do statutory authorities, such as child protection, have over private schools in Wales? And is there not a case to be made that when child safeguarding is at issue, then earlier intervention is required? This is the second report in a year highlighting concerns about safeguarding issues at the school and we need answers from the Welsh Government on these questions.
On the second issue, which you raised in relation to Ruthin School, I will ask the Minister for social services to write to you in response to the particular questions you had about safeguarding and Welsh Government's role of ensuring the safeguarding of children and young people in private and boarding schools, and also the oversight that the statutory bodies have, because those were some detailed questions and I'm sure that they require a detailed answer.
The first issue was, of course, the fire at Kronospan and the issues that related to the smoke as a result of that fire. The Minister has obviously been here to hear your comments on that and he's obviously taken an interest in it. I'm sure your officials would have been in touch with Wrexham County Borough Council, which, obviously, is the lead body in terms of responding to this. But if I could ask you to write to the Minister, I'm sure she'd provide an update on the overall issue.
I would, business manager, like to ask for two statements, if possible, from the Government. The first relates to a matter that was raised during First Minister's questions, and that is the congestion charge that Cardiff county council has proposed as part of their work to improve transport within the city. Many of us will welcome the vision that Cardiff local authorities demonstrated in their White Paper, and many of us will support their ambitions, but many of us will not tolerate a Valleys tax to pay for it. It's important, I believe, that any charge levied on citizens of this country is done so fairly and with equality at its heart. The congestion charge as proposed by Cardiff county council fails on both of those measures. It is, of course, the Welsh Government that has responsibility for the trunk road network and the major roads into and out of Cardiff. I understand that Cardiff city council, Cardiff county council, will take responsibility for those roads within the city itself, but up until the entrance to the city, they are the responsibility of the Welsh Government. It would be useful, therefore, if we could understand what the policy of the Welsh Government is on road charging and whether the Welsh Government were consulted as part of this and whether the Welsh Government has signalled any consent or support for this potential tax. And for many of us, we are immensely concerned about the way in which this was announced and immensely concerned about the impact it will have on our constituents. So, I would be grateful if the Welsh Government could provide us with a statement on those matters.
The second is—I would like to ask for a statement from the health Minister on issues around drugs and the spiking of drinks. This matter has been raised with me in the last few weeks. We had, last week, a very good, I felt, debate on rape and how rape is dealt with within the criminal justice system. I think many of us welcomed that debate and I think there was a broad agreement on all sides of this Chamber about the need to improve the experience of people who've been victims of rape within the criminal justice system. But we must also recognise—particularly young women are at threat from drinks being spiked in all of our major towns and cities, and particularly students and young women face an enormous impact and fear that their drinks can be spiked and they may be attacked when enjoying a night out. This is something that I think is of profound significance to all of us, and it's something that I hope the Welsh Government could seek to take action to address.
I'm grateful to Alun Davies for raising both of these issues. I think that the letter that the economy Minister has sent to the leader of Cardiff council does start to answer some of those concerns that you have, particularly in terms of Welsh Government's concern about fairness, but also the concern that any decisions should be taken in a way that is very much considerate of the impact on the wider region as well. So, I think that the work that is set in train as a result of that letter will be the starting point for those discussions, and I'll ensure that that letter is circulated to Members.
And on the second issue in terms of the spiking of drinks, I know that the health Minister is due to issue a statement in the near future that will launch the new substance misuse delivery plan, and, clearly, education and keeping people safe are very much at the heart of that particular plan.
Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for Housing and Local Government about the housing support grant? Funding for housing-related support has fallen by £27 million in real terms since 2012. Local authorities, third sector support providers and social landlords say that, within current budget restraints, it is already difficult to meet the needs of people requiring support services. They claim that without additional investment in the housing support grant, there is a risk that services will not have the capacity to meet people's needs and that homelessness could get much worse in Wales. Could we have a statement from the Minister in response to these concerns about what action she will take to ensure services have the resources to meet the needs of people experiencing the effects of homelessness?
And the second statement I would like to ask for from the Minister for culture, please. I think the First Minister earlier mentioned heritage sites in Newport. It was very nice to understand his concern. But my concern is vandalism in heritage sites. Earlier this month, it was reported that appalling damage had been done to a burial mound dating back to the Bronze Age at Wentwood near Newport, and police say it could only have been done by off-road vehicles. It is not acceptable in any society. Before we promote our Newport heritage, our culture, we have to make sure it is adequately protected. So, Minister, can we have a statement from the Government that all of our heritage sites are properly protected from these vandals? Thank you.
Thank you for raising these issues, the first being the housing support grant. The particular issue you refer to is a part of the budget for 2020-1, and I would suggest, perhaps, that the appropriate place for scrutiny of that is within the budget discussions, so there'll be another opportunity to have those debates here on the floor of the Assembly, and also through the budget scrutiny process that committees are undertaking as well. So, that, I think, would be the appropriate place to be scrutinising elements of the 2020-1 budget.
I will ask the Minister to write to you in terms of how we are protecting our heritage sites in the round, but also with some specific thoughts on the issue of those off-road vehicles that you described, which clearly have had a very, very detrimental impact in the area of Wentloog, which you referred to.
I would like to ask for two Government statements. The first is on British Sign Language and the provision of courses, especially for the parents of deaf children. We received and debated a petition from Deffo!, which was supported by the Government and supported by Members across the Chamber, and people are saying to me at Deffo!, 'What's happening now?' Can we have a statement on what actions have been taken and what actions are planned following that petition, because there are serious concerns within the deaf community? I'm not sure I want to declare an interest: my sister is profoundly deaf and a member of the deaf community, but I'm not the parent of a deaf child.
The second request is on publicly available electric charging points. We're trying to promote electric cars; we're trying to promote green energy. Would it be possible for the Minister to make a statement on where they're planned for, when they're likely to be installed, how many are likely to be installed at each point and what type? Because I understand from one of my constituents that most of those at the Sarn service station are there for Tesla vehicles, not the more common charger. I'm not an expert in these things, but my constituent says that if you've got a Tesla vehicle, there's no queue; if you've got an ordinary electrical vehicle, there is a queue. We're trying to get people into electrical vehicles. There needs to be some sort of plan, and I'd like a Government statement on that plan.
I can see the Minister responding positively to your request for a statement in relation to electric car charging points. There are currently over 930 publicly accessible charging point connectors across Wales, up from 670 in April of last year. So, clearly, we are starting to see some progress in this area, but Mike Hedges raises an important point, doesn't he, about the particular charging points being appropriate for the vehicles that people are choosing to drive? So, Ken Skates would have heard those comments, and I'm sure that he'll provide an update on that.
On the specific issue of BSL and the petition that Deffo! brought forward to the Assembly, I'll be sure to liaise with colleagues—I know that this is an area of interest for a number of our colleagues, actually, across Government, both in education and health—to ensure that you are provided with a suitable update.FootnoteLink
I'd like to raise an issue as a supporter of sport in Wales and of the need to celebrate Welsh sporting history, and also as a Cardiff City fan and elected representative of a not insignificant number and hardy bunch of Bluebirds fans from Anglesey—Holyhead in particular—who've been very faithful to the club over the years. Cardiff City Supporters' Trust has become aware of a valuable and irreplaceable collection of Cardiff City Football Club historic memorabilia that's due to be auctioned on 25 January. Now, the trust has urged Cardiff City Football Club to acquire the collection as the basis of a museum to celebrate the history of the club. There had been some reports that the items had been withdrawn from sale. It appears that they are due still to go for sale on 25 January. Time is running out to prevent this loss of a very important Welsh sporting heritage. Could I ask for intervention by the Minister for sport and sporting heritage, including making contact with the club to see what assistance might be given to keep this in public hands, or at least accessible to the public, and for a written statement on steps that might be taken by Welsh Government to support the club in acquiring this very valuable memorabilia?
Of course, the Deputy Minister with responsibility for sport has been here to hear your request for his intervention in this particular issue in terms of ensuring the memorabilia to celebrate the history of the club that you described is still accessible to fans of the club, and I'm sure that he will give it due consideration.
Through you, Minister, I'd like a statement from the Deputy Minister for children on child protection, because we live in a Wales where a vulnerable child, or vulnerable children, actually, in the care of private companies can allege abuse, it's not taken seriously, they will not be taken to a place of safety to be spoken to, if a child has learning difficulties they will not be given an advocate, they will not speak to a child protection specialist. And, if you think of the scandals all over the UK now about children having been through the utmost brutality in care, and if you look at the history of care homes in Wales—in this city, in fact—then my question or statement that I want from the Government really is: what is the Government going to do to protect children in Wales? It's a desperate situation. They must be listened to.
Safeguarding of children, and vulnerable children in particular, is clearly a priority for the Welsh Government, and I will certainly ask the Minister for social services to provide you with that update on what the Welsh Government's priorities are for child protection in Wales.
I endorse the comments about the fire at Kronospan and note that Wrexham council convened a multi-agency meeting to discuss this last Tuesday, and that the Clwyd South MP was meeting the chief executive of the council last Friday and is keeping the Secretary of State up to date on this.
But I call for two statements. Firstly, on cervical cancer prevention, you may be aware that this is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, which is campaigning to end the stigma around the human papilloma virus infection, or HPV, and to raise awareness of this really common virus and the role of cervical cancer screening in preventing cervical cancer, states the cervical screening programme in Wales is now testing all samples for HPV first, but notes amongst other things that many women still—. They hear regularly from women every day who feel ashamed, embarrassed, confused after being told they have HPV. Myths around HPV may further discourage women from attending their screening tests. So, could I call for a statement responding to their call for detail from the Welsh Government on the steps that the health Secretary is taking to increase understanding of HPV following the cervical screening move to HPV primary screening?
Secondly and finally, could I call for a statement on help for young people facing financial hardship? This is in the context of the charity established by Ally Elouise in Llandudno in 2015, which offers free loans of over 3,000 suits and prom dresses to hundreds of students who otherwise couldn't afford to celebrate finishing school. Ally has been awarded the Prime Minister's Points of Light award, and she e-mailed last week stating, 'I'd be grateful if you could share or promote this in order to help as many young people facing financial hardship as possible to attend their school proms this year.' I call for a statement accordingly.
Firstly, I would congratulate Ally on everything that she's achieved and the fact that she has received recognition for what is an excellent, practical idea that can really make all the difference to young people. We know the cost of attending a prom can really be prohibitive and a worry for some families, so I take my hat off to Ally and the ingenuity she's shown in ensuring that young people can enjoy what is a very special moment in their school, or the ending of their school, lives.
The cervical cancer issue that you raise is also extremely important, because we are due to have Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, and I know that Vikki Howells will be hosting an event for all Assembly Members in the Senedd to attend and find out ways in which we can all play our part in raising awareness of the importance of testing locally. The health Minister, as you were talking, was really keen for me to make the point that, actually, there's no shame involved in any of this, and that it is important that the tests are undertaken. We have more sensitive tests here in Wales, which will mean that we are able to intervene and save lives early, and also now, of course, we're rolling out the vaccinations to boys as well. I know that that's been really warmly welcomed across Wales.
And finally, David Rees.
Trefnydd, last week the Secretary of State for Justice in the UK Government reminded us that he still believed that there was a need for a new prison in south Wales. Now, we've had this debate before, where my community has been very vehemently against the location of the last proposal. But the question we had in that debate was whether we needed a new superprison, and what were the appropriate processes. Will you have a statement from the Welsh Government as to what discussions you've had with the UK Government on such ideas from the Secretary of State for Justice, and what actually he means by the benefits of a new superprison? Because, in the debates last time, we talked about the ways in which we can actually make lives better for prisoners, and to look at the way in which we pass justice over. We talked very much about the devolution of justice and devolution of prison services to Wales so that we could do it appropriately for Wales. Now, this statement seems to be ignoring all those concepts and once again looking to impose a new prison in us. So, hopefully we'll have a statement from the Minister, or whoever is the relevant Minister, in relation to actually what discussions are taking place and what plans he's having for Wales.
I will certainly ask the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip to provide you with an update on the latest discussions that may have been had in this particular area and the Welsh Government's approach to the relevant issues that have been raised.
Thank you very much, Trefnydd.
Item 3 on the agenda this afternoon is the legislative consent motion on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, and I call on the First Minister to move the motion—Mark Drakeford.
Motion NDM7232 Mark Drakeford
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 29.6 agrees that provisions in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill in so far as they fall within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales, should be considered by the UK Parliament.
Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd. The motion before the Assembly today is important and historic. We need to consider legislative consent to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. In discussing this issue today, the Welsh Government will consider the Bill from the perspective of what is best for Wales. Deputy Presiding Officer, Brexit is going to happen. We must now focus on how Brexit happens, and how we can establish a relationship with Europe that safeguards the interests of Wales. That is the starting point in looking at the issue of legislative consent to this crucial Bill.
Dirprwy Lywydd, can I thank you and the Llywydd for the flexibility that you have shown over the debate, the timing of the debate, on the withdrawal agreement Bill, probably the most important piece of Westminster legislation we have had to consider in the 20-year history of this Senedd? Now, let me be clear about what this debate is not about. It is not about blocking Brexit; it is not about frustrating the Bill. It is about the form and not the fact of Brexit. It is about improving and not derailing the Bill. Brexit is going to happen—that is a fact. How Brexit happens, however, is anything but settled.
Will the First Minister give way? Isn't that exactly what you said in 2016 after the referendum? Given your actions for the last three and a half years, why should people believe you now?
Well, I think the Member may have been asleep for the whole month of December when a general election took place, and we have a Government that is clear that we are leaving the European Union. I thought that is something that he said he had campaigned for many years to bring about, and I have just said, as clearly as I can, on the record, that, whatever others of us may have thought, that is now a settled fact. What is not settled, and what is the subject of our consideration this afternoon, is how Brexit should happen, and the form of Brexit has twisted and turned many times already in the hands of successive Conservative Governments. Indeed, the Bill that we are asked to consent to today is not the Bill that the current Prime Minister would have asked us to consent to just at the start of December.
Now, Dirprwy Lywydd, the UK Government is pushing this Bill through Parliament at a speed in inverse proportion to its significance. That is both unnecessary and wrong. It is the most important decision taken by Parliament in a generation or more, and the legislation surely deserves the fullest and most thorough scrutiny. The failure to afford Parliament with the opportunity to do that has a direct impact on us here. Normally, we would come to the floor of the Assembly to debate the issue of legislative consent on a Bill knowing the final form that it was to be voted upon in Parliament. We still do not know that this afternoon. The fact that there is to be no gap between Report and Third Reading in the House of Lords means that our ability to put a proper decision in front of this National Assembly is also compromised.
The Llywydd took the Chair.
The question that is in front of us, though, is this: does this Bill as currently set out meet the interests of Wales? And the answer that this Government suggests to you this afternoon, the clear conclusion that we have come to, is that we cannot ask you to give consent to the Bill, because the interests of Wales are emphatically not met by it. A mandate for Brexit is not a mandate for bad legislation and, as far as Wales is concerned, this legislation remains very bad indeed. It will undermine our economy in damaging ways and, more importantly, Llywydd, ways that could be avoided.
Let me just set out some of the ways in which this legislation damages essential Welsh interests. First of all, the protection of workers' rights, which was written into the previous proposed legislation, has been abandoned in the Bill that is in front of the House of Commons and House of Lords today. Provisions that were there in previous versions have been taken out of the Bill, and we can't imagine that that is accidental. A Government that was serious about protecting workers' interests would have left those provisions in the Bill, as a previous Conservative Government had been content to do.
Secondly, Llywydd, the Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol creates a whole new set of barriers to trade that simply weren't there under the previous deal. The analysis we published yesterday, carried out by the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex, catalogues the inevitable friction and threat to business at Welsh ports that will arise as a result of the legislation. And it's worth recalling, isn't it, that these dangers were ones that the Prime Minister went all the way to Belfast explicitly to rule out when he promised the unionist community there that he would never agree to a border in the Irish sea. That border in the Irish sea has direct and detrimental impacts upon us here in Wales and we're asked to consent to those detrimental impacts, and this Government says to Members of this Senedd that we should not do so.
Thirdly, dynamic alignment with those EU rules and regulations that are necessary to avoid new barriers to trade featured in Mrs May's earlier agreement but this too has now been abandoned. Now, instead, the Chancellor of the Exchequer openly boasts about diverging from the European Union as though it were an article of faith. Well, this is an article of faith that can only make life harder for Welsh businesses who trade with Europe and surely we should understand in this Chamber that the Welsh economy is more vulnerable in this sense than the UK as a whole because of our reliance on manufacturing and the rural economy. It is surely for supporters of this legislation to describe how they think that new barriers to trade brought about by deliberately departing from the common standards that allow our farmers—to go back to earlier this afternoon—to export to markets elsewhere in Europe more difficult.
The legislation takes us backwards and not forwards. It's not inevitable; it is the result of political choices by the UK Government and there is better legislation available. That is why we have worked so hard, Llywydd, with colleagues at Westminster over the last recent days to move amendments that would have put right some of the things that this legislation gets so badly wrong.
Can I, while I am on this matter, pay tribute to the enormous efforts that have been made by Welsh peers in the House of Lords? Peers of different parties and cross-bench peers as well, many of them former Members of this Senedd, but others too. It's invidious to mention anybody by name, Llywydd, but I do just want to mention Lord John Morris. The last time I had a conversation with Lord Morris, at the end of last year, he told the story of how, as a young man in his 20s, he was chosen to be the warm-up act introducing the main speaker, Clem Attlee, at the Carmarthen by-election of 1957. Here we are, more than 60 years later. Having served as Secretary of State for Wales under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, and Attorney-General in Tony Blair's Cabinet, there he was yesterday—90 years old he'll be next year—battling hard to get this Bill amended so that it could defend essential Welsh interests. If Lord John Morris can battle to defend Welsh interests, then surely we here in this Chamber should be able to do the same.
Let me for a moment, Llywydd, also enumerate the specific shortcomings of this Bill from a devolution perspective. First of all, the wholly offensive clause 21, where the UK Government is taking to itself so-called Henry VIII powers to repeal or amend any part of any Act of Parliament, including the Government of Wales Act 2006. There are Members of the Conservative benches here who have very honourably and over many years policed the boundary between powers given to Welsh Ministers and powers that ought to be exercised here on the floor of the Senedd. I haven't always agreed with some of the conclusions that they have drawn, but I have always admired the effort that they have made to keep that relationship honest. Today, they will be voting to support a Bill in which UK Ministers can amend the Government of Wales Act through secondary legislation and with no consent from this Senedd at all. How could we possibly consent to that?
We wish the Northern Ireland protocol every success, but support for devolution and peace in Northern Ireland does not require the unilateral rewriting by UK Ministers of the devolution settlement. That is what Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the former Lord Chief Justice, battled so hard to persuade UK Ministers of on the floor of the House of Lords, but, despite every argument that he deployed, we've had no return on it at all.
The withdrawal agreement Bill provides no assurance that devolved institutions will be given a meaningful role in future-partnership negotiations, for which it paves the way—negotiations that would have a major impact on matters within devolved competence. We should have a guarantee through the legislation that the voice of this Senedd will be heard in those negotiations, but, despite the amendments that we placed to the Bill, all those attempts were turned down. As the Counsel General has said, it cannot be right to oblige us to comply with international obligations that impact on devolved competence if we have had no part in agreeing to them.
Finally, and most gratuitously, Llywydd, Government Ministers have so far rejected an attempt to add any recognition of the Sewel convention to a clause that asserts the untrammelled sovereignty of Parliament—a clause that my predecessor has memorably described as either a piece of constitutional graffiti, because it means absolutely nothing, or a clause that has a genuine attempt to trespass into the devolution settlement in a genuinely profound way.
Llywydd, I'm not under any illusion that a refusal of legislative consent from this Senedd will stop the Bill from being enacted, but I hope that, even now, the UK Government will pause for reflection about their approach to devolution and consider the damage they risk to the fabric of the United Kingdom. I note the suggestion in the letter from the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union that the circumstances around this Bill are singular, specific and exceptional. The way for them to demonstrate that they really believe what they say is to follow the advice that we have provided about how Sewel could be codified to make sure that the singularity of this decision is genuinely upheld in the future.
The Bill sets the United Kingdom on a new path, one fraught with dangers, including dangers that are unnecessary and could have been avoided. They have not been avoided in the way that the Bill has progressed through the Houses of Parliament; rather, in this Bill, they have been increased and increased to the detriment of devolution and to the detriment of Wales. Our job is to stand up for our interests, as the Scottish Parliament will stand up for the interests of Scotland, and as I believe the Northern Ireland Assembly will do on behalf of their population too. That's what we have an opportunity to do this afternoon, and that's why I ask this Senedd to vote against the motion and to refuse our consent to this damaging Bill.
I call on the Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, David Rees.
Diolch, Llywydd. The publication of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee's report on the EU withdrawal agreement Bill focuses on an analysis of the clauses in the Bill that we consider require the Assembly's consent. In the short time available, we have been unable to consider some of the broader concerns that the Welsh Government has put in its memorandum, particularly as some of these concerns relate to issues that were not included in the Bill on its introduction.
Broadly, many of the concerns we raised regarding the delegation of powers to UK and Welsh Ministers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 remain in relation to this particular Bill. However, in light of practical and political reasons we have decided against restating them in our report. We have instead focused on the provisions that require legislative consent, with a view to ensuring the Assembly's role in the scrutiny of EU law during the implementation period is not diminished, and that's highlighted the point: to ensure the Assembly's role in the scrutiny of EU law. So, it is about this institution that we've focused our report on, to ensure that's not adversely affected.
We agree with the Welsh Government's assessment of the provisions in the Bill that require legislative consent, with one addition—clause 42—and hope that this report helps inform the Assembly's debate on the legislative consent motion this afternoon.
As a committee, we have been considering the question of the Assembly's role in considering EU legislation during the transition or implementation period, and we've been doing that since 2018. We have written to the UK Government and UK parliamentary colleagues on several occasions since then. We take the view that the Assembly's role in the scrutiny of EU legislation should not be diminished during the implementation period, though we acknowledge that the role might need to adjust to the terms of the withdrawal agreement.
Whilst we welcome the role provided to Westminster committees under clause 29, we believe it needs to be strengthened through the inclusion of a role for the relevant committees of the devolved legislatures when EU legislation is being reviewed, particularly when it relates to devolved areas of competence. On 8 January 2020, we wrote to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to make the case for two amendments to clause 29 of the Bill to include a role for those devolved legislatures. We've published this letter as an annex to our report on the legislative consent.
Llywydd, I'm sure Members will be aware that Joan McAlpine MSP, who is Convener of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee in the Scottish Parliament, has also written to the Secretary of State in support of our proposed amendments. The case we made for these amendments is simple. Currently, the Assembly has a role in considering the compliance of draft EU law with the principle of subsidiarity. This stems from article 6 of protocol 2 to the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. This provision will no longer apply once the UK leaves the EU next week.
Clause 29 of the Bill provides for a parliamentary mechanism for reviewing EU legislation during the implementation period. In our report, we note that this does not operate on the question of compliance with the principle of subsidiarity. Instead, it's based on a question of whether a piece of EU legislation raises a matter of vital national interest to the United Kingdom. The Assembly's experience on reviewing draft EU law in the past has shown that, on occasion, there have been specific issues of interest to Wales that have arisen that were not identified at a specific UK level. For example, the possible impact on Welsh fisheries or a ban on drift-net fishing and changes to organic regulations for Welsh agriculture.
These issues, by extension, can be considered issues of UK national interest. We contended that the Assembly, in conducting a review of EU legislation with a focus on the areas of policy devolved to it, would add value to the overall UK-wide scrutiny process. Therefore, to ensure the Assembly's role in reviewing EU law during transition is not diminished, we wish to see an analogous role for the Assembly to be acknowledged in UK law, just as such a role is currently acknowledged in the legal text of the treaties. So, we are actually seeing a diminution of our role here.
Despite making this case to the Secretary of State, it appears unlikely that any amendment to clause 29 will be made. If clause 29 remains unamended, we will seek to work with committees in both Houses of Parliament to ensure that we can play a role in the consideration of EU legislation during the transition period, despite the absence of recognition for that role in the Bill.
Llywydd, the committee put this report together with a view on some of the issues, and we did not make any recommendations, because we felt it was important to inform Members of the points that needed to be considered in this debate. As such, I want to perhaps include a personal view rather than a committee view on some of these points.
Llywydd, I do agree with the First Minister, and I think it's important to highlight this, this debate must not—must not—be about whether Brexit occurs or not. That's irrelevant. It is about a Bill that sets a law that sets out how we can undertake our duties in this Chamber and whether that law is good enough.
The Welsh Government has highlighted the weaknesses in this Bill and how it has quite substantially changed since the general election. Our job is to look at the interests of the people who elect us and seek to make decisions and take actions that improve their quality of life. The omissions in this Bill—which could have been included, but because of the choice of the UK Government were not—actually result in reduction of scrutiny of Government actions. It's important, therefore, that we ensure that we get those changes made. If they're not made, then we should not support a Bill that does not help us deliver on our role. A desire to get Brexit done in all haste should not be seen as a reason for us to abdicate our responsibilities and duties here in the Senedd.
I will be voting against this LCM today because I do not believe that this Bill delivers for us to do our job: ensuring that the interests of the people of Wales are met. If the UK Government had actually done something and accepted some of the amendments—. We've seen amendments put forward to the UK Government. We've put some forward to the UK Government. They're ignoring everything. They don't want that. They've scrapped an awful lot of issues they had in place. It is not a Bill that delivers. Therefore, I will oppose that to ensure that we are seen to be standing up for the people who elect us.
I call on the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, Mick Antoniw.
Diolch, Llywydd. We took evidence from the First Minister about the Welsh Government's legislative consent memorandum on the European Union withdrawal agreement Bill at our meeting on 13 January 2020 and we reported last Friday, 17 January. Our report, with the unanimous agreement of the members of the committee, drew five conclusions. The first of these reflected observations we've made on many occasions regarding the fundamental role the Sewel convention plays in the operation of the UK's constitution. We concluded that, if the National Assembly decides not to consent to the Bill on the matters for which consent is required and the UK Parliament nevertheless decides to proceed in the absence of consent, this will have significant adverse constitutional consequences for the future of the Sewel convention and devolution.
Since then, we have seen the letter from UK Government's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Stephen Barclay, indicating that, in the absence of consent from this Parliament, the UK Government will nevertheless proceed. This will be the first time that this has happened, and as stated by the Supreme Court in the article 50 Miller judgment, Sewel is a political convention and there are political consequences when conventions are broken. There clearly will be severe and adverse consequences to the already fragile constitutional structure of the UK.
We noted that the First Minister had sought amendments to the Bill in the House of Lords, which were intended to protect the interests of Wales. We concluded that these amendments did not undermine the primary objective of the Bill, which is to leave the European Union on 31 January 2020, but rather, sought to improve parts of the Bill in important areas. Now, as the First Minister has indicated, clause 21 of the Bill would permit the modification of the Government of Wales Act 2006 by UK Government regulations insofar as the UK Government considered such modification appropriate to implement the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. While such regulations would require approval of both Houses of Parliament, there is no formal role for the National Assembly set out in the Bill, and this is a concern because we do not know the extent to which the 2006 Act might be modified.
We noted that one of the Welsh Government's amendments sought to address its concern about the breadth of power contained in clause 21. We also drew attention to the concerns of the House of Lords' delegated powers and regulatory reform and constitution committees about the breadth of the powers in clause 21.
Our third conclusion, agreed with both House of Lords committees, that if clause 21 and its current format can be justified, the powers within it should be limited. Our fourth conclusion repeated our longstanding view that any modification of Schedule 7A or 7B to the Government of Wales Act, in relation to the legislative competence of the National Assembly, should be achieved via the process set out in section 109 of the Act.
Our final conclusion expressed concern at the inclusion of clause 38 in the Bill—the parliamentary sovereignty clause. We consider it to be an unnecessary provision in a Bill that is primarily concerned with leaving the EU, rather than the broader constitutional framework of the UK. There are important debates to be had about the nature of sovereignty within the UK, but entrenching this provision in statute, and, in particular, in a Bill that is not concerned with the UK's make-up, or the devolution settlements, could well bring about unintended constitutional consequences.
Llywydd, in the light of the recent developments in the letter from the UK Government, in my capacity as Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, I'd make these additional comments. The parliamentary process of this Bill is not yet concluded. It is right and proper that the concerns of this Parliament are reflected in this process, and, of course, the Bill has now been amended by the House of Lords, and its final format is not yet determined. The obligation is on the UK Government to seek and to establish consensus. Proceeding without consent would, in my view, spell the end of Sewell. The longer term constitutional consequences of this are not yet certain. I would also wish to make a personal point, and that is this: failure to achieve consensus and overriding Sewell, in the absence of any other constitutional reform, brings the process of disintegration and break-up of the UK one step nearer.
Will you give way?
Yes I will.
Of course, the principle of Sewel is based on the fact that consent is not withheld unreasonably, and that's quite a test as well.
Yes, but the issue in this case is that the primary objective of the Bill is not something that is being objected to; it is the quality and stature and the composition of that Bill that is the issue that is of concern to us. And that is why Sewel is so important, because, by not seeking to achieve consensus, by not acting to obtain that, and to nevertheless override Sewel, is, in fact, a breach of the fundamental principles of the convention.
So, the UK Government is, in my view, gambling with the future integrity of the UK. The case for a constitutional convention becomes greater day by day with every act of this Government. Diolch, Llywydd.
I'm pleased to take part in this important debate and lay out the position of the Welsh Conservatives. Today's legislative consent motion provides this Parliament with a clear opportunity to deliver the result that the people of Wales voted for in the 2016 EU referendum. Nearly four years after that referendum, we, on this side of the Chamber, believe it's time to finally get on with the job of leaving the European Union. It's time to deliver on the clear will of the people of Wales and the UK, and it's time to move our country on and explore ways in which we can ensure Wales's success on the international stage, post Brexit.
Now, the endless uncertainty that has been caused by some politicians has done nothing to render confidence in our country. And so, following the clear mandate given to the UK Government at the recent general election, it's now time to get on with the job. Finally getting on with the job will end the uncertainty, and help restore confidence to the UK economy.
Members will be aware of the recent comments from Airbus, which reflect a new confidence. This is what the chief executive said recently, and I quote,
'We see great potential to improve and expand our operations in the UK this year.'
And Airbus are absolutely right to say that the Prime Minister's Brexit deal has made things more certain. And so, I hope Members will reflect on those comments, as well as the views of the people and communities that they represent, when they vote later on today.
Now, I know that the First Minister has claimed that leaving the European Union will make devolution across the UK vulnerable, and yet, the UK Government has made it absolutely clear that any decision currently taken by the devolved administrations will remain their responsibility after the UK leaves the EU. Indeed, the UK Government has also proposed that the vast majority of powers that are returned from Brussels should start in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. And I'm pleased to see the UK Government operating from that perspective, and respecting the devolution settlement.
Indeed, I think it would be remiss of us all not to see that this agreement also offers some constitutional opportunities for the whole of the UK. For example, the Bill restores UK sovereignty by making British courts, rather than the European Court of Justice, the highest courts in the land, bringing vitally important judicial rulings closer to our people. However, I accept that our withdrawal from the EU will change the relationship between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. As Britain moves further along this process, the inter-governmental relations between each part of the UK will be profoundly critical in protecting constitution stability to the union. And it's important that Wales plays a full part in that.
Now, I also happen to believe that, post-Brexit, the Welsh Government has an opportunity to set an ambitious agenda for Wales by calling for further devolution of Wales's own natural resources, for example, so that we can harness its power and market it on the global stage. As my colleagues and I see it, far from reneging on environmental commitments, leaving the European Union could enable us to transform our environmental protections, with the introduction of a new Bill to set legally binding targets. There are opportunities.
Now, whether people like it or not, leaving the European Union will free Wales of EU laws, including leaving the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, where we have until now been bound by those EU rules. The Welsh Government will be free to develop sustainable policies to protect the livelihoods of Welsh farmers, and, indeed, Welsh fishermen. I believe now is the time for innovative thinking and ideas to transform those industries here in Wales. We should be much more optimistic, and not adopt the Welsh Government's sometimes dour approach of doom and gloom.
Llywydd, the people of Wales voted to leave the European Union in 2016, and, in last month's general election, they did speak loud and clear once again. The people of Wales voted to leave the European Union, and they want to unlock the opportunities that exist for us outside the European Union. We have clear instructions from the people and communities that we represent, and the overriding message from our country is that it wants to leave the European Union. Today, Llywydd, it's our duty to deliver that, and I urge Members to support this legislative consent motion, and start working together to make Wales a truly competitive global nation.
Sometimes in politics, it benefits us to take a long-lens view of how we ended up where we are. This will be my last contribution in this Chamber as my party's spokesperson on Brexit, as I'm taking on a new role that coincides quite fittingly with our timing of leaving the EU. It has been a curious honour—in equal measures, challenging and frustrating—to speak on this issue for my party during my first year as an elected politician. It is a role that I inherited from Steffan Lewis, who did such significant work, alongside the Welsh Government, in producing 'Securing Wales' Future'. That document set out a clear roadmap for leaving the EU that avoided erecting unnecessary barriers. And I'd like to pay tribute to Steffan once again for all his efforts in this regard. History will look kindly on his principled attempt to broker a compromise deal that reflected the close result of the referendum. But Westminster wasn't interested in compromise. Indeed, that was one of a catalogue of missed chances not taken by successive Westminster Governments to deliver Brexit in a way that worked—all the 'might have beens' that never were.
Since Westminster refused to compromise, Plaid Cymru concluded that we had no choice but to try to persuade the UK Government to gain a mandate for their specific plans, namely a second referendum. We worked with other parties to further the same, but well-laid plans were undermined by the hubris of Labour and the Lib Dems in Westminster, who convinced themselves that the way to beat Boris Johnson was to give him exactly what he wanted—a general election; an election they thought they could win when all the evidence suggested that Corbyn, Swinson and the circumstances gave them no chance. Well, we are where we are. They were proven wrong. Boris Johnson secured the majority he wanted and it is now inevitable that we will leave the EU in 10 days' time, and it will be a Tory hard Brexit that is delivered. So, our job now must be to scrutinise the plans and to defend the interests of the people we represent.
There are five main reasons why Plaid Cymru has concluded we have no choice but to vote against the LCM today: (1) the Bill allows the UK Government to amend the Government of Wales Act without the consent of this Senedd—that is unacceptable; (2) it provides no role for the Senedd to scrutinise measures like trade that will have a huge impact on the livelihoods of the people of Wales; (3) the lack of economic impact assessments leaves crucial Welsh sectors and ports in the dark and vulnerable; (4) the Bill takes away rights from child refugees, workers and EU citizens and, potentially, the rights of Welsh students to study abroad; (5) the ruling out of an extension to the transition period is irresponsible and makes a bare-bones deal or a 'no deal' the most likely outcome.
Llywydd, Plaid Cymru accepts that Brexit is happening and we will do everything we can to try to get the best deal possible for Wales. This debate is not about whether Brexit is going to happen—it will—it is rather about what kind of country we will become in the coming years, because this is unchartered territory. There's never before been an example of a nation state seeking trade deals whereby it looks to erect barriers and not take them down. It's a topsy-turvy world.
When he was giving evidence to the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee a few weeks ago, the First Minister quoted a commentator who'd said that a Pandora's box was being opened by Brexit. Llywydd, Pandora's box is usually shorthand for wreaking untold chaos; it is the 'There be monsters' at the map's edge or, as David Cameron conceded, the 2016 referendum was likely to unleash demons, the likes of which we knew not.
But, it would also do us well to remember that after everything had come out of Pandora's box, one thing remained—hope. Hope can take many forms. It could be hope for trade deals; hope for security; hope for a better withdrawal agreement Bill that actually takes the views of this Senedd into account; hope for future years that again takes many forms. For those of us on these benches, that hope ultimately catapults us towards a Wales that looks to work internationally, that's outward-looking, that's a proud independent nation on the world stage. So, let's not only focus on the 'might have beens'; let's focus on the 'yet to comes' and underlying all of these things that greatest of catapults—hope.
I thank the First Minister for his motion proposing that we give consent to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, as we should, following the decision of the people of Wales in a referendum. It's astonishing that the First Minister is voting against his own motion, in effect maintaining Welsh Government's opposition to Brexit. That argument should be over; it should've been over on 24 June 2016. The First Minister's predecessor told us then that it was over; that you respected the referendum; that Brexit was going ahead and it was a question of 'how', not 'if'. So, when you say the same today, as you said then, why should we believe you? No matter how many times the Welsh people tell you they want Brexit, you don't want to hear it: 'We know better. You got it wrong, so we've made you vote three times, but we're still going to vote against this today.'
You say that this Bill, that Brexit, how we leave, hasn't be subjected to sufficient scrutiny. The failure to attend Parliament, the opportunity to give appropriate scrutiny. What on earth do you think has been happening for the past three and a half years?
After the referendum, you chose to team up with Plaid Cymru to develop a document, 'Securing Wales' Future', effectively a Brexit in name only. Yet when Theresa May offered you such a remainer's Brexit, with a customs union, with dynamic alignment, you voted against it. Again and again, you teamed up with Plaid Cymru, in other circumstances with the SNP, to try and block Brexit happening. Scotland voted to leave, the SNP want to break up the United Kingdom, as do Plaid Cymru. You, as a Labour Party, as a Welsh Labour Government, are meant to respect the people you claim to represent, the people of Wales who voted to leave in a referendum and who want to stay within a United Kingdom.
So, First Minister, I thanked you and Labour and the Welsh Government last week for what you had done to inadvertently bring about Brexit, yet this week you refuse to recognise that there are consequences to the gamble that you took. First, you decided to turn down Theresa May's deal, despite it being pretty much what you had in your own 'Securing Wales' Future', despite the Counsel General saying he was quite happy with the withdrawal agreement, he'd just like, possibly, some changes to the non-binding political declaration. So, having done that, you now complain that bits of the withdrawal agreement that May was going to have are no longer there. Well, of course they're not. You gambled. We dethroned Theresa May in the European election. She tried to do that. She is no longer Prime Minister because of that. [Interruption.] I'd be delighted to take your intervention.
So, why do you say—? Thank you for taking the intervention. When you say those items with regard to employment protection are not there any longer, 'of course they're not', why do you say, 'of course they're not'? Why should they be taken out? What is the justification for taking them out when they were perfectly acceptable before? This isn't a game of poker; this is a game of good legislation. So, why do you say it was proper to take out the employment rights protection?
Well, because we had these laws before we joined the European Union and the European Union was there. We had far greater protections for workers' rights in this country than most of those European countries had, which had been gained, largely, by the trade unions. Yet you now ignore that and make out that it's somehow a gift from the European Union rather than from the unions that created your own party. [Interruption.] What happened? You had a balance in Parliament. Theresa May lost the majority. She teamed up with the DUP. You had that situation, you sought to exploit it. But, ultimately, on two occasions, you gambled and you lost. Firstly, you would not agree Theresa May's Brexit in name only, despite it being what you'd argued for when you said you respected the result of the referendum, and then, under Boris Johnson, you voted against the programme motion. There was a majority, just, at Second Reading, but you then decided to vote against that programme motion for a Bill that included many of the things you say you want—notwithstanding we had them before we joined the EU, and we'll have them afterwards, because Boris Johnson and the Conservatives have won an election. They have got a majority of 80. You voted to have that election, the Liberal Democrats voted to have that election, the SNP were arguing to have that election before abstaining, and this is the consequence of that. And you say you don't want to block Brexit, but you've said that before. Why should we believe it now?
And what you do with this tantrum that Welsh Government throws yet again is that you are putting the Sewel convention at risk. You are forcing the UK Government into breaching that convention, notwithstanding that the people of Wales voted for Brexit in a referendum, but you don't like it. We are getting Brexit, it's going to happen, it's going to happen on the terms set by the Conservative Government in Westminster with a majority 80 because of the choices you made. We will leave at the end of this month, and I welcome this morning's letter to my colleague Mandy Jones confirming the flags outside this place will be coming down.
All of them? Every one of them?
Just the EU.
It's a crashing irony, Presiding Officer, to be lectured on democracy by Mark Reckless, but let me say this: the Conservative argument that has been given to them by their bosses in London is that we have no right to oppose this Bill, that we have to accept whatever Bill is written in Downing Street and driven through the House of Commons, that this Parliament has no right to a view, that this Parliament has no right to express its opinion on whatever clauses are drafted by Boris Johnson, that we have no rights—[Interruption.]—that we have no rights. So much for taking back control. We no longer have these rights.
We were told that we had no right, of course, to oppose the previous Bills. This is the third iteration of this particular Bill, and we were told, clearly by the same people, that we had no right to oppose or comment upon either the first or the second iteration of this legislation. We were told the same thing. In this new British democracy, we do not have a right to oppose what the Executive demand of us, we have only the right to agree. That's not much of a democracy, is it?
We were told that this would enhance the role of the British Parliament and of the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and the Northern Irish Assembly. And then we are told that the clauses that submit the Executive to the control of Parliament are to be deleted from this Bill. So, there won't be any examination of a negotiating mandate, there won't be any reporting either to this Parliament or to the UK Parliament, there won't be any democratic scrutiny and there won't be any democratic accountability. And then we're told that we've just got to vote for it—that we've just got to vote for it—that whatever else is taken and removed from this Bill, we've got to sit there and take our medicine. That doesn't sound like democracy to me.
And then we're told that because Bill Cash has had this fantasy of parliamentary sovereignty we have to accept another clause imposing the sovereignty of the British Parliament upon the interests of the people of Wales, the people, Mark, who elected us—elected us. I'll show you a dictionary. The people to whom we will be accountable next year. When I face the electorate in Blaenau Gwent, let me tell you this: I will not be running—[Interruption.] You don't know the people of Blaenau Gwent; they don't know you either. They will not be asking me what didn't I do; they'll be asking me what did I do. What did I do to defend our democracy? The First Minister will remember the rally for the national health service in Tredegar last summer where we spoke up for Welsh democracy, and we will not acquiesce today in the hollowing out of that democracy.
So, this Parliament will stand for scrutiny. We will stand up for accountability and we will stand up for our rights. We will stand up for our democratically given right to disagree, to oppose and to stand up for that which we were elected to do.
Let me say this: I listened to Conservative colleagues telling us that we cannot oppose. They've done nothing but oppose for 20 years, and they'll be opposing later this afternoon, and I support them in their right to oppose the legislation of this Government. It is right and proper that the Conservatives be given the opportunity to oppose, and to articulate and to argue their case. It is also right and proper that this place be given the same opportunity.
Let me close by saying this: this is a very, very serious piece of legislation, not simply because of what it does in terms of Brexit, but what it does in terms of our own constitution. This is the dismantling of the Sewel convention. The points made by the Member for Pontypridd were absolutely clear. The UK Government has got this wrong. This is not an opportunity to legislate without the consent of this place, of the Scottish Parliament, of the Northern Irish Assembly, because it is extraordinary. It is because these are extraordinary times that that consent must be demanded and the not giving of that consent must be recognised. I cannot think of a time when the UK Parliament can have simply been so careless with the powers of the Parliaments of the United Kingdom, and then tell us that we have no choice but to acquiesce. This is a Bill that will not simply deliver Brexit, but could start to deliver the dismantling and the unraveling of the United Kingdom.
Who are you, by the way, sir? [Interruption.] Well, yes, professor—
Allow the Member to start his speech, please.
Such a well-earned professorship.
Thank you again, Llywydd. Well, it's been an interesting debate today, but I really do think that the First Minister, in opposing this LCM, must be a sucker for punishment. Since seeing his side lose the Brexit debate in 2016, when they lost the referendum not only in the UK but also here in Wales, he has been at the heart of trying to stop Brexit from happening for the past three and a half years. The result of that was that Labour just got hammered at the general election. Perhaps there is something that the First Minister and his Welsh Labour Party need to realise: the longer and louder they continue to oppose Brexit, the more they will suffer at the polls. Don't think that the 2019 general election is the low point. It may not be. There may yet be worse to come for them. Just a thought—and a good job one of your friends is buggering off to Aberystwyth to miss it.
I see that the First Minister is today following the example of the Scottish Parliament. Alas for the First Minister, at least Miss Sturgeon can claim that her region of the UK voted to remain. The First Minister can't even claim that, because Wales, of course, voted to leave. In any event, the devolved bodies of the UK were not set up for this kind of purpose. They were set up to allow for scrutiny in certain devolved policy areas such as health, housing and education. They were not supposed to interfere with the workings of the UK Government as regards clearly non-devolved areas such as foreign policy and international trade deals. The First Minister and his colleagues, like Mick Antoniw and Alun Davies, keep pushing the envelope on this, but they should be aware that, outside the Cardiff Bay bubble, most ordinary people in Wales will not be impressed by any of their words. Many people may come to the logical conclusion that, if the First Minister and the Assembly wilfully obstruct the wishes of the people of Wales for this long and this loud, then the First Minister must himself be abolished and the Assembly must also be abolished. Those, of course, are conclusions that I myself reached some time ago. Diolch yn fawr. [Interruption.]
What happened there? [Laughter.] Oh, that was the end. Okay, fine. David Melding.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. We heard the First Minister graciously concede that Brexit is going to happen, and this at least is an advance, because I'm not quite sure about last year, when you did reject Mrs May's deal despite my passionate appeals that that was as positive a Brexit as we were likely to get. Of course, I was a keen remainer and I'm not happy that we're in this situation, but we are, as the result of a massive democratic vote that I think, by any interpretation, was further strengthened in the general election. I think that's the only reasonable explanation to make of recent political developments.
However, the First Minister then insisted that the only way he would support any future relationship with the EU was that if that met the interests of Wales as he sees them. There then followed in the bulk of his speech—he spent two thirds of his time on this—a long list of reasons why Brexit is bad and ought to make us just implement it in as insipid a way as possible, so in effect you remain in the political and economic orbit of the EU. And that's just not reality. It's something I accepted immediately after the referendum. Of course, I was hoping we would remain fully in the economic and political orbit with all the rights of a member, but there are consequences if we move out, and they are that we will be pursuing in some areas quite distinctively different paths, and to try and defang Brexit of all meaning I think is a highly questionable process on democratic grounds. But at least, in his approach, we know that his real objection is political and not much to do with constitutional propriety. What he is aiming to do this afternoon is not dishonourable at all. He wants to make Brexit a matter that is purely owned by the Conservative Party, and this is part of that great play he's making to the public—'Nothing to do with us. We never supported it or facilitated it in any way.' And, on rational grounds, I do see there's a certain logic if you believe there's a path back for Labour on these sorts of grounds, especially in some of their former heartland areas. I'll leave it to you to determine your tactics on these matters.
But what we've not had is an explanation on the grounds of high constitutional principle why this LCM should be rejected. And let's remember, it's about enacting, taking forward, a referendum decision on a major constitutional matter. These are not trivial—I do agree with some of the Labour Members that have spoken on that score—but they are indeed very, very solemn moments.
The First Minister did spend some time as an afterthought—. I'll give way.
Thank you. I am very grateful to the Member for allowing me to intervene. What advice would he give to those of us who are exceptionally concerned about clause 38(1), and particularly the effect that that will have if that were to become law?
I will give him full and considered advice on that part when I've read it and I will write to him. Now, that's the sort of answer that I used to get from him very frequently, so I hope he will be satisfied. [Laughter.]
The First Minister then went on, as something of an afterthought, in my view, to the constitutional grounds, some of which do require a response—it's not an unreasonable probe on these—that Sewel is not embedded; that UK Ministers under this Bill have a power to align Assembly law to reflect the eventual agreement; matters relating to the Northern Ireland border as it affects Ireland and, in effect, the British border—of course, that implementing the preference the EU had from the very beginning after the Brexit vote—and then parliamentary sovereignty. Now, some people may think it jejune to repeat the fact that Parliament in Westminster is ultimately sovereign, but it is, and I do remind Labour Members that it is embedded in your devolution Acts of 1997 or 1998. So, these things are there. And if these are not abnormal circumstances in which it is permissible, constitutionally, for a UK Government to override decisions here and be accountable for that, then I don't know what are. So, I do not accept, in any way, that we are not respecting rights. We're exercising our rights, and, should we not agree the LCM, we will have had the right to do that. What we don't have the right to do is to—I'm afraid I did see Jenny first—blow up the tracks of Brexit and stop it happening. The UK Parliament has a duty to ensure that does not occur. I will give way, if I have your indulgence.
David Melding, thank you for giving way, and I just wondered if you, like me, like many of us, deplore the removal of the Dubs amendment, giving child refugees the right to be reunited with their families.
There are lots of things that I would have much preferred in Mrs May's approach. Everybody knows in this Chamber how pro-Europe I am, and I am very discomforted. I think the long-term constitutional challenges we face to keep the union together are much tougher than they would have been had we remained in the union, and, having been a former deputy director of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs and the Unicef officer in Wales, these are matters that do disturb me. However, I think it would be much better if the Welsh Government had accepted this LCM and supported it, and then said to the UK Government, as it did last year, when it repealed the continuity Bill or the Act—well, it may have become an Act, but, anyway, it in the end repealed it—and used its leverage to achieve long-term objectives that would strengthen the British union post Brexit. Because you do have leverage compared to the Scottish Government, which obviously is on a very different course, with an ultimate objective to secede from the United Kingdom. And, on that score, you'd get a lot of support, as you have had, from these benches on such matters as stronger inter-governmental relations, much more formalised, on your rights on future trade agreements—it's not in this withdrawal agreement we should be looking for that, but in future it is a really important issue—and over common frameworks and their governance. That's where you should have been going. That's where you should have been using your political leverage. Instead, you are playing to what you see is the remain gallery that still is out there, and I think that that's a misjudgment.
I do thank you, Presiding Officer, for your indulgence.
There can be no better backdrop to our debate today and the headlong rush to exit the EU at the end of the month than the ludicrous pantomime surrounding the ringing of Big Ben on 31 January. Firstly, it is a complete waste of time and energy, secondly, the Prime Minister, egged on by his Eurosceptic right-wingers, now seems to think it is a good idea, and, thirdly, he wants the public to pay for it. It couldn't symbolise Brexit any more closely than if the whole thing was scripted by Quentin Tarantino. At least, though, Tarantino would give us a decent soundtrack for the carnage that is to follow, rather than the hollow ring of a single bell.
Now, there is plenty to say about my own party's failure in the remain campaign of 2016 and the subsequent loss of the Brexit general election of 2019. Having a seven out of 10 approach in the former makes it very doubtful I'd give our UK party leader anything approaching 10 out of 10 for the latter. And so those of us in this Chamber who are proudly European need to ask ourselves a number of questions about how we got to this point, but that is not a matter for today. Whilst I accept, with the heaviest of hearts, that the general election result in December means that our exit from the EU is now assured, that is not the same as signing up to this ludicrous idea that we can now just get Brexit done.
There can be no free pass for the Prime Minister as he rushes the country towards the exit door, and we have an important role in this place to make sure that he does not weaken the fabric of our economy or of our society. And the justification for our renewed vigilance could not be clearer when we look at what we are being asked to agree to today: a rollback of commitments in relation to Wales's voice even from the substandard legislation proposed in October. As the memorandum from the Welsh Government and accompanying committee reports make clear, the Bill as drafted asserts Westminster authority in a way that has never happened before and runs counter to all the dialogue that has taken place between the Governments over the last few years. But then that shouldn't surprise us at all.
The Conservative Party has clearly decided that what they say in public simply does not matter any more. When they were courting the support of businesses in the referendum and during the Brexit negotiations, they said they would take seriously the calls for regulatory alignment, but years of warm words and assurances were washed away in a single interview by the Chancellor this weekend. The man who, a month before the referendum, described the single market as a great invention now dismissed business concerns saying, 'We're talking about companies that have known since 2016 that we are leaving the EU.' He might as well have said, 'Well, of course we weren't telling the truth. What did they expect?'
Perhaps he was rattled by the new analysis that shows that the cost of Brexit has already been predicted to hit £200 billion this year, totalling more than the UK has paid into the EU over 47 years. Whatever the reason for the Chancellor's alarming u-turn, it is following a familiar party pattern. In Parliament last week, Conservative MPs also voted down amendments that in no way impacted on the decision to leave the EU. Indeed, they would have simply honoured a number of commitments they had previously made to this country—on EU citizens' rights, on workers' rights, child refugees, ministerial powers, Northern Ireland, the single market and a say for Parliament and the devolved administrations on the future relationship with the EU. Even on the Erasmus programme, the Government refused to offer that incredible opportunity to future generations. I know first-hand what that kind of opportunity can mean to young people who can't afford family holidays abroad and expensive school trips. It is beyond any sort of defence to limit the horizons of young people in this country.
This is the Government that wants us in this Assembly to rely on their goodwill and honourable intentions about the devolved institutions' role in future law making. I don't think so. This is the Government that wants us to hand over the responsibility for regional funding policy to the Wales Office and Whitehall. I don't think so.
They may have won the 2016 referendum, they may have won the 2019 general election, but that doesn't mean that they get to undo decades of convention, law and agreement. It is tantamount to Wales demanding to play all this year's six nations fixtures at home as the reigning champions. That may seem very attractive to the victor, but in reality it is absurd and unfair. The UK Government has won a legitimate right to take Brexit forward, but not in this slapdash way. The country deserves better than an Eton-mess Brexit. So, I will add my voice to that of the Welsh Government and other Members here today by saying 'no'.
The UK Government has not won the right to ride roughshod over our economy, our democracy or our society. To take this country forward together, the UK Government must mend its ways, mend some fences and amend this legislation.
Ten days and seven hours to go until next Friday. Yes.
Right. There's no dressing up the fact that Labour got a drubbing in the general election and Plaid Cymru once again stood still. I did think that some sort of lesson may have been learned from these results, but clearly not. I watched with some surprise when the newly elected Welsh Labour and Plaid MPs started as they totally meant to go on in the new Parliament, flogging the now-dead horse of blocking Brexit, when the reality is they are now irrelevant, due to the thumping majority of a Conservative Government. Thank the Lord for that.
While they continue to navel gaze, they don't seem to have got the memo that we are leaving. The message from the electorate in December was very clear: it was, 'Get Brexit done.' As usual—. What will Labour and Plaid do here? As usual, they will use their combined numbers to vote down this LCM. You still are not listening to your people in Wales. [Interruption.] I don't have to listen to you lot; you're opposition.
The country voted yet again for Brexit in December, having done so in May 2019, May 2017 and June 2016. Enough now. Admit it: your Government is still peddling project fear and that was roundly rejected again in December just gone. It will be no surprise that it's my view that the Assembly should give its consent today and allow this country to finally move forward into our future. Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru really need to stop holding Wales back, because that is what you are doing and you will no doubt continue to do so.
I've seen Stephen Barclay's letter, dated yesterday, and we all know that whatever happens the withdrawal Bill will go through and we will leave the EU next Friday, on the twenty first. So, what this Assembly decides today is purely academic. Finally, I'd remind every single one of you in this Chamber that the withdrawal agreement that is the subject of this LCM today has been agreed also by the EU negotiating team. So, the EU is also on board. So, can we all now please get behind the UK Government in the spirit of forging the new relationship with our European friends? That has to be in everybody's interests. Thank you.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. [Interruption.]
They're excited to hear you, Michelle.
Oh, I know. It's touching isn't it, Presiding Officer? Yes.
You know, the awkward thing about Labour and Plaid's refusal to support this LCM is that I'm not sure if I'm surprised or not. It's as if the recent general election didn't happen. Everyone was aware that the election was primarily about Brexit and the public reasserted its voice. Fed up that their opinions were being ignored, people supported Boris Johnson's position that, even without a deal, the UK should leave the EU at the end of this month.
Such is the desire in Wales to leave the EU that the Tories nearly doubled their number of seats here, even winning Wrexham, which has been Labour since 1930, and Labour now clings on to the Alyn and Deeside Westminster seat by the tip of their fingers. The First Minister was campaigning for a second referendum and, as it turned out, that's exactly how the people treated the general election. So, Labour effectively had their second referendum and lost massively.
And you can't say that parties supporting remain won the day because, although the First Minister was advocating a second referendum and a campaign to stay, the potential Labour Prime Minister had such a confused message no-one knew what Labour stood for. For a second time, the public saw through the scaremongering. Having become angry at the way the Welsh Government has tried to weasel its way out of delivering the referendum result, the public has even more loudly told politicians that we must leave the EU with or without a deal.
Even Plaid's best friend Nicola Sturgeon has said that she believes that, apart from Scotland, which actually voted to remain in 2016, Boris Johnson has a mandate to leave the EU. Yet, most parties in this place are seeking to remain in the EU or to leave in name only. Let's be accurate about this, Labour and Plaid's joint plan for Brexit amounts, to all intents and purposes, to remaining in the EU. And as well, we have to face another thing, nothing short of proper membership will be good enough for Plaid or Welsh Labour in this place.
So, on the one hand I'm surprised that Labour and Plaid are still trying to disrupt the Brexit process, but on the other I'm not at all—[Interruption.] No. I'm not at all surprised, because they have been ignoring the views—[Interruption.] You've all had your opportunity to give your two penn'orth. You've had plenty of opportunity to say your piece—plenty of opportunity to say your piece. Let me say mine. I'm not at all surprised, because they've all been ignoring the views of the voters for a few years now, even in the face of electoral decline or stagnation.
Unlike Labour, Boris Johnson made his position crystal clear, and the general election unambiguously showed us that we should leave the EU with or without a deal. At least, that's what it shows those of us who don't think the electorate are stupid. So, why are the Welsh Government and many AMs still trying to thwart Brexit? Protest all you like, people out there know what this Welsh Government's agenda is in opposing this LCM. How many times do the people have to tell you what to do before you'll listen to them? How many seats do you have to lose before you'll listen to the democratic voice of the people? We hear some moaning that the withdrawal agreement Bill is undemocratic because it doesn't allow much input from the Welsh Government, yet this Welsh Government thinks nothing of trying to ignore the democratic will of the Welsh electorate.
Boris Johnson is right to deny the Welsh Labour Government any substantial involvement in the Brexit process, because they will do everything possible to make it fail. The Welsh electorate knew that Labour should be kept away from the Brexit negotiations, because they would end up ceding too much control to Brussels and keep us heavily aligned to the EU. The Welsh electorate knew that Labour being anywhere near the Brexit process would mean, at most, we would leave in name only, and they clearly don't want that. So, I'm sure that Boris Johnson will be ignoring any rejection of this LCM by this Assembly, and so he should. He doesn't need a mandate from the Welsh Assembly. He has a mandate from the British people. He seems prepared to respect the will of Welsh voters, even if Labour, Plaid and Lib Dems aren't. Thank you.
I don't intend to spend much time talking about the issues that other Members have talked about; I've waxed lyrical or gratingly on them, according to your point of view, over the past year and a half. But two points I did want to make, and that is that the people of Wales did not vote for the Conservatives and they did not vote for a Conservative Government. Let's be clear about that. I grant the Conservatives the fact that it was a very good result historically from their perspective, but let's not pretend that the Conservatives represent Wales.
Secondly, it's been suggested by my colleague Alun Davies that there are some in this Chamber—[Interruption.] Well, the mathematics are all for there to see. There are some in this Chamber who take the view that we have no right to express a view on this LCM. Indeed, the Member opposite, whose name I forget, said that in fact not only did we not have a right to oppose this LCM but that we should be abolished for opposing this LCM. Well, this is my country, this is my Parliament, I see my Government in front of me, and I want my country to continue to exist, thanks very much.
I'm going to focus purely on clause 38. I was surprised that David Melding couldn't deal with it and, by his standards, I'm sure he will respond in due course. But it simply says this, clause 38(1):
'It is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign.'
Some might say, 'What's the problem with that?' Well, what's the point of it? What's the point of something that—if the Parliament of the UK is already sovereign, why put it in law? Because it's not in law anywhere else. It's just graffiti. Or is it the case that the UK Government have realised that the Parliament of the UK is not in fact sovereign? There is nothing in law that says the Parliament of the UK is sovereign at all. Nothing. It's a convention. And the courts have respected that convention. But the courts have said in opinions that where, in the future, they felt that an Act of Parliament was oppressive, where it was Draconian, where it was clearly ridiculous, then they would reserve the right to themselves to intervene if they saw fit, but they saw that only in extremis. What this clause does is remove the right of the courts to look at any primary legislation drafted by the UK Government. That is a dangerous course of action.
It was Lord Hailsham, a Conservative peer, who said in the late 1970s that the British constitution was effectively an elective dictatorship, and so it is. And by including this clause, it makes it even worse. It says, 'The UK Parliament can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, with no interference at all during its time in office.' That cannot be democratic and it cannot be right as far as the constitution is concerned.
And there is nothing in law that says the UK Parliament is sovereign. Nothing. So, this is why I suspect this has appeared, to make up for the fact that a convention, whilst it's been respected over the years, is not actually law. But when you make it law, you make it far more difficult, for example, for the courts to take a view on laws.
Would you give way?
Of course I will.
I'm grateful to the First Minister emeritus. We're in a common law system. It was in the 1690s that parliamentary sovereignty was first expressed by the courts, and the reason it can't be encoded is Parliament itself is the extreme and ultimate expression of the law. That's the system we have, unless we move to a different system.
What David Melding refers to is correct: in 1689, the Earl of Shaftesbury said that the English Parliament was sovereign; but the English Parliament doesn't exist anymore. The English Parliament disappeared in 1707, as did the Scottish Parliament. The Parliament of the United Kingdom: there is no law at all that says that that is sovereign. The reason why that's important is because in Scotland there's no concept at all of parliamentary sovereignty. The declaration of Arbroath in 1380, which we'll all be familiar with, of course, says that sovereignty in Scotland rests with the people. That's still the case today in Scots constitutional law; it's still the case, and the Scottish courts have expressed an opinion in that regard, particularly in cases in the 1950s to the 1970s.
What does that mean in practice? It means that, if this clause becomes law, Scotland will have imposed on it a form of sovereignty that, firstly, doesn't exist in Scotland and, secondly, cuts across the Treaty of Union in 1707. The Scottish courts have said that is something that they're willing to look at in terms of its justiciability.
It doesn't affect us in Wales, I grant you, because our courts system was abolished gradually between 1536 and 1830, but this actually is a fundamental attack on the 1707 Treaty of Union in Scotland. I'll leave it to the Scots to fight their own battle, but it's something that just hasn't been noticed. Parliamentary sovereignty has never been part of the law of the United Kingdom with regard to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, apart from now. And I've already explained the consequences of that.
Finally, the other point I want to make is this: I could not support this LCM—there are many other reasons that other Members have mentioned, and it's nothing to do with Brexit—because I do not support the idea of parliamentary sovereignty. It's an outdated concept and it's about time the UK had a more modern constitution. We can look at shared sovereignty. Why entrench a system that is ragged and is not fit for the purpose? That is a typical Westminster-bubble amendment that's been put into this legislation, ignoring the reality of the existence of other Parliaments within the UK. Sovereignty rests with the people of Wales. They expressed that sovereignty through a referendum in 1997 and in 2011, and they expressed that view in 2016 when they said, 'We want to leave the EU.' I don't dispute that. But that sovereignty rests with the people of Wales as expressed through those referendums.
And what will we have if this clause passes? A system with no checks and balances. Five years where a Government can do absolutely anything it wants without any kind of restriction. This is a fundamental change to the way the UK has been governed. It's undemocratic. It's not in any party's manifesto. It takes us backwards. It entrenches in law something that's never been there before. It is a fundamental misunderstanding and possibly an attack on the nature of devolution within the UK. And for that reason, along with many others, I could not support this LCM.
In her impassioned speech earlier on, Lynne Neagle talked about this Bill riding roughshod over democracy. But of course, it's not riding roughshod over democracy, it's a fulfilment of democracy. In the course of the professorial disquisition to which we've just listened, Carwyn Jones referred to the declaration of Arbroath as saying in Scottish law that sovereignty lies in the hands of the people. Well, the people decided in June 2016—17.4 million, the largest democratic vote in the whole of British history—to leave the EU. For the last three and a half years, the Labour Party, Plaid Cymru and the SNP have been trying every possible stratagem to avoid the consequences of that vote. I give way.
You can't have popular sovereignty and parliamentary sovereignty. You're now arguing that parliamentary sovereignty doesn't actually exist.
No. I don't think I'm going to spend much time arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. These kinds of academic pursuits lie ahead for the Member for Bridgend; a seat that was lost, of course, in the Westminster election just a few weeks ago. These facts don't seem to have impinged upon the consciousness of Labour Members, and possibly Plaid Cymru Members, at all.
There was, I think, quite a palpable mood in the country to get on with the job of delivering on Brexit. That wasn't the only reason why Labour lost so many seats in that election, but it was undoubtedly a very significant part of it. The problem has been, for this institution, overwhelmingly populated by those who supported the 'remain' cause in the referendum, you have never been reconciled to the result of the referendum itself. And you've done everything you possibly can to throw spanners in the works and to try to delay, and possibly frustrate, and, through a campaign for a so-called people's vote, to reverse the result of the referendum in June 2016. Well, you've lost, and now it's time for you to recognise that you've lost. And if there are any constitutional outrages included in this Bill, the reason that that has come about is because of your intransigent opposition to what the people voted for three and a half years ago.
I don't have those worries that have been expressed by other Members in this debate, but I do think this is a highly exceptional case, as David Melding explained in the course of his speech. We're not going to have referenda of this constitutional import very often, if indeed ever again in this country. And as a result of the delays that have occurred in fulfilling that referendum result, there is now a pressing and overriding desire that we should deliver on what the people voted for.
We've heard speeches going over, once again, all the arguments that we've done to death in the course of the referendum campaign and over the last three and a half years. The argument about whether it's a good thing to leave the EU or not is over. The people have decided. But the policy of the Welsh Government is that we have Brexit in name only; they want to stay in the customs union, they want to stay in the single market. Well, by no stretch of the imagination could that be described as Brexit. The whole point of this, to go back to the former First Minister's point about parliamentary sovereignty, is to restore legislative power to the legislators, not just in Westminster, but, so long as the devolution settlement subsists, to legislators here in this place. I give way again, yes.
I do thank the Member for taking a second intervention. I accept his point about accepting the result of the referendum in 2016. Will he then accept the result of the referendums in 1997 and 2011?
Well, we delivered on the results of the referenda in 1997 and 2011. And I'm perfectly happy to see the Labour Party commit itself to going back into the EU once we've left; what it did not have the moral right to do was to attempt to frustrate the result of the referendum before it had actually been delivered. It's a perfectly honourable role for other parties to say, 'We are better off inside the EU', and to campaign. I think it would be a brave step for them to take, and I hope, indeed, that they take it up, because that will, I think, help to consign them to the irrelevance which they have arrived at for the foreseeable future.
But this debate is not about workers' rights or any of the other ingredients of the referendum campaign. I don't want to see any rolling back on the rights of workers any more than any other Member does in this house. This is all about legislative competence. This is what democracy is all about. Nations, for good or ill, take decisions. Through elections, they elect Governments to introduce laws and to change laws. And if we're not going to have a sovereign Parliament in that respect, then, effectively, we haven't left the EU at all in those particulars.
So this, ultimately, is all about what kind of a country are we and what kind of a nation are we. What kind of electoral system to deliver on the democratic will of the people have we got? It's amazing that we have a nationalist party, so-called, in this place that doesn't actually believe in national independence as expressed through representative institutions; they'd much rather be governed from a technocratic elite that we don't elect and can't even name in most cases, based in Brussels.
This was a vote by the British people and the Welsh people for independence and the supremacy of their parliamentary institutions, including this one here in Cardiff. The fulfilment of what the people voted for three and a half years ago is an historic moment for this country, and I'm afraid the Labour Party, and Plaid Cymru in particular, have failed the people who have elected them.
I call on the Counsel General to reply to the debate.
Thank you, Llywydd. May I thank all Members who have participated in this debate? I'd also like to thank the committees chaired by David Rees and Mick Antoniw for their assessments of the Bill.
At the start of this debate, the First Minister said we would undoubtedly hear our opponents claim that the decision to recommend voting down the legislative consent motion was rooted in our objections to the withdrawal deal itself, and I'm glad that Mark Reckless and Neil Hamilton didn't disappoint in that regard in what must be an ongoing and, I think, increasingly desperate search for relevance that Mandy Jones, in giving us a countdown to Brexit, reminded us is thankfully now limited. But let me say quite honestly that these decisions are always important decisions for a Government that wants to see a more effective union.
For 20 years, we and successive UK Governments, actually, have tried hard to avoid a situation where the Sewel convention is breached, because though the Supreme Court has ruled it is not justiciable, it is, as Mick Antoniw in his contribution outlined, of huge significance. Conventions in an unwritten constitution should matter. It is convention that the sovereign does not refuse to sign Acts of Parliament duly passed by both Houses; no statute or court can't force her to do that. It's convention that the House of Lords does not seek to block legislation that has featured in a winning party's election manifesto.
So, we have obviously then thought long and hard before advising the Senedd to deny consent. Contrary to the argument of the leader of the opposition, this is not about blocking Brexit or sulking, because the general election has undoubtedly given the UK Government a mandate to negotiate a relationship with the EU based on the free trade agreement they've outlined. As our document on future negotiations and priorities for Wales sets out, though we don't think that is in the best interests of Wales, we accept that that is the starting point for the discussions, and we set out the direction that we feel they need to take.
Our objections to the Bill are based on what it threatens to do to the devolution settlement, and it is right for us to stand up for that settlement. As Alun Davies said in his contribution, 'The alternative doesn't sound like democracy to me', and I think he's right in that. I refute David Melding's argument that the reasons given are not matters of constitutional principle, and I would attach less weight perhaps than I would normally to his important contributions in this sort of debate, because I think he did fail to grapple with the point that Carwyn Jones made so eloquently about the emblematic impact of clause 38, which asserts a form of parliamentary sovereignty that we in this place should not be quick to support, because it fundamentally misunderstands the changed constitution of Wales and of the United Kingdom in a way that I hope Members in this Chamber would recognise.
At the centre of our argument is the fact that, under the Government of Wales Act, the UK Government can ultimately seek to compel this Senedd to put in place measures to implement