The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
It gives me great pleasure to announce that, in accordance with Standing Order 26.75, the Mobile Homes (Wales) Act 2013 and the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 were given Royal Assent on 4 November 2013.
1. What actions does the First Minister plan to take to improve the economy of south east Wales? OAQ(4)1308(FM)
Our priorities for improving the economy are encouraging jobs and growth, to provide support for businesses, and, of course, the development of the enterprise zones and the city regions.
Thank you, First Minister, for that response. Are you able to tell us what the timescale will be for the electrification, particularly of the Valleys lines, which is obviously very important to revitalise the south Wales Valleys, especially in view of the fact that the Office of Rail Regulation has recently stated that plans by Network Rail are not yet costed to a sufficiently high level of detail?
Network Rail is required to deliver the electrification of the Valleys lines to ensure that the first services start from October 2018, with a full introduction of services by December 2019. I understand that the Office of Rail Regulation will be monitoring the delivery of this as a regulated output for control period 5, and I welcomed the recommitment by the Prime Minister last week of the UK Government’s intention to pay the whole cost west of Cardiff and, of course, of the Valleys lines network in its full entirety.
First Minister, will you commend, as you graciously did last week, the announcement by the Prime Minister that the NATO summit is to be held in south-east Wales? This is a remarkable achievement, as you will know, and will contribute over £130 million to the economy, with the possible creation of over 2,000 jobs, as happened in Chicago. Coupled with the M4 relief road, for which many of us have campaigned for at least 25 years, these are significant achievements and will certainly help the economy in south-east Wales.
Indeed so. The M4 relief road has been high on the list of Welsh Government priorities for some time, and the announcement last week will enable us to actually get on and do it if that is the final decision, otherwise it could not have been even considered in the first place. With regard to the NATO conference, that was something that I was in discussion with the UK Government about for some weeks. I very much welcome the fact that the UK Government has kept me informed of the intention to hold it in Wales, and very much welcome the announcement.
First Minister, we received news yesterday that Sapa Extrusions aluminium plant in Bedwas was under threat of closure. Explicitly blamed by the company were the current market conditions in the United Kingdom and further afield. There are 132 skilled manufacturing jobs at this site, jobs, I am sure you will agree, that we can ill-afford to lose. Will you commit to ensuring that your Government makes every effort to engage with the company and the workforce to try to avoid closure, please?
Yes, I can. Of course, it is very worrying news for those who work at the facility, and the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, through her officials, will be liaising with the company to see what can be done in order to assist it.
First Minister, thank you for those comments. I am sure that our thoughts are with staff and their families at Sapa aluminium as they face uncertainty going into Christmas. Can you tell us what assessment you have made of the potential impact on jobs for the supply-and-demand chains for Sapa aluminium?
These are all issues that are being examined by officials. The first objective is to see what might be done in order to assist those who work there. We would all, I am sure, wish to see a situation where potentially those jobs could continue where they are. Nobody can give that guarantee of course, but we will be working hard to make sure that those who work there are provided with a more certain future.
2. What action is the Welsh Government taking to prevent the misselling of interest rate hedging products to small business? OAQ(4)1313(FM)
The regulation of banking products is not a devolved matter, but we do recognise the difficulty that interest rate swap agreements are causing to Welsh businesses. The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport is meeting with the organisation Bully-Banks tomorrow to discuss this issue.
Thank you, First Minister. According to the campaign group, Bully-Banks, the misselling of interest rate swap agreements has cost around 400,000 jobs to our small and medium-sized enterprises and an enormous £1.7 billion in lost revenue to the Treasury. The businesses affected have been bound into paying interest rates that are 8% or 9% above the London interbank offered rate, and an exit fee of some 20% to 40% of the initial loan value. My MP and colleague, Guto Bebb, has worked tirelessly to support that campaign, and he will be speaking tomorrow night at the very meeting that you have mentioned. First Minister, will you commend and join this campaign, and will you take a stand against such bad financial practice?
I do not think that I can add to the answer that I gave previously. I understand that the Assembly Member for Ceredigion will also be at that meeting. Clearly, it is an important issue for our SMEs, but I do mention the fact that, of course, it is not a devolved matter. However, I note with pleasure that, on 24 October, the UK Government, in a House of Commons debate, committed to monitoring the interest rate swap agreement situation more closely. That, of course, is within its purview, and I certainly welcome its interest in this issue.
One of my constituents is going to have to either mortgage their house or see their business go out of existence as a result of signing up to this misselling. What is the Financial Services Authority doing? Is it that it does not have sufficient presence in Wales, or is it the financial ombudsman who should be capturing these issues before they become such a huge problem?
The FSA—now the FCA, of course—identified this issue back in June of last year. By the spring of this year, the high-street banks did commit to undertake reviews with their own customers to whom they sold these products, to see whether there is a case for compensation. I understand that that is now proceeding. However, as I said, the Minister will be meeting with Bully-Banks to see whether there is anything that we can do as a devolved Government to assist businesses that have been affected in this way.
First Minister, the impact of this misselling of of loans is very serious indeed for those businesses affected and for the wider economy. Tourism businesses, agriculture businesses and businesses running care homes in my constituency have all been directly affected, as have businesses in other constituencies. I am grateful that the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport is to meet representatives tomorrow evening to discuss this further. However, will you and your Government take every opportunity, with the Treasury and with the Westminster Government, to put pressure on them to conclude these negotiations in order to ensure that businesses that have been so badly affected by this misselling are compensated?
We will, of course, do that, and I am sure that the Minister will be doing just that following tomorrow’s meeting. Compensation has been paid to some businesses, but a number of them—the majority, I would think—are still waiting for compensation. The Minister will consider the situation in terms of what the Welsh Government can say and do to ensure that businesses receive the compensation to which they are ultimately entitled.
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to questions from the party leaders. First this afternoon, we have the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, last week, the UK Government listened to Welsh business and agreed to the devolution of stamp duty to the Welsh Government. Given the importance of house building and construction to the Welsh economy, how many times in the last 12 months have you personally met with the leaders of the private sector firms that are building houses in Wales?
Of course, this will be a matter for the Minister, primarily. However, I have certainly met with Persimmon, and I have met with people from Redrow at various events, and others.
What we are looking for, First Minister, is leadership from you. The UK Government offers the Help to Buy equity loan scheme in England, and the mortgage guarantee scheme across the whole of the UK. As of today, there is still no scheme offered by the Welsh Government to help people secure a mortgage, to give people the opportunity to own their own home, and to provide a much-needed boost to the construction industry in Wales. Why does your Government not have the drive or commitment to help the housing sector?
Such a scheme is being taken forward, and there will be an announcement shortly. However, I was slightly taken aback by the leader of the Liberal Democrats saying that there is a lack of leadership. I said many, many, many, many times that I wanted to see stamp duty devolved—I said it forcefully at the joint ministerial council in London, and, hey presto, 10 days later, we did see the devolution of stamp duty. It is a very important tool that we can use in order to assist not just first-time buyers, but others. This Government has shown clear leadership on the issue, as well as clear leadership with regard to getting the Silk commission’s recommendations actually implemented.
I wish the First Minister would turn his ‘just-like-that’ to help homebuyers here in Wales. After the collapse of your NewBuy Cymru scheme earlier this year, you told me that you would be hopeful of announcing the start date of a Welsh Government scheme to help homebuyers as quickly as possible. That was over six months ago, First Minister. Despite a letter from your Minister for Housing and Regeneration today, we are still left with no firm date for that help and no specific details. When will your Government help first-time buyers in Wales?
There will be an announcement in the very near future, certainly before Christmas. One of the reasons it has taken a little longer is that, of course, we need to ensure that financial institutions want to be part of such a scheme. It is a little easier for the UK Government because it owns banks in a way that we do not. As I said, I believe that the scheme will be a great success in Wales, as I believe that the devolution of stamp duty, so resisted by some on the benches opposite me, will make an enormous difference to first-time buyers and others in Wales. It took us 11 months to get a response, of course, in terms of the Silk commission’s recommendations. I welcome the fact that we have now had that response, and I believe that we will be able to do even more to help first-time buyers once the Help to Buy scheme is launched and, of course, once we can get stamp duty properly devolved in order to assist those people who need it most.
First Minister, last week, your Government announced an inquiry into practices in the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board. This is a long-standing campaign from the Welsh Conservatives, and these benches in particular, about having a more general campaign—a general inquiry—across the whole of Wales based on the Keogh-style inquiry that was held in England. Why are you singling out Abertawe Bro Morgannwg instead of bringing one forward for the whole of the Welsh NHS?
Was there ever a Freudian slip on the floor of this Chamber? [Laughter.] The Conservatives are running a general campaign, and that campaign involves trying to run down the Welsh NHS. I think he has let the cat out of the bag there, has he not? We have no proposals for a Keogh-style inquiry and we are certainly not going to assist him in a general campaign about the NHS.
I have no problem in saying that the Welsh Conservatives are running a campaign. I had the huge privilege and pleasure last night of meeting Ann Clwyd in the House of Commons. She congratulated me personally on the actions that we are taking. First Minister, the situations that people are raising with the likes of Ann Clwyd and us as elected Members—and elected Members across this Chamber—show you and your Government in a very bad light and show that you are not addressing those concerns and taking them seriously enough to bring forward an inquiry. Ann Clwyd identified the issues for the English NHS last week with her report. She also touched on the point that 25% of the correspondence that she received came from Wales. We have some very serious issues, which, in fairness, your Minister has identified in the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board area. So, I ask the simple question: why cannot the whole NHS benefit from such an inquiry that would root out bad practice, celebrate good practice and improve our Welsh NHS? It is a simple question and a simple formula.
The Minister for Health and Social Services has, of course, ordered an inquiry in relation to a particular matter. There are no particular matters within the NHS that deserve an inquiry to be held, generally. What the Minister for health has done is to hold an inquiry in relation to something that is specific to what happened to an individual. I do not accept that the situation exists in Wales where there is a need for a general inquiry. Yes, there is a need for one in England because the NHS in England is in crisis because of your Government. You only had to see the front page of ‘The Observer’ on Sunday to see the disaster that is awaiting people in England, sadly, because of the actions of his party. One thing that we will not do in Wales is impose the chaos in England on the people of Wales.
There are better outcomes and shorter waiting times in England, First Minister. You are responsible for the NHS in Wales. It is up to you to look to your conscience to see whether you are doing the job that is expected of you. However, I will leave you with the simple quote that Ann Clwyd left in her report yesterday:
‘You cannot bury your head in the sand and pretend everything is well because it isn’t. I think Aneurin Bevan would be turning in his grave.’
That is from a member of your own party, First Minister. You stand to be corrected.
Was she talking about England? May I remind the leader of the opposition that Aneurin Bevan was cremated, as far as I am aware, but that is the phrase that he uses. It is completely fair to point out to the party opposite what would happen if it was in charge of the health service in Wales. It is completely legitimate to use the evidence that we see from the NHS in England to see the disaster that would befall the people of Wales if ever they were in power. Accident and emergency waiting times are spiralling in England, waiting times generally are spiralling—[Interruption.]
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Order. I cannot hear what the First Minister is saying.
I will try to shout louder.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
No, do not shout.
The figures are going in the wrong direction in England. We see the figures going in the right direction in Wales. Trusts are going bankrupt in England. Listen to the doctors in England. They will say that they have no faith in the health service in England; they do in Wales. Yes, we are responsible for the NHS in Wales and we point out what would happen if the party opposite ever got its hands on power here in Wales on the NHS: privatisation, disaster, crisis and cuts. That is what the Tories stand for.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Finally, I call the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
First Minister, a few weeks ago, you said that devolution needs to be an event. Do you see last Friday’s announcement on fiscal devolution as an opportunity to be that event?
I think that it is an exceptionally important milestone in the history of devolution in Wales. For the first time, we will have the ability to vary our own taxes and be able to borrow. It represents a significant step forward. However, it would be augmented greatly with a positive response from the UK Government with regard to part 2 of the Silk commission’s report.
Thank you for your answer, First Minister. You have expressed your concerns in relation to further powers on income tax with regard to Barnett reform. I have some sympathy with what you say on Barnett reform, as Plaid Cymru has been outlining the case for Barnett reform since the 1990s. I am sure that there are many Members here who will remember the work of Phil Williams, who pressed that point time and again. In fact, Phil Williams was ridiculed here for pressing that point. So, we are glad, First Minister, that you now agree with us on that point of Barnett reform, which will again be in Plaid Cymru’s 2015 election manifesto. Will you commit now to Barnett reform being in Labour’s 2015 election manifesto?
There have been extensive discussions within my own party about this and a recognition that fair funding is important for the future. That much is true. I do not think that Barnett is tenable in the longer term; I think that we all understand that. When it comes to income tax devolution, that is a matter for another Assembly. However, the Holtham commission’s report makes it very clear that Wales is underfunded and that that underfunding needs to be addressed.
It would be good to have that commitment from you, First Minister, because you had 13 years in Government to ensure a needs-based formula for Wales, yet nothing was done. You will not commit to reforming Barnett and you will not commit to pursuing income tax powers. First Minister, if Barnett is reformed, will you at least commit to holding a referendum and campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote on Welsh income tax?
That is a very big ‘if’. First, the leader of Plaid Cymru gives the impression that, somehow, I am lukewarm about Barnett reform, when I have been shouting it from the rooftops for many years. It certainly is my intention to see fair funding included in the 2015 Labour manifesto for the general election. That will be important for all parties in that election, I suspect. When it comes to income tax devolution, the funding formula is important, because three quarters of the money that we would receive as an Assembly would still come via the block grant. Unless that block grant is stabilised and is made fairer, income tax devolution is of no consequence, as far as we are concerned. What would we do with it? The situation would arise, no doubt, that, as we saw the shrinking of the block grant from the Tories in London, we would be in a position of having to increase income tax, potentially, to keep services exactly as they are. That is not an attractive option for the people of Wales. I have asked myself the question: in a referendum, what would we say to the people of Wales that would make income tax devolution attractive to them? At this moment in time, there are few arguments; that may change over time. For me, the absolute priority is to make sure that the funding formula is dealt with first. We need to deal with that £300 million underfunding before we say to the people of Wales, ‘Actually, we want more money from you’. It is important that we get our fair share of money from Westminster first, before we even consider income tax devolution.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on internet safety lessons in schools? OAQ(4)1300(FM)
Yes. Schools have been required to teach children in key stages 2 and 3 about safe and responsible use of the internet since 2008. Internet safety is included in the programme of study for information and communications technology and in the personal and social education framework.
First Minister, I am glad to hear that. You may be aware of the new campaign from the Internet Watch Foundation and ChildLine on raising awareness of online dangers for young people, in particular sex texting, and ChildLine’s new Zipit app, which provides advice on safe chat and offers witty alternatives to requests to send explicit images. However, First Minister, many parents are unaware of the risks, or of how to handle the situation and are often less technology-savvy than their children are. What opportunities are there for parents to join in with lessons or to have some form of education about the potential dangers of the internet? What are you doing to promote the new NSPCC and ChildLine Zipit app that can be loaded onto young people’s telephones?
We have invited tenders for a partner organisation to work with us on a programme of e-safety education and awareness-raising activities. That will run from January 2014 to March 2015. We want to build on the existing expertise. A safer internet day will be held on 11 February next year and we are working with the National Digital Learning Council on a series of events in Wales to promote the day. We will be providing funding to support activities across Wales.
First Minister, there is a lot of evidence that the use of the internet and social media can improve a child’s literacy and numeracy. It should not be seen as a threat to more traditional techniques. If you ask children what worries them about mobile phones and being online, it is bullying. That is the main cause of concern. What steps is the Government taking to tackle bullying, especially among girls, who are particularly concerned about online bullying?
We have a campaign to ensure that children and young people know, first of all, what cyberbullying is, and to ensure that they know where to go for help. That campaign is ongoing. We are asking children and young people to play their part in order to ensure that their schools participate in activities and to raise their awareness of what they should do if they are cyberbullied, and so that they know who to talk to and where to go.
First Minister, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales has suggested that, if that campaign is unsuccessful, legislation would be necessary. He says that some 47% of children have been bullied online. Has any assessment been made of the commissioner’s statement?
It depends what kind of legislation he would like to see and, of course, whether it would fall under the Assembly’s powers. Any suggestions for legislation will have to be considered to see what we can do here and what would have to be done at a British level.
4. What are the Welsh Government’s powers on matters relating to land registration? OAQ(4)1309(FM)
Land registration is a non-devolved matter.
Some 4,000 homes in my constituency have received letters from the Land Registry saying that a man called Stephen Paul Hayes, who bought the Treffos manorial rights, has registered those manorial rights. This has led to concern, particularly among the most vulnerable of my constituents. Although this is a non-devolved issue, what pressure can the First Minister bring to bear on the Land Registry to ensure that any power behind these ancient rights in Wales are done away with in future, and to ensure that people cannot be frightened in receiving legal letters of this sort without any warning or explanation?
We know that legal letters scare people, especially in a situation like this. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that tjis has happened; it has happened before. If I remember rightly, it happened in the Newport area about 12 years ago. There was somebody who had bought a title and then wanted to exercise their rights to that title. Even though this does not come under the powers of the Welsh Government, I will consider the situation to see what I can do in terms of writing, perhaps to the registry. In the meantime, it is very important that people take legal advice about the situation that they face as individuals. This is not fair for people. It would have come as a bolt from the blue, and people would have been surprised that this could happen in this century. However, I will consider the issue to see what exactly we can do as a Government and I will write to the Member.
As the First Minister will be aware, 20% of land in Wales and England still remains unregistered. I understand, of course, that this is not a devolved issue, but how is the Welsh Government proactively working with the Land Registry to encourage more voluntary registrations in Wales?
This is not something that we have done as a Government, but certainly it is far easier where people register land, otherwise, you end up in a situation where court cases rely on evidence going back many years; it is not easy to unravel the issues of ownership that go back many years. There are still some properties in Wales that are not registered. There are still some properties in Wales where there are no title deeds, and trying to trace those back is not easy. I would encourage all those who own land to consider whether their land is registered and, if they have not done so, to do so at the earliest opportunity.
5. Will the First Minister outline what action the Welsh Government is taking to reduce respiratory illness in Wales? OAQ(4)1311(FM
Our respiratory health delivery plan was issued for consultation on 21 October and sets out the actions that we will be taking to deliver improvements for patients with respiratory diseases.
Respiratory disease causes one in seven of all deaths in Wales and is the third largest cause of death of both men and women. The biggest contributory cause remains smoking, and that must be a priority. We have the Fresh Start Wales programme as a major plank of the campaign to reduce the exposure to smoke by children, particularly in cars. Can you say what progress has been made on the campaign in the last 12 months?
Yes, I can say that the campaign has been moving forward very strongly. Evaluation has taken place. We had the 2010 health behaviour in school age children report. In February this year, Cardiff University was commissioned to carry out a study of primary school age children’s exposure to second-hand smoke in cars and elsewhere. In November 2012, Beaufort Research Ltd was commissioned to include questions on attitudes to smoking in cars carrying children and awareness of the campaign in its omnibus surveys. When that evaluation process is complete, we will, as we have said before, consider pursuing legislative options if children’s exposure to second-hand smoke does not start to fall by March next year. Therefore, there is a substantial amount of evaluation taking place and, as we have said, that date next year is important. After that, we then will need to consider whether legislation is needed or not
Diolch, First Minister, for your answer. You know that there is a public health Wales Bill on your legislative programme. We know that second-hand smoke is a major problem for children in cars, can lead to developing a smoking habit later in life and can also lead to respiratory problems. When will you pull your finger out and get on with delivering a change in the law that prevents the harm that second-hand smoke can cause to children in small, enclosed places such as cars? This is a major issue that I think would send a powerful message to the people of Wales about smoking and the Government’s intention and the National Assembly’s intention to tackle it.
This from the party that has a number of Members who voted against the ban on smoking in public places, as we all remember. He was doing well at the beginning, in fairness, but lost his way a little towards the end. As we have said, many times, we wanted to take the voluntary approach first. If that was not as successful as we would want it to be, then we would look to legislate. This has been the case—for two years, at least, we have said this. We have had the campaign, we have had the evaluation and we have given a set date as to when we would want to consider whether legislation is needed or not. What we do not want, of course, is his party challenging competence in this field. We believe that this is a health issue, not a road traffic issue.
First Minister, I am sure that you would congratulate the Welsh Rugby Union on supporting the Quit for Wales campaign launched today by Action on Smoking and Health Wales. What efforts is the Welsh Government making to promote and support this campaign, please?
We very much welcome the campaigns that are run by other organisations in order to encourage people to quit smoking. We have a number of campaigns in Wales, of course. Fresh Start Wales is just one of them. We know that anti-smoking campaigns have been successful over the years, but it is probably true to say that reducing the figure further can be quite a difficult nut to crack. Of course, that is all the more reason to look at using encouragement where that is needed, but also using legislation where that is also needed, evidenced, of course, by the ban that we imposed on smoking in public places, and evidenced potentially by any legislation that would be required to ban smoking in cars with children present.
First Minister, from your time as Minister for Rural Affairs, you will recall that one sector in which respiratory disorders are particularly acute is the agricultural industry, where conditions such as farmers’ lung arise from the inhalation of spores from mouldy fodder and so on. Currently, it is quite difficult to get hold of specific data on the health of farmers and growers, which makes it quite difficult for those organisations working in the sector to offer appropriate support. What level of consideration has the Government given to identifying ways that the health of farmers and growers can be better monitored so as to support the NHS in addressing these disorders?
I will write to the Member on this, and I will seek to provide as much information as we hold with regard to the incidence of respiratory diseases among farmers as well as the nature of those diseases. As part of that correspondence, I will outline to the Member the steps that we are taking, as a Government, first to raise awareness and as a prevention, and, secondly, to treat those illnesses as they become apparent.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on his priorities for sport in Wales for the next twelve months? OAQ(4)1296(FM)
Indeed. They are in the programme for government.
Thank you for the short answer, First Minister. The Welsh Government’s major event unit has as one of its objectives to develop effective relationships with UK and international major event owners. Will the First Minister advise us as to what progress has been made by the major events unit in developing such a relationship and attracting major sporting events to Wales?
We had the Rugby League World Cup, which was launched a week last Saturday, and we also have some games in the Rugby Union World Cup in 2015. We have the Ashes coming. We have supported cricket in Wales. There are a number of events, of which the Member will be aware, that we have attracted to Wales over the years via the major events unit. I believe that we have a very good record. Where we can work with the UK Government, we will do that. Quite often, of course, we are in competition with other parts of the UK in terms of attracting events, and so that is not always possible. However, where that co-operation is possible, we will look to do that, as we did, for example, with the Olympics last year.
First Minister, yesterday I received a letter back from David Sparkes, the chief executive for British Swimming regarding the relocation of the elite Paralympic training facilities from Swansea to Manchester. In the letter, he admits that insufficient consultation had taken place with Sport Wales on the relocation of these facilities. He also said that having the coaching there did not demonstrate value for money—something that I, as a local Assembly Member, am quite angry about in terms of the very effective and valuable facilities in Swansea. Therefore, what further discussions have you, as a Government, had in order to highlight the fact that we need facilities for the future at the Welsh national swimming pool in Swansea?
Of course, this was the decision of the governing body, not a decision made by the Government. I will write to the Member to ensure that she knows what our position is as a Government, and also to consider what we can do to ensure that the pool in Swansea is used in the way that it should be in the future.
First Minister, I would be grateful if I could have a copy of that letter, because I raised with your Minister for culture, back in August, the possibility that this would happen when the question of the elite centre was up for grabs, along with the possibility that it would move to Manchester. As Bethan has outlined, we have now seen the Paralympic swimmers move to Manchester, and Swansea’s national pool has, effectively, had its status threatened by the fact that we no longer have those swimmers and that training facility there. So, can you say what engagement your Government had in that period between the beginning of August and the middle of October, when the decision was taken, in terms of talking to the relevant bodies to try to prevent that move from taking place?
Yes, I will, of course, include that in the letter, and I will ensure that the Member is copied in. The issue is the review that took place within British Disability Swimming. That review recommended the centralised training model for the future development of elite swimmers, but, of course, the question is why Manchester was chosen ahead of Swansea, and I will address that issue in the letter.
Hywel Dda Local Health Board
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on problems regarding attracting and retaining medical experts at Hywel Dda Health Board hospitals? OAQ(4)1310(FM)
At present, about 93% of medical and dental posts with the Hywel Dda Local Health Board area have been filled. I know that the health board is working hard to fill the vacancies that still exist, and also it is considering how it can keep people in the area once they arrive.
Thank you for that response, First Minister. Constituents have raised concerns with me about Hywel Dda’s plans for non-emergency elective orthopaedic surgery. Can you give me an assurance that the plans will be monitored weekly over the winter months, and that patients will be aware of the outcomes of that monitoring, and that the Hywel Dda health board will manage its medical teams effectively in light of the intention to develop a centre of expertise in orthopaedics in Prince Philip Hospital?
It is a decision that the board has to make, that is, how many surgeries are planned over the winter in order to ensure that there are sufficient doctors available to deal with emergencies. That is something that Hywel Dda health board has considered in terms of Bronglais, and, in my opinion, it is very important that it can do that rather than having to delay surgeries because it does not have sufficient capacity to deal with emergencies. So, at present, I think that what it has done is sensible, and it is very important that people can have confidence in the winter plans.
First Minister, the cry from west Wales is always, ‘We can’t get the staff to come here to work—they don’t want to come, it’s too far’, and all the other reasons. It has been an ongoing problem. Do you not think that the decision on elective surgery in orthopaedics—and there will be other decisions, I think, over the next few months in other areas—will actually affect the decision of trainees and junior doctors? They will not want to come to west Wales, because they will have four months when they are simply not doing the jobs that they are there to do. Furthermore, the deanery will start taking action—I note your surprise. I just have to add that I have had a couple of contacts now from junior doctors in the Hywel Dda LHB who have said that, for the next four months, the workload has completely gone and they do not know what they are supposed to be doing or where they are going to go. I worry that this will affect the deanery, and that it will start looking at places such as Hywel Dda and saying that we are not going to be able to do effective training there. That has enormous consequences for the future of that hospital, no matter how positive a spin you put on it.
First of all, the difficulty is not in recruiting orthopaedic surgeons. The difficulties particularly are in anaesthetics, medicine, paediatrics and A&E. They are the four areas. That is not exclusive to Hywel Dda; these are difficulties across the whole of the UK.
I cannot accept the point you make that, somehow, surgeons will be doing nothing for four months. First of all, operations will continue at Bronglais—we know that—but at a lower level in terms of planned surgery than last year. So, they will be active. However, of course, plans have to be put in place to ensure that there is the capacity to deal with emergencies. We know that there was high demand last year. It is reasonable to think that there will be high demand this year, and that is why it is important to make sure that the capacity is there. The alternative is to programme more elective operations and cancel them. I think that it is worse for people to do that rather than to say that elective surgery will be at a level that is sustainable when dealing with emergencies.
The other issue, of course, as far as trainees are concerned, is that, in any specialism in medicine, dealing with emergencies is an important part of their training, and being able to have the time to deal with emergencies is all part of the planning that has been put in place by Hywel Dda. We know that part of the problem when it comes to training junior doctors is that they do not get enough breadth of experience in some parts of the UK. Having the breadth of dealing with emergency orthopaedics is an important part of their training, but to give the impression that, for four months, doctors will be sitting there doing nothing is quite wrong. We know that surgery will still take place, and we know that emergency orthopaedic surgery will take place over the course of the winter, but in a planned way.
I am not sure who advises you on the information contained in your responses so far, but may I tell you what is happening on the ground in the Hywel Dda area? Patients are turning up for pre-meds and for orthopaedic operations and are being told by clinicians that those operations are not going to take place now. Although they had expected them in November, they will not happen until next April. The orthopaedic surgeons themselves are furious that they will not be working to their full potential over the next four or five months. It will only be emergency surgery that they will undertake, and sitting down in rooms with patients explaining to them why they will not get their operations over the next five months. Go back to Hywel Dda—I ask you to do that, First Minister—and ask it what those orthopaedic surgeons will be doing over the next five months, because they are telling me and other Assembly Members that they will not be working full time, and that is a waste of public resources.
First, the impression has been given that they are going to be doing nothing. That is not the situation, because Hywel Dda has said clearly that surgeries will be taking place over the winter, but at a level lower than that seen last year, because it needs to keep sufficient capacity to deal with emergencies. In my opinion, that is a very reasonable thing to say. Of course, doctors would say, ’Well, not enough work has been planned’, and perhaps that is true, because people cannot plan emergencies. I do not see at present, therefore, that it is possible to say that doctors will not be doing anything over the winter. I do not think that is true. It is not true to say that there will be no surgeries. That has been said in a very straightforward way. We will see at the end of the winter how much capacity was needed. However, as I said, the other way to do it is to pay no attention to the fact that there will be emergencies over the winter, and to carry on as though we were in a situation in which there were no emergencies, and then delay the operations. I do not think that is a sensible way to move forward. I think it is very important that the time of doctors and surgeons is set aside to ensure that they are available to deal with emergencies. That is very sensible.
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on road safety in Brecon and Radnorshire? OAQ(4)1314(FM)
Yes. In July, the Minister launched the Welsh Government’s road safety framework for Wales, which sets targets for a substantial reduction in road casualties. With regard to the A40 at Glangrwyney, I can say that works are expected to commence in January.
Thank you very much, First Minister. I actually was not going to ask you about Glangrwyney today. I was going to ask you about the village of Clyro, where many residents have expressed concern about the speed of traffic travelling on the A438. As you know, the road goes through the village, with vital services on either side of the road—a post office, shop and school on one side, and a petrol station and shop on the other, as well as social housing. What steps can you as a Welsh Government, in conjunction with Powys County Council and Dyfed-Powys Police, take to address the concerns of my constituents to make sure that they are able to cross that road in Clyro in safety?
I am assuming that the A438 is not a trunk road, although I cannot say whether it is or not. If it is not a trunk road, of course, it is a matter for Powys County Council. It can liaise with Dyfed-Powys Police to put in place measures to deal with speeding cars. Quite often what the police will do is put what we used to call, years ago, a radar trap there. I am sure it is not called that now. They would do that in order to send the message that speeding is not acceptable in Clyro, or anywhere else for that matter. We would encourage highways authorities, be it ourselves or county councils, to work with the police to deal with issues such as this when they arise. It is perfectly possible for the situation to be considered and to then see whether there is a need to put in place a temporary speeding trap or whether in the longer term there is a need to put a camera there.
First Minister, you will be acquainted with the mid Wales regional highways strategy, published in December 2012. The report outlines a piece of work commissioned by the European Road Assessment Programme that outlined the statistical risk of death or serious injury occurring on Britain’s motorways and A roads between 2006 and 2008. I am particularly concerned with motorcycle accidents.
Much of Powys is made up of medium-risk roads, with some high-risk roads and very little low-risk roads. Can you outline what specific measures your Government is taking to alleviate the high risk of death or serious injury on the classified roads within that study?
Yes, I can say that the Minister met with the chief constables, including the chief constable for Dyfed-Powys on 3 October, to discuss road safety. As part of that discussion, issues such as road safety outside schools, the police’s enforcement of 20 mph speed limits and issues relating to the safety of motorcyclists were raised. The issue of motorcyclists was raised as a particular issue in Powys. Many of us will be aware of the many motorbikes that congregate, particularly on Sundays and bank holidays, and particularly but not exclusively around Storey Arms, and the issues relating to road safety there. Many of those motorcyclists are older people reliving their experiences as motorcyclists in their younger days, nevertheless, it is an important road safety issue. The Minister will work closely with the police to ensure that the number of casualties continues to drop on Welsh roads.
One of the easiest ways of improving road safety is to move away from private cars to public transport, given that public transport is a fair bit safer than travelling in private cars. Bearing that in mind, what is your Government going to do to invest in public transport in Powys, and particularly in the Heart of Wales railway? Exciting proposals by the forum responsible for that railway will be submitted to your Government very soon.
We are very supportive of that railway and we are looking forward to seeing any ideas that come from that body. There was a story about the railway, of course, which is that it was not possible to close it because it ran through six ’close’ constituencies in terms of the 1966 election, I think. However, we know very well that the railway is very important, not just for the people who travel from Swansea to Shrewsbury, but for the people who, in a way, use that railway as a bus, travelling two or three stops to visit people. We are looking forward to seeing what kind of ideas and recommendations that that body, the Heart of Wales Line Travellers’ Association, will present to the Minister.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on arts funding in Wales? OAQ(4)0084(CS)
The Welsh Government funds the arts in Wales through the Arts Council of Wales, which works within the strategic framework that is set by the Government.
According to the programme for government, it is a priority of the Welsh Government to improve the accessibility of the arts. I can think of some very good projects for young people in my constituency, such as the Ucheldre centre in Holyhead. However, according to the 2013 progress report on the programme for government, there was a reduction in the percentage of children participating in arts activities on a regular basis and the gap between the participation of disadvantaged groups and other groups continues. How does the Minister intend to increase the participation in the arts of people from disadvantaged backgrounds, given the reduction in funding that is being proposed in the next expenditure programme?
Essentially, it is a matter of prioritisation. I have been making it absolutely clear, and I will make it absolutely clear, in terms of working with the Arts Council of Wales, that young people, particularly young people from disadvantaged areas, receive priority within available funding. We also, of course, had the report by Dai Smith on arts and education, which is very much about improving the arts offer in our schools. If we can get that right, it would benefit all the young people throughout Wales in our schools in the future.
Minister, the arts in Wales survey showed that those who have considered that engagement in the arts is ‘not for me’ were most likely to live in north Wales, in rural areas and in small towns. What action are you taking to ensure that the £4 million budget cut to your portfolio does not deepen this inequality across our communities?
Again, working with the Arts Council of Wales, the Welsh Government is fully committed to providing opportunities and access right across our nation. These are matters that we will address with the Arts Council of Wales and a range of other partners, because, obviously, we need to make sure that opportunities are in place in all parts of our country.
2. Will the Minister make a statement on Sport Wales’s School Sport Survey? OAQ(4)0074(CS)
I would like to congratulate Sport Wales and its partners for the collation and presentation of the data in the school sport survey. They show that with a co-ordinated approach we can spur a generational shift towards increased participation in sporting activities.
Thank you, Minister. The survey made very positive reading indeed, with the number of young people regularly taking part in and enjoying sport rising. As you say, this did not happen accidentally—it was the result of Government, sports bodies, education and health all working together. However, girls, ethnic minority groups and pupils from poorer backgrounds are still lagging behind in terms of participation. How do you intend to address this?
Again, I think that this is a matter of prioritisation. Where gaps exist, we need to make sure, working with Sport Wales, that those gaps are closed. The school sport survey is very encouraging, as Rebecca Evans has mentioned. Nonetheless, there are areas where we need to do better. Sport Wales does have a regional black minority ethnic network group, which I think can help with some of these issues. Also, it has launched a What Moves You? campaign, which focuses particularly on women and girls. There are measures in place that will help us to make further progress, I think.
To return to schools, I mentioned Dai Smith’s report in reply to question 1, and we also have Tanni Grey-Thompson’s report on physical education in our schools. If we can get the offer and the quality right, then that will reach that captive school audience, and make sure that all of our young people have better quality provision and greater opportunities.
I should also mention our young ambassadors. They are part of the Olympic legacy and they are doing a lot of really good work in our schools. I addressed their national conference recently and emphasised our priorities around participation by ethnic minorities, those in poverty and, indeed, girls.
Minister, you talked to Rebecca Evans then about involving young children more in sport, and the work through Sport Wales. What I am interested to know is what discussions have you had with the Minister for Education and Skills in terms of the proposed new national curriculum consultation. Will you be replying to that consultation, in an effort to ensure that sport plays far more of a role on the centre stage of education in our primary and secondary schools, rather than being an add-on?
Of course, I work very closely with the Minister for education on these matters. Indeed, Tanni Grey-Thompson’s report was jointly commissioned between the education and skills and the sports and culture departments. We have jointly received that report, and we continue to work together in terms of all matters relating to it. That very much involves those curriculum issues that are so important to this agenda.
Minister, I acknowledge the hard work that many people are doing with regard to encouraging young people to take part in sport. What would you say to the young people in my area who have contacted me and who are taking part in sports such as football in their local areas? These are young teenagers who are coaching younger people, but because of council cutbacks they will be charged more for the use of fields? These young people cannot afford to pay any more for the provision than what they are currently paying. How can you help them to take part in sport if they are to be priced out of using those facilities?
Of course, it is important that participation and access issues are addressed with regard to young people, and particularly young people who are unable to afford the cost of participation, and I think that the local authorities well understand that. I recently met with the Welsh Local Government Association and we discussed the difficult financial situation and how we can ensure that provision remains in place and is taken forward. Therefore, there are a range of issues that need to be addressed, and Bethan Jenkins has mentioned some of them. I will continue to work with the WLGA through these funding difficulties to make sure that participation and access issues are properly considered and dealt with.
Minister, the survey is a comprehensive one, but a number of Estyn reports have been critical of the provision of sport within pupil referral units. Have you had any discussions with Sport Wales about what information it provides about sport within those units, given that there is only information about primary and secondary schools in the survey?
Our strategies and policies are general and do apply to those units as well. Therefore, in taking forward improvements to our offer for young people in our educational system, we will very much have those units in mind. Sport Wales addresses issues in the round similarly, and it has particular strategies in place that emphasise and prioritise provision for those in the most difficult circumstances, which I think very much includes young people in our units.
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales
3. Does the Minister have plans to enhance the role of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales? OAQ(4)0069(CS)
The written statement that I published on 12 July of this year sets out the position on the consideration of the future of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales.
I thank the Minister for his reply. He will be aware of the well-informed views on these matters that advocate the distinct identity and function of the royal commission and that it requires particularly to be at arm’s length and free from Government intervention. How will the Minister ensure that the unique collections and research undertaken by the royal commission will retain this distinct identity in the future?
Members will be aware that we have a process in place. We have a merger project board and a project team established to take forward the further work that I requested in July. I am very grateful to the commissioners and members of the commission staff for their help and assistance with that work. Members will also be aware that the merger proposals were included in ‘the future of our past’ consultation exercise, which closed last month, so I will be carefully considering the responses to that consultation and the outcome of this process before making any final decisions.
Minister, as you consider the future of the royal commission, will you consider two specific principles? The first is to ensure that the decisions and work of the commission continues to be at arm’s length of Government and of ministerial influence and decision. The second is that the future of the institution should be in Aberystwyth.
These are matters that have been and will be addressed through the process that I mentioned in response to William Graham’s earlier questions. I will reiterate what I said in response to William Graham, which is that we have the process that I described—it is ongoing and decisions will be made in due course.
The consideration of this merger between the royal commission and Cadw has been ongoing for a considerable amount of time, causing some uncertainty in the sector and certainly around the future of the royal commission and any possible future donations to the royal commission. Can you give some more specific indications as to when you will finally reach a decision as to whether this merger will go ahead and whether it will be inside or outside of Government?
As I said in response to William Graham and Elin Jones, we have this process in place. I look forward to receiving the analysis of the responses to the consultation and to making a decision towards the end of this year. So, we will not have to wait very much longer, but, of course, the future of the commission is a very important matter and not one that can be rushed.
Thank you for the indication, Minister, that you will be making a decision sometime in the next two months; that will be very welcome. In terms of making that decision therefore, what consideration are you giving to the representations from within the heritage and cultural area of work, if you like, in terms of the need for the independence of the royal commission and, in particular, the need to continue to attract charitable donations to that collection?
These are important matters, as are other matters raised by Members today, and they will be fully considered before a final decision is made.
4. Will the Minister make a statement on the importance of cultural events, such as the recent WOMEX event, to Wales? OAQ(4)0083(CS)
Attracting major cultural events contributes to our drive to support jobs, growth and wealth, as well as a thriving arts scene. Our programme for government outlines our commitment to support and promote Welsh cultural events throughout Wales and abroad.
Thank you for that, Minister. As you have acknowledged, culture is often a very cost-effective way to promote a country to the world, of which we have excellent examples, such as America, which people often do not realise has promoted itself very efficiently via its culture, with many of our young people feeling they have the rights that they see outlined on detective programmes set in America for example. Investment in that sort of cultural event can often lead to a four-fold return in terms of spin-offs in tourism, in jobs and in a general feeling of wellbeing in the country. In the light of the cuts to our budget that we have heard so much about from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, what can we do to make sure that arts do not feel the brunt of this pain and are in fact valued for the contributors that they are to our worldwide heritage?
I thank Julie James for that supplementary question, rightly highlighting the importance of events such as WOMEX, which was a tremendous event for Wales. I attended a number of the events around WOMEX and was very impressed, and I know that all who witnessed those events were similarly impressed. It will undoubtedly deliver a great deal of benefit for Wales and Wales’s international profile. It is a difficult time at the moment in terms of funding. We have to be clear about the need for quality and excellence, which I know the Arts Council for Wales is, through its funding of the revenue-funded organisations, building capacity and building that quality that appeals to an international audience. Our international effort is very much around a number of events, such as the Venice Biennale for example, the Lorient festival and the Celtic festival in Edinburgh, all three of which I have been fortunate enough to attend since I have been Minister.
So, it is very much an outreach effort. I work very closely with the Minister for economy around trade missions and tying that up with our quality arts organisations and performances. These are things that I have emphasised to our culture group as well. We will have the Dylan Thomas centenary next year and there is a whole stream of events that help us. WOMEX has certainly been absolutely key among those.
Minister, as a party, we obviously welcome what came to Wales with WOMEX, given that it was Alun Ffred Jones, as Minister, who brought this festival to Wales in the first place. I heard your answer to Julie James, but I did not hear what else you as Minister will actively consider bringing to Wales, so that we, as the people of Wales, can celebrate what we do in the cultural and musical sphere. Therefore, if you have any kind of list to share with us as Assembly Members, we would be grateful to see it, in order to understand your plans for the future.
Members will be familiar with the series of events that have taken place in Wales and have raised the international profile of the country, which I touched upon in answering Julie James’s question, as well as the excellence that we have within our cultural and arts organisations, together with a series of events abroad, which, again, I outlined earlier, that our arts organisations perform at. Similarly with the trade missions, I think Members will be very familiar with that, and, of course, the effort will continue, linking up with our major events unit, which sits within the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport’s responsibilities, to attract further events to Wales.
Minister, perhaps I can help you with ideas for the future. A new festival has been established in London called Nordicana, Nordic Noir, to look at programmes such as ’The Killing’, ’Borgen’, ’Wallander’ and so on, which are very popular here in Wales, on BBC4. A new programme called ’Hinterland’ has been produced by S4C, with the actor Richard Harrington, from my home village of Heolgerrig in Merthyr Tydfil, as its main character. Could we have a festival called ’Cardi Noir’, for example, here in Wales, to discuss what Welsh actors and Welsh drama are doing on the world stage and in order to provide a platform for Welsh talent in this respect?
I would be very happy to discuss that possibility with other ministerial colleagues, including the Minister for economy. I did, in fact, watch ‘The Darkness’ last week, on S4C, and was very impressed. The scenery at Devil’s Bridge and Aberystwyth was stunning. I thought that it was a great production—real quality—and I understand, from meetings with S4C and others, that that view is shared internationally, across the globe, which must be very good news for Wales.
Public Access to the Countryside
5. Will the Minister make a statement on public access to the countryside? OAQ(4)0080(CS)
The social and economic benefits of countryside access continue to be promoted by the Welsh Government. Significant improvements have been made in recent years, including the creation of the Wales coast path. We intend to continue to invest in encouraging greater participation, which benefits our economy and people’s health.
I would like to thank the Minister very much for that response. Over recent weeks, I have had quite a volume of correspondence regarding countryside access issues not just from farmers, but from other concerned residents. This included a letter from the chief executive of the National Sheep Association. In the context of these concerns, what progress has been made to date with a review of access and outdoor recreation legislation, particularly with respect to the consultation, to ensure that the full range of concerned stakeholders are involved in framing the draft legislation in good time?
I, too, have had a great deal of correspondence on these matters, as I am sure other Members in the Chamber will have received. They are matters that are very important to Wales and to a variety of stakeholders, so I am very keen to have the widest and deepest possible engagement. We are at the very start of the process, really, where we have had initial workshops across Wales to engage with key stakeholders, and I have recently met with some of those. Therefore, there is a lot of engagement yet to take place and, of course, the Green Paper is yet to be issued. However, I think that it is a very important agenda for Wales; we have a fantastic outdoors, and we need to ensure that it is enjoyed and is used to best effect.
You mentioned the Wales coastal path, Minister, in your answer. What progress has been made on ensuring that everyone can use the Wales coastal path, including cyclists, disabled people and horse riders?
We have prioritised accessibility and inclusivity in creating the Wales coast path. One of my ministerial visits was to Rest Bay at Porthcawl. An area of coast path there has been made accessible for wheelchair users, for example, and I met a wheelchair user on that occasion, who explained very clearly the benefit to his health and wellbeing and to his quality of life of that improved access. Therefore, I think that we have important gains under our belt, as it were, in terms of the work that has taken place with the Wales coast path. However, of course, that is not universally the case, as there are areas where that is possible and others where it is far more difficult. However, we are certainly very committed to that agenda.
In Scotland, of course, where open access has been introduced, evidence shows that the angling sector has lost income and jobs, as well as damage to fish stocks and a fall in the number of anglers as a result of other people’s misuse of waterway access. If you have plans to introduce more access in Wales, what guarantee can you provide that we will not see the same outcomes?
In taking forward improvements to access generally, we would, of course, be keen to stress that it must be responsible access. It is important to have the strongest possible codes in place to ensure that everybody is clear. So, it has to be communicated effectively as well. Everybody is clear as to what constitutes responsible access and abides by that guidance. Those are important issues, but, again, we are at the beginning of a Process that will explore all matters involved in the proposals that we will set out. We look forward to that level of engagement.
6. What are the Welsh Government’s priorities for improving sporting excellence in South Wales Central? OAQ(4)0070(CS)
Our investment in sporting excellence is set out in Sport Wales’s elite sport strategy, which was endorsed by Welsh Government and published in 2010. It covers the period until the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Thank you, Minister, for that answer. Back in the spring, there was a campaign launched to stop the hikes, namely the fees that were charged for council playing fields and sporting facilities. Many members of this Chamber, in particular the Member for South Wales West, Bethan Jenkins, supported that campaign. It is important that people have access to those sporting facilities. Many amateur clubs, sadly, have struggled and have had to close because of the excessive increases in the fees that are charged. You talked in earlier answers about your engagement with the local government association. Can you flesh out what tangible results you have had as a Minister in the dialogue with the local government association to bring forward proposals that will mitigate some of these increases and help amateur clubs across Wales?
In general, it must be right that I, as Minister for sport, have a very close working relationship and channel of communication with the local authorities and the Welsh Local Government Association at a time of considerable budget difficulties. So, I intend to work as closely as possible with local government in Wales, and that will encompass a wide range of matters, including access to sports facilities, participation and barriers thereto. Ultimately, it is a matter for the local authorities to set their charging regimes. Sport Wales works with them on the process. There must be proper consultation involved. Ultimately, it is a matter for local authorities.
One issue that I am keen on is working to understand facilities that are currently available and how we can enhance and improve on those, and make better use of what currently exists. In that regard, I think that it is important that we drive forward progress on community-focused schools, because there we have a range of facilities that, in some instances, are not accessible during the evenings, weekends and school holidays. At a time of considerable financial difficulties, as I mentioned earlier, it is important that we use our existing facilities to best effect. So, I am discussing these matters with my colleague the Minister for Education and Skills and with others.
7. What work is your department doing to promote sport amongst older people? OAQ(4)0073(CS)
The Welsh Government supports a number of programmes for older people to participate in sport and physical activity. These include free swimming for those aged 60 and over and the Let’s Walk Cymru programme.
That is fantastic. A Swedish study that involved 4,000 adults aged 60, over a 12-year period, indicated that gardening increased their life chances by 30%. Things like gardening and dancing are, perhaps, more suitable than running around a football pitch with Steven Caulker. How can we ensure that all older people realise the benefits of staying healthy and active, and how can we promote the sort of activities that would be suitable for a range of people?
It is important that we are imaginative and flexible, and that we understand that there will be a range of activities that are attractive to a wide variety of older people, because older people are not one homogenous mass. We need to understand that. It should be about the wider physical activity agenda, and I very much agree with that. Within that, gardening is important. In fact, yesterday I was at the old Vetch ground of Swansea City Football Club looking at the allotment provision there, which was very impressive. We had a range of people within the community coming there, and there were allotments of different sizes—it could be quite a small patch. There were elders from the Chinese community in Swansea, for example, growing all sorts of interesting vegetables, including Chinese pumpkins. It was a good education for me, in terms of what happens there, but it is a great social experience. There are people coming there from the Bangladeshi and Chinese community and from right across that area of Swansea. It is about staying physically active, but it also has a great social benefit.
Minister, you will be aware that crown green bowling is a sport enjoyed by many older people, which helps them to keep fit and very supple. It is a sport that has traditionally been quite strong in parts of north Wales, but not so strong in the south. What work are you doing to ensure that the benefits of crown green bowling can be enjoyed by more people in Wales, particularly in mid and south Wales?
I know that crown green bowling is enjoyed in different parts of Wales, together with other types of green bowling, as it were. Older people particularly find that to be a very pleasurable and worthwhile activity. It is about meeting the demand that exists, whatever form of bowls that is, and Welsh Government, Sport Wales and the governing body are keen to support it.
We know that some older people have access to free swimming, but how can the Welsh Government help to ensure that older people are not prevented from engaging in other sporting and physical activities because of their financial circumstances? I was not going to mention this, but in Glasgow older people are encouraged to do ballet—I am looking around the room—and in Japan I understand that cheerleading is also encouraged. [Laughter.] Any thoughts, Minister?
As I said earlier, I am sure that there are a range of activities that older people would like to indulge in. We are very keen, working with partners, to understand that and, where possible, make provision.
European Capital of Sport in 2014
8. Will the Minister make a statement on how the Welsh Government plans to promote sport ahead of Cardiff’s role as European capital of sport in 2014? OAQ(4)0075(CS)
Our capital city’s prestigious status as European capital of sport next year is an important achievement. Sport Wales is working in partnership with Cardiff Council to maximise the opportunities involved.
Thank you, Minister; that is very encouraging. However, the situation surrounding the Wales national tennis centre is deeply embarrassing, I am sure you would agree, given the timing. I am also sure that you will agree that it is a valuable asset, not only for developing elite sport in Wales, but also to encourage people to have healthier lifestyles in general. If so, will you give me an assurance that you will enter into dialogue with Cardiff Council to ensure that the facility is viable for the future?
I am very aware of the issues around the national tennis centre, as I know is Cardiff Council. Cardiff Council is considering proposals for the future use of the national tennis centre, and is having discussions with a range of other stakeholders. I am hopeful that we will see progress in the near future, but I would join all Members here in understanding the importance of the national tennis centre in taking forward that sport in Wales.
One of the key things that Cardiff has been noted for over the last couple of years in sport is the success of the principal teams, such as Cardiff City FC and the Welsh rugby team playing at the Millennium Stadium. However, underneath those flagship clubs or our country sport, we have real issues at amateur level. Will you be working with the local authority and the governing bodies across all sports to make sure that all amateur sports benefit from exposure and, hopefully, some growth in participation when 2014 kicks off?
Absolutely. We want to make sure that we have a widening of participation at the grass-roots level around these opportunities. Cardiff Council, in terms of the year of sport, will be taking forward school games, which I think will be quite extensive and will very much widen participation; that is very much to be welcomed. At a grass-roots level, Sport Wales and the governing bodies of sports in our country are very conscious of the need to have the widest possible participation, because, without that, you do not get the elite performance that we want to see. The wider the base of participation in sport in Wales, the more chance there is of producing those quality athletes and sportspeople in the future.
Minister, although the Taff trail is a wonderful place to cycle in Cardiff, if you really want to enjoy cycling, you have to get out west—to Coed-y-Brenin or Nantyrarian. There is also a proposal to have a velodrome in Aberystwyth, which all partners have signed up to, but it is struggling for capital funding due to the changes in regeneration funding at the moment. Is there anything around celebrating next year in Cardiff and the rest of Wales, or following on from the Olympic legacy, that could make available capital funding for exciting cycling projects such as the Aberystwyth velodrome?
There are sources of funding available, of course, for capital projects. One thing that I announced as part of the forthcoming budget years is that there will be a pool of money—£5 million—for capital schemes. That does not become available until the financial year after next, but I hope that it will, at that stage, play an important role in providing additional money. It is very important to work through organisations like Sport Wales to understand what possibilities exist and what range of partners can come to the table to help to take forward provision.
9. Will the Minister make a statement on sports funding in Wales? OAQ(4)0085(CS)
Welsh Government funding for sport is principally channelled through Sport Wales, which allocates funding based on agreed development plans with the national governing bodies of sport, local authorities and other key partner organisations.
It is more than a year now since the London Olympic and Paralympic Games and, although many of us in this Chamber enjoyed the sporting spectacle, there are real questions now about the legacy. We have already heard today about the loss of the Paralympic swimming base in Swansea, but also Welsh sport is still waiting for the return of tens of millions of pounds of lottery funding that was diverted from them to the games. What effort has the Government made to make sure that sport in Anglesey and the rest of Wales does not lose out in the long term? When can grass-roots sport in Wales expect its money back?
We are seeing that. Following the Olympics, there is a return of funding to the lottery and, indeed, the lottery will be a very important source of funding in the difficult budgetary times that we, rightly, constantly mention. We have seen an Olympic legacy; the challenge is to sustain that over a period of time. However, we have seen impressive increases in participation in a range of sports, including gymnastics, cycling and swimming. Therefore, there has been progress and we need to sustain it. An important aspect of that legacy is the Young Ambassadors programme, which is a direct Olympics legacy. They are working in schools throughout Wales and are playing a very important role in understanding what young people want in terms of provision and making sure that it is available, both within and without our schools.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call on the opposition spokesperson, Mohammad Asghar.
Minister, recent figures published by Sport Wales reveal that Newport receives the lowest level of sports funding per head of the population in Wales, at £12.94, while Gwynedd receives just under £36. This disparity in funding puts young athletes in Newport at a serious disadvantage—and, as a matter of fact, we both come from Newport, and we are both sportspeople—and this could leave their potential untapped. Will the Minister advise us of the reasons why grass-roots sport is underfunded in Newport?
I would not accept that grass-roots sport is underfunded in Newport. As a Government, with Sport Wales, we work with local authorities right across Wales. If you look at Newport, you will see that there is a very impressive sports scene in place. We have the sports village at Spytty in Newport, which has a wonderful range of facilities, the velodrome, the football trust, the tennis centre, the swimming pool and the third generation pitch. It is very impressive. Newport City Council is very committed to sport and as Minister for sports I am very keen to see that throughout our local authorities in Wales.
You will be aware of the circumstances surrounding Newport Cricket Club and its need for financial support to secure its future. What action have you taken to support Newport Cricket Club in the interest of developing grass-roots cricket in the city?
We will work with local authorities, Sport Wales and the governing body in terms of cricket provision right across Wales. I play cricket at the Spytty cricket ground and am well aware of the issues. We are concerned with provision right across Wales. Wherever there are issues, Welsh Government is keen to engage and help find solutions.
10. Will the Minister outline the support the Welsh Government gives to promote local museums? OAQ(4)0068(CS)
Local museums in Wales are a very visible and valuable part of the wider cultural and heritage sector. The first ever national marketing strategy for Welsh museums has now been developed and will be implemented over coming months.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I am sure that he will agree that many local museums are the custodians of not only national, but local cultural collections, particularly individual collections to an area. Will he bring forward work to ensure that the historical value of these collections, particularly the very small ones in our more rural areas, is protected?
One key way in which we can protect that very important local and national heritage, as William Graham rightly describes, is to make sure that as many museums as possible in Wales work towards and achieve the UK accreditation standards. We work with our museums through CyMAL: Museums, Archives and Libraries Wales to ensure that that quality is achieved and is in place. Then, there are grants available as a result of achieving that accreditation. So, that is a key mechanism. We are very keen, through the marketing strategy, to ensure that what we have in Wales is effectively promoted and valued, and seen by as many people as possible.
Minister, many local museums, as well as local libraries, are part-funded or fully funded by local government. Will you urge local government to ensure that these vital services are safeguarded in a climate of very serious discussions about cuts to expenditure? Will you urge local government to consider the possibilities of sharing senior officer responsibilities, rather than making new appointments, in order to safeguard these vital services?
I very much agree with the comments of Rhodri Glyn Thomas. It is very important—I stress this—in discussions with local authorities and the Welsh Local Government Association, that our heritage is properly valued and safeguarded. I know that they feel that very strongly themselves. We should look at the most effective models. It should be about that more regional approach, very often, and ensuring that a range of models of provision are considered and taken forward. So, I very much agree with the Member and will be working with local authorities to that effect.
11. Will the Minister make a statement on what the Welsh Government is doing to support amateur sport in Brecon and Radnorshire? OAQ(4)0076(CS)
The Welsh Government continues to work closely with Sport Wales to increase rates of participation in sport across Wales.
Proposals by Powys County Council to redevelop the leisure centre in Brecon have been met with widespread concern, first because of the proposals to close dry-side facilities for, at best, 12 months and, in the worst-case scenario, more than 18 months. That will have a devastating effect on the amateur sports clubs that use the facilities. Secondly, proposals to date would mean that the facilities available will be much smaller. Again, that jeopardises the future of many sporting activities in the town. Will you or your officials meet with representatives of Powys County Council and local sporting groups to ensure that, should we have new facilities in Brecon, they are fit for purpose and will deliver what you want, which is greater participation in sporting activities for the people of Brecon?
I very much agree with Kirsty Williams in terms of what needs to be achieved in her constituency. I would be very pleased to consider these matters with officials as to how the Welsh Government can best support and facilitate the necessary achievement of those standards and that provision.
12. Will the Minister make a statement on the WOMEX contribution to increasing Wales’ cultural profile internationally? OAQ(4)0072(CS)
WOMEX brought the world to Wales and provided us with the opportunity to showcase Wales to the world. Events such as WOMEX make a significant contribution to raising our cultural profile internationally.
There is no doubt that WOMEX was a great success and an important event in the arts calendar. Specifically, therefore, what will the Welsh Government do to build on the success of WOMEX to promote Welsh music and musicians abroad?
As we touched on earlier, it was a great success and very significant, I think, in terms of taking forward music and culture generally in Wales. It was always envisaged, as I am sure that Alun Ffred would be familiar with from his previous ministerial post, that the legacy of WOMEX would be all-important. We will be working with artists and venues in Wales to ensure that the partnerships that have developed around WOMEX continue and continue to deliver for us in terms of our international profile, attendance at events abroad and attracting further events to Wales.
We also know that, in terms of traditional music, WOMEX has been very significant in terms of that scene in Wales and I look forward to meeting with Trac before too long to discuss how we can build on the momentum achieved for the future.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Question 13, OAQ(4)0077(CS), has been withdrawn.
Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000
14. Will the Minister make a statement on any reviews made since 2005 in relation to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000? OAQ(4)0078(CS)
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 requires Natural Resources Wales to produce revised maps of open access land every 10 years. Natural Resources Wales is in the process of reviewing the maps in time for the 2015 deadline.
First Minister, given—I apologise. [Laughter.] It was a promotion. Minister, given your stated ambition to open up the countryside for all, can you tell us what steps you have taken with Natural Resources Wales to look at land in the possession of Welsh Government, and perhaps explain whether you have seen an overwhelming demand for an increase in access to Welsh Government land in the last 10 years?
The Welsh Government, in terms of the land it controls, is very keen to be part of widening access. Indeed, under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, we saw a significant opening up of forestry and other land under the control of Welsh Government. So, I think we have a good story to tell, but we would be very keen to look at where further improvement might be made.
15. Will the Minister outline what he is doing to protect historic sites in Wales? OAQ(4)0071(CS)
The Welsh Government, with its partners, is working to protect and promote public appreciation of historic sites throughout Wales. The heritage Bill, through legislative changes and associated guidance and policy interventions, will improve protection of the Welsh historic environment and support its sustainable management.
Thank you, Minister. Your answer was better than my question in that you mentioned promotion as well, which my question should have done, so, thank you for that. May I ask what discussions, if any, you have had with the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport regarding the tourist road signage for historic sites around Wales? I did raise this with the Minister who previously had responsibility for transport and I know that he was considering an overhaul of the brown signage system, which is, in some places, past its best. In my local area, Raglan castle is particularly badly served by local signage, and it loses a lot of tourists because of that. Could you please discuss this with the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport and let us get a signage system much more suited to some of Wales’s best treasures?
It is important that we have the best possible brown signage in place in Wales to make sure that visitors and, indeed, the people of Wales, are easily and effectively signposted to the wonderful sites that we have. Therefore, I am very willing to have, and will have, those discussions with the Minister for transport to see whether improvement is needed and, if so, to ensure that it takes place.
I have one change to report to this week’s business. The First Minister will make a statement on the UK Government’s initial response to the Silk commission’s first report on financial reform for Wales immediately after this business statement. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers that are available to Members electronically.
I thank the leader of the house for her statement today and as1k her whether she could ask the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport to bring forward a statement, which was alluded to earlier today, regarding the potential closure of the Sapa Extrusions factory in Bedwas. Members will know that it has been there for 28 years, provides valuable employment, and has been one of the mainstays of the Bedwas industrial estate. In that statement, could I ask the Minister to look in particular at the way in which her officials are engaged with firms of this kind, and at what stage they are engaged, in the hope that the business could be maintained?
You may be aware that the company is about to enter into a consultation period and, obviously, there will be wide-ranging discussions on issues at this time. The Minister’s officials will be meeting with the company to offer all available avenues of support.
Minister, could we have a statement from the Minister for health on treatment for diabetes patients in Wales? It has been brought to my attention that diabetes care has been very poor for some of my constituents, and they tell me of appointments regularly being cancelled and long waiting times to see specialist doctors, issues that I know have also been raised by the Health and Social Care Committee. I very much welcome the recent publication of a new diabetes delivery plan for Wales, but I would, however, welcome assurances that this will be fully implemented at a local level. In particular, in areas such as my constituency, where the rate of diabetes is higher than the Welsh average, I would like to know what steps the Welsh Government will be taking to closely monitor the situation.
The all-Wales diabetes implementation group has been established to support the delivery plan that has been brought forward and Adam Cairns, the chief executive of Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board, chairs that group, which met for the first time on 15 October. The reason for the establishment of that group is to provide the strong and joined-up leadership and oversight that the Minister for health believes is necessary, because diabetes is, unfortunately, on the increase. Local health boards will be updating their local diabetes delivery plans to include actions and outcome measurements included in the diabetes delivery plan.
Minister, you may well have seen the ‘Western Mail’ article yesterday about redundancy payments and enhanced payments to senior council staff. I hope that you will agree with me that £77 million in just two years to departing staff is quite unacceptable, and most people find those figures quite obscene. Since you have given a tough settlement to local government in the recent budget and have been urging sensible budget decisions, could you make time to make a full statement giving your response to this, outlining what action you intend to take to put an end to these practices? Is it time for a moratorium now, please?
Yesterday, I had a partnership council meeting and met several leaders of local government from right across Wales, and it was an issue that we touched on. Clearly, the financial settlement given to local government is a difficult and challenging one. I accept that, but, due to the UK Government cuts to our budget, it is the best that I can do under the circumstances. However, it is something that I have asked local authorities to take into consideration as they go forward with their plans.
Two weeks ago the Minister for health said in response to my question on Hywel Dda health board’s decision on orthopaedic surgery:
‘The advice from Hywel Dda Local Health Board is that all those who are currently listed for orthopaedic surgery will have that surgery as planned.’
However, since then, I have received representations from constituents, and I know that other Members have also received representations, confirming that, in fact, their planned surgery has been postponed until at least the spring of next year. I am aware that many have written to the Minister for Health and Social Services, including Unison, expressing extreme concern with regard to Hywel Dda Local Health Board’s decision. The Minister’s response to Unison’s letter states:
‘My officials have been briefed by the health board, and they inform me that the health board is not cancelling all elective orthopaedic surgery.’
That response suggests that, therefore, some elective surgery is now being cancelled, as we have discovered from our constituents. As has already been said in this Chamber today, the effect that this decision will have on the productivity of staff and clinicians is also very worrying. Given that constituents are clearly now being told that their surgery is being cancelled, and given that the Minister for health told me two weeks ago that all of those listed for orthopaedic surgery will have that surgery, but is now implying in a letter to Unison that some are being cancelled, I would ask the Minister for business to urge the Minister for health to bring forward an oral statement on the situation in Hywel Dda Local Health Board as soon as possible to clarify this appallingly worrying and confusing situation.
The Minister for Health and Social Services has been assured by the health board that it is not cancelling all elective orthopaedic surgery. It is proposing to reduce the amount of in-patient work undertaken, as we have heard, in preparation for the winter, which is what we would want it to do.
Minister, your colleagues in Westminster have secured a debate on the bedroom tax, and I look forward to seeing that, but do you intend to hold a debate here on the same subject? We are now seeing the devastation that some families are experiencing as a direct result of this spiteful policy, particularly those with disabilities. Additionally, considerable extra resources are being dedicated to imposing the bedroom tax and then trying to mitigate it, with local authorities remaining responsible for housing families made homeless. As you will know, I would like to see a no-eviction policy in Wales, but will you give us a Government debate on this topic?
We do not intend to have a debate in Government time on the bedroom tax, which is obviously a reserved issue.
Minister, See Science is the local co-ordinator of the Creativity in Science and Technology—CREST—awards in Wales. These awards encourage students aged five to 19 to do science and projects in the areas of science, technology, engineering and maths. It has had increasing numbers of participants in recent years, and five times the participation level in Wales rather than the rest of the UK. Over 10% of the awards given in the UK were in Wales. Given that teachers said that the CREST awards changed students’ attitudes, inspired them and made pupils thoroughly excited about carrying out research and practical activities, could we have a statement from the Minister for Education and Skills as to why he withdrew funding in August without informing See Science, which administers the awards, until October, and could we perhaps look again at that funding decision, given the need to promote STEM subjects in Wales and how important they are for the future of Wales and for the future of our workforce in Wales?
Certainly, promotion of STEM subjects is important within our schools. I know that, within the National Science Academy, we have several schemes within our schools. I have attended several in my own constituency, as I am sure that other Members have. I am sure that the Minister for Education and Skills had a reason for doing that, and I will ask him to have a look at the decision that he made.
The Welsh Government tells us that it has a robust policy of not building housing on flood-risk areas, yet research by BBC Wales’s ‘Week In Week Out’ programme has discovered that 26 residential schemes were given the go-ahead in the last year alone, which included six schemes giving the go-ahead against all advice. Could we therefore have an early statement from the Minister for Housing and Regeneration to explain to us how this could be, but also to explain to us how this can be consistent with the Government’s commitment to sustainable development?
Decisions on planning applications are a matter for local planning authorities. While the Minister has the power to intervene and call in applications, he can only do so if he is made aware of the planning application.
I call for two statements, the first of which is in relation to Estyn’s October 2013 report on training for construction, planning and the built environment. One of its main findings was that career guidance is often unclear and misdirected. In too many cases, school careers advisers refer learners, mostly those who are less able-bodied, to construction and craft training as a suitable career choice. Given that this is one of the Welsh Government’s key policy areas for promoting economic growth, a statement indicating how the Welsh Government proposes to address this issue would be welcome. Clearly, less-able boys who would have a most appropriate career in this direction should be referred, but so should more-able boys and more-able young women who need to contribute to a thriving, high-skilled sector that can help to drive the economy forward.
Secondly, and finally, I call for an oral statement in the Chamber to the Assembly on the annual substance misuse progress report for 2013. Members received a written statement last week that referred to many items that require proper scrutiny in this place. I refer, for example, to tier 4 residential detoxification, to rehabilitation provision, and to the role of third sector providers in peer mentoring, in recovery programmes, in dual diagnostic treatments, and in much else. We need the opportunity to question the Minister fully on this.
I think that you have raised two important points, and I will speak to both Ministers and ensure that a statement comes forward in due course.
Minister, I wonder whether we could have a statement from the Minister for health on the independent review of nursing care and management at Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board with regard to the neglect of Lillian Williams from Porthcawl. I trawled through my e-mails last week to see whether we had a statement from the Minister on the announcement that he was holding a review, but I had to find this out from ITV Wales’s Twitter account, and then, subsequently, I had a short e-mail from ABMU explaining that a review was going to take place, but that the terms of reference had yet to be decided. As Assembly Members with a responsibility to communicate with constituents on these most serious things, we need to be informed, and I think that we should have a statement here so that we fully understand what the remit of the independent review will look at, considering the severity of this issue.
The Minister for Health and Social Services will be happy to update Assembly Members once the terms of reference have been agreed, and he will keep Assembly Members informed of the review’s progress.
I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of Bethan Jenkins; we do need the opportunity to scrutinise the Minister's decision to commission an independent review in this particular case. Of course, there are other cases in Wales that are equally as serious Lillian Williams's case, where there was serious neglect. It would be interesting for Assembly Members to be able to challenge why no reviews have taken place—and why none have been commissioned or ordered by the Minister—in other cases.
I would also ask that the Minister for Health and Social Services bring a statement forward on winter preparedness in the Welsh NHS. Winter is fast approaching, and we know that some health boards are already taking decisions that will clearly have an impact on patients, and I think that it is important that we as an Assembly have the opportunity to challenge the Welsh Government on what it is doing to ensure that the NHS is well-prepared for the winter, so that unscheduled care and elective care needs are fully planned and prepared for.
Next week, I will be bringing forward a statement on winter preparations, and I will include the NHS’s winter preparations in that statement.
Last Friday, I met the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to discuss the UK Government’s response to the recommendations of the Silk commission—part 1, that is. While that response did not deliver everything that the commission proposed—or indeed everything that the Welsh Government has been seeking—it is without question a major step forward for devolution and for the position of Wales within the UK.
Before I turn to the specifics of the UK Government statement, let me put on record my thanks to Members of all parties who have played a role in building and sustaining the consensus for reform that has been so important in making the case for change. As this process moves forward, I hope that broad cross-party support will be maintained. I also pay tribute to the work carried out by some UK Ministers, particularly the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, with whom I know the Minister for Finance has enjoyed a close working relationship.
Equally important has been the role of the business community. Its strong endorsement of reform has been vital in demonstrating the economic rationale behind many of the Silk recommendations. It will be essential to retain close links with business leaders and other key partners as we develop our thinking on how to use our new fiscal levers to support growth and jobs.
Members will be aware that the Silk commission’s proposals—which have their roots in the work of the Holtham commission, established by the Welsh Government in 2008—had three key elements: first, access to borrowing powers to finance infrastructure investment; secondly, full devolution of several smaller taxes in areas of devolved policy responsibility; and, thirdly, partial devolution of income-tax-varying powers, if backed by the people of Wales in a referendum. As I have said many times, the Welsh Government endorses the Silk proposals in their entirety.
I believe the reforms are good for Wales, good for the UK, good for business and good for citizens. It is therefore gratifying to learn that in many areas—after some delay—the UK Government has reached very similar conclusions, although there are one or two areas where its response has not gone as far as we would have hoped. On the crucial matter of borrowing, it is hugely positive to see that the UK Government has accepted the case for allowing the Welsh Government to borrow in order to invest. The other devolved administrations have already been granted this power—and, of course, local authorities have had similar or greater powers for many years—so this move will put us on a level playing field with other parts of the UK.
We have been pushing hard for early access to borrowing, before new tax powers are implemented. Last year’s agreement on funding reform was an important step to securing this policy lever, but it is especially welcome that the UK Government has now agreed to early borrowing powers in order to support an enhancement of the M4 in the south-east. A consultation on this scheme is currently under way, but there is no doubt that borrowing powers have the potential to make a very substantial impact on its affordability.
Borrowing powers are an important economic lever, which offer us a chance to make a real difference to the attractiveness of Wales as a place to do business. Almost as important in terms of their potential economic impact are the four minor taxes that Silk recommended for devolution, namely stamp duty land tax; landfill tax; aggregates levy; and air passenger duty, starting with direct long-haul flights. I was especially keen that stamp duty should be devolved, as reform of this tax has great potential for boosting the Welsh construction sector and helping home buyers. I am therefore very pleased to see that stamp duty is indeed going to be fully devolved, and I know that this news has been widely welcomed across the business community. I am similarly glad that landfill tax is to be devolved, and I understand that aggregates levy is also likely to follow in due course. There are some issues there regarding state aid that need to be resolved. It is, however, disappointing that powers to vary air passenger duty are not coming to Wales, given the potential for this policy lever to enhance Wales’s connectivity with global business hubs.
As far as the devolution of income tax is concerned, my main goal has long been to ensure that the people of Wales should have the final say. A referendum was held in Scotland ahead of this tax power being devolved, and it is only right that people in Wales should be similarly consulted. So, it is important that the UK Government’s legislation on income tax devolution will include provision for a referendum. I know that when the word ‘referendum’ is mentioned, particularly in Wales, there is a tendency in political circles for hares to be set running. People start speculating about all kinds of hypothetical circumstances in which a referendum might be held. My priority, however, is simply to get the legislation that guarantees a referendum on the statute book; any further decisions on this matter will be for a future Assembly. While we should certainly not rule out income tax devolution at some point in the future, I very much agree with the Silk commission that this reform should go ahead only when the Welsh and UK Governments have resolved the issue of fair funding. Certainly, as First Minister I could only campaign for income tax devolution if I was confident that the overall funding regime in place at that time was fair to Wales.
We took an important first step in this direction with last autumn’s joint statement on funding reform, and in line with the commitments in that statement a review of future funding levels was successfully undertaken ahead of the UK Government’s spending round in June. It is too soon to say whether this process will ultimately deliver the reforms that we are seeking, but we do at least have, for the first time, a mechanism in place that has the potential to tackle any decline in our relative funding.
Looking ahead, it is important to recognise that while last week’s statement by the UK Government was an important signal of intent, it did not provide a detailed response to all of the Silk recommendations. Having waited so long for last week’s very positive announcement, it is vital that we maintain the momentum and see the UK Government’s full response within the next few weeks.
Very shortly after that there should be the publication of draft legislation, and, crucially, the completion of the parliamentary process in advance of the 2015 UK general election. This is a challenging but achievable timetable, and I was reassured to learn last week that it has the backing of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister.
There is, of course, much more to do, and many detailed issues remain to be clarified and resolved. That said, the UK Government’s initial response to the Silk proposals is one that, on balance, I strongly welcome. It is not perfect, but it would be churlish to deny that the reforms proposed are real, and they are substantial.
Last week’s announcement was good news for Wales, but it was also, I believe, good news for all of us who want to see devolution flourish within a strengthened UK. I trust that it will be welcomed by the Assembly.
Thank you, First Minister, for your statement this afternoon on the announcements that the UK Government made last week. They were truly monumental—I think that that is a fair description of the announcements made by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. The language that they used in support of the measures outlined will give these measures a fair wind through, as you mentioned in closing your statement, the legislative process that has to be enacted for much of this to become a reality.
From these benches, we have been unequivocal in our support for Silk part 1. I regret that you, in First Minister’s questions, in response to the leader of the Liberal Democrats, questioned that support by saying that people from these benches had withdrawn their support for stamp duty. I ask you to reflect on that comment, because from the Assembly group there has never been one iota of question. From our perspective—and it is on the front cover of Silk part 1—it is about responsibility and accountability, empowerment and accountability. Those are surely the key words that we need to reflect on in the maturing democracy that we have here in Wales.
That is why I am very pleased to say today that we, as Welsh Conservatives, will be championing the cause of a referendum as outlined in Silk part 1, which has a clear timetable. We will be campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote in that referendum, to make sure that that empowerment and responsibility comes here to the Assembly.
I worry about the word ‘power’. I think that using the word ‘power’ in this context is difficult and assumes that we are trying to amass more power, rather than create a better way of governance and a better way for Wales to be run. I am pleased to put that on the record and I know that the Secretary of State is very pleased to have that on the record as well. [Interruption.] I note that the First Minister missed him out when he was thanking people, but I note that the Deputy Prime Minister paid tribute to the role of the Secretary of State and his Ministers in the Wales Office for facilitating the announcements brought forward. I hope, when he responds to the statement, that he might well again reflect on that, because, in the words of the Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister, it is through the actions of many Ministers in Westminster that this agreement has come forward.
In your statement today, First Minister, you also touched on stamp duty reform, which was a key flash point, as you put it, that we have discussed and debated many times in the Chamber. You talk about the reform of this tax. I have yet to understand exactly what type of reform the Government in Wales is talking about. I would be grateful whether we could have some understanding of what reform you will bring forward, and I hope that it will stimulate the housing market and help businesses here in Wales. Just to use the word ‘reform’ is almost an easy way out. It would be good, in your response, if you could outline that reform.
Also, borrowing and taxation, with the many announcements that were made on Friday, seem to have got somewhat mixed up. Borrowing is a very important part of the measures brought forward, but they were Government-to-Government discussions. It would be worth while if, in your response to me today, you could outline the discussions that you have had with the Westminster Government, the level of borrowing that you believe is an adequate amount of capacity, shall we say, and the income streams—I am sure you have modelled that, or I hope you have—so that we can understand how that level of borrowing is going to be serviced. If you go across Europe for example, that has caused many financial problems in many devolved areas—Germany being a good example where it has run wild, if you like, without any real fiscal control and understanding of how those powers are going to be used. So, it can be a silver bullet, but it needs to be carefully managed, and I would be grateful if you could give us a better understanding and an explanation of what has gone on there.
Going back to the referendum in particular, I would also be grateful if you would give a commitment today to sign up to that referendum and the timetable that is outlined in the Silk commission’s part 1 report. You have, obviously, stood there and said many times that you and your group here in the Assembly support Silk 1, and the timetable for how it can be brought forward is very clear. I understand what you say about Barnett, and all parties in this Chamber have supported the point—who, as a politician, would not—about having additional money made available, but I would suggest that the two are not linked; the two are able to be progressed. I take the point about implementation, but I would suggest to you that moving towards having that referendum in 2017, as Silk touches on, could be progressed without the linkage of the two. I therefore invite you to offer your party’s support for such a road map to that referendum and, hopefully, that transfer of responsibility, with a positive vote here in the Assembly.
Having put those questions, I would like to give special thanks to everyone who has been involved, in particular my finance spokesman, Paul Davies, who has worked tirelessly on the Silk part 1 recommendations, and with other colleagues in Westminster. It does show that when the Assembly speaks with a united voice, as it has with these measures, even though sometimes the time seemed to go on a little, we can achieve a result. That is an important lesson for us all to remember when we are seeking to enhance the prospects of Wales as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
I thank the leader of the opposition for his comments. Before I go on to deal with the substantive points that he made, I do recall, as will other Members, I am sure, that over the last few weeks, he was, shall we say, less than pushy when it came to forcing the pace with regard to Silk part 1. He described it as a ‘bubble issue’ at one point, and that it would take as long as it took. He will forgive Members for the impression that was created at that time—that he did not see it as a priority until last week. Nevertheless, I welcome his words now. With regard to the Secretary of State’s role, I have seen no evidence that suggests that the Secretary of State was enthusiastic about pushing towards a conclusion on Silk part 1; I will put it no more strongly than that. At the joint ministerial council that I was at last week, the Prime Minister was significantly more enthusiastic about accepting Silk in principle than the Secretary of State at that moment in time. The only point that he made was that, in his opinion, the devolution of stamp duty would distort the housing market between England and Wales, which I did not take to be a resounding endorsement of the Silk commission’s recommendations.
The question asked was: what next? These are questions, of course, primarily for the next Government, whatever that might be. We do not yet have a timescale for the devolution of these powers, but it is bound to be, at the very earliest, I suspect, 2016, and possibly after that; we just do not know. With stamp duty, there have been events that have taken place, hosted by the Minister for Finance, to start to discuss with the construction industry, what stamp duty, if it is called that, should look like in the future. It has made some very useful observations as to what the different tiers might be, what they should look like, where they should fall and what the rates should be. These are all matters that are being examined, but we do not yet have the power to deal with stamp duty. However, that does not mean that parties, as they look towards the 2016 election, will not be looking to model their own basis for stamp duty in the future.
You were quite right to point out that borrowing was not part of Silk, but, at an early stage, the UK Government declared that in order for there to be borrowing powers on behalf of the Welsh Government, there would need to be a revenue stream, so it was linked in that way, in reality. That is not the case in Northern Ireland, but we accepted that as a valid issue.
With regard to how much money, if I remember rightly, Silk recommended access to borrow £130 million a year, up to a limit of £1.3 billion. In terms of the revenue stream, stamp duty raises somewhere between £104 million and £150 million a year, depending on market circumstances—we understand that it is about £104 million at present. Landfill tax raises something along the lines of, I understand, £50 million, and aggregates levy raises £22 million. So, we are looking at a figure of about £200 million, roughly, which we have been working to. On the back of that, of course, it is possible to borrow substantially more, because of the revenue stream that is created on the back of those taxes.
With regard to the referendum—and just so that I can make the position of the Government clear—we fully support the establishment of a mechanism by which there could be a referendum on income tax devolution in the future. That has to be part of any legislation. I suspect that the UK Government will make a referendum dependent—as the Government of Wales Act 2006 did with regard to the Schedule 7 powers—on there being a vote in Parliament, a vote in the Assembly, possibly with a two thirds majority, and, subsequently, of course, a referendum. I do not think that it is possible to divorce the issue of income-tax-varying powers from the issue of Barnett reform, for the simple reason that three quarters of funding, regardless of what happens, would still come via block grant. If the block grant is shrinking, then of course it means that the basis upon which income-tax-varying powers is built would not be robust. Any Government, regardless of who it is, would find itself potentially in the situation of looking to increase income tax simply to keep services as they are. Now, that is clearly not an attractive option for any Government, of any political colour, in this Chamber.
What is not clear either at this stage is what the benefits might be—how the powers might be used to the benefit of the people of Wales. I think that that is far from clear at this moment in time, especially given the issue with regard to Barnett. We know that the situation is different in Scotland, but we know—and other Members, in other parties, have made this point before now in the Chamber—that the issue of funding reform, or fair funding, is the crucial start. Unless that is addressed first, I do not see how income-tax-varying powers, which is a major step—potentially a sum of £2 billion—can actually be addressed without the block grant being on a basis that is robust; the two things run together. I think that it is possible to say that financial accountability would be improved with the devolution of income tax, and there is an argument for that, but what I do not see, certainly at this moment in time, is what the benefits to any Government would be of that devolution without there being an accompanying Barnett reform, and a substantial financial package that goes beyond simply looking at income-tax-varying powers.
Therefore, a mechanism—yes, but I think that there is much to be done yet in terms of the debate.
May I also endorse what has been said today, by the First Minister, and by the leader of the opposition, in respect of the role that has been played by people from all parties in seeking to achieve the consensus that has been achieved, as well as the role played by the business community, which played a very important part in making the case for borrowing powers and for revenue streams.
I welcome what the First Minister has said specifically in respect of the linkage of the issue of income tax to Barnett reform. I also support what he says in respect of the mechanism of a referendum being created. However, I would have to say that, as someone who has been actively involved in campaigning for ‘yes’ votes in previous referendums, I would not campaign for a ‘yes’ vote in current circumstances in respect of income tax, and I do not believe that my constituents would vote for those income tax powers in current circumstances.
I think that the difficulty is this: people will begin on the basis of believing, in a referendum—and let us be honest with ourselves in this regard—that any referendum on the devolution of income tax would be to them a way of paying more tax. Whether that is true or not is a different issue, of course, as we understand, but that is what their default will be. Now, it might be possible at some point to make an argument that overcomes that, but I do not believe that that position has yet been reached. I will not rehearse the issues that I have already mentioned, but I think that this issue deserves great examination and great care. However, the last thing that would be sensible, I believe, for anybody in a position of leadership to do is simply to say, ‘Let us have these powers without addressing Barnett’. The two are bound to run together.
Plaid Cymru broadly welcomes last week’s announcement on financial powers for the National Assembly for Wales. We see this as a fantastic opportunity to begin the process of taking responsibility and for turning around the Welsh economy. I am glad that the First Minister has today recognised the role of the Holtham commission set up by the One Wales Government at Plaid Cymru’s insistence.
Although we have some information now available on financial powers, we are still awaiting a full response on the Silk commission’s 33 recommendations. Plaid Cymru’s view is that those recommendations represent a package and that they should not be cherry-picked. I hope that the First Minister will agree that we want the full implementation of Silk part 1 as supported by this Senedd. However, we need more clarity. So, Plaid Cymru has a number of questions. First of all, what is the timescale for this Senedd taking control of powers over stamp duty, land tax and landfill tax? Has the Government been given a reason for the delay on the transfer of aggregates duty? Do we have a timescale for that to be resolved? What reason have you been given for the refusal to devolve powers over long-haul air passenger duty, a power that has already been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly and supported by the Welsh Conservatives? Where do we stand regarding the devolution of non-domestic rates, especially in the light of the Brian Morgan review? What about the introduction of innovative or ‘nudge’ taxes that were mentioned in the Silk commission report? Any information that you have on these additional taxes would be warmly welcomed.
I listened carefully to what the First Minister said with regard to the Barnett formula. As I said earlier, I have a great deal of sympathy with that argument. Plaid Cymru has been pushing those arguments for many years now. However, it makes no sense to refuse to commit to a needs-based formula in your party’s manifesto for 2015 if this is the crucial question that you claim it will be. Perhaps, you will take this opportunity to answer that question again now and commit to that being in your party’s 2015 manifesto. Further, First Minister, if at the end of this process there are any parts of the Silk commission that are not implemented by the current UK Government, will you commit your party now to implementing those points that are left over in the event that you take power in Westminster again?
Let me deal, first of all, with the issues that were raised there. We want to see full implementation of Silk, as we have always said. In terms of the timescale, we know only that the commitment has been given to introduce legislation and get it through Parliament by the end of this parliamentary term. The issue of the timescale regarding when practical devolution occurs is a matter for discussion between the Ministers for finance. There is a quadrilateral meeting coming up on 18 February, when these issues can be discussed. The issue of aggregates levy, as I said in the statement, is bound up with the issue of state aid. It affects Scotland as well. There is no timescale on its resolution, but it is something that we want to see resolved soon. On air passenger duty, the only answer that we were given to that was that the UK Government was ‘not persuaded’ of the devolution of air passenger duty, although, of course, our stated position is that we are and would wish to see it devolved. On domestic rates, they are being pursued through other means and will continue to be pursued. On ‘nudge’ taxes, we wait to see, of course, what the UK Government’s response will be to all the recommendations that are put forward by Silk, and we wait to see that with interest.
Let us make it clear: the leader of Plaid Cymru seems to give the impression that, somehow, we are not in favour of a needs-based formula, but, short of going blue in the face saying it over and over again, she knows that, on many occasions, I have said that the Barnett formula needs to be reformed and we need to see a needs-based formula that is fair not just for the people of Wales, but for the people of the north-east of England, for example. There are discussions within my party and it is well understood that there is a need to look again at the formula that funds the different constituent parts of the UK. Of course, the argument that suggests that there has to be a commitment in 2015 is predicated on the basis that there will be a ‘no’ vote in the Scottish Referendum. This clearly has not been thought through by Plaid Cymru, because the Barnett formula would fall anyway if there were a ‘yes’ vote. If there were to be a commitment—[Interruption.] There is no point shouting about it because you have not thought about the question. The suggestion that, in 2015, there has to be a commitment from all parties with regard to a needs-based formula is predicated on the basis that Scotland will remain part of the UK and that the Barnett formula will remain in place. Otherwise, the argument falls. Yes, a needs-based formula is absolutely crucial.
As to what the UK Government accepts or does not accept with regard to the Silk commission, we do not know. We do not yet know what part 2 of the Silk commission will recommend. A response will be made at that time. I certainly would not want the impression to be given by Plaid Cymru Members that this is somehow all down to them. This is something that was pushed by a Welsh Labour Government, and this is something that we have constantly pushed for—with the support of other parties, that much is true; I accept that. However, to suggest that, somehow, all this springs originally from Plaid Cymru clearly would not be correct. I appreciate the support that other parties have given in this regard, and I am sure that all parties in this Chamber will look, in the election in 2016, to put ideas in their manifestos on what they would do with the powers that we then have devolved to us.
I begin by thanking the First Minister for his statement this afternoon on the announcement made by the coalition Government at the Assembly last Friday. ‘Momentous’, ‘historic’ and ‘significant’ were just some of the words used on Friday to describe what was happening to Wales’s constitutional settlement. It has taken us a long time to get to this point, but I believe that the wait has been, and will be, worth it. The Welsh Liberal Democrat vision for devolution has always included ensuring that the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government have the best range of powers available to improve the lives of the people of Wales.
The idea that the National Assembly and the Welsh Government can make laws and spend money but not control how much tax is collected has always been an anomaly. We are delighted that the Silk commission endorsed that view, and that the coalition Government has accepted the argument to change the constitutional settlement.
While the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister had the privilege of making the announcement on Friday, I want to use this opportunity to acknowledge some of the people who have been very active behind the scenes—out of the glare of the media spotlight—in pushing the devolution sttlement forward. They are Jenny Randerson, in the Wales Office, and Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who came to the National Assembly’s Finance Committee very early on in this Government and signalled quite clearly that—with consensus among the parties here—he was relaxed about increasing the fiscal autonomy of the Welsh Government. With the help of Liberal Democrats in coalition, I believe that he has done just that.
I also want to acknowledge the contribution of Jane Hutt, the Minister for Finance, who has done more than anybody else on the benches opposite, working so closely with Danny Alexander from this end of the M4. I know that their relationship behind the scenes has been of the utmost importance in getting the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to announce what they did on Friday. I think that that should be acknowledged. Danny and Jane, together, have begun to make the advances on changing that unfair Barnett formula, by introducing the Barnett floor. That is, in itself, a significant step forward, in getting the Treasury to acknowledge the principle that Wales is beginning to lose out—is losing out—and that the situation needs to be addressed. Clearly, there is much more to be done on the issue of Barnett.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank Paul Silk for so ably chairing the commission, and all the members who have worked with him on the commission, especially the Welsh Liberal Democrat nominee, Rob Humphreys.
Although we have secured the agreement of the coalition Government at this point, I think that it is important that—perhaps despite some of our best efforts—we maintain cross-party consensus as we go forward. I know that many people in London were not convinced that there would be a desire in this place for the Silk commission to be formed in the first place, or for its work to be taken forward. Some people were genuinely surprised that four party leaders here in Cardiff could work together quickly and constructively to agree a term a term of reference and to suggest suitable people to carry out that work. I think that there were some people in Westminster, who shall remain nameless, who thought that, by kicking the ball back to Cardiff bay, they would see the end to that small but crucial part of the coalition document. We were able to prove them wrong, because we were able to put our political differences aside and to work together to achieve the terms of reference that allows the Silk commission to go forward.
Devolution and transfer of powers from one legislature to another is not the final goal. Devolution must be a means to an end and a means to driving up improved life chances for people in Wales, better education, first-class healthcare, a cleaner environment and a stronger economy. First Minister, please do not wait until after the next election to get this ball moving. Will you outline today what immediate steps you will take to prepare the Welsh Government for taking on these functions? Will you outline what steps you will take to create a treasury function within the Welsh Government to begin to use these powers? Will you consider convening a business summit to discuss with business how best we can use the borrowing powers to benefit all parts of Wales? Will you reconvene your summit with private sector house builders to begin work and preparation for how best new stamp-duty powers can be used to assist the construction industry and home buyers? Could you also outline how you will keep the Assembly informed of steps that you are taking in preparation for the Welsh Government taking on these powers?
There were several questions there. The work on the establishment of a Welsh treasury has already begun, in advance of the announcement. That was begun some time ago. In terms of borrowing powers, sometimes the impression is given that borrowing powers relate solely to the potential of building an M4 relief road. I was careful last week to emphasise the point that, while that is, perhaps, the scheme that is most mentioned, borrowing powers have to benefit Wales as a whole. I was careful to mention the challenges that we face around Port Talbot in years to come, and, particularly, the A55, especially in relation to the Menai bridges, and what might be done in the future with regard to relieving traffic in that part of Wales. It is, therefore, clearly important that borrowing powers are seen as a tool for improvement across the whole of Wales.
In terms of the question about whether we will continue to work with the house builders, that work has already begun, as I have already mentioned. We will now move forward with looking at options for how stamp duty might be developed in the future. In the past, I have said that we will look at how we can use it to stimulate the construction industry and to help first-time buyers particularly. The reality is that these are matters that will not be possible to implement until after the next Assembly election. Therefore, it is for each party to put proposals in each manifesto in terms of how stamp duty might be taken forward in the future. How will the Assembly be kept informed? The Minister for Finance, as she has always done, will endeavour to do so, mainly, I suspect, by way of written statements, and occasionally of letters, so that the Assembly knows what progress is being made, particularly with regard to the detail of the UK Government’s response to the full 33 recommendations of Silk.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We have had a lead speaker from each party. I remind the rest of the speakers that this is an opportunity to question the First Minister on the statement that he has made today.
I do not want to spoil the party, but I would like to be little more cautious about what is being proposed. I acknowledge your statement today, where you refer to it as an important signal of intent. It is indeed an important constitutional signal of intent. The first area that I would like you to clarify a little is with regard to the use of borrowing powers. The Secretary of State for Wales’s statement seems to imply that borrowing powers might be, to some extent, linked to objectives and priorities of the Wales Office and the UK Government, rather than giving us the freedom to be able to do that. For the record, it is important that we clarify the position, because I see borrowing powers and stamp duty, collectively, as being a potential massive boost to house building. If the leader of the opposition does not trust the Secretary of State for Wales, perhaps we ought to be a bit cautious as well.
The second point is with regard to income tax.
May I raise a point of order?
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
You cannot raise a point of order on a statement.
The second point is with regard to income tax. I think that there is a potential cul-de-sac. It is absolutely right that we should have the power to trigger such a referendum but, for the foreseeable future, there is very little basis on which the people of Wales and this Assembly would benefit from those. As the Member for Rhondda said, if I were to go to my constituency now and say that we had come up with a good idea for income tax powers to be referred to the Assembly and that we were going to have a referendum, there would be an overwhelming rejection of that. [Interruption.] The issue of income tax is far more important in the post-Scottish referendum position, with a constitutional convention where we were looking at the redistributive role that a reformed and more federal UK Parliament might have as we move forward, where income tax would be a fundamental part of that. That is where the debate on income tax leads, so I think that we have to be very cautious as to how we proceed on that.
With regard to borrowing powers, we have been informed that we will have access to borrowing generally, but with early access to borrowing with regard to the M4 relief road, should that be a project that the Welsh Government wishes to pursue. It is very similar to the model that exists in Scotland, where, if I remember rightly, access to borrowing for the Forth road bridge was made available before the general borrowing power was devolved.
With regard to income tax, I would make two points. First, it is difficult to see what the benefit is to the people of Wales of the devolution of income-tax-varying powers at this moment in time. Secondly, and this is a point that all parties need to ponder, back in 2011 when we had the referendum, all parties were more or less united around the need for us to have legislative powers. In answer to the question as to how those powers would be exercised, all parties inevitably said, ‘We will seek to promote primary legislation’. I wonder what would happen to an all-party campaign at this moment. We know that the Welsh Conservatives have said before, and said again, that they would look to reduce income tax in the future, when other parties would say, ‘Actually, we would look to increase income tax in the future’. These are questions that would be asked, and answers to those would need to be formulated before any campaign could be taken forward. I just wonder how much unity there could be in a referendum campaign at this moment of time with regard to the other parties. [Interruption.]
I hear what the leader of Plaid Cymru says about this, but I remind her that, when it comes to finance, her party has a dodgy record. Only two weeks ago, one of her MPs, when a dispute arose between the Treasury and the Welsh Government on whether there was a consequential with regard to HS2, immediately took the side of Westminster against Wales, without even looking at the facts. One of her MPs even asked for the head of the Minister for Finance. Of course, the Welsh Government was correct, the Treasury was not. It is important that Plaid Cymru starts to think of itself more as a Welsh party and not be quite as London-centric as some of its MPs.
As far as the Welsh Government is concerned, the mechanism must be there for the people of Wales, but much work needs to be done in terms of thinking about what the consequences of income-tax-varying powers would be.
First Minister, several times during the statement today, as well as during questions, you have mentioned fair funding. Will you take this opportunity to explain to us what you mean by fair funding? It is clear that the Holtham report set out what was seen as fair funding back in 2010. The situation has, possibly, changed since then. So, what is fair funding in your view, and what would you aim to achieve, as a Government, if the Labour Party won the election in 2015? Whatever happens in Scotland, how the British isles are funded will need to be reviewed. So, what is the definition of fair funding?
Turning to the situation post 2015, and assuming that the Government, of whatever colour, in Westminster introduces fair funding, because that is what you have said many times, how would you implement the Silk recommendations after that? You will still be First Minister for at least a year after that. What would be the possibilities in terms of taking the route of devolving income-tax-varying powers? We have heard today of the importance of income tax in relation to accountability. What about the potential for strengthening the economy by varying and using income tax? What possibilities do you as a Government think will be open to any future Government around income tax in that context? Finally, is there is a majority in this Senedd to move forward with a referendum, and if it happens that there has to be a trigger—be that two thirds or whatever the decision is—would you ensure that your backbench Members would not preclude the majority wish of the Assembly?
Many of those questions began with the word ’if’. The point, of course, is that there are lot of things that we do not know yet. In terms of fair funding, the answer is this: the funding of all parts of the UK should be done on the basis of fairness and need. Barnett does not do that. That is something that I am sure that many parties are considering—as well as our party, of course. We all understand that Barnett cannot continue for ever, nor, in my view, for many years to come. My opinion in terms of Wales is that we should have the Holtham gap, if I can call it that, and that should be dealt with. However, looking outside of Wales, it is very important to have a fair funding system across the UK. I am sure that all parties, even my party, says that in their manifesto.
In terms of Silk, it is very difficult at present to know what the Silk recommendations will be. I am sure, next year, we will be discussing Silk part 2 recommendations. All parties will have an opinion on that, and it is very important that we consider that at that time.
It has been asked what possibilities exist to strengthen the economy by using income tax, and, in terms of the powers it has been said could be devolved to Wales, the answer, for me, is: not a lot. In truth, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are not saying that either. The only thing that has been said by them in favour of the devolution of income tax is that it ensures the fiscal responsibility of Government. That is a fair opinion, perhaps, in my view, but I do not think that anyone, not even Plaid Cymru, has said anything about how income tax could be used under these rules to strengthen the economy of Wales. If that were to happen, I would be very pleased to hear what kind of ideas they have. Lots of questions have been asked of me, which is only fair, regarding what would happen in future. What, therefore, would Plaid Cymru do with those powers in relation to income tax? That is part of a fair discussion in future.
As regards the other questions about what would happen if various things were to happen in future, we have to consider those when the situation arises. However, I have ensured that people know clearly what the point of view of the Welsh Government is at present. Once again, I do not think it is sensible to say that we should avoid ensuring that Wales has a proper and fair system of funding and to think that that is something completely separate from the question of income tax. In my opinion, both are tied together.
I welcome the statement. As credit is being given out, I think it would be remiss not to give credit to the First Minister for his tenacity in promoting this issue over a very long time.
I share the First Minister’s disappointment regarding the failure to support the devolution of air passenger duty. I have two questions. Is there any reason why borrowing using Welsh Development Agency powers without a reduction in capital grant cannot be done immediately, and will it be possible to borrow from the Public Works Loan Board in order to do it? On income tax, it is a highly variable tax. We know that, between 2007-08 and 2010-11, it varied by £300 million in Wales. If income tax is devolved, we would need borrowing powers for revenue expenditure to deal with any shortfalls that occur unexpectedly. Scotland had the power to vary income tax and even the SNP did not use it. Does the First Minister agree that there would need to be an income tax floor to protect against outside events beyond the control of the Welsh Government that could affect the amount of income tax that came in? I am old enough to be an ex-steelworker, and the loss of steelworks in Wales caused the loss of lots of jobs and affected the Welsh income tax take by about £150 million in today’s money.
There are important questions there. First, with regard to the WDA borrowing powers, there seems to be no reason why those borrowing powers could not be used, as long as the Treasury was prepared to disregard a certain amount every year and there being an annual overall limit in terms of the capital clawback that it would put in place if we did try to use them. In fairness, the discussions that I had last week with the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister made it clear that, in order to deliver the full package on Silk that they were prepared to deliver, it would happen through a mixture of primary and secondary legislation. It does not need one Bill to do it. Some could be done through a finance Bill, some could be done through a letter, possibly, and some could be done through secondary legislation through a simple transfer of functions. Understanding how these things work together will be important over the course of the next few weeks. Yes, we could borrow from the Public Works Loan Board. We need to get the best rates, and that means being able to have that option before us.
I think what the Member has done is illustrate the work that needs to be done in order to consider the issue of income tax. Yes, it is true to say that there is variation in stamp duty. There is less variation in terms of landfill tax, but the variation in terms of income for the Government that could occur through income tax is quite substantial. That would mean putting in place people who can look to forecast what the tax take would be from year to year and putting in place the personnel to assess what any Government would need to do on an annual basis in terms of its financial arrangements based on the income tax take. That would take a little time to put in place, clearly. It is right to say that any tax is variable, but income tax, potentially, because of the sheer size of the pot in terms of the devolution of income tax, would leave any Government particularly vulnerable if there were to be a substantial drop in the number of people paying that income tax.
First Minister, you talked earlier about your disappointment that air passenger duty was not going to be subject to devolution to the National Assembly for Wales. In a personal capacity, I fully support the devolution of air passenger duty to the National Assembly. However, the very fact that it is not going to be devolved in the shorter term does not prevent you, as a Welsh Government, from making grants available to airlines, et cetera, in order to have the impact of mitigating air passenger duty, if that is what you wanted to do, for example, in order to get North American flights in and out of Cardiff and to expand that base. What consideration might you give to looking at that as a model to improve the prospects of Cardiff Airport, now that it is Government owned, and to potentially diverting the cash that you are giving to the north-south air link to that as an option?
We are not looking to get rid of the north-south air link. That would mean, inevitably, the closure of Anglesey Airport, among other things. So, that is not on the agenda at this moment in time. What the Member has described in terms of grants to airlines is a classic example of state aid, and could not be done. There are ways of doing it through public service obligations—we had the route development fund in the past. However, the real way to attract sustainable routes to any airport is to ensure that the airport is seen as a place that is growing and that offers an attractive package to airlines. Cardiff Airport has increased its passenger numbers by 8% compared with this time last year. It has four new ski routes—the most ever in its history—and exciting plans are in place on behalf of the company running the airport to develop the airport’s fabric. One of the main reasons why the airport had such a problem was because, when you arrived there, so many things seemed to be peeling off the walls. The owners were simply not putting the money in in terms of the fabric of the terminal building.
Air passenger duty would have been a very useful tool for us, particularly for long-haul routes, as the Member has said, in fairness. It probably raises less than £1 million a year in Wales and we could make a substantial cut to that tax without there being an unacceptable financial penalty in terms of the Government’s finances. Sadly, that is not something we can take forward, certainly not in the near future, but I would hope to see that devolved in time. There are examples of where that has been done—in Northern Ireland in particular.
Point of order. In the Member for Pontypridd’s contribution, he stated that I did not trust the Secretary of State for Wales. Under Standing Order 13.9(v), I think that that is the wrong type of language. If he has evidence to prove that remark, then fine, fair enough. If not, it needs to be withdrawn and removed from the record, because that is the type of language that should not be permitted, I would suggest, in this legislature.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I do not accept that as a point of order, but your point is on the record.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair at 16:09.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to provide an up-to-date statement about the Houses into Homes interest-free loan scheme.
Empty homes are a wasted resource, but they also represent a potential opportunity to provide additional accommodation to those in housing need. With a little effort, advice and help, owners of empty properties can be guided through the process of bringing them back into use as much needed good quality homes. There is no universal solution to bringing empty properties back into use. Local authorities already employ a wide range of tools available to them to help achieve this, from simple coaxing and persuasion to the final straw of a compulsory purchase order, or an empty dwelling management order. Many things can be done in between these extremes. It is clear that, at this moment in time especially, access to finance is a major reason for properties lying empty.
Houses into Homes was introduced by this Welsh Labour Government in 2012-13 as a £5 million pan-Wales interest-free loans scheme for people who owned empty properties but did not have access to funds to repair and renovate the properties to enable them to be sold or rented. Interest in the scheme was very high from the very start. A further £5 million was made available in 2012-13, and £10 million was also made available this financial year, meaning that there is currently £20 million available, on a recyclable basis, for bringing empty properties back into use.
At the end of October, over £12 million had been paid to local authorities on the basis of applications to bring back into use at least 550 units of accommodation. We are well on course to get the £20 million distributed to local authorities to provide loans by the end of the financial year. Based on the average amounts of loans paid so far, this should provide the means to bring at least 900 units of accommodation back into use. That is without taking into account the money that is repaid and recycled back into the fund for further loans.
As a loan recipient has a maximum repayment period of two years if the property is sold, or three years if the property is let, the main bulk of the money already distributed for loans is not yet due for repayment. Even so, I am aware that some loans have been repaid early, often in anticipation of receiving a further loan to complete work on another empty property. That, to me, is testament to the popularity and success of the scheme.
From the very beginning of Houses into Homes, we wanted to ensure that the whole process was robustly evaluated. A team from Sheffield Hallam University won the contract to run a three-year evaluation programme. The reports published so far have been shared with colleagues, and the findings published so far have been very favourable. Although it is still early days in terms of the numbers of homes that have been physically brought back into use, there are a number of associated benefits that have been picked by this research programme.
First and foremost is the effect that Houses into Homes has had on local authorities. For some, it is fair to say that empty homes were not seen as a priority. Experience of dealing with empty homes varied widely between different areas. Some authorities did not even have a dedicated empty homes officer. Since the start of Houses into Homes, every local authority now has at least one dedicated empty homes officer, and others have seen their empty homes teams grow. The scheme has helped many to raise the profile of tackling empty homes within local government administrations. Local authorities have also reported more freedom in being able to target the money at where it is needed most in their areas, both regionally and locally. This has allowed them to target other strategic priority areas including regeneration, public health, homelessness, affordable housing and training and employment.
Before Houses into Homes was launched, a steering group was set up to oversee the introduction and running of the scheme. Membership includes representatives from the six regional groups, the Welsh Local Government Association and Welsh Government officials. As time has passed, the group has evolved organically to extend its remit further than simply Houses into Homes and into an empty homes steering group covering a number of relevant issues relating to the empty property agenda. The steering group was responsible for the inception of the very first all-Wales empty homes conference, which takes place tomorrow.
Probably the biggest benefit seen to date is as a result of regional working. Local authorities have reported that, as a result of setting up regional collaborative groups for Houses into Homes, the knowledge sharing and support that they have been able to offer each other has been invaluable.
I have been lucky enough to see first-hand what Houses into Homes can do for communities. This year, I made a visit to a development in Torfaen and one in Flint. In both cases, the properties were long-term empty, and were a real blight on the surrounding areas, even affecting the house prices of neighbouring properties. I spoke to the owners, developers, local councillors and people who lived locally, and the general feeling was one of amazement at the difference that a little bit of financial help could provide to make their area look and generally feel better. After seeing first-hand what Houses into Homes can do, I believe that this Government can be rightly proud of this innovative scheme to date.
Thank you very much for your statement and the update on the progress of the scheme. Clearly, I agree that we need to turn as many empty dwellings into homes as possible as part of the solution to the housing supply crisis, waiting lists and overcrowding in Wales.
Your predecessors have always started their equivalent statements by telling us how many empty properties they believed there were in Wales. I believe that last year the figure was 23,000, although the BBC claimed 9,000 more and, certainly, anecdotally, local authorities have indicated to me that the figure could be higher. Therefore, I wonder whether you have an indicative figure of the properties affected.
What general restrictions are being placed on the use of properties that receive support through this scheme, namely a restriction on occupancy by social tenants or intermediate rent tenants for given periods of time, and to what extent is this being standardised, or are we seeing a pepper-pot approach?
In terms of the application process, I have had some concerns raised in certain areas that it has been more bureaucratic and costly than in other areas. Are you aware of this and have you looked at good practice in those local authorities that appear to be having the greatest support and success rates through to completion against those that perhaps might be seeing a greater fall-off among applicants or lower application rates? You are quite right that there is no universal solution to bringing empty properties back into use, and you will be aware that, in the past, I and others have highlighted the good practice established by Denbighshire, when it won awards for generating more empty homes back into use than any other county in Wales and, I believe, in England as well, by working closely with owners to bring properties back into use, recognising that every home has a story to tell. Alongside this—it was doing that before this scheme was launched—how are you encouraging and supporting local authorities and empty homes officers to take a whole-person approach to reaching out and putting support in place, and using enforcement only as a final action?
Finally, in terms of proposals to vary council tax rates for empty homes, similarly, how will you ensure sensitivity to individual circumstances, for instance bereaved persons who may be finding it very difficult to go into the property or tackle the empty home that they may have inherited, or even to settle disputes that they may have with other relatives at a time that is so difficult for all of us?
Thank you for your questions this afternoon. The difficulties of identifying the overall number of empty homes vary in terms of houses being reintroduced into the market and new ones becoming empty, but I will seek to clarify that number and write to the Member with more detail in terms of what we believe the number is across Wales. However, it is certainly over the 20,000 mark in terms of properties.
The Member raises a variety of questions with a common theme about the approach to the delivery of the scheme. It would be fair to say that prior to the regionalisation of the working groups of the six regions, it was, for some authorities, more challenging or, as I said in the statement, not a priority in terms of dealing with empty home schemes. I believe that since we now have the six regional working groups, there is a common theme running through all of these areas, and I would be very interested if the Member does have further examples of the specific areas that he referred to where individuals are experiencing difficulty in accessing this fund. I would be interested to look at those, because that is not the case, as my team understands it currently.
around finance and the council tax burden on empty properties. I will be making a statement to the Chamber on the launch of the housing Bill in a few weeks’ time, which will have more detail around that. However, I share the concerns of the Member around discretion and the issues when individuals who obtain a property through circumstances of death within the family have to be dealt with sensitively. I will look at that very carefully when I introduce the housing Bill in a few weeks’ time.
In terms of the delivery of this programme, it is clear that the success is that while the original funding stream was a £5 million cash injection into the scheme, we are now at £20 million, and the local authorities have responded effectively in the distribution of this funding. Therefore, I believe that the success is in the proof of the scheme already developing 550 houses into homes. With the additional funding, we are hoping to have just under the 1,000 mark in terms of delivery in the near future.
I thank the Minister for his statement today. He may remember that when I asked the First Minister a little while ago how many additional one and two-bedroomed properties would be needed in the coming months and years as a result of the introduction of the bedroom tax, he estimated around 20,000 to 25,000. Therefore, I would be interested to know from the Minister whether there is a particular target within the Houses into Homes scheme to satisfy the demand for smaller properties for those smaller households.
The interim report on this scheme, published earlier this year, raised the issue of the different approaches to bringing buildings into use as homes that are used by each of the local authorities. I see that the report notes that there is no statutory function for empty homes’ work and that local authorities are free to address this issue as they see fit, if at all. I am sure that not all local authorities will be taking this as seriously as others. Could the Minister elaborate, perhaps, on where approaches are working well? I note that he did mention Torfaen and Flint, but I am sure that there are others where this is working well. Perhaps he could also tell us where there is room for improvement. Obviously, the sharing of best practice here could be valuable, especially as the money that is attached to this policy is interest-free to the owners of those properties that are brought back into use. I just wonder whether he could tell us how the scheme is being publicised to the owners of properties that are perhaps empty.
Also, what consideration has the Minister given to the UK Government’s plans to change the planning system to make the change of use from commercial property to residential properties easier? Obviously, this has the potential to help with increasing the number of homes, but also perhaps with bringing new life into high streets. I would also be keen to hear whether the Minister is considering attaching any conditions to ensure that the homes that become available, especially those to rent under this scheme, are then let at an affordable rent. After all, the property owners are accessing interest-free loans and so on, which, I understand, are not repayable until the property is disposed of. So, are there some conditions, or would you consider in the future perhaps attaching conditions that rents are then affordable after accessing public funds? Perhaps you would be prepared to publish on an annual basis the number of properties by a local authority so that we can see which local authorities are making headway with this, and which are perhaps not doing as much as they possibly could with this money that is available.
I thank the Member for the important questions that she raises today. There has been a needs assessment across Wales in terms of the amount of one and two-bedroomed properties that are required. The Member will recall the £20 million injection of funding that we announced around two months ago in terms of the development of further one and two-bedroomed priority need developments. However, to be perfectly honest, in terms of dealing with Houses into Homes, in terms of whether the needs assessment should be in relation to the application process in the development of this in the future, I will give that some further thought.
The Member raised issues of best practice, and, of course, the old adage—which I have used before—that best practice travels badly is always the case. As I mentioned earlier, we have an empty homes conference tomorrow, where representatives from across the six regions will come together to look at how best practice can be shared. As I indicated earlier, regional working and collaboration between local authorities has certainly been impressive on this scheme, and where some authorities had no officers before, there is now a service provided across the region by which they can identify and invest across local authority boundaries.
I will look to give details to Members on the number of homes that have been created across local authorities, although it is not a fair correlation just to look at the table in terms of numbers delivered, because the demand needs and empty homes progress in each authority is variable. If it is helpful for Members just to see how many homes have been transformed in their local areas, however, I will seek to do that and I will look for that data for Members. I will also give further consideration to the planning aspect of commercial and residential properties with regard to the constraints of this scheme and the general principle of providing homes for people who need them across all our communities in Wales.
First of all, I welcome the statement; I think that it is an excellent scheme and I commend the Minister for it. I have seen the benefits in my own constituency, although, while delivering leaflets, I have been amazed at the number of empty homes, especially in areas of high demand. I think that it is important to have an increase on the supply side, now that we are going to be supporting the demand side, in order that we do not move house prices up.
I have two questions for the Minister. First, is he going to set regional targets? Secondly, does the Minister accept the importance of a council tax escalator to bring pressure on owners to bring houses back into use after 12 months of being empty while under the same ownership?
The two questions are very simple to answer, really. On the regional targets, I do not intend to have them for the regions, on the basis that they are very different in the way that they operate. It is the same in terms of the needs assessment, in terms of the amount of empty properties within each region. In terms of the council tax escalator, I had mentioned in answer to an earlier question that I will be considering council tax and the council tax levy, based on empty properties, and I will make further detail available during the passage of the housing Bill.
Deputy Presiding Officer, it was remiss of me to omit a response to Jocelyn Davies earlier with regard to the way that councils and officers engage with constituents. It is a really important point of principle, in that, once an empty property has been identified, engagement at that early stage is important. Equally important is the registration of a property, so that we know exactly who owns the property in the first place. That is why it is important that we fully understand that there should be a complete register of owners of properties in all constituencies, in order to deal with these void properties in our towns and communities.
I welcome the statement by the Minister, and I also welcome the Houses into Homes initiative, which has, I think, been very successful. I am certainly very pleased that the money for that was increased as a result of the budget deal done a couple of years ago with the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
Minister, one of Jocelyn Davies’s questions that you did not answer is in relation to the number of affordable units being created. You say in your statement that 550 units of accommodation had been created. Given that there is a different payback period on affordable homes, it would be useful if you could let us know how many of those 550 homes are actually affordable—if not now, maybe in writing or at some stage later on. We would like to know, especially when you look at the definitions that you have included in your affordable homes statistics, as you have included empty homes brought back into use. So, it would be quite useful to see which are affordable and which are not.
In terms of publicity, there is a Welsh Local Government Association website, of course, and it seems from an analysis of the hits on that website that most of them are coming from local authorities, as opposed to individuals who own the homes. It would be interesting to know what work is being done at a local level to raise awareness of the empty homes strategy and the Houses into Homes initiative among the owners of empty homes. I note from your statement that you say that every local authority now has an empty homes officer, and that is very welcome. However, not every local authority has an empty homes strategy, certainly not a stand-alone strategy, and it does seem to me that there is still a situation where some authorities are taking this more seriously than others. I would reiterate my call, which I have made for a number of years now, for a national strategy on this. It is important to have this Houses into Homes initiative, but it seems to me that it is a single tool, if you like, when there needs to be a number of tools which could be brought together in a national strategy.
I note in your statement you again referred to compulsory purchase orders and empty dwelling management orders. Although these are also important tools, there are some fundamental problems in exercising the use of those tools, particularly in finding properties that are suitable to apply those orders to. I would be grateful if you could indicate whether you are prepared to carry out a review of those tools, their effectiveness, and what additional tools might be made available to local authorities in terms of taking forward this initiative in the future. I think, as has been said previously, that we have effectively creamed off the easy hits in terms of empty homes, and actually getting to the real nub and the real target is going to be much harder unless those additional tools are available to local authorities.
Thank you for your questions. I will, indeed, endeavour to give further detail of the affordable homes element within the 550 total. I will share that with colleagues at the Assembly.
The Member was right to say that, now, the 22 authorities do have empty homes officers. The issue around the local strategy is not as relevant now as the regional approach, because the delivery mechanism for this process is on a regional basis. We have seen, where some authorities did not have a empty homes officer, that empty homes were not a priority. Now that they have come into the regional operation, they are performing much better in terms of this now becoming an issue for them.
I share the Member’s concerns about the implementation of a suite of tools to enable this positive process to take place in terms of reintroducing empty homes, not only because it reduces the blight on the community, but because it introduces the very issue of more accommodation for people in need of accommodation across Wales. I listened to his comments very carefully. I will ensure that his ideas—and the concept of ensuring that the tools that are available do work—are part of a discussion within the empty homes conference that takes place. I think it is important, where people have experience, where an issue has presented, or where people have been able to overcome that, that it is shared wherever you are in Wales. Bringing people together will help in that process.
I will be very brief because much of what I was going to say has been said. I think everybody celebrates the success of this scheme. I have been pleased over recent years to see extra money being put in, and to know that this has been continuing. It really has made a difference in some areas; you visited Flint and other areas where you have seen this being a success. Mike Hedges made the point that I wanted to make, in fact, that there are plenty of empty homes up and down the country, and we really need to start with local authorities identifying the locations and bringing them back into use—particularly if it can be done under this scheme, or a similar scheme, because it is so innovative I think it can be transferred, in some ways, to other schemes. I wondered if perhaps you would be looking at this in future.
The Member is right to raise the very successful regeneration programme using these funds in her own constituency, in Flint—there is a fantastic facility there, which is now seeing people reintroduced to those properties in the centre of her community. The issue of the empty homes register is, as I said to an earlier questioner, quite complex, because people drop on and off the register. Trying to keep that up to date is important. This is a very successful financial opportunity for people to make investments in their community. It is a win-win situation for all. However, there will be, as always, individuals who will not seek to engage, who will not wish to take part in this programme. We have to be able to give local authorities the tools to enable them to encourage or to legislate around an issue of blight within a community when it is a property. Therefore, the suite of tools we have, plus the opportunity to legislate in the housing Bill around empty homes in terms of finance, might be an additional supporting mechanism to encourage people to turn the empty homes they have into accommodation. I recognise the work that goes on in the Member’s constituency and, most importantly, the new properties being made available on Chester Road in Flint, which is impressive.
In September 2011, the Minister for Finance and Leader of the House launched ‘Travelling to a Better Future—Gypsy and Traveller Framework for Action and Delivery Plan’. The framework for action was the first document of its kind to be produced in the UK and it sets out the policy direction for the Welsh Government and its partners in respect of Gypsies and Travellers. I am delighted to update you today on the progress made against the framework for action and delivery plan.
The framework aims to address the inequalities and poverty experienced by the Gypsy and Traveller community, to ensure equality of opportunity and to enable the community to access resources and mainstream services. It comprises of sections on health and continuing care, education and training, participation and engagement, and accommodation and employment.
In the chapter on education, the framework makes a commitment to combating poverty of aspiration and opportunity as well as improving attendance and attainment. The section on health aims to tackle the high rates of infant mortality, accidents and illness, and the low life expectancy experienced by the Gypsy and Traveller community. The section on accommodation makes a commitment to increase and improve accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers, making it appropriate to their specific cultural needs.
Although there is still a long way to go to tackle the inequalities faced by Gypsies and Travellers, tremendous strides have been made during the past two years, and I will outline these today. The updated delivery plan provides greater detail on our achievements.
In terms of accommodation, the Welsh Government has spent over £3.1 million on a range of refurbishment projects during the past two years across 10 local authority-owned Gypsy and Traveller sites in Wales. The Welsh Government introduced a fundamental change during 2011-12 by revising the proportion of grant allocated from 75% to 100%. As a result, there has been a significant increase in applications for funding from local authorities, which has improved the living standards for existing residents.
I was fortunate to recently visit Glyn Mill Gypsy and Traveller site in Merthyr, which has received Welsh Government funding. I saw photos of the site prior to Welsh Government intervention and, having visited the site, I was hugely impressed with its transformation. Not only are there infrastructural changes, achieving far better conditions, but there is a real sense of ambition and aspiration on the part of the residents. There is also better community cohesion with the wider community.
Another important objective is the creation of new Gypsy and Traveller sites in Wales. There have been no new local authority sites built in Wales since 1997. I am pleased to inform you that Welsh Government has awarded Powys County Council £1.75 million to develop a new site in Brecon. However, this is only the start. The Minister for Housing and Regeneration will be introducing the Housing (Wales) Bill on 18 November. This includes a proposal to introduce a new statutory duty on local authorities to make provision for new Gypsy and Traveller sites where a need has been identified. If the proposed new legislation is passed, it will result in the creation of new sites where there is evidence of need and this, in turn, will reduce the number of unauthorised encampments.
We are all aware of the recent problems caused by an unauthorised encampment in Newport. My officials have consulted on changes to the managing unauthorised camping guidance. A more integrated and consistent approach across Wales will be encouraged to support local authorities when dealing with unauthorised encampments. The revised guidance will be published before the end of the year.
In terms of education, progress has been made on increasing the numbers of Gypsy and Traveller children and young people in schools. This has included holding a conference in 2011 that was aimed at raising attendance and attainment in secondary schools and working closely with the Traveller education service to disseminate good practice. The anti-bullying guidance ‘Respecting Others’ was issued to help local authorities respond to and prevent bullying, which we know can be one of the barriers to young Gypsy and Traveller people continuing in education. Schools have also been encouraged to use an online development resource that uses Gypsy and Traveller culture and heritage in delivering a range of curriculum subjects. There are now more children from these communities in schools in Wales than ever before.
To further support young people, the Welsh Government has funded the Travelling Ahead project run by Save the Children. The overall objective of the project is to empower young Gypsies and Travellers to participate in mainstream decision making and services. Several local forums have been created across Wales. The young people have also participated in a national forum and have produced a number of DVDs to promote positive messages about Gypsies and Travellers.
In terms of health, Gypsy and Traveller communities have the highest infant mortality rates of any ethnic minority group in Wales. I am pleased to say that some local authorities have put in place individualised plans for all pregnant women in areas where there are larger Gypsy and Traveller populations. In addition, several local health boards have taken steps to improve immunisation rates where health visitors will visit sites to talk to residents. This is a significant step forward, but a lot more needs to be done to ensure that the healthcare of Gypsies and Travellers is improved. The Welsh Government will be publishing guidance for healthcare providers during 2014. This will set out the Welsh Government’s expectations in relation to the provision of health services to Gypsies and Travellers.
There have been other notable achievements in the last two years as a result of Welsh Government funding. My predecessor as Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, Huw Lewis AM, earlier this year met with a group of Gypsy and Traveller women working with Platform 51, who are funded by the Welsh Government’s inclusion grant. The programme aims to develop the participative skills of Gypsy and Traveller women and teenage girls from Llanelli in order to provide them with life skills that they have previously not had the opportunity to develop. Some of the women have learned to read for the first time, applied for college courses and secured jobs from the skills they have attained from these sessions. I am sure that you will agree with me that this is great news as not only are the skills of these women improving, it is also influencing the next generation by having a positive impact on their children.
Thanks to Welsh Government funding, organisations such as Cardiff Gypsy and Traveller Project have continued to work closely with the Gypsy and Traveller community to ensure that they are better engaged with a number of public service providers.
In summary, the Welsh Government has made great progress in the last couple of years. However, there is still a long way to go and a lot of work to be done to combat the years of discrimination suffered by this community. I look forward to working with Members of all parties to improve the lives of Gypsies and Travellers in Wales.
I welcome your report. I have some questions and concerns for your kind observations and consideration. New Gypsy and Traveller sites need transparency and wider consultation between local authorities, existing communities and Travellers to determine the best possible sites. This will reduce the suspicion that many people have of the Gypsy and Traveller community and will encourage a better community relationship. How will the Welsh Government promote greater transparency and consultation in determining the location of suitable sites? What measure has the Welsh Government introduced to increase cross-border co-operation with English border counties that share Traveller areas with Wales?
Existing sites should be inspected to ensure that facilities are properly maintained and that reasonable standards of cleanliness are achieved. What guidelines have the Welsh Government issued to local authorities to ensure that that is also done? Unlawful encampments must be opposed. The recent unlawful encampments in Newport have caused much annoyance, disruption and concern. Hundreds of NHS workers were blocked from parking at the Royal Gwent Hospital after 14 caravans set up camp in the staff car park, which was a great hindrance to NHS services in that hospital. An illegal site at Queensway Meadows disrupted businesses and left behind litter and damage to trees, hedges and the area altogether. The Welsh Government said that it will work with local authorities to reduce the occurrence of unauthorised sites. However, in a written answer on 24 October this year, Mr John Griffiths, the Minister, said that the Welsh Government may decide to tolerate encampments on land in our state if, taking into account all the circumstances, it would be unreasonable to take possession of the encampment. Does the Welsh Government accept that greater clarity is required with regard to its approach to illegal sites? Temporary stop notices are available in England to allow councils to take enforcement action in respect of unauthorised encampments. The provision inserted into the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 by the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 has not been brought into force in Wales. What plan does the Welsh Government have to bring temporary stop notices into force in Wales?
Finally, on negative perception and reporting in the media, what is the Welsh Government doing to encourage the media to address the negative perception of the Gypsy and Traveller community that sometimes occurs in news reporting? Also, what is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that the health and education needs of the Gypsy and Traveller community are recognised and addressed by the NHS and education authorities?
I thank the Member for those many points. In terms of planning, local planning authorities must take account of the comments of the community, as they would with any development, in terms of sites. There is clearly a responsibility on the local authorities to make sure that sites are kept in good condition. There are nine community cohesion officers across Wales that liaise with Gypsy and Traveller communities in order to make sure that issues are properly understood and dealt with. Our responsibility, as the Welsh Government, relates to sites that are within the Welsh border.
In terms of unlawful encampments, there are already quite significant rules that apply here, but, before they are enforced, we expect all bodies—that could be local authorities or any person or organisation with a significant interest in the land concerned—to carry out a welfare needs assessment of the Travellers there, especially if there are children involved, to make sure that any action taken is proportionate to the issue created. We have issued guidance on managing unauthorised encampments, which will give greater guidance to local authorities as to how to deal with this matter.
You referred specifically to the recent issue at the Royal Gwent Hospital. It is probably worth reflecting on the facts of the matter. On 20 October, French Travellers occupied the Whiteheads staff car park at the Royal Gwent Hospital. The car park was not signed as a hospital car park, and the Travellers said that they did not know that that was the case. We have been in discussion with the Aneurin Bevan Local Health Board, which has confirmed that no patients were disadvantaged or inconvenienced as a result of that action, although staff at the Royal Gwent Hospital were inconvenienced, which is regrettable.
You mentioned health and education, and in my opening statement I referred to many associated issues. There is a requirement for better understanding within the NHS, and there is a strong case to be made for improving trust among the Gypsy and Traveller community that it will get good treatment from the NHS. Immunisation rates are improving, and I detailed other issues such as the support that will be provided for pregnant women.
In terms of education, we are very pleased that there has been a marked increase in the number of Gypsy and Traveller children and young people now in education. There are roughly 2,000 in Wales, which marks an increase over the last two years of 500. Pleasingly, 40% of those are in secondary education. I make that point because, traditionally, the Gypsy and Traveller community has only valued primary education, but there now seems to be a greater recognition that what is learned through secondary education is of value, and its children and young people are attending.
I thank the Minister for his statement and update on ‘Travelling to a Better Future’, which was launched by Jane Hutt in 2011. There is no doubt that progress has been made, particularly with encouraging young people to speak up, and the efforts of the partnership with the Save the Children fund have been very successful in this regard. I have been to the Builth Wells forum, which is a Wales-wide forum where young Gypsies and Travellers come to make their points, in some cases to politicians. It is very important that we all listen to what they say about the discrimination and stigma that they experience on a day to day basis in their ordinary lives. They were particularly bitter about the publicity surrounding the ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ television programme, which they said has caused horrendous problems for the Gypsy and Traveller community because of the false views that it gave.
The policy proposals in the document are excellent, but it is very difficult to improve the settled population’s preconceived ideas about Gypsies and Travellers. I chair the cross-party group on Gypsies and Travellers, and I am very pleased that a considerable number of Gyspsys and Travellers, particularly young people, attend the meetings. We encourage them to come here to the Senedd to make it somewhere that is for every child and young person in Wales. I am very pleased that that is happening.
However, we must face the fact that, when sites are proposed in whatever part of Wales, there are tremendous problems to deal with. It is how we address that stigma and those issues that the Welsh Government has to grapple with. It is excellent that the housing Bill will require local authorities to build more sites, and I welcome the Minister’s affirmation of that, because the only time that a substantial number of local authority sites were built was when there was a duty on them to do so. The Welsh Government needs to concentrate on the difficult issue of community cohesion and how we can build links between groups in the settled population with Gypsies and Travellers, and to get rid of the fear and myths that exist, because, in many cases, many of the people who protest will not have even met and talked to a Gypsy or Traveller. So, I wondered if he could address those issues.
Has there been any recent feedback from Gypsies and Travellers on how they felt the strategy was progressing? I know that there has been an increase in hate crime, and I know that the Minister has launched a strategy on that; is there any information about how this has affected the Gypsy and Traveller communities?
Finally, I know that the Welsh Government’s strategy does not involve the Roma community. I have been approached on a number of occasions about trying to deal with issues related to the Roma community, and I wondered whether the Minister had any plans either to include them in a Gypsy and Traveller strategy or to have a separate strategy for Roma.
I thank the Member very much for those points. You are quite right about young people speaking up; I was very pleased indeed to attend an event in Merthyr, where a number of young Gypsies and Travellers were brought together by Save the Children to talk about their experiences to me directly. ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ was a particular point that they brought up. I had to explain that we were not in a position to control broadcasting; nevertheless, negative ideas and perceptions certainly do not help, to put it mildly.
Sandy Mewies took the Chair at 16:56.
You are quite right when you talk about preconceived ideas. The ‘How Fair is Wales?’ report, which helped to inform the hate crime framework—the results of which, along with an action plan, we will have early in the new year—highlighted that attitudes towards Gypsies and Travellers are generally negative, with 63% of people thinking that Gypsies and Travellers are unsuitable to be teachers, 38% would be unhappy about a close relative marrying a Gypsy or a Traveller, and nearly two thirds of people would have a strong objection to a Gypsy or Traveller site being near their home. We do not underestimate those difficulties, but it is a matter that we have to tackle, and we have to tackle it in partnership with our key partners, such as local authorities, the NHS and particularly, you are right to say, with Traveller and Gypsy communities themselves, which, in the main, are responding positively to the work that we are doing. In terms of community cohesion, as I have just mentioned in my response to Mohammad Asghar, there are now nine community cohesion regional co-ordinators throughout Wales whose job it is to try to raise the public profile and show the true nature of Gypsies and Travellers.
You are right to say that this policy does not include the Roma community. At this time, the number of people from the EU Roma community in Wales is small and tends to be concentrated in parts of Cardiff and Newport. However, it is a matter that we are paying very close attention to and we will work with officials from the Department for Work and Pensions, because we have no locus over immigration, to make sure that there is a fair and reasonable policy. However, of course, health providers and providers of education need to be alert to the need to offer those places as they would to any other people in Wales.
Minister, thank you for providing an update to the action framework. There are a number of points that I would like specifically to raise. However, first, I would like to offer some words of encouragement in terms of how local authorities act to provide for Gypsies and Travellers. I welcome the assistance, which your statement has told us about, that will be given to the development of new sites where the need is recognised in order to reduce the number of unauthorised camps, as nobody wants unauthorised camps. I very much welcome the proposals in the housing Bill to give a statutory element to this and, Minister, I especially welcome the changes to the grant allocations that have occurred. It is important to give praise where praise is due.
However, I note that some aspects have been delayed, such as the planning workshops with local authorities to help to properly assess needs. I appreciate that there is still a lack of local development plans in place in Wales, but can you guarantee that your Government’s commitment to revisit this next year will be kept?
In terms of education, I welcome the introduction of the T code to record Travellers’ absence from school, but do you agree that this is the area where most engagement with the communities themselves is crucial? We have to ensure that Gypsy and Traveller children and young people have access to the same education as everybody else. Will you use your influence to ensure that the communities engage with us as much as possible, so that we can make this a reality?
I have to mention specifically the education of girls, as we know that, while attendance and drop-out rates are high generally for the whole of the two communities, they are especially high among girls. I would also ask why there is nothing in the updated proposals to tackle that issue specifically. I, too, was going to raise the issue of the Roma people. We know that Bulgaria and Romania are due to have immigration restrictions lifted next year, which could see many more arrive here, and it seems a little bit short-sighted to me not to have an inclusion strategy. Is it true, Minister, that the Welsh Government does not even recognise this group? I genuinely do not know and I would ask you for your views on that. I appreciate that the Roma group is very different from Gypsies and Travellers, but, nevertheless, we need to start thinking now about how we plan for the future.
I thank the Member very much for those points. I am very grateful for the encouraging remarks in terms of our current plans. You are quite right to make the point that increasing the grant to local authorities for new sites or refurbishing existing sites from 75% to 100% has made a significant difference. Yes, some local authorities are better than others in terms of developing sites. They must all, however, do it through their local development plan process. I can give you a guarantee that we will be on the ball in that regard and that they will all have to take proper account and show evidence as to how they have considered actual need. Clearly, in those local authorities where they may say at this moment that there is no actual need, but nevertheless we have evidence of illegal encampments, then there is a need. Those matters will be looked at quite closely.
In terms of schools, we now have the inclusion grant, which Gypsies and Travellers can apply for, as can EU Roma children. That is the £1.1 million. In every school, there will have to be a point of contact who will deal with the needs of Gypsy and Traveller communities, as well as EU Roma children where that is the case.
You mentioned the issue of girls’ education specifically. I will have to take that one back. I am not aware of any particular provision in terms of female education, but I will see whether anything is being dealt with. However, it will be primarily a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, who is in his seat and will have heard this point.
In terms of the Roma community, the largest numbers are, not surprisingly, from Romania. When access opens up properly to Bulgaria and Romania, there may be greater numbers coming in. We cannot say that for certain. France or Germany might be more attractive; we are not sure. Nevertheless, my officials are in contact with the UK Government officials. I had a very nice letter from Mr Eric Pickles just a little while ago, which I was able to respond to positively, and we will be looking to work together to make sure that there are coherent and fair policies in place.
I welcome the statement from the Minister. Like Lindsay Whittle, I have also been looking at the update document in terms of the action plan and I wonder whether the Minister could deal with a couple of questions arising from that in particular. In relation to the £1.5 million allocated for the current financial year, can the Minister confirm how much of that has been committed to be spent? I notice that there have been issues with the Powys money, of course. What assessment has been made of whether the change in funding for the capital grant has improved the ability of local authorities to plan for and meet Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs? What is the timetable for the publication of the revised good practice guide on designing Gypsy and Traveller sites in Wales in light of the commencement of section 318 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 and the Mobile Homes (Wales) Act 2013?
Also, I want to raise with the Minister a question that I raised with him in the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee a couple of weeks ago in relation to transit sites. What work has been done by the Welsh Government in terms of provision of transit sites and what resources are available to local authorities for that particular issue? I think that that, more than anything, will help to tackle illegal encampments around Wales.
We await publication of the housing (Wales) Bill, which, we are told, will introduce a statutory duty on local authorities to provide Gypsy and Traveller sites where there is unmet need to address the shortfall in authorised Gypsy and Traveller pitches. How will that duty work in practice and what guidance will be issued to local authorities to help them identify suitable sites?
You stated to the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, when we discussed the draft budget, that this duty will utilise the Gypsy and Traveller sites capital grants, but that you will also explore whether additional capital can be secured to coincide with the implementation of the housing Bill. I wonder whether you can say whether there has been any update on that issue.
In relation to consultation and engagement, the framework for action contains a key commitment to removing barriers to engagement with Gypsy and Traveller children and young people. I very much welcome the strong progress on those objectives following the success of the Travelling Ahead project, which has seen the creation of local and national forums for engagement. The update notes, however, that some mainstream staff are still in need of training on cultural awareness and engagement issues when working with Gypsy and Traveller children, but there are no next steps on that issue. Will the Minister outline the action that will be taken to address this training need? There are also still problems with engagement. Members have raised concerns about the lack of awareness of the Control of Horses (Wales) Bill among the Gypsy and Traveller community, as well as of other changes to legislation, such as licences for scrap metal. Could the Minister say what action is being taken to improve awareness and engagement with all members of the Gypsy and Traveller community about key changes that might impact on them?
Finally, in relation to the issue that Lindsay Whittle raised about planning, could the Minister give an update on when exactly he anticipates the 50% mark being reached in terms of the local development plan, so that we can then move forward in relation to planning for Gypsy and Traveller caravan sites, which, as Lindsay has noted, has been delayed until those LDPs are in place?
Quite a lot of points were raised there. Some were quite diverse and a number will require me to speak with other Ministers. Certainly, in terms of the eventual preparation and agreement of the local development plans, I will need to talk with my colleague the Minister for Local Government and Government Business to make sure that I have accurate information, which I will send on to you.
You asked at the beginning about how much of the capital moneys—the £1.5 million—has actually been committed. I will write to you with accurate figures on that point, but my understanding is that, since it was increased to 100% of the cost, almost all of that has been committed. We anticipate that, over the next two financial years, the amount that will be available will be the same. There is also, of course, the £1.75 million for the new site in Brecon; that is a one-off and will obviously not be repeated in future years necessarily.
You did indeed raise the issue of transit sites and I went away and looked at that. The capital moneys, of course, can be applied to for transit sites as well as permanent sites. At this moment, I am advised that there are no transit sites within Wales. That is a matter that I will look at far more closely, because I would be surprised if there were no need. There is apparently one transit pitch, which is privately owned, and is in Torfaen.
You asked about the guidance on identifying sites. As I have said, that guidance is now being prepared and will be issued to local authorities very shortly. In terms of the overall provisions of the housing Bill, I would rather wait until that is on the floor of the Chamber, but I will be having discussions with my colleague the Minister for Housing and Regeneration. Clearly, the issue of better cultural awareness is very important. That is why we are providing, within the schools budget, an online cultural curriculum that will improve the awareness and understanding of pupils, and, indeed, I see no reason at all, where there is an identified need among staff who work with the Gypsy and Traveller group, why that type of principle could not be applied to them as well.
You mentioned the issue of horses. Fly-grazing is a matter very much for my colleague the Minister for Natural Resources and Food and those are matters that we are looking to deal with quite quickly.
In terms of the issue of scrap metal, a group of Travellers came to me about the new licensing regime, which takes no account of nomadic lifestyles and will require them, as they move, to buy many licences. If Cardiff Council’s one is anything to go by, they could cost £450 each, and, if that is multiplied many times, that places a difficulty in front of them and a disproportionate disadvantage upon them. It seems that when the Home Office consulted on this—it is UK Government legislation—it did not consult with Gypsies and Travellers, and that is very disappointing.
Last month, I launched ‘Our Qualifications—Our Future’, a consultation on proposals for the Welsh Government to meet one of the recommendations in last year’s ‘Review of Qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds in Wales’ and to establish a single body, Qualifications Wales, responsible for the regulation and quality assurance of non-degree qualifications in Wales and, in time, the development and awarding of most general qualifications in Wales.
The proposed establishment of Qualifications Wales in 2015 will strengthen and simplify the qualifications system. It will bring together key functions within the qualifications system into one national body. It will allow Wales to take ownership of its qualifications system to ensure that its qualifications are more valued and relevant—both nationally and globally—and that they more effectively meet the needs of learners, employers, the educational community and the wider population of Wales.
In the first instance, Qualifications Wales will focus on the regulation, quality assurance and quality improvement of qualifications. It will enable us to address concerns about the complexity and bureaucracy of the current market structure for GCSEs and A-levels, and to ensure that our qualifications are both more responsive to the needs of our country while, at the same time, being robust, challenging and free from the undue influence of others.
Qualifications Wales will also provide an independent, authoritative and expert point of reference on qualifications, both for the Welsh Government and for all stakeholders with an interest in education, training and employment. It will provide easily accessible advice and guidance on Wales’s qualifications system for all interested stakeholders. It will provide policy advice to stakeholders and to Ministers to ensure that our qualifications system and associated policy in Wales are based on sound empirical evidence. It will engage extensively with professionals and practitioners both within Wales and internationally to develop qualifications and working practices that are comparable with the best in the world. This will allow our young people and learners of all ages to achieve qualifications that are recognised and accepted across the world.
I am keen that Qualifications Wales make awarding and regulatory decisions independently from political activity. It will be a statutory corporation outside of the Welsh Government, and my officials are exploring how the National Assembly for Wales can be involved in holding Qualifications Wales to account to the people of Wales.
In order to safeguard learners’ qualifications and to provide some stability in this period of transition, we will establish Qualifications Wales’s functions on a phased basis. From the end of 2015, I propose that Qualifications Wales will undertake a range of functions that are similar to the current qualifications regulatory functions that rest with the Welsh Ministers. To minimise the risks to learners and the system, Qualifications Wales, once established, will agree with the Welsh Government a timescale for Qualifications Wales to take up, subsequently, its awarding powers.
In the shorter term, we will continue to work with awarding organisations, including WJEC, on the development and revision of a suite of key ‘Wales only’ qualifications, including GCSEs, A-levels and the Welsh baccalaureate. In response to the recommendations of the review of qualifications in Wales, we are developing a range of new Wales-only GCSEs in key subjects, including English, Welsh and two new maths qualifications. We are also making some key improvements to the Welsh baccalaureate.
These new and revised qualifications will be taught in Wales from September 2015 and will provide clear and comparable awards for young people, while supporting the development of well-rounded learners with the skills needed for work, learning and life, focusing strongly on literacy and numeracy. Later this term, we will be seeking stakeholder views on the key features of these new and important qualifications, and at the same time we will be inviting views on reformed A-levels, which will also be taught in Wales from September 2015.
The provision of high-quality, robust vocational qualifications is vital for our learners and for our economy. Qualifications Wales will have a key role in making sure that this happens. We are already developing a strengthened gateway process for vocational qualifications to ensure that these qualifications, offered by a range of awarding bodies, meet the needs of end users, be they employers or next-stage education providers. Qualifications Wales will be able to build on these positive steps and develop an ongoing programme of quality assurance and improvement. In time, Qualifications Wales will have the potential to develop and award some vocational qualifications, particularly those developed for learners up to the age of 16.
My officials are already engaging actively with stakeholders through a series of stakeholder reference groups and other communications channels. This will continue throughout and beyond the consultation period, which ends on 20 December. I will outline my vision and timeline for reforming the qualifications landscape in Wales, entitled ‘delivering a national qualifications system for Wales’, at a national conference for stakeholders on 11 December.
I am also keen to seek the views of children and young people in Wales with whom officials will be engaging through focus groups to learn about what they may want to see from Qualifications Wales. After all, it will be an organisation that has the potential to improve their prospects in life and in work.
Following consideration of the debate and responses that these proposals will generate, I intend to bring forward provisions relating to the setting up of an independent qualifications body through legislation later in this Assembly term.
I intend to call the people who wish to speak in this debate, but I ask you to be succinct and to the point in your questions, please. I now call on the Conservative spokesperson, Angela Burns.
Thank you very much, acting Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, thank you for your statement today. I welcome it because I feel that we need this clarification over qualifications in Wales, particularly at a time when there is so much going on in this particular landscape.
I have five or six questions to ask you, and indeed one or two points that I am afraid that I will simply reiterate. First, I have seen nothing, read nothing, or heard nothing that changes my view, or the view of my colleagues here, that we should have an independent regulator. We believe that an independent regulator who sits aside from the rest of the Qualifications Wales, from the curriculum-setting and awarding process, is the way to give us proper transparency and accountability. We also think that this is going to become ever more important as the divergence between the Welsh qualifications system and the qualifications systems in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland becomes more and more apparent. We need to be seen to be clear, accountable and, above all, robust in order to ensure that our students have a qualification that they can be proud of, and which others, most importantly, will recognise.
I greatly welcome your comment about having an arm’s-length scenario. We have suggested it on a number of occasions. Again, I reiterate that we see that a very sound way forward would be to set it up like the Wales Audit Office, with that degree of independence and therefore that lack of political accountability, with it being accountable to the Assembly rather than to any particular party.
We have real concerns about transparency and consistency, and I would like to understand how Qualifications Wales will set about basically bringing together the whole piece, because you have the national curriculum review going on, you announced yesterday the 14-19 pathways consultation review, we still have not had all of the answers back to the recommendations of the qualifications review, and you talk about improving the Welsh baccalaureate and making it stronger—it all needs to be brought together to ensure that, above all, we have an internationally recognised and completely robust set of qualifications here in Wales that are accepted everywhere. You know, it is not so long ago that the Welsh baccalaureate was not accepted by a Welsh university department for entry to its degree course, and that is a shame. We need to have a robust system, so that the HR manager of Toyota, or some bloke running the HR department at a retail giant based in London, will be able to look at it and understand exactly what it is our students are capable of.
Also, Minister, I wonder whether you are able to shed any light at all on the future of the Welsh Joint Education Committee and other awarding bodies here in Wales, and the effect that this would have, not just on the mainstream, but also on the independent sector. I note that it states at the bottom of the WJEC’s GCSE certificate that it is available only in Wales and that it is regulated by the Welsh Government. How will this impact on the rest—are you able to say how it will impact on the rest of its business? Of course, that will show an awful lot about what it is able to do here in Wales and where our qualifications will be going, because so much of its business is actually based in England. Also, what roles will other organisations, such as Edexcel and AQA, be able to have here? Also, what impact will all of these changes have on the independent sector? Will they still be able to go, for example, to any awarding body and follow a curriculum course, or will it be only the curriculum course that you will be setting here?
There are loads of other questions, but I hope that I have been as succinct as I possibly could be.
My thanks to Angela Burns for those important points. To meet your first point, I hope, head-on, independence is built into the way in which Qualifications Wales will have to evolve and emerge. For today, what I am doing is to set out a broad direction of travel—a declaration of intent, if you like—for how we move towards a body that I believe Wales needs in order to cope with a changing landscape across the UK and beyond. Built into that will be very important priorities, the first of which will be independence from Government, and I have made that very clear in my statement this afternoon. Another would be that we are moving towards something that is entirely robust and is portable in terms of qualifications being recognised across the UK and internationally, and throughout all the various sectors of interest—we will be in gear. I do not believe for a moment that it is beyond the wit of the Welsh to get that done.
I would point out that it is important to recognise that, in terms of the changing landscape surrounding GCSEs and A-levels, for instance—although, this is about more than that—the part of the UK that is diverging rapidly, and quite often without any kind of consultation with other parts of the United Kingdom, is England. Many of these questions, I think, would be best put to Michael Gove in England, as he is really heading off in multiple directions at once, it seems. We have had three or four different proposals for GCSEs in England since my appointment, some of which lasted only hours. Now, we do not do things like that in Wales. My officials, for instance, have started a dialogue with relevant qualifications organisations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and, indeed, in the Republic of Ireland to explore the development of a system of peer review, for us to learn from each other and to compare qualifications. Qualifications Wales will work with these organisations and others to take this work forward. We will use all the evidence that we can lay our hands on. We will use longitudinal studies, we will use cohort data, we will have an eye to other measures, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment—we are in the business here of building international credibility into the warp and weft of the Welsh qualifications system.
Angela Burns also mentioned that there are issues to be brought together, and she called for consistency. She is quite right to do so. All of the issues that she enumerated there will be part and parcel of the process as we move forward, of course.
In terms of the points on the WJEC and the rest of its business, by which you meant the business that it has in England as an awarding organisation, Members will be aware that the original proposal was that we should merge the WJEC into the new qualifications Wales body. That has proven to be something of a more complex proposal than was originally envisaged, first of all because the WJEC has charitable status, which makes things legally a little more complex than if you were dealing with an arm’s-length body or an independent body, and also we have to bear in mind the fact, as Angela Burns has said, that it does have business in England, which introduces all sorts of positive elements into the picture. Of course, that is a revenue earner for a Welsh body, which is a good thing, and it also introduces some very curious questions about whether Ofqual in England should have any oversight of an independent Welsh qualifications Wales body. We cannot really proceed on that basis, I do not think, with Ofqual second-guessing what we are doing here in Wales. So, that is why I am proposing today that we phase our activity here, first of all looking at regulation, moving then towards awarding. However, I would say this: in terms of the future of the WJEC, and any other awarding body, one of the key motivating principles behind this piece of work is to simplify the system that we are engaged with here—as system that the Welsh educational establishments has to grapple with, if you like. Simplification is key. We are not looking towards a future where we have a multiplicity of awarding organisations. That would run counter to a great deal of the motivating factors behind the work that we are engaged with here, and the WJEC needs to understand that, as well as everyone else.
In terms of the independent sector, well, it is independent. As far as I am concerned, in the independent sector, these are schools run as businesses, and they will conduct themselves as their business mentality sees fit, I am sure.
The Deputy Presiding Officer took the Chair at 17:28.
I warmly welcome the Minister’s statement today. I particularly welcome two important things that he has said. The first is the way in which this new body is to be independent of Government. The original aim, if I remember rightly, was that Qualifications Wales should be accountable, in one way or another, to a Minister, but the Minister has said today that what he is looking for is for it to be accountable to the Assembly. I welcome that, and I think that, to an extent, that highlights and enhances the independent element that Plaid Cymru has consistently been asking for over a period of two years now.
The second thing that I would like to welcome in your statement, Minister, is the fact that you now see this process as a rolling process, with at least two parts: the establishment of Qualifications Wales as an independent body first of all, and then moving, perhaps, towards aspects relating more to awarding bodies, such as the WJEC and so on. Again, Plaid Cymru had warned that this would need to be done, and that careful consideration would need to be given to the charitable status of the WJEC, and the range of bodies providing qualifications in Wales, and their rights also. Therefore, I think that you have set out the correct approach towards progressing with Qualifications Wales. I welcome that, but I will ask a few questions in terms of how this will now be provided.
First, I note that, in your statement, you say that you are seeking reform of A-levels in Wales. I think that that is appropriate as questions have been raised. The fact that England is diverging—and I agree that it is England that is diverging—means that it is appropriate that we should ensure that our A-levels are credible, robust and acceptable to universities, employers and so on. Can you tell us a little more about some of the elements related to that, particularly some aspects of A-level that are important to students in Wales, such as the fact that we want to retain course work in Wales, that modular learning can be of great assistance to many students, that A-level is a more sensible approach in Wales than is the case in England, and that it will better assess the abilities and potential of our pupils?
Secondly, I want to ask about the provision of vocational education. I think that there has been quite a bit of movement over the past few months, and in your statement today, from the original Huw Evans assessment, which looked at many vocational qualifications coming under Qualifications Wales. He looked at simplification and at a number of core vocational courses being provided by the new body. It is clear that that is not going to change overnight because you will not be establishing such a body immediately. I am of the opinion—and I think that you have hinted at this—that there is too much marketisation in the system and too much competition, without sufficient clarity in terms of what people get through the various courses. This applies to academic courses, but it appears to be worse in the case of vocational courses. Since you are not moving fully towards the establishment of Qualifications Wales as a full awarding body, can you tell us more about how you anticipate the vocational side will be regulated and how we will be able to simplify that for the benefit of students and pupils in Wales?
You have mentioned the future of bodies such as the WJEC and others, so I will not ask anything further on that, but I would just note that we need to give careful consideration to how independent bodies, particularly those with charitable status, will be retained in Wales and will work with the new body. I welcome what you have said as regards collaboration with other bodies and the peer-to-peer assessment, particularly in looking towards Ireland.
Finally, what will you do in terms of publicising this new body? It has been known, since the Huw Evans report, that there will be a need for a very clear message on the role of the new body and the credibility of the qualifications that will be awarded. That is crucially important in a context where most parents and pupils in Wales read and hear news from England, which comes within an entirely different context to the one that you have set out today.
Finally, again, are you still content that the name ’Qualifications Wales’ represents the new body?
I thank Simon Thomas for those comments and his broad welcome for the thrust of today’s statement.
He is also, in line with Angela Burns, quite right to stress the importance of the independence of the new body. It was a recurrent theme in stakeholder feedback that there is a preference among our partners for an independent regulator of qualifications, rather than for Government to act as regulator, as it certainly has done since the merger of ACCAC into the Welsh Government.
It is worth pointing out that, in Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority is independent of Government and has been operating successfully in that way. However, it is also worth pointing out that, for the SQA, Ministers have a role in terms of appointing its board. There are various models we could talk about here, but the operational independence of the new body is, in my view, beyond question.
The reform of A-levels in Wales, as Simon Thomas mentioned, is a necessity in the current climate. It is a fast-changing world out there, although I would put on record some statements of principle, if you like, that will distinguish us from the way that things are developing in England. I am not convinced—and this has been publicly stated before now—that divorcing the AS-level from the overall worth of qualification is a wise move. We do not agree with the UK Government in that regard, so that will not be a feature of the way that we progress things in Wales. We will move forward, in partnership with stakeholders, through a properly consultative procedure that has at its heart the question of the worth and portability of this qualification to the learner—does it compare with the very best across the UK, across Europe and the wider world? If we can answer those questions in the affirmative, then we will have done our job.
In terms of vocational qualifications, I think that Simon Thomas was leaping ahead slightly here, in terms of work that goes way beyond today’s statement. However, again, he puts his finger on some very important aspects of how that should be done. We do need to look at simplification, which has been called for almost unanimously by stakeholders for some time, and, of course, clarity. I would not like to go too much further in terms of the relationship of that subject matter to today’s statement—although he is quite right to point it out as an area of concern.
In terms of the WJEC and its future, I do not think that it is for me to hold forth on the organisation or destination—or destiny—of the WJEC as such. I will say one or two things that I hope are relevant and will inform the debate. One is that I do recognise that the WJEC is a repository of a great deal of expertise in Wales—a capacity that, frankly, we would find it very difficult to do without, particularly when it comes to Welsh-medium qualification development and assessment and so on. These things are very important. It is clear to me that the WJEC will continue—in partnership with us, and in partnership with the newly formed Qualifications Wales—to be a very important stakeholder and partner. I know that, in conversations with the WJEC, it has been very positive and reflected those commitments back to me. I am clear about that.
It is also very important that the WJEC works with us in the clear understanding that Qualifications Wales will become an awarding body. This is something that Wales, as a nation, needs. It is a national requirement. There is no organisational or institutional vested interest—no matter how sincerely it might be put—that can stand in the way of that. Whether that institution is the Welsh Government or the Assembly, whether it is any other awarding body, an arm of local government or Qualifications Wales itself, it does not matter as much as the primary concern, which is the vested interest of the learner. In my view, we will, if we are to operate a qualification system in Wales that makes sense in the twenty-first century, given the way that the UK landscape is developing, have to have an SQA-style organisation operating for the benefit of Welsh learners. There is no other way around this, unless we are to opt out of responsibility for this and ask someone else to come into Wales to do this for us. I do not think that that is an honourable or sensible position to take, and the Welsh public would condemn us for it immediately, and quite rightly so.
Simon Thomas is also right to say that the communications work that will need to be done in terms of this process is critical. Confidence must be maintained among Welsh learners, their families and professionals out there in our schools, FE colleges and elsewhere. It is a very important job of work, and I have set aside resource for this, and I have set aside officials’ time. There will be a plan around communications as we move forward step by step, because it is true that we are in an asymmetrical situation when it comes to getting any sort of message onto the airwaves as compared with what the UK Government is capable of doing, and there are people that are convinced that if the UK Government Minister makes some kind of utterance about the future of A-levels, it automatically applies to Wales and Northern Ireland, and, of course, it does not. Therefore, that job of work will be carefully addressed, and Simon Thomas is quite to raise it as a critical issue.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
It has taken us half an hour to get through two sets of questions. I realise how important this subject is. Therefore, perhaps the half hour designated was always rather hopeful. I will call every Member that was asked to speak, but if you could speed things up, that would help the Chair at the moment. That includes you, Minister, in terms of some of the answers. You need not repeat information that has already been given.
Does the Minister agree that Scotland has a body that regulates and awards, that Northern Ireland has a body that regulates and awards and that, therefore, there is nothing wrong with Wales having a body that regulates and awards? Will he further agree that Wales cannot be dependent on an awarding body that is more worried about a commercial market in England and satisfying the regulator of that market than about the needs of learners in Wales? Finally, will he agree that we cannot have a regulator beholden to any organisation that it regulates?
Leighton Andrews is quite right on all counts, in terms of the statement that he makes. If Scotland and Northern Ireland can make this work and make it transparent and can inspire confidence in learners and other stakeholder, then so can we. Commercial considerations of any awarding organisation are fine, and it is always good to see a Welsh organisation that can generate income across other parts of the UK, and that is a good thing. However, that is very much a subsidiary consideration, as I have said, when it comes to the primary concern here, which is the needs of the learner. I am convinced that we need an SQA-style organisation in Wales, similar to what has been happening in Scotland for some while. It will have to be tailored to Welsh needs, but we know already that such organisations can operate fairly and transparently, as it has happened in Scotland and Northern Ireland for some time now.
I will be brief. I welcome the general direction of travel. I think that there were financial and legal reasons that made the second phase perhaps a little more difficult than was suggested at the outset, but I accept that if those legal and financial hurdles can be overcome, certainly, we can look to the Scottish and Northern Irish models. Although, I think that the context in which the Scottish and Northern Irish models operate may be somewhat more distant in terms of their compatibility with the English system, which is what we have here. While in no way trying to suggest anything about the path that the Welsh Government is going along, listening to the stakeholders, who are clearly saying that the retention of the AS-level is important as far as the universities are concerned, we, as a group, are quite comfortable to support that.
I will ask three very quick questions. Given that you will be making this important statement on 11 December, will you feel by then that you will be in a position to put more meat on the bone as far as the remaining recommendations within the review are concerned? Do you have concerns that, even though you have identified resources to outline this communications strategy over the next 22 months—because we are looking at these qualifications being in place by September 2015—the timeline is sufficient given that there is a big job of work to be done in that 22-month period? Can you outline the activity as far as the communication strategy is concerned, because I have not picked up any activity with outside stakeholders in terms of that reassurance that we all require with regard to the portability of these new Welsh qualifications?
I thank Aled Roberts for his remarks. He is right to stress the importance of ensuring compatibility with all systems, not just with the English system, in terms of the development of, for instance, A-levels in Wales. That runs right across the board. We do that by demonstrating that these are robust examinations of an internationally recognised level of quality. We can do that while being distinctive in terms of what we do. For instance, as Aled mentioned, we continue to regard AS-levels as having educational worth. We have some very distinguished bedfellows in that regard; Oxford University thinks so, Cambridge University thinks so and the Welsh Government thinks so, and I think that all political parties here—I have not heard anything to contradict this—think so too. So, that is a pretty good starting point in terms of making sure that the communication that we need to have and the clarity of purpose that we need to demonstrate to learners, their families and other stakeholders, is maintained throughout this process. In needs to be done carefully and deliberately.
There will be more announcements on 11 December. I will not be making those announcements prematurely here this afternoon. In terms of resources, I will ensure that they are sufficient. This is a priority for my Government department. This is absolutely critical in the development of the Welsh educational landscape as a whole, and not just in terms of the qualifications debate. It must be done right. I will ensure that the resources are sufficient.
In terms of the timeline, I see no reason at present to be nervous around the timeline. There is a clock ticking in terms of the lengthy Assembly term and the legislative programme, and so on—all legislatures have to face up to that. Legislation is required in order to make this happen and to make it work, but I have not seen anything yet to convince me in conversations with officials or other partners that the timeline that we have outlined here, which essentially means that Qualifications Wales is fully operational by the end of 2015, is in any way unrealistic.
I, too, welcome the statement, Minister, and a number of the points that I wanted to make have already been made, so I will not repeat them. Angela Burns said that we will have to work with agencies in England, Ireland and Scotland, and with the colleges and so on. We do not want to see what has happened in Westminster, with Michael Gove making unilateral statements and changing his mind on a regular basis. We do not want that—we want something that will last.
The second point that I wanted to make was that I believe that the body should be independent and authoritative, and you have mentioned that. I was also going to emphasise, as Aled Roberts said, what admissions tutors in Oxford and Cambridge are saying about the AS-level qualification. It is important that we retain that qualification, because colleges will look at what children did in the first year of the sixth form.
What worries me a little, as I have worked for a number of examination boards, is vocational courses. There are so many boards that I cannot see how you will be able to deal with the situation. I look forward to seeing a paper from you on how you will set up an examination body.
I thank Keith Davies for those comments. He is quite right: it is imperative, for the sake of the learner, that we conduct ourselves responsibly. That means, among other things, that we speak to partners out there, whether they are in industry or in other administrations around the UK, to ensure that we are convinced at all times of the robust nature and portability of Welsh qualifications. All of this is for nought if we cannot have a young person from Llanelli with a clutch of A-levels in their hand who can access courses—higher education courses or otherwise—across the entire United Kingdom and beyond. That has to be our starting point.
I cannot here this afternoon address the complexity around the vocational side of things, although Keith Davies is quite right to raise it as a concern. Simplification is the name of the game, and a lot of ongoing work needs to be undertaken in order to address that agenda. However, this will unfold as we move forward, obviously.
Minister, most of my questions have already been asked, but I want to take you back to the vocational side of things. You did mention it in your statement, and I am glad that you mentioned it, because it is an important aspect. Qualifications Wales will be responsible for accrediting awarding bodies in the early stages for vocational work. Can you give some timescales for establishing vocational qualifications that it will have the responsibility for delivering and awarding itself, and what type of connection or responsibility do you think it will have with other awarding bodies? They are well-recognised qualifications throughout the UK and the rest of the world and it is important that we continue to ensure that our students in Wales are able to access those as well.
Once again, this is a complex picture, and there is much work yet to be done. However, I can say very clearly that, by the autumn term of 2015, for instance, the first Qualifications Wales GCSEs will be taught in schools, and that includes the two new mathematics GCSEs that I mentioned, the English language GCSE and the revised Welsh baccalaureate. By the end of 2015, Qualifications Wales should be up and running. Its quality assurance and regulatory functions will be operational and it will be an operational organisation. From that point onwards, it will be for Qualifications Wales to start those detailed discussions and to grapple with the overly complex vocational qualifications landscape and getting to grips with that, with the needs of the Welsh learner in mind, obviously. Our purpose is the simplification of that overly complex landscape. That might involve all sorts of discussions that, at the moment, it would be silly of me to prescribe in advance. However, every Member here and every stakeholder out there with a concern for how the vocational qualifications landscape ought to evolve will be a full and valued part of that process.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
The Welsh Government’s strategy for trees and forestry, ‘Woodlands for Wales’, is a long-term vision of how we want woodlands to be fit for the future to meet the needs of Wales for the next 50 years and beyond.
There are 305,000 ha of woodland in Wales, of which 117,000 ha, almost 40%, are on the Welsh Government’s woodland estate. Woodland-based industries are worth over £400 million per annum to the Welsh economy, employing around 9,500 people. Annual timber production is around 1.2 million cu m, with around 700,000 cu m of this coming from the public estate. The majority of wood is processed in Welsh saw mills and panel board factories, but the market is dominated by imports, which account for 10 million cu m net for the United Kingdom as a whole.
A thriving forestry industry is important, and we want to increase demand for Welsh wood products that are both locally and sustainably produced. There are large areas of currently unmanaged woodlands in Wales that provide an opportunity to increase the production of usable timber, especially for renewable energy and to support the development of small and local businesses. Now that the Pen y Cymoedd windfarm project in south Wales has received planning consent, construction will begin at the site in 2014, and 10 wind turbine engineer apprenticeships have been created. From 2016, a Pen y Cymoedd windfarm community fund will make available around £1.5 million per year to invest in projects that will benefit local communities over 25 years.
Woodland also provides opportunities for recreation, leisure and tourism. The Coed-y-Brenin visitors’ centre at Dolgellau is an excellent example of this, employing local people and using locally produced food in the cafe, providing a great day out for families and visitors to Wales.
On behalf of the Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales works with a range of partners to provide opportunities for people that unlock the full potential of our woodland areas. This will support jobs in enterprise bases around woodlands that channel economic benefits to communities and disadvantaged groups.
The Welsh Government provides well-designed, high-quality and welcoming facilities that lead the visitor into the natural environment, such as at Garwnant near Merthyr Tydfil, encouraging people from all sections of society to be more physically active and to enjoy the outdoors, contributing to the health agenda. In total, NRW manages 550 km of mountain-bike trails, 135 km of horse-riding trails, 450 km of walking trails, five visitor centres and 75 picnic sites on the public estate. Through its work on woodlands, Natural Resources Wales is encouraging more people and communities to use woodlands for a variety of activities, as well as supporting communities to become more actively involved in the decision making in relation to their own local woodland. The vision for forestry support in the next rural development plan between 2014 and 2020 is that, in the seven years of the programme, Welsh woodlands will expand and be better managed, more economically sustainable and more resilient to change.
The climate change strategy for Wales recommended significant increases in the planting of new woodland by 2030, as part of a range of land use measures to support carbon sequestration and to mitigate carbon emissions. The target also has an important subsidiary arm of increasing the substitution of materials such as steel and concrete with sustainable wood products in building. We are aware that current planting rates are unlikely to deliver the target for new woodland. Our ambition, therefore, is to bring together a range of measures to make the progress that we both need and require. The woodlands strategy advocates a diversification of woodlands, using increased species to improve resilience. While damaging to existing woodland, the current disease outbreaks emphasise our focus on replanting with more resilient species, to develop healthier and more varied woodlands and to provide a greater variety of trees, to produce high-quality Welsh timber. There is support for the replanting of felled woodland through the Glastir woodland management scheme. Applications to Glastir for replanting woodlands affected by larch disease are being given a high priority by Welsh Government when they are assessed and scored. My officials are looking at ways to speed up the processing of these applications.
The health of our trees and woodlands is important and the large-scale felling in the south Wales Valleys has highlighted how trees and woodlands are an integral feature of our landscape and are valued by neighbouring communities. We will do all we can to ensure that we include and engage with local communities in the design of new planting, to ensure that the forests in these communities meet the needs of local people.
Phytophthora ramorum is now widespread across all of western Great Britain, assisted by recent warm and wet autumns. The long-term prognosis is that larch is likely to disappear from Wales. The Welsh Government established a steering group in July, comprised of private, public and voluntary sector forestry representatives, to develop an overarching strategy for the detection and management of tree diseases in Wales, including a specific strategy to management of Phytophthora ramorum. Subject to final confirmation of costs, I have agreed to the introduction of several measures with immediate effect, in order to assist woodland owners to act quickly to remove and replace infected larch and reduce the impact on their businesses. The measures are: lengthening the time available to woodland owners to fell infected larch in areas of heavy infection, maintaining the policy of rapid removal of new infection in areas of Wales where there is currently little infection in larch and controlling the movement of infected larch wood to maintain biosecurity and to slow the spread of the disease.
Woodlands provide a valuable contribution to our environment through water regulation, soil protection, air quality and as carbon sinks, as well as providing shelter, landscape features and havens for biodiversity. Targeting planting on floodplains and riparian areas or integrating woodland planting with other land uses has the potential to reduce flood risk, reduce the effects of agricultural run-off and protect soils, as well as providing on-farm timber for firewood, shelter for livestock and habitat for wildlife.
Many of our woodlands are rich in biodiversity and include native and ancient woodlands and priority woodland habitats, as well as parkland and hedgerow trees. My forestry officials are currently leading a task and finish group to look at whether there is scope to improve the protection that can be given to ancient and veteran trees. In the Glastir entry scheme, it is one of the requirements under the whole-farm code to protect and retain all in-field and veteran trees, and farmers are paid to do this. The commitment in our programme for government to become a one-planet nation embodies sustainable development and places it at the heart of everything that we seek to do. Trees and woodlands have a major role to play in that commitment and our woodland strategy will ensure that woodland delivers for green growth to improve our communities, to help in tackling the health, green energy and poverty agendas, and to make Wales a better place in which to live and work.
Minister, thank you for your statement. I am a little disappointed, I must say, that you have not linked your statement to the outcomes, particularly the measurable targets, that were identified in the 2012 statement made by John Griffiths, your predecessor, in which specific targets were set for forestry.
As you are aware, thousands of hectares of Welsh Government woodland are infected with Phytophthora ramorum. Over 3,000 ha have not been felled and the way in which the public estate is managed—previously by the Forestry Commission Wales and now by Natural Resources Wales—means that substantial areas of private woodland are likely to be infected by Phytophthora. Your assessment in this statement, Minister, is that, in due course, there will be no larch left in Wales. That is a pretty damning conclusion of a failure to tackle the disease in the Welsh Government’s forestry estate.
There are concerns that Natural Resources Wales is, in effect, being cross-subsidised, being able to undertake action that other private owners would not be able to, and that there is a lack of transparency around how that management will be accounted for. In relation to the other woodland estate, if I can put it that way, the only way to get support for management of woodlands is through Glastir. The First Steps grant scheme was abolished, and the Glastir woodland scheme will not come into effect until 2014, so there is a hiatus of over a year and, for some woodland owners, of over two years before they can access any support, and the only way for them to access that support is through Glastir. Minister, there is real concern about that.
The Welsh Government had a very good forestry scheme, which had some failings, called ‘Better Woodlands for Wales’. I wonder whether you could look at some of the successes of that scheme, because nowhere in this statement do I see outcomes, nowhere do I see information on how you intend to support delivery of this, where the value for money is, and what money there is in your budget for this scheme. Given that the Glastir scheme will not start until 2014, what is going to happen in the meantime?
In terms of replanting the areas, you have talked about giving forestry owners more time to fell infected larch. Are you talking about NRW when you say that, or is that across the woodland estate? Will that apply to Welsh Government and private owners? Are you going to let people replant with other conifer species, for example, Sitka spruce? At the moment, there is a concern that commercial forestry is required to be replanted with broadleaved woodland. Minister, you yourself have identified in your statement concerns that there are a substantial amount of imports into Wales in the panel industry that could, in fact, come from commercially grown forestry in Wales.
I am delighted you mentioned Coed y Brenin. I agree with you that that is an excellent project and one well worth highlighting. There have been some excellent schemes delivered. However, there are very real concerns and I am worried that your statement does not really look at what it is that you are expecting to be achieved, how much you are going to spend on it, and what outcomes you want.
The final point I wish to make is that there was an ambition that 100,000 ha of new woodland be planted in Wales. That 100,000 ha you have accepted now that you have downgraded it to an ambition, because you are so far off your target that you are nowhere near achieving it, and that is very disappointing, given the link to your climate change criteria. Perhaps you could comment on that as well, Minister.
The Conservative spokesperson would perhaps be less disappointed if she took more time to read the documents provided to her. In the first sentence of your response, she referred to this statement as a strategy. It is not: it is an update on the strategy that exists. The outcomes are all outlined within that strategy and stand today, so I would suggest, with all due respect and very kindly, of course, that perhaps the Conservative spokesperson might have done a little more homework before she put some of those criticisms on the record.
In terms of where we are with P. ramorum, she seems to be blaming the forestry commission and now NRW for the spread of this pathogen. Does she also blame NRW for its spread in western Scotland, in Northern Ireland, in the Republic of Ireland and in the south-west of England? Does she also believe that that is the fault of poor management by NRW? I find that an extraordinary statement. We are dealing with a pathogen that is being spread across the whole of the western part of the British isles, and each administration in the British isles has to deal with it. If she sees and reads the document on plant and tree health that I published earlier today, she will see that there is a very effective, in my view, but also interlocking, approach from the different administrations in the United Kingdom to deal with this disease. I discussed this with my counterparts in England in the UK Government in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs yesterday, and we agreed that we were both confident about the measures that we had put in place in our different administrations. We agreed that the biosecurity measures that we will be taking forward as a part of this strategy were sufficient to deal with that. That was agreed by her colleagues in Westminster yesterday, when we discussed these matters, and I hope that she will accept that today.
In terms of the support that we are providing for planting and other measures that are being taken forward, the greater time available for the felling of larch is across the board, for all businesses and all owners. The replanting will be with a diversity of species. We have made that clear in the documentation that I released today.
In terms of our overall approach, I have said very clearly that we have targets and outcomes, and ambitions and visions outlined in the current strategies. Those stand. We are looking at the moment at how we can ensure that we will meet the full range of those ambitions, and I will be making further announcements on further support for planting in due course.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement. You have certainly covered a wide range of aspects of forestry and woodlands in your statement. To be clear, therefore, from the point of view of these targets, you say that the current planting rate does not deliver the target for creating new woodlands and that time is needed to introduce a range a measures to see the necessary increase. Can you therefore confirm that the original targets remain targets that you consider to be for this Government, or do you now think that those targets need to be reviewed and new targets need to be created? Perhaps you could provide some clarity on that.
You say in your statement, as has already been mentioned, that larch are likely to disappear from Wales. That is something of a sweeping statement, but I tend to sympathise with that view, because, as things stand, I think that it is a matter of ’when’ and not ’if’. However, that is not to say that we should not be doing very best to slow the spread of this pathogen and to ensure that we can do everything that we can to develop methods of fighting its spread.
I welcome, therefore, the fact that the steering group and the Government are bringing measures forward to tackle this issue. You say that it is dependent on cost. Can you tell us when we will receive confirmation of the cost and when the measures will be in force and implemented? You say that you want to do it as soon as possible, but depending on the cost. Therefore, some idea of a timetable would be of assistance. Are we talking days, weeks, or a month or so?
You mention the contribution of woodlands to biodiversity, and, in order to deliver the maximum benefit to biodiversity, woodlands need to be in a good condition. Where they are not in good condition, assistance is required for them to reach the required level. Therefore, can you share with us what plans you have to improve the quality of wildlife in the indigenous woodlands that exist in Wales, and how, in particular, you see the role of the new rural development plan contributing to this?
There is also a risk that the target of 100,000 ha of new woodlands could damage habitats if they are planted in inappropriate sites, such as on open land and on breeding sites for wading birds. Therefore, can you give us an assurance that habitats and priority species will not be negatively affected, and that any work that the Government does in this area will assist key species rather than being detrimental to them?
Flooding is also mentioned in your statement. Do we therefore assume that you are saying that a specific programme to target the planting of trees in order to reduce flooding will be developed? We are aware of schemes such as Pontbren in Powys, where a group of local farmers have worked together to plant 120,000 trees, without losing agricultural output. I assume that you would be eager to promote that as a model to be emulated. Perhaps you could tell us whether the new rural development plan will make it possible for others to follow their example if they wish to do so.
You also refer to the task and finish group that you have created to look at ancient trees, which is being led by forestry officers in your department. Perhaps you could give us an idea of when the group will report. It is my understanding that there is no legal defence at present in relation to ancient trees that are dying, have died, or are in a dangerous condition. This, of course, is the time when their contribution and value are often at their peak. I therefore ask you to consider creating exceptions for ancient trees that are dangerous if they can be made safe.
I will start by dealing with your final question. I would be very happy to do so, if it is possible. I agree with you entirely. If there is a way of protecting trees of that kind, I would like to do so, and I would take an extremely positive attitude towards doing that.
To go back to the initial point, as I was trying to explain in responding to the previous contribution, this is an update, not a new strategy. We are not moving away from the current strategy. The strategy will remain as it is, and the targets are part of that strategy. Therefore, until we take a decision to revisit the strategy as a whole, we will not change the targets that we have. However, I am trying to be open and honest with people here and I foresee that some of the targets will be very difficult to reach as we move forward today and as things currently stand. That is why I was trying to say that we will be considering different ways, and you have predicted some of those ways that we may do so through the next rural development plan, and through schemes such as the £6 million fund that we have created for various habitats and so on. Therefore, that is how I would predict that we will go about considering this and moving more rapidly towards ensuring that those targets are ones that can be reached in time. However, we need to change what we are doing. We cannot do this by continuing with the current programmes. That is what I was trying to say.
You were quite right again when you talked about the statement that I made. The words had been carefully chosen—I hope that they were, at least. I have made the statements I was able to make today, because I want to consider the costs of the programme related to P. ramorum. I am not clear as to when I will be in a position to make a full statement on that, but I will say this afternoon that, if I have not done so before the end of this month, I will tell you when exactly that statement will be forthcoming. I would hope to do that within the next few weeks.
If we are not able to do that, I will explain exactly why we are unable to do so, and when we are likely to do so. So, I hope that by not responding to the question I can give you enough assurance that that is something that we are considering.
To bring this question to a close, Pontbren is an excellent scheme. I have visited the farmers and farms that are part of that scheme, and I was very impressed by the work that they have undertaken and the way that they have gone about doing it. The visit to Pontbren was part of thinking beyond this and has led to the creation of the £6 million fund that we already discussed to enable landowners to be able to plant in the way that is best for them on their own land—trusting people to know what is best for them. That is the philosophy behind it, and that is how I want to take this forward. When I give statements on Glastir and the new RDP in the new year, the future of woodlands in Wales will be a very important part of them.
Thank you, Minister, for this evening’s statement.
I would also like to thank you for arranging the circulation of the tree health strategy to which you referred. It is a document of particular interest to me as co-owner of a small mixed plantation that includes larch and oak. In many ways, there are now two narratives for the state of Welsh forestry—one in which stocks are on the rise and expanding mixed native species planting is increasing resilience, and a second in which the spectre of tree disease is creating an uncertain future, as we have already heard emphasised. That is further exacerbated by what I understand are currently internal difficulties in NRW hampering commercial development. I shall return to that.
I wanted to focus initially, however, on some of the more positive aspects. Minister, you are quite right: forestry plays a vital role in sustaining the rural ecosystem. As Rory Francis of Coed Cadw has recently written, it also acts as a key flood defence by reducing run-off and by increasing absorption in a catchment basin. Given this, I strongly welcome the continued commitment to the targeting of planting on floodplains and in riparian areas. Indeed, it is clear that forestry cover is increasing across Wales, and this growth is very encouraging. This change has taken a number of Assemblies to come about, and I hope that it will continue to develop. Yet, there remains a significant room for improvement in this area, despite our having one of Europe’s most attractive locations for plantations, due to the Gulf Stream. Wales remains one of the least wooded countries in Europe, with only 15% coverage, compared with the EU average of some 37%. This statistic highlights just how much scope there is for forestry expansion and, equally, how there is no reason that there should be any conflict between our need to improve habitat on the one hand, and the need to foster a sustainable commercial forestry sector on the other.
With regard to the latter, and specifically referring to the ‘driving green growth’ section of your statement, I want to expand on the use of timber for renewables. You referenced the figure of 700,000 cu m of timber coming from the total public estate. However, concerns have been raised with me about how much of that figure is currently dedicated to biomass. Reports suggest that this could be over 60,000 cu m annually. While this is positive on the renewable side of things, timber dealers have highlighted to me that in dealings that they have had with NRW, 60,000 cu m may indeed be excluded from the total figure, and there is therefore a danger of double counting. As you can appreciate, counting the 60,000 cu m twice can lead to our timber contractors getting around 9% less timber per annum than they are planning for. This is a significant issue, particularly for a company on a tight budget. Would you, Minister, I agree to investigate this matter with NRW and ensure that we are in fact being given accurate information in this particular regard?
While on the subject of NRW's forestry work, you may be aware that several former key employees at FCW have decided to leave the organisation due to the reduction in the availability of homeworking and the decision to centralise services in Aberystwyth. Are you concerned by the potential haemorrhaging of knowledge capital out of NRW’s forestry section, which could impact adversely on the aims that you have set out today?
Turning briefly to your comment on community engagement, I wanted to highlight the work of Lawrence Kitchen, who I am sure you are familiar with through his work with the Wales Rural Observatory. In his recent article on political ecology and environmental justice in the south Wales Valleys he was highly critical of previous community engagement exercises, highlighting how the community consultation programme both raised community expectations to an unrealistic level and encouraged individuals in the community to make unreasonable demands. He went on to say that community input did not materially affect our forestry development plans, and would shortly be forgotten. What assurances, Minister, can you give that history will not repeat itself in terms of our approach to engagement with our most vulnerable communities?
Finally, I want to touch upon the commendable tree health strategy itself. Clearly, no-one wishes to see a repeat of the kinds of devastation that we are currently seeing with ash dieback and indeed sudden oak death. These outbreaks have taken a massive toll on our woodland, and it is especially devastating to see ancient woodland suffering. All of us would have been devastated to hear of the demise of the Pontfadog oak just last April, a matter that I know is of particular concern to the Member for Clwyd South. Indeed, as I am sure that no-one would disagree with the objective to preserve the health and vitality of trees in Wales, what can we further do to improve the protection that exists for our veteran trees? The Glastir option you referred to is clearly to be welcomed.
Finally, I was hoping, Minister, that you would outline to what extent you have been made aware of the threat to Wales from the sitka spruce virus. Particular references to that in the strategy would be helpful.
Thank you for your general welcome and your comments on the statement. I have formed this habit of answering the last question first. We will be providing strategies—the statement that I published and circulated earlier today is an overarching one, and there will clearly be individual strategies published on individual tree diseases and pathogens. I will be able to publish a strategy as you described in due course, when that is available, and I can write to you and let you know when that will be.
In terms of the general points that you make, you are absolutely right—there are two themes or stories, if you like, in Welsh woodland at the moment: the good and the bad, if you like. The bad we understand, and we know, in terms of the tree diseases that we are dealing with at the moment, that the good is a price increase in the timber sector, and I will be visiting BSW sawmills in Newbridge-on-Wye on Thursday, and speaking to them about how we can continue to increase Government support for those businesses. Although we have seen a significant increase in price recently, as I say—72% over the last decade or so—we also know that prices remain considerably below historical levels. So, although the sector is seeing something of a recovery, it is from a low level, and we do need to look at how we can continue to support that and nurture the industry as a whole in Wales.
In terms of the question that you asked on flood defence, I was glad that you asked that because it gives me the opportunity to answer the question from Llyr Huws Gruffydd that I neglected to answer as well. We are of course looking at woodlands as a means of water management, and in terms of flood defence. I think this is one of the more comprehensive views that we have to take when we are looking at ecosystems services, payment for ecosystems services, and when we are looking at the development of not just new habitats and recreation of habitats, but at how we manage water and deliver the water objective in totality, as well as our other ambitions on biodiversity. So yes, this strategy is very much central to that. We have had preliminary discussions about how we are able to take forward some of these issues in terms of water management. I have started work on a more comprehensive water strategy, which I will publish in the new year. The place of woodlands and tree planting will be identified as a part of that in terms of how we take it forward.
You will, I hope, forgive me when I do not answer questions on the internal management of NRW and the decisions that it takes on staffing matters. It is a matter for the management, not for me. If you have concerns about those matters, I ask you to write directly to NRW. That is not something that I, as a Minister, would seek to involve myself in.
In terms of veteran trees, I am aware of the issue and it has been raised a number of times this afternoon. We are very open to looking at ways of addressing those issues. Fundamentally, I have some sympathy with the points that you make about community consultation and engagement. It is essential that we get these things right. It is essential that a consultation is not simply a box to tick, but a process that we take very seriously. We should be led and informed and should enter into a two-way dialogue with communities; it should not just be a one-way transmission of information. I will be taking that very seriously. I hope that you will accept my undertaking that I will ensure that, when we do undertake community engagement, it is a real process and not a PR process.
I am pleased to welcome the Minister’s statement. A strategy for Welsh woodland is central to a devolved Wales. It is not a once-and-forever strategy; it needs constant updating and it needs to evolve as our understanding, needs and opportunities also evolve. That is why, since 2001, the plan has been revised to take account of emerging issues, particularly climate change.
If we describe climate change as a chronic condition, requiring long-term care, then every new wave of invasive species poses an acute risk to tree health. I welcome the establishment in July of the Wales tree health steering group. I believe that it demonstrates a commitment by the Minister to preserve the health and vitality of our trees and woodlands. Minister, you and others have already talked about the spread of larch disease across the area. I would like to ask you whether you can give an update on the work of the newly established steering group to us.
The other issue that has been talked about is the role of trees in flood management. I would like to put on the table that trees do not only belong in fields. Strategic tree planting can help alleviate flooding and green-up concrete jungles. Will you be working with partners to take that approach forward? Will you particularly be working across portfolios, especially planning, to ensure that the need for housing takes due regard of the roles that trees can play in strategic flood management and carbon dioxide reduction?
I am grateful to my good friend for those comments. In terms of an update on the tree health steering group, in many ways, the statement I published earlier today at lunchtime provides that update. We are looking at providing Members with not simply an overview of what those processes, structures and priorities will be, but I will seek to publish the individual elements of that, which address individual diseases or pathogens or difficulties. I published today an overview of where we are. I have spoken and answered questions on a number of occasions over the past few months on the approach that we are taking to these different tree diseases. I felt that it was important that Members have the full information in front of them in terms of the general approach that we are taking. As has already been referred to earlier in this session, it is also important that we publish the individual strategies and elements of that, and I give you an undertaking that I will do that.
I agree and endorse the comments made on water management, flood defence and the place of woodlands in terms of climate change. They are all interlinked elements of what we seek to achieve. I will be publishing for consultation in the new year the plans for our new rural development plan, which will enable Members to review the actions we are proposing to take and to propose changes to them. I will also look at how we can use new and innovative means of not simply delivering planting, which we need to do, but also planting in the right places. That is the point that the Member made. That is why Pontbren was such an innovative and great example of individual landowners, farmers and others understanding their land and where planting is best, and then us, as a Government, working with them, trusting their knowledge, understanding, ambition and vision for their land, and working with people to deliver the sort of countryside and woodland environment in Wales that we all want to see.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
There are two Members left, so I ask for lightning-quick questions now please.
In terms of using resources efficiently, I notice that you hope to publish a document on Welsh softwoods in construction, and this demonstrates that there are at least six viable construction systems that are capable of using Welsh-grown softwoods. Will you tell us what funds you intend to use to develop that particular project?
Those are exactly the sorts of conversations that I need to have, and I will report to Members when we have been able to do that. I will ensure that Members are kept abreast of all the developments on these matters.
One of the timber companies that I have recently spoken to said that there is an issue regarding the lack of grant funding in Wales to support capital investment, in comparison with other parts of the UK, particularly the highlands of Scotland. What discussions have you had with your ministerial colleagues to examine this issue to see whether there are any avenues to lever in more money to improve grant funding and make the process more streamlined?
Support for the timber industry can be delivered directly through general Government support of business, but also through individual elements of the rural development plan. The sort of funding stream that individual businesses might wish to access would be dependent on what they are seeking to achieve within that business. I would be more than happy to have discussions with you and the businesses that you have referred to on the basis of their individual needs and requirements. If you would like to write to me on that matter, I would be more than happy to take that forward.
The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in the name of William Graham, and amendments 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 in the name of Aled Roberts.
Motion NDM5343 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
a) the Welsh Government’s work to ensure that public services in Wales support members of the Armed Forces community;
b) the revised Welsh Government Package of Support for the Armed Forces Community in Wales;
c) the work on-going through the Minister for Local Government and Government Business’ Expert Group on the Needs of the Armed Forces Community in Wales.
I move the motion.
This Assembly has, for a number of years, held a debate at this time of year, giving us an opportunity to commemorate those we have lost as a result of conflict. Tragically, last month, Lieutenant Corporal James Brynin from the 14th Signal Regiment, which is based in Cawdor barracks in Pembrokeshire, lost his life in the course of duty. My condolences go out to his family, friends and colleagues.
We all recognise the tremendous sacrifices our servicemen and women make on our behalf, both past and present. We must continue to show how much we value and appreciate the work that they do. Therefore, I am very happy to support amendments 1 and 2.
On 28 October, the First Minister launched the framework programme for the commemoration of the centenary of the first world war. The programme will include a grant scheme managed by Cadw to ensure that local war memorials are maintained as a lasting memorial to the sacrifice of Welsh men and women. I do not support amendment 3. We have not promised to introduce a veterans identity card. In the Plenary debate in November 2011, my predecessor indicated that he was not convinced of the case for one, particularly given the introduction of the UK-wide defence discount card. He did not rule it out, but said that he wanted more information. In June, I informed Assembly Members that I had established a task and finish group to examine the value and viability of introducing an identity card for veterans in Wales. The group, which has representation from key service charities, will present its findings to me in December. I will not pre-empt the findings, but I can assure you that information and views have been sought from a wide range of people. The final report will not contain any recommendations imposed by the Welsh Government, but will represent the views of service charities and the armed forces community.
On 25 June, we published our new Welsh Government package of support for the armed forces community in Wales. In response to feedback from my expert group, it aims to be more user-friendly, providing information on accessing services and signposting to further support and advice. The package of support continues to reflect our commitments—those in place and ongoing, as well as those that are new and developing. I will refer to some examples in the key areas of education, health and housing. However, this is not a comprehensive list of the Welsh Government’s commitments to the armed forces; this is far more wide-ranging and recognises the diverse needs of the armed forces community.
On education, in 2012 we established an education standing committee for service children in schools to bring a strategic focus to the needs of service children. It now has an 18-month work programme in place. Our new schools admission code came into force in July 2013. In the 2014-15 academic year, when service children apply for a place at a school outside the normal admission round, they may now be admitted as an infant-class-size exception. This will ease the transfer to new areas and schools as a result of families rebasing. I therefore support amendment 4.
I also support amendment 5. The expansion of cadets in schools in Wales is a matter for individual schools and their governing bodies. We recognise that some young people enjoy learning and training with a military style or focus. Through work-based learning, we already support traineeships with a military focus through the Military Preparation College.
I support amendment 6. As a Government, we actively promote the community covenant grant scheme. I am very pleased that 19 of the 22 local authorities in Wales have now signed community covenants. Another two are signing this month, and I have a commitment from the final local authority that it will sign in the next few weeks. Good practice is happening, but I am conscious that different authorities are at different stages of development. I want to ensure that we are in a position where organisations are supporting each other and sharing good practice when they are developing their local proposals and initiatives.
In relation to amendment 7, we continue to provide annual support of almost £0.5 million for the veterans health and wellbeing service. Last month, I met with the Minister for Health and Social Services and the British Legion to discuss the profile of NHS mental health provision for veterans. We will be holding an event in the Senedd next year to raise awareness. The veterans health and wellbeing service continues to involve. It has established a unified care pathway, joining up statutory and non-statutory sectors, and acting as a single point of referral. A pathway to care for veteran prisoners will be published this month. In response to the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales report, ‘Healthcare and the Armed Forces community in Wales’, mental health clinical networks and local health board fora have been established. Care pathway guidance will be published this month for commissioners and treatment agencies through the Welsh Government’s substance misuse delivery plan. The guidance aims to improve veterans’ access to substance misuse treatment services.
With reference to amendment 9, the Minister for Health and Social Services wrote to local health boards on 25 October asking them to take forward the recommendations in the all-Wales military prosthetics working group’s report ‘Improved prosthetics services for military veterans’. This report recommended a formal commissioning policy for enhanced prosthetics service for military veterans, and a further phase of work on improvements to prosthetic services as a whole for civilians and veterans. Local health boards, through their joint work on the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee, have adopted the commissioning policy and will complete the further phase of work by the end of next year.
In respect of amendments 8 and 10, we recognise the importance of maintaining and building on our links with the military and the Ministry of Defence. I am pleased that we have good foundations to build on at a UK level, and locally, where our local health boards are actively engaging with the military. We have put in place arrangements for NHS practitioners to record military service on medical records, and reminded them of the need to do this. Activity by the Ministry of Defence should further improve this system for the future. I recognise the need to do more to embed and promote this in primary healthcare. There is also a need to work with veterans themselves to ensure that they offer this information, as anecdotal evidence suggests a reticence on their part.
Finally, on housing, in June the Minister for Housing and Regeneration announced funding of £2 million to provide affordable housing for armed forces service leavers in Wales. A task and finish group has developed the approach for the allocation of the funding, in consultation with the Welsh Local Government Association, Community Housing Cymru and armed forces representatives. The Ministry of Defence joint housing advice office has advertised the availability of this affordable housing in Wales through the various armed forces channels as part of its existing referrals scheme. We are on course to purchase the properties this financial year, and the referral scheme will ensure that the properties are immediately let once purchased.
In conclusion, I am pleased at the progress that we are making. However, it is important that we maintain momentum. Welsh Government will be working with the public sector to ensure that our commitments and the commitments set out in local community covenant agreements are delivered, and I very much look forward to the debate.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have selected the 10 amendments to the motion, and I call on Mark Isherwood to move amendments 1 to 5, tabled in the name of William Graham.
Amendment 1—William Graham
Insert as new sub point a) and renumber accordingly:
the importance of Remembrance Day in reminding us of the sacrifice of those who have served in the armed forces and those in the civilian population, whose lives were lost or irreversibly changed by conflicts since 1914;
Amendment 2—William Graham
Insert as new sub point a) and renumber accordingly:
the forthcoming Centenary of the First World War and the need to safeguard our War Memorials;
Amendment 3—William Graham
Insert as new sub point b) and renumber accordingly:
with regret the failure of the Welsh Government to introduce a Veterans Card Scheme, as promised 2 years ago;
Amendment 4—William Graham
Add as new sub point at end of motion:
the varied and complex needs of the Armed Forces Community.
Amendment 5—William Graham
Add as new point at end of the motion:
Recognises the outstanding work being undertaken by MoD-sponsored national youth voluntary organisations to engage with young people who are not in education, employment or training and calls on the Welsh Government to incorporate this work into their youth engagement and progression framework.
Fresh from the poppy appeal last Monday and last Saturday’s wonderful festival of remembrance at Llay Royal British Legion, I move amendments 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. I will speak to amendments 1, 2 and 4.
We must remember the sacrifice of those who have served in the armed forces and those in the civilian population whose lives were lost or irreversibly changed by conflicts since 1914, and note the forthcoming centenary of the first world war and the need to safeguard our war memorials. The year 2014 will mark 100 years since the start of the first world war and we welcome UK Government plans to build a commemoration fitting of this significant milestone in world history, working alongside partners including the Imperial War Museums, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
We also welcome the Welsh Government’s programme for Wales’s commemoration of the first world war, Cymru’n Cofio Wales Remembers 1914-1918, and the central role of education and community events in this. The First Minister’s adviser on the first world war, Professor Sir Deian Hopkin, has stated that a wide range of activities will include the restoration of war memorials, and 8,015 war graves across Wales are being given a higher profile by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to emphasise the local history on people’s doorsteps.
Of the 700,000 British servicemen who lost their lives in the first world war, 35,000 are listed in the Welsh book of remembrance. The hundreds of local war memorials across Wales reflected the desire for an immediate and permanent reminder of the dead, as communities sought public acknowledgement of their loss. All communities in Wales were deeply affected by the great war. For example, at Mwrog Street in Ruthin, one man per 2.9 houses did not return.
Many war memorials are publicly recognised and in good repair, but concern has been expressed in recent years that a lack of awareness and regard for certain war memorials has resulted in their neglect, inappropriate disposal or destruction. Some have also been hit by metal thefts. Grant schemes to conserve war memorials in Wales are available from the War Memorials Trust and Cadw, and we must applaud the work of organisations such as Keep Wales Tidy, which is working with the drug and alcohol rehabilitation charity CAIS on its Change Step project to improve the Greenfield war memorial in Flintshire. Community groups can apply to the Heritage Lottery Fund for projects commemorating the first world war.
Every time we debate gaps in provision for the complex needs of the armed forces community, I quote the regimental medical officer of 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment in the Falkland Islands in 1982, who is himself an NHS consultant and who stated:
'With no disrespect to NHS Mental Health professionals … If conventional Mental Health Services were so comprehensive there would not be such a high veteran rate of suicide, high prison population, and large number of veterans sleeping rough.’
I welcome the all-Wales veterans health and wellbeing service, but this still does not address the need for short-term residential treatment for those with complex needs. Although an estimated 8,000 ex-forces personnel in Wales suffer from complex military post-traumatic stress disorder, which represents 4% of the ex-forces population in Wales, only 158 veterans were referred to the service last year, only 100 of them were treated over a 12-month period, only 24 service-user feedback forms were completed by the 100 veterans seen, and only 39 veterans were discharged. That is not an evidence base.
In last year’s armed forces debate, I referred to the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales report, 'Healthcare and the Armed Forces Community in Wales’. This was based upon evidence from veterans themselves and recommended that the Welsh Government should consider the utility of establishing a form of residential facility in Wales. I am therefore very concerned that the Kennedy report commissioned by the Welsh Government, with terms of reference set by the Welsh Government, concluded that there is no evidence to warrant a residential facility that supports veterans with PTSD
‘so long as sufficient capacity exists within existing NHS and Third Sector providers.’
Clearly, it does not. A one-size-fits-all approach can never work for veterans needing person-centred treatment. Speaking at May’s CAIS ‘Change Step’ launch in Wrexham, which recognised the need for veterans to support veterans in a peer mentoring, support and advisory service for ex-forces personnel in distress across north Wales, I stated that support for veterans in Wales must improve and improve dramatically. Veterans struggling with PTSD are haunted by images, sounds and smells of war and their wives, children, aunties and mothers are picking up the pieces.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Welcomes the £30 million Community Covenant Grant Scheme launched by the UK Government and calls on the Welsh Government to promote the opportunities offered to local communities to strengthen the ties and mutual understanding between members of the Armed Forces Community and the wider community in which they live.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure sufficient capacity in the NHS for members of the Armed Forces Community in Wales who suffer from PTSD to access suitable care, including access to specialists and adequate emergency and respite support.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure that members of the Armed Forces Community in Wales receive the priority medical treatment to which they are entitled by implementing a consistent method of identification of members of the Armed Forces Community by Local Health Boards in Wales; to ensure that members of the Armed Forces Community are aware of their entitlement; and to monitor the delivery of this entitlement.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to publish a timeline for the phased development of a commissioning policy for provision of prosthetics for members of the Armed Forces Community in Wales and of improvements to the planning, organisation and delivery of prosthetic services as a whole.
Amendment 10—Aled Roberts
Add as new point at end of motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure that Local Health Boards in Wales establish relationships with the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre Headley Court.
I move amendments 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.
I welcome what is now turning into an annual debate on the armed forces. It is very appropriate. I join with the Minister in expressing my commiserations to the families of those who have lost their lives in combat, fighting for their country. These debates recognise the important service that armed forces personnel provide to the United Kingdom. They also enable the Assembly to consider the best ways that we as a nation can support armed service personnel and their families both during and after their service. They also provide an opportunity for the Welsh Government to inform us of how it will be supporting our armed service personnel and their families.
In terms of the motion before us, we are happy to support all the Conservative amendments that have been tabled. However, we have some reservations about amendment 3, in relation to the veterans card scheme. In principle, we think that it is a good idea, but the devil is in the detail in terms of the cost and how the scheme will operate. We need some clarity about exactly what the card will deliver for armed service veterans, what the cost will be and how it will be operated. Having said that, it is important that that is looked into, and I would certainly ask that the Government commits to investigating what this card can do and how it can improve the service for veterans in Wales. One issue that comes up constantly in terms of the provision of public services is the identification of veterans. They often do not identify themselves when they present to a public service and, clearly, the card will assist in that, which is one of the reasons why, in principle, we think that this is a particularly good idea.
We welcome the revised Welsh Government package of support for the armed service community, particularly section 2 on information for the armed service community about services available in Wales. However, I would ask questions about how this information booklet has been made available to the armed forces community—how many see it and how it is distributed. This links to amendment 8. How can the armed forces access the services to which they are entitled, such as priority medical treatment, if they are not aware of its existence? That is also an issue within local health boards. It is stated in the package of support that health bodies are aware of this commitment, but do they action this commitment at every level? If you walk into a doctor’s surgery or any other point of provision for a health service, is that priority offered to a member of the armed services?
In terms of the armed forces covenant, that was first published in May 2011 by the coalition Government, setting out the relationship between the nation, the state and the armed forces. It recognised that the whole nation has a moral obligation to members of the armed forces and their families and it establishes how they should expect to be treated. It exists to redress the disadvantages that the armed forces community faces in comparison to civilians and recognises the sacrifices made. Clearly, I very much welcome the fact that the community covenant is being established at a local level and that the vast majority of local authorities in Wales have now signed up to it, and the Minister has indicated that other authorities are coming on board as well. What I would query, however, is how local authorities are implementing this covenant. I have come across examples in my own casework where certain departments of local authorities have not been aware of the existence of the covenant or the obligations it places on them in terms of providing flexibility and service for members of the armed forces.
An example of that in my region is the implementation of a new policy on school absence. It is very much sensible to try to reduce the number of unauthorised absences, but no flexibility has been offered to headteachers for example to make provision for members of the armed forces, who, of course, cannot always take their leave during conventional breaks and often have to take leave with their families at times that are not convenient to others and during school terms. It should be available to headteachers to have flexibility to offer to those members of the armed forces if their child has a good record of attendance to allow them to take an absence and go on holiday with their family at that particular time. That is not understood, it seems, by the education departments in my region. I am sure that that is just one example where this covenant is in place, but it has not permeated through the local authority and officers do not fully understand what obligations are placed on a local authority in terms of implementing it.
I am running out of time, so I do not have time to go through all of the amendments, but time after time, we have debated the need for the Welsh NHS to support those in the armed forces community who suffer from PTSD. I know that we all recognise the need to provide this support, but how this support will be provided has not been decided. A lot needs to be improved in terms of provision for PTSD, and we need to review that and put it in place. We certainly need to make sure that there is proper provision in Wales for our veterans of the armed forces who have that particular problem.
Remembrance Sunday, which falls this week, is a very difficult time for many people. It is a time to remember and respect the sacrifices that have been made because of war—all wars. It is a time of commemoration and not a time of celebration. Next year is the one-hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the first world war—a tragic war that lasted for four years. During that time, 30 million soldiers were killed or wounded. Last year, I visited some of the war graves in northern France. If anybody here has visited those graves, I am sure that you will agree with me that it was a very moving experience.
Many of those who were not killed in that war saw their lives changed irreparably by what they called at the time ‘shell shock’, a condition that we now call ‘combat stress reaction’. A further 7 million civilians died during that conflict—a tragic waste of the lives and potential of so many young people. It is not the beginning of this terrible war that should be celebrated, but its conclusion in 1918.
Years later, even though we now know so much more about the impact of military life upon those who train and serve, we still do not do enough to help those affected by their time in the forces. A recent report from Forces Watch found that younger recruits were significantly more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, to drink at levels harmful to health and to behave violently on their return from war. Damaging effects can be seen on some of the most vulnerable members of the armed forces, particularly the youngest and those without qualifications.
While recognising that, for many people, there are many positives to serving in the armed forces, we must also recognise the potential for harm. It is only common sense that those who go to war or who are trained for war are given as much support as possible, both emotionally and practically, when they leave the armed forces. Plaid Cymru has long called for one-stop shops, similar to those already introduced by the Scottish Government, to ensure that veterans are signposted to the right services without the need for repetition and duplication. Members from all sides here will be aware of the excellent work carried out by my colleague Elfyn Llwyd to improve the quality of care for veterans. Plaid Cymru’s 2010 paper, ‘Support for Veterans’, suggested a number of initiatives that could be adopted. These included: mandatory mental health assessments as part of the discharge process; specialist support officers to conduct regular check-ups post discharge and to provide advice and support where needed; initiatives to tackle substance misuse and the drinking culture; and establishing a post for a Minister with responsibility for these issues.
While veterans’ care is increasing in importance, there is still a great deal of work that must be done. However, what would be best, of course, would be to prevent the wars in the first place and to end the violence. That is why Plaid Cymru continues to support peace initiatives, including the setting up of a Welsh peace institute to research and advise on alternatives that would then prevent such suffering.
As Harry Patch, the last surviving British soldier from the first world war said before his death,
‘Too many died. War isn’t worth one life’.
As we remember them, let us keep Harry’s words at the front of our minds.
On Saturday, I had the pleasure of taking part in the final leg of the Walk on Wales, which culminated here in the Senedd, with the Presiding Officer as part of the welcoming committee, along with the Treorchy male voice choir. The Walk on Wales was set up by two Welsh Guards who are Falklands veterans in order to raise money for the families of people who have lost their lives in Afghanistan, as well as those who have been injured in that war. It was a fantastic family affair of community remembrance and thanks, and it was very much a Welsh Guards affair, as the silver baton inscribed with the names of 50 Welsh Guards who have died since the second world war was laid on the steps of the Senedd.
I walked with a woman whose brother died on HMS Sir Galahad, one of 50 people who lost their lives on 8 June 1982 as a result of the fog of war. I personally spent several months trying to find out why the Welsh Guards were sent to Bluff Cove on the Sir Galahad—a landing ship with no anti-air defences, which made them sitting ducks when the Argentinian air force came calling. What goes on in our name is normally shrouded in secrecy and it is very difficult for the families of soldiers, never mind the general public, to understand what they have been through. The tragedy at Bluff Cove was captured by tv cameras, so it did give us some idea, but it is and it remains a very sobering fact, as Mark Isherwood has referred to, that more Falklands veterans have committed suicide after the war than were killed in the actual conflict.
My grandfather won many medals for bravery in the horror of the first world war, only to commit suicide a decade later, when my mother was only 13. I agree with Leanne Wood that it is not the beginning of the war in 1914 that we should celebrate, but its ending in 1918. Therefore, the efforts of the Welsh Government to provide the essential support that military veterans deserve, having gone to hell and back in our name, are extremely important.
On a local level, I find the Welsh Government’s approach to commissioning nurse-led community support groups across Wales through Combat Stress an important initiative, because Combat Stress understands what these people have gone through and also provides an important signpost for more specialist services for both veterans and their families. I note that one of the people who took part in the Walk on Wales, Paul Conlon, who led a group of ex-servicemen on one of the legs of the walk, has called for a Welsh residential centre to provide specialist help for traumatised servicemen and servicewomen. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving for 11 years in the army, including in the Falklands, and was successfully treated at a specialist residential centre in Shropshire. My question for the Minister is whether there are enough people who need in-patient care to justify a residential treatment centre in Wales. The figures provided by Mark Isherwood indicate that that might be the case, but I think that it is really important, when we are commissioning services, that people get the excellent specialist support that they need rather than, necessarily, having it as a local service in Wales. The same argument must also apply to prosthetic services. They need to be the best, rather than necessarily being provided locally, even if those services need to be locally delivered.
Some 2,500 people took part in the 870-mile Walk on Wales, although I think that only four of them did the whole walk. However, the fact that so many people did take part and welcomed people into their local communities when they came down the coast indicates the level of support and solidarity that people feel for war veterans. It is very important that the Government responds to that. Mr Conlon told reporters,
‘I have friends that have committed suicide, and have turned to alcohol and pills. I look at myself and I’m glad that I’ve sorted myself out. This is my way of giving something back.’
That is the outcome that we want for all service personnel and their families.
It is at this particular time of year that we reflect on the valour, commitment, and gallantry of our armed forces in Wales. I, too, and I say with it humility, am much privileged to put on record my recognition, appreciation and support of our armed forces community in Wales, and also with due respect for the families of our brave men and women past and present. We reflect not just to remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedoms but to honour those who continue to make that sacrifice with distinction in the name of peace and stability in the world. Irrespective of the debate on foreign interventions, our fighting men and women are the pride of our country and should be acknowledged and supported as such.
It is heartening to hear of the 19 community covenants that have been signed up to by local authorities, but the point raised by Peter Black AM as to how these covenants are being actioned is most valid at this time. We all have a moral obligation and duty to recognise and provide for all those who have served in our name. Some 18,000 people will leave the armed forces each year. In Wales alone we have 220,000 members of the armed forces community, and our Welsh armed forces have been involved in 20 separate conflicts since the second world war. Unfortunately, however, a percentage of those in Wales are in need of mental health support for conditions such as PTSD, depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol addictions. Professor Kennedy’s report of the veterans residential facility task and finish group states that delayed onset of these conditions means that they can often take up to 30 years to present in those who have served previously on active duty. In a Welsh Affairs Select Committee meeting in February, Professor Alan Hawley, a retired major general and military expert, said that, despite much support by charities, more could be done at Government level as regards health and housing.
The work that has been undertaken by the All Wales Veterans Health and Wellbeing Service in Wales in supporting our forces community and veterans is to be welcomed, of course, but more can be done, should be done and must be done to support those who experience prolonged trauma or permanent injury. The Royal British Legion has campaigned for increased funding for veterans mental health services via the All Wales Veterans Health and Wellbeing Service and I hope that the Welsh Government will listen here and act on this call.
Professor Kennedy’s report has further highlighted the lack of dedicated residential accommodation for veterans in Wales and the lack of capacity within each health board to sufficiently progress assessments for mental health conditions. The fact that around 5% of those who have risked life and limb for their country find themselves living on its streets is a scourge on our society, so I do welcome the commitment of the Welsh Government to work with Cymorth Cymru to develop a directory of services for veterans at risk of homelessness.
It would be remiss of me not to highlight the work of a fantastic organisation that I am very proud to have within my own constituency, Blind Veterans UK. It is an organisation that provides support, care and compassion to ex-servicemen and women suffering sight loss and partial sight. The good news is that it has recently recruited 71 new members of staff. I remind the Chamber that Blind Veterans UK exists solely thanks to charitable donations, and I place on record my support for the staff and volunteers for the extraordinary work that they do for our armed forces community.
However, I am disappointed, Minister, that you have just said now that you have no intention to pursue the veterans card, because in the much trumpeted report published in November last year, point 3.7 stated:
‘Through the Expert Group, reviews are being undertaken of advice services available to the Armed Forces community, and the value and viability of an Armed Forces card that would provide access to Public Services for members of the Armed Forces and veterans.’
So, less than a year later, and in this very poignant week, you actually tell this Chamber that you have now changed your mind on that and so this point is no longer relevant. That is clearly most disappointing. This card would extend the free bus scheme, free swimming, and free entrance to Cadw sites to veterans, as well as ensuring that our forces have priority access to health in the NHS for service-related injuries, conditions and adaptations. I just wonder why you are still left wanting as a Government on this. The Ministry of Defence in the UK has been able to play a leading role in providing opportunities for work and training for young people, which provides a safe, structured environment that imparts a wide-range of skills to young people.
It should not only be on one day or during one week a year that we reflect on the significance of our armed forces community. It is not enough to simply wear a poppy, or to hold an annual debate. The commitment to our armed forces will be demonstrated in the coming weeks, months and years, creating a Wales that is worthy of our armed forces, our veterans, and of their unstinting service.
I, too, welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate as we near Remembrance Sunday 2013. It is only right that we should be discussing the selfless service that members of the armed forces provide to their country. It is a deep shame that we must debate the fact that, in so many ways, we are failing them.
There are 220,000 veterans in Wales, and they are the responsibility of the NHS, as is the care and the support of their families and the bereaved. It is imperative that we ensure that we properly support those who rely on such services. Minister, like Janet Finch-Saunders, I heard you say that you were not taking the veterans card forward. If I am mistaken, I would very much welcome clarification on that. The last time that we debated this, it was indicated that it was a simple way to give our armed forces the priority services and benefits that they need. The benefits and the simplicity of such a card were recognised and spoken about publicly in a previous debate in this Chamber. The fact that, after two years of promising its implementation, it still has not been taken forward is, to my mind, a very great shame, and a grave disappointment to those veterans, who deserved it.
I am delighted that Jenny Rathbone mentioned the Walk on Wales walk. I have joined that twice. That charity was set up to highlight the fact that, despite the enormous numbers of Welsh servicemen, and the enormous number of Welsh men and women who join our armed services, there is no post-traumatic stress disorder treatment centre here in Wales. Jan Koops, from the Welsh Guards, and Dai Davies, set up this charity to try to raise funds so that they could build a treatment centre here in Wales. It is of real concern, in particular, that Welsh-speaking soldiers may have to go over the border and be treated by people with whom they cannot communicate in the language of their choice.
More veterans from the Falklands and the Gulf wars committed suicide than died in action. That is a shocking fact. I accept that the Welsh Government has invested in some PTSD treatment with the production of the All Wales Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service. However, that treatment remains patchy across Wales, and that service cannot respond to emergency referrals. PTSD has been described as a ticking time bomb, which can lead to a myriad of social and substance abuse issues, and it needs proper, targeted help as soon as it is identified. That is why four people spent months walking the Wales coastal path—870 miles—to highlight the lack of a PTSD treatment centre here in Wales, and to highlight the importance of that service being provided by having a treatment centre, and to raise the money to try to get it built, because it is not being provided by the Welsh Government. The funds raised from that walk will go jointly to the Welsh Guards’ Afghanistan appeal, and to Combat Stress.
In 2011, Combat Stress saw a 10% rise in the demand for its services. As Janet Finch-Saunders has already mentioned, there is a long delay, often of many years, before the symptoms and signs of PTSD emerge. Minister, after committing two years ago to bring forward an armed forces card, will you give us a timetable today as to when that will be carried through? Minister, will you give consideration, in honour of the sacrifice of those servicemen who need help, to the feasibility of establishing a post-traumatic stress disorder centre in Wales, so that Welsh servicemen can receive treatment in Wales that is appropriate to their needs?
I thank Members for their contributions to this very important debate. I want to refer to Members’ contributions and also to highlight some of the developments that are being processed and progressed through my expert group on the needs of the armed forces community in Wales.
Mark Isherwood referred to the centenary of the first world war, and to the programme that we will have in Wales that aims to encourage everyone to participate in events and activities in their local communities and nationally. It is really important that this transformational period in Welsh history is appropriately commemorated, that key events are interpreted and that the sacrifice of Welsh people is recognised.
Peter Black referred to raising awareness of services, which is very important. In the Royal Welsh Show this year, the armed forces were represented, and that was something that came across very much to me regarding the need for this when I spoke to the people there. I mentioned in my opening speech that Mark Drakeford and I met with the Royal British Legion last month, and that it was something that we were taking forward. There has been an increase in the use of our service, and I do not know whether that is because we are making sure that there is that level of awareness out there.
Peter also referred to the community covenants, and it is very important that 19 of the 22 local authorities have signed up to them; we will have two more authorities signed up in the next couple of weeks, and the final one before the end of the year. Next week, on 14 November, I am hosting an event in north Wales to provide an opportunity for armed forces champions from local authorities to get together, along with lead officers. That is very important so that we can see what work they are doing, and also to share best practice as we go forward.
I think that it is very important that local authorities have signed up to this, but unless they permeate this throughout the whole of their services, it becomes a bit tokenistic. It is important, when local councils are setting policies, that they take account of the flexibilities in the covenant as part of the process.
I agree wholeheartedly, and the whole purpose of having this event is to make sure that we get that through right across the public sector.
Leanne Wood referred to visiting the war graves, and I completely agree—I am the daughter of a D-day veteran and I have visited the beaches as well; there is nothing more moving than seeing that. I think it is very important that as many people as possible do that.
Jenny Rathbone referred to the Walk on Wales walk, which the First Minister started off, and it is very good that you were there on Saturday along with the Presiding Officer and maybe other Members at the end of that.
Janet Finch-Saunders and Antoinette Sandbach were obviously either not listening to my opening remarks, or just carried on reading their prepared speeches. What I said was that I had established a task and finish group to examine the value and viability of introducing an identity card for veterans in Wales. The group, which has representation from key service charities, will present its findings to me in December. I will not pre-empt the findings, but I can assure you that information and views have been sought from a wide range of people. The final report will not contain any recommendations imposed by the Welsh Government, but will represent the views of service charities and armed forces communities. I really hope that you have both heard that now.
We have also identified veterans as a potential priority group within the all-Wales reducing reoffending strategy, and that has been refreshed with a view to establishing a Wales veteran offenders pathway.
Jenny Rathbone and others referred to Professor Rosemary Kennedy’s report on the need for a dedicated veterans residential facility in Wales. That was published in September, and I very much welcomed, along with the Minister for Health and Social Services, the findings of this independent review. While the report did not find evidence supporting the need for a therapeutic residential facility for veterans, it made wider recommendations about co-ordinated support for veterans. We will be considering those recommendations across various Welsh Government portfolios in the coming months.
Thank you for taking an intervention, Minister. I have also been asking about residential care. If a centre in itself is not called for in this report, perhaps you can agree to look at the provision of residential facilities, particularly for emergency cases and for respite care to support families in local community settings in Wales instead.
As I said, several Ministers will be considering the recommendations that came forward from Professor Kennedy’s report over the coming months.
Janet Finch-Saunders also said that it is really important that we honour everyone. I think that it is very important that we remember those who ensure that we have our freedom now. I pay tribute to everyone within armed forces families. Also, I have to say that, since I became responsible for this portfolio in March, I have met many veterans and, unlike Antoinette Sandbach, they do not say that we are failing them. They are very grateful for what we provide. All the veterans who I have spoken to have said that to me. On Sunday, we will come together as a nation to remember them.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister. The proposal is to agree amendment 1. Does any Member object? There are no objections, therefore amendment 1 is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Amendment 1 agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree amendment 2. Does any Member object? There are no objections, therefore amendment 2 is agreed.
Amendment 2 agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree amendment 3. Does any Member object? There is objection, so I defer all further voting until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Voting time will now follow. Are there three Members who wish for the bell to be rung? There are not, so we will move straight to voting time.
Result of the vote on amendment 3 to motion NDM5343.
Amendment not agreed: For 16, Against 37, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 4 to motion NDM5343.
Amendment agreed: For 53, Against 0, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 5 to motion NDM5343.
Amendment agreed: For 43, Against 10, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 6 to motion NDM5343.
Amendment agreed: For 43, Against 0, Abstain 10.
Result of the vote on amendment 7 to motion NDM5343.
Amendment agreed: For 53, Against 0, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 8 to motion NDM5343.
Amendment agreed: For 43, Against 10, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 9 to motion NDM5343.
Amendment not agreed: For 26, Against 27, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 10 to motion NDM5343.
Amendment agreed: For 43, Against 0, Abstain 10.
Cynnig NDM5343 as amended:
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
a) the forthcoming Centenary of the First World War and the need to safeguard our War Memorials;
b) the importance of Remembrance Day in reminding us of the sacrifice of those who have served in the armed forces and those in the civilian population, whose lives were lost or irreversibly changed by conflicts since 1914;
c) the Welsh Government’s work to ensure that public services in Wales support members of the Armed Forces community;
d) the revised Welsh Government Package of Support for the Armed Forces Community in Wales;
e) the work on-going through the Minister for Local Government and Government Business’ Expert Group on the Needs of the Armed Forces Community in Wales.
f) the varied and complex needs of the Armed Forces Community.
2. Recognises the outstanding work being undertaken by MoD-sponsored national youth voluntary organisations to engage with young people who are not in education, employment or training and calls on the Welsh Government to incorporate this work into their youth engagement and progression framework.
3. Welcomes the £30 million Community Covenant Grant Scheme launched by the UK Government and calls on the Welsh Government to promote the opportunities offered to local communities to strengthen the ties and mutual understanding between members of the Armed Forces Community and the wider community in which they live.
4. Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure sufficient capacity in the NHS for members of the Armed Forces Community in Wales who suffer from PTSD to access suitable care, including access to specialists and adequate emergency and respite support.
5. Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure that members of the Armed Forces Community in Wales receive the priority medical treatment to which they are entitled by implementing a consistent method of identification of members of the Armed Forces Community by Local Health Boards in Wales; to ensure that members of the Armed Forces Community are aware of their entitlement; and to monitor the delivery of this entitlement.
6. Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure that Local Health Boards in Wales establish relationships with the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre Headley Court.
Result of the vote on motion NDM5343 as amended.
Motion as amended agreed: For 53, Against 0, Abstain 0.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
That concludes today’s business.
The meeting ended at 19:20.