The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) in the Chair.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Order, order. The National Assembly is in session.
1. What steps has the First Minister taken to secure borrowing powers for Wales? OAQ(4)1289(FM)
I have set out very clearly to the Prime Minister the importance of Wales gaining new borrowing powers. I saw him again last Wednesday. In particular, I have ensured that he is well aware of the strength of feeling from the Welsh business community on this matter.
These powers are crucially important to the development of the Welsh economy. Therefore, can you explain to the National Assembly for Wales why your Government has been so inadequate and ineffective in securing these powers to date?
Not at all. I have told the UK Government on a number of occasions, and we have received support from the business community in making this case. We look forward to ensuring that this happens before too long. We are not the problem here—we need action from the UK Government on this.
First Minister, surely the Westminster Government can take action immediately by allowing the Welsh Government to use the Welsh Development Agency powers without penalty, in order to use borrowing powers in the short term before Silk part 1 is implemented. Has the Westminster Government told you why it is not doing that?
It has not. Remember that borrowing powers are not part of the Silk commission deliberations. They were deliberately kept outside of the Silk commission and within inter-governmental negotiations. I have been told many times that borrowing powers are accepted in principle by the UK Government, but we need to see the changes put in place, so that we can look at financing big projects, such as, for example, the M4 relief road, but not just that. For example, if there ever were to be a bridge across the Menai in the future, there would need to be borrowing powers to ensure that that was done.
Can you tell us, First Minister, what management framework the Welsh Government is working to to ensure that the Government is ready to take on these borrowing powers, and can you outline what mechanism you as a Government intend to put in place in order to ensure that any decisions on borrowing powers are accountable to this Assembly?
That work has been done. We must bear in mind the fact that the United Kingdom Government has been supportive of the principle—and when I spoke to the Prime Minister of the UK last Wednesday, he told me that he accepted the Silk commission’s recommendations in full. If that is true, we look forward to seeing them being implemented in future. However, the work has been done by the finance officers to ensure that we are in a position to use these powers as soon as possible.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the success of the Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Wales) Regulations 2010 in reducing the use of plastic bags? OAQ(4)1287(FM)
We have seen a dramatic decrease in the demand for single-use carrier bags since the regulations were introduced. Research shows that the charge is supported by the public, and that bag reuse has increased. We are continuing to monitor the impact of the charge on the supply of bags.
Thank you, First Minister. The purpose of the levy, of course, was to reduce the usage of single-use carrier bags, and a great deal of money has been raised for charities. Following some throwaway comments from you a few weeks ago, are you as First Minister now paying attention to the clear public opinion that is now agreed that we could see similar outcomes by introducing a levy on sugary drinks, namely that, yes, we could employ many more doctors through those who would wish to pay that levy, but that we could also tackle the serious problem of obesity, or do you not agree that that is a problem that needs to be tackled?
First, as the Member should know, we do not have the powers, because the charge for the single-use carrier bags goes straight to the charities, and not to the Government, because we do not have such powers. As regards employing thousands of doctors, we would need to draw in between £80 million and £153 million from this tax. Therefore, the only way to pay for doctors in the future would be to ensure that people drank more and more sugary drinks and that, in my opinion, is not a sensible approach when we are trying to ensure that people drink fewer sugary drinks. If you were going to raise taxes in that manner, you would have to ensure that the number of people who drank sugary drinks stayed the same or increased in the future.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I know that sugary drinks are put into carrier bags, but that was quite a jump; I remind Members to stick to the subject.
I agree with the First Minister that the public and retailers have been generally accepting of, and positive about, the charge. One of the contributing factors to the success of the policy was setting the carrier bag charge at 5p, which has not too heavily impacted on shoppers who have forgotten to bring reusable bags. I wonder, therefore, whether the First Minister would rule out any increases of the levy in the foreseeable future.
There are no plans to change the levy. There is a policy review, which will be undertaken after November of next year, but, certainly, at this moment in time, there are no plans to change the levy; it depends, of course, on what that review shows and on what we see as the practices of some supermarkets at the moment, which are charging just 1p more for bags for life, thus, avoiding, in some ways, the levy. We will have to keep a close eye on that, of course.
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I now call the party leaders to question the First Minister. First is the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
Diolch. First Minister, on 10 September, your Government issued a statement that said that plans are in place for
‘rigorous bed capacity planning based on anticipated demand, robust workforce planning, and escalation arrangements to cope with spikes in demand’
this winter. Did you know then of Hywel Dda Local Health Board’s intention to postpone all elective orthopaedic surgery, and are you satisfied that Ysbyty Glan Clwyd’s plan is robust in the light of the news that it is turning ambulances away?
Hywel Dda health board is doing exactly what her party has called for, and that is planning for winter pressures. First, it is wholly wrong to say that the health board is cancelling all non-urgent elective orthopaedic surgery. It is wholly wrong to say that. There will still be non-urgent elective surgery. Those who have been scheduled to have orthopaedic surgery will receive it, and all cancer, urgent-trauma and day-surgery work will continue. What the LHB is doing is making sure that it is planning ahead so that it can carry on with an appropriate number of operations but still have capacity to deal with winter pressures, and that is precisely what the party opposite has been calling for, and now it is criticising one of the health boards for doing exactly what it has been calling for in the first place.
We are used to pedantics from you, First Minister. I did not say ‘cancel’, I said ‘postpone’. Hywel Dda already has a waiting time of 15 months for orthopaedic surgery. Unison, the union, says that an extra five or six months could be added to that time following Hywel Dda’s announcement yesterday. First Minister, you stand here every week and you claim that patient safety is your overriding priority. Is Unison right, or are you saying that you genuinely believe that patient safety will not be compromised by people waiting longer for treatment?
Patient safety will not be compromised; operations are not even being postponed. As I have already said, quite clearly, to the leader of Plaid Cymru, all patients who have been scheduled to have orthopaedic surgery will receive it, and all cancer, urgent trauma and day-surgery work will continue. What the health board is doing is making sure that it has an appropriate number of operations so that it can create capacity for winter pressures. Is she saying that the better approach would be to schedule more operations and then to cancel them further on down the line, when winter pressures become more acute? This is exactly what she and her party have been asking for.
No, it is not, First Minister. Are you aware of the level of outrage among clinicians in Hywel Dda, who have just been told that they are a having a third of their work taken away from them this winter? They will be underutilised for four months out of 12. These members of staff still have to be paid, and people are stuck on waiting lists and late lists in pain. When can the people of Wales expect to see you take some responsibility for the problems in the Welsh NHS?
We are taking responsibility for winter pressures in a way that the party opposite is not. It does not accept that the way that you create capacity to deal with winter pressures is to plan ahead. Its preferred option is to cancel operations on people at the last minute. That is the logical position that it is taking. We prefer to take the view that we are planning for winter pressures. Local health boards are planning for an appropriate number of operations, which creates the capacity to deal with emergencies in the future. If Plaid Cymru is saying that that is not what it wants to see, then what it is saying is that it does not want to see plans put in place to deal with winter pressures. It is a complete contradiction of what it has said in the past.
First Minister, last week you told me and the Chamber that the seasonal planning group had been planning for the NHS winter since March. Yesterday, eight months since that group started meeting, Hywel Dda did indeed announce that it was going to reschedule some orthopaedic elective work and would not be operating at its full orthopaedic elective capacity until after the winter. How long has your Government known that the LHB had been planning this action? How long have you been aware of that?
We became aware that this was being planned yesterday, but I can say that this is exactly what we would expect local health boards to do in any event. She cannot on the one hand say that there has to be planning for winter pressures and then, when a local health board decides to do that, criticise it for doing that. You cannot have it both ways, but that is exactly what the leader of the Liberal Democrats is trying to suggest.
I did not say that. I asked you how long you had known about it. Last week, I asked you to outline how many operations would have to be rescheduled this winter because of winter pressures. Unsurprisingly, you did not have an answer for that question. However, in light of the news from Hywel Dda, I will ask you again: given that planning has been going on since March, how many elective operations are you assuming will have to be cancelled to make space for winter pressures?
No non-urgent elective orthopaedic operations have been cancelled—or will be, in Hywel Dda.
First Minister, you told me in the Chamber once again last week that the Minister for Health and Social Services has been clear in terms of what has been planned for the NHS this winter. You now tell the Chamber that you did not know about Hywel Dda’s plans until yesterday. You have not been able to provide a figure regarding the number of operations that you expect to be postponed. It seems that you are not very clear about the LHBs’ plans for this winter, the Government is not very clear about the LHBs’ plans for this winter, and the public and the clinicians, it seems, are not very clear either; why do you not clear that up and publish today all of the plans that have been submitted by LHBs to your Government to deal with winter pressures so that we can all know what is going on?
First, I heard the leader of Plaid Cymru say that this is ‘pedantics’; when she is faced by facts that she does not like, it is ‘pedantics’—that is the way in which she deals with it. However, let me deal with the third question posed by the leader of the Liberal Democrats. She has been calling for plans to deal with winter pressures. The local health board has put forward plans to deal with winter pressures and she is not happy with that either. She cannot have it both ways. The reality of the situation is this: the local health board has to plan for an appropriate number of operations. None has been cancelled. I have already mentioned several times that those who have been scheduled to receive orthopaedic surgery will receive it, but there is a need to build into the system the ability to deal with emergencies over the course of the winter—or is she saying that that should not happen? This is precisely what the local health board has done. This is part of planning for winter pressures, and she really should get a grip.
I have listened with interest to the answers—[Interruption.] It is quite interesting, listening to the Labour backbenchers, that they think that patients in west Wales who will not be able to access their treatment are a laughing matter.
You said in response to earlier questions that it was only yesterday that your Government became aware of the proposals that Hywel Dda has brought forward. We are told on a constant basis that the Minister for health meets senior executives and the chairmen of the health boards across Wales, and yet you are expecting us to believe that your Government knew nothing until yesterday. Is it not the case, First Minister, that this again shows that your Government is detached from the reality of what many patients and clinicians are experiencing within the Welsh NHS?
Absolutely not. I have given you the answer. Unless the leader of the opposition objects to what Hywel Dda is proposing, I do not see what his question is.
The question is quite simple. It is whether your Government, which is ultimately in charge of the NHS in Wales, is in the loop. We are seeing time and again issues arriving at the front door of LHBs that affect patients’ experience and treatment. You said in response to earlier questioning that, to date, no operations have been cancelled. However, over the next five months, there is clearly a cancellation of non-elective surgery within the Hywel Dda area. This will have a massive impact on the patient experience and the ability of that health board to retain its key clinicians. How can you be so flippant in the face of such proposals, where for five months one of our major health boards will not be undertaking such procedures, First Minister?
He is setting out to be disingenuous or he has not listened to the answer that I have given three times. I will say it again, as he is on his feet and he cannot say that he has not heard the answer. Hywel Dda Local Health Board is not cancelling all non-urgent elective orthopaedic surgery. It is reducing the amount of in-patient work in order to better manage capacity during the winter period, which is precisely what his party has been calling for.
First Minister, you are just trying to muddy the waters with your barrister training. It is a fact that in one of our major health board areas, people will not be having the procedures that they reasonably expect that health board to deliver. It is also a fact that clinicians have pointed out that a considerable part of their workload, which they are able to undertake, will now be prevented by the health board’s instructions. For goodness’ sake, First Minister, is it not time that your Government got a grip on this and addressed the ability of patients to have the procedures that they require within the Hywel Dda area, so that we ultimately do not move into a crisis situation over the next five months? It is just not good enough.
A crisis situation is precisely what the leader of the opposition is calling for; if only he would listen to the logic of his own arguments. He is saying that there should be no spare capacity in the NHS in Hywel Dda over the course of the winter. He is saying that it should carry on as it was before, and that there should be no capacity in place to deal with winter pressures. The local health board has built that extra capacity into place. It has ensured that operations are not cancelled in the future, which is the favourite thing that the Lib Dems and Tories like to do in England—we know about the cancellations that have happened there. We want to make sure that fewer people have their operations cancelled, and that means planning now for winter pressures, which is exactly what all the parties in the Chamber have been calling for in the past few months. Yet, when a local health board decides that it wants to plan for winter pressures, they all start criticising. Just as well they are not running the health service in Wales.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the number of NICE Clinical Guidelines that have not been implemented in Wales? OAQ(4)1288(FM)
We are not aware of any National Institute for Health and Care Excellence clinical guidelines that have not been implemented in Wales.
First Minister, NICE issued clinical guidelines in 2008 in relation to nuchal scanning in Wales for pregnant women. There is no nuchal scanning available in north Wales unless you pay for it privately, which makes a mockery of an NHS free at the point of use. Given that health boards were supposed to have produced their implementation plans in September, can you update us on when that 2008 guidance, which has not been implemented, requiring patients to pay privately if they need nuchal scans, will be implemented?
We expect local health boards to follow the clinical guidelines that have been put in place by NICE, but if she provides me with more information I will be more than happy to write to her.
First Minister, there is increasing evidence that there is a geographical diversion between health boards in terms of the decisions to fund treatments and specialist drugs. Do you agree that it is now time to consider a national regime to decide on applications for specialist drugs and treatments?
As regards the individual patient funding requests process, I do not see that there is evidence of a great difference, but there is a difference; that is true. The chief medical officer has drawn our attention to that, and I know that the Minister for health is considering this at present, bearing in mind what we saw a week ago.
First Minister, there is a new NICE-approved treatment called Eylea for wet age-related macular degeneration. The Welsh Government currently has guidance on the provision of Lucentis, but Eylea will not be available for patients until a further consideration by the Welsh Government. When will guidance be issued on a drug that was approved for use in the UK in 2012 and approved by NICE earlier this year? When will Welsh patients have access to Eylea?
In fairness to the leader of the Liberal Democrats, I should write to her with further details on that drug.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the utilisation of women’s skills in the Welsh economy? OAQ(4)1279(FM)
We are taking action to encourage women to become more enterprising and to utilise their skills in the Welsh economy. For example, we are supporting a training programme, through the Women Adding Value to the Economy programme—the WAVE programme—to equip women with the business and technology skills to fulfil leadership roles in tech-savvy organisations.
Thank you, First Minister. We know that women play a vital role in our economy. While there have been welcome moves over the last few years, particularly in the public sector, which have enabled some women to balance work and family responsibilities, there is still a long way to go. What action is the Welsh Government taking to encourage both public and private organisations to create more flexible opportunities for women, to ensure that our economy does not lose out on much-needed talent?
I think that the Member has hit the nail on the head by saying that no organisation, public or private, can afford to lose out on any talent. I would offer the Welsh Government as an example for other employers to follow, whether public or private sector employers. We have, of course, a suite of flexible working policies, such as term-time working, flexible working hours, compressed hours, part-time working, special leave, adoption leave, maternity leave and foster leave. We also have a carers policy in place to assist where any staff have caring responsibilities for dependants of any age. That suite of policies has resulted in women making up 58% of the workforce. We would say to other public-sector organisations—and, indeed, those in the private sector—that, by being flexible, you can truly accumulate the talent that you need to make your organisation more successful.
First Minster, the Women’s Business Council has called on businesses to do more to help women to return to work and to use schemes such as flexible working to fully utilise their skills in the economy. The UK Government is working closely with businesses on extending the right to request flexible working. What action is the Welsh Government taking to encourage more flexible working in Wales?
Well, it is not devolved, of course, as the Member will know full well. I have already given him a suite of measures that we are taking as a Government to encourage more women into the workforce. That is shown in the figures that I have just given.
First Minister, we have seen that the unemployment figures among women have unfortunately increased in Wales. So, I would like to ask the First Minister whether he will commission a piece of work to look at the impact of what is happening in terms of the bedroom tax, the changes to welfare benefits, the zero-hour contracts and the reassessment of jobs at a local authority level, so that we can try to get a better picture of what is happening and so that we can see how these policies are affecting women specifically.
I believe that the picture as regards women is a mixed one. We know that the number of economically active women has gone down and we know that the number of unemployed has gone up, so that is something to consider. I have mentioned what we have doing as a Government. It is true to say that the bedroom tax is going to have a hugely detrimental effect on families, and particularly on women. When I raised this with the Prime Minister on Wednesday, and told him that there were not enough places in Wales for people who wanted to downsize, he did not have an answer. The only answer that he gave was that you have to encourage people to ensure that they move into houses that are smaller than their current homes. He was unable to answer the question about what we should do in Wales, where there are not sufficient places available, especially in rural Wales, where we know that some people will have to move further away from where they work in order to be able to live somewhere. That is a point that I made strongly to him at that time.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Questions 5 and 9 are grouped. Question 5 is from Dafydd Elis-Thomas.
Discussions with First Ministers/Prime Ministers of other UK Governments
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the content of his recent discussions with the First Ministers/Prime Ministers of other UK Governments? OAQ(4)1284(FM)
9. Will the First Minister make a statement on the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee on 16 October? OAQ(4)1294(FM)
It is no secret that I attended the annual meeting of the joint ministerial committee in Downing Street last Wednesday to discuss the priorities of the devolved Governments and to ensure that the views of the Welsh Government are conveyed clearly to the United Kingdom Government.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Thank you, First Minister. Was there any discussion in that meeting on the inequality in terms of planning consents and planning rights, particularly in the area of energy, across the various Governments of the United Kingdom? Will the Minister accept the concern that exists among members of the Environment and Sustainability Committee in this place that there are proposals by the UK Government to withdraw powers on strategic infrastructure from local government in Wales, so that the final decisions are referred back to UK Government Ministers? What is he going to do to stop this reverse devolution that seems to be being introduced by the UK Government?
As regards your terminology, I would not say that the powers are being ’withdrawn’ from the people of Wales; I believe that I would use the term ’stealing’, because the decision has been taken, after two referenda, by the people of Wales to have these powers here, and for them to be retained here.
I have given my clear view on energy in the past. We know that this is a matter that the Silk commission is considering. I cannot say that this matter was discussed last Wednesday, but a number of other issues were discussed, and we discussed those at the time.
At the meeting of the JMC, did the First Minister have the opportunity to discuss the proposed health levy, which is asking people with short-term visas to pay for NHS care? In addition, did he discuss the financial implications for Wales?
Yes, I did. It was a curious conversation. We had a discussion about the UK Government’s plans to charge a levy on those who apply for visas to come into the UK. That is something that is clearly non-devolved and we accepted that. It was made very clear, and I asked the question, ‘Is this a levy that is being imposed in order to pay for health services?’ The answer to that was ‘yes’. I then asked the question, ‘Can we then expect a Barnettised consequential of that pot of money to pay for health services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?’, and the answer was ‘no’. Therefore, it seems that this money will be collected and used entirely for the health service in England.
It was clear to me that they had not thought this through in any way. Certainly, the First Minister of Northern Ireland was equally as astounded as I was by this comment. Surely it makes sense that where a charge is made when somebody applies for a visa for the provision of health services, that money goes into a pot that is then shared properly among the four health services of the UK. That is not the plan of the UK Government at this stage, and as a result, we in Wales will find ourselves in a situation where we will not receive a share of money that is specifically collected for the purpose of the delivery of a devolved service. They need to think again.
First Minister, one of the other topics that was touched on, as I understand, at the joint ministerial meeting last Wednesday was trade and investment, in particular across the whole of the United Kingdom. How do you break out from the meeting of the First Ministers and Prime Minister of the UK, so that the officials from across the UK can work together with UK Trade and Investment, for example, to promote Wales as an attractive place for inward investment, rather than for it to be left as just an opportunity for good soundbites that emanate from such meetings to be written on bits of paper?
We already work very closely with UKTI. We have several members of staff who are co-located with the UKTI across the world. We cannot replicate the UKTI’s organisation, nor should we try to do that. In parts of the world where it would add value to have a Welsh presence, we do that, but the relationship between the Minister and Lord Green is a very good business relationship, and UKTI has been very helpful to us in getting investment into Wales.
However, I have to say that the reason why we have seen increased exports and a massive increase in foreign direct investment is that we have been working hard to sell Wales around the world. We will work with UKTI where it is in Wales’s interest and benefit to do so.
First Minister, Welsh universities are still suffering problems in recruiting students, particularly from the old Commonwealth, because of the visa system introduced some months ago at a UK level. Was there any discussion as to the needs of Welsh universities and the fact that their voices were not taken fully into account in implementing this new visa system for students?
There was discussion on that. The United Kingdom Government’s response was that more students than ever before, particularly from India and China, are coming here. I have heard people tell a completely different story, as I did when I was last in India. Therefore, there was a discussion on this matter, but no agreement was reached—I think that that is the best way of putting it.
First Minister, I have just returned from the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which took place in London. Yesterday evening, the Irish Minister of State for European Affairs, Paschal Donohoe, made a very strong speech in which he spoke of our potential for a shared future in energy generation. In that context, what discussions have you had with the administrations in Northern Ireland and in Scotland with regard to the potential for a sharing of generating capacity, particularly in the context of marine renewables?
There have not been any with Northern Ireland and Scotland, but there have been discussions with the Republic in the past. The difficulty that we have, of course, is that we do not control the level of renewables obligation certificates. That means that, for example, in Scotland, they are able to offer more money in subsidy to attract marine energy developments then we can in Wales, despite the fact that conditions for the generation of marine energy in Scotland are less promising than they are in Wales. We have made the point many times that the people of Wales deserve sufficient control over their own resources and that that means devolving the subsidy regime, just as it is devolved in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The joint ministerial committee, of course, has responsibility for, and hopes to address, unemployment and to encourage economic growth. The First Minister will be aware that the United Kingdom is now recognised as having the major economic growth impact in Europe. Where is Wales in this?
We are doing well. I recognise that the UK economy is not in the position that it was in two or three years ago. There are other economies, like that of the United States, for example, that have done far better. Germany is the driver of the European economy still, but I will give one example to the Member of what we could certainly do in Wales to drive our economy, and that is the devolution of stamp duty, something that the Prime Minister did not object to in the in the joint ministerial committee. The Secretary of State for Wales took a different position. He said that the devolution of stamp duty to Wales would have an effect on the whole of the UK and would distort the market in Wales. The point that I made to him was that that is an argument against devolution, because the council tax is already 19% lower in Wales, as a rule, than it is in England. That much is a fact. If we are saying that there should be no difference at all between England and Wales in policy, then what is the point of devolution in the first place? The suggestion that, somehow, the devolution of stamp duty to Wales would have an effect across the whole of the UK was not supported by Scotland and Northern Ireland. It has already been devolved to Scotland, and there was no suggestion then that it would have an effect on the whole of the UK. That is an excuse, and we need to see the devolution of stamp duty as recommended by Silk. I hope that it is now being taken forward by the Prime Minister. It is supported by almost every organisation that represents businesses in Wales. The point that I made to the Prime Minister was, ‘You don’t have to listen to me, but certainly listen to those organisations that represent the majority of businesses, and they are strongly in favour of the devolution of stamp duty.’
6. Will the First Minister outline progress made in developing the Welsh economy? OAQ(4)1278(FM)
We have taken wide-ranging actions to support jobs and growth across Wales. Since devolution, we have seen a greater growth in employment in Wales than in England.
I am well aware of the great success of the Welsh Government. One of the weaknesses of the Welsh economy is that we are underweight in pharmaceuticals, financial services and ICT. What is the Welsh Government, therefore, doing to promote and support these sectors in Wales?
We actually do slightly better in pharmaceuticals than the UK average. It is true to say that we are below the average in financial and professional services and ICT, but, of course, that is one of the reasons why we have the enterprise zones. At the Cardiff central enterprise zone yesterday, I was pleased to be able to announce 100 jobs in the financial sector, and there are further 3,000, potentially, in the pipeline. We believe, as a Government, that by moving forward with enterprise zones and, of course, by stimulating businesses elsewhere in Wales, we can make sure that, in the future, when it comes to financial and professional services and ICT, the average in terms of people employed in Wales is close to or above the UK average.
First Minister, we all welcome yesterday’s announcement of jobs coming into the Cardiff enterprise zone and the 2% cut in interest rates on loans from Finance Wales in these zones. However, it is well known in the business world that interest rates offered on current loans from Finance Wales, while admittedly not at Wonga levels, are nonetheless disproportionately high, at anywhere up to 12%. What is going on in Finance Wales, and do you agree that we need a root-and-branch reform of that organisation and that loan regime to stimulate the economy and to get Wales moving again?
Finance Wales has to be sustainable. Its risk profile has to be such that there is no risk to its viability in the future. That means, of course, that interest rates sometimes have to be charged at a level that businesses might find to be high but is nevertheless still lower than what they would find commercially. We cannot afford to subsidise interest rate payments. That would put Finance Wales in a position where, potentially, it could collapse. The last thing that anyone would want to see is that, and so interest rates are set at a level where Finance Wales can sustain itself as a financial entity in the future. I was asked yesterday why, for example, interest rates in the enterprise zones for SMEs wishing to locate or begin there will be 2% lower than the norm. As to why could that not be rolled out across Wales, the simple answer is that that would destabilise Finance Wales and that is a risk that we are not prepared to take.
Progress in developing the economy throughout the south Wales valleys, including my own constituency of Cynon Valley, requires good public transport links that are fit for purpose. It was of great concern for me to read the report yesterday that electrification of the Valleys lines service could be delayed because of the inadequacy of the rolling stock, which could have serious repercussions for the local economy. First Minister, how can we make sure that this is not the case?
It is difficult to see how the inadequacy of the rolling stock would delay electrification. If anything, that should be a spur to electrification. I raised the issue with the Prime Minister on Wednesday, and he said to me that the UK Government was looking forward to borrowing money to pay for the electrification of Valleys lines and, indeed, the electrification to the west of Swansea, which I welcomed, of course. It was important that that was said and done. I think that the issue here is that if electrification were to be delayed, the train operating companies would have to decide whether to keep the existing rolling stock and watch it as it aged, or take the risk of entering into a lease for equipment that it may not need during the course of the lease period. There needs to be greater certainty with regard to electrification, greater certainty for the train operating companies, and then, of course, they will know what decision that they will have to take in terms of leasing stock for the future. The worry that I have is that if there was a delay to electrification, they will simply carry on with the old stock and it will get older and older and more and more inadequate. That is in no-one’s interest.
There is a close link between transport and a successful economy. Yesterday, the European Commission published its map of the main transport routes that would be able to receive funding for upgrading over the ensuing period. Not one inch of the railways or roads listed were in Wales, and no Welsh sea port was referenced either. Will you join me in condemning the Westminster Government for its complete failure to make the case and support for Wales in this field?
Once again, we have seen this happening. I have to say that it did the same on the rebate on fuel in rural areas. That will not happen, and no part of Wales will benefit from that in any way. We have to ask whether it considers rural Wales at all, and whether it considers the fact that we have ports in Wales with strong links with Ireland—another member of the European Union. I am disappointed to see that that was not taken into account.
Carbon Monoxide Poisonings
7. What strategies is the Welsh Government using to reduce carbon monoxide poisonings? OAQ(4)1291(FM)
We are working to improve awareness and tackle the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning in Wales. Guidance for health professionals to aid diagnosis of suspected poisoning is kept under review. We also engage with fire and rescue services, and energy suppliers, importantly, to establish what more can be done to tackle it.
National Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week begins on 18 November, and I am sure that there is a role for all of us to raise awareness of this silent killer. I am alarmed to learn that one in five gas appliances inspected in Wales are unsafe. There is a particular problem in Cardiff, where 44% of the households are living with unsafe appliances that could kill them. What more can the Government do to ensure that landlords fulfil their obligations to ensure that their tenants are living in safe accommodation.
The gas safety regulations of 1998 require landlords to ensure that gas appliances are checked for safety during 12-month intervals. The Welsh housing quality standard requires social landlords to ensure that gas, solid fuel, or oil service and safety inspection certificates must be current and that heating installations or appliances must be checked. There is also the housing health and safety rating system, which gives guidance on the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning, including the risks associated with the combustion of solid fuel, and the majority of local authorities do hold landlord fora where they provide information on the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. They also educate landlords on the importance of maintaining equipment. The Member will also be aware that we are promoting Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week in order to build on the level of knowledge to make sure that we can mitigate as much as possible any future tragedies.
From the first of this month, Scottish building regulations will require carbon monoxide alarms to be fitted on new or replacement boilers, or other heating appliances, to be installed in a dwelling-house or in a building with bedrooms. Are there any similar plans to be followed in Wales?
Thus far, we have taken a non-regulatory approach. We have the Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week coming up. We will, of course, continue to monitor the situation to see whether we need to be more prescriptive. We want to educate people first and foremost, as we have done in many other ways. If that course is not as effective as we would want it to be, then of course we would seek to consider further options.
Carbon monoxide poisoning causes 50 deaths, 200 serious injuries and 4,000 minor injuries a year, costing the health service in England and Wales £178 million. Do you not think that it is now time that we introduce regulations to require mandatory installation of a detector with all at-risk appliances, and a programme of installing hard-wired detectors in all social housing? Is that not the minimum that we should be doing to try to avert these injuries and deaths?
I think that that needs to be examined. We want to see what the effect of the awareness week is first with regard to its effectiveness, but, of course, if it is found that it would be cost-effective in every way to insist on the need for carbon monoxide alarms where boilers are being changed, then we will keep that under review.
I would like to go a step further than the response you gave to the Member for Cardiff Central, by asking you to ensure that any regulations relating to the private rented sector introduced by your Government include clear direction that it is the duty of landlords to ensure that any heating equipment is properly maintained in terms of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
This is already the duty of landlords, under the 1998 regulations. Of course, there are a number of other things in place in order to ensure that this is understood as widely as possible.
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on the effect of rising fuel bills on households in Wales? OAQ(4)1280(FM)
We know that rising fuel bills are putting more pressure on household budgets. We are doing everything we can to help low-income households, and we announced an extra £70 million for our energy efficiency programme from 2014.
Thank you for that answer. First Minister, last week we saw announcements of further huge increases in utility bills—increases that will inevitably push more people into poverty. Do you agree with me and Ed Miliband that a freeze on fuel bills would help hard-working families across Wales?
Absolutely, it would. I heard the Prime Minister’s response, which was that if people do not like what they are being charged, they can go to another provider. Well, that is no good if all the providers charge the same. It is the equivalent of saying, ‘If you don’t like the price you are paying for petrol, drive around a bit and you will find it 10p a litre cheaper somewhere else’. It does not work that way. The reality is that there is very little competition between the big six providers. Consumers have seen no advantage of privatisation in reality—there has been no financial advantage to consumers. It is impossible for individual consumers to find the best deal for them because prices keep on rising in any event. I have regular meetings, as has the Minister for economy, with energy-intensive industry in Wales, and more worrying is the fact that it also says that UK costs in terms of energy are becoming very difficult compared with the rest of Europe. We need to see Government action for consumers and businesses now.
10. Will the First Minister outline what future industries he wants to attract to Wales? OAQ(4)1281(FM)
All of them.
Thank you for that very informative answer, First Minister. Given the developments involving Swansea University and the Swansea tidal lagoon development, and the importance of availability of research and development in the hydro-tidal energy sector in Swansea, what steps and action is the Welsh Government taking to attract hydro-tidal energy companies, particularly development and construction companies, to Swansea?
We have already put money into some of the pilot projects, particularly in St Justinian, but the major lever is renewables obligation certificates, which we do not have. Scotland has them, and Northern Ireland has them, and England has them, but Wales does not have them. By far the best lever that we could have to encourage more marine energy in Wales and its development would be to control the level of subsidies. That is denied us. We are doing what we can in the meantime. We do not sit back and say, ‘Sorry, there is nothing we can do’, but there is no doubt that the major lever is being denied us by your party.
11. Will the First Minister provide an update on any engagement strategies being run by the Welsh Government that promote an understanding of devolved matters? OAQ(4)1290(FM)
Broadly understanding devolved matters is part of the day to day business of the Welsh Government. The settlement provides the framework within which we work to deliver for the people of Wales. The National Assembly also works hard to ensure that people have an understanding of what different levels of Government are responsible for.
First Minister, you will be aware that, in this Chamber on a more than regular basis, your party will seek to blame Westminster for entirely devolved matters. In fact, the Minister for Education and Skills did a very good job last week of blaming the Westminster Government for education in Wales, which has been devolved since 1999. The issue for the person listening in from the outside—the person in Flint or Pembrokeshire or Powys—is that they are confused as to what we do here, what is your responsibility and what is the responsibility of the Westminster Government. Do you not think it appropriate that you start to take responsibility for what is devolved to this place, so that we can help people understand that this is a proper Parliament with a finite set of responsibilities and, succeed or fail, this is what we do here, and stop blaming everybody else when it gets too tough?
I do not think that I have ever blamed the UK Government for something that is devolved. Give me an example. I have often blamed the UK Government for things that are not devolved, and I will keep on doing that. I have made comparisons between devolved services in Wales and in England, but I have never—here is your challenge—said, on any occasion, that the UK Government must be blamed for something that is devolved. In terms of understanding what is devolved and what is not, I suggest that you look to educate your colleagues in Whitehall, who, only last Wednesday, were confused over the health levy and what that meant for devolved services. We are fully aware of what is devolved and what is not. We will take responsibility for what is devolved and we will criticise what is not when that is appropriate.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, First Minister.
There are no changes to this week’s business. 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 Minister for her statement today. Will she consider giving guidance on the matter in Newport, of which she is probably aware, where travellers have taken over part of a car park, causing parking difficulties for essential staff at the Royal Gwent Hospital? This is a matter that may well occur again. Will the Minister consider giving advice to the local authority and also to the local health board, which, in this case, had to take legal action pretty early? It is doing that today, which I am sure we all welcome. Advice from the Minister would be gratefully welcomed, I am sure.
That is something that we will have to consider. Travellers are in discussions at the moment with health board officials. It is something that we will need to look at in light of what has happened today.
Minister, could you ensure that we have a discussion on the budget reduction in spending on the Welsh language? I sit on the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee and I will not get to question the First Minister on this issue until 4 December, which is much too late to impact upon the budget. The reduction in the budget for the Welsh language comes after the announcement about the 2011 census and the significant fall in the number of Welsh-speakers in my constituency, in Ceredigion and north Pembrokeshire, and it is vital that we have an opportunity to look in detail at the Welsh Government’s spend on the language. I call for an urgent debate on this issue so that we can look in detail at that expenditure and its impact on the use of the language in Wales.
Rwyf am godi cwestiwn ychwanegol. Roeddwn wedi bwriadu ei godi o dan gwestiwn 8, ond ni chefais gyfle. Wrth ymateb i Alun Ffred Jones, gwnaeth y Prif Weinigog bwynt ynglŷn â’r ffaith nad yw’r glymblaid yn San Steffan wedi cynnwys unrhyw ardal yng Nghymru yn y gostyngiad ar bris tanwydd ceir. A allwn gael dadl ynglŷn â bwriadau Llywodraeth Cymru i fynd i’r afael â thlodi tanwydd mewn ardaloedd gwledig, a sut mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn bwriadu dylanwadu ar y glymblaid yn San Steffan? Os bydd buddugoliaeth i’r Blaid Lafur yn yr etholiad cyffredinol yn 2015, a oes unrhyw warant y bydd Llywodraeth Lafur yn San Steffan yn sicrhau bod ardaloedd gwledig yng Nghymru yn cael eu cynnwys yn yr ardaloedd sydd yn llwyddo i dderbyn y gostyngiad hwn ym mhris tanwydd ceir?
In answer to your second question, I do not think that I am able to answer for a possible Labour Government post 2015, but I certainly think that fuel poverty in rural areas is something that we can look at in the Assembly.
In relation to the scrutiny of the First Minister, who has responsibility for the Welsh Language, during the budget round, this was something that we discussed in the Business Committee this morning. Clearly, there is a very short space of time for budget scrutiny. While financial scrutiny goes on all year round, there is a small window for budget scrutiny. The Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee has a very broad remit—I understand that there were probably five Ministers questioned on budget scrutiny last week and this week; I was one of them. You do have the opportunity to scrutinise the First Minister on 4 December, but this is perhaps something that we can look at to make sure that, in future years, all Ministers can be accommodated in a much smaller space of time.
Will the Minister make a statement on how the Welsh Government is fulfilling its obligation to asylum seekers and refugees? What preparations is the Welsh Government making in respect of potential future obligations and provisions in respect of the forthcoming Immigration Bill?
The Welsh Government has set out how it is fulfilling its obligations to refugees and asylum seekers in the refugee inclusion strategy action plan. The latest update was published in June of this year. Welsh Government Ministers with an interest in the Immigration Bill—that is mainly the Minister for Health and Social Services, the Minister for Housing and Regeneration and the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport—are currently having to consider the implications for their respective areas. Certainly, legislative counsel, officials and lawyers will be scrutinising the provisions that are being brought forward in the Bill, and will confirm whether any legislative competency motions will be needed. They will then be able to put the advice to the Ministers.
Minister, will you ask whether we can have an oral statement, following the written statement from the Minister for Housing and Regeneration on Friday afternoon, regarding the regional investment fund for Wales? In particular, we need to be able to ask questions about how that fund is going to be managed in the future, whether all those funds are secure—including the European money—and what impact the decision to close down the regional investment fund is going to have on the reputation of Wales internationally.
The Minister for Housing and Regeneration’s written statement on 18 October made it very clear that steps have been taken to bring the fund under his direct control. This will enable resources currently within the fund to be freed up and available to invest in the communities. I think that it is too soon to have an oral statement, these are matters on which we must await the findings of the Wales Audit Office. That would be the time to consider an oral statement.
I was also concerned yesterday at the statement of Hywel Dda Local Health Board on elective orthopaedic surgery. As the AM for Llanelli, I have rightly received calls from staff and patients, who raised concerns with me late last week and over the weekend. I wish to ask the Minister for Health and Social Services for a statement on how he will monitor and evaluate Hywel Dda’s plans to ensure that emergency cases are treated and that unscheduled care is not affected against predicted winter pressures at Prince Philip Hospital and adjoining hospitals and that there is no added pressure on social care services. I would also like details on the proper methods for deciding changes and their time frame. In recent times, the health board has been far from transparent in communicating changes to staff and to members of the public. I would be grateful— [Interruption.]
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Order. I cannot hear what the Member is saying, and I take a dim view of the opposition parties doing this when a Government backbencher is scrutinising his own Government. I would have thought that a pretty high function to be performed here.
I would be grateful for the statement to clarify whether there are implications on the proposal for a centre of excellence for orthopaedics at the Prince Philip Hospital.
You will have heard the First Minister state the correct position regarding Hywel Dda health board. It is important that health boards prepare for winter pressures. I do not think that it is fair then that we criticise them when they consider all options. I am sure that, at the appropriate time, when the Minister for Health and Social Services has had time to look at all the winter plans, he will come forward with a statement.
I wonder if the Business Committee could give different consideration to how we scrutinise Welsh-language activity by the Government in this place. In particular, since the responsibility has been transferred to the First Minister, opposition spokesmen have lost the opportunity to ask their extended questions of the relevant Minister in this Chamber. I appreciate that we have questions to the First Minister, but that does not give us, as opposition spokesmen, a chance to ask our second supplementary question, thereby extending the length of questioning to devise a series of questions. I am sure that you would not wish Welsh-language spokesmen to be denied the opportunity that other portfolio spokesmen have, and I wonder whether you could give this serious consideration please.
As you heard me say in my answer to Rhodri Glyn Thomas, it is something that we discussed at the Business Committee this morning, because the only way that you can currently ask a question regarding the Welsh language is through questions to the First Minister. So, I am sure that your business manager will make further representations to the Business Committee in due course, but it is something that we will consider.
Minister, I am keen to have a debate on the effect of British policies on the Welsh Government’s plans in the context of immigration and the UK Border Agency. This week, we have seen that musicians from Syria have been refused permission to come to Wales to perform in Cardiff because of the decision made by the Minister for immigration, Mark Harper, based on the fact that he did not accept their previous travel history, despite their being a proper band that has travelled all over the world. Therefore, I would welcome a debate on this issue. The lack of scrutiny for us as Assembly Members on immigration issues that have a big impact in Wales is quite difficult.
The second issue that I wanted to raise with you was to call for a statement from the Minister with responsibility for sport, John Griffiths, on the decision to move the base for elite Paralympians from the national pool in Swansea, due to what happened in the Olympics with regard to not winning as many medals as anticipated. I wonder whether we could have an equality assessment on how this will impact Paralympic sport in Wales, given the fact that we are encouraging, or seeking to encourage, more people to get involved in sport. How can pulling away these national services and provisions benefit the future of Wales?
In relation to your question on immigration, I do not think that it would be suitable to have a debate in Government time on that issue, as it is a reserved matter. I am sure that the Minister has heard your question regarding the pool, and I quite agree, it is concerning when facilities are not available that were previously there. Therefore, I am sure that the Minister will write to you if he has anything further to add on that.
I will raise two matters. First, I call for a Welsh Government statement on its engagement with charities strengthening the voice of older people in Wales, following the news that the five Age Concerns across Wales have come together under an alliance called Age Connects Wales—north-east Wales, north Wales central, Cardiff and the Vale and Morgannwg and Torfaen—to differentiate their charities from Age UK and Age Cymru, as the local charity serving older people.
Secondly, I call for a Welsh Government debate on procurement. It is a matter that has been raised a number of times in statements, but given a number of items that have been raised this week, I will refer briefly to just one key issue. Yesterday, we heard the announcement of Cyd Cymru, a Welsh energy-buying scheme, which is a collective energy-buying scheme that allows consumers to band together and negotiate with their energy suppliers to get the lowest prices possible. However, unfortunately, the Wales-based community interest company, SurfEnergy, which made a bid for that, lost out to a non-Welsh company. It also lost out on the opportunity to create at least three jobs and wider skills across Wales. Should the Welsh Government, therefore, not be encouraging and supporting such tenders to be allocated to Welsh-based community businesses on the basis of community benefit?
In relation to your question regarding the charities, I will ask the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty to write to you on that point.
Obviously, we are very keen for Welsh businesses to win as many contracts as possible. Next month, the Minister for Finance and I will be launching the national procurement service, which will do just that.
Minister, a number of Measures have been passed by this Assembly since 2008 in relation to which no guidelines or regulations have been published by the Government. I refer to the Playing Fields (Community Involvement in Disposal Decisions) (Wales) Measure 2010 and also the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010 specifically. Would the Government be willing to publish a statement on which Measures we are still waiting for some guidelines to be published since the Measures were passed?
Yes, I will certainly look into that, and I am happy to bring forward a written statement.
I wonder whether we might have a statement from the Minister for Natural Resources and Food in relation to stocking levels in Glastir. A number of problems have been identified to the Minister since a meeting in Bala in May of this year, particularly around the date at which stocking levels have to reduce on the mountains. There is an issue as to whether or not that should be moved back by a month, to November. There has been extensive communication with the Minister, and, given that there are other matters relating to Glastir where he has indicated that reviews may need to be undertaken, it would be useful if we could have either a statement or a debate from him on that.
The second issue that I wish to raise is for the same Minister. Yesterday, he released a statement on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and he has released a further statement today in relation to resilience, which has just landed in my inbox. Both those matters deal with issues of sustainability and resilience in our economic, environmental and social context. They are, clearly, vital issues, and I would ask for a debate, particularly on the IPCC report, which was highly critical of the two-year delay by the Welsh Government in setting targets, and in measuring the outcomes of the mitigation that had been put in place. For example, in the Arbed scheme, no baseline data were taken. I think that, in order to learn lessons, and to scrutinise the Government on why it has taken two years to put these targets in place, we should have a debate on that issue.
As you have just stated, the Minister has brought forward two statements in very close succession, so I do not think that it would be a good use of Government time to have a debate. However, you could certainly question the Minister during his oral Assembly questions session. You referred to stocking levels, and very specific issues around stocking levels. The Minister is not in the Chamber to hear you, but you said that there had been extensive communication, so I will ask him, if there is anything further that he can add to that, to do so.
The Presiding Officer (Rosemary Butler) took the Chair at 14:33.
May I request a ministerial statement on the consequences, and the role of the Government, of the omission of Wales from the European core transport network map? Some €20 billion, or more, is up for grabs to be spent on upgrading that core network. There are serious consequences for the port of Holyhead, in my constituency, and the downgrading, it seems, of that port as a key channel between the UK and Ireland. The First Minister has said that he is disappointed by the fact that Wales does not appear in any way, shape or form on that map, but can we have a statement on what influence the Government has tried to have on the drawing up of that map?
The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport will bring forward an update.
Minister, I am calling for a statement in Government time on what the Welsh Government is doing to promote collective switching, to help consumers drive down their energy bills. As you will know, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has been active on this matter across the border in England for some time, and a number of Welsh local authorities have come together to support the Cyd Cymru scheme. Notwithstanding the First Minister’s comments earlier about the limitations in the savings that can be made, it can, in many cases, make an important contribution, particularly to those living in rural areas where the housing stock makes them particularly vulnerable.
The Minister for Natural Resources and Food is meeting energy companies next month and I am sure that that is an issue that he will take up with them and that he will update the Assembly following that meeting.
Will the Minister consider bringing forward two specific statements? The first is regarding the advance payment of single farm payments to those farmers affected by the heavy snowfall last April. I have been contacted by the Farmers Union of Wales in Montgomeryshire, which has raised the concern that farms in areas that were heavily affected by the weather, such as Llandinam, Montgomery and Berriew, for example, have not received their advance payments because it appears that they have not qualified under the Welsh Government’s criteria, which seems very strange to me. It has also brought to my attention the issue of farms that sit across the border that have been affected that have also not received their advance payments, even though the majority of the holdings are in Wales. I understand that the vast majority of Montgomeryshire did fall under the Government’s derogation, so a statement from the Minister to clarify these points would be extremely welcome.
The second statement is in regard to yesterday’s announcement from Hywel Dda Local Health Board. There is an aspect that does need clarification, and that is the need to understand what additional pressures this decision will put on district general hospitals outside the Hywel Dda area, not just in Wales, but those across the border as well, such as hospitals in Shrewsbury and Gobowen. Some hospitals across Wales are already dealing with their own capacity issues. Therefore, this issue does require some urgent attention and answers, and I hope that the Minister for health will be disposed to make a statement some time later this week.
I will ask the Minister for Natural Resources and Food to bring forward a written statement on advance payments and to clarify why some farmers fulfilled the criteria and some did not.
In relation to Hywel Dda, you will have heard the First Minister answer extensively, and I have also answered questions. These are options that it is considering. It will then be for the Minister for Health and Social Services to have a look at the package as a whole and that will be the appropriate time to make a statement.
I would like to call for a statement, if I may. At yesterday’s press conference, the First Minister announced a cut in interest rates of 2% for small and medium-sized enterprises moving in to enterprise zones. Obviously, the normal protocol would be for that to be announced to Members before being announced to the press, so I would like a statement on that as a matter of urgency. In particular, I would quite like to know how Finance Wales is able to make a cut of 2% without breaching state aid rules, if its loan rates are already commercially competitive.
You heard the First Minister make a statement yesterday in his press conference, and I know that the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport will be updating the Assembly on enterprise zones later this year.
I would like to ask for two statements to be forthcoming, both of which are from the Minister for health. For the first, I wonder whether the Minister for health might like to make a statement on whether or not he intends to review the guidelines for elective surgery throughout Wales. It is patently obvious that elective surgery guidelines are not being met. They are not being met within my own health board, Hywel Dda, and it appears that they are not being met in a great many instances, according to discipline, in other areas. It may well be time that we reviewed those guidelines so that people who have to go in for elective surgery have a really good understanding of just how long they will have to wait. Presiding Officer, I feel that, at this point, I should declare an interest as I, too, am on a national health service waiting list for elective surgery in Wales, and I have been on it for an awfully long time.
My second request is to ask whether the Minister for health might like to make a statement on what he believes his role is in influencing local health boards on their policy. Time and again, I have heard various Ministers for health—not just this one—say that the delivery of particular requirements, such as brain injury treatment, elective surgery, cancer waiting times and management, et cetera, are down to how a health board chooses to reflect the needs of its local population. This is something that is simply not happening, and I would be very interested to understand what influence the Minister for health believes that he has upon the seven big businesses that appear to operate entirely at their own will.
If the Minister for Health and Social Services believes that elective surgery guidelines are not being followed, he may wish to have a look or to review the guidelines, but I think that that is a matter for him to decide.
In relation to influencing policies, the Minister sets out the strategy for local health boards and they, as you say, then choose the way in which they deliver those services to their local populations. The Minister has a great deal of influence, and he will have those discussions with chairs and chief executives on a regular basis.
Will the Minister ask her colleague, the Minister for health, to bring forward an oral statement on cardiac services at the University Hospital of Wales? My community health council was recently written to by UHW and it stated that the current waiting list for urgent heart surgery is almost six months, and it apologised to the CHC that that was outside the Welsh Government’s guidance. It wrote to the CHC following the death of my constituent, Mr Maidment, who died on 18 May at Nevill Hall Hospital while waiting for transfer to Cardiff, which did not have the capacity to treat him. Perhaps such a statement could outline the waits for surgical and medical cases, the number of people, who, like my constituent, have not been able to successfully access treatment at Cardiff, and a reassurance that any GP or healthcare professional who spoke out about such long waiting times would not have their career jeopardised for doing so.
Finally, Minister, you have been kind enough on two occasions to promise a statement on public conveniences. It is half term next week, and I wonder whether that statement from you will be forthcoming this week.
I will bring forward a statement on public conveniences as soon as possible. It will probably now be during the second half of this term. In relation to cardiac surgery, you raise a very specific and sad case about your constituent. I think that it would be better if the Minister wrote to you on that point.
I too rise in support of other Members here today, including the Member for Llanelli, who have called for a Government statement on Hywel Dda health board’s recent announcement, which will undoubtedly result in longer waiting times for my constituents who are waiting for orthopaedic surgery. The Minister will be aware that I have recently highlighted that there can be a seven-year wait for autism diagnosis and a three-year wait for orthodontic assessment in the Hywel Dda health board area, and yesterday’s announcement will surely lead to longer waiting lists for orthopaedic treatment. The Welsh Government must now recognise that these are serious issues, and that these waiting times are totally unacceptable. Yesterday’s announcement will further undermine any confidence in the way that services are delivered, and it is therefore imperative that the Minister for health makes a statement on the way that services are provided in the Hywel Dda health board area. I urge the Minister to press the Minister for health, who is in his place today, to make a statement as soon as possible.
I would think that yesterday’s announcement by Hywel Dda health board that it is considering options as to how it will cope with the winter pressures that we know all health boards face would not undermine confidence at all—I would think that that would give members of the public confidence that it is taking this very seriously and that it is planning for winter very carefully.
I join other Members in the Chamber in calling for a statement from the Minister for business and enterprise. I warmly welcome the new jobs that were announced yesterday for the Cardiff enterprise zone, but it is slightly odd that, after many weeks of questioning in the Chamber, the First Minister is able to come forward at a press conference with what is, in fairness, a comprehensive list of aspirational jobs, as I see it—we are talking about 6,500 jobs that will be created by the enterprise zones, and we all hope that that will happen. However, we have also had an announcement on Finance Wales and its ability to lower interest rates within the enterprise zones. I cannot think of another legislature where a statement of some sort would not have been put before the Members, so that they could have questioned the assumptions that had been made, rather than just using a press conference to announce such bold ambitions—ambitions that I very much hope become a reality, because if Cardiff enterprise zone attracts 3,000 new jobs, that will be very welcome news for my region. However, I believe that it is wrong that these announcements are made at a press conference and that they are not made in the Chamber, with statements put forward for Members to scrutinise.
I am very pleased that the leader of the opposition welcomes the jobs that the Cardiff enterprise zone has brought forward. As I said in a previous answer, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport will be publishing performance indicators before the end of this year, so we will be able see how progress is managed on jobs and other key areas around all the enterprise zones in Wales.
When I became Minister for Education and Skills, I made a commitment to do my utmost to break the link between deprivation and poor educational outcomes. I simply will not tolerate the status quo: the fact that the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals who achieve five good GCSEs, including English or Welsh and maths, is less than half that for pupils from more affluent backgrounds. We have to get the basics right. For schools, that starts with standards in literacy and numeracy.
With the introduction of the literacy and numeracy framework and the reading and numeracy tests, we have provided practitioners with the tools for raising levels of literacy and numeracy, a key step towards improving equality of outcomes. I, for one, am pleased with the success of the reading and numeracy tests and the extent to which those data are being used by schools to drive up standards. We have also invested significantly in the national support programme to support schools in implementing the LNF, offering specialist advice and additional support to practitioners.
The review of assessment and the national curriculum will focus on changes to curriculum and assessment arrangements that will strengthen and support the teaching of literacy and numeracy across the curriculum. The consultation document that I am publishing today outlines the Welsh Government’s proposals for integrating literacy and numeracy into the curriculum. Specifically, it seeks views in relation to developing new areas of learning and programmes of study for language, literacy and communication and mathematical development in the foundation phase, and English, Welsh and mathematics in key stages 2, 3 and 4. These will be extended to include literacy and numeracy as defined by the LNF. In doing so, we will ensure alignment between the standards expected in the LNF and the curriculum. To further strengthen this, we are proposing to extend the LNF to address emerging literacy and numeracy between the ages of three and five, and also to extend it up to age 16, key stage 4.
Having set out our priorities for the curriculum in this way, we are also proposing to refocus our assessment arrangements to include literacy and numeracy. I am also proposing to further support all our practitioners to become teachers of literacy and numeracy by strengthening our arrangements in relation to teacher assessment, in particular at the end of key stage 2, with the introduction of rich learning tasks.
I am also seeking views as to whether a statutory wider skills framework should be introduced, which would encompass the skills necessary for learning, work and life. I propose that these should include critical thinking and problem solving, planning and organising, creativity and innovation, personal effectiveness and digital literacy. It is the intention that these wider skills should be developed across all four stages of education, including key stage 4, providing clear routes of skills progression from the foundation phase right through to the Welsh baccalaureate. This will support learners to develop the key skills that they need for employment and the wider world.
The consultation on these proposals will take place over the next three months. In addition to seeking responses to the document published today, we will also be holding a number of consultation events, details of which will be announced shortly. Following the end of the consultation period, we will analyse and consider the responses and make any necessary changes to the curriculum and assessment arrangements, with a view to a phased implementation from September 2014. Underpinning the proposals in this consultation document is a range of stakeholder evidence and international best practice, which has been gathered over the last year. In reflecting on this, a range of very important issues that go significantly beyond the original scope of this review have been identified, which I am very keen to explore in more detail.
I have also recently received a series of important reports from independent task and finish groups concerning the cwricwlwm Cymreig, schools and physical activity, arts in education, computing and ICT and Welsh second language. These reports have raised some very significant and far-reaching issues that deserve thorough consideration.
Taken together, these findings provide significant food for thought and I am determined that we take time to consider carefully the impact of these potentially wide-reaching changes to the curriculum and their implications for practitioners and learners. I do not want to create undue turbulence for our schools when we want them to focus on improving the teaching of literacy and numeracy. It is for these reasons that I have decided to take a two-phase approach to this review.
In the second phase of the review, I want to do something unique for Wales—to develop a curriculum for Wales—that provides a continuum of education from the foundation phase to the Welsh baccalaureate. I want to explore the big issues around curriculum design, for example, how we can offer more flexibility to those practitioners that tell us that the key stage 2 curriculum is overloaded, and what we can do to address the suggestion that key stage 3 is a mere ‘waiting room for GCSE’.
As part of the second phase, I will look, in particular, at key stage 3 and explore innovative ways in which we could give learners the opportunity to step outside the curriculum as it is now to pursue their own particular interests in more depth and to provide more meaning to this important stage in their development. There are opportunities that exist for museums and galleries, arts organisations, sports organisations, higher education and further education institutions, and others, to play a more prominent role in this phase of education.
I want to consider whether key stage 2 is overloaded and what should be done about it. I want to ensure that the curriculum reflects the needs of business and the economy, including the critical role of science and ensuring that STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects are in the vanguard of modern, challenging curricula for students. I also want to look again at the place of languages in the curriculum, including Welsh second language, in light of the report from the task and finish group, and I want to revisit the basic curriculum to ensure that it addresses some of the key challenges faced by learners growing up in modern global society.
I will announce further details of phase 2 of the review in due course. I look forward to working with you all on a curriculum for Wales that is broad, balanced and fit for the twenty-first century.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Before I call the first speaker, I remind Members that we have three statements this afternoon and I have a lot of speakers on each of the statements, so this is just an opportunity to ask the Minister questions on what he has said, not an opportunity for long speeches. I call on Angela Burns.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, I want to start off by saying that this has been a long time coming, but, at last, I believe that this statement and your consultation document offer us a real opportunity to make a step change in our standards here in Wales. I really welcome this statement today.
I particularly noted, with great interest, that the consultation document is looking at developing new areas of learning and programmes of study for language, literacy and communication, because this is something that I and the Welsh Conservatives have been pushing for for quite some time, particularly the integration of modern foreign languages as early as we can into our curriculum.
I particularly want to welcome your commentary that you would like to look at a statutory wider skills framework, looking at issues such as critical thinking and planning and organising, because these are skills that a pupil can take to any job, no matter what that job or career is. More than that, those kinds of skills will help an individual in their personal life and personal development and in their life management. Key stage 3—I am sorry, Presiding Officer; I am trying to make these questions rather than anything else.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
That is fine: so far, so good.
On key stage 3, you mentioned that some people have said that it could be seen as a waiting room. I, too, have heard such comments. I would like to ask you to consider within that that you also use key stage 3 as a catch-up, because we still have far too many young people transitioning from primary to secondary school who do not have sufficient or age-appropriate levels of literacy and numeracy and, rather than it being a waiting room, or them spending way too much time with other organisations outside of the curriculum, they might be given the chance to acquire and embed those skills and to re-engage with learning, because then we will have a much better chance of getting them going in the future.
You also talked about the foundation phase, and one of my questions was, ‘What is going to happen to it?’ I was delighted to see, in the consultation document, that you are reaffirming your commitment to the foundation phase, but that you will be driving a little more structure into it. I think that the foundation phase—I have said it before, but I will say it again—has been a real win for Wales, and I would hate to see that diluted or lost in any way.
On the key stage 2 curriculum being overloaded, I think that it is critically important that we look at that. Again, that is a complaint that I have heard many times and, again, if we are looking at this and at communication, modern languages and all the things that we need to be a twenty-first century country in a twenty-first century world, key stage 2 is the area to have a look at.
I would like to know how this will tie into the further development of the Welsh baccalaureate and the qualifications review. I see that the consultation document does touch on it, but I wonder whether there is any further detail that you can offer. I would also like to know, Minister, how you might engage the voice of parents and the voice of pupils in this consultation document. I tend not to reply to that many consultation documents, because there are so many of them and, very often, they are an excuse for inaction rather than action. However, we will be contributing to this one in the spirit of trying to help you help all of us to drive ahead with really improving the quality of education and the standards of pupils in Wales.
I warmly welcome—I really do appreciate it – the constructive approach that Angela Burns is taking towards today’s statement. It really is a good thing for all of us, I think, if we can approach these extraordinarily serious issues in a positive atmosphere, and I am glad to hear Angela’s approach here today.
To attempt to answer some of her specific points, I am very glad that she does welcome the wider skills framework idea that has been posited here. This is something that is coming through very strongly in terms of international comparators with the very best education systems across the world. If you take a look at your Finlands, your South Koreas, and education systems such as that, a wider skills framework or equivalent features very highly in terms of what schools are trying to get across to young people, and it is high time, I think, that we took a look at that.
In terms of key stage 3, I hope that it is time that we can think expansive and, maybe, heretical things about key stage 3. To my mind, the criticism around it being a waiting room for GCSEs and having no specific purpose of its own—many teachers will tell you that, quite often off the record—has some weight. It is also a time when, critically, young people are entering adolescence, and it can be a point in time when we are beginning to lose the interest of a number of young people, as they enter secondary school and become disconnected and disenchanted with what is going on at school and what it has to offer them. So, the central proposal is that we consider how we can tailor the curriculum more towards the needs, interests and enthusiasm of the young person, rather than attempting to fit the young person into the timetable and the curriculum. In other words, there might be, although I do not want to pin it down to this phraseology, a personal-project-type baccalaureate approach to some aspects of what that person might opt to do as a personal enthusiasm.
It has been suggested that we should also use key stage 3 for catch-up, and maybe that should be a feature of what we do. On the other hand, if we are doing key stage 1 and key stage 2 correctly, there should not need to be any catch-up at key stage 3. There are big and fundamental questions here about the responsibilities of professionals within key stage 2. If we are to address the overload issue that is coming through consistently as a problem, then the responsibility is also there for us to be able to say on behalf of pupils and teachers that key stage 2 should deliver pupils the ability in literacy and numeracy to access secondary curriculum. There should be no doubt about that in anyone’s mind. That is the job that needs to be done; it is the central job that needs to be achieved.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Have you finished, Minister?
I have finished for now.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Fine. I call on Christine Chapman.
Thank you for the statement, Minister. We have long noted that there are differentials in literacy skills between boys and girls in both English and Welsh, and in the context of reading test data, for example, according to the most recent Estyn annual report. First of all, how can we ensure that integrating literacy into the curriculum can help tackle this gap?
In the same report, there was also a stark recognition of the effects of poverty, as noted in the even greater differential between the attainment of pupils entitled to free school meals and those who are not. I obviously welcome your recent commitment to continue to focus on the effects of poverty on attainment, but how can this review contribute to this goal?
We know that the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education has suggested that children can be held back by poor parental literacy and numeracy skills. What consideration have you given, Minister, within this review to ensuring that parents have the right skills, and indeed the time and opportunity, to support their children to develop good literacy and numeracy skills, bearing in mind that the bulk of children’s time is actually spent outside school?
Also, literacy in particular requires access to reading materials. I think that the challenge, quite simply, is how we can encourage more people to read. We know that, sadly, it seems that the severe austerity measures being inflicted on Wales by the UK Government could have the effect of local authorities closing libraries. What considerations, therefore, Minister, have you given to the impact of these measures on improving literacy in particular?
In closing, I would also say that I look forward to your announcement on the second phase, which is the curriculum for Wales.
I thank Chris Chapman for those questions. Yes; a great deal of work has already gone into understanding and trying to reduce the gap between the achievement of boys and girls, particularly when it comes to literacy skills. We now know a great deal about what is effective and the various pilot projects that have been run up and down the country have given us clear indications of what needs to be done.
The key now is to make sure that that sort of working moves on from becoming a pilot form of working to become embedded in the way that the literacy and numeracy framework operates from day to day; that it understands, and that every practitioner understands, that the needs of boys, in particular, in terms of literacy, need a particular take and approach. Otherwise, as we have seen, if that is not addressed a gap opens up, which can have an effect that is lifelong. So, mainstreaming now is the name of the game in terms of the literacy and numeracy framework as regards the evidence base that we have around the gap between the achievement of boys and girls in literacy.
The effects of poverty, of course, are endemic. They are complex and very powerful. They are very powerful effects that can be overcome only by an all-encompassing approach to counteracting them. Within all of this, the biggest single offer that we need to make sure is available to young children in poverty is that the literacy and numeracy offer is made to them intact and in a proper and professional way. The key to all other educational opportunity lies within success in literacy and numeracy. Each time we let down a child on the literacy and numeracy agenda, however much we kid ourselves, we have let them down full stop in terms of their educational future. We must take that on board as our responsibility, and the professionals must also do so.
The early years are particularly important in this regard, and in connection with this and poor parental literacy, which you mentioned, I have been working closely alongside the Deputy Minister for Tackling Poverty to look at how we could more effectively join together work around Flying Start and Communities First. We have been looking at the Communities First pupil deprivation grant match fund in particular, and how that could be working alongside communities and families, drawing families into the school as often as possible, and, indeed, getting the school outside into the community to make sure that everyone understands the importance that needs to be placed upon children’s development in literacy and numeracy in particular.
I, too, share your concerns around these times, and the access that young people might have to reading materials, whether they are electronic or paper-based. We all know that the great strides that we have made in terms of library provision up and down Wales over the last 10 years or so have transformed and modernised library services. There has been a tremendous drive to make them child-friendly, and teenager-friendly, too. My appeal to colleagues in local government would be sincere and very prolonged that, above all things, really, those strides and developments that we have made in terms of the Welsh library service, which I think now is the best in the United Kingdom, should not be at the top of anyone’s list when it comes to coping with the very real pressures that local authorities are under in terms of the austerity cuts coming down from the UK Government.
Minister, thank you for the statement today. At the outset—as this is the first opportunity—I will welcome what you said last week in your speech about breaking the link between deprivation and poor educational outcomes. That is something that has been a consistent theme of Plaid Cymru in this Assembly, and I want to work with you on achieving that. Anything that you bring forward that is based on evidence we would want to support, not only because it denies young people those educational opportunities, but because it acts as a drag on the whole Welsh economy, in my opinion. It is essential to economic success in Wales that we address this issue.
As regards the detail of your statement, our national curriculum has gone without real reform for too long. It has had so many bolt-ons and add-ons that it is looking a bit like a Transformers toy at the moment. The latest is the literacy and numeracy framework. It is appropriate that you have taken this opportunity to step back and review the whole of the national curriculum, and particularly how you integrate literacy and numeracy within and across the curriculum. I have several points to make, and questions to ask, of course, during the next couple of minutes.
I will start with the foundation phase, Minister. I welcome what you have done so far, and the tone of what you have said on that. I do want to ask you, however, what steps you will take to ensure that there is not too much pressure down on the foundation phase in a formal way. I think the foundation phase is working. It is still early days, but the evidence internationally is that this is the right approach. I think that we need to trust the evidence, trust our instincts, trust the teachers—and the learning assistants, of course—and work with them to deliver better outcomes during the foundation phase. In particular, I want to ask you what evidence you have had or what lessons you have learned from the first national tests, taken just at the end of the foundation phase, which I think had a bit of a mixed reception within the schools themselves.
Turning to your wider skills framework, I think this is an interesting concept that we already reflect, to a certain extent, in the baccalaureate, and now I think you are talking about bringing it down into key stage 3, certainly. I would like to ask you at this stage what consideration you have given, in addition to these critical learning tools—which I agree with—to emotional learning as well. There is a lot of evidence and support from teachers now around social and emotional aspects of learning, or SEAL, as it is called, as something that helps deal with problems before they become exacerbated to an extent that we then need counselling in schools, and sticking-plaster solutions. How can we integrate emotional learning, which I do not think we have paid enough attention to outside of the foundation phase, with the early stages of the curriculum and the key stages, so that we can balance critical thinking, if you like, with some emotional thinking and understanding as well? I think that that would be healthy for our schoolchildren.
I would like to ask you—it may be too early—what you actually think this new curriculum should be. It strikes me as a conflicting demand—the idea of a core curriculum that allows for enough time during the school day and week and year for teachers to innovate and for schools to become diverse and offer choice, which I think is a far better way of addressing some of the issues around education than the academy route that England has gone down. It is also the way that Finland has done it—a core curriculum with teachers filling in the additional hours. Our role as politicians, and you as Minister, is to ask for things to be added into the curriculum. I saw Laura McAllister last night making a very good speech on sports and their role in the curriculum. How do we balance this? Do you have an early take, Minister, on how you want to deliver this?
Looking forward and building on that, I welcome your commitment today to a curriculum for Wales. We have not reviewed the national curriculum since devolution. In fact, our curriculum predates devolution. We have taken the Cwricwlwm Cymraeg and tried to graft that onto it. We have something that is very difficult to navigate around. I do not want to call it a mess but it takes a lot of skill and a lot understanding to get around this curriculum. This is an opportunity to do something that is simple, understandable and really does deliver. I hope that you will take this opportunity to deliver a genuine curriculum for Wales and not something that has different aspects grafted on to it.
My final point is to ask you about the third or, indeed, the second language, depending on where you stand on the Welsh language and modern foreign languages. The evidence is clear that the early introduction of such skills can assist with the wider literacy and numeracy agenda as well. I would very much like to see us have a vision—maybe not for five years’ time but for the next 10, 15 or 20 years—for Welsh education that genuinely delivers second-language Welsh and a modern foreign language where appropriate as a way of extending numeracy skills and a genuine opportunity for people to take on board an additional language.
This is a huge opportunity, Minister. I welcome that fact that you have sought to work with people in delivering this. We are certainly ready to respond to you and to assist you in any way we can.
I thank Simon Thomas for his constructive comments and insightful questions on the agenda in front of us. He is quite right to begin his remarks with an appreciation of the scale of the problem when it comes to the link between underattainment and deprivation. With around one third of Wales’s children, depending on how you measure it, in poverty, it is, as Simon Thomas said, a drag on the whole economy. Moreover, you could make a very strong argument for saying that, unless we get to a point where those one in three young people in Wales actually succeed in an educational context, Wales as a whole could not possibly be defined as a successful country or a successful economy. The whole nation will fail alongside them because the scale of the problem is so large. Is has to remain at the centre of our thinking.
I also appreciate the grasp that Simon has expressed this afternoon in terms of the fundamental look that we are going to take in terms of the curriculum. This is a signal that we are about to move beyond the national curriculum that we are all used to and that we inherited—as Simon Thomas said, it is pre-devolutionary—and into something that is designed for a devolved Wales in a Welsh context for the twenty-first century. We should not carry forward baggage unnecessarily from the old national curriculum when we have no reason to do so.
The point on the foundation phase is important. There are certainly lessons coming through from the national tests for our very young pupils. I will be taking those on board in terms of how the tests are designed next time around—for next spring. We certainly do not want to get to the point where children are feeling pressurised in any kind of formalised environment at that age. That is completely inappropriate, but we do need to understand how young people’s language and literacy is developing from the very earliest days. We also need links before the foundation phase, and Flying Start, for instance, is very important here. The best Flying Start settings and the best foundation phase settings all have a deep and real-time understanding of a child’s development, particularly as it relates to language. I have seen that in my own constituency, but I also know that that good practice is by no means consistent across the country. We learn the lessons from the national tests and we understand how the foundation phase, when it works well, is in no way lacking in rigour, although, of course, it should not be about formalised pressure upon such very young pupils.
As to the wider skills framework, I welcome Simon’s words—I do not think that I have a lot of time left—and I agree pretty much with the take that he has expressed this afternoon.
In terms of emotional learning, I did announce as part of the statement this afternoon that we would open up the basic curriculum. There is more to emotional learning than this but, again, this is something that has not been done since devolution—we have bolted things on to the basic curriculum. I think that it is time for a root-and-branch look at exactly what we are trying to transmit to young people in terms of moral, ethical, personal and emotional development, as well as those aspects of religious and civic understanding that young people will need.
I think that time has defeated me.
Minister, may I also welcome the statement and thank you for releasing the consultation document yesterday? This was helpful as far as opposition spokespeople are concerned in understanding the background to the statement. Given the scale of the decisions that you will have to take with regard to the curriculum, this more considered approach, rather than some of the knee-jerk approaches that have been taken in England, is something that I certainly welcome.
There is recognition in the statement of the difference between those youngsters who achieve five A* to C grades and who are in receipt of free school meals, and their more affluent counterparts. Clearly, another issue might be the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report last week, which suggested that those who are in receipt of free school meals in Wales are 50% less likely to achieve those five A* to C grades than the same pupils in England. I wonder whether there would be scope to look at that with regard to defining the curriculum itself.
I was at the education yearly lecture yesterday, and I thought at the time that there is a real danger in accepting recommendations from different task groups without looking at the whole strategy. I certainly would support what you say in your statement in that regard.
I note that you say that you will be making further announcements with regard to the second phase. I wonder whether you have anything in mind as regards how soon that second phase will follow, and how long you will give for the completion of work in the first phase. While I also support what Simon Thomas and Angela Burns have said with regard to the strength of the foundation phase, I think that there is a need to look at the national tests at the end of the foundation phase in terms of consistency between local authority areas with regard to the interpretation of those tests.
Also, on visiting some pupil referral units in north Wales last Friday, I heard some concerns with regard to the number of very young children, immediately outside the foundation phase, who are being placed in these behavioural units because they find the step up to key stage 2, having been in the foundation setting, difficult to deal with. Is there scope for some of those behavioural issues that we have considered elsewhere to be taken into account in that review?
I certainly think that, given the reference at the end of your statement to the need to build a consensus, this is something that needs very much to be welcomed. We really need to have some agreement between all parties with regard to the best way forward as far as the curriculum in Wales is concerned.
Presiding Officer, I would like to thank Aled Roberts for his constructive approach to the big questions that are in front of us this afternoon. In attempting to answer his questions around the requests coming through from the various task groups, which are all intelligent requests that are well thought through and deserving of proper consideration, there are, as he said—and Simon Thomas touched on this as well—fundamental thoughts that need to be gone through in order to avoid the temptation tosimply bolt extra pieces onto the core curriculum, or the curriculum in general.
The best thing to do is to take a step back, and rather than thinking in terms of where this fits as the curriculum currently exists, we should be, instead, willing to move beyond the national curriculum as we currently consider it and get those twenty-first-century elements of teaching and learning into the offer for the young person, and then make sure that we can design a curriculum that supports it. Therefore, in other words, it is about getting the teaching and learning experience defined and then begin to define what the curriculum looks like around that. In terms of timing, Aled has raised an important point, and I am determined to look at all of this before the end of the Assembly term. Therefore, I would be keen to enter into discussions with stakeholders as soon as possible, and there is obviously a need for some full, formal, consultation on emerging proposals. I am currently looking to do that next year.
Sticking with phase 1—and picking up on a point made by Angela Burns about the numbers of pupils arriving at secondary school without the literacy skills they need to be able to follow the secondary curriculum—I admire your ambition that we are not using key stage 3 as catch-up time, but how do we empower parents to be able to challenge schools if their students are not doing well enough, are falling behind and need the extra support that, clearly, they have not been getting at key stage 2 and which has meant that many are arriving at secondary school unable to read to the standard expected of their chronological age? Are there things that you have learnt from looking at these five countries where educational attainment is so excellent, such as Finland and New Zealand, where they have empowered parents to be able to see what the entitlement should be, particularly in the context of parents who may not have done too well in school themselves?
My second point is that, increasingly, a number of teachers are using Twitter to exchange good practice and problems that they are encountering in their educational practice. I wonder if you could tell us how you will capture that sort of pedagogy, which is obviously the sort of thing that we really want to celebrate and develop across Wales.
My thanks to Jenny Rathbone. She is quite right to point to that necessity, which is contained within today’s statement, to walk before we can run, and that phase 1 is the work of the moment—making sure that the literacy and numeracy framework is delivered as intended; that we, and parents, understand the system; and that we are all able to challenge it when it comes to transmitting the basic keys to the kingdom of education, if you like, which are literacy and numeracy. Once those keys are handed over, all else becomes possible.
What matters most of all, in terms of parents’ ability to hold the system to account, is the information that will now be flowing to them through the literacy, reading and numeracy tests that were never there before. There are also things such as My Local School, which is the web-based tool for parents to understand in real time how their local school is doing, and, critically, we need to maintain those links of accountability towards the community that our community schools system has, which is currently being dismantled across the border in England, with schools becoming disconnected from their community and, therefore, the parents, and are being connected only to the Minister’s office. That is something that we will not be emulating here in Wales. There are questions here that we will need to explore around our offer to looked-after children, because, of course, there are groups of children for whom there may not necessarily be a parent on the scene, and I think that there is a separate piece of work that needs to be undertaken in terms of making sure that every child has someone working on their behalf and holding the school and the local education authority to account for them.
On 1 October, I agreed to bring a statement to Plenary on the fire and rescue services in Wales. On 9 October, in my written statement on deliberate fire setting and attacks on firefighters, I stated that I would provide information on improvements in fire safety for Welsh citizens since the devolution of the fire and rescue services in 2004-05. Since that time, due to investment by the Welsh Government, I am pleased to say that fire fatalities have decreased by 37% and injuries by 57%; the overall incidence of fires in Wales has fallen by nearly 57%; and accidental fires in the home have reduced by a fifth, and deliberate fires by two thirds.
Support for community fire safety activity is a key commitment in the programme for government. The Welsh Government began funding this safety activity in 2002 and, since that time, it has provided around £50 million to support community fire safety, with over 0.5 million home fire safety checks delivered in Wales, providing fire prevention advice and equipment such as smoke detectors. Those Members who attended the event in the Senedd yesterday will have noted the breadth of work undertaken by the fire and rescue services.
A range of preventative activities has been developed to help reduce the problem of arson. Multi-agency arson-reduction teams in each fire and rescue authority look to educate our children and young people, ensure our public buildings are protected and provide support and protection to those living under the threat of arson. The Phoenix project is an excellent example of this, which I have seen at first hand. Aimed at young people aged 11 to 25, it addresses issues ranging from low self-esteem to anti-social behaviour and fire-related problems such as deliberate fire-setting and hoax calls. This investment, through specific fire safety grants, with effective co-ordination between the three fire and rescue services, has directly contributed to improving the safety and quality of life for people in Wales. This is clearly evidenced in the statistics that I have already referred to.
As a Government, we will continue to do everything we can to make Wales as safe as it can be. I am proud of this Government’s decision to require sprinklers in all new and converted homes and residential accommodation, which is a first in the UK. Looking forward, while there have been significant improvements for the citizens of Wales since the devolution of the fire and rescue services, we are now in difficult financial times. I have sent a clear message to local authorities of the unprecedented financial climate, and the fire and rescue authorities are not exempt from this challenging agenda.
I am mindful of the way that cuts to fire budgets in England have led to cuts in services. We have taken a more measured approach in Wales, enabling fire and rescue authorities to take account of the risks to our communities. However, as money becomes more limited, it is vitally important that the public receives value for money from every penny spent. Fire and rescue authorities have a role to drive forward changes and ensure services are accountable for their actions and performance. Change can be challenging and reforms sometimes difficult for communities, staff and politicians alike.
The three fire and rescue authorities in Wales are looking at different means of service delivery, including reviewing crewing systems, considering what functions can be delivered by operational and non-operational staff and, of course, making decisions about the location of resources. It is the responsibility of fire and rescue authorities to ensure that they have the full range of information and evidence, including risk assessments, to inform their decision making. While we welcome the reduction in fires and the impact this is having on communities, it does provide a challenge. Fire and rescue authorities must manage the expectations of a community against the resulting changes in a community’s risk profile. Fire and rescue authorities need to engage with the public to ensure that communities have clarity on how proposed changes in service delivery impact on them and to ensure that citizens are able to make an informed response to these proposals.
To take forward their collaborative agenda, the three Welsh fire and rescue authorities have established the national issues committee. Its remit is to enable the Welsh fire and rescue services to achieve greater collaboration to ensure optimum efficiency. The national issues committee has already identified potential savings of £2.6 million over five years.
As well as collaboration across the three fire and rescue authorities, there are examples of innovative approaches to collaboration with the other emergency services. These include the joint control arrangement with the police in north Wales, the purpose-built fire station, police station and justice centre in Llandrindod Wells, and the community responder pilot scheme in Cardiff with the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust. It is clear that this collaborative approach has clear benefits to communities, with improved information sharing, and, in some cases, a faster and more appropriate response to incidents.
Our community safety initiatives include the Wales arson reduction strategy, which is our multi-agency approach to tackling arson. Welsh Government has allocated £752,000 in 2013-14 to continue to fund the arson reduction teams and fire crime teams.They also include the fire and rescue authorities strategy for children and young people, which targets intervention towards young offenders, and those on the cusp of offending, who demonstrate fire-setting behaviour. For 2013-14, the Welsh Government has allocated £570,000 to the fire and rescue authorities. They also include the road safety framework, which, again, is a multi-agency approach with the police and local authorities, where fire and rescue services provide support on road safety awareness, as well as emergency support at road traffic incidents.
Our fire and rescue service personnel are highly respected by us all for their sterling work, dedication and commitment. However, they recognise the need to adapt to the tough financial climate that we now face, by developing regional and collaborative approaches to delivery, with each other and with the wider Welsh public sector. The safety of communities is paramount, and I am committed to driving forward the agenda for fire and rescue services that is set out in the programme for government, and to maintaining the gains that have been achieved since devolution.
Thank you very much, Minister, for your statement, which, as you say, followed a Plenary commitment early this month to do so, as well as your 9 October statement on deliberate fire-setting attacks on firefighters, which I think had followed a question by my colleague William Graham in Plenary just before the summer recess. Of course, we join with you in applauding and celebrating the contribution that is made by the Welsh fire and rescue services in the many areas that you describe, including prevention, home fire safety, arson reduction, road safety, engagement with children and young people, and so much more.
You refer to the funding that has been provided by the Welsh Government for community fire safety activity since 2002—some £50 million. This is, admittedly, a couple of years old, but I think that, in 2010, I attended a conference in Rhyl that was held by Firebrake Wales, the Welsh fire safety charity. Firebrake Wales thanked the fire and rescue services in large part for having produced the fall in fire deaths because of their prevention role. However, it also said that we need a robust evaluation of interventions that work, and it wanted to work more closely with Welsh Government and fire and rescue services to collect and analyse data on accidental dwelling fires, to inform future fire-prevention strategies. Has such robust evaluation work been undertaken with Firebrake Wales, the fire and rescue services and other key stakeholders? If so, what did it conclude, based on the objective evidence?
Vaguely related to that was your subsequent comment on the Government’s decision to require sprinklers in all new and converted homes, and in residential accommodation. You will be aware that, after the legislation on fire sprinklers was passed, the Welsh Government itself commissioned a report from the Building Research Establishment on the cost benefits of residential sprinklers for Wales. That report concluded that fitting sprinklers in all new residential premises in Wales was not cost effective, where Government guidance was followed on assigning monetary values to deaths and injuries prevented. Therefore, what consideration did the Welsh Government give to the report that it commissioned prior to reaching the Order that we are going to be debating, I believe, later this afternoon?
You refer to the commendable Phoenix project. In your 9 October statement, you stated that the feedback from the Phoenix project was extremely positive, with evidence of a reduction in reoffending. Minister, could you share that evidence with the Assembly? It is good news, but it would be great if we could all see that evidence, and share that with you. On a similar note, could you comment on a related activity with the Young Firefighters Association, which works with young people aged 11 to 17? It has seven branches—for instance, in north Wales—and it helps to inspire young people to become better citizens.
You refer to a challenging financial agenda, and that three services in Wales are looking at different means of service delivery and the need to engage with the public. What engagement is the Welsh Government having with the various consultations that the three services have launched, which is running until December in north Wales, entitled ‘Our Plans for Fire and Rescue Services in North Wales’? South Wales is conducting a review of fire cover, noting that demand on its services has fallen by 40% in the last decade due to success with fire prevention and education work. Similar points were made by north Wales, which recognises the need to provide sustainable affordable fire and rescue services in north Wales in the longer term.
Linked to that, could you refer to the role you believe that retained firefighters will play in the changing environment? I know that there is a regional aspect to that, where mid and west Wales may have a different provision requirement to north or south Wales.
My very final point— [Interruption.]
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
It is the final point.
Could you comment on the role of fire co-responders?
Thank you for all those questions, Mark Isherwood. I should probably say right at the outset that fire and rescue authorities are autonomous bodies, and it is very important that we give them the freedom to make their decisions. However, they have to have very robust evidence on which to come forward with their proposals.
You referred to fire sprinklers not being cost-effective. That piece of legislation brought forward by my friend Ann Jones was unanimously voted for, as far as I remember, in this place and was welcomed by everybody. All the alarm bells that went off about the doom and gloom of several aspects of bringing that legislation forward have not been met. As I have gone round meeting with people, it is very much welcomed that that piece of legislation, the first of its kind in the UK, is coming forward.
You refer to several projects that have been put forward as part of community safety. Yesterday, all three fire and rescue authorities were here in the Senedd and a great deal of projects and schemes were on display. I met with a young man who is in Hillside Secure Centre just outside Neath who was undertaking some work around arson reduction. The authorities had many vehicles here that are used in that multi-agency approach that I am talking about, namely their collaborative way of working, such as how closely they work with the police on road safety. They even had their boat out in the bay, but it was just a coincidence—they were training that day—and we could see what work they undertook in relation to flooding.
You mentioned the Phoenix project, and I have evaluation data I will be very happy to publish them. When I visited the project in south Wales—it is now rolled out across the country—it was very pleasing to see. It was working with a group of very young people—it goes from the age of 11 to 25—on the day that I visited. It starts on a Monday and finishes on a Friday. I visited on the Thursday and was told that the discipline shown by these young people would not have been so apparent on the Monday, but that it was very clear, after just four days’ work, how much the young people got out of it. I would be very happy to publish the figures if I have them to hand regarding reoffending.
I meet regularly with the chairs and chief fire officers, and a range of issues are discussed. The current financial climate is an area of concern for everybody. The fire and rescue services are a vital part of the public sector, and they are not exempt from the financial challenges that we all face.
Minister, I welcome the statement today and I want to focus on the community fire safety activity that your statement mentioned. However, I think that we should have a debate on the fire service on a regular basis, as it is a service that is often forgotten in terms of debating time. I would have liked to have had a full debate on it.
That said, I welcome the fact that we are seeing some excellent work being done by fire services across Wales, particularly in their commitment to partnership work. They have some very good initiatives on teaching people about using their prevention methods. Someone picked this up for me—it was on display yesterday; it is a pointer for testing your smoke alarms. So, if you are not able to climb up on a step ladder, all you do is press the button and you know that you are going to be safe. My granddaughter could probably do a lot of damage with this and there are a few people that I could do a lot of damage to by pointing this, so I will put it down. Nevertheless, that is a very good initiative, which shows that the fire service is trying to find ways to connect with people’s ordinary, everyday life.
I also want to mention the Young Firefighters Association, which was born in north Wales. It was started by a retained leading firefighter in Prestatyn, Stan Ruffley, who has sadly passed away—in fact, his funeral is this week. People like Stan should be remembered for their commitment to assisting young people in the fire service to take part, to know the demonstration and to see what community-spirited things they could do.
So, Minister, will you continue to update this Chamber regularly on the work that the fire service is doing? Will you also agree that we should have regular updates on what the fire service does and that we should be continuing to promote community safety wherever we go?
I thank Ann Jones for those questions. I am certainly very happy to debate the fire and rescue services at regular intervals. Perhaps we can have a full debate in the new year. You are right; it is very important that we remember what a vital part of the public sector the fire and rescue authorities are. In relation to that, you will be aware that I undertook a tour of all 22 local authorities over the summer. I intend to spend a considerable time, perhaps a full day, in each fire and rescue authority area over the Christmas recess, to see the work that they carry out. I think that it is good to remember the partnership working. The chairs repeatedly say to me, ‘We cannot do this on our own; we have to do it with a multi-agency approach’. Clearly, that is happening at an unprecedented level.
I resisted bringing one of those pointers into the Chamber, but I am very pleased that you did. They cost £1.75. If you think that that stops an elderly person standing on a very wobbly stool to test their smoke detector, and if you think of the preventative spend for the health service, I think that it is money very well spent.
It is very nice that you remembered Stan in the Chamber today. I will look at the Young Firefighters Association when I visit north Wales.
Minister, I have only two questions. First, I have a question about fire service work to prevent arson. I acknowledge that a lot of multi-agency work is done in order to reduce the number of arson cases, and it is good to see that backed up by statistics. Do the four elected police commissioners—I am not convinced about how democratic those elections were, and how much of a mandate they have, given the low turnout, but they have been elected—have a role to play in that process?
I also have a question about the pension situation for the fire service. I accept that the terms and conditions of of these workers are not fully devolved, although the Welsh Government has a degree of control over the process. The simple question that I want to ask is: do you believe that the situation currently facing firefighters in Wales is fair, or do you believe that the coalition in Westminster, in discussion with the Welsh Government, should revisit this and ensure that Welsh firefighters are given more fair play?
I thank Rhodri Glyn Thomas for those questions. In relation to preventing arson, in line with the Wales arson reduction strategy, you will have heard me mention that we have arson reduction teams in each of the FRAs, which work with partners to programme and plan proactive intervention measures. You will have heard me talk about the Phoenix project, which is aimed at young people about whom there is a concern in relation to arson. Clearly, those projects work very well.
In relation to the police and crime commissioners, I meet them regularly. I met with the chief constables last week and the PCCs the week before and we have discussions around multi-agency working between the three emergency services.
In relation to the dispute on pensions that is ongoing, I just met with the Fire Brigades Union again this morning. While firefighter pensions are devolved to Welsh Ministers, our ability to diverge from the UK-wide arrangements in relation to pensions is very limited by HM Treasury policy and that is something that the FBU accepts. The First Minister and I have met with the FBU regularly and we have had very good discussions. The FBU is meeting again with my officials in the morning and one matter that we are hoping to pursue is a common fitness standard in Wales, because that is something that we can assist with and something that the FBU is very keen to take forward.
Minister, I thank you for your statement. May I take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the firefighters and their support staff in the work that they do in protecting our lives and saving lives in terms of fighting fires, accident rescues and a whole range of other work that they do? I note your statement and I very much support the issue of sprinklers, which is one element of preventative measures, and has been taken as part of this agenda, and we are due to debate that next. Obviously, preventative work is a very important part of the work that firefighters carry out and it is important that a lot more emphasis is placed on that if we are to prevent fires and accidents, as part of that.
Therefore, would you consider supporting an additional preventative measure, which is the installation of carbon monoxide detectors, which also have the capacity to save lives from faulty appliances? I know that this is not directly your brief, but it is an issue that you might want to take up in terms of this particular agenda. Will you undertake to look at that issue and whether there is a need for additional regulations as part of that, particularly in terms of social housing, to try to protect people from the deaths and injuries that occur every year as a result of that?
Secondly, you have referred already to the very difficult financial climate that the fire and rescue services face. As a result of that, there has been some rationalisation of fire stations—one in particular in my region, around Porthcawl, has caused some concern. Could you say what overview you are taking of those plans to ensure that when changes are put in place, they are robust and have been properly risk-managed, so that some assurance can be given to residents that their safety is assured, and that any additional journey times associated with those changes are not going to put lives at risk?
Finally, in relation to the pensions issue, I very much support what Rhodri Glyn Thomas said and your response to him. A common fitness standard is absolutely vital, but there is concern about the increase in retirement age among firefighters as a result of the assessment that has been mitigated by the agreement with the UK Government. Again, I think that it would be appreciated if you could indicate that you will be reviewing and monitoring that to see what the impact is on individual firefighters and on the service as a whole.
I thank Peter Black for his words about the whole range of services that they provide. Certainly, before I took up this portfolio, I had no idea of the very extensive range of services that the fire and rescue authorities offered. When they were here yesterday, I learnt even more about that.
As fatalities and injuries have fallen in relation to fires, they have upped their game with their community fire safety activities as a consequence, which leads to even more safety, and that is why they have this focus on it. Certainly, I am committed to retaining the funding as best as I can for community safety.
I am happy to have discussions with my colleague Carl Sargeant, the Minister for Housing and Regeneration, regarding carbon monoxide. Perhaps we could look at that. We would have to have a look at the costs of it.
On the question asked by Rhodri Glyn Thomas and my answer to him about the pension issues, in relation to the fitness standard, that is something that we can look at very closely in Wales. I mentioned that I met with representatives of the FBU today and I hope that, tomorrow, my officials can have further conversations with them, but it is something that we are monitoring. I am also having discussions with my counterpart in the UK Government.
May I thank the Minister for her statement? Although I am disappointed that we are not having a full debate today, which is something that I have asked for, I am heartened by the assurances that she gave earlier to Ann Jones, and I hope that the Minister will make good on that commitment as soon as possible.
I know that you are aware, Minister, of the proposals to remove the second appliance at Cwmbrân fire station—plans that would halve fire cover and leave a town of 50,000 people with just one fire engine. I am personally unconvinced that the data analysis underpinning the Cwmbrân proposals give sufficient weight to the critical role that the second engine has played at a number of emergencies down the years, whether or not it was actually the first engine to arrive at the scene of a fire. Minister, I would like to ask you two key questions. Given that the First Minister has said publicly that those making decisions about local fire cover must ensure that services can be provided safely and quickly to the local population, will you outline how you intend to monitor this, both before and after that key meeting of the South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority in December? Secondly, if you are concerned that those key factors have not being sufficiently addressed, what powers do you have to intervene in this fire cover review and would you be prepared to use them?
I thank Lynne Neagle for those questions, and I will be very happy to have—it will probably be next year—a further debate on the fire and rescue authorities. I know of your concerns about the station to which you referred, and I know that you met—I think that it was last week—with Huw Jakeway, the chief fire officer for south Wales. I have had discussions with him, and he has confirmed to me that he has undertaken a very robust risk assessment regarding the consultation proposals. You will be aware that they are at stage two of the proposals in south Wales and that there is still time for people to feed in to that consultation. If I did not think that the risk assessment was correct or that a robust enough assessment had been done, I have a fire adviser whom I could look to to tell me his views about the consultation proposals and the assessment, and I would then intervene and speak to the chief fire officer and take those concerns further. However, I would urge everyone to forward their concerns to the consultation, if they have any.
This afternoon, I want to take the opportunity to update Members on Mark Barry’s metro study. Earlier this year, I asked Mark to undertake a study to develop proposals for a south-east Wales metro and to identify strategic interventions to improve the provision of integrated transport in south-east Wales, with a focus on journeys to and from work. The purpose of the report was to look at the wider impact of the metro and links to economic development and regeneration opportunities, as well as identifying the areas not serviced by the rail network, including links with the trunk road network.
Mark has now submitted his final report to me, setting out his findings and recommendations from the evidence gathered. I published the executive summary of the report on Monday. This report is an important milestone in setting the future direction for transport infrastructure in south-east Wales, and I am grateful to Mark Barry and his team for the work they have undertaken in preparing this report. Transport has a critical role in improving Wales’s economic competitiveness, providing enhanced access to jobs and services. In thinking about transport infrastructure, we must focus on how it can serve the needs of businesses, people and communities.
The report sets out the big picture and future direction, with a number of key priorities. I want us to move quickly to a more detailed plan and delivery stage. To this end, I am setting up an implementation group to consider the report and its findings in more detail. We need to identify key milestones and actions to ensure that we can deliver against our priorities for economic growth in the region. In addition, on 9 October, the Minister for Finance announced that a £62 million capital allocation has been set aside for phase 1 of a new scheme to create a south-east Wales metro system through better bus and rail links. While we are taking quick action to take this work forward, it needs to be recognised that this is a long-term strategy to put the right building blocks and infrastructure in place. This is the beginning of a journey. Where there are quick wins, we will have to look to implement them as quickly as possible; however, the evidence in the report demonstrates that this is a long-term project.
The report is, of course, closely aligned to our city regions approach and shows that the metro provides an opportunity to improve the economy of the south-east Wales city region. In that sense, this is far more than just a transport project. By aligning wider strategic activities, priorities and investments as part of a co-ordinated city region approach, the metro will be a catalyst for transforming the economic prospects of the region and Wales. The city region model, therefore, has a key role to play. To that end, I am considering arrangements for the south-east Wales city region and will be making an announcement about this in the near future. This report is an important step towards delivering an integrated transport system for south-east Wales that will support the economic development of the area. I will keep Members updated as the work progresses.
Thank you, Minister, for that statement. I broadly welcome your statement today on behalf of the Welsh Conservatives. I have a few key questions on the statement and I would welcome clarification around a few things. First, we all accept the importance of the metro scheme in the context of driving economic development, and I thank you for publishing Mark Barry’s executive summary. However, I would have welcomed a full report on the business case breakdown for all of the schemes within the metro included within this statement. Within the metro impact study, it outlines, I think, just shy of £2 billion-worth of projects. When will we be able to see the individual business cases and further details on some of the assumptions, such as direct economic impact?
I was disappointed not to see in your statement—and I would be, would I not?—recognition of the UK Government’s contribution towards the metro vision, namely the electrification of the main line and Valleys lines in south Wales. Will you assure the Chamber that you recognise that without that significant investment the metro concept would not have been possible?
Much of the metro is based on local authorities’ local development plans. Perhaps you could tell us how these assumptions will work if the city region model takes over strategic planning.
Given that the Minister for Finance, Jane Hutt, has already outlined £62 million-worth of capital allocation for phase 1 of the metro, how does this fit into the implementation group that you are setting up? Does this really represent joined-up thinking? Perhaps you could give us some thinking around that.
We all recognise that it is a long-term project, and I especially welcome this longer term thinking from the Welsh Government; however, I think that we need to get key milestones in this, actions and a timetable compiled quite quickly. How do you intend to ensure that these are produced as quickly as possible, have political consensus, and will last while Ministers and Governments may change?
I recognise that some of my questions might sound overly critical. This is not intended. I really am a passionate advocate for the metro, but it is essential, I think, that our business case in evidence at the beginning stands up to scrutiny, if we are to form political consensus and work together to secure the significant amount of funding needed here. Thank you.
The reason for my statement today is that I indicated to Members that as soon as Mark Barry’s report was available I would make a statement to the Chamber. The full report will be sent to Members and, as I indicated to the appropriate committee last week, I will be more than happy to ensure that proper, detailed briefings on his report will be done for Members so that they can attend and ask all the necessary questions, which I think will then show the direction of travel.
The full report is quite detailed and it outlines where we are going in the future in terms of the metro because it is not just a transport scheme. It is about all of the issues surrounding the land that will be available for economic development, where housing might be, what more joint things need to be done on housing developments and the way that towns and everything will look in the future. It is a question of whether we end up opening a great deal of land when we start to look at these issues; and whether we look at how we extend the metro beyond where it is now into areas where people might want to live in the future. So, I that we must have quite a detailed discussion on that.
The implementation group that I mentioned in my announcement will internally go through every point that has been raised and it will then deal with the external partners. Mark Barry will be adviser to that group, and it will then look at some of the financial models that may be available to fund it.
I do acknowledge, obviously, the good news about electrification because this is a key issue for us in terms of developing the transport infrastructure.
Of course, local development plans are also an issue that my colleague Carl Sargeant has been very interested in from the planning field, when he has been looking at planning legislation and how there can be more joined-up working done in those areas, probably as a result of the metro. So, there will be key milestones and a timetable. I want to get the key initial things done. I want to be able to say, ‘In the next few years you will see the following, but you might not see the next lot until 2020 as they go on’, so that people can have confidence that the first issues will be dealt with. So, when we come to the appropriate discussion with Mark Barry and briefings, I think it will be opportune for me—probably before the Christmas recess, Presiding Officer—to update Members further on how we are taking the implementation through. You did make a very important point about political consensus. There is absolute consensus within the business community about what it wants from the metro, how it wishes to see it work, and how it sees it delivering economically for the whole of south-east Wales and further afield in terms of its links. We are finalising our arrangements on the board for the city region. It has been quite easy to finalise the involvement of the private sector and the higher education and further education sector on the board. It has not been as easy to necessarily get consensus and agreement among the local authorities on involvement, but I very much hope that, when I make my statement on city regions, I will be able to give a full announcement to this Chamber; I think that will be in the second week in November. The role of the city region board will be, because it will be private sector-led in that area, to look at what we are doing in terms of work, other expert assistance that it might make, and how it is actually going to make this run for the benefit of the economy, recognising, like all city regions, that they have lifespans of not just of five, 10 or 15 years, but 20 to 25 years.
I am very pleased to welcome the Minister’s statement today, and particularly her emphasis on the importance of transport to economic development and to the city region, and how, in fact, all of those are tightly bound up together with a vision for this area. I just have a few points and questions. First, would you be able to harness the research experience of universities such as Cardiff University, which obviously has a great deal of research capacity, and also has, in terms of industry, the biotech companies, which are so successful? Does the Minister see them playing a role in the longer term strategy?
I also want to make the point that it was revealed over the weekend that Cardiff would be likely to lose £70 million per annum if HS2 goes ahead as planned, because of its distance from HS2. Would she agree that this makes it even more urgent that we move ahead with the metro and with the city region development in view of what the consequences of that may be? May I also welcome the priority given to enhancing, as a first stage, the existing network? I am very pleased that there are plans to have more stations in my constituency, such as at Gabalfa and, I think, at St Mellons—just on the edge, or just outside. I think this is a very good step forward.
Cardiff University, and all the higher education institutions, have been very helpful with regard to the development of the city region and the metro. We will certainly be using their expertise within these particular areas, because they have proved to be excellent partners on this particular agenda. I, too, have read with interest the report about HS2 and the impacts on Cardiff. We obviously have to drill down into that, but my priority now is to ensure that we get this system up and running, and that we know exactly where we are going in terms of the direction of travel. It will be even more important that we look at the borrowing powers issue, what we are able to do, and how we are able to look to European structural funds, which I am having discussions with my colleague the Minister for Finance about, so that we can have a total financial package in place, or an understanding of how we are going to deal with the financial package, as we move on with the metro.
Also, it is very important that we recognise, that, when we talk about the metro, everybody sees it as a concept, but it is not a concept: it is really real. At the end of the day, we are going to have to look at how we deal with buses—the novel idea that there should be bus stops at every station, and proper time-tabling, and all this type of stuff, is key to how we will ensure that we get more people out of their cars and in a system in which they are able to go back and forth to work.
There also has to be recognition that, currently, Cardiff does relatively well in terms of jobs, and the areas outside need more help and assistance with jobs. This metro system will allow two-way traffic. This is not all about traffic into the city, and it is not all about creating dormitory towns in the Valleys—it is actually about ensuring that there is activity in the Valleys, because employers can look at the transport system and say, ‘I’ve got a bigger pool of people up there that I can easily facilitate back and forth’.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
This is, once again, a day of historic announcements, and I very much welcome the way in which you are sharing information on these innovative proposals. In looking at the structure of the south-east Wales valleys, we see a structure not unlike what we are all familiar with in the extractive industries across Wales, namely that social structures and links have been created because mining has been located in areas dictated by difficult geography. It is great to think that we are talking about transforming railways and connecting roads in valleys that were established to extract carbon in the quickest possible way to make the greatest profits for the red-brick building that is now part of the heritage of the National Assembly. Of course, the darker side to that is the disastrous history that we all have been remembering over the past few weeks in terms of the human cost of the industry.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
However, we should see this as a new opportunity. As you said earlier, this is not just a transport system: it is an opportunity to connect people without polluting the environment and an opportunity to decarbonise public services. In so doing, it is exceptionally important, as you said, that we plan this in an integrated manner from the outset.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
I have two points on that. How will you ensure that the governance structure for this project, from the outset, will be a governance structure that will bring people together and will be far-reaching, imaginative, and seek original and imaginative means of finding funding sources—everything that is so clearly set out in this report?
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Secondly, how will you sell this to people in their communities who are not going to see this as an opportunity to develop the quality of the life of their community, but who are going to see it as a licence to commute? I think it is just as important that we talk about how people from Cardiff and the Vale can access the Valleys for the pleasures of walking, mountaineering and cycling in the woods, and all of things that we know about and wish to promote. How can we make that part of the most exciting transport project, certainly in this century, in Wales?
When we think of the quality of the engineering that went into the old railway network that used to exist, that is what will be the quality of the engineering and understanding when we produce the metro plans. It will be very important for us to understand that we are almost going back a couple of generations in terms of some of the access we are looking at in terms of stations. You are right that it is important to sell it through communities and not just to say, ‘This is about what we are doing in terms of the metro’. That is why I think that detailed location-focused regeneration plans will help people understand what their communities can gain and what good it could bring in. We hear a lot of talk about regenerating town centres and so on. If you have new transport links, you may have more footfall in some of those areas for the businesses that might want to be there for the person getting on the train in the morning, or the café where they might want to have their cup of tea when they come back in the evening. So, I think that will be quite important.
Innovative finance is very important for us. It will be a priority for the EU and the Wales infrastructure fund investment, but it will also be good to look at other examples of how it has been done. If we look at the Manchester metro and how the local authorities dealt with some of the issues around funding there, and how they put some money aside, that will be quite important. These are some of the issues that we are going to have to look at when we look at the funding strategy for each phase. That will mean bringing in the required expertise from teams. It may mean bringing in expertise from people who have already done projects like this to see how we could make the models really work in Wales.
On the governance structure, once we have kick-started the process with the embryonic city regions, have the discussion and have got the implementation, I will have to think very carefully about a governance structure. I have the powers for passenger transport authorities, which would be a mechanism if this were only a metro project, but it is not only a metro project, it is an economic development project, so I will be giving some detailed consideration to that. I am likely to commission some work on that in the new year, which I will be able to report back to Assembly Members on.
Thank you, Minister, and thanks also to Mark Barry for the executive summary to his further report. We look forward to receiving that in due course. Thank you, Minister, for your offer of briefings on that.
This is an incredibly exciting project for south-east Wales and we want to see work progress quickly but also the right work progress quickly. I wish that I had put a fiver on you announcing the establishment of a working group today, Minister, but I am sorry to say that I did not. I had hoped that, with the budget announcement of £62 million to make a start on the metro concept already made, the statement would have given us more information about how that money will be spent. Surely, if such a specific sum has been allocated to this project, some decisions on what projects and what schemes will go ahead must have been taken already. I wonder whether you are able to share some of those details with us today, and when you think that the more detailed plan that you mentioned in your statement might be ready for us to scrutinise.
Clearly, we recognise the need to develop a project of this scale in stages, with the long-term, medium-term and short-term delivery plans being quite different things, but you mentioned short-term quick wins, and I had hoped to hear confirmation of what some of those might be, perhaps in terms of planning and integration, and I am wondering whether any of the £62 million will be allocated to the completion of the Go Cymru Welsh Oyster card system.
In terms of some of the more infrastructure type of projects that have been mentioned previously in the national transport plan, such as re-connecting Newport to Ebbw Vale via the rail service, which only requires the upgrade of a very small piece of track, and things such as a station to the east of Cardiff, which is a matter of great importance to people living in that part of the city and something that the First Minister has previously indicated that he is in favour of, I wonder whether you can give us a time frame on when we might see something like that. Thirdly, the Aberdare to Hirwaun extension has been discussed several times, but I do not yet know what the proposed completion date for that is. If you could give us some details, that would be very helpful.
Looking to the longer term, obviously futureproofing these new developments is absolutely critical, and while I welcome news such as that the station at Pye Corner is to reopen with funds from the UK Government, I am concerned that new station proposals such as that are not necessarily being seen in the broader scheme of things, because the proposed site, just to the north of the junction where the Ebbw Vale and Machen lines split, means that, if the Machen line is ever opened to passenger transport, the Pye Corner station will miss it. By locating that station just half a mile south, you might have more passengers and more use for that particular piece of infrastructure, so would you please have a look at that?
I also notice that freight transport is not mentioned in the report or in your statement today, Minister. While I recognise that the focus of this particular piece of work has been on passenger transport, as an economic development strategy, it is also crucial that we are able to move goods over our infrastructure as well as people. We have to recognise that passengers and freight share both the road and the rail infrastructure. If we want to plan for a growth in our capacity to carry passengers, we have to understand that that will have an impact on freight. Similarly, if, for environmental reasons, we want to encourage freight movements by rail, we need to understand that that will have an impact on our ability to carry more passenger trains as well.
One specific proposal in the metro report is the development of light rail or tramlines around the south of Cardiff, which would have the impact of removing passengers from the railways and putting them elsewhere, and I wonder whether you will ask the group to consider the impact on freight as they move forward.
Finally, I note that the Minister for Finance confirmed in a letter to the Finance Committee that there will be a Barnett consequential from HS2. I wonder whether you are able to say how much that will amount to. Will your Government commit to investing this money in Wales’s infrastructure so that our public transport can be transformed and the impacts that we have heard about will not be damaging to the economy of south-east Wales?
The Minister for Finance has heard your comments and is smiling at me wryly. I think that it will be quite a long time ahead. We need to get to the immediate issues in looking at how we can do funding in terms of the metro. The points on freight are well made. That is not contained in this particular report, but we will have to look at the freight implications of some of these proposals, hence why we are going to have the expert group in to go through all of this in particular detail.
The futureproofing of the metro is essential, but some of it, in terms of what land we might need, and when local authorities look at the potential for land, there might still be an element of guesswork on the local authority side when they come to the table to say, ‘We think that, by doing this, that will open this, and this will happen’. We are going to have to make some judgments along the piece about how we are going to deal with some of those issues.
In terms of the current investment, I think that there is a commitment to £77 million in the current programme. That obviously includes the new station and the park and ride at Pye Corner, for which we have had a contribution from the UK Government, the new station and rail extension at Ebbw Vale town, together with, of course, the £62 million, and that will be for looking at rail-infrastructure improvements for a future second train per hour to and from Ebbw Vale, which I think takes up some of the issues that have already been raised in the Chamber. There will also be station upgrades and accessibility improvements and park-and-ride schemes. I am also looking at using part of the money on bus corridors and on walking and cycling schemes, which are very much in line with our Active Travel (Wales) Bill commitments, and on further technical development of the key priority future programmes and schemes identified in the metro report.
I will have a clearer idea about the information that I will share, and you will have a clearer idea about what you want to ask, when you have Mark Barry’s full report. As I have indicated to the Presiding Officer, I will certainly be more than happy to come back before Christmas to explain how implementation is going and what work is ongoing.
You made a good point earlier. We have to understand that we have to be united in our collective vision of the metro. We have the united support of business across the piece to deal with these issues, and it is important that we drive this as hard as we can in terms of making it a reality, because, in my opinion, this is the last chance to get a big project like this off the ground and to get it right, so that it serves a useful purpose, not just in a few years’ time, but in a generation’s time.
I greatly welcome what the Minister has said today. The statement brings about a great deal of what, for many years, many have argued for. It is important to note that this is not just about trains, buses and trams, but it is also about the connectivity of people, where they live, where they can work, and about bringing new jobs into those areas. As the Minister said, it is part of a capital region, and we hope that this will be one of the first building blocks—there will, hopefully, be many others to come. However, I ask the Minister to bear in mind the needs of the less populated parts of south-east Wales in particular, which will still be some time away from these new stations. We welcome the statement, and I very much hope that the Minister can give that reassurance.
Yes. There are some issues about the currently less populated parts of Wales. We have to recognise that increases in the population, the opportunity for new builds et cetera may well have an impact as we go out to Magor and that area. This is the type of futureproofing that we have to do, and we might want to indicate to local authorities that they should make their priorities known in that area, as we go out to Monmouthshire, so that we can see, possibly, the extension of the metro system into those particular areas.
It is important that we recognise that we have the opportunity now to look at the various ways that we can deal with this issue. As a minimum, we can explore the tram-train in the bay and in the city and we can then look at what we do to northern Cardiff. Therefore, it is an exciting opportunity for us to look at issues around housing and employment development and the whole skills base, and it is also an opportunity to take into account some of our very good policies on active travel and health, which I also think will be linked to the development of the metro.
Motion NDM5336 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales; in accordance with Standing Order 27.5
Approves that the draft The Domestic Fire Safety (Definition of Residence) (Wales) Order 2013 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 27 September 2013.
I move the motion.
I am pleased to be able to come to the National Assembly today to support the Domestic Fire Safety (Definition of Residence) (Wales) Order 2013. This Order helps the implementation of the Domestic Fire Safety (Wales) Measure 2011, which was passed in the Assembly with all-party support in February 2011. I would like to pay tribute to Ann Jones, whose hard work has ensured that the Measure was passed into law.
There were 14 deaths and 438 injuries due to fire in dwellings in 2012-13. I still consider those numbers to be far too high. The Measure requires the installation of fire suppression systems, such as fire sprinklers, in new and converted residences. Fire sprinklers will save lives and prevent injury to householders and firefighters.
We decided to implement the Measure through the existing system of building regulations. The building regulations present a tried-and-tested system, which has the confidence of designers, builders, architects and the building-control bodies. The Order that we are voting on today does two things. First, it changes the definition of ‘residence’ within the domestic fire safety Measure, to align it with the definition of ‘residence’ in the building regulations. Secondly, it adds children’s homes to the categories of residences that will require fire sprinklers.
Nine years ago, the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service had a very high number of fire deaths. The service invited Members, including me, to discuss that with them. The service’s first concern was the lack of data sharing regarding high-risk groups and the lack of data sharing between health, social services, the criminal justice system and others, which meant that people who should have been identified as high risk were not identified. After various interventions, that data sharing came into place. The service purchased portable fire sprinklers, and they were successful on a targeted basis in saving lives, and have continued to be so.
A few years later—in fact, three years ago—I attended a conference in Rhyl with Firebrake Wales, which I referred to earlier, which is the Welsh fire safety charity. It commended the role of the fire and rescue services in prevention and saving lives, but it also told us that thousands of incidents were not reported, that most of those at risk were due to circumstances, conditions, behaviours and lifestyle choices that were overrepresented in the statistics, that we needed to target behaviours as well as conditions and circumstances, and that the people most vulnerable are known to the organisations. It called for a robust evaluation of interventions that work between itself, the Welsh Government and fire and rescue services.
We heard from the Minister’s response earlier, when I asked her whether such a robust evaluation had happened, that apparently it did not, or, if it did, she failed to answer my question. Therefore, we do not know whether we are legislating on the basis of a robust evaluation. It certainly did not exist in May 2010.
The North Wales Fire and Rescue Service then asked me, and no doubt others, whether I would sponsor backbench legislation on introducing fire sprinklers as a mandatory requirement in new and converted homes and residential accommodation in Wales. I said, ‘Leave it with me, I’ll check the evidence’, because I did not know much about it. I asked the Assembly’s Research Service whether there was anything that it could provide to guide me on this. It gave me a copy of the independent Building Research Establishment report ‘Effectiveness of Sprinklers in Residential Premises—An Evaluation of Concealed and Recessed Pattern Sprinkler Products’, which was commissioned by the then Labour UK Deputy Prime Minister a decade ago. That report said that residential sprinklers are probably cost-effective for residential care homes and tall blocks of flats, but not cost-effective for other dwellings. You will appreciate that we are not just talking about pounds, shillings and pence here, when it uses the term ‘cost-effective’. This led to Labour Governments in both Scotland and England rejecting legislation equivalent to that brought forward in Wales.
I highlighted this BRE report, and we invited BRE to give evidence to the committee when we scrutinised the legislative competence Order. BRE referred to a second report, as yet unpublished, which would be more supportive. On this basis, I supported the legislation. However, this did not appear. My office contacted BRE, which confirmed that that report had not been completed and that it still stood by its original report. I highlighted this at the time and welcomed the fact that the Welsh Government commissioned a post-legislative report from the Building Research Establishment, presumably to guide it on its implementation of regulations. Otherwise, why commission that report? Once again, the Minister unfortunately failed to address that point earlier.
The report commissioned by the Welsh Government, ‘Cost Benefit Analysis of Residential Sprinklers for Wales’, based upon Government guidance on assessing monetary values on deaths and injuries prevented, said that sprinklers are cost-effective in new care homes and halls and dormitories; they may be marginally cost-effective, although not statistically significant, in new blocks of flats, blocks of sheltered flats, not including sheltered houses, and traditional homes in multiple occupation. However, it says that sprinklers are not cost-effective in new single-occupancy houses, shared houses, hostels and sheltered houses.
We note that the Order today requires the provision of automatic fire suppression systems in all new and converted residences to come into effect for care homes, children’s homes, halls of residence and even rooms for residential purposes in April 2014. Given the findings of the reports consistently, we are very comfortable with that. However, also given those reports’ findings, we believe that far more consideration needs to be given to the second point. Although we note that the Minister has deferred the introduction of this on dwelling houses until 2016 to help to stimulate the construction sector at a difficult time, we have concerns about that. On that basis, we shall be abstaining.
I rise to put on record, once again, my thanks to this Welsh Government, and particularly to the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, for taking this forward past the implementation by the Assembly in March 2011. In doing so, I also want to pay tribute to Carl Sargeant, as the Minister who has taken these regulations through. I would like to mention three people out of the many who have helped me, namely Chris Enness, who was the Chief Fire Officers Association’s lead for sprinklers; Ronnie King from the National Fire Sprinkler Network; and Alex Bevan, who was my researcher. Those three people held me together at times when if I had been listening to what was going on to my left in the Chamber, I would have wanted to use my prodder, which I have here, but, there we go, I did not.
I want to come back to the seriousness of these regulations today, because cost-benefit analysis is important, but it often needs a total commitment from the Government to convert a democratically elected Assembly wish into legislation. That is what I believe that this Government is doing today. It is not bizarre to want to save lives or to make Wales sustainable. I look forward to the implementation of the full regulations in two stages during this Assembly.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair at 16:26.
Wales will continue to blaze the trail—and I make no apologies for the pun—for the introduction of sprinklers into homes in Wales, and hopefully across the UK, so that we all know that people’s lives will be saved, and that people can live in a sustainable house for the duration of their lifetime. I commend this Government for its actions in taking forward these regulations, which make my piece of legislation the workable product that I aimed for it to be, with the help of all four parties in the Assembly at the time. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
I have to confess to being a bit nervous speaking while Ann Jones has that prodder to hand, so I am going to be very careful not to upset her today, and to say that the Welsh Liberal Democrats are happy to support this legislation. I think that the Minister has taken the right approach in phasing it over two periods of time. That is right and proper, not only because of the economic case being made in terms of the first stage, which involves blocks of flats and traditional houses in multiple occupation, but also because the building industry itself needs to get used to this and learn the lessons from the first stage in terms of the wider second stage roll-out. That is the right way to go about doing this.
There are clearly issues in terms of how this is being rolled out, in the sense that we are effectively putting these sprinklers into new properties, particularly during stage 2. However, the biggest risk is in traditional and old terraced housing in some communities where a lot of elderly people live, and where prevention work is very much the key issue.
I know that there are ways to retrofit some sprinklers on a temporary basis, which can come in handy when clear risks have been identified. Having had one retrofitted in my previous office, I saw it in place, and the fire officers told me that they had put them into homes of pensioners in particular who had difficulty, for example falling asleep with lit cigarettes and were trying to set themselves on fire. They had installed them there to help with that particular issue. So, there clearly are other ways of retrofitting these things.
However, in terms of what we have in front of us, this is a groundbreaking step forward; it is Wales leading the way. It is right that we are leading the way with this particular issue, and it is right that we do this in this way, because we are saying to the rest of the UK that if you want to save lives and if you want to make sure that you provide adequate protection for people and prevent fires, particularly in the first set of homes, this is the best way to do that. Having gone through the agonies with Ann in terms of her Measure originally—and having repeated them with my Bill in this current Assembly—we have finally got to the stage when we are able to commence this Measure and put in place the sprinkler legislation so that it can be rolled out across Wales.
I am grateful for the comments made by Members. This seeks the support of most of the parties here. I refer to the contribution made by Mark Isherwood, which surprised me somewhat. Fourteen people died in fire-related incidents in Wales last year; that is far too many. Indeed, from his party, Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, once supported proposals for the installation of sprinklers. Ironically, his party supported this proposal through the stages of the Measure and joined the cross-party support in this Assembly. Today, sadly, if I heard the Member right, the opposition party will be abstaining on its vote. So, it turns out that the implementation of this Order will not be supported by the Conservative group today, which is a great shame in terms of the eyes on Wales.
I will just mention the fact that when a firefighter enters a burning building, it is a selfless act—knowing that there is someone in the building that they are seeking to rescue. The installation of a sprinkler system will help the procedure and the safety of both the tenant and the firefighter. We should all embrace the safety of this. I do not accept the issues that Mark raises in terms of life versus economics. The fact of the matter is that we are talking about people here. Only last week, in a situation in Cardiff, a sprinkler was activated where a fire incident occurred in a property. One sprinkler head was activated and it put the fire out straight away. I believe that that could have been a whole lot worse subject to non-activation of a fire sprinkler system. I place on record, as well as many associations that are already very proactive in this field, Bron Afon housing association and Merthyr Valleys Homes, who have both retrofitted products and are keen to pursue a further programme of installation of sprinklers prior to the legislation. Once again, congratulations to Ann Jones on the progression of this Order and of her Measure.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There is objection, so I will defer voting under this item until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of William Graham.
Motion NDM5338 Alun Davies
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales in accordance with Standing Order 26.11:
Agrees to the general principles of the Control of Horses (Wales) Bill.
I move the motion.
I am very pleased to open this debate on the general principles of the Control of Horses (Wales) Bill. Since I introduced this Bill, I have given evidence to the Environment and Sustainability Committee, the Finance Committee and the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. I have also appeared before the cross-party group on the horse. I would like to thank the Chairs of all those committees, as well as their members, for the opportunity to appear before them. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Angela Burns, Chair of the cross-party group on the horse, as well as its members, who have provided a great deal of help and support for us in delivering this legislation not only in the last few weeks, but over the last few months and years. They have ensured that we have been able to conduct a conversation with the equine community in Wales in a very structured way. We are very grateful to Angela for that and for the way in which she has conducted the business of that cross-party group.
In terms of introducing the legislation today, I hope and I feel that there is no need for us to rehearse the arguments in favour of the legislation or to describe the position that too many communities are facing in Wales with regard to fly-grazing. Members may be aware that, last Friday, I visited a farm on the Gower, where over 200 horses have been left to fly-graze in quite disturbing circumstances. We will talk, we will debate and we will discuss this Bill. In terms of the law that we are making and in terms of the structures that we are creating, we will debate and discuss this legislation in terms of the budgets available and the finance needed to deliver these things. However, let us not forget that at the heart of this Bill is an attempt to remove from Wales the issue of fly-grazing and the appalling acts of animal cruelty that lie at its heart. What I saw on Friday was an absolute disgrace, and I am grateful to Byron Davies for inviting me and for joining me on that visit. The irresponsibility of horse owners who not only leave their horses on other people’s land and property, but then forget about the welfare of those horses, is something that I hope every Member in this place will want to remove. It is something that we cannot remove by wishing and wanting; it is something that we can only remove by acting and voting. That means not simply wringing our hands and making pious speeches describing the appalling situation that Members are facing. It means voting for, improving and scrutinising the legislation and ensuring that we have in place in Wales the legislative and statutory framework that local government, equine charities and the enforcement agencies need, require, demand and want, to be able to continue to work with us to ensure that we have the means and the necessary tools to deal effectively with the problems caused by fly-grazing and abandonment, and to ensure that we are able to eradicate this from our country.
We know already that the costs to local government are great and we know that many local authorities have been dealing with this in very difficult circumstances. I would like to pay tribute to the work that has been led by Lee Jones and others in ensuring that local authorities are co-ordinated and are acting in a way that deals with the situation that they are facing on a daily basis.
We also know that we need to ensure that we have the structures available to us to deliver the results that we need. In terms of where we are today, Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan authorities are spending something like £500 per horse per day in dealing with this matter. That is based on the costs of providing horse recovery transport, vets fees, horse feed, equipment delivery and sometimes security costs to counter the intimidation that sometimes goes hand-in-hand with the problems of fly-grazing. In Swansea, the costs can be above £1,000 per horse.
These authorities have tackled the issue and seized horses, having to either re-home them via the equine charities or sell them via auctions. Where they have been offered for sale, our local authorities are able to recoup only a tiny proportion of the costs incurred. These costs are a drain on already stretched local authority resources, and we need to help local authorities to ensure that they are able to manage these costs in a more coherent way. All too often, when local authorities are able to take horses to auction, they are only then able to ensure that a few pounds are recovered, having effectively provided free board, lodgings and veterinary services for animals that all too often reappear in different parts of Wales, perpetuating a cycle not only of nuisance, but of animal cruelty and animal welfare issues.
In giving evidence to scrutiny committees, Members have raised concerns with me about some aspects of the Bill and I will seek to address some of those issues this afternoon.
I will turn to the proposed reduction of the minimum period that a local authority must retain a healthy horse under this legislation from 21 to seven days. For clarity, if a horse is not healthy when seized, it can be dealt with under the existing provisions of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and will be outside the scope of this legislation. During the consultation, a range of time spans were suggested for this minimum period, from 24 hours upwards. I believe that the seven-day period in the Bill is a sensible compromise. A responsible owner will make arrangements for their horse to be seen and checked at least once a day. Therefore, for responsible owners, a seven-day minimum period to contact the police and their local authority should their horse have escaped from its legitimate place of grazing is not unreasonable. Equally, for local authorities, the reduction from 21 to seven days has an immediate potential beneficial impact on their costs.
Concerns have also been raised in committee regarding the potential costs to local authorities and enforcement agencies. I anticipate and we expect that these costs will reduce as local authorities use their new powers, and as those irresponsible owners who might consider fly-grazing their horses will know that the costs of reclaiming their horse will be borne by them. This deterrent effect of the Bill will quickly make those who would break the law realise that they will be the losers if they fly-graze their horses in future.
The Welsh Government has estimated costs for a secure facility based on a worst-case scenario of many hundreds of horses needing to be seized, impounded and cared for within a short time period. The possible need for a secure facility has occurred because some local authorities do not have the capacity to manage large numbers of fly-grazed or abandoned horses. All of their facilities have become compromised by owners using intimidation and force to take back horses without a proper reimbursement of costs to the local authority.
May I turn to appeals, Deputy Presiding Officer? The aim of the Bill has always been to provide local authorities with the relevant powers to assist them in seeking to remedy in an efficient, cost-effective and streamlined way. I am conscious of the fact that Members would like to see suitable provision on the face of the Bill and I support that. We considered that there were limited grounds for disputes to arise under the Bill that might give rise to appeals and that there are alternative routes to litigation already available in general law. However, we recognise the need to be able to establish an appeals process, if needed, and therefore, section 7 of the Bill provides for Welsh Ministers to make regulations providing for a right of appeal in relation to any matter under the Bill. Having contemplated section 7 further, I am considering proposals to deal with this matter by placing provision on the face of the Bill.
May I finish my introductory remarks—I will, of course, answer the points that will be raised by Members in debate—by quoting the leader of the opposition? It is not often that I do this, but, when speaking in a debate in this place earlier this year, he said
‘much of the regulatory improvement proposed by that fly grazing Bill could be required this winter, if we have a particularly bleak and hard winter, and rather than allowing animals to suffer another winter of unfortunate conditions, with death and other animal welfare issues inflicted upon them, I hope that the First Minister and his Minister will reach out to the opposition parties to try to instigate a speedy passage for that Bill, so that local authorities are able to implement the new legislation.’
I have done that. I have reached out to other parties. We have had broad consensus from all three opposition parties in the Chamber that this is not only the right thing to do, but the right way of going about doing it. I hope, therefore, that all parties will support this Bill this afternoon and will support the motion unamended.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister. I am going to make a comment in terms of the circumstances in which Stage 1 can be bypassed. I am doing this because several Members have asked for clarification on this point, and I think that it would be helpful if I provide it at this juncture. It was the Business Committee that agreed to the Government’s proposal to bypass Stage 1 examination of this Bill. That is not a decision to be taken lightly, as Stage 1 scrutiny is arguably the most valuable and powerful element in our legislative process. We are not a bicameral Parliament, for instance. The Presiding Officer’s view on the matter was made very clear to the Business Committee at the time.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
While I have considerable sympathy with the concerns expressed by the relevant committees in their reports, and these concerns will probably be referred to when I call the Chairs, it is incumbent on political groups to ensure effective communication with their business managers. It is clearly unsatisfactory that a decision that they have taken collectively is then questioned by three of our committees and by an amendment tabled in the name of one of the business managers who was party to the original decision to bypass Stage 1. The Presiding Officer will raise this matter with the Business Committee at its next meeting.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee, Dafydd Elis-Thomas.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has spoken to his motion this afternoon and for ensuring that he has been available to our committee and other committees. I am very grateful to you, Deputy Presiding Officer, for your wisdom, which is famed throughout the land by now, and for taking the opportunity this afternoon to explain exactly the considerations before us, and which perhaps makes my work, and that of others, easier in arguing the case that the process followed up to now has not been appropriate.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
I do not agree with the Minister’s comments that the way in which this issue was dealt with was done correctly. I will set out the reasons for that as succinctly as possible. As you know, under normal circumstances, I would be presenting you and the Assembly with a report today, and I would be speaking to the view of the committee on the general principles of this Bill. That view would have been founded on the evidence of stakeholders. That is our process. This would have provided the Minister with a steer as to where the Bill may need improving, and it would have prepared the committee for the task of scrutinising the Bill in detail at Stage 2, and, of course, prepared the Assembly for Stage 3 consideration on the Chamber floor. However, more importantly, it would have provided those individuals, communities and organisations that will be affected by the Bill with an opportunity to have their views considered in an open and public forum, and, crucially, it would have allowed us the time, as a committee, to be certain that the implications of this Bill are understood by those who will be affected. The decision of the Minister and the Business Committee to bypass Stage 1 considerations, however it happened, as you referred, Deputy Presiding Officer, has removed that opportunity. More importantly, it has deprived our stakeholders of that opportunity. That, therefore, has damaged the democratic process in Wales, and our relationship as a committee with our stakeholders.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
As someone who took part in the development of these procedures, I have to say—as you said earlier—and agree that it was anticipated that only under exceptional circumstances would there be a decision to by-pass Stage 1 considerations by a committee; mainly when one Assembly Committee would have consulted thoroughly and considered a piece of legislation. I am talking about a consultation by an Assembly Committee. It is not the same as a Government consultation, be that formal or informal.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
I am disappointed that the Minister has made this application, and that the Business Committee was content to agree it. I am also angry that I was not consulted, as Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee, about the implications of the decision in the belief that I, as committee Chair, and committee members, are better placed to decide to what extent it was appropriate to consult with stakeholders and that we had the capacity to scrutinise this Bill. Therefore, I am grateful to you for the assurance that the Business Committee will consider how committee chairs can be included in such decisions, and that the Business Committee will discuss this as a matter of urgency.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
It is a cause of concern for me also that this is the third Bill that has been presented by the Welsh Government for which the appropriate process has not been followed. There is something wrong, therefore, in the way in which the Welsh Government is looking at this process and at this Assembly.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
The Minister has stated clearly today that he did not believe that Stage 1 scrutiny was necessary because there had been thorough consultation, but a consultation by Government on policy development is very different from a consultation by the Assembly on the general principles of a Bill, and there are different objectives to those processes. I issue the warning this afternoon that I do not wish to see this happen again, and it is dangerous and misleading to suggest that a consultation by Government is sufficient to take the place of the democratic work of scrutiny and engagement undertaken by the Assembly and its committees. There has been no public consultation on this legislation as drafted, and that concerns me.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
As I said, the Minister has appeared before the committee, but it became clear to us, in our discussion in the Environment and Sustainability Committee, that consultation, particularly in relation to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, had not been adequate before this Bill was brought forward.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
The Minister has stated that the need to pass legislation before the end of the winter is the main reason for by-passing Stage 1 considerations. I object to this also, on more than one ground. First, the issue of fly-grazing and horse abandonment has been one of particular prominence for three years or more. If the Minister felt that this was an issue that needed addressing quickly, he could have consulted earlier and brought forward a Bill earlier in the year so that we could have followed due process, and we would have co-operated. The timetable was within his control. The lack of forward planning is at the heart of the lack of time in which to pass this Bill before the end of the winter. It is unfair that we, as an Assembly, should be forced to do a lesser job of scrutinising this legislation because the Government is not more effective in preparing its legislative programme. What intensifies the disappointment for me is that the Business Committee did not defend the rights of the Assembly and the Assembly’s processes by rejecting the Minister’s application to curtail scrutiny.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Secondly, bearing in mind the pressure that the Government has placed on the Assembly in relation to this Bill, Stage 1 scrutiny by a committee would have meant only a month of delay. I suggest that the benefits of that work of scrutiny and engagement with stakeholders would have assisted the Minister and the Government in proceeding with the process of discussing the Bill.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
There has been talk of cross-party support. Let us be entirely clear here. I agree that there is cross-party support for the policy objectives of this Bill. There is some support from each party for the fast-tracking of this Bill, although my concern is that some of that support arises from a misunderstanding of the crucial difference between consultation by the Government and consultation by the Assembly. Therefore, there are many Members, from many parties, I know, who agree that the process has not been followed appropriately, and who are concerned about the impacts of that. They, like me, are concerned that the Business Committee made its decision without consultation, and want to ensure that the Welsh Government, from here on in, will ensure that there is sufficient time available for appropriate scrutiny and consultation in dealing with Bills.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
I am sorry to speak so angrily, Mr Deputy Presiding Officer, but I do so because I love this institution, and I want to safeguard its democratic structure and to ensure that everyone within and without Wales who looks at our proceedings sees that we are entirely transparent and open.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Chair of the Finance Committee, Jocelyn Davies.
The Finance Committee welcomes the intentions of this Bill. No doubt fly-grazing is a real problem, and has been for a number of years. Government actions that enable local authorities to tackle the issue of abandoned horses and ponies in a consistent way, and which will change the behaviour of unscrupulous horse owners, are to be welcomed.
However, we should always be wary of hasty legislation. The best laws, I think, have wide consultation and consideration. They consider and take account of consequences, and they are subject to appropriate financial scrutiny where the costs and benefits, direct and indirect, can be properly analysed. I would like to thank the Minister for making himself and his officials available to answer questions from the Finance Committee about the costings of the Bill, although I am afraid to say that, overall, his appearance did not reassure us greatly. Although we were pleased to hear that veterinary costs will be reclaimable under Part 4 of the Bill—that is, ‘Costs of seizures, etc.’—the Minister’s casual dismissal of concerns about the scrutiny-light route that he is taking the Bill down was somewhat alarming and, I have to say, disappointing.
This Assembly has a proper process for making laws. It is a rigorous process, and for good reason. We would have welcomed the opportunity to fully test the assumptions and the rationale in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill.
The committee is strongly of the view that, had the Bill undertaken the Stage 1 process, a broader, stronger and more effective Bill could have emerged. A Bill that had undergone full scrutiny could have been strengthened by taking into account evidence from the police, from landowners, animal charities, vets, the general public and, of course, those who keep horses. We would also have been able to give more robust consideration to the costs and benefits that could have derived for third parties as well as local authorities. We could have considered more fully the longer-term consequences of displacing fly-grazing, perhaps, across Offa’s dyke.
The Minister will say that his task force has been considering many of these issues, and I am sure that they have, but its deliberations are not, as previously pointed out, a substitute for public consultation and public scrutiny. It is not wide ranging and it does not allow the public to have its say, although it must be acknowledged that the Bill of course is one element of an action plan that we hope will be effective.
Fly-grazing is an issue that the Minister says has been subject to discussion for at least two years, and it is therefore not a problem that has just appeared. I understand the Minister’s reasons for wishing to act quickly. None of us want to see horses or ponies suffering unnecessarily, but we do not understand his need to bypass the Assembly’s established procedures for scrutinising Bills—procedures, I have to say, that are not overly onerous. I do not think that we want to see thousands of horses culled that could otherwise have gone on to live happy, healthy lives as a result of this Bill without very, very good cause. Hasty legislation is not good practice and, as has already been mentioned, this is the third in a row from this Government and the second from this Minister. Bills may belong to the Ministers who introduce them, but the Acts belong to the legislature, and we must never forget that. There is no doubt that legislation on this matter should have been in place sooner.
When we were fighting in the referendum to win law-making powers for this Assembly, we did so on the basis that the Assembly would make better laws for the people of Wales. We need to ask ourselves, ‘Is this law the best that it could be?’ On this occasion, I am not convinced that it is. However, it will no doubt do what it sets out to achieve: the lawful seizure of horses and the speedy disposal of many of them.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call Simon Thomas to speak on behalf of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee.
I am speaking on behalf of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. First, I thank the Minister for appearing before the committee to give evidence yesterday. In the meantime, overnight, we have written to the Minister and a copy of that letter has been copied to all Assembly Members and is attached officially to the webpage relating to the discussions this afternoon.
As I am sure that the Minister will appreciate, we have not been able to scrutinise the content of the Bill and its implications in the way that we would have normally done. We do not like working in this way. The lack of a Stage 1 scrutiny process is a cause of a concern for the committee. We believe that the legislation would have benefited from all relevant committees having had more time to consider the Bill, and to do so with the relevant stakeholders. These are points that have already been made by Dafydd Elis-Thomas and Jocelyn Davies.
One of the main purposes of Stage 1 is to understand the aims and objections of the legislation and part of that process is to enable stakeholders to engage with Assembly Committees. This process helps the legislature to identify areas where new law could be improved and to assist the Welsh Government to deliver the best legislation possible. Very rarely, as we have heard, is rushed legislation good legislation. We are only dealing now with dangerous dogs following such rushed legislation.
I would like to remind the Minister that the consultation and engagement work undertaken by an Assembly committee is fundamentally different in nature to that undertaken by the Welsh Government. Political agreement on the principles, although I acknowledge that such agreement exists, is not the same as scrutinising the legislation itself. For example, many backbench Members may have a particular interest in this Bill because it affects their areas and would want to raise specific points during a Stage 1 scrutiny process.
We note that the Business Committee agreed to by-pass Stage 1 and that the Minister distributed a draft Bill to representatives of the parties in September. Despite that, we believe that it would have been far more appropriate for the Minister to have made the necessary administrative arrangements so that the legislation could have been tabled at the beginning of this term. That would have allowed the Assembly committees to have played a greater role in the work of scrutinising it. Although that may have been for less time than usual, it would still have been within the current timetable of the Minister. It would have been better than by-passing the Stage 1 scrutiny process entirely.
It is also surprising, having said that there was a need to get this legislation on the statute book by the start of the winter, the Bill, by the Minister’s own admission before our committee and in the explanatory memorandum, is not likely to receive Royal Assent until early in the new year at the earliest. It is difficult to see what the rush is here.
As has already been said, this is the third Bill in a row from the Welsh Government for which scrutiny has been curtailed. We, as the committee charged by you, as an Assembly, with responsibility for constitutional and legislative matters, are deeply concerned that it is beginning to become a habitat and a constant theme in the Welsh Government’s attitude towards scrutiny of legislation. The National Assembly for Wales may be losing out as a result.
I would like now to turn to more specific issues. In our letter, we made five recommendations to the Minister, including two related to tidying-up the notice and interpretation provisions in sections 3, 5 and 9. I refer Members to the letter in that regard. I would like to focus briefly on the three recommendations that we made in respect of section 7 of the Bill, concerning appeals. The Minister has noted that he is eager to review this section, but he has not said how he would wish to do that. The Minister has acknowledged that the Bill must make provision for an appeals process. We agree with that, but we also want to see the appeals process being far more clearly set out in the Bill, including making the appeals process a duty on the Minister, rather than a power available to him. We would also like the appeals process to be clearer on the intention of presenting amendments that would make it a requirement for some regulations to include provisions that are listed—for example, the right to destroy a horse when an appeal is still ongoing in relation to that animal. The procedure that will introduce the appeals process is subject to the negative procedure and we, as a committee, want the procedure to be an affirmative one. We do not see this as being technical issue, but rather something that relates specifically to human rights under the European convention.
Amendment 1—William Graham
Add as new point at end of motion:
Regrets that the bill was not subject to the Stage 1 committee process.
I move amendment 1.
I think that it is clear, having heard from the three Chairs of each of the respective committees, why that amendment was tabled. It was clear last week, and I spoke then on the concerns that there were about the failure to hold the Stage 1 scrutiny of the Bill. I support entirely what Lord Elis-Thomas has said to the Chamber, as well as what the other committee Chairs have said. By not allowing the committee to conduct a consultation, it does not allow members of the committee to look at the provisions of the Bill or to hear the oral evidence. In particular, in relation to the Government consultation, just 2% of those respondents were from local government. It seems to me that on a Bill that will have substantial resource implications for local authorities, a far greater number of local authorities might have wished to respond to that consultation. I would again echo the words that were said earlier: do not mistake cross-party support for the principles of legislation in this area for cross-party support for the breaches of the processes of this Chamber in scrutinising legislation.
Minister, you do have a lot of support from the parties across the Chamber for the principles of this Bill; what we object to is the fact that this problem has been ongoing, I would suggest, for far longer than three years. My predecessor, Brynle Williams, did a lot of work on the cross-party group on the horse in relation to fly-grazing. This has been a problem in south Wales for an exceptionally long time, which is why there are three different Acts from the three local authorities to deal with it. The problem has been in existence for years, Minister. In fact, Assembly Members may well have had a briefing from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in their inbox, indicating that they were making representations to the Minister in October 2012. I can only echo the observations that to bring forward a Bill under this process, when it will not get Royal Assent—at the very earliest—until January, if then, seems to make a mockery of the scrutiny of this Assembly. It is something that we do not support, although, Minister, we do support the principles of the Bill.
What we are concerned about is the way in which the process has been undertaken. I am, therefore, going to move on to some of the concerns that there are around the Bill. I am very grateful, Minister, that you did listen to some of the comments made in committee. This shows, perhaps, how valuable that scrutiny process is in committee. I do accept that there is likely to be a deterrent effect of the Bill.
I am also aware, Minister, as I know that you are, that there moves afoot in the European Union in relation to the identification of horses. It is a frequent problem that these fly-grazed horses go around in circles, having been released from the care of the local authority. Minister, that is perhaps an example of how some delay in the Bill may have led to joined-up legislation, looking at what is happening in Europe and seeing how that could be anticipated and included in the Bill—rather than leading to amendments later, which, inevitably, now will happen. I am sure that you are aware that I am, effectively, referring to microchipping in that respect. I do not know whether you will anticipate some of the proposals that may be coming out of Europe; it may be possible to put in some provisions in relation to microchipping in the Bill, and I urge you to look that.
Some matters have been identified in the reports about the legal definitions, which are concerning in particular, that the local authority may not be able to act where the identity of the owner cannot be established, and, Minister, I ask you to look at that.
Finally, there is a concern that the victims of this offence are not only the animals, but, potentially, the people on whose land fly-grazing takes place—particularly the local authorities. I ask you to look at whether amendments can be made to establish a recovery of costs for landowners and the local authorities, because, at the moment, the victims do not seem to have a route by which they can take action. I am sure that there will be other aspects that will need to be scrutinised and will need to be scrutinised in a different way than we can currently do in the Chamber today.
I am a member of the Finance Committee and the Environment and Sustainability Committee, and I was able to take part in that scrutiny and in the interviewing of the Minister. The Chairs of those committees have made their points about the omission of the first stage and have given the views of the committee.
I want to make some general points about the Bill and the principles of the Bill. I welcome the Bill, particularly because of its importance for animal welfare. It is a positive step forward, and Antoinette Sandbach mentioned the strong support given to it by the RSPCA. The Minister spoke powerfully in his introduction about the animal cruelty that he has witnessed, and I think that this Bill will be a stage in addressing that. My area of Cardiff has some controls in place already by the Cardiff City Council Act 1984, but it is only one of three areas in Wales that has any powers at all in this area. It is important that there should be effective enforcement at a Wales-wide level. Otherwise, it will mean that there will be displacements, and, obviously, I think that we all have a great deal of concern about the possibility of there being many hundreds of horses becoming the responsibility of local authorities and how we will cope with that particular situation. Therefore, I am in support of the Bill.
However, the other issue I wanted to raise, which has already been mentioned, is how the importance of this legislation and its implications are brought to the attention of some of the groups in the public who will be affected. I am thinking, particularly, of Gypsies and Travellers, so that there can be that discussion with them about what this Bill means. That is particularly important because many Gypsies and Travellers have a problem in reading, and, fortunately, that is not so true of the children now, but there are high rates of illiteracy among Gypsy and Traveller adults. Special efforts must be made for them to understand the purpose of this legislation. If it is to be implemented by notices and letters and that sort of procedure, how will we get over the literacy issue? I know that the Minister has thought about that, and I have raised it with him before. However, it is important that we do as much as possible to do that work before the Bill comes in. Therefore, I support this Bill, but there is a lot of work to be done in getting what is happening out to the public.
I welcome the Government’s intention to legislate to tackle the issue of fly-grazing. It is important that we should move towards consistency in terms of the legislation that is available and the powers that are to be implemented across Wales. However, another important element is that we have consistency in the way that that is implemented and in the way in which those powers are used across Wales. The Government has stated that guidance will be developed alongside the Bill. Your intention, Minister, is to develop non-statutory guidelines. I am not sure whether that will be adequate. The danger is that there could be inconsistency in the way in which local authorities operate on the ground, particularly, of course, when we see in the explanatory memorandum, for example, the suggestion that the decision to reclaim costs is optional. To me, that suggests that we will see a situation developing that is inconsistent.
Without adequately robust guidelines, I fear, as we have heard, that there is a danger that the problem will be moved from one area where one interpretation and approach has been adopted to an area where there is a slightly different attitude. I ask, therefore, Minister, that you ensure that Members have an opportunity to scrutinise these guidelines as part of this process, so that we can be clear that they will be effective and that the guidelines will achieve what they need to achieve.
I welcome the fact that local authorities will be empowered to take action more swiftly than is the case at present. I agree that seven days is adequate in order to deal with situations of this kind, because the recommended welfare code states that owners should check on their horses at least every 24 hours, which you referred to earlier. It is therefore unlikely, in my opinion, that any responsible owner will come forward to claim their horses after, perhaps, 48 hours, particularly bearing in mind that they may, by then, have contravened the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
I also agree that it is necessary for the option of disposing of horses to be accepted as a possible option when dealing with horses that have not been claimed. It is a sad situation, of course, that it is necessary to accept that, but there will be situations where there will be no alternative, and we have to accept that that is the reality.
Identifying owners will continue to be a problem. I understand that the aim of the Bill is not to get to grips with that particular problem, and that there are perhaps other means of addressing that particular issue. However, the failure to identify an owner will have an impact on how effective this Bill can be in terms of its implementation, in my opinion.
There has been some confusion for many of us in terms of the ability to trigger the seven-day period. I now understand that you have given an assurance to one of our committees that notifying a constable will be adequate and, as the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee has requested, there will be a need for amendments in order to provide greater clarity on that particular point. I also agree with the committee in terms of its comments on appeals, and I welcome the fact that you recognise the need, perhaps, to look at that.
I have raised the point in the past that, although the Bill will make it easier for local authorities to reclaim costs from offenders, it does not deal with the issue from the point of view of the landowner, or other third parties, such as fire and rescue services, and so on. I would be eager to see some sort of further consideration being given to that.
Finally, the explanatory memorandum states that the legislation will be reviewed two years after the date of Royal Assent, or earlier if the need arises. I certainly welcome that commitment, but there is no reference to the cost of such a review in the section on the financial implications of the Bill, and neither is there any mention of the nature of the review and what criteria would be used to assess the success—or failure, perhaps—of the legislation. I ask the Minister to provide more information on these matters, because it is important that we are able to measure the effectiveness of this legislation as part of our work as Members of scrutinising the work of the Government.
I would like to begin by extending my thanks to the Minister for his attendance at the meeting of the cross-party group on the horse last week, which was a particularly useful occasion. I also thank Angela Burns for making that possible and, indeed, for the wider contribution that she now makes, securing the legacy of Brynle Williams in that area of work. I am also extremely grateful to the senior colleagues who have spoken today and given voice to the concerns that they hold about the procedures that we are now undertaking. There is no point in my rehearsing those points, which were sincerely made and are important to us—suffice to say that we must listen to them and learn from them.
When the Bill was introduced last week, I stressed the importance of considering the ethical implications of the way that it is applied. For instance, we can say with a high degree of certainty that the state of the horse market currently is likely to make it very difficult for local authorities to sell on any unclaimed horses that they hold in their care. Indeed, the Minister referred to that earlier in his introduction. As such, without doubt, in the short to medium term, a significant number of horses will be killed as a result of this legislation on welfare grounds. Given this concern, I was somewhat disappointed last week that the Minister said that he did not think it was helpful to speculate on those matters. In contrast, I would argue that it is essential that those who legislate for animal welfare are willing to fully consider and to discuss the potential implications of the legislation being brought forward.
While I am in full agreement with those who say that this legislation will have a positive impact in the long term, I equally feel that the Welsh Government should be willing to take fuller account of the Bill’s short-term implications, and be willing to act accordingly. To this end, I am grateful to the Finance Committee for recommending that the Government
‘clarifies the number of horses expected to be destroyed in the first year and subsequent years’
as a result of this legislation.
The second major point that I raised was over the need for consistency in how the Bill is enforced across local authorities in Wales. Llyr Gruffydd in his contribution made a very similar point of emphasis. While we know that there are presently several authorities that do not suffer from a large number of fly-grazing cases, we need to ensure that inconsistencies in those authorities that do have such numbers do not act to drive offenders into other authorities. After all, the purpose of this Bill, as has been stated time and again, is to end this wicked practice, not just to drive it into someone else’s paddock. That is why I am keen to see the Welsh Government go further in the Bill to clarify and to standardise what is meant by ‘reasonable grounds’, and for it to establish a series of minimum standards to define them. To do so, I would argue, would ensure that an effective and consistent baseline would be established across all local authorities in Wales.
Finally, in the past few weeks we have heard numerous mentions of the need to improve the way that we define ownership liability, and to impose punitive measures against serial offenders. In response, we have also heard a very reasoned legal argument as to why this Bill is unlikely to be the right vehicle with which to pursue these improvements. I accept those arguments for the reasons that the Minister has outlined previously, and, as such, I would welcome an update on what work the Welsh Government plans to undertake in this Assembly to address these points through other means.
Despite the reservations that all parties have expressed with regard to the fast-tracking of this and the limited scrutiny that we have here—and, in making that point, I would add my voice to calls to make the appeals section subject to the affirmative procedure due to the impacts on human rights in this matter—it is clear that there is wide support for this Bill’s general principles inside and outside this Chamber. Given that, the Welsh Liberal Democrat group will be lending its support to the progression of this Bill to the next stage.
I very much welcome the opportunity to speak in today’s debate and to make a brief contribution; much of what I will say has already been alluded to. The issue of fly-grazing and the associated problems with horses’ wellbeing is an issue that I particularly concern myself with. In representing South Wales West, it is an issue that I have spent considerable time dealing with, sadly. The Minister knows this only too well, as he mentioned earlier, having spent an afternoon with me last Friday looking at 200 severely malnourished mares in foal, and with foals also, and in the advanced stages of disease—a sight that would have shaken even the strongest-willed among us. It is nothing other than cruelty at its worst, and a horrendous crime to create so much suffering to these horses. This also has a knock-on effect for neighbouring communities. From what I understand, there are many similar cases throughout Wales. So, in opening, I want to thank the Minister, Alun Davies, for his swift response to my appeal for help on behalf of Gower last week. Thanks to his intervention, the problem of these particular horses is being resolved as quickly as possible.
This brings me nicely on to why I support the general principles of this Bill, and I will confine my contribution to this alone. The current West Glamorgan Act 1987, which has been used in the case of the Gower horses, will now, in practice, mean an additional two weeks of suffering as the statutory notice is served. The intervention comes far too late in the day, occupies far too much time in implementation, and has very little impact on the long-term problem. We need clearer ways to intervene and prevent the suffering of horses across Wales. The care and action being taken across Wales is currently inconsistent, often under-resourced and, on most occasions, merely moves the problem on to another area.
Looking again at last week’s example of how the system in Wales is currently failing our horses, and why we need this legislation, the RSPCA and the City and County of Swansea Council, when they contacted me last Thursday, had simply run out of resources to tackle the issue. For every place at the RSPCA-run farm, there are seven horses bidding for that place. We are at nothing short of an epidemic in some areas of Wales. Swansea council—this will be compounded over the next couple of years’ funding rounds—had run out of money to deal with the horses in terms of wellbeing, nutrition, vet bills and ancillary costs. What compounds this problem is that the owners are aware of this: in some cases, criminals know this only too well. We need a system that can tackle the owners and ensure that they pay for the mess that they create and are punished for any harm they bring to these magnificent animals.
I say to this Chamber that we need action. I believe that this represents a step forward. We will, no doubt, have issues surrounding resources, but we must try to tackle the root of the problem, rather than the symptom. I share the concerns regarding the scrutiny of the Bill, which have been well expressed, and I will not dwell on that. In closing, I want to reiterate why this legislation is even on the radar by paying tribute to the work of the cross-party group on the horse. It has paved the way for this. It would be remiss of me not to repeat our thanks to the late chairman, Brynle Williams, and to the more recent chair, Angela Burns. It is a great example of the importance of a cross-party group network.
Some years ago, when that consummate countryman Brynle Williams set up the cross-party group on the horse, there were quite a few surprises, because we deal with so many cross-party groups on matters that appear to be so incredibly tragic, ranging from the trafficking of young people all the way through to people with medical conditions. However, Brynle had a cause at his heart, which was to improve the welfare of horses in Wales. When Brynle left us, I was delighted to be able to take on that mantle, to try to carry on his work. I think that the cross-party group on the horse deserves a degree of recognition here, because it is not just a group of mad horse lovers; there are incredibly practical people on board, ranging from equine organisations with quite tough objectives, such as the British Horse Society, through to equine charities, which are heavily involved, obviously, local government, the police, landowners, horse owners, farming organisations, societies and breed associations. We have also spoken from time to time—as Julie Morgan pointed out, it is a difficult-to-get-to group—to advocates of the Gypsy and Traveller community. It is incredibly important, because the issue of fly-grazing is damaging to both our proud horse keeping and breeding heritage and to the economy of Wales.
We have some 140,000 to 150,000 horses here in Wales, which contribute in excess of £400 million to the Welsh economy. These figures do not allow for horse tourism or for the unregistered elements. I think that it is fair to say that fly-grazing on a small scale has always been part of the canvass of Wales, from horses tethered in a lay-by to ponies in city parks. There are sections of our communities that have a cultural or lifestyle view that public green spaces are there for common use. However, over the past few years, we have seen fly-grazing expand on an industrial scale. There are many reasons for this expansion, ranging from the collapse in equine markets and the resurgence of the agricultural economy, so that land is now in production rather than lying fallow, to the recent fashion for coloured horses and the subsequent growth in that market, and, I have to say, its decline now. Other reasons are the indiscriminate breeding of livestock and the reluctance of authorities and individuals to deal with many perpetrators of fly-grazing, because of the levels of aggression and threats meted out to them. Although there are fly-grazing issues throughout Wales, it is clear that the main issues are from south-east to south-west Wales and are predominantly the result of actions taken by a small number of organisations; organisations that I accuse of organised crime in what they do. I will not name them here, primarily because I am a bit scared, because they are not pleasant people.
Those people have ruined that small canvass of the fly-grazed coloured horse that is part of our indigenous and well-loved and respected Gypsy and Traveller community. Not only do we have to deal with those people, but, looking beyond that, we have also to be concerned about the welfare and social problems relating to the keeping of equines on common land by people who do not have commoners’ rights and the inability to trace these owners and to get hold of those who are callous and those who, as Byron Davies so graphically described, dump 200 horses and leave them to get on with it.
It is an incontrovertible truth that equines that are fly-grazed are suffering. We see the terrible instances every winter, which abate during the spring and summer when there is grass about, but, as soon as that grass starts to become scarce, they come back into force. We must not forget that this number of uncontrolled equines also makes every horse in Wales vulnerable to any major contagious disease outbreak. There is no control on movement, no traceability, and general equine welfare is undermined because we simply are not able to control overbreeding. We cannot close the gene pools, there are diseased imports and exports and conformational defects, over-stocking and mis-selling; it goes on and on. At the heart of it all is fly-grazing. The situation is worsening year on year and doing nothing is not an option.
So, Minister, I would like to know how this Bill will help us this winter. I have six questions for you. How can we help charities that do not have the physical and financial resources to take up the slack this winter? How will we source the people with skills and training to handle and transport untamed horses and ponies? How will we deal with the threat from organised crime? Nobody here should be under any illusions about that. How will we undertake a comprehensive education programme for our Gypsy and Traveller communities, as Julie Morgan very ably put forward? Finally, 18 months ago, I wrote to the then Minister responsible and I am pleased that you have grasped this nettle, because, at the end of the day, this is a situation that we absolutely have to sort out and I look forward to your answers to my questions.
I would like to echo and endorse many of the sentiments that have been expressed here today. This is a really important Bill coming forward and I think it deserves the full process and respect, really, to be applied to it.
The Welsh Conservatives and the cross-party group on the horse—a group consisting of AMs and organisations such as the British Horse Society, Redwings Horse Sanctuary, the Society for the Welfare of Horses and Ponies, the Countryside Alliance, the Welsh Pony and Cob Society and numerous others—have long called for this Government to take action and stand up strongly against fly-grazing. It is an act of blatant, irresponsible animal cruelty, intimidation of landowners, and of distinct disregard for public safety.
I echo the concerns of the committee chairs today who have had to express their concerns, once again, about how a Minister of the Welsh Government has bypassed a very important stage of the legislative process. This is more than a lost opportunity; this is a fundamental disregard of the legislative process and democratic functions of the National Assembly for Wales. It is fair to say that this Assembly is still in its infancy in having more comprehensive law-making powers. As we work together—one would hope—to develop legislation, I, certainly, want to be part of an Assembly and part of a law-making institution that takes its responsibilities seriously. I want to undertake and fulfil my role and duty in undertaking full and considered scrutiny and to be part of an institution that drafts, creates and delivers Bills that are fully sound, fully consulted upon and fully scrutinised.
I certainly do not want or expect to see Ministers—any Minister for that matter—to feel that they can ride rough shod over the democratic processes and functions of the National Assembly for Wales. These attempts to circumvent detailed scrutiny remind us once again of the rushed-through Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill and the council tax reduction scheme fiasco that saw this Assembly recalled last December. I think that this is a blatant disregard for the devolution process itself and, Minister, I hope that you will reflect on your actions and that you will show equal respect, not just for the Chamber and its Members, but for the Assembly itself.
Clearly, in addressing this problem, we are not talking about the occasional horse escaping out of its field; we are now talking about serial offenders and blatant perpetrators. They know how to circumnavigate the system and they certainly know how to circumnavigate and avoid the law. These callous owners deliberately avoid traceability, allowing horses and dumping horses to graze on private land, public land and even our common land, and, as has been said, this denies essential nutrition for our native and feral ponies and our livestock grazing on the same. Any legislation coming forward should recognise the care and commitment that our responsible horse owners provide to their animals, while shifting the burden onto those who act with callous indifference to public safety, the rights of landowners over their own land and the welfare of equines. I therefore welcome that the actual owners, once traced—hopefully, this Bill will ensure that we do trace them—will now be liable for the full cost of any horse seized by a local authority or by a local landowner.
Much has been said about the need for passporting. I have raised with the Minister that, even now, the authorities have the powers, but they do not feel that they have the support, guidance or funding from the Welsh Government to implement—is the Minister busy over there? Dear, dear.
I would, however, welcome some further detail on how collaborative working is going to achieve what we need from this Bill. In terms of finance, it is somewhat concerning when members of the Finance Committee reckoned that you did not assure them, when asked, about how you were going to make this Bill as effective as it possibly could be. You and I know, Minister, that the Minister for local government has somewhat tied the hands of local authorities now, having safeguarded the social care and education budgets, meaning that efficiency savings have to come from across all departments. Trading standards and animal welfare officers are going to find themselves really struggling to support this.
In closing my contribution today, I wish to pay tribute to our local authorities’ trading standards departments, our police and our rescue centres for the excellent joined-up working that they do to protect the welfare of animals. I hope that you will stand up now and do your part as a Minister and not disregard this Assembly, its Members or the people of Wales.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
This debate has been—
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have not called you yet, Minister. This debate has been wide-ranging and that is, in part, because we have not had Stage 1 proceedings, so may I assure you, Minister, that I will not apply a limit on your reply and you may answer all the points in the time that you require? Thank you. I now call the Minister, Alun Davies.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I have to say that being lectured on democracy and devolution by a Tory is something that would tempt me to a very long response. May I say to Janet Finch-Saunders and to others that it is not sufficient to come here to wring their hands? You have to vote for these things and you have to vote to change things. We were advised and we were called on by the leader of the opposition—who joined us briefly, but has disappeared again—in July, when he said in relation to this Bill:
‘I hope that the First Minister and his Minister will reach out to the opposition parties to try to instigate a speedy passage for that Bill, so that local authorities are able to implement the new legislation.’
He said that in July. I went in good faith to speak to each party group represented here. I spoke in detail to each one, I published the draft legislation, I gave it to each party spokesperson, I asked them whether they would ensure that they had the support of their party and I have e-mails from someone from each party saying that they will do so, and I will publish those e-mails. I will publish those e-mails forthwith. Each person who wrote to me is in the Chamber today. Not one of them has stood up and said, ‘Yes, I wrote to you. I gave you the support of my party group.’ Not one of them has done that and not one of them either has said—
Will you take an intervention? Thank you. I am more than happy to say that I wrote on behalf of the Welsh Conservative group to give support to you in bringing this legislation forward.
I also wrote with the full cognisance of my group, and we put some caveats on it. I have absolutely no problem with acknowledging that. My omission during my debate was purely because I was talking about the reason we are all here, which is the problem of fly-grazing. Others, better than I, have dealt with the legislative process.
I appreciate that, Angela, and I appreciate the e-mail that you sent me, which supported not only the Bill but the process. It supported the process that we are following, as did the other parties. Yes, you are both nodding. I will publish those e-mails because it demonstrates that there was cross-party support, not only for the legislation but for the way in which we are legislating. I think that it bodes ill for Members to reach agreement like that and then to not deliver that in terms of where we are today. Members may wish to reflect upon that.
We have had a good debate this afternoon, and, as the Deputy Presiding Officer said, it has been quite wide-ranging on a number of different issues. I will not revisit some of the wider issues that were raised. As I said, I felt that I dealt with that in previous debates and conversations. We are ensuring that this Bill is the legislation that was wanted and felt needed by the equine community in Wales. This is a Bill that did not simply come from this Government and our programme for government. It came from detailed discussions and debates with the equine community, namely the animal charities, the horse charities and others, and with all of the enforcement agencies and local authorities. They said to us, ‘This is the sort of Bill that we need. This is a Bill that will give us the tools in order to deliver the fly-grazing-free Wales that we all want to see’. It is not sufficient simply to describe the problem; we must have the tools to resolve the issue. This legislation gives us those tools.
All of us who have seen for ourselves the suffering, which Byron and I saw very graphically on the Gower on Friday and which has been happening in our constituencies for too long, will know the urgency of this legislation. The RSPCA wrote to every single person—
Will you take an intervention?
I will not take an intervention this time. The RSPCA wrote to Members only yesterday saying that it supported the need for urgent legislation in this matter. It did that because it recognises the immense suffering and the potential for greater suffering that there is among a great number of horses as we face this coming winter. I know that those horses that we saw—the 200 animals that we saw last Friday—have deteriorated in their condition since then, and are deteriorating today as we sit here and talk about these matters. While people here talk about process, that suffering is going on.
We talk about devolution, Janet, and I campaigned hard for devolution. People will know this. I campaigned twice for devolution. Three times, in fact; I did not vote for it but I delivered leaflets in 1979. I will tell you this: we campaigned for devolution to give us the tools to do the job, not to create a talking shop in the bay. We campaigned to create a legislature that is able to respond in a timely fashion to the issues that are facing communities up and down Wales. If people are not prepared to vote for that this afternoon, and to vote down amendments that go back on agreements that we have here and those agreements that we have made here between ourselves, and if they do not have the courage to vote for what they say that they want to see, they should ask themselves, ‘What is the purpose of sitting here at all?’ Let us make it very clear that the purpose of this legislation is to deliver the tools for others to do the job.
Angela Burns asked a number of detailed questions, many of which, of course, have been answered already in terms of the action plan and the taskforce. I invite you to read through the action plan and to respond to that, because I think that all of the issues that you raised are being dealt with through the action plan. What most people who understand this matter understand best and understand well is that this legislation is a subset of that action plan. It gives local authorities and others the tools to do the job that they require, and it also provides us with a framework to provide the consistency of legislative approach that we need across the face of the country. In many ways, this Government, on this legislation, is more the midwife than the parent, but we are proud to play this role. We are proud to deliver this and we are proud to be able to play a part in resolving this problem. I hope that every Member in the Chamber will also help solve this problem—not simply describe the problem, but help to resolve it. That means voting down the Conservative amendment, but following the advice of the Conservative leader—speedy legislation to resolve this problem. I urge all Members here to vote for this this afternoon.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree amendment 1. Does any Member object? There is objection, therefore voting is deferred until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
Motion NDM5339 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, for the purposes of any provisions resulting from the Control of Horses (Wales) Bill, agrees to any increase in expenditure of a kind referred to in Standing Order 26.69, arising in consequence of the Bill.
I move the motion.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have no speakers and I take it that you do not wish to reply, Minister. As we have not voted on the general principles, I will defer this until voting time also.
Voting deferred until voting time.
The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Elin Jones, and amendments 2 and 3 in the name of Aled Roberts.
Motion NDM5337 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Notes the Welsh Language Commissioner’s First Annual Report for 2012-13, laid before the Assembly on 26 September, which highlights the work undertaken by the Commissioner to promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language.
I move the motion.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to lead the debate on the first annual report of the Welsh Language Commissioner. It is very timely, of course, to discuss this now, given that the results of the 2011 census have stimulated a debate across Wales on the position of the Welsh language. It is encouraging to see people working together to act and that people are of the opinion that the Welsh language is integral to our culture and everyday life. It is important for us to remember that the discussion on the Welsh language is taking place from a position of strength.
We have a Welsh-language education system, of course. We have to build on that in a robust way, and that is what we will be doing when the Welsh in education strategic plans are published before long. Therefore, there is no need for Aled Roberts’s amendment. As well as education, we have the media, status and the support of the population, and since April, we also have a commissioner.
The commissioner was established under the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 with the main objective of promoting and facilitating the use of the Welsh language. Today, we are noting the laying of the commissioner’s first annual report before the Assembly. That is an important milestone in the history of any new body.
Over this period the commissioner has taken a strong stance in terms of the Welsh language and has sometimes questioned some of the Welsh Government’s policies. Having such a challenge from an independent body to ensure that the Welsh Government’s policies gives a central consideration to the Welsh language is something that I welcome. I have also been discussing with the commissioner over the summer, since I became responsible for the Welsh language portfolio, and she took part in the cynhadledd fawr—which is something that I will touch on later on.
The report notes that the commissioner has published two statutory notices to prepare Welsh language plans and she has approved eight Welsh language schemes under section 14 of the Welsh Language Act 1993. She has submitted comments and policy recommendations to Welsh Ministers in relation to naming public bodies, in relation to the Welsh language in terms of planning, and comments and recommendations in response to consultations. She has also started a statutory consultation on primary care, and she is in the process of collecting evidence on this. I am sure that we are all looking forward to seeing the fruits of those labours.
The commissioner also decided to establish an observatory. I am looking forward to seeing how that will reinforce her work in terms of observing and monitoring in the language policy field. I hope that this will be an important step towards ensuring a factual and statistical base for the work in this field. More recently, there have been discussions between the commissioner and the Government about technical advice note 20, which was announced earlier in the month. That will be all important in terms of developing practical guidelines for local planning authorities.
One of the commissioner’s main duties will be to implement a new regulatory system for the Welsh language, which is the standards, of course. Improving Welsh-language services and establishing clear rights for users are at the core of the provisions in the Measure to develop standards. The standards will reinforce the process of implementing policies in relation to the Welsh language, including in spending public money. So, there is no need for the second amendment in the name of Aled Roberts.
We are currently going through the process of preparing the first set of standards for Welsh Ministers, local authorities and Wales’s national parks. The consultation process that was carried out by the commissioner during her first year was an important starting point in their development.
As we continue to develop the standards, the commissioner remains a part of the process. I have published a statement outlining the timetable for creating the first set of standards, which notes that it is still our intention to make the regulations to create the first set before the end of 2014. That is the same date and timetable as was set out in May of this year. So, there is no delay in the timetable for drawing up the standards. Therefore, I urge you to reject the amendment in the name of Elin Jones.
The standards for each sector and other bodies will be drawn up in a staged process, and I look forward to having the commissioner’s advice in terms of the programme for moving from sector to sector. I want to ensure that the move from language schemes to standards happens in the most effective way possible from the point of view of bodies and service users.
Turning to the cynhadledd fawr, the aim of the standards will be to put in place the framework that will provide rights for individuals to use the Welsh language publicly and within institutions and bodies. The standards would also spread responsibility for the use of the Welsh language across a wider range of organisations and policy areas. The commissioner will have an important role in overseeing that over the next few years.
The need for the Welsh language to permeate all policy areas was one of the themes that emerged during the national conversation, the cynhadledd fawr, that I held during the summer. The event was extremely important in terms of ensuring that as wide a range as possible of groups was represented. The cynhadledd fawr report, which has now been published, notes that people recognise that the Government’s strategies are on the tight track but that we now need to take deliberate action on the Welsh language. The standards and the commissioner’s efforts to improve services through the medium of Welsh will be an important part of that, but I acknowledge that the Government needs to play a leading role in this area.
People told us during the cynhadledd fawr that the Government needs to do more to respond to the changes in communities, which include population shifts; that a better understanding of the relationship between the language and the economy needs to be developed, and that action in that regard needs to be taken; that we need to build on the success of the Welsh language in the education system and to support parents in learning the language and in its transference to their children; and that we need to market the value of the Welsh language more effectively and to find ways of increasing confidence—an extremely important point—and changing people’s habits so that they use the Welsh language in a greater number of scenarios.
We know that there is a great deal of work still to be done. I will be making a further statement on the Government’s response to the cynhadledd fawr in November, which will outline some of the steps that we will be taking as a result of that event. Alongside that work, we will be developing standards that will enable the commissioner, in due course, to ensure that bodies in all sectors develop Welsh language services, give staff members opportunities—
I thank the First Minister for giving way. You have outlined the Welsh Government’s strategy, working hand in hand with the language commissioner. You seem to be emphasising the role of the language commissioner. Can you therefore explain why the amount allocated to the commissioner in your budget will be reduced by some £400,000?
We all know what the financial circumstances are and we all know that difficult decisions have had to be taken, but I am sure that the commissioner will remain an effective advocate and that people will see that her work is carried out effectively. As I said, we want to ensure that we are working with the commissioner in future. Of course, much remains to be done following the cynhadledd fawr.
We must realise that the commissioner’s work has only just begun and I look forward to seeing the work developing over the next year.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have selected the three amendments to the motion, and I call on Simon Thomas to move amendment 1 tabled in the name of Elin Jones.
Add new point at end of motion:
Regrets that the Welsh Government has yet to publish Welsh language standards following the work of the Commissioner.
I move amendment 1.
This amendment was tabled before the publication of the First Minister’s statement on the timetable for standards but, as Plaid Cymru still has questions on that timetable, we will be pushing our amendment to a vote.
I would like to note, at the beginning of this discussion, that today is the day on which the Welsh Courts Act came into force in 1942. This was the first Act, since the Acts of Union, which started to deal with the Welsh language on the basis of rights. We are dealing with the legacy of that Act in discussing the work of the commissioner and the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 today.
As Rhodri Glyn Thomas has just mentioned, the context is that there is a significant cut of £700,000 in the budget for the Welsh language, with a 10% cut, or some £400,000, in the funding available to the commissioner’s office. I accept that money is short for the Government, but what concerns us in Plaid Cymru is that this cut has been made without an assessment of the activities that support the Welsh language, or a broader assessment within this budget. At last, having pressed long and hard for this assessment, I see that there is a letter to the Chair of the Finance Committee, in preparation for tomorrow’s meeting, from Jane Hutt, the Finance Minister, which states that there will be an assessment of the efficiency of expenditure on the Welsh language. However, I think that it is unwise to cut the budget for the Welsh language before that assessment has taken place. Plaid Cymru is of the opinion that more should be spent on supporting the language, by learning from other nations, such as the Basque Country, in that respect.
The purpose of our amendment is to highlight the failure to introduce standards to date. The First Minister has said that there has been no change in the timetable, but there is, in fact, a significant change to the timetable for the introduction of the standards. According to the original timetable put forward by the former Minister, we would have seen draft regulations for standards in March next year—that is March 2014. According to the new timetable published by the First Minister on Monday, those draft regulations will not even be drawn up until September 2014. I find it difficult to see how the First Minister can say that we are sticking to the same timetable. He said that we are to do that, but, if we are not to see the regulations on standards until September, how could that possibly be the case?
Neither can I see why there needs to be a standards inquiry in this particular context. The first bodies to fall within the remit of standards are already named within Schedule 6 to the Measure—they are already under the auspices of the Welsh Language Act 1993, and have been for almost a quarter of a century. The commissioner has the power to carry out a standards inquiry, rather than a duty, and I well recall that it was the intention, should new bodies come under the Measure, to use that power to conduct a proper assessment, through a standards inquiry, of the standards that should apply to those bodies. It is clear in the Welsh language Measure which standards should apply to the bodies named in Schedule 6, and this includes all the bodies that the First Minister intends to bring forward for the new standards. So, there is no need to mess about with a standards inquiry; get on with it, make the standards and bring the regulations to this place so that we can make a decision as to their appropriateness.
I welcome some of the things included in the commissioner’s annual report. The observatory has already been mentioned. I hope that this can contribute to the work of assessing the efficiency of expenditure on the Welsh language. The commissioner is conducting a review of the language in relation to primary healthcare. This is very important because, in my region, I continually have problems in terms of elderly people receiving care in the language of their choice, specifically through the medium of Welsh in this case.
There are some concerns, however, emerging from the annual report. TAN 20 has been discussed in the past. However, the main problem is that the commissioner cannot carry out her main task of establishing rights for Welsh speakers unless she has standards in place. The Measure and the commissioner’s work are bound to the concept that standards will ensure that the Welsh language is treated no less favourably than the English language, and, therefore, will lead to the provision of services for Welsh speakers, which, in turn, will enable people to live their life through the medium of Welsh. In doing so, people are given rights. Without these standards, the commissioner has just one leg to stand on, and she and her office cannot proceed properly and appropriately.
My final point is that I note that the commissioner is taking a case against National Savings and Investments because it has withdrawn from its language scheme. I am very disappointed that the Government has not involved itself in this case, because I believe that the case refers specifically to the future constitution of Wales.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure that all bodies in receipt of Welsh Government funding publish and implement a Welsh language policy.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure that local authorities consult widely on developing Welsh in Education Strategic Plans and that robust targets are put in place for their implementation.
I move amendments 2 and 3.
I thank the commissioner for the annual report. As to our reasons for proposing amendments 2 and 3, the main one is the need to consider the results of the census and the poor situation of the Welsh language in some areas. It is worth noting that there has been a reduction in the number of communities where more than 70% of the population speaks Welsh, from 92 in 1991 to 39 in 2011. The failure in the Welsh Government’s ’Iaith Pawb’ strategy underlines that the number of young people who spoke Welsh in 2011 had fallen by some 85,000 in that year to 37,500 last year. The target of ’Iaith Pawb’, of course, was that the percentage of the people of Wales who are able to speak Welsh would increase by five percentage points, that is up to 25.7% by 2011. However, the reality is that it was only 19.01%—an abject failure.
I welcome the First Minister’s statement yesterday confirming that a timetable is in place for bringing standards forward, but they are standards for local authorities, national parks and Welsh Ministers alone, and there is no mention of the other sectors, such as public bodies, private firms and voluntary organisations. I also share some of Simon Thomas’s concerns about the resources of the commissioner. As the workload of the commissioner is to increase in ensuring compliance with the new standards and in responding to the results of the census, why on earth has there been a reduction of 10% in the budget available to the commissioner in the next year? In order to ensure its independence, would it not be a better idea to give a long-term settlement, so that that particular body does not have to be concerned that it may face sanctions if it takes action against the Government for any particular reason?
There is a section in the annual report that mentions the numerous deficiencies in the provision of the Welsh language by Crown bodies, and I would like to ask the First Minister what discussions have taken place between the Welsh Government and the UK Government in terms of those bodies.
I also have some concerns about TAN 20, which was published some weeks ago. There is guidance to be published as part of the policy, but there is no timetable in terms of its publication. A question also arises in terms of the impact of this new announcement on those local plans that have already been considered by local councils. In addition to that, the main reason for amendment 2—and I understand what the First Minister had to say this afternoon that this amendment is unnecessary in terms of the standards related to some of these bodies—is that a question does arise as to what happens between now and December 2014.
Last week, I received a second annual report from the Welsh Rugby Union—a body that receives a great deal of funding from the Welsh Government, through Sport Wales. Of the 44 sport bodies that receive funding from the Welsh Government, only four of them operate a language policy. The view of the WRU on the Welsh language is expressed by the fact that there are only four words of Welsh in this entire report, namely ’diolch yn fawr iawn’. Therefore, what will the Welsh Government do about these public bodies that ignore the Welsh language out of hand?
I also have to say that I am concerned about some of the education proposals currently being drafted by some of our local councils. I accept that there is work in the pipelines, but we must also accept that it is the responsibility of the Welsh Government now to plan strategically in terms of Welsh-language education. As we discuss the annual report this afternoon, I feel compelled to ask whether the First Minister accepts that responsibility. What work and guidance has the Government put in place for councils in terms of the preparation of these plans?
I have to say that, sadly, we do not share the self-satisfaction expressed by the Government this afternoon, and the report highlights the current absence of policy from Government and the scale of the challenge facing the language and, indeed, the role of the commissioner.
I would also like to start by thanking the commissioner for her report, and the Government for its update yesterday. I believe that we would have appreciated that coincidence a little more had the statement noted swifter progress on standards. Therefore, I will be supporting amendment 1, and I will consider the Government’s mixed messages later.
The report is interesting, even if some of the details are patchy. It gave a useful overview of the activities of the commissioner before the publication of the strategy, although it was not clear how resources were to be distributed for all kinds of activity. Specifically, I wanted to know more about the initial costs of establishing the office. However, I am grateful to the commissioner for her confirmation that savings had been made in terms of offices. When the leasehold liabilities inherited from the Welsh Language Board lapsed, cheaper sites were found. Maybe four offices seem excessive in comparison with the requirements of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales and the Older Person’s Commissioner for Wales. However, considering the data coming from the census, there is an argument for retaining a responsive presence in the heartlands where the number of Welsh speakers has fallen. A presence throughout Wales can also have practical benefits if working in partnership with local government is the way to improve language awareness, skills and confidence among the Welsh workforce—a challenge that was highlighted in the report.
I look forward to seeing more details regarding the cost of the new IT system. I understand that it can be cheaper to commission a new and extended system rather than buying and adapting the present system, but when taxpayers’ money is being used, it would be useful to hear whether the system would be of interest to other bodies, in all sectors, with a view to getting the best value for money from it.
I am also pleased—if ’pleased’ is the word—to hear that the complaints of third parties on compliance referred to in the report reflect the concerns of many individuals, rather than particular special interest groups. This is supposed to be an independent role, with a duty to listen to the views of others but not to be overwhelmed by those views. That is particularly relevant to the development of policy. The establishment of the observatory will be crucial in keeping a focus on policy and research, although it is not clear how that will be funded.
I hope that the commissioner will look in detail at the socioeconomic and cultural potential of the language in Flying Start, for example. I look forward to seeing her influence on technical advice note 20 extending further, I look forward to the health report, and I look forward to seeing whether it is possible for her to help to make the ’cynhadledd fawr’ more than a glorified talking shop. I am reluctant, however, to ask the commissioner to consider taking on additional work. This year, she has new responsibilities in relation to TAN 20 and strategic plans in education without any assurance with regard to how that work will be funded. The false start on the development of new standards has drained money from the programme for the commissioner’s activities and has extended the period for distributing resources to monitor schemes.
By now, she should be looking for staff with experience of operating within a regulatory framework—a different skill set. The bridging period, where the responsibility to monitor schemes continues at the same time as the ability to regulate, will be the expensive period, but that costly work will now fall during a period where the commissioner’s budget will be cut by around £400,000. However, you cannot see that from the draft budget. The budget of the older people’s commissioner is clear: there is a separate budget line, and there is no cut. The budget of the children’s commissioner is not as easy to read, but once again it shows no cut. The 10% cut to the language commissioner’s budget has been hidden in a cut of £700,000 for the budget for the Welsh language and the budget for Welsh-medium education, perhaps. Over half of those savings have to come from the work of the commissioner. There is no mention of that in the equality impact assessment for the budget.
We should all be concerned, First Minister, when the budget of an independent commissioner is targeted for inequitable and high cuts, without any explanation given. We should all be concerned when information is hidden from us. Is this what independent commissioners can expect if they criticise your Government? Do you see what I mean when I talk about mixed messages, First Minister? The dragon truly does have two tongues, but I am concerned that the Government speaks with forked tongue.
This is the commissioner’s first report and I am pleased to welcome it. The Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 is the first legislation on the language to be drawn up in Wales since the sixteenth century. I believe that the new legislative landscape contributes to a clear and purposeful opportunity for us to tackle the challenges that we face. Given that the Welsh Language Commissioner only started her job in April last year, I welcome the great many activities that have already been seen. However, the work extends much further than this, to a health inquiry, legal advice and the establishment of an observatory—the latter being a new proactive venue, strengthening presence.
Here in Wales, the National Assembly for Wales (Official Languages) Act 2012 and the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 give us two further strings to our bow and put us on a good path in comparison with England, where the commissioner has had to locate a representative in Westminster, and where there are backward steps in terms of bilingualism, as Aled Roberts said in relation to Crown departments. We must recognise and welcome that the First Minister is now responsible for the language. Leadership ultimately leads every aspect of this work. Under the former Minister for education, several positive steps were taken and that is to be praised. There were great leaps in provision—for example, through the Welsh in education plans. I thank him for that. It was about time that that happened and I would like more details on where we are following the consultation and about the next steps. I also welcome what has happened to date as the Government supports the twenty-first century schools programme, particularly in response to growth in Welsh-medium schools.
As Simon Thomas said earlier, I think that health is the next issue that I should refer to, as it is close to my heart. In the Eisteddfod in Denbigh, I spoke openly about being ill in hospital last year with a brain problem. I spoke only Welsh for some weeks. Years earlier, a nurse came to the house to see my young son and she gave him a number of commands in English. He did not understand what she was saying. That is why I look forward to seeing the final ’More than just words…’ report—the Welsh strategic framework in health that was launched at the end of last year. The framework itself acknowledges several elements, players and organisations that are central to achieving our objective. The formula is clear. We need leadership accountability and the setting of a clear direction; to develop a culture for staff to be sensitive to linguistic needs and for Welsh-medium services to be seen as a natural part of care; recognition that it is only through Welsh that many people can communicate and responsibility to meet that need; clear first-language policy as a core element of care. The Government intends to set up a delivery group to take the strategy forward, and I would be interested in hearing more about the latest situation. The truth is that that is the way ahead.
I was going to ask about the standards, but you gave us a timetable yesterday. I am happy with that timetable, but, of course, we have to look at the detail.
Over the weekend, I and many other Members, I am sure, had many emails expressing concern about the money that is available for the Welsh language, which led me to look at the draft budget. One thing that I noticed—but I might be wrong—is the lack of a clear budget line for the Welsh Language Commissioner, even though there are lines for other commissioners. I am aware of the money that was received in 2012-13 and the estimate for this year, but I am eager to see next year’s budgetary position, and I do not know where other people have found this figure of £700,000.
Moving on to TAN 20, in today’s context, you will be aware that the commissioner has written to the Minister for Housing and Regeneration raising several questions. She has also asked for a meeting with the Minister for local government to discuss what will happen before the further practical guidance comes into force. This issue is cross-cutting. How, therefore, is the Government collaborating to reflect this? I see that you have said publicly that it was not sensible to publish the report before the end of the big conversation and that there is an opportunity for local authorities to consider their plans in their annual monitoring. However, as Aled Roberts said—and I say this particularly as I represent a constituency in a county that has already noted that the Welsh language is important in its local development plan—I would be pleased to have an update on these issues.
Even though the text of ’Where Next?’ is sensible, it is extremely important here, as we implement these policies and targets, because there are several developments on the horizon for the language. First Minister, you raised the question of ’where next?’ at the end of the big conversation. I hope that, today, you can give us an update on where we are, particularly given the reviews that have been commissioned and what is on your direct agenda. After all, the next step is collaboration among the players—that is the best key and approach available to us.
In welcoming this report, I note that the context is the Welsh language Measure, which has raised the expectations of friends of the Welsh language, and the 2011 census, which notes a reduction of 2% in those speaking Welsh and also a reduction in the absolute numbers. Quite simply, therefore, more Welsh speakers die or leave Wales than are naturally generated or become natural Welsh speakers. Therefore, we need clear and specific planning if we are to transform that situation. The question is: does the Government, and Wales, want to see that happening, and how is the Government going to approach that?
The Welsh Language Commissioner’s report notes certain areas that she believes are crucial. The commissioner notes in her aspirations two things very clearly: the Welsh language should be at the heart of policy development in Wales and that the usage of the language should increase. In looking at policy—many Members have made reference to this—there are two clear steps that we can measure. The first is the standards. By the time that the standards become available to us, three and a half years of this Government will have passed. The First Minister can justify that, saying that it is part of the timetable, but I am not sure whether that is a sign of a Government that truly desires to see the legislation fully implemented, because it will then take time for that to take effect.
The second step—or the only other measure—is the long-awaited TAN 20. That took two and a half years, following the consultation, to come into force. I am not going to go into detail on that particular TAN, but as far as I can see, it does not really move us on from the note that previously existed. That is the view of planners across Wales, who have provided evidence to Government on the issue. So, on those two issues, I believe that the Government has some work to do to persuade us that the Welsh language is at the heart of all policy areas.
In terms of increasing the usage of the language, that is a very real challenge, not only for Government, but for each and every one of us. However, one thing that I do welcome in the report is that the commissioner intends to do more research. I am certain that we should be looking at other examples, such as the Basque Country, where there has been targeted planning and where funding and resources have been provided. I do not think that it is enough for Government just to do a little more of what we have done in the past. It appears to me that we must see a very real shift, and concentrate on certain key areas, if we are to succeed.
I note the comments made by the First Minister on marketing, developing confidence and encouraging people. I believe that that is exceptionally important—it is not easy, of course. However, I would encourage him to think seriously as to whether we should have some sort of celebration of the language in Wales, to raise awareness of the value of the language among Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speaker alike.
There are two other areas that are referred to in the commissioner’s report that I would like to mention. The first is the health service, to which Keith Davies referred. A number of promises have been made in this area in recent years, but there is very little action to be seen on the ground. I cannot see many practical actions that have been taken. One of those is staff training in bilingual skills. There has been hardly any progress made and I am very suspicious of the current policy of training in various areas of medicine. I am doubtful whether the Welsh language is a cross-cutting part of that training programme, with a few rare exceptions. Unless you have bilingual staff, you are not going to be able to implement a policy where the Welsh language is at its heart. I want to see what the Government’s strategy is in relation to that and to see it soon.
One minor thing that is referred to in the report is place names and proper nouns, not only the names of towns and villages, but areas, mountains and lakes. I believe that there is scope for us to look seriously—and I would encourage the commissioner to do so—at whether we need legislation in this area to protect place names here in Wales, and not just Welsh names because you could include all languages is such legislation. There is a very real risk that some of these place names will be lost forever.
At the end of the day, I think that you come back to that same thing, that it is commitment to take action that will make a difference. I look forward to being convinced by the First Minister that he will do that.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the First Minister to reply to the debate.
The debate itself has been a very broad one and I may be to blame for that because I mentioned the cynhadledd fawr even though there will be a statement about that next month.
It is true to say that the commissioner’s work is important and that it is going to continue in the future. In terms of the budget cuts for the commissioner, the cut is £400,000 not £700,000; that is 10%, of course, because the commissioner will have £3.69 million in the year to come. It is very important to ensure that we have a commissioner who is effective; that is true. We think that the sum that has been allocated is a very significant one.
Several people have talked about the standards. They are very important. I am sure that I am right in saying that it was back in May that we said that the timetable would seek to have the standards in place by the end of next year. We want to consult very broadly to ensure that the standards are effective and that is what will happen. We have to remember that the standards are important, but the tendency at the moment is that it is the group of people who are confident in the Welsh language who will be using those standards. Therefore, it is very important that we focus on what is going to be done to increase people’s confidence to use services in future. We know, in looking at the figures, for example, that the percentage of people who use the Welsh language in the public sector is much lower than it should be. We all know that that does not show the number of people who speak Welsh; it shows the level of confidence of many Welsh speakers in terms of dealing with official things, as they see them, in the Welsh language. We have to increase people’s confidence. That is very important for the future.
In terms of what Aled Roberts said, it is important to ensure that we create use of the Welsh language. The commissioner is part of that process, but it is not just the commissioner who can ensure that that happens in future. We have to ensure that the education system does that. Huw Lewis has accepted the report on Welsh as a second language and is considering a full response to that.
We have to remember that the Welsh language has been compulsory for many years, and that is the way that it will be, but we cannot say with confidence that that has created confident Welsh speakers in English schools. It is important that we reconsider the way in which Welsh is taught to ensure that Welsh is taken seriously in schools that are not bilingual or Welsh schools. That is very important in order to generate Welsh speakers who are confident who have come through a different stream other than Welsh-medium schools.
There have been some discussions with the UK Government and letters have been sent. I, personally, have dealt with some of the banks, for example. I live in Bridgend where several roads have been named in Welsh, but in very poor Welsh, with several examples of poor spelling in Welsh, and to make things worse the Welsh has then been mistranslated into something completely different in English. In Bridgend, we do not have a bus station; we have a ’pwysau’ station. I do not know what ’pwysau’—weight—has to do with it, but that is what we have in parts of Bridgend. It is very important that the commissioner ensures that road signs are correct in Welsh. There are several road signs that are not correct that I have seen, and they are still up there. Some of them are in the Amman valley, where they do speak Welsh. It is very important that the impression is not given to people that Welsh is not important because of the fact that road signs, for example, are not spelt correctly in Welsh.
TAN 20 is moving things forward. Alun Ffred Jones said that it is not sufficient and that it is not a step forward. That is not the opinion of Dyfed Edwards, the leader of Gwynedd Council; he said that it was something to be welcomed. I know that Alun Ffred knows him very well, and that was his opinion. So, Dyfed Edwards does not believe that TAN 20 does not move us forward. I cannot agree either with Alun Ffred when he said that not much has changed over the last decade. He, of course, was the Minister for a certain period and, before him, Rhodri Glyn Thomas. I think that he is being unfair on himself to say that things have not changed for the better since then. We do see things that have changed for the better, but we realise that there is a long way to go.
Aled Roberts mentioned the Welsh Rugby Union. This concerns me too. It is very important that the body that represents a sport that is vital to Wales uses the Welsh language better. It is something that I will be raising with the WRU in the future. You have to remember that the Football Association of Wales has a very good record of using the Welsh language and that it publishes bilingual leaflets now and again, and that is a good example. It is very important that the WRU considers the way in which it deals with the Welsh language. I will consider how many bodies use the Welsh language in the sporting world in order to ensure that things change. One of the things that has been raised in the past is the fact that many activities are available in Cardiff, for example, in Welsh, but there are not so many in Ceredigion, for example. Some people say that it is not possible to have a swimming lesson in Ceredigion in Welsh; that has to change in order to ensure that people are available to give children lessons outside school. Without doing that, the message that children will get is that it is only in school that Welsh exists and that is very bad for the language itself.
There will be further discussion next month when the statement on the cynhadledd fawr is published. I am sure that there will be many comments made at that time. However, in closing, I want to ensure that we do appreciate the work of the commissioner. She has done a lot of work over the last year, and I am sure that her position will strengthen ultimately.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree amendment 1. Does any Member object? There is objection. I will defer all voting on this item until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Before I proceed with the first vote, are there three Members who wish for the bell to be rung? There are not.
Result of the vote on motion NDM5336
Motion agreed: For 40, Against 0, Abstain 10.
Result of the vote on amendment 1 to motion NDM5338
Amendment not agreed: For 25, Against 27, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on motion NDM5338
Motion agreed: For 52, Against 0, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on motion NDM5339
Motion agreed: For 52, Against 0, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 1 to NDM5337
Amendment not agreed: For 25, Against 27, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 2 to NDM5337
Amendment not agreed: For 13, Against 39, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 3 to NDM5337
Amendment not agreed: For 25, Against 27, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on motion NDM5337
Motion agreed: For 52, Against 0, Abstain 0.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
That concludes today’s business.
The meeting ended at 18:26.