The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Good afternoon, everyone. I wish you all a happy new year.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the damage caused to defences by recent flooding? OAQ(4)1418(FM)
The Minister for Natural Resources and Food has issued a written statement, instructing Natural Resources Wales to lead a review of the recent events, including, of course, the impacts sustained to defences. The first part of that review will be completed by the end of January.
First Minister, flood defences are a wholly devolved matter. I am aware of Alun Davies’s review into coastal flood defences. Of course, you will have been aware of the recent devastation, which damaged hundreds of properties, smashed roads, buckled rail lines, and broke a considerable number of sea defences across the coastline—not only of my region in north Wales, but elsewhere in Wales. It has been reported that Wales is struggling financially to deal with the flooding aftermath. However, there was a report some time ago into flooding and some recommendations from the Environment and Sustainability Committee about what the Welsh Government could do to strengthen defences against flooding. Will the review announced by the Minister look at those recommendations to see whether or not a failure to implement any of them contributed towards the damage that was caused in coastal communities?
I believe that that is the case. We know, for example, in many communities—Aberaeron being one—that the investment that was made in defences made a real difference to the resilience of those communities. Nevertheless, there were people who were affected, and my sympathies, of course, go out to them. We have to understand that what we saw was a significantly unusual weather event. I can inform Members that it is the Government’s intention to invest £240 million, in total, in flood and coastal defences during the lifetime of this Government. The Secretary of State for Wales has made it absolutely clear that we can expect no help at all from the UK Government. We will, of course, be continuing to invest, and we saw the effect of the investment in many communities that proved to be more resilient. However, it is right to say that, in some communities in Wales, the storm was so forceful that we did see some flooding.
First Minister, may I again say ‘thank you’, through your offices, for the fact that the Minister for Natural Resources and Food came to Rhyl as soon as there was flooding? I know that he has also been to other affected areas. I welcome his review, and I welcome the fact that he has the support of the Cabinet in that. However, do you share my disbelief that the Secretary of State for Wales, David Jones, could not stand up for Wales, by saying that he is not going to fight for additional money for levels of Government in Wales that will be affected? He is thereby ignoring, not only all the constituents of Wales, but some in his own constituency who were flooded. The Prime Minister hinted that the Bellwin formula can be used, but do you agree with me that the Tories have actually cut the Bellwin formula so much that it will make it very difficult for local authorities—or, indeed, for the Welsh Government—to find additional resources? Also, should the Secretary of State for Wales stand up for Wales?
Well, the Secretary of State for Wales could try harder, but I am afraid that that is something that we are well used to. He made it very clear that he was not even going to ask for extra funding for Wales—there we are; that is the way he operates. What I can say is that the Bellwin scheme—or the emergency financial assistance scheme, as we have in Wales—is available in certain circumstances, but, of course, money is ever tighter as a result of the cuts being imposed from the UK Government.
First Minister, the Ceredigion coast was hit extremely hard by the storms of last week, and the Aberystwyth prom suffered extensive and costly damage. The spirit of the people of Ceredigion has not been broken by the storms and winds, however. As you have already mentioned, the Westminster Government, within a few days of that, confirmed that it intended to ignore the need for additional funding for Wales. Can you therefore outline how you will collaborate more positively with county councils such as Ceredigion County Council to put things right and to protect our coastline for the future?
I understand that a meeting is taking place today between Ceredigion council officials and Government officers in order to see how much it will cost to improve things in Aberystwyth. We understand that the council itself is looking at the need at present and how much it would require to ensure that things are returned to normal. Following that meeting, everyone will have a better idea of how much funding will be required in order to ensure that what occurred in Aberystwyth is quickly repaired.
First Minister, I very much share your response to the Secretary of State for Wales’s view that the European solidarity fund is not an appropriate route, but if that is in fact the case in terms of the building up of flood resilience, would it not be appropriate to consider approaching the European Investment Bank, which I understand was represented by some senior officials who met with members of your Government and officials here just last week? It was significantly recapitalised in the last couple of years and may potentially have the opportunity to make a valuable contribution in this area.
There is already a significant allocation by the European regional development fund, which helps in terms of flood defences. We will, of course, explore every mechanism that is potentially available in order to secure funding. With the solidarity fund, the indications are—although these are early indications—that that fund is designed for, if I can put it this way, much larger events. That will seem a strange thing to say to those who suffered, but it seems that that is what the fund was designed to do. Nevertheless, we will investigate it of course, and, indeed, if there are funds that might be made available through the European Investment Bank, we will explore that option as well.
First Minister, will you be working with Network Rail, as well as the Environment Agency, so that we can secure the future of the rail network in terms of the effects that this also has on businesses in Wales? I am thinking here particularly of Merco, which depends on rail access. The closure of the Ferryside section of that rail network has seriously hurt its business.
Yes. I can say that senior officials have met Network Rail’s Wales route director to discuss the disruption that has taken place and it has been stressed that there is a need for a quick and effective recovery operation.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of welfare reform on poverty in Torfaen? OAQ(4)1424(FM)
Before I do that, I neglected at the beginning to offer congratulations to you, Presiding Officer, for the honour that you have received. I hope to rectify that now.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you very much.
I am sure I speak for the entire Assembly in terms of the congratulations that we offer.
In terms of the question, I am concerned, obviously, about the impact of the UK Government’s welfare reforms on poverty in Torfaen and, indeed, across the rest of Wales, naturally. As part of our three-stage programme of research, we will shortly be publishing a report assessing the impacts of the reforms at local authority level.
The Eastern Valley Foodbank in Torfaen has seen a huge increase in demand over the past year. In the week before Christmas alone, 300 people were helped and more than three tonnes of food was distributed. There were heart-breaking stories of mothers arriving in tears because they had no money for Christmas. First Minister, what more can the Welsh Government do to support Wales’s network of food banks, which increasingly play such a vital role in our communities? Would you agree with me that the Conservatives in this Chamber, who have been very vocal in support of policies such as the bedroom tax, now need to examine their consciences as the bitter, Dickensian reality of the vindictive and ideologically-driven reforms starts to bite?
It is in the DNA of the Conservative Party to attack the poorest in society. They will never change; that is what drives them as a party, and, unfortunately, they are aided and abetted by the Lib-Dems, I have to say. In terms of the food banks, it is important, of course, that food banks engage with other local community-based organisations and programmes, such as Communities First, to address the local needs collectively. For example, in the north of Wales, Communities First, the Citizens Advice Bureau and Barnados have worked in partnership to develop a food bank, which has been set up to address the problem of food poverty in Anglesey.
Perhaps it would be worthwhile rehearsing slightly the history of food banks, founded under this name in 2001. In 2005, there were some 3,000 people; by 2010, 40,000 people were attending food banks across the country. All those—[Interruption.] Yes, who was in Government? The Labour Party was in Government. It is also worth pointing out that a large number of those people who were accessing the food bank in Torfaen were from working-age families.
Well, does that not tell you that the hammering that you are giving to working-age families means that, even though they are working hard, they are not earning enough money to earn a living? That is the whole point. When they talk about benefit cuts and the bedroom tax they are hammering people who are working. That is the whole point. That is possibly the most preposterous, or one of the most preposterous, questions that I have heard asked in this Assembly. I do not know what point he is trying to make here. He makes the point that, under a Government run by his party, people who are working have to go to food banks. This is something that he is looking to celebrate. The reality of Conservative and Lib-dem Britain is that even those people who are in work and working hard are still forced to go to food banks. That is the extent of the battle that is being waged not against those who are unemployed but those who are working hard. They just do not care.
First Minister, I have constituents on welfare benefits who have permanent degenerative illnesses and yet are being reassessed at least annually for eligibility. Obviously, this is extremely stressful. They have won their appeals at tribunal and, in some cases, the Department for Work and Pensions has not presented any evidence against them. Would you agree with me that this is a complete waste of public money, apart from the fact that it is hounding people with no prospect of improved health?
I could not agree more with what the Member has said. It is quite clear, and I expect the research to show this, that there are people who have illnesses from which they will not recover. These are illnesses that put them at a permanent disadvantage in terms of getting a job and yet they are being denied benefits. Surely, the benefits system is there at least to assist people who are not able to work. What we see is what seems to be a systematic campaign not just against those of working age but who are unemployed, not just against those who are unable to work because of disability, but against those who are in work but who do not earn much money. They are all people who, in the eyes of the Tories and the Lib Dems, are undeserving.
First Minister, you will be aware of proposals by the Tory Government to cut or withdraw housing benefit for those aged under 25. In Wales, there are 20,000 under 25s with children who will be affected. In Torfaen, there are 700. In the Pontypridd constituency, there are 400 under 25s who now, potentially, face losing their homes or not being able to feed or heat their children. Does the First Minister agree that this is another example of the Tories hitting the poorest and the most vulnerable while the Lib Dems bury their heads in the sand?
I am afraid that it is. In terms of the logic of this, if this is a policy advocated by the Tories and the Lib Dems in this Chamber, they must accept that it will lead to people under 25 living on the street. That is what will happen. The Lib Dems say ‘rubbish’. I tell you what: you have lost every social conscience that you ever had if you think that that is rubbish. If you take support away from under 25s who are unable to get work they will end up not being able to put a roof over their heads. What sort of party have you become?
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
First this afternoon is the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Wiliams.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer, and may I, on behalf of my group, also congratulate you on your inclusion in the new year’s honours list? It is a source of great pride I am sure to all of us that you should be honoured in such a way.
First Minister, year on year, the number of apprenticeships in Wales has declined. Your own Government’s statistics show that they have plummeted by a third over the last five years. Will you resolve that, by the end of this year, the long-term decline of apprenticeships in Wales under you leadership will be reversed?
Let us look at the issue of apprenticeships first of all and deal particularly with Jobs Growth Wales, which is the most successful scheme of its kind anywhere, I would argue, in Europe, where, out of 10,000 job opportunities that have been created, over 8,000 of them have been filled. That is an extremely successful scheme. Where else do we see evidence of its success? It is in the fact that the unemployment rate for those aged between 18 and 24 in Wales is significantly lower than the UK average. It is 16.9% in Wales. The UK average is 19.1%. If you match that together with schemes such as the increased apprenticeship offer, the apprenticeship matching scheme, pathways to apprenticeships and shared apprenticeships, and with the young recruits programme, and take all those together with Jobs Growth Wales, you will see the real difference that it makes to the unemployment rate among those aged between 18 and 24.
First Minister, in 2007 over 53,000 apprenticeships were offered in Wales. By 2012, that figure had dropped to under 40,000. First Minister, at the start of the year, a record number of people are waiting longer than they should for treatment on the Welsh NHS: 13,000 people are waiting more than six months to start their treatment. Will you resolve that, by the end of this year, you will hit your own Government’s target to ensure that nobody waits that long?
I wonder whether she has included Jobs Growth Wales in the statistics. You do not seem to see that or count it as an apprenticeship scheme of any kind. The reality of the situation is that when it comes to the economy, those targets are being exceeded. It is true that the targets in health are being moved towards—in the opposite direction to that in England—and we know what is being put in place to improve the education system. If you look at the Welsh economy, you will see that we are doing better than the UK average. Unemployment has come down faster than it has anywhere else. Youth unemployment among those between the ages of 18 and 24 is much below the UK average. It shows that despite the economic folly of the UK Government, the Welsh Government is helping to make sure that young people get opportunities that they deserve.
At the start of this year, more than a quarter of local education authorities in Wales are in special measures. Last month’s Programme for International Student Assessment results showed us going backwards compared with our international competitors. First Minister, as we have seen this afternoon, I suspect that there will not be a lot of agreement between us this year, but can you agree with me on this: 2014 should be the year that we resolve that Wales can do better than this, and that Wales is better than this? Will you outline today what new actions your Government will take this year to deliver for Welsh pupils, for Welsh patients and for the economy?
I think that the leader of the Lib Dems does herself a disservice when she says that we will not agree on much. Certainly, we always look to work with other parties where we can. You only have to see what has been put in place in education, particularly with the national literacy and numeracy programme. The statistics in health are generally moving in the right direction. For example, our cancer waiting times are the same as in England—there is no difference; they are pretty much identical. We know that improvements have happened in terms of ambulance response times. There is still some work to build on—that much I understand—and it will take time for the programme outlined by the previous Minister for Education and Skills, taken forward by the current Minister for education, to have the greatest effect. However, we know that when it comes to education, local education authorities are the deliverers, and they cannot escape responsibility for education within their own communities. I look forward to any suggestions or views that the Williams commission might have on this issue.
Presiding Officer, I also join in paying tribute to you on your award in the new year’s honours list. It is very richly deserved for all the years of public service that you have undertaken, and recognises in particular the sterling work that you have done in assisting women into public life and public representation—I think that that was cited in the new year’s honours list. From my group, heartfelt congratulations to you, Presiding Officer.
With your indulgence, Presiding Officer, I also wish to draw the Assembly’s attention to the passing of Lord Wyn Roberts in the Christmas recess. Wyn Roberts was a staunch supporter of everything in Wales, whether in his private life or his public life. As a Minister, he had a record tenure in the Welsh Office, and he was a great supporter of the Welsh language and a staunch supporter of broadcasting in Wales. I think the comment that he built more roads in Wales than the Romans did was most probably reflective of the huge infrastructure improvements during his tenure. He will be a great loss to Wales, because when he ended his parliamentary career, he undertook his role in the House of Lords with such distinction. Whenever there was cause to fight for Wales’s corner, he fought with such distinction. Thank you for allowing me to put those words on the record, Presiding Officer.
First Minister, during the Christmas recess your Minister for education in a newspaper interview apologised for the state and standards of education in Wales. Will you join him in making that apology?
I think that you are missing out on the fact that he has made it very clear that the plans that we have in place to improve education are robust, and we will see that improvement being taken forward in the future.
I note that you did not choose to use this opportunity to apologise like your Minister for education did, and there is much for your Government to apologise for. As per usual, the complacency that you show knows no bounds. The PISA results that we had before Christmas regrettably show us propping up the league table. You pointed out in earlier answers that you regret the direction of travel of the UK Government in terms of the UK economy. You said that it shows no evidence that what the Tories are doing is working, yet we have record low interest rates, record numbers in employment and one of the fastest-growing economies in the western world. Not only that, the Centre for Economics and Business Research points out that the UK economy will be the largest economy in Europe. Regrettably, your measures are showing that the Welsh economy is continuing to be one of the poorest economies in Europe. Under your health measures, we have a doubling of waiting times.
At the start of 2014, is it not time that you reactivated your delivery unit and got it delivering on the policies that you pledged at the start of this Assembly, so that we can see an improvement in the economy, an improvement in our health service and, above all, so that we can see real improvement when you measure us against international standards in education?
Either he has some kind of amnesia or he has not realised that interest rates dropped before there was a Conservative and Lib Dem Government. That happened at the time of a Labour Government. They have not changed since the current UK Government came into place. The point I make is this: things could have improved much faster if the Conservatives and Lib Dems had taken a different view. The economy was in a better shape in 2010 than it is now. The reality of it is that it was recovering in 2010 and it was pitched back into decline after that. I offer in evidence what we have done in Wales. Our unemployment rate is now the UK average; it has come down faster than anywhere else. I offer in evidence the fact that our youth unemployment rate is so low compared with the rest of the UK. That is, at least partially, a direct result of the Jobs Growth Wales scheme. It shows that a dynamic Welsh Government can make a real difference to the life chances of people in Wales, despite what happens elsewhere. When we look at health, we see that it is going in the right direction. We look at England and we see things going in the wrong direction. An innovations fund was announced in England—we have one in Wales—but it was scrapped and £50 million disappeared down the tubes. Nothing happened as a result of it. We see nurses being sacked in England and we see the waiting times figures going the other way. That is not to deny the challenges that we face in Wales, of course, but at least we are honest about them, unlike his Government in London.
As I said, the complacency knows no bounds. We are at the start of 2014. You could have offered the Assembly and the people of Wales some real, tangible targets that you would hit, whether it is in health, education or the economy. However, as per usual, it is always ‘wait for tomorrow’. I never thought that I would hear the First Minister trying to describe his Government as ‘dynamic’; that is one thing that you cannot call this lot. Come on, First Minister; if you benchmark yourself against anything in education, the economy or health, and if you ask any of the people on a 36-week wait—which has gone up time and again—whether they are seeing the improvements, you will hear that they are not seeing those improvements. When will you actually live up to the mantra that you used at the 2011 election of standing up for Wales and getting your much-vaunted delivery unit actually starting to deliver improvements in the quality of people’s lives here in Wales?
He always ambles to the starting line, does he not? When it came to the constitutional debate, he was last there and did not say anything unless it was in agreement with the Secretary of State. When it comes to health, he has no views or policies of his own. None whatsoever. When it comes to the economy, he keeps on ignoring the fact that the Welsh economy has outperformed most of the rest of the UK as a direct result of what the Welsh Government has done. He talks about dynamism, and I give him credit for one act of dynamism. I give him credit for his dynamism in announcing yesterday that he would scrap the Wales for Africa programme. [Interruption.] When I was there last week, I saw the people who benefit from the support—not aid—that we give as a Government to voluntary organisations that help people who have literally nothing. He sat there from his country estate and said that he wants those people to have nothing. I will quote directly. He was asked what he thought of the programme, and he said, ‘I don’t agree with it’. I quote directly. As far as we are concerned, we take the issue—[Interruption.] He can try to shout as much as he wants, but I will tell him this now: let him go to Uganda to tell people there that he would take funding away from them. Let him go to tell people in Uganda that he would scrap the Wales for Africa programme. Then he can go to tell people in Wales how dynamic he is to take money away from some of the most worthy projects anywhere in the world. Is that not typical of the Tories? They never change.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Happy new year to you all.
I am sure, Llywydd, that you were very pleased to be recognised for your work and, in particular, your extensive work on women in public life.
First Minister, yesterday, my party launched a far-reaching consultation on boosting doctor recruitment in the Welsh NHS. We have outlined plans for international recruitment as well as for retaining the home-grown medical students. Can you please tell us when your Government abandoned aspirations to increase doctor numbers in the Welsh NHS?
She will be aware, of course, of the medical recruitment programme, which was launched some months ago. I saw the proposals put forward by Plaid Cymru. I would have several questions, I suppose. On the recruitment of 1,000 doctors, why 1,000? Where is that figure from? You talk about recruiting 100 doctors from abroad as though this has not been happening. The Welsh NHS has been recruiting doctors from abroad for more than 50 years. How is this something quite new? There would be a quota for the number of doctors who had to speak Welsh anyway, so that will affect recruitment, there is no doubt about this. This will all be paid for, I assume, by the ‘pop’ tax. So, the message would be to keep drinking pop to get more doctors, which is something I do not quite understand either. So, the reality is that doctors are not attracted by having their student fees paid. What they want is training opportunities. If the hospitals do not offer the right level of training opportunities, the doctors will not come here and they will not stay here. Before you train new medics, you need the consultants in place to train them. The consultants will only come to hospitals where they feel they can get the practice they need. Trainees will only go to hospitals where they feel there is a throughput of cases that will enable them to be properly trained, and those are the main factors that doctors will look at.
It is a policy proposal. It is something that can be debated. There are several issues that I would question in terms of how effective it might be, particularly with regard to the sudden realisation that the NHS in Wales should recruit from abroad, which is something it has been doing for many years.
That was an interesting ramble, First Minister. [Laughter.] However, your comments on the sugared drinks levy show clearly that you do not understand how taxes on consumption of harmful goods can reduce consumption. Alcohol and tobacco are cases in point. Indeed, I very much welcome the Member for Pontypridd’s support in principle for a sugared drinks levy. First Minister, today, your superiors in Westminster have raised concerns about the shortage of doctors in the English NHS. Of course, the state of the English NHS is something you comment on frequently in the Chamber. Data have been published today showing that locum costs in accident and emergency departments in England have gone up by 60% in three years. Can you please tell us the costs of locum doctors to the Welsh NHS?
Well, first, she said that I do not understand the way that this tax would operate. If you tax a particular product and you then hypothecate that tax for a particular purpose, you either have to make sure that consumption stays at the same level to finance what you are trying to do or consumption drops and then your revenue drops, in which case you could not fund as many doctors as you want to. That is the way it works. Look at the way that so-called sin taxes operate at a UK level: yes, of course, there are punitive taxes on alcohol and tobacco, but the money is not actually hypothecated for a particular purpose. The idea is to raise revenue, yes, but also to reduce consumption. If you are saying that you want to reduce the consumption of fizzy drinks by taxing them, you will eventually reduce the revenue you have to pay for these doctors. That is just simple economics, it seems to me. How she does not understand that I do not know.
When it comes to locums, the NHS in Wales has relied, particularly in A&E, on locums for many, many years. Many of those locums are very effective. Many of them are people who do not want a permanent position. For various reasons, they do not want to work full time, but they are still exceptionally effective as A&E specialists. So, to suggest that locums are in some way second-class doctors certainly would not be the case. That is certainly not the way that A&E specialists have presented this to me. Of course, we want to be in a position where there is no longer any need for locums. However, as we know, there is a difficulty in recruiting A&E specialists—not just in Wales, but across the whole of the UK and beyond.
Reducing the need for locums is precisely one of the aims of our policy proposals, First Minister. However, it was obviously far too much for us to expect a straight answer from you in the new year. Plaid Cymru is absolutely clear that we need to recruit more doctors to the Welsh NHS, something you appear to be in denial about. We need to reduce locum costs, as well. Labour’s UK health spokesperson says today that the same needs to happen in England. Are we both engaging in fantasy politics, First Minister?
No, I think that just you are. [Laughter.]
She accuses me of not answering the question; that is her prerogative. There are questions—it is not her job to answer questions; I understand that. However, in general, in public, she has questions to answer about her own policy.
You mentioned 1,000 doctors. That figure seems to have been plucked from thin air; I do not know where that comes from. Which specialisms and where do they go? In which specialisms do you say that there is a shortage and in which do you say that there is not a shortage? Where do you allocate these doctors? Where does the figure come from?
You would recruit 100 doctors from abroad, as if this has not already happened or is not being done. I can tell you that every LHB in Wales is already recruiting from abroad. It is not the case that there is a pool of doctors out there from which you can recruit at the drop of a hat; not even money will do it. What they are looking for is the opportunity to get a throughput of cases that will provide them with the level of training that they need in order to keep up their professional competence. Every single consultant with whom I have ever spoken says that. In saying this, I am not trying to start a political argument, but these are questions that need to be addressed in order for us to understand how this policy would work.
You say to me that we are complacent about this. We started a medical recruitment campaign some months ago. We have recruited more doctors. We know that the staffing rate in Wales is at roughly 96% of what it should be. However, it is the case that LHBs have been looking to recruit. They have been looking to recruit from abroad—that much is true—and they have done that for many years. The one thing that always comes back to me from medics is this: first, you cannot actually bring in trainees unless you have somebody to teach them, but consultants will not arrive unless they feel that hospitals in Wales can offer opportunities to them, and the trainees will not stay in hospitals in Wales unless they feel that the training opportunities are there. It is nothing to do with money; it is to do with providing those opportunities.
3. Will the First Minister outline his priorities for improving opportunities for children and young people in the Vale of Clwyd for 2014? OAQ(4)1411(FM)
They are set out in the in the programme for government. We know that early identification and intervention is key, and it is for this reason that we are making significant investments through our Families First and Flying Start programmes.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. I want to congratulate you on that early intervention and to say that I think that that is the right way forward. However, I also want to talk about the number of youngsters who enter the youth justice system. Many do so for a variety of reasons, and often because of the conditions that are being forced upon them due to lack of services and lack of a real worth, such as the ending of the future jobs fund. Hopefully Jobs Growth Wales is now giving them something to think about. First Minister, could you update us on what your Government is doing, working with the Ministry of Justice, the probation service and the agencies that are required to keep young people out of the youth justice service, and what we can do to make sure that they do not enter it in the first place?
The Youth Justice Board for England and Wales and the Welsh Government work together to ensure that the system works effectively. At the moment, we are developing a new youth justice strategy, and a White Paper is being drafted on proposals to improve services for young people in the youth justice system. Clearly, as justice is not devolved, we seek to work very closely—and that has happened—with the non-devolved agencies in order to ensure that we have a coherent approach.
As recently as yesterday, concern was raised with me that the life chances of young people in Rhyl are being damaged by the Welsh Government’s failure to reach a decision on grant funding for the successor to Rhyl Youth Action Group. I know that this has become highly personalised, but will the Welsh Government take control and reach a decision, because of the impact that this is having on young people, alongside the loss of other grant funding and tenants in the building concerned?
These are difficult financial times. I will write to the Member with regard to the Rhyl action group. However, with regard to his suggestion that life chances are somehow being deprived to young people in Rhyl, I have already mentioned Jobs Growth Wales, but I will not mention it in any detail. Of course, it is also the case that we have kept the education maintenance allowances. They have offered so many young people the chance to stay in college, which is a chance that is not available to them elsewhere in the UK.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government plans to commemorate Welsh involvement in the First World War? OAQ(4)1426(FM)
I was pleased to launch the programme, Cymru’n Cofio, last October. My adviser, Professor Sir Deian Hopkin, continues to work with officials and stakeholders to further develop the programme for the commemoration of the centenary of the beginning of the first world war this year.
May I tell the First Minister that plans are well under way now in the Rhondda to mark the engagement of people of the Rhondda in the first world war? May I urge him to ensure that the emphasis is always on commemoration and not celebration, and would he agree with me that no politician, whether in Wales or in the UK, should seek to hijack the commemoration of the first world war for political purposes?
Yes, I would. I very much agree that the purpose should be commemoration. I do not think that, with the first world war, you can celebrate very much. The beginnings of the war were unclear, the end of the war was a mess—we know, of course, with the Treaty of Versailles, that it led directly to the second world war. We know as well that it was hypocritical in much of what it said. Self-determination was offered, but only to those people who were white and not Irish. I did see Michael Gove’s comments—I could not believe that he was not struck by the irony of talking about defeating German expansionism at a time when Britain ruled a quarter of the world without the consent of the people who lived in those countries. I thought that it was a stunning lack of knowledge of history at the time. If you read about the history of the first world war, you will know that the reality is that much of it began with one event that led to mass mobilisation, a secret treaty for some of them and, ultimately, to tragedy. I think that what we must do in Wales is ensure that we commemorate, we understand and, above all else, we learn.
First Minister, you mentioned Sir Deian Hopkin and the rich programme of commemoration events during a Welsh Conservative debate last summer. Can you give us an indication of what you expect by way of a sustainable legacy from the programme and how you anticipate it being used to meet Government objectives of all sorts in the future?
Yes, I can. One area where we are doing that is the assistance that we are giving to schools, because it is among young people that the memory will perpetuate; there is no-one now alive who fought in the first world war, although it is not that long ago that we lost the last of those who had been involved in combat. For example, our museums and the national library are involved and there is a website that has been set up in order for people to learn more about the first world war. The intention is not that there should be commemoration for one year or for four years, but that its legacy will be one that remains in the minds of people for many years to come. That is one reason, of course, among many—to come back to what I said earlier—why we have provided funding to schools to enable our young people to keep that memory going.
The evidence of the soldiers from the trenches is the most excruciating record of the first world war. You have diaries in Welsh by people such as Lewis Valentine, you have letters and you have the work of poets such as Hedd Wyn, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and others. Will you ensure that the voices of ordinary people who went through those horrors will be given prominence in any commemoration of that terrible, wasteful slaughter?
Indeed. What is important is that we understand the experience not only of those in Flanders, France and other nations, but of those who stayed at home, knowing nothing about their brothers, husbands or sons who were away fighting in France, and to understand the impact of the first world war on society when the war came to an end. Therefore, the aim of Cymru’n Cofio is to understand the experiences of ordinary people and to look at this not in the context of what nations were doing, but in the context of people’s experiences and gaining an understanding of what things were like at the time and of the legacy that was created as a result.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement concerning the admission of patients into hospitals in South Wales East, over the Christmas to New Year period? OAQ(4)1422(FM)
Yes. Anticipated demand was effectively accommodated over the Christmas and new year period, and that reflected the commitment and hard work of NHS staff and the impact of the plans that had been developed for the winter.
I am most grateful to the First Minister for his answer. I agree with him and commend the action of staff in the NHS. The problem is that a constituent has written to me saying that, one year, he was admitted, or attempted to be admitted, with a suspected heart attack and spent 13 hours in the accident and emergency department with no sleep or even comfort. I also have complaints from other constituents whose elective surgery has been cancelled and told that surgery would not take place at least until the early part of the new year. These things do not quite coincide, First Minister. Can you offer some solution?
I cannot possibly comment on letters that I have not seen, or indeed on allegations that are made that have not been investigated. I would be more than happy—if the individuals involved are happy for their details to be released—to look at their cases, and I will ask the Minister for health to respond accordingly.
We know that a high percentage of A&E admissions over the festive period are due to cases of excess alcohol. What work is your Government doing with the health boards, and the Gwent Police in South Wales East in particular, to tackle abuse of staff over the festive period, which every decent person finds totally unacceptable?
As I have expressed many times in the Chamber, my view is that people who are abusive or attack staff should be prosecuted, drunk or not. If they get drunk, that is their own look out. Sometimes, people will need medical treatment first, and it is a difficult judgment to make unless you are on the ground. However, it should be made absolutely clear—and it is certainly the view of the Government, and most Assembly Members, I am sure—that those who are seeking to administer medical care should not live in fear of their personal safety, and that those who attack or abuse them should be arrested and prosecuted, full stop.
Local Authorities’ Capital Programmes
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on local authorities’ capital programmes? OAQ(4)1415(FM)
As a result of the reductions in the capital budget delegated to us by the UK Government, capital allocations for local government continue to present challenges. However, the capital funding for local authorities for 2014-15, which is £406.3 million, still represents a significant investment, considering the backdrop of continuous financial limitations.
I fully accept that there is huge pressure on this budget because of the cuts imposed by the coalition in Westminster, First Minister. However, as you have noted, there are significant sums of money available for these capital programmes. In its report on the capital programme for 2013-14, Carmarthenshire County Council acknowledges that there has been an underspend of £4.3 million. Has the Welsh Government carried out any assessment of underspend in the capital programmes of local authorities in Wales? Has there been any assessment of what can be done to ensure that this money is spent in order to grow us out of this recession?
As the Member will be aware, sometimes it is not possible to spend every penny of capital funding. Sometimes, projects are unable to proceed as swiftly as one would wish, and sometimes, some are cancelled altogether. However, I am sure that every local authority in Wales has the will to spend the funding that they have received as capital funding and that each one of them will attempt to spend that money in the most effective manner.
Certainly within my own authority, the capital programme is already earmarked for existing infrastructure projects. However, following the recent flood and storm damage, we have seen some major infrastructure damage within Conwy county borough. This obviously comes against a backdrop of severe cuts and a poor financial settlement. As my colleague has rightly pointed out, this is a devolved issue. First Minister, will you allow for some emergency funding for my own authority of Conwy County Borough Council, which has suffered damage to large parts of its infrastructure to the tune of several million pounds?
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Order. Are you coming to a question?
Yes. First Minister, will you commit to supporting Conwy County Borough Council as it faces several million pounds-worth of damage to infrastructure as a result of the storm damage?
The Member puts up a good case for her area. It is a shame that the Secretary of State was not quite as strong as the Member herself. Clearly, with regard to the flood alleviation scheme, it is a matter for local authorities to apply for assistance from that scheme. An assessment has to be made first, of course, of the damage that has occurred. I understand that, in terms of Conwy county borough, an assessment is being made of the situation at Kinmel Bay, and also of whether there will be a need for such an application in the future. However, as a matter of principle, such an application is possible, but it would then have to be considered very carefully.
7. What is the Welsh Government doing to support and promote sport in Wales? OAQ(4)1410(FM)
One of our aims is to increase rates of participation in sport across Wales for all ages, for both genders and for all social groups. Our work programme is being delivered via Sport Wales.
I am sure that you share my disappointment at the continuing impasse between the Welsh Rugby Union and the regions in Wales. Do you join me in urging a speedy resolution by both parties in the interests of our national game, our international standing in the game, and the growth and development of the game here in Wales?
Yes, I do. I have done just that. I wrote to the parties involved and urged them to come to a conclusion as swiftly as possible. Ultimately, those who are losing out are the fans and the players. That uncertainty does nobody any good as far as the future is concerned. It is important that there is a settlement as quickly as possible.
First Minister, Sport Wales’s recent school sports survey revealed an increase of almost 50% in the number of Welsh children taking regular part in sport and physical activities. That is good news. However, boys remain more likely than girls to regularly participate in sport, by some 8%. What is the Welsh Government doing to encourage more girls to participate in sports, particularly those from ethnic minorities where clothing is a religious and cultural issue?
The Member refers to an issue that has been a problem for some years—the tendency of girls to drop out of physical activity in their teens, particularly. There is a tendency for more boys—although this is not universal for boys either—to keep on playing sport. Work has been done with Sport Wales to assess how this might be addressed. What is also important is that role models, in terms of sportswomen in Wales, are illustrated to young girls in particular, so that they can see how important it is to carry on going to see what success can be achieved. Most people do not ever reach that level, but it is important that people aim for that success in order to keep on with their physical education. I know that this is an issue that is very much in the mind of Sport Wales and very much in the minds of schools.
First Minister, I am given to understand by the rubgy clubs that I have met over the last few weeks to discuss the unfortunate dispute between the regions and the WRU that you wrote to the clubs in a personal capacity. I wonder whether you, as First Minister, would give us today your view of what is currently happening with regard to the negotiations between the WRU and Regional Rugby Wales. Would you, for example, call for some kind of review of how the WRU is governed? At the end of the day, millions of pounds of Welsh Government money goes into Welsh rugby, and we want to ensure that that money is spent in the best possible way to safeguard the sport, so that everyone can enjoy the game, for the benefit of those playing our national game, day in, day out.
If we were to conduct a review of the union, we would have to conduct a review of the regions as well. You cannot deal with only one part of the picture. The Welsh Government has no legislative role in this issue. However, as one who has followed rugby over many years, I understand the situation, but I know that talks have taken place over the last few weeks. I would like to see an early resolution, by the end of the month at the latest, in order to give assurance not only to the union and to the regions, but to the clubs as well. Clubs are also affected by this situation, as well as those who support and play the game. It is vital that we have a Welsh resolution. I do not believe that some outside bodies have the Welsh game’s interests at heart. I think that we should all be careful to bear than in mind.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I have accepted an urgent question under Standing Order 12.66. I call on William Graham to ask the urgent question.
Will the Minister make a statement concerning the co-ordination of the emergency services with other government departments, agencies and voluntary services in tackling the adverse weather conditions and flooding? EAQ(4)0100 (NRF)
The emergency services and other responder agencies implemented their established multi-agency response plans during the recent adverse weather conditions. These plans were co-ordinated by the four police forces, working closely with Natural Resources Wales. The Welsh Government used its emergency co-ordination centre to link into these groups and to COBRA. I am sure that Members on all sides of the Chamber this afternoon would like to join me in paying tribute to and thanking the emergency services for their work, as well as volunteers, Natural Resources Wales, local authorities and others over the last few weeks.
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and I fully endorse the comments that he has just made. In order to support this co-ordination in future work, is he co-ordinating an application for Bellwin funds from central Government in Westminster, and also, following the lead suggested by the Welsh Conservative MEP, Dr Kay Swinburne, applying to the European solidarity fund? The Minister will know that there have to be exceptional circumstances for that money to be granted, with an application made within 10 weeks. I am given to understand that the Irish republic has already made an application.
I did receive correspondence from Dr Swinburne last week, and I thank her for that. I am sure that she was as disappointed as I was to hear the Secretary of State for Wales undermining her letter and her request, and your question this afternoon. I think that all of us will join together in registering a level of disappointment that the Secretary of State for Wales is not standing up for Wales, but rather potentially undermining the case for Wales.
In terms of the co-ordination that we are undertaking, I say this: we are currently assessing the scale and dimensions of the damage that has been caused to flood defences and coastal defences by the storms of two weeks ago. We are working closely with local authorities, and officials have met with all local authorities to discuss the damage and its implications. The final meeting is taking place today, with Ceredigion, as was indicated by the First Minister. The First Minister also indicated that we will be looking closely at all options available to us. We will be taking this forward over the coming days and I will make a further statement to Members when we reach conclusions on these matters.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I have a long list of people who wish to ask the Minister questions. William Graham set a very good example today of being short and concise, so hopefully the questions and the answers will be along that line.
May I also add my thanks to the emergency services? As somebody who presided over the first calls of the Tywyn floods back in the early 1990s, I know the stress that emergency services workers have to work under, very often, in situations like that. What do you intend to do around the civil contingencies Bill, and is there any scope within that Bill to make sure that we have one lead service, so that we all know who we would go to in emergencies?
Many of these matters are matters for the Minister for Local Government and Government Business. She is in her place and she will have heard that question. I feel that co-ordination between the emergency services, local government and NRW over the last few weeks—we are discussing the storms of 3 January, but also storms back in December as well—has worked remarkably well, and lessons have been learned from previous occasions. I am very content at the moment with the way that local government, emergency services, NRW and Welsh Government are working together on these matters. These matters are always under consideration.
Minister, first of all I thank you for visiting Aberystwyth at short notice to see the storm damage on the promenade. I also thank people, businesses and services in Ceredigion for responding so positively and bravely, at times, to those storms. Councils like Ceredigion County Council need financial assistance to repair the damage, and Ireland, as a member state, has already applied for European solidarity fund money following the recent storms. The UK Government used the same fund following the floods in 2007. Are you confident that there is enough money in Wales, and in the Welsh Government budget, to deal with the cost of damage repair along the coast, or do you believe that the UK Government needs to apply for additional money from Europe? Of course, it is only the UK Government, as the member state, that is able to apply for those funds.
Thank you for your comments, and thank you for your Twitter invitation to visit Aberystwyth. I saw it, and was pleased to be able to join you. I was shocked to see the damage caused in Aberystwyth. Those of us who know Aberystwyth and love the town felt the same shock and distress when we saw what has happened to the town and the community there over the last few weeks.
I will say this in reply to your specific question: we are currently assessing the damage. As you know, Ceredigion council officials are meeting Welsh Government officials this afternoon to discuss this. When we know the dimensions of the damage in Aberystwyth and across the country, we will be in a situation to conduct the kind of assessment that you have asked for. I am happy to return to the Chamber or to make a written statement on the next steps that the Government will take in responding to what we have seen.
This Government will work positively with local authorities and NRW across Wales to ensure that we have the kind of defences that are required to safeguard people and communities across the country.
Minister, I associate myself very much with the remarks that you made about the dedicated efforts of the emergency services, Ceredigion council and others recently. Following on from my earlier question to the First Minister, will you undertake to have a discussion with your colleague the Minister for Finance about the possibility, in the longer term, of an approach to the European Investment Bank? That is not so much in dealing with the immediate aftermath and making good of immediate damage, but in ensuring longer-term resilience through key projects to improve coastal defence—as was recommended in our recent Environment and Sustainability Committee report.
I will certainly give the Member that undertaking. I will talk with the Minister for Finance and other ministerial colleagues about how we ensure that we have a comprehensive response to what we have seen over the last two weeks and also in December. The conversation that we had with Ceredigion council in Aberystwyth a week ago was very much about ensuring that we make emergency repairs immediately, that we are able to ensure that people can return to their homes where that is an issue, that people are able to re-establish and run their businesses, and that we are able to clear up the immediate damage.
We also know that, as a consequence of the storms and weather patterns emerging at the moment, we will need to look hard at the sort of capital and other investments that we are making in coastal and flood defences as we see the impact of climate change taking a grip on our weather patterns. That will mean that we will need to look at all sources of funding and all vehicles for funding. I give the Member and other Members an undertaking that this Government will continue to take an activist approach to such matters.
I am very grateful to hear you mention climate change, Minister, because it is quite clear that the Welsh Government has been warned by a number of people of the possible impacts of coastal erosion and severe weather events. In my question to the First Minister I referred to the report of the Environment and Sustainability Committee, specifically on flooding, which contained a number of key recommendations. There was evidence to that committee about damage to infrastructure that was proved to have happened in these events this year, last year and in 2012, when there was inland flooding.
Minister, you were due to report in early 2014, and this is early 2014, on outcomes, plans and activities arising from your national flood and coastal erosion risk strategy. Presumably, those steps have been in place for some time for you to bring forward that report and see how your management plans have been working. Given the damage that was caused along the north Wales coast and elsewhere, as we have heard, and the fact that there are substantial amounts of European funding available for flood defences—I know that you have allocated funds—I wonder if you will be tying up the two inquiries and effect the report that you announced in December and the report that you were asked to give by early 2014.
I do not think that even the Conservative spokesperson would be as hard on me in the first meeting back this year to say that that is defined as the end of early 2014, rather than the beginning. Certainly, I will be bringing forward the report that the Member described, and I will be taking due note of that in decisions that we take. I will agree with what was said in the question: I think that we are seeing the impact of climate change on weather patterns. It is always difficult to associate individual weather episodes with much larger issues, such as climate change, but I think that we are seeing patterns in our weather that can be ascribed to that. In this case, this Government takes a very different view to that taken in Westminster, and, as a consequence, we have not made the enormous cuts to flood prevention budgets that we have seen across the border in England.
Like everyone else, I would like to congratulate everyone who was involved in dealing with the flooding, including Flintshire County Council, in my case. However, Minister—and you will know that I have written to you about this issue already—in my area, Point of Ayr, Talacre, Mostyn, Bagillt and Flint were very lucky indeed not to experience a serious disaster. The reason for that was that the wind was blowing into the sea, rather than onto land, which has happened twice. However, we cannot rely on that in future—I am afraid that it is not a very reliable coastal defence. Therefore, when your review takes place, will you look closely, not only at those areas that were terribly devastated, but at areas like mine, where disaster was only narrowly averted?
I have visited several of those places, as the Member is aware, and I have discussed some of the flood plans that are in place for some of those communities, which were themselves put into use back in December, and I think did have an impact on providing safety and security for those communities. The Member has also invited me to Mold, and that is an invitation that I have been happy to accept. However, I think that the fundamental point is a fair one, as was the point that was made by the Conservative spokesperson, about the significant infrastructure that needs to be protected. North Wales provides significant challenges for that, with the A55, and the railway line, running very close to the coast, and at significant risk from serious weather episodes. Those are exactly the sorts of areas where we need to focus our protection and our efforts. We will be looking proactively at what we are told as a consequence of the review that NRW is undertaking, and, if necessary, I will undertake a reprioritisation exercise, to ensure that we address the most urgent matters facing us today.
Of course, everyone will be asking you for funds to tackle problems in their own areas. As you have suggested, we will need to prioritise because the reality is that there are not sufficient resources to respond to the need. The Government has consistently referred to looking to the private sector, possibly, to contribute to some of these costs in future, and there have been a number of references to various sources of public funds. You say a great deal about that, but we do not see much evidence of you following up on those options of seeing a contribution by the private sector. Could you expand upon that this afternoon?
I do think that we must consider the issues that the Member has raised and, of course, there are places where that is happening. The north Wales coast and the flooding forum in north Wales are examples of where that has happened. I think that we have to be creative in considering how we fund the kinds of investments that will be needed for the future. I would be very happy to continue that discussion with the Member and others.
Minister, I was very grateful for your visit to Kinmel Bay in the aftermath of the floods there in December. We were fortunate to have a narrow escape at the high tide pinch-point in January. I know that you have already referred to critical infrastructure in north Wales, and there is a very important pinch-point in Old Colwyn, in my constituency, where the promenade is very narrow, and sits immediately against the A55 and the north Wales railway line. That area has suffered some damage to its coastal defences in recent years, and is potentially the riskiest place, I would suggest to you, in terms of damage to our infrastructure. The funding formula for flood defences, of course, is heavily reliant on protecting businesses and homes at present, but has not emphasised sufficiently, in my opinion, the need to protect infrastructure. What action will you take to ensure that that infrastructure pinch-point in my own constituency is considered as part of the investigation and review that are taking place? Can you also tell us whether your investigation will include the flood warning system, which appeared to be inadequate in some parts of Wales?
I thank the Member for his kind remarks. Certainly on that final point, yes, the review that I requested as a result of December’s floods is taking place and will include those sorts of matters. I gave an undertaking to the Chamber that I would pass a transcript of our discussion, following the oral statement on those floods, to NRW and that has happened, so the issues that were raised by Members at that time have been passed to NRW for it to consider as part of its wider review.
In terms of the infrastructure issue, you may remember that, as a Deputy Minister, I made a statement on how we would prioritise European funding in terms of flood defences in the future. An element of that, and a part of that, was to ensure that all those areas that would suffer economic challenges as a consequence of flooding would continue to receive European funding, and an element of that was infrastructure. We do continue to emphasise the importance of protecting infrastructure. One of the great lessons, of course, from the Gloucester floods some years ago, was the importance of infrastructure and the conversation I had with Chris Ruane following my visit to Rhyl in December was about electricity sub-stations being located right at the sea wall. There are a number of issues there that I would hope and expect NRW to consider, and certainly as a Government, we are actively considering those matters to ensure that all key infrastructure is protected and will continue to be protected.
Staying on infrastructure, Minister, the flooding had quite a serious impact on some of the rail network in my region. I am pleased that the line at Ferryside has reopened today, but the line along part of the Cambrian coast will certainly be out of action for the foreseeable future. I am concerned about the impact that this might have on tourism and the ability of local people to access services, get to work and so on. Will you explore what the Welsh Government can do to ensure that the line reopens as soon as possible and to minimise the inconvenience in the interim period?
Absolutely. I think that all of us have been concerned about the impact of these storms on our transport infrastructure. The Minister for transport is in her place and will have heard your question and will no doubt respond to it and take it into consideration in how we continue conversations on these matters. My response—it is my portfolio—is that we will be looking, when we come to take decisions on flood defences, at protecting those parts of the coasts or those parts of our communities that are most vulnerable. Clearly, our transport infrastructure is essential for the functioning of our communities and our economy and we will continue to seek ways of ensuring that that protection is afforded.
Minister, may I support what Elin Jones said earlier and welcome what you had to say about the situation in Aberystwyth? Those of us who live in the town look forward to seeing the prom having been repaired so that it can be on ’Hinterland’ and ’Y Gwyll’ once again, showing Aberystwyth at its very best. I also want to support what Rebecca Evans had to say about the infrastructure, particularly the rail infrastructure along our coastline.
In turning to a more positive aspect for the future, there has been quite a bit of talk about the new defences in Borth and Aberaeron that have those assisted those towns, and that appears to be true. Will you carry out an independent assessment now to look at that to see whether we can look at that way of developing reefs offshore to protect towns such as Aberystwyth, and places such as Cardigan possibly, for the future?
I would be very happy to do so. The reason I asked NRW to look at coastal defences in totality was to look at what has worked and what has not worked, and where the damage has taken place and where we need to invest in future. Phase 2 of the defences in Borth is about to start and I know, from speaking to residents there, that they are appreciative of the investment. The same is true in Colwyn Bay in north Wales and, as you have suggested, in Aberaeron in Ceredigion.
I will say this: we will be considering seriously the impact of the events of the past few months. Elin Jones asked for an assurance of financial support; the reason why I sometimes do not quite answer the question is that we do not know what the dimensions of that might be yet, and I do not like to make empty promises. However, I will say this: the approach that the Government is going to adopt will be positive and it will involve collaboration with NRW and local authorities to ensure that we are able to repair the damage and invest in the future. I will respond in a most positive way to the discussions that we are having at present.
Following on from Elin Jones’s question, has the Government been, or will the Government be developing a business case to take to the UK Government to demonstrate that it has met the EU criteria to apply for money from the solidarity fund? What discussions have you had with your colleague the Minister for Local Government and Government Business about the adequacy of the emergency financial assistance scheme, both in relation to funding and the set criteria, and whether local authorities have sufficient reserves set aside to properly deal with future natural disasters?
Clearly, some of those matters are matters for the Minister for local government and I think that she heard your question. That is a matter that you will be able to take up with her in due course. I want to say this: I do discuss these matters with the Minister for local government and other ministerial colleagues. It will be a Government response, not simply an individual Minister’s response, to these matters. We have been in close contact with departments in the United Kingdom Government. We will continue to work alongside our colleagues in Westminster to ensure that we maximise any potential support, financial or otherwise, from the UK Government. We will continue to work alongside UK Government departments in making applications to either the solidarity fund or any other source of additional support where we need to and are required to work with the UK Government. However, we have invested a considerable amount of time in conversations with the UK Government over the last few weeks. We work closely, of course, with UK Government departments in terms of COBRA and immediate response and we will continue to do so.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
I have several changes to report to this week’s business. Immediately after this business statement, the Counsel General will make an oral statement on his referral of the Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill to the Supreme Court. Secondly, I have extended the time allocated to the debate on the supplementary legislative consent motion on the Children and Families Bill. Thirdly, I have updated the title of the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2013 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2014. I have also scheduled a motion this afternoon seeking the Assembly’s agreement of the Non-Domestic Rating (Multiplier) (Wales) Order 2014. In order for this to be debated today, I shall move a motion to suspend Standing Order 11.16. Finally, I have reduced the time allocated to tomorrow’s oral Assembly questions to the Counsel General in line with the number of questions tabled. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement that can be found among the agenda papers that are available to Members electronically.
Is it possible to have two statements or two points of clarification from two different Ministers? One would be from the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport in relation to the study that she has commissioned Stuart Cole to undertake of bus services in the Vale of Glamorgan and, in particular, how that will report back so that we, as Members, will be aware of its contents. The second statement would be from the Minister for planning in relation to housing projection numbers and population. These figures were due out before Christmas, but they were delayed. I was wondering when the new figures will be forwarded for us to look at them and how the new figures will be interpreted by local authorities when developing their local development plans, because I am conscious, in particular, that the Vale of Glamorgan Council has just received a letter from the Minister’s department outlining its belief that the draft local development plan does not contain enough houses and should have more houses added to it. These figures are important in our understanding of where the Welsh Government is coming from with its own projections. As they have not been put forward in the public domain yet, obviously, there is little for us to scrutinise and to allay our constituents’ fears over these numbers.
Thank you for those two questions. In relation to the Stuart Cole review, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport will update us in due course. The Minister for Housing and Regeneration will write to you regarding your request for the housing figures.
Minister, as I am sure that you are aware, over Christmas a loophole emerged in the bedroom tax legislation that could see tenants in continuous receipt of housing benefit since 1996 receive a rebate backdated to the introduction of the policy last year. On one level, of course, it is more evidence that the Tories’ flagship welfare reform agenda is beginning to unravel, but, given that we know that there are a disproportionate number of Welsh tenants affected, many of whom have been resident in their homes for a number of years, I think that it would be helpful if the Minister for Housing and Regeneration were to issue a written or an oral statement outlining the Welsh Government’s position with regard to this important development. I know that advice agencies are publicising this loophole, but it would be helpful to get clarity on the role of the Welsh Government in relation to key points, such as whether it is co-ordinating efforts to collate information on the number of households affected and whether it is planning to publicise the loophole to Welsh tenants.
Thank you for that question. The Minister for Housing and Regeneration is aware of the issue. The Department for Work and Pensions and the UK Government have advised that only a small number of tenants may be affected, but, clearly, we want to know the exact number and the Minister’s officials have contacted the DWP in order to get that information. When the time is right, the Minister will update the Assembly.
Minister, I wonder whether we could have an updated statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services with regard to the deep-dive review into Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board? I ask because recently it was announced that Mr Sissling, who presided over ABMU when Lilian Williams, a constituent of mine, died, will be leaving, and the family of Lilian Williams is still very concerned that, due to his move to England, he may not fall within the scope of its remit. We would also like to have a statement from the Minister, because he told me on record here a few weeks ago that it would be a retrospective review, yet Professor Andrews has said,
‘I have been asked initially to look at the current position within ABMU.’
I see no point in the review taking place unless it is retrospective, and I urge the Welsh Government to provide us as Assembly Members with clarity, so that our constituents have clarity too.
Thank you for that question. The review into the two hospitals in ABMU Health Board only began last month, in December, and will run until March 2014. During that time, David Sissling will still be in post. He is not leaving the Welsh Government to take up his new post until the end of March. The independent review into the care provided at the two hospitals was, as you say, instigated by the Minister for Health and Social Services. It will look at issues arising from the care of Lilian Williams, but it is not intended to review her care—it will look at the whole period. It is taking place in two parts and the first of these is an in-depth examination of current practice, which is already under way. Once that part of the review has concluded, the review team will determine what areas and issues it then needs to explore during the second part, which will be historical.
Minister, last year your colleague the Minister for Culture and Sport indicated his intention to review legislation relating to access, both on land and on waterways. That announcement caused a great deal of wide-spread interest from a variety of parties across Wales, including many in my own constituency. The Minister did say that he would go out to consultation on this matter in December and I wrote to all concerned constituents, stating that fact. December has now come and gone and my constituents would like to know when the Minister will fulfil his promise to consult on these issues.
Thank you for that question. I understand that, following the initial expectation that it would be December, the Minister remedied that and said that it would be early in this year. However, the Minister is in the Chamber, has heard your question, and will let you know as soon as possible when that consultation is due to begin.
May I call for two statements? The first is on access to psychological therapy for people with mental health problems. This follows concerns raised with me by psychotherapists working in north Wales. As you know, the Welsh Government follows National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines that state that cognitive behaviour therapy is the treatment of choice for most mental health problems. Whereas in Wales there is only one cognitive behaviour therapist for every 55,000 people, investment across the border means that there is now one cognitive behaviour therapist for every 17,000 people in England. I believe that this will generate a conference in March, because of the concern now being raised in Wales.
The second is a statement on training for educational psychologists in Wales, after concerns were raised in correspondence to me received from both Gwynedd and Isle of Anglesey councils. Educational psychologists work with schools and education authorities to ensure that they are able to meet the educational needs of all children, especially those with special or additional educational needs. However, they say that recent changes in the way in which psychologists are trained have led to a situation where, to all intents and purposes, it is impossible for anyone from Wales to obtain a place on a training course. There are a number of courses in England, but the only course in Wales, which is in Cardiff, is due to close this academic year. They have said that it is not practical to train in England, because there is a requirement, if they follow the course in England, that afterwards they work as educational psychologists in an authority or school in England. So, I would be grateful for a statement on both those key matters.
In relation to your first question, the provision of health services is a matter for the health board. In the case that you referred to, it would be for Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board to ensure that it has both the personnel and the facilities to ensure that it provides that service.
On your question regarding the training of educational psychologists, I will ask the Minister to write to you on that point, because you have raised a very specific point.
Minister, before the Christmas recess, you replied to my friend and colleague, Lynne Neagle, the Member for Torfaen, and me about the commitment to have a debate on the fire service in Government time. Will that debate on the fire and rescue services be held this term? I press upon you again the need to have this debate while there is an ongoing pensions dispute, which does not seem to be resolved. I do think we need to be debating the bigger issues around the fire and rescue services for the future.
Thank you for that. I did commit to holding a full debate in the Assembly, and I will be doing so in March. Over the Christmas recess, I visited all three fire and rescue authorities to talk to the crews about, as you say, the ongoing issues and to see the many activities that the fire and rescue authorities undertake, particularly in relation to fire and road safety. I am also due to meet Brandon Lewis, the fire Minister in the UK Government, at the end of this month in order to talk about my concerns regarding the ongoing dispute. I am also meeting the Fire Brigades Union at regular intervals.
I echo the concerns that Mark Isherwood has raised in relation to educational psychologists and ask that you include me in the letter. Certainly, correspondence with all of the north Wales councils has indicated that they would have severe difficulty in recruiting educational psychologists if the Cardiff course closes. In particular, it would severely impact on their Welsh language provision, which might mean that, in the future, there would be no Welsh language service at all. So, it really is a matter of key importance and every single local council in north Wales has stressed that to me. So, I would ask to be copied in on that correspondence.
Secondly, in relation to the Minister for Natural Resources and Food, who, sadly, is not here—I know that he will make an announcement later this week—last week, he broadcast that he would be introducing penalties of 1% on common agricultural policy payments for farmers who will be between one day and three months late for their TB tests. This penalty is on top of the 3% penalty already imposed on those who are three to 12 months late, and it will increase to 5% for those who are over 12 months late in terms of TB testing.
This announcement was made on 8 January, but it applies from 1 January. There are many farmers in coastal areas who may well have been affected, and who may not even have been able to gather in their stock due to flooding and damage to their farms. That is something that was, perhaps, not mentioned in the earlier question but has been widespread among the industry in coastal areas. So, I would be grateful if you could get a written statement from the Minister to clarify that, if there are circumstances in which farmers could not undertake the test, there will be an exemption, particularly because they were not aware of it because there was over a week’s delay in the announcement prior to the implementation date, so nobody knew that this additional penalty was in place or would apply.
I will certainly ensure that you are copied in to the correspondence that I referred to in my answer to Mark Isherwood, and I will ask the Minister to make particular reference to the issue regarding the Welsh language. As you say, the Minister for Natural Resources and Food will be making a statement later this afternoon in the Chamber on the implementation of a new common agricultural policy. If the point you raised is not covered in that statement this afternoon, I will ask him to do a written statement.
Minister, many patients, especially women, are concerned to hear that surgery to solve their bladder problems with tension-free vaginal tape may now be the greater danger to their health, as it has been found to break up inside the body, and fragments then cut into surrounding tissues. This leads to repeated infections and pain. Will you ask your Minister for health to issue a written statement setting out your policy on this procedure, and outline what products have been used in Welsh hospitals? Will you publish figures on the number of patients who have had TVT removed due to problems with the mesh tape?
I will certainly ask—well, the Minister is in the Chamber and has heard your question, and I am sure that he will be happy to bring forward a written statement in due course. I am not sure whether those figures would be held centrally in Welsh Government, but if they are I am sure that he could include them in the written statement.
Minister, you will know that the Government published its first tranche of draft Welsh language standards last week, and the First Minister has indicated that he would like these regulations introduced by November if possible. Bearing in mind the summer recess dates, it would be helpful for the Business Committee to consider urgently the timetable for bringing those regulations through the Assembly. However, I wonder whether the Government would also make a statement, seeing as the First Minister has made his views known about the timetable. Once again, we have framework legislation that leaves policy development to secondary legislation, and, while the regulations for the final standards are subject to the affirmative procedure, this Assembly will be voting on what, effectively, are new rights and duties, with which it will not be familiar. So, mindful of how some of the legislation was dealt with in the last year or so, the Government statement that I seek is one which outlines how Government will deal with any slippage in the timetable, and which confirms that there will be no applications to suspend Standing Orders or curtail in any other way what is already limited scrutiny.
Obviously, this is something that the Business Committee will look at in relation to the timetable, and I know that you gave me notice regarding your concerns around scrutiny in committees. The committee that will scrutinise is the committee that has that within its remit. If that is unclear, again, it would be for the Business Committee to decide on that.
Leader of the house, we have already had an urgent question today on the problems caused by the recent flooding over the Christmas and new year period. I am sure that you would join me in recognising that flooding did not just affect the coastal areas, although they were worst affected, but that it affected certain areas of my constituency as well. In particular, a certain amount of damage was done to Monmouthshire and Brecon canal, which Glandwr Cymru has set about trying to rectify. That involved draining the canal at some expense. I know that this is not a devolved area, but I wonder whether we could have a statement from the Welsh Government on any discussions that you have had with Glandwr Cymru and the UK Government over funding that might be made available to that organisation. I am thinking particularly of the tourist season coming up in the summer, as it is very important that canals and waterways, which have a huge economic effect for Wales, are open for business, and that tourists are able to appreciate those tourist facilities as much as they possibly can. So, if we could have a statement on that, it would be much appreciated.
You raise a very important point, that it was not just coastal areas that suffered in the very severe weather that we had at the beginning of this month. I know that the Minister for Natural Resources and Food is having a look at many different levers that he can use in relation to funding and expertise to look into all the flooding. The flood review is focused mainly on coastal flood defences, but I will certainly raise that point with him.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Good afternoon, everyone. Before I give the statement, I wish to make two points. First, I hope that it is not too late to offer everyone a happy new year for 2014, and, secondly, I take this opportunity to extend my congratulations with regard to the honour bestowed on the Presiding Officer.
The Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill was a Member proposed Bill introduced into the National Assembly for Wales by Mick Antoniw, Assembly Member, on 3 December 2012. Under section 112 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, I am able to refer the question as to whether the provisions of any Bill would be within the Assembly’s legislative competence to the Supreme Court for decision during the four-week period that runs from the date on which the Bill was passed. The Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill was passed by the Assembly on 20 November 2013 and the period of intimation therefore expired on 18 December 2013.
Until the Bill was passed, it was not in its final form and could be subject to further amendment. I was therefore able to commence a detailed review of the provisions of the finalised Bill in the context of my duty under section 112 only after it had been passed on 20 November 2013. An assessment of legislative competence is a complex matter that takes some time to consider and it was important than any reference made to the Supreme Court was clearly defined.
Consideration was initially given to issuing the written statement at the same time as the reference to the Supreme Court was made. However, as the reference was made on 17 December, this would have resulted in the statement being issued in recess. I did not think that this would be appropriate and I thought it important to issue a statement to inform Assembly Members of my decision while the Assembly was still in session. I therefore published a written statement in the Assembly on 11 December 2013 to announce my decision to refer the Bill to the Supreme Court. For obvious reasons, I was able to provide only limited information at that time.
I reiterate my view that this Bill is within the competence of the Assembly. I consider, however, that it is appropriate in this case to have the issue of the competence of this Bill clearly resolved before it comes into force, given that bodies representing the insurance industry have consistently disputed the Assembly’s competence to pass this Bill. It should be clear that the decision to refer a Bill under section 112 is one that, under the ministerial code, and by statute, I take independently of the Welsh Government.
Before the Supreme Court I will contend strongly that the Bill is within the Assembly’s legislative competence. However, making a reference in this way before it receives Royal Assent enables the matter of the Bill’s competence to be determined without awaiting what I consider would be the inevitable challenge in potentially far more expensive and time-consuming court proceedings in due course, perhaps when substantial amounts of money had already been recouped under the Bill’s provisions and would quite likely be subject to repayment were the decision of the court to be adverse. The litigation costs of a reference being made during the intimation period are likely to be less than the costs of any challenge brought once the Bill is enacted under the usual judicial review procedure, as Supreme Court rules provide that orders for costs will not normally be made either in favour of or against interveners. The Association of British Insurers would be considered to be an intervener in the case of this Bill in relation to this reference. It is, in my view, in the public interest for me to take the initiative in seeking the Supreme Court’s decision on the Bill as it stands. Bodies representing the insurance industry may apply—and, we understand, will apply—to take part in these Supreme Court proceedings. In this way, all disputes can be settled at the earliest possible opportunity.
Counsel General, I welcome the statement and confirm that, as the Member who introduced the Bill, I fully agree with the course of action that you have taken. The reason I do so is that the insurance industry has made it very clear all along the way that it intends to challenge this, just as it has done on any particular legal decision or case that has benefitted victims of asbestos disease. It serves no benefit to victims of asbestos disease who might benefit from this legislation that there is uncertainty that, at some stage along the way, at the behest and at the timing of the insurance industry, there is a legal challenge. Therefore it is perfectly correct, and in the interest of asbestos disease victims, that the matter is referred to the Supreme Court, to clear the decks, so to speak, as quickly as possible.
The only caveat that I set out is this: I think that the decision is right on the basis of the exceptional circumstances that exist in this particular case and in terms of the benefit that will accrue to those who stand to benefit from the legislation. In those circumstances, I invite your confirmation that this is an exceptional matter and that this is in no way setting a precedent that legislation as a matter of course might be considered to be referred to the Supreme Court for verification or otherwise, and that it is purely in these exceptional circumstances that you have given that particular consideration. I have no doubt in my mind that this legislation is a matter within our jurisdiction and competence. It is unfortunate that the insurance industry is intent on making such a challenge, but, nevertheless, it now becomes a matter for the Supreme Court to determine. Hopefully, that will be done as quickly as possible. I wonder whether you could perhaps give an indication as to the potential timescale.
As far as the last matter is concerned, as far as we know, we can expect to hear in about May. More generally in response to the question, I am reluctant to hold myself to words like ‘exceptional’ because I have to exercise the decision as to whether to refer a Bill against all the factors that pertain in any particular case. However, perhaps it will suffice for me to say that Members will know that this is the first time I have considered it necessary and appropriate to refer a Bill, although I have had to consider every one, of course, from the same standpoint. I think it very unlikely that it is something that will happen very often at all.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I have given Mick Antoniw some extra time because he proposed the Bill, but I would remind Members that this is a statement and that, therefore, questions are in order.
Counsel General, I wonder what advice you gave to the Government before the vote on the day in respect of this matter. Surely, you must have been anticipating the possibility of having to refer this matter to the Supreme Court given the strong objections of the insurance industry around the competency issue. The timing does seem to be a little bit late in the day, frankly, given that you referred it immediately after it passed Stage 4 rather than giving advice to the Government beforehand. It would help if you could clarify that for the Assembly today. In addition to that, can you tell us whether you have any indication of the timescale within which you expect the Supreme Court to be able to look at the Bill in order that the Assembly can have some confidence that this matter will be drawn to a conclusion in a reasonable time?
Well, in relation to the second matter, I think I have already answered that. We are expecting that a hearing can be arranged for May or thereabouts, which is not too long. In relation to the first matter, first, I do not propose to tell you what advice, if any, I have given in relation to this Bill. As far as my view is concerned, I have made it clear that I am of the view that the Bill is competent.
I thank the Counsel General for his statement today. It is always nice to have a question answered a day early. However, I have two questions tomorrow, so I hope that you will be back tomorrow, Counsel General. I think that we are in a curious state of affairs, however. I know that you will not tell us whether you gave any advice to the Government, but I think that we, as Assembly Members, can only collect the facts as we see them. We had a backbench Labour AM introduce a Bill; it was judged to be within our competence by the Presiding Officer—albeit it was a very carefully worded letter if I recall it correctly; and it was voted for not only by Labour Members but Labour Ministers. We can infer from that only that Labour Ministers were told at that time that the Bill, as presently constructed, was within our competence. I understand that you can only make a decision after a Bill has been passed and amended; it is your independent decision. I am left with the feeling that, had this been an opposition backbench AM’s Bill, we would not be in this position because it would not have got so far but would have been ruled out by the Government at a much earlier stage. So, I will ask you again—although you did not want to answer Darren Millar—what advice you gave the Government as regards our competence for this Bill at that stage.
The reason you give in your statement today for the referral of this Bill now to the Supreme Court is that the insurance industry is questioning its competence. We knew that all along, of course. However, there is a dangerous or unfortunate precedent that could be set here. Does this now mean that you will consider referring all Bills to the Supreme Court in advance of them becoming Acts when the competence is questioned by interested parties? Or is it only those questioned by interested parties that have sufficient funds to take you to court that will be referred?
You seem to be claiming that this step will save public money as the insurance industry will inevitably challenge the Bill. What is inevitable about this challenge? What leads you to believe that such a challenge will happen? You could equally say that the step will save the insurance industry a considerable sum of money. Instead of funding a legal challenge to the courts themselves, they get a substantially publicly funded constitutional challenge initiated by the Welsh Government itself. Again, I think that that is an unfortunate precedent. Did you not think to face down the insurance companies and ask them to take you to court, rather than initiate this work yourself?
I am left with a very worrying thought, Presiding Officer, that we as an Assembly legislated on a false premise and that the Government never had confidence in this backbench Bill in the first place.
Thank you for the questions. I am wondering how many of them I can respond to. The reason that it has arisen in the way that it has is because the Government of Wales Act 2006 says that it should arise in the way that it has. Those promoting legislation and the Assembly must take their own views about whether provisions or a whole Bill are competent. At the stage of passing, I have to take a view as to whether a provision is competent and whether, as in this case, notwithstanding my view that they are competent, it is in the public interest for the matter to be determined sooner rather than later. That is the position that I have taken in this case.
As for the inevitability of challenge, I do not think that it takes much working out why I take the view that challenge is inevitable. The Association of British Insurers, in particular, has, on numerous times, written to me, the Presiding Officer and to anyone else who would accept the letter to say that these provisions were unfair, incompetent, in breach of human rights, and so on. We know from the history of the Scottish experience that, in these types of cases, it is indeed the insurance industry that has challenged provisions. For example, the AXA case itself. My first venture into the Supreme Court arose because of a challenge by the insurance industry to the Bill to ensure that pleural plaques remained, or were again, a recoverable injury. Therefore, I have taken a view on that matter on the evidence available to me, which, I think, is strong.
In relation to this being a publicly funded challenge from the point of view of the Association of British Insurers, that is not quite right. It will have to bear its own costs and the costs that are incurred by the Government—as I think there will probably be—to defend the Bill will be publicly funded, but, as I comprehend, it will be at a significantly lower level than would be the case if this was a challenge in the courts in perhaps more conventional ways.
I thank the Counsel General for bringing a statement to the Chamber to explain the rationale for this referral. While the Bill seeks to establish a principle of justice, many Members would recognise the complexity of the competence issues that were raised in the passage of the Bill. I hope that the Supreme Court judgment will enable this Bill to be commenced in the confidence of knowing that those issues have been resolved and finally put beyond question.
You stated that you commenced a detailed review only once it was passed in its final form, however, as Simon Thomas has already said, Members were provided with a note on competence issues at a much earlier point in the process. You identify in your own statement that the insurance industry had consistently raised this issue throughout the Bill’s passing. So, we were all aware that there were complex issues that needed addressing.
I am wondering what preliminary work that you did in advance of Stage 4 to prepare the ground for what you then did. I note as well that you have told two Members already that you will not tell us what advice you gave to the Welsh Government, but can you confirm that you did, in fact, provide the Welsh Government with advice and when? May I ask whether you provided the Member in charge with advice as to these procedures as well?
In his letter of 15 December to you, the Attorney-General mentioned correspondence between yourself and him. Could you confirm whether you initiated that correspondence with the Attorney-General in advance of the passage of this Bill at Stage 4?
You just said during your answers, Counsel General, that it is right that these issues should be resolved sooner rather than later. I think that we would all agree with that. It is a matter of regret to the Assembly that so many of our Bills have been referred to the Supreme Court. I think that we would all wish to see, as our democracy develops, that our procedures are able to cope with exceptional circumstances such as this. I understand why you are not able to give detailed consideration to a Bill until the wording of a Bill is finalised, but, obviously, the wording of a Bill is finalised after Stage 3. Perhaps there is an opportunity between Stages 3 and 4, if we do not immediately pass from one to the other, for those kinds of considerations to take place at an earlier stage and, dare I say it, at a cheaper stage, without necessarily involving the Supreme Court.
Finally, you state that your reason for referral was primarily because of what you saw as the likelihood that the insurance industry would challenge the competence, even though the Attorney-General, in his letter of 15 December, did state to you that he would not be challenging competence, and that was, of course, two days before your referral was made. I am wondering whether you are aware whether any representatives of the insurance industry have applied to take part in these proceedings at this time.
Taking the last first, I am not sure whether the application has been made already, but I know that it is in hand and I know that counsel have been instructed on behalf of the Association of British Insurers.
Secondly, on dealings with the Attorney-General, as you know, I do not conventionally disclose what discussions I have had, but, as you know from the letter that you have referred to, there was correspondence in this case. I cannot tell you what it was, but, as you know also, the Attorney-General decided not to refer the Bill, which I see as—if I can put it this way—positive, and I decided to refer the Bill for the reasons that I have sought to explain.
As far as advice is concerned, I just cannot say what advice I was asked for, if any, or gave, but it is a reasonable inference from the basis upon which I have put the statement that if I was asked to advise on this Bill, had I been asked to advise on this Bill, I would probably have said that it is competent, which is what I say now.
You prefaced one of the questions by saying that the reason for referring the Bill is the position of the insurance industry and the likelihood of challenge. That is one of the factors, and it is a primary factor. It probably will not be helpful to set out with any detail the factors that I will apply, because, in making a decision of this type—either yea or nay—the factors will change from case to case. However, perhaps it is appropriate for me to summarise that, in this case, the factors that I particularly bore in mind were: first, the likelihood of challenge—the inevitability, as I see it; secondly, the uncertainty adverted to by Mr Antoniw that that creates in the attempts to implement the policy behind the Bill; thirdly, the fact that if there was a successful challenge in due course, substantial moneys would probably already have been recouped and would be required to be repaid and the provisions unravelled; fourthly, the costs involved in a reference such as this compared with a challenge in the courts in the ordinary way in private proceedings, and the time delay associated with the latter; fifthly, the arguability of the objections to the Bill—I am not suggesting for a second that there are not arguments to be made against the Bill. There are previous authorities on interference with article 1 protocol 1 rights, which, no doubt, would be referred to. There are questions over the legitimacy of the interference with the rights and the proportionality of them, and the fact that section 14, in particular, is retrospective in effect. All those matters raised by the Association of British Industry in complaining about the Bill are factors that will have to be weighed. However, what I do say to this Assembly is that, having weighed those factors myself, I consider the Bill to be competent.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Eluned Parrott thanked the Counsel General for bringing this statement today. Actually, the Counsel General was asked by me to bring it today because he made a written statement on the last day of term, which I did not think was an appropriate time to allow Members to discuss it.
Thank you, Presiding Officer, and, if I may, I would like to reiterate that point: given the importance, the weight and, indeed, the number of contributions that have been made this afternoon, I do think that you should have announced this important decision here, Counsel General. The timetable was the timetable, and I realise that that determined your action to some extent, but we have had a long recess between the announcement and the chance, now, to put some questions to you.
I want to follow this issue of whether you are setting a precedent to seek some form of clearance from the Supreme Court for legislation in the future, because, if you are, that puts us in a very different position. I think that it is fairly standard interpretation that your powers to refer this matter at this stage, when it is still a Bill, were intended to allow the Government to refer private Member legislation that it thought may not be competent to the Supreme Court. You are using it in a pre-emptive way, possibly to meet a potential challenge at an earlier stage, and I just wonder whether you wish to comment on the robustness of that procedure, because I think that some people would say that the Assembly would appear to be much more confident if it had an Act—if you had allowed this to go to enactment—and then said to whoever wants to challenge it, ‘You go ahead and challenge it. We are confident that we have the competence. That is why we have passed it, and it is now an Act’.
I also want to know whether the Counsel General would take this step if it was a Welsh Government sponsored Bill. Presumably, if you thought that there were areas of ambiguity in the competence, then that would be possible. Alternatively, have you done this only because it is, in fact, a private Member’s Bill, although I do think that it is important to put on record that this Bill had support and assistance, I believe, from the Welsh Government? So, it straddles the categories to some extent, I think it is fair to say. To ask a slightly more helpful question, perhaps, to the Counsel General, do you think that this type of procedure is made more likely under a conferred powers model, or do you not see this type of ambiguity that may exist as not being strictly related to the type of settlement that we have compared with the reserved power models in Scotland and Northern Ireland?
Thank you. In terms of the go-ahead-and-challenge approach, it seems to me that, as far as the assurance for the Assembly is concerned, there is no difference in principle between the democratic force of a Bill that has been passed and is awaiting Royal Assent and that of a Bill that has been passed and has achieved Royal Assent and is called an Act. Both of those are completely and fully expressions of—if I can put it this way, without sounding too pompous about it—the will of the people. It seems to me that there is not really much of a distinction there. As far as the precedent issue is concerned, as I have said before, it is well known—or should be well known—that, despite the challenges in some cases, this is the first time that I have considered it appropriate to refer a Bill of the Assembly, so it is not my position that it is appropriate in the ordinary course of events to use a section 112 referral as some kind of clearing process whenever there is a challenge to a Bill. However, I hope that I have identified the factors that are particularly in play here, which, on balance, inclined me to make the reference. More than that I cannot really say. I hope that the Assembly will accept that I will seek to make these decisions in utter good faith and in support, generally speaking, of the position of this Assembly as representing the will of the people of Wales.
As for the query, which has now come twice, as to whether different considerations would have applied if it had not been Mick Antoniw’s private Member’s Bill, the questioner partly answered that question himself. In fact, this Bill was supported from a fairly early stage by the Welsh Government and, therefore, I fail to see any distinction of principle between this and a Government Bill. I cannot imagine that my approach to the question will change whatever the nature of the Bill because, at the end of the process, the Bill has been passed by this Assembly. That is what matters from the point of view of its status in the terms that I consider it. As to whether a reservation model will change the position, I suppose that the answer to that should be ‘probably yes’. The reason for that is because history tells us that I do not think that that there has been a reference of this type at all from Scotland. I see it in terms of a burden of proof point, as the lawyers would say. We have to prove that provisions of powers for this Assembly are within competence, whereas the reverse is true in the case of the Scottish model.
Counsel General, I would like to ask you about the role of the newly appointed First Counsel in this matter, because Members may know that she is currently acting on behalf of the insurers of asbestos companies in the Supreme Court in an attempt to limit their liability against compensation claims from the victims of asbestos. What involvement has the First Counsel had in your decision to refer? Have you discussed this matter with her? Will she be acting for the Welsh Government in the Supreme Court? Has she, at any point, advised insurance companies in relation to this legislation or the competence of this institution?
As far as the last two questions are concerned, they are easy to answer. There is no question that Ms Mulcahy has advised the insurance industry in relation to this Bill. She would not be able to offer any thoughts on the Bill had she done so. I will not talk about the detail, but I think that I can say that I have spoken with the new First Counsel about this reference, although not in detail, and I leave it at that.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair at 15:25.
I am so sorry, but there was an earlier question that I did not note.
I asked what her involvement was. Have you discussed this with her, and will she be acting for the Welsh Government in the Supreme Court?
She will not be acting with me for the Welsh Government because leading counsel was already instructed before she became First Counsel.
In July, I published ‘The Future of our Past’, consulting on the way forward for our historic environment. Yesterday, I made a written statement and published the responses to the consultation. I would now like to turn to the future working of historic environment services in Wales. Significant progress has been made in recent years by Cadw, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, the archaeological trusts and others in developing our knowledge of the historic environment, in making it more accessible to the people of Wales, with major investment in visitor access, interpretation and public participation, and in making the links between heritage and other aspects of Welsh life.
Our services cover three main functions: increasing our knowledge of the historic environment, conserving it and engaging the public. The consultation document underlined the need for these services to focus effectively on strategic priorities. This is essential if we are to get the most from available resources and deliver tangible outcomes for the people of Wales. I am very pleased that the responses to the consultation strongly supported the proposal that strategic plans should be developed regularly in collaboration with the sector, building on the work that Cadw has already been doing. The responses also strongly supported the proposal that we should establish an independent advisory panel to support the development of the plans, to provide support and, where appropriate, to challenge our historic environment services. I will take both these proposals forward.
The most sensitive issue in the consultation document was the potential merger between Cadw and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales. Having taken account of the issues previously raised by the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, I consulted on the full range of merger options. I have considered the responses carefully, and the analysis of options produced by officials working closely with the commission. I am publishing that analysis today. I am also grateful for the discussions that I have had with the spokespeople in opposition parties.
A significant number of respondents to the consultation did not express a preference between the merger options. Of those that did, merger within Government was the preferred option of a number of key delivery partners, including all four Welsh archaeological trusts, the National Trust and the Historic Houses Association. They emphasised the importance of maximising the influence of the historic environment within Government, working across departments, for the benefit of the sector as a whole. However, the majority preferred merger outside Government, as a Welsh Government-sponsored body. These respondents stressed the need for an arm’s-length relationship with Government. The analysis that I am publishing today shows the progress that has been made by officials of the Welsh Government and the royal commission in developing safeguards for how a merged historic environment service could work within Government, addressing the range of potential concerns. I think that these safeguards are very substantial, but to try to press ahead with the option of merger within Government at this time would be difficult.
Merger within Government would entail substantially lower annual corporate overhead costs, when compared with establishing a Welsh Government sponsored body. The latter option would provide greater opportunities to access non-governmental sources of income, but how much income would be likely to be generated is, inevitably, uncertain. Higher annual overhead costs, in an era when budgetary pressures are likely to mean that public funding will be squeezed over the coming decade, would be potentially problematic. In England, English Heritage is proposing to take account of charity law in England and Wales to split itself, to create a separate charity for some of its functions, in order to enhance its ability to generate income beyond Government provision. So, although merger as a Welsh Government sponsored body might seem to offer a way of obtaining the benefits of merger in a way that would generate a strong sense of ownership within the sector, in practice, it might turn out to be much more complicated than that.
The Scottish Government is merging its equivalent bodies—Historic Scotland and the Scottish royal commission—as a body outside Government. However, it starts from a different position in terms of its structure, resources, corporate overhead costs and charity law. We need to evolve solutions that are suitable for Wales’s needs and circumstances.
In the light of all this, I am announcing today that Cadw and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales will remain separate organisations for the time being. We will take forward the strategic planning process in collaboration with the sector as a whole, taking account of the helpful responses received from the consultation. This will provide us with a very effective strategic framework within which Cadw can use its sponsorship relationship with the royal commission to ensure that both organisations focus effectively on coherent and mutually reinforcing priorities, delivering strategic outcomes for the people of Wales. We will encourage the royal commission to develop non-governmental sources of income, many of which do not depend on charitable status being achieved, and we will work with it to explore the scope, advantages and disadvantages for its gaining recognition as a charity. The extent to which it is successful in generating additional income could potentially help provide a basis to reconsider the options in the future. In addition, we will work to safeguard the future of the archaeological trusts, which are such an important part of the sector in Wales.
What unites all parties in the Assembly is their commitment to the historic environment, and our desire to find the best way forward that will be in the interests of the sector, and Wales as a whole. It is important that we proceed with care. The approach that I am announcing should allow us to improve synergy and collaboration within the sector, and to test out the scope for increasing non-governmental sources of income. We will monitor closely the consequences of the proposed merger in Scotland, and the proposed split in English Heritage. In due course, this should enable the Welsh Government, and the Assembly, to be better placed to decide the best structure for our specific needs, as well as the longer term future for our historic environment sector, taking account of the wider public service reform agenda in Wales and beyond.
I begin by thanking you, Minister, for that statement, as well as for your acknowledgement of the cross-party commitment to the historic environment. I would particularly like to thank you for sharing information, and for speaking to opposition spokesmen—that is very good practice as far as I am concerned. I also particularly thank you for the summary of the consultation responses, full versions of which, I hope, will be available for us to look at shortly. I also thank you, Minister, for your analysis of the options, which we only received today, of course.
Could you let me know whether you have any plans to show us how the figures in that analysis were arrived at? That may be something that you could publish some time fairly soon. I also thank you for not plunging us into a pitched battle in this first week back in the Assembly. I am extremely grateful for that. Even though the financial implications of the status quo were not particularly consulted on, your statement today is a relief to those in the royal commission, particularly the staff, who have lived in a state of stress for some months now. However, I have to say that it is not entirely clear how long the grass is into which you have kicked this particular issue. Perhaps you could tell us what you mean when you talk about ‘for the time being’ and ‘in due course’. Essentially, I would like to know whether this matter will be back before us before the end of this Assembly, in terms of our consideration of the heritage Bill, or is this issue off the agenda now for the remainder of this Assembly term?
Could you also give some indication of how you intend to use this time, however long it is? I can see that you wish to see how the different models in England and Scotland might work, but, of course, these are still at the very early stages themselves. So, we are looking at some time before we can reach any conclusion on how they are working. I also see that you expect the royal commission to take this chance to wake up, shall we say, to be more commercially proactive; that is certainly something that I do not take issue with. However, I am rather keen to find out what you will be doing during this time and I am a little concerned that you draw attention to ‘strong support’ for an independent advisory panel when the summary of consultation responses spoke of reserved support for such a panel—reserved because it would only be required if merger inside Government went ahead. You confirmed today in your statement that you are taking the proposal for the panel forward. Are you using this time really in order to get your ducks in a row to help beef up the argument for merger inside Government? I am effectively asking you for whose benefit is this delay.
I thank Suzy Davies for her general welcome for this statement and the decision that I have announced today. I have been very pleased to publish the analysis and the responses to the consultation document and I hope very much that that properly informs Members in terms of all the necessary background and rationale for decision making. In terms of timescale, it is always difficult to envisage what developments will take place in any sector, and that very much includes the historic environment sector and the services within it. I am reluctant to give any cast-iron commitments here today, but what I can say is that it would take some time to evaluate developments in Scotland and England, wider public sector reform and, indeed, the ability of the royal commission as it currently stands to lever in additional funding and, of course, potential developments around charitable status. There is a lot that needs to take place before the Welsh Government and, indeed, the Assembly as a whole can revisit these matters in a meaningful way. So, I would not anticipate revisiting this decision within the lifetime of this Assembly, but, as I say, I am reluctant to give any cast-iron commitments, because unexpected developments are always a possibility.
Levering in funding is a very important part of the overall equation, because public finances are very strained. Any structure that allows greater potential for additional non-governmental funding to be brought to the table is obviously very valuable to the historic environment and its services. So, we will look very carefully now at the experience of the royal commission as it moves forward. I think that it is absolutely right that we do that, as well as look at the experience elsewhere, as I touched upon earlier.
I do consider it very important that we have the panel in place, because it is a matter of contribution from the wider sector in Wales to make sure that our strategy is informed in that way. It is a great opportunity for the wider sector, but it is also an important aspect of scrutiny. It is very positive in terms of engagement, regardless of merger inside Government, merger outside Government or continuation with the status quo.
First of all, I very much welcome the statement. I fully support the proposals to focus effectively on strategic priorities and to establish an independent advisory panel. I am pleased that the start-up costs following a merger have been avoided.
I have a concern, of which the Minister is well aware—I have raised it on a number of occasions. It is about the grade I listed chapels built at the end of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century, which have declining congregations and are likely, in the near future, to have people just locking the doors and walking away. Will that be one of the strategic priorities?
I thank Mike Hedges for his general welcome. I believe that the plans and the panel will be important in terms of taking strategy forward and shaping future provision. Cost is an important aspect of the decision, of course, as is risk in terms of uncertainty of moving from the model that we currently have. All of that was set out in the paperwork that I have made available and duly considered. I do not think that it is a matter for me at this stage to pronounce on chapels and their place in the future plans and strategy. However, I know full well that these are issues that matter very much to Members, to me as Minister and to the sector as a whole. I am sure that considerable thought will be given to the place of chapels and the issues that the Member rightly mentioned.
Minister, I thank you for the consensual approach that you have taken with this process. It is refreshing. I also thank you for meeting me, my colleague Elin Jones and others. It is good that you have taken on the arguments that have been brought forward. The decision that you have made is better for having listened. It is also important that I and others have met with trade unions, such as the Public and Commercial Services Union and Prospect, which have brought forward the staffing issues that would, potentially, emanate from any changes, notwithstanding the deep concern that exists, and still exists for the future, around what would happen if there were changes with regard to retaining expertise in this particular area. We should all acknowledge the expertise that those staff members at the royal commission in Aberystwyth have.
I wanted to follow on with a question regarding the panel that you mentioned. I guess that I am a little bit less cynical—shock, horror—than Suzy Davies on this. I think that it is important that we have joined-up thinking between the Government and, of course, the royal commission, which will remain outside of Government. Therefore, we need to try to understand how people will be appointed to that panel and how they will have views from different parts of the heritage sector, so that we have a diverse range of people around the table as opposed to it being weighted in one particular area; while some areas, of course, would like that, it is not best practice. We need to understand whether that panel will be answerable to the National Assembly as opposed to being appointed by you as Minister, so that the Assembly can be accountable for any such development in the future.
Following on from what has been said before, there is vague language here—‘for the time being’ and so forth. I wonder whether you had considered, if it is going to happen after the election, putting something in your manifesto that would tell us what you would do if you formed a Government. Certainly, that is what Plaid Cymru would look to do, because we cannot be in this position again, whereby we are going out to consultation constantly and making staff and people concerned about what is going to happen. We need security and sustainability in this sector, because what I have realised from meeting with staff is that there are people who are retiring, coming to the end of their tenures in the royal commission and other areas of the heritage sector, and they desperately need young people to come through. Perhaps we could think of heritage or cultural apprenticeships, so that young people can develop the knowledge that is currently being lost as a result of many people leaving the sector through retirement.
Again, I thank you for this statement today and I think that those in the sector will be pleased with what they hear.
I thank Bethan Jenkins for her general welcome for the process and the decision. It is very important—of course it is—that we properly value staff and their trade union representatives. They have been an essential part of this process. We need to value the knowledge and experience that they have and make sure that it is passed on to staff recruited in the future. That will be an important part of the strategy and the process that we continue with. It is important that the panel and the plans do have this necessary joining up and scrutiny element that the Member mentions. Obviously, the royal commission is very important in terms of research and working up the information that can then inform conservation policy and interpretation, so we do have to join up the royal commission with Cadw, the archaeological trusts and others in an increasingly effective way. That, obviously, has been the background to this process.
The work that has been carried out, the analysis, and the time taken by Cadw staff, royal commission staff and others, have been very valuable, and will be there as a basis for any future decision making, I think. So, it is work that will not only be valuable in the future in that way, but also will help to take forward the strategy in terms of the work of the panel and the plans. It is very important and will be very useful.
In terms of the manifestos of parties, obviously each party manifesto is a matter for the party concerned, but I take on board the points that the Member makes, and I am sure that all of us, as parties, will be looking to the historic environment and its importance in terms of formulating those manifestos.
May I start by welcoming this statement by the Minister? I think that, in my view, you have reached the right conclusion, and, I think, a conclusion that will be welcomed across the sector. My concern of course is that, having gone through a period of uncertainty and discussion over maybe a year or so, the way that the statement is framed, that this may be revisited in the near future, does not provide the security and certainty that the sector needs now to settle into starting to deliver the agenda that you have set out, and the strategic approach that I think we are all looking for from the sector in terms of this. May I ask, Minister, in terms of where we are now and where we are going, how content are you that the arrangement that we are now settling upon will survive for the medium term? To what extent will you be supporting the royal commission, particularly in terms of the ambitions you have for it, and we all have for it, in terms of bringing in additional resources, money and support from outside the public sector, and in terms of investigating and exploring the possibilities of charitable status to be able to exploit any opportunities that may come as a result of that? To what extent are you going to be offering support from the Welsh Government—practical support; I am not talking about money, but resources and advice—to enable it to start to effectively re-launch the service from this point, to ensure that it does grow and move forwards from where we are at this present time? I understand that we are looking already at the relocation of the service to the National Library of Wales, and other opportunities may arise as a result of that.
I thank Peter Black for his comments. In terms of revisiting these matters, obviously this Welsh Government cannot bind its successors, so what I can say applies for the remainder of the term of this Welsh Government. As I said earlier, I do not intend to revisit this decision over that time span, but it is always possible that unexpected developments may take place that would mean that such a revisiting would have to occur. If that is not the case, the decision that I have announced today takes us through the remainder of this Assembly term, and I hope that does give some stability and necessary confidence.
We will, of course, be very keen to ensure that the whole of the sector now works together, and that issues around the royal commission levering in additional funding are aided by our Welsh Government officials working with the royal commission. That will include consideration of what charitable status would bring to the table in that respect, but of course there are issues there around joining up in strategic terms, and whether that allows the necessary independence that would make charitable status a possibility. Of course, those are the sorts of issues that are being wrestled with in England in terms of the possible splitting of English Heritage. So, there are quite a number of issues to be considered there, I think.
I am very happy to say that I do think that we have momentum and impetus from today. We can now take these strategic plans forward, joining the whole of the sector up behind that effort. There will be progress, as Peter Black mentions, in terms of the relocation to the library of the national monuments record, and indeed staff of the royal commission. That is very important in terms of making sure that services can be effectively delivered over the years to come.
Minister, like everyone else, I welcome this statement today. Indeed, I welcome the number of responses that you have had to the consultation. It is very good indeed that so many people have bothered to respond and it indicates how important the historic environment is to people. In fact, that was the subject of a short debate that I did about six months ago in the Chamber. Then, I had concerns about access to much of our historic environment and community engagement in the protection and use of local historical assets. In my constituency, there are examples of this with the community and town council in Mold coming together to revive the ancient Bailey Hill, with plans for signage and a heritage trail, and, in Flint, local people have campaigned to be allowed to fly flags at appropriate times and occasions from Flint Castle—a historic, but sometimes overlooked site in the wider context of Welsh history. That really does hit all the buttons, does it not, for increasing knowledge, conservation and public participation? I am pleased to see that the consultation concluded that members of the public should have a voice in decisions about the future of their own historic assets, because that gives them ownership and takes it on into the future. Minister, will you look very closely at the question of community engagement in helping to make our historic environment more accessible in the future?
I thank Sandy Mewies for that contribution and very much agree that it was very heartening to look at the number of responses and the quality of responses to the consultation, demonstrating the level of interest and passion for our historic environment in Wales. I mentioned earlier some of the essential parts of the historic environment services, and many of those are about interpretation and engagement with communities, and helping to produce that sense of ownership that Sandy Mewies mentions, which is so crucial.
Much of this will be the subject matter of our heritage Bill. I very much look forward to engaging with Members around that Bill and important legislation to make sure that we get the balance right between conservation, protection, finding use, and making sure that the passion and enthusiasm for our historic environment in Wales is reflected in that legislation and the quality of that legislation.
Today, I am announcing my decisions on the main features of pillar 1 of the common agricultural policy, direct payments to farmers, and some headline proposals for pillar 2, the rural development programme.
This is the first in a series of statements that I will be making in coming weeks, setting out my vision for the development of Welsh agriculture and ensuring its long-term viability within our wider rural economy. The coming CAP changes are arguably the most significant and radical for Wales since the EU MacSharry reforms of 1992. We need to take decisions today that are right for the long-term success of Welsh agriculture, and not decisions that just address issues of the short term.
These decisions are informed by the emerging findings of Kevin Roberts’s review of farm resilience and Peter Davies’s review of rural development, and link to the implementation of our strategic action plan for Wales’s food and drinks industries. We are also working on the final proposals for an environment Bill, which we will be publishing in due course.
CAP reform underpins all this work and will help to build a stronger rural Wales, strengthen agriculture and food production, and boost the wider rural economy. On 8 November, I updated Members on the CAP budget. The reducing EU CAP budget makes reform harder, but the allocation within the UK has been the one that I argued for and it offers the fairest outcome for Wales. Negotiations on the main regulatory framework have finished. Subject to the details that will be published in subordinate legislation that is expected this spring, the legislative framework is now decided and we are moving forward from that.
My decisions on CAP are designed to place Welsh agriculture on the strongest possible footing for the future, ready for the developments and opportunities in world markets; for further pressure on our natural resources; and the likelihood that CAP funding will continue to fall further from 2020. In taking these decisions, I have reflected on the tremendous response to the consultation and the well-attended public meetings that I held over the autumn of last year. I was pleased by the high level of interest from individuals and organisations across the industry, and I am grateful to all of the people who took part in that consultation.
My first decision has been to transfer 15% of the pillar 1 budget to pillar 2. It has been clear from the outset that both pillars support farming and we must use them together to help to build both resilience and growth within the industry. Kevin Roberts and Peter Davies have also advised this in both of their independent reviews. My ambition is to use the new rural development programme to develop farming, the wider rural economy and rural communities further. We will be consulting on the new programme in February. My ambition for the programme is to make the industry more resilient and more competitive, equipping people with skills and knowledge; to make targeted investments in farms and farm-related businesses, safeguarding the natural environment whilst harnessing opportunities for green energy; and to tackle poverty, which sometimes goes unseen in rural Wales. I want to ensure that looking after and protecting our land goes hand-in-hand with building a strong agriculture industry and rural economy.
For pillar 1, I have decided that the new basic payment scheme will be introduced over five years, becoming wholly based on the land area farmed by 2019. There will be three land regions funded at different rates: first, the moorland; secondly, the severely disadvantaged area; and, finally, the lowland and the disadvantaged area as a combined region. The designation of moorland has attracted much comment during the consultation and I am aware of the concern that my initial proposal risked incorporating reasonable-quality grazing land. Working with the farming unions and others, I have decided to restrict moorland to a smaller body of land at 400m or higher within areas already mapped as moorland in 1992. Farmers will be notified by the time of this year’s Royal Welsh Show about the classification of land into different regions, and will have the opportunity to appeal if they believe that their land designations are incorrect. I am confident that this is a fair and workable proposal that recognises the productive potential of land types across Wales.
There has been vigorous debate, but no consensus, about payment rates. The only consensus has been that the change to the new system should limit financial disruption wherever possible. The new area-based system will inevitably generate different outcomes from the existing one, which is based on historic activity and on subsidies. Further modelling work, shared with the unions and other bodies, has shown that there is no ideal set of payment rates, because the level and scope of claims varies from year to year. I will not know, until 2015 claims are received, exactly what demand there is and what the payment rates will be. Therefore, I am announcing today indicative payment rates based on the productive potential of different land types and minimising financial disruption. Moorland, SDA and DA-lowland will be funded at the ratio of 1:10:12. This recognises the increased size of the SDA, the equivalent reduction of the moorland region, and also the importance of the SDA to both upland and lowland farming. In cash terms, by 2019-20 this would mean payment rates at around €20 a hectare for moorland, around €200 per hectare for SDA, and approximately €240 per hectare for the DA-lowland region. The payment rate for the SDA will always be 10 times greater than that for moorland, and the DA-lowland will always be funded more generously than SDA.
These proposals will provide some €120 million a year to upland areas, which is more than was in my original consultation proposal for the three regions. Moorland will be funded at a low rate because it is not agriculturally productive, but it has other qualities that need recognition, particularly for safeguarding our natural environment for future generations, which is one of the reasons why I am transferring 15% of the pillar 1 budget to the RDP. I will be announcing the domestic co-financing rate for the RDP when I launch the detailed consultation on the new programme. I expect to co-finance above the regulatory minimum, hoping and helping to offer a new programme of at least £900 million. Funding for upland areas will be a priority to ensure that moorland in particular continues to be actively farmed in ways that deliver towards our wider national objectives and ensure that its environmental needs are met.
There is understandable concern that change will be hard. Having listened throughout the consultation, I have concluded that allowing five years for the move to a fully area-based payment system strikes a balance between providing time to adjust for those who may get less in future, but giving a clear message that change is necessary. It is important to be fair to farmers who currently get little or no CAP support because of past entitlement. The move from historic to area payments was signalled at the end of the last CAP reform nearly 10 years ago.
Future payments must be considered in the context of a tighter CAP budget. Within reason, I have sought to limit farmers’ losses. When scaled for the available budget, 84% of current claimants will reach the proposed area payment rates by getting higher payments or not losing more than 10% of their historical payment every year. Over 10,000 current claimants should receive higher payment rates under the new system. Of those getting less, around 3,600 should have relatively modest losses of under €5,000 over five years.
I recognise that getting less money is tough for individual businesses. However, we have a situation where payments can bear little relationship to current farming activity. Almost 2,000 farms get the equivalent of €300 or more per hectare. In contrast 5,800 farms get less than €150 per hectare. There is and can be no justification for this distribution, which is a product of history and may well hold the industry back. This is neither sustainable nor is it fair.
I have been clear about my intention to limit large payments and I will confirm this proposal today. I will cap all payments at the higher rate, and the cap will apply to basic payment scheme payments, excluding the greening payment, and I will make no allowance for wage-related costs. The minimum claim size will increase to 5 ha.
I confirm that Wales will adopt the European Commission’s greening proposals based on the maintenance of permanent grassland, crop diversification and ecological focus areas. This was well-received in the consultation as best fitting Welsh agriculture.
The consultation provided no compelling evidence in support of a coupling scheme or a pillar 1 scheme for areas facing natural constraint. I confirm that neither will be introduced.
I am publishing a booklet today explaining my pillar 1 decisions. There remain decisions to take about the detail of entitlements, the definition of active farmers, greening and additional payments for young farmers. These will follow once the EU implementing regulations and delegated acts are published.
CAP reform has proved lengthy and complex. It has, by and large, moved European farming along a positive path. My decisions on pillar 1 take account of my ambitions for pillar 2. CAP reform gives us the opportunity to develop agriculture in Wales and I believe that these decisions offer the best way forward in creating a strong, resilient industry that will safeguard our land for future generations. I have seen at first hand best practice in farms across Wales and know that we have the ability to create a strong future for farming. We need managed adjustment to an area system, accompanied by pillar 2 investment in businesses and people that will improve competitiveness, strengthen our natural resource base, and open up new market-rewarded opportunities. There is a major process of change ahead, but I believe that our industry can face the future with confidence.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister. This statement is down for half an hour, which is not achievable, so I would say to the Government that the timing on this has been a bit off. I appreciate the detail in which that statement had to be given. A lot of Members want to speak and, despite the fact that I will extend the time to 45 minutes, please focus on questions and keep any preambles very short, otherwise I will not be able to call your colleagues. I will make sure that there is balance in who I call, but, if anyone goes on too long, your time will be taken from one of your colleagues.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement and the certainty that it will bring to farmers who have been engaged in what has seemed to be a never-ending round of consultations. The industry and farmers in particular now finally have a decision and can start to make the business decisions that they need to make to plan for the future.
Absent from your statement and the associated document that you provided—I am very grateful for that document being disclosed in advance today—is the definitive year or years on which the allocation of entitlement will be based. There was some indication that that may be changed, or that you may be looking at different reference years, and I wonder whether you could clarify that.
There are a number of points in your statement and the associated booklet that I very much welcome. Your decision in relation to greening will be very welcome indeed, as will your promise not to gold-plate it. I also welcome your new entrants and young entrants allocation. It is vital that we get new entrants into the industry. There are questions as to how that will work in practice; in particular, if there is a set number of entitlements per region, how will that be affected by allocation out of the envelope, as it were, of the national scheme for new entrants and the trading between regions? When you talking about regions, are you talking about the regions of land, that is, moorland, disadvantaged land, severely disadvantaged land and lowland? I am grateful to see you nodding in response to that question, Minister.
There were concerns about the modelling of the tiers, and I know that some farming union representatives expressed concern that some of the data was only released to them at 6 p.m. yesterday evening, which seems very late in the day when a statement is being made the next day. Obviously, they will not have had the opportunity to take that into account, and I would ask that you consider earlier release in the future.
Your designation of moorland for the pillar 1 payments is based on the 1992 map. There may well have been changes in the plant types since 1992, particularly if you look at the science around climate change. I wonder whether you could comments as to why have you picked 1992 as the reference date, rather than looking at the moorland now and deciding on a scientific basis whether or not the line is in the right place.
Overall, Minister, given what the Deputy Presiding Officer said about being brief in responding to the statement, there are a lot of decisions that you have made and are outlined in your statement that I would welcome, but there is one that I roundly condemn, and that is the decision to modulate to the maximum 15%. That decision is going to make Welsh farmers uncompetitive yet again. France has decided to modulate at 3%, Germany at 4.5%, Italy at 0%, Ireland at 0% and England at 12%. You have placed Welsh farmers in the most uncompetitive bracket you possibly could by that decision to modulate. The way in which it was announced has upset many in the industry, as it was announced, in effect, over Twitter. The information was not available publicly and was not given before recess to this Assembly when it could have been, I would submit, because those announcements were made only a few days after we broke up. However, I welcome your intention overall to see that farmers minimise the losses that they make in payments, or, where there are big losses, that those are to farmers that received the very highest amounts of payments overall in respect of their single farm payment. That having been said, your decision to modulate at 15% takes investment decisions away from businesses and takes money away from businesses that they could invest in their livestock, equipment and improving the efficiency of their businesses. That decision, Minister, I am afraid, is not a good one.
There is, perhaps, one final question. Will the amount of land in any one region, as you have described it, always stay the same? If not, how do you propose to deal with trading entitlements, as you have limited that to a region rather than in any other way? Many thanks.
I thank the Conservative spokesperson for her generally warm response to my statement this afternoon—far warmer than the press release that she issued half an hour ago. I am very grateful to her for that. I very much agree with the points that she made on new entrants, young farmers and greening. That is exactly the direction that the Government is seeking to move in to decomplexify, if you like, support available to the farming community and to do so in such a way as to ensure that support reaches those who need it, in order to continue production and to invest in the future of their businesses.
You have asked a number of questions on entitlements. We have taken the major headline decisions over the Christmas recess, over the period up until today, and we are making announcements on those decisions today. Many of the detailed questions that you have asked on entitlements will be subject to a review of implementing legislation and we will continue to update Members on those decisions as they are made. I will say this on the issue of entitlements: there has been a secondary market created in entitlements over the last few years. I see my decisions based on supporting agricultural businesses that are able to grow and invest in the future. I do not make these decisions based on supporting the secondary market. Supporting that secondary market is not the purpose of the decisions that I am announcing today.
As regards the questions on moorland, the line is at 400m. It is within the map that was published in 1992. I would say to the Conservative spokesperson not to put too much emphasis on the 1992 date; it is the point at which the last map of the moorland was published. It is a map that outlines those areas of Wales and which describes those areas of Wales, but the key number is that of the 400m line. That is the area that we will be looking to measure.
You mention the 15% decision on modulation. Anyone who understands business knows that you do not promote efficiency through subsidies and that we need to invest in the business development of Welsh agricultural and farming businesses. You shake your head; I would be surprised if a Conservative spokesperson in any sector were to say that we do not need to invest in efficient businesses. [Interruption.] I understand what the leader of the opposition is saying, but let me say this: I have spent the last two years arguing against a UK Government that sought ‘significant’—I quote—reductions in pillar 1 payments to farmers, significant reductions to the whole CAP budget and significant reductions to the support available, not only to individual farm businesses but to all businesses and all communities in rural Wales. There was nobody from the Conservative party here—or, for that matter, from the Liberal Democrats—who supported this Government in opposing that policy. I have to say that it is a little rich today for a Conservative spokesperson to come to the Chamber to complain about money being taken away from farmers in the way that she described, when the purpose of the UK Government’s policy for the last two years has been to do precisely that. What we are doing is transferring money from pillar 1 to pillar 2. I remind the Conservative Members who are shaking their heads that 80% of moneys available in pillar 2 will be made available to recipients of pillar 1 claims. So, there will be a significant investment in the future of Welsh agriculture. This is a key point, on which I will end this answer. We are not simply looking at creating a system that will support Welsh agriculture today and tomorrow and will pay bills for today and tomorrow, this year and next year; we are looking at investing in the future of agricultural business up and down Wales and making our world-class agriculture fit for the future.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I remind Members who want to be called that, if they heckle, they do not exactly improve their chances.
It is slightly ironic that the Minister is attacking the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in Westminster, because he knows full well that the record of Labour Members of Parliament is no better. So, I hope that the same message is being conveyed to Members of your own party.
However, I will concentrate on the statement and what has been announced. What is in your statement—and thank you for it—is generally acceptable. I think that it is a pragmatic response in the context that we find ourselves in. That is not to say that each and every element is acceptable, but I appreciate some of the restrictions that the Minister is working within.
The founding principle, as the Minister has said in the past, is to try to introduce these changes in a way that limits, as much as possible, the effect that that has on the industry as it currently operates. Then, we see the Minister going for the maximum level of modulation—15%—that, to me, is contrary to that statement of principle.
Of course, that is going to provide more resources for the RDP. We have heard the Minister giving some sort of assurance that some of that funding will be returned to farmers, but I would like to hear more as to how you will ensure that the RDP as a whole will actually deliver. It appears to me that you are placing a lot more pressure on the RDP as a means of delivering many of the outputs that you want to see delivered.
You say that you have been very dependent on the Kevin Roberts report, and the recommendations emerging from that, as we look to the future of the industry. It is a pity that those were not publicly available as part of the wider debate around the recommendations. It would have been far more valuable for the public to have been aware of those recommendations during the consultation process, for example. I welcome the three-category payment model, because it could be very different, and I think that that will assist in ensuring that any interference with the industry is restricted.
You suggest what sums the farmers will receive. Of course, it is difficult to be accurate at present, but may I ask how confident you are that those figures are relatively close to the mark, and when do you anticipate that Welsh farmers will be informed of the actual rates that they will receive?
You say that there will be no ANC upland scheme under pillar 1, but can you outline what alternative proposals you are considering in other contexts in terms of the uplands? Clearly, you have said in the past that there will need to be a review of Glastir as a result of these changes. How far reaching do you anticipate that some of the changes that will need to be introduced to that programme will be?
There are going to be numerous changes facing the industry in the light of this statement today, and there is an important question in my mind as to how the Government will ensure that all of this information will be communicated effectively to farmers. Perhaps you could tell us a little about that. What additional resources will be available to provide the necessary support as we undertake this transition from the old CAP to the new CAP? There are a great many details in the statement and announcement that goes alongside that. Of course, there is a great deal more to come and we look forward to scrutinising the process as it continues.
I would like to thank you for your ’generally acceptable’ welcome—I think that those were the words that you used. I appreciate the tone of the response. I agree with many of the points that you have made. I will start with the points that I agree with.
You are right—it would have been useful had Kevin Roberts’s report been available to us to discuss and in order for us to evaluate the report in terms of our wider discussions. I have taken the decision that it is better to have a good report rather than a quick report. That is why I have allowed Kevin to bring forward the report a little later than I had hoped; I have made a statement about that previously. There will be an opportunity for an oral statement again in a fortnight’s time to discuss the package for the uplands, as you have suggested, and how we take forward Kevin Roberts’s package as part of this discussion. If it was not available for today, I thought that there had to be another oral statement, so that you could have the discussion that you have suggested is needed. I agree that we need to have that kind of discussion.
You have said that both pillars need to work together. You say that claimants under pillar 1 will have some funding under pillar 2. Eighty per cent is more than ’some’ funding. Most of the funding and the resources under pillar 2 go into the agriculture industry.
May I say that what I want to do is to use this funding creatively to secure the future of the industry, not just in the uplands, but across the country? I think that it is vital that we invest in agricultural businesses, wherever they may be, to secure the future that we all want to see for the rural economy of Wales. I want to make sure that there is room in the RDP for investments to develop rural businesses and the rural economy, and I welcome the discussion that I am sure that we will have on that and I would welcome any suggestions that you have in relation to that and how we should go about that. The points that you make are points that I agree with and I would like to see the exact type of investment and support for agricultural businesses that you have outlined.
You asked me what type of changes there will be in relation to Glastir. I will make an additional statement on that, a written statement on Glastir, next week. I would like to wait until I make that statement to discuss this. I would say this: I see that fundamental changes need to be made to Glastir, changes that will change the project to ensure that we have an environmental programme in place for the next CAP that will allow us to achieve our targets for the uplands as well as for the environment to ensure that agriculture is a sustainable industry for the future.
You are quite right in terms of communication as well. We are currently investing to strengthen what we are doing when we communicate with farmers. This is part of the Working Smarter process, of course. This is something on which I have reported back to the Assembly on a number of cases, Llyr, since I have been in Government. This is an investment that we will continue to make.
Thank you for your statement. Obviously, the sustainability of food production in Wales is as much an urban issue as it is a rural issue. I wondered whether you could give us a bit more information about how your differential payments are going to lead to an increase in the amount of activity in relation to food production, both for the population of Wales and for other regions and nations. We obviously have huge opportunities in Wales because we have so much water, which is the new gold. Water has created a lot of problems recently, with too much water, but the lack of water means that we are unable to produce food. The adulteration of food by manufacturers, whether it is horsemeat, sugar or harmful trans fats is something that is neither sustainable nor affordable for our national health service, and I wondered whether you could tell us a little bit more about how these differential payments can encourage a more sustainable food industry, both for us in Wales and for the wider areas?
Lastly, I wonder whether I could ask you about the cap on higher payments, which I believe that you have set at €300,000, which is a very high sum. Can you tell us why you have not set it at a slightly lower sum than that?
Thank you very much. I have set the capping limits at the rates made available under the regulations. We will be applying a cap to payments over €150,000, on a differential basis, up to €300,000, where there will be a 100% cap. We will be capping payments at €150,000 from 15%, and that will lead to a 100% cap at €300,000. We are doing that in a very progressive way in order to ensure that very large payments enable farmers to contribute to work that is carried out in pillar 2, and all capping payments will be transferred to pillar 2. Pillar 2 is important in terms of your question. Sustainability is absolutely fundamental to the ability of food producers to continue to provide excellent and high-quality food into the future. The purpose of pillar 2 is to work alongside pillar 1 to ensure that food production is done in a sustainable fashion—both environmentally sustainable and financially sustainable—that we are able to ensure that the food chain in Wales is sustainable and that we are able to make further investments in the food chain in Wales. What I am absolutely convinced about is that we need a pillar 2 that is of substance and that is able to invest not only in the agriculture industry, but in the wider rural economy.
Thank you, Minister, for today’s statement.
Thank you also for affording us a briefing earlier, as party spokespeople, on some of these wider issues. On the whole, I think that farmers will be pleased to an extent today that there is, at least, a greater degree of clarity on many of the aspects around the CAP because there is nothing that could be more debilitating than prolonged uncertainty. I think that we have had that for some time during this extended process. Without wishing to cover the ground that other colleagues have covered, I would like to confine my comments and questions to a couple of the finer points of your decision.
Looking first at the raising of the minimum holding size that is eligible for claim to 5 ha, I note that it is now the case that some smaller farms that remain eligible for Glastir are now no longer eligible for the single farm payment. What assessment have you made of the losses that will be sustained? Perhaps you could give us some clarity on this matter.
Looking also at the number of land categories, I see that you settled for the three-category model. While some farmers had advocated just a simple approach of having two, I understand the point that you made regarding the limited impact that this will have. I am also pleased to see that you have kept moorland separate, as I would argue that that is sensible in terms of the targeting within the future RDP.
Turning to greening, it is good to see that there is a level of consistency in deciding to implement this without the much-feared gold-plating—something that the unions have made a consistent plea should be avoided. Given this, would you please be willing to narrow down the timing of some of the forthcoming greening discussions so that colleagues across the industry can be clear on this, with also some indication of timing of when further detail will emerge?
I share the concerns that have been widely expressed in the Chamber and across the Welsh agricultural sector with regard to the announcement that you made before Christmas regarding the transfer of the full 15% to pillar 2, which is unique in any neighbouring countries within the UK, the devolved administrations, or indeed other competitors across the European Union. While being disappointed to see that the tone of the section of your statement regarding the ANC appears to rule this out, to what extent are you still open to the RDP providing meaningful support to our hard-pressed upland farmers? As we well recognise, this is not just a matter of efficiency in the industry but also a matter of plain social justice.
While there have been really good examples of the RDP delivering through Farming Connect, and also through projects the length and breadth of Wales—and I know that Glastir has been particularly successful in my native Powys—what can you do, Minister, to drive down the central administration costs, which sometimes in RDP-related projects represent surely too high a spend in terms of what is actually delivered in terms of benefit? Diolch yn fawr.
Again, I thank the Liberal Democrats for their generally warm support for most of the proposals that I have announced today. In looking at this statement, it is important not to look at it in isolation but to look at it alongside the consultation that I will launch next week on Glastir, the statement that I will make in two weeks’ time on resilience and upland support, and then the consultation on the rural development plan that I will lunch formally on 13 February. I hope that the Liberal Democrats and others will take these announcements together as a suite of policy initiatives, which, taken together, will provide the sort of business support that Welsh agriculture needs to ensure that we are able to invest in the long term and not just survive in the short term.
The point that you make on small farms is, I think, a minor point; we do not believe that there will be any significant impact to Welsh agriculture by the change that we have made. The small farms over 3 ha and below 5 ha will, as you suggest, still be able to be a part of Glastir and will still have access to public support through pillar 2. The issue of greening, to which you referred, is again something that we will implement over the coming period. The point made by Llyr Huws Gruffydd about communication, and about ensuring that the industry is informed about how we deliver that, is something that we will be bearing in mind in driving forward some of these ideas.
You referred to the 15% modulation figure. Again, I would have more sympathy with the points that you make had you paid any attention, or had you provided me with any support at all, over the last two years, when I fought hard for a CAP budget that was being cut by a Government that you support in London. We have to ensure that, in providing support under pillar 1, we do so in a way that is complemented by the work that we do in pillar 2. I hope that, in pillar 2, we will be able to develop a business support programme for Welsh agriculture that will enable farm businesses to invest in efficiency, invest in productivity and invest in profitability, and which will mean that our farms are the strongest farm businesses on these islands, that our farms will be able to compete in the future and that our farms are not simply dependent on a diminishing public resource. CAP pillar 1 payments, as we have seen, have fallen in recent years. They will continue to fall in the future. If we simply look at the short term, we will lose the long term. This statement is about radical reform of public support for agriculture to ensure that we have the strongest possible industry in the future and not simply an industry that is struggling on a subsidy.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Let us have questions now, please. I call on Russell George.
I also thank the Minister for his statement. I understand the need to transfer money from pillar 1 to pillar 2. The proposed rate, compared with other parts of the UK and across Europe, is very unfortunate. However, I welcome other aspects of his statement today, and it is important to say that.
In terms of questions, I believe that Welsh farmers will be more supportive of this allocation change if they knew exactly what the Welsh Government intended to do with the £286 million and how that money was going to help with sustainable diversification, capital grant support, improving young entrant schemes and developing and enhancing sector skills. Minister, in making this announcement today, you must clearly have some thoughts on those issues. I would appreciate it if you could flesh out some of those aspects. In terms of the letter to the Environment and Sustainability Committee, you indicated that sector supply chains needed strengthening. Therefore, how does the Government intend to do that within the new RDP, and how will the extra allocation to pillar 2 enable that improvement to take place?
I might test the patience of the Deputy Presiding Officer to breaking point if I answered all of those questions as fully as you might wish. Let me say this: I have said in answer to previous questions that pillar 1 and pillar 2 need to be seen as complementary, working together to deliver effective support for an efficient, profitable and prosperous farming industry that will deliver excellence in food production today and in the future, and will be sustainable financially and environmentally. We are looking at how we do that. We will be making announcements, as I said, on Glastir next week. I will be making a formal announcement on the future of the RDP on 13 February, and I look forward to the comments that you would wish to make at that time. I look forward to the debate and ideas that you might have to help deliver that, when we launch that consultation next month.
Deputy Presiding Officer, for full transparency’s sake, I would draw Members’ attention to my entry in the register of Members’ interests—my husband is a partner in a business that receives SFPs—before I read about it in the ‘Western Mail’. Minister, given your commitment to not commit at this stage to an uplands scheme for ANCs and your decision to raise the maximum amount of modulation rate, how will you ensure that the competitive disadvantage at which you have put farmers in my constituency immediately through these decisions, as opposed to farmers in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England, will be overcome by your decisions in pillar 2?
You will be aware that Kevin Roberts wrote me a letter earlier today, saying that he would outline an uplands package that I will respond to in two weeks’ time. You will see from the business statement that there will be an oral statement in two weeks’ time, where those matters will be discussed. However, let me say this: your constituents, and farmers in Wales, will not be disadvantaged by a modulation rate of 15%. They will be disadvantaged by a Government that cares for the short term, and not the long term. A farm business, like any other business, will survive and prosper if it is efficient and if it is market-facing and able to deliver the product that the customer needs at a price the customer is likely to pay. The efficiency comes not from subsidy, but from good business management. We are investing in good business management and business development, and your constituents and others’ constituents will all benefit from that.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Although the Conservatives do not really deserve to have their leader called, I have made a new year’s resolution to be less grumpy in the Chamber, so, I call on Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I ask the Chamber to note my declaration in the register of Members’ interests, because I, too, would not want a Government press officer alerting the ‘Western Mail’ that I had not declared that, so I draw Members’ attention to that.
I would ask the Minister to outline clearly how he thinks that a modulated rate of 15% ,when Italy is 0%, France is 3% and the Republic of Ireland is 0%--and we are going to be 15% in modulation—will enable Welsh farms to be competitive? You have talked about efficiencies, you have talked about the consultancy work that will be undertaken out of pillar 2 payments—I presume that is what you were referring to—but how on earth can a modulated rate of 15% make Welsh agriculture more competitive and, more importantly, support the agri-food industry that depends on the primary product that farmers produce and which sustains tens of thousands of jobs throughout the Welsh economy?
I am fascinated that you believe that efficiency and productivity is aided by a subsidy regime. This is something that is unique and which I have not heard from the Conservatives before. I look forward to your economic development spokesperson expanding on this theme in future debates. Let me say this: if you look at the different sectors in agriculture, you will see that there is a significant difference between those who are most efficient and those who are least efficient. If you take the upland cattle and sheep sector for one moment—[Interruption]. Let me answer the question you asked. The top third of that sector delivers 42% more agricultural output than the sector average. That is an extraordinary differential. That differential is not going to be bridged by increased public subvention and increased public subsidies at a time of declining public finances. Let me say this to you: we know, and you should know, that the CAP pillar 1 budget has been under pressure, mainly from your own party and your own Government in London, and that there will be a decline in pillar 1 subsidy levels over the next seven years, and there will be after 2020. It would be a historic act of irresponsibility if this Government stood back and said, ‘We will do nothing about that except wring our hands and write press releases and make speeches’. We will roll up our sleeves and invest in business development in agriculture to ensure that our agriculture businesses are fit and sustainable for the future. Competitiveness in international markets derives from efficient, well-run farm businesses able to derive a profit from the products that they produce. It does not derive from relying on a diminishing subsidy regime. That direction is not the direction that will take Welsh agriculture forward to a successful future. That is what I want. I want you to join me, and I want you to help me deliver that, but if you simply look to the past and a subsidy regime that has not delivered efficiency in the past, you will not be a part of the future of Welsh agriculture.
The Presiding Officer took the Chair at 16:38.
Motion NDM5383 Gwenda Thomas
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 29.6, agrees that provisions in the Children and Families Bill, relating to amendments to section 98(1) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 in so far as they fall within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales, should be considered by the UK Parliament.
I move the motion.
Thank you for this opportunity to explain the background to the legislative consent motion on the UK Government’s Children and Families Bill, as laid before the Assembly on 4 December. The LCM is the result of a very late amendment proposed by the Department for Education, initiated by Baroness Butler-Sloss and Baroness Hamwee, who brought this important matter to the UK Government’s attention, both earlier this year through the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Adoption Legislation, and through this proposed clause within the Children and Families Bill.
The Adoption and Children Act 2002 is the legislative framework that enshrines adoption law in England and Wales. It is a stand-alone Act that replaced the Adoption Act 1976. The effect of an adoption order is to legally sever the relationship between an adopted child and the birth family, so that the adopted person is treated as a child of their adoptive family, not their birth family. Adoptions before the introduction of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 were often shrouded in secrecy, with very limited information shared with the child, or his or her birth parents. The adoptions that preceded the implementation of the 2002 Act—pre-commencement adoptions—maintain the position that had existed under the 1976 Act. The introduction of the 2002 Act changed the culture around adoption and encouraged more openness. Children are now given a life-story book, which helps them to understand their early history and life before their adoption, and a later-life letter, which explains their history from birth in sufficient detail so that they, on reaching adolescence and becoming a young adult, are able to understand why they were adopted.
All those adopted on or after 30 December 2005, including the adopted person, their birth relatives and their descendants, can apply to an adoption agency for information relating to the adoption. It is then a matter for the agency’s discretion whether the information is disclosed. If an adult who was adopted before 30 December 2005 did not find out about their birth family or chose not to give their descendants information about their birth family, the descendants have limited options.
At the moment, they can apply to the registrar general for a copy of the adoption certificate, but this will not have any information about the adopted person’s birth. Alternatively, they are able to apply to a court under section 70(4) of the 2002 Act, which provides that, in exceptional circumstances, the court may order the registrar general to disclose the birth details of an adopted person.
Case law provides that the test for ‘exceptional circumstances’ is something more that the strongly held wish to know or the underlying curiosity to find out. There must be a need or benefit that must relate to the adopted person, rather than to the birth family. This is more likely to be successful in relation to passing on information about genetic diseases than in relation to genealogical research. The overall effect of the proposed provision is to change the regulation-making power in section 98(1) of the 2002 Act to enable regulations to be made to give relatives of people adopted before 30 December 2005—pre-commencement adoptions—access to intermediary services to facilitate contact between the descendants and the adopted person’s birth relatives, regardless of whether the adopted person is living or dead. The types of relatives who will be affected by the new provision will be set out in regulations made by Welsh Ministers, and this new clause will place descendants on a par with the adopted person.
We are all aware that adoption is a high-profile area for both the Welsh Government with the establishment of the national adoption service, and the UK Government in its reform of the adoption service. Intermediary services and access to information has always been an area that has featured strongly within the media in relation to family-finding and when descendants of adopted people want to find out more about their relatives’ history, particularly where there is a hereditary medical condition.
Not applying the amendment to Wales may be seen as discriminating against Welsh adoptees and their families. We are already aware of the problems identified and experienced by some adoptees in their quest for information because of the differing interpretation of guidance in England and Wales. The British Association of Adoption and Fostering provided evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee expressing its concern on existing anomalies within the 2002 Act and the distress this causes. We intend to rectify and clarify this in the code of practice that will support the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill. The extension of this new provision to adoptions that took place before December 2005, pre commencement, is intended to create a level playing field for those affected by adoption post 2005. You will, I am sure, agree that the exclusion of this amendment to Wales would create an unfair anomaly in the legislation.
I would also like to mention that the Welsh Government supports scrutiny of LCMs by an Assembly committee wherever possible, but in a small minority of cases, such as this LCM, we are constrained by the UK Government bringing forward these amendments at a late stage in the Bill’s Parliamentary process.
I hope that you understand that we feel that this is a welcome amendment and although insufficient time has meant that the Assembly has been unable to carry out full scrutiny by an Assembly committee, we feel that we cannot afford to miss the opportunity for this to apply in Wales.
Deputy Minister, we will be supporting the motion this afternoon. As you said, it does not make a lot of sense to have differences between England and Wales. I also accept that there is no criticism of the Government, bearing in mind the Westminster timetable. Was any assessment undertaken in Wales of how services will cope with these changes when they are introduced, given all the criticisms levelled at the adoption service in the Children and Young People Committee inquiry? I accept that you have introduced a new national service, but many cases have been raised with my office over the last few months that make it clear that the changes are yet to be introduced in practice.
Thank you, Aled, for the support. The national service is developing across the whole of Wales. There are examples from the regions that demonstrate that work is being done and that the Welsh Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Social Services have worked on the detail with councils. I can write to you, because I have two pages of details on how the national service is developing—that might be useful for all Members. I would like, therefore, to write to Members to explain how this is being developed.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections. The motion is therefore agreed, in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion NDM5395 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales; in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
Approves that the draft The Public Audit (Wales) Act 2013 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2014 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 26 November 2013.
I move the motion.
The Order makes provision for the modification of two pieces of legislation as a result of the powers in the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2013. The 2013 Act makes provision reforming public audit arrangements in Wales, including the continuation of the office of the Auditor General for Wales and the creation of a new corporate body—the Wales Audit Office—with a range of functions. The 2013 Act also provides for the transfer of AGW staff to the WAO, with effect from 1 April 2014. The Order does not introduce any new policy, but is required to make consequential amendments to the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004 as a result of the 2013 Act, which this Assembly passed on 5 March last year.
Article 2 of the Order amends section 145B(5)(b) of the Government of Wales Act 1998. That section currently enables the AGW, at the request of a further education corporation or a higher education corporation in Wales to arrange for their accounts to be audited by one or more members of AGW staff appointed by a corporation. From 1 April 2014, the AGW will not have any staff, as on that date his staff will transfer to the employment of the corporate Wales Audit Office. In consequence, from 1 April this year, section 145B(5)(b) will be redundant. Therefore, from then, article 2 of the Order will provide a further or higher education corporation with the power to appoint the AGW to audit its accounts. The amendment does not impose the AGW as the auditor of further education and higher education corporations; those bodies will retain control over whom they decide to appoint to audit their accounts.
Article 3 of the Order amends section 68 of and Schedule 3 to the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004. The amendment will substitute references to the Wales Audit Office for reference to the AGW. Those provisions in the 2004 Act currently enable a transfer of property, rights and liabilities that are the subject of a transfer scheme from the Audit Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General to the AGW. The effect of the amendments in the Order would be to ensure that there is no doubt that, from 1 April 2014, any future transfers would be to the new corporate WAO rather than the AGW. I commend the Order to the Assembly.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I have no other speakers; do you wish to add anything, Minister? No. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion NDM5392 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
Approves that the draft The Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements and Default Scheme) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 9 December 2013.
I move the motion.
I am grateful to the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee for making time to scrutinise these regulations to enable today’s debate. Before recess, Members approved two sets of regulations, which will govern the operation of council tax reduction schemes in Wales from 1 April 2014. I notified Members then that the timing of the Chancellor’s autumn statement would mean that a separate set of regulations would have to be made to uprate the financial figures used to calculate entitlement to a reduction.
The Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements and Default Scheme) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 ensure that the figures used to calculate each applicant’s entitlement are increased to take into account rises in the cost of living. To minimise the administrative burden for local authorities and to limit confusion for applicants, this uprating has been calculated in line with housing benefit uprating. While the exact impact is dependent on an applicant’s particular circumstances, almost all applicants who are means-tested to determine their eligibility for a reduction would be made worse off if the uprating amendments were not made. For some applicants, this could mean having to pay a small amount of council tax for the first time. I have also taken the opportunity in making these regulations to address a number of minor technical points identified by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee during the scrutiny of the 2013 regulations. I ask Members to approve these regulations.
I was very pleased that the Minister said, at the end of her contribution, that these regulations had been amended as a result of the points raised by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. I am happy enough to support the regulations, but I believe that there are questions to be answered with regard to the process. The committee raised a number of fundamental questions during the process with regard to these regulations. I believe that there is a danger that we, as a legislature, are getting into a position where there is a feeling that the work of scrutiny committees is to enable the Government to fulfil its basic responsibilities. No committee would set about preventing the Government from doing so, but that is not the role of scrutiny committees. Their role is to critically review what is proposed and to ensure that the legislation is correct. If there are questions, it is important that they are looked at in detail.
Therefore, I hope—hopefully the Minister can confirm this this afternoon—that lessons have been learned from this process. It is vital in a situation like this that detailed points on legislation raised by committees are fully considered by the Government and by the Minister.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister to reply to the debate.
I thank Rhodri Glyn Thomas for making those points. I did commit to addressing a number of the minor technical points that were raised with me following scrutiny by the committee. This is the first time that I have taken through very complex regulations such as these, and I am grateful to Members for their assistance in that.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections. Therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion NDM5400 Lesley Griffiths
That the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Orders 33.6 and 33.8:
Suspends that part of Standing Order 11.16 that requires the weekly announcement under Standing Order 11.11 to constitute the timetable for business in Plenary for the following week, to allow the motion under item 9 to be considered in Plenary on Tuesday 14 January 2014.
I move the motion.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections. Therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion NNDM5396 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales; in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
Approves that the draft The Non-Domestic Rating (Multiplier) (Wales) Order 2014 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 6 January 2014.
I move the motion.
I am pleased to present to the Assembly for its approval the Order for restricting the increase in the non-domestic rates multiplier for 2014-15 to 2%. The Chancellor’s autumn statement in December announced plans for a 2% cap on the increase in multiplier for England. After careful consideration, the Welsh Government proposes to implement an equivalent cap in Wales. By restricting the increase in the multiplier to 2%, we are ensuring that Welsh businesses are not placed at a disadvantage compared with their counterparts in England.
Normally, the multiplier is increased in line with inflation. This would have resulted in bills being increased by 3.2% for 2014-15. By supporting the cap, Members will therefore ensure that rates bills in Wales are lower than they would otherwise have been.
The cost of limiting the increase next year is expected to be around £14 million. The Welsh Government will be meeting this through the non-domestic rates pool arrangements, using the flexibility afforded to us as a consequence of the autumn statement. There will be no impact, therefore, on local authority budgets as a result of issuing lower bills for non-domestic properties. The wider benefits of offering the same financial conditions in Wales as in England are obvious.
Given the timing of the autumn statement and the need to vote on the multiplier Order before the vote on the local government finance report, which had already been scheduled for today, it has been necessary for certain elements of Standing Orders to be suspended, and for the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee to give early consideration to the multiplier Order. I am grateful to the committee for considering the Order and to those Members who agreed to the arrangements needed to bring the Order before the Assembly today. A delay would have meant postponing consideration of the local government finance report, with consequences for the budget-setting processes of local government. It would also have resulted in prolonged uncertainty for non-domestic rate payers in Wales.
I ask Members to support this motion.
Minister, the Welsh Conservatives are pleased to support the Non-Domestic Rating (Multiplier) (Wales) Order 2014 before us today, specifically the proposal that you set out to cap the business rate multiplier at 2%, following the example set by the UK coalition Government, and set out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his autumn statement.
To be clear, my party will support all meaningful efforts to reduce the burden on businesses. As this Chamber knows, we have consistently called for an extension of rate relief for smaller businesses with rateable values below £12,000. As we see it, this 2% cap will reduce the business rate burden over and above any other rate relief that might be granted. Most importantly, as the Minister said, this Order will mean that rates levied in Wales will not be disadvantegous to business vis-a-vis those being levelled in England following the Chancellor’s autumn statement last year. That would have been unthinkable.
Finally, you mentioned the Assembly procedure, which the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee looked at. I welcome your efforts to ensure that the Order was brought here today. You promised that it would come to us ahead of the local government finance report; it is marginally ahead of it. However, we appreciate that there were problems with the timescale with regard to when the UK Government made the decision, and there was obviously a need for this procedure to be brought forward as quickly as possible. So, we welcome the fact that the Welsh Government has brought this to us today, following the example set by the UK Government, and we support it.
Business rates form a significant part of the costs of businesses on the high street and in general, which is why Plaid Cymru has also argued that the rates relief scheme should be expanded. Eventually, bearing in mind the decline of our high streets, there must be a change to the whole system of business rates, which is now completely unfair. It is high time that businesses of all kinds—whether they are on the outskirts of our towns, working online or on our high streets—shared the tax burden. In terms of this Order, Plaid Cymru supports it 100% and agrees with the Minister’s comments as made in her introduction.
I would like to thank the Minister for bringing forward this Order today in response to the UK Government’s autumn statement. As we know, the autumn statement brought forward a number of measures designed to assist small businesses and further encourage growth in the UK economy. While there is no reason for us to slavishly follow everything that is done in Westminster, I think that, in this instance, we would not want to see Welsh businesses put at a disadvantage because an investment of this nature had not been passed on. So, it is, in my view, right to use part of the consequential from the autumn statement to help to boost the economy in Wales through capping a rise in a tax that we know hits some of our smallest businesses the hardest. Using the multiplier is a very straightforward and efficient method of controlling those costs and I am pleased that the Welsh Government is matching the UK Government’s proposals in this respect, to ensure that Welsh businesses have parity of treatment with English ones. However, in the long term, business rates need root-and-branch reform. We have seen today in the news how fluctuations in property values are still playing havoc with retailers in particular, some of which are paying as much in rates as they do in rent. So, there is still a challenge for us to rebalance the way in which we tax businesses in the long term, so that it better reflects the changing nature of our business environment. However, I am pleased to be able to support this Order today.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call the Minister to reply to the debate.
I would like to thank the three Members for their supporting comments. I know that the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, who is responsible for the policy side of this, has heard their comments too. Thank you.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections, therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion NDM5393 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Section 84H of the Local Government Finance Act 1988:
Approves the Local Government Finance Report (No. 1) 2014-2015 (Final Settlement - Councils), which was laid in the Table Office on 7 January 2014.
I move the motion.
I am pleased to present to the Assembly for its approval the 2014-15 local government finance report for the 22 unitary authorities in Wales. Next year, after accounting for transfers, local authorities in Wales will receive £4.3 billion in general revenue funding—a decrease of 3.4% compared with 2013-14. While this settlement represents a reduction in funding, it still reflects a reasonable outcome for local government in Wales, given the cuts imposed on our budget by the UK Government. This settlement is delivered against an unprecedented challenging financial context. However, it continues to ensure an appropriate settlement for local government in Wales, to enable authorities to protect vital services in the face of competing pressures.
As a consequence of UK Government decisions, by 2015-16 the Welsh Government budget will have been cut by 10% in real terms since 2010-11. However, we have sought to protect local government in Wales from the worst of these cuts. As a consequence, over the past three years, local authorities in Wales have seen a cash increase in their funding. Local government in England has not fared so well. Indeed, it has faced cuts of over 10% since 2011-12. However, the scale of the cuts to our budget going forward means continued protection for local government in Wales is not sustainable into the future.
Since taking up this portfolio last March, I have been very clear about the future financial reality facing local government in Wales. I have also worked hard to increase flexibility, achieve fairness and provide additional support to help local authorities to manage the challenges ahead. The decisions that I have taken reflect the value the Welsh Government places on the wide variety of services provided by local authorities. As a result, included within this settlement is £39.3 million of funding previously provided though specific grants. Of this funding, nearly £31 million came from my own portfolio. In addition to this, I also took the decision to add the £4 million of funding previously identified for the council tax reduction scheme pensioner grant into the settlement.
I continue to work with my ministerial colleagues to look at the programmes within their portfolios and the most effective mechanisms for providing funding for local services. Local government must also be fully engaged in delivering the right outcomes in key areas. This is why I announced, at the meeting of the partnership council for Wales in November, a review of funding flexibilities for local government, to be conducted in partnership with it. This review will examine the existing range of Welsh Government specific grants and identify ways forward for the future. I will also investigate other opportunities to provide local government with greater flexibility in managing the pressures that it faces while ensuring that key outcomes are delivered. I intend for this review to report back to the partnership council’s finance sub-group in March.
However, the immediate focus now needs to be on intensifying efforts to achieve transformational change to be able to sustain services and deliver the best outcomes for people across Wales. The Welsh Government will soon receive the report from the Williams commission and this will be a key factor in determining the way forward for local government and the wider public services in Wales.
Designing public services to meet the needs of its citizens is at the heart of the work of the Williams commission. Later this month, I will publish a further addition of our annual compendium looking at the performance of local authority services. This publication contains the latest performance data to support the accountability and scrutiny of public services by citizens and by elected members acting on their behalf.
The performance data in this publication will reflect the variation in the performance across authorities in delivering services, and the transparency that it offers will support our efforts to develop and improve public services in Wales, so that they are sustainable and centred around the citizen. Better performance is about much more than the amount of money provided. However, it is important to recognise that this settlement is vital to maintaining momentum in the transformational change that still needs to happen as we consider the findings of the Williams commission.
Recognising that investing in our young people’s education remains a key priority of this Government. An additional £8.3 million for the protection of schools funding is included within the settlement. This, alongside an extra £7.4 million provided as part of the increase in the pupil deprivation grant, meets our commitment to provide protection for schools equivalent to 1% above the change in the Welsh budget from the UK Government. For 2014-15, the protection equates to a 0.9% increase in schools funding. Since the introduction of the funding protection for schools in 2011-12, we have built around £75 million of additional funding into the settlement baseline.
The Welsh Local Government Association has acknowledged that these are challenging financial times, and has committed to working with Welsh Government to mitigate impacts wherever possible. It has welcomed the ongoing support being made available by the Welsh Government for council tax reduction schemes.
Alongside the settlement announcement, I have also provided local authorities with details of the specific grants that they will receive in 2014-15. Local authorities can expect to receive more than £700 million of grant funding to support projects that are vital to the future of Wales.
As a result of the reductions in the capital budget delegated to us by the UK Government, capital allocations for local government continue to present challenges. Maintaining our capacity to invest is vital, not just to improve services, but also to provide an economic stimulus when it is needed most. This settlement includes an extra £4 million of funding for the local government borrowing initiative for highways improvement, bringing the total built into the settlement to £12 million a year, allowing authorities to invest more than £170 million in highways improvement over three years.
We are working closely with local government to expand the initiative to boost borrowing over the next few years to accelerate the twenty-first century schools programme. As with the successful initiative for roads, we will provide local government with additional revenue funding to enable it to fund borrowing over and above current plans. This will be provided outside the settlement for 2014-15 to allow the distribution of the funding to be confirmed prior to transferring it into the settlement in 2015-16.
It is now for local authorities to set their budgets for 2014-15. This year, average council tax levels in Wales are around £230 lower than those in England, because of the proportionately greater support that the Welsh Government provides for local spending. I am prepared to use the capping powers available to me should the need arise. Council tax rises over recent years have, in the main, shown restraint. I am confident that, at a time when we all need to be managing our resources as efficiently as possible, local authorities in Wales will continue to act responsibly in setting council tax for next year.
The motion is to agree the local government finance report, which has been laid before the Assembly. If approved, this will allow authorities to formally set their budgets for 2014-15. I believe this to be a fair and realistic settlement for local government and it provides additional support for the economy through the capping of non-domestic rates. It underlines our commitment to maintaining support for those who need it most and continuing to invest in local government despite the funding reductions elsewhere. I ask Members to support the motion.
I welcome the report by the Minister on the local government finance report and settlement detail. We often talk about funding settlements, formulas and standard spending assessments, but do SSAs take account of the impact of demographic, economic and geographical considerations? Do they take account of lone working parents in need of support? Do they reward good practice? Evidence would suggest that some SSAs and the settlement formula itself could be described as disproportionate. In rural communities, it is harder to access a service and draw down funding. Greater consideration is given to factors such as those in receipt of some benefits—working lone parents are disadvantaged when compared with those in receipt of social housing. Fiscally prudent councils such as Monmouthshire are disadvantaged when they receive £1,550 per head, which is below the average settlement of £1,761 and the £1,931 afforded to Blaenau Gwent. I would like to ask the Minister how the equality assessment has influenced this settlement. The Government of Wales Act 2006 states that Ministers must ensure,
‘equality of opportunity for all people’.
Where is the equality for our rural communities? Where is the equality for lone working parents? Where is the equality impact assessment evidence to determine the appropriate weighting of SSA units?
Preventative spending has been identified by many, including the Taxpayers’ Alliance, as one of the most efficient ways of saving money in local government, by negating small problems to prevent bigger spends. When environmental departments cannot repair paving slabs, leisure departments cannot keep their leisure centres open and housing departments cannot make adequate adaptations, it affects the health of our nation. There must be leadership from this Welsh Government in encouraging a culture of spending taxpayers’ money wisely.
In debating this report, we must consider how authorities are addressing their financial challenges. Last week, Welsh-Labour-run Rhondda Cynon Taf proposed closing 14 of its 26 libraries and 10 of its 19 day centres, and scaling back meals on wheels. Most alarming is a measure that sees children unable to attend school until a year later than in other authorities—
Do you think that the fact that, effectively, £70 million has been cut out of the RCT budget, directly as a result of a UK Government cut, has had any impact whatsoever on the RCT budget arrangements?
With respect, it is fair to say that we have now got devolved—[Interruption.] We have got Welsh Government now. The Welsh Government decides how it spends its money and, in this case, it decided to make the cuts. It was nothing to do with UK Government—[Interruption.]
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
That will further disadvantage children who come from areas with socioeconomic barriers. While the schoolchildren of RCT will start learning a year later, the director of education and lifelong learning earns over £100,000 a year. However, this is not isolated. In Bridgend, the council is cutting expenditure on youth services by 39% while its corporate director for communities earns £134,000. In Carmarthenshire, proposals include raising the cost of hiring cricket facilities by 200% while the director of regeneration and leisure earns £147,000. Services are not prioritised above bloated, elitist government pay. These figures demonstrate the ethos of some local authorities: corporate directors over schoolchildren, diversity co-ordinators over meals on wheels, and media and propaganda officers over concessionary travel schemes. In Monmouthshire, the Conservative-run council is engaging with residents to discuss how they will make savings through consultation events. So, before stones are thrown about savage Tory cuts, I suggest that you make sure that your own fiscal glasshouse is in order.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Are you taking another intervention?
Will the Member give way?
No. I will not. The Welsh Conservatives have long called for addressing all exorbitant local authority senior pay, not just chief executives’. The revenue and capital settlement outlines how local government grants will change. This is not before time. With Conwy County Borough Council—my own authority—in receipt of 30 separate grants, the administration and audit costs of distinct streams often negate the measurable benefit of the actual grant.
Grants must be hypothecated to a much greater degree, and I would ask the Minister to really speed up the review on that. The financial settlement for local authorities will not help my constituents on a stormy day.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Your time is nearly up.
Right. The local government finance report underlines a challenging settlement for our local authorities, but the onus is on you, Minister, to provide the strong leadership within local government to ensure financial probity, efficiency, transparency and democratic accountability, and that this runs through the very heart of our local government in Wales.
I recognise that today’s debate is taking place at a time when fundamental questions about the future size and shape of local government in Wales are being considered, but, for me, it represents an important opportunity for a different reason. Whatever the future holds, in the here and now it sometimes feels as if we are becoming too detached in this Assembly from the sheer scale of the task that we are asking of councils in Wales. Indeed, it is worth reminding ourselves every chance that we get that, along with welfare reform, which we know is hitting some of the poorest households and communities incredibly hard, it is the cuts to local services that people really care about and that will have the most profound and visible bearing on the daily lives of those we were elected to represent. Yes, the economic battleground at UK level may have moved on to new arguments about the cost of living and the latest round of ideologically-driven welfare cuts, but having managed to successfully protect councils from the worst of our own spending pressures up to this point, in many ways it is only now that the full force of Tory-imposed austerity is beginning to bite at local level in Wales.
Torfaen County Borough Council is facing a settlement that is 4% lower this year than last year after the re-allocation of Treasury grants is taken into account. That translates to a cash-terms cut of £5.7 million, which is on top of an additional £4.8 million-worth of savings that need to be found just to bridge the gap caused by increasing demand on services, fixed costs that cannot be avoided, and inflationary pressures. The picture is all the more bleak, frankly, when you realise that, after factoring in areas of spend that have been earmarked, quite rightly, for protection by the Welsh Government, the £10.5 million-worth of savings that Torfaen County Borough Council needs to deliver this year will come from a much smaller pot than the headline revenue allocation might otherwise suggest. Despite all that, while I cannot speak with authority about the situation in all parts of Wales, in Torfaen I believe that elected members and officers deserve great credit, working hard to deliver a budget that strikes an almost impossible balance between protecting key services such as social care and education, keeping council tax rises to a minimum, and, at the same time, actually finding the savings required to balance the books. In short, I believe that they have worked incredibly hard to make the best of a really difficult situation created by the UK Government in Westminster.
So, it stands to reason that, at a time when we are asking so much of local authorities, it should be incumbent on all of us to ensure that we are not placing additional demands on councils that they simply cannot afford at this time. This was a point that was made on a number of occasions during the scrutiny of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill last year, when assurances of cost-neutrality were met with concern. However, it is a maxim that could apply across the board. Has anyone, for example, actually sat down and worked out the cost implications of the proposed new Welsh language standards on councils such as Torfaen, which are already having to fork out hundreds of thousands of pounds just to ensure that they meet current expectations, and at a time when services that local people cherish are being pared back to the bone or cut completely?
Above all, through all of this, we have to be mindful of the extent to which councils in Wales really are at the front line when it comes to dealing with the seismic impact of welfare reform on our communities. It has struck me on many occasions recently just how vital a role the local authority has played in Torfaen, particularly, working closely with the housing and advice sectors to identify trends, and co-ordinating efforts to mitigate the worst impacts of welfare reform. In fact, I shudder to think how much worse things could be looking if that important work was not taking place. Whatever changes are on the way in the future, I think we would all do well to take a step back now and again and recognise the incredibly valuable role that local authorities can play, and are playing, in communities such as Torfaen, even in these incredibly difficult and challenging economic times.
Last year, we were able to welcome the local government settlement because there was an increase of 1.5% in the budget, and that was within a relatively difficult financial context. This year, we are facing an even more stringent financial position. As a result, there is a reduction of 3.4% in the budget available to local government. As Lynne Neagle said, when one considers the fact that the budgets for health and education have been safeguarded—and we agree entirely with that—then the requirements on local government are so much more pressing. Local government in Wales will face some difficult decisions. The Welsh Local Government Association estimates that up to 10,000 jobs could disappear over the next few years—these are people who are directly employed by local authorities. We must bear in mind that, in some of our rural areas, the local authority is the main employer and is responsible for employing a large percentage of the workforce in those areas. This will also affect the private sector because, very often, local government procures from the private sector and generates jobs in that sector through that process. Therefore, we are facing an incredibly difficult situation.
We accept, Minister, that you had very few options in terms of the Welsh Government budget. I think that most of us were staggered by the contribution made by the Conservative spokesperson in the Chamber, which ignored entirely the fact that the context of this is the cuts imposed by the coalition Government in Westminster. That is what has created the financial situation faced by the Welsh Government and which is transferred through this settlement to local government. It is fair to say that many senior officers and chief executives in our local authorities are paid salaries that are far too high. Wales cannot afford to pay these kinds of salaries within local authorities or within the public sector more generally in Wales. We will have to look critically at salaries in the public sector in Wales because, over the years, they have increased to an entirely unreasonable extent in relation to the responsibilities of those individuals and in the context of what Wales as a nation can afford.
This settlement will mean that services will be under threat. Last week, I was discussing with a constituent the fact that he and his company were engaged to provide facilities to enable us to change the way that materials are collected and recycled in large parts of Carmarthenshire. The council saw an opportunity to make savings of £0.25 million in its expenditure, and the council decided that that service had to be done away with. That will mean that there will be no recycling service for that part of the county from now on. Therefore, Minister, we accept that you are in a difficult position, and that the budget does not provide you with many options, but we also realise that local government is facing an exceptionally difficult situation. We do realise that jobs will be lost and that services will also be lost.
The Welsh Government must work with local government in Wales in order to ensure that we do try to safeguard those basic services for the people of Wales. It is not enough to say, ’This is the situation that we have inherited from Westminster. That is the settlement; do the best you can’. We must see collaboration, and we must see planning for the future also, because this situation is going to exist into the future, and given the publication of the Williams report next week, we will need to see the Welsh Government taking action on the basis of those recommendations in order to safeguard the position of local government and the crucial services that it provides to the people of Wales to the future.
May I acknowledge the contribution of other Members in terms of the very difficult economic times that local government is facing today? I accept that the Assembly’s budget is suffering because of the cuts that have taken place there. There are many reasons why those cuts are taking place, but, of course, at the end of the day, how that budget is allocated is a matter for this Assembly and for the Minister, and the 3.4% cut in local government spending has effectively come about because of the decision to put more money into health. I do not think that anyone in this Chamber disagreed with that decision to put more money into health, but the outcome of that, effectively, is that local councils are having to make some very difficult decisions indeed over the next month in an attempt to balance their budgets. Those decisions are not just about next year, but future years as well. Of course, the Welsh Government and the Assembly do not deliver services directly, but we fund others to do so, and as a result of that the really difficult decisions are going to have to be made by councillors and by officers in terms of what they are going to be cutting to try to balance their budget. It is important—and I think Lynne Neagle made the point—that we do not add to the pressures on local government, and that, when we pass legislation and bring in new directives or things for local government to do, we make sure that they are fully funded—otherwise that does add to those pressures that officers have to meet.
I do say as well that I accept that we have protected local government for the last few years, and I think that has been very important. However, in a sense, that protection has meant that, for many councillors, it appears, the present cuts have for some reason come as a surprise, and it seems that some of the changes and cuts that they are imposing are effectively a result of being surprised, if you like, at the extent of the cuts.
I also wanted to refer to the Bevan Foundation’s contribution to this debate; it referred to the need for transformational change rather than salami-slicing. It seems to me that a lot of the changes and cuts that have been put in place are about trying to make the books balance without thinking through the need for innovation, without thinking through how you can deliver services better and in a more cost-effective way, and without looking at other options available to them. That is partly because they have left things until the last minute, but it is also down to the fact that councillors are not used to thinking in those terms in Wales, and we do need to start thinking in those terms. They have been forced to think in those terms in England, but they have not necessarily been forced to do so in Wales, and I think that they are going to have to look at how they do that.
So I think, Presiding Officer, that we are in a situation where everybody is in difficult times. The Welsh Government, of course, is promoting a number of policies that it is expecting local government to deliver. The pupil deprivation grant is one such policy, which is funded. My concern—I have expressed this before—is that councils will not deliver the full 1% in terms of extra funding for schools that the Welsh Government has asked them to deliver, and will use that pupil deprivation grant funding to offset that obligation. I hope that that does not happen. Also, of course, there is some hope, if you like, in terms of investment, because of the changes to the housing revenue account scheme, which will release more money back to local councils to invest. In terms of capital, although things are very difficult, they are not as bad as they are in terms of revenue. Local councils are able to continue some investment in their local areas and make sure that they maximise the level of that investment that is spent locally on local firms and creating local jobs.
At the end of the day, Presiding Officer, what we need here is investment in services, but investment in jobs and the economy. If we are to grow the economy then public services will respond to that, and jobs will be created. Yes, jobs will be lost, but we need to create other jobs, and we need to make sure of that. Wales has been lagging behind England in terms of creating those jobs, and we do need to catch up on that.
Given that this is a decision of the Welsh Government, in terms of how that money is allocated, we will be abstaining on this motion today. I accept that there is very little choice about the way in which the budget is set out, but I also think that the way in which the money in being allocated and dealt with at a local government level could be better. Councils need to think for the long term as well as in terms of how they will balance next year’s books.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate today.
In Powys, much has been made in the media over recent weeks regarding the political manoeuvrings of the various independent council groupings and their respective leaders. It has actually been quite depressing because the fact is that the political conspiracies and in-fighting have ensured that the council has taken its eye off the central and most important aspect, which is that of having to save £20 million over the coming financial year due to another appalling settlement. However, I should say that a new leader has been appointed with a good mandate and he has appointed his cabinet yesterday. I hope that that will bring stability to the council.
The Deputy Presiding Officer took the Chair at 17:31.
The financial circumstances that we find ourselves in, we all agree, are going to be with us, unfortunately, for some time to come. It is clear from work carried out by the Welsh Local Government Association that Welsh local authorities will have to deliver services in 2020 with the same level of funding that they had in 2000. We have come to the point where the funding formula has to be fundamentally reviewed. For local authorities representing significantly large parts of rural Wales, the funding pressures are even more acute.
Many might say, and I heard the Minister’s opening remarks, with the Williams commission reporting next week, that local government funding structures are going to be reformulated as a matter of course. However, putting those structures in place is going to take a number of years. However, rural authorities like Powys, and more importantly for the residents they serve, cannot wait that long.
I will briefly highlight the difficulties that Powys County Council is currently experiencing. Once again, it was on the receiving end of unprecedented cuts in local government finance. It is the seventh year in a row that it has received the largest budget cut of Welsh local authorities, with a reduction of 4.6% compared with a Wales average of 3.4%. It has to find £40 million of savings over the next three financial years. For an authority delivering vital local services across a very large geographical area—that is what is important—it will be very tough indeed.
The Minister responded to a debate last year more or less suggesting that the authority should be thankful that she has implemented a damping mechanism that has prevented the situation becoming far worse. However, with many local services under threat, I do not believe that the situation could be much worse. Powys is one of the largest local authority areas in Wales. One of its biggest assets is its beautiful landscapes and one of its key industries is tourism; yet, we have tourist information centres gone and public toilets about to close. Public transport—I have a growing postbag on this issue—is vital for many rural communities. It will be incredibly difficult, especially for the elderly across my constituency, when services are cut, which is the plan.
Yes, it is true to say that the formula is owned, in a sense, by local authorities through the expenditure sub-group, but it is Welsh Ministers who have the ultimate say and final sign-off. I have pressed the Minister previously that the weighting given to providing public services across a large and sparsely populated rural county is not adequately taken into account in the current formula. That needs to change.
I leave the Minister with this final point: if your colleague the Minister for health has ordered a review of the delivery of health services across mid Wales because of the pressure of rurality, then should you not consider doing the same?
I will start off by answering a couple of questions raised by Janet Finch-Saunders. The standard spending assessment takes into account all of the things that she named, and several others—probably a couple of hundred others. It is a hugely complicated formula. What used to happen—perhaps the Minister will confirm whether it still does—was that there was a distribution sub-group of the Welsh Local Government Association that used to meet with the Welsh Government’s civil servants and agree—almost always—a continuation of the formula. One year, it changed something: it used to be 52% for road length and 48% for population, but it made it 50% for each. All that did was take hundreds of thousands of pounds out of Cardiff and Swansea and put them into Pembrokeshire, Gwynedd and Powys. So, any movement that you happen to have can have huge effects.
The other question that Janet Finch-Saunders had was about high salaries in local government. I think that that is a serious problem. I have spoken about it on more than one occasion. I will say, though, that 20 years ago chief executives were on a salary set by the size of the authority and councillors’ allowances were set locally. Now it is the other way around. It was a Conservative Government—yes, a Conservative Government—that brought in the policy of allowing local authorities to set salaries so that they could attract ‘the best’ into local government. That is what has happened. That is why you had some people earning £250,000 or £300,000 in some authorities—although not in Wales; we have not quite got up to the English levels yet.
What we need is to see a situation where we get back to setting salaries against a standard level. I would hope that England would do exactly the same to solve the problems in its authorities as well.
What I had intended to start with was the cuts. They are made by the Westminster Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government and they are now making their way through to local government. The challenge for my party is to explain to the electorate that the cuts in local services are a direct result of the cuts being made at Westminster. The public sees these huge reductions being made by the Westminster Government—billions—but most people, and I include myself in this, would not know what a billion pounds look like. The challenge is to get people to identify these reductions as the cause of the closure of their local services, to blame the Westminster Government and not the local council. The cuts from Westminster lead directly to the cuts in their local services—it is the cuts from Westminster that are closing their libraries. Councillors do not want to cut; councils in general do not want to close things. They are elected mainly because they want to provide services.
The Welsh Government has protected local authority expenditure up until this year. The settlement for local government in Wales has been considerably better than that in England for the period of the 2010 spending review, thanks to the Welsh Labour Government and in spite of the cuts being imposed by the UK Government. The settlement for local government in Wales in 2014-15 still remains considerably better than the equivalent in England. The combination of—I was going to say ‘health pressures’, but what I really mean to say is that the combination of increased hospital costs, and a reduction in the Welsh block grant have led to a substantial reduction in local government expenditure.
Local authorities, in my experience, are no less efficient than other public sector bodies. Twice I have seen private sector organisations come into Swansea council and say that they can make substantial savings—one by changing practices, one via procurement and ICT. They both had one thing in common: they failed massively to make anywhere near the reductions that they predicted. With all these cuts, what has happened in England? Local residents were shocked when Somerset County Council began a consultation on withdrawing funding from over 20 libraries. The Conservative-controlled council needs to save £75 million over three years and proposed funding only 14 of its most-used libraries. Allendale Community Centre in Hanham Road, East Dorset District Council, costs £70,000 a year and is in serious danger of being closed. Research shows that a majority of Tory and Lib Dem-run councils, and a minority of Labour-controlled councils have cut youth services. A Labour-commissioned survey of just over two fifths of councils in England by the House of Commons Library revealed that 56% of Conservative or Lib Dem town halls reduced the amount spent on youth services in their area between 2008-9 and 2010-11. Meanwhile, 41% of Labour councils and 46% of those with no overall control did the same. Seven of the 10 councils that made the biggest cuts were—you will be surprised to find out—the Conservatives. However, not to take anything away from the Liberal Democrats, they managed to get the top place with Kingston upon Thames in south-west London.
Local authorities in Wales face increased social care costs and a need to protect education expenditure, but the areas for cuts are limited. The type of council facing the largest problems will be one with discretionary services contracted out and which has its contracts fixed, high debt to income ratios and a large number of discretionary services currently being provided. I have great sympathy for councillors in the difficult decisions that they have to make. These are difficult times for local government and the Welsh Government and I wish all local authorities the best.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Minister to reply to the debate.
I thank Members for their contributions. I will start with Janet Finch-Saunders and Russell George, who focused on the formula. However, in answer to Mike Hedges’s question, yes, the distribution sub-group does still exist, and there is a long-established principle that funding is distributed to local government on the basis of relative need to spend. It is done in conjunction with local government. We use the formula, which takes into account the needs of that particular local authority according to the demographic, physical and social characteristics of each area, such as population, pupil numbers, measures of deprivation and rurality. The formula is reviewed every year, and it is updated every year in detailed consultation with local government.
Janet Finch-Saunders is right to say that it is the Welsh Government that decides how to spend its budget, but we can give only what we have. I can give local government only what I have, and local government can spend only what it has; that is how it works. However, your hypocrisy knows no bounds: by your own admission, the Tories would cut local government budgets next year by a significant 12.5%. Therefore, in answer to you, Russell George, regarding whether things could get any worse in Powys, it absolutely could if you lot were in charge.
With the greatest respect, Minister, this is the seventh year in a row that Powys has had the largest cut of any local authority. Therefore, even with greater cuts to local authorities, does it not mean that rural councils like Powys will suffer because of the way that this Labour Government has acted in relation to Powys County Council over the last seven years?
Local government has not asked for the formula to be reviewed in the way in which you suggest.
Janet Finch-Saunders referred to the flexibility of the settlement; flexibility is really important, and I have worked very hard to make sure that local government has more flexibility. You asked me to speed up the review; it will be completed in March. It has been a very quick review and, once again, it has been done in consultation with local government.
We have protected local government funding over recent years, and a few Members mentioned this. It is important that we have done that, because it offers public services to the most vulnerable people, as Lynne Neagle referred to. She mentioned Torfaen County Borough Council and the way in which it has approached this budget, and I completely agree with her.
Rhodri Glyn Thomas referred to our budget and the extra spending that has gone to health and education. He also referred to senior officers’ pay, as did Mike Hedges. This is a matter for individual local authorities, and they will have to look at it very closely. However, they want to get the best people and the expertise, but they are competing with England—and I know that this is something that has been felt.
He talked about the workforce and, tomorrow, the First Minister and I will be meeting not only representatives from local government, but all public service workforce representatives to see how we can continue to work with them to mitigate the impact. It is inevitable that there will be an impact upon service provision and upon numbers, but we are committed to working very closely not only with local government but with all our public services.
Peter Black referred to the surprise that has been evident in some quarters of local government. I share his feeling and I am disappointed that they feel that, because I know, since taking up this portfolio in March, that I have pressed upon it the very difficult and unprecedented financial climate we are in. It will not go away; it is here for the next few years, so it is important that local authorities continue to use the relatively protected funding they have had over the past three years to continue that transformational change. When I visited local authorities over the summer—and I spent a significant time in local authorities—I saw innovation, particularly in health and social care and areas such as waste. They were coming up with innovative ways of delivering those public services. Therefore, I am very disappointed that some quarters feel that it has come as a surprise and that they have not pushed forward that transformational change as much as they should have done. I do not want to see local authorities salami-slicing services and certainly that is the message that I have given to them.
You referred to the policies that we expect local government to deliver, and it is important that, where we have given them more flexibility in relation to specific grants, there is an element of trust that they will deliver on those key policies. I have certainly done all I can to encourage local government to hold discussions with my ministerial colleagues in relation to their specific grants. I mentioned in my opening remarks that I have given over £30 million from my portfolio, from specific grants, into the RSG.
Mike Hedges is quite right that it is very hard to visualise £1 billion, but if you think that the Welsh Government budget will be cut by £1.7 billion over this term, you can see where our difficulties arise. However, I agree, as I hope that no-one goes into politics to cut services, and I, too, know how difficult it is for councillors and local authorities.
In conclusion, I believe that this settlement reflects a reasonable outcome for local government. It has been achieved in unprecedented circumstances, and I hope that it recognises our key commitment to investing in public services. I am now looking for local authorities to intensify efforts to achieve the transformational change needed in order for them to be able to sustain services and deliver the best outcomes for people across Wales. I commend this settlement to the Assembly.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There is objection, therefore I defer voting on this item until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the name of William Graham.
Motion NDM5394 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Notes the progress made on promoting equality and inclusion in 2012-13, as set out in the Welsh Government’s Annual Report on Equality, which was laid before the National Assembly for Wales on 13 December 2013.
I move the motion.
In view of the subject of this debate, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Presiding Officer in her absence on becoming a Dame in this year’s new year’s honours list, which recognises her tireless work to champion women and equality. Her work on increasing the visibility of women in Welsh public life is an inspiration to all, and includes leading an ongoing women in public life campaign to raise awareness of barriers facing women seeking to achieve leading positions in Wales.
Our commitment to achieving greater diversity in public appointments is set out in our programme for government and our strategic equality plan. Our progress in taking this forward is one of the many actions described in our annual report on equality. I am therefore pleased to present the Welsh Government’s annual report on equality for 2012-13.
Much work has been achieved through the reporting year, thus demonstrating a positive and genuinely cross-Government approach with a strong vision of inclusion and equality. The report details the positive actions that have been taken to make Wales a more sustainable and fairer nation, and builds on the actions this Welsh Government has taken in delivering our programme for government.
This is our fourteenth annual report and it brings together our statutory reporting requirements under the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Equality Act 2010 and the Welsh-specific equality duties into a single report, thus providing a complete picture of progress against our equality duties. Our commitment to equality of opportunity is enshrined not only in our governing legislation, but in our programme for government as well as the strategic equality plan, which reflects our top priorities for tackling inequality.
The annual report highlights what we have achieved in complying with our duty to promote equality of opportunity. This includes not only our strategic actions and policy commitments, but promoting equality of opportunity through our funding streams. The inclusion grant and advancing equality fund is just one example. This three-year grant was extended for a further year while a full review and consultation were undertaken on future equalities funding in Wales. This grant enabled 19 third sector organisations to develop projects operating in our diverse communities across Wales to make tangible improvements to the lives of individuals and communities as a whole.
The Welsh European Funding Office has further strengthened our actions in promoting equality by focusing resource on projects that directly improve equality on the ground, such as the project run by Sova that supports economically inactive or unemployed black and minority ethnic participants through skills development and confidence-building, as well as engaging with employers to provide employment opportunities.
Throughout the year, Ministers have engaged regularly with groups representing people with protected characteristics at many events and meetings. This has given us a good understanding of the needs of the people of Wales. We are committed to taking these views into account and reflecting them in our policies. We have several established fora through which we engage with groups representing people with protected characteristics. These include the Wales race forum, the disability equality forum and the faith communities forum. These meetings provide the Welsh Government with expert support and advice to help our understanding of the key issues and barriers facing people with protected characteristics.
This is the first year of reporting against our strategic equality plan objectives, and the report details the good progress that has been achieved. I would like to highlight that my Cabinet colleagues play an equal role in delivering against the statutory strategic equality plan objectives. To this end, the annual report clearly articulates the cross-cutting nature of equality and inclusion and the commitment of all Ministers to tackle barriers to equality in order to make Wales a fairer and more inclusive place. In this reporting period, we commissioned a review of advice services, which considered how services can be delivered consistently and universally across Wales.
The Get On with Science pilot project in 2012 specifically worked to widen the engagement of girls in STEM education, and our grant for the education of Gypsy and Traveller children, which is the lowest attaining learner group, supported over 2,000 learners in 19 local authorities. Over these 12 months, we have also been working with key business sectors to encourage more people from protected groups into roles where they are under-represented. For example, funding has been set aside to take forward initiatives to encourage girls into careers in engineering. We have developed frameworks on tackling hate crime and on independent living for disabled people, both demonstrating a strong ethic of direct and continued engagement with stakeholders. We have been actively working to improve diversity in our public appointments. Within this reporting period, a case study on the Sport Wales appointments process was undertaken. This involved evaluating current practice and instigating a more proactive approach to encouraging diversity. It resulted in an increase in the number of women who applied for public appointments and the number of women who were appointed to the Sport Wales board. It is encouraging to see the positive outcome that resulted from changes made to the appointments process.
This is only a very small number of examples from the actions and achievements in the annual report, which help detail the valuable progress that has been made. I am confident that the actions taken forward in this first year of the strategic equality plan demonstrate that we are working effectively towards the achievement of each of the objectives. It is still early days and we are aware that there is much yet to be done.
This year’s annual report is positive evidence of the progress that we are making in Wales to tackle barriers to equality and inclusion, and to promote equality of opportunity, thus working towards better social and economic outcomes for the citizens of Wales. In conclusion, I recognise the cross-party commitment to the public sector equality duty and the Welsh-specific equality duties, and I hope that Members will acknowledge the constructive actions presented in this year’s report.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have selected the four amendments to the motion and I call on Mohammad Asghar to move amendments 1, 2, 3 and 4, tabled in the name of William Graham.
Amendment 1—William Graham
Add as new point at the end of the motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to encourage the development of domestic abuse workplace policies for public sector employees.
Amendment 2—William Graham
Add as new point at the end of the motion:
Believes that victims of sex crimes should have the right to be informed when their attacker is released from custody, including the conditions of their release, and that this right should be included in the forthcoming Ending Violence Against Women and Domestic Abuse Bill.
Amendment 3—William Graham
Add as new point at the end of the motion:
Recognises the need to ensure that support services for victims of sexual violence are of a consistent standard and are available throughout Wales.
Amendment 4—William Graham
Add as new point at the end of the motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to consider introducing an Access to Elected Office for Disabled People Fund such as that introduced by the UK Government.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I move amendments 1, 2, 3 and 4.
I welcome this fourteenth annual report by the Minister and fully support the aim of removing discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, gender, race, religion and sexual orientation. The Welsh Government’s strategic equality plan sets out eight equality objectives, and I would like to address in my remarks this afternoon some of these objectives.
The first is violence against women, domestic abuse, hate crime and elder abuse. The proposed ending violence against women Bill provides an opportunity to deliver real change in the lives of women in Wales. We know that nearly 50,000 incidents of domestic abuse were reported to police in 2011-12. This figure is likely to be underestimated due to the under-reporting of this issue. A key priority is to recognise the victims of domestic abuse and encourage them to report incidents to the police.
Since nearly two thirds of public sector employees are women, the effective implementation of workplace policies to identify and support victims of domestic abuse is vital. Around 200,000 people who work in the Welsh public sector services are now covered by a domestic abuse workplace policy. Such schemes should be encouraged throughout Wales. Schools should have a fully trained member of staff with the expertise to recognise children who exhibit the damaging signs of having witnessed domestic abuse and to provide assistance to those children.
Victims of sexual violence should have the right to know when the perpetrator is released and the condition of their release. We also need to tackle the huge inconsistencies in the standard and availability of support services for women who have suffered sexual violence.
Incidents of hate crimes are likely to be under-reported. In 2011-12, over 1,800 incidents of hate crimes were reported to the police. Race Council Cymru, however, states that only one fifth of racist incidents and hate crimes are reported, Minister. The police must ensure that hate crime is properly recorded and dealt with accordingly. Some health and social care professionals tend not to consider domestic violence as an issue for an older woman. It is possible that injuries sustained by older women are assumed the result of age-related conditions, rather than of violence. We must ensure that these professionals are fully aware and trained to deal with such cases.
Independent advocacy services for older people must be extended, Minister. Research by Age Cymru in October 2012 revealed that there was only one paid advocate per 15,000 older people in Wales. Older people in Wales need the support that independent advocates provide to ensure that their voices are heard in the social care system. They normally have problems, whether that is with age, language, or disability, in that they cannot actually transfer or pass on their problems to the authorities. That should be looked at very seriously, so that they can have their problems understood and solved immediately, rather than dragging on.
I would like to say a few words about the public sector equality duty, Minister. Less than 5.5% of public sector board members identify themselves as disabled. More work needs to be done to widen participation in decision making to ensure that public sector bodies are more representative of the communities that they serve. I urge the Welsh Government to allow the UK Government to lead and introduce an access to elected office for disabled people fund to assist disabled people with the costs incurred in standing for election in Wales. It is very hard for disabled people at the moment to stand for any election, whether local or national elections. They are having more problems than able-bodied people. So, Minister, that also has to be looked at—
Will you take an intervention on that point?
Yes, go on.
Explain to me then how I have managed to be elected and successfully re-elected as a disabled person.
Ann, you are very fortunate that your disability is only on a minor scale. There are people in wheelchairs and they are not that fortunate. I would, rather, say that there are people with disabilities and there is always equality. We have to work—
May I make a point of order afterwards, please?
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have time in this debate to call you, if you send an e-mail.
I find the strategic equality plan objectives, as set out on page 29 of the report, very useful. They enable us to see exactly what the Government is trying to set out to do. I congratulate the Government on the very significant progress that has been made in the public appointments process—over half the public appointees have been women, which, of course, roughly reflects the population. Also, roughly 4% of appointees have been from BME communities, which also reflects the size of the BME community in Wales. That is excellent news. I am interested that only 12% of appointees in our public appointments process are identified as disabled; that is something on which we could perhaps do a bit more work. Obviously, not everybody will want to declare their disability, but it would be a terrible assumption for any of us to make that, because somebody is disabled, they are not capable of achieving to the highest level. Of course, not everybody is a Stephen Hawking, but nevertheless we have to ensure that everybody is given the opportunity of a decent education to achieve to their highest ability and has the opportunity of the dignity of work.
That means that organisations, including government, need to change to make it possible for people to have equal opportunities. I am absolutely shocked at the attitude of the DWP in relation to constituents of mine who, because they are dyslexic, have failed to turn up at the right place to sign on and have then had their benefits deducted for a whole month. I do not think that it is complying with the Equalities Act when it does that. Quite how someone who has nothing—no savings, no assets and no family living locally—is supposed to survive without any benefits for a whole month is something that I am yet to reconcile. The obvious answer, of course, is that they rely on local friends, the local community and food banks to get them through, but it should not be like that, and the DWP emphasis on tracking jobseekers’ efforts to find work by forcing them to do job searches online does not make any exception for or consideration of either dyslexia or the poor literacy levels that are suffered by some 20% to 30% of the population.
In contrast to that, almost, disability blindness, I am celebrating the fact that in Wales we have a strategic objective to tackle barriers and support disabled people so that they can live independently. I am very struck by the positive role model of Liz Carr, who plays Clarissa Mullery in ‘Silent Witness’. It is very unusual to have somebody who is disabled depicted in a leading role without it being about them being disabled. The fact is that she is the smartest character on the team, whose physical limitations enable her to analyse the evidence and come up with conclusions that those running around like whirling dervishes have missed. The screenwriter for ‘Silent Witness’, Tim Prager, interestingly, has a son with cerebral palsy and he was really keen to have a visibly disabled character to address that gap in our cultural horizons. He quite rightly says that limiting horizons is the greatest outrage, and that it happens because most people do not have any experience of success around disability. Therefore, I think that Liz Carr playing the Clarissa Mullery character is an important way of giving positive role models to somebody who happens to be disabled.
I would like to see a much clearer strategy for how we develop our accessible schools, so that parents can track the journey that their children are going to be making through the education system. The assumption has to be that they will normally be integrated with their peers in the local community wherever possible and where it is in their best interest. One of my constituents, who is extremely physically disabled, and who spends all of his time at school in a wheelchair, has had a full-time support carer but has been offered a place at Oxford. Is that not fantastic? What a fantastic role model he is.
I was interested to see, in the latest annual report on equality, that there is a section on procurement. I thought that that was good. It was quite fascinating. I had not seen it before. Members here will know that it is an issue that we in Plaid Cymru have been pursuing for many months. In fact, a freedom of information question to one major public sector organisation—I will not mention the national museum—has revealed a pretty dismal record on its use of Welsh companies; in fact, it has a lucrative 10-year contract in which its caterers only have to use up to 24% of Welsh produce. That is worse than the Welsh Government, which managed to attain only 40%, by the way. Therefore, it is all very well to have the public sector duty as part of the Welsh Government’s equality strategy, but I have to ask, Minister, what steps will the Welsh Government take to ensure that Welsh companies are not forced out of the competition for contracts when they can clearly offer high-quality services at competitive costs? Surely, in the current economic climate affecting us in Wales, Welsh companies should, in fact, enjoy at least a degree of positive discrimination, which would also increase employment opportunities.
While we are on the subject, why was I given a totally unacceptable reply from the relevant Minister when I asked why a contract for a basic piece of research was awarded to the University of Lancaster, when the research could have been carried out by any one of our Welsh universities? Perhaps the Welsh Government should make sure that it puts its own house in order first.
The pages on disability in the report, while good, merely gave an account of work in progress. There is no information on how the Welsh Government has helped disabled people to gain access to employment. I would have liked to have seen more on that, Minister. We all know that 23% of the working-age population in Wales is disabled, yet there are more than four times more non-disabled people than disabled people in employment or in education. Even if disabled people are in employment we all know that they are usually lower paid than non-disabled people. What will the Welsh Government do about this glaring inequality? I would have liked to have seen more on that, Minister. Obviously, all—or most—of us in this Chamber condemn those examples where very seriously disabled people have been wrongly assessed as being capable of working. The fact does remain that disabled people in Wales still suffer from blatant discrimination. I am afraid that that is mainly down to the Tory-Lib Dem Government and Atos. There is a sign as you drive out of this area saying ‘Atos kills’. I thought that it was a little dramatic when I first saw it, but we have all read in the newspapers about the cases of people who have taken their own lives as a result of Atos.
I would also like to ask why, when the Welsh Government claims to be so keen to champion equality in our society, the Welsh Government has continued to dismiss the idea of establishing the post of disability commissioner. We have, quite rightly, commissioners for children, older people and the Welsh language, but why are disabled people not regarded as having an equal claim to have someone appointed to look after their interests? It is no good fobbing us off, as the First Minister has done, by saying that the Government prefers to focus on the framework for independent living. When I first raised the question of appointing a disability commissioner, when I was first elected to the Senedd, the First Minister said that it was an interesting idea. Now, this seems to have become a political issue. Is this because it is Plaid Cymru that put forward this proposal? I really hope not, because I can assure the First Minister that we have the backing of a good number of third-sector organisations that are supporting our submission of a Bill to appoint such a commissioner.
I will conclude by saying that, by the next annual report, we might be looking for more results than merely listing a number of equality-focused issues. I think that we have some work to do in Wales on equality, because I believe that we have lost the confidence of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Wales over the Ugandan issue. We have to accept the explanation of the First Minister, and I am not in any way—I can assure you—doubting the First Minister’s integrity. That has never been my bag in politics and it never will be. However, he is not a charity worker or a volunteer simply helping on projects; the Wales-Africa project is a brilliant project. He is the leader of the Government of a British nation, with many issues to consider when making foreign trips. I believe that he did this country a disservice by not speaking out when he had the opportunity to do so. If he felt that he could not speak out, he could have made the decision, as First Minister, not to go to Uganda. Many world leaders are refusing to attend to the Sochi Winter Olympics because of the Russian treatment of LGBT people, yet our First Minister goes to Uganda—
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Order. Conclude with this, please.
That country has just passed legislation that imposes a life sentence on gay people. I will conclude by quoting Pastor Niemöller.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
You do not have much time.
‘They came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.’
I am very pleased to speak in this debate. This seems like an opportunity to say that a lot has been achieved, but there is still a lot to do. I want to talk very briefly about a situation where legislation has a disproportionate effect on certain groups in the community. There have been two bits of legislation recently that have particularly affected Gypsies and Travellers. One of these was a Bill from this Assembly, and the other was from Westminster, namely the Control of Horses (Wales) Bill and the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013.
I am very pleased that the Minister, Alun Davies, has committed on the Control of Horses (Wales) Bill to an action plan and guidance where there will be consultation with Gypsy and Traveller horse owners. I am very pleased that I was able to chair a meeting with the Minister and his officials before Christmas, and that there will be another meeting on Thursday this week. This will look at the wider issues of what this Bill means to the law-abiding Gypsy and Traveller communities that look after their horses well and want to ensure that they are able to continue to do so. The fact that there was no Stage 1 for this Bill, which I know had to be brought in urgently because of the animal welfare considerations, meant that there was no early consultation with Gypsies and Travellers on the implications for their way of life. However, I am pleased that that commitment has been developed and that these meetings are taking place with the responsible Minister.
However, the UK’s Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 from the Westminster Government became law on 1 December. Again, this has major implications for the Gypsy and Traveller way of life. The purpose of the Act was to stop metal theft, and I think that that is something that we would all support. However, I do not think that there was any consultation at all—none that I could find—from the Westminster Government with Gypsies and Travellers about the effect of this Act. Many Gypsies and Travellers are currently working as scrap metal merchants and dealers. They fulfil a very important role in recycling waste and, for some of them, there was no knowledge at all that this legislation was coming into effect. Given low literacy levels, it is absolutely essential that a proactive effort is made in reaching out to communities like the Gypsy and Traveller community when making legislation that has a disproportionate effect on them. The first that I knew of this scrap metal Act was when Gypsies and Travellers came to see me here at the Senedd. That day was the deadline for them to be able to apply for a transitional licence to carry on doing their work. It was too late, basically, for them to get the licences that they urgently needed.
Some local authorities are now taking a very proactive approach. Cardiff certainly is. Cardiff Council came here to meet with Gypsy and Traveller representatives in order to get a fast-track method going, as far as was possible, with specific officers who would help Gypsies and Travellers to fill in forms. Many of them are now getting licences in Cardiff, but I do not know how that is happening over the rest of Wales. The scrap metal Act, in particular, illustrates that you can have all of the right equality proposals, you can have a perfect equal opportunities scheme and you can have everything there in principle, but when it comes down to the ground and it is not recognised that you have to have proactive methods to reach out to people, none of that will mean anything. Something like the scrap metal Act can have a huge, disproportionate effect on this group. The result of that is that there is more suspicion of authorities, and that the groups become even more marginalised. In fact, at the meeting about the scrap metal Bill that we held here before Christmas, all the Gypsies and Travellers, a lot of them fathers and sons, were going to sign on at the jobcentre for the first time in their lives, because they had been able to work as scrap metal dealers until this legislation came in. It was not aimed at them—I do not think there was any intention of aiming it at them—but they just were not taken into consideration. That is an example of how we should not do legislation, and we must be aware of the impact that legislation has. It is very important to consider that in this annual report.
I think the one thing that is clear from this very thorough report is the wide range of activities and schemes that the Welsh Government is embarking on in terms of dealing with the equality duty, which we all have, in fact—it is not just a matter for the Welsh Government; the entire Welsh Assembly has that duty. The way that that is being delivered is right and proper, and certainly, on behalf of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, we very much support the work that is ongoing to deliver on that.
If I could just pick up a point that Lindsay Whittle made in relation to Atos, it is very easy to scapegoat people, and I think that Atos has a lot to answer for in the way that it has actually delivered in terms of benefits for disabled people, but it is not always just Atos. In the time that I have had dealing with appeals for people who claim benefits, a lot of the problem is about how the DWP officials interpret the advice that they get from Atos and the rules that are being applied to that advice. So, it is the system as a whole that, effectively, is designed to try to stop people getting benefits, as opposed to one particular part of that system causing the problem. I think that that is an issue that needs to continue to be picked up at a UK level. Of course, Atos was given the contract well before the present Government was in power, but of course it has been continued by the present Government. Certainly, the way that the benefits system is being administered, particularly for those with disabilities, does need to be reviewed. I repeat what I have said previously: that, in my view, in terms of the changes to housing benefit, people with disabilities should be excluded from those changes as well. I think that it is important that people are supported when they have a disability and are not penalised for it.
In terms of a number of issues that arise from this report, we had a debate last October on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s annual report, ‘Working together to strengthen equality and human rights in Wales’, and, of course, some of the issues in that report are also coming through in this annual report, and in some of the amendments to this motion. In particular, the third amendment that has been put forward by the Conservatives is about ensuring that support services for victims of sexual violence are of a consistent standard and available throughout Wales, and that is always going to be a huge challenge, I think, particularly as we do not always deliver those services ourselves, in terms of making sure that that happens. There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of putting that in place, and certainly I know the Minister is committed to ensuring that consistency is in place. Certainly, that is something that does need to continue to be addressed.
In relation to hate crime, the media has only just this week been reporting on that problem, with ‘The Independent’ focusing on race hate on Monday,
‘a crime the police will not solve’.
The article notes the same problems that we have noted here in Wales, and in previous debates, of groups with specific characteristics not having the confidence in the criminal justice system to report crimes. Of more concern, hate crimes are not always being investigated, with very few court cases or convictions. Police apparently do not want the statistics to reflect badly on them, so they do not welcome the reporting of those crimes, and, I think, in some cases actively discourage the reporting of hate crimes. Although the police statistics cover England and Wales, I am pleased to say that in Wales there has to be some action on this. Wrexham County Borough Council, for example, has been running a fantastic campaign to combat hate crime since August 2011, and a charity and the police force, with support from that council, have been urging victims to report abuse. Certainly, when we discussed disability-related harassment here in Wales, again for a report by the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, that issue of underreporting, with people being reluctant to report because they felt they were being ignored or not believed, was an issue. I think that is characteristic of that particular problem. Clearly, there are still issues of people having confidence in the system to bring forward their problems and complaints to the authorities, because they feel that the authorities are not going to support them in that.
I will briefly refer to the amendments. The Welsh Liberal Democrats will be supporting all four of the amendments. In relation to amendment 4 on an access to elected office for disabled people fund, which was referred to earlier by Mohammad Asghar, it currently offers grants of between £250 and £20,000 to disabled people standing for election to cover disability-related costs. That is a very empowering fund that certainly needs to be replicated in Wales because it is not already available in Wales. It is important that we have that representation and diversity among our elected officials, as well as in jobs and positions in quangos, local authorities and other public sector bodies.
I will try to be brief because quite a lot of what I have to say has been said already, with some exception. We are all agreed that equality is something that we should see mainstreamed. Every aspect of our lives has to have equality in it. That applies to everyone, not just in Wales, but throughout the UK and, as Lindsay said, internationally. I think that the Welsh Government has already gone a long way to do work on equality issues and leads by example. We promote equality for all. I think that the First Minister was very successful in looking at international equality when he recently visited Uganda. There are a couple of issues that I would like to address. As I say, just because I am only going to talk about two or three issues it does not mean that there are not many more.
There is the question of gender and the continuing inequalities that women face in terms of employment and pay. There are key differences between men and women in the world of employment. We all know that. Economic activity is higher for women and women are three times more likely to work part time. Earnings are also likely to be less. Women have been hit hard during the recession due to the UK Government’s cuts. Childcare provision is one of the issues that can hamper women as they strive for equality and this must continue to be one of the Welsh Government’s top priorities in this area. The Flying Start programme is invaluable in helping families in disadvantaged communities. I welcome the investment that the Welsh Government has put in, including in my own constituency in Holywell. We must, as people have said, encourage far more women into public appointments and support them when they get there, and strive to encourage more women to enter politics at all levels. In this way, we can ensure that all government represents gender in society in an equitable way.
Disability has been mentioned. It is quite hard to look at someone and identify what their disability is. For example, there are many people who many people would not recognise as having a disability, but they do. That is the sort of attitude that we have to be very careful of. Disabled people are often excluded and disadvantaged in society and are at a greater risk of living in poverty. As people have said already, this is being exacerbated by welfare reform. Measures to improve independent living and economic and social inclusion for people with disabilities must remain at the forefront of Welsh Government policy.
Finally, on issues affecting the LGBT community, it is depressing to note that, in the ‘How fair is Wales?’ report in 2011, it was highlighted that people in Wales are among the least likely in the UK to agree that anti-gay prejudice should be tackled; a fifth thought that a lesbian or gay person was unsuitable to be a teacher; 70% thought it was acceptable for a bed and breakfast establishment to turn down a booking from a lesbian or gay couple; and, more than a quarter would be unhappy about a close relative marrying or forming a long-term partnership with someone of the same sex. I am pleased to say that the Government is trying hard to change these attitudes. I hope that every one of us here will work hard to try to change those attitudes. Speaking as an Assembly Commissioner, in the Commission, we have worked very hard in this place to see that those outmoded, out-dated and absolutely disgraceful attitudes do not continue here in Wales.
There is much to commend in this report, but we cannot rest on our laurels. I have said it many times: to make Wales a fairer nation where hate, prejudice, economic and social inequalities become things of the past, we cannot rest on our laurels and say that we are there. We will not know when we are there. We have to keep working and keep working hard, year on year. However, I do welcome this report.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister to reply to the debate.
I will start by thanking Assembly Members for their generally helpful contributions to the discussion on the annual report. In terms of the amendments proposed by Mohammad Asghar, I am content to support amendments 1, 3 and 4. However, I oppose amendment 2, and I will explain why. We are serious about tackling all forms of violence against women. The Welsh Government has led the way in promoting the need for violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence workplace policies across the Welsh public service. The majority of public service organisations in Wales, including the Welsh Government, have now implemented or reviewed their workplace policies on domestic abuse, violence against women and sexual violence.
In terms of amendment 2, we agree with the introduction of Clare’s law by the UK Government, which enables people to check the police record of their partners and therefore allows potential victims to make informed decisions about their future. However, this is a criminal justice matter and is reserved by the UK Government. It is therefore outside the competence of the National Assembly for Wales, and cannot be included in our ending violence against women and domestic abuse Bill.
Mohammad Asghar also referred to violence against women and domestic abuse more generally. We recognise the need to ensure that support services for victims of sexual violence are of a consistent quality, that they are delivered in the right geographical areas and that there is sufficient capacity to meet demand. It is for this reason that my colleague the Minister for Local Government and Government Business commissioned an independent review of all violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence services in Wales.
I will not address Members in the order that they spoke, but will offer some comments on contributions. Peter Black, I am very grateful for your general support for the report. I accept your point—and it is something that we need to look at—that it is the system in terms of the assessment of disabled people that is, perhaps, inappropriate. That needs to be looked at further. Clearly, we need to link all of our work to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report. I can tell you that, on the issue of hate crime, the consultation has now been completed on the draft framework, and I will be making an announcement on the final framework very soon. That will certainly include the issue of reporting arrangements.
We are committed to assisting all underrepresented groups to engage with political life. This is why my colleague the Minister for Local Government and Government Business has appointed an expert group on local government diversity, which I understand is due to report to her shortly. The access to elected office for disabled people fund is currently under evaluation by the UK Government. When we have received the evaluation, we can then consider whether to adopt a similar scheme in relation to Assembly or local elections in Wales.
In relation to the points made by Lindsay Whittle, I cannot comment on procurement policy; that is not a matter for me. However, in terms of independent living and disabled people accessing employment, I can say that that is a clear strand within the independent living action plan, and it is a matter that we will monitor closely. The disability commissioner has not been called for by the disability forum. I remember raising this issue with the forum and it was not seen as a priority for it, although, naturally, it is a matter that we keep under review.
I will link in here the points that Sandy Mewies made in terms of attitudes towards LGBT people and the prejudices that are still all too apparent in Welsh public life. This is a matter that concerns us greatly and is very much a part of the hate-crime framework. I agree with your comments about the First Minister’s visit to Uganda, which was a first-class visit, and I cannot see why Lindsay Whittle drew a parallel between the visit to the Wales for Africa programme to meet volunteers and charity workers in Uganda with visits to the Russian Winter Olympics. I am afraid that that has passed me by.
Julie Morgan’s points on Gypsies and Travellers were well made. It is clear that there is a need for greater consultation on legislation on this matter. Jenny Rathbone was supportive of the annual report and particularly of the issue of equality objectives and the clarity those provided in terms of what we are seeking to achieve. It illustrates the practical differences made in 12 months towards a fair and inclusive Wales. I should point it out: 51% of the people in Wales are women and it is absolutely crucial that those opportunities are improved. You also made a particular point about the problems of people suffering from dyslexia and about the fact that, very often, it is not allowed for. I am dyslexic and I have suffered from that all my life. It is a matter I have to cope with. Even when I am delivering a prepared speech, it will, at times, jumble up in front of my eyes. Hopefully, it is not too obvious. Indeed, even when answering questions, my ability to recall facts is not as fast as I would like it to be, but that is something that I just have to cope with and there is no reason why people should necessarily be held back.
In conclusion, the equality objectives seek to address long-standing ingrained and often intergenerational inequalities for those with protected characteristics. It is therefore essential that our actions through the equality objectives have a long-term focus to address these inequalities. We will continue to build on the progress made, and I look forward to continued working with ministerial colleagues over the coming years to make equality and inclusion in Wales a reality.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree amendment 1. Does any Member object? There are no objections. Amendment 1 is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Amendment 1 agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree amendment 2. Does any Member object? There is objection. I defer all further voting until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have had notice of a point of order, and I call Ann Jones.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I rise to ask you to clarify whether Mohammad Asghar did in fact break Standing Order 13.9(iv) or 13.9(v) when he referred to my disability as being ‘minor’. I wonder whether you would rule as to whether that was courteous behaviour in the Chamber.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Do you wish to say anything, Mohammad?
Deputy Presiding Officer, I did not mean to hurt her. I actually wanted to say in this context that I would like to see more disabled people in this Chamber rather than able bodies. If I hurt her, I apologise for that.
It is not the first time.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Order. I would encourage Members to go the extra mile to be courteous to people. That sometimes means that, when a discourtesy has been perceived and is pointed out, you can apologise in a full and appropriate manner, if you think that is appropriate. I did not call the Member to order at the time because I regarded the remarks as tactless rather than discourteous with intent. I will however review the matter and I will come back on that if it is necessary to do so. I really do think that this place works best when we are courteous to each other and do not judge other people’s levels of disability or illness or whatever barriers they may have had to overcome. It is really not for us to assess those for others, especially when they dispute that assessment.
Thank you. Could I come back on that, Presiding Officer?
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I think I have made the position clear as I saw it at the time. As I said, I will review the Record and I will come back on that if necessary.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Before I proceed, are there three Members who wish for the bell to be rung? There are not.
Result of the vote on motion NDM5396
Motion agreed: For 28, Against 12, Abstain 15.
Result of the vote on amendment 2 to motion NDM5394.
Amendment not agreed: For 27, Against 28 Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 3 to motion NDM5394.
Amendment agreed: For 55, Against 0, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 4 to motion NDM5394.
Amendment agreed: For 44, Against 1, Abstain 10.
Motion NDM5394 as amended:
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Notes the progress made on promoting equality and inclusion in 2012-13, as set out in the Welsh Government’s Annual Report on Equality, which was laid before the National Assembly for Wales on 13 December 2013.
2. Calls on the Welsh Government to encourage the development of domestic abuse workplace policies for public sector employees.
3. Recognises the need to ensure that support services for victims of sexual violence are of a consistent standard and are available throughout Wales.
4. Calls on the Welsh Government to consider introducing an Access to Elected Office for Disabled People Fund such as that introduced by the UK Government.
Result of the vote on motion NDM5394 as amended.
Motion NDM5394 as amended agreed: For 55, Against 0, Abstain 0.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
That concludes today’s business.
The meeting ended at 18:36.