The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call the Assembly to order.
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, and the first question, Jayne Bryant.
Major Energy Infrastructure Projects
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the economic benefits of major energy infrastructure projects in Wales? OAQ(5)0008(EI)
Yes. Major energy infrastructure projects are enormously beneficial to the Welsh economy. Energy is one of our most important economic imperatives. We have the potential in Wales for £50 billion of investment in low-carbon electricity production over the next 10 to 15 years.
Firstly, I’d like to welcome Newport High School to the Chamber today, who are keeping an eye on us, from my constituency. Tidal lagoons create clean, green, eternal energy as consistent as the tide on which it relies. As large-scale energy infrastructure projects, with plans to build tidal lagoons in Cardiff, Newport, and Swansea, they will also create hundreds of jobs. Will the Cabinet Secretary work with UK Government to ensure these projects go ahead, and discuss ways to utilise the local workforce so the benefits can be felt environmentally, socially and economically?
Absolutely, and can I thank the Member for her question and her keen interest in this subject? The sort of development we’re talking about could offer lifelong careers for the young people who are joining us in the gallery today, from the Member’s constituency. We recognise the opportunity that tidal energy generation presents for the economy of Wales, and I hope to have an early meeting with Swansea bay tidal lagoon to discuss the economic aspects of the project. Now, whilst the UK Government’s independent review of tidal lagoon is under way, my officials are continuing to regularly engage with Tidal Lagoon Power and the UK Government to ensure Welsh businesses, and, specifically the local economy, gain the maximum benefit from the project.
Cabinet Secretary, can I assure you you’ll get support from all sides of the Assembly in these efforts? Because what tidal energy offers us is a chance to really get there ahead of the game, lead the world eventually in harnessing this powerful source of energy, and the engineering and the skills that are needed to develop it. And, in particular, if the Swansea lagoon doesn’t go ahead, if this project is not successful, we should renew our efforts to see and develop where this technology will be effective around the coast of Wales.
Yes, and can I thank the Member for his question, and also for support for this scheme right across the Chamber? The energy environment sector in Wales is enormously important to our future. It employs at the moment somewhere in the region of 58,000 people and provides opportunities for more than 2,000 companies, with a turnover of more than £2.3 billion. I’m very keen to ensure that, as we develop a new economic strategy for Wales, one based on a central pillar of prosperity and security, we make sure that energy security is at the very core of that strategy.
I concur fully with the comments already made on tidal lagoon and, the potential for Wales, economically and as a world-class leader in this source of energy creation. The Cabinet Secretary will know that major energy infrastructure is often defined in terms of energy generation, but I want to ask the Minister what longer term thought is being given to energy efficiency as a major energy infrastructure. The Welsh Labour Government is to be commended for its steadfast support of energy efficiency initiatives targeted at domestic customers and businesses, and at public sector organisations; the increased investment in the Welsh Government Warm Homes initiative, helping to tackle fuel poverty; the information, advice and support through Resource Efficient Wales; support for businesses through Business Wales, and so on, and so on. Yet the Welsh Government know more than most—in fact, they mention it in their recent strategy—that the gap between our ambition and reality on energy efficiency will take some bridging. So, does the Cabinet Secretary see any role for defining energy efficiency as major infrastructure as one way to bridge that gap, tackle fuel poverty, help decarbonisation by reducing the need to build more power stations, and generating capacity?
Absolutely, and can I thank the Member for his question, and for rightly pointing out that we’ve got a proud record of supporting domestic and business energy efficiency schemes in Wales? The Member may be interested to know that we have large-scale, state-aid-compliant energy efficiency projects that are now being designed and approved by Europe that offer innovative solutions that could be very important to energy-intensive industries, such as steel. And, as I reflect as well on my answer to David Melding, I would say that, in terms of domestic energy efficiency, that would also form a core aspect of the new economic strategy, and in particular energy security.
Cross-border Transport Co-operation
2. Will the Minister make a statement on cross-border transport co-operation? OAQ(5)0011(EI)
Yes. I fully recognise the importance of cross-border connectivity for the social and economic benefit of both sides of the border. We are engaged with various partners across all modes to seek to maximise the benefits that connectivity can bring across the whole of Wales.
Thank you for your answer, Cabinet Secretary. I hope you will be aware of a long-standing issue in my constituency for a proposed bypass for the Llanymynech and Pant area, and I have been in previous correspondence with your predecessor, Edwina Hart, on this. I recently met with Andrew Jones, the transport Minister from the UK Government, in Llanymynech with community representatives. He certainly expressed a willingness to meet with you to discuss this specific project. Would you agree to that meeting, and also would you agree to perhaps provide some information on progress on the specific scheme?
Yes, I would agree to that meeting, and I’d like to thank the Member for bringing this to my attention. I know that he’s given it considerable focus in his time as Assembly Member, and we’re continuing to work with Highways England regarding that particular stretch, and we will continue to meet with them to promote joint working and to develop feasibility studies for future cross-border schemes. Also, my officials are taking into account the work of Highways England on their A5 corridor study, as the outcome could have implications for the scheme that the Member raises.
Cabinet Secretary, you’ll know as well as I do that for north Wales to prosper economically, we not only need strong and effective transport links across the region, but across the border with our near neighbours in the north-west of England. Improvement to road links like the A55 and A494 are critical, but we also need a wider transport plan to support crucial cross-border economic collaboration with the north-west of England. Will you therefore provide an update on the development of the north-east Wales metro alongside to boost cross-border economic co-operation?
Can I thank the Member for her question, and say that the economy of north Wales has phenomenal potential? It is our gateway to the world and we wish to see it take flight. We have begun work to advance the development of a north-east Wales metro system. It’s important that we have connectivity across the whole of the region to maximise the opportunities further west and to provide reliable, efficient and quality connectivity south and across the border. Outline proposals are being prepared, and we will be setting out that vision within the first 100 days of this Government. Likewise, I’m keen to ensure that cross-border economic development is a focus of my work, and I intend to host a summit in July for interested parties on both the Welsh and English side of the border.
Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet, rydych yn ymwybodol nad wyf wedi bod yn Aelod o’r Cynulliad yma am bum mlynedd—roedd pum mlynedd o fwlch—ond, rwy’n cofio gofyn yn y Trydydd Cynulliad ynglŷn â’r angen dybryd i drydaneiddio’r rheilffordd rhwng Llundain ac Abertawe. Yn y cyfamser, rwy’n gweld fawr ddim datblygiad yn y maes yna. A allaf i gael diweddariad ynglŷn â’r cynllun i drydaneiddio’r rheilffordd o Lundain i Abertawe?
First of all, can I welcome the Member back to the Chamber, and say that rail electrification is crucially important to the economy of south Wales, indeed, to the economy of the whole of Wales, and I’ll be pleased to be able to present Members with a written update on this matter?
The Severn crossing tolls on the border are a restriction on the south Wales economy and a cause of congestion. Would you agree with me that we should see those crossings become the responsibility of the Welsh Government as quickly as possible and, when that is the case, that those tolls should be abolished to ease that restriction on the local economy, and, indeed, end what is a long-running injustice that has annoyed an awful lot of people and organisations for a long time?
Can I thank the Member for his question and say that we declared very publicly that we believe the tolls should be in the hands of the Welsh Government. Now, it’s estimated that removing the tolls would boost productivity in Wales by something in the region of £100 million or more every year, and I can see no justification for continuing to disadvantage Welsh businesses once the concession ends. Now, it’s our intention, were we able to, to reduce levels of the tolls, alleviating the burden on the economy, but the Member also points out rightly that the tolls are a cause of congestion. So, we also need to ensure that if we remove that cause of congestion, we don’t simply add to the burden and the troubles that are caused at Brynglas tunnels and, instead, we make sure that we resolve the M4 as well.
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I now call on the party spokespeople to ask questions of the Cabinet Secretary, and first this week, the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Adam Price.
Diolch, Lywydd. Can I first of all formally congratulate the Cabinet Secretary on his appointment and wish him every success in what is a vitally important role?
Now, you can’t manage what you don’t measure, so the saying goes. When it became clear that Wales was not going to meet the target of closing the gap, relative to the UK, for gross value added, instead of changing the strategy, one of his predecessors as economy Minister decided instead to change the target.
Now, in the last term, the Government described gross disposable household income per head in its annual report as the best single measure of economic well-being. Given the fact that, in the latest figures, Welsh GDHI, relative to the UK, has fallen for the last two years for which figures are available—it’s now down to its lowest level since 2002—will the Cabinet Secretary accept that, according to what is his own Government’s yardstick of success, he’s failing the Welsh economy? What will he, as the new economy Secretary, decide to do—change the strategy or, once again, change the target?
Can I thank the Member for his question and congratulate him on his appointment as well? Indeed, can I congratulate the other two Members of Plaid Cymru who have been appointed to shadow me? Having three shadows makes me feel like a marked man, I must say.
With regard to the specific questions that the Member raises, we will be developing a new economic strategy and I would hope that you would be able to contribute to that, and we will be reviewing those targets. There are many important indicators of economic success, and, let’s face it, we now have record employment levels in Wales. We have unemployment falling faster here than across the rest of the UK. If you look at figures for tourism as well, you’ll see that we have record success as well as on imports, on exports and on inward investment—Wales is performing better today than it did at any other point during devolution.
I’m amazed to see the Cabinet Secretary refer to exports as a symbol of Welsh success. Over the last two years, Welsh exports have dropped by over £2.6 billion. That’s a drop of 20 per cent in total. Let’s put that in a little bit of context, shall we? That’s the same reduction in exports, proportionally, as the UK experienced in the economic crisis between 2008 and 2009. It’s the equivalent of our current surplus in trade with the EU. Now, I agree with him that Brexit would indeed be a catastrophe for Welsh exports, but what about the catastrophe that has happened under this Government’s own watch? Will he establish an urgent inquiry into the causes of the Welsh export collapse and will he also look, Llywydd, at the leakages to the Welsh economy as a result of imports? Can the Secretary confirm that German and Spanish specialist steel is being used in the eastern distributor road project, funded by his department—a road only yards away from this building, ironically on which a Welsh steelworks is actually located? If his answer is that these specialist products cannot be currently produced by Welsh companies, does that not demonstrate the need for a team of specialists, working with businesses in Wales, to identify opportunities in the procurement pipeline, like the team that we did have until his Government replaced them in January this year with a couple of part-time staff, a few seminars and a phone number.
Well, well, well, we shouldn’t be surprised that the Member wishes to talk down the Welsh economy, but the very fact of the matter is that when we ignore the selective figures that he chooses to adopt and when we look at what’s happened since 1999, which is a fair indicator to begin with, there has been an 89 per cent increase in Welsh exports, compared to an increase of just 69 per cent for the whole of the UK. You talk about Brexit, but what would leaving Great Britain do to the Welsh economy? What sort of damage would that inflict on this country, on millions of people who require the British economy for work and for prosperity?
Presiding Officer, the facts speak for themselves: Welsh exports in the first quarter of 2016 were higher in value than in the previous quarter, up 2.9 per cent compared to a fall of 2.7 per cent in the UK. That is a key statistic that the Member chooses to ignore. In addition, what we know from the eastern bay link road is that, whilst there are pieces of scaffolding that have been sourced from Germany, which will be temporary, 89 per cent of the steel for reinforcing bars, which will remain in situ, are from Wales. That is something that we should be proud of; that is something that we should promote. I’m doing it. I wish the Member would too.
Well, I think the question on most of our minds is: what would changing the Welsh Government do for the Welsh economy? They can hardly do any worse than the current administration. [Interruption.] Look, in the interests—[Interruption.]
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Allow the Member to be heard and to come quickly to his question. Diolch, Adam.
In the interests of being charitable, I think it would be wrong to expect the new Cabinet Secretary to have all the answers at his first outing at ministerial questions. Indeed, that’s true of most Governments. That’s why most Governments in the world have an executive agency to help them deliver their economic strategy. Now, I realise it would be difficult for this Government to bring back the Welsh Development Agency, as that would be an admission that they’d made a mistake, which is something they patently are unwilling to do. But can the Cabinet Secretary confirm that the Government, following an earlier feasibility study, has now commissioned a detailed business plan for a national innovation body for Wales—another Plaid Cymru policy being delivered by a Labour Government? Can he also confirm that the scope of this study includes examining the case for widening the remit of this arm’s-length body to include a wider economic development role? Some of us might be tempted to call that a WDA for the twenty-first century.
Plaid Cymru wanting to go back to the 1980s to create the WDA and go back to quango heaven: no, we prefer accountability to sit with the Welsh Government. When it comes to exports, one other factor that’s worth bearing in mind is that we saw some categories soar in recent times—we saw machinery specialised for particular industries exports up 30 per cent, we saw road vehicles up 21 per cent, we saw increases in exports to Qatar, up 46 per cent. It’s why the—[Interruption.] They may understand it. It’s why people—[Interruption.] Let’s hope they understand this: commodity prices have fallen. Petroleum products’ value also has caused not just exports in the UK, but exports elsewhere, to fall in value. That is a fact of the matter. That is a reality around the globe. Setting up another quango will not solve the problem of commodity prices or petroleum prices.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The Welsh Conservatives’ spokesperson, Russell George.
Can I also congratulate the Cabinet Secretary on his appointment and say that I look forward to working with him constructively, where appropriate? Cabinet Secretary, the Welsh Government’s directory of Welsh motor sports companies states that Wales has a well-established automotive sector, generating a turnover of over £3 billion annually. Indeed, one of the success stories of the tourism industry has been our support for the forest-stage rallying in Wales, worth approximately £15 million a year to the Welsh economy. Motor sports, of course, are therefore of vital economic importance, and I wonder if you could outline what the Welsh Government is doing to promote and safeguard the motor sports industry in Wales.
Can I thank the Member for his question, and also congratulate him on his appointment? I look forward to working with him in the years to come to ensure that we have a stronger, more secure economy in Wales. The automotive sector is a crucially important sector across Wales. In particular, for tourism, it contributes enormously to the success of our major events portfolio, which, in turn, attracts 800,000 people to Wales each year and generates something in the region of £125 million in terms of economic impact.
Well, thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your response and I’m pleased to hear that you are aware of that information as well. The long-term future of the forest-stage rallying in Wales is under some serious threat as a consequence of Natural Resources Wales’s proposal to almost double the charges to the industry for the use of and maintenance of roads. Now, it appears that, in England and Scotland, agreement has already been made, with a modest increase in charges of just 0.7 per cent. Now, would you agree with me that there are, of course, wider economic benefits to motor sports events, and that the future of the industry in Wales should not be put in jeopardy? I wonder whether you would agree to—along with the Cabinet Secretary for the environment—intervene personally in negotiations on the contract between NRW and the Motor Sports Association, which, of course, would allow the industry to continue to flourish in Wales, rather than cease?
I’d like to thank the Member for his supplementary question and say that this is part of a negotiation that’s taking place—in terms of the commercial negotiations taking place—in such a way that I can’t comment on the details. However, I have now met with my colleague, Lesley Griffiths, to discuss this, and, as a consequence of that, I’m pleased to say that Natural Resources Wales and the Motor Sports Association are continuing to negotiate charges to enable rallying to continue on Welsh forestry estates, and I’m confident now, as a result of the discussions that we’ve had, that a mutually acceptable compromise can be reached. There’s no doubt that rallying in the Welsh forests is iconic, and Wales Rally GB in particular is part of our international profile. We want it to succeed and to continue.
Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary? I think that’s an encouraging response, so perhaps it would be timely if we could have a statement over the coming weeks, as negotiations come to a conclusion in a positive way as the Cabinet Secretary suggests and, perhaps at some point, he’d be willing to visit one of the stages in mid Wales with me as well—perhaps we could have a race with each other; I don’t know.
Staying on the theme of tourism, Cabinet Secretary, I understand that the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority has recently reviewed the options for how services are delivered at the national park’s visitor centre. Now, among the changes, it’s recommended the closure of the information and retail element of the centre, which replaces it with an unstaffed information point. I’d ask you, Minister, to make representations to the national park authority to urgently reconsider this decision, as I certainly believe this would have an adverse effect on tourism, not only in the area, but in the wider mid Wales economy.
Yes, I’ll commit to doing that. Actually, the national park authority is on my steering committee for the Year of Adventure, so I’ll be able to raise it with people in person as well, and I would also commit to providing a statement on Wales Rally GB and the future of the automotive sport in Wales.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
UKIP spokesperson, Neil Hamilton.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I’ve already had the opportunity to congratulate the Cabinet Secretary on his appointment, but you can’t have too much of a good thing, so I’ll congratulate him again today and express the hope that, under his guidance, the Welsh economy will really get its skates on—boom, boom. [Laughter.] According to the opinion polls, it looks very much as though Britain is going to vote to leave the EU next week, and I wonder, therefore, if the Cabinet Secretary has given any thought to how he will spend the Brexit dividend that will come to Wales in that event. Because, just taking the one measure alone of Britain’s net contribution to the EU—that’s the money we give to Brussels to be spent elsewhere in the EU of £10 billion a year on a per capita basis calculation—that’s about £500 million a year that will come to Wales and the Welsh Government to be spent. It would be interesting to know if he’s got any ideas as to how we can spend even a part of that money.
Can I thank the Member for his kind comments about my appointment and wish him well in his role, as well, in the Assembly? There can be no guarantee that that money would come to Wales. I rather fear that it will be squirrelled away to places like Wiltshire rather than come here to Wales. I think it’d probably end up in the Cotswolds rather than Cymru. There is no guarantee that Wales would benefit from EU money that is repatriated back to the UK. Do we really want to jeopardise, right now, next week, the progress that we’ve made on steel, what is an incredibly sensitive position? We would throw that crisis even deeper into the unknown were we to vote to leave the EU. We would throw 18,000 jobs, certainly at risk, if we were to vote to leave the EU. We would put at risk 52,000 apprenticeships that people are going to be seeking to fill in the next five years if we voted to leave the EU. We would also put at risk ReAct, which has provided opportunities. It’s provided hope for 19,000 people who have faced redundancy. That’s why Europe exists: to provide hope for people who need it. Do we really want to vote out of Europe and compromise that sort of opportunity for millions of people in Britain?
Well, I think it’ll come as a surprise to the people of Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and France that Europe represents hope, and I certainly take issue with the Cabinet Secretary on his rosy-tinted view. Of course, there can be no guarantees about the future; there’s no guarantee that any of us will be alive this time next week. But, nevertheless, it’s reasonable to assume that Wales will get a pretty high proportion of what it is due on a per capita basis if we leave the EU, and if we add in the £5 billion on top of the £10 billion that’s spent elsewhere in the EU—that the EU spends in Britain for their priorities, not our priorities—this offers the Welsh Government a massive opportunity to spend on things that matter to the people of Wales, rather than to the bureaucrats of Brussels.
The Member claims that Europe has not offered hope—what Europe has offered is the longest period of sustained peace in the history of the continent. It has offered hope and it has delivered peace and prosperity right across the continent. Voting out of Europe next week would certainly cause compromise for the steel industry in Wales and the UK. The Member may not wish to believe me, but he should believe Tata themselves when they say, and I quote directly:
‘The EU is by far our largest export market, with over a third of our UK steel heading there, and that’s not including the steel that goes via our customers, so access to that market is fundamental to our business’.
If the UK were to exit the EU and we set rules ourselves, it is likely we would still need to adhere to EU rules to enter that market. The difference: we would no longer have a say in how they are set up or applied. The EU is a source of cash for the UK business sector, funds for environmental improvements, infrastructure development and research and development. Would the Member today wish to tell steelworkers he would wish to compromise their jobs and their future to vote out of Europe next week?
Well, leaving the EU would, of course, not compromise steel jobs at all. We would have the freedom to do what the United States has done and slap a 522 per cent duty on cold-rolled steel as opposed to the 24 per cent duty that the EU has proposed. But I wonder can the Cabinet Secretary explain to me why the EU would want to put up any trade barriers against the UK when the figures announced only a couple of days ago show that we had in the first quarter of this year alone a deficit of £24 billion in our trade in goods. They have much more to lose than we have from a trade war.
Let’s reflect on where we are right now. There is without a doubt, in my view, a new momentum in the Welsh economy. Tourism figures I’ve already mentioned—they’re up, employment is up, FDI up, exports up, business start-ups up, airport passenger numbers up. Apprenticeship completion rates—they’ve risen, too. The only thing that we could guarantee if we left Europe next week is that all of these stats would go down. I would urge the people of Wales and the people of Britain to vote to remain.
Improvements to the Road Network in Arfon
3. Will the Minister make a statement on improvements to the road network in Arfon? OAQ(5)0004(EI)[W]
Our transport priorities are set out in the national transport finance plan, which includes a number of road improvements for north Wales.
Thank you very much. I’d like to draw your attention to a scheme to build a 9 km bypass in my area, in Arfon, in the Caernarfon and Bontnewydd area, a scheme that was secured by my predecessor, Alun Ffred Jones, in the last Assembly, which will be a significant boost to our area. I would like to hear from you whether you are aware of the significant delay in this scheme. There has been no announcement on it. The orders were supposed to have been published at the beginning of this year, and they haven’t been, and it’s likely that this scheme will not proceed for at least another 12 months. Are you aware that the problem that has arisen here is disagreement between Natural Resources Wales on the one side and the scheme’s engineers on the other? I understand that the problem is a dispute as regards what to do about the bats. Are you disappointed, as I am, that this delay is occurring, and can you assure me that you and your Government will do everything possible to resolve this dispute or this disagreement so that we can see this scheme proceeding as soon as possible, please?
Can I thank the Member for her question and say that the original intention was indeed to publish draft orders during the springtime of this year, but because of ongoing discussions, which the Member has mentioned, with Natural Resources Wales to address environmental mitigation measures, the publication date is now planned for August, subject to my approval? But I can guarantee that I will keep the Member updated on developments and move as fast as possible.
In fact, it’s three years since the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport in the previous Government announced her revised preferred route, whilst still investigating a business impact assessment, despite concerns raised by local businesses and employers that that revised preferred route and its predecessor would damage local business and jobs, and there was an alternative route that would do neither. Last July, notices were given out by the Welsh Government to landowners on the Welsh Government’s preferred route that environment surveys were to be carried out, and, last September, your predecessor, in a statement to this Assembly, said the A487 Caernarfon and Bontnewydd bypass is well advanced. In addition to considering the environmental impact, in partnership with Natural Resources Wales, as you indicate, will you again assure local businesses on the Welsh Government’s preferred route that you will engage with them at last and listen to their genuine, evidence-based concerns at last and factor that into your final decision?
I’ll thank the Member for his question and stress that we have been engaging with local communities throughout this process, and with landowners during the design and development, to understand the likely impact of the scheme on properties and businesses in the area and we are keen to continue this engagement moving forward.
4. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to make online businesses aware of the alternative dispute resolution regulations which came into force this year? OAQ(5)0017(EI)
We have made business representative organisations aware of the alternative dispute resolution regulations, both during the UK Government’s consultation process and since its implementation.
I thank the Minister for his response. More and more businesses are selling online, from very small things—groceries—to cars. This is happening, obviously, in the UK and across the EU. Would the Minister agree that the new online dispute regulations are an opportunity for increased consumer and trader confidence and for Welsh businesses to show that they offer an excellent customer service? The new regulations will ensure there is an independent and fair arbitrator and will stop the very costly process of going to court.
Yes. I’d like to thank the Member for her question on a very important issue. Alternative dispute resolution can indeed speed up settlement, which means less cost, less time and less stress than would be involved in taking matters to court. It’s a useful additional avenue open to consumers when appropriate. It’s important that consumers can have confidence in their transactions. Greater consumer confidence benefits all businesses and with increasing amounts of business being done online, the online dispute resolution is particularly important for businesses trading online.
Minister, I appreciate that employment law and issues around employment are reserved matters, but the business advice that the Welsh Government supports, especially to new businesses and in particular to start-up businesses, is a vital component of being able to alert employers and employees within those businesses to what could avert some serious situations that end up costing those new businesses serious sums of money in legal advice and arbitration processes. What surety have you got that the advice that you are giving to new businesses does take into account some of the employment issues that they do need to take account of? Because that’s as important as the marketing and the strategy and anything else around the businesses setup, which is obviously ongoing and is focused in the minds of the directors of those companies.
I’d be happy to review the efficacy of the support and advice that we provide and to write to the Member with the outcome of that review.
Port Talbot Enterprise Zone
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the opportunities being offered through the Enterprise Zone in Port Talbot? OAQ(5)0016(EI)
Yes. The Port Talbot waterfront enterprise zone will help us exploit new economic opportunities and support existing businesses. We have already launched a business rates scheme, which, combined with our wider support, provides an enhanced incentive for new investment and growth.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that answer. In Port Talbot, the impact of Tata’s decision to sell the steelworks and also reduce the work contracted out to local businesses is actually creating huge challenges for local companies who are now facing difficult times to simply remain in business—such as Fairwood Fabrications, who we saw on the television programme with Michael Sheen, who have already reduced their staff by half and are looking at very challenging times just to stay in existence. As they seek to diversify and win new contracts elsewhere, they need support to ensure the future of their employees. Now, the enterprise zone status could attract those opportunities to them, but that’s not going to happen overnight. What support can the Welsh Government give these companies to overcome the challenges they face now, so they can be in a position to benefit from the enterprise zone when it becomes active?
The health of the supply chain is enormously important to the region. Working in conjunction with the supply chain sub-group of the taskforce, 55 businesses linked to the Tata supply chain have requested additional support; 44 businesses have been visited and a bespoke diagnosis of the need of each has been undertaken. We’ve made available, as the Member is aware, business rates support, which is worth up to £55,000 a year to each qualifying SME within the Port Talbot enterprise zone. The closing date, the Member would wish to know, for receiving all applications is 30 September. At the beginning of June, a direct mail exercise was undertaken to promote the scheme to more than 223 businesses located within the enterprise zone that may be able to benefit from support for the scheme. I should also make the Member aware that since the inception of the Port Talbot Waterfront enterprise zone, seven inquiries have been received, either directly from external businesses or via local authority officers and our sectors, seeking information about support for growth or new locations. These are at early stages of engagement; however, two of these inquiries could include potentially significant inward investments.
In the last Assembly, I raised the point with the Minister on the land opposite Harbour Way, which I’m sure will be part of the new enterprise zone. There is land there that could be utilised for new businesses. Have you spoken to local businesses to encourage them to actually apply for that land at a reduced cost under these new circumstances of an enterprise zone in Port Talbot, to facilitate the development of that particular area?
I know that my officials are in constant dialogue with local businesses, but I will check on that specific case. We’ve established the enterprise zone at Port Talbot based around the existing and potential employment sites in the area, which have significant capacity for supporting further business investment. The Member is possibly aware that these are Baglan energy park, Baglan industrial estate and Harbourside in Port Talbot docks. But I assure the Member that I will take up the point that she raises and contact her once I’ve made inquiries.
May I offer my congratulations as well, Cabinet Secretary? The behemoth that is the Welsh Government website invites businesses in the enterprise zone to apply for financial help towards the cost of business rates, or offsetting against business rates, for 2016-17. That scheme has actually been open since 4 April, which is a little bit sooner than some of the others that have been mentioned today. I heard your answer to David Rees, but how many businesses have applied specifically for business rate relief, if I can call it that? Of the 200 or so businesses that you’ve approached, 44 seem to have been followed up on that. What have you done to follow up with those who haven’t responded to the direct mail approach, and will you be planning to do that any time soon, if you haven’t done it yet?
I can follow up the question with an analysis of what those 44 businesses that have taken up our offer of help actually wish to be helped with; it may well be that it is business rates or it might be another form of support that we can offer. I’ll provide the Member with as much information that I’m reasonably able to so that we are all better informed about what it is that businesses in the area require.
In terms of the 11 businesses linked to the Tata supply chain that have not requested additional help, there are a number of reasons for that, but again I’ll try my best to provide information on why it is that they may have chosen not to take up our offer of additional support.
Small Businesses in Caerphilly
6. Will the Minister make a statement on support for small businesses in Caerphilly? OAQ(5)0019(EI)
Wide-ranging support is available through our Business Wales service for small businesses in the Caerphilly area and across Wales. Our absolute focus remains on supporting enterprise, jobs and the economy.
Thank you for that answer. For businesses to remain long term and sustainable, they need to build positive connections with each other. Welsh ICE, in my constituency, is a peer-to-peer innovation centre for enterprise, where a load of businesses are there to support each other. Indeed, today, the captain of innovation, the leader of Welsh ICE, had an article in the Western Mail entitled ‘Everyone’s talent needed to secure future of Wales’; that’s Gareth Jones. Welsh ICE makes a net gross value added contribution to the economy of £13.8 million. Will the Cabinet Secretary congratulate Welsh ICE for the success that they’ve had, but also think about how can we foster these business connections, both in Caerphilly and, of course, further afield in the wider area, to develop social capital?
Can I thank the Member for his question, and also agree that Gareth Jones is indeed a great captain of Welsh ICE? He is also a native of Clwyd South constituency. Networking and shared space forms a key pillar of the approach being developed under the regional entrepreneurship acceleration programme, chaired by Simon Gibson. As part of the evidence being considered, a 12-week pre-start business accelerator programme is being delivered through the Business Wales accelerated growth programme, in partnership with Welsh ICE. I would like to congratulate the work of Welsh ICE, and especially their remarkable success to date, and I look forward to delivering on the Welsh Labour manifesto pledge to create similar hubs right across Wales to drive innovation, creativity and enterprise.
The Welsh Government has pledged that they will provide 100,000 additional apprenticeships over the ensuing years. What specific steps will you take in order to ensure that small businesses can benefit from the opportunities provided by this pledge?
Can I thank the Member for his question? It’s crucially important for the Welsh economy that we create 100,000 quality apprenticeships. Each apprenticeship is estimated to be worth something in the region of, on average, £130,000 during the course of a career, so it has considerable economic benefits for the economy of Wales.
The Minister for Skills and Science will be responsible for ensuring that 100,000 apprenticeships are created and filled. We’ve got a very proud record in Wales in terms of completion rates, way higher than in England, currently standing at something in the region of 85 per cent here in Wales compared to the low to mid 70 per cent figure in England. So, I’ll be working with the Minister for Skills and Science to ensure that businesses of every size, everywhere in Wales, are aware of the opportunities that the apprenticeship system in Wales offers.
My best wishes to the Minister for climbing the economic mountain of Wales. A recent poll by the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales asked members about the key priorities they wanted to see from the Welsh Government. Twenty per cent of respondents wanted to see the creation of a single body to support small businesses in Wales. What consideration has the Welsh Government given to setting up a single body that companies can go to to receive information to co-ordinate support for small businesses in Caerphilly and the rest of Wales?
Can I thank the Member for his kind comments and his question? Well, of course, the £61 million Business Wales service continues to offer that one port of call for small businesses. The latest phase of Business Wales was launched in January with the aim of creating 10,000 new businesses and 28,300 new jobs and providing support to help inspire the next generation of young entrepreneurs and to help existing SMEs grow. That is something that Business Wales has thus far been incredibly successful at achieving—as shown by our employment figures, our unemployment figures and our new business start-up figures. So, we have a measure, so far, of success in this regard, but I’m keen to make sure that Business Wales continues to deliver for businesses and the people of our country.
7. Cabinet Secretary, what measures will the Welsh Government introduce to support businesses in Wales in the fifth Assembly? OAQ(5)0001(EI)
We are a pro-business Government and one of my first priorities will be talking to businesses large and small, as well as key partners, about their views on developing the right approach to grow prosperity and deliver greater financial security for businesses and individuals, right across Wales.
Thank you for the reply, Secretary. Business rates can be a company’s biggest expense after wages and rent. The Welsh Retail Consortium has warned that Welsh retailers could see the steepest rise in business rates in the United Kingdom from the next year, once the revaluation of properties takes effect. Does the Minister agree the time has come for a radical review of business rates, to make the system fair, effective and efficient and better linked to a company’s ability to pay in Wales?
I thank the Member for his question regarding business rates. Of course, the reason that we made one of our top pledges a reduction in tax on business was because of the value that small businesses have to the economy right across the country. Chris Sutton carries out important work in this regard and I take his advice very seriously and I scrutinise what he has to offer very carefully and, of course, if he returns with more advice in this regard I will consider it appropriately.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
And finally, question 8—Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Menai Crossing Development
8. Will the Minister provide an update on the Menai crossing development? OAQ(5)0006(EI)[W]
We are currently developing a business case for a third crossing over the Menai strait and I have asked my officials to bring forward proposals for a preferred-route study.
The Minister will know that I have been consistently pressing for investment in a third crossing, or dualling the Britannia, however you want to see it. I was very grateful to see the Government agreeing to proceed with the business study recently, and I’m sure that the plans will be brought forward in due course.
Today, National Grid have announced their latest proposals on transferring energy across the Isle of Anglesey and the Menai straits. In terms of crossing Anglesey, the grid is entirely unyielding in terms of its determination to keep those cables above ground. They want to go under the Menai, and I would expect them to do that—of course, they have very little option. But isn’t there an opportunity here in having some collaboration between different departments, if you like, namely by taking the cables across a new Menai crossing and getting the grid to contribute to the cost therein? I know that there is a problem here in terms of timing, but will the Minister give a commitment to do everything within his power to overcome those problems, because there is a very real opportunity to kill two birds with one stone here?
Absolutely. The Member is astute and correct in his observations and his recommendations. I met with my officials today to discuss this very issue. We welcome the project update today, published by National Grid. It’s provided more detail on the undergrounding options for crossing the Menai straits, and officials continue to engage with the National Grid to ensure that any solution is fit for purpose, not only to deliver a connection but to protect and be mindful of the environment in which it is to be deployed. So, the grid dimension will be considered as part of the business case.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I thank the Cabinet Secretary.
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport. The first question is from Dawn Bowden.
Improving the Health and Well-being of the People of Wales
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Will the First Minister please make a statement on the role the Welsh Government sees for sport—
The First Minister?
Oh, sorry. [Laughter.] The Minister. [Interruption.] Yes, well, one day, Becs, one day. [Laughter.] Sorry, I’ll start again.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the role the Welsh Government sees for sport in helping to improve the health and well-being of the people of Wales? OAQ(5)0015(HWS)
The Welsh Government remains committed to increasing rates of participation in physical activity through sport. Sport Wales are our key delivery agent and are working with a range of partners and stakeholders to drive forward our agenda of making Wales a more active and healthy nation.
Thank you, Minister. Merthyr council has secured funding of almost £12.9 million under the Welsh Government’s Vibrant and Viable Places programme to support regeneration projects in Merthyr Tydfil. Will the Minister then join me in commending the initiative of both Merthyr Town Football Club and Merthyr council in utilising a grant from this funding arrangement to support the development of a modern facility at Penydarren Park, providing a sustainable community sports initiative, which is encouraging greater public engagement with the club as well as, of course, securing additional local economic benefits arising out of the building contract that came with that?
I thank you for that question. I certainly join you in commending Merthyr Town FC and Merthyr council for working in partnership to ensure a sustainable future for community sports in the area, and I’m more than delighted that Welsh Government was able to play its part by providing over £2 million for the funding for Penydarren Park through our Vibrant and Viable Places programme. That really demonstrates our commitment to providing a new flexible facility for recreation but also education and training as well in the area. I’ll just add how impressed I am that Merthyr Town FC was voted the best grass-roots club in Europe by UEFA last year. I think that’s a tremendous achievement.
Sport plays a really valuable role, Minister, in improving public health, but one sector of our society doesn’t seem to participate the same as the other part, which is men versus women—. On a national survey, 100,000 fewer women play sport than men. There’s been an active campaign across the UK entitled This Girl Can to raise participation levels in sport by actually moving beyond some of the stereotypical models of people who play sport and actually showing that sport is for all. Has the Welsh Government taken a view on this particular campaign and, indeed, has the Welsh Government participated in formulating any actions around the campaign so that we can reach into all communities and show that sport isn’t for a set type of individual—it is for everyone?
Absolutely. I do thank you for that question. I’m pleased that we already have over 3,500 girl football players registered under the age of 18 and also nearly 1,500 adult women. I think that perhaps the current games will inspire more to consider getting involved with that. But you’re absolutely right that sport plays an important role in public health, which is why the Welsh Government have moved sport and public health into the same portfolio. I’m very keen to find out more about the This Girl Can programme; perhaps we can have a meeting to discuss that further, because I’m very keen to see what we can do to encourage girls and women to take more interest in sport and physical activity and recreation as well.
I’m aware that we’re doing some great work through Street Games, which encourages girls in particular to get involved with street dance and other forms of activity that are beyond the traditional netball and hockey, which is not appealing to everybody, I know.
In Newport East, we’ve been meeting locally—myself, the local health board, the leisure trust, Newport City Council, Natural Resources Wales, the local sports bodies and a host of others—to work out how we can get the local population more physically active. So, I wonder if you would agree with me, Minister, that Welsh Government should support those efforts, because if we are going to become more proactive and forge ahead on the preventative health front, we need to pull partners together to deliver meaningful action locally, right across Wales.
You’re absolutely right in identifying there that the answer does lie in partnership working and this is why Welsh Government has, with Sport Wales and Public Health Wales, put in place a director of physical activity for Wales, and that director is currently putting together an action plan for action. We look forward to receiving that towards the end of this term. I’ll spend this summer considering that and talking to stakeholders about it, with a view to publishing it later on in the autumn, setting out the actions for the next steps.
Improving Diabetes Services
2. What action will the Welsh Government take to improve services for diabetes sufferers in Wales in the fifth Assembly? OAQ(5)0002(HWS)
Thank you for the question in Diabetes Week. We invest nearly £100 million each year in specific diabetes care and we will continue to invest £1 million a year for improvement through the NHS-led diabetes implementation group. We expect to see improved patient outcomes by consistently meeting national service standards, supporting patient self-management through education programmes and helping to prevent people at high risk from developing diabetes.
Thank you for the answer, business Secretary. Figures revealed by Diabetes UK Cymru reveal that the number of people living with diabetes in Wales is at its highest ever level. Their director has highlighted the lack of understanding when it comes to people being aware of the seriousness of diabetes. Given that Wales has the worst rate of child obesity, does the Minister agree that we need to prevent children becoming overweight to reduce figure levels of diabetes? What plans does he have to work with schools and parents to improve the information necessary to achieve this goal in Wales?
I thank the Member for his follow-up question. Of course, we have two types of diabetes: type 1, which is not related to lifestyle factors at all, and type 2, which is, frankly, lifestyle-factor related. So, we need to deal with both of those issues. A number of children at varying ages understand that they will have type 1 diabetes and we do need to make sure that the care and support that they receive is appropriate, and also, for type 2 diabetes, we’re much more into the field of prevention. So, let me just address both of those points. On type 2, it goes across a range of public health measures; it’s not just a health and social services or even sport responsibility—there’s a whole range of other people with an issue here, for example the work that we do on healthy schools and the way that schools engage. In every school I visit in my own constituency and around the country, you see a very clear healthy eating and healthy drinking message and in particular an awareness of sugar. So, a range of things that we do to encourage people to make different choices are important. We do have to work with parents as well, because we do know that whatever children have in school, a much bigger influence takes place outside of the school gates too.
Just to reiterate the serious consequence of diabetes, yesterday Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board highlighted a woman in her 50s who’d lost her sight in one eye; she had type 1 diabetes. She didn’t manage her condition well in her 20s and 30s and had now lost sight in her eye. She’s encouraging people to take advantage of the patient education programmes that are available. There’s a broad range of people at risk, a broad range of messages and actions that we all need to take. It’s a complex issue, but one we cannot avoid.
Yesterday, Cabinet Secretary, you and I heard from people who have diabetes about the improvements that have taken place in services across Wales. That is to be commended and to be celebrated—the work that was done by your predecessor, Mark Drakeford, in implementing the diabetes plans. As a result, we are now the envy of diabetes champions in England, because of the fact that each health board now has a diabetes lead, which I’m sure is one of the reasons why we’ve had so much improvement in the way that we look after people with diabetes. But you’ll also recall that we heard from the mother of a child who died of undiagnosed type 1 diabetes, and I wondered if you could say something about how we can work with other services to ensure that everybody is aware of the potential risk factors and the signs that somebody may or may not have type 1 diabetes.
Thank you for the question. I was very pleased to join you in the event yesterday to highlight Diabetes Week and the work they’re undertaking here in Wales to improve the position. The point about undiagnosed diabetes applies both to type 1 and type 2 and the risk factors that are there. It’s a particularly difficult case, and I’ll be happy to meet again with you and the cross-party group. I understand the mother is coming to the next cross-party group to explain her own experiences. There’s a message here about awareness between health and education, about factors that could have been picked up at an earlier stage. I’m really pleased to see that the mother is keen to ensure that other people learn the lesson and understand and recognise more of the signs; there is a positive message there. But I’m really pleased to hear you recognise the improvements we’ve made in patient care here in Wales. In particular, Diabetes UK were very clear about the fact that there’s real momentum here in Wales in improving care, which they want to see in other parts of the UK. So, some good news for us here in Wales, but, equally, a recognition that there is still much more to do.
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the questions from party spokespeople to the Cabinet Secretary, and, first this week, the Welsh Conservative spokesperson, Angela Burns.
Diolch, Lywydd. Cabinet Secretary, you’ll be aware that the incidence of cancer is rising, with one in two people born after 1960 expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. So, I’m sure you will agree with me that early screening is vital. You will, no doubt, be aware that this week is Cervical Screening Awareness Week. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35, but the good news shows that the mortality rate for this type of cancer is dropping and is lower than it was some years ago. That is why I share the concern of cancer charities, because screening rates across Wales for women of all ages in terms of cervical cancer is on the fall. Minister, can you tell me what your Government is going to do to encourage women in Wales to be screened for the potential of this disease?
Thank you for the question. It’s a fair point to raise about what we need to do, not so much about the health service responding to the significant rise in cancer referrals—in fact, in the last seven years, there’s been a doubling in urgent cancer referrals into the NHS, and it’s a remarkable achievement that it has managed to deal with those in such a timely manner, given the increase in volume—but there is a point about the understanding of healthcare messages by us as individual citizens and the risk factors that we have, and to take up the opportunity for screening that our programmes actually provide. So, there’s a need to understand where we are now, something that Public Health Wales will look at, and we always need to review and understand where we’re succeeding, what we need to do more of and, equally, where we’re not meeting our expectations. It is something that I’ve raised with them, not just on cervical screening but also on bowel cancer, for example, as well, in terms of what more we could do. Sometimes, it’s about the test and so it’s actually about persuading people to do more to safeguard their own healthcare, now and in the future.
Thank you for that, although, Minister, I think you and I both know where we are on this. The rates are falling and we need to make people more responsible for their own health. My question was actually what can you do to encourage people to have this screening test. So, if we move to bowel cancer, which you’ve already alluded to, one of the ideas is that, here, for example, in Wales, bowel cancer screening is currently undertaken every two years for those between 60 and 74; Scotland undertake this screening from 50; and England is currently introducing a second bowel scope screening, which is proven to reduce the risks of individuals developing bowel cancer by 33 per cent, and Scotland also intend to trial this. So, again, Minister, on another type of cancer, I ask you: why should those who have the highest risk of bowel cancer have a lower chance of an early diagnosis here in Wales? You and I both know we all have to take responsibility for our health, but what can you as a Government do to improve the screening rates for both cervical cancer and bowel cancer?
Well, I think there’s a fairly high awareness of both cervical cancer screening and also bowel cancer screening. The challenge is how we make it easy for people to take that up. On bowel cancer, in particular, it’s not so much about the advice people get, because we will follow the advice we’re given about where is the most appropriate point for people to be screened, but it’s about the test. Because, frankly, the test currently is not a very pleasant test to have to do; I won’t describe it. But the reality is that there is the potential for a new test—it will be easier to administer and we are much more likely to see a much greater take-up therefore, and a much greater surveillance and, actually, earlier warning for people. So, there is something about how technology and movement can actually help people to undertake screening, to avail themselves of screening resources that are available. So, we need to take account of that progress that is made and then understand if the evidence says it will be a better job, we then need to make sure it’s rolled out in a consistent way across the country.
I agree with you that all I’ve heard about the test is that it’s deeply unpleasant. However, test or having cancer, it’s a self-evident choice and I will do anything to support you to try and get this message out to people that they should be doing this. Because bowel, lung, prostate and breast cancers account for over 50 per cent of diagnoses in Wales. As you yourself said earlier, the annual number of cancer cases continues to rise. The target of 95 per cent for newly diagnosed cancer patients referred via the urgent route to begin treatment within 62 days of referral has not been met since 2008. So, how will you, Minister, seek to address these areas, when you draw up your new cancer delivery plan, which is scheduled for later this year? And, given that Welsh Government struggled to deliver on the previous plan, how can we have confidence that you will draw up and rigorously and successfully implement a new plan?
Well, thank you for the series of questions in there. I don’t share your optimistic assessment that if people understand there’s a test or the risk of cancer that people will undertake the test. I’m not even sure that a lot of people don’t make that choice. So, there are lots of risk factors for health outcomes that people ignore. There is often a very high awareness of health behaviours and their impacts. The challenge then is how we persuade people to change their own behaviours, and how we make it easy for them to do that, whether it’s smoking, drinking, exercise—a whole range of factors.
And, in particular in terms of the 62-day target, I recognise that we have not met our stretching target. It’s, of course, one of those things—we have a higher target than England; if we had the English target, we’d meet it on a regular basis. So, there is still something, not just about comparing ourselves with England, but about having some real ambitions for outcomes. Because one of the things we can take real comfort from, and optimism from, is not just the fact that more and more people are being diagnosed, being seen and treated, but also that cancer survival rates are improving.
But our challenge, and our ambition, in the refreshed cancer delivery plan must be to make sure that our services are in a sustainable position, so we tackle the backlogs that exist on waiting times for treatment, and where the best available treatments are available on a consistent basis. Actually, our ambition is to have cancer survival rates that compare with the best in Europe because, right across the UK, we don’t do well enough, and there’s got to be some honesty and some recognition that that’s where we are now, to see the benefit and the improvement that we’ve had, and to recognise that too, but, at the same time, to have some real ambition about the future and then have a practical way to map that forward. The delivery plan won’t just be something that is in the hands of Government. We will have a cross-sector partnership, involving the voluntary sector too, as well as the NHS, as well as Government, on taking the plan forward, and then, hopefully, making sure we see a successful implementation across the board.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
UKIP spokesperson, Caroline Jones.
Diolch, Lywydd. Cabinet Secretary, with one in eight people in Wales currently seeking help for a mental illness, what will the new Welsh Government be doing to improve waiting times for access to mental health care?
Thank you for the question. Mental health is a priority area for this Government. As I said yesterday, in response to a range of questions, we will be refreshing the mental health delivery plan. That will take place this year as well, so it’s not been forgotten. And, really importantly, in undertaking both the consultation and delivering the action plan, we’ll be talking with and listening to service users themselves. It’s been one of the strengths of what we’ve actually managed to do over the last few years, to understand the current impact of the service, and things that will make a difference for them. There are a range of things for us to do, and, actually, mental health is the biggest single area of spend within the national health service. So, it does receive very real priority.
We’ve changed our mental health waiting time standards to make them tougher and, in fact, we are in a better position than England. We have different waiting time standards—much more rigorous—and more people are seen within the target time. The challenge for us—and, following the earlier question—is to recognise the progress we’ve made, and, at the same time, to understand what more we need to do. There is something about recruitment and retention, both in the community service as well as in the secondary care service. So, our next challenge is to confront. But, again, working with the third sector, and service users themselves, I’m confident we will continue to see an improvement in mental health treatment and outcomes here in Wales.
Thank you for your answer, Cabinet Secretary, but part of the problem with waiting times for mental health care is around funding. Mental health is the poor relation in our NHS. Do you agree with me that mental health funding should be ring-fenced at a much higher level than the current spend?
Thank you for the question. I do wonder if you thought you were asking a question about the English system, because in Wales we have ring-fenced mental health funding, and as I said earlier, it is the biggest single area of spend within NHS Wales. I’ve seen campaigns that have taken place on an England and Wales basis, and, actually, they’re really talking about the English system. I remember responding to letters as a Deputy Minister and writing back to Members of Parliament saying, ‘You’re writing to me about England and we’re doing things differently here.’ The challenge is for England to catch up with Wales in this area, so I really do think we’ve got a good story to tell, and not just from the Government’s point of view, but so much of this flows from work done in the third Assembly when the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010 was passed. We took a view at that point in time that there needed to be greater priority given to this particular area of service and the impact that it has, and I’m really pleased that we’re delivering upon that. It’s not perfect, but we are making real progress, and the challenge is how we further improve what we’re already doing.
Finally, Cabinet Secretary, cuts to local authority spending are threatening community mental health services. What is your Government doing to incentivise councils in Wales to protect the mental health services they provide, and to make greater use of third sector mental health services?
I don’t think local government provide direct mental health services, but they do provide services that have an impact on mental health and well-being. We all recognise that. For example, the conversation earlier about physical health and activity. Being physically active isn’t just a good thing for your physical health; it’s actually incredibly good for your mental health and well-being too. And there’s an honest challenge here as well for all of us in this Chamber. Whenever we talk about budgets—and you mentioned cuts to local government—the honest truth is that to maintain a high level of spend in the NHS and social care, which we have done—and I’m proud of the fact that we’ve done that—we’ve had to make a difficult choice. And to do that, to have 48 per cent of the Government spend in this particular department, means there’s been less money to spend on local government. That’s an honest choice that we made. If people want to come to me or anyone else and say, ‘We want to see more money in local government,’ you’ve got to find it from somewhere else, and that means compromises in other areas of service.
I actually have great sympathy for people in local government of all political shades and colours, who are running local authorities, for the really difficult choices they will make. That is the honest reflection of having a falling level of funding available for public services in Wales, and across the rest of the piece: really difficult choices to be made. It’s not just about making services more effective with less money, but the honest reality that people are now choosing what not to do. So, I don’t want to give a glib answer by saying that local authorities just need to up their game; we all need to do what we can do to improve services and outcomes; we all need to face the reality that there is less money to spend, and we are making a choice to fund the NHS, and that means less money for local government.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you, Llywydd. Two years ago, Plaid Cymru highlighted the frighteningly long waiting times for MRI scans in Wales as compared to Scotland and England, with over 40 per cent of patients at that time waiting over six weeks here, as compared to 1 per cent in England and 2 per cent in Scotland. Following on from that and some press coverage of the issue, you did make an effort to tackle the issue and those waiting times have now reduced: some 17.6 per cent of patients are now waiting over six weeks for a scan. Is that figure acceptable to you and what assurance can you give that the pattern of reducing the waiting times for MRI scans will continue?
I thank the Member for the question and for highlighting an area where we’ve made real progress over the last calendar year. Because at the high point that we reached in summer last year, we had a real challenge in understanding what could and should take place to reduce the diagnostic waiting times. We’re now in a much better place and MRI is a good example: there are a number of health boards—at least two—where it’s practically at zero, so no people wait above the target time, but we do have a very real challenge in particular in the south-east of Wales, where far too many people still wait too long. So, I fully expect that it’s a message that the service understands perfectly well. The progress we made, in particular in the last six months of the last year, will continue into this year, and I’m looking forward to the figures in the first quarter, and in particular in the second quarter of this year, to understand whether that ambition within the service is being made real, because that is certainly what I expect to see.
What the improvement does demonstrate, of course, is that effort pays off and that we should never accept that budgetary limitations or increases in demand will inevitably lead to longer waiting times. As I said, MRI scans were given some press coverage a few years ago; there are other diagnostic tests that aren’t as headline grabbing, perhaps, where there are major problems that remain, for example, colonoscopy or cystoscopy. Performance in those areas is as poor now as it was two years ago, with around half of patients waiting over six weeks, as compared to 6 per cent in England and 12 per cent in Scotland. The equipment is cheaper for these tests, there is less demand for them and some GP surgeries can actually do the tests themselves. Apart from waiting for newspaper headlines, what will make you give the same attention to colonoscopy and cystoscopy tests as you gave to MRIs?
I thank the Member for his second question on the area. On this, there are two points that I would make: the first is that in some of the areas on diagnostics where we have waits, it is tied up in workforce. So, there are challenges for us, for example, in training more sonographers in Wales. Where they’re currently trained, you tend to see better outcomes. For example, Swansea and west Wales do better on this than the south-east of Wales and lots of the training is undertaken in Swansea. So, that shouldn’t be a surprise. There’s something about our workforce planning and understanding where and how we train more members of staff, as well as attracting people to come into the country.
The second point that I’d make is that, in terms of the attention given to it, it isn’t really about the headlines because, again, from my previous role and into this one, it is something that I regularly discussed with health board chairs and chief executives and there was certainly no lack of focus on the need to see improvement. That’s what we saw in the last half of the last year. I’m really, really clear with health boards and the public that I expect to see further improvement. There’s something about understanding how we improve our headline rates in the here and now and what we need to do to improve the system that lies underneath it—so, improving diagnostic treatment and where that should take place, because you make a fair point in that some of these could take place within primary care. That is what we have to do at the same time. They’re not necessarily easy things to do: to maintain headline performance at an acceptable level and to reform the system, which does mean making some difficult and, at time, imperfect choices, but it is absolutely what I expect the service to do.
But there are innovative steps that could be taken. Last week, Cancer Research published a report on the next steps that they would want to see taken for a cancer strategy for Wales. They are asking for the introduction of a specific target of 28 days so that we can improve survival rates and, through that, they are adding to the chorus of authoritative voices supporting our policy, as Plaid Cymru, for the introduction of a 28-day diagnosis target.
Before the election, your Government rejected that target, although all the main oncologists in Britain, more or less, are calling for it. In order to achieve such a target, we would need improved waiting times for a number of tests, including better direct access to GP services, to the testing system and to expertise in testing. Will you, therefore, look again at Plaid Cymru’s policy of establishing three multidisciplinary diagnostic centres of the kind that have been very successful in other nations, including Denmark, as part of a strategy to reduce waiting times for these vital diagnostic tests?
Thank you for the third question. There’s been a clear recognition across parties and within the service for some time that to improve cancer outcomes, we need to improve access to diagnostic certainty, but what we’re not doing is actually implementing a different target on diagnostics within the cancer pathway. I’m not persuaded that that will actually help us to get where we want to in terms of focusing on the time it takes to get to first treatment, but also then for outcomes for cancer patients as well. That’s where our focus is going to be.
We’ve already been to—. Officials have already been to Copenhagen to look at the work that they do to understand how they have a different pathway and how that speeds up access to treatment and to outcomes, so there’s nothing new in that sense and it’s part of what we’ve been doing over the last year in any event. Our focus, though, will be on outcomes to understand what we need to do to improve outcomes for patients. Some of the really interesting work that I hope you will see when you see the refreshed cancer delivery plan is actually looking at a single pathway as well, which actually will require a different focus and a change in the way in which we look at and understand our targets. It should mean that we have a more focused and more appropriate look at what will make a difference on the cancer pathway that the clinicians will support and also that the patients will support, which is really delivering improved outcomes that all of us in this Chamber will want to see. Diagnostics are one part of improving that pathway.
Health Services in Pembrokeshire
4. Will the Minister outline the Welsh Government’s policies for the future of health services in Pembrokeshire? OAQ(5)0004(HWS)
Thank you for the question. Our aim is to ensure that people in Pembrokeshire are provided with high-quality, compassionate health services. Our focus will be on improving patient outcomes and in doing so, we will be led by the most up-to-date clinical advice and evidence.
Of course, it’s absolutely essential that appropriate emergency health services are actually based in Pembrokeshire in the future. You will be aware, Cabinet Secretary, that I’ve been re-elected with a strong mandate in Preseli Pembrokeshire by standing on a platform to reintroduce full-time paediatric services and the special care baby unit at Withybush hospital. Given the clear public support in my constituency for re-establishing these services, are you now prepared to listen to the people of Pembrokeshire by considering re-establishing these particular services?
Thank you for the question. We rehearsed this argument before the election and I’m sure we will do more than once afterwards. I don’t see the Member’s re-election to his constituency as a referendum on this particular issue. There are real challenges in this area between a very clear demand for locality versus the quality of the service that is provided as well, and you’ll be aware that the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reviewed the changes to the services that had been made, in maternity and neonatal services, and they came back and confirmed that no person’s care had been compromised, no-one had suffered any clinical harm from the changes and, in fact, it had improved the service being provided to your constituents. Now, that’s the most up-to-date clinical advice and evidence. I just do not believe that any Minister of any party in this position would, on the basis of that evidence, decide to change the service, because to do so we be to fly in the face of that evidence and, I believe, would be agreeing to provide a worse service for the people of Pembrokeshire because of the public noise made about wanting services to be provided locally. We need to have a balance in understanding those services that need to be provided in specialist centres. We need a smaller number of those across the country to provide actually better outcomes for our people and, at the same time, to understand what services we really do need to provide locally and more of those services in a primary and community setting where possible. I appreciate I’m unlikely to persuade the Member to change his position in today’s exchange, but, as I said in my first response, I will be guided by the very best most up-to-date clinical evidence and advice, and where that tells me that changing a service back to the way it was is not the right thing to do for people in Pembrokeshire, I will not do it because I do not think that that is a responsible thing for me to do.
I want to congratulate the Cabinet Secretary on his appointment but I also want to pay some tribute to the previous Minister, who had a very tough job and has exercised some change. They are not veiled congratulations, I can assure you. However, moving swiftly on, I did last Friday visit Withybush hospital and I did speak with staff and patients about the new services and how they are bedding in. I’m pleased to report, having done that, that the picture is overwhelmingly positive. I did speak with a woman who had just had delivery of her sixth baby in that new unit and who had nothing but praise for the midwives, the staff and the facilities that she availed herself of. But there was an issue that did come up and that was the future of the 24/7 dedicated ambulance vehicle, or the DAV, that was introduced for emergency transfers between Withybush and Glangwili hospitals as part of the phased introduction of safety measures supported by the previous Minister. Hywel Dda Local Health Board has extended that contract with the Welsh ambulance service but it is due to end at the end of the financial year. Cabinet Secretary, while the service is being used less, maybe, than it was anticipated—but it is shared with other services—the staff did say that it is valued and needed. My question therefore is: would you commit to discussing with Hywel Dda health board the option for putting those vital services on a permanent footing? Also, Minister, I have spoken to you about visiting both Glangwili and Withybush hospitals, which you’ve agreed to, but I would like to have your agreement on record. Thank you.
Thank you for the two questions. Yes, I’ll be happy to arrange a convenient time to visit both hospitals and to meet staff in the midwifery units. On your specific point about the dedicated ambulance vehicle, this was an important part of providing confidence about the service to make sure that there was emergency transfer, if needed, to take women and their babies to Glangwili. In many ways, I am pleased that it has been used less than anticipated because that underlines and underscores the fact that safe care is being provided in that midwife-led unit. Over 200 babies were born in that midwife-led unit in Withybush in the last calendar year: women and their babies safely delivered with high-quality care. That’s real praise for the midwives themselves. I also wanted to praise the paramedics, who are not sitting with their feet up and having a cup of tea when they are not being used to transfer people to Glangwili. They are actually undertaking work within the hospital in different teams, using their skills in a way that benefits the whole service. So, it is a really good example of the way integration can work in the planning of the service. I will definitely take up the issue and have a conversation with Hywel Dda health board and the Welsh ambulance trust to look at the future of that service on a more sustained footing.
We haven’t forgotten the election that we’ve just fought, and I do very clearly recall the Labour Party candidate in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire speaking very clearly and pledging that, if he had been elected, he would come to this place and argue for the return of maternity services to Withybush hospital and argue in favour of the repatriation of paediatric services to Withybush hospital. So, was he seeking to mislead people in the constituency? What will the Minister do now to ensure that paediatric services particularly are safe and secure in Withybush in order to ensure that the emergency services are also safe and secure?
I thank the Member for the question. In understanding what we do, I go back to saying that we have to be led by the evidence and the advice. To make this work, it’s perhaps instructive to look at what happened at Prince Philip—not at the distinct model there, but that Prince Philip Hospital stopped being an issue because clinicians within Prince Philip Hospital had a conversation about what was possible. They stopped talking down what they were doing. They stopped having a row in the pub and they said, ‘What can we do? What can we do safely? What do we want to do, and how do we get there?’ They had a conversation between themselves about leading care and about leading change within that hospital for a model, now, that there is not very much noise about. Broadly, people support what’s taken place there.
I’m really pleased that that engagement with the clinical community in Withybush is still taking place. For example, at the start of May, there was a workshop day involving a range of clinicians—both primary care as well as secondary care and the community health council—to look at where they are and where they want to be as well on a range of these services. They have got to have that constructive conversation because if they can’t agree amongst themselves what is appropriate and what is necessary for that particular part of the world and how they can go about providing it, we are unlikely to be able to support them or make choices that the people of Pembrokeshire would want to see. So, understanding what they want, having a constructive conversation and being prepared to lead that change—or to support difficult choices if those have to be made—is part of what I think we should expect, and I’m really pleased to see that is now happening on a more consistent basis within Withybush. It’s a good thing for clinicians and the public they serve.
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s intention to establish a cancer drugs fund? OAQ(5)0013(HWS)
I thank the Member for the question. We will not establish a Welsh cancer drugs fund. The English cancer drugs fund will be scrapped at the end of this month. We are prioritising the establishment of a new treatment fund as one of our key commitments in the first 100 days. I expect to be able to tell Members more about it. The fund will support the speedy introduction of innovative and effective high-cost treatments for life-threatening diseases.
Minister, our own proposals for a Welsh cancer treatment fund would not only have improved access to new, modern medicines, but would also have made cancer treatment more accessible for patients through the establishment of a mobile cancer treatment unit. In rural parts of Wales, such as my own constituency in Montgomeryshire, that would, of course, be an invaluable service. My question, Cabinet Secretary, is: what consideration have you given to the establishment of a mobile cancer treatment service?
Well, we, of course, already undertake a range of mobile cancer treatment services, and you will be very well aware of our ambition to undertake more care within the community—that shift from secondary to primary care. It’s an important part of what we wish to do. That would certainly be the case within cancer services as well. We have had well-established programmes, working with Macmillan Cancer Support, for example, on understanding primary care oncology services. We are working with our clinicians to improve what they do and to make sure that care is provided in the most appropriate setting. I will make no apology for not accepting or following Tory proposals for a Welsh cancer drugs fund. We do not believe that that is the right thing to do. It’s not just that: the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons said there was no evidence of improved outcomes from the English fund, and Sir Bruce Keogh, whom the Tories are often fond of quoting in this Chamber, has described the cancer drugs fund as not a smart and sustainable use of money. He recognised that more of the budget there is being spent on less effective medication. That is a poor model for us to follow, and I’m proud of what we are already doing and what we are committed to doing with the new treatment fund.
As you’ve indicated, health Secretary, the English cancer drugs fund has not worked and is being abolished this week. However, I’m delighted that this Government is committed to a new treatment fund, and I’m also really pleased that we are committed to a further review of the individual patient funding requests system. As you know, I am a long-standing advocate of the need to move to a national panel that would ensure consistency and fairness in decision making, and I also would like to see the end of the exceptionality test, which I do not believe has the support of many clinicians in Wales. What assurances can you offer that this review will be undertaken in a speedy manner, but also that you will ensure that the views of clinicians and patients are taken into account?
I thank the Member for her question, and she is right; she has taken a very consistent interest in this particular area. You’ll be aware that, in the discussions we had prior to the formation of this Government, in the compact with Plaid Cymru, an IPFR review was one of the things that we agreed upon between our parties. I expect to come forward with some proposals, after discussion—hopefully, before recess—on what an IPFR review could look like and to set a timescale in a matter of months for that to take place. It is important to me that that review has proper clinical buy-in of clinicians with expertise in the area and that there is a proper patient voice as part of the evidence-gathering process. So, I can also confirm that, in any review, it is my view that for the review to have real meaning, it must consider again the points about whether there should or should not be a national panel—you’ll understand that the previous review came down against a national panel, for practical reasons as much as anything else—but also, to examine again whether the exceptionality criteria are the right way to proceed. So, I’m happy to confirm that I expect those to be part of the review and for us to be able to report back in a prompt manner to this place and then to undertake any changes, if that is what the review itself recommends.
Cabinet Secretary, as you’ve stated often, and repeated this afternoon, the need for a treatment fund extends beyond the cancer drugs issue and should incorporate a wide range of treatments, including new forms of radiotherapy, which I know the Cabinet Secretary for Education championed in the last Assembly—CyberKnife stereotactic body radiotherapy, and proton beam therapy, and an information event is actually being sponsored by Bethan Jenkins tomorrow on that issue. But, they depend upon equipment and a trained workforce. So, what investment strategies has the Welsh Government established to introduce greater availability of such treatments across Wales, and what workforce requirements have been identified to deliver these?
I thank the Member for the question. One of the points I’ll make is that, on life sciences and the life sciences industry, we’ve actually got a good record on seeing development here, and the proton beam developments that could take place in south-east Wales are being led by the private sector, and that could lead to improved access in the NHS here in Wales but also potentially improve costs as well. We could actually see people coming in from other parts of England to use a service there. So, the commissioning will be important, and I look forward to having constructive conversations on the life sciences industry with my colleague Julie James, the Minister for Skills and Science.
On your broader point about workforce planning, of course there is an issue here about making sure we have the right workforce, equipped with the right skills to undertake the right care in the right place at the right time, and I’m really pleased to remind Members of the decision made at the end of the last Assembly, by my predecessor, on medical training. We will train more nurses than ever before, and more radiologists than ever before, so, we recognise where we need to have more people coming into the service with the right skills to deliver the sort of modern healthcare service that we need. It is doctors, it is nurses, and a whole range of other professions who are needed to ensure that we can deliver the sort of service that all of us wish to see.
Accident and Emergency Waiting Times (South Wales Central)
6. What measures is the Welsh Government planning to implement in order to tackle A&E waiting times across South Wales Central? OAQ(5)0006(HWS)
I expect health boards to work with their partners to ensure people have timely access to emergency care services when they need them. The national programme for unscheduled care is driving a whole-system approach to facilitate sustainable change and improvement for unscheduled health and care services across Wales.
Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. In March, the A&E waiting times showed that 380 people had waited 12 hours or more at the University Hospital of Wales, as opposed to 111 people in January. Clearly, these figures are clearly very disturbing, and despite what you’ve just said in your first answer to me, something is going very much amiss in the delivery of A&E services here in Cardiff. What certainty can you give that those figures will not continue to go up and that, actually, people will be seen within the Welsh Government’s own targets and that we can have confidence that when we do go into the winter, the winter pressure scenario will not exacerbate these figures that I’ve just quoted to you already?
Thank you for the follow-up question. I expect that when figures are published for April, we’ll see a further improvement on 12-hour waits, and Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board have actually done a relatively good job in driving down the number of 12-hour waits. They know, from my own point of view, that I expect to see further progress made so that there are fewer and fewer people waiting 12 hours in any of our hospitals here in Cardiff and Vale. So, progress made, but much more progress still needed to do, I think is the point.
It’s important to me that the system is in balance before we head into winter. I don’t want to see an unscheduled care system that has not recovered and is not in a stable place before we get into the winter months and inevitable winter pressure. We all know that, right across the UK family, winter pressures mean that there are changes in the numbers of people coming in and the acuity of people coming in to our unscheduled care system and the length of time it often takes to treat those people as well. We’re not uniquely facing a challenge in that sense, but it’s not just about A&E: it’s about what takes place within the community to avoid people coming into an A&E unit in the first place, and also, on delayed transfers of care, making it so that people are able to leave the hospital when it’s appropriate for them to do so as well. So, that whole-system approach has to be looked at, not just the figures in an A&E unit on our four-hour and our 12-hour figures, but to understand what we can do for the whole-system approach. As I say, I do think you’ll see an improvement again when the figures come out for April.
Cabinet Secretary, the link between accident and emergency challenges and the support for adult social care is well established. We’ve seen the crisis that’s occurred in accident and emergency admissions in England because of an 8 per cent real-terms cut in support for adult social care. What steps are the Welsh Government taking to ensure there is adequate support for adult social care in Wales to avoid the problems that are faced and caused a crisis in England occurring within Wales?
I thank the Member for the question. It highlights the fact that there are UK-wide pressures, and we’re taking different approaches to them. In England, they’ve taken an approach that has reduced funding into adult social care. We spend 7 per cent higher on health and social services per head, or £172, more in Wales than in England. We’ve also taken a different approach because of the way our health and social care services are organised. We don’t have the competitive and at times antagonistic relationship between providers in England, for example. That means that we’ve been able to take a system-wide approach to delayed transfers of care, working with a care system that has not been denuded of funds, and actually the morale of staff in England is particularly difficult. That’s why we’ve seen a fall over the last couple of months in delayed transfers here in Wales, which are at a record high in England since figures actually began. So, there are real lessons of what we’re doing here in Wales, and the positive points about that, but there’s no complacency here, because what we have done is to manage what we need to do and to understand more about what we do so that people don’t have a poor experience of going into the unscheduled care system, and equally they move into an appropriate place within the care system that meets their needs and understands what we could and should do to support them to maintain as much independence as possible. Much of that is how we prevent people from going into a hospital in the first place.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
And finally question 7—Rhianon Passmore.
7. Will the Minister provide an update on progress the Welsh Government has made in meeting its aim of reducing smoking rates in Wales? OAQ(5)0017(HWS)
The Welsh health survey 2015 reports that 19 per cent of adults smoke. This reduction means the Welsh Government has already exceeded its aim of reducing smoking rates to 20 per cent by 2016, and is well on track to achieve its ambitious target to reduce levels to 16 per cent by 2020.
Diolch. It’s very good news, then, that the Welsh Government has exceeded its 2016 target of reducing the level of smoking to 20 per cent. How do you plan to achieve our ambitious target of reducing those levels to 16 per cent by 2020?
Thank you. We intend to build on our success so far with the new tobacco control strategic board, which has been set up to oversee the next steps forward. We have three specific sub-groups looking at best practice on smoking prevention, cessation and the denormalisation of smoking behaviours as well, to make it particularly unattractive to young people. We also have a separate task and finish group looking at ways of decreasing the demand for illegal tobacco, and these sub-groups will come together to provide us with recommendations for a refreshed tobacco control delivery plan to take us along those next steps to 2020. And, of course, this approach goes alongside all the work that’s going on there together at a UK level, such as standardised packaging to ensure a co-ordinated and comprehensive approach to tobacco control in Wales.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The next item is the motion under Standing Order 16.1 to establish an interim Committee on Constitutional and Legislative Affairs. I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion—Paul Davies.
Motion NDM6023 Elin Jones
The National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 16.1:
Establishes an Interim Committee on Constitutional and Legislative Affairs to carry out the functions of the responsible committee set out in Standing Order 21 and to consider any other constitutional, legislative or governmental matter within or relating to the competence of the Assembly or the Welsh Ministers, including the quality of legislation.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? If there are no objections, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with standing Order 12.36.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The next item on our agenda is the motion to elect Members to a committee, and I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion—Paul Davies.
Motion NDM6028 Elin Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 17.3, elects:
(i) Huw Irranca-Davies (Welsh Labour), Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Plaid Cymru), David Melding (Welsh Conservatives) and Michelle Brown (United Kingdom Independence Party) as members of the Interim Committee on Constitutional and Legislative Affairs; and
(ii) David Melding as Chair of the Interim Committee on Constitutional and Legislative Affairs.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? If not, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with standing Order 12.36.
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The next item is the debate by individual Members under Standing Order 11.21(iv). Before we start this debate, I’d like to remind Members of my expectations when it comes to behaviour in the Chamber. This is a subject on which there are strongly held views on both sides on a very topical issue. That should mean that we have an interesting, engaging and passionate debate, but that’s no excuse for heckling or otherwise speaking over speakers or any kind of behaviour that would detract from the dignity of this place. I would also remind Members, given the level of interest in this debate, that I want to call as many Members as possible, so I will limit speakers to three minutes each, with the exception of those opening and closing the debate and the Minister responding to it. As this is an individual Member debate, I will also be seeking to ensure a fair reflection of both sides of the argument, rather than a party-political balance, as I would normally do. Therefore, I call on Eluned Morgan to move the motion.
Motion NDM6020 Eluned Morgan, Dawn Bowden, Dafydd Elis-Thomas
Supported by David Melding [R]
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Believes that Wales would be stronger, safer and more prosperous if it were to remain a part of the European Union.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. In over a week’s time, the people of Wales will have a huge responsibility: the responsibility of deciding what kind of future we want for our country. Do we want to live in an introverted, narrow country or live in an outward-looking nation that understands that if we want to have influence in the world we need to collaborate with our closest neighbours? This decision will impact on our future for generations to come, and I wish to underline today that I believe that we benefit in Wales more than any other part of the United Kingdom from our membership of the European Union. We are more prosperous, more secure and more influential because of our membership of the European Union.
The Wales football team gave us great pride last week. They’ve also reminded us that together we’re stronger. We’re stronger on the football pitch together and we also need to understand that we’re stronger when we act together with our nearest neighbours. The fact is that Wales is better off financially thanks to our membership of the European Union. We receive much more back than we put in: £79 per head according to a recent report. Our infrastructure has been rebuilt thanks to European money. People have been trained—200,000 of them—thanks to European funding and jobs have been created by the thousands thanks to EU cash.
Theoretically, we could continue to receive this highest tier of funding until 2020. We’ve already earmarked the money to regenerate our communities, to support the unemployed and to rebuild our infrastructure, including transport links like the metro. We have no idea if this funding will be honoured. These projects could be in jeopardy and I, for one, have no confidence at all that a right-wing Government in London who is short changing us already through the Barnett formula will make up for what’ll be taken from us if we were to leave the EU.
Some on the ‘Out’ campaign are making promises to farmers that would not be in their gift to determine. Agriculture, they clearly haven’t worked out, is a devolved area. But this funding is not the key economic reason for us to remain in the EU. We should try and improve our wealth so we don’t need this funding. But the security of belonging to the biggest economic market in the world—500 million people—giving us opportunities to sell our goods and giving us opportunities that haven’t begun to be realised in the service sector yet, are things that we should not put in jeopardy.
This week, we’ve heard that Wales again has reached record levels of inward investment. These companies are choosing to base themselves here because it gives them a platform to enter that single market. We know that 150,000 jobs are dependent on that relationship. Now, nobody’s suggesting that those jobs are going to disappear overnight, but if you are sitting in Ford’s headquarters then you need to make a decision in future years whether you’re going to base yourselves in Spain, where they also have a plant, or here in Wales. If you look at the mark-up you need to enter that market—almost 10 per cent if we were outside the single European area—then you’ve got to ask, ‘Which choice are they likely to make?’ How many of our own export companies can really remain competitive when their mark-up is almost 10 per cent more than their European rivals?
Ninety-four per cent of Welsh lamb is exported to the European Union. And you know what? A lot of farmers I know have said, ‘Look, let’s ditch the European Union, let’s ditch the red tape’, but they’re living in cuckoo land if they think that they’ll be able to continue to export and tear up the rules and regulations that they need to adhere to if they want access to that market. The big difference is that they will have no say and no voice on what those rules will look like.
Our universities would suffer grievously from the absence of research and development funding. These are creating the jobs of the future, the jobs that will be paying for our social model, paying for our pensions and our health systems. And there will be an immediate price to pay. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has suggested around £30 billion could be wiped off the economy if we leave—£30 billion that currently is being spent on our health and education systems. And it won’t be the likes of Boris and Gove who’ll suffer; it’ll be the most vulnerable and the poorest in our society who will bear the brunt of these cuts. The ‘Leave’ campaign even at this late stage has given us no idea of what their vision of ‘leave’ looks like. You wouldn’t swap your house for another without seeing it first, without being sure of the location and the amenities where it was appropriate. This leap in the dark I think is madness.
And the idea of any individual country being able to call the shots in today’s globalised world is a fantasy. When the planes ploughed into those Twin Towers, it took minutes for it to affect our stock market. Already the insecurity of not knowing what’s going to happen next week has wiped billions off the stock market; it’s reduced the value of the pound. We are not controlling that. Sovereignty in today’s globalised society is an illusion. It’s like imagining Tim Peake boasting up there in his space station, independent, making his decisions, but the reality is he wouldn’t be there without a whole load of different communities and countries co-operating together, making sure he’s able to do his job.
Now, the EU is far from perfect, but, having sat in a gilt-clad chamber where people were there purely because of an accident of birth, I can tell you we should not be throwing stones. Labour, of course, wants to see an EU committed to social justice, protective of people’s rights as workers, as citizens, as consumers, an EU that understands the need for environmental protection, the need to tackle climate change and the need to respect sustainable development. We’ve benefited from a host of European laws. We have some of the cleanest beaches in Europe. We have high standards for recycling rates. We’ve got cleaner air. Would we be allowed to pursue criminals abroad, monitor extremists and work with Europol? The fact is nobody knows.
And today’s Tory cry of ‘red tape’ is our cry for protecting workers. The think tank Open Europe, on which much of the ‘Out’ campaign’s figures have been based, have calculated the costs of this so-called red tape. Let me just give you one example. They say that the working time directive, which limits working hours to 48 hours a week, costs the country £4 billion. They say the benefits are zero. Well, tell that to the cleaner who has no say over whether she’s allowed to do overtime. Tell that to the overworked mother who wants to go and see her children. Tell that to people like my husband who, when he was a trainee doctor, had to work 110 hours for the NHS. I for one am happy to relinquish a degree of sovereignty to give us the protection we need that we know we won’t receive from a Government hellbent on reducing workers’ rights, as we’ve seen in their introduction of the Trade Union Bill. But I think we’ve got to remember that, in this talk of markets, of rights and of the environment, the EU is the most successful example of a peace-making institution in history.
You know, 75 years ago, about two miles away from this very spot, my father’s house was totally obliterated by a German bomb. Who can imagine the terror of that poor child and other children around him? They thought they were safe and secure in their homes here in Wales and they became the target for an enemy. In this world full of instability, of threats, of new global challenges, we take that peace for granted at our peril. I hope that next week the people of Wales will think very carefully and chose to vote for prosperity, for peace and security and to remain a part of the European Union.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Oh, heck. Diolch. Apologies, Presiding Officer. We don’t need to be in the EU to co-operate with European partners. Wales in Britain must be a sovereign partner of Europe not a province of the EU as part of an outward-looking global community. If we leave, nothing immediately changes during the first two years. Both farm support and structural funding would then be a matter for the UK Government in consultation with the devolved administrations. Because the UK is a major net contributor to the EU, more money would be available.
When the EU Commission planned to allocate structural funds for the period 2014-2020, it sought cuts for Wales of around 27 per cent. The UK Government reallocated part of the funding for England to rebalance some of that shortfall. With Wales out of the EU, future funding will be determined by politicians accountable to the Welsh electorate.
The UK subsidised its farmers before it joined the EU and would do so after we vote ‘leave’, with the Welsh Government responsible for replacing badly designed EU farm regulations with new policies to help farmers. The UK farming Minister made it clear that a UK Government would continue to give farmers and the environment at least as much support as they get now. Even the Prime Minister has made that clear.
Thank you for taking the intervention. Of course, I listened to the interview that person actually made, and when he was challenged on it he said he couldn’t give any guarantee. Are you saying he could give a guarantee or do you agree with him that he cannot give a guarantee, just a wish list?
As a Minister he can bring forward proposals and if the House of Commons passes it as the sovereign body with elected politicians it will happen, and the Prime Minister himself made that commitment. After all, non-EU countries like Switzerland and Norway actually give more support to their farmers than the UK and Wales do.
The EU is a shrinking market for the UK, with exports of goods and services to the EU falling from 54 per cent in 2006 to just 44 per cent today. Over 60 per cent of Welsh exports are now to non-EU countries. In 2014, the share of UK goods exports going to countries outside the EU was higher than every other EU member state except Malta. The UK-EU balance of trade has favoured the rest of the EU every year since we joined except 1975, and the UK now has a record trade deficit with the EU. The UK is the EU’s largest export partner, guaranteeing millions of EU jobs. It is overwhelmingly in the EU’s interest to agree a friendly UK-EU free trade deal.
As the former deputy director of the International Monetary Fund’s European research department said two weeks ago, when we go back to core economic principles,
‘Economics is neutral on whether to leave or remain’.
In supporting a European federal union, Churchill stressed that Great Britain could never be a part of it, stating,
‘We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.’
Well, it’s time to put sovereignty before the scaremongers, democracy before the doomsayers and freedom before fear. It’s time to take our United Kingdom back.
Llywydd, I’m a big fan of The Clash. I remember seeing them at Sofia Gardens when I was 17. I can’t get into those size 28 leather trousers any more—if I ever could—though the ringing in my ears, and there is, is a constant reminder that I may have overdosed on loud music at those concerts—Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Damned, Tom Robinson and, of course, The Clash. So, it’s good to hear one of their totemic tracks, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’, on the airwaves and in the news so much lately. From Radio 4 to Radio Wales to opinion pieces in ‘Time’ magazine and the Norfolk ‘Eastern Daily Press’. I bet they never thought that this punchy punk rock track would end up as a backdrop for a debate on the future of the UK and EU membership.
For Wales, for south Wales, for my constituency of Ogmore, there are clear reasons why it’s better not to have the door of the EU slammed in our faces, and the first is the spending power. One of the benefits of the EU is that funds can be allocated towards regions of greater need, so we are, inarguably, better off financially in the EU because we receive structural funds for the Valleys and for rural development funds and so on well beyond what we put in—well beyond what we put in. And yes, this is our money, but it’s our money coming back with even more added into south Wales and the west and the Valleys. Anyone arguing for Leave is arguing (a) for less regional and rural development money coming to west Wales and the Valleys and rural communities or (b) has had secret talks with the Chancellor to guarantee that he’ll bolster the block grant for Wales to replace the lost moneys and, as we just heard, there is no guarantee.
Some £1.8 million of those funds went into the regeneration of Maesteg market, also supported ably by the Labour local authority. They went into the Bridges into Work scheme, benefiting up to 2,000 people in Ogmore and throughout the south Wales Valleys, improving training and mentoring for skills into work. And £1.7 million went into the STEM Cymru scheme, promoting careers in science, technology, engineering and maths to our young people. And, for a rural wards—and that’s all but two of the wards in my constituency of Ogmore—it goes into real improvements in the places we live, through the EU-funded Welsh Government-administered rural development programme, creating things like a community gym in a refurbished church hall in Blaengarw or renovating the Llangynwyd village hall, turning it from a semi-derelict unused shell into a thriving community space that brings people together and provides a lovely cup of tea and cake as well. It’s the extension of this with the new Bridgend Thriving Rural Communities scheme, promoted by Bridgend’s Labour council, offering support and grants of up to £100,000 for ideas to improve and regenerate our communities. I could go on.
So, should we stay or should we go? Well, maybe there is a hint in the song itself, subtly tucked away. In the fury of the rock riff and the belted out lyrics, it’s easy to miss the fact that the chorus is being sung in sync in Tex-Mex and Castilian Spanish by Joe Ely and the late, great Joe Strummer. Castilian Spanish in a quintessentially British punk rock classic. Maybe it’s trying to tell us something: we’re better off staying together.
Labour Members don’t seem to have caught up with the news that project fear isn’t working. Look at the opinion polls. The public don’t believe you any longer. Of course, the truth of the matter is that every single penny that is spent by the EU on all these great projects that we’ve heard catalogued this afternoon is our money. And, on top of that, we’re sending £10 billion a year to the EU that they’re spending elsewhere. That £10 billion could be added to all the projects that have been described today. The truth of the matter is that the EU is an economic dead-end. In 1980, it accounted for 30 per cent of world trade; today, it accounts for only 15 per cent and declining. The EU is the only part of the world—the only continent—that has had zero growth in this century, apart from Antarctica. All the other continents in the world have been roaring ahead. As regards trade between the UK and the EU, the idea that this is going to come to a stop if we were to leave after the vote on 23 June is just complete nonsense.
I don’t suppose that Labour Members have caught up with the other news this week that we had a £24 billion trade deficit with the EU in the first quarter of this year alone. That’s a £100 billion-a-year trade deficit. Why on earth would the EU want to erect trade barriers against us when they gain so much from trade with us, unless they’re acting irrationally? And if they are acting irrationally, why would we want to be shackled to people who are not rational? The whole thing is nonsense. Our exports to the EU in 2000 were 60 per cent of our total exports worldwide. Today, as Mark Isherwood has pointed out, they are only 44 per cent. That’s because the eurozone is a total disaster, and for those poor people in Spain, in Portugal, in Greece, in Italy and in France who see their countries going down the tubes, then it’s certainly no cakewalk for them because they are paying the price of euro madness.
The idea that we’re going to be excluded from European trade is just nonsense. Even if we came to no trade—
Thank you for taking the intervention. Of course, one of the arguments that you haven’t mentioned is the importance of workers’ rights protection through Europe. You were a member of the Thatcher Government in the 1980s that devastated trade unions, that smashed workers’ rights, that smashed the National Union of Mineworkers and the coal industry; do you not think that before there can be any confidence or belief that your campaign will do anything to support workers’ rights, you should apologise for your role in the Thatcher Government in the 1980s?
Well, this just goes to show how far Labour is living in the past—doesn’t it—that we’re arguing today about what happened 30-odd years ago rather than what’s happening in the world today. But, what I note is that the Labour Government for, I think, the last 30 years, did nothing to repeal any of the measures that that Tory Government of the 1980s introduced. So, so much for that argument.
But to return to the point that I was making about access to the single market if we were to leave, we would have to jump over a tariff of an average of 3 per cent, which is nonsense. This is all about taking back control of our own country and giving the control of public policy to people who we can elect and dismiss, not unelected, faceless bureaucrats in Brussels whom we can’t even name.
I suppose we all have experiences that help us to reach a particular view on the question of our membership of the European Union. In my case, I draw upon 30 years’ experience as a trade union official before being elected to this Assembly. I know from first-hand experience that workers in Wales and their families are better off because the EU provides for a basic range of workers’ rights. These include—and these are not exclusive; this is not an exclusive list—the transfer of undertakings regulations; the minimum leave entitlements; anti-discrimination laws; maternity and paternity rights; a limit on maximum working hours; guaranteed rest breaks; health and safety regulations and equal treatment for temporary, agency and part-time staff, including access to pensions, which, incidentally, we had to fight for through the European courts. Many voices in the Brexit camp see these minimum standards as so-called red tape or costs to business. We are told that, if the UK could remove these minimum standards, then things would somehow and magically improve for workers.
Well, I remember many of those same voices who opposed the national minimum wage and, when asked about discrimination legislation, said they would remove most of it. So, I, for one, will take no recommendation from them when it comes to workers’ rights in Europe. My message to workers across Wales is this: the big issue in our economy is fighting the conditions that allow the continuing exploitation of workers, not removing the rights that those workers currently enjoy. The last thing workers in Wales need is a Tory Government at Westminster being given the opportunity to embark on another attack on hard-won employment rights. Left to their own devices, what Tories deliver are draconian laws like the recent Trade Union Act. What more would follow if we vote to leave the union on 23 June?
Llywydd, I’d like to now turn to the economic benefit of EU membership in my own constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. In Merthyr Tydfil alone, EU-funded projects have helped over 4,000 people into work, with another 2,000 plus benefitting from EU-funded apprenticeships. The EU has contributed towards a number of projects that have benefitted the local economy, including the town centre regeneration, creating the Penderyn square, the redevelopment of the Redhouse and the Taff Bargoed regeneration area. We have the Bike Park Wales, the riverside walk in Rhymney, the Winding House museum—all great attractions to enjoy, funded partly by European money.
On transport, we welcome the ongoing investment in the Heads of the Valleys road, the upgrade of the Rhymney station and the investment in the line from Merthyr to Cardiff, providing a basis for further work to deliver the metro. And, of course, in the current context of the excitement around the Welsh football team, it would be remiss not to mention the redevelopment of Merthyr Town FC’s Penydarren Park.
For me, at the heart of this EU debate is a basic question, and it is this: do you really feel that a Tory Government would provide the level of support that we currently see for communities like Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, and enjoy the same workers’ rights across the UK, if we were not in the European Union? Llywydd, my conclusion is that we would not.
Holiday pay was thanks to Neville Chamberlain. Equal pay at work was thanks to the women of Dagenham, and to Barbara Castle. Presiding Officer, campaigns reveal character. As we speak, the First Minister stands side by side with David Cameron—united against people governing themselves, united for free movement and unlimited immigration, united with a Prime Minister who tried to protect the EU budget in real terms, until he lost a vote in Parliament. Later, he lost some seats in Parliament, although he won mine back. Indeed, he spoke about this today, at what may prove to be his last Prime Minister’s questions. ‘Happy days’, he said, as he reminisced about my defeat. We may soon reminisce about his.
He and his Chancellor want to remain, whatever the price to truth, and whatever the price to other people’s jobs, because they want to protect their jobs, and their positions. I may have an insight into why the Chancellor acts as he did. I first met the Chancellor at freshers’ week in Oxford. I spoke in a debate, arguing for no confidence in a Conservative Government that had just joined the European exchange rate mechanism, to crucify our economy at the altar of its European project. Afterwards, George Osborne said to me that, while I might be right about the economics, he would always support Europe, because he felt more in common with the European aristocracy than he did with the British working class. Next Thursday, that British working class may bite back, because we will be better off out, because we are good enough to govern ourselves, because we are more than a star on somebody else’s flag.
Will you take an intervention?
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Are you going to mention Wales at all in your speech, or are you just betraying the fact that you are just using Wales as a vehicle to push your own agenda?
Wales, more, I think, than any part of our United Kingdom, I am pleased to say, will be better off outside the European Union. We get from the EU £600 million or £700 million, some argue on that side, yet, in per capita terms, our contribution is £1 billion a year, compared to perhaps £16 billion that we pay in tax to the UK Treasury, compared to £32 billion we get back in spending—a gap of £16 billion, perhaps, compared to, at best, £200 million or £300 million, one way or the other. Yet, his party wants to leave this United Kingdom, when we will be better off as independent Britain, in a community of the globe, raising our eyes to the horizon, better off out—[Interruption.]—trading with Europe—
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
He’s not taking an intervention.
[Continues.]—but governing ourselves.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you. Jenny Rathbone.
Campaigns do indeed reveal character, and people living in the past are the leavers, not the remainers. I’m in the strange position of today agreeing with George Osborne, who says that, if you are wealthy and don’t use public services, then you can afford to toy with the idea of harking back to a bygone era, when Britain ruled the waves, and the sun never set on the British empire. Because that is the direction that the leavers want to take us. They want to take us back in a time capsule. Remember 60 years ago, to the dirty days of the 1950s, when the pea soup fogs were so thick you couldn’t even see your own front door? Yes, it was the Clean Air Act 1956 that started the clean-up, but it is now the 2008 air quality directive that is going to hold Boris Johnson to account for having fiddled the figures on air pollution in the capital city.
Fifty years ago—let’s go back 50 years to the disaster of Aberfan. Impossible today, as a result of the 2006 management of waste from extractive industry directive, which actually quotes the Aberfan disaster as one of the things underpinning it. Let’s go back 40 years ago, where our beaches were full of raw sewage, and today, since the 1976 bathing waters directive, we now have clean beaches and many, many of them in Wales, of which we can be proud.
The people who really, really want to leave the EU are the industrial polluters, the tax evaders, the food adulterers, the irresponsible and exploitative employers. I note that the leave flotilla up the Thames included a fishing trawler called the Christina S, guilty of a £63 million fishing scam in Scotland. These are the sorts of people who want us to leave, and, sadly, a conversation I had the other day with a senior civil servant, who told me privately that if we vote ‘leave’, we can turn this country into a tax haven, so we can attract all the hot money from around the world. Scarily, I don’t think he was joking; even more scarily, he was a retired judge. Contrast him and all the other greedy, selfish people at the top of the establishment who never need to use public services, apart from the bin collections, with people who are struggling in austerity Britain, who somehow think, misguidedly, that voting ‘leave’ will ameliorate their suffering. For example, the unemployed graduate I spoke to last night, who’s planning to vote to leave—he thinks, tragically, his situation will improve when, in fact, the opposite is the case; also the people in my constituency on zero-hours contracts, who’ve had their wages frozen for the last several years, and who are fearful that more immigrants will lead to even lower wages for them; the pensioner who thinks that by leaving, their grandchildren are going to get a house that they currently can’t get. This is an argument for building more housing, not for leaving the EU. The ‘leave’ lot have lost all the economic arguments, so that they are now using the sorry spectre of immigration to peddle their poison. This is absolutely—
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Can you bring your conclusions to an end now?
Yes. Anyway, just to say that I think that we need to recognise whey we formed the European Union—to ward off the return of fascism and to represent the democratic future we all need to have. We need to lead on Europe, not leave it.
I just want to say a few words about the single market, which I believe to be a singular British achievement and something that continues to offer great opportunities to Wales, and even greater as it extends more to services, having been based initially on goods. We’ve heard a lot of talk about somehow things will almost be the same if we leave, only we’ll have much more control over resources and over our democracy. Well, things will change, otherwise it’s hardly worth leaving. I don’t think the markets will react with equanimity to a decision that they’re routinely telling us would be damaging to the British, and therefore, the Welsh economy. Something will happen to the pound, and nearly everyone says it will go down. In fact, some leavers are welcoming that because of the fact it would make our exports cheaper. But these facts have to be faced. They’ll have a profound effect on the British economy, and the Welsh economy in the next few years.
And we do hear from some—there was a hint of it in what Neil Hamilton said—that the single market will still be there for us to take advantage of. Well, whatever else happens, our access to it will not be as profitable as it is today. The single market also offers London great opportunities, and if we withdraw from the European Union, the future of London, as the first and still the premier global city, will be affected, and I believe the economy of south Wales needs to attract more and more resources from an overcrowded London, and an expanding London, as we see our own services strengthened, particularly in the professional sphere, and all that would be put in peril and the potential of Cardiff, and the area around Cardiff, as an economic magnet would be much, much weakened.
The single market was invented in the 1980s by the Thatcher Government. I think this is perhaps part of the guilt problem that certain Conservatives have—that it worked: it transformed Europe because we pushed through the principle of majority voting. It was a Conservative idea to get Europe going and, boy, it not only got Europe going, it then absorbed eastern Europe into the current European Union. What would have happened if eastern Europe had become a string of failed states, like we see now around the Maghreb and the middle east? What sort of world would we be living in if that had happened?
There’ve been huge successes in the European Union, not only in the single market, but also expansion and we should give thanks that we live in a more secure world as a result, whatever our challenges, and we do face challenges. But, frankly, to face your challenges without your neighbours is, in my view, a very reckless strategy indeed. Also, to say that you want to be open to the world, but as your first step to that openness, you’re turning your back on your neighbours, is a flat contradiction and I hope the electorate see through it a week tomorrow.
First of all, there is no such thing as European money—it’s British money coming back to us after they’ve purloined half of it. But I’d like here to perhaps pause and reflect on Wales’s constitutional position within Europe. As we all know, Brussels only recognises Wales as a mere region within Europe; it has no national status, whilst the very existence of this Senedd is testament to our growing state of nationhood within the United Kingdom. So, I put it to you—[Interruption.] I put it to you that only a fool would exchange being a nation in a union of nations we call the United Kingdom for that of a region in a vast conglomeration of regions that stretches from the Baltic to the Aegean and soon to be extended to the far side of the Bosphorus.
Would you take an intervention? Thank you for taking the intervention. So, if your argument, constitutionally, is that you support an independent UK, do you also then support an independent and separate Wales?
No, I don’t, because what I’m telling you is that we within Wales have a wonderful relationship with the other nations within the United Kingdom that has benefited us. There is no benefit to us within Europe. [Interruption.] There is no benefit to us to be in Europe.
Given this constitutional deficit, why is it that those who make up this institution feel that we will not get our fair share of the Brexit financial bonus? [Interruption.] I guessed you might be saying that, but there is going to be a Brexit financial bonus. And are they saying that the 40 Welsh MPs in Westminster would fail to carry out their duties in securing those funds for Wales? The majority of those MPs are, of course, Labour MPs.
Members have made much of workers’ rights. What rights do those on agency contracts or, worst of all, zero-hours contracts have—the most iniquitous form of employment since dockyard workers turned up at the dockyard gates to be hired for a single day’s work or not? So much for workers’ rights under the European Parliament. Labour, truthfully, has sold out to big business, bankers and the political elite of Europe. Thank you.
I’d like to express my support for those who are campaigning for a ‘remain’ vote in this referendum. It’s not for me to criticise those who wish to leave, but to make a positive case for why I’ve made a different decision after much thought. First and foremost in my mind is the well-being and prosperity of the people of Caerphilly. The chief executive of Catnic, a company based in my constituency, told me that approximately 30 per cent of their trade is with Germany, France and the Benelux region, and the EU enables that trade. That is a direct quote from them. A decision to radically change our trading relationships will directly impact negatively on Catnic.
I’ve also spoken to small business employers, who’ve used, for example, Jobs Growth Wales to hire staff, and they fear that the ending of £396 million of European funding will limit their ability to hire and train. That is directly from a small firm in my constituency. I simply, as Eluned has said, do not believe Boris and Gove when they say that they will make up that funding if we leave. I do not believe it.
But there is, undoubtedly, in Caerphilly an anti-EU feeling, which we have to say that UKIP have done their best to capitalise on. People in my constituency have told me that they feel—[Interruption.]—that the EU elite is—. I’m not going to take an intervention, because I’ve only got three minutes; I want to get through it. People in my constituency have told me that they feel that the EU is literally and figuratively distant from the day-to-day experiences of our community. If we vote to remain, this must change, and I will work to change that.
Indeed, I recall 20 years ago, when I was in sixth form in Bargoed, an academic from Cardiff University came to talk to us about joining the euro. He held up a pound coin and he said, ‘How can any of you have an emotional attachment to this piece of metal because the Queen’s face is on it?’ I remember, at that time, feeling incredulous and patronised. I can imagine Leanne Wood would feel the same; she’s looking at me right now. He completely failed to address though, in my view, the key problem with the single currency, and that is that interest rates are set for Germany, and that will not help Greece. Yet, we never joined the euro. Our parliamentary democracy and our sovereignty in Europe were strong enough to withstand this grandest of follies and this is one of the reasons I am confident in being a member of the European Union and confident we should remain.
Similarly, when we elected a Conservative Government in 1992, much to my dismay, they were able to exempt us from EU law based on principles of fair pay and equal rights, which Dawn Bowden has already mentioned. However, in 1997, when we had a Labour Government, we then signed up to those. Again, that was democracy. That was a democratic choice by the people of this country—a sovereign choice. Which brings me—and I do feel that these democratic decisions have partially fuelled right-wing campaigns to vote ‘leave’.
Which finally brings me to immigration. We must engage with these concerns. I believe that leaving the EU will lead, at best, to very little change in our ability to control our borders and we may make things even worse. Not only will a Europe without Britain be a less stable Europe, it will also remove any incentive countries like France have to police and protect our borders.
We must make a positive case for remain, one that encompasses the benefits for our economy, our democracy and our borders. I therefore urge Members to vote for ‘remain’ today.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I now call on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, Mark Drakeford.
Diolch yn fawr, Lywydd. Can I thank those Members who have brought this important debate to the floor of the Assembly this afternoon? My job is to set out the position of the Welsh Government, and that position is absolutely clear. Our continued membership of the European Union is pivotal to our future in all its fundamental dimensions.
Now, we’ve heard a series of contributions this afternoon that set out just that case in criminal justice, in environmental protection, food security, employment rights and protection from discrimination. I want to begin by just reminding us of the cultural case: Wales is a European nation. The fact that two languages are in daily use in Wales puts us firmly in the European mainstream. The fact of being Welsh means to be comfortable with multiple identities. ‘O ble ti’n dod?’ ‘Where do you come from?’—the first question we ask each other. We understand that that answer can be the town or the village, the nation or, indeed, the continent to which we belong. We understand that we can belong to more than one place at one and the same time.
As well as those cultural affinities, as we’ve heard, the European Union brings us advantages that are social, economic and political. Socially, we on this side believe in a Europe of solidarity, a Europe of protected and extended rights for working people and the strong defence of the socially vulnerable. We heard from Dawn Bowden and others of just the practical way that those social rights bite in the lives of working people here in Wales.
Economically, as many people in this debate have said, the European Union is fundamental to us in Wales—in agriculture, in industry, in structural investment, in university research. Eluned Morgan began by outlining them all, and others, such as Huw Irranca-Davies, have gone on to place those practical economic advantages directly in the communities that we represent.
The direct funding to Wales from the European Union is worth more than £500 million every year. Over 500 companies from other European countries have their operations here in Wales, and those operations provide more than 57,000 jobs. A vote to leave the EU would inevitably cause major concerns about that sort of international investment. It is absolute nonsense to suggest that leaving the European Union would have no impact here on the economy of Wales. It would. It would begin to happen the day after such a decision was made, and the impact would be deeply damaging.
But, Llywydd, perhaps politically—and this is a political forum, after all—the case for the European Union is the most powerful of all. All of us in this Chamber are hugely fortunate to have lived for more than 70 years without a war between the nations of Europe. Just as we heard from Eluned at the start, I think of my own family. Both of my grandfathers were combatants in the first world war. I vividly remember, as a child in primary school, being told by eyewitnesses of the sight of Swansea burning from Carmarthen, 30 miles away. When I heard that story fewer years had gone by since those awful events than have gone by since the first opening of this National Assembly. The notion that conflict is a matter of the distant past, that 70 years of peace is somehow more typical than 1,000 years marked by warfare, is simply to fly in the face of history. The European Coal and Steel Community, the precursor of the union today, was set up in 1951 explicitly to ensure that the sinews of war, as they were called—coal and steel—would never again be used for wars between European neighbours. Today’s Europe, with its guarantees of shared democratic values and fundamental human rights is also our guarantee that differences are solved by politics not by force. It is unfathomable that we should be at a moment of risking that advantage in the pursuit of some embittered turning away from the world.
Llywydd, campaigns reveal character. I bring no advice for the Welsh working class from the freshers’ fair at Oxford. [Laughter.] But, I do know that the group of right-wing zealots who lead the campaign to take Wales and the United Kingdom out of Europe are gathering around the gambling table. It is our futures—those of our children and our country—that they are prepared to gamble away. Let the message go clearly from this Assembly this afternoon: Wales is better in Europe. Wales belongs to Europe, and that is the choice we need to make next week. [Applause.]
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call on Dafydd Elis-Thomas to reply to the debate.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Thank you very much, Llywydd. It’s a very difficult task to respond or even summarise a debate such as this, but I am grateful to all Members for us having a reasonable and relatively rational debate in the contributions made. We started with Mark Isherwood referring to the agricultural arguments and the kinds of arguments that I have heard a number of times in the area that I represent, and across west Wales: this concept that we can secure a future for Welsh agriculture and fisheries by returning to a regime that many of us well remember, before we had things such as the European lamb regime to develop and safeguard our industry, and likewise our fisheries are now protected through the system that we have in place. Because what’s important to bear in mind about the European Union is that it’s a union that has changed and reformed across the years. That was emphasised by Huw Irranca-Davies in terms of the importance of the investment in his community, the contributions of the structural funds to the economy of the Valleys of Wales time and time again.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Yna, fe ddaethom ni at gyfraniad difyr a digrif, fel y mae o hyd, gan Neil Hamilton. Roedd o’n ceisio pwysleisio, ar yr un llaw, y byddai sicrhau bod yr Undeb Brydeinig—y Deyrnas Unedig—yn dod mas o’r Ewrop unedig rhyw fodd yn sicrhau y byddai mwy o reolaeth dros beth sy’n digwydd yng Nghymru, yn Lloegr, yn Iwerddon ac yn yr Alban. Mae hon yn ddadl yr wyf wedi methu ei deall, oherwydd mae hi’n gwrthod imi y ddadl bwysicaf ynglŷn â beth y mae’r Undeb Ewropeaidd yn ei gynnig i ni. Rydym yn byw mewn byd sydd yn fyd-eang. Dyna natur yr hyn sydd wedi datblygu ar draws y byd. Mae gyda ni ranbarthau economaidd enfawr drwy’r byd i gyd. Ac eto, mae’r ddadl yma yn cael ei chyflwyno y byddai i ni, fel teyrnas, i fod y tu fas i ranbarth byd-eang o fyd sydd yn farchnad gyfan yn rhyw fodd yn fanteisiol. Felly, nid wyf yn derbyn y ddadl honno bod y diffyg masnachol sydd rhwng yr Undeb Ewropeaidd a’r tir mawr a’r Deyrnas Unedig yn mynd i fod yn warant o gwbl y bydd modd cael marchnad rydd o’r newydd yn y farchnad sengl.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Dyma sy’n bwysig, rwy’n credu, i ni gofio bod yna bedwar rhyddid mawr sydd yn sylfaenol i’r Undeb Ewropeaidd: rhyddid nwyddau i symud; rhyddid gwasanaethau i symud; rhyddid cyfalaf i symud; a rhyddid pobl i symud. Dyma lle mae’r ddadl ynglŷn â mewnlifiad yn tywyllu ac yn drysu pobl yn fwy nag unrhyw ddadl arall. Nid mewnlifiad yw bod pobl yn dod o dir mawr Ewrop sy’n rhan o’r Undeb Ewropeaidd i weithio yng Nghymru. Nid mewnlifiad ydy hynny. Beth ydy o ydy pobl sydd yn gyd-ddinasyddion o gyfandir cyfan yn gallu rhannu gwaith, fel yr ydw i’n gallu rhannu gwaith os ydw i’n mynd mas i weithio yn yr Undeb Ewropeaidd, neu fel y myfyrwyr sydd yn gweithio o Brifysgol Bangor, lle’r wyf i’n—
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Yes, I give way.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Yes, I’ll take an intervention.
Thank you. It beggars belief to me that two so-called socialist parties that care about the working classes are those parties that advocate a huge number of people pouring into this country. They did not take chief executives’ jobs. They didn’t take top civil servants’ jobs. They didn’t take bankers’ jobs. They took working-class jobs. Where they didn’t take those jobs, they have forced the price of labour down to such a level that the living wage is now the standard wage. Disgraceful—for all of you.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
The only thing I will say to you, David: without those people, what would happen to the fresh meat industry in Wales? And the NHS?
If they paid—
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
No, the Member is not taking a further intervention. Dafydd Elis-Thomas.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Dawn Bowden emphasised the basic issue here of workers’ rights and standards, and I was very pleased to hear that argument. Then we came to Mark Reckless, who gave us edited highlights from his biography. I’ve always regarded autobiography as a work of fiction, so we’ll leave it there. Jenny Rathbone emphasised the importance of the environmental contribution, in terms of air quality, clean beaches and, of course, mine waste safety.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Then, my colleague David Melding. David Melding has led on the European question over the years. I made an error in the first referendum. Despite the efforts of Dafydd Wigley and others to persuade me, I voted against remaining in in 1975, and I have regretted that every day since then. And David is entirely right in making the case that the single market is a British Conservative project, and the contribution of the Thatcher Government had been significant.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
David Rowlands also gave us a lecture on the constitutional position of Wales. I’m afraid I do see this slightly differently, because I was sitting in the Chair there for a period and spent a lot of time discussing with European regions. Europe is a Europe of the regions, and it will continue to be a Europe of the regions, wherever Wales decides to place itself. And, in the Committee of the Regions, we have been represented very ably by my close friend here, Mick Antoniw, who was able to speak from personal experience during the crisis in Ukraine.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
And, finally, I come to Hefin David’s contribution, where he mentioned the anti-EU feeling that is about in Wales. And, you know, if we lose this one, we’ve lost it, it’s the political class in Wales that lost it, because we haven’t made the argument strongly enough and have not particularly made the argument that Mark Drakeford, our Minister, ended with—the argument for multiple identity.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
The Welsh language is a co-official language in the European Union. It is not a co-official language in Westminster, and that’s a sufficient argument for me to stay in Europe forever.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] I will defer voting, therefore, under this item until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Simon Thomas.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The next item is the Welsh Conservatives debate, and I call on Russell George to move the motion.
Motion NDM6021 Paul Davies
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Notes the immense achievement of the Welsh national football team in participating in the current Euro 2016 championships in France.
2. Recognises the role Wales’s involvement in the tournament could play in encouraging participation in sport, improving public health levels and creating an ongoing legacy for our elite athletes.
3. Expresses concern at the findings of the recent Welsh Government Health Survey, which emphasised the scale of the public health challenges facing Wales and identified that 24 per cent of adults are classified as obese and 59 per cent of adults classified as overweight or obese.
4. Believes that the Welsh Government must work with governing bodies and key partners to utilise events such as Wales’s qualification to, and participation in, the Euro 2016 finals, to improve public health and inspire greater participation in physical activity.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I hope that this debate will be a little bit less controversial than the last, but I will be mentioning Europe a number of times in this debate. I’m pleased to introduce this debate on the effects of the European football championships on Wales, as well as the longer term health repercussions of the event, and to move the motion in the name of Paul Davies. I’m also pleased to indicate support for the amendment to our motion in the name of Simon Thomas.
I wanted to start today’s debate by congratulating the Welsh national football team. I’m sure that, like everyone else in the Assembly today, we are immensely proud of the achievements of our team in reaching their first international football tournament since the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, and the pride is only intensified following their victory, of course—their 2-1 victory over Slovakia on Saturday—and we’re only, of course, one result away from the knockout stage of the tournament, and wouldn’t it be so sweet if that result came against our English neighbours tomorrow?
Wales has got a proud history of sporting success in hosting major sporting events that far exceeds the norm for a country of our size. We hosted the 1999 Rugby World Cup, the FA Cup finals between 2001 and 2005, two Ashes test matches, an annual stage in the world rally championships, as well as the 2010 Ryder Cup, and we’ve also secured the rights to host the 2017 championship league final. I hope I haven’t missed anything out. If I have, please intervene. But many Welsh sportsmen, from Gareth Bale and Geraint Thomas to gold medallist Jade Jones, have risen to the top of their fields and have represented our country with distinction around the world. Now, despite these successes, sports participation rates across Wales are worryingly low. A previous Welsh Government, when it announced the ‘Climbing Higher’ strategy in 2005, stated their desire to place sport and physical activity at the heart of Welsh life. Now, recent surveys show that the proportion of adults undertaking more than 150 minutes of sport per week has only marginally increased, and, though these findings are of course welcome, I believe that they also highlight numerous areas where Government needs to concentrate on.
One of the main issues that desperately need to be addressed is the clear link between sports participation and socioeconomic background. People with lower earnings are far less likely to exercise on a regular basis, and, of course, I think we can all agree that that must be rectified. At a junior level, sports participation at primary schools across Wales has notably decreased. Physical education is, of course, essential to the upbringing of children all around Wales, and it’s encouraging that a healthy lifestyle keeps children fit and well-motivated to continue exercise, of course, in their adult life. At a time when all eyes are of course glued to the exploits of our boys in France, it should be asked where the future Gareth Bales will come from if the time dedicated to junior physical education continues to decrease.
Now, in regards to the impact of Welsh sport and exercise uptake, I’m particularly concerned that in the recent budget the previous Government cut funding to physical activity across Wales. Additionally, community funding for sporting and leisure clubs across Wales has also continued to decline, so at the same time fees are going up for our football and rugby pitches—I know in Cardiff it costs £55 now a football pitch, and £75 a rugby field. These increases are of course barriers to participation in sport. Now, with increased sports participation linked to good health, it naturally follows that low participation rates are detrimental to public health. In 2015, 24 per cent of the Welsh population was classified as obese, and 59 per cent of the population overweight. Weight problems, of course, bring with them additional health issues such as diabetes and higher blood pressure, both of which have increased dramatically in Wales over the past decade.
Now, economically, our success at the Euros also creates a fantastic opportunity to advertise Wales as a tourist destination, not only to Europeans, but also around the world. I was glad to see that the Welsh Government has taken steps to showcase our nation’s tourist destinations at the European Village, and has invested in advertisements in several languages to market this great country, and I hope that they’re successful in attracting visitors. Now, domestically of course, the Euros are also a good boon to our local clubs and bars and pubs, and I know that I’ll be doing my bit to help Montgomeryshire’s local economy at 2 p.m. tomorrow.
So, with many eyes watching the team across lounge rooms and pubs and fanzones across Wales, but also in France, the Euros present a brilliant opportunity to encourage participation in sport across Wales now and in the future, and I sincerely hope that the Welsh Government, working of course in partnership with other Government bodies, local authorities and key partners, builds upon the success of our football team to increase sporting participation, particularly among the most vulnerable of our society, and that steps are taken to improve the public health of Welsh men and Welsh women.
Finally, events like this bring a huge sense of national pride, and I want to take this opportunity to wish our football team the very best of luck tomorrow and for the rest of the tournament. [Assembly Members: ‘Hear, hear.’]
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you very much. I have selected the amendment to the motion. Therefore I’ll call on Dai Lloyd to move amendment 1, tabled in the name of Simon Thomas. Dai Lloyd.
Insert as new point 4 and renumber accordingly:
Regrets cuts to grassroots sports in Wales.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you to Russell for opening this debate and for accepting our amendment, which is factual. We do regret that cuts have been made to grass-roots sports as a result of funding cuts, and it’s important as well for us to join in congratulating the Welsh football team, who had exceptional success over the weekend. And, of course, that is a great boost to the mental health of all of us, I would think, as we’re talking about the impact of sport on our health—not just physical health, but out mental health. Everybody is happier when our national teams have success and especially so during that time in the second half when it appeared quite poor, but it was great to see the boys turning things round and succeeding in winning in the end.
But I want to talk in the time that I have about the importance of physical education. Fitness, that is: fitness, and the need for everybody to keep fit, even though this can be difficult for a number of us. But we can always walk to places, for example, rather than using lifts. There is a lot of medical research work that has shown that keeping fit safeguards you from developing things such as dementia, reduces the rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke, and so forth—a number of diseases that we’re battling to develop new medicines to treat. Yet, if you’re fit, you tend to suffer less from these diseases. If keeping fit were a tablet, then all of us would insist that NICE agree that doctors such as I should prescribe it. But keeping fit is much more effective than most tablets and medicines that we have at the moment to address dementia and stroke, and so forth.
Therefore, walking 10,000 steps every day is the thing—10,000 steps. It’s very easy to achieve, but it can be a challenge.
I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned yet that I’ve been a Member of this Assembly before. Some six years ago now, I had success in passing a Measure to safeguard our playing fields in Wales, and I was very grateful for support from every party at the time to safeguard the future of our playing fields to ensure that the next generation of Gareth Bales, and so forth, could have somewhere to play and run around, even in the centre of our cities.
And of course, to end now, as we’re all ageing, that speed that we had when we were young in playing rugby or football and so forth is starting to get deficient as we’re getting older, quite naturally. But there are other things that develop, such as walking football. It’s developing in a number of parts of Wales, and it’s important for those of us who are ageing and who can’t run around quite as fast as we could before. That, of course, is looking for support, like all other sporting activities.
In conclusion—the Assembly’s rugby team. There are a number of Members here who can play rugby for the Assembly. I will be making my pitch to be on the left wing again, for obvious reasons. But, of course, membership of that team is open to everybody, and I’m looking at my fellow Members also to develop that fitness, to become an integral part of the National Assembly for Wales’s rugby team. Thank you very much.
May I just begin today by putting on the record, I’m sure, the thanks of all of us to Professor Laura McAllister and to congratulate her on the honour she received in the birthday honours list just a few days ago?
Returning Members may remember in a debate in November 2014 that I shared my consternation at the revelation that I am considered now to be an older person. Perhaps the worst part of that awakening was the discovery that I am married to an older person as well. In fact, he’s so old that he too has a Clash T-shirt; it’s tucked away in his chest of drawers. It pre-dates the house that we moved into nearly 26 years ago by a significant number of years, but sadly there are no leather trousers to be found there—unlike, it sounds like, in Huw Irranca-Davies’s home.
Even older, though, are the shirts that he’s kept from his days as a player with the football and rugby clubs in mid Wales, from childhood through the youth teams and ultimately into adulthood. They’re not famous teams. Even now, there are parts of Wales where potentially elite talent slips through the net because it is difficult to develop elite talent in sparsely populated areas. It’s a 60-mile round trip to the nearest football academy from where my family lives, for example, and no public transport to speak of. Of course, if you’re able to make that trip, that could be followed by a round trip of nearly 200 miles to actually play a match. It’s a challenge for the players and their mam-and-dad taxis for players in somewhere like Bridgend in my region, where they go to Aberystwyth once a year. But for the players and the mam-and-dad taxis in Aberystwyth, those long journeys are weekly and talent gets lost as patience wears thin. If the next Sophie Ingle or the next Gareth Bale is from, let’s say, Cribyn or Llanbryn-mair, are we sure that we’re actually going to get to know about them?
My old man—I’m allowed to call him that now—however, is hooked on sport. He doesn’t just shout at the telly and engage the cat in amazing punditry from his armchair: until recently, he coached the town’s children and youth football teams and every week he joins a bunch of, well, I’m going to call them veterans, just to be kind, to play five-a-side football. He may have a season ticket to the local osteopath as a result of this, and many others who join him, but for him and those older men, this sport is not just about fitness; it’s the stress-busting; it’s the keeping up of long-held male friendships; it’s always the pub after the game; it’s kind of the men’s shed in a knock-off Barcelona strip. And so campaigns like ‘We Wear the Same Shirt’ have helped highlight the value of sport to male mental health in particular, but the principles of it apply also to older people. Public Health Wales have shown that the most sparsely populated counties in Wales are those inhabited by the largest proportion of older people, with isolation leading to loneliness and a decline in mental and physical health.
Now, my husband’s only in his fifties, but between one and three and one in five people over the age of 65 also claim to be hooked on sport. And as we heard from Russell George earlier on, the figures aren’t necessarily convincing on this, and I think there’s still a little bit of work to do on statistics so that we can be absolutely sure what the position actually is. I mean, I thought those figures sounded pretty high when I looked at them, even when you recognise that this includes bowls, swimming, using an exercise machine and golf. But, when you drill down a little further, it’s just 7 per cent of the over-65s who do sport or exercise twice a week, even though 18 per cent of them are members of sports clubs, and I think that’s pretty interesting. Over half of over-65s do no frequent sports or organised exercise, and the pattern sets in long before this with less than half of 55 to 64-year-olds doing any sport. Yet, over a third say that they do participate three times a week. It looks like it’s all or nothing, doesn’t it? Those hooked on it really seem to be hooked on it.
The Swansea half marathon is taking place on 26 June, and, while not everyone is from Wales in that, of course, you’d be surprised to hear how many older people took part in that last year. Out of 3,441 runners, 241 of them were men between the ages of 50 and 60, and 51 men over the age of 60. Forty women over the age of 45 took part too; that’s just under 10 per cent of those taking part being older people. The much lower figure for women participants is where I’m coming to just to finish this, because Sport Wales recognises that the value of sport goes beyond physical activity, and has a special value to women who are at risk of social exclusion. And it also claims that women are very good at responding to appropriate provision.
So, I’ll finish my contribution with this, Cabinet Secretary. I applaud all the work that’s happening on men’s mental health and the policymakers’ work that’s being done on encouraging young girls to take up sport, but how can we help women, and older women, at risk of becoming obese—women like me—overcome the bygone embarrassment of the old school gym and to become hooked on sport in later life, even if that is football?
I’d like to start by recognising the enormous achievement of the Welsh national football team in participating in Euro 2016 in France. And as everybody has said, it’s the first time that Wales has accomplished that in 58 years. And yes, the 2-1 win against Slovakia in their first game was impressive, and I couldn’t mention the game without also mentioning one player, Joe Allen from Haverfordwest.
But Wales’s success in sporting events over recent years has indeed already inspired people across the country to become more involved in sport. And it is already widely accepted that major sporting events can, and do, have the potential to boost public participation in sport, and also consequently to increase tourism. I’m not going to run through the list of things that Wales has been involved in because Russell George did that for me. But we do need to take advantage of the momentum that has been created from Wales’s participation in this Euro 2016, and the participation in and staging of those events that were previously mentioned. And we must encourage even more children, young people and adults to take up sport and to continue being active.
We must also reap both the health and the economic benefits that naturally flow on from that. But we must also leave an ongoing legacy for our elite athletes. That is, in any case, an extremely tall order. But it is the case that, since 2008, the active adults survey does demonstrate that 41 per cent of adults are now participating three times a week in some form of activity, and that was only 29 per cent in 2008. It is also the case that that increased activity, when attributed to young people, is even greater.
There is no doubt that we need to improve in some areas the participation in sport and we need to look at why some of those individuals and groups of people don’t actually participate in sport or have the opportunity to participate in sport as much as they could. But nonetheless, we have had improvements and some of those improvements are partly thanks to the Welsh Labour Government’s engagement in a range of work that promotes sport and physical activity. That has achieved improving access to opportunities, it has ensured that physical education meets the needs of our children and young people and it has also helped support community sport and physical activity.
But that is only part of the picture. I think that we can’t go through this debate today without recognising the huge contribution from the masses of volunteers—they were called by Suzy Davies mum-and-dad taxis—but nonetheless they are volunteers. They do actually help achieve a massive 235,000 volunteers right across Wales. It is the case that 10 hours or more a month are spent volunteering. That is an enormous contribution and one, I feel, worthy of stating here today. If we costed that contribution, it would come to £300 million or 15,000 full-time employees. So, that gives an idea of the scale of that contribution.
Moving on to the gaps in sport. I think we must pay attention to the fact that there is a gender gap; that girls seem to fall off as they get into young adulthood. It is the case that there are gaps, and some of them have been mentioned, where poorer children, disabled children and individuals also don’t participate as often as they could. Moving back to what Dai said at the very start, it is the case that if people stay fit, they stay healthy. And if they stay fit and they stay healthy, they don’t find themselves in need of the care. They don’t find themselves to be obese and consequently they don’t find themselves to have some of the diseases that we find so prevalent and so hard to do something about.
Given my Welsh children, my Scottish husband and my English father, I’ve learnt to tread in a very inclusive manner around the subject of team sports. However, I think I can safely say that the performance of the Welsh team in France will be an inspiration to many young boys and girls and we need to ensure that this enthusiasm and interest is built upon and doesn’t go to waste. I think we could look at the success of the London Olympics, because certain sports there saw massive increase in participation in the year immediately following the games. Again, it’s important that we should note that, whilst this will dissipate over time, and although it goes back, there’s always an incremental increase that remains and it is worth using that as a lever to build on again and again.
Tennis is a perfect example of how sport harnesses the extra media coverage at certain times of the year, with tennis clubs generally seeing an increase in membership in the weeks immediately following the grass court championships at Wimbledon. More locally, in my particular constituency, events such as Ironman Wales and the Long Course Weekend provide an inspiration for people, and young people especially, to join up. My kids have entered into Ironkids this time and it’s not actually very easy at all. I’m not entirely sure I’d make it through Ironkids let alone Ironman itself.
It is depressing to see that the uptake of exercise remains inextricably linked to socio-economic factors and Joyce Watson touched upon this in some detail. It’s a fact of life that the lower down the socio-economic ladder you are, the harder it is for you to partake in sports. But there are inexpensive and highly effective opportunities that we can take advantage of. Things like parkruns are a very good example of how mass exercise can be done at very little cost. Minister, I’d like to understand what you feel the Welsh Government might be able to do to promote initiatives such as that.
My colleague Suzy Davies touched a little bit on children living in more deprived areas. I think that that is an extremely important area to start with, because, as we all know, whatever we learn in our childhood tends to go forward with us into older age. So, for me to suddenly take up taekwondo or whatever it’s called is highly unlikely and a very scary thought, to be truthful. However, if my 11-year-old were to take it up, that’s the kind of fitness regime that she will get used to and she will, as a 20-year-old, hopefully go to the gym and so on and so forth. So, if we can capture our young people at a very early age, we have a much better chance of being able to increase sport participation.
I think that Russell George touched on the fact that, actually, the amount of time given to sport in primary schools is dropping and dropping quite significantly. If we look at France, which is where the Welsh rugby team—football team; forgive me please, all those football people who love the beautiful game—. Where the Welsh football team currently are, in France, it is four hours per week for a primary school child. In Wales, they are lucky if they get a proper two. In Scandinavian countries, it’s four to five hours per week for sport, with a big emphasis on including everybody within the school in a sports activity at the weekend.
This does really hurt young people who live in rural communities where poverty can be very easily hidden. If you’re in a household that doesn’t have a great income and you only have one car and that one car is out working with one of the parents, you can only get the school bus into school and back out again; you don’t have the opportunity to stay behind and partake in team sports. You don’t have such a great opportunity at the weekend to go back, join the swimming club and do all the rest of it. So, if we really want to make a difference to our health as a nation, to the appalling statistics we have on obesity, on smoking, on the cancers that I spoke of earlier this afternoon with the Cabinet Secretary for health—in all of these rising rates that we have—. One in two people born after 1960 will have cancer. That is a horrifying statistic. The way to make the difference is to grab the young, engage them—don’t let anybody escape; don’t let them go and live in Angle and not be able to get out. Let’s find ways of bringing sport to young families, sport to young people, because, by doing that, we are going to not only protect them as individuals but take such an enormous burden off our country going forward. Public health is in quite a crisis. It needs a lot of money to try and sort it out. There’s not a lot, perhaps, that you can do for someone of my advanced age—I can tell you that now. But my children—my 11-year-old and my 13-year-old—they have a real chance. Put the money into the kids and really let’s try to get that grass-roots sport up and running. The benefits to our society are incalculable.
Yes, it’s a significant achievement that the Welsh football team has reached the European championship finals, as was noted in the Chamber last week as well. Yes, it would be nice to imagine that this sort of achievement in professional sport will trigger major increases in participation in amateur sport at youth and grass-roots levels. Unfortunately, this does not always prove to be the case. Much is made nowadays of what will be the legacy of a particular sporting event—for instance, London’s hosting of the 2012 Olympics. Unfortunately though, staging huge events such as the Olympics costs rather a lot of money, and the London boroughs afterwards found that their budgets for contributing to grass-roots sport were actually cut. So, it may be the case that, in reality, there is no real positive legacy from such an event. To protect and improve grass-roots sport, we should first recognise that investment in this area can be seen as leading to a long-term cost saving as healthy and sporting youngsters and young adults are much less likely to become unfit or obese adults later on in life. There could be major savings in future NHS bills in return for relatively small investments now.
Instead of cutting sports funding, we need to invest. Invest where, though? Well, we need to strengthen the place of physical education in schools, we need to enhance links between the schools and sports clubs; PE teachers should be encouraged to develop these links. There could be a programme of regular visits to school PE lessons from club coaches in each local authority area. Youngsters of varying abilities need to be encouraged to sign up to sports clubs, not just the elite, and grants to clubs could reflect this kind of sporting diversity.
Angela just mentioned the issue of parkruns. This has cropped up recently in the national press. I believe there were parkruns organised in Hampstead Heath and possibly other parks in London, and there was an issue that they may be charged by local councils—the people organising the parkruns—for the use of the public parklands, which, to me, seems entirely ludicrous. And that’s a path that we need to make sure we don’t follow in Wales. We should be encouraging this kind of voluntary activity that could get lots of people who are not particularly sporting—it could get them involved in sport, because it is a mass participation event. You don’t have to be that good to go to a parkrun; there will be people just as slow as you if you’re one of the slowest. So, we need to encourage that kind of activity, as Angela suggested.
Finally, there are many young adults in Wales who have graduated in sports science in recent years who are not employed in this field. Their talents and enthusiasm for sport need to be harnessed and we need to think constructively about how we can best invest to utilise this latent talent pool.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you very much. Mohammad Asghar.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. May I begin by congratulating Wales on qualifying for 2016—the first major football tournament we have qualified for since the World Cup in Sweden in 1958? It has taken nearly half a century to achieve this goal and it’s a wonderful goal and I congratulate the team, the managers and everybody who made an effort to be there. I hope they’ll win tomorrow against England.
Each major sporting event increases the interest of people in taking part in sport. The Welsh Government has failed to build on the impetus of Welsh sporting success. Strategies such as ‘Climbing Higher’ and ‘Creating an Active Wales’ have good intentions, but inactivity rates remain high.
The uptake of exercise remains linked to socioeconomic factors, with vulnerable groups failing to enjoy increased participation in sport. This has had a detrimental effect on public health in Wales. The result of the Wales health survey in 2015 confirmed that health remains the greatest challenge faced by the Welsh Government. Wales faces a public health crisis with around 60 per cent of adults classed as overweight and about a quarter as obese. But there is some good news in the survey also, Deputy Presiding Officer. The number of adults who smoke has dropped to 19 per cent and binge drinking has also decreased. However the overall picture is a bleak one of the health of our nation. Soaring rates of obesity have led to an increase of diabetes class 2, and cancer and heart diseases have increased.
Since 1996, the number of people living with diabetes in Wales has more than doubled. Over 180,000 people in Wales now have diabetes and it’s increasing. If we don’t do anything, Minister, then in 2025, there’ll be nearly 300,000. What a staggering figure. You must encourage our people. In my young age, I was a long-distance runner, I did go for an Olympic torch run back home, and I can assure you, I am 70 years old and that is actually the fruit I am reaping now. I advise every individual and every family in this country to encourage their children to participate in sports—it is the best recipe for longevity. I can assure you this one piece of advice to every family is more than spending millions and billions of pounds on sports.
But, in sport, also very essential is safety for our children. It is very paramount. I can assure you, Minister, there are three areas that I will mention now, on which you must take steps. One is to make sure that our children have free access to playing fields. Sporting venues must have reduced charges. Local councils are doubling the charges for either cricket, football, rugby or whatever it is. I don’t want to go on figures, but I can assure you, in the last few years, the amounts charged for these fields has trebled and the children are actually leaving sports, because—especially ethnic minorities—they just can’t afford them.
No. 2, also, in Wales, we must make a law that all these fast-food chain stores must use the low number or low standard of the cholesterol in their oil. It is not good enough that burger vans are parked outside our primary and high schools. That should be stopped also.
Also, the third one, which is very important—in the last few months, I have had to go to hospital to see some constituents and some family members. What I saw there in the canteens, in the restaurant, in hospitals, NHS hospitals—the food quality was great, but the chocolate, ice cream, fried chips and everything were nicely given by the staff, but that’s not good enough. That is actually carrying to these people not a good healthy sign, but, actually, is giving the reverse effect to the people. I have known some people who go to these restaurants for food because that is one place where people can get very good food for a very reasonable price, but I would ask the Minister to make sure our hospitals’ procurement is healthy, buying local foods and produce.
Also, there are certain other areas, Minister, that—. The result of the health survey I was talking about from 2015—however, the overall picture is bleak on the health of our nation: soaring rates of obesity and ill health. Sporting events increased the interest of people taking part in sports. Welsh Government has failed to build on the impetus of Welsh sporting successes. Minister, I know there is no time, but this debate needs a much longer time to feed in that sport is one of the best for our national health. Thank you.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you. And finally, John Griffiths, please.
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. It certainly was an immense achievement for the Wales football team to qualify for the Euro finals after several decades of waiting, and that’s exactly how it felt in Bordeaux on Saturday. I was lucky enough to be there with other Members from across the parties, and I think I can say for all of us, Dirprwy Lywydd, that the way that the Wales football team performed on and off the field and the way the supporters behaved were absolutely magnificent and a great reflection on our nation. It was certainly seen that way by the French and other football-team supporters who were present. So, it has been a very, very positive story that we need to build on.
One way in which I think we can do that, perhaps, Dirprwy Lywydd, is to revive our Welsh Assembly football team. Somebody mentioned the rugby team earlier. Well, we did have a football team and we did play the Scottish Parliament, Westminster and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and, indeed, we won the tournament on at least one occasion. So, perhaps we can revive that with some of the new, younger membership that we’ve had at the last election, and show a good example.
Can I also say, Dirprwy Lywydd, that in Newport, as I mentioned earlier, I believe we are doing some good things around physical activity? It does include football and the local sports clubs, and it’s about pulling everyone together: the health sector, the leisure trust, the local authority, the sports clubs, Natural Resources Wales, Newport City Homes, and a number of others as well, to work on how we can get our local population more physically active. I know that Welsh Government, as the Minister said earlier, is supporting these efforts and will support these efforts, and I look forward to working in partnership with Welsh Government in terms of those local endeavours.
Finally, Dirprwy Lywydd, when it comes to the legacy that the motion also rightly mentions, it is difficult to build a lasting legacy, but this is a great opportunity, isn’t it, because it took us so long to qualify? But not only are we finally there in France, but we have performed very, very well indeed, and I hope, as everybody else does, that we can build on that and go forward to the knockout stages. But what we found locally in terms of the efforts that I mentioned in Newport is that some clubs are ambitious to grow—not all, but some are ambitious to grow—and those clubs need support if we are to build on the legacy. Sometimes it’s legal advice, sometimes it’s accountancy help, sometimes it’s helping setting up a trust or a charity; but I do believe that we need Sport Wales to step up to the plate, and local authorities and leisure trusts to step up to the plate, to identify the clubs that are ambitious locally and to enable them to grow and develop. They will provide opportunities for the areas, as people mentioned, that are currently missing out in terms of deprivation, and also for girls, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. If we give them the support, they will deliver on the ambitions that we all have.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you very much. I call on the Minister for Social Services and Public Health, Rebecca Evans.
Thank you. I’d like to thank Members for what I think has been a really constructive and helpful debate this afternoon. It gives me great pleasure to begin by joining Members in applauding the success of our men’s senior national football team, both in qualifying for a major tournament and in showing the world how sport can unite a nation. It’s a tremendous achievement and it shows how the whole squad has worked for each other and has been galvanised by the leadership of their manager, Chris Coleman.
The European championship is one of the world’s highest-profile sporting events, with an aggregated TV audience of 1.9 billion for 2012. That sort of global audience will help raise the profile of Wales not just as a sporting nation but also as a small country where working together to achieve common goals continues to mean that we surpass both our own and others’ expectations.
Football is immensely popular in Wales, and, recognising this, the Welsh Government provides financial support to the development of the game at grass-roots level. This work is driven forward by the Welsh Football Trust, who have made significant progress over the last few years. There are now 105,000 registered football players across Wales, including 5,000 women and 800 disabled players. The Welsh Football Trust is working to use the European championships as a catalyst to stimulate young people to take part in football. This is very much using the momentum that Joyce Watson and Angela Burns have described in their contributions.
The trust has established a first-class coaching infrastructure, attracting coaches from right across the world. They provide 4,000 training opportunities each year, and Wales is the first nation to provide coach education online. Many young players will have been inspired by the current team, and establishing this sort of infrastructure will help develop our more talented players, no matter where they are or where they live. I listened carefully to Suzy Davies’s contribution, and that of Angela Burns, because I certainly don’t want to see talent being lost or opportunities unavailable purely because the young people might live in a rural area.
Major sporting events can provide good opportunities to drive home messages about being more physically active and the benefits that this can bring. For example, mass participation events, such as the world half marathon and that long list recited to us by Russell George, provide us with high-profile platforms for promoting healthy lifestyles. We continue to work closely with Sport Wales and national governing bodies to exploit these kinds of opportunities for encouraging more people to take part in sport and physical activity more often. They also provide our talented sportsmen and women with valuable opportunities to compete against the world’s best on home soil, and opportunities to qualify for the Commonwealth, Olympic and Paralympic Games.
It’s clear that sport is a huge part of Welsh culture and certainly helps define us as a nation. However, the value of sport goes beyond personal enjoyment and fulfilment; it’s a very powerful tool that can help us achieve some ambitious goals. One area of concern that is a challenge to Governments around the world is the slow but steady increase of the levels of overweight and obesity amongst the adult population. The recent figures released for 2015 from the Welsh health survey showed that 59 per cent of adults were overweight or obese, compared to 54 per cent in 2003-04. Levels also increased with deprivation, and they ended as highest in middle age.
We know that lifestyle changes don’t happen overnight and we have to continue to support our adult population to be healthier. However, it is reassuring that the majority of children maintain a healthy weight. Recent data from the child measurement programme show that prevalence of reception-age children being overweight and obese in Wales is stable, with 72.9 per cent being of a healthy weight. This is important as we know that early-life behaviours may track into adulthood and influence weight in later life. So, this healthy majority is an encouraging sign for future generations. In the same way, adults are more likely to be physically active if it becomes part of their lives before the age of seven. The Sport Wales school sports survey shows the number of children and young people regularly taking part in sport is now at 48 per cent, up from 27 per cent in 2011. So, we are making progress, but there is more to do.
As Dr Dai Lloyd and Mohammad Asghar reminded us, the evidence is clearly there, demonstrating that addressing obesity can play a significant role in reducing the prevalence and impact of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia and some forms of cancer, as well as helping with overall improvements in physical and mental health. Gareth Bennett was right to talk about the cost saving that is available to us if we address this. Our manifesto made clear our commitment to tackle this issue through increasing levels of physical activity and improving our diet. Education to inform better choices, free swimming, increased active travel, limiting the amount and availability of unhealthy food in key settings, ensuring that children and young people understand the consequences of poor lifestyle choices, and increasing rates of breast feeding are just some of the things that we are putting in place to support our population at many levels.
Other developments include Public Health Wales’s close collaborative working with health boards to develop effective early years intervention, using concepts from the ‘10 Steps to a Healthy Weight’ programme. Sport Wales, Public Health Wales and the Welsh Government will continue to jointly fund a physical activity director, who has produced a new physical activity action plan. This plan is currently being considered by all three bodies, and I look forward to seeing the final draft soon. I intend to take time over the summer to consider the document and to discuss it with our key stakeholders, with a view to launching it in September.
The background to this debate is our involvement in one of football’s biggest competitions. I’m sure that all Members will support me in wishing Chris Coleman, the players, the support staff and the FAW the very best of luck. It’s a fantastic time to be a Welsh football fan and an exciting time to be a Minister with responsibility for sport. No-one here will need reminding that Wales play England tomorrow, and it promises to be a very exciting game. I’m grateful for the First Minister’s intervention with the French authorities regarding the safety of our fans during the rest of the tournament. Keeping our people safe is our first priority, and I’m sure that the increased security being put in place will mean that our fans will continue to act as the great ambassadors for Wales that John Griffiths spoke of, and will have a safe and enjoyable experience. Diolch yn fawr.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you. I call on Andrew R.T. Davies to reply to the debate.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Could I thank the Minister for responding to the debate and thank everyone who has participated in the debate this afternoon, and wish the Minister well in her new portfolio? We have had a series of debates this afternoon. Obviously, we have had the European debate as the backbench debate, and we’re going to have the Wales Bill debate after this. Actually, if you look at some of the pressures in this debate—public health, the diabetes time bomb and also the important role that sports play in driving economic development in parts of Wales—many of the features that sit in this debate are critical to many communities the length and breadth of Wales. Whilst there is a lot of motherhood and apple pie in this—in particular, wishing the Welsh team well, as we all do, standing shoulder to shoulder with them, and hoping for a good performance tomorrow on the field and ultimately moving through to the next round—it is vital that we make sure that we look at all the other issues that are contained in this debate.
As Dr Dai Lloyd touched on, public health messaging is of vital importance. Yesterday, with it being National Diabetes Week, the awareness around what we can do as individuals for our own personal health and public health is a vital component in actually reducing the pressures on the national health service. Figures were brought out by Mohammad Asghar about diabetes, that if we don’t take action by 2025, there will be 300,000 people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in Wales. That’s nine years away. At the moment, that figure stands at—and this is a pretty astonishing figure in itself—185,000. That’s type 2. There is type 1 on top of that as well, so that’s not all diabetes. Those figures will present a huge challenge to the health service to meet and to work with people to manage that condition.
Sport will play a vital role in actually getting people fitter and healthier. For my sins, I still play veterans’ rugby for the Assembly. Any one of the new Members who have come here this session, we would welcome you to come along to any of the matches that we will be playing. [Interruption.] I’ll keep my shirt on next time I am playing, thank you, Darren. [Laughter.] I think I traumatised the politics award in Cardiff in December. But, actually, from what Suzy Davies was saying about her husband Geraint and all the memorabilia he has from his playing days, as well as obviously offering vital coaching experience, it did remind me of some of the memorabilia I have from my sporting days. We went on holiday on the Whitsun week, and I was told to find my bathing shorts, and, actually, I found a pair of Speedos—I wouldn’t want to give you that thought—and I was told in no uncertain terms by my 14-year-old daughter that if I took those on holiday, I certainly wouldn’t be having her with me on holiday as well then. But, in midlife, we are all of a different disposition, shall we say, to when we were 18, 19, 20, but, actually, sport shouldn’t be held back because of our age, as Angela Burns touched on. It is vital that all sections of society feel that if they want to participate in sport, whether that’s—[Interruption.] I’ll take an intervention.
You’ve mentioned the relationship between age and sports participation. Would you agree with me that one of the best sports for intergenerational activities is actually crown green bowling, which, of course, is practised widely across north Wales—very little in the south? And, of course, there are some excellent facilities in the Deputy Presiding Officer’s constituency in the town of Rhyl. Do you agree with me that the Welsh Government ought to take action to promote crown green bowling as one of those intergenerational sports that can get people active?
I certainly do, and I’d agree entirely with the Member making the case for crown green bowling. In Dinas Powys, for example, in Cowbridge, there are very good teams for bowling, both intergenerational teams and men and women playing as well, and, ultimately, it was a real pleasure at the Commonwealth Games to go along to Dinas Powis Bowling Club, who were hosting the New Zealand team, who were hosting the Irish team, as well as the Welsh team practising there ahead of the Commonwealth Games. And so, there’s a rich tradition across the length and breadth of Wales that we can look at.
But the important thing here, as many Members have highlighted, is the interdependency between the health service and sport and the ability for health to be radically improved and transformed, and that’s why, in our debate, we’ve called on the Welsh Government to actually work with the governing bodies—not just the glamour governing bodies that have the big infrastructure, but those for some of the lesser sports as well that, ultimately, can raise significant funding through applications to the lottery, for example, or just donations from the communities themselves, to provide those assets in the community. Because, again, the point that came over from Angela Burns was that if you live in a rural environment and you only have the one car in the family, very often, understandably, that car is allocated to getting to work and getting back from work, rather than maybe attending that after-school club. I was really heartened by the Minister saying that she would look into this particular aspect of school transport, after-school transport, to allow greater participation levels, because it is a big obstacle, especially when you look at the demographics on the socioeconomic scale. Obviously, sadly, the poorer households in Wales, regrettably, do have the lower participation levels in sport, and that’s a vital area that we do need because, obviously, if you look then at the health statistics, the health statistics show that the incidences of cancer, heart disease, et cetera actually do have a far higher percentage in those communities.
Gareth Bennett was touching on the legacy issues. Obviously, we’re all well aware of the legacy issues around the London Olympics, but, ultimately, unless those are carried through, the host areas very often find that their budgets get hit, because once the glamour event has moved out of town, very often the debts have to be met and debts have to be paid. And so, the legacy of any major event, obviously Cardiff next year is hosting the Champions League final, for example, and, hopefully, the Welsh Government will be working with other governing bodies to bring forward a Commonwealth bid for 2026, which I know has been spoken about in this Chamber, and those legacy issues are really important to make sure that it’s not just a bandwagon that comes into town over the weeks and months that it’s held, a big splash, and then, ultimately, a year or two down the road, the health indices and the participation levels disappear.
It was disappointing to have a sports debate without Mike Hedges offering his insight into football. I do feel we’ve definitely been missing something this afternoon, because, obviously, Mike has a great insight into this from his former playing days. But, in this debate today, whilst there is a bit of fun to be had, there is a serious message to be delivered. If you look at cancer rates amongst women in particular, they have seen the highest increase over the last 10 years, especially in that 65 to 69 bracket, where they have gone up dramatically by 57 per cent. That is a huge increase, and, ultimately, in the question I put to the Minister in ministerial questions today, we know that when it comes to women, they lag behind men in participating in sports. Ultimately, in Wales, the gap is about 100,000; across the UK it’s 2 million people. I do implore the Welsh Government to actually look at the programme that I touched on with them, the This Girl Can programme, to try and incorporate that into its policies and into its proposals. But sadly, in the last budget round, it is a fact that the Welsh Government, for its sports initiatives, did cut the budget by 7 per cent. So, if we are to actually make a difference here, whilst it’s not just money related, it does have to be working with the governing bodies and delivering for communities. As the health Minister in his response to questions this afternoon made clear, it is about the priorities. The Government has a limited amount of money, I accept that, but you can talk in this Chamber all you want; unless you’re prepared to put some resource behind it, then it’s going to be difficult to deliver those projects and programmes. Clearly, with a 7 per cent cut in the budget last year, the last Welsh Government didn’t see this as a key line to deliver.
I will deliver the final point, if I may: we need to look at young people and children. If you actually look at participation levels in primary schools, which was identified by some speakers earlier, regrettably over the last 10 years participation levels at schools have declined dramatically in Wales. A quarter of an hour per week has been taken out of physical activity in schools, going from 115 minutes on average down to 101 minutes. That’s the direction of travel. The direction of travel, as I highlighted in public health, is sadly that many of the conditions are spiralling out of control, and at the other end of the spectrum, participation levels in sport are declining in many of our communities. We need to link up and get it joined up and deliver a coherent strategy, and I do hope that the new Minister will do that, and be more successful than her predecessors, and that’s why I urge support for the motion before the Assembly this afternoon.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you very much. The proposal is to agree the motion without amendment. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Okay, then I will defer voting under this item until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Paul Davies.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Let’s move on, then, to item 7, which is the Plaid Cymru debate on the Wales Bill. I call on Steffan Lewis to move the motion. Steffan.
Motion NDM6022 Simon Thomas
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Notes the publication of the Wales Bill;
2. Regrets the omission of the devolution of policing;
3. Regrets the failure to establish a distinct or separate legal jurisdiction; and
4. Regrets the lost opportunity to devolve the administration of justice.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.
It’s a new political term and here we are again with a new Wales Bill from Westminster. And, once again, it’s disappointing that Westminster has decided to refuse to transfer powers to Wales that would improve the policy outcomes for our people, would ensure better accountability and, importantly, would deliver political equality for Wales.
Presiding Officer, I want to concentrate on the policing element of the Plaid Cymru motion this afternoon. Historically, of course, policing in these isles has evolved over the past three centuries: it started with the first police service in Glasgow, and in the seventeenth century that was expanded to the whole of Britain. In fact, professional policing followed a pattern of developing very, very locally, with all local authorities in Wales responsible for policing by the middle of the nineteenth century. Soon, there was a policing framework on a governance level across England and Wales, with separate legislation, of course, for Scotland, reflecting the constitution as it was then. Isn’t it now time for policing in Wales to reflect the constitutional reality and current policy, whilst keeping at its heart the historic element of local accountability?
During the Silk commission process, which I’m sure you’ll all recall, evidence was received on how the policy framework is set out for Wales by Westminster. More and more often, that framework is metropolitan in its outlook. Although emergency services in Wales do collaborate effectively, there was evidence gathered by Silk that it would be even better if policing were to be devolved. Indeed, policing, like the ambulance service and the fire and rescue service, is a part of day-to-day services, such as education and health. They are an integral part of the public service, and it’s an anomaly, therefore, that policing in Wales should be different to all the other main public services in the fact that it is not devolved.
Every one of these public services works closely together, and each has a knock-on effect on the other. For the sake of consistency and improved services for citizens, consistency in their accountability would benefit everyone.
Indeed, the fact that policing is central to public services in Wales is reflected in the fact that the Welsh Government itself contributes significantly to the cost of policing, although it has no direct political power or legal power in the area. The Welsh Government is the only Government in these isles that makes a financial contribution to policing without having any direct power over that policy area.
I would also like to refer to the broader point of the need for a Wales Bill that is sustainable. Despite my disappointment with this latest Bill, as with the previous one, and the one before that, and the one before that, I very much hope that it will be possible for parties to co-operate in order to ensure equality for Wales with the other nations within this state. Indeed, in policing, Wales is falling behind even Manchester and London now.
The Presiding Officer took the Chair.
Llywydd, in calling for the devolution of policing to its natural place, Plaid Cymru recognises that that would involve sensible and mature co-operation between Welsh Government and Westminster. It is vital that at the heart of the process is a framework for close co-operation between Welsh and Westminster policing Ministers and between forces in Wales and forces in England, beyond its devolution. A clear and robust framework for mutual aid will be vital and indeed we already have good examples of mutual aid agreements between services that are devolved to Wales and their counterparts in England and across these islands. Mutual aid agreements exist between Scotland and Westminster and there is close co-operation between the police service of Northern Ireland and the An Garda Síochána, particularly following the Patten report. The very complex challenges facing law enforcement across the world make co-operation essential.
Plaid Cymru support for devolution of policing isn’t motivated by some narrow dream of digging a policing Offa’s Dyke, but rather to deliver better outcomes for citizens, coherence across Welsh public service delivery and greater accountability. Plaid Cymru’s vision for policing in Wales would seek to build upon the very best of Peel’s principles of policing by consent and his central principle that the police are the public and the public are the police. In that spirit, we can build on the work already done by Welsh forces in being innovative and sharing best practice with partners elsewhere in the United Kingdom and beyond.
I hope that, in this debate today, Members from all parties can support Plaid Cymru’s motion. I am particularly looking forward to hearing the Welsh Government’s position, its vision for how the current Wales Bill can be salvaged to secure greater devolution to Wales, and I would particularly appreciate an explanation from the First Minister on the position of his colleagues in the Labour Party in Westminster following the amendment put down by Plaid Cymru in the House of Commons this week on the devolution of policing to Wales. Diolch yn fawr.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I have selected the amendment to the motion, and I call on David Melding to move amendment 1, tabled in the name of Paul Davies.
Delete all after point 1 and replace with:
Welcomes the Bill as a foundation for a fuller constitutional settlement.
Commends the statements of both the Welsh Government and the UK Government to cooperate during the legislative process to achieve the best outcome for the people of Wales.
Believes that the Bill offers the opportunity to bring greater balance to the British constitution and so strengthen the Union.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Can I begin by congratulating Steffan Lewis on a most lucid speech? I think anyone that quotes Robert Peel is going to find some support from these benches. Perhaps there are Tory sympathies that lurk deep, deep within your political soul. I just offer that, by the way; I hope it doesn’t reduce the authority with which I’ve no doubt you will now speak in your group. It was an excellent contribution.
I will return to the point of policing and the administration of justice at the end, but, if I can focus on the content of the Conservative amendment, I think the first place to start is that we do need to work towards a fuller constitutional settlement, and the best way is to take the current Bill as introduced and improve it. It’s already a great advance on the draft Bill, but it will be the fourth piece of constitutional law making that we’ve had in Wales within 18 or 19 years, so it needs to be as complete a settlement as we can find a reasonable consensus for at the moment. I am encouraged that the Welsh Government and the UK Government are working together and seem to share this very noble ambition.
Now, it is true there are still some substantial areas of difference. The First Minister has indeed written to the Secretary of State to outline some of the issues that he still thinks need to be addressed, and he’s referred to the issue of a single jurisdiction. The Bill does suggest a way of moving forward a bit in this area, recognising a body of Welsh law. I think we can argue about the philosophical differences here, but I think it is acknowledging that a body of Welsh law and a legislature is at some point going to be recognised in terms of the legal vocabulary as something approaching a single jurisdiction.
The number of reservations is, in Welsh Government’s view, still too large and I suspect that, as we scrutinise the Bill, that may be the view more generally in this Assembly. There’s been partial progress on UK ministerial consents. Again, anything we can do to have a more complete and logical dividing line in areas like this I think would help the clarity of the constitutional settlement. And, in the First Minister’s view, taxation powers need to be linked to fair funding. I’m not myself convinced that it needs to be automatically linked, but it clearly does inform the debate and, whatever taxation powers come to us, the issue of a fair formula—a needs-based formula, basically—for the distribution of centrally-gathered moneys within the UK state is clearly very, very important. All strong fiscal unions have this; it is an essential part of an effective form of fiscal devolution.
So, I think we do need to work together to improve the Bill as it now proceeds through its parliamentary stages, and of course we will have an opportunity here in the Assembly to do some of that work as well and to send our conclusions up to Westminster. And I think, in being effective in this area, we will bring greater balance to the British constitution and so strengthen the union. Now, I realise this is not a direct benefit as far as Plaid Cymru are concerned, but insofar as we remain in a union I’m sure you’ll want to see the constitutional arrangements as robust as possible.
Plaid’s motion focuses principally on policing and the administration of justice. What I would say here is that this is a debate that needs to be had, but it needs to be had, I think, separately to the current debate on the Bill, because there are major issues to discuss. It is something we need to be aware of is a part of the devolution settlement in Scotland, and it’s now increasingly part of the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland. So, I myself think it should be discussed, and there was indeed a Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee report on this under my chairmanship in the fourth Assembly. But it is a big political question. Community policing in most federal states is devolved; I mean, that has to be recognised. But, as our report concluded, if you’re looking at these areas then it really does make sense to address them completely and devolve criminal justice and sentencing policy. And I’m not sure that the Welsh electorate are ready to make that decision. We certainly need to have a full debate about it. It’s one where I have views that may not always be in total accord with some of my colleagues at the moment, but you will understand that, as the official spokesman on the constitution for my group, I cannot go into greater detail on those matters now.
I’m very pleased to participate in this debate on a crucially important issue, and to share some of my concerns, if truth be told. Now, I don’t need to emphasise just how important the law is in our daily lives. It is central to the effective operation of any state in ensuring the safety and security of our citizens.
Access to the justice system is an integral and fundamental part of justice. Without access, this would only be a concept or an aspiration. But, following cuts and a reform programme to the justice system by the Westminster Government, Wales is losing out on having full access to an effective justice system. Between 2010 and 2015, 15 courts were closed the length and breadth of Wales by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, and since 2015 another 14 have either closed or are earmarked for closure over the next few years. The closure of Dolgellau magistrates’ court, for example, in the constituency of my colleague from Dwyfor Meirionnydd, does mean cases will now be transferred to Caernarfon or Aberystwyth. For those of you who don’t know that part of the world, that means a journey of over an hour in a car, if you happen to have a car. As we know, public transport is inadequate in Wales, particularly in rural communities, and means that it will be impossible for people who are reliant on public transport to reach the magistrates’ court for a 9.30 a.m. start.
The Westminster Government is defending its decisions by claiming that the courts aren’t being used sufficiently, but there is evidence from a number of different sources that shows that court cases are being moved in order to actually justify these figures and justify the closure of these courts. And, if a lack of demand isn’t the justification for this, then one has to come to the conclusion that it’s part of the Tory obsession in Westminster with saving money without giving full consideration to the impact on the population.
The closure of courts in rural Wales will also have a very detrimental impact on an individual’s ability to carry out their business through the medium of Welsh. The closure of courts and the cuts in legal aid, including giving legal aid contracts to local lawyers, will actually worsen this trend where we see small independent companies either relocating or closing entirely. In the heartlands of the Welsh language it’ll be virtually impossible for residents to access legal services and conduct their business in their language of choice. The Welsh language, of course, should be a key consideration in deciding whether specific courts should be closed or not. Indeed, maintaining these services through the medium of Welsh is a legal requirement. But, although the Government at times has accepted that and made a u-turn, it is about time that these decisions were made by our own Government here in Wales, which would be far more responsive to the needs of our communities.
It’s clear that the UK Government reforms have failed and, if access to the justice system continues to be insufficient, then the rule of law will become meaningless.
There was unanimous agreement among a number of legal experts, when evidence was provided to the Welsh Affairs Committee during the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Wales Bill, that there should be a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales. But, although the Bill didn’t receive support in the Assembly during the fourth term of the Assembly, the Westminster Government, as we all know, has come back with another Wales Bill that still rejects not only the advice of experts but a right that has already been given to other devolved nations within this union. What sort of equality is that?
Now perhaps I wouldn’t expect opposition Members to support our proposals today, although I hope that some of you will. But I will call on the Government—despite the actions of your colleagues in Westminster this week, I would call on you to support our motion today in order to ensure fairness for Wales, fairness that has already been provided to Scotland, Northern Ireland and even some English cities—fairness that would ensure that decisions are taken by a democratically elected body that is directly accountable to the people of our nation.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this again. This is subject matter that we will undoubtedly be discussing line by line in detail, because this is of massive importance really. If we don’t know the framework of our powers in which we operate, how can we possibly develop properly policy for the future and represent the people who elect us?
I do welcome this Bill, in the sense that the last Bill was completely unworkable. I think that was almost recognised across all political parties. This Bill has some very substantial flaws but provides a basis to have something that can be workable and sustainable. So, to that extent, I welcome it.
Can I just make a few comments on the Bill, because there will be many matters of detail that we’ll need to go into at some stage? The first one is that the thing that has always concerned me about the way these Bills have appeared is the lack of being given any proper logic or explanation for reservations that are there—why something is being reserved as opposed to why something is not being reserved. I think that has always been a flaw, because if you’re working collectively to try and achieve workable legislation you have to know what the logic is between those who’ve actually drafted this and where it goes. Well, hopefully, that will become clearer. I’ll just put in the bid I always make on these, which is that I do hope that we actually get gambling and fixed-odds betting machines, the ability to oversee those, because there is a serious health issue with this. There are matters that we do want to have devolved to us because they do raise serious public issues.
Can I also raise one other issue that I’ve raised several times? That is that I still think there may be an opportunity in respect of the issue of fiscal powers—[Interruption.] I do apologise.
I thank the Member very much for giving way. He’s been talking about the reservations and the logic of them and I just wondered if he’d had the opportunity to consider the reservations in the family relationships and children section, which does appear to include adoption and some parts of the Children Act, and proceedings related to the care, supervision or protection of children. It may be that I’m interpreting this wrongly on the surface, but obviously it does cause me some concern and I wondered if he’d had a chance to think of that.
I think the Member is absolutely right that there are sections within the Bill reserved that it’s not quite clear exactly what they do mean. For example, why, in section 175, would you have parenthood, parental responsibility, child arrangements and adoption as a reserved matter when, clearly, there are major responsibilities we have that overlap into those areas? And there are a number of those. That’s why it’s important that those are explored in very considerable detail.
I was mentioning the point about fiscal powers because, as we know, the asbestos Bill, which I brought as a private Member’s Bill in the last session, failed predominantly because of not having fiscal powers. It seems to me that fiscal powers with regard to devolved matters is quite a potentially important area. Of course, many of us were at the very useful Bevan Foundation briefing looking at areas of taxation, many of which would require the devolution of fiscal powers or the use of more complicated powers under the 2014 Act. There is a way of simplifying and clarifying that aspect of law.
Can I just go back to the jurisdiction point, because it is raised and it is important and it is quite fundamental to where we’re going? Just to reiterate the point, this, in many ways, is an administered matter. There is a mystique that’s been attached to a jurisdiction. The jurisdiction is essentially purely the geographical area in which law applies and where court cases are heard. So, the idea, now that we have our own legislature in Wales passing legislation; the logic for having a jurisdiction it seems to me to be unanswerable. It is a matter that shouldn’t cause great controversy. In the last session, I was able to chair a justice stakeholders group, and there’s a report that I would recommend Members read. If I may just read out the part that was relevant there, because I think it is summed up very well. It said, ‘The need to resolve issues relating to the jurisdiction is, in our view, now unavoidable. We do not, at this stage, consider it necessary or feasible to establish a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales, which would involve significant organisational change. What the group favours is making simple administrative changes within the current unified system of courts and tribunals and judiciary of England and Wales through the designation of Welsh cases adjudicated by judges sitting in courts designated as Welsh courts.’
And, if there was any greater authority on this, in a speech by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Thomas, in October 2015, he made it very clear when he said,
‘It is right for me to say that there is no reason why a unified court system encompassing England and Wales cannot serve two legal jurisdictions.’
Now, I hope this sort of fascination with the mystique of jurisdiction actually gets resolved, because it is a simple administrative matter. It could even amount to just a tick box when legal applications are made to the courts: ‘Does this case involve a matter of Welsh or English Law?’ If so, it then gets designated and administered in the correct way. I hope that the working party that has been set up by the Secretary of State for Wales will quickly resolve this, because this particular Bill needs to have the jurisdictional issue resolved before it is able to proceed properly.
Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this debate, and thank you for the great contributions from Steffan, Siân and Mick recently.
I was going to concentrate as well, fundamentally, on this element of policing and the justice system, because when we started here in 1999, one of the three main 999 services were devolved, and that was the ambulance service. And, the Deputy Presiding Officer will remember, a few years later, we had the devolution of the second main 999 service, which was the fire service. That leaves now just one of those, namely the police. So, rationally, it makes sense also for the police to be devolved here, like the two main 999 services that have already been devolved. It makes perfect sense. And, as we’ve heard, policing has already been devolved in Northern Ireland, Scotland, London and Manchester. Therefore, you have to ask the question, ‘What is wrong with us?’ at the end of the day. Because here we are, an established organisation, and we can make laws, and yet we don’t have the right to look after our own policing system.
Achos ar ddiwedd y dydd, ac i ddod â’r holl beth o dan un adeilad, felly, rydym ni’n awyddus iawn i drio atal aildroseddu. Pan oeddwn i yma o’r blaen, gwnaethom ni sawl adolygiad ar sut i atal aildroseddu. Pan mae rhywun yn gadael y carchar, mae yna her sylweddol i’r unigolyn hwnnw a her sylweddol i gymdeithas i sicrhau bod y person hwnnw ddim yn aildroseddu a ffeindio’i hunan nôl mewn carchar. Nawr, wrth gwrs, mae yna lot o waith cydlynu sydd angen ei wneud i sicrhau bod yna ddyfodol adeiladol o flaen yr unigolion hynny. Yn rhannol, mae hynny yn ein gwasanaeth iechyd ni, yn ein system dai ni a’n gwasanaethau cymdeithasol ac ati, sydd eisoes wedi eu datganoli, ond hefyd, wrth gwrs, mae’r gwasanaeth prawf, y carchardai eu hunain a’r system gyfiawnder ei hunan heb eu datganoli. Wedyn mae yna her sylfaenol yn y fan yna i gydlynu’r gwasanaethau yna sydd wedi eu datganoli’n barod—i gydlynu eu gwaith gogyfer yr unigolyn yna â’r gwasanaethau yna sydd heb eu datganoli. Nid ydy’r peth yn gwneud synnwyr. Mae eisiau i’r cwbl lot fod wedi ei ddatganoli. Dyna beth ydym ni eisiau ei weld a dyna beth fydd yn sicrhau gwell gofal i’n pobl mwyaf bregus ni.
Felly, ar ddiwedd y dydd, mae’n rhaid i synnwyr cyffredin reoli yn fan hyn. Nid ydym ni’n gofyn am ddim bydd sydd ddim wedi digwydd eisoes mewn llefydd fel Gogledd Iwerddon, yr Alban, Llundain a Manceinion. Felly, cefnogwch ddadl Plaid Cymru. Diolch yn fawr.
The omission of the devolution of policing from the Wales Bill is welcomed. I took part in two committee reviews of police structure a decade ago here. It reported that criminal activity does not recognise national or regional boundaries. Commenting on calls for police devolution in the Wales Bill, my contacts in both North Wales Police and the North Wales Police Federation told me that they have a closer affiliation with north-west England than the rest of Wales and that there is a lack of competence in Welsh Government to handle the devolution of policing. As they’ve repeatedly reminded me, most people live along the M4 and A55 corridors, separated by a vast rural area, and with very different policing requirements, and their operational priority is working cross-border with north-west England.
As Gwent’s deputy chief constable Mick Giannasi has written,
‘whilst I could see there might be some strategic benefits from the devolution of police, there are also serious operational risk…the list of potential benefits for me is a relatively short one’.
He also questioned whether the Welsh Government had developed the resources or the experience to oversee policing and, although he stated that the relationship between the four Welsh police forces and the Welsh Government has been constructive, he believed that if the role of Welsh Government changed to one of accountability and delivery, that would inevitably result in a change in the nature of its relationship with the police service, and one that might ultimately prove to be less productive.
The introduction of police and crime commissioners marked an act of real devolution, empowering local communities to have their say on policing priorities and to hold an elected representative to account. I wish our former colleague Jeff Cuthbert success in his new role as a commissioner.
Will the Member give way?
I’m grateful to the Member for giving away. He just mentioned the police and crime commissioners. Four of them have just been elected in Wales: two Plaid Cymru, two Labour, and all four in favour of the devolution of police.
We shall see about that once they’ve got settled into their jobs, won’t we? The previous four somewhat modified their views on this.
Labour’s call for devolution of policing, backed by the separatists, would actually deliver the opposite of real devolution. The First Minister refers to the proposed devolution of policing to the future mayor of Manchester as a model for Wales, but of course those are only the powers of police and crime commissioners, and we already have devolution to them in Wales. What the First Minister is therefore actually talking about is taking yet more power from the regions of Wales and centralising those powers in Cardiff, giving themselves control over the appointment of chief constables, the suspension of chief constables, calling on chief constables to retire or resign, setting out five-year police and crime plans, and setting the annual precepts and force budgets. That’s not something I consider an attractive proposition for the Welsh Government, given that Labour’s creeping and often intimidatory politicisation of devolved public services is damning, and the risk of this infecting policing is too great.
Plaid Cymru’s dedication to the devolution of policing provides further evidence that their ideological goal—the destruction of a United Kingdom and division of its peoples—takes priority over the needs of the people across Wales, most of whom live in cross-border crime regions.
If that proposal is one where the objective is the destruction of the United Kingdom, then is the devolution of policing to Manchester aimed at destroying the structure of England?
I’ve actually finished my speech. [Assembly Members: ‘Oh.’]
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I apologise to Mark Isherwood. I had thought that you were taking the intervention and I apologise for that, but the point is made and is on the record. I call Rhianon Passmore.
Thank you, Llywydd. In terms of the timescales for the ability to scrutinise the Wales Bill through the recess and beyond, are we convinced that there is enough time for us to be able to do that and produce good legislation? Thank you.
I’d like to focus my contribution on the criminal justice system and the probation service in particular. It’s more than eight years ago now—back in the spring of 2008—that I produced a policy paper for Plaid Cymru, entitled ‘Making Our Communities Safer’. The purpose of that paper was to improve community safety, and it proposed the devolution of the criminal justice system so that Wales could, among other things, pursue an alternative criminal justice system that focused on tackling the causes of crime. I drew upon my experience of working as a probation officer and dealing with offenders, as well as the theoretical knowledge that I had, having practised as a social work probation professional tutor. I had a good understanding of what worked, and what didn’t, to form many of the conclusions that were set out in that paper.
I’m sure that many Members here will remember the Silk commission and that that commission recommended that control over youth justice and policing should be devolved and that other criminal justice powers should follow in future. As we know, Silk has been kicked into the long grass. The lack of action on the criminal justice elements of that agenda has since seen a large part of the probation service sold off and privatised, split up by a Westminster coalition Government that had no mandate to govern from Wales. There was no compelling motive for this reorganisation, and it has been hardly a success.
In 2013, the Ministry of Justice rated all 35 probation trusts in this country and in England as good or excellent. So, there was no justification whatsoever for the reorganisation based on performance. The consequences of this ideologically driven move are far and wide-reaching and they may not even be fully realised for many years to come. Morale among many of my former colleagues is at an all-time low. Staff at the community rehabilitation company—or CRC—in Wales have been warned that they can expect up to 44 per cent redundancies. There’s a division between the CRCs and the staff that work for the national probation service who deal with higher-risk offenders. Before privatisation, there was no such division within the service, and what is worth recognising here is that people can change in terms of the risk that they pose with time. So, it makes no sense to split offender rehabilitation in this way. Shared intelligence between the CRCs and the National Probation Service has become fraught with difficulty, when we should be making communication between professionals, particularly when we are talking about risky people, as easy as possible. I have no doubt that the privatisation of the probation service will lead to poorer outcomes for offenders, as well as poorer outcomes for our communities, which we all have a duty to serve.
I wrote to the First Minister on three separate occasions in the last Assembly about my concerns about the probation service privatisation and the damage that it would cause. He agreed with many of the points that I made. It was just a shame that the Labour Party in Westminster did not agree as well and do something effective about it. I hope that we can learn from this. I would like to think that we can agree that powers on this and everything else are best reserved to the places that are closest to the people that the decisions affect. A great opportunity to protect the robustness and the integrity of the probation service has been missed. We will no doubt pay a price for that, but we should not allow opportunities like that to pass us by again.
Among the questions in this Bill that will feel very far removed from everyday life is the question of legal jurisdiction. It will seem like a concern for academics and lawyers alone, but there are practical aspects of this that should be grappled with within this Bill if we are serious about strengthening the foundations of devolution to deal with the enhanced powers that this Chamber will have.
In the debate over the question of jurisdiction, it isn’t clear to me what the rationale is for maintaining the status quo. I hope it isn’t an instinct to put it in the ‘too difficult’ box, because it isn’t. The issue of maintaining the single jurisdiction for England and Wales runs the risk of being the legal equivalent of the idea of parliamentary supremacy—a sort of constitutional comfort blanket that has been held on to out of fear or inertia and that, frankly, fails to address the increasing complexities of the current democratic arrangements. A distinct legal jurisdiction for Wales is a limited legal change with significant practical advantages.
Just to be clear, I’m not arguing for the complete separation of courts and of judges. This isn’t a question about buildings or about people, or the colour of the robes or the crest above the chamber. In fact, there will be significant advantages for litigants and for the public if the legal personnel, be they judges or practitioners, are the same individuals, operating seamlessly in parallel jurisdictions of Wales and of England. It is not at all unusual in our common law tradition for lawyers to be dual-qualified in this way, so this is not an innovation. But with an expanding body of Wales-only law, coupled with a distinct geography, it would seem common sense, let along legally attractive, for this to be accompanied by a rule that the laws passed by this body affect only devolved Welsh laws and do not affect English law—otherwise known to all intents and purposes as a distinct Welsh jurisdiction. This is a pragmatic change, and it will have a positive effect of helping to avoid some of the border skirmishes, if you like, that are otherwise inevitable in drafting the law and in operating it.
But there is another issue to be considered as well. In the common law tradition to which we in Wales and England belong, judges are bound by precedent when interpreting the law. They are bound to follow the decisions of judges of higher courts in the same jurisdiction. With a single legal jurisdiction, precedent created in an English court on a matter that, in Wales, is devolved could affect a judge adjudicating a case in Wales, by virtue of being part of the same jurisdiction. This is actually more likely to happen with the proposed devolution of aspects of criminal contract and property law. It is very important that we have clear boundaries about what factors judges in Wales look to when deciding cases. This is in the interest of the public. The way to solve this is to recognise, at least with regard to devolved matters, that the law of Wales and the law of England are distinct. Judges deciding cases under Welsh law would not inadvertently affect English law, any more than judges deciding cases under English law would inadvertently bind judges in Wales. As the body of Welsh law expands, this will become more, not less, of an issue. It is not hard to solve. The work done in relation to the Welsh Government’s draft Bill, and the analysis of the recent stakeholder group, chaired by Mick Antoniw, offers a route-map here, and, importantly, this approach has benefits for both England and Wales.
One final point: this Bill seems to me to want to give the impression of a distinct jurisdiction without actually establishing it. The acknowledgement in the opening sections of the Bill, that a body of Welsh law exists, points to that. I believe that we need to take that acknowledgement one step further and introduce in this Bill a distinct Welsh jurisdiction.
Can I say at the outset that I certainly support the thrust of this motion and also regret that the draft Wales Bill does not provide for the devolution of policing and justice? The UK Tory Government funding cuts to policing in England led to significant reductions in the number of PCSOs there. So, we should congratulate the last Welsh Labour Government on agreeing to fund the employment of additional PCSOs here, despite the cuts enforced on Welsh police authorities by the Home Office. We also suffered the disastrous Westminster-imposed privatisation of the probation services; something that would not have happened here if responsibility for probation had been devolved to Wales. However, I hope, Llywydd, you’ll forgive me if I want to move into one or two other areas of the Bill that I’d like to address, just to get the discussion going on one or two other things perhaps for further debate.
The first is around votes for 16 to 17-year-olds, because I’ve met with a number of young people in my constituency, and I’ve been impressed by their level of engagement and interest in the political process and the work of the National Assembly. And I think it’s vital that we here in the Assembly not only applaud that level of engagement, but also build on it and ensure that it’s fostered and sustained. In the draft Wales Bill, there is the opportunity to take this degree of engagement to new heights, as the Bill gives us the potential to extend the voting rights in Welsh elections to those 16 and 17-year-olds. Some argue that 16 and 17-year-olds don’t have the life experience to take on the responsibility of voting. I’m afraid I don’t agree with that. For example, during this current EU referendum campaign, I’ve witnessed young people coming together to debate the issues. Their discussions have been constructive and have focused on the hopes and aspirations for the UK’s future involvement with Europe, rather than descending into scaremongering and misinformation on issues such as immigration. It would be a massive plus for Wales if we were able to invest that degree of trust in our young people to allow them to participate fully in our democratic, political processes by extending the right to vote to them.
As we know, there are also other areas of the Bill that we need clarification on as we go forward. Colleagues will know that, following the general election last year, the Tory Government in Westminster launched another attack on working people with the publication of the Trade Union Bill—a cynical and vindictive assault on trade unions that particularly targeted those unions like my own, Unison, who organise and represent workers in the public services. So, I want to thank the previous Welsh Government and particularly the former public services Minister for the robust stand taken in not only campaigning against that Bill, but also in making it clear that those parts of this Wales Bill relating to the Trade Union Bill relating to public services would be opposed here in Wales.
Having won the dispute with the UK Government over the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, I’m confident that this current Assembly will take an equally robust stance when it considers its position on those parts of the Trade Union Bill relating to public services in Wales that still remain, despite the Tory Government’s climbdown on many of its initial proposals. We have strong grounds to remain confident of our legal position in this area, and I hope, therefore, that the Wales Bill will ultimately put this issue to bed and will confirm that employment matters relating to public services in Wales are clearly not reserved and are under the absolute control of a devolved Welsh Government.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call on the First Minister, Carwyn Jones.
Thank you, Llywydd. May I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate and may I say at the outset that we will be supporting the Plaid Cymru motion on these benches and will reject the Conservative amendment?
May I start by dealing with some of the points raised by Steffan Lewis on policing? Well, we are in favour of the devolution of policing. It’s true to say that, in Westminster this week, the Labour Party had abstained on the issue, but only because of the fact that we believe that this is something that should be dealt with under the Wales Bill and not under another Bill. Why shouldn’t the people of Wales have the same rights as the people of Scotland, Northern Ireland and even London? I have never heard any argument made that would support why that should be the case.
Of course, in terms of jurisdiction, many Members have mentioned that, and the fact that jurisdiction is something that has a mystique, as Mick Antoniw put it, but it is something that’s entirely normal: where you do have a legislature, jurisdiction tends to automatically follow on from that. That hasn’t been the case in Wales, but it has in all other parts of the world, and I don’t see why Wales should be any different.
In terms of the Bill itself, well, it’s an improvement on the previous Bill. It was a low bar that the previous Bill had set. Let’s remind ourselves—the issue with the single jurisdiction came into focus because the obsession with preserving the jurisdiction was so strong under the previous Bill that it actually reversed the devolution process back before 1999 in some instances. Now we have before us a Bill that has potential but needs a lot of work. There’s a great deal of detail in the Bill that needs to be examined. We are already in the process of doing that, although I’m concerned about the timetable that’s been allocated for the Bill within the House of Commons—apparently two days in committee is going to be allocated. That causes us great concern. This can’t be rushed because this is a fundamental change in the devolution structure that needs proper scrutiny and should not be rushed, then, through the House of Commons.
There are some areas where there appear to be anomalies. For example, most of the criminal law will be devolved, the law on public order will be devolved, and yet alcohol licensing will not be devolved. One of the reasons given to me why licensing couldn’t be devolved was because of public order. Public order will be devolved. Teachers’ pay and conditions—there is already an agreement in principle to devolve that, yet it appears on the face of the Bill as something that would be reserved. If it stays there, then in order to devolve those powers, as agreed to this institution, there would need to be an Act amending the Bill in its current form.
Then, of course, we have the justice impact test and the justice impact assessments, which appear to serve no purpose at all other than to provide an exercise for Government to assess what a particular Bill means for the justice system. And then nothing happens—it simply runs into the sand. I am not clear what possible reason those justice impact assessments are there for, nor what purpose they serve, because they don’t appear elsewhere in other devolution settlements.
When it comes to income tax, I’m not content that income tax devolution can occur without the consent of this Assembly. There would need to be, for example—and the Scots have done this—at least an agreement on the fiscal framework before that devolution takes place. I think that it’s important that there’s the consent of this elected Parliament, as it soon will be, I hope, on behalf of the people of Wales.
Can I turn to what Mark Isherwood said? [Interruption.]
Thank you for giving way, First Minister. I hear what you say on the issue of devolution of income tax, but would you also agree with me that it’s important that we have clarity on the mechanism that will be used to reduce the block grant subsequent to the devolution of income tax, so that Wales isn’t actually short-changed in the long term?
That is the fiscal framework. But there needs to be an agreement in place so that Wales doesn’t lose out, if I can put it in those terms. At the moment, of course, the Bill as it’s phrased could impose a duty on us without a proper framework being in place. I don’t think that’s right, and I’m sure Members will agree that there needs to be a framework put in place so that the people of Wales do not lose out.
Let me deal with Mark Isherwood. Now, he made—[Interruption.]. No, no—he deserves a response, in fairness. The difficulties with the arguments he puts forward are these: most of the criminal law will be devolved. Most of it. So we’ll face a situation, if he has his way, in 20 or 30 years’ time, potentially, where the making of criminal law will be largely for this institution, but its enforcement would be carried out by the police, who’ll be responsible solely to Whitehall. That doesn’t make sense, to my mind. So, in other words, you have enforcement authorities who have no responsibility or accountability at all to the legislature that passes the laws in the first place. That can’t be right, surely? I’m sure he sees that.
He sees this as a separatist argument, well, I don’t recall him arguing strongly that policing should not be devolved to Northern Ireland for that very reason. I don’t recall him arguing strongly that policing should be removed from the competence of the Scottish Government and Parliament because it would lead, inevitably, to Scottish independence. I don’t recall him demanding that the Mayor of London should have his powers removed in terms of the Metropolitan Police because of the undermining of the United Kingdom that that would inevitably cause. This is not a separatist argument. This is an argument that Wales should be treated in the same way as Scotland and Northern Ireland. [Inaudible] Of course.
I’m sorry if I gave you the impression I said it was a separatist argument. I didn’t say it was a separatist argument. I said it was the motivation perhaps for the separatist party, as opposed to the motivation that you might have.
Well, his party in Scotland are in favour of policing being dealt with in Scotland. So, are his party in Scotland then a bunch of separatists, using that argument? I don’t think we can have those double standards any more when it comes to devolution for Wales. As I’ve said before, Wales should be treated along the same principles and the same lines as Scotland and indeed Northern Ireland.
So, for me, the question is this: he makes the point that police and crime commissioners represent an element of devolution, and there’s an element of truth in what he says. But, for me, it’s a matter for this institution as to whether there should be police and crime commissioners or not. In fact, we had no choice; they were imposed on us by Parliament in Westminster, when in fact the decision could have been that of the people of Wales. They may have decided that they wanted them. But that decision was not placed before the people of Wales. I remind him as well, of course, that all those candidates who stood in the police and crime commissioner elections who did not want policing devolved all lost, including of course his own police and crime commissioner in Mid and West Wales who not only did not want policing devolved, but wanted the fire service un-devolved and lost by some margin. That should tell him where the people of Wales are on this issue.
The wider issue of the justice system has been raised. I know that the leader of the opposition has strong views on the probation service, as somebody who worked in the probation service, and I agree with much of what she has said. She will know that the draft Bill that we put forward looked at the devolution of the justice system, but a few years hence. The reason why, for me, that’s sensible is that police devolution can happen fairly easily. That’s just simply taking over a structure that already exists. When it comes to the justice system, particularly the prisons, Wales has never had an integrated prison system, unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland. It would have to be created and that takes time. So, more work needs to be done in terms of how the justice system could be shaped in the future. But I share her concerns about the probation service. I share her concerns that justice is no longer available to people.
I worked in a different part of the system to her, and I remember days when people did get representation. They don’t now. The courts are full of litigants in person now. The law has to be explained to them. That means, of course, that quite often in the family courts, you have people who want to ensure that they’re able to see their children, their children might be in care, they are litigants in person and they’re up against lawyers from local authorities. That didn’t happen in the past because legal aid was available. That’s not fair. We have the criminal courts full of people who have no representation; the law has to be explained to them and they’re up against prosecutors who are lawyers. That’s not fair. It also means that the courts now spend a huge amount of time explaining the law to people and that slows the courts down. So, in fact, if you save money, apparently, by cutting legal aid, it just means more cost in the court system. What’s happened with legal aid has been scandalous. Representation has gone.
The justice system has given the appearance that Wales is some kind of addendum to the justice system. There are far fewer courts and justice is far more difficult to access now. There are arguments, to me, to look at the devolution of the justice system, although I have to say that, from my perspective, this is something that would take some time. The separate jurisdiction would mean a separate courts system. I think it’s an elegant solution to have a formally distinct jurisdiction, but share the court system. But, not share the court system in terms of not having any say in it and not share a court system that’s administered entirely from Whitehall, but a genuinely shared court system that can provide a system of justice to the people of Wales.
Well, we know that there’s some debate to go in terms of this Bill. There are many areas where there will be agreement. There are some areas where, clearly, there’s going to be little agreement. Does the Bill provide an opportunity to take Wales forward in terms of further devolved powers? The answer is ‘yes’, but the sad thing is that it can’t be a sustainable settlement because of the resistance to things like the jurisdiction, the resistance to things like policing. For me, it would be better to take the opportunity now to have a Bill that can last the test of time rather then find ourselves, as I suspect we will, back in five years’ time looking at the issues that this Bill in its current form was unable to address. I think that’s a shame, but I do look forward to the debates both within this Parliament and the UK Parliament in order to make sure that we get the right powers to deliver for the people of Wales.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call on Steffan Lewis to reply to the debate.
I thank all Members for their contributions today. I thank David Melding for his kind comments, although I have to inform him that my quoting of Robert Peel was purely for historical colour and not out of any sympathy for his party. But, he raises an important point about the need for a level of consistency across the constitution of the United Kingdom, and he is absolutely right to say that whilst we in Plaid Cymru support the establishment of a Welsh state, for as long as Wales is part of the United Kingdom we want it to work as best as possible for the people of this country.
Sian Gwenllian raised the issue of access to justice. A basic foundation of democracy is having access to justice, and she linked that, of course, to the right to access to justice in both our official languages.
On Mick Antoniw’s contribution, I welcome very much his optimism and I agree wholeheartedly that the logic behind the list of reservations from the United Kingdom Government needs some explaining. And we agree, of course, with the explanation he gave for the practical implementation of a distinct jurisdiction.
Dai Lloyd raised the crucial point that, in order to truly address the issue of reoffending, which is still at a high level in Wales, it makes total sense to bring all agencies that are responsible together, as part of a coherent devolved Welsh public service. And, of course, the leader of the opposition addressed the scandal of the privatisation of the probation service, and she spoke about the artificial barriers that exist between different agencies that deal with different offenders, and gave us a sober warning about the future of post-privatisation probation.
Jeremy Miles makes the valid point that a growing body of Welsh law requires a pragmatic updating of our legal system, and the challenge that he raised of the common law system of setting a precedent in one part of the jurisdiction covering all of it. Dawn Bowden broadened the debate on the future of devolution to include extending the electoral franchise to include 16 and 17-year olds. Of course, that is something that I and the Plaid Cymru group wholeheartedly support.
I welcome very much the support from the First Minister for Plaid Cymru’s motion today, although it’s a pity that it seems that Labour’s failure to vote with Plaid Cymru in Westminster this week was down to a technicality more than anything else. But he was right, of course, to highlight the inconsistencies in the current Wales Bill: there are issues that are inextricably linked where some are devolved or set to be devolved and others are still to be reserved. Again, that goes back to the point that was being made earlier about the logic behind the United Kingdom Government’s approach to, particularly, its list of reservations, although we hope that will be addressed.
The justice impact assessments are a tool that will apply, it seems, only to Wales and not to any other devolved administration in the United Kingdom, and the First Minister was quite right to raise doubts about that. I welcome very much the reaffirmation he gave today that he supports Wales being treated as an equal nation within the United Kingdom, and for a devolution settlement to reflect that.
And then Mark Isherwood. The irony of being called a separatist by an anti-EU isolationist was a particular highlight. [Laughter.] But I will say I am at a loss to understand why he’s opposed to bringing Welsh public services closer together in order to improve outcomes for people and for better accountability, when as the First Minister pointed out, that is something that is accepted by his party in Scotland. [Interruption.] I won’t be taking an intervention.
Plaid Cymru looks forward now to working with others to deliver a strengthening of Welsh nationhood that, in turn, leads to tangible improvements to the day-to-day lives of our fellow citizens. And in closing, Llywydd, I wish to pay tribute to police officers today for their work in keeping our communities safe and, indeed, to all members of our emergency services. Quite often in these debates their endeavours are overlooked, but I wish to place on record Plaid Cymru’s gratitude to them and I’m sure the whole Assembly would join me in doing so.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion without amendment. Does any Member object? [Objection.] I will defer voting under this item until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We’ll move on to voting time. It’s been agreed that voting time will take place after the last item of business. Unless three Members wish for the bell to be rung, I will proceed directly to voting time.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The first vote will be on the debate by individual Members and the motion tabled in the name of Eluned Morgan, Dawn Bowden and Dafydd Elis-Thomas. I open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 44, against 9. Therefore the motion is agreed.
Motion agreed: For 44, Against 9, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on motion NDM6020.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Vote now on the Welsh Conservative debate and I call for a vote on the motion tabled in the name of Paul Davies. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 45, against 10. Therefore the motion is agreed.
Motion agreed: For 45, Against 10, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on motion NDM6021.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I move therefore to the vote on the Plaid Cymru debate on the Wales Bill. I call for a vote on the motion tabled in the name of Simon Thomas. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 39, against 16. Therefore the motion is agreed.
Motion agreed: For 39, Against 16, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on motion NDM6022.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We move now therefore to the short debate, and the short debate today is in the name of Llyr Gruffydd. And I call on Llyr Gruffydd to speak on the topic he has chosen.
Well, thank you very much, Llywydd. It’s a privilege, if truth be told, to introduce the first short debate of the fifth Assembly. I have agreed to give a minute of my time to Lee Waters and Jenny Rathbone in this debate.
Now, ‘Delivering a Smarter Energy Future for Wales—Energy Policy Priorities for the New Welsh Government’ is the title that I have chosen, and that refers, of course, to this, namely a report from the Environment and Sustainability Committee of the previous Assembly. It’s a report that was published as a result of the committee’s inquiry, which outlined a vision that received cross-party support on the future of energy in Wales, which actually delivers on our ethical and legal responsibilities in terms of climate change, but also achieves the economic potential that would come from using our natural resources responsibly and sustainably and in a way that generates wealth for the people of Wales, and, indeed, creates all sorts of other opportunities in terms of tackling fuel poverty, empowering local communities to be more proactive in deciding their own energy futures, and all sorts of other positives that would come as a result of that.
Now, the report was published towards the end of the last Assembly, as I said, with the debate on the report taking place on the last day of the fourth Assembly, here in this Chamber. The intention of the report was not to look back, not to point fingers or cast any blame, but to be constructive, to be practical, and to offer a vision and to pose a challenge to the next Government, of course, by outlining the opportunities, the priorities and that sense of urgency that exists in terms of meeting the challenge that we are facing. There was clear consensus in support of the committee’s recommendations within the committee itself, of course, and the motion to note the report was passed unanimously in this Chamber.
Now, naturally, in responding to the debate, we heard very little from the responsible Minister at that time, and that was fair enough, of course, because the message was clear that it was for the next Welsh Government to tackle the agenda highlighted and outlined in the report. That’s why I have chosen this issue today for my short debate. I don’t want this report to be forgotten; I don’t want to lose the momentum, or the consensus that underpinned this report. I want to see the new Government understand that this is one of the major priorities that we have in economic, environmental and social terms, one of the greatest challenges facing us here in Wales. And this is the first opportunity, therefore, for the new Government, and the new Secretary—and I congratulate her on her appointment, of course—to respond to the recommendations made in the report and to tell us how she intends to meet the challenges and achieve the opportunities that we have and what her vision and her Government’s vision is in terms of delivering that smarter energy future for Wales.
Now, clearly, I can’t list everything contained within the report in my short debate today, but I do want to draw attention briefly to some of the main points. Now, one of the strongest recommendations emerging from the committee inquiry is the need for Wales to set out a co-ordinated and strategic vision for its energy policy in the future, and that includes clear targets in order to engender growth, and it also includes clarity in terms of the kind of energy mix that would come together to create the provision that we require, and, of course, how we’re going to ensure a central role for local energy in all of this.
The report makes it clear that Wales has to set annual targets to reduce energy demand and to help people to use energy more efficiently. The report asks that we set targets for increasing renewable energy production in Wales, and, in the context of the need to reduce carbon emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050, then the report states that Wales should set a target date for energy self-sufficiency. That, of course, is entirely possible. Germany, for example, has committed by 2050 to ensure that 80 per cent of its energy comes from renewable sources, and, more than that, by that same year, that it cuts its use of energy in buildings by 80 per cent and creates millions of jobs and adds to its GDP in so doing. It’s a transformational programme that shows the way forward for many of us.
It’s also worth looking at a nation such as Uruguay, which has a population similar to Wales, and how they have succeeded in ensuring, in less than 10 years, that 95 per cent of their electricity is generated from renewable energy, reducing their carbon footprint, of course, but also reducing people’s bills simultaneously. They have demonstrated that, with vision and determined leadership, it is possible to make real and swift progress towards a low-carbon economy.
Now, we need to make some difficult decisions, of course, on the balance between major and small energy investments, and native and foreign investment, and we need to be confident enough to prioritise local energy generation systems for the benefit of our communities.
Wales, by the way, doesn’t need to wait for more powers from Westminster before achieving most of the vision set out in this report; we can make a start on much of this work now. For example, reducing the demand for energy is the most important aspect of switching to a smarter energy future. Households in the UK spend 80 per cent of their energy costs in heating rooms and water in homes. We therefore need to ensure that homes are as efficient as possible in terms of energy usage.
Now, under the EU’s energy performance and building directive, every building, of course, has to be close to zero emissions by the end of 2020. Indeed, we have to construct public buildings to this standard by the end of 2018. It was a disappointment for many of us that the previous Government—and I’ve made this point on a number of occasions, I’m aware of that—missed an opportunity when building regulations were amended just a few years ago. Although they went out to consultation on the need for all homes to actually be 25 per cent or 40 per cent more efficient than the 2010 standard, they went for just 8 per cent ultimately. This must be changed as a matter of urgency; the current system, of course, locks energy inefficiency into the system for the lifetime of those new homes that are built.
Enhancing energy efficiency in our current housing stock is also crucial, of course, by retrofitting energy efficiency measures. Whilst programmes such as Arbed and Nest make contributions to this task, they are small contributions and they are nowhere near enough, given the scale of the challenge facing us and the level of investment that’s truly required. That’s why, of course, there was a commitment in the Plaid Cymru manifesto to invest billions of pounds over the next two decades to meet that challenge through a national infrastructure commission for Wales. And I do hope that the negotiations that have taken place between ourselves and the Government will ultimately facilitate that. Now, Wales needs to raise its game, there’s no doubt about that, and I’m looking forward to hearing what the new Government’s plans are to achieve that.
Now, across England, local authorities are also establishing not-for-profit energy supply companies. In Wales, we have a not-for-profit utility company, which is Dŵr Cymru, and we must build on that success in the field of energy. The committee heard how some local authorities in England, including Bristol and Nottingham specifically, can target fuel poverty by supplying energy to homes at a reduced cost in their areas. In Nottingham, Robin Hood Energy offers a tariff for the citizens of Nottingham alone, and also can set lower rates in areas where there is an enhanced level of fuel poverty.
Now, Bridgend county council does provide local heating networks, and Wrexham council has the largest solar energy scheme in the UK, but we must go further. We need to establish a not-for-profit umbrella energy company. Now, under that, local authorities or even local communities could supply locally. The ultimate aim, of course, would be for such a company to get all of its energy from renewable sources in Wales.
Now, we can’t discuss energy policy in Wales without mentioning the grid, of course, and I have said on a number of occasions in this Assembly that the time has now come for us to move away from the hub-and-spoke model of energy production in large power stations and then transfer across the nation through an ineffective, costly grid. We need to move to a model of smarter local grids, with the energy produced closer to where it is used. Networks that are more efficient offer more resilience for the energy system, which is less damaging to our landscape and cheaper in terms of maintenance. Now, a lack of capacity on the current grid in Wales is also a significant barrier in terms of local energy production. We therefore need the national grid, the distribution network operators—the DNOs—and Ofgem to play their part in responding to the progress that we want to see in a distributed energy generation system. And, in that regard, the report makes it clear that Wales must have a far stronger and meaningful voice on those specific bodies.
Now, the committee started their work at the start of the fourth Assembly by looking at energy and the planning system, and this was a very important consideration in the report that I am focusing on today. I won’t expand on that, but just highlight the fact that the planning system must be far more effective in terms of facilitating local energy and community energy projects, particularly in that there should be more priority given to that sector—extending permitted development, for example, so that these projects can proceed. We need to simplify the process, too, in terms of making planning applications and getting consent for projects of this sort, and also ensure that NRW, to be fair, has the necessary capacity to deliver their responsibility effectively and in a timely manner in this area.
One of the most important ways of supporting new energy generation is by enhancing security in the market, and we know that recent changes to the energy generation tariffs policy and other assistance for renewable energy has caused great uncertainty for investors, and that has chiefly emerged from the UK Government, of course. And London does have many of these powers. But there are entirely practical ways in which the Welsh Government can contribute towards making a difference. There are opportunities to provide land that is currently owned by the Government for energy projects. There is scope for us to take full advantage of all possible sources of funding. Now, this includes a number of European sources, and one would hope, following the events of next week, that we will be able to access European sources such as the European regional fund, such as Horizon 2020, the rural development programme and so on and so forth. There is perhaps scope for a lending scheme by the Welsh Government, and we know of the need for hand-holding services to assist local and community projects.
There are opportunities in terms of training and skills and there are a number of other opportunities that are mentioned in the report. The energy agenda, of course, is substantial. It’s a broad area that touches upon a number of policy areas and many portfolios within the new Government’s Cabinet. The one thing that is clear, however, is that the opportunity for Wales in getting this right is exceptionally exciting: economic, environmental and social benefits that are extremely significant. The challenge is set in this report and in the recommendations made. The question now is: how will the new Government and the new Secretary respond in order to achieve this by actually delivering a smarter energy future for Wales?
Thank you to Llyr Gruffydd for the opportunity to speak tonight.
For those of us who take the scientific evidence seriously there is no argument that we need to make radical changes to the way we harness and consume energy. And for those of us who take economic evidence seriously, there can be little argument that, to begin narrowing the gap with the rest of the UK, we need to use our natural advantages to create wealth and jobs for our communities. Embracing the huge potential of renewable energy, and energy efficiency, meets both these objectives. We should aim to generate all our energy needs from renewable sources, and aim to export excess energy. And let us bring communities with us. There is no more than 1.5 MW of community-owned generation in Wales, compared with Scotland, where there is 504 MW of community and locally-owned energy. We need to change the way people think about energy, how they consume it and how we produce it. There are real challenges to overcome, but big gains within our grasp. Where there’s a will there’s a way. We need strong leadership from the Welsh Government and we need to work cross-party to make sure that, within the next five years, we’re not wringing our hands at further missed opportunities. Thank you.
First, I need to declare an interest as an investor in Awel, which is a social enterprise delivering onshore wind energy in the Amman valley. I just want to record that last month was the first month when we actually delivered more solar energy across the UK than coal energy, and therefore we are at a crossroads now. All the energy companies are beginning to wake up to that they need to change their models, and they are beginning to invest in renewables. The oil companies are also starting to invest in renewables. I’m really concerned that Wales could not seize the opportunity and get left behind rather than ensuring that we have locally-owned renewable energy. Obviously, tidal energy is for the big boys and girls—that is huge capital investment—but we could have locally-generated energy schemes across all our communities if only we can seize the moment. We need to support local communities to see this as an advantage, and we also do need to change our relationship with the grid so that we don’t have the energy distributors killing local community projects dead by demanding millions of pounds to connect them to the grid. We have to be able to sell that energy locally rather than sending it off somewhere to the national grid.
I also agree with Llyr Gruffydd that we must have another look at Part L of the housing regulations. There’s no point in building new housing that we then need to retrofit in order to make those efficiency gains that we need to do in all our existing properties anyway. We need to be grasping the opportunities that have come from the fact that new players are really interested in this and there is a market for everything that Wales could produce with all the wonderful, abundant resources we have.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs.
Diolch, Lywydd. I’d like to thank Llyr Gruffydd for bringing this short debate forward. As you said, it’s the first one of this fifth Assembly, and I think it’s a very important topic to choose for the first one.
The Environment and Sustainability Committee’s report on smarter energy is a very important contribution, I think, to the energy policy debate, and I do look forward to responding to it formally in due course. So, I want to assure not just Llyr but all Members that it won’t be forgotten, because it’s been one of the first things I’ve read, actually, since coming into the portfolio on the energy side of it.
The Welsh Government shares much of the committee’s vision for the future, and I think you’re absolutely right, Llyr—it is constructive and it does bring forward very practical solutions, which I think we need to consider very carefully. I think we also need to look at the recent publication of the Institute for Welsh Affairs report at the same time. Advice is also coming forward to me from the task and finish groups that were established by the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport during the last Assembly term.
I believe we should all strive to bring about a Wales where low-carbon energy is a key driver in a vibrant economy, the energy sector continues to grow strongly and create good quality jobs, and communities drive forward the energy agenda and benefit directly from the generation of local energy. Energy underpins our whole way of life in today’s society, and I think the point that Lee Waters made about you have to take the community with you—you have to get them to understand their use of energy, and how we can take that forward. I think throughout the inquiry the committee did receive a great deal of evidence on how the transition to a smarter energy system in Wales could be taken forward, and again, I think this is a really valuable contribution to this agenda.
Will you take an intervention, Minister?
Thank you for giving way. I just heard what you said in terms of local communities receiving the benefits from local renewable energy schemes. Of course, that’s what they should get, and that’s what we want them to get, but there have been some occasions in my constituency where those community benefits haven’t been realised, and companies have tried not to give the full level of benefit they should have. So, can you look at ways that that can be addressed?
I’ll come to that bit in a moment. I had a meeting this morning, actually, with Carl Sargeant, who’s obviously now responsible for housing, where we discussed that very issue. But I will refer to that later on.
I think the energy system is already being transformed, and this is clear from the low-carbon generation report that we published last November. Wales had 2,280 MW of renewable capacity installed at the end of 2014, and that was up from 1,101 MW in 2012; 14,380 projects were delivered across Wales, from the 576 MW Gwynt y Môr offshore windfarm to nearly 11,000 solar photovoltaic arrays. We know that developments have continued in the 18 months since then, and I think there are opportunities for the future, and that includes the £12 billion Wylfa Newydd project in north Wales and, of course, the Swansea bay tidal lagoon.
We need to ensure we’ve got a very flexible and diverse energy mix here in Wales, and as we move forwards towards a low-carbon economy, our energy priorities need to support low-carbon jobs and skills, ensuring that energy developments benefit people in Wales and that the regulatory system protects their interests. In conjunction with the committee’s report, I see a very important and increasing role for local generation and supply based on renewable sources, with smart storage and local grid management, and again, over the last five years, I think we have now established a legislative and policy framework that will enable that change. We provided leadership through the groundbreaking set of legislation that uses the levers that we have. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is designed to increase the well-being of Wales by ensuring that all of our actions provide social, economic, cultural and environmental benefits, and we’ve got to continue to drive forward action on energy, providing multiple benefits and helping achieve the well-being goals. This will mean taking forward the statutory climate change target and carbon budgeting required by the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. Local public service boards will have an important role in translating targets into local action, and low-carbon energy generation and energy efficiency will be core components in delivering them. Indeed, energy will need to be a fundamental consideration within LDPs. Local authorities have been reminded of this requirement to plan positively for renewable energy, and we will continue to support them in doing this.
The changes to the consenting regimes promised through the UK Energy Act 2016 and the Wales Bill, as well as the implementation of the developments of national significance regime, provide the opportunity for decisions on significant renewable energy projects to be taken for the benefit of the people of Wales. We’ve published an energy efficiency strategy and a local energy statement that set out a clear direction for Wales. However, energy policy and market regulation are not devolved, so we continue to work with the UK Government, with the grid operators and Ofgem to secure the transformation in regulation and in the markets that Wales needs.
For new buildings, improving energy performance through building standards is important in achieving our well-being aims. I just mentioned to Nick Ramsay that I met this morning with Carl Sargeant, within whose portfolio house building now is, and we talked about how we need to build houses for the future. We’ve got to raise standards in a cost-effective way that recognises the economic importance of house building in Wales, and we’re going to continue to work with the industry to ensure we balance the need to reduce energy demand in new housing with the need to meet housing demand. I don’t think we can just carry on building the same sort of houses expecting low-carbon energy not to be part of them, because clearly as energy costs rise, the houses that we have been building are not going to be what people want going forward.
Will the Minister give way?
Can you just hang on? I think also we need to streamline planning, and Jenny Rathbone and Lee Waters both referred to community energy benefits. And someone—I can’t remember who it was—referred to land. And again, Welsh Government has got land and we’re looking to what we can to do, maybe, to have a pilot to see what sort of houses we can do. I’ll give way.
Thank you. On the economic model of persuading house builders to build to a higher standard, we really have a significant challenge on our hands of exploring a different economic model to allow this to happen, because currently the private sector volume house builders simply won’t play ball with anything innovative that adds to the cost of the volume that they build. So, what thinking can you do with your ministerial colleagues to explore different ways of financing housing?
That’s exactly what we were discussing; we’ve got five big developers in Wales who perhaps would not be persuaded to build the sort of houses that we are talking about. So, what I did with the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children this morning, and officials, was talk about how we can perhaps identify a local authority, maybe, that we could do some sort of pilot with. There would be a lot of risk involved—we accept that—but I think if we are going to be serious about doing this, that’s the sort of thing that we have to do.
Going back to community benefits, I have a farm in my own constituency in Wrexham that has an anaerobic digester, and going back to community benefits, it was quite difficult for the farm owners who built the anaerobic digester to engage with the community. I mean, this was several years ago now, and I think going forward it probably is much easier now.
We’ve also developed a public sector pipeline of energy efficiency, renewable energy and heat projects with a capital value of over £400 million. To deliver this opportunity, we’ve developed the invest-to-save green growth finance package, which has committed £13 million of repayable funding to public sector green growth projects this financial year, building on more than £20 million previously committed. This funding will be recycled into further projects as it’s repaid.
We’ve also set up our Re:fit Cymru service to deliver retrofit that guarantees energy savings for public bodies. This programme alone is expected to deliver £30 million of energy efficiency and renewable energy measures in the next three years.
We will need to ensure that power networks are fit to meet the changes we expect to occur over the coming decades. We need to see more local ownership of generation assets, and more investment in the updating of the energy infrastructure to enable us to balance local supply and demand more effectively. And we do need to be very clear about the challenges that local energy would bring, including the capacity and resource needed to manage the system effectively, and the need for significant changes in the way the industry is currently regulated. However, this will have many benefits, creating decent jobs and keeping costs down through local ownership.
Energy storage should be particularly valuable technology in deploying more renewables, particularly in areas of Wales that have significant grid constraints, and it’s likely to play an increasingly important role in the energy system. Storage does form part of our approach to innovation at a local level, and our smart living programme is supporting a number of innovative projects that will provide learning, as well as putting us on the map in the world of smarter energy use.
The Welsh Government local energy service is also supporting innovative local projects. The service helps communities to make well-informed decisions about the right energy options for them, based on their needs and the available resources.
We do already provide a higher level of grant support than in Scotland or England for the earliest, riskiest stages of project development, and our recirculating loan fund is more flexible than Scotland’s CARES programme. The fund can provide loans for both development and capital construction, and we currently have £4.5 million available for investment.
I think we all accept that if we are to transform the way we think about energy, we do need to work with a range of partners to share the need for, and benefits from, the transition. As I said at the outset, the committee’s report I really do think will be important in assisting me and the rest of Government in bringing about this transition, and I very much look forward to working with a wide range of people, including all Members, in taking forward this important policy area within my portfolio. Diolch.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I thank the Cabinet Secretary. That brings today’s proceedings to a close.
The meeting ended at 18:25.