Desktop
Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
 
 
You are in :
Back to list View this page without hyperlinks
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Good afternoon. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
 
Questions to the First Minister
Urgent Healthcare (Mid Wales)
 
13:30
Russell GeorgeBiography
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of urgent healthcare in mid Wales? OAQ(4)1909(FM)
 
13:30
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. We are committed to ensuring that patients in Wales receive safe, sustainable and high-quality urgent healthcare in a timely manner and in the most appropriate setting.
 
13:31
Russell GeorgeBiography
Thank you for your answer, First Minister. As you will know, services in Shropshire are being subjected to review, with initial proposals including the creation of an emergency centre for the treatment of serious injuries. The centre will be supported by between four and seven urgent care centres, but, unfortunately, despite cross-border agreements, none of these are in Montgomeryshire. Will you commit to exploring the feasibility of an urgent care centre to serve the 63,000 people living in my constituency?
 
13:31
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we always give consideration to such things, but, of course, what is absolutely crucial is that your constituents are able to access health services in England as they always have done. They are not, to use the phrase of the moment, ‘refugees’; they are people who have always used the health service in England, as there are people who use the health service in Wales who come from England. I certainly hope that any changes, now that Shropshire has come out of the difficulties that it faced a short while ago, will be of benefit to the people of Montgomeryshire, and I am sure that the Minister for Health and Social Services will give consideration to what else needs to be done in the future in order to improve their medical care, such as, for example, what we are doing with the emergency medical retrieval and transfer service.
 
13:32
Simon ThomasBiography
As you know, First Minister, Plaid Cymru has consistently called for increased numbers of doctors in Wales and the recruitment of up to 1,000 additional doctors. Pro tem in England, the College of Emergency Medicine has been part of a specific recruitment drive to ensure that there is adequate emergency care available in that context. Is that part of the recruitment campaign that you are carrying out here in Wales too, along with the colleges?
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We have been working with the colleges in order to ensure that there are sufficient doctors in Wales, as the Member would expect us to do. Of course, we know that approximately 96% of jobs have already been filled.
 
Promoting Digital Inclusion
 
13:32
Mohammad AsgharBiography
2. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's policies to promote digital inclusion in Wales? OAQ(4)1908(FM)
 
13:33
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. The digital inclusion delivery plan was updated in the summer. This reflected the good progress made in promoting digital inclusion and, of course, it remains a fundamental part of our programme for government.
 
13:33
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you for the reply, First Minister. According to Disability Wales, an estimated 40% of disabled people do not have access to the internet, compared to just 12% of non-disabled people in Wales. It is concerned that moving public services online means that many disabled people are prevented from accessing them. What action will his Government take to help disabled people get access to decent services here in Wales?
 
13:33
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, a lot of the services that are moving online are doing so as a result of his party’s policies; I just want to remind him of that. However, I can offer the Member some comfort. Communities 2.0 has helped 50,000 individuals since its inception. Disabled people and older people have been helped by it, and I can say that Communities 2.0 has worked in close partnership with key disabled people’s groups to help disabled people to benefit their lives through technology. For example, I was pleased to hear that the Royal National Institute of Blind People has bid successfully for the lottery’s basic online skills funding, and that was based on a Communities 2.0 project that was developed in Wales.
 
13:34
Mike HedgesBiography
Does the First Minister agree with me that the provision of broadband connections to the internet within libraries is a major contribution to digital inclusion?
 
13:34
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, I do. We know that libraries play a vital role in tackling digital exclusion. They provide the free community access that so many people need, in a safe environment, and, of course, assistance for those who are not familiar with digital technology and, particularly, with the internet. One of the most pleasing developments over the past few years is the expansion of libraries into digital technology to enable people to use their services as fully as possible.
 
13:35
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Farmers, of course, now have to use online services to claim payments and so on. That shift is a positive one, of course, but the reality is that some of these areas will be the last to actually have access to broadband. Do you therefore believe that it would be reasonable to retain an element of paper applications for those who are most excluded?
 
13:35
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we want to move to a position, of course, where everything will be done online in time, and that is particularly true of farmers. We must remember, of course, that every exchange will be transformed by September of next year. That means that 96% of buildings will then have access to broadband, and we will then, of course, have to consider what to do with the remaining 4%.
 
13:35
Jeff CuthbertBiography
First Minister, quite rightly, digital literacy and internet access are crucial to everyday life now—not just in terms of workplace skills, but in terms of access for everyday tasks, and, therefore, I fully support Communities 2.0. However, do you agree with me that it is crucial that we ensure that there is joined-up working between schemes like Communities 2.0 and our Superfast Cymru broadband roll-out to make sure that those in our most disadvantaged communities are not left out of the digital advances?
 
13:36
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Indeed so; I could not agree more. That is vital. We know, of course, that, for many people, once their interest is stimulated, they go on and take full advantage then of improved digital services, particularly those that superfast broadband can provide. For me, the two of them run very much together.
 
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
 
13:36
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
First this afternoon is the leader of the Opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
 
13:36
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, your budget that was laid two weeks ago meted out special treatment for the rural affairs element of that budget. That particular budget had a cut of nearly 18%, and a 20% cut for animal health. Why was rural affairs singled out for such special treatment in that budget?
 
13:37
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It was not. Farmers, of course, continue to receive these subsidies—over £200 million a year from the European Union. These have been very difficult times, of course, for the Government here in Wales, and we have had to take difficult decisions in order to provide the extra money for health, which, I am sure, he will welcome.
 
13:37
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Of course, we welcome any additional money for health, and it is something that we have been telling you from the start of this Assembly, First Minister. However, only 12 weeks ago, your then Minister for rural affairs launched a food and drink strategy that aimed for a 30% growth in output, and a 10% growth in gross value added for the rural economy. Ultimately, 12 weeks later, your Government has signalled a near 20% cut in that particular budget. Can you not understand why people feel rather bemused in the rural economy, that such, in fairness, positive signals are given one week, and then such negative signals are given another week? Is your Government not all over the place on this?
 
13:37
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No. We have to take difficult decisions, as he will know. We have not taken the decision to cut education by 20%, as he wanted, or indeed local government by 12%, as he wanted, or indeed social services by 12%, as he wanted. I understand, of course, that cuts have to come somewhere. We have had cuts of 10% in our budget from his party over the last four years, and that has meant that difficult decisions have had to be made. We will continue to promote, of course, Welsh food and drink around the world, as we always have done, and as evidenced by the fact that the food hall at the Royal Welsh Show continues to grow, and new buildings are needed every year.
 
13:38
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
First Minister, as someone who is very intricately related to the Royal Welsh Show, as my father was one of the directors there, I know full well that the success of the Royal Welsh Show is based on the volunteers, and the people who put their hands in their pockets to pay for it, rather than any initiatives that you might be trying to bandwagon on. The fact of the matter is, First Minister—[Interruption.]
 
13:38
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Order. I want to hear what the Member is saying.
 
13:38
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Your Government, for some unknown reason—. I am quite happy to say that the food and drink sector has been a notable success. It accounts for nearly 20% of manufacturing jobs here in Wales, and has an aim of £7 billion growth by 2020. These are all laudable aims, and, only 12 weeks ago, you were trying to encapsulate that in a plan, but then you are doing this to the budget. None of it seems to make sense—you seem to be chasing the press releases one minute, and actually ducking the difficult questions the next. Why are you turning your back on the rural economy, and, importantly, why are you turning your back on creating those jobs in the food and drink sector that the rural economy will desperately need to raise the GVA that we all want to see, and, above all, the overall output of the rural economy?
 
13:39
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I think that he misunderstands the point that I was making. Over the last decade, I have seen the numbers of producers increase exponentially in Wales, to the extent that the Royal Welsh Show has difficulty accommodating them, which is a good thing, of course, for the industry itself. I expect that to continue in the future. Nevertheless, it is true to say that there have been cuts in budgets across Government—apart from, of course, in health—but we cannot create money where money does not exist. We have received a 10% cut over four years from his party and we have to prioritise in the way that we think the people of Wales would want us to prioritise. That has meant finding more money for the NHS, and shielding the people of Wales from the worst cuts, which he wanted to impose with his shadow budget three years ago.
 
13:40
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
 
13:40
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, yesterday, the second report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission was published. On vocabulary standards, it states that, at the age of three, Scotland has the highest scores. It goes on to say that, by the age of five, children in England have closed that gap with Scotland, but children in Wales are falling behind. First Minister, when do you believe the actions taken by your Government will enable Welsh children to perform the same as children in Scotland and in England?
 
13:40
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
First of all, of course, the report praised Flying Start and the work that that has done in order to assist so many of our young people. I have no doubt that the pupil deprivation grant will assist, and that, of course, is a policy that, it is right to say, originated with her party, and one that we have been able to take forward, working with her. I can say that the revised child poverty strategy, which will be published for consultation next month, will seek to address those issues in order to ensure that we in Wales, certainly, are not left behind.
 
13:41
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Minister, Flying Start has existed for a number of years now, but the evidence suggests that Wales’s children are not catching up. It is all very well having a programme, but, if the programme does not deliver improvements, then it is really not helping our children. Those poorest children will then go on to suffer poorer GCSE results. Just 26% of children eligible for free school meals achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, compared to 38% of similar children in England. Now, the report says that that situation is:
 
‘unacceptable and means that too many poor children in Wales are being let down by the existing schools system. Change is urgently needed.’
 
Apart from agreeing, as you have stated, to implement the Welsh Liberal Democrat pupil deprivation grant, what are you going to do to ensure that Wales gets the change that Alan Milburn says is so urgently required?
 
13:42
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Through the pupil deprivation grant, of course, through the child poverty strategy, and through the foundation phase, which is yet to work through fully in terms of the beneficial effect it will have on our young people—. We know, of course, that it is important as well to support more young people into higher education. We know that the rate of young people going into higher education has increased. These things do take, of course, some time to work through, but nevertheless we are clear that we have a child poverty strategy and actions on the ground that will ensure that the young people of Wales are not left behind.
 
13:42
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Three weeks ago, I highlighted the abandonment of your long-cherished Programme for International Student Assessment target as another example of the poverty of ambition that characterises much of your approach. Yesterday, Alan Milburn agreed with that. He said:
 
‘We are concerned about the lack of ambition in the new international targets set for 2020, which we do not think are aspirational enough given the scale of the issue’
 
that faces Wales. I ask you again, First Minister: why cannot you and your administration strive for excellence, instead of aiming for mediocrity?
 
13:43
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We never aim for mediocrity. Those of us who have been through the state system and are grateful for the opportunities that have been afforded to us will never lose sight of that. It is something that is very close to my heart, in terms of looked-after children, particularly, and we are moving forward with plans to help them. In terms of ensuring that our schools have the support and money they require, Schools Challenge Cymru is one of the most effective ways of making sure that those who come from the most deprived backgrounds are able to get the help that they need. We have invested in new facilities, and new schools across Wales, that are very far in excess of what is happening in England. We are seeing the gap in terms of performance closing, and closing, I believe, rapidly. We have the strategy, as I said, which is being announced next week, and we have, of course, the pupil deprivation grant. All of these things, I believe, will see a real and beneficial improvement for our young people over the next few years.
 
13:44
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Finally, I call the Leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
 
13:44
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
Diolch, Lywydd. First Minister, neither of us will take pleasure in the Tory press trying to turn our health service into a political football, but patients in Wales will be alarmed, and they have genuine concerns that deserve to be taken seriously and addressed in full. One question that is asked is: why do waiting times for diagnostic tests remain unacceptably long in Wales, compared to those in Scotland and England? Do you attribute this to funding alone, or do you accept that there are wider issues?
 
13:45
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I think that there are issues of demand. We have provided £6.5 million-worth of diagnostics and £425 million extra to the NHS. Demand does increase at a huge rate. That is not just true of Wales, of course, but, nevertheless, it is something we face. We have a higher proportion of older people. We have a higher proportion of people who are not in good health, and of course we do not have the £300 million that funding reform would give us. Now, I do not pretend in any way that the Welsh NHS does not have its difficulties. It clearly does. We, as a Government, are committed to dealing with those difficulties, but what we will not do is play politics with the issue of people’s health.
 
13:45
Leanne WoodBiography
Surely, First Minister, if demand has increased, it will have increased everywhere. Surely you will not deny the facts: 1% waited more than six weeks for an MRI scan in England last August; just over 2% waited longer than six weeks in Scotland for an MRI scan; more than 40% waited longer than six weeks here in Wales. Are we not now at the point where, as well as patients having serious concerns, our health workers are increasingly demoralised, too?
 
13:46
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I think that constant attacks from papers outside Wales will demoralise them. I will say that the Minister has written to them all today just to say to them that these are not the views of the Welsh Government. What I can say of course is this. Let us not minimise the difficulties that exist in some parts of the health service. They are there. I do not pretend in any way that the health service in Wales is perfect, but it is not perfect in England. We saw only last week the County Hospital in Hereford being described as inadequate and unsafe, and many Welsh patients go to Hereford county hospital from eastern Breconshire. However, let me give you some examples of a recent survey that was carried out: it was said that there were countless examples of outstanding practice; that nine times out of 10, the care that patients receive is exceptional; that the vast majority of the sample group was happy with the level of care it received; that 77% of people in Monmouthshire, for example, felt that their GP surgery offered convenient appointments, which was higher than in any other part of Wales; and that 74% of respondents reported high standards of cleanliness in the hospital environment. Those are some examples of the fact that, as I would say, the vast majority of people get the best care most of the time. What we must focus on is ensuring that, where people do not get the level of care that they should expect, those concerns are dealt with and that we ensure that the number of people in that category continues to drop.
 
13:47
Leanne WoodBiography
The First Minister should take very seriously his responsibilities both to patients and staff in the Welsh health service. He will be fully aware that a strike ballot produced a 4:1 vote in favour of strike action by Unison members in the Welsh health service. Does the First Minister agree with Unison that our health workers are worth more than the one-off £160 payment that is being offered to them by this Government?
 
13:48
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, first of all, negotiations continue to take place, as the Member would expect. These are difficult times because we know that, even though more money has been allocated for health, we must make sure that a substantial amount of that money goes on services, and it is difficult, of course, in the financial circumstances we find ourselves to ensure that that happens. However, let us not prejudge things. There has already been a strike in England and in Northern Ireland. Discussions will continue in Wales, and I know that the Minister of health will continue to do that. Incidentally, the quotations that I gave you in terms of satisfaction were from the Conservative health survey. [Assembly Members: ‘Oh.’] So, even their own survey tends to undermine what they have been saying. However, I do accept—and I thank the leader of Plaid Cymru for the way she has raised these issues—that they are important issues, and from time to time we must deal with difficult questions in the NHS. However, she has done it in such a way that she has not turned this into a political football, unlike, of course, the Daily Mail and the Department of Health. [A Member: Inaudible.]
 
13:49
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Order. May I just remind Members that some people have their names down to speak later on? So, if they cannot stop muttering, they will not be called.
 
The Agricultural Industry (Farmers’ Income)
 
13:49
Elin JonesBiography
3. What measures can the Welsh Government take to safeguard the agricultural industry in light of the recent fall in many farmers’ income? OAQ(4)1910(FM)
 
13:49
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we know that, during the past financial year, farmers’ incomes have increased by 32%. It is true to say that, at the moment, of course, there has been a fall in the price of lamb. I can also say, of course, that a summit will take place relating to beef, together with a review of the dairy industry to consider what more we could do?
 
13:49
Elin JonesBiography
First Minister, you will know that many of our dairy farmers are facing very unpredictable prices and prices that are currently falling. Those prices are often affected by the global price of milk. In order to stabilise the position of our dairy farmers over the long term, do you think that it is now time to look towards compulsory contracts between dairy farmers and milk processors, in order to maintain that stability? There are now 12 member states of the European Union that have gone down that particular route, and I hope that you, as a Government, will also look at this.
 
13:50
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
One of the weaknesses, of course, is what happened with the MMB, the Milk Marketing Board. Once that disappeared, there were huge problems for dairy farmers. I would be in favour of giving greater powers to dairy farmers. It is not something that we can do, in terms of compulsory contracts, because they are a commercial matter, but I understand very well that it is extremely difficult for an individual who is selling to a major company. That is where the weakness lies. Therefore, I would be very supportive of anything that empowers farmers. If there is a way to ensure that farmers get a fair price, through the contracts that they signed, perhaps that would be something we as a Government would want to consider, bearing in mind the limitations of the powers that we have, but that is something that should, in my opinion, happen across the United Kingdom as a whole.
 
13:51
Russell GeorgeBiography
First Minister, the red meat industry in Wales is losing around £1 million every year, as a result of the way in which the promotional levy works in practice. Do you agree that a north Wales abattoir and reform of the meat promotional levy are ways in which we can ensure that we keep money in Wales and reinvest to support our famers? Could I ask how the Welsh Government is working with the UK Government to bring this about?
 
13:51
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The UK Government has indicated no interest in this area. It tends to support the bigger farmers, particularly those of arable land. We know that from experience over the last decade. In terms of red meat, of course, we know that the price of lamb has dropped recently, and that is because it has been a very good summer and so there has been a degree of oversupply in the market, together with the strength of the pound, which never helps in terms of exports. In terms of beef, we know that cattle prices have shown signs of improvement throughout last month and this month, but of course, what we will continue to do, as we have done successfully over the past decade or so, is promote Welsh red meat. That has led us to new markets ahead of other parts of the UK in years gone by.
 
13:52
William PowellBiography
Returning, for a moment, to the issue of the dairy sector, First Minister, it has been the case that, in other areas, for example, free range eggs and the red tractor scheme, there has been great benefit derived to the industry, in terms of increasing loyalty from customers who are prepared to pay an additional amount for a reliable quality product. Do you think that there is, in fact, scope for this to be extended more in the dairy sector to provide greater resilience to the industry, which at this moment, is facing such difficult times?
 
13:53
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, I do. Branding is the key for farming in Wales. If we competed purely in terms of commodities, as a commodity, we would be wiped out by producers who will always be able to compete at a level far below what our farmers are able to do. New Zealand is one example. The key for us is getting over that problem by having a high-quality product that is branded and marketed aggressively. It is happening now with milk. We see it on the shelves now, for example where we have Calon Wen as an organic producer and, of course, the non-organic Welsh branded milk that we see in our supermarkets. In an entirely non-scientific survey, I do notice that, in Bridgend’s supermarkets, the milk from Wales goes first and that I very much welcome. However, that is a small market.
 
What we need to do as well is promote Wales as an international brand to make sure that the market goes beyond the Welsh market. That is trickier with milk, because liquid milk does not travel in the same way as processed dairy products; nevertheless, it is heartening to see that Welsh milk is now being differentiated and branded. But, at the end of the day, there are still problems and they revolve around how an individual gets a fair price from a big buyer. Since the Milk Marketing Board was destroyed, that question remains unanswered by successive UK Governments.
 
Online Sexual Abuse
 
13:54
Jenny RathboneBiography
4. What work is the Welsh Government doing to protect young people from online sexual abuse? OAQ(4)1914(FM)
 
13:54
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We continue to work with the National Crime Agency and the police to target and arrest perpetrators of online sexual abuse, as part of national and international investigations. Here in Wales, we are educating parents and children to recognise and respond to inappropriate online behaviour.
 
13:54
Jenny RathboneBiography
Recent Cardiff University research indicates that children and young people as young as 13 are being pressurised to have sex. In the most serious cases, young people are being groomed online to enter into prostitution. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 predates the widespread use of the internet, and the current offence of grooming requires an offender to set out on a journey to meet a child. In light of yesterday’s announcement that the National Crime Agency finds it unrealistic to chase the 50,000 people who have engaged in online child abuse, what work do you think our Government can do to respond to the NSPCC’s call for further legislation? It is calling, obviously, on the UK Government to take further action to protect young people, but if the UK Government does not take action, what could be done, for example by amending the violence against women Bill, to ensure that this is addressed?
 
13:55
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We have to bear in mind, of course, first of all, that there are limits on what we can do, given that there are limits on the maximum sentences that we can create under the criminal law. Inevitably, the UK Government will have stronger powers, unlike in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where it is different in this area. We welcome the UK Government’s proposed amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. That will, for example, reduce the number of initial occasions when a perpetrator must meet or communicate with children from two to one in order for an offence to be created. That is, if I can put it in this way, the easiest way of making sure that this issue is dealt with through the criminal justice system. However, in terms of our own Gender-based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Bill, there is work under way in terms of ensuring that we can promote healthy relationships in the future, and to address violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. When it comes to the criminal side, it is inevitable that the UK Government will have more powers than us, but we will work with it, of course, in order to make sure that our children are safe.
 
13:57
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
There are two in three teenagers now in the UK, including Wales, reporting experiences of trolling, online bullying and sexual abuse. The UK Government Minister, the right honourable Chris Grayling MP, has actually now made announcements that he is going to impose higher fines and, indeed, take sentences up from six months to two years for very serious counts. Will the First Minister join me in welcoming this positive initiative, and will he pledge his support to working with the UK Government on this issue, which is affecting so many of our young people now here in Wales?
 
13:57
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, that is an important point that the Member raises, and I can say that we will work with the UK Government to ensure that our young people, particularly young teenagers who are perhaps at their most vulnerable time of life in many ways, certainly in terms of their development, receive the full protection that they are entitled to.
 
13:58
Bethan JenkinsBiography
First Minister, you may have seen this morning that an online avatar called Sweetie, created by the Dutch charity Terre des Hommes to identify paedophiles who use online chatrooms, has secured its first conviction. That man was an Australian, but the charity involved has said that it has passed information about 110 British men that it has identified to the National Crime Agency. I am just wondering whether you as a Government are aware of whether any of those men are Welsh, and whether you have had any dealings with the police to see how we can progress this. I listened to BBC Radio 4 this morning, and the charity said that one arrest simply is not good enough.
 
13:58
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I am not aware of any convictions of anybody from Wales, but it is an important issue and there are issues of detail that the Member will need to know. If I write to the Member with further information, I think that that, hopefully, will provide her with answers to the question that she has asked.
 
Economic Co-operation (Wales and South-west England)
 
13:59
Mick AntoniwBiography
5. Will the First Minister give an assessment of the potential for economic co-operation between Wales and south-west England? OAQ(4)1915(FM)
 
13:59
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. I understand that the Cardiff capital region board is continuing to consider appropriate opportunities to build linkages beyond the Cardiff capital region, and that would inevitably mean not just looking west but looking east across the Severn, as well.
 
13:59
Mick AntoniwBiography
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. There are already significant academic, economic, transport and energy links between Wales and the south-west. Do you agree with me that, should there be devolution to the regions of England, this would open the door to tremendous new opportunities for joint economic and social co-operation?
 
13:59
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It might well do that. At the moment, it is difficult to do it, of course. The English authorities are smaller and have far fewer powers. There are some exceptions, with Manchester, of course, being one cluster of authorities where they have worked very well together. Therefore, it may well be that if there were to be, for example, regional devolution in England, those linkages could be strengthened. Nevertheless, there are examples of co-operation between Cardiff and Bristol. For example, Cardiff and Bristol airports have worked together in terms of working to develop plans for hosting big sporting events in the future with the understanding, of course, that both airports are well able to bring in the crowds.
 
14:00
Byron DaviesBiography
First Minister, leading on from that, I am sure that you have been briefed on, or perhaps read, the remarks of the Bristol mayor, George Ferguson, about Cardiff and the Bristol regions needing to work together. The mayor suggested the creation of a Severn region to provide a strong lobbying voice and critical mass to secure investment. Will you outline your Government’s position on cross-border co-operation and specifically whether you support the Severn region in principle?
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We have done it, of course, in the north-east, with the linkages with Merseyside. That is something that we accept. The economic region in any set of countries goes beyond mere political boundaries. That much is true. We look to work with our neighbours across the border whenever we can. It is quite difficult, of course, because there is no equivalent body, certainly in the south-west of England, that we can work with. There is a putative body in the north-west of England. That much is true. It would certainly be more useful, from our point of view, if we were able to work with a cluster of authorities but, of course, we will work with authorities such as Bristol, where we can, for the mutual benefit of both.
 
14:01
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Does the First Minister agree that the Severn bridge tolls is a tax on Welsh businesses, that it should be devolved to Welsh Government, and that Plaid Cymru’s proposal to cut the toll to £2 for cars, with a corresponding cut for commercial vehicles, would be an important step towards levelling the playing field between businesses in Wales and the south-west of England?
 
14:02
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, I do, very much so. Indeed, the Member will know that, some months ago, we declared very publicly that we believed that the toll should be in the hands of the Welsh Government. We believe that we could reduce the tolls. At the same time, of course, it was important to raise enough money for the maintenance of the bridges—not just the one bridge, but the two bridges as they come together. Of course, at the time, the view of the Department for Transport was that it would control the tolls, the level of the tolls, and that all of the income from the tolls would be spent on roads in England. As the Member can imagine, this was not something that found favour with us as a Government. It is important that the money that those tolls raise is applied to the maintenance of the bridges and, of course, that we are able to look at reducing the tolls in order to reduce the burden on Welsh business. He is quite right that, when the tolls come back to public ownership, it is absolutely essential that it does not come back to the public ownership solely of Whitehall.
 
14:02
Eluned ParrottBiography
I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for raising the issue of the tolls, although I am disappointed that he wants to cut it to only four times the cost of maintenance. According to a Welsh Government report published in November 2012, scrapping the tolls altogether would boost the Welsh economy by £107 million a year, and the operating costs of the bridges are just £12 million a year, including the cost of collecting the tolls themselves. So, with the likely return on the investment of 9:1, would you not agree that scrapping the Severn bridge tolls altogether would be a cost-effective way to boost the Welsh economy if the control over the bridges were devolved?
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I have to say to the Member that the Department for Transport has produced wildly varying estimates on the maintenance costs of the bridge—£12 million, I have seen £20 million, and I have seen higher than that. The first thing that we would have to do is establish what the true cost is of the maintenance of the two bridges, and then of course take a sensible decision as to what is affordable, what we can offer to Welsh businesses while, at the same time, not taking on board a significant liability, which, at this present time, would be difficult for us to afford. First, there needs to be an understanding of what the true cost of maintenance of the bridges actually is. They will need to be surveyed to make sure that, structurally, the bridges were sound and then, of course, an assessment can be made of what the level of the tolls should be.
 
The Scottish Referendum
 
14:04
John GriffithsBiography
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the implications for Wales of the Scottish referendum? OAQ(4)1905(FM)
 
14:04
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
‘Significant’ is the word that I would use to the Member. Of course, there is a motion before us at roughly 5 p.m. that deals with constitutional reform. It is absolutely crucial that the aspirations and views of all four nations within this union are met, with Wales playing its full part.
 
14:04
John GriffithsBiography
Will the First Minister also agree that an important part of the debate in Scotland was about fairness in terms of the distribution of political power, but also will in terms of socioeconomic factors and that, as the future of the UK is now to be determined, we need that fairness argument to be at the heart of the debate, and that is about new levers for the Welsh Government and new support from the UK Government to help build our economy. That also applies to Scotland, the north of England and other parts of England. If we do not have that fairness, the people of the UK are not going to value the UK and give it the support it needs in the future.
 
14:05
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I entirely agree. The Member has raised before the issue of the UK Government needing to rebalance the UK economy. You will, of course, share my deep concern at the UK Government’s proposals to create redundancies in HMRC in the west of our nation, but what is absolutely crucial is that there is a new constitutional settlement, a new union for the UK, in order to make sure that it is sustained in the future. If that does not happen, then I have severe concerns about the future of the union. It must be understood in Whitehall that carrying on in the same old way is inadequate over the course of the next decade. We must have a constitutional settlement that is fair, settled and takes into account the views of all.
 
14:06
Nick RamsayBiography
First Minister, I wonder whether you could tell us what discussions you have had with the Office for Budget Responsibility about the enhanced role that it will be playing following the next Assembly election and in the wake of the Scottish referendum, with the tax powers that are going to come to Wales after that next election. In the case of stamp duty, for instance, it does not take a rocket scientist to work out that the forecast has to be exactly right or near enough, because that will then determine the amount by which the block grant is reduced. So, it is going to play an increasing role in Scotland. I wonder whether you could tell us what discussions you have had about its role here.
 
14:06
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. There have been discussions at official level with the OBR and, of course, we are looking to see what role the OBR could play as we accumulate tax-varying powers. It is absolutely crucial, as the Member says, that we are able to have a robust mechanism in place to assess and predict the tax take and a mechanism for ensuring that the methods that we use are robust. The OBR, of course, may well play a role in that regard.
 
14:07
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
One outcome of the referendum was the vow by three UK political leaders that there would be no change to the Barnett formula, which locks Wales into underfunding, as you have said many times. That is the position of UKIP also, as far as I can see. Were you part of any discussions before that declaration was made?
 
14:07
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No, I was not. I did not speak to the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister. I did speak to Ed Miliband; that much is true. It was something that was done in a slight panic, bearing in mind what the opinion polls were saying in Scotland at the time. Now, of course, no one knows quite what is going to happen at the end of the month, but, in my view, what is apparent is that that vow has been made to Scotland and, therefore, it has to be kept. That does not mean that there should not be a fair settlement for Wales. That should progress also. Of course, we have had that commitment by Ed Miliband in order to ensure that.
 
School Absences
 
14:08
Peter BlackBiography
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government policy on school absences? OAQ(4)1906(FM)
 
14:08
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Of course, we all take absence from school seriously. There is strong evidence to show that it does affect adversely an individual learner’s attainment. For that reason, of course, attendance needs to remain a priority to ensure that children and young people are given the chance to achieve their potential.
 
14:08
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. You will, of course, be aware of the advice of the Central South Consortium Joint Education Service, which covers part of my region and your constituency, that parents should be sending children to school when they are suffering from illnesses such as glandular fever and tonsillitis, as well as infectious conditions such as conjunctivitis, slapped cheek and hand, foot and mouth. Are you as concerned as I am, First Minister, at this advice being given out to parents, particularly when a parent contacted me today to say that, last week, when she kept her child home, the school truancy officer called around, but when she sent the child to school today, the school sent the child home because it was unable to administer antibiotics to them. How is this consortium accountable and how can it be scrutinised for these sorts of decisions, which seem to go against common sense for many parents?
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I am not aware of that, and I have two children, of course, who live within that consortium. I have not seen that advice myself. I am sure that I would have noticed it if I had. I will ensure that the Minister writes to the Member in order to provide clarification on this point. There does seem to be an element of confusion there in terms of what the advice is, and it is important that that advice is clarified.
 
14:09
Mohammad AsgharBiography
First Minister, absence from school remains persistently higher in our deprived communities, such as those in the south Wales Valleys and inner cities. What steps has his Government taken to discover and tackle the root causes of absenteeism in these particular communities in south Wales?
 
14:10
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The reasons for absenteeism can be many and varied. What is important is that we have provided money for many schools in our more deprived areas through Schools Challenge Cymru to help them address this and other issues. We expect that to have a beneficial effect in terms of seeing attendance rates increase.
 
14:10
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
First Minister, the system as it stands offers flexibility to headteachers to grant up to 10 days of absence. Do you believe that that flexibility and right should remain with headteachers?
 
14:10
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I cannot see any reason why that should not be retained at the moment. It appears that headteachers are using that flexibility in a sensible way and, therefore, there is no evidence in my opinion, of a need to change the current system.
 
Alcohol Consumption
 
14:10
Sandy MewiesBiography
8. What action is the Welsh Government taking to reduce alcohol consumption in Wales? OAQ(4)1917(FM)
 
14:11
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We have taken a wide range of measures and they are set out in ‘Working Together to Reduce Harm’, which is our strategy for reducing substance misuse.
 
14:11
Sandy MewiesBiography
According to Public Health Wales, alcohol is responsible for around one in 20 of all deaths in Wales, which is 29 a week, and a higher proportion of children in Wales aged 11 to 16 are drinking alcohol than in England or Scotland. The public health White Paper has consulted on minimum unit pricing for alcohol. As you know, this has been widely supported. Given the consensus of many people agreeing with this action, when can we see such a move being introduced as a step towards tackling the problem?
 
14:11
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The Government’s view is that minimum unit pricing is something we should move forward with. However, it is now in the European Court of Justice, or the European Court of First Instance if I remember rightly, because of a challenge to the Scottish Government’s proposals from the Scotch Whisky Association and others. We now wait to see what the outcome of that judgment will be, because, obviously, it will have a direct effect on what we might want to do in Wales. The matter is now, dare I say it, in the hands of the lawyers.
 
14:12
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Price, of course, is linked to supply, but it is the causes of demand that need to be addressed if we are to nip this in the bud and tackle the horrendous figures we have just heard referred to. In March, the European Court of Auditors, after expressing concerns about the Welsh Government’s audit of the substance misuse peer mentoring scheme in Wales, prematurely ended the scheme. Can you provide an update on the Welsh Government’s support, utilising the European money for peer mentoring, as we go forward?
 
14:12
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
What I can say to the Member is that we have a number of schemes in place: the Change4Life alcohol programme; the Have A Word brief interventions programme; the delivery of the Strengthening Families programme; and, of course, our Healthy Working Wales programme. In addition, our all-Wales schools liaison core programme operates in 99% of primary and secondary schools in Wales, which includes advice for children and young people about alcohol misuse. We are working to develop a guide to provide parents with some top tips on how to discuss the dangers of alcohol with their children. In the meantime, Public Health Wales has also been asked to consider the processes in place to review alcohol-related deaths, with a view to improving prevention and response.
 
Safeguarding the Welsh Language (the Planning Bil)
 
14:13
Aled RobertsBiography
9. What discussions did the First Minister have regarding steps to safeguard the Welsh language in the Planning Bill? OAQ(4)1912(FM)
 
14:13
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I have had a number of helpful discussions with a variety of stakeholders on this issue.
 
14:13
Aled RobertsBiography
First Minister, you promised to consider every practical step in order to strengthen the position of the Welsh language within the planning system. Which options were therefore considered, and would you be willing to publish a copy of the options considered by the planning department?
 
14:14
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
What we have said is that we are willing to consider any ideas put forward by other organisations. I have been in discussions with, for example, Dyfodol i’r Iaith, and some interesting ideas emerged from those discussions. We have to consider what is practical and what should be placed within a Bill rather than within guidance, which is crucially important in the planning system. That invitation remains open, and we continue to discuss with Dyfodol i’r Iaith some of the issues that it put forward.
 
14:14
Paul DaviesBiography
First Minister, can you tell us what assistance the Welsh Government is offering local authorities to assist them in analysing the data that they collect on the Welsh language? To what extent is the Welsh language considered in the way in which land is used within the planning system?
 
14:14
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
In terms of land, it is possible, of course, for local authorities to ensure that they carry out a Welsh-language assessment when they consider the local development plan itself, and it is very important that they consider how, outwith the planning system, they promote the language. I am talking about the Carmarthenshire commission—it was cross-party, which, given the history of Carmarthenshire, is something that has not always been very easy. The commission has put recommendations before Carmarthenshire County Council to strengthen the language in an area that is crucial to the future of the language. There is guidance in the planning system, so we are prepared to consider anything that can strengthen the system for the benefit of the Welsh language and we have helped local authorities understand the importance of the Welsh language; to be fair to local authorities, most of them know it. We have ensured, for example, that schemes are in place concerning Welsh-language provision in the education system in all local authorities.
 
14:16
Llyr GruffyddBiography
There is a Welsh Government campaign—a very laudable campaign—to do the little things for the Welsh language, but, of course, it is also important that the Government gets the big things right. There is an opportunity in the Planning (Wales) Bill for this Government to provide a clear statement about the Welsh language’s place in the current system. I am sure that you cannot look me in the eye and say that you are happy with the current position of the Welsh language in the planning system—if you can, say so; if not, tell us what you are going to do.
 
14:16
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
At the moment, it is difficult to see how the Bill itself can strengthen the Welsh language. That does not mean that the door is closed, therefore, but a statement would be meaningless. We have to ensure that a statement is meaningful in a practical sense, too. To date, no-one has shown me that there is any way of providing a role for the Welsh language in the Bill that is of practical benefit to the language; that is what, therefore, we will have to consider for the future. In saying that, we do not think that the planning system is a means of saving the language, if I can use those words, on its own.
 
We know—I have to say this—that one of the problems is that people who do not speak Welsh are moving into houses that already exist. How do you then ensure that they—and particularly their children—are immersed in the language? We know that that has worked in Gwynedd, and we hope, of course, to see good outcomes in Ceredigion. It is very important that other authorities in Wales consider the same process. However, the planning system cannot deal with the problem of Welsh speakers either dying or moving out and non-Welsh-speakers moving in; we must find other ways of ensuring that those people are able to play a significant bilingual part in their new communities.
 
14:17
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, First Minister.
 
14:18
Business Statement and Announcement
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I call on the Minister for Finance and Government Business, Jane Hutt.
 
14:18
Jane HuttBiographyThe Minister for Finance and Government Business
I have one change to report to this week’s business: the debate on the legislative consent motion on the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill has been postponed. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers available to Members electronically.
 
14:18
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Leader of the house, is it possible to have two statements, please? The first is from the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport about the budget line that has £3 million in it for route development out of Cardiff Airport. Obviously, everyone will be familiar with the news that Citywing reduced its services last week when it cancelled the Glasgow flight. I would be very interested, as one of the local Members, to know exactly how this £3 million is going to be used to the best effect to attract new airlines to the airport, given the disappointing news that came last week in relation to Citywing’s operations from that airport.
 
The second statement is from the Minister for Health and Social Services in relation to community health councils. Time and again, I am surprised when constituents come to me about health, by how little they understand that community health councils are there to help them and advocate on their behalf. I would be grateful for a statement from the Minister for health as to what he expects them to be undertaking in the role of promoting themselves and making themselves accessible to patients, and people with an interest in health, as the local source of advocacy in a particular health board area.
 
14:19
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for his questions. I am clear that the Member is supportive of the way in which the Welsh Government is responding to the need to ensure that connectivity, progress and prospects for our airport—Cardiff Airport—are progressing appropriately. Of course, this is a matter for the company now managing the airport, and I am sure that this will be taken forward appropriately in terms of route development.
 
On your second point, on community health councils, this is the voice for patients, and the Minister for Health and Social Services is clear about their remit and responsibilities. I am sure that the Minister notes the points that have been made today.
 
14:20
Mike HedgesBiography
As someone who strongly supports Communities First, I highlighted its success in my constituency in an Institute of Welsh Affairs blog yesterday. I would like to ask for a statement highlighting the success of Communities First since its reorganisation into clusters.
 
14:20
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Mike Hedges for that. Clearly, there was a purpose behind moving the Communities First areas into clusters. The results of those clusters are bearing out, in terms of a much more strategic role, particularly in relation to those areas of dedicated learning, healthy and prosperous communities, and, indeed, in terms of the outcomes for employment-related opportunities, particularly for young people and those people who are not in employment to enter into training and employment. Evaluation of the programme is taking place, and the Minister will report in due course.
 
14:21
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Minister, could you ask the Minister for transport to provide an update on her work with regard to road safety? She has previously met with constituents of mine who expressed their concerns about road safety issues on the A40. She has sent officials to look at hotspots on the A40 and the A470. Unfortunately, on the weekend, we saw another accident at Crickhowell, which has left somebody in a critical condition. If she could provide an update to constituents about what steps she is taking to improve safety on the A40, we would be most grateful to receive it.
 
14:22
Jane HuttBiography
I thank the Member for that question. It is a question of great concern to the Minister for transport, because, as a Government, we are committed to reducing casualties on our roads. The Minister for transport has asked officials to look at options to improve safety on a number of routes, and this latest very unfortunate accident that you mention will also be included in her review of those casualties and road safety.
 
14:22
Mark IsherwoodBiography
I call for two statements. The first is on the role and funding for Hospices Cymru, following the meeting of the cross-party group on hospices and palliative care, which I chaired in north Wales last Friday. It was attended by hospices from across the region and many others, including representatives of the health board and various care workers. We had a report on the impact of no-inflation-linked increase in funding from local health boards to Welsh hospices since 2010-11, through to 2014-15, which told us that the level of funding from health boards in Wales has remained static, with no inflationary increases added to the funding given to hospices. The data are showing that hospices throughout Wales are now £1.07 million worse off because of this over the last five years. A report was launched there by the north Wales hospices liaison group on the future of palliative care in north Wales, and it says that the lack of a coherent palliative care strategy for north Wales, based on a comprehensive needs assessment, is preventing service providers, including hospices, from planning effectively for the future. Hospices are part of the answer; they can enable our health service as a true design and delivery partner to deliver far better outcomes together. This demands a statement.
 
Finally, I ask for a statement subsequent to my request two weeks ago for a statement following the referendum in Flint in favour of reinstatement of NHS in-patient beds. You stated in response:
 
‘That proposal on future services was not referred to any Welsh Minister by the community health council, which you acknowledge is the important patients’ voice in terms of health matters.’
 
I, therefore, wrote to the community health council, which thanked me for passing on your response. It said that it congratulates the Flint campaigners on using a democratic referendum to so clearly articulate the views of many local people on this vital issue. It said that, since the hospital closure, progress in delivering the promises and changes have slipped considerably. It believes that the best answer to the concerns expressed by people in Flint is to deliver a primary healthcare resource centre that meets their needs and aspirations, and concluded that it has been increasingly concerned about the Minister’s letters in relation to its role in the Healthcare in North Wales is Changing consultation, and particularly—
 
14:25
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Are you coming to the point?
 
14:25
Mark IsherwoodBiography
I will conclude with a half-sentence.
 
14:25
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
A half-sentence; okay, thank you.
 
14:25
Mark IsherwoodBiography
[Continues.]—particularly the Minister’s own role and responsibility in setting out the policy and financial frameworks within which the health council and the health board have to operate. This is, therefore, a ministerial responsibility that debands a ministerial response.
 
14:25
Jane HuttBiography
I think that, on your first point, of course hospices play an important role in the delivery of end-of-life services and, of course, we recognise the valuable contribution that they provide. We would encourage hospices—I am sure that you, Mark Isherwood, would also encourage them to do so in north Wales particularly—to work constructively with the health boards to develop effective plans for end-of-life services. It is very important that this point is made: the funding of hospices in Wales cannot be compared with that of those in England. Hospices have access to a range of clinical and other support services provided by our health boards’ 24/7 specialist palliative care advice services. The value of the support is greater, much greater, than the grant figures alone. They are playing their part as part of the national health service here in Wales, and our funding formula is based on the needs assessment for the whole of Wales, ensuring access to medical and nursing staff, wherever an individual may live. I think that Mark Isherwood is well aware of that and I hope that he would also respect that in terms of his work and support for hospices in his constituency. I have nothing further to add to the points that I made in response to his questions on Flint, except to say that we look forward to the primary healthcare facilities that are going to be developed in that area.
 
14:27
Julie MorganBiography
Yesterday, I was very pleased to attend the Gypsy Roma Traveller symposium in the Pierhead, organised by Isaac Blake, where the speech by the Minister, Lesley Griffiths, was very well received. However, one of the points made in the discussion afterwards was that, although we have an excellent framework for Gypsies and Travellers, ‘Travelling to a Better Future’, it does not include Roma. Would it be possible for the Minister for Government business to arrange for a statement about policies for Roma in Wales?
 
14:27
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Julie Morgan for her question and also recognise her work and support for the cross-party group, which she set up and developed when she became the Assembly Member for Cardiff North, for Gypsies and Travellers. I know, of course, that the Minister is well aware of this issue and is looking at ways in which she can recognise more fully the Roma community—working, for example, with my officials in the Welsh European Funding Office, in terms of working with local authorities to explore the potential of utilising European funding to support Roma inclusion, and also looking at ways in which we can see a dedicated Roma strategy. The Minister is looking at that and is talking to officials about that, and I am sure that she will report back in due course.
 
14:28
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Minister, I call for two statements. I know, just last week, we had a debate in the Chamber about the M4 that raised issues surrounding the A55. I have heard repeated assurances from Welsh Government that roadworks taking place on the A55 are scheduled to take place in the evening. That is clearly not happening at the moment. There are roadworks that are running for 24 hours—and it says so on the notice published in the ‘Daily Post’—from 19 October to 3 November. I have no doubt, Minister, that you are aware, as is the Minister for transport, that that is the half-term holiday in England and it covers the half-term holiday in Wales. At an important time for the tourism industry in north Wales, 24-hour roadworks have been scheduled for the A55. I would be grateful if the Minister for transport would consider making sure that, when she schedules roadworks on the A55, she does, as she has said in the past, prioritise them for evening-only use and that she avoids important holidays, which are important for the tourism industry in north Wales.
 
I would also like a statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services in relation to the Tawel Fan medical unit at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. I am aware that Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board has commissioned an independent report that is not currently in the public domain. Now, clearly, if there are police inquiries ongoing that may or may not lead to criminal charges in relation to the Tawel Fan mental health unit at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, then I appreciate why that independent report is not being published at this stage. However, I think that it is important to have a commitment from the Minister to publish that report as soon as he is able to do so, or to ask the health board to publish that report as soon as it is able to do so, not least because whistleblowers in north Wales have written to Labour Ministers for health, and indeed to north Wales Assembly Members, regarding their concerns about mental health treatment in north Wales, and I am personally aware of letters relating to that going back a number of years. It is deeply concerning that it has taken so long for the health board to act.
 
14:31
Jane HuttBiography
As far as the roadworks on the A55 go, I am sure that Antoinette Sandbach fully backs the work and investment that we are undertaking in terms of improving safety on the A55, and I can assure her that the contractors are making every effort to complete the work ahead of schedule. There is additional work that has been identified between junctions 24 and 26; that is taking place. Members from north Wales will also be aware of the work that is being undertaken westbound between junctions 11 and 12. Adverse weather conditions, as you would recognise, do not help and there are updates on the Traffic Wales website. Phase 2 of the resilience work is due to begin as planned on 19 October.
 
In response to your second question—I am not sure whether it was a question or a statement, Llywydd—I will say, in fairness to the Member, that this report is subject to an ongoing police investigation. It would not be helpful to discuss it at this time as it might prejudice the police decision-making process. Betsi Cadwaladr health board has commissioned an independent review of Tawel Fan and it will be for the health board to publish the report and to take any subsequent action.
 
14:32
William PowellBiography
Minister, in a debate earlier this month, I referred to the threats that are currently being suffered by Tidal Energy Ltd’s DeltaStream device off the Pembrokeshire coast. It is threatened by the end of Welsh European Funding Office funding, which has been so critical in delivering that project. As the Minister for Natural Resources chose not to take up that point in his response to that debate, will you consider bringing forward a statement in Government time on this matter because of the importance of safeguarding renewable energy projects and their funding, particularly when a significant amount of public investment has already gone in to developing this cutting-edge technology?
 
14:33
Jane HuttBiography
I think that there is an important point here, which is certainly being handled not only by the Minister and his officials, but by my officials in WEFO, in terms of the important development in Ramsey sound. I would also say that we are now very close to the point when, I hope, that we are going to be able to publish our operational programmes in terms of the next phase of European funding, which will include increased investment in and profile of renewable energy sources.
 
14:34
Ann JonesBiography
May I ask for a debate in Government time on the impacts of the welfare cuts that are being imposed upon many in our disadvantaged communities, and in our communities, by the UK Tory Government? Not a Plenary session goes by without somebody mentioning the impact of those cuts on communities, but it seems to be very piecemeal. I wonder whether the Government would consider having a debate on the impact of the welfare cuts on those communities that are reliant on public services.
 
14:34
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Ann Jones for that question. I did respond to a call from Lynne Neagle only a couple of weeks ago for a debate on the impact of welfare reform cuts on our communities. The Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty has agreed to that and it will be tabled in due course.
 
14:34
Darren MillarBiography
Minister, may I too add to the calls for a statement from the Welsh Government’s Minister for health on the situation at Tawel Fan in Glan Clwyd? People across Wales, no doubt, were horrified to read the reports that appeared in the media over the weekend, which alleged serious and significant abuse of patients on that mental health ward. I have been contacted in the wake of those reports by very concerned families of people who were cared for on that ward—and, no doubt, other north Wales Assembly Members have as well.
 
I think that, while the report is clearly not going to be published in the short term, I do think that we could have a statement from the Welsh Government on whether it was aware of the concerns at the ward; if it was, when did it become aware; and what actions did it take to support the health board in addressing those concerns, and putting them right. I think that we also need assurances, Minister, as to whether the Welsh Government is able to confirm whether any of these abuses are not taking place, as it were, on other wards in that health board area.
 
I was first contacted about concerns in respect of this ward back in March of 2013. It seems that the problems on this particular ward continued right up until December of that year, and it took an undercover camera to see that ward eventually closed and some serious action taken by the board. I am concerned about that, and I think that it is incumbent on the Welsh Government to tell us whether it knew about the problems on that ward, and what work it took to address them. I think that we should have a statement, at the earliest opportunity, so that these matters can be discussed by the Senedd.
 
14:36
Jane HuttBiography
I think, Llywydd, again, that I have responded to a question on this point, and I have made it very clear that we must not prejudice an ongoing police investigation. However, I will draw attention, of course, to the written statement that was issued on 16 October, together with results, for example, of the spot-check programme that is important in terms of the Minister’s action in terms of identifying any areas of concern in care for elderly patients in Wales. I would also draw attention to the information from Betsi Cadwaladr that is in the public domain.
 
14:37
Statement: Public Services Staff Commission
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I call the Minister for Public Services, Leighton Andrews.
 
14:37
Leighton AndrewsBiographyThe Minister for Public Services
In the ‘Reforming Local Government’ White Paper in July, we set out the Welsh Government’s intention to establish a public services staff commission as part of our public service reforms. Responses to this proposal have been positive. I am therefore pleased today to launch a further, more detailed consultation on our proposals for a public services staff commission.
 
In the programme for government, we made a clear commitment to the delivery of efficient, effective, and accessible public services across the whole of Wales. We recognise that our ambition for world-class public services can only be realised through a world-class public service workforce, with the right skills and support to deliver them. We need to ensure that our distinct public service values are embedded in our approach to workforce matters, removing barriers that prevent flexibility and collaboration across and between organisations.
 
Sandy Mewies took the Chair at 14:38.
 
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Our Welsh model of social partnership is embodied in the workforce partnership council, which brings together trade unions and public service employers to address shared challenges and opportunities for public services and the public service workforce. The workforce partnership council has been at the heart of a number of public service summits, in which partners have sought to reach consensus on the issues to be tackled. Given the continuing challenges faced by our public services—dealing with the competing pressures of reducing resources, increasing demand, and rising expectation—it is right to put workforce matters at the centre of the public service reform agenda. We want to engage the workforce in discussing how improvement can best be delivered. We know that the workforce wants to be more closely involved in designing solutions to the delivery challenges that are faced every day.
 
We therefore believe that the case for a public services staff commission is strong, with an effective commission having a key role in setting a benchmark for the consideration of staffing issues at this moment of transformative change, and contributing to the vision for the public sector workforce we have described.
 
We intend to establish a non-statutory staff commission by April 2015, in particular to support any local authority voluntary mergers. Members of the commission will be appointed by the Welsh Ministers. We will appoint individuals with relevant skills and experience in workforce matters and organisational development, including from the private sector.
 
In developing its advice, the non-statutory staff commission will be required to consult with relevant parties, consider the views of staff, recognised trade unions and employers. It will also need to develop links with the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales in respect of its role relating to senior salaries in local government. It will be required to bring together a range of different viewpoints to inform its advice. It will have a remit to seek out best practice in Wales and internationally in the public and private sectors, to inform its judgments and to support any advice provided to the Welsh Ministers.
 
The non-statutory staff commission will not be an arbiter in local or national disputes, it will not offer definitive legal advice on such matters, and it will not supplant existing bargaining and negotiating mechanisms or employment tribunals. The non-statutory staff commission will be at its most useful when it is examining and advising on matters of principle.
 
However, the immediate priority for the staff commission will be to support voluntary local authority mergers and to effectively support staff and provide advice on how best to achieve consistent and fair treatment through the reform process. I will be consulting key stakeholders further on the detailed work remit and the staff commission itself, once established, will be able to advise me on issues that require its consideration.
 
We expect the existing social partnership forums established between public service bodies and their workforces to continue to work together to develop local solutions to local issues, alongside the non-statutory staff commission as we make a transition to a statutory staff commission.
 
The White Paper also signals our intention to legislate to place the staff commission on a statutory footing following the next Assembly elections in 2016. The proposed statutory staff commission will build on the role and work of the proposed non-statutory commission. We believe that creating a statutory basis for the staff commission at this point in the reform programme will build upon the lessons learnt and reputation of the non-statutory staff commission by giving the commission its own legal status, and therefore further enhancing its authority and independence; it will enhance openness and transparency by having clear functions set out in legislation, which have been developed as a result of wide engagement with stakeholders, including through the work of the non-statutory staff commission itself; and at the right point in the reform programme, provide the commission with enhanced powers to issue guidance and request information.
 
The statutory staff commission will be time limited and phased out after completing an evaluation of its contribution to the current reform programme in 2021. We believe that this is sufficient time to ensure a mature culture of working in social partnership is embedded across the Welsh public service.
 
I am clear the staff commission can play a key role in ensuring that the public service workforce is developed and supported during the reform programme to ensure public services in Wales emerge stronger, better and transformed. I am pleased that the proposal for a staff commission was broadly welcomed at the public service summit last month and in the responses to the consultation on ‘Reforming Local Government’. I look forward to continuing engagement with our social partners and other key stakeholders as the details are further developed.
 
14:43
Mike HedgesBiography
I welcome the Minister’s statement on the public services commission. I recognise, and I am sure that the Minister recognises, the hard work and commitment to public service of the vast majority of local government employees. I have two questions. The first one is: will the staff commission be providing advice when local authorities voluntarily merge, having had different results, and therefore pay, following a job evaluation recently carried out to fulfil their equal pay legislation? Secondly, one of the concerns that I have, which is obviously not shared by the Williams commission, is that the senior salaries of the merged authorities will be higher than the highest in the predecessor authorities. Does the Minister believe that the independent staff commission and the independent remuneration panel will stop this from happening?
 
14:44
Leighton AndrewsBiography
I thank my colleague, the Member for Swansea East, for those questions. I certainly think that there will be a role for the non-statutory staff commission in relation to voluntary mergers, and it will have to take account of the issues that he has mentioned. Whether that is going to be the kind of significant issue that concerns him, I am not certain. In respect of the issue of senior salaries in merged authorities, I hear very much what he has said on that. I am certainly of the view that the proposals that we are bringing forward will mean fewer local authorities, therefore fewer chief executives across the whole of Wales, and therefore a reduction in the cost of administration of local government in Wales.
 
14:44
Sandy MewiesBiography
I call the Conservative spokesperson, Janet Finch-Saunders.
 
14:45
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Minister, I welcome your statement today. I have a few observations and, indeed, some questions. In your programme for government, you did make a clear commitment to the delivery of efficient, effective and accessible public services across the whole of Wales. I would like to see some emphasis, actually, on transparency, financial probity and democratic accountability, where appropriate, running as a main thread through our public services in Wales.
 
The previous speaker asked about job evaluation, and it is fair to say that I have had some mixed messages from the Welsh Government as to how the current job evaluation programme is working its way across, mainly, local authorities, and on the equal-pay reforms. It would be interesting to hear whether the Minister is yet up to speed with how many local authorities have actually completed their job evaluation process, how many have yet to do so, and, indeed, how that process is going to dovetail along with any future reforms of local government.
 
I note your mention of social partnership as embodied in the workforce partnership council, and that that apparently does bring together trade unions of public service employers, and it says that it has been at the heart of a number of public service summits. I would like to ask how many of those have taken place, how transparent a process that has been, and where the reporting mechanism is on that.
 
I think it is fair to say also that, since the tabling of the Williams report, there has been a huge focus on local authorities, and, of course, this was a public services reform. How can you, as the Minister, now ensure that all public bodies will be represented and engaged in this process, in particular through the staff commission? What will be the remit of the staff commission? Who will be invited to join? Again, will there be transparency of process and will you guarantee political neutrality?
 
Talking about the roles of senior salaries, it was the Welsh Conservatives who believed that senior salaries in Wales—not just among chief executives, but, indeed, some of the senior management teams—were eye watering, and we wanted actually to include senior management in the independent remuneration process.
 
14:47
Sandy MewiesBiography
Can you get on to the questions?
 
14:47
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Yes, I am asking the questions as I am going along.
 
14:47
Sandy MewiesBiography
Yes, many of them.
 
14:47
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
I would like to know whether you could guarantee that there will be no undermining of the independent appraisal of senior management pay scales, and that it is not just related to chief executives. Have you thought about the resource implications of setting up such a commission and what sort of costs are likely to be involved in this? Also, this talks greatly, to a large degree, about the non-voluntary mergers. What about those mergers that, if not voluntary, may be forced by yourself? How will the staff commission actually be implemented? How will it impact on those? Thank you, Minister. There are a few questions there, I am afraid.
 
14:48
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Thank you. Well, I think if the Member were to consult the White Paper that we are issuing today, she would find answers to many of the questions that she has raised. For example, in paragraph 66, she will see, I think fairly precisely, the kinds of issues on which the non-statutory staff commission would be able to advise, including recruitment and retention of staff, transfer of staff from current to new local authorities, harmonisation of terms and conditions of service, job evaluation and grading, senior post recruitment and remuneration, pensions and impact of transferring staff to different public service pension schemes, impact on staff recently transferred to private sector contractors, and issues affecting the wider public service workforce.
 
In paragraph 49, she will find the range of public service bodies that could be covered by the remit of the non-statutory staff commission, including county borough councils or county councils in Wales, town or community councils, fire and rescue authorities, national park authorities, the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales, the local health boards and NHS trusts, the Care Council for Wales, the governing body of a maintained school or federation, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Arts Council of Wales, the National Library of Wales, the National Museum of Wales, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, the Sports Council for Wales and the natural resources body for Wales. So, I would suggest that the Member does read and study the White Paper, which gives a considerable number of answers to the questions that she has raised. In respect to the costing of the non-statutory staff commission, we have estimated overall a cost of around £0.5 million for the establishment and running costs.
 
She will, of course, recall that there have been previous staff commissions during previous local government reorganisations, not least, of course, the local government reorganisation carried out by the Conservative administration in the mid-1990s. So, I am surprised that there should be any ideological objection on her part to the creation of a staff commission. In respect of the Williams proposals, we produced a further document on that in July, which I think she will have seen. In respect of transparency, given the range of organisations represented at the public service summit—which included, of course, trade unions representing the public sector workforce and employer representatives—I do not think there was any danger of any secrecy with regard to the kind of discussions that were being held there. In respect of what she has to say about senior salaries, clearly we have the independent remuneration panel, and that work will continue.
 
14:50
Sandy MewiesBiography
I call the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhodri Glyn Thomas.
 
14:50
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Minister, may I, on behalf of the Plaid Cymru group, welcome this statement this afternoon, and also welcome the consultation on the establishment of a staff commission, but may I ask a number of questions on the detail? Mike Hedges asked you a question about the non-statutory staff comission that will exist between 2015 and 2016 and whether such a non-statutory commission can, in reality, deal with complex situations where some councils merge voluntarily and questions will arise as regards job evaluations that will have taken place in the previous authorities? Are you completely confident that a non-statutory commission, at that crucial point, will be adequate to deal with some of the questions that will arise? The First Minister, some weeks ago, made a statement here stating that he did not anticipate that there would be redundancies, and certainly, in terms of the direct services to the public, that the same kind of workforce would be required. Are you just as confident that, if voluntary mergers and compulsory mergers of local authorities take place, that the same kind of workforce will be required? The Welsh Local Government Association has been talking about tens of thousands of jobs disappearing. What exactly will the commission’s role be in that situation? Will there be a role for it to advise the local authorities? Will the commission have the authority to seek outcomes in that situation?
 
May I return to the question that Janet Finch-Saunders raised about payments to senior officers? Of course, the fact of the matter is that the pay of senior officers is dependent upon the pay of local authority chief executives. So, if the independent remuneration board ensures that there is rationalisation of pay for chief executives, that will also have an impact on senior officers. You said that this independent remuneration board already exists. Can you refer me to any decision that has been taken by that board that has affected the salaries of any chief executive in Wales, or the pay of any senior officers in Wales? If that has not occurred to date, how can you convince us that that will happen during the period when mergers will be taking place, whether they are voluntary or mandatory? If the landscape is augmented as regards the responsibilities of these officers, will there be a trend of increasing salaries, or are you confident that this commission, together with the independent remuneration board, can rationalise that situation and ensure, for example, that the chief executive of a local authority in south-west Wales cannot receive pay that corresponds to that of the chief executive of Essex in England?
 
14:54
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Perhaps I could start with the issue of senior salaries, the issue which the Member finished on. I certainly think that he raises some very valid questions about the salaries of certain long-serving chief executives who may have been in post before the work of the independent remuneration panel commenced. I think that some of the comments he made there may have a certain degree of validity, and I think that many eyebrows have been raised over some of the payments of senior salaries to chief executives in certain authorities in recent years. I think that nobody objects to paying for the highest quality when it comes to serious and senior jobs, and we would certainly be looking to local authorities that emerge out of our process of local government reform to recruit people of a high calibre to those positions. I think that that will be an important statement for the future. However, overall, as I have said, fewer local authorities will mean fewer local authority chief executives and fewer senior salaries of that kind, if reorganisation is carried through properly.
 
May I welcome what he said in terms of his support for the consultation on the staff commission? He asked whether we thought it could deal with complex issues, and I think that, yes, it will. It will be down to the calibre of the people we recruit to the commission. However, clearly, there is a consultation now on the role and functions of the non-statutory and statutory staff commission in this White Paper. We look forward to his representations on that and representations from others. In respect of the issue of redundancies, certainly, I would expect the non-statutory staff commission and the subsequent statutory staff commission to look at the issue of best practice. I think that we need to be very clear, as the First Minister was the other day, in respect of our preference to see best practice pursued in respect of front-line services. I think that there are going to be issues about the merger of services overall and particularly of senior posts within the new authorities as a result of that. I think that what we have to be clear about, however, is that there are opportunity costs to not going through a process of local government reorganisation, and people, I think, are too often prepared to talk about the difficulties of any merger process without considering whether we have an optimum system of local government in Wales currently. I think that the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, like me, probably feels that the current system is not the optimum system for local government post-devolution.
 
14:57
Sandy MewiesBiography
I call the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Peter Black.
 
14:57
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you, Chair. May I also welcome the statement and also the White Paper, which I have scan-read in the half hour or so that I have had a chance to look at it? I just have three issues I want to raise with you, Minister. In paragraph 78 of the White Paper, the author of the paper says with regard to the 1995 reorganisation that
 
‘culture change did not take place overnight in previous structural change in Local Government. It took time to harmonise terms and conditions and to bring together different approaches and philosophies to providing public services in the new Local Authorities. We want to ensure this does not happen again’.
 
Given that intention, may I ask how the commission that is being set up today, or via this consultation, is going to be different to the 1994 commission in terms of ensuring that things are different with the forthcoming reorganisation?
 
Secondly, in terms of the 1994 commission, having served as a councillor through that reorganisation, I have to say that I considered that commission to be fairly anonymous. How will the new commission be more proactive in making its presence felt with local councils and with the other bodies that will, of course, be impacted by this reorganisation? Finally, in terms of the work of the commission, you are very clear in saying that it will not encroach upon the independence of councils or the other work councils are doing. How is the commission going to do its work without—. What is the balance going to be in terms of how it does its work in terms of getting its remit right while, at the same time, allowing councils to act in an independent way and to make their own decisions?
 
14:59
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Okay. May I thank the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for his support for the consultation and for the proposal? I welcome the questions that he has asked. If I may start with the first issue of culture change, I think that what we have here is an approach to public service reform that has now been underpinned first by the Williams commission and secondly by our reforming local government White Paper and public services White Paper in the summer. We will, of course, be producing a further White Paper in the new year that will look at, among other things, the vision for local government and address some questions around functions and responsibilities. So, I do not think that there is a wider cultural context, but I hope that there has been wider buy-in about the need for change to happen.
 
I cannot compete with his expertise on being around at the time of the last local government reorganisation. There are other Members in this Chamber who have much closer communion, shall I say, with those issues than I could ever pretend to have, and I would welcome input, at this stage, on any observations or lessons to be learned from those previous reorganisations from those who were in local government at the time. However, what we do know that we have here is recognition across pretty much the whole of this Chamber that change needs to happen, and it is within that context that we are taking these proposals forward.
 
The Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson also suggested that the previous commission was rather more anonymous, and that may have been its role, but, clearly, in this particular regard, it will have a role. We are commencing with the launching of this White Paper, there will be a consultation on that, and there will be, I hope, a more transparent and public process around this commission. We will then be obviously legislating for the statutory staff commission and we are very clear, in advance of the timescale through which it will function. So, there is clarity and transparency around that, and that would be different from the past.
 
Finally, in respect of the power and influence, if you like, of the commission, the Member is well aware of my view that, sometimes, it takes fines, bribes or legislation to ensure that certain things happen in respect of certain aspects of local government, such as collaboration. What we will be creating here is a situation where the commission will have the power to advise Ministers, and Ministers themselves will be able to support the commission in its work—shall I put it like that?
 
15:02
Simon ThomasBiography
I would like to ask three things briefly to the Minister on the statement today. First of all, can you explain, Minister, why this difference between the non-statutory and then the shift to the statutory purpose? What benefits does that bring? What value is being added to the process by doing that?
 
It is possible that this is in the White Paper, but I have not had an opportunity to read that in detail as of yet. However, I have noticed in the White Paper the schedule of public bodies that will be included within the remit of this commission. One thing is prominently missing, of course, namely the civil service. As we move towards further devolution in Wales and ‘home rule’ to use the First Minister’s own words, when we will have an opportunity to discuss and think about getting Westminster’s claws off our civil service, and bring the civil service into the heart of real public service in Wales, which encompasses all aspects of public services in Wales? Is that, therefore, a long-term intention of this Government and this Minister within the context of devolution currently as it stands?
 
Finally, and very specifically, as we will be voting later this afternoon, I presume, in favour of the motion that talks about the devolution to come in light of the Silk report part 2, we know that teachers ' pay and conditions will flow from that. Is this the commission that will discuss how the devolution of teachers’ pay and conditions will be provided for and implemented in Wales?
 
15:04
Leighton AndrewsBiography
On the last point, the answer to that is probably ‘no’. On the second question, I think it is a little unfair to the civil service in Wales to suggest that it is operating under some kind of Whitehall stranglehold. If you contrasted the civil service that supports the Welsh Government with the civil service as it used to be constituted under the old Welsh Office, I think you would note a remarkable degree of independence, creativity and imagination that maybe was not there in the past.
 
In respect of the difference between a non-statutory and statutory staff commission, as we move forward, our expectation, as we say in the White Paper, is principally that a non-statutory staff commission will be likely to focus on, or certainly will have as its first-priority task, local authority voluntary mergers, as we say in paragraph 35:
 
‘working with employers and unions to develop solutions for the workforce issues which will require action and resolution.’
 
Clearly, we will move forward to the statutory staff commission subsequently.
 
15:05
Sandy MewiesBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
15:05
Statement: Climate Change Policy Refresh
Sandy MewiesBiography
I call the Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant.
 
15:05
Carl SargeantBiographyThe Minister for Natural Resources
Thank you, acting Deputy Presiding Officer. The priorities of our refreshed approach to climate change are driving out climate risk, driving down emissions, driving up energy efficiency, and driving forward low-carbon energy, focusing on green growth, tackling social vulnerability and strengthening governance to support engagement and involvement. Our last annual report acknowledged that, although we have made significant progress, there are serious implications, highlighted by the international panel on climate change, and progress on our 40% target underlined a need to do more. We therefore undertook to refresh our approach, and, today, I am setting out our commitment, going forward.
 
The risks of irreversible impacts and the message that the longer we wait, the more it will cost mean that it is vital that we rise to the challenge. Our ambition is not just to tackle climate change, but to build a more prosperous and secure Wales, and we will do this by laying the foundations that support all sectors to take action.
 
First, we will do this by tackling climate risks. Last winter, in places like Aberystwyth, we saw our vulnerability to severe weather. Climate change carries a cost, and the damage to publicly owned assets alone was estimated at around £8.1 million. Going forward, we must also build resilience to this.
 
We have already provided financial assistance to support the recovery from the storms, and almost £300 million is being spent on flood risk management in Wales over the life of this Government. In the face of a changing climate, we must also ensure that our hospitals can continue to treat patients, and so we have undertaken a climate impact assessment of our NHS buildings. In our schools, we will be implementing school standards to improve school design and refurbishment. Greater efficiency of our public buildings also means less expenditure on running costs and more for front-line services. This is why we have committed an additional £3 million for energy efficiency projects in the public sector.
 
Climate adaptation is not just about technology and buildings, but also about the better use of our natural resources. Sustainable urban drainage and green infrastructure provide opportunities to improve our environment and water management, and provide improved health and wellbeing for all our communities. The long-term context of climate change and decreasing public subsidy means that the next rural development programme must support increased resilience in the agricultural industry. Today, I am publishing the review of land use climate change, which will inform the interventions of the RDP and the new agriculture strategy. Our aim is to build a confident, resilient, profitable and climate-ready agricultural industry that drives sustainable growth and supports prosperous rural communities.
 
Tackling climate change by driving out all avoidable emissions and increasing efficiency can bring significant benefits and new opportunities for farm businesses. We will therefore drive forward practical action like covering farm slurry pits, which will reduce methane emissions, provide cleaner fuel, replace expensive fertiliser, reduce water pollution, and increase efficiency. Markets in energy, carbon and water are also emerging, and offer the potential for the diversification of income. Simple actions like planting hedgerows, shelter belts and woodlands can improve water management, too, locking away carbon and delivering wider benefits.
 
Offsetting is not a substitute for reducing emissions, but by supporting an increase in timber for construction, it can deliver on climate change targets and encourage our construction industry to look at low-carbon alternatives. This is why we will be prioritising the work to take this forward through the example of the woodland carbon code.
 
Our work on energy efficiency has demonstrated that action on climate change can drive economic growth and tackle vulnerability and inequality—win-wins that are at the heart of our Government priorities. In refreshing our approach, we will go further. By developing a new strategy for energy efficiency, we will build on the track record of Government programmes like Arbed and the £108 million that we invest annually to achieve the Welsh housing quality standard. We will also work with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and others to fully understand climate change’s disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable in our communities.
 
However, the right policies take us only so far. As a Government, this is why we are working to put in place the finance, support, innovation, skills and legislation to drive green growth. I have already announced that we have committed £5 million to the development of ‘Green Growth Wales’. To drive resource efficiency, I am also launching a national service, Resource Efficient Wales, to give people accurate and reliable advice and technical support to take practical action.
 
Building on our support of innovation, our Sêr Cymru programme has committed £50 million to enhance the research capability in Wales, which complements our £85 million capital investment in the energy industry, and the 15 projects under the climate change framework, worth almost £164 million in EU funds. Our work implementing the skills strategy will also prioritise low-carbon energy and energy efficiency.
 
This demonstrates our cross-cutting Government approach to climate change and shows that climate change is about our economy, our society and our environment. In other words, tackling climate change requires sustainable development. For that, we must do three things: we must know what we are aiming for and the key principles to apply; we must have a clear evidence base of the key risks and opportunities; and we must have an efficient process to ensure that the right development is located in the right place. This is what we are putting in place through the wellbeing of future generations, environment and planning Bills. I recognise, however, the need to strengthen governance even further along this process.
 
In implementing the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill, we will be emphasising engagement and involvement in climate change, linked to the creation of a commissioner for future generations. Through the environment Bill, I intend to set out a legal framework to identify climate risks and provide an evidence base for action. In our annual report on climate change, we will go further, setting out progress on delivery in each area of Wales and strengthening our internal governance to ensure that we deliver on our own estate.
 
Ultimately, no government can tackle climate change alone, and I ask all sectors to support us to take action. In Wales, we have shown that we can dramatically reduce waste; we must now show that we can do the same with our emissions.
 
15:12
Sandy MewiesBiography
Thank you, Minister. There are six Members hoping to speak in this debate, so I ask that, after their preamble, Members come to their questions in a timely manner, so that everyone can ask their questions and hear the answers.
 
15:12
Mick AntoniwBiography
In the statement, Minister, I very much welcome the two points that you make about driving down emissions and driving forward low-carbon energy. Of course, there still remains the issue of shale gas and fracking as a potential energy issue in the future. Of course, you have made statements in the past on the issue of safety and community impact, but of course there does need to be a consideration of the fact that it is a fossil fuel, of the impact that this might have on our renewable energy targets, and of where we, as an Assembly and as a Welsh Government stand in respect of this. It seems to me that there are two things: one is, really, your view on the need for the whole issue of underground resources to actually be devolved to Wales; and the second one is the issue of having, I suppose, a debate or a more detailed consideration of policy around the whole issue of shale gas exploitation.
 
15:13
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his precise question, and recognise his concern, as do many others in this Chamber, regarding the technology around fracking and shale gas exploitation. I believe that, as a Government, we operate a very precautionary approach to planning processes. It is complex on the basis that part of the licensing regime still rests with the UK Government and, therefore, it is something that I share with the Member in terms of understanding properly the science behind the technology and the impact on communities. This is something that I believe we do take into consideration through the planning principle. Notwithstanding that, what we have to do is make sure that we have energy security in the long term, understanding the impacts that it has on climate change. It is something that I am very aware of during this process.
 
15:14
Sandy MewiesBiography
I call the Conservative spokesperson, Antoinette Sandbach.
 
15:14
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Minister, you have a lot of goodwill across this Chamber surrounding Welsh Government efforts to tackle climate change, but to maintain this support you actually have to deliver on your pledges. Despite these good words, Wales is still lagging behind Scotland and England on cutting emissions from source emissions. As you know, they have risen by 5%.
 
Your statement does not explain why that has happened. It does not look at the targets and where we are falling down on our climate change emissions targets and your strategy for dealing with that. Stop Climate Chaos Cymru said that this is far from the trajectory needed to reach the 40% target by 2020. Now, Minister, will you be considering steps like an action plan every five years to achieve emissions reductions targets? Will you look at emission impact assessments for large-scale infrastructure projects and Welsh Government decisions on those projects? Will you be measuring the carbon emissions impact of annual budgets?
 
In relation to overall policy, there is criticism of the approach that has been taken by looking at decarbonisation through the concentration on renewable energy resources. I do not know, Minister, whether you have had an opportunity to read the ‘2020 Hindsight’ report prepared by the Policy Exchange. It has made it clear that renewable energy targets damage the long-term decarbonisation efforts, both in the UK and abroad, and, in effect, it looks at what may be more effective measures. I was very pleased to see in your statement that you are going to be looking again at Arbed and Nest, because they describe actions such as the retrospective insulation of external walls, particularly in solid-wall housing, where you cannot do the other measures. Those might actually be more effective in cutting carbon and achieving our carbon targets.
 
I notice also from your statement, Minister, that you have concentrated quite a lot on the private sector in terms of land use and management, but, of course, one of the biggest factors indicated as being responsible for that 5% increase in emissions was the age of the trees that we have in our forestry estate and, of course, the Welsh Government is responsible for 37% of the forestry. I appreciate that there are issues around Phytophthora, but it seems to me that if you can get two wins by dealing with Phytophthora and replanting, you will address those concerns around the age of the forest sink. To that extent, Minister, I also very much welcome that part of your statement that deals with using Welsh woodland in construction. I think that is a useful way forward and it is a very positive example of how you can lock up carbon. It can be locked up for a longer period and then, of course, be used for recycling or biomass later in the chain.
 
So, I would ask you, Minister, to please look at that Policy Exchange report, because it contains some interesting ideas, and ones that you might find offer you some solutions, because we are clearly not on track to hit our 2020 target. We are way off it and you need to take the measures that I have suggested, in terms of the emissions considerations to your budget and the five-yearly reviews of your plans, because we are off target. You have not explained to us today how you are going to get on target, and, clearly, we need to improve if you are going to retain goodwill around the Chamber.
 
15:18
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her contribution. I recognise that the targets that are set are challenging, but I also recognise that we have to have ambition to deliver on them, and this Government does not lack ambition or the opportunity to deliver on them. This is something that my department will continue to push very hard.
 
I do not recognise the point that the Member raises in terms of what we are doing. I will just refer the Member to the statement. There are lots of issues within the statement that refers to things that the Welsh Government is proactively doing and will continue to deliver on. One example that the Member did not pick up on, although I am sure she saw reference to it, was the issue of slurry pit capping in the agriculture sector. That plays a major, significant part in terms of climate change, and we are committed to looking at that very clearly. The Member shakes her head, but it is a fact that the agriculture industry as a sector is having a dramatic effect on climate change, and it is something that we must address. However, we should not been negative about this. Actually, what we should be doing is proactively working together to ensure that something-for-something action is always taking place. What actions should we take to achieve compliance or success?
 
On the issue of renewables, which the Member focused on specifically, what I have learnt very quickly in this portfolio is that we need to look at the whole issue of energy more holistically, rather than pinpoint individual aspects. There is absolutely a place for renewables, and that is something that we have to do in terms of driving that forward. But, it has to be taken into consideration when balancing decarbonisation, renewables and other methods of energy production and conservation in terms of what we do in the longer term.
 
I regularly hear Members being critical—and I am not suggesting that the Member is critical of this—of the general principle of large-scale companies having a major impact on the environment. Yes, they have an impact on the environment, but what you can be assured of is that while they are in Wales, the UK and the European Union, this ensures that they are compliant with what we expect them to do. The last thing we want is companies like Tata Steel or others closing, because of inadvertently placing conditions on these companies, and moving to countries abroad where there are no controls on emissions. Let us not be under the illusion that the effect on the environment is not global; Wales plays a small but very important part. That is why control of industry is something we consider very carefully.
 
My final point, if I may, is that I made reference to the release today of the land use climate change report. In there, it makes reference to issues around forestry growth. What I will ask my department to do is look very carefully at the targets we have set for replanting. There is much more in it about planting the right things in the right places. We should be looking at variety issues as opposed to land mass. We can get much more benefit from planting the right things in the right places, which will deliver better on the environment. It is early days, and therefore I look forward and will inform the Chamber of any changes that may take place in future.
 
15:22
Alun DaviesBiography
I would like to thank and congratulate the Minister on the statement this afternoon, which included a very rich list of actions and commitments. The refresh process was put in train as part of the Welsh Government’s response to the United Nation’s process and specifically to the IPCC report on climate change, outlining the nature of the threat facing human society and the planet, and also the opportunities that Governments have to work together and to work collaboratively within Governments and across borders to address the issues that climate change create for us.
 
I hope that the Minister can assure the Chamber that the refresh he has announced this afternoon is something that unites the whole of the Welsh Government. One of the criticisms that has been made in the past, not only of this Government but Governments in all parts and corners of the world, is that issues around climate change are all too often compartmentalised to the Minister for the environment or natural resources, or whatever the designation may be, and that other Ministers then wash their hands of any responsibility and do not take seriously the issues that climate change raises for whole societies and whole governments. I hope that the Minster can reassure us that this is a programme that has firm commitments from all departments and all parts of the Government.
 
In terms of the point he made in his last answer on the land use climate change group report, I have not had an opportunity to read that yet, but I look forward to doing so. The group has done some very important, exciting and groundbreaking work. I hope that he will enable that group to continue that work in whatever way he is able to do so, but also to recognise the importance of the RDP. The leader of the opposition again got hold of the wrong end of the stick in questions earlier when he described the budget changes to the rural affairs department. The RDP is the biggest in our history and has a significant opportunity to contribute positively towards achieving our ambitions on climate change.
 
Perhaps the most radical part of our ambitions on climate change, in terms of the rural economy, is that of payment for ecosystem services. I would be grateful if the Minister could give us an update on how he expects to take that forward.
 
My final point is on the economy and the statutory framework for emission targets. It is essential that we have a statutory framework, of whatever description, to enable us to control emissions in Wales and from Wales. I recognise what the Government says about the limits of devolution and what the settlement provides and enables us to do. However, we cannot be the only administration in these islands that does not have a statutory framework in place, and we need to find a way of doing that. In doing so, we need to ensure that we do not fall into the trap that has been set for us time and again, particularly from the right wing, where we can choose between jobs or addressing the issues of climate change.
 
The issues that the Minister referred to in terms of resource-efficient Wales, investment in a circular economy and investment in green growth are absolutely fundamental if we are to address the challenges of the future—creating a sustainable economy, creating work and creating a better society in Wales. I do not believe that we can do any one of those things without addressing the issues around climate change. I very much welcome the statement that the Minister has made this afternoon.
 
15:26
Carl SargeantBiography
I am very grateful to the Member. Again, I remember the Member waxing lyrical about the United Nations IPCC report. He was very articulate about the real threats and opportunities that this poses to governments and communities across the globe.
 
I reassure the Member that the refresh is meaningful and that the Government, as a collective, wants to see a massive change in the way in which we do business together. I will give the Member some examples: I have met with a host of Ministers, and, on the national health service, the concepts under discussion were vehicle procurement and ensuring transformational vehicles in terms of emissions in the ambulance service, and the fabric of buildings on the NHS estate. Housing and education are also providing opportunities, with new developments in terms of building design. An interesting discussion was had with the Minister for Education and Skills about not just looking at the consequences of climate change but at the opportunities that it presents with regard to training for green growth and the opportunities for a growing industry in Wales, which we could lead on in the UK. I know that that is something that the Member was very keen to do in his previous position.
 
I recently met my Deputy Minister—I have regular conversations with her—to discuss the RDP. I think that it is fundamentally important in terms of the way that we change our business model with a large sector in terms of that something-for-something discussion that we can have, whether that be by energy production or conservation of the landscape. I think that that is something we can do more on, and I look forward to the principle that we are introducing with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill, which is based on governance, collaboration and working with each other to ensure that the problems that, as I said in my statement, we as a Government cannot fix on our own; we need all parties to be involved in this, including Government, private sector bodies and public sector bodies. How do we get them engaged in making that change for Wales, for the UK, for Europe and for the globe?
 
The Member raised one issue to which I would have to give some further consideration. He mentioned the statutory framework and what that means for Wales. I assume that the Member means targeting and what our targets need to be. As the Member will be aware, we already have headline statutory climate change targets—80% by 2050. For me, I think that what is really important for my department, for Government and for the public and private sectors in Wales is that we get on with this job. We know what the target needs to be and we know where we want to be; exactly how we are going to get there is part of this climate change refresh. Bringing new concepts to the table, as we have done in this plan, is something that I am very keen to drive forward, including the concepts of green growth and the circular economy that the Member raised with me this afternoon.
 
15:29
Sandy MewiesBiography
I call on the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd.
 
15:29
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Thank you. May I, too, thank you for your statement? There is a great deal in it with which I agree. I certainly welcome the references to the investments that you are already committed to. Against a background of cuts in your department, that, I suppose, is positive. There are several laudable ambitions and innovations here. However, what is not here, of course, is a real game changer in terms of the way in which this Government responds to the challenge of climate change.
 
We have already heard that the current trajectory is not adequate to meet our commitments on cutting emissions, and I do not see anything here that will truly transform that approach. These points were raised previously, but you have not responded to them, so I will ask you again: do you intend to bring a commitment to a long-term action plan specifically for climate change? Will there be a commitment from this Government to introduce emission impact assessments on major infrastructure schemes, and also to consider the impact of carbon emissions on Welsh Government budgets in the future? You say in your statement:
 
‘The risks of irreversible impacts and the message that the longer we wait, the more it will cost mean that it is vital that we rise to the challenge.’
 
I cannot agree more with that. What is unfortunate is that the Government's record, as it currently stands, suggests to me that the Government has not truly risen to that challenge. Do you regret not being more ambitious with emission levels for new housing that you as Minister for housing put in the regulations? You consulted on a cut of 40% and 25%, and then introduced an 8% cut. Given the longevity of housing—those houses will be in place for many years—that locks that lack of ambition in for decades to come. So, may I ask you, in the spirit in which you are making this statement today, to review that 8% so as to be far more ambitious?
 
I have asked before about the sectoral adaptation plans. Will you publish a timetable to clearly state when you expect all of these to be in place and operational? You are announcing a new strategy on energy efficiency. I welcome that, of course, but we have waited a year for this statement today, and I would have expected more than a statement saying that you are going to develop a new strategy, perhaps. Perhaps you can give us more information about when you expect this strategy to be adopted, and give us an idea of the scale of the strategy? There has been praise—and rightly so—for schemes such as Arbed, but many voices have been calling for upscaling that scheme. There is talk of the need to retrofit a third of Wales's housing in order to achieve what we have committed to in terms of carbon emissions. So, please give us an idea of what your ambitions are in this context.
 
You refer to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill. You know as well as anyone that one major criticism is that it does not, in fact, adequately address climate change. The aims do not mention climate change, nor living within our environmental limits. Do you therefore agree, Minister, that there is a need for the aims, principles, wellbeing objectives and measures of progress to set a strong framework for tackling climate change across the public sector, and if that is not done, you as a Government will have missed an opportunity?
 
To conclude, you say in the final sentence:
 
‘In Wales, we have shown that we can dramatically reduce waste; we must now show that we can do the same with our emissions.’
 
You are right, but the reason that we have achieved that in terms of waste is that statutory targets are in place for waste recycling. Why, then, can you not give us a clear statement that this Government will introduce statutory targets on reducing carbon emissions? We have already heard from the former Minister that Wales is the only part of the United Kingdom without such targets, or the only part not giving serious consideration to that. Legislation can drive environmental action, not only in terms of recycling targets, but also in terms of things such as plastic bags; we have seen that it can change the way people act and live their lives. You will get cross-party support for that, I am sure. ‘The Wales We Want’ consultation recently said that that is the main priority for the people of Wales when it comes to the wellbeing of future generations. Therefore, will you commit to considering that as part of the wellbeing of future generations Bill, or certainly within the environment Bill? If you do not, I am sure that many of us will feel that the ambition to which you refer in the statement is nothing but empty rhetoric.
 
15:34
Carl SargeantBiography
I am glad that the Member is in a good mood this afternoon. I am surprised at his wholeheartedly negative comments regarding the principle of change. I do not mind scrutiny, but the Member’s party was in Government when the targets that he says we are not delivering on were set. One of his fellow Members was around the Cabinet table when we were creating some of the policy objectives for this term of Government.
 
May I point out to the Member that he is absolutely right on the issue of balancing the economy and the environment? May I also point out the issue around the housing development? What the Member failed to mention is that the fact is that, yes, we did reduce the issue around targets on housing developments, because there was an economic pressure, which we think we can manage within the whole process of the economy and environment. However, he did not mention that we did increase significantly the rate for non-domestic premises, in terms of the environment. The Member failed to recognise that today, and he has failed to recognise that on many occasions. That has a massive impact too.
 
May I look at the issues that the Member raises specifically? What we have to do, across Government, is make sure that our impact—the conditions and the decisions that we make, financially—has consideration across the whole of Government, and what we do in Wales. Part of that, again, is about the legislation process: the environment Bill, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill, and the Planning (Wales) Bill, which are all interlinked, in terms of the determination. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill is key to that, and I know that the Member has a great interest in that, as he has questioned me in committee in the past, and will continue to do so. I hope that I can gain support from the Member, knowing full well that the questions that relate to today’s statement are directly linked to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill.
 
Carbon emission targets, and Welsh Government budgets around decarbonisation, are all things that we need to consider in terms of our decision-making processes around finances, moving forward. On the issue that the Member raised regarding sectoral adaptation plans, there is nothing stopping the sector from bringing forward those plans—the Welsh Government is not stopping it. Indeed, we would encourage it to come forward. I have had a briefing from my team, and I am seriously now considering what levers we have, to ensure that it does bring them forward, but we are not being prohibitive in that. If it wishes to bring them forward, then it should do so, and I would encourage it to do so.
 
I know that Antoinette Sandbach, and you, Llyr, have raised issues about the targets that are in place. As I said, we already have the headline statutory climate change target of 80% by 2050, which is a very challenging target. Again, I do not think that this Government lacks ambition, or that the programme for government cannot deliver on this, working together across sector and across department.
 
Ensuring that we work with people across the sector—non-governmental organisations and the private and public sectors—and across party, we have to collectively bring together our ideas and concepts, bringing forward the opportunity to do more with less. As the Member quite rightly recognises, the very successful process that we have had in waste reduction is something that we should be incredibly proud of, but that is being delivered by external people, on the policy agenda of this Government.
 
I think that we should work, and continue to work, in a process that delivers a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, making sure that we build in other energy opportunities that will enhance our objectives, moving towards the statutory targets that are already in place.
 
15:38
Julie MorganBiography
I welcome the Minister’s statement today. It is absolutely right that, in the consultation with the public, ‘The Wales We Want’, climate change was the biggest issue that was raised by the public. I am pleased that, towards the end of his statement, the Minister did strongly link climate change with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill, and the environment Bill.
 
I wonder whether he could expand on what he meant by:
 
‘emphasising engagement and involvement on climate change linked to the creation of the Commissioner for Future Generations’
 
and that:
 
‘Through the Environment Bill I intend to set out a legal framework to identify climate risks and provide the evidence base for action.’
 
I wonder what he meant by this ‘legal framework’, and what exactly those statements meant, because it sounded very promising for promoting climate change.
 
My second question is: what use is the Government making of ecological footprinting? I wondered whether the Government has an updated version of Wales’s ecological footprint. I think that that is very important, because it does, of course, calculate how the lifestyles that we are using in one country affect people in the rest of the planet and it does bring in the international development of these Bills that many people have been asking for.
 
15:40
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her questions. It is really important, as I mentioned to Llyr in the previous questions and answers, that there is a clear link between the three pieces of legislation, in terms of changing the environment that we live in. The environment Bill will look at how Natural Resources Wales performs its duties through a framework. One of the issues that the Member will be interested in will be around sectoral plans, locally and nationally, in terms of how the activity is identified, what the impacts are on the community and how NRW will deal with that as an arm’s-length body of Government.
 
Fundamental to all of this is the future generations Bill, and the Member is very knowledgeable on this. I think that she is absolutely right to think about the impacts; while a devolved Government makes recommendations and legislation around future generations, the impact of that is much more wide-ranging on a UK, European and global level. If we reduce our impact on communities and society, that has a knock-on effect and benefits to other countries as well. Therefore, I share the aspirations of the Member, in terms of how the Bill, while not not directly, but indirectly, will have an effect on international activity through the actions that we take, being a responsible Government here in Wales.
 
15:41
William PowellBiography
Thank you, Minister, for today’s statement.
 
There is much to welcome in the content and in the tone that the Minister has adopted today. The Liberal Democrats have recognised over decades that climate change is the greatest challenge that we face, and it is important that we in Wales, as part of the UK, develop on the strong record that we have to date in playing a leadership role within Europe, and, indeed, more widely, internationally, in efforts to combat climate change.
 
We know from ‘The Wales We Want’ report that climate change is at the very top of public concerns for the wellbeing of future generations. We also believe, as do the majority of people in this Chamber, that we cannot mortgage our children’s future by ignoring that very threat of climate change. In this context, Minister, are you fully equipped for the challenge that will face this country in a couple of decades’ time with the radical shortfall that is already predictable in terms of our energy production? Also, Minister, do you agree that there is scope for this shortfall to be addressed, principally, through renewable and low-carbon energy projects? I am talking here about a combination, such as marine and tidal energy, as I flagged up in my question following the business statement today, onshore and offshore wind, hydro-power and solar power. Both wind and marine energy schemes have huge potential, and we should be taking full advantage of these.
 
While I welcome the Minister’s affirmed commitment to working towards meeting our climate change targets, I echo the concerns expressed by Stop Climate Chaos Cymru and its calls for the Welsh Government to follow its rhetoric with decisive action. The Climate Change Consortium of Wales, or CW3, stated in July that the Welsh Government’s climate change policy refresh should focus on a much clearer structure for accountability and reporting on addressing climate change across the public sector. In this context, and given the concerns expressed by your predecessor regarding the fact that we need to have a cross-cutting approach here, are you sympathetic to the voices expressed on your own back benches with regard to the need to strengthen the provisions within the future generations Bill to focus more on issues around climate change and climate change mitigation, and, crucially, to put a greater emphasis on achievable enforcement? Minister, would that not be better achieved by a more independent future generations commissioner, chosen by this whole Assembly to reflect the fact that we need buy-in from every political strand in this Chamber to make sure that these changes are embedded in our future policy formulation?
 
15:44
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his questions and for the broadly supportive statement that he made earlier.
 
The Member is right to raise the issue around energy production and energy security for the future, which is something that we are very mindful of. I would ask the Member to reflect on his comments regarding the low-carbon economy in terms of his ask today, because I am aware that, only two weeks ago, the Member voted against the principle of a low-carbon economy, along with his colleagues to the left of him, in terms of nuclear energy provision in north Wales, and I made reference to that on that very occasion.
 
I think that the Member is right, though, to raise the issue of marine technology and wind technology. There is a true mixture of opportunity for Wales and the landscape that lends itself to energy production; that is something that we have to balance out in terms of the effects on the economy of that process.
 
Peter Black took the Chair at 15:45.
 
Carl SargeantBiography
I believe that this statement does set out a very clear commitment from this Government to making change and making a positive impact on climate change. We have clear structures in the legislation profile that we have and are engaging in, moving forward. I am not sure that I agree wholeheartedly with the Member when he suggests that there should be a strong environmental focus to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill. I think that the future generations Bill has cross-cutting themes. There are important environmental, social and economic aspects throughout the Bill, which all have an impact, together, on climate change. That is something, when we are considering future generations and the ability to deliver better in the way that we make decisions, which is the core principle of governance of the future generations Bill, on which I welcome and look forward to the support that the Member can give us in terms of developing a strong future generations Bill, which will have an impact on climate change, which is a cross-cutting theme, as I have mentioned in my response to him today. I will, of course, listen carefully throughout the scrutiny process with regard to the membership process and the delegation of how a commissioner may or may not be appointed, as we move through the scrutiny of the Bill in committee.
 
15:47
Statement: TB Compensation—The Next Steps
Peter BlackBiography
I call the Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, Rebecca Evans.
 
15:47
Rebecca EvansBiographyThe Deputy Minister for Farming and Food
Earlier this year, the Welsh Government asked for views on the introduction of a table valuation system for TB compensation payments to replace the current system of individual on-farm valuations. This is in keeping with our strategic framework for bovine TB eradication in Wales, which includes an action to refresh the compensation regime to promote best practice and optimise herd management to minimise the risks of disease spread.
 
One of the primary reasons we reviewed our current compensation system in Wales was because of criticism from the European Commission. The Commission is correct in observing that our current compensation system results in valuations significantly higher for animals in Wales compared to England. The Commission is also of the opinion that our current system offers little incentive to farmers to make additional effort to prevent infection. I believe that it is our duty to address this criticism as best we can and so it is clear to me that we cannot continue with our existing system as it currently stands.
 
Therefore, I asked my officials to provide me with new options for a TB compensation system in Wales. These included a table valuation system, as currently used by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in England, a hybrid system whereby commercial cattle are valued using a table valuation system, but with individual on-farm valuations retained for pedigree cattle, and an enhancement to the current valuation system. In considering these options I was seeking to find the system that would best meets our objectives to compensate farmers fairly for the loss of their cattle; to avoid TB compensation being paid at rates of above 100% of the animal’s value; to ensure that the valuation mechanism is cost-effective and financially sustainable for the Welsh Government; and to ensure that compensation payments incentivise farmers to engage effectively in TB prevention measures.
 
Although the table valuation system and hybrid system both have some potential benefits that may have strengthened our eradication programme, I have decided not to pursue these options at this time. Both systems would have a restricted number of cattle categories, which I believe would not reflect the variation found among cattle in Wales. A table valuation system, which by its nature is based on average value, would over-value poorer animals and under-value better quality animals. A hybrid approach could be difficult to implement and cause confusion, as well as treat farmers differently depending on the type of cattle they keep. That is why I have decided to keep the current system of individual on-farm valuations, but with some additional enhancements.
 
While I believe that the current system is the most appropriate way of compensating farmers, I have instructed my officials to introduce measures to further scrutinise valuations and valuers to prevent overcompensation, and to ensure that valuations are consistent. This will include lowering the justification threshold for pedigree animals to £3,000, which will require the warranted valuers to provide extra evidence for cattle valued above the threshold. While we already have thresholds in place for both pedigree and commercial cattle, lowering the threshold for pedigree animals will allow our monitor valuers to scrutinise a greater number of these higher value valuations. The warranted valuers will also be formally procured by the Welsh Government under a new framework contract. This will mean that we will be able to monitor the warranted valuers and scrutinise their valuations more rigorously than we are able to do under the current arrangements.
 
Alongside this, I have also decided to introduce a cap per animal on all compensation payments. It was clear from the consultation responses that a number of industry experts favoured this approach as it would improve the financial stability of the TB compensation system. I have therefore decided to cap payments for pedigree cattle at £15,000. I believe that this is a fair cap that takes into account the vast majority of the quality stock that we have in Wales.
 
I have also asked my officials to introduce measures that will penalise those who are undertaking risky practices, as well as to better incentivise farmers to keep disease out of their herds. In Wales we have already introduced veterinary improvement notices that give the Animal and Plant Health Agency in Wales, formerly known as the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, the legal authority to enforce improvements on farms that are seen as high risk. We will work with the APHA to undertake a review of the use of veterinary improvement notices to ensure that they are used appropriately. We will also explore if they can be used more widely to improve the standards of husbandry and biosecurity on farms.
 
I have listened to the farming community’s concerns about our previous proposals. All of the measures that I have announced today are based on the feedback that I have received in the responses to the consultation, and I will commit the Welsh Government to reviewing the impact of these changes within two years, to ensure that they strike the right balance between fairness to individual farmers and taxpayers more widely. I am very grateful for the industry’s co-operation to date and I ask the farming community to continue to work with us as we move towards TB eradication in Wales.
 
15:52
Peter BlackBiography
I call the Welsh Conservatives’ spokesperson, Russell George.
 
15:52
Russell GeorgeBiography
I thank the Deputy Minister for her statement this afternoon. Given the near-unanimous view in the consultation response from stakeholders that a tabular system should not be introduced, my first question has to be: why such a significant delay in coming forward with this official response? It has only served to compound uncertainty for those in the Welsh cattle industry who are already facing significant financial challenges. That said, I welcome this change of heart today by the Deputy Minister. That is welcome indeed.
 
During the consultation process, I urged farmers across Wales to challenge the tabular valuation option with strong and coherent arguments for the retention of the current TB compensation system, albeit a refined system where necessary. I am therefore pleased that the option 2 proposals have been dismissed by the Deputy Minister as not being the best option for the Welsh cattle industry.
 
I have a number of questions for you, Deputy Minister. At what time and why did the Welsh Government reverse its view that there were ‘distinct advantages’ to adopting a tabular system? You have referred to criticism by the EU audit taskforce, and I would strongly refute any suggestion that the present system does not provide an incentive for farmers to keep disease out of their herds. I think that it is wrong to suggest that farmers need an incentive when farming families suffer the significant financial and emotional turmoil of TB. What further discussions have you had with the European Commission on the effect of that decision that has been announced today, particularly in relation to EU co-financing?
 
The compensation for pedigree animals is very important. Given that 60% of compensation payments are paid out on such animals, I want to ensure that a cap is not going to damage that part of the industry, or disproportionately penalise those breeders. So, can you set out what the rationale is for setting a £15,000 cap, and have you properly taken into account the pedigree beef sector in setting that cap?
 
As you continue to look for ways to improve the current system, what considerations have you given to the National Farmers Union’s proposals to initiate a limited list of approved expert valuers—a senior valuation panel—to ensure consistency and equality in terms of valuations being carried out? Deputy Minister, the future cost of this system is important and needs to be addressed, as the value-for-money principle underpinned your review. It is clear from your draft budget proposals that there is going to be a £7.4 million cut next year to the TB management budget. How is that cut going to impact the delivery of the system going forward, particularly when £1 million plus a year is being spent on a pilot vaccination programme that has no strategic outcomes? In introducing a cap on payments, what is the estimated saving for the Welsh Government, and what do you intend to do with those savings? Will they remain in your budget?
 
Finally, we all hope to be in a position, of course, where no compensation is being paid out at all. We want to see healthy cattle living alongside healthy wildlife, but unfortunately, in many parts of Wales, neither is the case. The continued presence of bovine TB is costing farming families millions of pounds each year. I am pleased that the Welsh Government has listened to experts and the industry. Now, we must work together to continue to eradicate TB from Wales for good. We may have different approaches to achieving that, but we share the end goal to eradicate TB completely from Wales. I believe that, one day, we will achieve that and, for that, you have my support.
 
15:57
Rebecca EvansBiography
I thank the Member for his welcome to the statement and the decision today. I would argue that there has not been a delay or a change of heart; this is just due process with a new Minister coming in. I published the responses to the consultation in August, and I make my statement today having considered those responses in great detail, and having discussed them in great detail also. So, I do not think that I would agree with the Member that there has been a delay.
 
Turning to his particular questions, regarding the £15,000 cap, that will help to ensure the sustainability of our TB compensation system here in Wales, and this figure was recommended by some of the respondents to the consultation. To put it into perspective, less than 0.1% of the 6,352 cattle slaughtered during the 2013-14 financial year were valued at above £15,000. What that means, in practice, is that only six animals were valued at above £15,000. The potential saving in compensation paid for those animals, had there been a cap, would have been £63,500. The effect of the cap will be monitored by our monitor valuers and I think that it is important that we remember that the maximum value that any animal can currently attain in DEFRA’s table valuation system is £3,595 for a beef bull. So, it is clear that the high-value pedigree animals would be significantly undervalued in a table valuation system, and I think that our £15,000 cap compares fairly. Those farmers who believe that they may be adversely affected by the £15,000 cap have the option to insure their animals for a value above it.
 
With regard to your comments on the European Commission’s criticism of our current approach, following the Commission’s audit of the UK financial claim for the bovine TB eradication programme in 2010, the Commission concluded that the compensation amount declared by Wales needed to be adjusted to be in line with the real market values. The Commission said that valuations per animal in England were the best reference for Wales. In 2011, a report by the Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office on the TB eradication programme concluded that valuations in Wales were significantly higher than in England and, this July, following the submission of the UK TB eradication plan for 2015, the Commission commented that compensation to farmers in Wales remains high. So, it is my belief that we need to take these views and criticisms seriously because the Commission co-finances some of our TB control measures. The Commission is also of the view that the current system offers little