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The Assembly met at 13:31 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
 
13:31
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Good afternoon. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
 
13:31
Statement by the Presiding Officer
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Before we start today’s business, I wish to make a short statement about the conduct of Members in this Chamber. Yesterday, yet again, we had examples of behaviour during Plenary that undermined the conduct of Assembly business. Now, I know the election is looming, but we have a responsibility to guard the reputation of this Assembly and to focus on the important and considerable work that we still have to do. Ministers should answer the questions put to them. Other Members should listen courteously. Above all, I expect every Member, every leader, and every Minister, to show respect for the authority of this Chair when they are called to order. We need to conduct our proceedings in a dignified and ordered way.
 
1. Questions to the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:32
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
And now we move to this afternoon’s business. Item 1 is questions to the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport. Question 1 is Elin Jones.
 
The Publishing and Printing Industry
 
13:32
Elin JonesBiography
1. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact that proposed cuts to funding to support book publishing is likely to have on the publishing and printing industry? OAQ(4)0661(EST)[W]
 
13:32
Kenneth SkatesBiographyThe Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism
The Welsh Government has reviewed the proposed budget reduction for the Welsh Books Council, and, in view of the impact that this would have on the publishing industry, has decided its budget for the forthcoming year will not be reduced by 10.6 per cent.
 
13:33
Elin JonesBiography
Wonderful news, Deputy Minister. Clearly, you’ve listened to the voices of the authors and publishers who have united to express a very strong view to you on the importance of this industry. It’s important in terms of the creativity of the sector, but it’s also economically important. The presses and publishers make a huge contribution as employers in many parts of Wales. You have stated that there will not be a 10 per cent cut to the budget, but perhaps I could tempt you to tell us what will be in the final budget and what the scale of the cut will be for the publishing and printing industries.
 
13:33
Kenneth SkatesBiography
Can I thank Elin Jones, and also other Members, including Julie Morgan, who have made contact with me over this issue? Of course, austerity requires some very tough decisions that nobody on this side of the Chamber would wish to make. However, we also listened very carefully to the sector. We’ve listened to publishers, to authors, to Members, and I am very pleased to say that the reduction for the next financial year will be 0 per cent—there will be no cut to the Welsh Books Council.
 
13:34
Julie MorganBiography
That’s fantastic news, so thank you very much, Minister. That’s really good news. Can I just use the opportunity to draw attention to the success of some of the publishing that is taking place in Wales—linked with my constituents? In particular, the success of Seren, whose chair lives in my constituency, and which has internationally acclaimed publishers, and then Penny Thomas, who lives in Llandaff North, who is running the first publishing company for English-language children’s stories in Wales—Firefly Press. And this Firefly Press would not continue if it wasn’t for the support of the Welsh Books Council.
 
13:35
Kenneth SkatesBiography
Well, Firefly Press is an excellent publisher, and I know that the company also works with authors in engaging directly with schools and with young people. Now, I’ve listened, and the Welsh Government has listened, to publishers and authors, and I’d be grateful now if those publishers would listen to what young people are saying, which is that they want to read and write more, and, as part of the Year of Adventure, there will be a national writing competition for young people, and it would be fantastic if those publishers and authors could engage directly with young people to make sure this is the biggest writing competition of its kind in Britain.
 
13:35
Suzy DaviesBiography
Can I thank you for what I think is a very mature response to the arguments that have been put to Welsh Government? I’m very pleased to hear that my books, especially written for Welsh learners, are still going to be on the shelves when I go looking for them. But I wonder if you could tell me what conversations you’ve had with the Minister for education about the role of Welsh publishers and the Welsh Books Council in providing resources for the Welsh-specific curriculum?
 
13:36
Kenneth SkatesBiography
This is very interesting because I do believe that there will be a very important role in the future for the Welsh Books Council and Welsh publishers in producing material specific for the curriculum. This will be an essential piece of work for them moving forward, and I have had several discussions with the Minister for Education and Skills on this matter.
 
13:36
Simon ThomasBiography
I declare an interest, as is outlined in the register of interests. I married into a literary family; nothing to do with me. I think this is wonderful news and you’ve done absolutely the right thing, Deputy Minister. Can I thank you for doing it, for showing a determination to stand with culture in Wales? There comes a time when the cuts actually really hurt, and I know that we have to have cuts in certain services, but this would have been something that really denuded our culture, and also our economic life, because so many of the publishers are based in rural Wales, in rural areas, and scattered across Wales, and provide a real infrastructure of culture and support in that area. So, it’s wonderful news. You’ve done absolutely the right thing, and I’m sure the next Assembly Government, of whichever political persuasion it will be, will want to build on this now, in the way that you’ve outlined, to involve the writers—. Over 500 of them have individually written in different ways, in Welsh and English, to you, and to other Assembly Members, and they will want to be involved now in building that thriving Welsh community. If one good thing has come out of this, it’s that ‘The Guardian’ has woken up to the fact that there’s writing in Wales that is of international importance.
 
13:37
Kenneth SkatesBiography
Indeed. I can’t say that that was part of a master plan, however. [Laughter.] I’m really pleased to take the question from the Member, and I’m also pleased to say that we’ve also been able to allocate additional capital funding of £184,000 this year to the books council to undertake some really urgent repair work on the headquarters and also on the distribution centre, and to upgrade the IT system, which will be of benefit not just to the Welsh Books Council, but also to the publishing industry right across Wales. It’s essential for the employment of at least 1,000 people and to keep our culture alive.
 
Museums’ Accreditation Status
 
13:38
Gwenda ThomasBiography
2. What is the Welsh Government doing to facilitate museums in achieving accreditation status? OAQ(4)0655(EST)
 
13:38
Kenneth SkatesBiography
The Welsh Government manages the museum accreditation scheme in Wales and specialist staff provide advice and support to museums. Participation in accreditation is free, and full details are published on the Welsh Government website.
 
13:38
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Thank you for that, Minister. Cefn Coed Colliery Museum is in my constituency and is not accredited. What assistance can you give to this museum to become accredited so that it could benefit from more funding streams, and what systems are in place to provide mentors to support this process?
 
13:38
Kenneth SkatesBiography
The Member is right that Cefn Coed Colliery Museum does not meet the eligibility at the moment for accreditation as Neath Port Talbot Council does not employ a qualified museum professional. However, if this situation does change, then my officials will provide access to a programme of specialist training events to assist with accreditation, and these events are open to the staff and, indeed, to the volunteers of museums considering applying for accreditation. Both accredited museums and museums working towards accreditation are also eligible to apply for small amounts of Welsh Government funding via the Federation of Museums and Galleries to assist in achieving and maintaining accredited status.
 
13:39
Suzy DaviesBiography
Last year, you remember that an expert panel compiled a review of local museums in Wales, which recommended a museums charter, which seems to me at least to be quite compatible with the UK accreditation scheme. The website said, back in August, that the Welsh Government would be responding by the autumn. I’m just wondering when we might see that response on the website.
 
13:39
Kenneth SkatesBiography
I’m very pleased that I’m actually going to be meeting with local authorities early next month to discuss this very matter.
 
13:39
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
The expert review carried out by Dr Haydn Edwards into local museums in Wales makes a number of recommendations, and amongst those recommendations is the establishment of a transformation fund in order to facilitate the major changes required in the sector. This emerges from the financial pressures on local government, of course, and the likelihood that many of these museums will have to close. Do you support the recommendation in the report?
 
13:40
Kenneth SkatesBiography
This is exactly what I want to be raising with local authority representatives in February. The idea of the transformation fund is similar to the transformation fund that’s available to local libraries and it’s something that is being increased quite considerably for 2016-17, and it may well be that that transformation fund can be opened up to museums as well.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
13:40
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the party spokespeople, and first this afternoon we have the Welsh Conservative spokesperson, Suzy Davies.
 
13:40
Suzy DaviesBiography
Thank you. Deputy Minister, you probably know that there are proposals to close the famous Brecon Beacons National Park tourist information centre at Libanus, while the one at Ystradfellte also looks set to close. What will you be doing to ensure that the park’s statutory duty to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public is not compromised?
 
13:41
Kenneth SkatesBiography
Well, as the Brecon Beacons National Park is represented on my Year of Adventure steering group, I will be discussing the matter with those representatives to ensure that the national park remains a popular destination not just for Welsh visitors, but for visitors from outside of Wales.
 
13:41
Suzy DaviesBiography
Well, thank you for that answer and I hope that your conversations with them will actually ensure that the statutory duty is complied with. Tourist information centres are, of course, a particularly useful service for day visitors to anywhere in Wales. The number of day trips to Wales in 2015 was down 19 per cent compared to last year, despite a marketing campaign directed at the domestic market. The net spend in Wales fell even though there was no change in the rest of the UK. Visit Wales, of course, has been happy to take the praise when the figures are good, so what did they do wrong this year?
 
13:42
Kenneth SkatesBiography
Well, actually, in actual fact, average spend per day trip in Wales between January and November 2015 was approximately £35.84. That’s higher than the British average. It’s also higher than the average for Wales of £27.30 during the first 11 months of 2014. The fact of the matter is that people are coming to Wales for longer and people are spending more in Wales as well. And I have to say that, in the first weeks of 2016, we had unprecedented positive exposure for Wales not just amongst the British press, but also globally, with the likes of the Forbes rough guide, the Daily Beast in America and Lonely Planet all declaring Wales the place to visit in 2016 and the place where you will find adventure in Europe in 2016 as well.
 
13:42
Suzy DaviesBiography
I was very pleased to hear that Pinewood Studios Group has increased its support to the Iris Prize Festival to £20,000, funding the prize for the best British short, and it’s really good to see them committing to this now nationally important festival, a mainstay of the Welsh cultural calendar. Are you able to give us any good news by telling us how many of the 2,000 jobs and how much of the £90 million-boost to the economy anticipated by your financial support for Pinewood Studios has now materialised?
 
13:43
Kenneth SkatesBiography
Well, perhaps, as this is creative industries I may pass this on to the Minister for the Economy, Science and Transport.
 
13:43
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Welsh—I’m sorry. Did you want to reply?
 
13:43
Edwina HartBiographyThe Minister for Economy, Science and Transport
I was just going to indicate that we’ve been very successful in terms of the development of the Pinewood Studios and the development of production. I’d be delighted to provide Members with a full update on the success of the creative industries strategy, which started quite a long time ago in the development of the sectorial approach to industry.
 
13:43
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Okay, thank you. We now move to the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Eluned Parrott.
 
13:43
Eluned ParrottBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Minister, the Welsh Government commissioned a review of the TrawsCymru network from Victoria Winckler, which was published back in August 2013. What steps have been taken over the past two and a half years to enact the recommendations of that report?
 
13:44
Edwina HartBiography
Yes, we were very grateful to Victoria Winckler for looking at the TrawsCymru network for us at that time. She made several key recommendations and we are looking at those recommendations in the context of the delivery of the service and our continued support for it.
 
13:44
Eluned ParrottBiography
Well, Minister, the report that your Government is looking at states very clearly that the role, for example, of the TrawsCymru board is one of providing oversight of performance and the development of the route network as one unit. However, I understand that the TrawsCymru board has not actually met at any point over the last three years. It hasn’t met to discuss this report and its recommendations. It hasn’t met to discuss any strategic decisions that have been necessary over that period of time, even though I understand that new routes have been introduced. So, how does the TrawsCymru board monitor performance and set objectives, if it doesn’t actually meet?
 
13:45
Edwina HartBiography
I recognise the points that you’re making, however, we have oversight as do the local authorities that engage with us. We regard TrawsCymru as a very successful service. We’ve taken advice on additional routes and they’re working very well.
 
13:45
Eluned ParrottBiography
Minister, as I’ve just pointed out, the board exists to provide that strategic oversight of the network as a whole and not individual routes. Given that they don’t meet, I think it’s no wonder that each of the separate routes has its own separate delivery team. But when each route is run in a silo, how is TrawsCymru supposed to become that integrated long-distance bus network for Wales that we would envisage? If decisions are made about the T4 by team T4 and for the T9 by team T9, who in this bus company decides what the role of TrawsCymru is in the Welsh transport network as a whole? Who is making the governance decisions that ensure that public money is well spent and who is responsible for, actually, the declining passenger numbers we see on services such as the T4?
 
13:46
Edwina HartBiography
At the end of the day, we have ups and downs in terms of passenger numbers. I know that sometimes we have to have a service when, sometimes, there are very few passengers on the service because it’s important that you have those particular links. Decisions are made appropriately on TrawsCymru. My officials have discussions—we have discussions with the local authorities and others who are involved. I am content with the current arrangements, but in light of your comments, I will look at the governance arrangements around TrawsCymru.
 
13:46
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
 
13:46
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. I turn to the plight of the steel industry in Wales. Our thoughts, of course, are with the workers and the families of all those affected by the announcement this week. It is still, I think, a real regret that it took until now for the First Minister to wake up to the seriousness of the situation, as he admitted in the Chamber yesterday, but, of course, we offer the Government full support in all efforts to help those affected by this week’s announcement.
 
The One Wales Government, with my predecessor, Ieuan Wyn Jones, as economy Minister, successfully implemented, of course, the ProAct and ReAct schemes in reaction to the financial crisis. Learning from that experience, can the Minister give us an indication of any tailored new programmes that she may wish to develop, specifically to help the steel industry and steel workers?
 
13:47
Edwina HartBiography
Yes. I was actually having discussions with the steel industry this morning—with both employers and the union—and the issues around ReAct and ProAct were discussed. Julie James is chairing a further group to consider some of these issues tomorrow, and there will be an agenda item for discussion about how we’re taking matters forward in the taskforce, which is meeting this afternoon.
 
13:47
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
In your statement yesterday, you outlined your application to establish an additional enterprise zone in Port Talbot that would allow the Welsh Government to provide business rate relief schemes, as in the present enterprise zones, and also perhaps access to enhanced capital allowance. Against the background, though, of course, of key performance indicators for April to September last year showing that investment levels and business financial support in current enterprise zones were below target, and you yourself admit that enterprise zone status would not be a panacea, could you outline your realistic hopes of what enterprise zone status can achieve in the case of Port Talbot?
 
13:48
Edwina HartBiography
I think it gives the company, and other companies within the area and the town, the opportunity to be motivated to ensure that we do a good job in attracting in further investment and jobs. I think, if we have the necessary levers put in place and we have a favourable response from the Chancellor, that will make a difference to the image because currently, when we talk about steel, it’s always with regret and it’s about the jobs, but we have to be more hopeful, as I think you said yourself yesterday—we have to be positive that the industry is still there. I think that looking at an enterprise zone is positive.
 
I appreciate your comments about the other enterprise zones—some have worked better than others; some will always be in a difficult area, but I think we’ve got take the opportunity and use everything that we’ve got to motivate that particular economy within that area.
 
13:49
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Finally, an appeal, as I have made before, that no stone should be left unturned in seeking solutions for putting the steel industry on a firmer footing as we move forward to the future. As well as offering our support for any immediate steps to help steel workers who will lose their jobs, we also offer our ideas and I think it’s very important that ideas are not dismissed out of hand in this Chamber or outside. Can the Minister, therefore, give a promise that all proposals are exhausted when it comes to potentially taking, effectively, a stake in the future of the steel industry in Wales, by perhaps entering into joint ventures on specific proposals that could build more resilience into the business? We must work together, throughout Wales, on looking for a brighter future for steel. We must get that assurance from you, as a Minister, that all options will be considered. However unrealistic you may think some of them may be, there are those out there who are totally realistic, based on experiences in other European nations, for example, that there are creative ways forward that could help the steel industry in Wales.
 
13:50
Edwina HartBiography
Well, I trust that, in my contribution yesterday on the statement, I didn’t indicate that I was difficult in respect of any suggestions that were coming forward. In fact, I’ve had a very useful suggestion from the leader of the opposition this morning about the engagement of a group into the training agenda. Can I say that we already work on some ventures with large companies like Tata? I think that the clarification that Simon gave yesterday indicated that everything is there for us to look at, and we have to work through everything that we can do to ensure that we have a steel industry in Wales.
 
13:51
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move back to questions on the paper. Question 3 is Bethan Jenkins.
 
Businesses in Port Talbot
 
13:51
Bethan JenkinsBiography
3. Will the Minister make a statement about actions taken to assist the development of businesses in Port Talbot? OAQ(4)0660(EST)
 
13:51
Edwina HartBiography
Yes. We have wide-ranging support, obviously, through our Business Wales service, and our focus is on supporting jobs into the economy.
 
13:51
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Thank you for that response. Around five years ago, I asked about what was being developed in terms of opening land for businesses along Harbour Way—the new road that has been given a fair bit of funding from the Welsh Government. I’ve received messages from people who work in Tata, stating that not enough has been done in that area to enhance other businesses in the area that could assist in providing momentum with Tata. What work have you done to market those particular areas for new businesses to be able to utilise what is available only a hundred yards away from the Tata building in Port Talbot?
 
13:52
Edwina HartBiography
Obviously, in terms of the work that we will be undertaking, particularly with the local authorities, Steve Phillips, the chief executive of the local authority, is of course on the taskforce board. We’ll be looking at all assets that are everywhere to see how we can maximise the potential for business.
 
13:52
David ReesBiography
Minister, I’ve actually been contacted by some young entrepreneurs in Port Talbot who have been finalists in the Young Dragons competition in 2015, but they’re now finding blockages of support to being able to then take their ideas further forward. I’ve also received representations from businesses who are having difficulty in accessing loans for growth as well. What can you do to ensure that the information goes to both Finance Wales, but also out to the individuals and the organisations in Port Talbot that can encourage and show them how they can get finance and support to take their ideas forward, so that we get the entrepreneurs? The news in Tata clearly is an indication that we need to look at the ways in which we can encourage more entrepreneurs in Port Talbot.
 
13:53
Edwina HartBiography
Part of the wider discussion that we had yesterday, on the statement, I think, was about what will happen to other businesses in the area, and what more we can do with them. That will be a focus of the taskforce. So, I think there will have to be a communication strategy as well that will have to be developed as work progresses on leaving, as Rhun says, no stone unturned.
 
13:53
Altaf HussainBiography
Minister, the job losses at Tata have, once again, focused minds on the need to re-skill those workers who have lost jobs in heavy industry. What steps are your Government taking to ensure that the skill needs of businesses in Port Talbot are being met by both retaining partners as well as local schools and colleges?
 
13:54
Edwina HartBiography
I have to say that my colleague Julie James has been doing a lot of work on this particular issue to ensure that we’ve got the skills match for what employers require. As we move into this next phase, looking at those that have directly lost their jobs, we will have to be innovative in how we deal with some of the training agenda. We need to recognise that some of them that are highly skilled will find other jobs; others will require further skills—skills enhancement—and we’ve got to allow the time to have it. So, we’re certainly working on that agenda constantly now, and we’ll be stepping it up a degree, I think, in terms of the work that the taskforce will be commissioning.
 
13:54
Peter BlackBiography
Minister, the job losses in Port Talbot are, of course, devastating, but there’s also still uncertainty amongst traders in the town centre as to what exactly you propose to do with junction 41. Could you let us know when you will actually make a final decision as to whether or not you will leave that junction open?
 
13:55
Edwina HartBiography
Well, in terms of junction 41, I’ve made previous statements to the Chamber. I’ve got work ongoing with my officials, and I will certainly alert Members if it’s my intention to do anything within the next few weeks.
 
Winter Preparedness
 
13:55
Darren MillarBiography
4. Will the Minister make a statement on winter preparedness across the Welsh transport infrastructure? OAQ(4)0659(EST)
 
13:55
Edwina HartBiography
I won’t use that word; I’ll get tongue-tied as well. Ensuring the safety and reliability of our transport network throughout the winter is a key priority. We work with local authorities and other stakeholders to ensure that salt stocks are monitored and that bus and rail disruptions are kept to a minimum during inclement weather.
 
13:55
Darren MillarBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister, and thank you for the letter that was distributed to Members this afternoon in relation to the business statement questions that were asked last week, following the 69 crashes on roads across north Wales as a result of the icy conditions there.
 
As you will be aware, many of those accidents could have been prevented had those roads been gritted. A number of local authorities did grit their roads, but others did not because of a different interpretation, as I understand it, of the weather forecast. I know that there are two documents that are currently used as a resource by local authorities. Some use the ‘Trunk Road Maintenance Manual’, issued by the Welsh Government; others use ‘Well-maintained Highways—Code of Practice’ as their reference point. What action will you take to drive some consistency across the road network? What I don’t want to see—and, fortunately, we didn’t see them last week—are any deaths on the road network as a result of these issues. Earlier this month marked the 10-year anniversary of a tragedy in my own constituency, where four cyclists were killed in Towyn on the A547, following the failure of the local authority, Conwy, to grit at that time. They revised their approach to gritting of the roads as a result of that accident, and I just wish that other local authorities would do the same in light of what happened last week.
 
13:57
Edwina HartBiography
In light of your comments last week in the business statement, I did ask officials to look at these issues because we don’t actually provide guidance directly to local authorities. You are correct: there are two manuals that they look at. I am discussing with senior officials whether I should issue guidance that should be adopted by local authorities—that is, one single guidance with regard to the gritting of roads.
 
13:57
Darren MillarBiography
Hear hear.
 
13:57
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Of course, after the wettest December since records began, I’m sure that flooding will also become more and more of a problem as climate change develops. Plaid Cymru called for a summit on flooding in north Wales over the Christmas and new year period. We know that the A55 was closed, the A5 was closed, and we know that there is significant risk to the rail network across north Wales also. The Welsh Government, of course, held a flood summit back in March 2013. Can I ask you therefore to re-establish a summit of that sort, or at least to consider the need for such a summit, to look at the impact of flooding risk on transport in north Wales specifically, if not in a broader sense?
 
13:58
Edwina HartBiography
Well, I think the issue will actually be broader in terms of looking at the impact of flooding as we see the changes to the climate. I have asked my officials once again to look at pinch points and to give prioritisation to those particular pinch points, and I will be taking forward some work in this area, which I will be happy to share with Members. On the basis of that, we might want to then consider whether we want to hold a future summit.
 
13:58
Aled RobertsBiography
Minister, you’ve alluded to the fact that you have to collaborate with other stakeholders. Llyr Huws Gruffydd has talked about the problems on the rail network in north Wales. Part of the problem, of course, is the pinch point that you’ve referred to, which is between Wrexham and Chester. By now, that programme has been delayed for some months. Also there is expenditure by Welsh Government between Gobowen and Shrewsbury, where the speed on the track still hasn’t increased, almost two years after the work was paid for by the Government. So, may I ask you whether you have any confidence, looking at the work that Network Rail carries out, that they are stakeholders in whom you can place your trust?
 
13:59
Edwina HartBiography
Well, I am very concerned as well regarding what has happened with Network Rail. They’re not even going to be able to spend the £10 million that was allocated this financial year as part of the budget deal. But I do want to assure you that, after discussions with Jane Hutt, it will be carried forward. We’ve only got to look at some of the issues around north-south. We’re looking at the north end here: level-crossing upgrade; there are issues on that. They’re also talking to us about a timber bridge, which nobody’s quite certain about. We’ve got the issues about the embankment that must have been known before. So, we’ve got issues all across the piece. I don’t think it’s acceptable for Network Rail to find out these issues as the project is being delivered. They should have actually been doing all this work beforehand so we could have had value for money. We’ve also got to even review the timetabling work that Network Rail are undertaking, because we’re not certain in our own minds that some of this work is appropriate, and we’ve got to review everything. So, I have to say that I have grave reservations over what’s going on with Network Rail, their ability to deliver, and, with the permission of the business Minister, it will be my intention to make a full statement on some of these issues within the coming weeks.
 
The A466
 
14:00
Nick RamsayBiography
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the safety of the A466 link road at Chepstow? OAQ(4)0658(EST)
 
14:00
Edwina HartBiography
Yes. Ensuring the safety and reliability of the strategic road network is my primary transport concern. Following the trunk road safety review and the latest fatal accident, I have asked my officials to undertake a study of the A466 leading from the roundabout at junction 2 of the M48.
 
14:00
Nick RamsayBiography
Thank you, Minister. As you’ve just alluded to, on 27 October 2015, a constituent, Gerald Russell, was hit by a car and tragically died on the A466 link road, the latest of five serious crashes on this stretch of road since 2010. I’m supporting Mr Russell’s widow’s campaign for changes to the A466 to improve safety. Will you look at possible ways of improving this short stretch of road, either through dualling, the installation of a safety barrier, a speed limit reduction from 60 mph, or providing proper parking for commuters car sharing across the Severn bridge? Perhaps you could find time in your diary to meet with me and Mrs Russell to discuss possible options.
 
14:01
Edwina HartBiography
I’d be more than happy, diary permitting, to actually come and meet and discuss these issues, because it’s not just what’s happened to Mrs Russell. For instance, back in 2013, wasn’t it, an 11-year-old boy and someone else were involved in an accident. There are also issues, as well—overnight parking for lorries in lay-bys; there’s a whole range of issues that are involved in this stretch of road. My officials will be very proactive in looking at what improvements they can do with this study, but I will be happy to meet.
 
The Swansea Bay City Region
 
14:01
Keith DaviesBiography
6. Will the Minister provide an update on the Swansea Bay city region? OAQ(4)0669(EST)
 
14:01
Edwina HartBiography
Yes. The Swansea bay city region has led significant regional alignment and collaboration, which includes the establishment of a BT G.fast broadband test bed in Swansea.
 
14:01
Keith DaviesBiography
Minister, do you share my concerns that I’ve recently heard two contrasting statements, one from the Prime Minister and another from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, regarding the UK Government’s support for the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, and that disagreement at the top of Government could put this pioneering project at risk?
 
14:02
Edwina HartBiography
Well, the city region board has wholeheartedly supported the tidal lagoon project, as have parties within this Chamber. It was of enormous concern, when the Prime Minister was questioned under scrutiny in Parliament, that he seemed to be quite cool on the whole issue around this, bearing in mind that there had been such publicity before the last general election, with people having their photographs taken around where the tidal lagoon would be. We remain committed as a party to the tidal lagoon, and I have to say a lot of people have invested a lot of time and money to get this very innovative project going. The importance of the tidal lagoon isn’t just the tidal lagoon and energy for Swansea and the other lagoons; it is also about the industry that could be developed in Wales as a result of that type of investment.
 
14:03
Suzy DaviesBiography
Minister, you indicated yesterday that Sir Terry Matthews had contacted you about how the Swansea bay city region might be able to assist with Tata’s immediate troubles. However, Tata’s longer-term contribution to the city region is just as important because of the wider high-end expertise in the workforce, which is not specifically related to steel making. How quickly will you get an indication of which parts of the workforce will be lost? How can your taskforce help the region retain valuable transferable skills rather that see individuals with those skills leaving the region?
 
14:03
Edwina HartBiography
Well, the information—. Well, all these issues are currently being discussed with the workforce at the moment. We will be advised when those discussions have taken place. Tata management have indicated that we’ll be able to get all the information we require, as have the trade unions, to assist in what you’ve outlined.
 
14:04
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Minister, of course the lagoon scheme in Swansea is important in itself, because it prepares the way for this industry. But there are plans for other sites in Wales that could make Wales a leader in this field in terms of securing renewable energy that is dependable for the future. Minister, have you had discussions with Ministers in Westminster to ensure that this work proceeds?
 
14:04
Edwina HartBiography
Yes, we’ve obviously had dialogue and communication on this, and it’s my intention to write further again this week about this particular issue, because you are quite right, Rhodri Glyn—it’s not just a Swansea issue. Swansea is in the news, but there are other propositions regarding tidal lagoons. I think we’ve done an excellent job so far in developing policy within this area, but it’s important that large-scale projects have support, and they require support—like the strike price, of course—from the UK Government on such a large project.
 
The Steel Industry
 
14:05
Altaf HussainBiography
7. What action is the Welsh Government taking to support the steel industry in Wales? OAQ(4)0666(EST)
 
14:05
Edwina HartBiography
We’ll continue to work closely with the industry and their employees to explore potential assistance.
 
14:05
Altaf HussainBiography
Minister, following on from your response yesterday, and to the question that Mr David Rees has posed, I want to return to the industry dragon scheme. Tata bid for an education grant to develop a programme that would see schoolchildren working at the steelworks, as well as class-based learning, in order to develop the next generation of engineers. The bid was refused. Can I ask you why the bid was refused and will you look again at Tata’s application?
 
14:05
Edwina HartBiography
Can I say, our first priority now in steel will be to deal with the individuals who have lost their jobs and to see what we can do to match them into other careers? The other strand of work that we will be doing within the taskforce, and are currently doing in a number of areas, is looking at how we can help Tata in terms of their future needs and the needs of the region and broader Wales in ensuring we have the necessary skills base. So, we make decisions on the basis of the applications we have. We decide yes or no, but, obviously, in light of what’s happened with Tata, we’ll be looking at a whole range of options that we can assist that will develop that particular training agenda you’ve outlined.
 
14:06
David ReesBiography
Minister, thank you for the early answers you gave to Rhun ap Iorwerth when you indicated that you would leave no stone unturned and look at all options available for the future of the steelworks here in Wales and in Port Talbot in particular in my constituency. I’ve met with the trade union representatives, and, obviously, last night they had a major meeting. One of the concerns that the trade union representatives gave to me was actually to ensure that, as the plant goes forward, it remains a viable and a safe, productive plant, which is what we want for the future. What discussions are you having with Tata so that we will build in partnership and work in partnership to ensure that that plant becomes a viable plant, but it’s also operated in a safe manner so production levels will not be challenged in any sense?
 
14:07
Edwina HartBiography
I think it’s important to recognise there is health and safety legislation, and that’s of paramount importance to the safety of the workforce, especially in an industrial environment like that. Of course, sometimes, when you look at some of the imported steel that comes to the UK, we’re not sure what work environment that has been produced in and what were the conditions of workers. So, it’s very important we maintain the highest standards. I know that the company will want to do so and I know the trade unions will ensure they do so.
 
14:07
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Minister, your Government, as have many others, has mentioned high energy costs. It’s my understanding the policy cost of energy amounts to only a small fraction of the steel industry’s running costs, particularly with exemptions in place or soon to come. That means that we would require a root-and-branch reform of the energy sector in order to reduce wholesale prices, as set by the utilities, if this proposal is to make a difference to the industry. With that in mind—and given that it would take several years, it would require buy-in from the UK Government of the day, and is likely to be fiercely resisted by utility companies—how are you, as Welsh Government, acting to make this happen?
 
14:08
Edwina HartBiography
I think you will find, in terms of some of the key issues that have been raised by the companies in steel, that they do regard high energy costs as being an issue for them now, and, even when they have the help in the future, it will still be an issue. I think we’ve always called—. We don’t have control, as you know, over some of these issues. I think we’ve always called that it is essential for there to be a fair and even playing field in terms of energy costs for industry, and we will continue to lobby for that.
 
14:08
Jane HuttBiography
Minister, it’s obviously very important to retain existing jobs as much as we can, but also to attract new jobs. Could you say a little about the work of the taskforce and your department in terms of attracting new jobs to the steel areas, particularly those that would utilise the existing skills of the workforce?
 
14:08
Edwina HartBiography
Yes, I think that’s going to be one of the key issues—not to lose the skills from the locality and to ensure that we attract jobs in and we utilise individuals who have lost their jobs into industries that are looking to take people on. So, the taskforce will be looking very keenly at what it can do to enhance skills for different types of jobs and also to do the necessary matching for people to get them into jobs. This will be an absolute focus in the discussions we’ll be having.
 
Enterprise Zones (South Wales Central)
 
14:09
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
8. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the effectiveness of enterprise zones in South Wales Central? OAQ(4)0662(EST)
 
14:09
Edwina HartBiography
Outputs for the first six months of 2015-16 have just been published. The private-sector-led enterprise zone boards continually review the progress in their zones.
 
14:09
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Minister, you’ll have heard me ask the leader of the house about a possible statement around the St Athan enterprise zone. My question isn’t seeking to knock the sentiments behind the St Athan enterprise zone—I think we all want to see that be a resounding success, and Welsh Government have made an investment there. But it is bitterly disappointing to see the very, very low levels of job creation on that particular site, and I’m just conscious that there seems to be an element of slippage now in the ambitions of developing that site. Can you give us some assurance today that the Welsh Government will be re-energising its efforts to create a more dynamic economic hub for the aerospace sector in that particular area and we will see more robust job numbers when the next reporting session comes around?
 
14:10
Edwina HartBiography
I think we sometimes have to recognise the difficulties that some sites have. St Athan is an ideal site for everything. Of course, we do have the issue of having the Ministry of Defence, which we are progressing through. The leader of the opposition would like me to make a statement; it might be helpful to Members if I do an update statement after the next recess on where we are in terms of the enterprise zones. But I can assure you that we’re making every effort to attract what we can to that particular enterprise zone.
 
The Economy of Carmarthen Town
 
14:10
Simon ThomasBiography
9. What discussions has the Minister held regarding developing the economy of Carmarthen town? OAQ(4)0668(EST)[W]
 
14:11
Edwina HartBiography
The economy is a priority for Welsh Government and we are taking forward wide-ranging actions that are supporting jobs, growth and the employment environment in Carmarthen and the whole of Wales.
 
14:11
Simon ThomasBiography
Thank you, Minister. We’ve just had some good news from your deputy, Ken Skates, on the publishing industry in Wales. Another part of the creative industries in Wales, of course, is broadcasting, and I know that you’re interested in seeing that sector grow. S4C has confirmed that, whatever cuts they face in their budget, they will move their HQ from Cardiff to Carmarthen. That, in itself, is very good news, but, of course, in order to develop other industries around that, then we do need to see investment and we need to see confidence in the future of S4C and adequate funding. Can you give us any update on any news that you’ve received from the Government in Westminster on reform to the budget and the cuts that there were to be in S4C’s budget? What are you as a Government doing to ensure that there are other industries that can be spin-offs from the establishment of S4C in Carmarthen town?
 
14:12
Edwina HartBiography
I think, like you, we very much welcome the decision of S4C to relocate its headquarters to Carmarthen, creating job opportunities locally and also encouraging more people to build around S4C, because I think we’ve seen the examples of where we’ve had a lead—when we had Pinewood in, what companies have come to link in to Pinewood. Also, for me, it’s a very significant boost for the Welsh language in that area, which I think is very important for us in terms of what we want in Wales in terms of a bilingual Wales. I also think it’s actually crucial to the future of the language that we have a broadcaster that is there, centred, and has work around it.
 
I have not got an update, but I will look at the up-to-date position and will ask the Deputy Minister to reply to you on that to make sure that I’m not giving any false information to Members on this particular matter. But, can I say, I thought the coracle industry might be a boost for Carmarthenshire in light of last week’s comments? The thought of 100,000 armed coracles around Wales in light of the interest from the Department for Transport—it might be a very good use of manufacturing. [Laughter.]
 
14:13
Angela BurnsBiography
Minister, following on from Simon Thomas’s question, will you ask or seek for the creative industries sector panel to perhaps look at putting together a defined plan for bringing the creative industries further west? We had a lost opportunity, as you know, at the Corran very recently to develop a music centre; we have the opportunity here, in Carmarthen, to further develop television, video and film production and, of course, Carmarthen as a great cultural centre, for developing the cultural element. Given the jobs that are leaking out of Carmarthen, as it was once a famous administration town and is now losing much of that skill base, I wondered if we might be able to replace it with a dedicated plan that looks at how we might be able to spread some of that jam that’s rightly being earned by Swansea and Cardiff in terms of creative industries and bring them further west.
 
14:14
Edwina HartBiography
Well, obviously, in terms of creative, you have in Llanelli Tinopolis and others—you know, they’re a good centre. I think I will be discussing with the city region board the creative industries, and perhaps we need to look at more definitive plans for areas and expansion. What I will do is have a look at the baseline of jobs that are involved in creative further west than Swansea and write to the Member and then see if we can do any further work on that agenda.
 
The SA1 Development
 
14:14
Mike HedgesBiography
10. Will the Minister make a statement on the SA1 development in Swansea? OAQ(4)0657(EST)
 
14:14
Edwina HartBiography
Yes. New residential developments are about to commence, and terms have been agreed to dispose of further land for development with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.
 
14:14
Mike HedgesBiography
Can I thank the Minister for that response? This mixed development in SA1 has been hugely successful so far. Can the Minister provide an update on University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s development on the site and what is being done to improve the transport infrastructure?
 
14:14
Edwina HartBiography
Yes. I’m aware that my officials are currently discussing with the university their proposed development on the site and as part of that discussion we’ll be looking at the transport infrastructure issues.
 
14:15
Altaf HussainBiography
Minister, we welcome the appointment of Kier to develop the first phase of the £300 million innovation quarter at SA1. Kier said the waterfront development should see the creation of 25 local jobs and 250 apprenticeships. What is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that we have young people with the right skill mix to capitalise on those apprenticeships and jobs?
 
14:15
Edwina HartBiography
We certainly have people that can capitalise on the opportunity for apprenticeships. We have excellent work going on in terms of developing apprenticeships, and construction has been first class in developing those individuals to go on to full-time permanent employment in the industry.
 
Science Policy
 
14:15
Julie MorganBiography
11. Will the Minister make a statement on the development of science policy in Wales? OAQ(4)0665(EST)
 
14:15
Edwina HartBiography
Since the publication of the ‘Science for Wales’ strategy, we’ve secured £100 million of Welsh Government, university and European funding to produce a step change in research capacity in Wales over the next seven years, supporting hundreds of talented researchers, mostly in early and mid career, building on Welsh research excellence.
 
14:16
Julie MorganBiography
I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she believe that the Cardiff city region could become home to the establishment of the UK’s first semiconductor cluster based in Cardiff University, and what is the Welsh Government doing in order to take that forward?
 
14:16
Edwina HartBiography
Obviously, I think this is a very exciting development about the semiconductor. It’s been excellent to see the relationship between the university sector and the industry. It’ll be first-class to have that development here. We’ve been a very active partner in terms of dialogue and in terms of help and assistance, and we think it will be an enormous success story to get that type of investment here. But, that’s a credit, I think, to the skills that exist within the economy and the skills that are within Cardiff University.
 
14:16
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Last month, I had the pleasure of being a guest at Techniquest Glyndŵr for the event celebrating the launch of the UK’s first official astronaut at the international space station. I know the Welsh Government, in particular, was involved—I think you personally were at the launch in Cardiff. How is the Welsh Government engaging with Techniquest Glyndŵr, as one of the 20 UK science discovery centres participating in Destination Space, to help develop science policy in north Wales?
 
14:17
Edwina HartBiography
The fact that we’ve got an astronaut up there now has made a great deal of difference, I think, to people looking at space and the opportunities that there are. It’s been really quite exciting to hear what he said from space and what’s been done. Obviously, we engage; the chief scientific adviser engages, and we want to have further engagement on this particular agenda, because it is exciting for young people to know what can be achieved.
 
14:17
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
2. Questions to Counsel General
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
14:17
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 2, which is questions to the Counsel General. Question 1 is from Simon Thomas.
 
The Trade Union Bill
 
14:17
Simon ThomasBiography
1. What discussions has the Counsel General had with other law officers regarding the legal implications to Wales of the Trade Union Bill? OAQ(4)0091(CG)[W]
 
14:18
Theodore HuckleThe Counsel General
Good afternoon, everyone. It is not my intention to make statements about discussions I have had with law officers or to disclose the content of any such discussions. This is an established convention designed to preserve the confidentiality of those discussions and the relationship between law officers.
 
14:18
Simon ThomasBiography
I thank the Counsel General.
 
Not long to go now; don’t worry.
 
The Minister for Public Services has circulated to us today a number of amendments that he’s asked the Westminster Government to make to this Bill in order to exclude Wales from sections of the Bill related to public services. I think that they look fine, but I’m no lawyer; you, of course, are a lawyer, a barrister and Counsel General. So, can you confirm to this Assembly that these amendments are appropriate and are ones that would suffice in excluding Welsh public services from the legal implications of this Bill? If the Westminster Government doesn’t accept those changes or amendments—or if the Parliament in Westminster doesn’t accept these amendments—then is it the Welsh Government’s intention to draw up an appropriate Bill for this place’s consideration, and to fight, if need be, that Bill through the Supreme Court?
 
14:19
Theodore Huckle
Firstly, I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to offer advice as such to this Assembly on the legality of the amendments sought, but I suppose there’s probably an implication or an inference to be drawn by the fact that one of the Ministers in the Government of which I’m a part has been making certain representations to Westminster about appropriate amendments. That’s the first point.
 
Secondly, in relation to the ability of this Assembly to make provision by changing or reversing or amending the effect of the provisions that may find their way ultimately into the Trade Union Bill, it is implicit in the assertion that a legislative consent motion is required—and Members know that one has been laid and is to be debated next week, as I understand it—that the Government’s position is that provisions of the trade union Bill do engage the legislative competence of this Assembly. Therefore, it follows that, in those respects, this Assembly is free, in the view of the Government, to make provision.
 
The Draft Wales Bill
 
14:20
Simon ThomasBiography
2. What meetings has the Counsel General held with other law officers regarding the ‘necessity test’ in the draft Wales Bill? OAQ(4)0092(CG)[W]
 
14:20
Theodore Huckle
It’s not my intention to say whether I have spoken with other law officers on this matter or not. The established convention is that neither law officers’ advice, nor whether their advice has been given or sought, is disclosed, which maintains the confidentially of discussions between law officers.
 
14:21
Simon ThomasBiography
Thank you once again to the Counsel General for the usual answer. The Counsel General will have read the very comprehensive report of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, chaired by David Melding, which look very carefully at this particular issue. Hopefully, he will also have seen the debate that we had last week that discussed this issue very thoroughly indeed also. What is being recommended in that report, of course, is that we replace the necessity test with some sort of other test in terms of the appropriateness of the proposal. Now, none of that would be needed, of course, if there was some sort of separate legal jurisdiction at some level here in Wales, but are you in a position to tell us whether people have discussed or raised any problems with this suggestion contained in the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee report on these issues? Some people are suggesting that, even an appropriateness test could be as damaging as a necessity test in terms of limiting the ability of this Assembly to legislate.
 
14:22
Theodore Huckle
As I understand it, the appropriateness test is an attempt to reflect what is already present in section 108(5). The simple answer is that it’s the position of the Government, as has been well articulated by the First Minister, that no test at all is required. And I don’t think I really need to say any more than that, do I? Sorry, I wasn’t meaning to ask you a question. [Laughter.]
 
14:22
Simon ThomasBiography
It would make a change from the—[Inaudible.] I agree. [Laughter.]
 
14:22
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Right, shall we now move to question 3, then, from Mick Antoniw?
 
Gambling Machines
 
14:22
Mick AntoniwBiography
3. What discussions has the Counsel General had with members of the legal profession regarding the inclusion of responsibility for fixed-odds gambling machines within the draft Wales Bill? OAQ(4)0089(CG)
 
14:23
Theodore Huckle
I’ve had no discussions with members of the legal profession about this issue. The Welsh Government’s position is that powers to restrict fixed-odds gaming machines should be devolved to Wales, and the First Minister wrote to the Secretary of State on 7 August 2015 to that effect.
 
14:23
Mick AntoniwBiography
I welcome that response, Counsel General. Of course, it is a matter that’s been passed down to the Scottish Parliament. Obviously, this Assembly has made its own views felt in an individual Member motion that was overwhelmingly passed in this Chamber stating that that should be the case. In terms of the deliberations, communications or discussions that you may have had that you are able to disclose, has any substantive position been given—any explanatory position—as to why it would not be appropriate to do so?
 
14:24
Theodore Huckle
It was 36 in favour, 0 against and 14 abstentions, I think. No, I’m not aware of such an explanatory position. My understanding is that the First Minister’s written about it, and a copy of that letter was made available to the Assembly. It follows from the fact that a copy of a response hasn’t yet been made available to the Assembly that there is not yet a substantive response.
 
Trade Union Bill
 
14:24
Mick AntoniwBiography
4. What discussions has the Counsel General had with counterparts in Northern Ireland and Scotland regarding the Trade Union Bill? OAQ(4)0090(CG)
 
14:24
Theodore Huckle
Well, I am tempted to say that I refer the honourable Member to the answer I gave about five minutes ago, but it’s not my intention to make statements about discussions I’ve had with law officers or to disclose the content of any such discussions. This is an established convention designed to preserve the confidentiality of those discussions and the relationship between law officers.
 
14:24
Mick AntoniwBiography
Thank you. I appreciate that response, Counsel General. You may have seen the advice that’s been provided by Hefin Rees QC on behalf of the Wales TUC that raises a number of serious constitutional issues. In your opinion, does the Sewell convention require that the UK Government should seek the authority of this Chamber in order to implement the trade union Bill insofar as it relates to Wales? And, are you aware of any explanatory position or argument that has been put so far, as to why that has not been done and is not the case at the moment?
 
14:25
Theodore Huckle
Firstly, the question was put by reference to the advice of a colleague of mine at the bar. I don’t propose to comment directly on that. It’s safe to say that Members will be aware that the First Minister has made clear that we do not, as a Government, necessarily agree with it in its entirety—for example, in relation to the constitutionality of the UK enacting a trade union Bill at all. But, it is clearly the position of the Welsh Government that the Bill does engage the legislative competence of this Assembly, and that is why the Minister for Public Services laid the LCM, which is to be debated next week, as I’ve already said.
 
As far as explanations are concerned, I’m not aware of any particular form of explanation. There is a well-known assertion in a letter of the Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise last July that the Bill relates to industrial relations law that, along with employment more generally, is currently a non-devolved matter, with which of course, we thoroughly disagree.
 
14:26
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Counsel General.
 
14:26
3. Questions to the Assembly Commission
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
There are no questions tabled to the Assembly Commission.
 
14:26
4. Debate on the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee's Report on Making Laws in Wales
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We move to item 4, which is a debate on the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee’s report on making laws in Wales. I call on the Chair of the committee, David Melding.
 
Motion NDM5922 David Melding
 
The National Assembly for Wales:
 
Notes the report of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee on its inquiry into Making Laws in Wales, laid in the Table Office on 8 October 2015.
 
Motion moved.
 
14:27
David MeldingBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
 
Good law is relevant and coherent. It is important to the citizen, and, often unseen, shapes the way we live our lives. The Assembly’s core function is to make many of the laws that affect the daily lives of Welsh citizens. Making law is clearly an integral part of our democratic process, and respect for the legislative process is key to the effective rule of law.
 
It is right, therefore, that, periodically, we review the process by which we make our laws, drawing not only on our own experiences as legislators, but also of those affected by the laws that we make. We believe the Assembly has shown itself to be an effective legislature. However, the task of keeping a legislative process effective and responsive is unremitting.
 
Best practice must be maintained and new challenges met with a spirit of innovation. The recommendations we make in our report are aimed at delivering continuous improvement.
 
Before I proceed, I wish to thank all those who gave evidence to our inquiry, either through oral or written evidence, or by participating in our stakeholder event. And special thanks go to our expert panel who considered an early draft of our report. Once again, our secretariat served us with the highest distinction and enabled us to produce such a coherent and, I think, groundbreaking report. We particularly welcomed the Welsh Government’s participation and the significant time it gave to the inquiry.
 
We made 34 recommendations aimed at the Welsh Government, the Assembly’s Business Committee and the Assembly Commission. It’s our most comprehensive report to date. We welcome the positive nature of the Commission’s response on the points that relate to its role. It is also pleasing to see the Business Committee welcome the recommendations aimed at enhancing the Assembly’s procedures, and we look forward to seeing the proposals it brings forward for consideration by the Assembly.
 
In its response, the Welsh Government chose to highlight the potential cumulative impact on the length of the legislative process, Assembly Members’ time and Government Plenary time, as well as internal financial constraints. I must say, I found that tone a little disappointing, though, it is fair to say that, in many of the responses to our recommendations, there is productive engagement. But, I do hope, in the Government’s reply this afternoon, we can get a fuller sense of the Government’s direction of travel.
 
Clearly, making laws involves what can, at times, be a slightly uncomfortable partnership between the Executive and the legislature. This is true all over the democratic world. The Executive feels both the need and the right to secure the business for which it holds a democratic mandate. The legislature feels the duty to subject legislation to a sufficiently thorough scrutinising and revising process, to ensure that it adds value, as part of the democratic process.
 
In highlighting some of our recommendations, I wish, first, to touch on recommendations 1 and 2, regarding the Welsh Government’s internal approach and co-ordination. These recommendations are concerned with enhancing the clarity in relation to its internal procedures and responsibilities for legislative policy development—a key task of Government. The Welsh Government has accepted them in part. They are based predominantly around the evidence we heard from the First Minister and other key officials. We felt it necessary to make such recommendations because of the impact the Welsh Government’s approach has on the Assembly’s ability to effectively scrutinise the legislation presented to it. I note and welcome the Welsh Government’s commitment, in its covering submission, regarding the management of its legislative programme. The more efficient and transparent all aspects of the legislative process are, the greater the likelihood there is of producing the highest quality law possible.
 
Consultation, as was made clear to us in evidence, is an effective method of influencing the development of legislative policy. We believe more can be done to ensure a smooth process of engagement between the citizen, the Welsh Government and the Assembly in the production of legislation, for example in pre-legislative scrutiny. This provides an opportunity for the Welsh Government to satisfy the Assembly that a proposal is ready to be introduced as a Bill. But it is also an opportunity for the Assembly to satisfy itself that the interests and concerns of stakeholders have been identified and reflected in the policy development. We share the view of the Auditor General for Wales that pre-legislative scrutiny aids the whole scrutiny process.
 
The Government accepted recommendation 5 about publishing financial memoranda alongside draft Bills. However, we were disappointed to see the Government reject recommendation 3 regarding a presumption in favour of publishing draft Bills—for some time now acknowledged best practice. This represents an opportunity missed, and I would ask the Welsh Government to explain its reasoning in more detail. On a more positive note, I welcome the value the Assembly Commission places on draft Bills, and its intention to ensure that guidance on Members’ Bills should incorporate recommendations 3 and 5 as best practice.
 
One of our principal concerns about Bills in the fourth Assembly has been that the balance between the detail provided on the face of Bills, and that which is left to subordinate legislation, is not right. This has led to the creation of what we have called framework Bills. We received a lot of evidence sharing our view, and recommendations 6, 7 and 8 sought to address this issue. While the Welsh Government has only accepted them in part, I welcome their commitment to undertake a review, and to publish the outcome. I am sure that our successor committee will want to monitor closely the extent to which the Government’s legislation moves away from such framework Bills.
 
The accuracy of Bills on introduction was also raised in evidence with us. We recommended that the Welsh Government only introduces Bills that can be reasonably considered to be fully developed at the point of introduction. This is important because it enables committees to engage fully with stakeholders at Stage 1, and, thus, thoroughly scrutinise the impact of Bills. It also inspires public confidence in the legislative process. Ensuring that the Welsh Government’s Bills are fully developed at introduction will ensure that amending stages are not focused on improving the Bill as introduced—sorry, that they are focused on improving the Bill as introduced. The Assembly should not have to grapple at amending stages with new Government proposals that, for whatever reason, were not ready, or available, at the time of introduction. It really does disturb the scrutiny process if new policy ideas are suddenly introduced at an amending stage and, therefore, cannot have the full benefit of a Stage 1 scrutiny process.
 
Before I move to discuss the accessibility of legislation, I am surprised by the Government’s rejection of recommendation 16. This relates to the co-drafting of Bills in both of our official languages. It says that, while it has benefits in some cases, it is not necessarily an efficient model for preparing most Bills. I have to say we find this strange, but we would welcome the Welsh Government’s full explanation for taking this particular view. We feel that it’s important for the culture of Welsh devolution that we see a truly bilingual process to law making strengthen.
 
Running as a consistent thread throughout our report is the matter of accessibility to legislation for the citizen. Accessibility is important to enable effective engagement in the legislative process, for example through publishing draft Bills or ensuring Bills are fully developed on introduction. Our recommendations about improving the content of explanatory memoranda and the preparing of Keeling schedules are also aimed at improving access to the law for the people of Wales.
 
I note that the Welsh Government intends to consider how its memoranda can be improved prior to the fifth Assembly. However, I trust that it will look to review its overall approach, as we recommended, as soon as the Business Committee has made decisions about our suggested changes to Standing Orders in respect of explanatory memoranda.
 
A coherent, well-ordered statute book is key to the rule of law. Its ease of accessibility to the citizen should be paramount. And here, in Wales, we could really establish best practice and not be encumbered by the full tradition of England and Wales law making. Consolidating legislative texts represents, in our view, good practice. It removes the complexity arising from the continual re-amending of previous texts and contributes to making law more accessible.
 
As such, we recommended that the Welsh Government collaborates with the Law Commission to develop a long-term plan for consolidating law in Wales. We note the Welsh Government’s acceptance in part of this recommendation because of the ongoing work of the Law Commission. We hope that once the current work is complete, the Government will give serious consideration to devoting time and resource to this important task.
 
We also make a recommendation about the collaboration with the National Archives to improve the accessibility of legislative texts for all citizens, and I particularly welcome the Assembly Commission’s positive response.
 
A number of our recommendations related to the opportunities given to the Assembly for effective scrutiny. We look forward to seeing how the Business Committee intends to take these forward.
 
In particular, I would like to focus on recommendation 22. We are mindful that the Assembly is a unicameral legislature and believe that the addition of a compulsory report stage would add value to the scrutiny process and lead to improvements in the quality of law the Assembly produces. This recommendation has assumed even greater importance given the Welsh Government’s rejection of recommendation 3 regarding the use of draft Bills.
 
There was one clear theme that dominated all our evidence-taking and deliberating. That theme was a shared commitment to constant improvement in the efficiency and effectiveness of the legislative process for the benefit of all the people of Wales. We hope that the recommendations in our report will be treated in this spirit, and that their implementation will take a generally good process and make it even better. I look forward to hearing the contributions of Members this afternoon, Presiding Officer. Thank you.
 
14:38
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Well, another week and another thorough and detailed report from the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. I do think that the Members of the committee, and particularly their Chair, deserve recognition and praise for the work that they have undertaken in this Assembly to improve our national democracy. The report offers some significant reflections on the legislative experiences of the last five years. I agree with many. I respectfully take issue with some, but all are undoubtedly the product of careful consideration. I hope you will not object to my sharing the lessons I learned in the process of taking through one of the most complex, comprehensive, consolidating and co-productive codifications that this Chamber has seen, and, I might add, consensual. I’ll return to that particular point in a moment.
 
I want to focus on two issues that the report highlights: the proliferation of amendments during the legislative process and the use of subordinate legislation. On this latter point, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 did contain substantial sections of regulations to be determined at a later stage, but I think it is very important to consider the reasons for this. In some cases—and I would use the rates of charges and remunerations as an example—we knew, in drafting the Bill, that there would need to be regular, or indeed, annual, amendments. It would, therefore, be neither practical nor desirable for all future amendments to necessitate changes to primary legislation.
 
Secondly, the use of subordinate legislation is sometimes essential to smooth the process of implementation. For legislation that radically overhauls the machinery of public service delivery implementation is not a binary process. We do not flick a switch in this Chamber and watch the lights come on in councils across Wales. We must work with our partners with respect and we would not want to discover as implementation proceeds obstacles that cannot be overcome because primary legislation has made it impossible. Where I absolutely agree with the committee is in their support of the comments of the Learned Society of Wales regarding, and I quote,
 
‘the need to make good the democratic deficit involved when law-making is delegated’.
 
It is precisely for this reason that I insisted on the use of the superaffirmative or affirmative process for large sections of the subordinate legislation arising from the Act.
 
To turn to the subject of amendments, it is important to remember that, as I discovered, the forces that necessitate amendments are frequently outside of the Government’s control. The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 included, for instance, amendments triggered by the input of the Counsel General, the parallel scrutiny of the Care Act 2014 in England and the timing of both processes, and the delay until the eleventh hour in obtaining Westminster consent where needed, an issue I raised in last week’s debate. And, of course, each of these stones thrown into the legislative pond created ripples that worked their way through the Bill causing yet more consequential amendments in turn. Where the Government did have control of the decision I think there were exceptionally good reasons for the choice to introduce amendments. Amendments, for example, that emerged as part of the consolidation process were, in my view, essential to achieving the best law we could make. Fundamentally, though, and in conclusion, the single biggest reason for these amendments was the scrutiny process itself. This was, in my view, the biggest reason.
 
At the start of the Bill’s journey I made clear that this would be a people’s Act—an Act for a generation and for the whole of life’s passage. It was, therefore, of critical importance that it be produced through consensus. If times shows that this Act has achieved its intent it will be because citizens, our partners and all parties in this Chamber had a hand in its final text. And if there is a balance to be struck between legislative efficiency and consensual politics I firmly believe that we should always err on the side of democratic accountability.
 
14:43
Suzy DaviesBiography
Can I also thank our committee staff, our Chair and my fellow Members and, of course, the witnesses for the work on what I believe has been a very impressive inquiry. The Welsh Government’s legislative programme is clearly the main driver of our law making, but it’s not the only one. Critically, it is not the Government that makes law. That fundamental privilege falls to us, and along with an independent judiciary we are part of the checks and balances that protect the people of Wales from any Government that might be inclined to exceed its mandate. And this is the area that I would like to concentrate on in my contribution today.
 
The report observes that, from time to time, the potential for perceived or actual tension between the Executive and the legislature surfaced at points during our inquiry. The Government wants to progress the programme for which it has a mandate, and the Assembly is under a duty to scrutinise and revise the Government’s offer. I think what has disappointed me during this inquiry, and more particularly in scrutiny sessions examining Government Bills, is that, from time to time, a Minister will let slip a comment or a response that gives the impression that they have forgotten who makes the law in this place. It’s reflected most obviously in recommendation 26, which proposes changes to the procedure for bypassing Stage 1 scrutiny Bills and the introduction of emergency Bills. But I’m speaking more directly to earlier recommendations 6, 7 and 8, which suggest that the Government reviews its approach to the balance between primary and secondary legislation, that the purpose of any secondary legislation is made clear in the primary legislation, and that any powers to amend primary legislation, however trivial, should not routinely be reserved to Ministers and not reserved at all without adequate explanation.
 
I think we all accept that it’s perfectly in order and sensible for operational and administrative detail of policy aim and minor changes to follow in secondary legislation. But let’s not forget that this delegated activity is carried out with the consent of the legislature. It’s we who should decide whether it’s appropriate to reduce direct scrutiny of these activities and which procedures are most appropriate for the introduction of secondary legislation, and it’s for the Government, of course, to make its argument for its preference.
 
Yet in this inquiry and in legislative scrutiny, some Ministers have tried to justify reserving executive powers to secondary legislation on unsupported assertions that such matters are merely technical and on the grounds that they need flexibility—failing to distinguish between identifiable but regularly changing detail—and that change is needed to complete the development of policy, and the chairman has already said that we should not use secondary legislation for that anyway. My own favourite is that they were concerned that the Assembly wouldn’t have time to scrutinise the Government’s proposals and so better to leave it to Government just to get on with legislating via delegated powers that wouldn’t trouble us poor, busy creatures.
 
I was troubled to see that the Presiding Officer apparently—and I stress ‘apparently’—came close to echoing this sentiment in evidence when she said that,
 
‘Members’ Bills which do not appear to enjoy the support of the Government have nevertheless been given leave to proceed by…the Assembly…it is important to assess the benefits of this against the time required…as well as the significant resource implications’.
 
Presiding Officer, I’m sure it was an unfortunate turn of phrase, because it is wrong to suggest per se that the view of Government is in any way material to how this legislature scrutinises and progresses a Member’s Bill. The statement would have been accurate if it had said that without the support of the majority of Members or, of course, in this Assembly, the support of the governing party, then proceeding would be pointless because the figures wouldn’t stack up. Incontrovertible, but not what was said. It’s worth pointing out that Government-introduced Bills can also fall on the numbers and if predictions are to be believed, that’s going to be a genuine concern in this next Assembly.
 
In summary, secondary legislation is not a vehicle for avoiding scrutiny on matters that are unexplained or underdeveloped, nor is it a vehicle for speeding up a process for a Government’s own convenience, nor, incidentally, is it a vehicle for loose ends. Sometimes a Government needs to take on a duty, not a discretionary power, to introduce secondary legislation in order to provide third parties with the instruction they need in order to comply with primary legislation, for example.
 
The report makes a number of recommendations about improving scrutiny, draft Bills, better explanatory memoranda, a report stage and feedback to consultees, most of which have been accepted. Their essential point is, however, that, in the absence of a revising chamber, this legislature must insist on having the opportunity for optimum scrutiny of legislation. Only a handful of Welsh people—that’s us here in this Chamber—have this honour of making laws on behalf of the people of Wales and we really must guard our integrity on behalf of the people of Wales. Thank you.
 
14:48
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Thank you very much for the opportunity to contribute. I am not a member of this committee, of course, but the report does raise a number of pertinent points. I am the Chair of a committee that has dealt with three Bills during the past year or more. Two have completed their passage and the third is still going through the process. I would like to make some comments based on my experience of dealing with those Bills, in general terms, rather than looking at specifics of course.
 
I have two comments that are pertinent to section 6 of the committee’s report, I believe. It is my experience that Stage 1 scrutiny appears to be very constructive and productive from a committee point of view. That process of gathering evidence and of coming to understand the nature and purpose of a Bill is the subject of a broad-ranging debate. I accept that there is a tendency for Members, in discussing the report, to try and throw more and more element into the mix and into the Bill, but one characteristic is that Members treat legislation with an open mind and by responding to the evidence presented to a committee. I have to say that it is a very productive and constructive stage, and it’s surprising, in my view at least, how much agreement there seems to be between committee members who draw reports together. Indeed, the committee treats legislation at that stage as an independent committee that scrutinises legislation.
 
But, when we come to Stage 2, two things seem to happen. I am not saying it’s true of all Bills, of course, but, first of all, a high number of amendments can change the shape of a Bill substantially and can make it very difficult to see what exactly is happening within the legislation. Secondly, what happens when we come to discuss amendments is that we lose the committee’s independence entirely, as Members vote according to their party whip. All of a sudden, a process that has been constructive becomes a mechanical, boring process, and, indeed, a process that’s incomprehensible to the public. I’ve heard the Chair of the committee that produced this report discussing relations with the public and how important it is that the public understand legislation. Well, one thing that does confuse them is this process of voting on amendments, where a Chair can support an amendment and then vote against it. Now, I accept that there are reasons for that, but it does reflect poorly, I believe, on this place.
 
Therefore, I have a few suggestions in conclusion. First of all, I would like to see a far more open process of discussing amendments with the Government. I don’t feel, as happens on occasion, that meetings that are very close to the date of debate of amendments is sufficient or adequate. After all, we are trying to create effective legislation, not just trying to win a vote at committee. I do think that there are questions as to the role of Members and their objectivity in that process, particularly in that second stage.
 
Another thing that struck me as we’ve dealt with different Bills is that, when there are substantial changes taking place as a result of Stage 2, the committee should then have an opportunity to look at the Bill as amended and to look at it anew, as it were. Perhaps we should seek an opportunity where the committee, having looked at the amended Bill and wishing to make further comments or amendments, is able to do that if there is agreement on it within the committee. I know that there is an opportunity to table amendments at Stage 3, but more often than not they come from opposition parties, who are trying to emphasise some point or another. But I do think, from the committee’s point of view, which, after all, has tried to steer the process to that point, that there is scope there for the committee to have the opportunity to look anew at the Bill and to see, following amendment, and particularly major amendment, whether there is scope for them to propose changes in order to ensure that the Bill achieves its stated purpose effectively. So, those are just a few comments from me. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
 
14:53
Aled RobertsBiography
As with some of the other Members who have spoken, I’m not actually a member of this committee, but I’d like to thank David Melding for presenting this motion today and also thank committee members and staff for their work. It is important, as others have said, that we as legislators, every now and again, look at the processes by which we make law for the people whom we represent. I believe that this report does try and outline some of the things, perhaps, we could do to improve current systems. My colleague William Powell, at the time that the report was published, said that the report exposed a number of issues where, as Alun Ffred Jones has outlined, the committee believes that the balance between the Assembly and the Welsh Government has not yet been struck. Certainly, as a member of two other committees, I believe that many of the matters that Alun Ffred Jones has outlined actually reflect that.
 
There are a number of recommendations that we welcome as a group in particular. You’d expect us to welcome in particular recommendation 19, which provides an explanation as to how there should be a requirement, in formulating a Bill, that account is being taken of the human rights convention. I think that’s particularly pertinent given, perhaps, some of the moves in Westminster that will seek to weaken international human rights obligations at a British level. As the committee Chair has already outlined, we think that recommendation 22 is particularly important because, of course, we don’t have the security here of a second amending chamber. So, we only have one shot to get a piece of legislation right. We believe that by adding in a report stage, there would be a vital break in legislation where due consideration and reflection could be given.
 
Further changes have been put forward in recommendation 26 to formalise and strengthen procedure around emergency Bills. We believe that this would increase transparency and accountability for our laws whilst retaining the flexibility needed in some instances by way of emergency procedure. By requiring a statement to be laid, explaining why it is an emergency and what the consequences are of it not being an emergency, we thereby hold Government to account for its use of emergency procedures and make it easier and simpler.
 
We do welcome the response that the Government issued to the report on 3 December. The feedback that the First Minister had given to the committee provided vital food for thought, as far as Bill Powell is concerned, over the Christmas break. The Minister’s response noted, of course, that the cumulative effect of these changes would be likely to have an impact on the time taken for the legislative process and might, in turn, likely place additional pressures on Assembly time, and particularly on Government Plenary time. We note, however, that the committee itself believes that part of the legislative process has been simplified by the committee’s recommendation. For example, consolidation Acts and Law Commission proposals themselves simplify procedure and shorten the process, as reflected in recommendation 13.
 
Recommendation 24 requires details on the purpose and effect of amendments, as mentioned by other Members. We believe that this will save Assembly Members time as they will not have to look at or divine the mysterious intention of the mover of that amendment, and time could be saved in scrutinising amendments because explanations for those amendments will clearly be laid. So, whilst we as a group welcome the First Minister’s comments, overall we feel that the committee’s recommendations would give Assembly Members better tools in their arsenal to scrutinise legislation and ensure that laws made by the Assembly are improved. By obliging the Government, where possible, to publish Bills in a draft format, we would be able to make sure that actual legislative time is not wasted talking about Bills that are leaving Government for the first time. By having them arrive in a better state, through an additional pre-legislative stage, more time can be spent in ensuring that it is substantially up to scratch. I think that’s the experience that we’ve had as a children and young people’s committee when we’ve gone through that pre-legislative process.
 
This report has a great number of recommendations, which will largely fall to the next Assembly to resolve, but we believe as a group that this report is an excellent starting point for those who come next to deal with the issue of making laws in Wales better.
 
14:58
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Can I begin by expressing my thanks to the committee for the report? The Chair of the committee, the Deputy Presiding Officer, is one of the original Members of this institution, like me, and he will remember the days when we stood and debated secondary legislation that was largely uncontroversial because we had no primary legislation to debate. He and I will remember looking at the potatoes originating in Egypt Order and the undersized whiting Order, which I remember very well because I introduced them. They were important items of legislation, but not perhaps of the greatest import in terms of demanding the time of the legislature. We’ve moved on, and I’m sure that he will agree with me that, back in 1999, we would have been amazed to find ourselves in the position that we are in now as a primary legislature. I think it was fair to say at that time that the expertise did not exist within the institution, nor indeed within what was not even called then the ‘Welsh Government’, to draft legislation and, importantly, to get it right. I think it is worth acknowledging that, in a very short space of time indeed, the Assembly has produced coherent, understandable and sound legislation as a result, I’d like to think, partially of the Government but certainly the scrutiny that has been occasioned by Assembly Members.
 
There are now 24 Acts of the Assembly on the statute book. I applied the seal to the twenty-third and the twenty-fourth two days ago. A further five Bills, of course, are currently being scrutinised by the Assembly. These Acts are critical in terms of making a difference to the people of Wales, I believe. We’ve driven improvements in the standards of food hygiene in Wales. My good friend Gwenda Thomas has mentioned, of course, the social services Act; and, of course, changes to housing and planning; and, of course, perhaps the legislation that has had the most public understanding, the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013, which came into effect last month.
 
It’s fair to say that the process of legislating in this term has been challenging. Members will recall that it took some time for legislation to be introduced on the floor of the Assembly—longer than we expected. Nevertheless, we have got to a point where 24 Acts are now on the statute book. It has been a steep learning curve for Government and, indeed, probably for Members themselves. It is important, of course, that we learn these lessons, and this report is part of that process. We have come under intense scrutiny on our Bills, but that’s the way it should be. We understand that scrutiny can’t be a comfortable process. That is a sign, to my mind, that the process is working, despite the fact that, on occasion, it does cause discomfort to the Government. That’s the nature of scrutiny.
 
Of the 19 recommendations in this report, we have been able to accept 17, either in whole, in part or in principle. It’s clear that, in many respects, the committee and the Government share the same vision for how you can improve and strengthen the legislative processes. We’ve tried to be forthcoming in setting out why we’ve accepted a recommendation, either in whole or in part, and also the reasons as to why there are some—or two—recommendations that we have not been able to accept in part or at all.
 
If I could turn to the first of those, which is the recommendation in relation to draft Bills, I think it’s right to say that draft Bills are appropriate where proposals are complex, where they’re controversial, or where there are particular sensitivities around how something is given effect in law. But our argument would be that there needs to be flexibility in terms of how legislation is begun. For some items of legislation, a White Paper will be appropriate; there will be some items of legislation that are necessarily short and probably uncontroversial, which, to my mind, wouldn’t need a draft Bill; and there are others, of course, where a draft Bill is an appropriate vehicle to take forward that legislation. So, a presumption in favour of publishing draft Bills would limit the ability to consider how to consult, to my mind, as effectively as possible on each legislative proposal. The method of consultation will depend on the consideration of a number of factors, such as the level of complexity, the impact on the public, the level of public interest and concern, and the extent to which time is of the essence. I do note that the UK Government has a commitment to publish draft Bills where practicable and appropriate. I think that that’s a good formula. That is something, certainly, as a Government we would look to adopt, but not as far as a presumption. For some Bills, especially those that are short and uncontroversial, a draft Bill would not be the appropriate vehicle, to my mind, in that regard.
 
With regard to co-drafting, the question I would put is this: would co-drafting lead to better legislation? I’m unconvinced that it would. Yes, we do want to get to a situation where we have the right level of Welsh language skills in the Office of the Legislative Counsel in order to move towards a system where there might be co-drafting in the future. We are not in that position yet, but certainly that would be something that we would look to work towards. What we can commit to is that we will continue to work to ensure that Government Bills are introduced in high-quality English and Welsh versions. It is right to say, of course, that in Canada there is a pure co-drafting model adopted by the federal Government there, but it is one method among many that are adopted elsewhere. There may well be benefits in some cases, but I don’t think it would be correct to say that, in all cases, co-drafting would produce the highest quality bilingual legislation. That, ultimately, of course, is what we as a Government—and, I believe, the Assembly—would wish to see. Different ways can be adopted in different circumstances. My concern would be, if we moved to a co-drafting model at this stage, it might cause delays in terms of the drafting of Bills. Then, of course, as a Government, it would have an impact on a Government legislative programme. That is not to say that, in the future, this is not something that could be aspired to.
 
The other issue that has been touched on in the main by Members is the issue of the balance between primary and secondary legislation. There is no right answer to this. It is, I suppose, an objective opinion that Members will have. It’s right to say that there will be Members in the Chamber who will take the view that secondary legislation would be more of an exception than the rule, but again it comes down, to my mind, to one word, and that’s ‘flexibility’. Where it is appropriate to put in place a legislative principle that is designed to last for many years, then, of course, primary legislation is the place to put that. But there needs to be flexibility. Where there’s an understanding that the legislation may need to change, maybe on more than one occasion over the course of a number of years, then clearly secondary legislation provides the flexibility in order to be able to do that. We do try to give careful consideration to the balance between primary and subordinate legislation. I would argue that we’ve struck the correct balance. There are others who take a different view. It’s a very difficult boundary to draw, between primary and secondary legislation. But we will strive to keep the balance correct, and to make sure that as much detail as possible is included in primary legislation, but bearing in mind the need for flexibility if, of course, as we would anticipate, there would be a need to respond to changing circumstances.
 
So, in conclusion, can I thank the committee for this helpful report, to acknowledge the significant contributions of the committee, and all committees of this Assembly, to the scrutiny of legislation this term? I think it’s fair to say that other institutions scrutinise legislation with a greater number of people, and I know that Members have been dedicated in the way they’ve scrutinised legislation with a very heavy workload. It’s a matter for the future as to what the size of this Assembly should be, but nevertheless, there were some who said in 2011 when we acquired primary law-making powers that with our numbers, we would not manage. I believe that we have managed far better than anybody would have expected.
 
15:06
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I call on the Chair of the committee, David Melding, to reply to the debate.
 
15:07
David MeldingBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I must say, I think the quality of the contributions from everyone this afternoon reflects the quality of thought in the actual report itself. I’m very grateful for Members engaging in such a thorough and connected way. Can I just refer to one or two points each Member raised, insofar as they encapsulate the general themes we’ve been discussing this afternoon?
 
Gwenda Thomas, speaking from that wonderful well-called experience—you know what it’s like and what matters—reminded us that use of regulations is appropriate. It would be difficult to see any complex piece of law without a substantial amount of regulation, and indeed if you had everything on the face of the Bill and very little as regulations, we would find that very difficult to scrutinise. We would have massive statutes. So, there is a balance to be struck here, and there does need to be flexibility in how the law is allowed to adapt within appropriate parameters. You did refer to some of the flexible ways we can manage the system, like the use of the superaffirmative process for regulations that clearly are really important to the citizen. Our committee has definitely recognised that. I thought, when you said that citizens are partners, that absolutely struck the right tone this afternoon.
 
Can I thank Suzy Davies for emphasising the balance that we need to strike in the use of regulations, particularly being careful of any fundamental principle or anything in primary law that can be altered by regulation? It’s something to be treated with real regard and caution. The speed of the process, or arguments about speeding up the process and making it easier for the Government to use, really shouldn’t be what we’re about. We’re about making good law and implementing good law—through the appropriate use of regulations sometimes—that benefit the citizen. Convenience, or speed, is secondary. If you’re quick and wrong, it’s not really a good combination.
 
Alun Ffred Jones talked as a committee Chair who has dealt with three Bills, and I thought that was a really important contribution. The effectiveness of Stage 1 scrutiny—in general, I think we can be very proud of how that works, and it has been constructive. But, I think you really did hit the nail when you said that a large number of amendments introduced by the Government can distort the shape of the Bill and how we scrutinise it, because it doesn’t allow us that fuller reflection that you do get at Stage 1, if at Stage 2 you’ve suddenly got a huge volume of Government amendments. It has been a problem in some cases.
 
Aled Roberts talked about the human rights dimension. That is very important in terms of clear explanatory memoranda on key issues, so that we can measure the merit of the technical drafting of law. That’s very, very important; as is the use of a Report Stage, because we are a unicameral institution. We need to stretch our process a bit, because we only get one go at it—it doesn’t go through two Chambers. I think that came through very powerfully in all our evidence.
 
Can I thank the First Minister for the tone of his contribution? It was very generous. He started absolutely right. You know, Egyptian potato Orders, the sheep and goat regulations. I used to call out to Dafydd Elis-Thomas, ‘Sheep to the right, goats to the left’, and he would scowl at me. The Fourth Assembly has shown that we are a proper full legislature. It’s worked. We’ve not been a laughing stock. We’ve produced some, what people would say, outstanding statute; some real major areas of public policy have been addressed in law. The Government has great credit there, as does the legislature. Our report is about making this process world class. We’ve already shown we can do it and meet some of the best standards in the English-speaking world and the parliamentary tradition we’re in. But, we can go further. That’s why I think draft Bills—. It was interesting, you said it was appropriate where complex and controversial issues are being addressed. I’m quite happy with that type of approach. I think that does capture what we’re about. So, if that’s the compromise, I’ll take it.
 
Co-drafting: I think we all need to think about this because using Welsh as a resource is something we thought we’d find evidence of. Whilst there’s excellent working in part, in co-drafting in certain areas, and the standard of translation is outstanding, I think we thought there’d be more of a creative process where law could be honed and some of the principles thought through in either language, using the most appropriate one to get the best type of statute. We didn’t find so much comprehensive evidence for that, which did slightly disappoint us. In conclusion, can I thank everyone for an excellent debate this afternoon?
 
15:11
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you very much. The proposal is to note the committee’s report. Does anyone object? No objections. Therefore, the report is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
 
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36
 
5. Welsh Conservatives Debate: Higher Education Funding
The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1, 2 and 3 in the name of Aled Roberts, and amendment 4 in the name of Elin Jones.
 
15:12
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 5, which is the first of the Welsh Conservatives’ debates, on higher education funding. I call on Angela Burns to move the motion.
 
Motion NDM5920 Paul Davies
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
 
1. Notes the findings from the interim report into the Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance Arrangements in Wales, which states the existing system is ‘not sustainable’, echoing calls from Universities Wales, the Learned Society of Wales and University and College Union;
 
2. Recognises the need, identified by the interim report, for the Welsh Government to ‘revisit the tuition fee grant policy’ in Wales;
 
3. Believes the Welsh Government should remodel higher education funding in Wales, implementing a more sustainable policy and offering greater priority to a progressive system of living cost support.
 
Motion moved.
 
15:12
Angela BurnsBiography
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. I wish to move the Welsh Conservatives’ motion before us this afternoon. In the course of my contribution, I will deal with our thoughts on the various amendments tabled to it.
 
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair.
 
Angela BurnsBiography
The future of our higher education sector is of critical importance to the individual and to the nation. A sentiment echoed in a number of different ways by Professor Diamond in his interim report into the review of higher education funding. I would like to put on record my thanks to Professor Diamond and the other members of the review panel for their work to date. Minister, I acknowledge that the review team, and indeed yourself, have made it very clear that this is an interim report and that there is an intent to issue conclusions and recommendations in September 2016.
 
However, at present, funding of higher education is in a state of enormous flux. The Labour Government has proposed cuts to the higher education budget of some 32 per cent, and the interim report itself contains enough data and opinion for the reader to be able to understand the direction of travel. We surely can all agree that the next Welsh Government needs to implement a funding strategy for higher education that will not only be manageable and sustainable, but also be in line with the desires of students. Surely, we can all agree that the higher education sector benefits both the individual and the nation. By widening access, it can be a driver of social mobility, as well as playing a central role in the economy, life and culture of Wales.
 
Universities are great enablers. They can attract economic and research investment and world-class staff, and inspire students to achieve the unthinkable. The Welsh Conservatives are determined that these institutions should continue to deliver that good for us all. This is why we call on the National Assembly to note the findings of the interim report. Without a doubt, one of the key findings is that the existing funding system is simply not sustainable. To make higher education accessible—
 
15:14
David ReesBiography
Will you take an intervention on that point?
 
15:14
Angela BurnsBiography
Of course.
 
15:14
David ReesBiography
I think you started off with a particular message, indicating that it was recognised that these are not findings, but that these are actually just points at which the evidence is coming forward. Therefore, there are no findings at this moment in time. It’s actually an interim report that simply highlights some of the issues that have been raised with them.
 
15:14
Angela BurnsBiography
I don’t agree with you, actually. They may not be the findings of Professor Diamond, but within the report are the findings of the organisations that have contributed—a point I was just about to make. Because, to make higher education accessible is an admirable objective. But, the Welsh Government’s tuition fee grant policy is not the vehicle to achieve that objective.
 
The interim report is supported by evidence given by notable organisations such as Universities Wales, the Learned Society of Wales, and the University and College Union. It’s time, in our view, to abandon this project, and I would urge both Welsh Government and their Labour colleagues to take a cool, hard look at the numbers behind this policy, because they are indeed staggering. From the beginning of this Assembly term to what will be paid out in this, its final year, the amount has increased from £25.2 million in 2011-12 to £264.2 million in 2015-16—an increase of almost 950 per cent. The UCU and London Economics report on funding for higher education sheds further light on the extent of the cost of this policy.
 
According to this report on funding, total public funding associated with a full-time Welsh undergraduate student studying in Wales during 2013-14 was around £9,500—higher than all the other UK nations—and Welsh students studying in England receive even more funding than that. When we marry these numbers with the fact that 81 per cent of public funding for higher education in Wales is provided via student support, it means that a substantial amount of money that could have supported Welsh universities is moving across the Severn instead. Furthermore, with the gap between students importing into and exporting out of Wales narrowing, we are right to be concerned that a great deal of money that could be invested into Welsh universities is used to subsidise English institutions. Furthermore, the number of English students deciding to study at Welsh universities has decreased, while the number of Wales-domiciled applicants getting accepted into English universities has increased. If this trend continues, the volatile funding stream that Welsh Government has relied upon will become worse than unpredictable. It will slowly close, leaving Welsh universities at even greater risk.
 
Now, do not misinterpret me, I absolutely defend the right of students to be able to study in the university of their choice, and, if they are eligible for support, then it should make no difference whether they are in Cardiff or Cambridge. As Welsh Conservatives, we would make it clear that we would not look inwards, we would not follow a parochial policy, we would not financially penalise students for studying away from Wales. My argument is that, in an effort to curry favour, and, to be frank, out of fear of what happened to the Liberal Democrats, the Welsh Government is practising a policy that is so costly it is decimating education spend in higher education and throughout the portfolio. Last year, further education suffered eye-watering cuts because the Welsh Government had to fund this policy; this year, it’s the turn of universities themselves. We must also be aware that many smaller areas are taking enormous cuts because of the disproportionate amounts of money being sucked up by the tuition fees policy, whether it’s the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol—[Interruption.] Thank you. Whether it’s adult education courses, the Welsh language, part-time funding, postgraduate support, research—all are struggling with funding issues, whilst millions goes to support the tuition fees policy.
 
Let us not forget that one of the very clear comments made by Diamond was to highlight the importance of schools in paving the way for our young people to access FE and HE, yet schools in my constituency, schools across Wales, are taking severe cuts that have to be realised year after year, culminating in some serious damage to the infrastructure that needs to be maintained to provide that clear pathway Diamond speaks of. These cuts are set to harm the body of education, and all to preserve a policy that is growing out of control and harming that which it sought to improve. This is why the Welsh Conservatives believe the Government should remodel HE funding in order to produce a far more sustainable outcome.
 
When you look at the evidence, it appears that the cost of tuition is a negligible factor in determining whether a student will decide to apply for a course. The main barrier to higher education is the astronomical cost of living, and financial difficulties are making many students reconsider whether they can sustain their courses. As the National Union of Students have clearly identified, around a third of students across all groups report negatively on their wellbeing, on key indicators, such as their ability to meet the cost of basic expenses—bills and rent—and their ability to concentrate on studies because of their worries about finances. Students find that course-related costs are expensive and often concealed, and there’s a clear association between high course costs and low wellbeing. In our rural areas this has an even stronger impact on students, as transport and accommodation costs can be extremely high. And this is why a Welsh Conservative Government would reform the financial support for living costs. We would deliver an offer that would take greater account of a student household’s financial commitments and pressures. We would support an innovative widening access programme. We would support part-time students, disabled students and students with caring responsibilities. We would help give students the peace of mind they need on living costs so they can channel their energies on their studies instead.
 
Additionally, we would look to widen access to mental health services. Additionally, we would look to establish the gender identity services the National Union of Students so desperately want to see. Additionally, we would enable access to counselling support. So, given this, we will be abstaining from supporting amendments 1 and 3, as we will putting forward our own programme for students, although I suspect there’ll be much between us that would be very similar.
 
Before Christmas last year, we received a taste of what is to come in the final report in September. Welsh Government, in particular, must heed its contents carefully and take action, otherwise it will have been yet another—and we’ve had a few of these—costly exercise to give an impression that something is being done. What a Welsh Conservative Government can guarantee is that we would make changes to how higher education is funded in Wales, because we are committed to the higher education sector and we realise its importance to the country. Not only are universities vital contributors to our economy, they’re also a crucial vehicle that drives social mobility. We are all in agreement, I’m sure, that a child can succeed whatever that background, and we must help to ensure that their path to do so is clear. Universities can be a part of that journey, and a Welsh Conservative Government would ensure that they remain so.
 
15:22
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I have selected the four amendments to the motion. I call on Aled Roberts to move amendments 1, 2 and 3 in his name.
 
Gwelliant 1—Aled Roberts
 
Insert as new point 2 and renumber accordingly:
 
Notes the Welsh Liberal Democrat 2013 policy report ‘Fairness and Freedom in Higher Education’ which calls for a student living support grant, to shift the focus of government assistance from tuition fee debt relief to support for living costs, as a fairer and more effective way of ensuring finance is not a barrier to higher education.
 
Gwelliant 2—Aled Roberts
 
Insert as new point 2 and renumber accordingly:
 
Notes the National Union of Students’ policy report, ‘Pound in Your Pocket’, which found that 58 per cent of students regularly worry about not having enough money to meet their basic living expenses such as rent or utility bills.
 
Gwelliant 3—Aled Roberts
 
At end of point 3, insert:
 
‘such as by the introduction of a student living support grant.’
 
Amendments 1, 2 and 3 moved.
 
15:22
Aled RobertsBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. In so doing, I think that we acknowledge the difficulties that perhaps this policy creates, not only here in Wales, but also in Scotland and England by now. But I will formally move amendments 1, 2 and 3, and, in so doing, I will also acknowledge that, of course, there is the Diamond review that is looking at the problems that are facing us, and that is also, in first place, collecting evidence.
 
I believe that I do agree with David Rees to some extent that what we have is a conclusion by stakeholders about the fact that their view at present is that the system is unsustainable. But that is our view as a party also, and the reason why we have moved these amendments is to say that we reached the conclusion since 2013 that, here in Wales, we need to change our position. That position is supported by the National Union of Students by now, and most of the stakeholders within the sector, including Universities Wales, which states that the problem by now—. I speak as a father, and perhaps I should actually declare an interest as the parent of a student at university at present, and also my wife is a member of the academic board of the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol.
 
But there is no simple solution, and that is the problem that we have, and that is why the review is considering the problems at present. Because, by now, we know that within the draft budget resources will be transferred from other expenditure lines within the higher education budget in order to pay for this policy. The previous Minister, for example, stated that the cost of this policy would be about 35 per cent of the education grant in the first place, but, as you have said, that cost has increased. What concerns us as a party is that if we think that the cut to HEFCW creates a situation where there’ll be only £88 million remaining, then HEFCW will have to fund all these priorities, including part-time students, including Welsh-medium provision and including high-cost provision. But there is a problem here, because we’ve seen last week your friends in London, for example, getting rid of the maintenance grant in England— something that they did in front of a committee of 18 Members of Parliament without any vote being held in the House of Commons.
 
So, there are problems. There are problems also in Scotland that the SNP Government is now facing. So, I believe that the best thing for us to do is to await the Diamond review, but, notwithstanding that, acknowledge in the interim, given that the Diamond recommendations might not be implemented until 2019 or 2020, that there is a problem here as regards how universities in Wales are funded in the interim. I believe that it’s important that we as politicians here in the Assembly face facts, because there is concern in the world of the universities at present. Possibly, part-time provision will disappear, as it already has in England—there is a reduction of about 20 per cent in England at the moment.
 
15:26
Angela BurnsBiography
I’m very grateful to Aled Roberts for taking an intervention. Sorry, Aled, could I ask you to clarify, then? Are the Liberal Democrats saying that, although you realise that the tuition fees policy is unsustainable, you would not be prepared to do anything about it over the next few years?
 
15:26
Aled RobertsBiography
What we’re saying is that that’s a matter for the Welsh Government. Clearly, the problem that we have—
 
15:26
Angela BurnsBiography
[Inaudible.]—of the Welsh Government.
 
15:26
Aled RobertsBiography
Well, the problem that we have in introducing a new policy is that it’s going to take two or three years to actually feed through the system, and in the meantime I was saying that there’s a crisis within Welsh universities that currently has to be addressed. Now, whether that has to be addressed through the transfer of funds to the education directorate or whether there has to be a discussion, the problem I think the Minister has is a problem that is reflected in the reports of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, that, for the last two years, the further education budgets have been raided in order to protect, to a certain extent, universities funding. This year, we’ve got the exact reverse, and I think it does create a situation where, in our group’s opinion, asking HEFCW to actually prioritise within that £88 million that is left to them as far as the teaching grant is concerned, is providing them with an almost impossible task. I think the Minister has to realise that, although he would tell us that his remit letter will tell us what his priorities are. I would accept that there is a need for all parties in this Chamber to come together and to actually deal with the situation between now and 2019-20, because, otherwise, either part-time provision, Welsh-medium provision or high-cost courses will be decimated.
 
15:27
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I call Simon Thomas to move amendment 4, tabled in the name of Elin Jones.
 
Gwelliant 4—Elin Jones
 
Add as new point at end of motion:
 
Condemns the severe cut to HEFCW’s funding in the draft budget 2016-2017, which comes as a direct consequence of the Welsh Government’s current fees policy. Believes that this is likely to lead to damaging cuts in support for part time students, research, high cost subjects and the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol.
 
Amendment 4 moved.
 
15:27
Simon ThomasBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I think we will find that this debate is going to be an interesting one. I’ve been arguing for four years in this Chamber that the current tuition fees scheme is unaffordable in the long term, and we’ve seen in the draft budget of this year what the real impact of that is to be. I’m pleased that two of the other parties have come to the same conclusion and at least identified this problem. I think it would be very unfortunate indeed and dishonest, if truth be told, to go into an Assembly election without acknowledging that this policy can’t be maintained for the entirety of the next Assembly, and without at least giving the electorate some of the principles that would be the basis of the new policy. Although Plaid Cymru is part of the Diamond review, as is every other party in this place—so, I would say to Aled Roberts that there is a system in place to reach agreements on these issues, if possible—I do think it’s important that we state clearly what the principles are during the election campaign.
 
It is not clear to me today what Angela Burns was proposing as a policy, but I do think that the Conservatives have a policy. I don’t agree with it, but I think they have a policy. I’m not quite sure about the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps we’ll get more information by May, because Plaid Cymru will also be providing further information by May, to—[Interruption.] Well, there’s nothing more than the policy that’s already been announced, then. Okay.
 
This is the unfortunate situation that we find ourselves in now. For entirely laudable reasons, there is a policy of supporting students through tuition fees and paying for university education through tuition fees, which, to all intents and purposes, is a voucher scheme. Each student holds a voucher and decides which university to attend and where, therefore, they spend that money. That means that there is little money left in the Government’s budget for the national objectives set by Government, and the Government sets out in a remit letter to HEFCW what those national objectives are. They turn around some of the things that have already been mentioned—part-time learning, research, high-cost subjects and the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol. But, because we have a voucher system that recognises that it’s the market that will decide where people study and where public money will go, the funding available for those national Government objectives has slowly shrunk over the past four years, and in this draft budget is being reduced significantly, by £41 million.
 
As the e-mail from HEFCW to all universities states, to all intents and purposes that means a cut of 40 per cent in funding for those national objectives. That means that, now, the Government is spending more on supporting students studying in English universities—more funding going directly to English universities from this Government—than is going to universities in Wales, to support national objectives. [Interruption.] Are you going to tell us that this policy can be sustained for five years, Leighton Andrews? Can it remain in place for another five years, Leighton Andrews? I will give way if you want to say that.
 
If Labour are going to say that this policy lasts for five years, let them intervene now, and make that promise. If they can’t make that promise, they should say what their policy will be.
 
This is the central fact that we are facing. We cannot afford to carry on doing two things. We can’t afford to carry on subsidising, to the same extent, students wherever they study, and we can’t afford to carry on giving money to HEFCW for our national priorities. The two together are unaffordable. You know that, the Government knows that, all Ministers know that, and any backbencher with an ounce of sense knows that.
 
What we have at the moment is a tuition fee subsidy policy that doesn’t give a single penny extra to students in their pocket. Only a maintenance policy will deliver that. We must move away, and accept, though we made the arguments, and though I was there in the House of Commons making the arguments against tuition fees in the first place, that that is now the settled will of the UK—well, England and Wales—system for tuition fee funding. We don’t get any consequentials because of that. We can’t afford to continue to maintain this. So, we must move away from this current system. We must now look to supporting universities through direct grants, and students who study and work in Wales, but in a way that gives them extra resources—and, indeed, students who need to move out of Wales, for lots of different reasons. And those extra resources must be delivered directly to the student, in student support, not to universities as a voucher way of paying for HE education.
 
15:32
Aelod Cynulliad / An Assembly Member
Will you take an intervention?
 
15:32
Simon ThomasBiography
I don’t think I have time, I’m afraid.
 
15:32
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
You don’t; you must conclude.
 
15:32
Simon ThomasBiography
If I can just conclude on this point.
 
15:33
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Quickly.
 
15:33
Simon ThomasBiography
In ensuring that we do this, I think we will have a much fairer, more sustainable system, going forward. We will wait, as Plaid Cymru, for the Diamond review, but we will also say, very clearly, that these are the principles that guide us in this election.
 
15:33
Paul DaviesBiography
I’m pleased to take part in this debate this afternoon, to highlight the value of higher education to Wales, and to our economy, and to look at ways in which we can move our higher education system onto a more sustainable footing. We know that the HE sector contributes more than £3 billion a year in gross expenditure to the Welsh economy, and it’s fair to say that all parties in this Chamber want to see our HE sector continue to positively contribute to our economy.
 
Now, there have been countless reports on higher education funding, including reports from the Wales Audit Office, the Assembly’s Finance Committee, and now from Professor Sir Ian Diamond. In my past role as a Finance Committee member, I remember scrutinising this particular is