127 speeches by……and 24 more speakers
1. What action has the Welsh Government taken to promote Cardiff as a business destination for financial services? OAQ(4)1578(FM)
We are promoting Cardiff, including its enterprise zone, as an internationally competitive area for companies to locate. We have a strong pipeline of inquiries.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. Many times during First Minister’s questions, and ministerial questions, we hear about the links that the Welsh Government has to other devolved Governments. An important part in promoting Cardiff, would you not accept, is the Mayor of London’s role, and the role of London’s financial services sector, in particular? What discussions, if any, has your Government had with the Mayor of London, and the London Assembly, about alerting them to opportunities here in Cardiff? I met with the mayor’s chief financial adviser the other day, and I could see great synergy. Do you see the same synergy that I can see being developed?
Well, the Minister has met the Lord Mayor of London—not, admittedly, the Mayor of London. I can say that the message is getting across in London anyway. For example, the ‘Financial Times’ and the ‘London Evening Standard’ recently described Cardiff as a great near-shoring location for international business. Of course, we have our own office in London, and its job is to look to bring investment into Wales.
Would the First Minister agree that the coalition Government has done no favours to financial services in Cardiff, because of its proposal to offshore 105 jobs from Companies House, in my constituency of Cardiff North? These are jobs that have been outsourced from the Department for Work and Pensions, then outsourced from the Cabinet Office, and are now to be offshored to India.
That is a shocking statistic. However, it shows what the coalition Government does best, which is exporting jobs.
First Minister, Wales has lost many jobs in recent years, with multinational companies choosing to relocate elsewhere, and, indeed, Government jobs relocating elsewhere. Do you think that there is more that you could do to support the Wales Co-operative Centre to help workers finance and organise their own buy-outs under such circumstances? Furthermore, will the Welsh Government commit to considering, and, if appropriate, facilitating, workers’ buy-outs as a matter of course when foreign investors are looking to withdraw activities from Wales?
I can assure the leader of Plaid Cymru that the Welsh Government has not outsourced jobs out of Wales. Nevertheless, I take her point that it is important that a co-operative model is seen as a workable model. We see good examples of that across Wales, and have done in the past. Working with the Wales Co-operative Centre, yes, we would want to see more co-operative models being rolled out across Wales in the future.
2. What action will the Welsh Government be taking now that the report on public attitudes to smoking in cars carrying children clearly indicates support for a ban to be imposed? OAQ(4)1575(FM)
As we have said on many occasions, we will consider legislative options once we have reviewed the evaluation of our Fresh Start Wales campaign in the summer.
First Minister, you will be aware that 82% of the public in Wales have agreed now that smoking in cars carrying children should be banned. The same percentage said that they would comply with a ban if one was introduced. The United Kingdom Government—after pressure from Labour members of the House of Lords—will be introducing legislation next year, and the signs are that the Scottish Parliament will do likewise. What possible reason is there for your Government to drag its feet on this issue?
We have hardly dragged our feet—we were the first to suggest it, in fact, long before England, and long before Scotland. What we said was that we would conduct a survey over the course of two years. That survey is now complete, and we will examine the findings of that exercise, and then look to legislate if those findings are robust. The Member is right to say that it does appear that there is widespread public support for such a ban in Wales.
Minister, you are correct to say that there is overwhelming support to end smoking in cars when children are present. With the Fresh Start Wales campaign, which was launched two years ago, due to end this week, I do ask how well this campaign has engaged with the many across Wales. Furthermore, what is the level of comprehensive feedback and data that you have acquired already, and when will you be deciding what further action your Government will take on this issue?
The report on smoking in cars carrying children was published at the end of November 2013. It showed that there has been an increase in the number of people who believe that smoking in cars where children are being carried should be banned. That is something that we are considering and we will respond before the summer.
Now, questions from party leaders. First, the leader of the opposition.
First Minister, when was the last time Ed Miliband sought your advice on health policy?
I wonder when the Conservatives last sought the leader of the Conservatives’ advice on transport policy.
Quite often, actually; only last week. I notice that you chose not to answer the question. It would be interesting to know why you would not answer that question. No doubt, he would be embarrassed to ask you for advice when you look at the record of the Labour Party here in Wales. [Interruption.] Last June, you said that the figures in Wales were going in the right direction. Why, if they are going in the right direction, are 15,000 Welsh cancer patients now seeking treatment in English hospitals, and why, if they are going in the right direction, are 14,000 patients waiting on a 14-week diagnostic test waiting list?
If he has figures to show that 15,000 cancer patients are going to England for treatment, I invite him to produce them. That is the Tory line from Central Office. If he has figures to support that, we would all be interested in seeing those figures. The reality is, of course, that cancer waiting times in Wales are better than they are in England. If you want to be treated for cancer, you will be seen quicker in Wales than in England. It is about time that Jeremy Hunt ensured that the NHS in England provided the right level of treatment for cancer patients in England.
I notice that you did not refer once to the 14,000 patients waiting on a diagnostic waiting list for 14 weeks or more, or to the figure that I put to you last week of 28,000 patients waiting eight weeks or more for diagnostic treatment. Is it not the case, First Minister, with a Kinnock back in the Welsh Labour fold, that probably the best line that can be thought of when you think of Kinnock senior is ‘if you vote for Welsh Labour, you better not get ill here in Wales’? [Interruption.]
I will obviously take with a big pinch of salt what is said by the Conservatives. [Interruption.] Let us talk about what they have failed to do in the last few weeks. They failed to stand up for Wales on electrification. Let us examine again what David Jones said on 16 July 2012:
‘this is an extra £4.2 billion of the funding that we are announcing today—a lot of it going to the South Wales Valley Lines’
The south Wales Valley lines according to the Secretary of State.
‘A lot of it going to the extension of the GWR route to Swansea’,
said the Secretary of State. On 16 July 2012 the leader of the opposition said:
‘This is exactly what our rail network needs. Electrification to Swansea and across the Valleys lines will provide a priceless boost to both the region and Wales as a whole.’
This is the Conservatives positively regenerating Wales. Was he misled or was he misleading? [Interruption.]
Order. The First Minister is having to shout in order to be heard.
Byron Davies said that the investment in our railways from the Conservatives in Government is one of the greatest infrastructure projects since Victorian times. Was he misled or was he misleading? On 31 October 2013, the Prime Minister said:
‘Well I know we need these infrastructure investments in Wales. It’s this Government which is putting money into the electrification of the railway line to Swansea and of course the Valley lines.’
Was he misled or was he misleading the people of Wales? We take no lessons on transport or health from a party that fails to stand up for Wales and that has thrown the towel in when it comes to standing up for the people of Wales and modernising our railways.
Presiding Officer, the First Minister put a challenge down. He did not answer the question, but I will quite happily respond to him. [Interruption.]
Order. Is it somebody’s birthday party today or are we just particularly jolly? I do not expect the First Minister to have to shout and for me not to be able to hear him.
I call the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
First Minister, how often do you think a district general hospital in Wales should receive an unannounced visit from Healthcare Inspectorate Wales?
That is something that the Minister is looking at, to make sure that the healthcare inspection system is more robust.
That is not what I asked, First Minister. I asked you how often you think a Welsh district general hospital should receive an unannounced visit from Healthcare Inspectorate Wales.
That is a matter for the inspectorate. There are some hospitals, as there are schools, which will need more inspections, more frequently. That is a matter for the inspectors and their professional judgment.
I am amazed that you do not have an opinion, First Minister. Let us be clear: even if you do not have an opinion, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales does. It says that it should be visiting district general hospitals at least once a year. For our more sophisticated hospitals, such as the one here in Cardiff at the Heath, it should be visiting twice a year. In reality, it is only able to get around to district general hospitals once every three years. When will you put in place support for Healthcare Inspectorate Wales to enable it to carry out the level of inspections that it says that it wants and that it needs in order to reassure itself, us as politicians, you as First Minister, and the Welsh public, that our hospitals are as safe as we would all want them to be?
I am surprised to hear the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats suggest that some of our hospitals are unsophisticated. [Interruption.] She said that there are more sophisticated ones. I take the view that all of our district general hospitals are sophisticated and should be able to offer a service that is as local as possible. I do not take the view that, somehow, sophistication runs only in some hospitals. That is an unfortunate turn of phrase. I am sure that those working as nurses and doctors in those hospitals will take note of what she said.
As far as the inspectorate is concerned, it has said that it wishes to look to inspect hospitals more frequently. That is something that the Minister for Health and Social Services is looking at doing, to make sure that, when we are attacked by Tory Central Office and when people are frightened by those attacks on Wales, such as we saw on the weekend, people can have faith in their health service.
Finally, the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
Last week, Labour published a paper on the future of devolution. In that paper there was a commitment to keep the Barnett formula. The paper says that
‘the Barnett formula should remain as the funding mechanism for public services’.
Was the First Minister consulted on this important policy announcement?
She is talking about the Scottish proposals; they are not a matter for me. The view of Welsh Labour and the view of the Welsh Government is that there needs to be Barnett reform.
Llywydd, the First Minister told me that he would fight for a commitment to fair funding in Labour’s UK general election manifesto. He said that it is important that fair funding is looked at from the perspective of the whole of the UK. Who does he think that his party leader will side with on fair funding—him or his Scottish counterpart?
The people of Britain—fair funding across the whole of the UK. She seems to understand what is in the UK general election manifesto before it has actually been written. I can assure her that my view is—and I have expressed this to Ed Miliband—that the Barnett formula will need to be reformed. There needs to be fair funding across the whole of the UK. That is not a view shared by the SNP, your sister party.
The First Minister said on the floor of this Assembly:
‘I do not think that Barnett is tenable in the longer term; I think that we all understand that.’
Clearly, the Labour leader in Scotland does not understand that. She said that the Barnett formula works for whole of the United Kingdom and is a mechanism that has served Scotland well so far. Is it not the case that the leader of the opposition in Scotland holds more sway with his party leader than the First Minister?
The leader of the opposition in Scotland is a woman; rather than ‘his’, her name is Johann Lamont—but there we are. The other point to remind you of is quite simply this: Scotland will have its own view and Wales will have another. I have made it absolutely clear that we believe that the Barnett formula should be reformed. I note that Plaid’s sister party in Scotland, the SNP, has said that, in the event of a ‘no’ vote, it will fight tooth and nail to keep the Barnett formula as it is. The rhetorical question that I ask Plaid Cymru is this: will it condemn the SNP for its comments in that they will fight against the interests of Wales?
We turn back to the questions on the paper.
Question 3, OAQ(4)1583(FM), has been withdrawn.
Presiding Officer, may I answer that question?
No. I call for question 4 from Byron Davies.
It was a rhetorical question. The First Minister made that point.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on future of the Welsh bus network? OAQ(4)1586(FM)
We fully understand the importance of an effective and affordable bus service, which is why we provide significant funding to support the network throughout Wales. The bus policy advisory group will advise us on maximising value for public money and securing the best possible provision of services.
Given that the new financial year starts in four working days, can you explain why your Government has failed to inform local authorities of what support they will receive through the local transport service grant? Do you acknowledge that the uncertainty caused by not having a clear revenue stream to support bus services next year has put many under threat and has closed some routes unnecessarily? Will you apologise to the people of Wales and ensure that your Government informs local authorities today?
We have been clear in terms of what we expect from bus services in Wales and on funding. Will he apologise to the people of Wales for his failure to take their side when it comes to the electrification of the railways? Will he apologise for that? Will he apologise for taking London’s side, against his own constituents? We will take no lessons at all from the Tories when it comes to transport, when they have sold Wales down the river.
What assessment has the First Minister made of the effects of cuts to the concessionary fare reimbursement rates on rural services in places such as Anglesey, where, already, fares are facing an upward pressure, where there are threats to jobs as well as routes, and where already limited services are a vital and irreplaceable lifeline to many?
The new three-year funding package follows an independent review of local authorities’ arrangements for reimbursing bus operators for offering more than 720,000 concessionary pass holders in Wales, including armed forces personnel and veterans, the ability to take advantage of that concessionary travel.
Local authorities are responsible in law for ensuring that bus operators are no better and no worse off as a result of carrying pass holders for free. It is important that local authorities take account of that when deciding which services to support.
Your programme for government talks about improving and developing services for rural areas. Notwithstanding that, Wrexham council in the north-east has given up on each of its rural programmes and says that that is due to cutbacks by the Welsh Government. However, in terms of the research department, it suggests that there has not been an announcement by Welsh Government in terms of any cuts. Are you happy that a council under the control of your party is giving that kind of explanation to people who are losing out because of the cutbacks?
That is a matter for Wrexham council of course. It understands, as does everyone else, that financial problems have been caused because of the policies of your party.
5. Will the First Minister provide an update on how the Welsh Government intends to raise standards for tenants in the private rented sector? OAQ(4)1580(FM)
Yes. The proposals for raising the standards in the private rented sector, as detailed in the Housing (Wales) Bill, are for a mandatory registration and licensing scheme for all landlords and agents operating in Wales. Licensing will involve a successful completion of both training and a fit-and-proper-person test.
Last week, Shelter Cymru and British Gas launched their report, ‘Fit to rent?’, at an event that I hosted here in the Assembly. It followed the biggest ever survey of tenants in the private rented sector and it painted an absolutely shocking picture, with almost two thirds of tenants experiencing some kind of poor housing conditions in the last year. Therefore, First Minister, I am extremely glad that you mentioned the Bill. Will you join me in welcoming Shelter’s support and that of the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru for the proposed mandatory registration and licensing scheme for private landlords and letting and management agents in Wales, to help to ensure that the increasing number of families who are living in this sector have good quality homes?
I very much welcome that support. I am pleased that our proposals, as outlined in the Housing (Wales) Bill, have gathered widespread support in recent months. The intention is to include management standards within the private rented sector, and good landlords and agents have nothing to fear.
Registration without enforcement does not does not change a thing. The research found that 90% said that their health had not been affected in the last year by landlords not getting repairs done and poor conditions. Given that your Minister for housing has confirmed that he does not have figures for the number of enforcement actions taken by local authorities under the housing health and safety rating system, and that local authorities are telling me that they assessed 6,500 units last year, but that, generally, they seek to achieve improvements with advice, support and encouragement rather than enforcement, how would this proposed legislation address the need for measured enforcement rather than a paper trail that would not necessarily deliver that?
I believe that it does provide the ability for there to be measured enforcement. As somebody who spent much time in my previous career suing landlords for housing disrepair, I know full well what things were like in the early 1990s for so many tenants. I do not think that anyone can argue sensibly that we should not move to a system where private rented accommodation is of the right standard that we would all expect in the twenty-first century.
First Minister, the Shelter report finds that conditions in the private rented sector in Wales are worse than those being experienced in England, and more than half of the tenants say that they would rather be living somewhere else. I think that is a very sad state of affairs. For them, of course, this is the tenure of no choice. Would you say that the private sector as it stands is suitable for housing vulnerable homeless families?
I think that it is inconsistent. The Bill itself will provide the opportunity to ensure that the quality of private rented accommodation increases in the future and that there is better consistency to make sure that the worst catch up with the best or, indeed, that the worst no longer exist.
First Minister, would you agree with me that the proliferation of houses in multiple occupation does nothing to improve quality standards in the sector, and that more effective local authority licensing and enforcement would be good for tenants and the wider community?
Yes. I understand that Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council has recently designated a new additional licensing scheme in its area, which will start from 1 April. It will mean that all HMOs in the area will now need a licence. It is important, of course, particularly in areas—he will represent one such area, there are others in the Chamber who will represent other such areas—to ensure that there is not a proliferation of HMOs that causes a difficulty in terms of community sustainability, if I can put it that way. Of course, there is a need for HMOs to accommodate particularly students, but it is important that there is a balance struck within a community.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on parental preference when choosing schools in the Welsh education system? OAQ(4)1577(FM)
Local authorities must enable parents to express a preference for a school when applying for a place.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. You will be aware that there is a great deal of concern in Denbighshire, in my own constituency, as a result of proposals to close some schools with a religious character at the moment, namely a secondary school in the north of the county and a local Church in Wales school just outside Ruthin. I appreciate that you will not be able to comment on the specifics of those two particular cases, but what action would you expect local authorities to have to take to ensure that there are schools with a religious character in their areas in order to meet the parental and pupil preference that is often shown for such schools?
The Member appreciates, of course, that I cannot comment on individual circumstances. Where there are existing schools, it is important that there is full consultation inevitably to make sure that changes are made only after understanding the views of the public. It is true, of course, that in many areas of Wales there are no schools of a religious character. That is to do with the history of those areas. However, as with any change in education provision, or any school closure, I would expect there to be full consultation.
First Minister, due to the geographical nature of Wales, the real option for most parents is an issue of faith and language, and whether they choose Welsh-medium education or not. At the moment, the education authorities in Wales are consulting on the strategic Welsh in education plans and we are expecting that process to conclude over the next few weeks. Once that has happened, will you as a Government look at all of the strategic plans as a whole and take a national view in order to ensure that the option for parents to choose Welsh-medium education is provided in all parts of Wales?
It is extremely important regarding those schemes that local authorities consider in detail the demand for Welsh-medium education in their areas. We would expect them to ensure that they have done so. We as a Government will consider each scheme and, of course, we will consider the national picture too. If there is any scheme that does not meet the requirements, we would reconsider that scheme. There is no indication at present that any scheme has fallen into that category.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s commitment to animal micro chipping? OAQ(4)1576(FM)
We are committed to it.
Excellent; thank you for that concise answer, First Minister. In this context, with the forthcoming legislation in mind, the Microchipping Alliance, which is made up of several bodies such as the Kennel Club, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Dogs Trust, is keen to support the Welsh Government in promoting the requirements of the new legislation coming forward. In that context, I understand that it has experienced some difficulty, due to diary pressure, in securing a meeting with the Minister to flesh out its proposals. Will you, First Minister, please urge your colleague the Minister for Natural Resources and Food to engage positively with this generous offer from this third sector body?
The Minister has heard that offer. In relation to the answer that I gave earlier on, there are different proposals and different regimes for microchipping different animals. You refer specifically to dogs. As he will know, from 1 March next year compulsory microchipping will be introduced, and I am sure that the Minister will want to meet with all organisations to ensure that the regulations are properly enforced and understood.
First Minister, I concur with the question and sentiments raised by Will Powell; I do hope that the Minister will find time soon in a very crowded diary to hold meetings about this important issue. You will be aware, First Minister, that only recently, in January, it was reported that Chance, the Staffordshire bull terrier that went missing from Barry 10 years ago, had been found; he was just a day away from being put down when his microchip was scanned and he was returned to his owners. That is a canine example of how microchipping really does help people on the ground. Will you please do what you can to make sure that this issue is promoted, and that when the microchipping legislation is finalised, people do know about it and get their pets microchipped?
The Member raises a good example of why microchipping is so important in terms of identifying dogs in the future. It will be important, as we understand, to make sure that people understand the changes in the regulations that will come next March, and to understand how microchipping can benefit people in terms of making it less likely that they will lose a treasured pet.
First Minister, perhaps it may be an idea to microchip the Minister to ensure that he keeps to the requirements of his busy diary, and succeeds in reaching meetings to meet all those people who want to discuss this issue with him. As you say, in principle, I am sure that most of us would agree that this is an important and essential shift. However, are you worried that placing more and more demands on businesses that have registered will lead to a situation where some people will try to avoid registration and so avoid the requirements that would be on them?
No, I do not think that that is accurate. If that were the truth, we would never make any regulations in this place because of the fact that we were fearful in terms of the people who would ignore the law. It is important that people see that any system of registration is put in place for the benefit of people and animals, and that they stick to those regulations.
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for small businesses in Aberavon? OAQ(4)1582(FM)
We are committed to supporting and working with Welsh businesses to help them grow and create jobs. That is why, for example, we created Business Wales as a streamlined service.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. I am sure that you will agree that small businesses are at the heart of a vibrant high street and town centre. In light of the decision last week to trial the closure of two slip roads at junction 41 of the M4, what analysis has the Welsh Government made of the potential impact of this decision on small businesses in Port Talbot? Has the Government considered whether any support will be offered to local businesses if they suffer a detrimental impact?
It is a trial and it will last for some six months. We will monitor traffic on the motorway and local roads, and we will be using footfall data from the Aberavon shopping centre to assess the effect on town centre businesses. During the course of the trial, comments will also be invited from members of the public, and we are investigating what funding streams might be made available to support local businesses.
First Minister, in 2012 the Welsh Conservatives published our proposals to revitalise high streets across Wales. Two years on, it is evident that you are still dithering. You have now delayed your campaign, which was scheduled for June 2013, until the end of 2014. Our high streets are in desperate need of support through business rate reform, measures to bring empty premises back into use, and moves to make it easier for people to shop locally. Will you commit to bringing forward action to help small businesses across Wales and Aberavon in the summer of 2014?
It is a curious question, because, as we see this morning, it seems that the independent small business sector, particularly in retail, is doing better in Wales than anywhere else in the UK, almost. It shows that we in Wales are outperforming many other parts of the UK and it shows that what we as a Welsh Labour Government are doing is, once again, benefiting the Welsh economy.
First Minister, following on from what David Rees said about the pilot that you are taking forward on the M4, can you explain to us how exactly you will be collecting comments from members of the public? My inbox has been full of comments from people really annoyed locally about what is going to happen and the potential effect on businesses in the area. We really need to understand how people can take part in any consultation, because I think they feel at the moment that they have not been fully engrossed in what the Welsh Government is doing on this.
Well, I think that I made it clear what will happen. The Minister will give further details in terms of what the consultation process will be, or, rather, what the process for obtaining views from members of the public will be, in due course. That, of course, will inform the final decision as to what happens with this junction.
First Minister, thank you for clarifying some of the details on the consultation with regards to that particular closure. My inbox has also been full of comments from people about this particular issue. Could you just clarify, in terms of the evaluation of this pilot, what weight will be given to the issues relating to traffic compared to the issues relating to the shopping centre? How will you balance the two in determining whether this experiment should be continued?
Well, I think that that needs to be done when the evidence is assessed. I would not want to prejudge the situation in any way. We have the trial and we will judge the results of the trial in terms of the effect on footfall. In terms of the effect on safety and traffic on the M4, we know that that section of the M4 was built to a far lower standard than would have been the case had it been built these days. It was originally part of the A48, of course, rather than the M4, which is why there is a problem with that junction. There are other factors, such as footfall and local traffic, and we will take all matters into account before a final decision is made.
9. Will the First Minister provide an update on the services provided by Cardiff Airport? OAQ(4)1571(FM)
Yes. We have seen very good growth in the airport, with a 9% increase in the period up to February 2014. We expect to see more passengers coming through the airport in the future. It vindicates the decision to make sure that we secure the future of our national airport.
Hear, hear. Thank you for that response, First Minister. I too welcome the news of a rise in the number of passengers using the airport since its purchase by the Welsh Government last year. Of course, I remember when it was successful before, when it was run by the three Welsh counties, until the Tories, under John Redwood, forced the local authorities to sell it. First Minister, do you agree with me that it is time for the Tories to apologise for getting it wrong last time on the privatisation of the airport, and for getting it wrong this time by asking for it to be privatised? What further improvements to the airport can we expect to see over the next 12 months?
Well, let us see now. February passenger numbers totalled 59,936, which is a growth of 30% on this time last year. Inclusive tour passengers are up 15% and scheduled passengers are up over 35% from February last year. Ad-hoc charter-boosted passenger numbers are up by over 156% since February 2013. Yes, we have seen the airport grow. Members who are familiar with it will see the work that is being done there now to improve the security area. We will now look at what is to be done to improve the roads. That is an example of us delivering an airport for the future, in contrast to the Tories, who were happy to see it close.
Certainly, we welcome the success for Cardiff Airport. We wanted to get back to the same state of 2.5 million passengers, but under private ownership. I would welcome suggestions from the First Minister about how he is going to publicise those remaining routes at Rhoose to make sure that all the people in south Wales use it and do not just go to Bristol.
Well, it was under private ownership that passenger levels declined to under 1 million, I have to remind the Member, when it changed ownership to its previous owners. I remember the Tories in this Chamber saying that it should be left to rot and that there should be no chance of buying it. I remember Byron Davies saying that there was a £20 million funding gap somewhere and debt. It did not exist; it was scaremongering, of course, once again. I am grateful for what the Member has said in terms of welcoming the increase in passenger traffic. It is a shame that the Tories cannot bring themselves to realise that it is because of the action taken by the Welsh Government that we have secured the future of the airport rather than seeing it decline and close, which is what they would have done if they had been in charge.
As a regular user of the airport, I am very pleased with the encouraging news, although I would say that there is a very long way to go. There were no planes there last night apart from the one I arrived on. However, I have a question about the staff. I understand that a number of the staff in the airport are on zero-hours contracts. Can you confirm that, and, if that is true, will you move to change that given your opposition to such contracts?
I will consider that issue. Of course, the airport is run by a board and not the Government directly. It is not clear at present what the historic position is, but I will consider that and write to the Member.
I have to say, Presiding Officer, that I do not normally comment on asides made by Members. However, when I hear Byron Davies saying that buying the airport has meant that people are dying of cancer, I think that that is a disgraceful comment and I think he should withdraw it.
I did not hear that, but I would concur.
First Minister, one of the most important ways an airport makes money is through things like the retail, catering and parking services provided at the airport. Can you confirm that, in addition to the very welcome increase in passengers, there has been an increase in profits for the support services at the airport? Can you tell us when you expect the airport to break even again, given the vast and increasing losses the airport had been making until quite recently?
I will answer the question, but I regret the fact that Byron Davies has not been man enough to withdraw such a ridiculous statement. That is a matter for him and for him to explain to the public of Wales. Let me deal with the question that the Member has asked. The airport is now moving towards profitability. We are expecting to see more passengers over the course of the next year, and the figures are very, very good. The important point, of course, is to make sure that the footfall increases to improve the profitability of the retail offer there. It is encouraging to see that a shop has moved in over the course of the past few months. I would expect, as passenger footfall increases—as it has—that the airport will move to profitability, because we cannot revenue-subsidise it, that much is true, and, secondly, of course, to see more shops being profitable.
10. What consideration will the Welsh Government be giving to noise pollution in the forthcoming Planning Bill? OAQ(4)1572(FM)
I can say to the Member that technical advice note 11 already provides a comprehensive framework for addressing noise as part of the planning process.
Thank you for that, First Minister. Of course, noise from public construction and improvement work can have a major impact on the wellbeing of those living nearby, in terms of not just volume but duration, as you know from your own constituency. When contractors run behind schedule, they will seek permission from the local authority to work outside business hours in order to avoid paying a penalty for failing to finish the work on time, thereby exacerbating the effect on residents. As there are virtually no successful prosecutions for noise nuisance under existing laws, how do you think your Government can give an effective voice to residents and business owners who complain bitterly that they have no effective redress in the circumstances I described under the existing guidelines?
There is redress under existing law, but I share the Member’s concern that the existing law may not be as effective as it might be. I have had experiences—as I am sure she will have had—of constituents who have complained about noise and monitoring is then done, but, often, it seems that that monitoring is done once the emitters of the noise have been warned. That is a situation I am sure we have all come across. Consideration may well have to be given, not via the planning Bill but via other means, to making sure that, where noise nuisance is measured, it is done in an unannounced way. I think that that is where we might need to look in future.
Does the First Minister share my ambition for this planning Bill, namely that it will truly provide an opportunity to release businesses and the people of Wales from the overly stern and short-termist plans that have affected us over the years? Is the First Minister certain that the Bill will appear in July, as has been pledged, and that there will be enough opportunity for the people of Wales to discuss these significant environmental Bills so that, as we legislate anew in these areas, we can make a real difference?
That is exceptionally important, of course, in order to ensure that any Bills are effective in the future. I am confident that there will be sufficient discussion in this place and, of course, with the public at large.
11. What discussions has the First Minister had regarding the proposed Welsh language standards? OAQ(4)1584(FM)
The draft standards were published on 6 January. I explained at the time in my written statement that I had agreed with the Welsh Language Commissioner that I would refrain from making any comments regarding the standards during the investigation period, and the investigation closes on 18 April.
I note, in scrutinising this consultation, that the Government website refers to the commissioner’s site and the commissioner’s site refers back to the Government’s website. So, can you confirm, in terms of the process, that you are content that the public can have its say in this process? Do you then agree with Plaid Cymru that the new standards, whatever they may be, should not allow us to fall below the standards currently provided for under the current language schemes?
I do not wish to make any comment on the standards themselves at present, and I have to keep to that, whatever my view is at present. However, I would like to say publicly that it is very important that the public gives its views on this, and the commissioner, as someone independent of Government, is considering this at present.
First Minister, it is exceptionally important that these language standards are appropriate. It is also important that we promote the language as much as possible. You will be aware that we, on this side of the Chamber, have proposed creating a charter mark for Welsh business to recognise high-quality language services, particularly in the workplace. What consideration have you given to this?
We are considering the workplace at present, because we understand the challenge that exists in relation to using the language outside of school for those who have no experience of the Welsh language outwith the school. Of course, as I have said previously in statements in the Chamber, we are considering ways to ensure that the Welsh language is promoted in the workplace.
However, I have to say that I have been very much troubled over recent days by some of the articles that have been written in London newspapers that give the impression that the Welsh language is the problem in Wales, and that there are problems in Wales because there is excessive emphasis on the Welsh language. I hope that the Member will join me in my view that that is completely wrong. The fact that we have the Welsh language does not hold us back. The year is not 1847; the Welsh language is something that we can all celebrate and support.
12. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s policy on NHS Continuing Healthcare? OAQ(4)1581(FM)
Yes. Our policy was set out in the 2010 framework for the implementation of continuing NHS healthcare in Wales. That framework has been revised. The revised framework has been subject to a public consultation exercise and it will be published in June.
Thank you for your answer, First Minister. Two constituents of mine recently came to see me about the future of their direct payment provision now that one of them is in receipt of a package of continuing healthcare. The First Minister will be aware of the nuances of this issue, which has, in effect, disempowered them, because they have lost the locus of control over the services and service providers that tailored to their personal circumstances. I did say to them that I would raise this question on their behalf with you. However, given that the NHS in England has introduced a personal health budget for patients that may include direct payments for some types of healthcare, are there any plans for the Welsh Government to pilot something similar in Wales?
No, this is not something that we are considering at this moment in time, but I would remind the Member that, in Wales, there is a maximum charge for social care—£50 a week—and in England, there is not, which is why some people are paying up to £300 a week there.
First Minister, some individuals, and some in my constituency that I can think of, are interested in having direct payments for continuing healthcare, as well as social care. So, I am disappointed to hear you say this afternoon that you have no interest in looking at this as a policy area for the future. I would hope that you would reconsider and give some health boards, in very specific circumstances, the ability to provide funding for continuing healthcare, as well as social care.
May I say to the Member that the framework that will be published in June will explain the situation regarding the use of direct payments? I hope that, as a result, the situation will be clearer for your constituents.
Hopefully, what you publish in June will be a decision support tool, similar to what they have had in England for a number of years, to ensure that there is consistency of approach across Wales. Will your tool also ensure that cognitive impairment as a result of dementia will be adequately reflected and, therefore, people who suffer from forms of dementia will qualify for continuing healthcare in a way that they have not in the past, but, had they lived in England, they would have qualified?
Of course, we can compare all afternoon. My point would be that, in England, people have to pay an enormous amount of money for their care in a way that they do not in Wales. Dementia, nevertheless, is a serious issue; we know that it will be a growing issue in the future. The Member is correct. I do not want to prejudge what the framework will say in June, I simply ask Members to consider the framework when it is published and then Members will have questions, I have no doubt, at that time.
13. What are the implications of the UK Government’s 2014 Budget Statement for Wales? OAQ(4)1579(FM)
Further cuts to the Welsh budget.
That is a short but sweet answer. Thank you very much indeed. Among other things, the Chancellor announced housing policies that will deliver more than 200,000 new homes. Of what, if any, additional resources is the First Minister aware will come to Wales, either directly or as financial transaction funding, and will that be committed to housing in Wales?
The total consequential, we believe, will be around £36 million. A decision will need to be taken in terms of how that money is spent, but that has to be balanced, of course, against the 7.5% cut in revenue funding that we will have received over a three-year period. So, the £36 million is welcome, but, nevertheless, it goes nowhere near compensating for the loss of funding that the people of Wales have received.
14. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government’s plans for developing tourism infrastructure in south Wales? OAQ(4)1573(FM)
Yes, one such example of how we look to encourage and support tourism is through the tourism investment support scheme.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. As you will know, the application for the proposed tidal lagoons sited in Swansea bay has been accepted by the Planning Inspectorate, so it looks as if it will be built. Once built, this significant piece of infrastructure will be an enormous tourism draw and will contribute to our low-carbon energy production as well. First Minister, will you consider including it as part of our tourism strategy as well as part of our low-carbon energy strategy for the future?
It is an interesting suggestion that the Member makes. We will have to wait to see when and if it is built and then decide how it might be used for tourism and to benefit the local economy.
15. Will the First Minister make a statement on how Islwyn benefits from continued membership of the European Union? OAQ(4)1574(FM)
The EU benefits Wales and Islwyn in many ways through structural funds and the common agricultural policy programme. For example, EU projects in Caerphilly, which, as a county, includes the Member’s constituency, has assisted almost 42,000 individuals and, last year, over 2,500 people were employed in the local authority area by 35 companies from across the EU.
Thank you for that answer. First Minister, you can see the benefits of European regeneration across Islwyn. Do you agree that those who want to use these forthcoming elections to call for us to leave are putting not just this but thousands of jobs at risk?
Yes. Leaving the EU would jeopardise some 150,000 jobs. It would end farming in Wales, bluntly, because, without the subsidies that farming receives, most farms are non-viable. It would also cut us off from one of our most important markets. Why change what we know works? Why change a system that has provided so many thousands of jobs to Wales and why cut ourselves off to become a little island or an island and a bit? I think that that is the wrong approach for Wales, the wrong approach for Britain and the wrong approach for Europe.
Thank you, First Minister.