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2. Business Statement and Announcement

June 13, 2017

29 speeches by…

  • Elin Jones
  • Jane Hutt
  • Andrew R.T. Davies
  • Vikki Howells
  • Neil John McEvoy
  • Hannah Blythyn
  • Darren Millar
  • Adam Price
  • Mark Isherwood
  • Mohammad Asghar
  • Nick Ramsay
  • Ann Jones
  • Suzy Davies
…and 3 more speakers

Elin Jones

The next item is the business statement an announcement, and I call on the leader of the house—Jane Hutt.

Jane Hutt

Diolch, Llywydd. There’s only one change to business for this week. I’ve reduced the time allocated to tomorrow’s questions to the Counsel General. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement found among meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Andrew R.T. Davies

Leader of the house, could we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for transport on two matters, if possible, please? One is about the maintenance of the A48 running through the Vale of Glamorgan. I have raised this on several occasions with you, and it is now becoming ridiculous that we have collapsed manholes and we have potholes on a main A road that is the main link between Bridgend and Cardiff, which, as you will appreciate, is heavily used. I appreciate there are recent road markings that have been put down, which indicate maintenance as pending, but as a frequent user of this road, very often, the road markings come and go but no work happens in between. So, could we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary as to what maintenance is planned for the summer period, so that when we do enter the winter months, we do see genuine improvement in the condition of that road? Secondly, the new road that is being built to improve Five Mile Lane is a welcome addition to the transport infrastructure in the Vale of Glamorgan. Obviously, there have been some considerable workings on the site to date, but there doesn’t seem to be any progress on the actual starting of the construction phase of the road. As I was led to believe, I think completion was due sometime next year. Could we have an update from the Cabinet Secretary as to how work is progressing? Has there been any movement in the timeline for completion of this project, so that we can be better informed as to how this £26 million project is developing?

Jane Hutt

Well, as Andrew R.T. Davies is well aware, of course, roles and responsibilities, as far as the roads in the Vale of Glamorgan—yes, there are some responsibilities in relation to Welsh Government, but, of course, now the Conservative-controlled Vale of Glamorgan Council is the key highway authority, and that’s also not just in terms of the A48 and roads off, but including Five Mile Lane. Now, the Welsh Labour Government has provided the funding, which I know you've welcomed, R.T. Davies, for the Five Mile Lane. And, also, it is the Vale of Glamorgan Council that is responsible for project managing Five Mile Lane. So, I’m sure you will seek an update from your colleagues on the Vale of Glamorgan Council.

Vikki Howells

Leader of the house, this week is Rare Chromosome Disorder Awareness Week, and it seems an appropriate point during which to pay tribute to the work of my constituent Amy Walker. Her son was born with an extremely rare genetic condition, and Amy is campaigning for a greater understanding of the daily struggles children and families like hers face. Could we have a statement from the Welsh Government on how it is supporting people with rare disorders, but also their families? In addition, cervical screening saves around 5,000 lives across the UK annually, so it is worrying that uptake is now at a 10-year low in Wales and that one in four women do not attend screening when invited. This week is Cervical Screening Awareness Week, so please could we have a statement from the Government on how it is ensuring women in Wales take up the screening that can potentially save lives?

Jane Hutt

Can I thank Vikki Howells for raising awareness again in this Chamber of those two all-important awareness weeks—first of all, the work that’s been done by the charity Unique to raise awareness and understanding of chromosome disorders? Obviously, in terms of the experience of your constituent, it is very important to recognise this is the fourth awareness week, and the Welsh Government is committed to improving services for people living with rare diseases such as chromosome disorders. Our rare diseases implementation plan was first published back in February 2015. That was a response to the UK strategy for rare diseases, and there’s progress against the plans being monitored by the rare diseases implementation group. That does include representation not only from Welsh Government and health boards, but also the patient group Genetic Alliance. That will be updated to ensure it remains fit for purpose. Also, on your second point, in terms of awareness of cervical screening, nearly eight out of 10 women in Wales attend regularly for their smear, but we know that coverage rates for last year saw a slight drop. We have to do more work to maintain and improve participation rates, and the screening engagement team of Public Health Wales is working with local public health teams, health boards and primary care clusters to consider cervical screening uptake in each area. There is a pilot programme also looking at the future implementation of HPV testing, but I think as far as cervical screening is concerned, we have to look at where the uptake is lowest.

Neil John McEvoy

Minister, in March 2017 the accounts of Natural Resources Wales were not given a clean bill of health. It related to a timber contract given out over 10 years when the usual length of contract was five years. The company that was given the contract did not apply for the tender. The chief executive of Natural Resources Wales told the Public Accounts Committee that there had been a full business case to justify the decision, and then it turned out in the following meeting that the so-called business case did not contain a single financial figure—not one. He then said that it wasn’t a business case. There’s no evidence, we’re told, of value for money, and there are question marks on the lawfulness of the contract process. So, given all these concerns, and especially the concern in the industry itself, how on earth can the chief executive of Natural Resources Wales be allowed to retire when there are so many questions to answer?

Jane Hutt

This is a very inappropriate question, I would say, Llywydd, but I would also say there is a role for the Public Accounts Committee, which of course, under the chairmanship of Nick Ramsay, has examined this issue, particularly in relation to the contract that NRW was responsible for.

Hannah Blythyn

Leader of the house, last week our very own Ann Jones received the prestigious gold medal award from the National Fire Protection Association in the US for her work in making sure that Wales was the first country to make fire sprinklers mandatory in all new-build houses. Leader of the house, will you firstly join with me and many others in congratulating Ann on her amazing achievement, but also in light of this issue being back on the agenda, could we have a statement by the Welsh Government on progress being made in improving domestic fire safety in Wales?

Jane Hutt

Well, I’m sorry that I don’t think Ann Jones is in the Chamber at the moment to hear me add my congratulations to those of Hannah Blythyn to Ann Jones for her recent award from the National Fire Protection Association. This is important, as we recognise, and I think this is shared across the Chamber, this recognition of Ann’s achievements. It’s an international organisation, and for those of us who have been here since Ann started on her journey to secure the Domestic Fire Safety (Wales) Measure 2011, it’s a recognition of Ann’s unwavering commitment to fire safety, and the impact and influence that Ann Jones has had on fire safety in Wales.

Elin Jones

We should have co-ordinated the timing of the chairing of this session slightly better, to be frank.

Elin Jones

It is on the record, and my congratulations also to Deputy Presiding Officer Ann Jones.

Darren Millar

Leader of the house, can we ask for a statement from the Minister for health and social services on security in Wales’s hospitals? I had an e-mail from a constituent just a few days ago who unfortunately is a cancer patient at Glan Clwyd Hospital, and he remarked about the fact that he was able to walk around the whole of the hospital site at the weekend, in and out of individual offices. He could have lifted patient records, computers, telephones—in fact, anybody could who wandered through the door. Obviously, this is a concern, and I think it’s incumbent upon the Welsh Government to ensure that patient records in particular are properly protected in our hospitals, particularly over the weekends when those offices may be vacant.

Jane Hutt

Darren Millar does raise an important point, which I’m sure he will be raising with Betsi Cadwaladr health board. Of course, this is something that we take very seriously in terms of security on sites, particularly in relation to patient confidentiality and, indeed, staff and patient safety.

Adam Price

Leader of the house, I was wondering if you could say whether Government colleagues have indicated to you yet when we can expect the statement on the Circuit of Wales that we’ve been promised by the First Minister before the end of the month—[Interruption.] Would the honourable Member for Blaenau Gwent—? If he has anything to say, he can get up and say it—

Elin Jones

Let me tell the honourable Member—who’s not particularly honourable, as no Member in this Chamber, to repeat myself, is an honourable Member—but, yes, please, the business Minister requires no help from other Ministers in answering business questions. Adam Price.

Adam Price

Thank you, Llywydd. If the leader of the house could update us on when we can expect that announcement. And, in that context, is it possible for the Government to correct the record in relation to a number of written answers that I’ve received from the Government that, it has subsequently emerged, are inaccurate? In one instance, I asked about when the Government was informed by the auditor general of his intention to publish the report on the Circuit of Wales. I was told the Government was informed on 13 April. It subsequently emerged they were verbally told for the first time on 10 March, and in writing on 17 March, six weeks before that. I also asked whose idea it was to suggest an 80 per cent guarantee for the project. I was told it was the company that suggested it on 15 April. It’s subsequently emerged it was the Government that suggested it a week earlier. I received a letter from the Minister correcting the first set of questions, but that hasn’t been shared with Members, and of course the inaccurate record still stands, therefore, in the written questions. And in terms of the other issue, it was implicitly confirmed to the BBC yesterday that the account that I was given was inaccurate. I think it is important that, before we have the statement from the Minister, Members have access to the accurate information and, indeed, not just the statement that we’ll hear in Plenary, but also of course the Public Accounts Committee, which is meeting to discuss the auditor general’s report, I believe, on 26 June.

Jane Hutt

I would like to take the opportunity to fully respond in terms of an update on the Circuit of Wales and the questions and issues that Adam Price has raised. We have of course been working with the Heads of the Valleys Development Company over many years to find a way to make the Circuit of Wales project work. Now that the Heads of the Valleys Development Company has submitted its final supporting information, the Welsh Government is completing its comprehensive due diligence process on the Circuit of Wales proposal. Of course—and this has been exchanged, about the importance, which has been recognised—due diligence is an important part of that consideration in supporting any project. It’s an opportunity to ensure there’s a sustainable and robust business plan in place, fair sharing of risk between the private and the public sectors, and to examine the wider economic impact of the proposal. And, as has been said, again, once that work is completed, Cabinet will consider the project and we will announce a decision. The first formal proposal that included the idea of an 80 per cent guarantee for the Circuit of Wales project was set out in a document dated 15 April 2016. Various face-to-face, phone and e-mail discussions on the risks and legalities of the project took place over a number of months prior to this date between officials and other key organisations, including the Heads of the Valleys development company and their advisers, and the level of guarantee would have been part of those discussions. Indeed, I would also add that the First Minister has received correspondence from yourself and will reply in due course.

Mark Isherwood

I call for two statements. First, to add my voice to the calls for a Cabinet Secretary for health statement on cervical screening, in this Cervical Screening Awareness Week. We know that cervical screening prevents up to 75 per cent of cervical cancers from developing, but uptake in Wales is at a 10-year low, and diagnosis levels are worryingly high. You referred rightly to the need to target the areas where the problem is greatest. Across Wales, only 70.4 per cent of cervical screening coverage occurs within three and a half years for 25 to 64-year-olds. The lowest level is at 69.5 per cent in Cardiff and the Vale, then 70.9 in Betsi Cadwaladr, and 73.6, the highest level, in Powys Teaching. There are still more than a quarter of women between 25 and 64 missing out on this, and it’s not much better over five years either. We must surely encourage women to talk to friends, mothers and daughters about the steps they can take to reduce their risk of cervical cancer. And fathers and brothers and uncles and grandfathers, as well as women, to talk to our loved ones, because we can’t afford to see cervical screening attendance fall any further. I hope you will expand on your earlier statement and encourage the Minister to provide a statement accordingly. My second and final call is for a statement ahead of Father’s Day next Sunday—and I congratulate every father here and hope they enjoy their day—on the role and support for fathers in Wales. The vision of the UK think tank, the Fatherhood Institute, is for a society giving all children a strong and positive relationship with their father and any father figures, supporting both mothers and fathers as earners and carers, and preparing boys and girls for a future shared role in caring for children. The 2017 family law manifesto calls for the promotion of responsible shared parenting, and encouraging best outcomes for children and families. In Scotland last year, Fathers Network Scotland, supported by the Scottish Government, celebrated Year of the Dad, celebrating fatherhood and the importance of fathers in child development and parenting, and calling on services and employers to support dads, embrace family-friendly inclusive practice, and acknowledging that today’s father can be single or married, externally employed or a stay-at-home dad, gay or straight, and may not even be the biological father. They could be grandfathers, uncles, foster fathers, adoptive fathers, or step fathers, but much is now expected of them. But despite this, and I’ll conclude here, the Centre for Social Justice’s 2016 annual fatherhood survey found that 47 per cent of all UK fathers felt their role wasn’t valued by society, 46 per cent of the lowest income fathers reported a lack of good fatherhood role models, and new fathers are crying out for better social and emotional support, rather than being told to man up, with just 25 per cent of dads saying there’s enough support to help them play a positive role in family life. Ahead of tonight’s launch of the Welsh Dad Survey’s 2017 results at the cross-party group on fathers and fatherhood, I would welcome your agreement to look at what happened in Scotland and see how we might take forward a programme of support in Wales.

Jane Hutt

I’m glad that Mark Isherwood again has followed on from Vikki Howell’s question about new ways of raising awareness about the importance of cervical screening. Just to add that I made the point about the way in which local primary care clusters are working with public health teams to consider uptakes, screening uptake, particularly in the areas where there is the lowest uptake. And they’re looking, for example, at social media activity, which will be a new way of raising awareness, but you also add the importance of the roles that parents, fathers, brothers can play as well in terms of raising awareness of this vital screening programme. You’ve given a very positive profile for the role of fathers in advance of Father’s Day on Sunday.

Mohammad Asghar

Leader of the house, may I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on free prescriptions in Wales and medicine cost management in the NHS in Wales also? The cost of free prescriptions was £593 million in 2015. However, the cost of prescribing some drugs is far higher than the price at which they can be obtained across the counter in supermarkets. The cost to the NHS in Wales for prescribing paracetamol, for example, was over £5 million last year. While I recognise that the Welsh Government is not going to change its policy on free prescriptions, could I ask the Cabinet Secretary for health to look at ways that readily available treatments, such as paracetamol, can be issued without prescription, thereby reducing the cost to the NHS, and releasing much-needed funds for other NHS services? And there is another area, which is every one adult in four is obese in Wales, and almost 60 per cent are overweight, according to the Welsh health survey of 2015. And I think that itself takes adulthood into diabetes, which was costing a surgery, or a doctor, £5 per month, per medicine, only five years ago. Now, at the moment, the cost is well over £35 a month. And the way the numbers are increasing in obesity and diabetes, I think we are heading for a big tsunami of financial management lack in the NHS in Wales, unless we do something about it. Thank you.

Jane Hutt

Well, I’m not quite sure where we’re going with your questions, Mohammad Asghar, except to say I can absolutely assure you we will not be changing our policy on free prescriptions, which not only has mitigated against the austerity measures of your Conservative Government over the last seven years, but also enables us to treat those who suffer the most health inequalities in Wales.

Nick Ramsay

Can I firstly concur with the earlier comments, made by the Member for Carmarthen east, on the Circuit of Wales? We are going to be looking at this on the Public Accounts Committee later this month, so, clearly, as Chair of that, I will be holding back on my views until then. However, it would be appropriate, I think, for us to have a decision in the wake of our committee deliberations as soon as possible, so we can have some clarity on what has been a very long-running saga, it seems to be—going for, well, as long as I can remember now. And I think the company, and the public, would appreciate that. Secondly, this morning, leader of the house, I attended the Agricultural Law Association’s inaugural Wales breakfast meeting, hosted by Simon Thomas. The ALA were founded in 1975 and provide invaluable legal advice and support to their members, and it was good to welcome them to the Assembly; I know they want to increase their presence in Wales. These are, clearly, uncertain times for our farming community, leader of the house, with the Brexit process under way, the loss of young people from the industry, and, of course, the ongoing issue of bovine TB. Will the Welsh Government undertake to work closely with the ALA, and, indeed, the farming unions, to reassure our farmers in Wales? And perhaps we could have a statement, at an appropriate point, in this Chamber, or maybe a debate, on ways that we can support our farming industry, both traditionally and perhaps looking at more innovative ways. Because I think this is a vital aspect of the Welsh economy that does need to be supported and nourished over the years to come.

Jane Hutt

We note the point that you made regarding the Circuit of Wales, Nick Ramsay. And, on your second point, well I’m sure that was a very important meeting this morning of the Agricultural Law Association. I think it’s very important that we also take the opportunity to reflect on your point that it is going to be very difficult—it is currently very difficult for the farming community—and, of course, the Welsh Government and the Cabinet Secretary are working very closely, not just with the farming unions, but with partners. So, I hope that you will join us, as a Welsh Labour Government, in calling for a longer term commitment from the UK Government to make good on promises made during the referendum campaign that Wales would not lose a single penny as a result of the UK leaving the EU.

Suzy Davies

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Well, talking about making good on promises, leader of the house, it’s about nine months now since the issue of woodchip fires, and the illegal dumping of woodchip, was raised in this Chamber. It’s an issue that particularly affects my region. In all fairness, the Cabinet Secretary said that she was taking this seriously, in recognising the insufficiency of both regulation and the resources to enforce the existing regulation, let alone new regulation. I’d be very grateful if you could ask for a statement from her department, updating us on progress, on the areas of regulation that need reform, the evidence that’s underpinned the decisions that she is coming to at this stage, and what progress is being made on perhaps even early drafts of improved regulations that will help her prevent this serious issue, particularly in my region, happening again—appearing again.

Jane Hutt

Thank you, Suzy Davies, for that. I will ask the Cabinet Secretary to update us, as she promised to do, in terms of officials looking at this. I know the adverse impact of woodchip fires is something that has been experienced across Wales, and not just in your region.