23 speeches by……and 2 more speakers
The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the leader of the house, Jane Hutt, to make the business statement.
Diolch, Llywydd. I have two changes to this week’s business. The Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure will shortly make a statement on consultations on concessionary bus travel, and the time allocated to Counsel General’s questions tomorrow has been reduced to 30 minutes. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement found among the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Could I seek two statements, please, leader of the house? One, first of all, from the Cabinet Secretary for health. As it’s world Mental Health Awareness Week, I think it would be appropriate for the Cabinet Secretary for health to provide a statement as to exactly how Government interacts with businesses and works to provide mental health solutions in the community, in particular talking therapies, which is a huge area of untapped potential here in Wales. Hopefully, the Cabinet Secretary can shed some light on the work that the Welsh Government is undertaking with partners to make sure these facilities are available, both in the workplace, where it’s been calibrated that a £3 billion loss to the Welsh economy, and £7 billion overall to the Welsh economic output, is a huge financial issue that needs to be addressed, and, with better provision of mental health services in Wales, we could make a huge leap forward in supporting people who face the challenge day in, day out, week in, week out. The second point I’d seek a statement on is from the Cabinet Secretary for rural affairs around animal health legislation, and in particular the competence of the Assembly as to be able to legislate in this particular area. The First Minister gave some room for optimism that the Government might well progress to reviewing and firming up the legislation in this particular area, in particular the sanction that is available to the courts here in Wales where animal welfare issues do come before them. There was a question given back to my colleague Paul Davies in December last year that indicated that there did seem to be an area of greyness, shall I just say, in the advice the Cabinet Secretary received, which said that we weren’t in a position to be competent in this particular field. The evidence and the information we’ve had from the Assembly lawyers is that the competence resides fully with the Welsh Government and we can make progress in this area—so, if we could have a statement to clarify exactly what powers are available to the Welsh Government so that the words of the First Minister can be taken forward and we can have confidence that there will be progress on animal welfare issues here in Wales.
I thank the Member for both those questions. Firstly, yes, it is World Mental Health Day today, and it is an opportunity for us to acknowledge not only that this is an issue for one in four of us, in terms of mental health needs and issues, but I would again take the opportunity of saying, from a Welsh Government perspective, supporting people with mental health is one of our top priorities. We do continue to spend more on mental health services than on any other part of the Welsh NHS, with funding increasing by £20 million to over £629 million this financial year. You mentioned talking therapies as a key point. It does include £3 million investment in psychological therapies for adults. It does provide us an opportunity, again, to focus on workplace health strategies, which, of course, are the key feature of today. So, I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for that question. On your second point, obviously, following up from questions to the First Minister, the Minister for environment and rural affairs is very aware and mindful of the issues that were raised earlier on this afternoon. The First Minister has agreed to write to you on those important issues that you raised in order to clarify competence as requested.
The leader of the house is well aware of my interest in invest-to-save. In fact, she’s probably been missing my questions over the last 18 months or so. I would like to ask for a Government statement on the success of innovate-to-save, and how successful innovations are being promoted across Welsh Government and throughout the Welsh public sector.
Yes, Mike Hedges, I do miss the many questions I had on invest-to-save, now progressing to the innovate-to-save fund, but I’m glad to have the opportunity to respond this afternoon. In fact, the innovate-to-save fund is currently supporting eight projects through the research and development phase of the initiative, and this stage is aimed to test and refine ideas so that we can assess the suitability of each project for financial support.
I was wondering if I could have another update from the Cabinet Secretary for housing with regard to what’s happening with regard to the private sector in relation to aluminium composite material. I ask for an update on this because, since his previous update, I’ve been talking to residents again at Prospect Place in Cardiff, who are telling me that now people can’t get mortgages to sell on their flats, even on flats that don’t have ACM attached to them. And, when Bellway sell their final flat to the residents, who are going to start a residents’ limited company, they may potentially be liable for the costs for any changes that would need to be made as a result of the inquiry by the UK Government. I think this is something that we should be concerned about, because this may be quite a substantial sum of money for people to have to pay, so I was wondering if I could either have a statement or some clarity on what those in private sector housing will have to endure in the future.
The Member raises an important point and I will ask the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children to respond either in writing or indeed in a statement to Members.
Leader of the house, may I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for the environment on progress toward banning the release of sky lanterns from public land in Wales? Sky lanterns present a significant danger to animals and cause injuries and deaths. They can also cause fire, damage habitats, and destroy animal housing and their feed. Back in 2013, the Welsh Government wrote to councils encouraging them to ban the release of sky lanterns on their land, and Newport City Council is looking to become the eighteenth local authority in Wales to ban the release of sky lanterns from their land and to help promote alternatives. Can we have a statement on whether the Cabinet Secretary will bring in a Wales-wide ban on the release of sky lanterns from public land please?
I thank the Member for raising an issue that, indeed, as you say, has been brought before this Assembly and to the attention of the Welsh Government. It is encouraging to hear that Newport—to have that update on Newport’s response as a local authority; the eighteenth out of 22, so there are more to come. This is something that—the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, I know, will have heard this question and we can consider what more can be done in order to again make the important points that you’ve made in terms of the adverse impact of the release of sky lanterns. Of course, it may require another letter to authorities, as we did before.
May I ask for a statement from the health Secretary in response to the figures that have been revealed that a quarter of all beds in community hospitals in north Wales now have dementia patients in them—almost half of the beds in Eryri, in Caernarfon, 14 in Holywell, and 18 in Llandudno? Delayed transfers of care have led to patients waiting, in some cases, for up to 145 days—almost five months—before they are released, for example, from Chirk hospital, 102 in Deeside hospital, 120 in Bryn Beryl, and 107 in Alltwen. Work by the community health council in north Wales has demonstrated that the situation has deteriorated over the past 12 months, and hasn’t improved. The Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board, of course, is in special measures and has been for two and a half years. Bearing that in mind, I need an explanation as to whether the Government now takes responsibility for this entirely unacceptable situation. Could I also ask that the First Minister conveys to Chris Coleman our gratitude for everything that he and his management team have achieved over the last five years? We’ll all, of course, fully understand if he chooses to pursue a new challenge, but could the First Minister reiterate to him that it is the overwhelming view of Welsh players, Welsh fans and the Welsh nation that he should remain as Welsh manager and lead us through the qualification games for Euro 2020?
Diolch yn fawr, Llyr. On your first important point about latest figures on the use of hospital beds in north Wales, this is a matter that I will draw to the attention of the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport. Just looking at the figures for delayed transfers of care, which, of course, can have an impact in terms of the use of those beds, we are in a good place generally in terms of delayed transfers of care, and the fact that we see improvements is very encouraging. We recognise that we’re also facing moving towards winter pressures, which have an increase as well, in terms of the frail and elderly, as well as mental ill health, and those issues that arise. In terms of delayed transfers of care relating to the August 2017 census period, it shows an increase by 10 to a total of 422, but the total is 7 per cent down on the same period last year, and it’s lower than any of the totals reported in the previous two years. Clearly, this is across the whole of Wales, and therefore we need to look at regional issues as well. But I do think we need to remember that some of the initiatives, like the intermediate care fund, which was very much something that came out of budget agreements and discussion, has had a huge impact on enabling appropriate transfers of care, and £60 million will be in the budget to help this again. On your second point, I think we would all want to join you, not just the First Minister, but all of us here together—the Cabinet Secretary saying ‘hear, hear’—in terms of Chris Coleman. His integrity, his commitment—I think we would all want to express this today, and our thanks from the whole of the Assembly, as well as the Welsh Government, and wish him well. We don’t want to lose him, but we wish him well.
Poverty, in its many manifestations, is insidious and complex and can be debilitating. I wonder whether we can have a statement on the emerging trend now around period poverty, which is one of the manifestations of this within our communities. It’s being picked up with schools now, who are increasingly aware that some of their young students are attending and are unable to provide for themselves sanitary products. There are some tremendous initiatives to tackle this, both grass-roots initiatives, and local authority led as well. Wings Cymru, a group of women within my constituency, led by Gemma Hartnoll, has put together fundraising and they’re now working within three schools within my constituency and are hoping to expand it to more schools. Rhondda Cynon Taf are currently consulting on whether or not there is a scheme that can be rolled out within their area, but this is now widespread. It’s no coincidence that food banks—not only the Trussell Trust, but local church and charity and community food banks—are now regularly stocking sanitary products as part of the packages that they offer to families. So, could we have a statement on how Welsh Government can support and encourage both grass-roots volunteer and local authority efforts to tackle period poverty?
I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for drawing attention to these all-important initiatives, and they are local initiatives in many respects, learning from each other. You mentioned Wings Cymru, which again is having an influence on neighbouring communities and authorities. This is something that we, not just as a Welsh Government, but working with our partners in the third sector, as well as local government and the health service, would want to look at, in terms of tackling what is iniquitous—that, in 2017, we are talking about period poverty. I’m very grateful that you’ve drawn the attention of the Assembly to this point today.
Cabinet Secretary, can I ask for a statement from your colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs on the review of pay arrangements and the job evaluation scheme at Natural Resources Wales? Obviously, this is an organisation that has been formed for over three years now, but as I understand it, the review of the salary scales and the job evaluation schemes of the legacy organisations—the Countryside Council for Wales, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission Wales—is still yet to be completed, and as a result, there are some individuals who are not being rewarded in the way that they ought to for the jobs that they are doing. Indeed, as I understand from speaking to colleagues on the Welsh Conservative benches, there are some who’ve actually lost out to the tune of many thousands of pounds as a result of the ongoing work. Can we have an update from the Cabinet Secretary on when this work will be complete, so that people cannot be out of pocket, particularly in the run-up to the third Christmas after this organisation was established?
Well, you have drawn attention to what is principally an operational matter, but it is important that you have drawn attention to it today, Darren Millar, in terms of NRW.
Can we have a statement, in Government time, on the validity of the recent intervention by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales in the debate on the Government’s White Paper on the Welsh language? The ombudsman has published his own response to the White Paper—the only one that appears on their website—making the case for shifting complaints functions from the commissioner to his office. Many strongly disagree with that suggestion, and I and others found ourselves in the strange position of arguing, last week, on social media, with the ombudsman on a policy issue. Would the business manager agree that it’s not the place of the ombudsman, who is supposed to be objective and outwith the democratic system, to take a stance on a policy issue such as this? Can I specifically refer the business manager to the joint memorandum between the public service ombudsman and the Welsh Language Commissioner? It states: ‘The Welsh Language Commissioner and the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales agree not to review each other’s discharge of functions as they consider that they are bodies of equal status.’ Despite that, the ombudsman, in his response, states that many of the complaints that have been submitted to the Welsh Language Commissioner, in his words, are without purpose. Given the gravity of this situation, because it raises an issue of trust in the objectivity of the ombudsman’s office, would the Government make inquiries into this issue as a matter of urgency and bring a statement to this Assembly?
I can certainly assure the Member that I will seek advice on this situation, and I will then be able to update the Assembly on the issues and what relevant action could be taken.
Could I ask for two Government statements—or a Government statement and, I think, a Government debate, actually? First of all to the statement. The leader of the house will be aware that today is an important day in our fellow Parliament in Catalunya, when they have a very important decision to respond to a referendum that was disrupted by the Spanish police with aggression and violence, and they now have to plot a way ahead. It’s been very worrying that the Spanish state has not sought to enter into dialogue, or any meaningful dialogue. It simply threatened and used constitutional law to stop the free expression of the will of the Catalunyan people. It’s been particularly regretful, I think, that the position of this Labour Government has been so supine in responding to that, given the history of international brigades from Aberdare to Albacete, as the book tells us. In the context, I think of just waiting for some crumbs from the Chancellor’s table. That’s what makes it even more distasteful. It seems to be done for some very short-term realpolitik rather than a long-term view of how we develop within the European commonality in terms of our regional identity, national identity and the expression of free will. A significant intervention this week has been that of the Elders, as they’re called—some six very senior international diplomats led by Kofi Annan—who have called for international arbitration and mediation in these circumstances. That’s been backed up by several European countries. Wales, with a strong connection to the Spanish peninsula, remains a country with its own Government and Parliament where the Parliament has said something about this but the Government has said nothing. Can I urge the leader of the house, even at this late stage, to make a public statement of support towards the need for international co-operation and mediation and for the Spanish state to enter into meaningful dialogue so that the situation in Catalunya can be resolved in line with the will of the people of Catalunya? The second issue I’d like to raise—and I think this is where a debate could come in—is the publication yesterday of two White Papers by the UK Government on customs and on trade. They’re full of rhetoric; there’s no actual proposals in them. It’s very difficult to know what they will mean for us, but I think a debate in Government time would allow us to explore how we have an input into what the customs and trade arrangements will be as we leave the European Union. To my mind, there’s very little to engage with. I’m particularly concerned that the customs paper talks about the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is fine, but it doesn’t talk about the sea border that we have between Wales and the Republic of Ireland. So, if we’re going to see customs arrangements come into place, we need to understand what that means for our ports, Holyhead down to Fishguard in particular, and, of course, Pembroke Dock. There’s no detail there, but there is this—I was going to say ‘tantalising’ suggestion—it’s not very tantalising, but there’s a suggestion that we could have no deal, that we could suddenly find ourselves making customs arrangements. And yet we all know there’s no preparation, there’s no land set aside, there’s no buildings for this to happen: very practical things are not addressed in these papers, and yet we’re told that this could be a very real possibility. So, I think a debate would allow us to explore some of these issues, but I’m particularly keen, if possible, today, if the leader of the house could confirm: what input did the Welsh Government have to these two papers? In particular, the trade paper says that there will be input of devolved administrations—I think the use of the word ‘administrations’ rather than ‘Governments’ tells you what they think about us—but nevertheless, it says ‘input’. So what is that input? Can we understand what the ongoing process is for dialogue around these two papers, which I take it now form the backbone of what the UK Government will be doing, even though the flesh is very, very thin?
Diolch yn fawr, Simon Thomas. On your first point: a very important point in terms of the fact that we have over the past few weeks—in fact, I think, since the beginning of this autumn session; this has been an issue raised with me, I think, in that early week. Those were topical questions that we did respond to in the light of our role, relationship and powers in relation to the developing situation in Catalonia. And you’ll be aware, of course, of the First Minister’s very strong response on the day of that unacceptable violence and intervention. I think your point about what happens now is very appropriate in terms of the collaboration, the co-operation and the mediation that needs to take place, and it’s important that you have expressed that for us again today. On your second point: yes, I’m sure that it will be timely for us to consider us having a debate now because a great deal has happened. I understand we had no input into the two White Papers—as a Government—that were published. We have been very constructive and we have, of course, worked very closely together, and indeed with Plaid Cymru as well, in terms of having an influence to secure the best possible Brexit for Wales, and closely working with the Scottish Government to ensure that the withdrawal Bill doesn’t undermine the constitution and the devolution settlement. I think tomorrow there will be a Joint Ministerial Committee in London on Europe that the First Minister, and indeed the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, will be attending. So I think it is timely for us to consider how we can then debate and consider an update on progress and our input, and, indeed, scrutiny across the Chamber.
I think my colleague across the Chamber there, Llyr, beat me to it with the congratulations for Chris Coleman and the Welsh team, but I also wanted to add the brilliant charity Gôl, that do amazing work. The fans go to orphanages and they put so many smiles on the faces of so many children, and they’re great ambassadors for Wales. So, I wondered if we could maybe have something in written form from the Government congratulating Gôl on the great work that they do in every campaign. The second statement I’m looking for is a statement on the code of conduct in relation to the First Minister. I wrote to the First Minister two weeks ago asking for him to refer himself for investigation under the code of conduct, under the ministerial code, and I’ve heard absolutely nothing: radio silence. The important point is: does a code of conduct in this Chamber apply to every single Member—yes or no? If it does, I’ve made allegations—. The First Minister should follow Alex Salmond as an example and refer himself for investigation under the ministerial code. So, I’d like a statement on that, please.
I would like to thank the Member for drawing attention to the good work of Gôl. I think the matter of the code of conduct is for him as well for others in this Chamber.
Thank you, leader of the house.